Q&A with Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises’ Mark Spillane
By Anne Kalosh.
Quirkycruise.com spoke with Mark Spillane, Manager, Sales & Marketing, for Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises. This was the first brand extension after Crystal Cruises was acquired by Genting Hong Kong, which also owns Asia’s Star Cruises and Dream Cruises. Under Genting’s ownership, Crystal began operating the luxurious yacht Crystal Esprit and is building the 200-passenger Crystal Endeavor, to enter service in 2020. Two more expedition new builds are planned.
QC: Tell us a bit about yourself.
Mark Spillane: I worked at Silversea, another luxury cruise line, for three years and came to Crystal last year. I’m fortunate to have the expedition background from Silversea, and Crystal Endeavor will be our first expedition yacht. There’s a lot that goes into that, and having that insight is great to make sure we offer our guests a true luxury experience.
QC: What are your responsibilities?
Mark Spillane: I oversee a lot of different departments. My main focus is sales and marketing, but I do sit on the itinerary planning team and I work closely with the on-board team to see if there are things we could be doing shore-side to further enhance our product.
QC: Have you sailed Crystal Esprit? What’s it like?
Mark Spillane: Twice, in the West Indies. One of my favorite things starts right when guests get to Esprit, the embarkation process. Typically, on a cruise ship you arrive at a terminal and go through security, and you may have a line — not so much with Crystal. But with Esprit, you arrive and are greeted in the reception area with a glass of champagne by one of our staff members and walked to your suite, which is ready for you. The staff member checks you in on an ipad, and that’s the extent of the process. So you’re left to enjoy the ship or the port of call.
QC: Tell us about an adventure you had on board.
Mark Spillane: Saba’s a unique port in the West Indies. It’s not that typical beach experience. It’s a marine park. Not many cruise ships go there, and there are fewer than 2,000 people on the island. It’s a big mountain. When you wake up in the morning, we’re anchored right up against the island and you look out and see the dramatic landscape. There we offer a hiking adventure and it is true hiking for those who enjoy that physical adventure. It’s about a three-hour hike, which ends at a hotel on the other side of the island, where guests can have a beverage or two. From there a transfer takes them back to the ship. It’s a real adventure experience. It’s not paved. You’re hiking through the mountains and you have the canopy overlay of all the trees and you see the wildlife.
QC: What’s the dining like on Esprit, and which is your favorite dining spot?
Mark Spillane: The cuisine on board is superb. The executive chef puts out the sublime and a work of art, each dish. What you can do when you only have 62 guests on board is à la minute preparation of each dish. We even have an on-board pastry chef for our breads and desserts. That seems to be what really sticks with the guests. From their perspective, and mine as well, it’s the best food they’ve had, on land or sea. We like to call it Michelin-inspired cuisine.
I love to dine alfresco. On Esprit we have the patio grill and it’s typically open all day for fresh fish, salads, wraps, burgers. We have a great fritto misto, usually shrimp, calamari and some vegetables. It’s a phenomenal place to dine when you’re heading back from an excursion. You freshen up and head up to sunset deck and enjoy lunch while you’re anchored in these beautiful harbors around the world.
QC: Tell us about the service.
Mark Spillane: The crew on board is really what sets esprit apart, and that’s what we look to bring to Endeavor. On Esprit we have 90 crew for just 62 guests and that leads to this perfect balance of professionalism and camaraderie. You quickly become a family, not only with the fellow guests but with the crew. They come to know you, your likes and your dislikes. They have things prepared for you. For example, I sleep with three pillows. They picked up on that. So the next day, when they made up the bed, there were three pillows on one side. All these little details that you don’t even tell them, they pick up on.
QC: Who cruises on Esprit?
Mark Spillane: People who want an adventure. We don’t typically offer sea days on Esprit. There are some, but for most itineraries you’re in port every day. You’re up in the morning, going on hikes or kayaking. We have jet skis. It’s an active experience. So that typically means in the evenings, it dies down a little sooner because guests are going to bed because they’re preparing for the next day’s adventure.
For Crystal, Esprit has the youngest demographic of all our ships. The average age is 56, 57. They’re working professionals who have had success. They don’t have a long time to take off, so our itineraries are shorter, seven to 10 days. We offer free, unlimited Wi-fi on board, so they can still be connected if they need to work.
It’s also typically more international guests. And it’s good for multigenerational families. I met a family consisting of two teen-age boys, two adult couples and the grandparent, and this was their third time on the Esprit. This was the only Crystal experience they’ve had, and that’s what we find: it brings in new-to-Crystal guests and they absolutely love it. As that family grows, they can grow into river and ocean ships as well.
QC: It sounds like you should be somewhat fit to sail on the Esprit?
