The biggest news in luxury travel next year won’t be a new hotel or resort. In my opinion, it’s an aircraft. And specifically, in this case, it’s a Boeing 777-200LR that is being configured with just 84 lounge seats that turn into flat beds, an extensive bar area and wine cellar, plus four full dining tables that seat 6-8. Owned by Crystal AirCruises, a subsidiary of gaming and hospitality giant Genting Hong Kong, the aircraft is part of the company’s massive expansion beyond ocean cruises to yacht cruises, river cruises, on-demand charter (it has a single Bombardier Global for now) and what it terms air cruises.
Air cruises are a great idea if you want to cover more ground in less time. For example, a 16-day “Savoring the Winelands” itinerary that visits Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Italy and France would take at least 21 days if you flew via commercial airline flights, and I know for a lot of you five days is quite a bit of time to waste.
There is competition. Crystal will set itself apart by owning the plane it is flying. It is also a wide body aircraft. Four Seasons, TCS, A&K all charter the planes they use, mainly reconfigured 757s, while nice lack lounge space and maybe a bit confining for long flights.
Albert Herrera, SVP with Virtuoso, a group that encompasses some 10,000 travel advisors who sell over $15 billion in luxury travel annually, is enthusiastic about Crystal entering the market. He says “private jets of this caliber are in high demand,” and adds, Crystal’s configuration offers “unparalleled quality” and the best space-to-guest ratio he has seen. He also likes table dining service and the fact that cabin attendants are being drawn from the line’s staff of trained butlers.
The actual Crystal AirCruises aircraft has two missions I think you will find relevant. Firstly, it will operate luxury tours, ranging from 15-29 days. Itineraries include the aforementioned wine tours, safaris, iconic sites around the world (Easter Island, Uluru, Victoria Falls, etc.) exotic adventures and the inaugural (Sept. 1 , 2017), which will visit all 10 Peninsula hotels around the world (details below).
When the Boeing 777 isn’t doing these trips, it will be available for full charters, and Crystal AirCruises has already received requests for birthdays, anniversaries and company incentives spanning 1-2 weeks. Planning requires about two months advance for unique access, and particularly for sourcing hotel rooms for groups of 84. For these missions, Crystal will put together a full itinerary, or if you have a simple mission, such as taking 80 friends to a football game, to see you compete in a marathon or maybe Art Basel, that can be done too.
On the flip side, if being on the Boeing 777 with other people is not what you want, Crystal Luxury Air can put together exclusive vacations for you using its Bombardier Global Express, which can sleep up to six when converted for beds.
Normally, I would say one negative of these private jet tours is that you are somewhat stuck with the same itinerary, however, as Crystal AirCruises offers multiple tracks everyday, and the opportunity to customize your own private excursions, there really isn’t that downside.
On the Ground
Of the itineraries Crystal AirCruises has announced typical journeys include 2-3 nights in each destination at 5-star hotels, resorts, safari lodges, etc. In each destination there is a choice of four different programming tracks focused around adventure, personal connections to locals, cultural discoveries and gastronomy.
On the inaugural trip there are 91 different experiences that can be combined in 331 different ways. These are all included. Typical group size will be 8-12 people. You can also split up from your partner.
For example, in Scotland one of you might want to play The Old Course in St. Andrews while another option could be a day trip to Paris for VIP shopping. You can also have Crystal design something for you in any or all destinations at an additional charge. Other experiences include things like dining atop the Great Wall of China, tours of vineyards by the owner, private entrance to castles not open to the public, dining in Michelin restaurants hosted by the chef and so on.
What’s on the Aircraft?
There is global WiFi. The anticipation is many participants will be active owners/CEOs of businesses with the need to be in touch whenever necessary so there is phone call capability as well.
Extensive in-flight entertainment includes 24″ monitors, unlimited complimentary global Skye-Fi, Bose® Noise Cancelling headphones, Apple iPads® preloaded with your personalized itinerary.
There is a “cruise” director, ground operations manager, chef and doctor onboard at all times. There is also a “proactive” security program for every destination, which starts during the planning stages and monitors the situation right through arrival and departure.
Having seen the renderings and seen how Crystal outfitted the Crystal Mozart, I believe the finishes and attention to detail, both with service and fixtures will be exciting to see.
Who’s Flying the Aircraft?
Comlux Aruba NV is a division of Zurich-based Comlux, which since 2003 has significant experience in private aviation operations and management, particularly for large aircraft such as the Boeing 777. I checked out its current fleet and found in recent months they have operated jetliners into places as diverse as Singapore, New York-JFK, Almaty, Astana, Lusaka, Windhoek and Bangor, Maine. To oversee its aviation division, Crystal AirCruises tapped Marc Cavaliere, a top executive with South African Airways, American Airlines and Pan Am.
On the in-flight side, it is bringing onboard cabin attendants (trained for air safety) from its ships to ensure same level of service.
