River cruises have changed a lot in the past five years, with both new entrants and existing players giving the segment more luxury and near luxury products. One of Crystal’s goals when it announced it was entering the market was to use the power of its brand name to attract luxury travelers who previously hadn’t considered a river cruise. On my voyage over last Thanksgiving (Vienna to Vienna visiting Christmas markets along the Danube River), many of my fellow passengers were first timers on the river. Watch a video by clicking here.
Europe has many great luxury hotels, however, I think of river cruises in the same way as traveling by private jet. It’s just an easier way of getting where you want to go. Like all cruises, the idea is you only have to pack and unpack once which is even easier if since Crystal offers European butler service. Most of the sailing is done overnight so you don’t have to waste time getting from city to city, although daylight sailing provides great viewing and the interesting experience of going through the Danube’s impressive locks.
The places river vessels dock varies – from next to the city square to a short bus ride or walk, and sometimes more industrial areas. In key ports, there is often an overnight. Getting to and from the ship can involve steep stone steps and cobblestone streets. I would be happy staying on the Mozart in any ports with accessibility challenges – it has a large accessible elevator with automated door, wide decks and hallways. That said, if you or any of your traveling party have accessibility issues, it’s something to think about.
In each port, Crystal runs multiple shore excursions every day, all included, although they will arrange private excursions for an extra charge. Crystal has its own luxury coaches with spacious seating in recliners when you need to be transported somewhere. Like on the ship, there is also free WiFi aboard the coaches.
Outings range from trips to museums, castles, narrow old town streets and shopping binges, to an emotional visit to a WWII concentration camp. You can pretty much tailor what you do to your interests and quite a few people went off on their own as if they were just staying in a hotel locally. In the summer, there are eBikes you can use and a very nice outdoor deck on the roof of the ship with loungers and a pop-up bar. There is a very good gym and indoor pool, and most of the places we docked were conducive to running or walking along the river, so if you are active, you won’t have any issues keeping up with your normal routines. There is also an excursion yacht that offers champagne cruises in select ports.
I was concerned about traveling with somebody who needs a dedicated oversize suitcase for her shoes and doesn’t repeat outfits, considering that typical cabins on river cruise vessels, except for the top suites are not as expansive as you find in hotel suites. Even though we had a lower deck entry level suite, there was more than enough closet and drawer space, and our butler stored our suitcases someplace else returning them the final night. The bathrooms are also very well thought out. Walk-in showers open in a way that maximizes space and are easy to get in and out of. There is plenty of storage space, shelves and the cosmetic lighting for the mirror was top notch I am told. There was also a very high quality hair dryer.
Yolanda Crous, writing for Travel + Leisure, put it this way: “You might be forgiven for feeling as if you’ve landed in a chic boutique hotel rather than on a cruise ship. That’s because the new Crystal Mozart, Crystal’s stunningly designed first non-ocean vessel, is a true game changer—and possibly the most luxurious river ship afloat. And yet the vibe is remarkably easy going: There are no formal nights and no set seating times, and the service, which is attentive and warm but not overly fussy, is pitched perfectly for the mostly American clientele. Think of the Crystal Mozart as the perfect ship for that skeptical non-cruising friend you’ve been meaning to convert.”
Erica Silverstein, senior editor at Cruise Critic writes, “The ship’s interiors are just stunning. Thought was put into every space. Instead of a short dividing wall, you’ll find a metallic work of art that effectively carves up a room. A faux fireplace (which uses water mist and LED lights to create the impression of flames) gives atmosphere to a sitting area at the top of a stairway. Cool, modern rocking chairs balanced by circular hanging lights provide seating by the indoor pool. Beanbag chairs and more angular patio chairs provide pops of color to the top deck, while a living garden of herbs and plants add some life to the alfresco lounge space.”