Mark Spillane: There is no elevator on Crystal Esprit so guests have to climb the stairs between the decks, and climb into and out of the Zodiacs and tenders as needed. And children under 6 aren’t allowed on the tenders, so Esprit is really for older kids.
QC: How far ahead do people need to book?
Mark Spillane: For this summer in the Adriatic, we just have a couple of suites still available. In 2019, we have plenty of availability at this point for the Adriatic. Guests who want to experience the West Indies this winter should definitely look into it now because we just announced that in fourth quarter 2019, we’ll be in Dubai. So for our current itinerary set, this coming November will be the last season, for now, in the West Indies.
QC: Esprit launched in the Seychelles. You’ve really been expanding itineraries. What’s hot?
Mark Spillane: When we had our last season in the Seychelles, at the end, when we went to the Adriatic, we were sold out. The Esprit is all about offering options to our guests, and many of them do return so we’re trying to offer as many unique destinations as we can.
We have a great Holy Land sailing with some great ports in Israel and it’s really selling very well, I think because it’s unique, and Esprit has never offered something like this. It’s only one voyage. We don’t plan on offering it again in 2019, possibly in 2020. It depends on where the ship goes from the Seychelles.
QC: How much do the cruises cost?
Mark Spillane: The West Indies cruises tend to be priced at about $4,500 per person, double occupancy, for the week. The Adriatic tends to be slightly more, around $5,500 per person for the week. And that’s all-inclusive, so transfers are included if you fly in and out on the days of embarkation and debarkation, wi-fi is included, and beverages. Really the only extra costs on the esprit are our submersible experience and optional shore excursions. We typically offer two shore excursions in each port, included in the price. One is more active, like the hike in Saba. The other is a panoramic city tour for those who don’t want to be as active. We do offer a handful of optional shore excursions that guests can purchase for an additional charge.
QC: Tell us about some of the included excursions.
Mark Spillane: In St. Bart’s we have a catamaran. It’s a really nice way to see this chic French island. We take our guests on a tour around the island, then we anchor in a bay where there’s a beach. Guests can snorkel, there are water noodles. They can enjoy the water and the beach. We serve light hors d’oeuvres and beverages on board. Then we sail back to the ship.
We have exclusive rights to Moskito Island [Richard Branson’s private hideaway in the British Virgin Islands] during our calls. It’s a great beach day. We do a fun wet landing, bring our guests to the beach in Zodiacs and they hop out. We do a beach barbecue. We have sun-loungers, everything down to the details of sunscreen and bug spray, should you need it. I’ve been there; there’s actually no mosquitoes. We bring all our water toys, kayaks and snorkeling gear for our guests to use. It’s a peaceful retreat.
We have a wider speedboat and we offer a complimentary champagne cruise on that for our guests. We do need permission from the local port authorities to use the wider so it’s not offered in every port, but typically once per sailing. It’s a fun experience.
QC: Have you gone on the submersible?
Mark Spillane: I have, and it’s an absolutely phenomenal experience. For those who may not be scuba divers and haven’t had the experience of going under the water, it is quite surreal because you’re almost surrounded by glass. I did it in St. Kitts and there’s a shipwreck right off the coast that you visit. It’s so unique to see something like that up close. Of course you have marine life swimming around. It’s surreal to be in this bubble that’s comfortable and air-conditioned. It’s driven by the Esprit’s vice captain. It’s usually about a 30-minute experience and the cost varies. In the west indies, it’s currently $599 per person, and in the Adriatic it’s currently $350 per person.
QC: Turning to your new build, Crystal Endeavor, what excites you most about it?
Mark Spillane: The space. The expedition market is really booming now, and we’re starting to see new builds for luxury expeditions, which have been missing in that segment. The Endeavor will be almost 20,000 gross tons and will only have a hundred suites and 200 guests. So that really offers the space to have all the amenities the Crystal guest has come to expect and that includes a full spa, sauna and gym. These types of amenities aren’t offered on expedition ships. We can take this amazing Crystal experience that’s been perfected, and our loyal followers love, to the ends of the earth. We can take it to those bucket-list destinations that our guests haven’t had the opportunity to go to, in Crystal luxury.
QC: Is it a real expedition?
Mark Spillane: Yes, we will have expedition leaders on board, a fleet of Zodiacs as well as water toys and equipment that we’ll be able to talk about in the near future. And we’ll be going to true, off-the-beaten path, unspoiled destinations, including the arctic and the antarctic.
QC: When will you announce the itineraries?
Mark Spillane: The itineraries for Crystal Endeavor are going to be announced today on July 31. Bookings will open to past passengers (Crystal Society members) on Aug. 8 and to the public on Aug. 22.
Don’t miss a post, subscribe to QuirkyCruise.com for monthly updates!