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Home from Crystal Ravel: thoughts and impressions


J80crew
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After about 20 ocean cruises on four different lines, my husband and I took our first river cruise this month. We sailed on Crystal Ravel from Budapest to Vilshofen September 5-12. Like most of you in this era, we were unsure until the last couple of weeks whether the cruise would actually happen, and whether we’d be able to get into Hungary without quarantining. We had planned to fly into Budapest two days early and explore the city, but changed those plans so that we stayed in Switzerland for three days and then flew to Budapest the morning of departure. As it turned out, we had no problem at BUD, and did not even go through customs there. We took a taxi to the hotel where Crystal was providing Covid tests and check-in, received our negative tests, and boarded the bus to the ship, where we were met with champagne and shown to our stateroom (where another bottle of champagne was chilling). We were very impressed with how smoothly everything was executed, and how friendly and accommodating the staff were. 

Because Crystal requires all guests and staff to be fully vaccinated, and because everyone (including staff) tested negative on embarkation, guests were not required to wear masks at any time, though staff did wear them. We did not need masks on the bus or outside in any of the ports, though in all ports masks were required in indoor spaces. We were also free to explore any of the ports on our own. Hand sanitizer was in abundance throughout the ship, and there were extra masks and portable sanitizer in the stateroom. 
 

We loved the stateroom. While not as large as staterooms on ocean cruisers, it had plenty of storage space (even for those of us who consistently overpack), and a full king bed facing the floor-to-ceiling window with wonderful views. The bathroom was a delight: large shower with great water pressure and instant hot water, plenty of storage, double sinks, the best lighting I’ve ever had, and (my husband’s favorite) heated floors!  The bathroom outdid any of the ocean ships we’ve been on. (We are of the veranda class, not the suites.) I slept better on the ship than I have in many years!  A stateroom selection tip: in one of our ports, our room on the third deck was at sidewalk level; the ones below us faced a concrete wall. Higher is better if you can swing it (or if the line is offering “best available” at the same price, as was the case on our cruise). 
 

All the staterooms on Crystal river cruises come with butler service, which we’ve never had on an ocean cruise. Frankly, it’s not something we missed. The only time we used our butler was to get some things pressed, which they do at no charge. I’m sure that others find more use for the butlers (like serving room service meals) but we get along fine without them. Housekeeping was prompt, unobtrusive, and thorough. Our refrigerator was refilled daily with wine and soft drinks. Hors d’ouvres were available on request each afternoon, but we didn’t take them. One amenity I appreciated that we don’t get on ocean ships was the in-room Nespresso machine.  

It’s easy to get around on a river ship. There is an elevator but we never used it. The main bar and lounge area was on our floor, as was access to the top deck. One floor below was the restaurant and the reception area, and the lowest deck had the spa, small fitness room, and very small pool, none of which we used. The pool is not long enough for laps, but apparently has a current that you swim against—the water equivalent of a treadmill. All public areas are well-designed, lovely to look at, and meticulously maintained. There were only 25 passengers on our cruise (many cancellations due to the uncertainty in Hungary, I’m guessing), but even with a full count of 106, you would not feel crowded anywhere. Staff everywhere were extremely attentive and eager to please. 
 

The main restaurant served breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The first two meals featured a buffet, though you could also order ala carte. Strangely, they didn’t provide menus for the ala carte, but waitstaff informed us that we could order eggs in any form for breakfast; and for lunch, there was a sandwich of the day and always Caesar salad. The buffets were extensive, featuring several different hot and cold dishes that changed each day. Dinner was all table service, with menus that changed daily. Generally, there were four to six appetizer selections, six entrees (including the always available salmon and chicken), and four desserts. The food was high quality and beautifully served, but we missed the larger menus of the ocean ships. The sommelier was very attentive. There was a white and a red wine to complement the food offerings each night, but she was always happy to suggest something else or to pour a favorite of ours. And of course, we could always get a mixed drink or champagne. The dining room has lots of tables for two that makes introverts like us happy, and there are no assigned tables or dining times. Compared to ocean ships, though, the dining options are very limited. In addition to the dining room, there is a small bistro on the third deck. It has a bar, a few tables and a couple of high tops, but it’s more for snacking during the day. They have breads, pastries and a charcuterie plate out, along with a couple small desserts. Oddly, it doesn’t open for a quick breakfast until after the dining room closes at 9:30, except on disembarkation day. You can also have a more casual dinner there by reservation, but we didn’t try it.  While the staff doesn’t promote it, we discovered that we could have lunch on the top deck by going to the buffet and taking our food upstairs. There are a few tables for four on the deck along with the couches, lounges, and chairs. There’s also a bar, and the dining staff is happy to carry your plate up if you prefer not to do it yourself. We were surprised that more guests didn’t take advantage of the great views and great weather for an al fresco lunch. (We were incredibly lucky to have beautiful sunshine and warm temps every single day.)