Crystal Mozart is the largest river vessel in Europe, at 75 feet, nearly twice as wide as others, including its four upcoming sisters. Its size means it can only sail on certain segments of the Danube, but the tradeoff is the wide decks. At 154 passengers (with 92 crew members), it is also well suited for groups, both small and full takeovers. There are plenty of places for meetings if you need. It also means more restaurant options and places to hang out than other vessels. Our biggest concern is the next foursome of Crystal river yachts will be able to live up to our experience on Mozart.
Silverstein of Cruise Critic said, “Crystal thought about what today’s luxury traveler expects and desires in a vacation, or in a home even, and tried to incorporate those things into the ship. Passengers have plenty of choice; whether it’s the option of three dining venues plus a snack station and (24 hour) room service, or deciding among several complimentary tours and a few more extra-fee ones in every port. Separate spa, salon and fitness center spaces put most other river ships to shame in terms of size and style. High-tech amenities are everywhere, from interactive TVs to iPads in every stateroom and customizable (Toto) toilets (from Japan). No one’s forced to adhere to a schedule; dinner is truly open seating, allowing diners to arrive at any time during operating hours, and tours depart in the morning and afternoon. Food is farm-to-table — locally sourced from farms within several hours of the ports.”
Crystal’s reputation is built on service delivery, and as an example my better half was struggling to unwind a necklace that was knotted up as our cabin attendant came for turn down service just before we were leaving for dinner. After fixing the severely twisted necklace, she spotted several others in entanglements that were equally perplexing. When we returned, they were all laid out in perfect form on a silver tray.
If you have any trepidations about river cruises, I can safely say based on Crystal Mozart, you may not become a convert, but you will likely have a very good time, be it as a couple, family or group of family and friends.
Gratuities are included in your fare for onboard staff, including butlers, bartenders, waiters and housekeepers, and I had to push hard to get our top performing staff to accept extra gratuities, but I think they could see I would have been upset if they didn’t.
Two-Bedroom Crystal Suite (2 suites)
I took a look at the 883 sq. ft. Two-Bedroom Crystal Suite of which there are two with Tony Huffman, of Huffman Travel, a top luxury travel advisor, and we both agreed this is far and away the top choice. Huffman regularly sells top suites at land-based hotels, and he rates the design and usable space on par with staying in a luxury hotel suite. Of course, the views change by the minute.
There is King bed in the Master Bedroom facing floor to ceiling sliding glass doors (like all Seahorse Deck 2 suites) and French balcony providing spectacular views. A large bathroom includes an oversize tub and walk-in shower, plus double vanity with back-lit mirror, integrated TV, plentiful draws and shelf space and heated towel rack. There is a large walk-in closet (with full-height hanging and room safe) and the layout of the suite makes it feel even larger, although even for a hotel-based suite, it is very good size. The second bedroom is a connecting room entering from the opposite side of the living room and dining area, so it is a really good selection if you have younger children you want to keep an eye on.
In the living room is a fireplace with ambient fire effect (LED, non-heat), 55-inch wall mounted-recessed TV over fireplace, seating area with sofa and chairs, plus separated dining table with four chairs. There is also a large refrigerator and Nespresso Coffee Machine, making the suite a place you can have family and friends gather, or even invite shipmates over for a pre-dinner drink.
Butler Service includes unpacking and packing upon request and you can request complimentary in-suite hors d’oeuvres and canapes service.
From Cruise Critic, one guest wrote, “The water pressure in the shower was great and the shower head was great. Sounds weird, but I’m a rain shower snob. I’m used to a huge rain head and don’t like someone passing off some dinky head as a rain head. This was the real deal. Another weird observation, but if you need this info you’ll love me for it, the hair dryers were great! There were two and they both did a great job straightening my thick, curly hair.”
Crystal Penthouse (12 suites)
At 330 sq. ft., the Penthouses (also on Seahorse Deck 2) may not sound large, but they are surprisingly spacious, and if you can’t snag either Crystal Suite these are very nice.
There is a King-size bed and bathrooms include double vanity with back-lit mirror, integrated TV, drawers and heated towel rail. There is a glass enclosed shower with both overhead and hand-held showerhead and separate full bathtub.
