Some people are excited about A&K Travel purchasing the old Crystal Cruise ships
Some people are skeptical about it
Some people are taking a Wait-and-See approach.
I am more of the latter two. Let me explain why. (You knew that would be coming.)
First, as I have so often repeated, “It is not about the hardware, but the software.” But taking a look at the hardware before the software tells a very important story; especially when it comes to the Crystal Symphony, which is much older. Unfortunately, it is so old that shortly it will no longer be able to operate in United States waters without a truly major upgrade due to upcoming environmental and safety requirements. How expensive? Well, there is a reason she sold for about 25% of what the Crystal Serenity did.
Another hardware issue is that the ships lack a sufficient number of large suites. Crystal was in the process of increasing the numbers, but even with those there weren’t enough and most of the penthouses were still small or less spatially efficient as those on more modern ships. Similarly, there are many staterooms that by today’s standards are small; especially the bathrooms.
Second, is about the software – the staff and crew. Most of those beloved Crystal crew and staff have gone on to other cruise lines and/or land-based jobs. They need to work and, to be sure, there is a staffing shortage on cruise ships. So one cannot count on there being a wholesale flocking to the hardware of the former Crystal Cruises to some new, totally unrelated company. Add to that the issue of crew accommodations – which are far better on newer ships – and I don’t have a whole lot of optimism that the staff and crew from Crystal will be there to greet the new cruise line’s guests.
Third, the idea that these ships will be refit and operating in 2023 is – at best – optimistic. You have all heard about (and felt) the issues associated with supply chain delays plus issues with lack of staffing causing delays in ship refits and builds. Add to that the lack of shipyard availability/space and the idea of turning these ships around, becoming fully operational and ready to carry guests in 2023 is not something I would bank on. Along those lines, I strongly suggest that you don’t delay making your 2023 plans in the optimistic hope that this new cruise line will be ready for you.
Fourth, A&K Travel is attempting to purchase the Crystal Cruise brand, website, client list, etc. for only $13,000,000. While not finalized, if it goes through that seems to be a very cheap price. Why? Well, at least to me, it will be buying access not only those who were loyal to Crystal, but also the ire of all those who have lost their money, vacations, and joy to Crystal’s failure. It is not crystal clear that the Crystal brand will be an asset at the end of the day. (Sorry, but I had to do it!)
Fifth, while it has been pitched that Manfredi Lefebvre is somehow the genius behind the creation of the luxury cruise business and Silversea Cruises. To the contrary, the concept of a true luxury cruise line existed long before Silversea (founded in the mid-90s) with lines such as Royal Viking (founded 1972) and Seabourn (founded 1988). And, to be accurate, Silversea was really the creation of Manfredi’s father, Antonio Lefebvre d’Ovidio. Don’t get me wrong, Manfredi Lefebvre is, apparently, a nice man with a solid reputation but, as I note below, reality matters.
In short, while Manfredi was increasing his wealth, Silversea was financially struggling and, thus, not delivering the luxury product it promised or maintaining it ships as they should have been. Fortunately, Royal Caribbean stepped in – seeing a great opportunity to add a true luxury brand to its stable – and Silversea is now on a very significant rise – post-Manfredi – in the luxury market. And that move may have created enough wealth for Manfredi’s new purchase.
So is it a case of cruise industry titan? A luxury cruise maven? A gambler? Something else? I honestly don’t have a clue at this point. BUT I do have more questions than comfort!
At this point, I don’t have any. A&K Travel’s cruise concept hasn’t been disclosed in any fashion. Might the concept be for a European-centric cruise line? A regional cruise line? A luxury line? A premium line? What is the desired demographic is going to be? And the list goes on.
So I shall watch with interest and hope for the new Crystal’s success…whatever that comes to mean.
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