Crystal Mozart: Cruising the Danube River

Crystal has been wowing ocean cruisers for years, but now with the launch of the Crystal Mozart on the Danube River, they are setting a new standard for service on the riverways!

The Crystal Mozart was stripped to the steel and completely rebuilt before debuting as Crystal’s first river vessel. It is the widest ship on the Danube and boasts some of the most sumptuous public space on the river. So while it cannot always get into every city center port of call, it’s always within a stones throw, and you can be sure you’re coming and going in style!

Crystal has three new state-of-the-art luxury ships coming on line in 2018 and 2019 that will sail the Rhine, the Main, and the Danube.

If you were not one of the lucky 18 who joined our fun group of friends (lovingly called “the Boat People”), please join me below as I share some of the highlights of our most recent voyage!

First, the ship:

IMG_1727

IMG_1726
Top deck, where many libations were enjoyed day and night as we cruised the Danube
IMG_1724
Stylish Bistro Mozart for a Viennese coffee or glass of Grüner Veltliner or a gelato anytime
IMG_1728
The Waterside Restaurant for a lunch buffet or decadent multi-course dinner

Below is a typical dinner on the Crystal Mozart:

IMG_2114
Foie Gras appetizer
IMG_2115
Caviar and potatoes second course
IMG_2116
Fresh fish, grains and greens for my main.
IMG_1742
Pre and post cocktails in the Palm Court

Our favorite spot for lunch was Aft at Blue which had a great team – they were always happy to prepare a fabulous burger, a niçoise salad, and, as we say, a glass of “rosé all day!”

IMG_2117IMG_2111.jpg

The spa is terrific, featuring a forward location with beautiful views in the relaxation lounge and luxurious treatments. My treatments with Maria – massage and facial – were truly some of the best I have had! The pool is excellent for laps and the hot tub is a cozy option for warming up on a cold day.

IMG_2119

First Port of Call – Vienna

Vienna is lovely and stately and elegant. There are opportunities to enjoy music everywhere including the famed Opera House, the Vienna Philharmonic, and even the lovey Crystal signature event with an orchestra at the Belvedere Palace!

Most delightful about Vienna in my opinion is the cafe culture that is so prevalent throughout the city – it is not unusual to sit for hours with a single coffee or beer or glass of Grüner. I love this pace!

IMG_1737

IMG_1731-305428739-1505504685739.jpgIMG_1733IMG_1739

Something else that the Crystal Mozart does for their guests is allow them to select a Michelin star restaurant experience in Vienna or Budapest and completely includes it the price of your cruise! Crystal arranges the reservations, transfers to and from the restaurant, and prepays a three course meal with wine. It is a very nice touch!

We enjoyed a spectacular dinner at Konstantin Filippou pictured below:

IMG_1745IMG_1744IMG_1745IMG_1748IMG_1746IMG_1748

As the Crystal Mozart embarks and disembarks in Vienna, this is a perfect opportunity to stay at the immaculate and historic Hotel Sacher, owned and run by the same family for generations.  A step back into a sumptuous, by-gone era!

IMG_1752
The Restaurant of Hotel Sacher
IMG_1756
What an elegant spot to dine!
IMG_1757
An amuse-bouche of salmon
IMG_1758
A first meal in Vienna must always be Wiener Schnitzel
IMG_1759
And at Hotel Sacher, there is nothing more appropriate than the famed Sacher Torte with fresh cream
IMG_1763
Mr. Sacher himself
IMG_1767
Even I feel almost a celebrity next to one of the many walls of famous patrons
IMG_1771
A drink in the Blue Bar
IMG_1773
The impeccable bedrooms are charming and bright
IMG_1774
In such a prime location, expect a wonderful view!
IMG_1775
Well appointed and comfortable bathrooms
IMG_1778
Hotel Sacher chocolate amenities
IMG_1781
A view of the Opera House from Hotel Sacher

IMG_1782

IMG_1783
This lovely design suite has quite the penthouse and terrace!

Second Port of Call – Krems, Austria

A cycling trip through the Wachau River Valley:

IMG_1804IMG_1813IMG_1815

Of course with a stop or two to try the local Reisling and Grüner wines of the region!

