Crystal River Cruises… Are They As Good As Their Ocean Cruises??

Crystal Back unbiased review

If you’ve been following our blog posts/Cruise reviews on our site for any length of time you’ll know we L-O-V-E River Cruises!!

As you’ll see here we’ve personally taken 16 of them all over Europe & to different parts of the World including Asia & Egypt and have been on ALL the major lines so We know the River Cruise Industry S-U-P-E-R well!

Although we have always loved the destinations we’ve visited on our River Cruises, due to size restrictions, the ships for the most part have been under-whelming when compared to Ocean ships (we’ve been on 44 Ocean Cruises so we love them too!) as there’s no room service, the food is good but there’s not a lot of choice due to small kitchens, you always have to eat at set times, the rooms are basic, etc.

So a few years back when Crystal Cruises (one of the highest rated Ocean Cruiselines for the past 25+ years) announced they were going to launch a River Cruise product and solve ALL of the downfalls of current River ships and would bring on their well known 6 Star Service/Extraordinary food, etc. we were excited… but cautious!

Crystal river cruises review

Cautious because it takes a company 2-3 years to work out the kinks of a new product so for anyone who contacted Shawn to try Crystal River Cruises the past 2+ years, he encouraged them to try another line.

And sure enough, there were kinks such as delayed ships, cancelled Cruises, significantly altered Shore Excursions, etc.

But now that next year’s upcoming 2019 season is Crystal River Cruises’ 4th season we’re ready to start recommending Crystal River Cruises as a great choice for your next River Cruise Vacation based on 2 things:

1. We recently spent a few hours in some in-depth conversations with Crystal River Cruises’ “Architect” of their River Cruise program and asked him every detailed question you could imagine… after personally sailing on 15 River Cruises & booking over $10 million dollars worth of them for our clients, we know all the pros & cons and had him address every con and they literally have pretty much solved them all… we kid you not!

2. BUT, that wasn’t enough… to take it one step further we flew to Europe (on our own dime so our review wasn’t biased) 2 months later to personally sail on one of Crystal River Cruises’ ships on the Rhine River to see if the “experience” lived up to the “talk”…

…and here’s what we found-

 

Crystal River Cruises promotes themselves as

“The Most Luxurious River Cruiseline in the World!”

Is is true?

From our experience, we’d have to say…

“Yes”, they delivered!!

 

After being onboard a Crystal River Cruise for a full week with regular paying guests (and not just for a travel agent familiarization luncheon or a few days trip with other agents/media/top brass, etc. which is where many agent reviews come from) we feel that Crystal River Cruises DOES stand out from their competitors and they deliver more of an “ocean cruise-like” & higher quality experience then the other River Lines.

 

Here are the reasons why we’d comfortably recommend them to our clients:

(Note: If you’d rather more of a “Visual Review” of our Crystal River Cruises sailing you can Check Out Our Picture & Video Galley here!)

Crystal river cruise unbiased review

 

1. The first thing we noticed when we boarded was how much space we had in the staterooms & public areas compared to when on other lines… this is due to the fact that “Crystal Bach” (that’s 1 of Crystal River Cruises’ 5 ships) is the EXACT same length/width/height as their competitors (Yes, even those who say they have “Longships”) who have anywhere from 130-190 guests onboard whereas “Crystal Bach” only has 106 guests onboard.

This Video of our Crystal River Cruise ship right next to a Viking River Cruise ship is a GREAT example of why Less people on the same size ship means more “personal space” in the Public areas… as well as bigger rooms & less people on each tour!

 

2. The next thing we noticed was much more attentive service then normal… no wonder when you consider “Crystal Bach” has 68 crew onboard for their 106 guests whereas the most famous River Cruise line out there (which rhymes with “Hiking” 🙂 ) has 48 crew onboard for their 190 guests…

That’s 1 crew member for every 1.5 guests on Crystal River Cruises compared to 1 for every 4… that’s one of the main reasons why we agree when Crystal River Cruises says they’re “The Most Luxurious River Cruise Line in the World!”

On embarkation day for exmaple when we got off our included motor-coach transfer from the airport there were 6 of us guests and literally 6 staff greeted us… they wheeled our bags from the street down to the ship and once onboard, 8 more staff greeted us in the Lobby taking each couple immediately to their rooms to settle in. On other lines we’ve had to wait in the lounge for a while as each room was called to “check-in”. Impressive!

On the 1st night in the dining room we counted at least 16 staff (no doubt we missed 1 or 2) for 95 guests (the ship wasn’t 100% full) whereas normally we have a hard time finding 10 staff for 160+ guests.

