Tom Stieghorst
Tom Stieghorst

Everyone in the cruise business is watching with fascination as Crystal Cruises transforms itself from an ocean cruise company into a multi-product luxury travel purveyor.

One of the best moves Crystal has made recently was hiring Christian Sauleau as senior vice president of operations, a role he has also filled at Regent Seven Seas Cruises and, most recently, Silversea Cruises.

Crystal president Edie Rodriguez explained at a recent press conference at Cruise360 in Vancouver that Sauleau's role will be to focus on the operational details as Crystal ventures into new territory.

That used to be the role of Thomas Mazloum, who was promoted to COO last year.

Bringing in Sauleau to keep the Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity running smoothly will preserve the line's sterling reputation, and free Mazloum to oversee some of its new ventures.

One of those is the restoration of the SS United States, the aging liner that had its glory days in the 1950s and is now docked in Philadelphia, where Crystal executives gathered recently as part of an ongoing evaluation into the feasibility of reconditioning the ship.

"Rather than her sail off to India for scrap metal, we decided, let's do a technical feasibility study, take an option on her and see if we can restore her to the grandeur of her heyday   obviously with some modernity figured in," Rodriguez said.

Of all the bets Crystal has made, this seems to me the one least likely to pay off. Crystal is paying the maintenance costs for nine months while it takes a deeper look, but the cost of restoring the ship has been estimated at $700 million.

The SS United States has myriad issues, having not sailed since the 1960s. Restoring it would gobble management time, even if Crystal finds a project manager as capable as Sauleau for the job.

Crystal already has two cruise ships and a cruising yacht to manage, and will soon have a river cruise ship, an expedition yacht, four more river ships, three cruse ships and two different luxury air products to juggle.

With all that, the smartest thing for Crystal would be to pass on restoring the SS United States to keep its attention focused on all the other balls it already has in the air.

Christian Sauleau has been tapped as senior vice president of operations to oversee the Crystal Symphony and the Crystal Serenity. A previous version of this article mentioned the Crystal Harmony, a ship no longer in Crystal's fleet.

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