For months we heard the questions: Would Crystal’s 1st river cruise come out in time? Why are they launching a river product in 2016, a time of challenges for European river business? Why not wait until 2017, when they have a new ship? What’s all the hurry?
Last month Crystal answered its doubters, taking a big step forward in its much ballyhooed expansion program as it launched river cruiser Crystal Mozart to good reviews. Simply put, Mozart lived up to its luxury billing on all sides -- from culinary to staterooms.
It’s August now and you can expect Crystal to receive substantial consumer publicity this month with its 1st traverse of the Arctic Ocean via the Northwest Passage aboard Crystal Serenity.
That too is important as a milestone in this expansion program. Although planned prior to Genting Hong Kong’s taking over the company, the Northwest Passage sailing represented the 1st major announcement of the Edie Rodriguez era, signaling different times ahead.
Since then, announcements have come at a dizzying pace -- almost too quick to be trusted for a luxury player as they are unprecedented in scope for this end of the market. But now a cohesive timeline is forming. The 1st river cruise went off fine last month. And on August 19th keels will be laid for Crystal Bach and Crystal Mahler.
Next year brings Crystal’s 1st river cruises on new-builds. More river ships and the introduction of a polar-class yacht, the Endeavor, come in 2018. The latter will join Crystal Esprit for Crystal Yacht Cruises. In 2019 the 1st of three 117,000-ton ocean ships arrives, also to be polar class.
Given the Genting ownership and other factors that have occurred since the initial Arctic Ocean announcement, the growth seems more coherent than when the announcements initially came pouring out. The strategy for the next 3 years is launching the diverse new water product and also getting Crystal Luxury Air Cruises off the ground.
Almost as an aside, is the purchase option for the S.S. United States.
Given the state of the world, there has been, and will likely continue to be itinerary modifications along the way. Crystal was one of the 1st to get out of Turkey. And now, on the river side of things, they are the 1st to get out of France for 2017.
Then there’s the situation in Alaska. Realizing they were going to have so many sailings in Europe with the river cruises in 2017, the initial plan to have both Serenity and Symphony in the Med was altered. Crystal is taking Serenity out of the Med for 2017, enabling it to do a 2nd season of Inside Passage.
So there will be changes, but the structure for having it all in place is really taking form.
There’s the unique ship building situation with Crystal’s owners also owning the shipyards. Genting Hong Kong established the Lloyd Werft Group earlier this year, acquiring the Lloyd Werft Shipyard in Bremerhaven and 3 Nordic Yard shipyards, also in Germany.
The group leaders have said they will be capable of building ships that are “even larger” than the biggest cruise ships of today.
“For all the projects, the growth is measured; it’s not insane,” says Walter Littlejohn, Managing Director of Crystal River Cruises.
The key, he says, is not only the ship yards. “One of the things that outsiders haven’t noticed is that the Crystal of today isn’t the Crystal that existed 18 months ago. It’s not the same organization that had 2 ships and a bunch of people in LA and that was it. Edie and [COO] Thomas Mazloum have really done a great job of building out this organization to manage the growth.
“So there are a slew of people here, including myself and Christian Sauleau and so many others, who have been added to the organization with the sole intent of focusing on expansion.”
There has been a feeling by some (“naysayers,” says Littlejohn) that Crystal had taken on too much, even with all the money at the top from Genting.
But with the success of Mozart, Crystal answered the #1 question from the trade: “With such growth, how do you maintain the ‘luxury business’?”
The answers are:
staff - highest crew to guest ratio in the river cruise industry;
cuisine - once again, V.P. of Food & Beverage Operations Toni Neumeister delivered;
and just about anything else you can do to make a river cruise special.
That success bodes well for the other Crystal projects coming down the pipe.