Crystal Cruises Plans Big Expansion With Expedition-Capable New-Buildsby Andrew Sheivachman /
Crystal Cruises will launch several new ships across a variety of categories, and a private 787 Boeing Dreamliner aircraft, over the next five years following a big investment from new owner Genting Hong Kong.
The moves will grow Crystal Cruises’ luxury fleet and effectively allow the cruise line to offer a wider variety of itineraries and experiences for its passengers. China-based Genting Hong Kong acquired Crystal Cruises earlier this year for $550 million, and is looking to grow Crystal’s luxury offerings.
“Strategically, [the expansion is] all about being a customer-driven organization,” Edie Rodriguez, Crystal Cruises president and CEO, told Travel Market Report. “In doing the research, it was really good to see we have such power in our brand equity. Now we have a new owner who is willing to invest in expansion.”
The first step
The 62-guest Crystal Esprit will enter service in December 2015, growing Crystal’s fleet to three vessels. Crystal Esprit will sail itineraries including the Seychelles, Dubai, Italy, Greece and Croatia.
The ship will debut as part of the new all-inclusive Crystal Yacht Cruises, which will sail warm-water regional itineraries of seven days. Yacht-like amenities for cruisers include submarines, zodiacs and helicopters for cruisers to experience.
Itineraries on the Crystal Esprit are exclusively available for booking by Crystal Society members until Aug. 31. Fares start at $2,690 per person for a four-day itinerary.
The company plans to launch Crystal River Cruises in 2017, bringing Crystal’s brand of luxury cruise experience to European rivers.
Rodriguez said that travel agents are still vital to the success of Crystal Cruises, and will likely become even more important as Crystal diversifies its product lines.
“Travel agents are our most valued partners, since 96% of bookings come from agents,” she said. “I’m very bullish on that continuing; these are high ticket price cruises, so agent ROI from commissions is monumental.”
The cruise line has also ordered three additional luxury vessels which will debut beginning in 2018 as Crystal Executive Class.
The ships will be expedition-capable, outfitted specifically for polar regions and built by Lloyd Werft in Germany. The three new-builds will bring Crystal’s fleet to a total of six ocean-capable ships.
The first vessel will carry about 1,000 passengers and be similar in size to the Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity. Crystal plans for a one-to-one guest-to-staff ratio, along with a variety of Michelin-starred dining options.
The changes are a result of market research, showing the flaws in the design of Crystal’s current vessels.
“One criticism is that our main dining room isn't capable of open seating, and the other is that every accommodation doesn't have a balcony and walk in closet or shower,” said Rodriguez. “With the one-to-one guest-to-crew ratio, we’ll be able to give our guests all the accoutrements they are looking for.”
Rodriguez thinks the changes will help bring experienced Crystal passengers back into the fold, while attracting a new generation of luxury cruiser.
The cruise line will begin to offer residences-at-sea as well. Forty-eight unique Crystal Residences will be available on the top deck of each new ship, featuring a private restaurant and reception area.
Take to the skies
Crystal will also launch Crystal Luxury Air in 2017, on a souped up 787 Boeing Dreamliner which will accommodate 60 guests in business class seats. The plan is to offer service to destinations unserved by major airlines on a series of 28-day itineraries visiting 10 to 12 exotic locations.
“The research said guests want to cruise in the Crystal style but they don't have the 108 nights for a world cruise,” said Rodriguez. “We thought, if you have the budget and it will deliver return on investment, why not create a Crystal in the sky experience?”
The value proposition is simple, said Rodriguez.
“It’s for people who want to get away to exotic locations but don’t have a lot of time.”