The hype, as with all things Crystal, has been high-pressure for months. Unlike many companies, Crystal Cruises can usually live up to the promises – however far-fetched they may be. Does new-build river ship Crystal Bach reach expectations? John Honeywell, the only British journalist to have been on board the ship, gives his verdict.
Crystal Bach is the first of four Rhine-class ships that will be the mainstay of Crystal Cruises’ river fleet. She joins the double-wide Crystal Mozart, inaugurated last summer, a vessel limited to the Danube because of her size.
Like sister ship Crystal Mahler, arriving next month, and Debussy and Ravel, due next spring, Bach is the standard 140 metres by 11.4 metres dictated by the size of locks and bridges on the Rhine.
That’s the same dimensions as the Viking Longships and the newest vessels from AmaWaterways and Uniworld. They may have similarities, but there’s one significant difference – passenger capacity.
Crystal Bach accommodates just 106 guests in its 53 suites, attended by 68 crew. Ama and Uniworld manage about 160, while Viking raises the bar to 190. Crystal wins by a distance when it comes to the size of its suites and the space per guest.
All Bach’s passengers are accommodated in what Crystal describe as balcony suites – although to many the definition might be a bit stretched. Only two, two-bedroom suites have separate living room space (with fake fireplaces) that would comply with most people’s idea of a suite. All rooms feature large sash windows trademarked as “Panoramic Balcony-Windows,” that lower to create the illusion of a balcony, But there is no true outdoor space on which to lounge or sit.
The king-sized or twin beds in most suites face the window; only 16 “Petite Suites” have beds facing forward or aft. A total of 10 suites come with connecting doors allowing family groups to travel together.
Guest accommodation is arranged on two decks – Crystal and Seahorse – all of it above the waterline; there are no high-windowed rooms providing an eye-level view of ducks or swans paddling past.
A pocket-sized fitness room and the single spa treatment room, together with a guest launderette, are found on the lowest deck, Harmony. Crew accommodation and the galley are also down here.
Reception desk, the Pantry for 24-hour snacks and coffee, and the Waterside restaurant – with chairs upholstered in Crystal’s signature teal hue – occupy the forward part of Seahorse Deck Two.
Next deck up is Crystal, with the casual Bistro buffet surrounding the central staircase. At the stern is a covered swimming pool with an opening sun roof, while forward is the ship’s piece de resistance and significant style statement – the Palm Court.
The starboard-side entrance contains a small library, and the room opens up into a comfortably-furnished lounge with bar and baby grand piano. Above is a glass ceiling giving panoramic views of the passing countryside – perfect for those days on the Rhine when the summer sun takes a day off.
This is the most striking feature of Crystal’s Rhine-class ships and one that is bound to be copied by others in the near future.
Just off the buffet on the port side is The Vintage Room, suitable for private dinner parties, wine tastings, or group meetings.
Up on Vista Deck, the Palm Court’s glass roof means that only a narrow strip of walkway connects the main sun deck with the forward viewing platform over the bridge.
Aft of the midships Vista Bar is a covered area with comfortable sofas and beanbags – similar to the arrangement on Crystal Mozart. The remainder of the deck is filled with sunloungers but looks arather bare. There’s no jogging track, chess-board, or herb garden – all commonplace features on competitors’ vessels.
There’s no speciality restaurant, either – although given the quality and variety of farm-to-table, Michelin-inspired cuisine served in the Waterside should be more than good enough for the most discerning palates.
Rodriguez’s claim that Bach and her sister Rhine-class vessels “go beyond the best and create a luxury river cruise experience that is truly unprecedented “ is, of course, the epitome of hyperbole.
But, truth to tell, it comes pretty close.