Exclusive: Crystal Cruises Senior Officers Tips and Insights on Cruising

Crystal Serenity Senior Crew: Maro Car (Vice Captain), Captain Birger J. Vorland, Robert Bayfield (Chief Engineer), Josef Lumetsbeger (Hotel Manager), Rick Spath (Cruise Director)

Crystal Serenity Senior Crew

Eight days into my cruise on the Crystal Serenity, as I sailed along the scenic coast of Northern France, I received an invitation to a small gathering in the Captain’s private quarters. In a spacious reception room with floor-to-wall windows out to the ocean, the ship’s Senior Crew and some of the key leaders from Crystal’s Head Office assembled to share their personal thoughts about the world of cruising, passengers and developments from Crystal. A few journalists and myself were given an exclusive opportunity to question them and get their unique insights from being totally immersed in the business. They were frank, open and shared many exciting thoughts.

The crew from Crystal Serenity were:

  • Captain Birger J. Vorland
  • Maro Car, Vice Captain
  • Josef Lumetsbeger, Hotel Manager
  • Rick Spath, Cruise Director
  • Robert Bayfield, Chief Engineer

The representatives of Crystal Cruises management were:

  • Thomas Mazloum, Executive Vice President
  • Toni Neumeister, Vice President Food and Beverage

This is what I learned during the session:

Major developments:

Crystal celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2015. To celebrate it plans to feature cruises hosted by past Captains as well as Chairman and President cruises. It will also be undertaking its first true full circumnavigation of the world during the World Cruise, visiting all continents. 600 guests have already signed up to the full trip. A record for Crystal.

Trends in cruising:

Crystal, and other cruise lines, face an evolving mix of guests to cater for.

The current core Crystal guest has tended to be affluent and well-travelled with time and money to spare. It is often joked that while on other premium lines you will meet the senior people from major corporations, on Crystal you are more likely to meet the CEO or owner! However, times are changing and to stay vibrant, grow and stay relevant the line has to satisfy the future cruise passenger too. This has led to the following:

  1. Mixture of cruise lengths to appeal to different types of cruisers. Longer cruises out of traditional holiday periods. like summer and Christmas, attract older passengers. But the line has introduced more seven and ten-night routes to appeal to travellers with the financial resources but limited time, such as younger professional couples who are working full-time. Crystal are increasingly attracting young guests that are looking for an up-market experience but do not want to have the formal dress codes (“my jeans cost more than those formal outfits” mentality!). This is requiring a shift in the traditional cruise format and restrictions, without alienating the traditional fan base.
  2. More multi-generational parties travelling together. During the summer peak in the Mediterranean there were over 200 children on board on some cruises. This creates mixed views from many established Crystal guests who are resistant to having more families on board. Although the only real issues have occurred when parents do not control their children and allow them to run amok (like running across dance floor – I noted the comment in the daily program about this issue). Crystal focus on running programs and activities designed to keep children busy and out-of-the-way as much as they can to satisfy both groups.
  3. Larger international mix. Ten years ago only 5% of guests were not from the United States, and now is around 25% and growing, especially from United Kingdom, Australia and Asia, primarily Japan. Guests travelling today are comfortable with an English-language focused ship and if there are large groups they are usually are part of a group with a host to act as connection with ship and to translate.
  4. Greater demand for more active and varied shore excursions – and active pursuits on board. For example creating a fitness garden on rear of ship during Symphony refit which will eventually be on Serenity.
  5. Increased demands for special diet and culinary services, like gluten-free.
  6. Greater reliance on technology, also to help improve green / environment credentials but it also fits with their policy of providing a lot of communication but not announcements.

Crystal strategy to make sure they satisfy passengers

The team agreed that they focused on the following areas to ensure that guests have a good experience every time:

  1. Product consistency. They all agreed that every department places a lots of effort in this area to ensure that every cruise and at all times the product that the passenger experiences is consistent, quality and reliable.
  2. Focus on ensuring on-board experience is good so passengers walk off happy. This also explains why there is such a focus on winning lots of consumer awards to confirm they are achieving this. Satisfied passengers play a role in building the line as word-of-mouth is one of the most powerful marketing tools to attract new cruisers to the line, and it is more efficient (and cheaper!) to keep passengers than to recruit new ones.
  3. Evolution not revolution approach to innovation. The line focuses on constant tweaking and incremental upgrades and not grand headline grabbing changes. They look to evolve every aspect all the time as needs change, e.g. they brought in late-riser breakfasts and excursions to satisfy guests who like to stay up late and party. Ships have to go into dry dock twice every five years for maintenance by law, and so they use these for bigger refits and  innovations, although some did occur during service (e.g. fitting out Silk Road).
  4. Closely follow booking trends for on-board planning. For example, they track how many solo women are coming to decide on the number of Dance Host Ambassadors and the numbers of children to decide how many Youth Program leaders to take one each cruise.
  5. They work to a philosophy of “If the crew is happy, they will keep the guests happy”. The Captain even hosts new joiners meet-ups in his quarters for everyone that starts. They have to work to keep a multi-ethnic crew of around 45 different nationalities motivated and working as one team.

Five tips for first-time Crystal cruisers:

I asked them what tips they had for anyone new to Crystal, and this is what they offered:

  1. Use the pre-booking facility online to reserve specialty restaurants, spa, tours etc before joining the cruise.
  2. Explore the ship in full on first two days and try everything before settling on your favourite spots and haunts. There is a lot of choice and make sure that you experience them all.
  3. Engage and use the expertise and experiences of past guests via social media and cruise sites, as well as the Crystal ones.
  4. Read the daily program “Reflections” carefully and use it to plan your time. There is always lots going on and it is all captured in there. Announcements are not made on the ship to promote events and activities.
  5. Speak up and ask for anything you want but not getting. Rick, the Cruise Director, encourages this on the first night of every cruise – and they want people to communicate during the cruise with them so they can address it while you are on board. There is also the digital feedback option if people do not want to do it verbally. He gave many examples of activities and events like music trivia and MahJong afternoons that had been laid on as a result of requests.

Challenges they face operating the line:

  1. Finding and retaining people. Growth of cruising and new ships is faster than growth of people coming into the industry. Most of Crystal’s staff are recruited via an office in Oslo that works with different agencies around the world. Although many crew come via referrals from current crew.
  2. Itinerary planning. They are having to do this further out, already working four years out as people want to plan but the volatility of geo-political issues is very disruptive to plans and hard to predict. These seem more frequent and extreme in recent times.
  3. Regulatory issues. Many more rules which are also changing constantly, and are not consistent between countries or even states within the United States. Keeping on top of them is difficult on board, for example: every country requires information of guests as part of the “notification of arrival” – but most have different needs and formats.
  4. Logistics. Already complex but changing regulations or embargoes can throw things in the air. For example the sanctions happening between Russia and European Union can affect deliveries once en route and if a container has one disputed product the entire load can be rejected.

I hope you enjoyed these insights and tips. For more of my articles, videos and photographs visit : tipsfortravellers.com/crystal

Declaration: I travelled as a guest of Crystal Cruises (http://www.crystalcruises.com) on a 12-night Mediterranean cruise on board the Crystal Serenity

Gary Bembridge

I grew up in Zimbabwe, but I have been based in London since 1987. My travel life spans more than three decades and that includes more than 95 cruises. In 2005, I launched Tips for Travellers to make it easy and fun for people to discover, plan and enjoy incredible cruise vacations. And the rest, as they say, is history. I have the largest cruise vlogger channel currently on YouTube, with more than 3 million video views per month.

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