The Best River Cruise in Europe

February 8, 2019 7:27 pm

I love river cruising and have been on several different river ships. So, when I learned that Dawn Johnson would be going on a Crystal river cruise over New Year’s Eve, I was very envious. I asked her to call me upon her return and tell me all about her experience.

Crystal has been operating ocean cruise vessels since 1988, when it introduced the Crystal Harmony. Since then, the line has received more world’s best accolades than any other cruise line. It entered the river cruise sector in 2016 with the introduction of Crystal Mozart. Go to Wikipedia for a complete history of the company. Just type Crystal Cruises in the Wikipedia search box.

A River Cruise Aboard Crystal Mahler

Now back to river cruising aboard Crystal. Dawn called me when she returned, still excited with many great things to say about her cruise. I asked her what she liked best. “My entire experience was seamless – I didn’t have to think. Everything I wanted or thought I wanted was at my fingertips. The crew was wonderful and the service unsurpassed. They knew my name by the end of the first day on board.”

In spite of being in the Netherlands and Germany mid-winter, the season enhanced her overall river cruise experience. Holiday decorations lit up the countryside and aboard the Mahler. She had good weather – cold but clear and delightful.

Desert on New Year's Eve aboard a Crystal river cruise

Desert on New Year's Eve aboard a Crystal river cruise

As a self-proclaimed “foodie,” Dawn talked about culinary excellence onboard. Crystal sources the food locally and features regional specialties, using seasonal farm to table ingredients. “New Year’s dinner was fabulous. They had several types of fresh fish, and a gorgeous display. Through the week, the food was delicious – and plentiful.

Dawn sailed roundtrip Amsterdam, reaching Cologne, Germany on New Year’s Eve. There, the night sky came to life with a beautiful display of fireworks. And the 360-degree view from the top deck of the Mahler was breathtaking.

The small size of river ships limit the extent of evening entertainment. According to Dawn however, “Crystal did its usual great job, with a classical pianist enthralling the audience with opera and Broadway numbers.”

Njimegan, Netherlands

Njimegan, Netherlands

Excursions on Land

A river cruise is known for including excursions in all cities at which the ships call. Crystal does this extremely well. At the first excursion, the passengers are introduced to the driver of their Crystal motor coach. The driver and coach travel in tandem with the ship so when you disembark for a tour, you have the same driver. Local expert guides lead the individual tours. Passenger have a dedicated headset in their suites to take with the on the tours.

Crystal has a “signature” event on every sailing. On Dawn’s itinerary it took place in Antwerp. There all passengers were taken to an historic location for a string orchestra and opera performance.

Crystal River Ships

Currently operating five river ships, Mozart, Bach, Debussy, Mahler and Ravel, Crystal provides all suite accommodations and butler service in all categories. Dress is “Crystal Casual” meaning you can leave your jacket and tie at home (unless you have independent arrangements requiring them). Daytime dress is casual, comfortable clothes and good walking shoes. Evening attire is country club casual.

Suites with kingsize beds face the water so you can lie in bed and watch the towns go by.

Suites with kingsize beds face the water so you can lie in bed and watch the towns go by.

One of the things I like best about the Crystal river cruises is the amount of space on board. Other river cruise ships, the same size as Crystal’s ships, carry many more passengers. This can make the public areas uncomfortably crowded. For example, breakfast and lunch are typically served buffet style, with the option to order from a menu. With its smaller number of passengers, Crystal’s dining room offers plenty of space between tables, and room to walk around. My experience on other river ships is that the dining room has been tightly packed, making trips to and from the buffet quite uncomfortable.

The other thing I like about a river cruise aboard a Crystal ship is its all-inclusivity. From the complimentary beverages and spirits and gratuities to the high-quality excursions, your cruise includes everything.

Ready for a River Cruise? Your Next Step

When you are ready to arrange a river cruise, don’t just select the line you see in television ads and are most familiar with. Look at all your options. I strongly suggest you contact one of the river cruise experts at Coastline Travel, or email Dawn at She can help you select the cruise line, ship and itinerary that best meets your needs.