Overall, it really made a difference how many times our drinks were re-filled, how many times we were offered more bread, how fast the food came out, etc. Not major things you notice when they go smoothly but when waiting for 45 mins between courses (it’s happened to us on other lines) you certainly notice when staff attentiveness is missing!

service onboard crystal Bach

 

3. Of course, when you have less guests on your exact same size ship as others it means you can have Bigger Rooms.  On average, Crystal River Cruises’ rooms are 27-87% bigger then their main competitors…

FYI, these 3 videos below show you what room options are onboard.

“Penthouse Suite”

“Deluxe Suite”

“Petite Suite”

If you have said to yourself “we’re only sleeping in the room anyways, I don’t need anything fancy” p-l-e-a-s-e keep reading…

What you may not understand if you’ve never been on a River Cruise is that river ships are small ships with average rooms no-where the normal size of a hotel room.

On the most well known line out there for example, their rooms start at 135 sq feet… try staying in that for 1-2 weeks, it’s like a big closet!

So when you consider the majority of the rooms on Crystal River Cruises’ ships are 253 sq feet that makes a BIG difference to your overall comfort!!

crystal back stateroom review

 

4. The next thing we really enjoyed and what makes Crystal River Cruises “The Most Luxurious” is that ALL their rooms come with Butler service!

In comparison, one river cruiseline has trained Butlers for their guests in Suites only (that’s about 12.5% of those onboard) and some of the other lines give a little extra attention to their Suite guests from some regular crew members but again Crystal River Cruises has English Trained Butlers for 100% of their guests onboard!

What kind of things will a Butler do for you, you ask?

Deliver yummy canapés for a mid-afternoon snack, take care of any items you need pressed at No Charge, they’ll bring you room service, shine your shoes, make sure your room’s fridge is stocked with the drinks you like, etc.

Even when Nancy asked if they had “non-perfumy” toiletries onboard and they never, our Butler Stelios literally went to the closest store on land and bought these toiletries for her… and they charged us $0!!

Now a Butler may sound over-the-top & pretentious to some people (as it did to us the 1st time we heard about them years ago) but we’ve had Butler-Service on several of our Cruises over the years and they truly make your trip extra special which, we all deserve when we go on our “hard-worked-for” Vacations, don’t you think??!! 🙂

 

5. Another area where Crystal River Cruises really stood out was when it came to their food quality & dining choices!

One thing we LOVED when onboard was that they offered OPEN DINING!

Normally on a River Cruise there’s a “Port Talk” at around 6:45pm each evening… from there, around 7pm, the ENTIRE ships heads to dinner at the same time and they ask you to NOT be late. The reason they do that is because kitchens are so small they have to prepare all the appetizers at once, all the soups at once, all the entrees at once, etc.

And of course, when 160-190 people are served at once it can slow things down a little!

On Crystal River Cruises though you can show up ANYTIME during their dining hours which are 7-9pm… so even if you show up 8:45pm, no problem, they’ll prepare your food “a-la-minute” so it’ll be fresh & customized for you.

We like this A LOT as MANY days we may get back from a tour at 6-6:30pm and rather then RUSH to the “Port Talk” &  7pm dinner it gives us time to grab a shower, have a drink, reply to client emails, etc.

That was WAY more relaxing!!

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Also, Crystal River Cruises has 24hr room service onboard, something we’ve NEVER seen on a River Cruise before… 2 nights for example we were pretty tired after a full day of touring (and also since we were on 2 back to back Cruises for 21 nights straight we didn’t want to eat out every night) & simply didn’t want to get dressed and go to dinner so it was great on Crystal River Cruises to be able to have our Butler Stelios bring us yummy meals from the main dining room that night… FYI, you can order from the 24hr room service menu (pic above), which is basic due to not huge kitchens, but when the dining room is open at night, as you’ll see in this pic, you can order from there too… perfect! 🙂

in room dining onboard crystal river cruises review

The Food Quality & Food Presentation on Crystal River Cruises were both excellent as well… of course, since they have more staff/less guests the presentation is self-explanatory, they have more time to perfect things & as not everyone eats at the same time that helps too!

And when it comes to food items… they don’t have any previously made meals/soups, etc. onboard… no frozen bread, no items prepared shore-side, etc.

Everything is sourced fresh & locally except for the fresh lobster and oysters which are flown in once a week—the lobster from Maine or Canada, the oysters from France.

Unlike on our Ocean Cruises, we’ve NEVER seen Atlantic Lobster on a River Cruise before… in fact, the ONE time we were served Lobster it was more of a big “Shrimp Scampi” and wasn’t cooked well… what we ate on Crystal River Cruises though was perfectly cooked, again, due to it being fresh/“a-la-minute”!

Also, on Crystal River Cruises there was more choices… not only was dining “open” and they offered room service but they also had their “Bistro Bach” (see picture below) onboard which served lunch daily/dinner on several nights as well as made-to-order coffee/tea, etc.

crystal river cruise review unbiased

FYI, the caption under this picture and the video that follows in the slide after tell you more about “Bistro Bach’s” offerings.

