Europe’s Most Luxurious River Cruise Ships Are Back in Business

Riverside Luxury Cruises buys defunct Crystal Cruises ships, resuscitating the luxury brand on European rivers this year.

A small dining room on the "Riverside Bach" river cruise ship

Travelers will soon be able to dine in this intimate venue on board the Riverside Bach when the vessel and its sister ships relaunch in the coming months.

Courtesy of Riverside Luxury Cruises

Seaside Collection, a German hotel company, this week announced that it has purchased the remaining four ships from the pandemic-felled Crystal Cruises to join its Riverside Luxury Cruises brand, effectively resurrecting the super-luxe fleet.

Riverside launched late last year when Seaside bought the former Crystal Mozart, one of five former Crystal river cruise ships. With all of the former Crystal river ships now under its belt, Riverside aims to pick up and build upon where Crystal left off when it starts sailing three of the vessels this spring, according to Jennifer Halboth, CEO of the company’s Americas operations.

“We’re really setting out to be exceptional, to be that choice for luxury travelers,” says Halboth, adding that Riverside aims “to be the reason that luxury travelers try river cruising for the first time.”

Exterior view of Riverside river cruise ship on the Rhine River

Aside from some minor cosmetic upgrades, Riverside will not be making many changes to the former Crystal river cruise ships.

Courtesy of Riverside Luxury Cruises

Setting sail in April

Riverside will launch three of the ships—the Riverside Mozart, Riverside Debussy, and Riverside Ravel—in April with 3- to 14-night itineraries on the Danube, along the castle-lined Rhine, and on southern France’s Rhône and Saône rivers, respectively.

The remaining ships, the Riverside Bach and Riverside Mahler, will rejoin the fleet in 2024, after the company has figured out where they should sail and has more time to “make sure we get everything right,” Halboth says.

Other than some cosmetic repairs and adding items like new bathrobes and towels for guests, Halboth says that few physical changes are being made to the ships, which were built for Crystal with the intention of being the most upscale river cruise product in Europe. The vessels stand out for their spacious all-suite cabins that include walk-in closets, double vanities in the bathrooms, and king-size beds. (River cruise ships typically feature smaller staterooms due to their more compact size compared with larger ocean-going vessels.)

As Crystal had done, Riverside will offer butler service to assist guests with everything from developing personalized excursions to 24-hour room service. The ships also each have three restaurants, a spa, fitness center, and a swimming pool.

Swimming pool inside a Riverside river cruise ship

All of the Riverside river cruise ships have swimming pools.

Courtesy of Riverside Luxury Cruises

The biggest difference between Riverside and the now defunct Crystal, at least for the near future, will be the price.

For the inaugural season, Halboth says that Riverside’s prices will be about 45 percent below Crystal’s prepandemic brochure rates, with three-day cruises starting at around $1,000 per person and seven-day sailings in midrange suites as low as $5,000 per person, including meals, drinks, select excursions in every port, transfers, gratuities, and Wi-Fi.

A focus on fining dining and exciting excursions

While the service standards and amenities will be the same or very similar to what Crystal had provided, Halboth says, “We’re not going to stop there.”

The culinary offering “is one area I think we’re going to shoot even higher,” she says. “That is an area that we want to wholeheartedly own within the river cruise space.”

In addition to menus based on fresh local and regional food, the ships will have sommeliers and specially trained bartenders on board with access to some of the best wines and spirits, the company says.

Riverside is aiming to impress with an elevated culinary offering on its ships.

Riverside is aiming to impress with an elevated culinary offering on its ships.

Courtesy of Riverside Luxury Cruises

Riverside is also looking to up the game on excursions and experiences.

“That’s probably the area that we will need to do the most work on,” Halboth says. “But it’s going to be pretty top-notch out of the gate.” According to Halboth, Riverside is planning to offer passengers outings like a hot air balloon ride above Budapest and a helicopter tour of Linz, Austria, and its surroundings.

The line will provide a choice of both included and premium excursions (for an added cost) in every port, including active and immersive options like guided bike rides and local cooking classes. And staff will also be at the ready to help develop personalized private experiences.

Passengers will be offered a wide variety of excursion options, from included tours to more personalized private outings.

Glass-encased lounges on the Riverside vessels allow passengers to enjoy the passing scenery while sipping drinks.

Courtesy of Riverside Luxury Cruises

Halboth came to Riverside from Avalon Waterways, which has been one of the leaders in the river cruise industry’s move in recent years to offer a greater variety of excursion choices, including more active experiences beyond traditional city tours.

The former Crystal, a luxury cruise company, had raised the bar in river cruising when it first launched its river fleet in 2016 with a top-to-bottom overhaul of the 81-cabin Mozart.

The other four ships, with 55 cabins each, were new vessels that were built for Crystal in 2017 and 2018, boasting the largest average cabin sizes on the rivers and ship-wide services and amenities that are offered by other lines in only their most expensive suites.

With the purchase of the ships, Riverside gets not only a ready-made fleet known for its luxury amenities and design but also the ability to tap into Crystal’s globally renowned reputation as a leader in service, style, and cuisine.

While the collapse of Crystal and its parent company, Genting Hong Kong, last year was among the most high-profile travel company failures of the pandemic—leaving customers out millions of dollars—companies buying up its assets have not shied away from associating with the brand.

Luxury tour operator Abercrombie & Kent purchased the Crystal name along with its two original ocean liners last year to keep it going. And Halboth says the association gives Riverside the benefit of having a known product to sell.

This is Seaside’s first foray into cruising, but the company has tapped industry veterans like Halboth and has hired former Crystal crew members for its team, including the captain, chef, and hotel manager from the Mozart. The company also knows luxury hospitality. Founded in 1969, Seaside owns 11 four- and five-star hotels and resorts in Germany, the Canary Islands, and the Maldives, including the Seaside Palm Beach Hotel in Maspalomas on the Gran Canaria island, and Finolhu in the Maldives.

Jeri Clausing is a New Mexico-based journalist who has covered travel and the business of travel for more than 15 years.
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