If you’re a regular visitor to this site, you may have read My First Impressions Of Crystal Bach. If not, let me sum up that article for you: Crystal represents “next level” river cruising. By next level, I mean that Crystal offers a degree of luxury seldom seen on the European rivers. In October, I spent 10 nights on the beautiful Bach, and my time onboard only confirmed my initial impressions during my first few days of boarding Bach: Every aspect of my Crystal river cruise represented a refined elegance that, in my experience, mirrored what Crystal offers on the oceans: an award-winning cruise experience that is practically unrivaled.
Were it not for the size of Bach (135 meters long and carrying 106 guests), I could have easily imagined that I was cruising on Crystal’s Serenity or Crystal Symphony, particularly with regard to the dining experience and the staff. I ran into quite a few crew members, in fact, who had made the transition to Bach from Crystal’s ocean ships. My butler Igor remembered me from Crystal Symphony. Igor had not only a remarkable memory – I cruised with him more than a decade ago – but also a professional and approachable, demeanor. He could be quite comical. When I left my room one morning, for example, he joked that he’d be hosting a party in the room while I was gone but would have it all ready for me when I returned. Each interaction with him was a delight.
In fact, interactions with every single crew member were delightful. Greetings, even by the ship’s sailors as they were performing their tasks, were heartfelt, and I even observed courtesies between crew members. They treated each other with respect and dignity, extending common courtesies to one another just as they did to guests.
Sailing on Crystal Bach during my cruise, Tom Wolber, president and CEO of Crystal Cruises since 2017, told me that the professionalism and courtesies to staff and guests alike are part of the Crystal culture. “The individual service that these crew members give is the cornerstone of what makes Crystal,” Wolber told an audience of guests during a special presentation aboard Bach.
Indeed, staff never appeared rushed. In the dining room, for example, not once did I feel as though a server tried to cut short a conversation because of being too busy. That’s also thanks to 70 crew members serving up to 106 guests, a 1-to-1.6-staff-to-guest ratio, the highest on the rivers. “Some river cruise companies have 45 crew and sail with up to 200 guests,” Wolber said.
Because of Crystal’s corporate culture and the relaxed environment onboard, 90 percent of crew members returned to work for subsequent seasons, a clear indication that they are happy serving Crystal guests. There’s no question that Crystal’s well-earned reputation of exceptional service on the oceans has transitioned well to the rivers.
An Unexpected Bottle Of Water
I was impressed with Crystal River Cruises from the very first day. Shortly after embarkation in Amsterdam, my son called me to tell me that a hickory nut had shattered the sunroof of my Jeep Grand Cherokee. I took a seat in a corner of the lobby to talk with him. As we were discussing how to file an insurance claim and initiate a repair, Marita, one of the receptionists on Crystal Bach brought over a bottle of water and a glass and quietly sat it on the table beside me. It was such a thoughtful gesture that it caught me by surprise, and it was the type of gesture that I would experience during my entire voyage on Crystal Bach. “We loved her! Always a smile on her face!” wrote a couple on our Instagram account in reference to the photo above.
A few days into our voyage along the Rhine and Moselle rivers, I commended Crystal Bach’s Hotel Manager for the crew’s exceptional service, mentioning the story of Marita. He told me: “It’s really something that cannot be trained. It is something inside each of the crew members that motivates them to provide this level of service – and we hand-select them for that quality.”
Dining On Crystal Bach
While the service will certainly endure you to Crystal, the dining will wow you. Crystal boasts farm-to-table dining on its river cruises, meaning that you’re consuming products from Europe’s plentiful farms and markets. I’m not the first to proclaim that if Michelin were to award stars to restaurants on ships, Crystal Bach would deserve to be in that constellation of great restaurants.
One hands-down winner for me was Crystal Bach’s open-seating dining. We simply needed to show up anytime between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. each evening for dinner. I also appreciated that there were plenty of tables that seated only two people. Ten nights of socializing can test even the most enthusiastic of extroverts, so being able to take a break was something that I appreciated. There were other ways to retreat also, with room service, or in the Bistro, which served a wonderful tapas menu each night.
Burning The Calories On Excursions
Remarkably during our river cruise, I was able to tally up more than 100 miles of bicycling along the rivers, mainly the Moselle, with its sunny days and colorful vineyards stitching up the slopes. Crystal Bach carries a fleet of bikes for individual and guided excursions, all complimentary, of course.
We also spent one day hiking in Luxembourg’s Little Switzerland. The activity felt good given the irresistible food and drink served up on Bach – even those with superhuman willpower could not say no to the desserts. The active excursions had good participation – and good tour leaders – too. A highlight for many was a four-mile hike in Luxembourg’s Little Switzerland. The sandstone formations among the forested hills were unlike anything I’d seen before.
Two Special Events
While docked in Bernkastel, Germany, we enjoyed an evening at Kloster Machern where La Finesse, four female virtuosos dressed in memorable red dresses, combined classical (think Beethoven) with classic rock (think AC/DC) in a single composition. You can hear a sample in the video below. The concert was perfect in every way. The motorcoach transfer to the venue was short in duration, about 15 minutes; the performance started without delay; and it lasted only about 45 minutes, leaving us all wanting more. We actually did get more when one of the performers came to the ship the next evening to perform a solo act.
Even the old river cruise standard – the folkloric show – was exceptionally well done. In Amsterdam, a group of gentlemen and ladies entertained us with traditional Dutch songs and dances. The ladies wore hand-stitched dresses that looked as though they’d been well cared for – and handed down for generations. Seldom, if ever, have I seen a folkloric show so well done.
On another afternoon, while docked in Nijmegen, a charming university town in the Netherlands, Crystal took us to a manor home on a special “President’s Excursion.” Tom Wolber and his wife Sharon were our hosts. Castle Middachten and its gardens were a treat to visit, but it was what happened at the end of our three hours there that moved more than a few guests to tears. Unfortunately, I can’t say what that was that moved them, because it would spoil the surprise for anyone doing this excursion on future visits. You can get a sense of the excursion in the photos below, however.
As we were nearing the end of our cruise along the Rhine and Moselle rivers, roundtrip Amsterdam, I awoke early one morning and joined Captain Douwe in the wheelhouse. The Moselle was a stunning sight to behold. A light mist rose from the river. On both sides of the ship, the steep landscapes were stitched in vineyards displaying brightly colored leaves. The sun was just beginning to peep over the hills ahead. “Life is beautiful,” Captain Douwe said. Then spreading his arms at the scene before us, he added: “But you have to get out and see it.”
Truer words have seldom been spoken.
I’ll have more to say about Crystal Bach next week. In the meantime, check out our Crystal Bach Review (Updated 2019)
Full disclosure: I was a guest of Crystal for the purposes of this review.