Travel agents said client reaction has been mixed in response to Crystal Cruises’ new Crystal Esprit, the luxury yacht that will be the line’s first addition to its two-ship fleet in more than a decade when it launches in December.
The 31-suite Esprit begins operations with a series of predominantly nine-day itineraries in the Seychelles islands off the eastern coast of Africa.
Some agents said it represents something fresh and different for well-traveled cruise customers to try. Others said older customers have not been willing to travel a long distance for a relatively short cruise.
“Our clientele when it comes to Crystal are 60 to 80 [years old],” said Rachel Zeitchik, an agent specializing in FIT travel at Alice Travel, Fairfield, N.J. “They’re retirees. If they’re going that far, it’s going to be the long, exotic itineraries.”
Crystal CEO Edie Rodriguez said last month that Crystal was pleased so far with bookings for the ship. “We have closed many full-ship charters. We are sold out on many sailings,” she said.
Rodriguez also noted that Crystal unveiled the concept in mid-July, and sales have been open to the general public only since Sept. 1.
The luxury yacht is the first step in what Crystal hopes will be a shift in its brand image from a luxury cruise line to a more general purveyor of luxury travel experiences. In addition to the yacht, Crystal is planning an expansion into the river cruise business in 2017 and also is crafting a luxury air tour product using two jet aircraft, including a custom Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
Some agents said sales are going well for the Crystal Esprit.
“I’ve had bookings on the Esprit so as far as my clients are concerned, there definitely is interest,” said Leslie Fambrini, owner of Personalized Travel Consultants in Los Altos, Calif. Fambrini said the ship’s summer itineraries in the Mediterranean have garnered the most attention, with clients tending to combine seven-day cruises with other land vacation options.
“The length of the cruise is perfect to anchor the itinerary, and then from there they jump off to go east or go west into Europe,” Fambrini said. “The fact that it is seven days is enticing people to be creative.”
Fambrini said some of her top clients were the first to book. “They’re extremely well traveled,” she said. “It’s something fresh and new and an itinerary that’s a little unique.”
After a transition cruise from the Seychelles in April, the Esprit will make its summer home mainly in the Adriatic on a series of seven-night sailings between Venice and Dubrovnik, Croatia, that can also be combined into 14-night itineraries.
The 3,300-ton yacht will be able to sail easily among the islands and coves of the Dalmatian coast, a popular yachting haven.
But some clients would like a more varied set of choices, Zeitchik said, adding, “It’s the same itinerary over and over again. It doesn’t give us a lot to work with.”
Zeitchik also said that her longstanding Crystal customers are accustomed to a 1,000-passenger ship and are not necessarily looking for something as small as the Esprit.
She also said the lack of balcony cabins was a drawback for luxury sales.
The Esprit was formerly used by the Star Cruises subsidiary of Genting Hong Kong, Crystal’s new owner. It will be outfitted with some high-end adventure gear such as a two-person submarine and four 10-passenger Zodiacs for special excursions.
“It looks like it’s for the younger [travelers], maybe 40s and 50s, people who are still very active,” said Theresa Lock, owner of Air Sea Travel in Upland, Calif. “And it looks beautiful. If I were younger and richer, I’d be jumping on it.”