IMG_1829.jpg

IMG_1822

IMG_1823IMG_1830.jpgIMG_1824IMG_1830

River cruising is special because you are never far from land. The Danube is particularly scenic.  The top deck is the place for sipping something cold and taking it all in!

IMG_1838

IMG_1831

IMG_1835
A fellow boat person – Jan the ham!

IMG_1841IMG_1846

Third port of call – Melk and the lovely Abbey

IMG_1848IMG_1851

Back on board the Crystal Mozart

IMG_1852

Going through one of the dozens of locks along the Danube – a very cool feat of engineering.

IMG_1856

And as evening falls, another wonderful dinner is served. Seating in the dining room is as you wish – some nights Gil and I dined alone, some nights we joined another couple or two from our group, one night we invited a single traveler to join us, and a few times our entire group of 18 – the “Boat People” dined together.  The nice thing about Crystal is that everything is included – all meals and always terrific wines, champagne, beers and spirits! No one ever needs to reach for the bill.

IMG_1858IMG_1859IMG_1860

Fourth Port of Call – Linz, Austria

From here we took a day trip to Salzburg

IMG_1861IMG_1865IMG_1868IMG_1871IMG_1873IMG_1875IMG_1876IMG_1877

IMG_1880
I love that whenever you order a glass of wine, it automatically comes with a water! Such a nice touch!

Fifth Port of Call – Passau, Germany

This is a lovely, lovely town and I wish we had more time there. We instead opted for a day trip to Munich. Munich was a great time but, in retrospect, the transfer was too long to warrant the trip – over 2.5 hours each way.  Suggestion: Enjoy Passau instead. We traveled to Munich with our friends John and Carrie and had a blast visiting several beer halls! “When in Rome!”

IMG_1890IMG_1893IMG_1901.jpgIMG_1902IMG_1904IMG_1908IMG_1910IMG_1916IMG_1918

IMG_1922
Yes, the beer drinking continued on the coach!

Everything in Germany is about their wonderful sports cars and Munich is the home of BMW. For those that are BMW enthusiasts, a visit to the BMW headquarters and show room may be in order.

IMG_1932IMG_1935IMG_1939.jpg

We enjoyed an overnight in Passau and wonderful meal aboard the Crystal Mozart.

IMG_1947
Roasted Beet Salad with nuts and cheese

The next day we joined a cycling trip that rode along the Austrian-German border. The bikes on the Crystal Mozart are e-bikes which means anyone can pedal along and it is never too strenuous.  Not a great way to burn a lot of calories, but a lovely way to sightsee!

IMG_1943FullSizeRenderIMG_1953

IMG_1963
Cycling with my friend, Reid, newly indoctrinated to the “Boat People”
IMG_1966
A bridge uniting Austria and Germany

IMG_1970

IMG_1975
Passau

Enjoying some comfort food aft at our favorite lunch spot on board, Blue.

IMG_1977IMG_1978.jpg

And some post lunch R&R on the top desk of the Crystal Mozart, my kind of sight seeing!

IMG_1979

The crew on the Crystal Mozart is spectacular – truly outstanding service, always with a smile, just like this:IMG_2024.jpg

The entertainment aboard river vessels usually includes some wonderful piano bar music, some well informed lectures, an occasional round of group trivia, and on this occasion, a hilarious bout of the “Not-so-Newlywed Game!” Gil and I participated and came out BIG LOSERS!  We did become minor celebrities though and gave everyone a good laugh!

FullSizeRenderFullSizeRenderFullSizeRender

Sixth Port of Call – Bratislava, Slovakia

A stunning capital to a small, new country with a big history!

FullSizeRenderIMG_1988IMG_1997IMG_2001IMG_2002IMG_2003

A walk through the old town to a local brew pub where we enjoyed tasting several local beers.

IMG_2007.jpg

IMG_2012IMG_2019

IMG_2022
The Bratislava Opera House

Final Port of Call – Budapest

This lovely lady greeted us as we cruised into Budapest. Lady Liberty!  She was erected by the Russians as the self-proclaimed liberators of Hungary from the Nazis. Today the Magyars (as the Hungarians rightfully call themselves) say that she is actually saying goodbye to the communists as she liberated the country once and for all from all oppressors. She is beautiful and Budapest may be one of Europe’s most breathtaking cities!