Nightstands include wireless charging pads and USB outlets. There is a walk-in closet with shelving, full-height hanging and in-closet safe. There is also a writing desk, good if you have some paperwork to get through. There is a 40” wall-mounted, flat-screen HD TV plus separate refrigerator and beverage drawers stocked with Nespresso, cups and glasses, and of course there is a Nespresso coffee machine. There is also an adjustable height/extendable coffee/dining table and a two-seat sofa (some convert to third bed), arm chair and French balcony. You also get butler service and in-suite hors d’oeuvres and canapes service.
River Suite with French Balcony
There are two types of River Suites, S1 (219 sq. ft.) and S2 (204 sq. ft) all on Seahorse Deck 2, all with floor to ceiling sliding glass doors and French balcony. Each includes a King-size bed, full length mirror, and single vanity bathrooms with back-lit mirror, integrated TV, drawers, shelves and heated towel rail. The glass-enclosed shower is of the same standard as the top suites. Nightstands also include wireless charging pads and USB outlets. There is full-height hanging closet space and in-room safe, plus a 40-inch wall-mount, flat-screen HD TV and refrigerator draw, two-seat sofa, desk and adjustable height coffee table where you could eat dinner if you wish. Butler service and in-suite hors d’oeuvres and canapes service is part of the deal.
Dining and Bars
We found the quality of food to be excellent, and the variations at dinner to our liking, although Cruise Critic noted, “While it’s appealing to have the choice of multiple dining venues, we were underwhelmed by the number of menu options at every eatery; with the exception of the main Waterside Restaurant (above), all other restaurants have fixed menus that do not change from day to day,” adding, “The food on the Mozart was very, very good in general.”
That said, in many ports Mozart stays docked until around 11 p.m., so it’s easy enough to go into town and dine locally or find a Michelin star restaurant. During the days I stayed on the ship while she was in port, the dining venues for lunch had plenty of available seating, so I assume most people found local restaurants. For dinner, the concierge will also make reservations for you off the ship if you wish.
There is also a “money can’t buy experience.” We had access to Belvedere Museum (think painter Gustav Klimt and the movie Woman in Gold) for a private concert and a join-in exhibition of a traditional Viennese Waltz. It was memorable.
Breakfast and lunch are buffet style with a good variety of options, eggs made to order, sliced meats, smoked salmon, salads, but pretty much the same. Snacks and coffees are available in the Bistro (above). You can also have dinner there as it becomes a tapas style restaurant in the evenings.
Crystal Mozart has an Open Bar concept with the option to purchase speciality wine, although we didn’t see the need and didn’t see anybody else either. Drinks included were top shelf brands. The bartenders and waiters also are generous with refills. There was nightly entertainment and dancing in the Palm Court (below), which was well done, high-quality and informal enough that there was audience participation. Because of the late sailing times most nights, you also have the option of whatever the local nightlife in port is, so there are always plentiful options.
There is a nice little dark wood-paneled cigar lounge called the Connoisseur Club with an extensive selection of cigars for purchase and comfortable armchairs. It was never busy and proved to be a nice hiding spot to get some work done in the afternoons while having a smoke and getting my fix of cable TV.
All in all, if you are happy at a Four Seasons or Ritz-Carlton hotel for dining and the bar, you will be happy on Crystal Mozart. It’s high quality, not especially flashy, but well thought out and executed. If I was doing a word board, classy, sophisticated, convivial come to mind. You’ll make friends with the couple at the next table and end up dining together two nights later. There was a mix of C-suite executives, business owners, lawyers, doctors and active retirees on board.
Pool, Fitness and Spa
“The spa is also luxurious, which includes a Jacuzzi, female and male sauna and steam room, and very well trained therapist for hair treatments, body massage and facials,” said one reviewer on Cruise Critic. Despite a full ship, we didn’t have trouble scheduling appointments, and there was full flexibility in cancelling.
