Crystal Cruise Line's river yacht, Crystal Mozart, has been touted as the most luxurious and best river cruise ship of the moment…I've just returned from being onboard for 11 nights on a fascinating Eastern European itinerary that included some unusual visits, but more importantly, want to post my review of the ship.
Staterooms. The extra pluses provided in the stateroom on Crystal Mozart include Nespresso machines with espresso pods, replensihed daily, a nice selection of bar ware, and a fridge with complimentary white wine, soda and water. Welcome bottles of a lovely Austrian champagne and a Crystal Cab were also a nice touch. An iPod operates various functions including TV, movies on demand, Crystal programming, menu guides, dining menus and more.There’s a large flat screen monitor mounted to the wall; however I found the programming choices rather minimal and lacking at this point. CNN and CNBC International was available on the TV, and the movie selection wasn’t great, but adequate. Each room is supplied with Quietvox hearing units with charger stands for use on shore excursions (which worked very well) and a pair of quality Bushnell binoculars. While not unique to Crystal Mozart, butlers service all the cabins, and can provide various services, such as complimentary pressing. Sound proofing between cabins is excellent. On rainy days Crystal provided umbrellas.
Space in my stateroom ( #157) was very compact. While a king-size bed is welcome, I found the closet to bed space poorly designed, in that you had to stand to the side to open the closets, and one person had to move out or sit on the bed for another to get to the closet. The closet space itself was ample and well designed, but I would gladly have sacrificed a couple of inches to have a retractable closet door. The rest of the stateroom was fine space-wise, just getting to and into the closet presented issues. Lighting is excellent and adjustable for brightness, as was the adjustable cabin temperature which worked well.
Bathrooms. The big plus here is the large shower (for a river boat) and the adjustable rain shower head – that is, the rain shower head isn’t attached above you but on the side wall, and adjusts so you can have it spray at you, rather than on top of you. There are also four small shelves in the shower, with plenty of space for whatever you need in the shower.
The other over-the-top bathroom feature here is the heated and self-washing Toto toilet with control panel. The Crystal Mozart might well be the only river cruise ship to have these. The Toto responds to movement, and every time you enter the bathroom the toilet seat lid rises up to greet you, like it or not! (I believe there is some way to adjust this, if you are so inclined.)
As for bathroom storage, there wasn't much; limited to two narrow shelves above the toilet, and one narrow ledge above the sink. There’s also a shelf near the floor, adequate for storing two toiletry bags. Storage was sufficient if compact. There is also a wall-mounted vanity mirror as well as two hair dryers, one attached to the wall and the other portable. The heated towel racks are not unique to Crystal Mozart, but a nice touch as well.
The circular sink is a very good size. The bathroom space itself is small, no doubt to accommodate the larger shower stall. The bathroom is not convenient for use by two persons simultaneously. Amenities are the same as on Crystal’s ocean ships, Etro by La Botega in Italy, and come in large-sized tubes bottles. Beds and linens were comfortable enough, though I do prefer the Savoir beds on Uniworld.
Cuisine. Cuisine in the Waterside Restaurant is excellent and creative (and service is mostly attentive, except on occasions when the dining room was full, when the staff struggle to keep up and is less attentive (and apologetic). Even when not full, we found times when our dirty dishes weren’t removed between buffet meal courses, and wine wasn’t offered unless we hailed someone and asked for it. But these were exceptions to the rule, as otherwise service was top notch, courteous, personal and efficient.
The young-looking executive German chef, Tobias Unger, deserves kudos for the variety offered on the menu during the cruise; and of course, the quality of ingredients is the highest. Fish never tasted dry, soups were flavorful and never tasted salty, beef was tender and perfectly prepared to order. I can’t imagine any other river ship doing better.
The alternative casual dining venue, BLUE, is only open for lunch, with a mostly set menu that doesn’t change: burgers, an excellent Reuben, a [somehwat boring] wurst plate, a cobb salad. The menu is fixed, with a daily pasta, flatbread and soup special of the day. Service in Blue was excellent.
The Bistro offers great coffee drinks, (the coffee in Waterside is less than stellar), teas and afternoon snacks as well as a late risers breakfast. There's also ice cream, with two sorbet flavors and six ice cream flavors, which never seemed to change. Menu includes hot and iced beverages, as well as French Press coffee, and espresso, chocolate and tea drinks. The Bistro also offers a tapas dinner menu some nights and with a set menu, which was fun and different, and included 10 - 12 items served to share. All food, drinks and beverages (wine ande cocktails) onboard are included, except for select premium wines.
