Cruise Review: Treasures of the Danube with Crystal Cruises
For those seeking to escape the constant demands of life in the fast lane and yearning for that illusive tranquil space, a voyage on board the Crystal Mozart is just the ticket.
Recipient of the Condé Nast Traveller’s Readers Choice Award for ‘World’s Best Cruise Ship’ for 24 years and winner of the ‘World’s Best Large Ship Cruise Line’ by Travel and Leisure readers for 20 years, Crystal Cruises provides the highest levels of comfort and service and a luxurious cruise experience in every sense.
Launched in July 2016, the Crystal Mozart offers a choice of suites ranging from 82 to 20.3 square metres and penthouses from 61.6 to 30.6 square metres, and with a total passenger figure of 158 and a crew of 92 the passenger to crew ratio is an impressive 1.67, which remains the highest in river cruising. The vessel’s length of 120.44 metres and width of 22.85 metres ensures that she is the largest river cruise ship in Europe.
My mother and I embarked on the elegant and sleek lined Crystal Mozart for the round-trip 10 night ‘Treasures of the Danube’ voyage, sailing from Vienna. We were thrilled with the prospect of cruising the enchanting Danube Wachau Valley, and visiting Durnstein, Melk, Linz, Passau, Bratislava and Budapest.
Check-in procedures were swift and efficient; we were escorted to our stylish suite and delighted to discover a welcome bottle of chilled sparkling wine awaiting our arrival.
All suites feature a Nespresso coffee machine and a well stocked mini-refrigerator, 24 hour room service with options available from the excellent Waterside Restaurant, a 40-inch flat-screen interactive television with complimentary movies on demand and an extensive music library with plenty of soothing tunes to encourage relaxation.
Every suite also features an Apple iPad device, which serves as a digital directory for each passenger’s needs including pillow menus, a first rate butler, concierge, and room service, in addition to weather forecasts and destination information.
Following our afternoon tipple we made our way to the chic Crystal Cove lounge and whilst sipping on piping hot tea and indulging in a few tasty snacks we got to know some of our fellow passengers and our conversations soon centred on dining options and excursions.
Recipient of the 2017 Cruise Critic UK Editor’s Pick Award for Best Dining, Crystal Cruises is recognised throughout the industry for its culinary expertise. The Crystal Mozart offers guests open seating in a choice of dining venues from the casual Waterside Restaurant, which presents locally sourced ingredients highlighted in continental and regionally inspired breakfast, lunch and dinner menus.
The succulent slow-roasted lamb shank, served with shallots, thyme-balsamic flavoured gravy, garlic mashed potato and olive oil roasted vegetables, accompanied by a glass of Barbaresco Sori San Lorenzo, Angelo Gaja Langhe 2013 was simply divine.
For an elegant and more intimate dining experience, the Vintage Room seats up to 12 diners for optional luncheons and dinners featuring vintage wines and champagnes paired with extravagant menus and I was fortunate to sample the 36 hours slow roasted beef short ribs served with a black truffle, Macallan, celeriac, onions and potato confit and the Chateau Latour Pauillac, Bordeaux 2000 enhanced the flavours perfectly.
Blue, a chic café, serves upscale bistro fare for lunch and includes global comfort food and shareable plates and the Bistro Mozart offers coffees, delicious pastries and charcuterie by day and wines and tapas during the evening. And, in the unlikely event that a beverage and snack is needed, particularly during the wee hours, the Pantry, which is a self service venue, offers speciality coffees, teas, wines and non-alcoholic beverages.
After dining, we headed for the Crystal Cove Piano Bar and we were enchanted by the performance of the talented soprano Ioana Mitu, accompanied by Francesco Carlo Leone expertly tinkling the ivories of a magnificent Bosendorfer piano. The party was still in full swing when we returned to our stateroom, slipped on our fluffy bathrobes and comfy slippers and retired. Our ultra comfortable beds, swathed in crisp, white Egyptian linens and plump pillows, guaranteed a deep slumber and the gentle movement of the shifting waters of the Danube created a soothing sense of well being.
Up with the larks and following a brisk walk around the promenade deck we headed for the rejuvenating yoga class, then a dip in the gorgeous indoor pool, and for a spot of pampering I headed for the on board spa for a well earned deep tissue muscle massage and a spell in the steam room. I then made my way to the library to select a good book and to make plans for the coming days.
Passengers are welcome to explore each port unescorted or select one of the on board eBikes, or choose from a wide variety of excursions, many of which provide the opportunity to get an up-close and personal destination experience with tours led by local experts and artisans. Other excursions include gastronomic adventures with hands-on cooking and the chance to sample signature dishes and specialities related to each port.
Cultural tours include popular museums and architectural sites and there are exhilarating adventures for the very active. All excursions are limited to a total of 15 guests, which ensures that a more personal experience is attainable. There is also the option to design a personal itinerary with the assistance of the on board concierge service.
We spent our mornings exploring the sights on land, relaxing afternoons on the promenade deck, sipping on cocktails whilst constantly admiring uninterrupted views of the intoxicating scenery and tranquil snoozes on the comfy loungers on the sun deck. To keep fit and work off those calories, after succumbing to the tempting dessert menus, there is an on board fitness centre equipped with modern machines, cardio equipment and free weights.
Our Treasures of the Danube voyage was an exceptional river cruise experience and one of the many highlights was the tribute to Dame Julie Andrews, a Godmother to Crystal Cruises, which was presented in the Palm Court, the ship’s main entertainment venue. The focus was on her unforgettable contribution to the Austrian – American film The Sound of Music and the passengers were easily encouraged to take part in a hearty sing-along.
Another highlight was the fascinating lecture on the life and work of Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart, who, in 1781 visited, and later settled in Vienna. The prolific and highly influential composer, who was proficient on the violin and piano at the age of 5, created more than six hundred works, including outstanding examples of symphonic, concertante, chamber, operatic, and choral music.
On our last evening aboard, passengers gathered in the Waterside Restaurant for another sumptuous dinner and glasses were held high as a toast was proposed to the genius of Mozart and also to the Crystal Mozart, surely the most dazzling treasure of the Danube.
For more information on the Crystal Mozart visit crystalcruises.co.uk
Top tip – Stop-over in Vienna
For those considering a pre or post cruise stop-over in Vienna, stay in a spacious apartment, which affords privacy and avoids hotel restrictions. We selected a one bedroom apartment, featured on airbnb.co.uk. Located on Kaiserstrasse, a short stroll away from the metro and tram stations, supermarkets, shops, bars and restaurants galore, the property is located within a gated complex and features a contemporary kitchen with every appliance including a washing machine, a spacious lounge with cable television and a private garden, which provides the perfect spot for an alfresco breakfast.
For more information on the featured apartment and many more properties visit airbnb.co.uk/rooms/15898928Top tip – airport transfers and local transportation
Book private airport transfers for London Heathrow and Vienna. Take advantage of a reliable and punctual first class service. Prices are all inclusive and guaranteed in advance, so you can sit back and relax upon arrival. Visit blacklane.com
Top tip – Flights to Vienna
‘Fly the flag’ with British Airways direct from London Heathrow to Vienna. Opt for business class, which includes a guaranteed aisle or window seat, 2 x 32 kilos checked baggage, a dedicated check-in area and access to the BA lounge. For more information visit britishairways.com