|By Paul Motter
Just before Bill Smith just left Crystal Cruises to take a job at the prestigious Virtuoso Travel consortium, we spoke to him about the New Crystal Policies.
There are several cruise lines categories that are familiar to regular cruisers, "mainstream," "premium," "upscale" and "luxury." At the top of the ladder, all of the luxury cruise lines shared one common attribute; "all-inclusive" pricing - meaning all drinks and crewmember gratuities were pre-paid and included in the cruise fare.
The problem was there was one luxury cruise line that did have this policy: Crystal Cruises. Although everything about Crystal qualified it as a luxury cruise line, drinks and gratuities were still charged separately - but that will change in early 2012.
Starting with the first transatlantic cruises to Europe next year, both Crystal Cruise ships will become "all-inclusive," meaning the cruise fare will now cover all beverages and crew gratuities onboard. We talked to Bill Smith, VP of Sales and Marketing for Crystal, about the upcoming changes.
FBN: Hello Bill. I want to start by saying I personally welcome this change at Crystal solely because it will make my job so much easier. I can now say "All luxury cruise lines share one attribute; the all-inclusive cruise fare."
Bill Smith (laughs): Yes, I understand. We have always been the asterisk in luxury cruise lines before.
Paul Motter: Bill, would you agree that all luxury cruise pricing had just become far too complicated; from "two for one cruise fares" to "free airfare" and "free hotel stays?" It seems impossible to compare the value among the current four luxury cruise lines (Crystal, Regent, Seabourn and Silversea). They all included something different with the cruise fare.
Bill Smith: I know exactly what you are saying. Crystal was the last luxury cruise line to charge separately for drinks and gratuities, but for the last two years we included a large "As you Wish Onboard Credit" (as much as $2000 per cruise) with every cruise which you could use for any onboard purchase you wanted. We thought this was the best way to offer value in cruising, but we are now seeing that a simple policy may be the better policy.
Paul Motter: I have seen that luxury cruisers love the convenience of not having to sign separately for items onboard during the cruise. Why does that make sense to certain cruisers even though it actually costs more in the end?
Bill Smith: Once again - simplicity. For example, we carry a lot of single ladies on our cruises, and many of them find it awkward to be handed a bill after every drink. Luxury cruisers like to feel at home on a ship, and the ability to just ask and receive something makes the experience more personal, like a friend's home or a private yacht. There is less awkwardness in a group of people.
Paul Motter: I can understand that. Would you say a similar awkwardness applies to gratuities?
Bill Smith: Absolutely - possibly even more! Is there anything more complicated than finding hundreds of dollars in cash on a cruise ship, then filling envelopes, and then having to find your waiter, Maitre D' and room steward just to give them your tip? This is a very complicated process, and luxury cruisers would rather not be bothered.
Paul Motter: The very process of tipping is awkward on all cruise ships, not just luxury ships, but do you think it will affect the performance of your servers not to be working for gratuities anymore?
Bill Smith: No, I really don't think so. Our crew is takes real pride in excellence in service as a Crystal tradition. I am sure it will stay that way even when the gratuities are paid by the cruise line instead of the guest.
Paul Motter: Will your guests have to sign for anything anymore?
Bill Smith: In the past they had to sign for drinks, and they had to sign to give the recommended gratuity in our specialty restaurants, but that will go away. You will still have to sign for shore excursions and spa treatments, and if you want to tip something extra it is still allowed, but certainly not obligatory or even expected.
Paul Motter: How do you think your change in policy will affect the luxury cruise sector?
Bill Smith: Well, keep in mind that we have a 65% loyalty rate on Crystal ships, so we never change anything too quickly. For example, we still have traditional dining but we now also offer open seating. When this new policy begins in 2012 I think people will see Crystal as the best value in luxury cruising. We will end the "As You Wish" credits, so our new inclusive cruise fares will be very enticing.
Paul Motter: You predict they will be very competitive.
Bill Smith: Let's be honest - it takes a lot longer to raise cruise fares than it does to lower them. The cruise industry was just recovering from 9/11 when we got hit with the 2008 recession. At Crystal we are already predicting a tough year for 2012 and we have priced accordingly.
Paul Motter: One of your competitors has gone much farther with inclusiveness. Regent includes some shore excursions, pre-cruise hotels, gratuities and drinks with the cruise fare. Do you think Regent has possibly gone too far?
Bill Smith: Well, I let Regent speak for itself, but I think the difference is in the onboard experience. We offer so much more in terms of entertainment, enrichment lectures, daily classes in music, art, languages, movies, etc. I suppose Regent sees shore excursions as a way to compete, but the Crystal experience is different from Regent.
Paul Motter: Crystal certainly does have a lot of shipboard activity - so your point is "Crystal clear." I just want to say that I welcome this change and wish you the best. Any last words?
Bill Smith: I just want to say that we are already seeing a positive response to this announcement, from our regular cruisers and from others. I believe a lot of new people will be meeting our regular Crystal cruisers next year.
New - Crystal Standby Fares
Are you looking for a summer cruise bargain - how does a luxury 12-night voyage on Crystal Cruises for as little as $2995 per person sound? This price is offered under the new "standby program" whereby Crystal cruisers can save as much as 75% over brochure prices. Like all standby fares, these cruises are based upon availability, requiring a $500 deposit per guest. The reservation will be confirmed on a "first requested, first confirmed" basis no earlier than 45 days prior to departure.
Standby fares are only eligible for new bookings as of April 7. The price is for cruise fare only and does not include air transportation, port, security and handling charges. The current "All Inclusive - As You Wish" spending credits, to be suspended early next year anyway, are also not a part of this program. Final payment is due within three days of confirmation. If you are not confirmed that deposit will be refunded, or it can be applied to another standby cruise.
Just between us - Crystal is a true luxury cruise line, but the two ships each have a much higher passenger capacity than the average luxury cruise ship. The chances that you will be confirmed are pretty high. I would jump on this opportunity to experience luxury cruising at a price that can't be beat.
You get access to all of the same incredible food, service and excellent onboard activities. Don't miss Nobu, the matchless Japanese restaurant with sushi bar for "all you can eat" award winning sushi at no added cost.
You can comment on Crystal Cruises new fare policies here: Crystal Cruises - New "Standby" Fares