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Crystal Ocean vs Crystal River: A Review

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Crystal ocean cruisers who have been considering dipping their toes in Crystal river waters might be interested in this little review I've put together comparing and contrasting the two experiences. My husband and I love Crystal and ocean cruising; this was our first-ever river cruise. We were on a 10-day Danube cruise on Crystal Mozart, round-trip from Vienna. We began our trip in Prague, traveled by train to Vienna for several nights and then boarded the boat. (I'm still not certain if the proper term for a river vessel is ship or boat!)

 

The Crew & Staff

 

Absolutely outstanding! We were delighted to find the same friendly attitude and atmosphere that we've always loved on Symphony. Our cabin attendant, excursion team and dining room staff were simply wonderful. We enjoyed our waiter Sev from the first night so much that we requested his section – which included the same assistant and sommelier – every night.

 

The Food

 

Another wow, and as superb as what we've experienced on Crystal ocean voyages. We really appreciated the staff's willingness to accommodate dietary requests and make substitutions (changing a cream sauce to a lighter marinara, for example). We also loved the similar experiences of the Bistro and casual grill venues we've enjoyed on ocean voyages.

 

Excursions

 

The main difference here is that excursions are all included on the river. You simply sign up online and show up for the excursion. There is no pre-printed ticket to hand to the guide. The trip was extremely port-intensive, and the tours enabled us to see as much as possible.

 

Crystal did its usual fine job of keeping tour groups small. There were two guides on each bus, and we were divided into two groups upon arrival at our destination. Interestingly, we found the same experience that seems to ring true on every cruise: One over-the-top extraordinary guide, one not-so-great and everyone else just fine.

 

The Cabin

 

This is where the trip fell down for us. The Mozart standard cabins are, of course, much newer, technologically advanced and more beautifully decorated than Symphony's, but they are really cramped. I have a feeling this is typical for river boats, so maybe I'm comparing the proverbial apples and oranges here. What I really didn't like was the lack of storage in the bathroom. Unlike on Symphony, there were no shelves with protective bars by the sinks where we're used to storing toiletries. A large vessel sink takes up the entire vanity, with no room to set things by. There is a drawer in the vanity, but it's incredibly shallow. One of the perks of cruising is the ability to unpack once rather than carting items from suitcase to bathroom. This was a disappointment.

 

Our cabin had a Juliette balcony (we typically book verandah staterooms on Symphony), which we envisioned we would open and enjoy. It was great during our limited daytime cruising, but most of the time our view was blocked by another boat docked next to us. We also had the unfortunate experience of consistently being docked next to a boat from another line whose kitchen vents were near our cabin, blowing exhaust fumes into our space that made it smell and feel like we were living in a vat of oil! And to add insult to injury, we were often awakened in the middle of the night by carts rumbling overhead from the staff hard-at-work in the kitchen above our cabin.

 

Overall Impression

 

This is a beautiful part of the world, and we're both happy we tried a river cruise, especially with Crystal. But we missed being on the ocean. The movement, the adventure, the days at sea. River cruises are completely at the mercy of water levels, and itinerary changes are fairly common and almost always at the last minute. It's different than missing a port on the ocean because of weather. I found it stressful not knowing whether we'd make it to Budapest or even Bratislava. Crystal ended up bussing us to Budapest and provided hotel and meal accommodations for one night. They moved the last day to Vienna, offering additional excursions, but Herb and I had been in Vienna three nights pre-cruise plus an overnight on Mozart. Instead, we stayed a second night in Budapest on our own and took the train back to Vienna before disembarking the next morning. It was an unexpected additional expense, but the only solution that met our needs.

 

I'm not sure we'd ever do another river cruise, but I've also learned never to say, "never."

