I invited Steve to sail on a river cruise to celebrate a big anniversary, and his response was less than enthusiastic. “Isn’t that for old people…who just want to sit around and watch the castles go by?”
We just disembarked from a fabulous week sailing the Danube, and I’m here to tell you that Steve’s assumptions were wrong….very wrong. River cruising is targeted to a much more youthful crowd than ocean cruising. Our vessel had no accommodations for people with limited mobility, and much of the exploring was done on foot.
Our boat was the Crystal Ravel, and the food, service and design of the ship were all six star. We boarded in Budapest, walking our bag across the esplanade from the Four Seasons Gresham Palace. (more about Budapest in a future post, as there is too much to tell).
Crystal assigns each cabin a butler, who unpacks and presses your clothing. Things were off to a really great start! (and for the first time in 3 weeks it didn’t appear that I’d slept in my wrinkled outfit). Then said butler explained that we could order room service any time of day or night, anything you might want to eat or drink, and it was all included! You might now be thinking to yourself, “well how good could the dining experience be, if it’s all included?” It exceeded my expectations, and I’m a Picky Nicky. We enjoyed the main meals in a gorgeous dining room, waited on by two very charming gentlemen who happened to share the name Zoltan. We never had to make a reservation as a table was always available. And if we wanted more casual fare, there was a bistro open throughout the day. I would compare the meals to great restaurants in New York. The chef used local ingredients, and there were a lot of choices. The wines also reflected the region, and if you preferred another varietal, they were happy to oblige. I’m happy to drink whatever is poured, but the serious oenophiles on board were quite satisfied.
We were traveling with 80 other guests, and a crew of 70 adorable humans, who were in the business of making each traveler very happy. The guests were international, and about half were American. The river cruising business has flourished over the past few years, and there are boats that cater to every budget and demographic. There are boats that feature bike rides between ports, boats for yogis, and even a boat that features a tattoo artist. Crystal has planted its flag firmly in the luxury space, and boy does it deliver. Each day we had several options for guided experiences. The guides in Budapest, Vienna, Bratislava, Melk and Linz brought history to life. Crystal even arranged for us to have a private evening while in Vienna at The Belvedere Palace, where we viewed Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss” with only a handful of other passengers, and then enjoyed a concert featuring the regions great composers: Mozart and Strauss. Back on the boat we could enjoy lectures on the Hapsburgs or learn about the engineering of the locks we passed through. There was also a fitness center on board, but we found walking through the hilly towns was a much more interesting way to get our mileage. Crystal usually provides e-bikes for their guests to enjoy, but we were too early in the season for biking.
Most of the time the boat docked in the middle of town, so you could hop on and off to explore on your own. And if we wanted to dine in a local establishment, the concierge was more than happy to make a reservation.
The cabin was well designed, with a modern sensibility and a place for everything. It was a treat to sip coffee and watch the sunrise on the river from a bed made with the most comfy linens. I don’t know how they do it, but the cabin was completely soundproofed, so we didn’t hear any other passengers in the corridor or on the deck above. And speaking of the deck above, the boat featured a nifty sundeck and bar, which could retract and fold down when passing under a low bridge.
The great joy of river cruising is the beauty seen as you float by. I have always heard that people love cruising because “you only unpack once.” I was surprised by how relaxing it was to spend 7 days moving from place to place each day, but putting my head on the same pillow each night.
And how did the reluctant cruiser Steve enjoy the adventure? He has already scheduled a Rhine cruise for April 2020. Come join us!