Crystal Cruises is the most decorated luxury cruise company in the industry. Now, a ‘new chapter’ sees Crystal expand its fleet to include river boats, yachts and a private jet. But can it maintain its essence of ‘ultra-luxury’? Ben Brown investigates

“There is a difference between luxury and ultra-luxury,” Helen Beck, vice-president of international sales and marketing of Crystal Cruises, says. “It’s the little things.”

For example, while some luxury ships might have a cabaret lounge on board, Crystal has a full theatre, employing Broadway legends to direct and perform.

Where other ships stock up with pre-prepared food, Crystal Cruises invites chefs to buy fresh ingredients from port and prepare meals from scratch.

And where other cruise liners squeeze more passengers into their cabins, Crystal Cruises is reducing passenger numbers.

It’s this contrary approach to guest numbers that I’m most fascinated by when I meet Beck. After all, this is an industry where “mega-ships” with a capacity of almost 7,000 are considered the future.

Crystal Cruise’s approach is different. “We’ve stripped out some of our standard verandah staterooms to make room for larger suites,” Beck explains. On board Crystal Serenity, which was refurbished in 2016, 12 staterooms are to be replaced with eight plush penthouses. These magnificent suites offer walk-in closets, Jacuzzi tubs and a personal butler service.

Crystal Cruises Symphony penthouseIt means there are fewer rooms and lower passenger numbers, but each guest enjoys a larger, more luxurious area to themselves. In fact, space is one of the brand’s guiding “Four Pillar”. On board Symphony, each guest enjoys 60.2 tons of it to themselves – one of the highest ratios in the industry.

On board an ultra-luxury cruise

What does “ultra luxury” look like? Let’s head aboard the Symphony to find out.

Before they embark, guests are invited to choose from a stunning array of staterooms and suites. Every room is resplendent with Egyptian cotton sheets and plush duvets. And for the discerning sleeper, there’s even a pillow menu, just as you will find in top-end luxury hotels.

In the penthouse suites, a butler will unpack your luggage while you dine on the verandah overlooking the sea.

Crystal Cruises penthouse butlerCrystal Cruises also has the highest staff-to-passenger ratio in the industry. Each member of staff is chosen for their expertise, and they don’t job share. In other words, you won’t find your cabin stewardess behind the bar later in the evening.

The menus are never repeated and chefs rustle up five-course extravaganzas every night, using local produce found along the way. They cater to both classic and experimental tastes (exploding caviar balls, anyone?)

During the day, you’ll relax with three-hour spa treatments or hone your golf swing with PGA golf pros. If you’re a guest on Crystal’s new yacht, Esprit, you can even board the Crystal submarine, which takes you deep below the ocean waves.

But it’s offshore that things get really interesting. Crystal Cruises has partnered with some of the most adventurous tour and excursion companies on the planet. In Russia, you can step off the ship and fly a MiG fighter jet. And in Abu Dhabi, you can strap on a VIP pass to the Grand Prix.

Crystal Cruises luxury yacht EspritThis, in essence, is ultra-luxury. A hyper-personal experience where guests can choose everything from their pillows their adrenalin fix. Where they can enjoy once-in-a-lifetime excursions and VIP experiences.

And they can do it all without sharing their space with 7,000 strangers.

Luxury trends – redefined

Crystal Cruises hasn’t come this far without taking risks and evolving. The definition of luxury is constantly in flux, with new technology and changing consumer demands. It means that companies like Crystal must keep evolving. “Adapt or die” as Beck says.

On that, we agree. Globetrender recently spoke at the Connections Luxury Conference in Dublin to highlight three defining trends in the future of luxury travel:

  1. Partnerships and collaboration.
  2. Extreme and adventurous luxury travel.
  3. Hyper-personalisation.

Crystal has tapped into each of these trends over the last few years. It has partnered with celebrity chefs and Broadway stars. They’ve introduced extreme experiences such as submarine diving. And the staff are trained to remember your every preference, including how you take your coffee.

Crystal Cruises: the next chapter

Crystal Cruises has already established itself as the premier name in ultra-luxury cruising. It has created a small, intimate brand with two landmark ships: Serenity and Symphony.

But now it is entering a new chapter. Following an acquisition by Chinese mega-group, Genting Hong Kong (GHK), Crystal is expanding.

The company is no longer a two-ship operation. Its fleet now includes five river boats, a yacht and a Boeing Business Jet. Crystal will also add a third cruise ship by 2022.

Crystal Cruises - Air Crystal planeThe question, of course, is whether the company can retain that pure, distilled essence of ultra-luxury across a larger fleet and more complex brand. The answer, Beck says, is a resounding “yes”.

Even during this expansion and transition period, Crystal hasn’t lost an ounce of guest satisfaction (Beck excitedly shows me the statistics). Guest satisfaction sits unwaveringly at 90 per cent from 2014 through 2016.

Crystal Cruises continues to redefine the luxury experience. With every change, it sets the bar a little higher, and we’ll be watching closely to see what it does next.

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