 

Ravel’s nightlife is pretty limited.  We did, however, have the best entertainer we’ve seen on any ship. Neal played the piano in Palm Court each evening before dinner and most evenings after dinner. He’s a great piano bar entertainer, playing the old standards (he leans toward music from the 40s and 70s, he says) as well as titles people throw at him. He encourages sing-alongs and works to get the audience involved. When he learned on the first day that we and one other couple are ballroom dancers, he added some recorded ballroom music to the early set so we could dance. In addition to his musical ability, he’s also an amateur magician and has a great sense of humor. Neal was a big part of our enjoyment of the cruise. On two nights, Crystal brought in local entertainment: a cabaret singer one night, and an operatic tenor another. Both were very talented. One highlight, though, was the evening in Vienna when we went to the Belvedere Palace for a private tour of the Klimt collection and an intimate concert by a symphony orchestra with dance and operatic performances. The other highlight was the first night, when we cruised around Budapest, seeing all its magnificent buildings lighted in gold. 
 

Daytime activities consisted of complimentary tours, primarily. There’s usually one walking tour of the port city or village and another bus ride to an attraction such as Schoenberg Palace or an abbey or Salzburg. In addition, there are active excursions on bikes or foot. We did a hike in Durnstein that was challenging—a steep climb on often rocky, uneven ground—but the views were great. An advantage Crystal has is that it owns its buses, which follow the ship from port to port. The coaches are very clean and very comfortable, with wifi and a bathroom; and you never have to worry about losing something you leave on board!  Our guides were uniformly good, informative and happy to share tips with us on eating and shopping. The guide in Budapest stood out, though: a young man who was not only a fount of information but also funny!  And as I said earlier, we were able to explore on our own as we wished, which we did in at least three of the ports. Otherwise, there’s not much organized activity. Neal hosted a trivia game one morning while we were sailing, which was fun, and one afternoon late in the cruise a Bavarian historian gave a lecture, which we missed but heard was very informative. We would have liked a bit more activity between ports, but I understand that  for many, it’s the very absence of activity that makes a river cruise attractive. 
 

Alas, time came for us to leave. We had informed the staff that we wanted to use the complimentary transfer to the Munich airport even though we were not flying out that day. We were assigned to the second bus, at 7:30. Unlike the ocean ships we’ve been on that want your bags outside the door the night before, Crystal didn’t require them until 45 minutes before the bus leaves. It was this last day that Crystal’s service really shined for us. We and three other couples boarded the bus, along with two staff people. After a pleasant 1.5 hour ride, we reached the sprawling Munich airport. Only one of the couples was actually flying that day, and they stayed on the bus with one staffer to another terminal while the rest of us got out at the main complex. I expected we’d be dropped off with our luggage to find our own way, but no—the Crystal agent, who was local and also had a map of the airport, personally escorted each of us to where we needed to go, one couple to the taxi stand, one couple to the train station, and us to the counter of the car rental company we needed. She pointed out the closest restrooms, the covid test stations, and where we could get food. It was really service above and beyond, and very much appreciated by all of us. 
 

So, pros and cons for me of river cruising compared to ocean cruising (for comparison purposes I’ll use Crystal ocean cruises, to minimize the service factors):

Cruising days are a lot more scenic on river cruises; service is more personalized on river ships; you get a coffee maker in your room; the atmosphere is more intimate.  BUT

There is more activity on ocean cruises; there is more space to roam on ocean ships; there is more variety and choice of dining venues and of entertainment; the atmosphere is livelier. 
This was a great experience, but we still prefer ocean cruises. 

