River of Dreams aboard Crys­tal Bach

CRYS­TAL BACH SAILS EUROPE’S WA­TER­WAYS IN THE CRUISE LINE’S LEG­ENDARY STYLE.

Porthole Cruise Magazine - - Cover -

Gray skies hang over Ger­many’s Black For­est and there’s a hint of rain in the air, but I’ve stepped off the gang­way into a world of shim­mer­ing light.

The new Crys­tal Bach is a stun­ningly beau­ti­ful ship, all cool, con­tem­po­rary shades of cream and sil­ver with splashes of teal, emer­ald, and burnt or­ange. Sur­faces abound that you just want to touch: mar­ble, heavy silk, and vel­vet. Hints of Art Deco cre­ate a sense of old-fash­ioned glam­our. I can al­ready tell that Crys­tal Bach is some­thing spe­cial.

Rooms with a View

River­boats on Europe’s wa­ter­ways are essen­tially limited in size by the many locks and bridges. It’s how you use the space you have that makes the dif­fer­ence — and Crys­tal Bach cer­tainly de­fies con­ven­tion.

For starters, there’s a won­der­ful sense of space, which is no sur­prise given that the ship holds just 106 guests, while other lines ac­com­mo­date up to 190 on ships of iden­ti­cal di­men­sions. There are no sec­ond-rate cab­ins; the low­est deck, typ­i­cally fea­tur­ing the most in­ex­pen­sive ac­com­mo­da­tion, only has crew cab­ins, the small gym, spa, and laun­dry. Ev­ery state­room up­stairs on Crys­tal and Seahorse decks has a panoramic win­dow that slides down to cre­ate an in­door bal­cony ef­fect.

There are only three cat­e­gories: 15 Pe­tite Suites, 35 River Suite Deluxes, and two lav­ish Crys­tal Suites com­plete with fire­places that flicker with faux flames. My 253-square-foot Deluxe Suite was gor­geous, with heavy sil­ver drapes and a whole wall of glass. The color scheme boasts sooth­ing creams and grays with an emer­ald-green vel­vet arm­chair and a black glass-topped van­ity. A but­ton on the phone sum­moned the but­ler, while the white mar­ble bath­room was stocked with Etro good­ies from Italy and big, fluffy tow­els and robes.

There are other dif­fer­ences, too. In a cut­ting-edge de­sign, the Palm Court (the main lounge) has a glass ceil­ing on each side, so light floods in from above. By day, the Palm Court serves as the ship’s el­e­gant, serene, and sunny liv­ing room. At night, it trans­forms into a chic cock­tail lounge with tiny crys­tals sparkling above the dance floor and a Stein­way piano bathed in pink light. Cock­tail hour was my fa­vorite time of day, with Perry, who has a cult fol­low­ing on Crys­tal’s ocean ships, at the piano; a hub­bub of chat­ter; and the gen­tle rat­tle of the cock­tail shaker. All-in­clu­sive drinks cer­tainly add to the re­laxed vibe.

There’s no cruise direc­tor on board, only ho­tel and ex­cur­sion man­agers, so when it comes to en­ter­tain­ment, be­sides Perry’s won­der­ful piano tunes, on one evening, guests were treated to an ex­cel­lent opera recital with singers flown in from Mi­lan. Late at night, the dance floor was al­ways packed.

A Feast for the Senses

Food is ev­ery bit as de­li­cious as it is on Crys­tal’s ocean­go­ing ships. Break­fast and lunch in the Wa­ter­side din­ing room are buf­fet style, with dishes such as break­fast omelets and lunchtime pasta made to or­der. And there’s no short­age of lo­cal spe­cial­ties in­clud­ing ap­ple strudel, fresh berries, and Swiss and Ger­man cheeses.

In the evenings, the Wa­ter­side fea­tures open seat­ing, so you can ar­rive when you like. Many Euro­pean pas­sen­gers, who eat late, love this. Menus fea­ture high- class, farm-to-ta­ble cui­sine, with a nightly lo­cal spe­cial such as veal ten­der­loin with rösti pota­toes and a creamy wild mush­room sauce. There’s al­ways-avail­able com­fort food for more con­ser­va­tive palates as well as a sep­a­rate veg­e­tar­ian menu.

For ca­sual fare, Bistro Bach, aft of the Palm Court, pro­vides all- day snack­ing from smoked salmon bagels and spe­cialty cof­fees at the late-ris­ers’ break­fast to dainty cakes and mini- quiches at lunch. In the evenings, you’ll find fam­ily-style plat­ters in­clud­ing roasted jumbo shrimp and pulled pork slid­ers.

The Vin­tage Room, seat­ing 10 and book­able sev­eral days per cruise, is a deca­dent af­fair where it’s all about the wine. Din­ner, at €270 ($330 at press time), is an eight-course tast­ing menu with paired wines, but I opted for the more mod­est lunch at €80 ($98 at press time), which kicked off in style with a 2006 Dom Pérignon fol­lowed by a stun­ning Aus­trian Ries­ling and a 2012 Premier Grand Cru from Saint-Émil­ion. A hon­ey­like Aus­trian dessert wine ac­com­pa­nied a trio of heav­enly choco­late and straw­berry con­fec­tions.

Ad­ven­tures Ashore

A rel­a­tive new­comer to river cruis­ing, Crys­tal is con­tin­u­ally tweak­ing its new­est ships. By sum­mer, the sleek speed­boat that’s parked be­hind the glass-roofed swim­ming pool on Crys­tal Deck will be stashed on shore in­stead (along with the boats be­long­ing to her three sis­ter ships), book­able for pri­vate, Cham­pagne-fu­eled jaunts in ports such as Vi­enna and Basel. The space va­cated by the boat will be­come a ter­race, and a fleet of bi­cy­cles is be­ing added for the 2018 sea­son.

A whole new range of ex­cur­sions is be­ing in­tro­duced, too, themed around food, the arts, ac­tiv­ity, and lo­cal cul­ture. Ex­pe­ri­ences will in­clude kayak­ing through the canals of Stras­bourg, go­ing be­hind the scenes in Am­s­ter­dam with a tulip grower, or a guided tour of Bu­dapest in an old Tra­bant car. Some are in­cluded, some cost ex­tra, but ei­ther way, with no more than 15 per group, you’ll need to book early.

Many of the pas­sen­gers on my cruise were on their first river ad­ven­ture, hav­ing been per­suaded by their ex­pe­ri­ences on Crys­tal’s ocean fleet to give it a try. Over­all, there’s a sense of be­ing in a very chic bou­tique ho­tel rather than the more struc­tured en­vi­ron­ment of tra­di­tional river cruis­ing. Judg­ing by the happy, house party at­mos­phere that de­vel­oped by the end of the cruise, as well as the talk of fu­ture trips, Crys­tal has cer­tainly brought real sparkle to Europe’s rivers.

Over­all, there’s a sense of be­ing in a very chic bou­tique ho­tel rather than the more struc­tured en­vi­ron­ment of tra­di­tional river cruis­ing.

Crys­tal Bach sails the Danube River.

Pe­tite Suite with a panoramic bal­cony-win­dow

Op­po­site page: The en­try to Wa­ter­side restau­rant; This page: glass-roofed swim­ming pool (left) and the Palm Court (right)

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