The last thing we really liked about Crystal River Cruises’ dining (again, this is possible as so few guests onboard!) was there were LOTS of Tables for 2 in the dining room, like this picture below:

As we work with the public for a living and talk A LOT 🙂 many times when we travel we like to have a quiet dinner together rather then as a big group with others (it must be common as MANY of our clients tell us they want a table for 2 too!)… on MOST River Cruises though you’re lucky to find one or two tables for 2 and to get them you have to be 1st at the restaurant each night.

Again though, on Crystal River Cruises MOST tables are for 2 so no hassle if you want to dine alone with your partner… of course, tables can be joined for bigger groups but the point is, when you have 106 guests onboard instead of 190 in the same size dining room it really spreads things out which offers more choice.

dining on Crystal Bach

FYI, if you’re a Wine Lover they even have a special meal available (this is the only meal you can pay for onboard but of course what you’re really paying for is the high-end wine you’ll be trying) in their “Vintage Room”. (below) We don’t drink enough wine to appreciate this so we didn’t try it but we heard from other guests who went there it is a real highlight of the Cruise! 

Vintage Room Crystal Bach

 

6. Shore Excursions is the next area where we noticed pleasant improvements on Crystal River Cruises.

For one, earlier we mentioned they don’t do “Port Talks” onboard like ALL other lines do. The reason they can do this is Crystal River Cruises has their guests “Pre-Book” their excursions at home online just like when you do an Ocean Cruise.

To be honest, we always thought it was great on River Cruises that we DIDN’T have to do this in advance on other lines… normally you go to the “Port Talk”, hear about the 1 or 2 options available the next day and from there choose what you want to to. We thought, why waste the time at home pre-planning??

Now, we realized it’s BETTER to do this at home when we have some free time on a weekend, etc. as by NOT having to go to “Port Talks” onboard it gives us more time to relax… and, NOT have to run down to dinner!!

Also, Crystal River Cruises offers LOTS of Free excursions

…what we mean by that is, Yes, ALL River Cruiselines offer at least 1 Free excursion in each port… in our experience most of them have 1-2 options for a morning tour and then in the afternoon they offer you free time or an optional tour that you need to pay for.

our review of excursions on Crystal river cruises

With Crystal River Cruises though, it seemed like EVERYDAY we could stay busy with included tours!

In Strasbourg for example we could do a morning, afternoon & evening tour ALL for FREE!! We could do 2 in Speyer, 2 in Breisach, 2 in Basel, etc. so overall they offer great value when it comes to the amount of tours they include!!

FYI, yes, they charged for a couple of tours such as it was around $1,000 per person for flight-seeing over the Alps but your Cruise price would have to be A LOT higher to include those kind of tours!! 🙂

One last thing where we noticed a DRAMATIC difference was the size of our tour groups… on average, we only had 14-20 people on each of our tours… even if we were on a coach that could fit 50 people and 30 of us were onboard (right away 30 per group is less then what many other providers have on their tours) when we arrived at our destination we’d be split into 2 groups to make it even smaller & more intimate.

Why is this important you ask?

Well, for example, at one of our stops we happened to be near a Viking group & we chatted it up with some of their guests… they told us their group had 47 people in it and said it moved SUPER SLOW as every-time they got on/off of a bus it took longer, every-time they stopped to look at a site and a “head count” had to be done to get going again it took longer, washroom breaks took way longer, etc. & with 47 people in their group they hardly had the chance at all to ask their local guide questions about the area to learn more. (and don’t we go to places like Europe to learn about the destination, right?)

On that day, we had a group of 16 so moved way faster then 47 and had LOTS of opportunity to ask the guide all the questions we wanted!

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Alright, the above 6 items are the ones that REALLY make a difference on a Crystal River Cruise and what makes them so “Luxurious” compared to their competitors!

But…

We still have a few things to mention though which all “in their own right” really add to the quality of your River Cruise!

all inclusive drinks onboard crystal river cruises review

 

7. Crystal River Cruises is “All-Inclusive” which means if you’re the type of person who likes to have a truly worry-free vacation by getting the money issues out of the way up front when you book, so you can enjoy a nickel-and-dime free vacation while you’re on it, then Crystal River Cruises is a great fit for you!

The reason we didn’t have this in our top 6 items is that this isn’t exclusive to Crystal River Cruise as some other lines such as Uniworld & Tauck also include pretty much everything in their up-front price… but we wanted to mention it though as when you look at companies like Viking, Avalon & AMA– part of the reason they’re less money is they don’t include airport transfers when you buy your own air, they don’t include tips for the onboard staff/drivers/guides, nor free self-service laundry, nor ALL drinks, etc. as Crystal River Cruises does.

