We wondered when it would happen: When would a savvy river cruise company pick up the rest of Crystal River Cruises fleet. Nearly a year after Crystal ceased sailing, Riverside Luxury Cruises acquired the double-width Crystal Mozart. That left four recently Crystal built river cruisers with an uncertain fate. We worried that with companies recovering from the pandemic no one would be flush enough with cash to purchase these spectacular ships.
The four Crystal ships – Bach, Ravel, Mahler and Debussy – broke with tradition when they were introduced in 2017 and 2018. Carrying just over 100 guests, the four ships featured beautiful public areas, multiple dining options, spacious staterooms, indoor pools, and at the time Crystal operated them, outstanding staff and service.
To get a sense of what the ships are like, take a look at a couple of my stories. I cruised Bach along the Rhine and Moselle in October of 2019. See Take A Look Inside The Beautiful Crystal Bach and I hosted a group on Debussy in 2021. See I Cruised Crystal Debussy In October. Was This The Same Crystal That We Knew & Loved Before The Pandemic? What Changed & Why.
Luckily, the ex-Crystal ships have a new life under Riverside Luxury Cruises. They’ll join the Riverside Mozart, which starts Danube sailings in April of this year.
We know little about Riverside, but we have high hopes that the company will operate in a similar style as Crystal did. While Riverside is promising to deliver such an experience, we won’t see the execution of such aspirations until the ships start sailing this spring. So far, from what we know about staffing, Riverside appears to be on the right path.
The company says in press releases that it will be defined not only by its crew-to-guest ratio (we’re happy to hear that) but also by its service culture, which is “authentically personal in nature.” We’re eager to see what that means. Most river cruise companies aspire to the standard of providing personalized service. Riverside will have butlers, usually, but not always, one of the hallmarks of luxury river cruises.
From a culinary perspective, Riverside says it aims to provide “the best cuisine and wine cellar on the water” and will place an emphasis on the freshness and quality of all ingredients on board. Crystal’s farm-to-table dining certainly ranked high on the culinary charts.
Each of Riverside’s ships will have a crew of trained sommeliers (as did Crystal) and bartenders will have “access to special regional and global wines as well as some of the best spirits available,” with a wine cellar that is “unparalleled even among the best restaurants on land.”
The company promises “a best-in-class- shoreside team,” with the goal of providing guests an open door to a world of exclusive experiences. On shore and on board, wellness experiences will be curated to encourage guests to enjoy the river and surrounding countryside with all their senses.
Comparisons to Crystal will be unavoidable, which sets a high bar for Riverside. One area where Riverside breaks with Crystal is in deployment. We are happy to see that Ravel will operate on the Rhône and Saône beginning this year. Crystal told us that they never had aspirations of operating in France (other than Strasbourg along the Rhine) because of the high cost of operations in that country.
Debussy will sail along the Rhine between Amsterdam to Basel. Itineraries for the Riverside Bach and Riverside Mahler are slated for 2024 and will be announced later this year for booking.
Now available for bookings, Riverside Luxury Cruises says it will offer “aggressive pricing.” While we do see prices as low as US$3,626 per stateroom/suite on the company’s website, those are for three-night cruises between Lyon and Chalon Sur Saône. Eleven-night cruises are priced just shy of $12,000 per stateroom/suite. Note that pricing is per suite and not per person, which is different from how the rest of the industry does it. The Owner’s Suite on the 11-night cruise goes for $56,722. It accommodates five in two bedrooms (with two bathrooms). That’s a hefty sum, for sure, and in general, we are not finding Riverside’s pricing to be aggressive.
For example, breaking down the cost of the $12,000 Melody Suite amounts to about $600 per person per day. That’s for 11 nights; however, we derive per diems by the number of full days that a person is on board. Though an 11-night river cruises spans 13 days, you’re on the ship late on the first day and off early (sometimes real early) on the final day of the cruise.
Unlike on other river cruises, the Best Fare for the Melody Suite does not include wine and beer or soft drinks with lunch and dinner. You can upgrade to the Premium All Inclusive Fare at a cost of $13,616 per suite. Then you’ll have the Premium Beverage Package, as well as Cakes, Waffles & Ice Cream in the afternoons. We can imagine the latter being a mess if everyone is not invited.
If you want to include one preselected excursion at each port of call, you’ll need to pony up $14,166 per suite (without the drinks and cakes package), and you can have it all for $15,816 per suite. Note that all of these rates include a 15 percent Early Booking discount for cruises booked before January 31, 2023. To to have it all, The Premium All-Inclusive Including Excursions package, in the smallest stateroom (still, a generous 188 square feet with a beautiful panoramic balcony window) will run you US$790 per person per day.
We’re not big fans of this sort of stratifed pricing. Years ago, A-Rosa tried something similar with the U.S. market. U.S. guests paid more than their European counterparts for river cruises but enjoyed all-inclusive experiences. Europeans did not have all-inclusive experiences. That became particularly obvious at the bar. Because my beverages were included on my A-Rosa river cruise, I ran a small campaign called, Buy a European a Drink. Needless to say, I was a hit among the Europeans.
That said, many of our readers tell us they don’t want to pay for someone else’s drinks. So unbundling the adult beverages, as Riviera has done so well, has some appeal to those who do not imbibe as much as their fellow travelers.
Riverside will be interesting to watch as the company evolves. We are cheering that Riverside succeeds, and we applaud them for breathing new life into Crystal’s ex-fleet.
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