Current Itineraries for Sale
August 31, 2017: The Peninsula Grand Inaugural Crystal AirCruise
(Roundtrip New York, 27 days) – Visiting New York, Chicago, Los Angeles; Tokyo, Japan; Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong, China; Manila, Philippines; Bangkok, Thailand; and Paris, France; $159,000 per person
October 21, 2017: Around the World: Iconic Sites & Legendary Locales
(Round-trip Los Angeles, 29 days) – Visiting Los Angeles; Lima, Peru; Easter Island, Polynesia; Uluru (Ayers Rock), Australia; Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Lhasa, Tibet; Jaipur, India; Mauritius, East Africa; Victoria Falls, Zambia; and Prague, Czech Republic; $139,000 per person
June 1, 2018: Savoring the Winelands
(Roundtrip San Francisco, 16 days) – Visiting San Francisco; Santiago, Chile; Mendoza, Argentina; Cape Town, South Africa; Tuscany, Italy; Bordeaux and Champagne/Paris, France; $73,000 per person
June 23, 2018: Sacred Sites, Seashells & Safaris
(Roundtrip New York City, 22 days) – Visiting New York City; Tokyo, Japan; Yangon, Myanmar; Gan Island, Maldives; Agra, India; Victoria Falls, Zambia; Cape Town, South Africa; and Vienna, Austria; $99,500 per person
September 8, 2018: Exotic Adventures
(Roundtrip New York City, 22 days) – Visiting New York City; Lima, Peru; Easter Island, Polynesia; Cairns, Australia; Siem Reap, Cambodia; Lhasa, China; Agra, India; Cape Town, South Africa; and Abu Dhabi, UAE; $99,500 per person
October 13, 2018: South Pacific Explorer
(Roundtrip Los Angeles, 15 days) – Visiting Los Angeles, Easter Island, Polynesia; Bali, Indonesia; Cairns, Australia; Queenstown, New Zealand; and Bora Bora, French Polynesia; $69,500 per person
Questions You Might Have
DGAE: How does the seating work on the aircraft?
Crystal AirCruises: Seat assignments are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis once a guest has made a deposit. We try to accommodate everyone’s request, but seat assignments are not guaranteed as there may a rare occasion we need to specifically allocate seats.
DGAE: Can you make table reservations for the dining tables?
Crystal AirCruises: We will be serving meals in the main (seating) cabin and, depending upon the duration of the flight, in the lounge/dining area. Given that we can accommodate 24 guests at a time at the dining tables, we will take requests (reservations) from guests in the cabin on a rotating basis so that everyone will have an opportunity to dine in the lounge area during the journey.
DGAE: Can people buy segments?
Crystal AirCruises: Each AirCruise is made available only for the entire journey rather than individual segments. If guests wish to voluntarily leave the tour prior to the end, they can do so, but there are no refunds for the unused portion.
Condé Nast Traveler Magazine – Gold List – World’s Best (1997-2014), Reader’s Choice Award – Best Cruise Line (1992-1993, 1995-2005, 2007-2015), Reader’s Choice Award – Best Cruise Ship – Crystal Serenity 1st, Crystal Symphony 2nd (2006, 2008-2010, 2012); Crystal Symphony 1st, Crystal Serenity 2nd (2013), and Reader’s Choice Award – Best Cruise Line Spa: Crystal Serenity (2002, 2004, 2007, and 2012)
Travel + Leisure Magazine – World’s Best Cruise Line (1996-2015), World’s Best Service (2005; 2012-2013)
U.S. News & World Report – Best Luxury Cruise Line (Gold Award: 2014, 2015), Best Cruise Line for Romance (Gold Award: 2014, Silver Award: 2015), Best Luxury Cruise Ship: Crystal Symphony (Gold Award: 2013), Best Cruise Ship for Couples, Europe, the Pacific, and Caribbean: Crystal Symphony (Gold Award: 2013)
Robb Report – Best of the Best 2016 – Cruises – Crystal Esprit (2016)
Cruise Critic – Editors’ Pick – Best Cruise Line for Luxury (2015), Cruisers’ Choice – Best Service: Crystal Symphony (2014), Cruisers’ Choice – Best for Fitness: Crystal Symphony, Crystal Serenity (2014)
Cruise Critic Cruisers’ Choice – Best Dining: Crystal Serenity (2013-2014); Crystal Symphony (2012), Cruisers’ Choice – Best Entertainment: Crystal Serenity (2013); Crystal Symphony (2012 & 2014)
Virtuoso – Travel Advisors – Peer-To-Peer Awards: Best Luxury Cruise Line (2015-16)
Stern’s Guide to the Cruise Vacation
Six+ Stars (1998–2015)
Money – Platinum Award – Best in Travel (2016)
Edie Rodriguez, Chairman, Crystal Luxury Corporation, Ltd. at firstname.lastname@example.org or Marc S. Cavaliere, Sr. Vice President, Crystal Luxury Air and CrystalAirCruises at email@example.com