Crystal Cruises Redefined

| Thursday, 05 Jan. 2012
Papa, our butler on Crystal Cruises: Now all-inclusive for tips and drinks.

Crystal Cruises Redefined Crystal Cruises - the luxury cruise line that held onto the traditional style of cruising longer than any other, is now changing its policies to coincide with other luxury cruise lines, now including all gratuities and beverages in its cruise fare. As a result the line is seeing record bookings for the 2012 cruise season already.

Crystal is a very unique cruise offering. The line specializes in luxury cruise style; meaning the finest food and excellent service, but its ships do not fit today's standard definition of luxury cruise ships. The other well-known luxury cruise lines; Seabourn, Silversea and Regent feature much smaller ships, and they have always had "all-inclusive" pricing meaning your gratuities are included in the cruise fare as well as all of your beverages; wine with dinner, cocktails, bottled water, beer and special coffees.

The smaller ships of Seabourn and Silversea average about 10,000 to 30,000-tons and 200 - 450 passengers per ship. These sizes generally result in a higher staff to passenger ratio, which usually translates into better service. Crystal's two ships are different, the older Crystal Symphony is 51,000 tons and carries 940 passengers, while the Serenity is 69,000 tons and carries 1050 passengers. Regent is someplace between Crystal and Seabourn in terms of size and capacity.

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But up to and throughout 2011 Crystal offered luxury style food and service, but held onto certain cruise traditions like formal dress nights, always maintaining separate early and late seating dining times, and not including gratuities or beverages in the cruise fare.

Although they were different, Crystal still had many devoted followers who appreciated the fact that Crystal chose not to follow the trend of other luxury lines. These people did not want to go full-time country club casual in dress, and were not overly concerned with single open seating dining times.

But market research has shown that the success of Seabourn and Silversea has a lot to do with including tips and beverages in the cruise fare - even though when doing the math one finds the policy is not a value proposition. In fact, many people who sail on Seabourn, for example, will tell you they don't drink much alcohol, but they still enjoy the fact that they do not have to sign for a drink every time they order one.

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When it comes to gratuities, Crystal believed that service people deserved to be tipped by the customers they served. There was no middle man (the cruise line) between the staff and their patrons. In fact, this is the fairest way to treat the staff as long as you have guests who are willing to pay gratuities. But there are arguments for the other side as well; not everyone can be counted on to tip in all situations, and it is much easier for the customer to leave a tip if they are not required to find an envelope and the cash to fill it and then to go through the awkward process of handing it to the server.

And so - as of January 2012 Crystal is now an all-inclusive cruise line in the style of other luxury lines like Silversea, Seabourn and Regent. Gratuities and all beverages are now included in the cruise fare. Other costs such as shore tours and spa treatments are still additional, as they are on all cruise lines, except Regent which includes a number of shore excursions in its cruise fare.

As a result, Crystal just announced that it has closed 2011 with the highest ever booking week for the month of December ever. It appears the new inclusive policy of Crystal is already a resounding success. In fact, many loyal Seabourn and other luxury cruise line cruisers have noted in message boards that they would not sail on a cruise line that did not have open seating dining and beverages included in the fare.

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It now appears that many loyal luxury cruise line fans want to try Crystal for the first time, and I predict they will be very happy with what they find.

I am personally a big fan of Crystal. I have tried all of the luxury cruise lines and I believe the food on Crystal is the most pleasing to my palate by far. I also found the onboard experience of Crystal to be the most interesting with the most extensive activities of all the luxury cruise lines by far; a movie cinema showing recent release films several times each day as well as hosting several onboard lecturers for a variety of topics; history, politics, health, sports, lifestyle, etc on each cruise.

Both Crystal ships offer daily language and music classes as well as a variety of arts and crafts and computer skills classes. There are also two alternative dining venues on each ship with the best in Asian fusion and Italian cooking; both of them created by well-known restaurateurs; Nobu for Asian fusion and Piero Selvaggio (of the Valentino Restaurant Group in Los Angeles) for the Italian restaurant onboard.

As far as I am concerned, while I have enjoyed my cruises on the other luxury cruise lines, especially when it comes to exotic destinations, I enjoyed my time at sea aboard Crystal Cruises more than any other cruise line I can remember. In my book they are now the best in luxury cruising at sea, and I believe they will be giving the other luxury cruise lines a run for their money.

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