Spa. Crystal Mozart must have the largest fitness area of any river cruise ship, located in front of the ship on Deck 1. There is also a hair salon and massage room on Deck 2, where a variety of treatments are offered. A one-hour massage was a reasonable 85 euro. There is an indoor pool (possibly the largest of any river ship), with the ability to swim against a current if you like. Next to the pool is a small indoor Jacuzzi. There is also a relaxation area with several lounge chairs overlooking the front of the boat.
Staff & Service. The Crystal Attitude, the hallmark of Crysal's ocean cruises, is evident onboard this river ship: staff is attentive and pays attention and aims to please. They never assume. The sommeliers were very knowledgeable about wine, and did a great job. Wait staff also was very fine; most seemed happy in their positions. Our butler was overly talkative, but helpful. Having worked 5 years on Scenic and on Oceania, he was interesting to talk to. Reception desk was always helpful and eager to please and address any issues, and were spot on.
There is a self-service laundry room on Deck 2, with soap provided, and three washers and three dryers, as well as an ironing board and iron. These were used a lot, and getting to use the machines was often a challenge and a wait on our 11-day cruise, when demand was high.
Cigar room. The luxuriously outfitted room would make any cigar/smoker happy, though not being one, I wish the space could have been better utilized. It’s a lovely “living room” type area with about 8 – 10 seats. I ever saw a soul in it whenver I walked past.
Excursions & Coaches. Crystal’s motor coaches offer extra foot space and comfortable seating, and an onboard bathroom, as they follow the vessel along its route. The local guides we had were generally excellent – and their commentary insightful and informative, especially in the Balkan region we were cruising in. As there are too few “lectures” or port talks onboard, the only “educational” enrichment was found ashore -- we craved what information we could glean from the local guides on our excursions. In larger ports, shuttle service is operated into town for guests.
Programming & Entertainment. On board enrichment content is minimal, and it’s an area where Crystal could step up its game. The commentary broadcast through the ship’s pa system enroute to the Iron Gates was hard to understand… This content could be printed and available to guests (many who complained about not being able to understand the speaker with his accent, or it could be made available to read on the in-room TV screens. Generally, except for the local guides on shore excursions, there is very little available or shared onboard about the excursions or places being visited.
As regards entertainment, there’s one person, the piano player/singer, (Neil Fullerton on our cruise) who doubles as pseudo game show host. (Newlywed game, trivia and movie quizzes, etc.) We generally found these evening events poorly attended, whether for lack of interest or their relatively later hour is hard to say – or perhaps our well-heeled and well-traveled crowd aren’t interested in this type of entertainment. Neil was very social and lovely to talk to, and was always around the ship engaging with clients.
What’s missing, for me at least, was more insights and cultural information onboard about where we were cruising, such as via recorded programs on the TV, if not live presentations. There were just two “lectures” during our 11-night cruise, and we missed both because they occurred while we were on excursions, and there were not recorded for viewing on the in-room TV monitor, as far as I know. There was one opera singer (again we missed because we went to a folkloric show shoreside) and a duo from Bratislava. I am sure programming is a challenge, but likewise, distances covered from port to port are sometimes not great, and one would think a bit more onboard cultural enrichment might be feasible. There was one apple strudel demo and a nice galley tour.
However, there were three entertainment shows offered shoreside: two fine and private folkloric shows and the highight: a private classical concert with two singers and two dancers held at after hours at Vienna's Belvedere Palace.
Top Deck. Seating is comfortable, with both sofa-style seating and chaise lounges available, either under a large sun screen or not. Around the open deck are various seating options, including bean bag-type chairs. The plant garden in the front is nice to look at, and different, but was impractical when sailing Budapest at night. (It was difficult to get to the railing and some guests just stepped over or through the plant beds to get to the railing for the views.)
The ship has a number of e-bikes, maybe 25 or so, and offered a few bike excursions. The bikes were fun to use.
Deck three. The main show lounge, Bistro, BLUE and Waterside dining room are all on Deck 3. There is also an outside walking deck around the entire ship, which was popular with walkers, and I believe unusual for a river ship. There's also an elevator connecting Decks 1, 2 and 3 for persons needing such assistance.
Disembarkation. As the ship overnights the last night in Vienna, disembarkation at any time is easy. Reception arranges taxi pick-ups for each guest for those on their own, which was a nice convenience.
Crystal Cruises has always been a favorite of TravelStore's, and Crystal Mozart doesn't disappoint, and offers an excellent river cruise product, and we offer onboard credit as well so uou can enjoy a spa treatment, an optional excursion, or top shelf premium wine.