FullSizeRenderIMG_2032IMG_2037.jpgIMG_2034.jpgIMG_2040.jpgIMG_2041IMG_2046.jpgIMG_2050IMG_2051

The pubic transportation throughout the city is excellent and we easily moved about by tram, bus, and subway!

IMG_2054.jpg

IMG_2058IMG_2059

IMG_2061
Always a cake to be found. This is the Sacher but I really wanted the Dobbos!

IMG_2062.jpgIMG_2071IMG_2074IMG_2076

One of my favorite things to do in ANY city is to visit the local market – this is always the heartbeat of the city where you can shop and dine as a local.

IMG_2078

IMG_2081

It was fun to try local specialties such as the stuffed cabbage and the goulash, with sauerkraut, of course.

IMG_2080IMG_2082IMG_2084

Budapest has absolutely wonderful cafes and wine bars through out the vibrant city, especially lovely in the summer time!

IMG_2090.jpgIMG_2091

And not to be missed is one of the grandest hotels of all of Europe, Four Seasons Hotel Budapest Gresham Palace, a stunning restoration of a former palace overlooking the Chain Bridge and the hills of Buda.

IMG_2096.jpg

We stopped in to listen to live music and have a cocktail on their new terrace and I must say I think the libation I found suited me to a T – the Señorita!

IMG_2097IMG_2098.jpg

We enjoyed a wonderful dinner of innovative contemporary takes on traditional Hungarian dishes at Tigris.  Did you know that Hungary is one of the world’s most important procurers of Foie Gras?  You are in for a treat! Here it is prepared four ways as my appetizer:

IMG_2101

Budapest by night truly takes your breath away!  Upon returning to the ship from dinner, the Crystal Mozart graciously sailed up and down the Danube for guests to gawk at the lights of Parliament, the Chain Bridge, and the many palaces and monuments completely restored and rebuilt after the Nazis and then the Communists left the country.

IMG_2106

IMG_2104

What a magnificent trip with a great group of “Boat People!” Crystal, I will see you soon on the Rhine and the Main rivers, no doubt!  Well done!

Laura Madrid is an avid cruiser and can help you navigate the many ships and private yachts from the oceans, to the rivers, to the canals.  Read a bit more on options and climb aboard here!

OREGON: Cycling, Wine & National Parks! (and beer too)

Oregon has been on my list of states to visit as long as I can remember, but nothing prepared me for the WOW factor I experienced at every level! “Oregrown” says it all, as just about everything is grown and sourced locally – from incredible wines (think Pinot Noir and Pinto Gris but don’t stop there), to local beers with brewery tours and tastings galore, to spectacular coffee and coffee shops on every corner (no, NOT Starbucks!). Foodies will be delighted by all the state has to offer! I loved the beautiful fresh produce, the pasture raised lamb and wagyu beef, and the local river and ocean fish – all served up at various creative eateries on little plates of happiness! I pulled together a group of dear friends for a week of cycling in the stunning Cascade mountains. We made our way from Bend to Crater Lake to Sisters all the while taking in the stunning mountains, lakes, and deserts in between. The trip started with some pre-cycling fun in the Willamette Valley and ended with a night at the très chic The Nines hotel in Portland. I can’t say enough about the experience, but I hope some of the photos from my handy iPhone will paint the picture!

IMG_1065
First beverages in the Willamette Valley
IMG_1067
Welcome to The Allison
IMG_1068
The Allison is a terrific Oregon wine country hotel
IMG_1070
The Jory restaurant at the Allison is a must do! (English Pea, crab meat, and crème fraîche soup)

Wine tasting in Willamette Valley is always a treat! We had an exceptional day meeting in the homes of small batch producers.

IMG_1071
The Barn at Carlton Hill
IMG_1072
David picked a stunning and fortuitous location to grow his grapes
IMG_1073
David Polite with Gil and Ryan
IMG_1074
Lynne and Steve looking great!
IMG_1077
The boys with our guide, John and owner and wine maker at Carlton Hills, David Polite.

IMG_1079

IMG_1080
David serving his favorite Pinots and even opening some Reserves for us.
IMG_1087
Mo Ayoub in the Red Hills of Dundee share some of his gorgeous wines
IMG_1086
Ayoub was definitely one of this group’s favorite stops on the wine trail!
IMG_1089
Privé is a small family winery run by husband and wife team, Tina and Mark (and their kids!)
IMG_1090
Tina shared some delicious Pinots and other warmer climate varietals plus some great stories of how they got started and sourced their grapes!
IMG_1093
The ladies at Privé.

