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Contrary to popular belief, luxury cruising and kids are not mutually exclusive. But to successfully deliver a luxury product amidst a significant population of young children, the experience must be carefully and expertly curated, as evidenced by a recent Alaska voyage I took with my wife and 12-year-old daughter onboard Crystal Cruises’ Crystal Serenity.
While luxury lines have been serving multigenerational family groups on holiday and summer sailings for years, most do it out of necessity — that is, as more of an accommodation than a marketing strategy. But Crystal Cruises has devised a formula for successfully filling the family luxury niche with its Kids Sail Free and Crystal Memories promotions on select voyages. While the line’s two current ocean-going ships use a compact but smartly designed kids’ club space, the Junior Activities Directors (JADs) employ appealing programming and clever strategies that keep children engaged, well-behaved and, most important, nondisruptive.
Thus, maintaining the renowned Crystal luxury product level — elegant fine dining; exacting, personal service; an industry-leading enrichment program; and, above all, a serene onboard environment — is a delicate balancing act, nowhere demonstrated more competently than on my seven-day sailing from Anchorage, Alaska, to Vancouver, British Columbia, with more than 100 children onboard. And although my daughter reported that the kids’ activities were a notch above those found on mass-market and premium lines, the JADs placed an equal emphasis on respect for other passengers, with strict rules governing behavior when using or passing through public areas.
Meanwhile, the three of us reveled in the luxury touches found onboard Crystal Serenity. Dipping a variety of yummy treats into the decadent chocolate fountain at coffee bar The Bistro was a nightly pre-show ritual, and breakfast on our veranda — served by our butler on a white tablecloth set with fine china and gleaming silver — was a pleasure we repeated throughout the week. Alaskan ports offer a multitude of activity options, and we all loved the popular Alaska Sled Dog Discovery & Musher’s Camp excursion in Juneau. Riding a sled pulled by 16 excited dogs was a unique experience, but holding and cuddling newborn husky puppies was an emotional high.
With kids making up 10 percent of our total passenger complement, I expected at least some disruptive activity onboard. But meals in Lido Cafe, Tastes and Crystal Dining Room were quiet and uneventful, while the experience in the excellent specialty restaurants, Prego and Silk Road, was calm, serene and in keeping with expectations. Somehow, despite the young age of some diners, they seemed to sense — possibly with a rapidly maturing eye — that this wasn’t the place to goof off.
So why aren’t kids running down the hallways screaming or throwing fits in the show lounge on Crystal’s cruises? Primarily, they’re closely tracked by their parents, who, after all, pay a premium to enjoy the onboard experience and thus have a vested interest in encouraging good behavior. But there’s something more subtle going on here, and it has to do with the 1:2 staff-to-guest ratio and the general comportment of the guests, which matches the brand’s low-key and elegant ambiance. Children sense the latter and act accordingly.
But I believe the key factor is accountability based on recognition. Staff and crew address all passengers — children included — by name, fostering a personal bond that serves to hold the youngsters accountable for their actions, which in turn breeds respect. They’re not just an anonymous face; they’re a kid with a name, a family and a reputation to uphold. Meanwhile, the six JADs on my sailing expertly ensured that kids under their purview were closely monitored but still having lots of fun.
While the Crystal Visions Enrichment Program typically skews toward adults, astronaut twins Mark and Scott Kelly, along with former U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, put on a fascinating and inspiring presentation with a follow-up Q&A that had everyone in the room — adults and kids alike — spellbound. We also enjoyed the intimate Magic Castle at Sea close-up magic performances and found that listening to the soothing sounds of the string quartet in the Crystal Cove atrium was the perfect late-night sedative.
Kudos to Crystal management, staff and crew for devising and implementing a formula that satisfies the requirements of modern family travel while preserving the luxury product experience.