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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Gene Sloan/The Points Guy.
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