Cruise Control: Exploring Holland and Germany Aboard the Crystal Bach
It seems like every time you talk to someone about vacations, river cruising comes up. Over the past decade, there’s been a surge in passengers as well as the number of companies operating river cruise lines—not just in Europe but around the world. Why has this style of “vacation” captured the imagination of so many? We were eager to find out and experience the world of luxury river cruising.
Our nonstop flight to Amsterdam went without a hitch, and we arrived a bit tired but eager to see the city and get ready for our departure the following day. This was our first time in Amsterdam, and we made the most of it as we always do on short stays in new places: using the double-decker tour bus! I’ve heard people gripe about them, but when time is short, I find there’s nothing like it; it’s kind of the Cliff Notes of city exploration. Never been to Amsterdam? Put it on the list now! The city felt young and vibrant and was loaded with things to see and do, top-notch food, and warm, friendly people—most of whom travel on bikes.
The following day we stepped on board the Crystal Bach, considered one of Crystal’s flagship river boats. We have river cruised before, but this was our first time aboard Crystal, so we were eager to experience this highly awarded cruise line. The accommodations themselves were extremely noteworthy, for their size, luxury appointments, and design. Crystal offers larger suites and therefore 40% fewer suites and passengers. What a difference this makes when it comes to comfort.
From the moment we boarded, we knew this was going to be different. We arrived a bit early and were offered champagne and directed to the Palm Court as our cabin was being readied. Immediately, a very nice crewmember asked us what we would like to drink. We simply asked for water—sparkling for my wife, and still for me—and were never asked again. From that point forward, the crew knew. Of course, they would ask before pouring, but it was, “sparkling, ma’am?” then “still for you, sir?” The entire crew was exemplary. And take note that the crew to passenger ratio is 1 to 1.6, providing a level of service that sets them apart.
What else does Crystal do that makes them stand out? Firstly, their cruises are all inclusive—from cocktails to excursions and tips for the crew—there isn’t another charge involved, period. Talk about a wonderful way to travel. Also impressive was the exquisite selection of wine and top-shelf spirits, which once again, was all-inclusive.
When the time came to see our accommodations, we were shown the way and met by our “butler,” Igor, who would be with us for the next 10 days. Igor was delightful and ever helpful. Whatever we needed, he was there. He was also there to surprise us with a late afternoon snack a couple of times while we were getting our clothes pressed for dinner, and so much more.
Being 6’ 7”, having enough room to move around is of paramount importance; not only to me, but for my wife too, who has to deal with me if I’m feeling like I am in a shoebox. This particular suite boasted a comfortable, king-sized bed; walk-in closet; bathroom with two sinks; and a shower that I couldn’t only walk in but stand straight up in, too! It was a room that rivaled the finest hotels.
After the cruise officially began, we chose our daily excursions (all but just a couple are included in your fare, and the choices can be difficult!) and began our journey that took us mostly on the Mosel and Rhine Rivers. If you’ve never traveled this region, you’ll soon find it’s one of the most beautiful places to see—and is also known for its excellent wines.
Day 1: Amsterdam
Since we spent the previous day doing our own tour of the city, visiting the exquisite museum area, walking the canals, and dodging bikes (be careful: in Amsterdam, everyone is on a bike and they don’t stop for pedestrians!), we decided to take the Amsterdam Jewish Heritage Tour.
Day 2: Cologne City Walk
Watching the boat cruise into a larger city is always interesting. Cologne has it all: bridges, industry, homes, buildings, churches, etc., but the cathedral—which took over 600 years to build and is one of the most remarkable gothic structures in the world—was of particular interest. With over 20,000 visitors each day, it’s a must-see when visiting Cologne.
Day 3: Koblenz City Walk
Koblenz is a beautiful city that’s situated where the Moselle and Rhine Rivers meet. Known for its wine and spring water, it’s one of those smaller cities where you just want to walk all day, enjoying the shops, cafés, and beauty.
Day 4: Bernkastel Walk and Wine Tour
A quintessential medieval town on the Moselle, this may be one of the most charming towns in Germany. You’ll find yourself surrounded by hillside vineyards and stunning castles with a wonderful marketplace. The tour was fun and informative, but the people watching from the cafés was particularly fun.
Day 5: Trier
From the Porta Nigra Gate, you’ll see the Roman bath ruins, an amphitheater, and a stone bridge. The Archaeological Museum is a must-see, and there are numerous Catholic Churches to view, too (the Trier Cathedral was a standout). We walked the marketplace, enjoyed a traditional German lunch in the square, and window-shopped to our heart’s content.
