1. Its a Long Time From Now to Then
Crystal Cruises will not have a new ship until almost 2019. That means its product will not have a dramatic change for 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. And, let's not forget that Crystal Cruises has not firmly committed to more than one new ship. To the extent there is a commitment, Edie Rodriquez has admitted that Ships 2 and 3 won't be delivered until 2019 and/or 2020 at the earliest.
That is essentially 3.5 years with the same hardware (oceanview and veranda staterooms with a limited number of suites) and guest profile...which is upper premium to luxury; not exclusively luxury. And then there is potentially going to be either a transformation over the following two to three years as (five years from now) with Crystal eliminating its mixed category older ships (Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony) or Crystal expanding to five ships and selling two different products. (I won't eliminate the possibility of a transformation of the Crystal Serenity or Crystal Symphony so that they have more suites.)
It is a long time from now to then and I am concerned that the hype may well cause people to balk at sailing on Crystal now because of the intimidation factor, the dislike of such bold hype or a feeling of downgrading while they are excitedly waiting for the new ship(s).
Personally, with only one ship truly committed to and a long wait for that one, I believe a significant amount of focus needs to be made on the present excellent Crystal Cruise product. The reality is that there are some tremendous deals for late 2015 and early 2016 because sales are a bit soft.
2. Crystal Esprit Yacht Is Nice, But...
As I previously wrote, the acquisition of the Crystal Esprit from another Gentling HK enterprise that held it as a burdensome asset provided two solutions: Ridding one company of a problem and giving Crystal Cruises, which had had a bit of a stodgy reputation, a bit of flash.
However, and I know Edie Rodriguez loves the charter market, I predict this yacht is not going to be primarily for those individuals wanting a quite yacht-like holiday, but for the incentive market where corporations can charter the entire yacht. And that is where the practical problem lies.
I, personally, love the SeaDream Yacht Club ships and the overall product. However, because these small, 100 guest ships, are small, groups (family, partial charters, etc.) can radically change the individual cruiser's experience. On the even smaller Crystal Esprit the issue may be even more serious.
One other note, I recently had clients booked for a March 2016 cruise on Crystal in a Penthouse Suite with Veranda and another couple in a Penthouse. Crystal chartered out the entire ship...and cancelled their cruise with minimal compensation to the guests no less. Unless Crystal installs a "no cancellation for charter" policy and also has a proactive notification of partial charters (with the ability to cancel without penalty if that were to occur anytime after booking the cruise) I would be extremely cautious about booking this product for your quiet yacht holiday.
3. Crystal River Cruises May Be Interesting, But...
While I understand the concept of not losing guests to other cruise lines, I also understand that (1) the river cruise product is significantly different than the ocean cruise product, (2) the river cruise market is - to my mind - probably at or beyond its saturation point (as soft sailing now exist that never did), (3) the onshore experiences are far more important overall than the onboard experiences; and, (4) those onshore experiences are quickly becoming degraded because there are just too many river cruise ships coming into these small, quaint, towns to the point that tourists are overwhelming the local populations.
And, of course, there is another factor: Most people that take a river cruise in an area are not going to be repeating it anytime soon so with a very limited number of river cruise ships in a very limited number of areas, the concept of keeping the Crystal guest with Crystal when they river cruise may be a one shot deal (though some may be better than none).
There are some great luxury products out there already. I enjoy both Scenic and AmaWaterways, with AmaWaterways having far more diverse itineraries. And there is Tauck, Uniworld and a few others. I am very interested to see what Crystal Cruises is going to be doing to differentiate itself or if it is planning to just rely on similar formula, brand recognition and guest loyalty.
Yes, if you want to get into the river cruise business you have to start somewhere, but this a relatively small investment with plans that do not, as of yet, seem to speak too much into the future.
Crystal Cruises presently has a wonderful product that people need to experience to appreciate. I have sailed on Crystal Cruises and I regularly book my clients on Crystal. It has the best overall Onboard Education and Lecture Programs, Ballroom Dancing, a fantastic Cigar Lounge, Volun-tourism shore excursions, Nobu at Sea and other great Dining Experiences, a well-trained and enthusiastic staff and crew all in an inclusive (beverages and gratuities are included in your fare) experience.
So while all of the recent hype has been about the Hardware, I will continue to focus on the Software and cruise experience that presently exists and not chase away those who are not of the "suite or better" economies.
There is plenty of time to see how this all plays out. But there is a time to take a Crystal Cruise right now!
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