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
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. 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. 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
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
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.