Crystal Cruises at Cruise 360 In Fort Lauderdale, Florida - Part II



Evolution & Customization: Edie Rodriguez

Crystal Cruises CEO Discusses Globalization & Diversification With New Offerings & Enhanced Experiences Ahead Of Cruise 360

Artist Rendering Of Crystal Mozart Mahler Ship. [Courtesy: Crystal Cruises]

Identifying strengths and taking them to the next level seems to be a way of life for Crystal Cruises CEO Edie Rodriguez. She understands the potential and elements of a brand but also seeks to build them. With her ideas and leadership, Crystal as a brand continues to grow by leaps and bounds with such elements as air cruising, yacht expeditions, river cruising and the continued core of their brand on the ocean. In the 2nd part of her interview with The Buzz ahead of CLIA’s Cruise 360 Show in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Rodriguez continues to discuss evolution, ambition and keeping your eye on the ball.

The Buzz: That sort of gets into the evolution of what we're talking about. I mean, the many things you are engaging now --- the air cruising, the Northwest Passage cruises, the riverboat cruises…how did the brainstorm work on that?

ER: Well, when I got to Crystal, if you read my first interview the first day on the job in October of 2013, I said, "My goal and vision for the brand is “Seven ships, seven seas, seven continents." Of course, I had a whole on-the-water strategy in my head, but I was not going to reveal that publicly because I didn't want to give my competition a head's up. The other thing is, anything we do is because we're marketing driven. It always begins and ends with the client, the customer, the guest. And so we didn't just do these things by osmosis. We really understood all the data of what our clients, and what our guests, were looking for and what they were telling us. What was really crystal clear, is that they love the Crystal brand, but they are going on other vacations throughout the year. However they would prefer to be doing these vacations in the Crystal style. That’s what led to the transition. What the customers were telling us was concurrently what the investment was going to be. So the whole on-the-water strategy was basically a no-brainer. We're ocean…let's get into the yacht expeditions. Let's get into river. That was just a natural transition to the portfolio, and I always say, "We're no longer just Crystal Cruises: the world's most awarded luxury cruise line. Now we are Crystal: the world's most luxurious lifestyle and hospitality brand portfolio." And under that portfolio we actually have six experiences, and if we count the Shrine Building, which I will tell you about that, we'll become seven. So we have Crystal Cruises which is our core. We are investing millions of dollars to refresh and revitalize Symphony and Serenity. And I always tell the team, "Never take your eye off the ball." And, in this case, the ball is the Crystal Cruises brand and always will be. It's our hallmarks, it's our ethos, and everything we do will stem from that.

The Buzz: So that will always be the core business?

ER: Always. Always. And it is the lion's share of the business as well. So we are building one new ocean ship for that, Crystal Exclusive Class, coming out in 2022 that will for the first time ever concurrently have residents at sea along with regularly scheduled cruise departures. So Crystal Ocean and investment in Serenity and Symphony to perpetually refresh them, a new Ocean coming in 2022 which will also include a Crystal Residence-At-Sea so those are two brands there. Then in December, a year and a half ago, we launched a first in our yacht expedition fleet, the Crystal Esprit. Esprit was the first time ever commercially a submarine was available at sea within the brand and it's a different experience. It's a yacht expedition, which is different than cruising, but in the Crystal style, flavor and flair. And that’s just 62 guests, 31 suites, and a marina out the back. And she's getting a new-build sister, Endeavor, for 200 guests, 100 suites, to go around the world, in cold and warm weather, yachting expeditions to really exotic places, which is coming third quarter of 2019. Then we launched, last July, the first in our river brand experiences with the Crystal Mozart which hosts 154 guests . And we're building four new builds to complement that fleet. Bach and Mahler will be coming in August and September of this year, and two more next year will be identical in size at 106 guests. So that continues to grow.

The Air Lounge Of Crystal Air Cruising 777. [Courtesy: Crystal Cruises]

ER: So that's our on the water strategy and we will continue to grow there. Then last April a year ago, we launched our Bombardier Global Express. Crystal Luxury Air is a 12 seater - think of that as private charter air. You can go to and from whatever Crystal experiences are or you might just be an executive and you need to charter flight from point A to point B, or a rock star on your tour. These are all real people who chartered that. And then, this summer we are launching our Boeing 777. Normally, a 777 hosts over 350 guests. She's configured with just 84 flatbed Crystal-exclusive class seatings. And the intention for that experience is to be all-inclusive, fully curated, around the world by private jet on two, three, and four week journeys.

The Buzz: Now, are all these kinds of tours customized specifically? Or are they on a set itinerary that you guys create?

ER: There's both. So first of all, anybody can charter the plane and we will curate and customize whatever they want for their group of 84 or less. Organizations like YPO and different organizations. So that is always readily available to be fully chartered, fully customized. Where we are different than anybody doing this today is that, with our tours, it is a fully curated package but you have options within it. So, as an example, on a 28-day departure, there are 94 options within it. So a husband and wife can each customize it within [that aspect] or they can just take the package as we give it. It's entirely up to them. I've coined a three-character acronym, ECO: Exclusivity, Customization, and Options. And everything we do at Crystal will be built around that platform.

