We have just finished the 16-day inaugural cruise of the Crystal Mahler. This cruise had a unique itinerary as it was changed one month prior to its September 30 start due to a delay in completing its construction. The itinerary was roundtrip Amsterdam, with stops in Arnhem, Cologne, Koblenz, Rudesheim, Speyer, Strasbourg, Basel, Breisach, Plittersdaorf, Mainz, Niederlahnstein, and Bonn. There were overnights in Amsterdam, Koblenz, Basel, Mainz and again in Amsterdam.
Because of the change in itinerary, Crystal was extremely generous in compensating the passengers. I was concerned that there would be some short-comings on this cruise due to the need to complete construction and subsequent crew training on time, but I couldn't have been more wrong. The ship was gorgeous and the hallways even had that "new" smell that usually is associated with new cars. In this case, the smell was that of a Bentley, I believe.
Embarkation was a breeze: we walked on board, were greated by smiling staff, had a quick photo taken and our luggage was whisked to our room. Within 5 minutes we were seated in the Waterside Restaurant, downing a glass of quality champagne and checking out the lunch menu.
Our room was category S1. The ship has 53 cabins, which include 2 two-bedroom Crystal Suites, 16 "petite suites" (188 square feet), with the remainder being "river suite deluxes" (253 square feet). The river suite deluxes included S1, S2 and S3, with the only difference among these three being their location on the boat (S1 cabins had the more desirable locations, although there really wasn't a bad location anywhere). All of the cabins had "panoramic balcony windows." The entire river-side wall of the room was basically a window, and with the push of a button the top half of the window would retract down. With the push of a second button, a fine-mesh screen would lower from the ceiling to cover the opening and prevent insects and large birds of prey from entering. All of the cabins were above water, i.e., there were no "aquarium class" cabins.
The cabin was well designed, with a comfortable king bed that faced out to the river. There was a large flat screen TV on one wall (it was hinged and could be angled in different directions), a walk-in closet, a sitting area with desk, a small refrigerator, a Nespresso machine and a decent amount of drawers/shelves. The bathroom was outstanding, with a double-sink vanity, a large attractive back-lit mirror, adequate shelf space and a large glass-enclosed shower with a wonderful rain shower head. The bathroom floor was heated. The ventilation in the bathroom was so efficient that the mirror never steamed up even after a long hot shower with the bathroom door closed.
For techies, the cabin probably would meet your requirements. The TV was interactive, there were USB ports to charge your devices at each nightstand, and each cabin had an iPad, which allowed for internet connectivity as well as for using the Press Reader to get free access to hundreds of daily worldwide newspapers. Eventually all of the dinner menus, excursions and other cruise-related activities will be accessible on the iPad. There was free, 24-hour internet.
The public rooms were classy and luxurious. The main area was the Palm Court, which had well-spaced comfortable seating, a grand piano, and most importantly, a well-stocked bar. Talks, evening music and the entertainment were performed here. The entertainment director was Neal Fullerton. He was witty, pleasant, engaging and had a delightful bit of an edge to him. In my opinion, he is the top entertainment director on Crystal (although I know Mark Farris fans may not agree).
The gym was small, but with only 53 cabins on the ship and active excursions every day, a larger gym would have been a waste of space. There was a fitness director who led daily yoga classes, stretching sessions, etc. There were several e-bike excursions for those so inclined, and you could always jog along the river or nearby if you wanted to burn off some of the calories that you may have attracted in the restaurant. There was also a spa where you could get a massage, and there was a complimentary self-service laundry with two washer/dryers and iron/board.
All of the cabins have a butler assigned, as well as a cabin attendant. The butler will pack and unpack for you, but I doubt many passengers would want to avail themselves of that service. It probably would be quicker to unpack yourself than it would be to hunt around to find where the butler placed your socks or your cummerbund. Our butler came by every day at 5:00PM with some canapes, either a cheese tray, shrimp cocktail or fresh fruit.
The food on this cruise exceeding my expectations, which where quite high since I am spoiled by the superb cuisine aboard the Crystal Symphony and Serenity. In summary, the quality of the dinners was way beyond what a Michelin one-star restaurant serves. Compared to the Crystal oceans vessels, our dinners were even better. The quality of ingredients, the often spectacular presentations, and the taste of the food were all remarkable. Of our 16 dinners, I don't believe that any course was offered more than once. It was obvious that no corners were cut in order to provide the exquisite dinners we received. Breakfast and lunch were buffet-style, with a wide variety of incredible choices, as well as several hot dishes that are served/carved/prepared at the hot station. During the day, there is also a bistro (not surprisingly named "The Bistro"), which has a delightful spread of charcuterie, smoked fish, cheeses, breads, salads and outstanding pastries. In case I didn't make myself clear, the food on this cruise was phenomenal.
Do you like to drink? Do you enjoy quality liquor, well-crafted, served in generous portions by a bartender who remembers your name and your drinking preferences? Then look no further. I've never had a better negroni than on board the Mahler. The martinis, cosmos, bloody Marys etc. were also excellent. Within one minute of sitting down in the Palm Court, bartenders Adam or Norbert would have a negroni sent my way, and Daryl the sommelier would hardly let me settle into my dinner chair without doing the same.
As on virtually all river cruises, there wasn't much in the way of evening entertainment, although Neal Fullerton did very well with his evening performances. There were also a few interesting talks given by local speakers. One evening we all went to a wine chateau for a private performance by a string quartet, which was very nice.
Probably the biggest difference between an ocean cruise and a river cruise is that river cruises are port-intensive and depend upon interesting excursions. Here, too, Crystal excelled. There was a good variety of excursions and they were well-organized. On the included excursions, even when all of the passengers going on a certain tour could have been lumped together into one group with one guide, we were broken up into smaller assemblages so that the groups were kept quite small. Highlights for me included a day trip to Lake Lucerne which included a boat ride on the lake; a trip to the Dutch countryside to visit an eel-smoker, a cheese maker and a windmill; a visit to Heidelberg and its castle; a tour of lovely Strasbourg with a boat ride there; and the obligatory tour of Amsterdam by canal boat. Even the otherwise mundane daily walking tours were well-guided and interesting. The Crystal buses were quite comfortable and spacious.
I must comment on the service provided on this cruise. The cabin attendant did an outstanding job thoroughly cleaning our room twice daily, seemingly reading our minds and slipping in and out of our cabin when we were elsewhere. The butler was nice to have, he picked up our clothes for the free ironing service and brought our daily late-afternoon canapes, but wasn't all that essential. The food servers, waiters and bar attendants were superb, although occasionally there was a delay in refilling beverages during the buffet breakfasts and lunches. The entertainment director, the hotel manager, the front desk personnel, and even the bus drivers all seemed to make it their goal to provide the best service possible, and they succeeded.
Although I was obviously very pleased with this cruise, there were a few minor deficiencies. The lighting system in the cabin was interesting, you could say. It was clearly too sophisticated for me, however. It took the entire 16 days to figure out how to turn on the bathroom light at night without turning on the lights in the rest of the room. The toilet paper dispenser was an anomaly, as it did not provide its intended service properly. The laundry detergent was perfumed, which not all passengers would find desirable. Some of the chairs in the Palm Court, although comfortable, were very heavy and hard to move to face different directions. There was an error in my final statement at checkout, and it took a couple of attempts to correct it. That's about all of the negatives I can come up with at this time. I guess I could complain that it rained the day we went to Heidelberg, but it's debatable whether that is Crystal's fault.