Last Thursday, I stepped aboard Crystal Bach in Amsterdam. Today, docked in a vineyard on the Moselle midway through our 10-night voyage, I sat down to pen my initial impressions of Bach and Crystal River Cruises. Here are three things that stand out for me – so far.
1. Crystal represents “next level” river cruising. In fact, it is almost as if Crystal were not river cruising at all, at least in the way we have known river cruising up until now. No other company offers such a luxurious and refined experience on the European rivers. Yes, some in Crystal’s competitive set come close, but as I wrote a couple of years ago, Crystal River Cruises truly does stand apart. What Crystal offers so exquisitely is, well, whatever you want it to be: a heightened degree of decadence, a refined foray into luxury or an elevated way of exploring Europe. You may ask if this isn’t just me being overly enthusiastic about Crystal? If so, I am not alone. Crystal has had more than 30 years to develop its luxury experience on the oceans. During those years, readers of travel publications have heaped praise on Crystal. What Crystal learned during its years of accumulating awards on the oceans, it brought to the rivers. This year, readers of Condé Nast Traveler named Crystal “Best River Cruise Line.” What is it that separates Crystal from the pack? Let’s continue with those initial impressions to find out.
2. Crystal Bach is a sanctuary of quiet and relaxation. During his safety briefing, Crystal Bach’s Captain Douwe cited a figure that surprised me. Crystal Bach, he said, weighs 600 tons more than other river cruise vessels of the same size. Thus, you won’t find flimsy of any sort on Crystal Bach. Doors are thicker than those you might encounter on other river cruise vessels; walls and ceilings are thicker too – and well-insulated. From my stateroom, I haven’t heard another door slam, as has been the case on some other river cruisers. My stateroom is as quiet as a dormouse. Situated on deck 3, stateroom (303) rivals luxury hotel rooms. Measuring 253-square-feet my S1 category room features a king-sized bed, a large bathroom with glass-enclosed shower, a walk-in closet and a Panoramic Window Balcony that descends (and ascends) with the push of a button. Crystal describes its staterooms as “enclaves of elegance,” and indeed, they are such. For me, stateroom 303 served as my sanctuary where I could relax and enjoy gliding along the Rhine and Moselle rivers. Bach himself could not have come up with a more beautiful composition.
3. The creme brûlée says all you need to know about Crystal River Cruises. During the lunch buffet this week, my eye landed on a diminutive dish of creme brûlée. Sitting atop the caramelized sugar was a gold-leaf blueberry. It was as pretty to look at as it was to consume. That sentiment defines my experience so far on Bach. The small things have elevated the guest experience. Some of those small things: 1) the soap dish in my shower is an attractive porcelain bowl; 2) gorgeous silver-plated cutlery in the dining areas; 3) glassware by Riedel and Illos; 4) porcelain by Rosenthal, Revol and Schonwald; 5) Zieher porcelain pillows in staterooms for chocolates; 6) snack vases by Isabel Lam. “Our guests have traveled all over the world, so we’re trying to find small touches that surprise and delight,” said Ross Martin, Crystal’s corporate beverage manager. He told me the story of once being out with colleagues for lunch in the Netherlands and upon returning to the ship, they passed a small antique shop. Inside were a set of glasses that they all agreed needed to be on Crystal’s river cruise ships. So they bought a couple of the glasses, and today, the bartenders use them to serve special cocktails. “It’s an environment that we grew up with while working for Crystal,” Martin said. “We’re always looking to find that thing that helps us go the extra mile.”
Next week, I’ll share a few more impressions and sum up what promises to be a wonderful voyage on Crystal Bach. Update: To read that post, please see Live From Crystal Bach: Final Impressions As Our Cruise Ends
Full disclosure: I was a guest of Crystal for the purposes of this review.