TORONTO — Luxury cruise clients hold a special place in their hearts for Crystal Cruises.
And so do travel advisors.
Travel agents tell us they’re thrilled that the luxury cruise line is on its way back, with sailings scheduled to start July 31, 2023 on Crystal Serenity, and Sept. 1, 2023 on Crystal Symphony.
It’s a triumphant return for Crystal and its two ocean-going ships, bought by Abercrombie & Kent’s parent company A&K Travel Group in June 2022 after the cruise line filed for bankruptcy in early 2022 under its former owners.
With less than six months to go before the first departure under the reimagined name and vision, ‘Crystal – Exceptional at Sea’, travel agents are wondering what will stay the same under the new ownership – and what will change?
Travelweek reached out to two travel advisors to get their take on Crystal’s return.
And we put some of their questions to a Crystal spokesperson, and got some answers.
Ian Biddlecombe says he’s “absolutely thrilled about the return of Crystal Cruises.”
Biddlecombe has booked “huge amounts” with Crystal over the years. “There is something unique that Crystal has that simply can’t be beat, that is really the short and sweet of it,” says the Delta, B.C.-based CEO of Travel 55.
Many of his clients have tried other luxury lines. “But they come back and say ‘Ian, it’s just not as good as Crystal, when can we cruise with them again?’”
He adds that when he reached out to clients late last year about placing open deposits, he couldn’t keep up with the emails and phone calls.
REBUILDING TRUST WITH AGENTS, CLIENTS NEEDS TO BE A TOP PRIORITY
Sandra McLeod says she likes what she’s seen of the reimagined Crystal ships, and she’s looking forward to seeing more.
McLeod, who runs RedDoorTravel in LaSalle, ON, sells a lot of upscale trips, and in years past that’s included Crystal.
Like Biddlecombe, McLeod is cheering the suite renovations, and the reduction in capacity onboard the ships. “The renovated rooms, regardless of size, look beautiful and comfortable,” she says. “And the reduction in capacity is exciting. For the size of ship, capacity will be lower than most of its competitors and larger ships. This means more space per passenger.”
She adds that while Crystal always had larger rooms at the lower end, “it appears they have increased the size of their suites, which is good. As the other cruise lines started to build new ships, the larger suites became very large – Regent’s largest suite on its new ships is 4,443 sq. ft.”
McLeod also likes Crystal’s addition of more single occupancy options. “They have also added Single rooms, which is very exciting and becoming more popular. I am not surprised as Crystal always had many single guests onboard – more than many other cruise lines.”
As for clients asking about Crystal, McLeod says she hasn’t had any, at least not yet. Under its new owners, Crystal Cruises will need to rebuild trust with many passengers past and future. It will need to rebuild trust with travel advisors too.
“I did have one client that lost money when [Crystal] went bankrupt. It was partly his fault – no insurance, and he didn’t follow up with the credit card company. Many agents lost significant commissions (including me), so not sure how many will be rushing to sell them again,” says McLeod.
However there are lots of very loyal Crystal past guests who will be excited to see them back, she adds. “The saving grace is that they are now owned by a very reputable company that has been around for over 60 years and is known for Premiere luxury travel. I expect the A&K team will be a significant influence in the shore excursions and land tours. They may organize some cruises to coincide with some of the land vacations – my view. I am very excited to see what is to come.”
Q&A ON CRYSTAL SOCIETY BENEFITS, DANCE HOSTS & MORE
Travel advisors have questions about everything from the hiring back of Crystal’s legendary crew, to Dance Hosts, to whether or not previously accumulated Crystal Society levels will be honoured under the cruise line’s new ownership.
Crystal Cruises spokesperson Robyn Fink answered these questions and more.
Travelweek: What would you say to travel agents who are excited about working with Crystal again, but their clients are wary of booking Crystal, maybe because the clients don’t realize the cruise line is under completely new ownership?
Fink: “Crystal offers exceptional voyages aboard our two ocean ships – Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity. Earlier this year we were acquired by A&K Travel Group, who owns luxury tour operator Abercrombie & Kent. Building on that expertise, we will offer the world’s most personalized cruises, with authentic experiences to memorable destinations. We will sail to all corners of the globe including the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, Caribbean, Alaska, Asia, the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand, and South America. In addition to fabulous ships, accommodations and destinations, Crystal offers a first-class, all-inclusive experience aboard and gratuities are always included.”
Travelweek: Has the size of the suites increased?
Fink: “As part of our ship refurbishment, we are creating larger suites which will also result in a lower guest capacity and higher guest to space as well as crew to guest ratios.”
Travelweek: Crystal’s service was legendary and a big differentiator for the cruise line. Has Crystal been able to hire back a sizeable percentage of Crystal crew?
Fink: “We have been able to retain a large amount of our operations teams, shoreside and crew onboard. We are committed to creating a product that’s even better than before and our service culture is a big part of that.”
Travelweek: Will the Dance Hosts be coming back?
Fink: “Yes, we are planning to have the dance hosts back again.”
Travelweek: Will Crystal honour the Crystal Society levels previously accumulated?
Fink: “Crystal Society benefits will be honored in regard to future milestones and benefits accrued under the new Crystal voyage launch. Any formerly banked and earned credits are unfortunately not traceable and we are unable to provide any information or savings associated with them. However, should you earn a milestone within the next cruise you book, we will provide said benefit. Furthermore, A&K Travel Group is looking to create a new loyalty program offering exceptional benefits to our global guests, stay tuned!”