Agent Experience: Crystal Bach

Anne Rogers, Wings Away Travel:

In the crowded marketplace of European river cruising, an eye-watering degree of chutzpah is the first requirement for a new player. Constraints on ship dimensions make it difficult to stand out, and this must have weighed heavily on the decision makers at Crystal Cruises as they contemplated how best to satisfy demand for river experiences from a loyal ocean cruise customer base.

The answer: to somehow neatly bring the ocean product to the river, and this they have done with stunning success, deftly deflecting the “conversation” away from balconies, toiletries and thread count to the things which matter more: less passengers, larger suites, and more crew.

I sailed on the very new Crystal Bach for seven nights in the “twilight zone” between the busy summer season and the popular Christmas Market program.

Fans of Crystal ocean will immediately notice a familiar ambience which evokes that of a small luxury hotel. Our suite is spacious and airy; it’s easy to see that these are the largest on the rivers. Bathrooms are thoughtfully appointed with a brilliant shower, massive fog free mirror, Crystal’s signature twin basin and full-size toiletries by Etro. The walk-in closet is better than home where I also wish there was a stocked mini bar and Nespresso machine. The desk/vanity is thoughtfully supplied with an additional makeup mirror, and a spot to use the second hairdryer. A full size TV streaming news and a huge selection of movies completes what is surely the best appointed “hang-out” on the rivers.

Then there are the butlers; one thoughtfully assigned to each suite. Poor fellows: we Australians love the “idea” of butlers but have no idea what to actually “do” with them, so offers to unpack/pack are hastily declined, and requests for cups of tea tentatively made.

I must mention breakfast, not just because the offering is perfect in every way, but also because to walk into the beautiful Waterside Restaurant, and be greeted in such a bright, friendly manner is worth waking up for. I should mention that the crew are outstanding. Not only are they well versed in the stylish “Crystal way”, they are confident in its delivery, genuinely enthusiastic, and beautifully groomed. That Crystal has the highest crew-to-guest ratio on the rivers is clearly evident.

The onboard cuisine is outstanding, as are the variety of venues to enjoy it, from room service to private dining in the Vintage Room. The Waterside restaurant is superb, but the casual bistro is equally enjoyable. A 24/7 pantry offering an eye-watering selection of pastries completes the picture. This is an all-inclusive product, and the quality of the offerings in the main bar was impressive. Lots of great cocktails –always made with the finest spirits, while wines with meals were stunning.

Around the ship, it’s impossible not to be fascinated by the decor — beautiful at any time, but enhanced during our cruise by a posse of stylists who dressed Bach for Christmas from top to bottom. There is a guest laundry, a well equipped gym, and an indoor pool, surrounded by a beautiful area for relaxing, complete with a fireplace! The sundeck boasts a pop-up bar for use between low bridges.

Our fellow guests — just 100 of them — came from across the globe, making for fascinating social encounters both on board and during the complimentary shore excursions. A fleet of luxury Crystal coaches follows the ship to provide ground transport, and in a signature Crystal touch, an on-shore dining experience at a Michelin-starred restaurant is included for every guest.

Disembarkation was impeccably organised, with cars and taxis despatched exactly on time, and complimentary airport transfers for those needing them.

Oh, and about the balcony — or lack of. The Crystal arrangement whereby the top half of a massive floor to ceiling window electronically drops to the level of a nice wide ledge, with room for a drink,is just about perfect in my book.