Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Crystal Symphony - Goldring Travel's Pacific Exploration of Crystal Cruise's Luxury Experience - Part I

I analyze and opine not only on various cruise lines, but on specific aspects of those cruise lines based upon a literal "boat-load" of knowledge and in many instances it is, at least to me, beyond obvious that certain things will work or will not, are luxury touches or are not, are service failures or successes, etc.

In other words, I do not need to step in front of a car and experience its effect to know that it is smart to avoid contacting 3,000 pounds of metal barreling in on me. (Or, as I wrote the other day, to pay for $25,000 for a seven day cruise on the NCL Gem in order to know that the experience you will receive is not a luxury one; not even close.)

However, I have always asserted that there is nothing more important than first hand knowledge; experience, if you will.  It doesn't matter how much you read or if you book cruises on a particular cruise line, unless and until you have cruised on that line, a travel agent really doesn't have a complete "feel" for the product.

So as part of my education and working within the concept of "so many ships, so little time", I am hellbent on figuring out why Crystal Cruises, which is a fantastic product on paper and from the reviews and comments of my very loyal clients, just doesn't sell as well as I think it should.  And, to be sure, I am not looking for the problems, but rather what it is I can do to better understand and explain the product to potential guests.

As clients of mine are cruising on the Crystal Serenity in a suite, I will be cruising on the Crystal Symphony in two Veranda Cabins with my family cruising from Vancouver to Victoria, BC, then down to Seattle, Astoria, Oregon, San Francisco, Santa Barbara and disembarking in Los Angeles.  It is a great opportunity to later discuss the consistencies and differences between the two ships and accommodations.  But that is for another day.

At the outset I do want to comment on Crystal Cruises' pre-cruise experience from a guest's point of view.  It has been, for me, the best of any cruise line I have encountered...even Seabourn.  Why?  Because Crystal Cruises gives you a tremendous amount of information and does so in a fashion that you can either use it or ignore it, as you like.  Whether you want easy access to who the guest lecturers/topics are, or who the staff will be, which nights are formal nights, etc., it is right there for you

In addition, I find Crystal's interface for scheduling "open seating by reservation" times, specialty restaurant reservations, spa appointments and tours to be fantastic.  You can easily see what is available and at what time, overlay it with the ship's itinerary (including dining style for the evening) and then you are given a day-by-day graphically pleasing printout or .pdf file with all the information.  Decide you want to change something?  Not a problem at all.  Excellent.

Another small touch that was a bit disappointing for me, personally, but I believe to be totally appropriate and shows Crystal's focus on obtaining the highest guest satisfaction:  Because I am traveling on a discounted travel agent rate, I was not allowed to make any reservations or book a tour until two weeks prior to sailing.  That provides literally ever single regular paying guest the priority to book what they want. In the end I was able to make a reservation at Prego (the Italian specialty restaurant) and at Silk Road (the Asian restaurant overseen by Nobu) at acceptable times, but not really on the dates I wanted...but that is OK.  I was able to book my wife's massage at a good time on a good day, but not on the Sea Day and I was able to book my two tours.
  Speaking of tours, and I am not a big fan of ship's tours, Crystal Cruises offers a Volunteer tour (Voluntourism as they call it).  So my family, including my 15 and 11 year olds, will be helping to clean up Fort Stephens State Park during our afternoon time in Astoria, Oregon.  Excellent!!  We are also going to the Boeing Factory in Seattle.  I have been there on a VIP Tour during a previous trip to Seattle for the American Superyacht Forum a couple of years ago and think the kids will really enjoy it.  And, as we will be spending some time, pre-cruise in Seattle it seems like the thing to do.

One things I am looking forward to is the Vintage Room Dinner. It is a $210.00 per person private dining experience with promised to be exquisite wines.  This is something you can either buyout as a private event or you can book by the seat...and hope for 8 other people to also sign up for.  I am waiting, in hope, that this experience comes to pass.  (Note: I perceive this as markedly different from the Silversea experience as this is an orchestrated affair in a truly private setting on a - for now - pay-as-you-go cruise line rather than a dinner in a specialty restaurant.)

I will be doing some things individually and will report on them as well.  But I now go into this, my first Crystal cruise, well organized, well informed and looking forward to demystifying this small, and for some reason overlooked, luxury cruise experience.

Join the conversation in The Gold Standard Luxury Travel Forum.

If there is something you want me to look for, ask questions about, or just observe, please feel free to email me at eric@goldringtravel.com, call me at (877) 2G0-LUXURY in the U.S.; +44 20 8133 3450 in the U.K.; +61 7 3102 4685 in Australia; and +1 732-383-7398 elsewhere.