As Crystal Cruises closes, guests and agents could lose millions, but look back with emotion

Longtime customers who had deferred deposits for future cruises as the Covid-19 pandemic continued and travel advisors who booked itineraries, sometimes half a dozen times, risk losing millions of dollars. as Crystal Cruises is apparently being liquidated by an administrator. Its US headquarters in Miami closed this week despite being in a complex owned by a company linked to its parent company. Still, many are hoping the beloved brand will make a comeback. At the same time, they are in mourning. “Right now is like the death of a best friend,” an agent said.

“They set a new standard for luxury,” said Anne Scully, partner at EmbarkBeyond, a high-end travel agency. After Royal Viking Line ships were sold to other cruise lines in the late 1980s, Japan’s NYK Line launched Crystal Cruises in 1990 and advisors and consumers say it quickly became Standard. It was voted the best large-ship ocean cruise line every year from 1996 to 2015 by readers of Travel + Leisure magazine. It was sure Conde Nast Traveler’s Gold List every year except one from 1997 to 2020.

“It was if they said what the CEO of a Fortune 500 company would want, and they did,” said an adviser, who asked not to be named because he has several clients who owe him. “hundreds of thousands of dollars” for cruises that will probably never happen.

“You could order all-you-can-eat cans of caviar, but it was very fancy. It wasn’t flashy. When they started, it became ‘it’ vacation for the old money from west coast, studio executives, the original money that was behind the Silicon Valley internet companies,” another adviser said. “Half the crew knew your name from the first night , and the next year when you came back, they not only remembered your name, but they remembered your favorite drink. It was a level of service that I had never seen anywhere else. “

The line was originally headquartered in a prime Century City skyscraper in Los Angeles, although several advisers said the line laid off the last West Coast staff member as Covid shut down the cruise industry. “You could see that (the owner) no longer had the commitment.”

While Crystal’s downfall is blamed on the failure of a German shipyard that was also part of parent company Genting Hong Kong’s holdings, several agents say cracks were showing before her public troubles.

“The crew and food were wonderful, but the ships were no match for the many new ships that are out there,” said Grace DeVita, owner of Post Haste Travel.

Even before the pandemic, several agents say longtime customers who sailed only with Crystal returned from trips asking to try other lines.

Mary Jean Tully, founder and CEO of Tully Luxury Travel, said she hopes this is not the end. Crystal’s top-earning travel agency and a powerhouse in the luxury cruise segment for nearly two decades, Tully said: “If anybody’s smart, they’d get the crew and the mailing list. “

According to industry sources, Crystal Cruises could be taken over in its entirety by a private equity firm. There are two older liners; a new expedition ship launched last year, river cruise ships that operate in Europe and a Boeing 777 in VIP configuration.

Sycamore Partners, which bought Azamara from Royal Caribbean Group for $201 million, is cited as a potential suitor.

Ovidio’s Manfredi Lefebvre, who founded Silversea Cruises before selling it to Royal Caribbean, was reportedly in talks to buy Crystal last year. However, it is unclear which assets were of interest.

A source said Genting may also seek to reconstitute the brand.

Some say other river lines are more likely to buy the river ships, the expedition ship will go to another luxury line in what is considered the hottest segment of the industry, and Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity will eventually be scrapped or sold to smaller lines. that operate in the Mediterranean and other remote areas of the world. Each had significant improvements about four years ago.

If Crystal gets a new owner who wants to relaunch immediately, advisers say it will have to rebuild its credibility. “Over the past two years, they’ve ruined all the loyalty they’ve built up over 30 years,” an adviser said. Another called the way the company ended its cruises to Bimini, Bahamas, a “disgrace”.

“You had guests in their 80s on board who had five and six suitcases for two months at sea. They had to go by ferry (from Bimini) to Fort Lauderdale, and when they got there, it was chaos. there were no porters.only the hotels they arranged were in miami.People who booked flights out of fort lauderdale were told if they didn’t want to go to miami they were on their own. You would have thought that some of the executives might have come in. They were guests who spent millions of dollars with the company,” an adviser said.

Officers also complained that executives provided little information. Another said: “The company did nothing and we couldn’t get any information. Still, agents were able to transfer customers to other luxury cruise ships. “A lot of our customers sail half the year. They didn’t want to go home.”

DeVita and Tully said other lines rolled out the red carpet for Crystal Serenity guests who wanted to keep cruising. Barry Shulman of Las Vegas, who was sailing Serenity with his wife, said Regent Seven Seas Cruises had arranged accommodation for two nights in Barbados before boarding one of its ships.

Scully, who had no clients on recent trips, said, “It really proves why you need a good travel consultant. Anyone who booked directly with Crystal was on their own.”

Several advisors say clients could lose millions of dollars. An adviser said he stopped booking the line last year after: ‘It was clear they were delaying promised refunds’. Others said they would only allow customers to book if they used credit cards. Agents, who receive their commissions after a cruise has ended, had in some cases booked and re-booked the same customers multiple times as the pandemic continued. It is unlikely that they will ever receive the money that is owed to them.

“No one realized how long it was going to be when it started. Crystal and others were offering incentives to transfer payments from canceled cruises into future bookings, giving bonuses. People just thought: ” It’s a good thing. sooner or later so why not get some extra credits,” one adviser said.

There’s a lot of money at stake. “It’s not the $299 three-day cruises you see advertised on TV,” an industry insider said. World cruises and other exotic itineraries, which last for months, can cost customers hundreds of thousands of dollars per crossing.

Companies begin to sell their future cruises up to two years in advance. “When you’re cruising around the world, you get the first rights to book your cabin when they put the next one up for sale,” says an adviser. “You book it because if you don’t you’ll be kicked out. Customers want the same cabin so they can have the same staff. They become friends with their stewards and waiters. They share photos of their families. is almost like a meeting.”

While customers who have used credit cards to book Crystal since the line restarted sailings last year may be able to get refunds from the issuer and the Federal Maritime Commission requires protections for Cruisers departing from U.S. ports, those early in the pandemic opting to roll over more funds instead of getting a refund are likely to lose their money, multiple advisers say. Also, in the short term, travel advisors who have spent the past two years booking and rebooking cruises, making connections, arranging shore excursions, advising customers of ever-changing Covid restrictions.

Anyone who had reservations on now canceled future cruises had no money at stake, an adviser said. He said that with ships remaining inactive, Crystal was allowing customers to rebook without a deposit.

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