Along with announcing a long-awaited expansion of its core ocean brand last week, Crystal Cruises threw in several twists that will see a stable of new luxury travel products tagged with the Crystal moniker.
Ocean cruisers will get three new 1,000-passenger ships that will easily be the most spacious at sea.
But in a surprise move, Crystal also said it plans to extend its brand to a pair of new river cruise ships, a luxury yacht and a large commercial jet devoted to round-the-world tours.
In addition, Crystal will become the first established cruise line to sell residences on its ships, setting aside 48 top-deck cabins on each of its three new vessels for permanent ownership.
Taken together, the moves represent an avalanche of activity for a brand that has contented itself with two ships for most of its 25-year history. Agents said last week that the expansion had been a long time coming.
"This is sort of the payoff pitch for the patience and dedication of a lot of past passengers," said Paul Largay, a Virtuoso agent and president of Largay Travel in Waterbury, Conn.
He said that with the announced changes, Crystal will vault from the middle of the luxury pack to the lead.
"They're going to try to newly define what this luxury space is going to look like," Largay said. "One of the great characteristics of luxury is choice, and what's happened here is that they've given such a wonderful spectrum of luxurious choices that it will become the Cadillac of the industry."
Crystal's reinvention follows a change in ownership. Earlier this year, Genting Hong Kong completed a $550 million acquisition of the company from founding owners NYK.
Genting brings deep pockets through its affiliation with the Genting Group, which owns or runs casinos in Malaysia, the U.K., the Philippines and Las Vegas, among other places.
Genting Hong Kong alone brings to the table more than 20 years of cruise experience, having operated the pan-Asian Star Cruises brand. It also owns a 22% stake in Norwegian Cruise Line.
Building three new 100,000-gross-ton luxury ships will cost upward of $1 billion, based on prices for similar ships.
Genting chairman Lim Kok Thay said the potential returns go beyond the three vessels.
"Our intent is to make Crystal Cruises the core of what will become the world's premier luxury hospitality and lifestyle brand portfolio, not only for the immediate future but for years to come," he said.
At the very least, three ships will shore up Crystal's position against competitors, who have been cutting deals while Crystal stood pat with the 20-year-old Crystal Symphony and 12-year-old Crystal Serenity.
Next year alone, Regent Seven Seas Cruises will take delivery of the $450 million Seven Seas Explorer, and Seabourn will place the $270 million Seabourn Encore into service. Silversea Cruises has the $280 million Silver Muse under construction for 2017.
Playing from behind, it became important that Crystal find a yard that could deliver a vessel in 2018. Creatively, it choose Germany's Lloyd Werft, a refit and refurbishment specialist that did not have a long order book of new vessels to work through.
Its last major shipbuilding experience was in 2005, completing the Pride of America for Norwegian Cruise Line.
Crystal's letter of intent with Lloyd Werft includes not only the three ocean ships, but two river cruise vessels as well. As part of its luxury lifestyle expansion, Crystal plans to become the first ocean cruise line to own river cruise ships under the same brand.
Crystal president and CEO Edie Rodriguez said the two ships would sail in Europe and be ready for the 2017 season. She declined to say much more about them for now, citing competitive concerns.
Also in 2017, Crystal will enter the high-end air tours business with Crystal Luxury Air, using a Boeing 787 Dreamliner configured for 60 business class passengers doing 28-day globetrotting trips to deluxe resorts in hard-to-reach destinations.
In that market, Crystal will join companies like Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts and Abercrombie & Kent, both of which operate Boeing 757s in similar service.
Crystal also plans to take over a 62-passenger luxury yacht now sailing for Genting's Star Cruises brand. It will be refurbished and renamed the Crystal Esprit, with a maiden voyage in the Seychelles Islands set for Dec. 23.
All the new products were inspired by past guest suggestions, Rodriguez said.
"They told us this is what they want," she said. "They are spending dollars on other types of vacations, but they would prefer to experience the rest of the world in other segments in the Crystal style and fashion."
Bill Cooper, who heads Adventure Travels, a Frosch agency in Pompano Beach, Fla., said that as some of his clients age, they feel like they've been everywhere and done everything.
"One of our biggest problems is finding new destinations, finding new ports, finding new venues," he said. "This is what they want."
Another feature past passengers have lobbied for on Crystal is larger cabins. The new ships will have a minimum cabin size of 400 square feet, with 8-foot ceilings. The overall space ratio -- 100 gross tons of space per passenger -- will be by far the highest among cruise lines.
Uniquely, passengers will also be able to buy and furnish apartments on the new ships. The 48 apartments will offer top-deck views and 9-foot ceilings. Prices and sales arrangements have yet to be set, Rodriguez said.
In anticipation of growth, Crystal has opened a Miami office and reservations center and has gone on a hiring binge, adding a half-dozen new vice presidents.
Many, like Claudius Docekal, the new vice president for deployment, come from Rodriguez' previous employer, Azamara Club Cruises.
If there is a concern about Crystal's plans, it could be a question of whether the growth is too much all at once. Assuming that Crystal keeps its legacy fleet, the new ships will more than double its capacity.
Largay said he was confident Crystal would be able to fill its growing fleet.
"The question is what's the value proposition?" he said. "It's one thing to fill it, and it's another thing to fill it at the daily rate necessary to sustain the product."
He said Crystal's passengers are its best asset.
"What's been really incredible about Crystal to this point," Largay said, "is that despite the absence of newbuilds, they have still maintained their position and the tremendous loyalty of their passengers."