Tuning in to Crystal’s next luxury river cruise liner

I finally got my first glimpse of Crystal River Cruises  first purpose-built river cruise ships a few weeks back, in Cologne, Germany. The line’s newly launched Crystal Bach was tied up behind the one I was travelling aboard, and I went over to the pier to have a closer look.

Crystal Bach is wholly unique on the rivers of Europe; as distinct in shape and style as Viking River Cruises’ Viking Longships were when they first debuted back in 2012. For Crystal, though, it’s all about luxury — something the line takes every opportunity to tout. Indeed, its superlative-laden news releases are a bit over-the-top. But, as I stood next to Crystal Bach and gazed up at it, I think Crystal might be on to something.

First, there’s the ship’s gorgeous Palm Court Lounge, which has glass windows that curve attractively upwards to form part of the ship’s ceiling. Europe’s rivers are full of low-bridges, including more than a few on the sail up the Rhine into Cologne; passing close to one of these behemoths must be especially impressive from Crystal’s Palm Court.

The other thing that’s apparent about Crystal Bach, from the outside at least, is that the ship’s wheelhouse has cleverly been relocated to the very bow of the ship. Not only does this give Crystal Bach something of a powerful, commanding appearance, but it also provided the space for her designers to put something truly unique in its place: a “pop-up” bar.

The ship’s Vista Bar, mounted on the uppermost sun deck, can be retracted into the floor in order for the ship to pass under low bridges. But, when the ship is docked or in areas that permit it, guests can enjoy a cool cocktail (always included in the price on Crystal) up on deck as the Rhine or the Danube pass by. 

That’s in addition to all of the other noteworthy features about these ships — from their suites fitted with lavish b and amenities like Etro robes and slippers and in-suite Nespresso machines, to the unique design of Crystal’s new river cruise ships that seeks to bring the best features from the line’s oceangoing ships, Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity, to the waterways of Europe.

Now, Crystal has just taken delivery of its second Rhine Class river cruise ship, Crystal Mahler. A direct sister to Crystal Bach, the 106-guest Crystal Mahler will make her home on the Rhine and the Danube, operating a series of seven-, 11- and 16-day voyages throughout Austria, Germany, Hungary, Slovakia and the Netherlands.

On hand for the launch of Crystal Mahler was Tom Wolber, the line’s newly appointed CEO, who succe the outgoing Edie Rodriguez as head of Crystal. “Welcoming this stunning new ship to Crystal’s celebrated fleet is incredibly gratifying, as we continue to expand the celebrated Crystal Experience to a broader audience of discerning world travellers,” he said. “Like her sister ships, Crystal Mahler surpasses all previously established standards of luxury in the river cruising industry, with Crystal’s signature service and attention to detail that our guests have long expected from the ‘world’s best.’ ”

Wolber, who comes to Crystal with a decade of experience at Disney Cruise Line, will oversee the rest of Crystal’s expansion plans — which include the design and launch of three new hybrid expedition and luxury cruise ships between 2019 and 2021. 

Two additional river cruise ships, Crystal Debussy and Crystal Ravel, will join the Crystal River Cruise fleet next year.

For Crystal, the past few years have been a time of unprecedented expansion and investment, but these plans have been far from problem-free. Crystal reneged on plans to reintroduce the historic S.S. United States to service; cancelled its much-hyped Crystal Air Cruise program just weeks before its debut; and continually monkeyed with its river cruise itineraries and launch dates.

Looking at Crystal Bach at her berth in Cologne, it’s obvious the line did a great job with its inaugural river cruise product: the ship looks amazing. But it is the new kid on the block in one of the most competitive and fast-growing segments of the travel industry, and Crystal will have to back up that great-looking ship with an onboard experience to match.

Happy cruising.

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