Day 6: Luxembourg
We docked in Trier overnight and decided that on our second day there we would do the day trip to Luxembourg City. Our first stop on our short trip, via Crystal Luxury Bus, was the American Military Cemetery. When we arrived we instantly recognized that we were on hallowed ground. Seeing the rows and rows of white crosses, where our men are buried, most from the Battle of the Bulge, brought up so many emotions and an overall sense of pride. However, we couldn’t help but see that one grave was set apart, although we could not see the name as the ground was too wet to walk upon. We asked the tour guide and I was taken aback when told it was General George S. Patton. We were then off to Luxembourg City where we toured and enjoyed lunch on the square. The old battlements were a sight to see and the views from the city to the valleys around it were spectacular.
Day 7: Cochem
This was our second time in Cochem, and it had to be one of the most picturesque places on the Rhine. We toured the city, dined, and visited the Reichsburg Castle—nestled above town on a hill and filled with lore and antiques, secret passageways, and more.
Day 8: Bonn
This may have been our favorite city in Germany. Bonn is a college town, quite modern, but with many historic buildings and Roman structures dating back to the first century B.C. It was also the capital of West Germany and then the reunited Germany until 1999. Our tour took us through the college area, shopping district, and to the highlight of our day: the childhood home of Beethoven.
Day 9: Nijmegen, Netherlands
I was fortunate enough to get the last spot on this day’s excursion to the WWII museum here, where we were able to sit through a lecture by a local man who was eight when the German army invaded the area. The stories were, as you can imagine, riveting, sad, and ultimately triumphant (the town was liberated by American British Troops in September 1944). What stood out was the reverence all the people we met in the Netherlands have for Americans. As our lecturer said to all of us of “allied” descent: “Thank you to your parents and grandparents—you saved our lives.”
Despite the wonderful times had on land, at the end of every day, we found ourselves back on the Crystal Bach, which was—in and of itself—a pretty special place to return. How do you not look forward to returning to what I can only equate as a top tier floating hotel and one of the most comfortable rooms I have ever stayed in?
Some of the highlights of our time on the Bach included the exquisite meals each and every day and nightly entertainment provided by the lovely Roz and James, our entertainment directors from New Zealand. On numerous evenings while traveling between ports we played team trivia contests, had special guest entertainers, dancing, lectures, and more. And if I didn’t mention our lounge staff, I would be remiss—what an on-the-ball and congenial group they were—just like the entire crew! One last note—our last night cruising back to Amsterdam there was a Sound of Music trivia contest followed by a singalong. May wife, Wendy is a Sound of Music NUT and just happened to be chosen (wink-wink) to be on stage as one of the singers—a night she will never forget. Nor will those in the audience thinking, “why is that pretty woman singing like Ethel Merman and not Julie Andrews?” Honestly, she was great, and does know every word!
Of note was that this particular cruise was an annual “Presidents Cruise,” one where we were able to spend time and dine with Crystal President Tom Wolber, his lovely wife Sharon, and Susan Robison, the director of global public relations. They say you can judge a company by the people who run it. Well, it was easy to understand why the crew was as exemplary as they were. But was it just this "special" cruise? We asked at least 10 other travelers that question and the resounding response from them, most having traveled with Crystal multiple times, some multiple times each year, was: Crystal crew members are by far the best in the cruise world.
To conclude, we just spent a week and a half on one of the most luxurious river ships in the world and had a spectacular time. We also made new friends like Joan and Dave from Virginia., who we can’t wait to see soon and possibly travel with again. Any thought I had that there would be any pretentiousness or stuffiness was quickly dashed. Having traveled all over the world I have come to realize that there is nothing like traveling with pure and simple elegance. We are now completely spoiled and in fact are planning our next Crystal Cruise: New York City to Quebec City via the coast of New England and Nova Scotia on the Crystal Serenity, an ocean-going vessel.
For more info on Crystal and all they have to offer, visit www.crystalcruises.com.
By T. Carroll
The River Cruise Guru
Traveling is about many things, not the least of which is making friends and simply meeting interesting people. One that we met on this cruise was Ralph Grizzle, the owner/editor of two renowned websites that offer tremendous insight to all types of cruising around the globe. We had the great pleasure of spending quite a bit of time with Ralph and found him to be one of the most well-respected experts in the world of luxury cruising. His website rivercruiseadvisor.com is filled with information and photos about almost every river cruise line and cruise you may be interested in.
However, his experience and knowledge doesn’t stop there.
His website avidcruiser.com will open you up the world of luxury ocean cruising and the fascinating world of expedition cruising.
Whatever kind of cruise you are considering, you will find Ralph and his websites to be an invaluable resource.