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TRAVEL WEEKLY: The reborn Crystal cruise line has won over its past devotees

By Andrea Zelinski | 05-28-2024 |

Press & Media

Closing a booking on the reborn Crystal cruise line was trying at first, said Diego Riveron, a luxury travel advisor with Luxury Cruise Connections.

Guests who had lost money when the line's predecessor, Crystal Cruises, collapsed in 2022 harbored animosity for the former brand, he said. And new clients were hesitant to book trips on the line's 20- and nearly 30-year-old vessels.

But almost a year after A&K Travel Group relaunched the Crystal brand with renovated ships and doled out future cruise credits to past passengers hurt by its predecessor's collapse, travel advisors said their bookings are healthy and their clients are content.

"It was a tough sell at the beginning," Riveron said. Now, "they're all excited about the new product. They're curious and they definitely do want to use their future cruise credit that they were offered."

Mary-Jean Tully, founder and CEO of Tully Luxury Travel and a top producer for Crystal Cruises for nearly three decades, said all of her clients are satisfied with the brand.

"Every single one of our clients that have gone on Crystal has been extremely happy with the product," she said. "They love the crew, they love the food, the service and everything that Crystal has done to the ships. We consistently are sending our clients back, and once they're on, they're rebooking again, so this is very nice to see."

Dennis Nienkerk, a luxury advisor with Dallas-based Strong Travel Services, said he never even ran into hesitancy from clients about trying out the reborn line.

"For the most part, those old Crystal clients were so loyal that they were desperate to get back onboard and give it a whirl," he said. "They have not been disappointed."

A&K changed the narrative

A&K Travel Group bought Crystal Cruises' name, its customer list and its two oceangoing ships in 2022 after Crystal's previous owner, Genting Hong Kong, ceased operations. But guests and travel advisors had a difficult time at first decoupling their frustrations with the old brand from the new one.

Changing that was a major mission once Crystal relaunched, said Jacqueline Barney, senior vice president of global marketing for the line.

"We were really focused at that time on turning around consumer and trade sentiment," Barney said about last summer, when Crystal relaunched its ships in the Mediterranean. "Now we're at a point where that noise has simmered."

Now, the ships are sold out over the holidays, and other voyages are fully booked, Barney said. Guests have also booked closer-in, such as five months in for an exotic destination instead of the typical 12 months, she said. This month, she said, people were booking cruises just a few weeks before departure.

The line has seen strong demand for Alaska, along with strength in its New England, Caribbean and North America cruises. More than 75% of its clientele is sourced from North America, Barney said, and Crystal is looking to build offices in the U.K., Monaco, Brazil and Mexico, among other places.

Riveron said that a key to the brand's success was offering future cruise credits to customers who lost money in the collapse of the original Crystal.

Those who had a verified claim in the Crystal Cruises LLC case could apply for a future cruise credit valued at the outstanding balance owed minus any payout they received from the insolvency proceedings.

The credit was split into five equal installments that must be used on Crystal Serenity or Crystal Symphony cruises departing by Dec. 31, 2025.

"If it wasn't for that, I don't think I would have had practically any bookings from old Crystal clients," he said.

An advantage of being owned by A&K Travel Group is the potential synergy with its sister brands: luxury tour operator Abercrombie & Kent, Sanctuary Retreats and Ecoventura.

Crystal plans to offer Abercrombie & Kent overland tour add-ons to cruises but is working with all three brands to marry their products with the cruise line. Crystal plans to reveal details of those efforts later this year.

Meanwhile, the line is building out specialty cruises, such as a golf-themed voyage on July 18 from Lisbon to Dover, England, with golf instructors David Leadbetter and Roberto Borgatti.

Another cruise commemorates the 80th anniversary of D-Day by tracing the path of Allied forces during World War II, sailing on Sept. 18 from Dover to Rouen, France. Other add-ons in the works include VIP pre- and post-cruise access to events, like Broadway shows.

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