 

Bottom line, will we take another river cruise?  Maybe.   If so, will it be on Crystal?  Definitely!!


 

  
 

 


 

 

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Thanks for posting such a comprehensive account of your lovely cruise!
 

I’ve cruised Rhine, Moselle, Danube, Main canal and probably can’t do another.  Not a fan of Crystal Ocean but would love to try one of their river cruises so just hoping they expand to France.  The service on their river cruises sounds quite elevated compared to their ocean product. 

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@J80crew, thank you for taking the time to write such a detailed review.  I think your assessment of river vs. ocean cruising is accurate.  Sounds like you had a good experience.

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I didn't know what to do with my butler either. I had bought a gift for a friend and had asked if he had bubble wrap. He responded "I will take care of this for you". He wrapped it so well - I was afraid to unwrap it before I mailed to a friend. 

 

I have to say service was better on my Crystal River. I think the food was also. Though, I did enjoy both Crystal ocean and river.

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J80crew thank you a superb insight into what Crystal offers. I am surprised that they still have the cruise at night with Budapest lit up I thought it had been cancelled. I’ve only ever cruised with Scenic and find Butler’s most useful but it took a few cruises to get used to them.

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3 hours ago, Canal archive said:

I am surprised that they still have the cruise at night with Budapest lit up I thought it had been cancelled. 

We did this last week.  The CD said that due to the low traffic on the river, we were able to.  It really was beautiful.

 

Very nice review of your trip.  You hit the nail on the head about the differences between ocean and river cruising, but for us, they weigh out in favor of river cruising. Everyone is different, right? 🙂

Edited by ljandgb
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As others have said, thank you so much for the comprehensive and insightful review.  We have not sailed with Crystal before, nor done a river cruise, so it will all be new to us--and during the era of COVID-19!  So your information and insights are very helpful.

 

On 9/21/2021 at 5:45 PM, J80crew said:

The other highlight was the first night, when we cruised around Budapest, seeing all its magnificent buildings lighted in gold. 

Am I reading this correctly in that the Ravel itself cruised around Budapest for a lights' tour?  If so, how cool!

 

Thanks again,

 

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Up until just before COVID this nighttime cruise through Budapest was a highlight of the start or end of any cruise wonderful architecture with superb lighting until one evening when there was an awful incident. I’ve been privileged to experience the show twice I’m surprised but glad it’s returned but I suspect when river cruising returns to its fuller extent it will not be allowed again.

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8 hours ago, NavyCruiser said:

Thanks for your very detailed review.

Think going on Crystal as your very first river cruise will spoil you for life...

My first one was Ama, second one with Crystal. I am afraid to sail with another line now.

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20 hours ago, loriva said:

As others have said, thank you so much for the comprehensive and insightful review.  We have not sailed with Crystal before, nor done a river cruise, so it will all be new to us--and during the era of COVID-19!  So your information and insights are very helpful.

 

Am I reading this correctly in that the Ravel itself cruised around Budapest for a lights' tour?  If so, how cool!

 

Thanks again,

 

Loriva, you are reading correctly. It was a special event, due probably as others have suggested to the very limited river traffic at the time. 

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Thank you for this detailed description.  We are scheduled on the end of October sailing.  This was very helpful.  Can anyone who has been on this boat tell me more about what type of clothing was worn to dinners etc.?  It says crystal casual.  I was planning on packing slacks, sweaters etc since the weather will be cool.

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23 minutes ago, natk35 said:

Thank you for this detailed description.  We are scheduled on the end of October sailing.  This was very helpful.  Can anyone who has been on this boat tell me more about what type of clothing was worn to dinners etc.?  It says crystal casual.  I was planning on packing slacks, sweaters etc since the weather will be cool.

I have been on a different Crystal sailing and country club casual is the best way to describe it. Slacks and sweaters works. There was one night that people dressed up more - they took everyone who wanted to go to a concert and I can say people dressed up a little bit more for that night.

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When I first heard of ‘country club casual’ I had to ‘google’ it as it must be a states thing. I have since realised it’s ‘slightly understated and not to much bling’. Although if there’s a group of you going to a special ‘do’ go all out, so much fun.

