TPG editors’ choice award for best new expedition cruise ship: Crystal Cruises’ Crystal Endeavor
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A flurry of new expedition cruise ships have debuted over the past year as the expedition cruise boom continues. And, across the board, they are an impressive bunch.
Unveiled by such cruise brands as Ponant, Hurtigruten, Lindblad Expeditions and Atlas Ocean Voyages, they are vessels that almost universally offer more adventure-focused amenities, more comfort and more luxury than has been typical for expedition cruising.
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But there is one new expedition cruise vessel among the newcomers that stands apart to us here at TPG, particularly when it comes to its luxury level: luxury line Crystal Cruises‘ Crystal Endeavor. And that’s why we’ve decided to give Crystal a special editors’ choice award this year for the ship as part of Travel Week during our annual TPG Awards.
We’re calling it the Best New Expedition Cruise Ship Award.
Expedition cruising, for those of you unfamiliar with the term, is a type of cruising that involves traveling to hard-to-reach places on small, hardy vessels that carry their own landing craft. We’re talking about such destinations as Antarctica and the far reaches of the Arctic.
It’s a small niche of cruising. But it’s one that is growing fast — and going much more upscale.
Designed to hold just 200 passengers, Crystal Endeavor is Crystal’s first foray into expedition cruising — and it brings a new level of luxury and service to the niche.
Unlike most expedition vessels, Crystal Endeavor is an all-suite ship with such over-the-top luxury flourishes as butler service for every passenger and an upscale restaurant serving sushi and other Japanese specialties — the only one of its kind on an expedition ship.
In addition to the Japanese eatery, there also are versions of Crystal’s signature upscale Italian restaurant Prego along with its elegant main restaurant Waterside.
As I experienced during an exclusive first look at Crystal Endeavor in September, all three of these eateries feature superb interior design, sophisticated menus and graceful service that, even just a few weeks into the ship’s operation, was impeccable.
And there’s even more when it comes to dining options. On one or more nights on every sailing, Prego morphs into the Vintage Room, an intimate private dining experience with insanely elaborate, seven-course meals. Each course of the meal is paired with a distinct wine, which the ship’s sommelier explains in detail before serving. It’s one of those foodie extravaganzas that goes on for hours and is a rare treat.
Other major public areas on Crystal Endeavor include the top-of-the-ship Palm Court — an observation lounge and bar — and the centrally located Crystal Cove lounge. Just steps away from the ship’s main restaurant area, on Deck 4, the latter has a bar, stage and dance floor, and is the place for daytime lectures, pre-dinner happy hours (it splits this duty with the Palm Court) and evening performances from several musical groups that sail with the ship.
Crystal Endeavor also is home to a stylish, glass-covered solarium with a pool and Jacuzzi; a pampering spa; a cigar bar; and even a small casino (a first for an expedition ship).
The ship’s staff-to-passenger ratio is one-to-one — one of the highest ratios of any cruise vessel.
Still, Crystal Endeavor isn’t just about luxury offerings. As is typical for expedition ships, it has a strengthened hull that will allow it to bump through ice in polar regions (for those keeping track, it has a none-too-shabby “PC6” polar class rating), and it carries Zodiac boats for exploring in remote areas. It also sails with kayaks on board and specialized kayaking guides for paddling adventures. There’s a mudroom with cubbies where passengers can keep their life jackets and boots.
Even more over the top, the ship has been outfitted with its very own submarine and eventually will have two helicopters. Yes, you’ll be able to explore places like Antarctica from below and above, too, when sailing on Crystal Endeavor.
Among other cool toys, the ship has a super fancy, remote-controlled gimbal camera at its top that can offer real-time views of passing scenery or wildlife at a magnification of up to 90 times. It can be used, for instance, to zoom in on a distant polar bear on an ice floe, with a live feed of the sighting being projected onto screens in the ship’s Palm Court lounge or on cabin televisions.
Of course, such luxury comes with a price.
The initial itineraries for Crystal Endeavor aren’t cheap. In fact, they’re among the most expensive cruises currently on offer by any line in the world. Ten-night voyages around Iceland start at $16,999 per person — roughly $1,700 per day. And some of the ship’s more unusual sailings in far-off polar regions will require an even bigger hit to the wallet.
A very rare, 28-night voyage across the Russian Arctic that the vessel will operate in 2023 starts at $62,099 per person — more than $2,200 per day!
Still, as is typical for cruise lines at the high end, Crystal is including a lot in its base price. In addition to a room on board and all meals, which (as noted above) are at a very high-end level, the fares include all but the most premium drinks, including a wide choice of fine wines and spirits; shipboard Wi-Fi; gratuities; and — perhaps most notably — guided shore tours in every port the ship visits plus guided expedition landings by Zodiac in more remote locations.
Indeed, a notable part of what you’ll be paying for on a Crystal Endeavor sailing is access to an incredibly large and knowledgeable team of guides who will lead you around destinations like Antarctica.
These guides will include topic experts such as geologists, ornithologists and biologists who will lecture on board as well as lead guided outings. On some sailings, there will be more than 20 such guides and experts on board.
Our take: If you can afford it, Crystal Endeavor may be the ultimate vessel for exploring places like Antarctica and the Arctic in style.
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Featured photo of Crystal Endeavor by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy.
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