Crystal president ready for Serenity

ruise editor Rebecca Tobin caught up with Crystal Cruises president Gregg Michel in Phoenix as he was finishing a U.S. tour to promote the line's new ship, the Crystal Serenity.

Travel Weekly:Has the war impacted your sales?

Gregg Michel: Overall, our European cancellations have not been abnormal. They fit the typical pattern of cancellations before final payment is due.

However, [there's] not a lot [of new bookings] coming in for 2003 European cruises. We had some increases for the Crystal Serenity and some for the Crystal Symphony's [Baltic voyages], but for the most part it's been flat.

TW:How have travel agents and their clients responded to the cancellation insurance?

Michel: The new cancellation penalty has been a good psychological and practical tool for agents. We've had many guests upgrade their insurance. Others have maintained their regular travel insurance, aware that we take care of them if we have to make a drastic itinerary change.

We had developed this post-9/11, so it's really a matter of just dusting it off. It's an endorsement from us of travel and cruising.

TW:What kind of endorsement?

Michel: We're saying, "Go ahead and book that part of the trip. We have confidence in our program, you can, too." I think it helps the agent to endorse the whole thing, to say, "Hey, look, if you're really worried, Crystal offers this."

TW:What's the status of the Crystal Serenity?

Michel: We're ramping up for our July inaugural events. Our vice president of food and beverage is working closely with [celebrity chef] Nobu Matsuhisa to develop [the entire] culinary program we have scheduled for our newest restaurant, Silk Road.

TW:What else is new and different about this ship?

Michel: The Serenity will be, at 68,000 tons, 38% larger than our existing ships, but it will carry only 12% more guests. So the passenger-to-space ratio is climbing dramatically.

There will be the Studio, a hands-on workshop area for our lecture series. It'll be a kind of lab setting. Our Vintage room will be available for wine tasting, or, when we have our guest chefs, for food tastings. The spa will be some 60% larger.

In accommodations, 85% of the suites will have verandas. We'll have no obstructed staterooms. And that'll go a long way toward satisfying guests.

TW:How are bookings, so far, for the Serenity?

Michel: Overall, it brings 58% more capacity to our fleet.

We have very good load factors for the cruises throughout the inaugural year. We are fighting, of course, to a certain degree, the uncertainty regarding travel.

That's why it's important we stay out there with these kinds of promotions, keep the Crystal name out there.

TW:What trends are you seeing in the luxury market?

Michel: We see that people really want to learn and experience more. I think our Crystal Visions program -- that's our lecture series -- really speaks to that. We just introduced French- and Spanish-language classes on our world cruise, and the response is fabulous.

Health and fitness is another area, and that's why we committed the funds to the [refurbishment of the] Harmony and the space on the Serenity.

And service: They want value, but they're willing to pay for service.

TW:What's the most frequent question asked of you these days?

Michel: I think people ask about safety. They want to be comforted, and sometimes I'm asked what specifically we're doing. Or a lot of times our past guests will say: "Well, we see you're asking for a second picture ID coming off and on the ship, and we think that's great."

They'll ask about crew on the Serenity. We're bringing about 30% to 35% of the crew off each [of our other vessels] to the Serenity. With the training they've had and with 70% of the crew existing, we feel very confident.

Harmony gets a spruce-up

LOS ANGELES -- A multimillion-dollar renovation improved the chi of the Crystal Harmony.

The ship's redesigned spa area was "designed in accordance with the principles of feng shui, the ancient practice of balance and harmony," according to Crystal.

The spa now includes a canopied sun deck, where passengers can sit before or after their treatments, seven treatment rooms and a larger fitness center.

The Harmony also features a Connoisseur Club cigar bar, which previously was only on its sister ship, the Symphony.

The ship's Palm Court, an open lounge used for afternoon teas and the captain's parties, and the Galaxy Lounge performance space were freshened up.

Both spaces were redone with new soft goods, including carpeting and cocktail tables. New wicker chairs were placed in the Palm Court, and the Galaxy Lounge was outfitted with new window treatments and stage curtains. -- R.T.

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