Onward to Bend to meet the rest of our group and start the cycling adventure with Backroads!

IMG_1130
Backroads is famous for their gorgeous daily picnics always set up in picturesque spots!
IMG_1131
Always healthful, delicious and local
IMG_1132
Jenna and Ryan suiting up for the first ride
IMG_1134
“Snackroads” always fuels everyone up for the ride…
IMG_1138
First day was a 25 mile ride with an optional climb of 3000 feet
IMG_1151
So happy to have made it to Crater Lake at 7000 feet!
IMG_1153
“Partners-in-climb” Leigh and Laura
IMG_1158
Well-deserved drinks! Ladies table at Crater Lake Lodge
IMG_1157 2
Cycling makes you really, really thirsty!
IMG_1163
After Dinner Drinks at the Lodge
IMG_1165
Good morning, Crater Lake!
IMG_1166
I love the roaring fire at the Crater Lake Lodge
IMG_1181
Mid June yet snow still everywhere, even closing some of the passes up to Crater Lake
IMG_1125
Deschutes, one of our favorite local beers!
IMG_1133
One of our super capable trip leaders, Ariel – A.K.A. Super Woman!
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Route Rap with our Trip Leaders
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Leigh
IMG_1204
At the end of Day 2 cycling – Gil, Lynne, Steve, Laura, Leigh, Chris Bo, Rachel and Chris Ba
IMG_1209
One last shot of Crater Lake – Sorry but so darn breathtaking!
IMG_1226
The Backroads van is always ready with a beer for our group after a long ride or hike!
IMG_1230
The girls goofing around in the snow!
97BB9EEF-23E1-48BF-95D6-6A702FA8179B
Last one, I promise – hiking the rim of Crater Lake.
IMG_1238
Oregon has so many gorgeous lakes, this one is Diamond Lake.

Photo Jun 20, 2 41 33 PM

IMG_1239
Arriving into Bend after an epic 45 mile bike ride, first stop a brewery tour at the Deschutes Brewery.

IMG_1240

IMG_1249

IMG_1260
Gearing up for the day at our Snackroads table
IMG_1261
Fantastic coffee shops everywhere, this one was a winner! All local and organic!

IMG_1273

IMG_1275
Checking into the Five Pine Lodge in Sisters, OR
IMG_1281
Heading to our cute individual cabins
IMG_1302
The Cabins at Five Pine Lodge
IMG_1289
All cleaned up and heading out to dinner in Sisters on our cruisers
Photo Jul 03, 8 00 51 PM
Ryan and Chris
IMG_1303
Even the Oatmeal is Oregrown – love it!
IMG_1304
Katie, our fabulous trip leader ready to ride with us
IMG_1305
Our other trip leader extra-ordinaire, Ariel
IMG_1306
Another wonderfully health picnic lunch
IMG_1308
Jenna and Gil Chilling after a ride
IMG_1313
Jenna and Ryan all cleaned up
IMG_1314
The ladies ready for final night dinner (yes the guys are here too!)
IMG_1338
Rachel and I hitting the town on our cruisers
IMG_1340
The ladies ROCKED IT!  Here is to fantastic Trip Leaders!
IMG_1346
Last day of riding through the gorgeous lava fields of the McKenzie Pass
IMG_1349
Chris, Rachel and Chris
IMG_1353
Gil loving the 20 mile down hill through McKenzie Pass

IMG_1357

IMG_1358
Final Picnic with the crew – salmon in every way!
IMG_1359
Cold Local Beers – Gil, Ryan, Laura, Chris and Steve
IMG_1363
Well done, Katie, Ariel and Patrick!

Finally on to Portland for last night before the flight home……

IMG_1366
Checking in to our room at the stylish “The Nines” Hotel in Portland
IMG_1367
Sweet welcome amenity at The Nines
IMG_1374
Kushner’s and Madrid’s enjoying roof top cocktails at The Nines
IMG_1375
Drinks and dinner at the delicious “Tasty and Alder”
IMG_1377
Great trip, friends, wine, rides and view! Well played, Oregon, well played!