T+L’s Take: Crystal’s First River Ship, Crystal Mozart
You might be forgiven for feeling as if you’ve landed in a chic boutique hotel rather than on a cruise ship. That’s because the new Crystal Mozart, Crystal’s stunningly designed first non-ocean vessel, is a true game changer—and possibly the most luxurious river ship afloat. And yet the vibe is remarkably easy going: There are no formal nights and no set seating times, and the service, which is attentive and warm but not overly fussy, is pitched perfectly for the mostly American clientele. Think of the Crystal Mozart as the perfect ship for that skeptical non-cruising friend you’ve been meaning to convert.
The largest ship on Europe’s rivers, the Crystal Mozart is almost twice as wide as its competition. The vessel’s size restricts it to the parts of the Danube with larger locks, such as the round-trip Vienna to Budapest route we took, but it also allows for four restaurants, expansive public spaces, a wraparound promenade deck, and even a full gym, giving the ship’s 154 passengers plenty of room to move. You’ll need the exercise: With 24/7 room service, multicourse Austrian- and Bavarian-inspired dinners, the on-point wine list, and the amazing ice cream at Bistro Mozart and Blue—all of which is included—calorie restriction feels like a lost cause.
Before Crystal bought the ship, it belonged to Peter Deilmann Cruises, but unlike on many refurbished ships, you won’t see any hints of its previous incarnation: There are no ancient outlets in the cabin, no scratched railings or dated-looking bathrooms left to be redone another day. With the exception of a piano and a few pieces of art, every exquisite detail on the ship is brand new. And though the price tag is high—budget travelers need not apply—Crystal piles on plenty of included perks, from a phenomenal wine list to lavish, high-tech cabins to a private concert at Vienna’s Belvedere Palace. In fact, you might just find yourself wondering if you are getting the better end of the deal.
Travel + Leisure was recently invited as a guest by Crystal River Cruises to sail down the Danube, round-trip from Vienna to Budapest. Here are a few of our favorite things from the ship.
Mirroring the colors of the Danube, the ship’s stylish black, white, blue, and gray interiors are accented with luxe metallics and crystals, creating a look that feels sophisticated and modern. A few of the loveliest touches: a faux fireplace that flickers with LED-lit water vapors and windows cut into the floor of the top deck so that the public spaces below are bathed in natural light.
The ship’s 77 suites are simply stunning: all grays and slate blues with splashes of green, in sizes that range from 219-square-feet for a cabin with a window to the 883-square foot two-bedroom Crystal Suite, the biggest on any river ship. Every cabin comes with a pillowy king-size bed backed by a leather headboard, as well as a loveseat, Nespresso coffee maker, and a soda-and-wine-filled fridge. Bathrooms have glass-enclosed showers and heated towel racks, and if you’re in one of the Penthouse or Crystal Suites, you’ll have a whirlpool tub, too.
If you’re into gadgets, you’re on the right ship. The iPad Mini on your suite’s deskside table lets you do pretty much anything you want: order room service, adjust the cabin’s temperature, pick an on-demand movie, check the weather, request extra pillows or Etro toiletries, reserve excursions, read the newspaper, and even turn the electronic “do not disturb” sign on and off. (There’s also a switch at the door.) And then there’s the automated Japanese Toto toilet, which has a bidet, seat warmer, remote control, and a lid that opens and closes automatically when you walk in the room. It’s nirvana for technophiles.
Everything about the food on the Crystal Mozart feels like an homage to the itinerary. Locally sourced ingredients and regional dishes are on every menu. The chic main dining room, Waterside, has a buffet at breakfast and lunch, and a three-course seated dinner at night. (You can walk in any time you like. Seating is open and there’s no need for reservations.) One night, you might order a weiner schnitzel and black forest cake, the next a Viennese goulash and fried Bavarian doughnuts. The sommelier chooses a white and red wine every evening for the meal—many selections were Austrian, Slovakian, or Hungarian, and all were excellent—or you can order from a menu of additional complimentary or priced wines. Other dinner spots include the wine-centric, for-fee Vintage Room, and the Bistro Mozart, which serves casual fare like Sacher wurstl by night, and puts out a spread of freshly baked pretzels, charcuterie, and pastries to snack on during the day. For lunch, the best spot is Blue: The Vienna reuben sandwich is decadent and delicious.
The ship has a crew-to-passenger ratio of 1:1.75, and many of the staff have served on Crystal’s ocean-going vessels. So all you have to do is look a little lost and someone will swoop in to help you get your bearings. There’s even a butler to unpack your bags, should you so wish. Service is especially attentive in Waterside, where wait staff offered spot-on suggestions and wine glasses never sat empty.
The Vista Deck
The most spectacular public space on the ship may be the top deck, where passengers come for morning yoga and afternoon cocktails. No other river cruise ship has anything quite like it: There’s a live garden, teak benches, and a pop-up bar—it retracts when the ship sails under a low bridge—all of which compete for attention with the centuries-old river towns and cliff-hugging castles rolling by. Colorful beanbags and lounge chairs add pops of color, and there’s even an LED screen where passengers can watch movies or sports games under the stars.
When the weather gets chilly, the spa’s indoor relaxation area may be the best place on the ship to relax. Passengers can swim against the current in a small pool under a ceiling of crystal stars, take a dip in the whirlpool, or just curl up in a lounge chair by windows overlooking the bow. The Crystal Life Spa also has a full fitness area, steam rooms, and saunas, two treatment rooms, and a beauty salon. Appointments tend to fill up fast so book as soon as you board.
The Palm Court is the ship’s observation lounge and entertainment epicenter: There’s a restored Bösendorfer piano, one of the few pieces that remain from before the ship’s refurbishment, and when the ship is in port, local performers and musicians often appear on the stage. After dinner, guests head to intimate The Cove for cocktails and live piano music.
Most excursions are included in the price and involve one of the ship’s coach buses, all of which have a coffee maker (a boon on morning tours) and free Wifi. Grab the earpiece in your cabin to take with you; you’ll be able to hear your tour guide talk even if you’re walking at the back of the pack. The ship also carries two speedboats with teak decks for private, for-fee tours. Feel like working off yesterday’s Sacher torte? Borrow one of the 30 e-bikes on board and explore on your own.
The Included Extras
Among the touches that set Crystal Mozart apart are two signature excursions that would set you back on any other ship. Included in the trip is one complimentary lunch or dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant: Think Le Ciel in Vienna or Tanti in Budapest. (Wine and gratuities are free, as well). In Vienna, guests also spend an evening at Belvedere Palace (home of Klimt’s The Kiss) for a guided tour and a private performance of Strauss and Mozart in the Marble Hall.