Crystal Cruises Rocks the Boat

As Crystal Cruises expands, it also changes definition of luxury travel By: Kenneth Shapiro
Shapiro // © 2015 TravelAge West
Shapiro // © 2015 TravelAge West

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Read this issue's cover story about how the future looks bright for Crystal Cruises.

This issue’s cover story, “Crystal Clear Future” (page 16), takes a closer look at one of the biggest travel stories of the year: the expansion of Crystal Cruises. For years, travel agents and others in the industry have commented on the need for Crystal to grow beyond its two ships, Serenity and Symphony. This year, Crystal responded by announcing an expansion of historic proportions — one that introduces new ships and novel products and opens up new markets.

Of course, it’s not like Crystal has been sitting back, watching its brand wither away all these years. You don’t consistently win top awards for best luxury cruise line for the past two decades without keeping the product fresh. Crystal is a name that travelers have learned to trust, and many agents can’t wait to leverage its brand strength for river cruising.

I think one of the reasons Crystal has been so successful in the luxury segment is that it’s not afraid to change with the times. Its executives understand that today’s luxury passengers are not the upscale travelers of the past. For instance, Crystal’s new yacht will emphasize unique itineraries, one-of-a-kind activities (did you see that mini-submersible?) and an informal, small-ship vibe for passengers whose idea of luxury is total relaxation, not stuffy formal nights.

This formula appeals to the growing number of upscale millennial travelers, too.

A few years ago, I had the chance to chat with Horst Shultze, founder of The Ritz-Carlton hotel brand. Shultze said he laughs whenever he hears a luxury brand bragging about how good its beds are or the high quality of its linens.

“Of course the bed is comfortable and the sheets are top-notch,” he said. “They had better be! As a luxury customer, I would certainly expect that.”

The goal, according to Shultze, is to make guests feel more comfortable than they feel at home and create an experience that exceeds their expectations. Crystal seems determined to hold itself to this standard, as well. And travel agents should feel excited about the opportunity to finally be able to offer their upscale clients a new range of experiences — all with the Crystal stamp of approval.