 

A Footnote

 

Mark Farris fans will be happy to know that he is alive and well and working on Crystal Ravel. On our final day, Herb & I were settling our account at the front desk and saw Mark walking from the Mozart to the Ravel, which was docked next to us. We embarrassingly and simultaneously semi-shouted out loud, "Mark Farris!" (because that's what fans do :)) Mark smiled and came over to talk, said he remembered meeting us (unbelievably kind) and could not have been more gracious.

 

Louis Armstrong fans will be happy to know that although his "What a Wonderful World" isn't played on river sail-aways, his version of "Moon River" is.

 

For anyone interested, I have my first blog post up from Prague and will be posting photos and stories from every port on the voyage.

 

Mary

Travel Blog: http://www.themodernpostcard.com

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Mary,

 

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. Sound like you and Herb enjoyed your Mozart cruise.

 

Nancy

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Nancy, you're very welcome! It's definitely a different experience than ocean cruising, but worth trying.

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Mary, terrific summary and I really enjoyed the comparison between the River Cruise and Ocean Cruising.

 

I always enjoy your wonderful blogs and will plan to read each writeup as they are posted.

 

Thank you for sharing your observations/experiences with all of us.

 

Keith

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Keith, thanks so much for the kind words! I'm always happy to share our travel experiences on these boards :)

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Crystal ocean cruisers who have been considering dipping their toes in Crystal river waters might be interested in this little review I've put together comparing and contrasting the two experiences. My husband and I love Crystal and ocean cruising; this was our first-ever river cruise. We were on a 10-day Danube cruise on Crystal Mozart, round-trip from Vienna. We began our trip in Prague,

A Footnote

 

Mark Farris fans will be happy to know that he is alive and well and working on Crystal Ravel. On our final day, Herb & I were settling our account at the front desk and saw Mark walking from the Mozart to the Ravel, which was docked next to us. We embarrassingly and simultaneously semi-shouted out loud, "Mark Farris!" (because that's what fans do :)) Mark smiled and came over to talk, said he remembered meeting us (unbelievably kind) and could not have been more gracious.

 

Louis Armstrong fans will be happy to know that although his "What a Wonderful World" isn't played on river sail-aways, his version of "Moon River" is.

 

For anyone interested, I have my first blog post up from Prague and will be posting photos and stories from every port on the voyage.

 

Mary

Travel Blog: www.themodernpostcard.com

 

thank you for your honest review of your travels. I quite enjoyed it.

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Mary,

 

I stumbled upon your review by accident, and enjoyed reading your comparison. I've never done a Crystal river or ocean cruise, but I think your impressions could be applied to any river cruise line.

 

I've done 2 river cruises on Uniworld, and have a 3rd coming up in November. And you're 100% correct on the bathrooms - tiny and with virtually no storage space. This is not unique to Crystal. I have to keep my makeup and toiletries bags in the nightstand, and then bring them into the world's smallest bathroom :evilsmile: when I need to use them.

 

Yes, "rafting" is something one needs to be prepared for, but I'd never considered issues with kitchen vents. Yikes! Sorry about having to be bused and then staying at a hotel instead of the ship. I've been monitoring the river levels, and the Danube seems to be taking the brunt of it. I'm sailing on the Rhine, so keeping my fingers crossed.

 

Roz

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Keith, correct me if I'm wrong but as the Mozart was a renovation the newer purpose built river boats have larger cabins. Is this correct?

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Henry these are the suite dimensions.

 

 

Newer River Cruise Vessels (Bach, Debussy, Mahler, Ravel)

 

Petite Suite with window 188 square feet

 

Deluxe Suite with balcony window 237 square feet

 

Deluxe Suite with balcony window 253 square feet

 

CP Suite 506 square feet

 

CS Suite 759 square feet

 

Mozart

 

Deluxe Suite 219 square feet

 

Deluxe Suite with French Balcony 204 to 218 square feet depending on deck

 

PH suites 330 square feet

 

CP Penthouse 664 square feet

 

CS Suite 863 square feet.

