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Last week, 74 top travel agents from 14 countries gathered onboard Crystal Symphony for Crystal Cruises’ 27th annual Sales Achievement Awards Gala. The vessel sailed from Aruba to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., stopping in St. Barts and Key West, Fla., along the way.
The cruise was a reward for the top-selling agent attendees — all of whom achieved at least $1 million in Crystal product sales in 2017 — but perhaps the biggest bonus was the access to the line’s executives and its new announcements. During two full sea days, advisors listened to presentations on the current state of the company and its future plans, as well as participated in one-on-one meetings with Crystal executives.
Tom Wolber, president and CEO for Crystal, who took over the brand in September 2017, started off the event with a conversation about the challenges the company has faced over the last few years.
Wolber discussed rapid expansion, new ships, new hires, new technology and new processes as issues that he inherited when he joined Crystal and has been working to resolve. In his speech, he also explained that the line’s current priorities are stabilization, minimizing itinerary changes, enhancing technology and processes and honing Crystal’s communications with agents.
Endeavor is going to be a great addition to the fleet because many Crystal passengers have been there, done that, and this will offer new destinations.
In addition, Wolber announced that although the Crystal Diamond class of suites was originally announced as a series of larger vessels that combined residences and cruise ship cabins, the line has revised these plans. Now, the vessels will be 65,000 tons, making them closer in size to Symphony and Crystal Serenity, and the residence concept has been scrapped.
“We thought Crystal bit off more than they could chew in the last few years,” said Bonnie Crosby of Las Vegas-based Holiday Cruises & Tours, who took part in the gala sailing. “And we’re glad they aren’t putting residences on the same ship with cruisers.
“It would be like oil and water,” she added, citing all-residence ship The World — where residence owners didn’t like having strangers in their midst — as an example.
During the sales gala, Wolber also revealed a few new key features of the new 200-passenger Crystal Endeavor, the line’s first luxury expedition yacht, which is scheduled to launch in 2020. The all-suite, all-butler, all-balcony polar-class ship will have floor-to-ceiling cabin windows and mudroom-style entryways with heated closets that will warm parkas and give the crew easy access to clean snow boots after a day on land.
“Endeavor is going to be a great addition to the fleet because many Crystal passengers have been there, done that, and this will offer new destinations,” Crosby said.
Wolber also discussed how open-seating dining — which launched when the ship came out of dry dock in November — has changed not only the way Symphony’s main dining room functions, but also the flow of evening entertainment, which had been scheduled around the early-and-late seating concept.
“I have a lot of Crystal Society guests,” said Stevie Friedman of Los Angeles-based Protravel International. “It may take time, but they’ll get used to open seating. They’ll just need to ask the maitre d’ for the same waiter or the same table. Hopefully, the maitre d’s will also ask them if they want to sit alone or with other people.”
The gala cruise was also an opportunity for top agents to see Symphony post-refurbishment and to experience its two new dining concepts: Brazilian steakhouse Churrascaria (which is offered in the space that functions as a buffet during the day) and upscale Chinese restaurant Silk Kitchen & Bar. Silk Road, the Japanese restaurant and sushi bar helmed by chef Nobu Matsuhisa, has been renamed Umi Uma & Sushi Bar to avoid confusion with Silk.
“I love Churrascaria; I think it’s much better than Texas de Brazil,” said Jay Shapiro of Las Vegas-based Five Star Travel after a few days on the ship. “I also love the dim sum and the variety of Chinese food in Silk.”
In addition, interactive flat-screen televisions and unlimited complimentary Wi-Fi access — with satellite feeds that are twice as fast as before — are now onboard Symphony. As a result, guests can now stream video and make video calls. Forty additional spacious penthouses were also added as part of the refurbishment.
Serenity is scheduled to go into dry dock in the fall for similar refurbishments.
“The fact that they added more penthouses is going to make a big difference for our clients,” said Crosby, adding that they had sold out too quickly in the past. “Crystal needed to up the ante and make more of those available.”
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