Crystal Cruises to build polar yacht

FORT LAUDERDALE — Crystal Cruises will add to its growing stable of luxury travel options by building a 200-passenger yacht with polar capabilities.

The 600-foot, 25,000-gross-ton Crystal Endeavor is scheduled to debut in August of 2018.

Crystal said the vessel will be the first purpose-built Polar Code-compliant yacht in the world with a PC6 Polar Class designation. As such, it would be able to cruise in polar regions during the summer and autumn in “medium first year ice which may include old ice inclusions,” Crystal said.

Crystal, which plans to build three 1,000-passenger ocean ships starting in 2018, already has a 62-passenger cruising yacht called Crystal Esprit.

Company president Edie Rodriguez announced the new yacht at the Seatrade Cruise Global conference here. She said Crystal Endeavor will come with a complete range of “toys” that are not commonly found on today’s mega-yachts, including two helicopters and two landing pads for flightseeing expeditions as well as two seven-person submarines, eight electric amphibious Zodiacs, personal watercraft, kayaks, fishing facilities, paddleboards, snorkeling and scuba equipment, a recompression chamber, a dive support tender and a multi-person ATV

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2016 River cruise Outlook

by industry sector

In 2016, after several years of inexhaustible growth in the river cruise sector, some of the bigger players are taking a bit of a breather (and by breather, we mean not building as many new ships as in past years), while several newcomers and new products take a fresh stab at the market.

Most notable among the river cruise rookies is Crystal Cruises, which this year announced that it would be entering the river-cruise market with a fleet of five luxury yacht-style river vessels. The first of those will be the Crystal Mozart, formerly a Peter Deilmann vessel known as the Mozart, originally built in 1987. Crystal has four newbuild vessels on order for 2017.

Following an extensive renovation, the Crystal Mozart will set sail on July 13, offering passengers their first glimpse of Crystal’s vision of river cruising. That will mean fewer, larger suites after the company transforms the 203-passenger Mozart to a 160-passenger capacity.

The updated Crystal Mozart will feature suites ranging in size from 203 square feet to the 860-square-foot, two-bedroom Crystal Suites, the largest on any river.

Crystal also is designing its itineraries so that much of the sailing takes place during the day, giving guests the opportunity to explore destinations in the evening, with ships docked in port overnight.

It will be interesting to see how this nighttime-focused river cruise experience will resonate with river cruisers. According to Crystal, one big advantage will be fewer crowds in port, something that has become a bit of a challenge in Europe. Crystal has said it also plans to  get passengers off ship as much as possible while docked, with onshore culinary experiences at Michelin-starred restaurants, evening events and entertainment.

Bring the kiddies

While Crystal will be making a run to convert the high-end, ocean-cruise customer to rivers, another new entrant into the river-cruise market, Adventures by Disney, will be attempting to get more families to sail the Danube.
Adventures by Disney announced a partnership with AmaWaterways to develop a series of family-friendly cruises aboard the 158-passenger AmaStella in 2016.

To better accommodate families, the AmaStella will usher in several new hardware concepts for AmaWaterways, including 12 staterooms that can accommodate up to three family members each; six sets of adjoining cabins connected via an internal doorway, accommodating families of up to five; and four suites with convertible sofa beds that can accommodate families of up to four.

While courting families isn’t entirely new for river cruising (companies like Tauck and Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection have been doing it for years), actually designing a ship around the needs of families is new. And Disney will be taking the family-friendly concept a step further, for example, by having eight Adventures by Disney guides on each of its sailings in addition to the existing AmaWaterways crew.

The Adventures by Disney sailings will also feature movies, karaoke and daily biking trips for younger passengers, as well as family-friendly excursions such as a horse show at the Lazar Equestrian Park in Hungary and a private marionette performance and strudel-making demonstration at the Schonbrunn Palace in Austria.

