Crystal Mahler; Crystal Cruises; Durnstein; Austria; Danube Cruise
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Danube River in Luxury and Style with Crystal Cruises

Danube River, Europe

I have been a traveler since I can barely walk, and have experienced basically most modes of transportation and travel, from riding tuktuks in streets of Bangkok, to hopping small wooden boats in Vietnam, to flying Business Class from Hong Kong to Frankfurt. However, never have I gone sailing in a cruise ship, partly because I can very picky when it comes to accommodation. When Crystal Cruises invited me to join them in a luxury river cruise along the Danube , I didn’t know what to expect. I have been to some of the stops yes, but Crystal Cruises offered a totally different exhilarating experience, all in style and luxury, and totally changed my mind about cruise trips.

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The start of our trip wasn’t ideal, as we missed our flight due to unforeseen circumstances and wouldn’t have made it on time to join the complimentary shuttle leaving Munich to travel 1.5 hours to our first port: Passau. This unfortunate event made a complete 360 degree-turn with the help of Crystal Cruises. I called their emergency line as we board our plane, and the very helpful Crystal agents assisted us as I notified them about the change of our itinerary. This was about 16 hours before landing in Munich, and even though we arrived 3 hours later than other guests, we were so happy to see a representative holding up a sign with our names on it.

As we reached the port and got out of the large Mercedes Benz van which we had all to ourselves, we were immediately approached by two Crystal Cruises ship crew members who helped us right away with our luggages. We entered the Crystal Mahler and the lovely staff already knew who we were and immediately guided us to our spacious suite. They gave us a warm welcome, brief introduction on the ship, and led us to the Waterside Restaurant, where guests were already having their dinners.

After our meal, we met our Suite Attendant, Jelena, who showed us how to turn on/off the electronic Do Not Disturb/Make My Room sign, and pointed out all the light switches and electronic outlets. She also showed us how to call her on the phone in case we needed something. Our Deluxe Suite has a Panoramic Balcony-Window, and she demonstrated to us how to open the screen and window with a touch of a button. The window has a special safety feature, and she explained how it will not open when there are things blocking the sensor.

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When Jelena left, we met our Butler, Marco, who offered to unpack our luggage. He also mentioned all the other things he can assist us with, including arranging shore excursions, ordering room service, stacking up our room with hors d’oeuvres and any drinks we want. He also said we can have him get our clothes pressed or laundered, deliver special ordered coffee to our door in the morning (even though we have a Jules Meinl Inspresso machine), and even get ice cubes for us if we wished. He showed us how the TV works (which we barely used due to many choices of activities going on), how to use the iPad, and how to connect to the Wifi. 

We decided to do our unpacking ourselves, and loved how we can get settled and not have to switch hotels every few nights. I may have brought more than enough outfits for the trip yet our walk-in closet was still so roomy for my friend’s clothes and mine. After unpacking, jet lag hit us and soon we thought of food. We were glad that room service was available 24 hours and we get try cheese pizza and vegetarian lasagna along with the red wine already available in our suite.

Our next day started early as we were excited to actually start the trip. We got ready, had some of our clothes sorted for pressing/steaming, then went to have our first breakfast in the ship. The breakfast spread was everything you can ask for, which included fresh fruits, cold cuts, tasty pastries, made-to-order eggs, and waffles. When we were done, we went back to our suite to get our daypacks for our first excursion, and we were surprised to find our beds already made and our clothes already picked up for steaming. 

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Crystal Cruises Shore Excursion times vary depending on the type of activity but most of the excursions we booked fell between meal times. It was very relaxing to get back to the ship then get to have sumptuous meals at the Waterside Restaurant. However, when the restaurant is close, we get our in-between meal fixed at Bistro Mahler which is open all day and has that retro vibe. They have specialty coffee and pastries, desserts and charcuterie, drinks and even tapas at night. My favorites are the Viennese style affogato and the savory cakes which changed every day.

Dinners at Crystal Mahler in the Waterside Restaurant are definitely some of the best meals I’ve ever had. On our first night while docked at Passau, Germany, we had German green split pea soup, broiled fresh salmon filet and mint chocolate trifle paired with German red wine from Baden. While we were in Vienna, we had steamed black mussels with Anis-infused creamy sauce, grilled baby lamb chops with eggplant parmigiana, cannellini bean gremolata and cilantro mint vinaigrette, paired with Vienna favorite Sacher Cake and white wine from local winery. My favorite meal of all time was our last meal on the ship when we had foie gras praline with granny smith apple sorbet, port wine jelly & brioche crouton, slow roasted Almo beef tenderloin with black truffle fries, baby carrots, port wine demi grace and morel espuma, a unique version of banana split served with vanilla and chocolate ice cream, all paired with Chardonnay from Burgenland, Austria. Did I mention we have caviar almost every day, casually thrown in on pre-dinner cocktails, or part of our salad on our lunch buffets? These Michelin-inspired modern farm-to-table cuisine that are locally inspired were definitely unforgettable. 

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After dinner, we often found ourselves at the Palm Court, where there was always something going on. Cocktails were available at the bar, while Neal, the ship house musician, would be playing and singing classical and contemporary songs at the piano. On some nights, there were concerts featuring local entertainers. One of the memorable performances was the concert by Lisa Antoni, a local talent from Vienna, who also happen to synchronized the title role in the 2018 Disney movie Mary Poppins. She sang iconic songs from famous musicals including those from Wicked and Phantom of the Opera. 

Crystal Cruises offer wide range of Shore Excursions with at least one complimentary excursion per destination, and our itinerary allowed at least two choices per port. For these excursions, we used our personal listening device which were our own for the duration of the trip. When we go on these excursions, we board the very roomy Crystal motor coaches with large seating and complimentary Wifi. On some days we decide to go on our own, and Crystal Cruises always local maps at the reception.

Crystal Cruises ships all have a spa, a fitness facility, and a swimming pool. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any time to use any of these facilities due to so many activities that were available and wanted to join in. Other things included in every sailing are complimentary self-service laundry facilities and use of bikes in every port. 

One of the best things that set Crystal River Cruises apart is it’s 6-star exceptional service. They have the highest staff-to-guest ratio among all European river cruise lines. The all-suite river ships are all butler-serviced, and all of the staff seemed to remember all of our names, where we’re from, and even our preferred drinks. They all have smile on their faces and were always ready to help.

I have never felt so spoilt and pampered on a trip until now, with Crystal Cruises. Being on the Crystal ship is an experience on itself. The attention to the smallest detail made the whole trip memorable and  definitely true to their vision: where luxury is personal. Now the way I look at cruises will never be the same.

On this trip, we were lucky to experience the Grand Europe 7-Night Getaway on Crystal Mahler. The trip started in Passau, Germany, stopped by lovely towns of Melk and Durnstein, Austria, gorgeous Vienna, charming Bratislava and beautiful Budapest.

Special thanks to Crystal Cruises for providing us complimentary stay, meals, and excursions in exchange of an honest review of our experience . As always, all photos were taken by me and and all opinions are my own.

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About Sarah

A perpetual dreamer, an eternal nomad and a Francophile at heart.

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