With its yacht product, Crystal goes for small-ship intimacy

The 31 suites on the refurbished Esprit are smaller but more intimate than one might expect on a traditional Crystal vessel.

ABOARD THE CRYSTAL ESPRIT — The latest ship in Crystal Cruises’ fleet lies anchored in a protective cluster of tropical islands in the Seychelles, the Indian Ocean archipelago. In one direction, the ship’s two-person submarine is taking enthralled passengers on a 30-minute tour of an undersea coral garden. In another, Zodiacs zip guests to a sandy beach prowled by giant tortoises.

One thing is clear: This isn’t your grandfather’s Crystal Cruises.

The debut of the Esprit after a Dec. 20 christening ceremony marks the operational start of a new era at Crystal under its Malaysian owners Genting Hong Kong, which acquired the line in March for $550 million from Japan’s NYK, which had owned it for 25 years.

Crystal has built up a dedicated cadre of loyalists, and its officials, led by CEO Edie Rodriguez, are confident that the new Crystal will maintain its traditional passenger base, while the extensions of its core cruise product will attract new blood.

So what is the Crystal Esprit like?

A dozen top travel agents on a preview cruise remarked first that the Crystal standard of service has been successfully imported, despite ocean swells that cut a week-long training cruise to a day and a half.

“They’re very friendly and warm,” said Ralph Iantosca, owner of Dallas-based GoGirl.Travel, commenting on staff and crew.

The ship’s Sunset Bar is outside but covered by a canopy.

Another strong impression was about the size of the ship. With just 31 suites, the ship has none of the scale of Crystal’s two 1,000-passenger vessels; instead, it boasts the intimacy of small-ship cruising.

Guests on the Crystal Esprit will get the chance to know each other well. Making a play on the name, Rodriguez said they will develop an “esprit de corps.” They will also make friends with the largely Filipino staff.

At 280 square feet, cabins are not huge by luxury standards, but nevertheless Iantosca said they exceeded his expectations.

The Esprit is not out-of-the-box new. It was built in 1991 and was transferred to Crystal from Genting’s Star Cruises, where it was a charter-only vessel for the company’s high-end customers.

Crystal spent three months redoing the vessel’s interior and giving it new decorations, cabinetry, carpeting and fixtures, said COO Thomas Mazloum.

Its five decks include a small plate/buffet restaurant, a slightly more formal dinner venue, a lounge and an expansive aft Sunset Bar, which is outdoors but covered by a white canopy.

There is a small pool and gym and a postage stamp of a casino.

A good part of the Esprit’s revenue is expected to be from charter business. After the ship was named, Genting Hong Kong chairman K.T. Lim stood in the Sunset Bar and gestured to a nearby yacht that was every bit as long as the 280-foot Esprit.

That yacht, Lim said, would likely charter for as much as $1 million a week, but it has far fewer staff and only a half-dozen bedrooms. By comparison, “this is an incredible value,” Lim said of the Esprit.

“I do a lot of yacht charters,” said Iantosca, “and for a client who doesn’t want to spend [big], this is a good alternative.”

Another feature that distinguishes the Esprit is a toy cabinet with all manner of water sports equipment, including a stylish 12-passenger Wider speedboat and a two-person U-Boat Worx submersible submarine that is one of only four in the world.

The Crystal Esprit made its debut last month in the Seychelles.

On a demo, we were startled to run across a half dozen scuba divers, who were probably equally startled to see the submarine with its 3.9-inch-thick acrylic bubble suspended between two pontoons.

The sub, which will take passengers on 30-minute excursions for $599 a person, is like scuba diving in a high-tech lounge chair.

Food on the Esprit is cooked nearly on demand, and an open kitchen enlivens the Yacht Club dinner venue.

There is a butler assigned to every stateroom, which didn’t match the vibe in the laid-back Seychelles, where the Esprit will sail this winter. In the spring it moves to the Adriatic where it will cruise the coast between Venice and Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Pressed for downsides, Iantosca said the small size of the ship cuts both ways.

“I think you need to be aware of motion” that rocks the ship depending on the vigor of the seas. But all things considered, Iantosca was pretty impressed.

Crystal Cruises announces massive expansion plan

Crystal Cruise’s Dreamliner

By Hollie-Rae Merrick

Crystal Cruises has announced a massive expansion plan which includes three new ocean ships and the line’s entry into yachting and the growing river cruise market.

The luxury line, which currently operates just two ships, today announced that over the next three years it would introduce new ships, a yacht and a plane.

Crystal chief executive and president Edie Rodriguez has signed a letter of intent with a German shipyard to build three all-suite vessels.

Rodriguez said: “We continue to think bigger, aiming to create unparalleled luxury experiences and adventures for our loyal and new guests, who – like Crystal – continue to seek broader horizons and new perspectives on the world.”

“We are ecstatic to continue pioneering new areas of luxury travel. Crystal’s newly expanded fleet will truly be travellers’ passport to virtually the entire world.”

Crystal chairman Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay said: “Our intent is to make Crystal Cruises the core of what will become the world’s premier luxury hospitality and lifestyle brand portfolio, not only for the immediate future but for years to come.”

The ships will carry rubber zodiac boats for expedition style cruising and the three builds will also be designed with polar ice-rated hulls to allow them to travel in the Arctic and Antarctica.

The first all-suite, all balcony ocean ship, which is being built at the Lloyd Werft shipyard, is expected for completion in late 2018 and will accommodate 1,000 guests.

Tan Sri Lim added: “Our vision and revolutionary plans for Crystal’s ocean vessels requires us to partner with a premium shipyard that has the expertise and resources to deliver the ‘Crystal Exclusive Class’.

“Lloyd Werft is synonymous with successful world-class new builds and luxury mega yachts, including Luna, the second largest expedition private yacht in the world, measuring at 337 feet long.”

Each ship will have 48 residences on board and travellers will be able to buy the residences as a second home. Those guests will have access to an exclusive restaurant and reception, as well as other facilities which are yet to be announced.

The line will also enter the river cruise sector in 2017 with two custom-built ships. The ships will operate under the new brand Crystal River Cruises.

In addition, Crystal will also gain a new 62-passenger yacht this December. The yacht, called Crystal Esprit, will have a 32-foot long boat for zodiacs, jet skis, kayaks and a two-person submarine. This brand will be called Crystal Yacht Cruises and Rodriguez hopes to add more yachts to the fleet eventually.

The yacht will sail around the Seychelles, Dubai and the Adriatic Coast between 2016 and early 2018, visiting the likes of Croatia, Venice, Montenegro and Greece.

The expansion of Crystal, which comes four months after Genting Hong Kong purchased Crystal from Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha, also includes the plan to acquire a 60-passenger Boeing 787 under the new Crystal Luxury Air banner.

Crystal Cruises to open Miami office

Crystal Cruises, newly acquired by Genting Hong Kong, said it will open a branch office in Miami on June 1.

The headquarters for the cruise line will remain in Los Angeles. The Miami office will bolster Crystal’s presence on the East Coast, said CEO Edie Rodriguez. It will also help Crystal source experienced cruise talent, create partnerships and foster existing business relationships in the region, she said.

Crystal said the Miami branch office, located at 1501 Biscayne Blvd. in the Omni Building, will be home to newly created management positions at Crystal while serving as a secondary location for Los Angeles-based executives to conduct business as needed.

It will also feature a reservations call center, which will begin to accept bookings in summer 2015, and provide support on both coasts for Crystal to serve the domestic and international markets.