Crystal Cruises has been at the top of the luxury cruise line pyramid for more than two decades with “large” luxury ships (922 to 1,070 passengers). Last year it signaled that it was no longer going to sit back, its cabinets filled with virtually every award the travel industry gives out.
With a new CEO (Edie Rodriguez) and new ownership (Genting Hong Kong acquired the line from Japan’s NHK), it announced it would be going airborne with luxury jet tours aboard a specially configured Boeing 787, then months later a 777 as well. Last month an ACJ and Global Express, available on the charter market, were added to the mix.
Crystal also announced the Crystal Espirit (269 ft. long by 45 ft. wide) as its entry into what cruise lines call the “yacht” segment (think SeaDream Yacht Club or the former Seabourn Pride, Spirit and Legend, now with Windstar Cruises). It’s a conversion of Genting-owned Star Cruises’ vessel, Megastar Taurus, previously used by the company chairman and for special charters. A sister vessel, The Taipan, is still in the Star fleet, and would be a prime candidate to expand the yacht fleet if Espirit is successful.
The pre-inaugural took place December 20, with the christening in the Seychelles, and we talked to Mary Jean Tully, for 16 straight years listed as “top luxury cruise specialist” on Conde Nast Traveler’s list of best travel agents, who was aboard. If you’ve been on SeaDream, in addition to being new, Tully says a key difference with Espirit is larger bathrooms, with walk-in showers and double sinks. If you have been on larger balcony-laden vessels, Espirit staterooms, like those on superyachts, don’t have any. With the ship’s small size, “in 15 seconds you can be out on the deck,” Tully says.
With only 31 cabins, Espirit will be popular for full ship charters, including birthdays, anniversaries, celebrations and incentives. Rates range from $399,000 to $500,000, varying by season and demand. Tully is already planning to takeover the Espirit and combine a seven-day Dubai to Seychelles voyage with an African safari. The ship will be based in the Indian Ocean in the Winter and Eastern Med in the Summer. Its size will enable it to visit smaller ports off limits to cruise ships, only accessible to superyachts. A key draw is the marina deck and various water toys (jet skis, snorkeling, kayaks, catamarans, wake boarding, water skiing, etc.), including a two person Dutch-made submarine (at an extra $599 per person for 30 minutes), the same type Vladimir Putin has been photographed in several times. Via Bluetooth you can pipe in your own music, for what Tully (pictured below) describes it as a luxury version of Finding Nemo as you watch vibrant marine life passing by.
If you’ve been on Crystal, you will recognize the crew who were drawn from its two ships. Tully sees this as a big plus as service is an area where the line is widely recognized with its butlers and “attentive, not stuffy, no pretensions” approach.
She says, “no expenses were spared” with a clean, modern design accented by “quality woods, marble, leather and lots of fresh flowers.” In terms of dining, “food was magnificent” with locally sourced ingredients, including seafood. There are several options, from a formal dining room (with open kitchen), a 24-hour café, room service and on deck. Tully was impressed with the diversity of the equipment in the workout room (Technogym, Kinesis, free weights). There are bikes for shore excursions. The public restrooms even have the high-tech, automated Toto toilets with warmed seats. There’s also a small casino.
A couple notes: Tully says avoid cabins 201 and 202, which are slightly smaller (223 sq. feet vs. 280 sq. ft.), and less expensive, but are too small to be comfortable except for single travelers. There is only one oversized cabin type, the “Owner’s Suite” at 515 sq. ft. All cabins, called Yacht Suites, have king beds (except 201, 202), flat screen TVs, desks, personal safes, refrigerators and so on. Tully says, WiFi aboard the ship was good. Also, there are no elevators, but with only four decks Tully says, it’s not an issue unless one has mobility challenges.
Luxury cruise specialist Mary Jean Tully at email@example.com