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Why I'll be devastated if this luxury travel brand is gone for good

Jan. 20, 2022
7 min read
Why I'll be devastated if this luxury travel brand is gone for good
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Good journalists are supposed to be impartial. They stay neutral when reporting the news. And even as someone who has built a career writing about the fluffiest of topics — cruising — I have tried to hold fast to such principles.

Alas, every so often a story that I am covering hits me in the gut to such a level that it is hard to stay impartial. The suspension of operations at Crystal Cruises Wednesday in the wake of a financial meltdown at its parent company is just such a story.

Crystal is, without a doubt, the finest cruise line that I have ever experienced — and I have sailed with more than 40 cruise brands. The possibility that it won't be around to continue to set the bar for what a great cruise line can be fills me with sadness.

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I will lay my bias on the table right here, for everyone to see: I really want Crystal to survive.

Whether it does or not seems up in the air.

For now, the suspension of operations at Crystal, which specializes in luxury cruises, is just temporary ... at least, that's what the line is saying. On Wednesday, Crystal said it only canceled sailings of its three oceangoing ships through the end of April. It canceled sailings of its five river ships through the end of May.

But the line's fate is now in the hands of liquidators for its parent company, Genting Hong Kong.

Genting Hong Kong said on Wednesday that it was nearly out of cash and filed for what is known as a winding-up petition with a court in Bermuda, where it is registered. This clears the way for liquidators to sell or shut down divisions as part of an orderly restructuring.

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What happens next is unclear.

In a filing with the Hong Kong stock exchange on Wednesday, Genting Hong Kong said some of its business activities, including (but not limited to) the operations of its Asia-based Dream Cruises division, would continue as its liquidators pursue a financial restructuring “in order to preserve and protect the core assets and maintain the value” of these assets during the process.

However, it said it expected the majority of its existing operations to “cease to operate.”

Genting Hong Kong has a controlling interest in three cruise lines — Dream Cruises, Asia-based Star Cruises and Crystal — as well as shipyards in Germany and a Resorts World casino in Malaysia.

Why I am rooting for Crystal Cruises

The luxury corner of the cruise world in North America is dominated by just a few major players, most notably Crystal, Silversea Cruises, Seabourn and Regent Seven Seas Cruises. Together, they operate about two dozen ocean ships.

Over the years, I have sailed with all of these lines many times, and there is no bad apple in the bunch. They all are wonderful cruise operators, with beautiful ships, carefully crafted itineraries and — most importantly — generally impeccable service.

But among them all, Crystal has always stood out. It's something special.

A deluxe suite on Crystal Endeavor. (Photo courtesy of Crystal Cruises)

There is a culture on board Crystal ships that is like nothing I have experienced anywhere else at sea — and this is coming from someone who has sailed on more than 160 cruise vessels operated by 41 different lines. I've easily taken more than 200 cruises in all.

The service on Crystal ships is consistently intuitive and flawless at a level that makes it extraordinary. It's often the little things that tell the tale.

A few months ago, when I was sitting in the Palm Court lounge on Crystal's new expedition ship, Crystal Endeavor, the room’s bar manager, Ana, arrived with a cappuccino. She quietly placed it on the table in front of me while I was typing away on a story.

I hadn’t ordered the cappuccino, but I was indeed ready for one, which she somehow intuitively knew. She clearly had taken note in the days before that I liked to slowly sip on a coffee as I wrote in a corner of the room. She must have noticed that my coffee orders on board were invariably cappuccinos, not Americanos or lattes.

Related: Why we named Crystal Endeavor the 'best new expedition ship'

Ana also struck up conversations with me at times when I visited her bar, but she seemed to know just the right time to do so and just the right time to leave me alone. That's a fine line to walk, and she walked it like a pro.

I wrote about this at the time, as it was a perfect example of the amazing, anticipate-your-every-need service that is a hallmark of Crystal.

It's the sort of service that points to a company not only hiring the very best people in the business but also training them extensively and about as perfectly as possible.

Crystal's crew members are not the only ones who are a delight, though. So are the passengers. It's a truism of cruising that every line has its own culture when it comes to their regular crowd, and Crystal ships are a second home to some of the most interesting, fun and engaging people you'll find at sea. I always enjoy being around them.

The best outcome

The next few months could go a few ways for Crystal.

In a statement Wednesday, the line said its suspension of operations for the next few months would "provide Crystal’s management team with an opportunity to evaluate the current state of business and examine various options moving forward.”

That leaves open a lot of possibilities. It's also not clear how much of a vote Crystal's management will get when it comes to choosing a path forward. Judging from Genting Hong Kong's filing with the Hong Kong stock exchange on Wednesday, the company's liquidators will have the biggest sway over what comes next.

Related: I just boarded Crystal's new expedition ship. Here's the first thing that blew me away

In the filing, the company suggested the liquidators would pursue a financial restructuring that could keep at least parts of the company running. However, they also would have the power to "dispose of all or certain of the company’s assets with a view to maximizing value and returns for creditors.”

That could mean that Crystal resumes operations as a division of a restructured Genting Hong Kong. It also could mean it resumes operations under the ownership of another cruise company, private equity firm or other entity that buys it during the liquidation process. It also could mean the brand is shut down completely or sees some of its eight vessels sold off for cash to interested buyers.

I like to think that Crystal has such a loyal following and offers such a unique brand promise that someone either within or outside of Genting Hong Kong will see the value of it as an entity kept whole and make a play to keep it running just as it is.

Given Genting Hong Kong's not-so-great track record in overseeing the brand, the best outcome to me would be for the line to be sold to a financially sound buyer who won't make too many changes to what it is now.

That's my biased hope, at least.

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Featured image by The 200-passenger Crystal Endeavor. (Photo courtesy of Crystal Cruises)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
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10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
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Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023