Leading Crystal Cruises’ charge into river cruising, Crystal Mozart has set the bar high for the luxury line. Ralph Grizzle tried out the ultra-wide, ultra-luxe cruiser to check out its transformation.

Last year, Crystal Cruises decided to give river cruising a try, and the venerable luxury cruise operator launched a new division. With six new builds on order, Crystal River Cruises wanted to get in the game sooner rather than later, so the company purchased Dertour’s 1987-built MS Mozart, formerly operated by Peter Deilmann and TUI Cruises.

At the time of her construction, Mozart was one of the largest river vessels afloat, and easily recognisable thanks to her unique semi-catamaran design. Nearly double the width of most river cruisers, Mozart’s dimensions mean she can only sail the Danube between Passau and the Black Sea.

Transforming Mozart to Crystal’s specifications meant taking her down to her steel hull, a process that took more than 400 shipyard workers going at it around the clock. “We went through every single inch, both technically and from a hotel point of view,” says Crystal Cruises COO Thomas Mazloum. “We had 14 different contractors, two to three different designers, working the last couple of months in three shifts, 24 hours a day to get it finished in time.

“It was the most ambitious project we’ve ever undertaken. Our inspiration was, ‘What would the perfect Crystal boutique hotel look like if we were to open a hotel in Europe?’ That was what we asked our designers to create.”

I step on board a ship where few vestiges of the nearly three-decade-old vessel are to be seen (I had sailed Mozart under Peter Deilmann in 2009). There are a few portraits from the old Mozart, and a beautiful Bösendorfer piano that was almost scrapped, but rescued at the last minute. Lovingly restored, the piano is the centrepiece of the forward-facing Palm Court on deck 3.

Throughout Crystal Mozart’s public areas, such as The Bistro and The Cove, I find elegant furnishings that will be familiar to those who have sailed Crystal Cruises’ two luxury ocean ships.

Staterooms and suites carry familiar amenities, too, such as Crystal bathrobes and kimonos, Etro toiletries and Crystal-logo shopping and laundry bags similar to those that you will find on Crystal Symphony or Serenity. These touches are complemented by new technology; USB outlets can be found beside beds and at the desks, while iPads serve as digital directories for guests.

Crystal Mozart distinguishes itself in several areas:

  • Lots of real estate. At 22.9 metres across, Mozart is nearly twice the width of the standard river cruiser. That extra width allows for a lot more in terms of public rooms and generally larger staterooms.
  • Pre/post stays. Crystal River Cruises will use Mozart as the hotel for pre/post stays in turnaround destinations such as Vienna.
  • Crystal-trained staff. Crystal hires, trains and manages its own staff. “We did not outsource anything on this ship,” Mazloum says. “Everyone is a Crystal employee. They were hand-selected and interviewed for months and months.”
  • Highest guest-to-crew ratio in river cruise. Mozart has a guest capacity of 154 passengers served by 92 crew.
  • Unique public areas not available on other river cruisers. The uppermost deck, Vista Deck 4, features a pop-up bar that lowers flush with the deck for passing under low bridges. On deck 2, the Crystal Life Spa has an indoor pool and fully equipped fitness, spa and salon facilities.
  • Michelin dining program. Off the ship, guests can choose to dine in one of eight Michelin-starred restaurants at no additional cost once during each cruise. In each restaurant ashore, there will be no more than 16 Crystal guests.

Dining options

Crystal Mozart features four dining venues, plus room service. Chef Toni Neumeister has done a phenomenal job in preparing menus that are both tasty and inspired.
Waterside – The open-seating main dining room features extensive breakfast and lunch buffets and a fancier feel for dinner.
Blue  – This aft indoor dining area offers a casual atmosphere and a menu of global comfort food, similar to Tastes aboard Crystal Serenity.
Bistro Mozart  – The go-to spot aboard Crystal vessels for freshly baked pastries, fruit and snacks, you’ll also find a good cup of coffee or tea, and light meals through the day and into the evening.
The Vintage Room – As aboard Crystal’s ocean ships, the intimate dining room for approximately a dozen guests hosts winemakers’ dinners and special occasions.

Staterooms & Suites

My stateroom is a Category S1 stateroom measuring 20.3 square metres with a French balcony. The full king-sized bed is exceptionally comfortable, but takes up a lot of space, making it a tight squeeze between the closets and the bed.

I appreciate all of the high technology, the USB charging outlets, lights that can be programmed with the push of a button for four scenes, and the pull-out mini-bar, stocked with complimentary beverages. The room also features the iPad digital directory and a 40-inch flat-panel HD TV.

Just down the corridor is one of the two Crystal Suites, which measure 82 square metres each – the largest on any river vessel. The two-bedroom Crystal Suites feature French balconies, walk-in closets, separate showers and oversized bathtubs.

Crystal Mozart gets high marks for many reasons. First, its width allows lots of space for including features not found on other river cruisers, such as the indoor pool, wraparound promenade, multiple dining venues and expansive public rooms.

Secondly, Crystal’s approach with its crew is different than on other river cruise ships. Are they better than the crew on other ships? Debatable. However, what’s not debatable is the highest crew-to-guest ratio. Will that make a difference in your experience? Definitely.

All in all, Crystal River Cruises has a winner on its hands with Crystal Mozart, truly one-of-a-kind as it sails serenely along the Danube.

The Verdict

Highs: Mozart itself – nearly double the width of a standard river cruiser and totally transformed by Crystal.
Lows: Even at 20.3 square metres, the standard staterooms feel just a tad tight with the king-sized bed. On the other hand, you get a king-sized bed.
Best suited to: Crystal Cruises’ fans and anyone looking for a truly upscale, luxury river cruise experience on a unique vessel.