High-end and all-inclusive, this 62-passenger smooth operator visits exotic locales in the lap of luxury. * Goes to: Europe, the Middle East & Africa.
Snapshot: Since it was founded in 1990, Crystal Cruises has been a beloved high-end line, with ships in the 800- to 1,000-passenger range, twice the size of the ships of near-peers Silversea, Seabourn and Regent Seven Seas. Crystal’s strength has always been their wide scope of dining choices (with Asian and Italian specialty restaurants before everyone else jumped on that boat) and activities (offering onboard computer workshops before such things were popular). They have also always excelled in their lecture program, with most cruises featuring numerous experts giving talks about the destination as well as other topics. Now Crystal is taking what it does best and adapting it to a small upscale expedition-style ship called CRYSTAL ESPRIT, the focus of this review. It was built in 1989 and then purchased by Star Cruises in 1994 and known as the MEGASTAR TAURUS (a private vessel for Star’s parent company Genting’s high-roller casino clients) until its recent conversion to ESPRIT.
In mid 2015, Crystal was bought by Genting Hong Kong and soon after in a series of announcements outlined a new chapter for the company, an aggressive expansion program that months later was watered down. Currently, the new offerings include the 62-passenger expedition-style ESPRIT, which debuted in the Seychelles in December 2015, and for now three river “yachts,” including a pair of brand new vessels slated to launch by 2017: the 110-passenger CRYSTAL BACH and CRYSTAL MAHLER will cruise the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers (two more new river yachts are planned for 2018 and another pair at an unspecified date). The 158-passenger CRYSTAL MOZART river yacht (a 1987-built ship formerly operated by Peter Deilmann and TUI Cruises) debuted for Crystal in Europe in July 2016.
Crystal currently operates a 12-passenger private jet and says they are adding a Boeing 777 for luxury air trips in 2017. To join the ESPRIT, Crystal has plans for three new expedition ships to start sailing in 2019, 2020 and 2021, respectively. Down the road, Crystal wants to build a trio of new 1,000-passenger luxury ships to sail in polar regions; they’ve changed their target date several times, and are currently shooting for a 2022 launch.
Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers: CRYSTAL ESPRIT (built 1989 & 62 passengers)
Passenger Profile: Well-to-do couples 40s on up, with some senior singles and families during summers and holidays, from North America mainly, plus a sprinkling from the UK, Europe and Asia. Many have cruised on Crystal’s larger ships.
Passenger Decks: 4 (no elevators)
Price: $$ Expensive
Included Features: Just about everything — wine, spirits, soft drinks, tips, watersports, one excursion in every port, WiFi (an hour a day), self-serve laundry, butler service, and 24-hour in-room dining from the restaurant menu.
- Winters, 7-night Seychelles Islands round-trip from Mahe, Seychelles, calling on St. Anne Island; La Passe, la Digue Island; Baie Ste. Anne, Praslin Island; Laraie Bay, Curieuse Island; Anse Saint Jose, Curieuse Island; Cousin Island; Aride Island; Big Sister Island; and Desroches Island. These cruises are packaged with a 2-night hotel stay in Dubai before the cruise.
- Spring, Summer and Fall, 7-night Adriatic Sea between or round-trip from mostly Venice, Dubrovnik and/or Athens, with various combinations of ports that may include Rovinj, Sibenik, Trogir, Vis, Hvar, Split, Zadar, Opatija, and Korcula, Croatia; Kotor, Montenegro; Piran, Slovenia; and Corfu, Parga, Itea, Hydra, and Navplion, Greece. Each of the 7-night cruises can be combined with the following one to create a 14-night cruise without repeating ports.
- December, 9-, 10- and 11-night Middle East round-trip from Dubai, calling on Khasab and Muscat, Oman; Doha, Qatar; and Sir Bani Yas Island and Abu Dhabi, UAB.
When to Go? ESPRIT does its Europe cruises in the summer and the Middle East/Africa itineraries in the winter months.
Cabins: Most of the rooms on the all-suite ship are 280-square-foot Yacht Suites with a queen-size bed, small sitting area with a sofa bed (can be used for a third passenger), full-height hanging closet, and very nice bathrooms with double sinks, rain showers and natural stone flooring. The single 515-sq. ft owner’s suite has a separate dining room with four-seat dining table. None of the suites have balconies and none are wheelchair accessible. There are two self-service laundry rooms.
Public Rooms: The Cove Lounge is the yacht’s main entertainment spot, where you can watch a movie or live sporting event by day, and in the evening enjoy a drink while a piano player/singer provides background music. There’s a mini casino and the lovely outdoor Sunset Bar on Deck 5 speaks for itself. There’s a small pool and two hot tubs on Deck 5, as well as a steam room, sauna and a small gym with a treadmill, exercise bike, elliptical machines, Kinesis machines and free weights. You’ll find a micro spa/salon on Deck 3.
Dining: Four venues include The Yacht Club restaurant, which is the ship’s main dining room for breakfast, lunch and dinner; menus incorporate local ingredients in many dishes. It has large windows and a chic color scheme of steel greys and sharp blues, and tables are set with Riedel crystal, fine china and French linens. Seating is open and there are lots of tables for two. The adjacent outdoor Patio Café at the stern offers great views and waiter-served light meals at breakfast and lunch, when you can choose from interesting salads, cold cuts, cheese and pastries. On Deck 5 near the pool during the day,The Grill offers burgers, wraps and international “street food” reflecting the itinerary. The Compass Room is a small reservations-only specialty dining venue for wine and food pairings, ideal for private parties. Grazers can always stop by the Pantry, a self-serve pit stop on Deck 2 open 24 hours a day with light food and drinks.
Activities & Entertainment: An ESPRIT cruise is meant to be active and adventurous (note, there are no elevators on the ship), with adult toys including a two-passenger submarine, four 10-passenger zodiacs for special excursions, and a 12-passenger Wider 32-foot yacht tender for special boating adventures (all complimentary except for sub). Watersports equipment is carried on board and easily accessible from the stern marina, from water skis to wake boards, kayaks, jet skis, fishing, and snorkel equipment. There are also a few bicycles passengers can use in port. On the cerebral side, on some cruises destination experts will be on board to present talks. Evenings, it’s drinks and chat with fellow guests.
Along the Same Lines: SeaDream Yacht Club.
Contact: Crystal Cruises, 11755 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 900, Los Angeles, CA 90025; 1-310-785-9300 or www.crystalyachtcruises.com.