In Linz, Austria, crews are working around the clock to ready Crystal’s first river cruise vessel for sailing in July. Meeting the deadline won’t be easy. The “Queen of the Rivers” was showing her age when Crystal acquired her late last year. To introduce the elegant vessel that Crystal envisions requires stripping Mozart to her hull, then reassembling her to the designer specifications.
The effort to reimagine Mozart is taking no fewer than 400 workers. With less than six weeks remaining before Mozart is scheduled to make her grand entrance onto the Blue Danube, on-time completion seems daunting to observers like me. Will Crystal actually deliver on time and as planned?
Yes — and no — is my best guess.
Surely, Mozart will emerge, but I can’t imagine that she’ll do so in a fully finished state. But then few refurbishments of this scale do finish on time. You can liken it to a woman getting dressed for a party and having to apply her makeup using the visor mirror as her husband drives.
Work often continues to be conducted after ships set sail. Perhaps the most “unready” ship in recent history was Seabourn Odyssey. During its launch in 2009, then President and CEO Pam Conover even lent a hand in moving furniture into place as Odyssey’s first guests were stepping onboard. Work continued for weeks as the new ship sailed.
We can expect a few hiccups and spurts for the first few sailings on Crystal Mozart, as well as ongoing construction, but in the long run, there can be little question that Crystal will launch an impressive river cruise experience, just as Seabourn launched a successful trio of ultra-luxury vessels. And like Seabourn, Crystal’s parent company has pockets deep enough to overcome any obstacles.
Mozart will be the proving ground for what’s to come for six more Crystal ships. So what will set Mozart apart from its competitors?
Fine Dining & A Lot of Crew To Serve You
Start with the crew-to-passenger ratio. Mozart will carry 158 guests served by 91 crew. No other river cruise company comes close to Mozart’s 1:1.75 crew-to-guest ratio. To put the ratio in perspective, Mozart will have nearly 40 more staff than competitor ships of similar size.
Why so many crew on Crystal Mozart? “We made a significant investment to take dining to another level – ‘by a mile,’ ” says Thomas Mazloum, chief operating officer for Crystal Cruises.
Mazloum and company will have their work cut out for them, and the proof of Crystal’s bravado just may be in the, er, strudel.
Fortunately, quite a few from Crystal’s upper management hail from Austria, so they should know a thing or two about strudel. Mazloum is Austrian, as is Toni Neumeister, who will head up the culinary experience on Crystal Mozart. “The food concept is very similar to what we do on Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity,” with a focus on local cuisine, says Neumeister, vice president, food and beverage and hotel procurement for Crystal Cruises.
I find little to fault with the food and service on competitor cruise lines – AmaWaterways, Scenic, Uniworld, for example. The jury it out as to whether Crystal can achieve its lofty goal with regard to dining.
Multiple Dining Venues & Michelin-Star Dining Ashore
Crystal Mozart will feature six dining options: 1) open-seating dining in the main restaurant, called Waterside; 2) alternative dining in The Bistro, similar to the same space on Crystal Symphony and Serenity; 3) 24-hour room service; 4) an alternative dining venue called Blue; 5) the Vintage Room, offering a wine-pairing experience similar to the Vintage Room on Crystal Serenity; and 6) complimentary off-ship dining experiences at one of eight Michelin-starred restaurants.
This is nothing new. Scenic also offers up to six dining venues on its new ships. And French Country Waterways includes dining at a Michelin-star restaurant. The difference here, however, is that meals back on the luxury hotel barge rivaled the Michelin-star restaurant. With French Country Waterways’ per diems of up to $1,000 per person, that’s to be expected, though.
Crystal tells us that it will benefit by managing its own food and beverage personnel. Scylla manages Tauck’s vessels, and Sea Chefs manages food and beverage for many other river cruise companies. In our minds, those companies do well in the food and beverage arena.
So while Crystal can rightfully claim the industry’s highest crew-to-guest ratio, off-ship Michelin-star dining and its own Crystal staff as differentiating factors among its competitors, much remains to be seen, and tasted, before Crystal can say that it champions the rivers in dining.
Luxury buses, Small Boats On Board For Exploration
Crystal is developing small tour boats for VIP tours. The tour boats are to Crystal’s river yachts what Zodiacs are, more or less, to expedition vessels. Details of how the boats will be used are yet to be revealed. They’ll likely allow for off-ship exploration along the rivers. Currently under construction in Italy, the boats will be delivered at the end of the year.
Crystal’s tour buses, which have a capacity for up to 51 guests, have been reconfigured to carry only 42. That makes for comfortable seating, and it’s similar to what companies like Scenic do. The bathrooms were ripped out and redone on Crystal’s buses, and buses will feature complimentary WiFi. Other companies have similar features. AmaWaterways offers complimentary WiFi on its buses, for example.
On Crystal Mozart, Wifi will be offered as it is on Crystal Symphony and Serenity, 60 minutes free per day with rollover of unused minutes. Mazloum said Crystal’s intent is to guarantee performance by allocating usage evenly among guests. Crystal’s river yachts will use both satellite and cellular technology to facilitate internet access.
Competitors such as Scenic, Uniworld and AmaWaterways offer unlimited WiFi, and it works well on each in my experience. In fact, internet on AmaSerena mimicked speeds that I found shoreside in some instances. See The Future Of The Internet On River Cruises: Here Already On AmaWaterways
Spacious Standard Staterooms
Back when it operated for Peter Deilmann River Cruises, Mozart had a guest capacity of 206. Even then, standard staterooms were large by industry standards, measuring 203 square feet (see Size Matters: Peter Deilmann’s Mozart). The “reimagined” Mozart will feature window suites measuring 219 square feet along with deluxe suites that measure the same but with the addition of French balconies. All will feature king-size beds, Nespresso machines, 40-inch flat-screen televisions and marble bathrooms.