Other river-cruise newbies are looking to introduce demographics into the arena as well, including Canadian tour operator G Adventures, which is hoping to get millennials onboard. G Adventures is introducing river cruises on the Mekong and Ganges rivers and on the canals of France’s Burgundy region in 2016, in addition to its existing Peruvian Amazon cruises. The line’s goal is to make what has traditionally been a higher-end travel product more accessible to younger, less- affluent clients.

Exotic river lust

Uniworld’s much-anticipated Ganges River program in India officially sets sail in January, when the company begins chartering Haimark’s new luxury cruiser, the 56-passenger Ganges Voyager II. Uniworld’s new Ganges program promises to bring luxury amenities and services to India’s most notorious inland water route, which is quickly becoming the next river- cruising hot spot.

Exotic river buffs will be happy to note that next year will also see continued development in Southeast Asia, where Pandaw River Expeditions is launching new and uncharted river routes, the latest being a 2016 sailing that travels the length of the Mekong River all the way from Thailand through Myanmar and Laos and into China, the first time the company will be offering a sailing that goes into China.

Scenic and Emerald Waterways also are adding capacity on the popular Mekong River in Vietnam and Cambodia next year.

Ongoing growth in Europe, U.S.

It wouldn’t be river cruising if there were not a continued influx of ships on next year’s agenda, namely on the always-popular European streams. The world’s largest river-cruise line, Viking River Cruises, will add six newbuilds, for a total of 52 ships in five years. Amawaterways, Avalon Waterways, Tauck and Scenic are each christening two new vessels in Europe next year, and four-star tenderfoot Emerald Waterways is adding a fifth ship in Europe.

French river-cruise line CroisiEurope is celebrating 40 years in business next year as it continues to make more noise in the U.S. market with updated ships meant to meet U.S. standards, and the company will unveil its second European paddlewheeler (a unique concept for sailing shallower waters) on the Elbe River in spring.

Another paddlewheeler, American Cruise Lines’ newest U.S.-based vessel, will launch in early 2016, marking the third Mississippi paddlewheeler that the line has built from the ground up. It joins the American Eagle, which launched in April, and the Queen of the Mississippi, which set sail in 2012.

A challenging start to a promising year

By Michelle Baran
As European river cruise vessels file into winter dry-dock this week, closing up the 2015 season, there is bound to be some nervousness for an industry waiting to see how the 2016 season will play out once it gets underway in the spring.

The dormant winter season offers an opportunity to spruce up older vessels and make final arrangements for the launch of new ones, investments that will hopefully pay off throughout the season. And this coming year has a lot to offer; Both Crystal Cruises and Adventures by Disney (through a partnership with AmaWaterways) will introduce new river cruise products in Europe, and all the major river cruise lines are adding new vessels to their fleets.

Michelle Baran
Michelle Baran

There’s a lot to look forward to, and yet 2015 ended with a bit of a question mark in the aftermath of the Nov. 13 Paris attacks in terms of how much the attacks will impact travel in Europe (and consequently river cruising) this year. Surely the hope is that a quiet couple months  – fingers crossed – prior to the start of the 2016 season will help keep pre-existing bookings on the books and reinvigorate the flow of new ones to get 2016 back on track to being as robust as it promised before the attacks.

Meanwhile, there are a lot of exciting developments elsewhere in the world to distract from the situation in Europe. Uniworld is starting its first cruises on India’s Ganges River this month, a new product the company has said has exceeded its expectations in terms of how successful the bookings have been.

And back in the US, it will be interesting to see if we hear anything more from Viking about its plans to launch modern-style Mississippi River vessels in 2017 and from the Delta Queen Steamboat Company about whether the fabled 89-year-old Delta Queen will receive the Congressional exemption it needs to sail again.

Indeed, despite some uncertainty as we start off the year, 2016 still promises to be an exciting and interesting one in river cruising, both in terms of the announcements we already know about and in terms of the surprises we’re always counting on the industry to provide us.