 

Keith

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Roz, Thanks so much for your thoughtful post. It's good to know that our experiences with the "world's smallest bathroom" were similar to yours on Uniworld, which also has a great reputation. I hadn't heard the term "rafting," but that's a good description! The boat that spewed kitchen vent fumes was the A-Rosa Stella. Hopefully, it won't be anywhere near yours!

 

Good luck with water levels next month. I understand that the Rhine has also been impacted, but you're correct that the Danube has taken the biggest hit with the lack of rain. Happy travels!

 

Mary

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Mary, I enjoyed your comparative assessment of Crystal ocean and river cruises. You now need to sail on the Crystal Rhine-class vessels. No "world's smallest bathroom" there. They are roomy and gorgeous! Double vanity, heated towel racks, HUGE walk-in shower with wand and rain settings, tons of storage in open and closed drawers under both vanities. The bathrooms are superior to the Crystal ocean ships! We fell in love with Crystal river cruises when we sailed Bach in the spring and can't wait to board Mahler soon.

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Henry these are the suite dimensions.

 

 

Newer River Cruise Vessels (Bach, Debussy, Mahler, Ravel)

 

Petite Suite with window 188 square feet

 

Deluxe Suite with balcony window 237 square feet

 

Deluxe Suite with balcony window 253 square feet

 

CP Suite 506 square feet

 

CS Suite 759 square feet

 

Mozart

 

Deluxe Suite 219 square feet

 

Deluxe Suite with French Balcony 204 to 218 square feet depending on deck

 

PH suites 330 square feet

 

CP Penthouse 664 square feet

 

CS Suite 863 square feet.

 

Keith

 

While it is very true that even on the Rhine Class ships the Deluxe Suites are not terribly roomy, the truth is, as I have told many a client, that on a river cruise you truly use the cabin to sleep, shower and change your clothes. If you are spending any kind of significant time in your cabin, you are truly missing the point of river cruising!

 

While both the Rhine and Danube have been impacted by the incredibly dry summer, no rain to speak of from late-April until mid-September in much of Europe, the Danube has been most heavily affected. Our Mozart cruise to the Eastern Danube was effectively cancelled, and our Tauck cruise from Vienna to Nuremberg ended in Passau. One of the officers on our Tauck cruise told us there are something like 100 boats on the "wrong side" of the Rhine/Main Canal, trapped in the Danube, and this could pose serious trouble if there is not a lot of rain before the season ends in early January!

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I really enjoyed your review/comparison. Thank you! Like you I've never sailed on a European river cruise although I have sailed on the AMERICAN QUEEN on the Mississippi. I really want to experience my first, and I was thinking MOZART would be the way to go since it's a larger riverboat (double wide) and might feel a little more like cruise ship. Not sure if you felt that way at all? My other option would be the new AMAMAGNA which will also be a double wide riverboat like MOZART and offer cruise ship style amenities (pool, gym, multiple restaurants, larger cabins, etc). Of course both these boats are restricted to where they can sail because of their width, but it seems like a great itinerary for a first timer.

 

I'm curious how often you had to tie up next to another boat. I can see how that would really put a damper on your view. Was this most of the time or just on occasion? Also did you have to walk through other boats to get ashore? I've heard of the boats being double and even triple stacked and it seems so foreign to me. You know how strict cruise ships are about letting anyone onboard, and you could never just walk onboard or through the ship.

 

Lastly, were you docked in port with any of the brand new Crystal riverboats? If so, did Crystal give you the opportunity to visit them? I would be interested to hear your thoughts and comparison.

 

Thank you again!

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Thank you for your review. I have sailed on Serenity and will be on Mozart next month!

 

Can I ask where you stayed for your time in Vienna? How did you get to the pier? I am trying to find the location of where Mozart is docked. I had read that she had moved to a better location and is near other ships now. I can't find anywhere online where the ship is located and hope I can just tell the driver. I am staying at Intercontinental and will probably take a taxi over.

