On my last trip to Europe, I had the privilege of sampling the Crystal Mozart's ten-night Danube itinerary from Vienna to Passau. It was my third river cruise, and the first time on Crystal.
When Crystal Cruises announced its entry into the river cruise market in 2015, the bar was set high, as the luxury ocean line known for consistently winning "World's Best" awards from Condé Nast and Travel & Leisure magazines would have to replicate its six-star standards to a much smaller scale. Crystal purchased the Mozart from the defunct Peter Deilmann Cruises, gutted it down to the frame, rebuilt her as a luxury vessel, and relaunched her as the Crystal Mozart in 2016.
The Mozart is clearly in a class of her own, with no comparison to any other river ship currently in the water. Her uniqueness is
her size. At 75 feet, she is twice as wide as the standard river ship, offering unparalleled choice, space and comfort like no other river cruise line.
The spaciousness is felt as soon as I walk onboard the Mozart. A cozy living room with a fireplace, coffee table and comfy chairs invites guests to sit back and relax. There are several public spaces to lounge about, with oversized sofas and chairs. Decorated with beveled mirrors on marbled walls, lamps on console tables, and artwork on gilded shelves, I felt like I was in a grand hotel rather than on a river ship. The width of the ship is most appreciated up on the
, where one can lounge on deck chairs with thick cushions, or enjoy beverages at a retractable bar. There is even room for a flower garden at the front.
Living the Suite Life
While most river accommodations are standard staterooms and only the top categories are suites, it is not the case on the Mozart. Every stateroom is a spacious suite. I occupied the smallest at 219 square feet, almost twice the size on other ships. The suite size allows a true king bed, along with a sofa that comfortably seats two, a roomy vanity/writing desk and a console that accommodates a Nespresso machine and a minibar.
The roomy marble bath is stocked with full-size Etro toiletries, a heated towel rack to keep my towels toasty and an automated Toto wash let which provides quite the amusement to the uninitiated. I was surprised to find two robes in the wardrobe, a plush one for just out of the shower, and a silky one as a dressing gown. A large safe, slippers, umbrella, and an iPad complete the well-endowed accommodation. The iPad is especially handy as you can use it to control the lighting, set the "Do Not Disturb" signal, browse shipboard activities, excursions, weather, and order room service. Pre-loaded with the ship's itinerary, you can also use it to learn about the towns and landmarks which you cruise past.
The Butler Did It (and Everything)
Onboard Crystal, everyone gets a butler, and mine was named Marius. When people hear that a cruise comes with a butler, they always wonder what they would ask a butler to do? Well I was happy to have this chance, so I asked Marius to unpack my suitcase, and to make my spa appointments while I was out exploring the ship. When I returned, I found my clothes and shoes neatly laid out in the wardrobe, and there were confirmation cards at the desk with my chosen spa times. Each night, Marius delivered delicious Austrian chocolates as I was getting ready for dinner. If I wanted, he would bring me a full hot breakfast, lunch or dinner from the dining room. In short, butlers are there to spoil you rotten. And it
may feel awkward at the beginning to ask someone to tend to these details, but once you have experienced it, you feel like royalty, and this is the result that Crystal strives to achieve for every guest.
Crystal has brought its award-winning dining experience to the river, with a multitude of venues and options. Starting with the main restaurant Waterside, outfitted in muted colours punctuated by emerald green glassware, all meals are in truly open seat format. This means, when the restaurant is open from 6 to 9 pm for dinner, you may dine any time between 6 and 9. This is far less restrictive than the single seating on other river lines, where dinner is served at 7, and everyone must eat at 7. Although breakfast and lunch are served buffet-style, the variety of hot and cold items, as well as cook-to-order stations left nothing to be desired. Dinner is a different multi-course menu every night, reflecting regional cuisine. All meals are served with regional wines and beers and all beverages are complimentary throughout the cruise.
One of my favourite hangouts was the Bistro Café, a delightful space with inlay flooring, window seating as well as cozy banquettes. It serves a late riser continental breakfast until 11:30, a rarity amongst river lines after which it changes to a light lunch venue with fresh deli meats, cheeses, breads, savories and sweets. Best of all, the Bistro's coffee bar menu has close to 30 specialty coffees and teas (yes, I counted) made fresh by doting baristas. To top it off, the Bistro also serves a tapas-style dinner in the evenings, with fresh seafood and meats. From the charcuterie plate to salmon tartare and baked garlic prawns, it was a tough decision to choose what to sample, but since the menu remains is the same for the entire cruise, you can return again to try everything.
A hidden gem at the back of the ships is an eatery called Blue. It is open for lunch on certain days, with regional fare cooked in an open kitchen. I had the chance to taste German sausages and fresh sauerkraut, along with a soft, just-out-of-the-oven pretzel.
