Crystal river cruises to emphasize lengthy port stays

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Crystal's all-suite river ships will enter service in 2017.
Crystal's all-suite river ships will enter service in 2017.

ONBOARD THE CRYSTAL SYMPHONY — Crystal plans to differentiate its Europe river cruises from competitors in part by crafting longer itineraries that travel a shorter distance and offer longer port stays, said the line’s vice president of deployment, Claudius Docekal.

The line, for the most part, would forego the practice of bracketing the river cruise with pre- and post-cruise hotel stays. “You will see us offer longer cruises and use our ship as the hotel,” he said in an interview during the annual Sales Achievement Gala for top producers.

And, instead of offering a 14-day Amsterdam-to-Budapest itinerary, for example, the line would sell a 14-day cruise covering only a segment of the route.

“We’re going to slow things down a bit, plan a less ambitious schedule,” he said. In practical terms, the schedule would build in what Docekal said was “buffer time” to account for delays on the river, such as at locks.

But it could also enable Crystal to offer passengers longer stays, evenings and overnights in ports.

The line has not released specific itineraries or prices. River cruise bookings open Dec. 1 for Crystal Society members.

Docekal was most recently at Azamara Club Cruises, which advanced the practice of overnights and evening stays in ocean ports, and he was enthusiastic about incorporating the concept on the Crystal river ships. A two-day stay in Antwerp, for example, would enable passengers to experience more of the Belgian city, perhaps going to a beer hall in the evening, or visit Brussels.

“In the end, you may get one or two less ports with us, but you’re going to get a more meaningful experience,” he said.

The pair of ships, which will each carry 140 passengers in all-suite accommodations, will be constructed at the Lloyd Werft Bremerhaven yard in Germany and launched in March 2017. Specific layout details have not been finalized.

Agents at the gala peppered Docekal and other executives with questions such as whether the ships would have connecting cabins, how many dining venues the ships would have, and about the onboard entertainment and enrichment programs.

One seller asked what Crystal would do when high or low water levels make the rivers unnavigable. Often river lines will switch passengers to another vessel or put passengers up in hotels and switch to coach transportation.

Docekal said that agents should communicate with clients during the sales process to raise their awareness of the possibility of a disrupted river cruise.

“We will find a solution where guests don’t have to move ships,” he said. “We will definitely have a very good alternative in our back pocket, because we know it does happen every so often.”

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