Members have long been asking for a river cruise experience, and in partnering with Crystal Cruise lines, we delivered the crème de la crème of river cruising in 2018. After we received more than enough requests to fully reserve one river boat in the Journeys release that took place in February 2017, we added a second date and filled that boat as well! Excitement was high for a European river cruise along the famous Danube River from Budapest, Hungary to Vienna, Austria. Along with the typical pre-trip materials our team provides for such trips, in 2018, Members also received a reading list to pique their interest in this fascinating region.

Journey Overview

The Crystal Ravel was brand new in 2018, a state-of-the-art river yacht marrying the all-inclusive Crystal Experience® amenities with the nuanced exclusivity of river travel. Cabins have every bell and whistle, including floor-to-ceiling windows that open to let in the fresh air, butler service, on-board wine tastings, and the highest staff-to-guest ratio in all of European river cruising. Members were able to discover charming European towns like locals, via eBikes and in-the-know guides during enticing shore excursions. There’s a reason Napoleon declared the Danube River “The Queen of Europe’s Rivers.” Regal and enchanting, the Danube itself may be the gem of this experience, yet the stops along the way are just as compelling.

After a nighttime illuminations cruise and champagne toast kicked off each trip, the group discovered screen-saver worthy treasures in Budapest and Vienna. They cruised and explored via eBike the scenic Wachau Valley, an Austrian UNESCO World Heritage Site of terraced vineyards and castle towns untouched by the passage of time. They sampled wines in Durnstein and lent an ear in Mozart’s birthplace of Salzburg. And Bratislava? This medieval old town capital of Slovakia was a trip highlight. An immersive experience was in store, as were indelible memories. Unique to this ER Journey was an onboard photocoach, as well as local beer and wine experts. Each week along the Danube culminated in a private party of music, champagne, and fine art in Vienna. Members strolled through Belvedere Palace’s exhibition halls, surrounded by the famous paintings of Kokoschka and Schiele, not to mention Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss. An exclusive classical concert played in Marble Hall featured a 10-piece orchestra, two acclaimed ballet dancers, and two opera singers. Touring the Danube River was never like this.

Journey Highlights

Two river cruises - one in August and another in September - ferried 200 Members in total down the Danube River from Budapest, Hungary to Vienna, Austria. Members had a wonderful time and mentioned that the highlights were plentiful. Many enjoyed having a royal Countess come onboard - she gave a lively lecture on what it is like to live in a castle. Others noted that the private concert featuring a 150-piece orchestra at St. Florian Monastery in the tiny village of Sankt Florian was memorable. Some point to the private opening at the Belvedere Palace showcasing regional artists as the high point. Still others focused on getting the perfect shot with the help of the onboard photocoach. And, of course, the beer and wine tastings on board the Crystal Ravel were a universal hit. All in all, Members made new friends and enjoyed new destinations on this 2018 Journey.

Though drought in the region caused areas of low water in parts of the river near Budapest, it was no match for VP of Experiences, Gina Bach. Since the boat couldn't enter Budapest, she quickly reserved rooms at The Ritz-Carlton, Budapest, one of the city's finest hotels, for the first night of the itinerary. Once the Members had all arrived, she updated them on a revised plan to board the Crystal Ravel the next day in a more accessible port, and sent them off with €300 per couple to enjoy dinner in the beautiful city while she ironed out the details. The next morning, the Members boarded a motorcoach and were soon floating down the Danube as planned, to enjoy the rest of the itinerary. Members commented that, while unexpected, they were pleased with the modifications and not at all inconvenienced as they were put in place. Exclusive Resorts covers all its bases! Upon returning home, Members scored this Journey 4.7 out of 5.0 on their post-trip surveys, showing that even situations as significant as this can't put a damper on an ER trip.

Straight Talk

Member Quotes

Meredith and Gina (ER Staff) were outstanding! They went above and beyond, even by ER standards, in planning and executing the details of this trip. Everything went smoothly even though the Danube River didn’t fully cooperate! It was a fabulous family trip for us and has left us with some wonderful memories. One of my favorites is spending a Sunday morning in picturesque Durnstein, then cruising down the Danube on that beautiful boat. Crystal Cruises did a fabulous job – the ship was great, the food was great, and the service was excellent.

Jim Chaston, Member since 2014


All the ER and Crystal staff were “white glove” every step of the Journey. Thank you for a memorable experience.

Roger Lipitz, Member since 2007


The Crystal staff was exceptional, and the food was the best we ever had on a cruise ship! I cannot wait to go on another riverboat cruise. Gina and Meredith were very accommodating for events beyond our control. We greatly appreciated the additional compensation. One of the benefits of ER Experiences is the team's ability to make very good alternative plans when it is necessary to make changes. We also enjoyed the VIP seating at the first concert, and the private concert was very fun. The talk by the countess was special too. Thank you!

Joyce Goldstein, Member since 2004


The boat / room / food / service was fabulous!

Amy Minella, Member since 2005


Gina Bach did an excellent job with this trip! Despite unfortunate weather conditions, she and her team performed well under pressure and changing itineraries. It was a seamless experience for us to remain in our accommodations at the Ritz an additional night and to receive compensation for an evening out in Budapest. We loved the Crystal Ravel. The boat is beautiful and the service exceeded our expectations. Thanks for a fabulous vacation trip!

Keith Davidson, Member since 2006


Moni and Hannah (ER Staff) were amazing! They went above and beyond to ensure everyone had a great time. I definitely plan to do more Once-in-a-Lifetime Journeys!

Joseph Gira, Member since 2008


First of all, Gina hit it out of the park. Trips like this make us value our ER membership. From greeting us at the Ritz in Budapest, to managing every detail of the changing itinerary due to the low water level of the Danube, to arranging a closing concert at the Belvedere Palace — Gina and her team added value beyond measure. We can’t wait to do another cruise on a European river. Well done, ER!!

John and Debra Starr, Members since 2005

Interested in Journeys like this? We're currently preparing the 2020 Once-in-a-Lifetime Journeys - watch for the announcement on February 20!
Gina Bach ,VP, Experiences