Crystal Bach blends classic elegance with modern touches

The fine-dining Waterside Lounge serves buffet breakfasts and lunches and a curated sit-down dinner.
The fine-dining Waterside Lounge serves buffet breakfasts and lunches and a curated sit-down dinner. Photo Credit: Michelle Baran

ABOARD THE CRYSTAL BACH -- If river cruise ships are frequently referred to as floating hotels, Crystal River Cruises' Crystal Bach can only be described as a luxury property with sophisticated, boutique flair.

The 106-passenger Crystal Bach, the first of four sister ships built from the ground up, was christened last August, but it wasn't until last week that I got to see it for myself on a roundtrip sailing out of Amsterdam.

The attention to detail, the craftsmanship and overall refinement of the vessel are immediately recognizable from the minute guests board. From the outside, the Crystal Bach looks much like other river cruise ships plying Europe's waterways. But onboard, lush furnishings coupled with marble details throughout and decor that takes its cues from art deco make the Crystal Bach stand out from the crowd.

Whereas other river cruise lines have gone to great lengths to open up their reception areas to make them feel more expansive and airy, Crystal has taken a unique approach by segmenting the vessel and creating a greater variety of spaces.

A perfect example of this is the Bistro, a casual dining venue on the third deck that essentially flanks the central staircase, making creative use of a space that often goes unused. The Bistro is open from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m.; a selection of breakfast dishes, lunch items and a tapas-style evening spread are served.

The Bistro is the Crystal Bach's casusal-dining restaurant.
The Bistro is the Crystal Bach's casusal-dining restaurant. Photo Credit: Michelle Baran

Another unique space is the enclosed pool area at the aft. It has a distinct resort vibe with its padded loungers and sweeping river views. Also impressive is the pop-up bar on the sun deck, which enables greater passenger engagement in an open-air area.

This is an often underutilized space on river ships, not least because it regularly has to come down entirely to pass under bridges, with inches to spare. Crystal's innovative work-around is a bar that literally descends into the deck when approaching low overpasses, then is re-elevated to create an al fresco venue for drinks and socializing.

The main social hub is the Palm Court bar and lounge, which shares the elegance and timelessness of art deco design.

The Waterside Lounge restaurant is a fine-dining venue that serves buffet breakfasts and lunches, as well as a well curated sit-down dinner with thoughtful wine selections by the resident sommelier. For those who want to kick up the wine-pairing experience a notch, the Vintage Room is designed to host an intimate dinner of up to 10 people, with attendees choosing high-quality wines to be paired with dinners.

The food onboard is top-notch. A lobster dinner served one night at the Waterside Lounge was delectable, and the thoughtfulness that went into the ingredients and the meals was evident. There isn't too much variety and diversity in the breakfasts and lunches, but the spreads are of great quality and make over-indulging hard to resist.

The suites are on par with the rest of the vessel. Only 16 of them are smaller than 200 square feet; the petite suites, as they are called, are 188 square feet each. The remaining 37 suites are all 253 square feet or larger.

The added space allows for details such as double vanities in the bathrooms and a sizeable walk-in closet, features that aside from upper-level cabin categories are uncommon in river ship staterooms.

The decor in the staterooms share a vibe with the rest of the ship, and guests will find the most up-to-date conveniences, from plush bedding to USB ports, reliable wireless Internet and in-room iPads and high-tech entertainment hubs built into the flat-screen TVs.

The balconies are not true step-out balconies but rather the increasingly popular drop-down windows that convert the area around the window into balcony space. For guests who would like packing or unpacking service, room service or laundry service, a butler is on hand to help.

A Deluxe Suite with art deco-inspired decor.
A Deluxe Suite with art deco-inspired decor. Photo Credit: Michelle Baran

Admittedly, I did not have a chance to experience much of Crystal's land program during the short time I was onboard the Bach, but from what I did experience -- and from the feedback I heard -- it isn't Crystal's strong suit.

There are plenty of touring options each day, both complimentary and optional. But the land program doesn't have the feel of a well-oiled machine as it does on river lines that have ironed out every last logistic of getting people around comfortably, efficiently and with those priceless "wow" moments. I expect that as Crystal comes into its own, it will improve in this regard.

The Crystal Bach is perfect for discerning clients who love beautiful hotels and cruise hardware but otherwise enjoy doing things a bit more on their own. I could see this being a great product for a jet-setting couple, family or small group who want to do things their way with the help of a private guide arranged by Crystal.

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