Crystal’s first performance on the river cruising stage strikes a lovely chord. * Goes to: Europe.
Snapshot: Since it was founded in 1990, Crystal Cruises has been a beloved upscale line, with ships in the 800- to 1,000-passenger range, with the CRYSTAL SERENITY and SYMPHONY large enough to offer a wide scope of dining choices (with Asian and Italian specialty restaurants before everyone else jumped on that boat) and activities (offering computer workshops before such things made waves). They have also always excelled in their lecture program, with most cruises featuring numerous experts giving talks about the destination as well as other topics. Now Crystal has taken what it does best and downsized it, so to speak, for its new fleet of upscale river boats. In a series of announcements soon after Crystal was bought by Genting Hong Kong in mid 2015, Crystal outlined an ambitious expansion program that a few months later they modified to be not quite so ambitious. Currently, the new offerings include the 62-passenger expedition-style ESPRIT, which debuted in the Seychelles in December 2015. As for river boats, besides the recently introduced 158-passenger CRYSTAL MOZART, the subject of this review, Crystal plans to build six new river boats, the first pair to debut in 2017: the 110-passenger CRYSTAL BACH and CRYSTAL MAHLER will cruise the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers, and boast 250-square-foot suites with walk-in closets. Crystal plans to build and introduce two more river boats in 2018, and two more at an unspecified date. The CRYSTAL MOZART (a 1987-built ship formerly operated by Peter Deilmann and TUI Cruises) debuted for Crystal in Europe in July 2016. Thanks to an extensive renovation and its large stylish suites and restaurants, plus gym, mini spa, hair salon and pool, it’s not easy to tell it’s one of the oldest river boats afloat in Europe. These attributes and the wonderful wraparound promenade on Deck 3 are thanks to CRYSTAL MOZART being the widest riverboat in service in Europe (not including Russia). All in all, CRYSTAL MOZART is a mighty fine symphony of impressive features.
The company currently operates a 12-passenger private jet and says they are adding a Boeing 777 for luxury air trips in 2017. To join the ESPRIT, Crystal has plans for three new expedition ships to start sailing in 2019, 2020 and 2021, respectively. Down the road, Crystal wants to build three new 1,000-passenger luxury ships to sail in polar regions; they’ve changed their target date several times, and are currently shooting for a 2022 launch.
Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers: CRYSTAL MOZART (built 1987, re-built 2016 & 158 passengers)
Passenger Profile: Well-to-do couples 50s on up, with some senior singles and families during summers and holidays, from North America mainly, plus a sprinkling from the UK, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Many have cruised on Crystal’s larger ships.
Passenger Decks: 4 (elevators between decks 1-3)
Price: $$ Expensive
Included Features: Just about everything — wine, spirits, soft drinks, tips, one or two excursions in every port, WiFi (an hour a day), self-serve laundry, butler service, and 24-hour in-room dining from the restaurant menu.
Itineraries: CRYSTAL MOZART’s focus is on 10- and 11-night cruises on the Danube River round-trip from Vienna, venturing west to points along the river in Germany and Austria, and southeast to Hungary, Slovakia, Croatia andSerbia.
When to Go? Cruises are offered between early April and December, with the best months being May, September and October, when the weather is warm and the summer-time crowds are nowhere in sight. If you’re into the Christmas market scene, then November and December are the months to enjoy the famous markets in Munich and Vienna.
Cabins: All rooms are called suites and are on the lowest two of the four decks. Some 39 have picture windows, while 36 have French balconies (a sliding door with railing and a ledge to step on). A pair of 883-square-foot two-bedroom suites has a living/dining area among other indulgent features, and a dozen 330-square-foot penthouse suites comprise a sitting area, walk-in closet and a bathroom with double sinks, shower and separate tub — all 14 have the French balconies. The rest of the suites measure 204 to 219 square feet and all have a sitting area with a sofa, plus, like the largest suites, Nespresso coffee machines, mini fridges, 40” wall-mounted flat-screen HD TV, and other goodies.
Dining: There are four dining venues, with the Waterside on Deck 3 being the main restaurant, serving buffet-style breakfast and lunch, and served dinners (with one or two “black-tie optional” nights per cruise that mandate a tux, suit or in the least, a dark jacket for men, with or without a tie); in the center is the cozy Vintage Room & Wine Cellar for private meals paired with fine wines for small groups of friends (at an extra cost). The casual Bistro Mozart offers fresh baked goods, fruit, light snacks and coffee/tea, and doubles as a lounge with a cozy faux fireplace. Up on Deck 4, the informal indoor/outdoor Blue Bar & Grill is always the most popular place for lunch. For nibbles, The Pantry snack bar is on Deck 2 next to the reception area.
Activities & Entertainment: Public areas reside on the top two decks, 3 & 4, plus the forward part of Deck 2. The top deck is the place to watch the scenery along the riverbanks float by, with plenty of outdoor seating, both shaded and not, plus a bar and a sports area for yoga, pilates and stretching classes. One deck below is Crystal’s signature Palm Court, a spacious room wrapped in windows and with a stage (for talks, dancing and local entertainment), piano, TV and bar — it’s the MOZART’s hub. Adjacent is the Connoisseur Club, an intimate room for cigar smoking and after dinner drinks, and also the Cove & Piano Bar, another venue for drinks and light entertainment. Deck 3 also has the ship’s wraparound outdoor promenade deck for strolling and lingering; it’s a rare rare feature for a riverboat in Europe. Down on Deck 1 is a fitness center with cardio machines and free weights, impressive for a ship of this size; above on Deck 2 at the bow you’ll find a beauty salon, massage rooms and a steam room/sauna, plus a small pool.
Along the Same Lines: Uniworld & Scenic
Contact: Crystal Cruises, 11755 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 900, Los Angeles, CA 90025; 1-310-785-9300 or www.crystalcruises.com.