And last but not least, as mentioned, there is full room service available on the Mozart, but it is not just a limited menu of sandwiches and salads, but the full menu from the Waterside restaurant. The multiple dining venues, all-day food and beverages and extensive room service are all worthy of note as these are not found on traditional river cruise lines. But because the Mozart is that much larger, she can offer these choices, which is so welcoming.
Entertainment and Activities
One of the most noticeable differences that ocean cruisers discover on river ships is the lack of onboard amenities and low key entertainment. But due to its size, the Mozart is able to provide an easy transition. It has a pool and hot tub on the lower deck at the front of the ship, with a cozy lounge to stretch out and watch the upcoming scenery. There is a fitness centre, and a small beauty salon staffed by two estheticians providing body, face and nail treatments. There is even a cigar bar, and close to 30 e-bikes. The bikes are available as part of Crystal's included excursions. In Durnstein, we biked along vineyards and country roads, and in Budapest, there was a ride through Margaret Island's parklands. These are nice options for those looking for a bit of activity and fresh air.
Typical on river ships is a cruise director who organizes all excursions and provides a briefing every evening of the next day's activities. Except that Crystal doesn't believe in herding guests to listen to port talks. All activities are listed in the daily program, and there are no announcements to disturb the peace. There is a social host onboard, who is also an adept musician at the piano. Our host was Mark Farris, who learned everyone's names and where they were from in the first night. He mingled with guests, and engaged them in lively singalongs while at the piano in either the Palm Court or the Cove Piano Bar. Mark even threw a dance party one evening, and I saw guests doing the YMCA on the dance floor. A lively river experience indeed! Local performers and lectures round out the entertainment program. The included complimentary excursions are of a wide variety, and on our Danube cruise, they focused on art, music and history tours, as well as active hiking and the aforementioned biking trips. Frankly, being a luxury cruise, I expected onboard life to be low-key and sedate, but it proved to be quite the contrary, which is good news to those wary of this aspect of river cruising.
First Class Service
Of course I cannot complete my review of Crystal Mozart without a mention of the six-star service that Crystal is known for. With 92 crew members, the Mozart ensures the smoothest experience for her 152 guests. On arrival, I was whisked off to a lounge for a speedy check-in, completed with just a few clicks on an iPad. A waiter came alongside with a glass of champagne. Just barely past noon, I wondered out loud if I should indulge. "Of course madam," he said, "You are now in Crystal paradise!"
Crystal has always boasted that they hire for attitude and train for service, and it clearly shows. I found staff to be sincere, engage in conversation and express genuine care. A thank you is always responded to with "My pleasure". When my conversation with a server exposed my love of chocolate, she suggested that I must pick up Mozartkugel while I am in Salzburg. "But not the ones in red or gold foil; you want the ones made by Furst, wrapped in blue foil. They are the original Mozartkugel!" Of course I bought some, and they are the most delicious chocolates I have ever tasted.
I fully expected guests sailing on Crystal to be much older, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that was not the case. The average age on my cruise was in the 50s, including a few families with late teens. In addition to Americans, Canadians, Brits and Aussies, my fellow travelers also included Thais, Taiwanese, Brazilians, Mexicans and Europeans, which made for delightful conversations. Although guests were clearly affluent, everyone was down to earth; there was never an air of snobbishness, and the onboard atmosphere was neither stuffy nor formal.
The Crystal Mozart sails ten and eleven-night Danube itineraries roundtrip from Vienna year round. Due to her size, she can only sail on the Eastern portion of the Danube where the river and the locks are wider. She has now been joined by two sister ships, the Crystal Bach and the Crystal Mahler. Both are new-builds and two more sisters will join the fleet in Spring of 2018. Smaller than the Mozart and more in line with the standard river ship size, all four new ships will sail on the Rhine and Danube where locks are narrower. But true to Crystal's standards, the ships will include multiple dining venues and full amenities found on the Mozart, as well as the spacious suites.
the ultimate pampering experience on the river, cruising with Crystal Cruises is indeed a smart choice.
Ming Tappin -
Ming took her first cruise in 1991 and was immediately hooked. She took a cruise every year after that, and she had so much fun researching and learning about cruising, she enrolled in travel school and became a travel agent in 1994, specializing in cruises. A marriage and a move to Vancouver two years later, Ming began working in the administration side of the cruise business, helping travel agencies promote cruises to their clients through marketing, promotions and training. Today, Ming continues to work closely with cruise lines and travel agents, and she cruises several times every year to broaden her experience. Ming has sailed on 45 cruises with 17 cruise lines, with many more on her list still to try.
In 2015, Ming created her own company
Your Cruise Coach, and began her career as a cruise journalist serving the travel industry. She has been published on three leading Canadian travel industry websites and currently has a cruise column in a travel industry magazine distributed to 8,000 travel agencies across Canada. Ming also writes for the consumer - her goal is to educate the traveling public on the value of a cruise vacation, and share stories of her cruise experiences to help travelers make informed decisions. Ming can be reached at