Another reviewer noted, “The pool/spa area was very under-utilized despite the cold weather. While there a small pool, it has one of those rather powerful ‘current’ devices, so you can happily swim away as if you were in a large swimming pool since the current of water keeps you from moving forwards. The current is suitable for the serious swimmer and is way too powerful for a leisure swimmer like me. The Jacuzzi is a decent size – the bubbles automatically turn off after about three minutes so you have to keep pressing that button by the side. There is large steam room and a large sauna in both the men’s and the ladies’ changing rooms. I was often the only person in there.” For a river vessel, the facilities were to say the least, extensive and impressive. I’ve been to quite a few 5-star hotels in Europe where the facilities didn’t match Crystal Mozart.
The Vintage Room
Guests pay between $300 and $500 per person to have collectible wines matched with a seven-course feast. Typically, individual guests buy out several nights at the beginning of a cruise and then invite new friends to join them. At least once per voyage, the line attempts to get 12 passengers to opt in for a special evening. It also tries to hold several nights back so they don’t get all taken before the ship leaves the dock.
The menu when we dined included a welcome with Louis Roederer Cristal, Brut Reims 2007, and then Riesling, Wachstum Bodenstein, Weingut Prager, Wachau, Austria 2012 to go with Lobster Tartar Topped with Golden Kaluga Caviar. From there it was Chardonnay, Gaia & Rey, Langhe Piedmont, Italy 2014 alongside Cream of Celery With Lightly Smoked Fresh Oysters & Poached Quail Egg. Chateau Figeac, Premier Grand Cru Classe B, St. Emilion, 2008 was next with Porcini Mushroom Risotto Topped with Seared Foie Gras. Opus One, Mondavi & Baron Philippe Rothschild, Napa Valley 2012 was paired with Pink Roasted Veal Wellington & Seared Scallop With Truffled Potato Mousseline, Broccolini & Demi-Glace. The Trockenbeerenauslese, Grand Cuvee #6, Neusiedlersee, Austria 2009 came with the Austrian Mountain Cheese Selection With Truffle Honey & Fig Bread. A Dark Chocolate & Raspberry “Martini” Mozart Ice Cream and Petit Fours was the finale.
Full Ship Charters
Mozart has already become popular for full ship charters. It’s a good option for company meetings as well as birthday parties and celebrations.
Price is $600,000 and up depending on the duration and season. From September, you can pair it with the Crystal 84-seat Boeing 777LR if you want to bring you group to and from your river cruise in luxury.
For full ship charter opportunities:
Bruce Setloff, Vice President, Global Charter Sales, BSetloff@Crystalcruises.com
Through the end of 2018, Crystal Mozart offers a series of 10, 11 and 13-day voyages exclusively on the Danube with Vienna, Budapest, Bratislava and Belgrade the major cities, then an interesting variety of smaller towns and villages, each with something where you come back onboard and say it was worth getting off. It’s a nice mix where there are plenty of sightseeing options if you want to get off, it’s easy to go out on your own, but you won’t feel obligated to get off every port if you just want to enjoy the ship.
Crystal Bach, debuting this month, (10-14 days) between Amsterdam and Frankfurt or Basel each way, and Crystal Mahler, launching in September with 16-day Amsterdam-Budapest one-ways combines the Rhine and Danube. Full itineraries are here.
– Cruise Critic and Cruise Critic UK annual Editor’s Picks Awards, named Crystal Mozart the “Best New River Ship”
– Robb Report named Crystal Mozart among the “Best of the Best” travel experiences
– The readers of Travel + Leisure voted Crystal River Cruises as the World’s “Best River Cruise Line”
Coming Next – Crystal Bach and Crystal Mahler
Crystal Bach and Crystal Mahler will be the second and third river ships for the company. While Mozart was a rebuild and conversion of an existing vessel, the new river ships are new builds so expect a sleeker exterior and more high tech features, combined with Crystal’s high standards of design and service. With a size more typical of other river cruise vessels, they will each be able to navigate more of Europe’s rivers and more places.
Walter Littlejohn III, Vice President & Managing Director of Crystal River Cruises at WLittlejohn@crystalcruises.com or phone direct 310-203-4492 or cell 305-930-1452