Penthouse suites come in at 330 square feet, while the two-bedroom Crystal Suite measures 883 square feet, which Crystal says is the largest on the European rivers. One-bedroom Penthouses and the two-bedroom Crystal Suite will feature French balconies, walk-in closets and separate showers and oversized bathtubs. As on Scenic, Crystal will offer butler service for all staterooms and suites as well as 24-hour room service.
And as on Emerald, Scenic, Tauck and Uniworld, gratuities will be prepaid (or included) on Crystal. Transfers are also included, and Mazloum told us that no guest will wait longer than 15 minutes before being transferred to the ship (in other words, Crystal will not make its guests wait until a shuttle or bus is filled with guests before proceeding to the ship).
Roundtrip From Vienna, Plus More Overnights
Instead of itineraries between Budapest and Passau or Nuremberg Crystal Mozart will offer 10-night itineraries roundtrip Vienna. Likewise, Crystal Mozart’s Eastern European cruises, which travel as far downriver as the Iron Gates, will be roundtrip Vienna, instead of between Bucharest and Budapest.
Claudius Docekal, who is responsible for all itinerary planning under the Crystal portfolio, says that operating roundtrip Vienna makes for a better embarkation/disembarkation experience. In Bucharest, for example, the airport is a two-plus-hour transfer from the Danube. “If you have an early-morning flight back to the U.S., you’d have to leave the ship at 3 a.m.,” Docekal said.
Crystal Mozart will also spend overnights in key cities, such as Linz, Passau, Vienna and Budapest, allowing for more time to explore these cities.
I’ll be on Crystal Mozart in July for a firsthand report. In the meantime, we’ll be covering more about what Crystal has planned here on River Cruise Advisor. Let’s just keep our fingers crossed the Mozart emerges as planned — and on time.
A Jaunt On Crystal’s Private Jet
Waiting for us in Cretone, Italy: Crystal's 12-passenger Bombardier Global Express BD-700 Business Jet © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Our crew for the 2.5-hour flight to Bremen, Germany. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Carrying only 12 passengers, the jet offers plenty of room to stretch out. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Comfortable workspace and dining area. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Champagne is included on Crystal Private Air. Ours was a 2007 Cristal. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Enjoying a glass of bubbly in flight. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
My colleague James Shillinglaw welcomes a glass of champagne. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
We soared above the earth at 30,000 feet. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Pilots Sean Henry (left) and Kevin Finley. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
The breakfast menu. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Quiche and champagne for breakfast. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
On our way to Bremen, Germany. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Bathroom with windows and leather seat lid. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Crystal's Senior VP of Finance Donald Mason (right) and Paul Garcia, Crystal's Director of Global Public Relations. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
The jet actually seats 13, but Crystal markets it for 12 because one person would have to sit in the center on a sofa. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
The best part: No hustling through security. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Steel-cutting ceremony in Bremerhaven, Germany for Crystal's four new river cruises scheduled to launch in summer 2017. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Crystal's parent, Genting Hong Kong, purchased Nordic Yards’ three shipbuilding facilities to form the Lloyd Werft Group in Wismar, Warnemunde and Bremerhaven, Germany. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Crystal President and CEO Edie Rodriguez prepares to cut the steel for four river cruise vessels. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Rodriguez poised to push the button. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
At the Lloyd Werft Group Design Center in Bremerhaven, Germany, where Crystal's ships are being designed. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Due out in the summer of 2017, four new Crystal River Yachts. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
At the ceremonial steel-cutting in Bremerhaven, Crystal President and CEO Edie Rodriguez. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Steel-cutting ceremony for Crystal's four river yachts, due out in 2017. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
From left: Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Genting Hong Kong and Edie Rodriguez, President and CEO of Crystal Cruises. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Steel-cutting ceremony for Crystal's four river yachts, due out in 2017. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Next stop: Wismar, Germany and, one of four shipyards owned by Crystal's parent, Genting Hong Kong. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Crystal committed to two additional river cruise yachts last week in Wismar, which brings the total fleet to seven. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Edie Rodriguez and the ceremonial pen used to sign a contract for two additional river cruise yachts last week. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
We got to visit 'mock ups' of Crystal River Cruises staterooms last week in Wismar. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
The stateroom mockup we saw measured 243 square feet. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Earlier this month, I stepped off Crystal Symphony in Crotone, Italy and into Crystal’s 12-passenger Bombardier Global Express BD-700 Business Jet. Destination? Northern Germany to the Lloyd-Werft shipyards in Bremerhaven and Wismar that Crystal’s parent, Genting Hong Kong, purchased to build Crystal’s fleet of vessels.
The growing fleet of ships now includes one expedition vessel, three ocean vessels and, as of an announcement in Wismar while we were at the shipyard, six river-cruise vessels. Previously four river newbuilds had been announced.
Traveling with me were several of my journalistic colleagues, Crystal Cruises President and CEO Edie Rodriguez, Paul Garcia, director of Crystal’s PR, and Donald Mason, the money man for Crystal.
Sitting in comfortable leather chairs while being served breakfast and Cristal champagne at 32,000 feet, we were privileged to be on a jet that Crystal makes available for charter at roughly $8,000 per hour. Though that’s comparable to other charter rates, whether Crystal succeeds at keeping the jet going remains to be seen.
All I can say with certainty at this point is that it sure beats commercial air — with the priceless benefit of bypassing the exceedingly long lines administered by TSA and its European counterparts.