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When Crystal Cruises, one of the world’s most awarded lines, closed last week, everyone focussed on what would happen to its flagship fleet of two ocean liners and an adventure yacht.

But Crystal Cruises also operated five of the most luxurious river cruise vessels and had expressed the intent of expanding its presence on Europe’s inland waterways.

The ships were stunning and certainly were a revolution on the waterways, which had seen little real change for some time.  They pitched river ships against the five star hotels that lined the river they sailed on.

At the present, the fleet is not operating.  The company has an estimated $100 million worth of debt and neither travel agents, nor customers have heard from the river cruise line.

At present, Crystal’s vessels have been handed to River Advice – a company that specialises in operating and broking such vessels. Indeed, some reports suggest the ships were not owned by Crystal, but were rented and are now back with investors.

But the big questions are:  will they stay with the brand? Will they be reflagged by another company? Or will they be sold off to individual operators.

Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio, chairman of Heritage Group and former owner and executive chairman of Silversea Cruises, has made two bids for the brand and ships so far.

As co-chairman of Abercrombie & Kent and with a strong history of luxury cruising, he would be a formidable new owner for the fleet.  But he little history with river cruises, and it is not clear that the river fleet is part of the offers he made.

Indeed, the move to River Advice would suggest not.

The Crystal river fleet will need a particular owner.  The vessels were designed for luxury, and are smaller than most, meaning substantial fares are needed to keep their profitable.

Review: Crystal Bach, Crystal Cruises

Crystal Bach made its debut in 2017 with a total capacity of 110 passengers. Before the cruise line ceased operations, it sailed Europe’s Rhine, Main, Moselle and Danube rivers. The four-deck river ship was well-appointed with stylish decor and sunlight streaming in everywhere including in the Palm Court lounge which features a glass ceiling.

When passengers weren’t out on excursions or taking in the natural beauty of their surroundings they had access to a fitness centre, a treatment room, guest laundry, a speciality restaurant – The Vintage Room, Waterside Restaurant, a glass-enclosed swimming pool and beautiful staterooms.

Crystal Debussy is slightly smaller with a capacity for 106 passengers and was a recent addition to the Crystal fleet only making its debut in April 2018. Similar to its sister ship the Debussy, it was built for the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers. Cabins on board range in size from 20 square metres to 70 square metres. The ship also features a swimming pool, with a retractable roof for warmer days, an onboard library, a gym, a spa, Waterside Restaurant, The Vintage Room, Bistro Debussy and The Pantry. 

Crystal Mahler can accommodate 106 guests. It was built specifically for the Rhine River as one of Crystal River’s “Rhine Class” ships and entered service in 2017. The layout of the ship is different to others because guests had more personal space and it felt more like a floating hotel than a group tour. The ship was designed for couples, with most of the dinner tables being set for two. The restaurants include Palm Court, the bistro and Waterside Restaurant, a swimming pool, fitness centre and spa and treatment room. 

Crystal Mozart has been described as Europe’s most spacious river ship and as the first ship in Crystal Cruises’ river fleet. It launched in 2016, with a capacity of 120 passengers. It was ideal for the Danube River and sailed from Budapest.

Crystal Debussy launch

When Crystal took possession of the ship they stripped it back to its steel shell and built it back up with more spacious suites, more light and a contemporary design. They also removed a gift shop and created extra dining space. Every suite was above the water line and had an interactive TV and customisable toilets. Public spaces included three dining venues, a spa, salon and fitness centre, an indoor pool, a living roof garden and an outdoor fitness area. 

Crystal Ravel entered service in 2018, with space for 104 guests and sailed on the Danube River. The Sun Deck has luxuries like a pop up bar, more seating options and skylight windows above the ship’s entry lobby and the Palm Court Lounge.Other public spaces include The Vintage Room, Waterside Restaurant, a glass-enclosed, indoor swimming pool, a spa, salon and fitness centre and an outdoor fitness area. 

According to Travel Weekly, the fleet was up for sale in June 2021, with a Florida based broker saying in an email to other European river cruise lines that Crystal Mozart, Crystal Debussy, Crystal Mahler, Crystal Ravel and Crystal Bach were for sale and could be developed. 

Crystal Cruises denied at the time. At the time Crystal River Cruises managing director, Walter Littlejohn said in a statement: 

“We are focused on preparing for the late August restart of service for Crystal Debussy and Crystal Ravel as well as taking record-breaking levels of bookings for 2022 for all five ships, including the reintroduction of Crystal Mozart to our North American source markets with the industry’s only dedicated suites for solo travellers.

“Our fully-vaccinated crew have been hired, the technical teams are readying the vessels and we are all very excited to get true luxury back on Europe’s greatest rivers.” 

Our European Editor Sue Bryant, who reviews Crystal on the launch of the Bach in 2018, said:

“Upmarket cruise lines often say their biggest rivals are not one another, but luxury hotels ashore. You could certainly argue that lines such as Silversea, Regent, Seabourn and Crystal have succeeded in creating ocean-going ships that are comparable to some of the world’s most gorgeous hotels.

The situation on Europe’s rivers, though, has not quite kept pace. While there are without doubt some stunning river cruisers out there, it’s debatable whether any of them can offer a true boutique-hotel experience – the kind of holiday that gives you high-end service, exquisite design and the freedom to dine and explore in the way you want.

Until now. Crystal made waves on the Danube in 2016 when it acquired and relaunched its first river ship, Crystal Mozart, to great acclaim. In 2017, the line has gone one step further, launching two identical new-build ships, Crystal Bach and Crystal Mahler, which take river cruising to a whole new level.”

Read our reviews of Crystal here