I was recently lucky enough to experience a four-night sailing from Passau to Vienna aboard one of Crystal River Cruises’ newest ships, the 106-guest capacity Crystal Ravel. Having only ever cruised on ocean-going, luxury cruise lines, I was extremely excited to see how river cruising with Crystal compared.
Following a short flight to Munich, we met our Crystal Cruises’ Rep and were ushered to our coach for the journey to Passau. Crystal River Cruises offer complimentary transfers to all guests, even if you make your own flight arrangements, and they’re a nice, comfortable way to ease you into your experience.
Life onboard Crystal Ravel: Accommodation
Upon boarding Crystal Ravel, we were greeted with a glass of champagne and taken straight to our suite, where we were checked-in online and issued with our suite card and ship pass. Shortly after, our personal butler introduced himself and gave us an overview of our suite’s amenities.
Our accommodation for our voyage was a Petit Suite, which despite being the smallest category on Crystal Ravel, actually had ample space and more than enough room for us to store away our cases out of sight.
The suite was tastefully decorated in a pleasant combination of greys, whites and greens (something that is consistent throughout the ship) and is equipped with a coffee machine, two hairdryers (one handheld, one fixed to the bathroom wall), a pair of binoculars (perfect for spotting wildlife) and a mini-bar which you can arrange to have re-stocked at any time by your butler.
The suite’s bathroom was sizable and boasted a large walk-in shower (complete with a rainforest shower head) as well as some fantastic complimentary toiletries made especially for Crystal by ETRO Milano.
The suite’s best attribute, however, is the floor-to-ceiling window, which allows so much light into the room that you never feel boxed-in. The top window also opens – which would no doubt be a benefit on warm summer days – though the suite is also equipped with climate control which you can adjust to your liking at the touch of a button.
Life onboard Crystal Ravel: Dining
Crystal Ravel has two main dining venues; The Waterside and the Bistro Ravel. The Waterside is the ship’s principle restaurant and offers a buffet breakfast from 7am-9am (for late risers, the Bistro Ravel serves breakfast from 9am-1130am). The Waterside’s lunch service is also buffet-style which is available from 12pm-2pm. Both buffets are extensive and there are plenty of choices available.
Dinner is generally served a-la-carte in the Waterside between 7pm-9pm and offers a menu which changes daily. The food here is truly superb both in presentation and taste, and you have a choice of either the Chef’s Menu, a regionally-influenced option or an alternative. You’re also free to mix and match the menus as you please.
In the event there is an evening tour, The Waterside will do an earlier buffet dinner before you leave, as well as an extra buffet should you still be hungry when you return to the ship.
Should you fancy a change from The Waterside during the course of your cruise, you will find the Bistro Ravel a more than suitable alternative. Slightly less formal than the ship’s main dining venue, the cuisine here is equally impressive.
Crystal Ravel also offers dining in the Vintage Room. This exclusive restaurant is available on a reservation-only basis (at a price of $240 per person) and here you can enjoy excellent wine and food pairings designed by Crystal’s expert sommeliers.
Life onboard Crystal Ravel: Relaxing
Crystal Ravel has one main lounge, Palm Court, which is open from 12 pm to midnight (although you can get a drink from the Bistro and take it to relax there outside of these hours). Palm Court is surprisingly spacious – especially for a river ship – and there is plenty of seating for those who wish to socialise or just keep to themselves.
Mark Farris is the ship’s current Entertainment Director and he is a fantastic singer and piano player. He really makes an effort to get to know all of the guests onboard, but never comes across as over-the-top. On selected evenings, a local performer is invited onboard and we were lucky enough to see Ms Maya Hakvoort, a theatre star who thoroughly impressed us all with a variety of songs from classic musicals.
During the day, the entertainment is slightly lower key, though there was generally something going on at Palm Court, such as a trivia quiz, which was great fun!
Guests who like to maintain their fitness will be no doubt be impressed with the options available on Crystal Ravel. The Fitness Director, Roman, runs daily classes which include Yoga, Pilates and Circuits and is also on-hand should you require any assistance in the gym. There is a small heated indoor swimming pool with a glass roof and a ‘swim-against-the-current’ function – which is ideal for burning of a few of the calories you may have acquired during your time onboard.
Crystal Ravel also has a spa, which offers holistic treatments and relaxation therapies should you be in the mood for a spot of pampering.
I must also mention the ship’s top deck. Despite being a little too cold for us (owing to the time of year), this really is a fantastic space complete with comfortable seating, warming blankets and even a pop-up bar. It definitely looked a notch above the quality offered on some of the other river ships we passed and is just another example of how Crystal River Cruises have managed to replicate the onboard luxuries of their ocean-going ships on their smaller, river-going cousins.
Life onboard Crystal Ravel: Shore excursions
Crystal River Cruises offer a host of complimentary shore excursions on every itinerary, regardless of the time of year you decide to cruise. Upon embarkation, you will find a detailed sheet in your suite which you need to complete should you be interested in any of the options available during your cruise – you need to complete this and hand it into reception quite quickly because, as you can imagine, some of the excursions are extremely popular.
Also, in your suite, you will find a listening device and earphones – make sure you bring these with you on your excursion so that you can hear the guides when you’re out and about. They’re relatively discreet and are a great way to hear the fascinating facts given by the tour guides and excursion leaders.
As we arrived before lunch on embarkation day, we were able to join in on a tour of Passau to see some of the city’s beautiful buildings and enjoy a spot of beer-tasting and some amazing freshly baked pretzels.
We also visited Grein, Krems and Vienna. In Grein we took a castle and theatre tour, which was brilliant, and in Krems we chose the city and confectionary tour, which again, was a great experience.
In Vienna, we opted to do an independent tour of the Spanish Riding School, which nicely coincided with a performance that morning. Crystal Ravel’s reception staff were more than happy to help us book tickets for this tour and as a passionate horse rider, it was a truly unforgettable experience.
The final excursion of our cruise was a complimentary evening spent at the Belvedere Palace, where we enjoyed a classical music performance. This was absolutely one of our trip’s highlights – the musicians and beautiful setting guarantee this is something you definitely shouldn’t miss.
Crystal Ravel: In Summary
Not knowing what to expect, I must say that I had a fantastic time on Crystal Ravel. The attention to detail is exceptional and it really is hard to find fault with anything. However, what makes it even more special is the fantastic crew; they’re so friendly, welcoming and nothing is too much trouble.
I am now hooked on river cruising and can’t wait for my next experience!