Is there anything extra you have to pay for on Crystal River Cruises you ask?

Yes, 3 things… 1. Treatments at the Spa. 2. Dinner in the “Vintage Room” (we talked about that venue for Wine Lovers in # 5 above) 3. Optional excursions- As we mentioned in # 6 there are LOTS of Free excursions included in your price and you can do multiple per day but if you want to do really exclusive stuff like flight-seeing over the Swiss Alps, have a Private Guide in the city of your choice, etc. those items would cost more.

 

8. This next item is also Not exclusive to Crystal River Cruises as some other lines also can boast this too but Crystal River Cruises OWNS their own Motor-Coaches which means anytime you do an excursion and it involves a drive (such as when we went to the “Black Forest”, to Lake Lucerne, etc.) you’ll be in the SAME Coaches each time as they follow your ship during your itinerary.

crystal river cruises personal buses or coaches review

So every-time you head out for a drive you know you’ll be in the SAME comfy, clean Coach each day so it’ll be consistent with Wifi, a washroom & air-conditioning!!

By the way, something we’ve NEVER seen on their competitors was FREE Wifi onboard their Coaches which is great to keep in touch with loved ones/clients, etc. while you’re making your way to/from your latest exciting excursion!!

 

9. The last area where we noticed Crystal River Cruises stood out was the quality of entertainment they offered onboard!

entertainment quality onboard crystal river cruises review

Don’t get us wrong, like on all River Cruises it was minimal as their entertainment venue is NOT a theatre, it’s a small lounge and they only bring on entertainment 2-3 nights per week. (the rest of the week there’s simply a piano player in the Lounge)

On most other lines, guest performers are typically super amateurish, many times kids from a local school… basically, they’re not expensive! 🙂

BUT, as you’ll see in this video on Crystal River Cruises on this night for example, they had an Opera Singer onboard who has travelled the World and is a TRUE professional… check out his Bio here https://steffanmullan.com/menu/ and as you’ll see in the video above he had an amazing voice that put our goosebumps to work… it was quite a special evening! 🙂

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So there you go, 9 areas where we think Crystal River Cruises does a better job then most of their competitors and why we don’t object when Crystal River Cruises calls themselves “The Most Luxurious River Cruiseline in the World!” and why we’d very comfortably recommend “Crystal River Cruises” as a Great River Cruise choice to our clients!!

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Is there Anything we wished Crystal River Cruises did better?

A couple of things:

1. When you look at a company like Tauck for example they include pre-Cruise/post-Cruise hotel stays on most of their itineraries. We like that a lot as if your itinerary starts in Epic cities like Budapest, Amsterdam, Vienna for example or your Cruise is taking you anywhere near Prague we think for sure it’s a must to stay in those cities for a night or 2 and Tauck automatically includes those hotel nights in their cost.

Sure, like with other companies Crystal River Cruises offers those hotel stays as add-ons but if you’re not booking with the right Travel Agent who doesn’t advise to add them on or the extra cost doesn’t seem worth it and you decline to add those nights on and you miss out, you’re doing yourself a dis-service. Whereas with Tauck they MAKE SURE you have adequate time in the “must see” pre-Cruise/post-Cruise cities and we’d like to see Crystal River Cruises do that in the Future too!

2. Two years ago we wouldn’t have cared about this but since we both lost a lot of weight since early last year we’ve been more active then ever in our lives and we didn’t find Crystal River Cruises had enough “Active” excursions for our tastes… unlike many of their competitors they had no bikes onboard to use in the ports and there were no biking tours/no hiking tours, etc. Don’t get us wrong, on some of their itinearies they do offer those kinds of activities but as many of our clients are like us & want to be active when they travel, we’d like to see Crystal River Cruises offer these options on ALL their itineraries and having bikes onboard that we can use in the ports would be great too!! 🙂

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Want to see more of our “Crystal River Cruises” sailing?? If so, Check Out Our Picture & Video Galley here!

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Alright, we hope this review helped you when it comes to deciding who to sail with for your 1st, or next, River Cruise!!

As always, any questions get a hold of Shawn & he’ll be happy to share more of our experiences to help you decide the best option for you & from there he’ll help you get your next exciting Cruise Vacation booked!! 🙂

We Appreciate You!

Nancy & Shawn
Your Trusted Cruise Experts!

P.S. Interested in taking a River Cruise or Ocean Cruise or Tauck Land Tour? Then contact Shawn and he can help you with your planning & booking of your next great Vacation! Want to know the reasons it is SO IMPORTANT to book your next Cruise or Tauck Land Tour with a Professional like Shawn and the pitfalls to booking directly with the Cruiseline/Supplier? Click Here to Learn Why

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