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39 minutes ago, Canal archive said:

When I first heard of ‘country club casual’ I had to ‘google’ it as it must be a states thing. I have since realised it’s ‘slightly understated and not to much bling’. Although if there’s a group of you going to a special ‘do’ go all out, so much fun.

Your summation of country club casual is on the nose.

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12 hours ago, natk35 said:

Thank you for this detailed description.  We are scheduled on the end of October sailing.  This was very helpful.  Can anyone who has been on this boat tell me more about what type of clothing was worn to dinners etc.?  It says crystal casual.  I was planning on packing slacks, sweaters etc since the weather will be cool.

 

Are you on the sailing leaving Budapest on 27 October?  If so, we going also along with my sister and her husband.  It will be the first river cruise for us and the first on Crystal for them.

 

I presume the "dress-up" night is the one we go to the Belvedere.  We're starting to get optimistic this cruise will go after such a long stretch of cancellations and looking forward to this new experience!

 

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59 minutes ago, mj_holiday said:

J80Crew - thank you so much for the great detailed review.  I have a question about dining in the evenings.  Does everyone get seated at one time for service, or can you go to the dining room anytime during dinner?

I will let J80Crew answer but will also share my Crystal River experience. I believe we could go anytime between 7-10 pm. We were not forced to eat with anyone else if we didn't want to. Plenty of tables for 2.

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We love the Crystal river ships and are looking forward to our cruise on the Ravel at the beginning of November finishing in Budapest. Our BA flight home has been cancelled so we are considering staying in Budapest after the cruise for another day or two. I think by November we won’t need a test before flying back to the UK but does anyone know if staying in Budapest after the cruise rather than flying straight home will mean we have to have PCR tests to enter Hungary?

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We are within 30 days of our journey with Crystal on the Danube.  Curious about cruise documents.  Does Crystal send anything physical?  Or is everything an e-document?  When did you receive yours?

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On 9/25/2021 at 11:25 AM, malcliz said:

Our BA flight home has been cancelled so we are considering staying in Budapest after the cruise for another day or two. 

 We finished our Danube cruise last week.  We had our BA flight from Bucharest to Heathrow canceled or rescheduled (to 2 weeks later!) so many times we finally switched to Lufthansa.  Twice they were canceled without notice.

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5 hours ago, ljandgb said:

 We finished our Danube cruise last week.  We had our BA flight from Bucharest to Heathrow canceled or rescheduled (to 2 weeks later!) so many times we finally switched to Lufthansa.  Twice they were canceled without notice.

 

Our post-cruise flight home was to be from Munich on BA.  They also canceled it--but not our outbound flight--without notice.  Luckily that gave us the opportunity to cancel the whole thing for a full refund.  We switched to TAP--for a better price as a plus.

 

In these times, recommend everyone check their flight reservations with the airlines at least weekly.  You can also sign up for a free FlightAware account and track up to five flight numbers.  We've been watching that and happy to see that TAP has been flying our scheduled flights regularly.  It may also argue for taking flights from the cruise line if offered and if competitively priced, and share some of the burdens of keeping track of who is going to get you to your cruise and when.   

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On 9/25/2021 at 10:09 AM, mj_holiday said:

J80Crew - thank you so much for the great detailed review.  I have a question about dining in the evenings.  Does everyone get seated at one time for service, or can you go to the dining room anytime during dinner?

Coral is correct; seating was open both in terms of time (generally 6:30-9:00, though they opened at 6:00 on the night of the Belvedere) and tables. As she said, plenty of two tops, though close enough to your neighbors to chat if you like. 

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Definitely agree with checking your flights weekly.  We had United codeshare with Swiss canceled without any notice.  Rebooked a day earlier, and about a week before departure, discovered we had been waitlisted on that flight.  Rebooked another day earlier.  So United cost us two extra days of hotels and car rental, but those days in Switzerland were wonderful.  

 

MALCLIZ:  I doubt that you will need a test to stay in Budapest after your cruise.  It appears that there are no requirements for people getting off ships or trains.  (In fact, because we flew in from Zurich, we were not even sent through customs at the airport; no check of passports, vaccinations, or tests.)

 

LORIVA:  We received luggage tags and our cruise tickets in the mail about a week before embarkation. 

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