virtuoso global November 2019 Voyage Report: Inside a VIP European River Cruise

Voyage Report: Inside a VIP European River Cruise

The <em>Crystal Mahler</em> will sail multiple voyages from Budapest starting spring 2020. 
The Crystal Mahler will sail multiple voyages from Budapest starting spring 2020. 
Photo by Getty Images
Five travel advisors share a taste of life on board the Crystal Mahler.
Voyages on board the 106-passenger Crystal Mahler marry the glamour of ocean voyages with the intimacy of fine European boutique hotels. That’s the consensus of five cruise veterans – Karyn Farr, James Ferguson, Mark F. Hoyer, Nancy Porthan, and Kathy Wilton – who just returned from a Crystal Cruises sailing along the Main and Rhine rivers. (These Virtuoso travel advisors have some serious cruising cred, logging more than 140 voyages collectively.)

Their seven-day, Amsterdam-to-Nuremberg voyage stopped at ports in German towns such as Würzburg and UNESCO-designated Bamberg. At every stop, inclusive shore excursions led the travelers into memorable activities, from bike tours to beer tasting.

Here, the five Virtuoso cruising experts share what life is like river cruising with Crystal.
<em>Crystal Mahler</em> passengers are treated to a welcome bottle of sparking wine in their staterooms. 
Crystal Mahler passengers are treated to a welcome bottle of sparking wine in their staterooms. 

Homey Staterooms

“Stepping aboard is like coming home,” Kathy Wilton says. She notes that fans of Crystal’s ocean cruises will find similar comforts on river voyages – especially considering the Mahler’s all-suite, all-balcony accommodations. The staterooms range from the 188-square-foot Petite Suite (which includes a king-size bed and a panoramic balcony window) to the 759-square-foot, two-bedroom Crystal Suite (which sleeps as many as five and comes with a private dining area). Karyn Farr, who has a lifetime tally of 82 cruises and counting, was impressed by her 253-square-foot Deluxe Suite’s large walk-in closet and dual-vanity bathroom with heated floors.
 
The suites feature thoughtful touches such as Inspresso coffee machines and iPads that enable passengers to set the temperature, order room service, check the weather, and read a newspaper. The crowning detail: “Making the king-size bed face out toward the floor-to-ceiling balcony window was the best idea,” Mark F. Hoyer says. “The Deluxe Suite was the most spacious accommodation I’ve ever seen on a river cruise. It was also shockingly quiet – I never heard my neighbors or any other noises.”
Room service in one of the <em>Crystal Mahler</em>'s 35 Deluxe Suites evelates riverside dining to a new level. 
Room service in one of the Crystal Mahler's 35 Deluxe Suites evelates riverside dining to a new level. 

Six-Star Service

James Ferguson has worked in the travel industry for 44 years, but this Mahler expedition was his first Crystal sailing. He says the best aspect of the cruise was the sincere hospitality of the staff, including his butler, Mario Vukic. Other advisor favorites soon emerged. (On the Mahler, the crew-to-passenger ratio is almost one to one.) “The bartender Norbert Toth was the standout. He loved gifting people special concoctions he thought they would enjoy,” Nancy Porthan says.
 

Food for Thought

Sailing along some of Europe’s powerhouse rivers – the Main and Rhine – means passing through some of the world’s richest farming regions. The Crystal Mahler’s dining venues source meat and produce from nearby merchants, with nary a frozen carrot or pre-prepared sauce in sight. (Often, passengers can join the ship’s chef on a morning market visit.) The regional fare changes daily in the ship’s three open-seating venues: Bistro Mahler (Viennese-inspired décor and casual pub fare), The Vintage Room (best for wine-lovers), and the Waterside (modern American dining).
 
Advisors praised the fresh seafood and beef at Waterside, from grilled salmon and delicate halibut to sirloin steak. As for dessert, “I had a raspberry clafouti to die for,” Karyn Farr says. “It was a perfect mixture of sponge cake, tangy raspberry puree, and lightly sweetened whipped cream.” The Mahler’s dining team makes all bread, pastries, and after-dinner sweets fresh daily.  
The entrance to the Waterside restaurant welcomes guests for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
The entrance to the Waterside restaurant welcomes guests for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

All Ashore

Crystal River Cruises’ inclusive shore excursions are divided into five thematic categories, ranging from outings hosted by local residents to hands-on cooking classes and concierge-designed private tours.
 
Before the Mahler sailed from Amsterdam, the travelers visited the Rijksmuseum, then took a small-boat tour along some of the city’s more than 150 canals. “It was a wonderful way to start the trip,” Nancy Porthan says. As a souvenir of this two-wheeling town, she recommends a bike bell.
 
Karyn Farr’s excursion highlight was touring the Weissenstein Castle, a Schönborn family residence in Bamberg, Germany, accessible only by private arrangement. “If you’re a Downton Abbey fan, you’ll love this shore excursion,” she says. The Bavarian town was also a favorite for travelers hunting for distinctive holiday ornaments: James Ferguson picked up a traditional Christmas wood carving, and Kathy Wilton found a beautifully detailed ornament of a cuckoo clock that she bought for her mother.
The Old Town Hall in Bamberg, Germany, is located on a bridge across the Regnitz River, a tributary of the Main River. 
The Old Town Hall in Bamberg, Germany, is located on a bridge across the Regnitz River, a tributary of the Main River. 
Photo by Getty Images

Future Sailings

In 2020, the Crystal Mahler will feature voyages on the Danube, Moselle, and Rhine rivers with sailings ranging from eight days, such as the Budapest-to-Regensburg sailing on April 4, to 17 days, like the Budapest-to-Amsterdam sailing that departs on May 16. Christmas markets and holiday voyages are another seasonal highlight. 

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