River cruises are growing in popularity and because river ships are so much smaller than ocean cruise ships, they get booked up very early. Typically, you would need to book at least a year in advance for the most popular routes and due to the smaller ships and what is included, it’s worth noting that river cruising is more expensive than ocean cruising.
Recently, I was given the opportunity to experience part of the inaugural sailing on the Crystal Ravel; a brand new river cruise ship sailing on the Danube. Crystal have recently launched 4 new river ships, Crystal Ravel, Bach, Debussy & Mahler joining their existing ship the Mozart. See a theme? All are named after famous composers in the regions that they sail in.
We sailed from Bamberg in Germany to Linz in Austria over 4 days, which is only a part of the standard itinerary, but was enough to give us a fantastic insight into the world of river cruising with Crystal! Firstly, all of the A la carte dining is included. There was a buffet area for breakfast and dinner in the dining room and then dinner was waiter service, however, it is worth noting that the buffet was small amounts of food continually cooked fresh so as not to be standing for long. There was an area for fresh pastas at lunch time and an egg station at breakfast. All drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic are included so there’s no bar bill at the end of your cruise.
Sailing on the river means that you get to see a lot of incredible scenery. Sailing often takes place in the day time, so you may be somewhere in the morning and be back on board for lunch to sail along the river, only to arrive somewhere new in the afternoon. Tours are included in each port, so again no extra bill for all your excursions at the end of the trip. We enjoyed a culinary tour in Nuremberg, which consisted of trying the local sausages (bratwurst!) and also the local beer. Even as a non-beer drinker, it was great to taste the ‘blond’ lighter beer and the heavier, darker beers on offer. I have to say that the highlight for me was the local gingerbread! Crystal have very small numbers on their tours so you are not with a huge group of people, so even for those hating group tours, it is manageable. You also have headsets in your cabin that you take with you on each tour. The guide tunes into a particular channel and then you can listen without them having to shout. We did several other tours, such as a trip to Dachau, which was one of the concentration camps in the war and then local interest walking tours in different towns along the way. You literally arrive in the heart of the town/city and so often you can walk from the ship at your leisure if you prefer. You can take bikes from the ship as well at no extra cost.
The cabins were beautiful, with the classic style that Crystal has on it’s ocean ships, but with a modern twist. Ipads are available in each cabin for you to book an excursion or call your butler. In the balcony cabins, the windows open from the top down allowing you to see out of the panoramic window without stepping out onto a traditional balcony. Going through the locks made for an interesting experience as the cabin would go dark whilst transiting through!
This was not my first river cruise experience, but I have to say Crystal really do offer the best experience in my view. Despite only launching their first river ship in 2016, they were voted ‘Best River Cruise Line’ in 2017, which is no mean feat for a newcomer. I think this is because Crystal know ‘luxury’ and they have basically moved this knowledge to the rivers.
Century Travel can give advice and book all river cruise lines, however I can’t help but be impressed with Crystal, so I may be biased!
Written by Vicky Lewis, Century Travel