Crystal Yacht Cruises debuts with Crystal Esprit
By Theresa Norton Masek
Much-loved luxury line Crystal Cruises has embarked on a truly ambitious, unprecedented expansion plan: River cruises! Private planes! New ocean ships! And more! The first chapter became reality late last year with the launch of Crystal Yacht Cruises.
Crystal Esprit began life in 1991 as a private yacht for the chairman of Genting Hong Kong, Crystal’s parent company as of May 2015, and then operated charters for the company’s Asian line, Star Cruises. Then, the yacht underwent a major renovation in Singapore that completely overhauled the vessel inside and out, as it was transformed into the style that Crystal devotees will recognize.
The upscale, 62-guest Crystal Esprit was christened December 23, 2015, in Victoria, the capital of Seychelles, an island group in the Indian Ocean about 1,000 miles off the east coast of Africa. The archipelago is the yacht’s winter home; it will spend spring, summer, and fall on the Adriatic Coast through 2018 (based on the current calendar). Crystal Esprit operates mostly 7-day cruises, which, in Europe, can be packaged with another itinerary to make a 14-day voyage. The weeklong Seychelles sailings include a 2-night, pre-cruise land stay in Dubai.
Like the other ships in the Crystal Cruises fleet, Crystal Esprit fares include all alcoholic and soft beverages, gratuities, specialty dining, shore excursions, and water sports (with one exception noted later).
The addition of Crystal Esprit gives Crystal entrée into the growing segment of smaller, destination-focused ships, as well as upscale adventure trips. The yacht carries two 10-passenger Zodiacs that carry guests to secluded beaches or small docks. Generally, there are two complimentary excursions offered in each port, one focusing on the cultural aspects of the destination and the other a soft or extreme activity, such as a hike to see giant tortoises and black parrots in the Seychelles or a guided walk through the old Croatian town of Korčula, followed by a wine tasting and lunch. Other optional excursions are available at an additional cost.
Crystal Esprit also boasts a watersports marina stocked with two tenders, water skis, wakeboards, kayaks, jet skis, and snorkeling equipment. But the most eye-popping is the three-person mini-submarine that can accommodate a pilot and two passengers on underwater tours. The U-Boat C Explorer 3 can descend up to 100 feet and cruise at up to 3 knots. Passengers sit upright and view the underwater world through a 360-degree acrylic bubble. This is just about the only thing that costs extra on Crystal Esprit (currently $599 per person for 30 minutes). Note that it’s not recommended for those prone to motion sickness, vertigo, or claustrophobia.
The Suite Life
The overall onboard atmosphere is classy, with a soothing blue-and-white color palette accented by soft grays and taupes along with touches of wood and stone.
All 31 suites include butler service, beds with tufted leather headboards and Egyptian cotton linens, a stocked bar, a flat-screen HD TV with satellite TV and movies, twice-daily housekeeping, both 110 and 220V outlets, a USB port, and a safe. Suites are thoughtfully designed with plenty of storage as well. Next to every bed is an iPad that can be used to set an alarm, order room service, or check shipboard information. All guests get 60 minutes of complimentary Wi-Fi per day.
All suite bathrooms have a double vanity, a backlit mirror with an integrated TV, stone counters and flooring, glass-enclosed rain shower, and generously sized bath products made by Italian luxury brand Etro. Most accommodations (28) are 280-square-foot Yacht Suites on Decks 1 through 3 with king-size beds. Two Yacht Suites on Deck 2 are a smaller 223 square feet and have queen-size beds.
While some speculated that the suites are too small for loyal Crystal customers, the line points out that most are larger than deluxe staterooms aboard Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity. Indeed, outside Deluxe Staterooms measure 226 square feet on Crystal Serenity and 202 square feet on Crystal Symphony. However, Penthouse Suites with Verandas are 538 square feet on Crystal Serenity and 491 square feet on Crystal Symphony, making them more akin to the sole Owner’s Suite on Crystal Esprit, which measures 515 square feet.
The Owner’s Suite, located on Deck 2, is primarily decorated in gray and neutral tones with stone floors and carpet in the bedroom, a king-size bed, a living area with a four-seat dining table, a sofa bed, and a bar with mini-fridge. The bathroom has a Jacuzzi stone tub and separate glass-enclosed rain shower.
Dining on Crystal Esprit is in the main Yacht Club Restaurant, which features locally sourced ingredients — perhaps pan-friend barramundi with beurre rouge for dinner, followed by Seychelles vanilla bean crème brûlée with mangosteen sherbet. The main restaurant also serves breakfast and lunch, along with two additional casual spots: the bright and cheery Patio Café and the adjacent al fresco Terrace for salads, small plates, and hot and cold entrées.
Outdoors on Deck 5, amid comfy seating near the small pool, The Grill serves burgers, tapas, and wraps. The Pantry, located on Deck 2 next to the reception desk, is open 24 hours for coffee, soft drinks, sandwiches, and pastries. In addition, the room service breakfast menu is extensive, serving everything from pastries, cereal, and fresh fruit to smoked salmon, omelets, and Belgian waffles.
The main gathering spot on board is The Cove, decorated in touches of soft blue and silver below a stunning crystal light fixture. Crystal Esprit also features self-service launderettes, a fitness center with Technogym equipment, a conference room, a sauna, and a spa treatment room for massages and facials. There are five passenger decks and no elevator.
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The addition of Crystal Esprit is to provide more intimate and adventurous cruise vacations to the line’s rabidly loyal following, but also to attract new vacationers.
“We’re not specifically going after younger clients, but a vessel like this, with the submarine and Zodiacs, naturally attracts a younger demographic,” says Crystal president and CEO, Edie Rodriguez, who envisions new travelers meshing with the established clientele of Crystal, much as Lady Gaga sang duets with Tony Bennett: “Two generations meshing beautifully together.”
Photo: Crystal Cruises