 

I am waitlisted with one shore excursion in Vilshofen - it is all day to Regensburg. Did you experience any waitlist of shore excursions and how did they deal with it. There are only 2 other excursions that day (2 hour Puppet Museum and 1.5 hour Benedictine Abbey) - neither that I am interested in.

 

Lastly - did you have any OBC and how did you deal with it. I will probably not visit a spa and it is not enough to enjoy a Michelin restaurant. Plus - I have no doubt that the ship's food will be enjoyable enough and I would prefer the expanded menu from the ship's restaurants over the pre-arranged menu at a Michelin restaurant.

 

Thanks so much for the review - it is very timely as I am sailing next month.

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MightyQuinn – So glad to know you enjoyed the review! Your cabin on Bach does sound tempting. Now if you could only control the water levels, keep other boats from blocking the view and maybe throw in a few waves... :)

 

Roland4 – Great information about the water levels...thanks! I agree with you about spending less time in the cabin on a river cruise than on the ocean, but to me having a comfortable space is part of a voyage, especially on cruising days when the window isn't blocked. We enjoyed spending time on the top deck, which is very weather-dependent, as well as in the public spaces...just not all day. The deal-breaker issues for us were the kitchen oil fumes from the boat next to us, which lingered in our cabin (235), and the noise from the Mozart kitchen above, which always interrupted our sleep.

 

eroller – You're very welcome! You are correct about the "double wide" river boats feeling more like a cruise ship. We didn't realize the difference until we were parked next to Crystal Ravel and had to walk through it to get to shore. It seemed so tiny compared with Mozart, which has a front desk, seating areas and two hallways. I'm sure it's something you would quickly adapt to, but if size is important, I'd definitely go with Mozart.

 

Your comment on walking through other boats reminded me of something I forgot to mention in the review: Security. Yes, you will walk through at least one other boat to get to shore with very little security. Mozart electronically checks you in and out at the door (the guards appeared to be locally hired security workers), but there is no metal detector or scanner. It felt much more lax than on ocean ships.

 

On the last night we were docked next to Crystal Ravel, which we walked through to reach the dock. A tour wasn't offered, but I imagine Crystal would have arranged to show us around, at least in the public spaces, if we had requested a tour.

 

Coral – You are so welcome! I will email you shortly with answers to your specific questions.

 

Mary

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Coral – You are so welcome! I will email you shortly with answers to your specific questions.

 

Many thanks! Any other tips will be most welcome!

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Mary, I enjoyed your comparative assessment of Crystal ocean and river cruises. You now need to sail on the Crystal Rhine-class vessels. No "world's smallest bathroom" there. They are roomy and gorgeous! Double vanity, heated towel racks, HUGE walk-in shower with wand and rain settings, tons of storage in open and closed drawers under both vanities. The bathrooms are superior to the Crystal ocean ships! We fell in love with Crystal river cruises when we sailed Bach in the spring and can't wait to board Mahler soon.

I must respectfully disagree with you, at least as it applies to the "Petite Suite". I will agree that the shower is very nice, large, and the dual shower heads are luxurious! However, the rest of the bathroom is "petite minus". You can barely move in it. We had to move the trash can in order to get a little more storage space, and I don't recall a heated towel bar, nor did we have double vanities. The lowest cabin level on the ocean ships are probably 3 - 4 times as large with much more storage. I posted while we were on board last October, and included some pictures of the Petite Suite https://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=2538382&highlight=justthetwoofus&page=8 (starting at post # 158)

 

Phyllis

Edited by JusttheTwoofUs
Add some additional info

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Henry these are the suite dimensions.

 

 

Newer River Cruise Vessels (Bach, Debussy, Mahler, Ravel)

 

Petite Suite with window 188 square feet

 

Deluxe Suite with balcony window 237 square feet

 

Deluxe Suite with balcony window 253 square feet

 

CP Suite 506 square feet

 

CS Suite 759 square feet

 

Mozart

 

Deluxe Suite 219 square feet

 

Deluxe Suite with French Balcony 204 to 218 square feet depending on deck

 

PH suites 330 square feet

 

CP Penthouse 664 square feet

 

CS Suite 863 square feet.

