Crystal Bach is one of two custom-built river cruisers launched in 2017 by Crystal Cruises, better known for its luxurious ocean-going ships. Like other vessels sailing Rhine river cruises, Crystal Bach is limited in size by the locks and bridges it has to navigate, so from the outside, its dimensions are the same as other river cruise ships, though it does have a rather sleek-looking bow – and a row of jauntily-coloured deck chairs on the upper deck.
Inside, though, is a whole different boutique-hotel world. The whole ship is done out in cool, contemporary shades of cream, silver, grey and oatmeal with splashes of rich teal, emerald and burnt orange. It feels light, ethereal and classy. There is masses of space – Bach carries just 106 passengers, when ships of similar size take as many as 190. The cabins are like small but exquisite hotel rooms, each one with a butler and a window that slides down to create a balcony effect. All crew are Crystal employees (as opposed to agency staff that you find on most river cruise ships) and they can’t do enough for you. And pretty well everything is included in the price.
Yes, you pay the price you would expect for a high-end cruise – but if you are the kind of person who enjoys chic surroundings and the freedom to choose where and when to eat, and what to do ashore, this is your perfect match.
Where to eat
There are three places to dine on Crystal Bach: the Waterside Restaurant, the Bistro Bach and the Vintage Room. I loved the Waterside; there are mostly tables for two or four, so no sharing unless you want to, and for dinner, you can turn up when you like between 7pm and 9pm. Breakfast and lunch are buffet and dinner is waiter-served, with a mixture of locally-inspired and international cuisine on offer and a separate vegetarian menu. Dress code is casual throughout the ship, although people do dress more smartly for dinner.
The Bistro, one deck higher, is more comfort food: roasted jumbo shrimp and pulled pork sliders served tapas-style on sharing plates. Breakfast, light lunch and afternoon tea are offered here, too.
The Vintage Room, seating ten, is a fine dining extravaganza. You can book an eight-course dinner for €270 or a more modest four-course lunch for €80. Essentially, it is the wine you are paying for, which will delight connoisseurs. At lunch we sampled, among others, a 2008 Dom Perignon and a Premier Grand Cru Classé from St-Emilion.
Where to sleep
Unusually, there are only two decks with accommodation, so every cabin has a panoramic window that slides down to create an indoor balcony effect. There are only three grades –15 smaller Petite Suites, two massive Crystal Suites complete with faux fireplaces, and 35 River Suite Deluxe grade. Like the public areas, the colour schemes are cream, silver and grey with a beautiful emerald-green velvet armchair and a black glass-topped vanity. A butler attends every cabin and each has features like a stocked minibar, a rainforest shower and Etro bath products from Italy.
What to do
Crystal Bach has a small gym and spa treatment room offering facials and massages. Aft on Crystal Deck is an indoor pool with a swimming jet. The whole top deck is arranged with comfortable loungers and brightly coloured deckchairs, served by a small cocktail bar that sinks down into the deck as the ship glides under bridges. Occasional enrichment lectures and quizzes are held in the Palm Court and guest entertainers are brought on for some evenings, but more along the lines of an opera duo or a classical quartet than folk dancers and oompah bands.
From 2018, Crystal Bach will offer a wide choice of shore excursions, almost all included in the price. Although traditional sightseeing will still be available, there will also be tours for much smaller groups themed around cultural immersion, the arts, food and adventure. A fleet of bicycles is being added to the ship and Crystal has five smart motor cruisers on the Rhine and Danube that will be available for tours (for a fee), taking six passengers, a guide and a butler.
What I loved
The Palm Court is exactly as an elegant cocktail bar should be, ashore or on the water: beautiful décor, soft lighting, a pianist playing Sinatra on a Steinway, smiling bartenders whipping up fabulous martinis. Part of the ceiling is glass, so by day, light floods in, creating an airy living space.
Even if you are single, this is a very friendly ship. Solo travellers are hosted for dinner on the first night and the crew keep an eye out for anybody who looks a bit lonely. Because there are only 106 passengers, it doesn’t take long for a friendly, house party atmosphere to develop.