Last updated: 11:47 AM ET, Tue May 17 2016

Four Reasons Crystal Cruises Is Unlike Any Other Cruise Company

Cruise Line & Cruise Ship | Crystal Cruises | Brian Major | May 17, 2016

Four Reasons Crystal Cruises Is Unlike Any Other Cruise Company

PHOTO: Crystal Cruises began as a two-ship operator whose fleet includes Crystal Symphony, pictured. The company's 2015 purchase by Genting Hong Kong has radically changed the company and its expectations. (Photo courtesy of Crystal Cruises).

It’s surprising to think now luxury operator Crystal Cruises was once regarded as ground-breaking, successful – and complacent.

Founded by Japanese shipping company Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK), the two-vessel line inaugurated a new cruise ship category in 1990, combining larger ships’ scale with the top-shelf service and deluxe amenities found aboard smaller luxury vessels.

While the concept proved a winner, Crystal remained a two-ship fleet, even as competitors emerged, some utilizing the larger-luxury-ship model Crystal Cruises originated. Industry watchers soon questioned NYK’s desire to maintain its very presence in the cruise industry.

Last year NYK answered those questions by selling Crystal to Genting Hong Kong, the Malaysian casino and resort giant. And the purchase has literally changed everything.

Crystal Cruises has become the umbrella brand for a fast-growing portfolio of hospitality companies, offering vacations ranging from oceangoing cruises in the Arctic to river cruises utilizing state of the art vessels and international charter “air cruises” aboard customized jets.   

Genting Hong Kong’s unprecedented marshalling of hospitality resources also includes the purchase of a major shipyard group, ensuring the ocean and river cruise companies will receive a reliable flow of new tonnage. Here are four reasons Crystal Cruises is unlike any other cruise ship company:

Crystal is building a generation of ships in its own yards

The 62 member companies of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) have ordered 27 ocean and river cruise ships between 2016 and 2022, representing a commitment of $6.5 billion. Earlier this month Genting officials announced their own plan to launch 10 new cruise ships worth $4 billion between 2016 and 2020.

In other words, in little more than a year, Crystal Cruises has transformed from a sleepy two-ship operator to a major hospitality brand whose expansion is comparable with the entire cruise industry. Via Genting’s orderbook, Crystal Cruises will gain six river cruise ships, a large expedition ship and one “Exclusive Class” oceangoing vessel.

The new Crystal River Cruises division will add two as-yet unnamed ships, joining Crystal Debussy, Crystal Ravel, Crystal Mahler and Crystal Bach, all scheduled to debut in 2017 under an earlier-announced plan. Crystal River Cruises’ first ship, the refurbished Crystal Mozart, will debut July 13.

Crystal will also welcome a 200-passenger, polar-class “luxury mega-yacht” named Crystal Endeavor in August 2018. The Genting order also includes the first of three Crystal “Exclusive Class” oceangoing cruise ships. The 117,000 gross ton ships will accommodate both vacationers and owners and is scheduled for delivery in fall 2019.

Genting’s 10-ship building contract is with none other than Lloyd Werft Group, the European mega-shipyard Genting formed following its April acquisition of the Nordic Yards shipbuilding facilities in Germany. Genting had earlier acquired Lloyd Werft’s Bremerhaven shipyard.

Thus Crystal becomes the first North American company in modern cruise history to contract for new ships with a supplier within its own company. The in-house ship source should provide significant support to company officials’ efforts to establish Crystal as a preeminent global hospitality brand.  

“The new [ships] planned for the coming years provide travelers with an exhilarating glimpse into the future of luxury travel of all kinds, from rugged expedition adventures to indulgently relaxing river cruises,” said Edie Rodriguez, Crystal’s president. The company’s ultimate aim is “to cater to virtually every wish of the discerning modern traveler,” she said.

Crystal Luxury Air will offer revolutionary “air cruises”

With its recent debut of Crystal Luxury Air, the company will seek to replicate its success at sea in the skies. Crystal launched the new charter flight division on May 1 with Crystal Global Express, which offers global flights with a maximum range of just under 12 hours per leg.

The service utilizes a 12-passenger Bombardier XRS jet, which features three cabins. The forward compartment features four wide club seats with foldout tables for dining or meeting. The mid cabin is configured for conferences, with seating for five plus a workstation and cabinet. The aft cabin offers a three-person divan that transforms into a large bed.

Their jet also features a forward galley and an entertainment system that includes surround sound and a 31.5-inch LCD display. The service offers private, customized charter services “for luxury travelers seeking the next level of ease and exclusivity during their journeys," said Rodriguez.

In 2017 and 2018 Crystal Luxury Air will add a Boeing 777 and a 787 Dreamliner, respectively to the fleet. The planes will be designed to match the luxury accommodations found aboard Crystal ships and will be the only wide-body aircraft of their type in “VIP” commercial operation, according to Richard Ziskind, Crystal Luxury Air’s vice president and managing director.

In 2018 Crystal Luxury Air will offer 14- to 28-day global air cruise itineraries visiting 37 destinations on six continents in the first six months of operation, including 22 equatorial crossings and a flight over Antarctica. Multiple excursion and tour opportunities will be available in each destination, with stays averaging two days in each location.

Crystal will offer unprecedented Arctic Circle Itineraries 

What were once extreme travel destinations have in recent years emerged as preferred regions of choice among a growing segment of luxury travelers. No area better represents the trend than the remote, ice-choked Northwest Passage.

The journey through this challenging Arctic terrain is so rare it has been completed by fewer than 200 passenger vessels since Lindblad Expeditions guided the first passenger vessel through the waterway in 1984. Nevertheless, luxury expedition ships have increasingly sailed the region.

On August 16 Crystal Serenity will embark on a 32-day Northwest Passage voyage, sailing 500 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Departing Seward, Alaska, the ship will circle Alaska before sailing east through the Northwest Territories to Greenland, then heading south to Maine, Boston and New York City.

Serenity isn’t the first luxury ship to sail the Northwest Passage, but the company’s growing commitment to Arctic voyages is unprecedented among mainstream cruise operators.

Crystal Serenity will be escorted on the August voyage by the Ernest Shackleton, an ICE 05-classed icebreaker. The vessel will provide operational support including ice-breaking assistance if and when necessary plus safety and adventure equipment including two helicopters for real-time ice reconnaissance, emergency support and flightseeing activities.

Crystal Cruises is poised to offer more Arctic voyages in the next two years than any mainstream cruise line ever has. In addition to Crystal Serenity’s voyages, the upcoming Crystal Endeavor will offer Arctic itineraries upon its 2018 debut. Crystal’s first Exclusive Class ship is also slated to cruise the same regions following its launch.

Crystal will restore a legendary ship

Earlier this year Crystal Cruises officials thrilled a legion of enthusiasts of classic ocean liners with the announcement the line had entered an agreement with the SS United States Conservancy on a plan to return the classic ocean liner to service.

The classic ship faced an uncertain fate for years as it languished at a municipal pier in Philadelphia. Crystal’s plan is to re-launch the ship as an 800-passenger “modern luxury vessel,” by 2018, an effort that will cost in excess of $700 million, said Rodriguez.

Launched in 1952, the SS United States was considered a hallmark of post-war industrial design and innovation. The ship set a still-existent transatlantic speed record on its maiden voyage. The restoration will seek to retain original features including the ship’s classic liner and facilities including the Promenade and Navajo Lounge.

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