 

Keith

 

Thanks, Keith.

 

It appears that the deluxe suites on the new vessels are only slightly larger than on the Mozart.

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I'm curious how often you had to tie up next to another boat. I can see how that would really put a damper on your view. Was this most of the time or just on occasion? Also did you have to walk through other boats to get ashore? I've heard of the boats being double and even triple stacked and it seems so foreign to me. You know how strict cruise ships are about letting anyone onboard, and you could never just walk onboard or through the ship.

 

Rafting when docked is simply a fact of life on the rivers in Europe. Thanks to the likes of Viking, who launch new ships at a dizzying pace, there are far more boats than there are docking spaces. It can be annoying, but there really is nothing you can do about it. It can be less of an issue in some small port stops, but it can happen anywhere and there is no way to predict it.

 

In major embarkation/disembarkation ports (Vienna/Budapest/Passau etc) it is not uncommon to have as many as three boats rafted together. The Captains often will coordinate the movement of boats in "the stack" so that a boat that is embarking/disembarking is the one tied to the pier, but that's not always possible. When we left our Tauck cruise in Passau we were tied to the pier and there were three other boats rafted to us, and all four were disembarking! I felt sorry for the guys handling the luggage!

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Eroller,

 

When you're rafting, you walk thru the lobbies of the other ships. You don't just wander around, and there is usually an officer or front desk person standing there and monitoring who's coming and going.

 

On my first river cruise, we never rafted, but on my second one, I think we did it twice. It was no big deal, but could be problematic for those with mobility issues, since there's a lot of stepping up and over. Since I had a cabin in steerage, none of my view (river level) was blocked, but for those with big windows or balconies, it does cut down on your privacy. That said, most of your time is spent touring, so you're not in your cabin that much. It's not like ocean cruising where you have sea days and are spending your entire day on ship, and if you have a balcony, sitting out there enjoying the sea go by.

 

Roz

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I must respectfully disagree with you, at least as it applies to the "Petite Suite". I will agree that the shower is very nice, large, and the dual shower heads are luxurious! However, the rest of the bathroom is "petite minus". You can barely move in it... Phyllis
Thanks for pointing that out Phyllis. Your pictures certainly are convincing! We stayed in a Deluxe Suite (S1) and our bathroom was exactly as I described. I had no idea they were different between categories or I wouldn't have commented. So ignore what I posted. It appears that the "world's smallest bathroom" does indeed exist on Crystal river boats!

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Thanks for pointing that out Phyllis. Your pictures certainly are convincing! We stayed in a Deluxe Suite (S1) and our bathroom was exactly as I described. I had no idea they were different between categories or I wouldn't have commented. So ignore what I posted. It appears that the "world's smallest bathroom" does indeed exist on Crystal river boats!

I don't know whether Crystal has the "world's smallest bathroom" since I haven't been on other river boats, and the bathrooms on the ocean ships for some other lines I have been on occasionally are also problematic from a movement standpoint, but in the S5 (Petite Suite), they are certainly very small (except for the shower - which is GREAT!). I would love to be able to travel in the larger suites with larger bathrooms, but I have chosen "quantity over square footage" in order to be able to sail more often on Crystal.

 

Phyllis

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I don't know whether Crystal has the "world's smallest bathroom" since I haven't been on other river boats, and the bathrooms on the ocean ships for some other lines I have been on occasionally are also problematic from a movement standpoint, but in the S5 (Petite Suite), they are certainly very small (except for the shower - which is GREAT!). I would love to be able to travel in the larger suites with larger bathrooms, but I have chosen "quantity over square footage" in order to be able to sail more often on Crystal.

 

Phyllis

 

Anyone else think that the words petite and suite are an oxymoron?

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