It’s a given that when we’re wild for a product just the way it is, we’re wary of change. Yet, change comes…and sometimes we love the product even more. So it is with Crystal Cruises, where staffers report positive feedback in regard to recent happenings, including its 2012 transition to “all inclusive”—a policy that continues to pick up steam in the seagoing picture.
Treasured for its traditional values by legions of rock-solid fans (on any given cruise, a third to half of the passengers have sailed with Crystal before), the luxury line finds that guests are embracing a fresh breath of salt-tinged air—alterations that render Crystal as classically elegant a cruise experience as ever, but with contemporary sensibilities.
Checking out the changes on a Rome-to-London itinerary with stops at Porto Venere, Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Gibraltar, Lisbon, Oporto and Bordeaux (12 days; $4,420 pp), Recommend explored Crystal Serenity’s comprehensive $17 million redesign of last year that shows off industry firsts ranging from living walls of greenery to allergy-friendly staterooms. In recent years, more than $100 million altogether has gone into new looks aboard both Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony, leaving them with not only cutting-edge digital and electronic enhancements but an of-the-moment style as hip and chic as any that clients are likely to encounter in, say, the Hamptons or the South of France.
As for “all-inclusive,” it translates to complimentary fine wines (look for a list of impressive offerings on daily menus) and premium spirits throughout the ship, open bar service in all lounges, and pre-paid gratuities for the housekeeping, bar and dining staff.
Says Thomas Mazloum, Crystal’s executive v.p., “We’ve always been a company that’s focused on product evolution and introducing new ideas every year. Over the last 10 years, our demographic has changed dramatically and multi-generational travel has exploded. For 2015, we’re offering shorter cruises for those who can’t be away for long, while planning a proper World Cruise—a complete circumnavigation of the globe to mark our 25th anniversary—for our loyal base of repeat clients.”
Mazloum continues, “We’ve made a strong effort to reach out to new cruisers, and we’ve gone from 5 to 25 percent in international business over the last decade.” (On this voyage, the mix included passengers from the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia, Japan, Russia and Mexico.) An evolving demographic, he notes, has led to such fresh options for 2015 as more afternoon outings in the shore excursion lineup for those who don’t wish to start their vacation days with an early-morning tour, and aboard Crystal Symphony, a new Fitness Garden for exercising outdoors.
Agents, you can assure your Crystal-loving clients that their faves are still going strong as well, backed by acclaimed service via one of the highest staff-to-passenger ratios out there, and with a staff and crew that’s as attentive, friendly, and helpful as they’ll find. The line’s outstanding enrichment lectures, polished stage productions, Feng Shui-inspired spa, kids’ facilities, various learning centers, excellent library, recent-releases movie theater, casino, shopping arcade, and fun nightclubs—not to mention activity-packed sea days—will keep them busy on board, while the well-run array of shore adventures will lure them to land.
Among the varied land lures are charmers such as Italy’s Porto Venere on the Ligurian coast, an 11-mile stretch of the Italian Riviera. Shore tours treat passengers to a look at Cinque Terre—five hamlets tucked into snug inlets or clinging to cliffs.
In contrast are tours of one-of-a-kind cities, the likes of Lisbon, Barcelona and Monte Carlo. At beautiful Bordeaux, an overnight visit is scheduled to allow time for explorations of the city and the region’s grand chateaux and celebrated winemakers.
Crystal Serenity’s top-ranked culinary scene is similarly inviting, thanks to a rich mix of venues. The handsome Crystal Dining Room maintains tradition with its main and late seatings while offering a dining by reservation option; open seating applies for breakfast and lunch. Diners can shop among dishes from adjoining menus headed “Modern Cuisine” and “Crystal Classics.” The popular pair of specialty restaurants—Nobu Matsuhisa’s Silk Road and Sushi Bar, and Prego with its fine Italian fare—are complimentary on a reservation-only basis.
There’s also the Bistro, a prime location for delicious snacking all day long, often with music since it’s just over the lobby’s grand piano. The elegance award has to go to two entries: the Mozart Tea in the sunlit Palm Court, complete with classical music and a staff costumed in 18th century velvets and brocades; and the intimate Vintage Room, with its wine-paired tasting menu, priced at about $200 pp depending on wines selected.
Deck 12, agleam from a thorough update, is action central for breakfast and lunch buffets in the Lido Cafe and Trident Bar & Grill, plus poolside burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches and pizzas. Newsiest is Tastes, a cozy, casual-dining spot with umbrella tables and white wicker armchairs at the former site of a covered pool. Along with wrap-around sea vistas, you get global cuisine. Buns and potstickers, anyone? Perhaps a Greek octopus salad?
Staterooms—more than 85 percent of them have private verandahs—sport queen beds with Egyptian cotton sheets, down pillows and plush duvets. There’s a refrigerator with complimentary bottled water and soft drinks, a separate sitting area, generous stowage, WiFi access, TV with DVD player, a safe and phone, and both a Frette terry bathrobe and a cotton kimono with slippers. Bathrooms serve up a tub with shower, hairdryer, Aveda bath products, double sink, and makeup/shaving mirror.
The 535 staterooms include Penthouse suites that, in addition to the stateroom amenities, come with butler service, a walk-in closet, separate shower and jacuzzi, a fully stocked bar, afternoon tea service and evening hors d’oeuvres.
what travel agents are saying…
Las Vegas-based Lydia Santiago, an independent affiliate of Avoya Travel, similarly specializes in luxury cruises and is a top producer with clients who “want to be pampered, to explore new destinations, and are usually retired and more affluent.” Crystal excels in providing personal service, says Santiago. “I have a client who was a long-past passenger and they remembered her, welcomed her back, and already knew what she likes, equipping her stateroom with her favorite amenities. Very rarely does it happen, but if any of my clients have had something go wrong, the cruise line resolved the issue right away, giving the guest a bottle of champagne for the inconvenience.”
Lauding Crystal for updating and adding new itineraries, Santiago emphasizes the importance of this for repeat customers. “As a travel agent,” she says, “this is great for me because my clients come back again and again. When Crystal became all-inclusive, it made them more competitive with the other all-inclusive luxury lines and helped to enhance sales. Travelers see more value in Crystal because they don’t feel like they’re being nickeled-and-dimed on vacation.”
Crystal Cruises: (888) 799-4625; crystalcruises.com