ER: The last but not least then is the Shrine Building. At the corner of 14th and Biscayne in Miami is a beautiful performing arts center. It's a 1936 historic art deco building that was formerly called The Shrine Building. We will call it and rename it most likely the Crystal Shrine Building. She will open in November as, really, a showcase for all things Crystal. There'll be a virtual reality component to it. There will be a lot of experiences that we will have mock staterooms, mock apartments so that people can just come in and get the feel of the crystal experience.

The Buzz: Almost like a showroom...a virtual showroom.

ER: Yes, like a virtual showroom. And that will open in November and then in 2018 on the first floor of that building, we'll open a dining experience that will be very similar to the Crystal dining experience on board. So we can showcase our food on land as well.

The Buzz: We’re also talking about globalization. There's so many different ports you can go out of now. Can you talk about how that's impacted the industry?

ER: I think the number one reason a person decides on a cruise or a holiday is the itinerary first and foremost. So we always want to be creative, have new maiden calls, and enhance the experience even if it's a place we're going back to or where the guest is going back to. We have to enhance the way we deliver that experience so it’s not just your typical-- let's just use Rome as an example. They may be going back to Rome for the second, third, or fourth time. They've seen all the touristy things. They want to experience Rome differently. So we may send them to a family home for cooking classes with Grandma or we may take them out in a Ferrari or a Lamborghini and drive through the Rome countryside and things like that. So it is back to that ECO: exclusivity, customization, and options. It's important to incorporate in new and dynamic and exciting ports but concurrent to that, old and new, to deliver the experience with overnight stays and different ways to curate the land experience.

A Group Shot Aboard the 32 Day Northwest Passage Trip On The Crystal Serenity. [Courtesy: Paragon Pixels & Crystal Cruises]

The Buzz: And make it unique like with the Northwest Passage 32 Day cruise since that keys in distinctly to the ECO structure we have been talking about.

ER: So that was three years in the planning and when we departed last August it was 32 nights from Anchorage, Alaska up and around through the Northwest Passage, over to Greenland, down through New England, and ending 32 days after it started in New York City. It was spectacular. It was the highest guest satisfaction ratings of anything Crystal has ever done. It sold out two years in advance in three days just with past guests and had a 700-person wait list. We literally made history as the largest vessel ever to traverse the Northwest Passage. But large is all relative. We are the only mid-size luxury vessel. So it's not so huge. But we were very, very sensitive in the planning to local communities. Everybody loved it. The guests loved it, the crew loved it, the local communities loved it and asked us to come back. We were very sensitive to the Inuit communities. So much so down to every detail. We did our volunteerism shore excursions with them. We donated a lot of money to them. And when we had them come on the ship…often times we have a living wall, since they never see green plant life. But we also were sensitive that that community has a high alcoholism rate, so we did not serve any alcohol at all. The guests understood it and respected it. We were trying to be so sensitive to all of their needs. And in doing so, they loved us so much that they came back and said, "Please come back." So we are repeating it again this year, this August from Anchorage, Alaska to New York, the same itinerary, 32 nights. What will be important is, this will be the last time we do it on a Crystal Ocean vessel because when Endeavor comes out, with our yacht expedition new builds in third quarter of 2019, she will redo that itinerary. So what's really important for any of your readers, is anybody who's interested in doing this iconic voyage, they really need to do it now, on Crystal. This will be their last opportunity, this August of 2017, to do it [within the Ocean structure].

The Buzz: Because  otherwise it moves to a much smaller boat.

ER: Exactly. And it's a different experience. They’re both great, but they're just different. And what I will also say, is that the guests were surprised and delighted every day. They saw the Northern lights, they saw rainbows, polar bears…it was absolutely extraordinary, and by every measure, highest guest and cruise satisfaction rating, value for money, breaking history, making history, being a part of history…it was just fantastic. So I hope your readers come and do it with us this August, it'll be their last opportunity on a Crystal Ocean vessel.

The Buzz: Can you talk about the importance of having the cruise community together with the Cruise 360 in Fort Lauderdale and CLIA? Because obviously, CEOs learn from other CEOs. You see what other people are doing. You see that's what this whole interaction-- but you still want to keep your own eye on the ball. Can you talk about that and the importance of coming together?

ER: Well, on a macro level in the cruise industry, as a CEO of a cruise line, I sit on the board of CLIA with my peer CEOs. And as a collective group, we have a lot of vested interest. Our mutual mantra is safety first always around the world…safety for the life of our crews, safety for the life of our guests, our lobbying efforts to protect our industry. So that's where we all come together, and CLIA comes together in that way. And I think we're all friendly competitors. We respect each other greatly. And everybody just sets their own sail. There is enough to go around, literally. We haven't even scratched the surface as an industry. When you look at how many people visit Las Vegas on an annual basis versus how many people take a cruise, we haven't scratched the surface. So it isn't about share shift, it's about growing the market. And that's what I love what we've done at All Things Crystal. By launching our yacht expedition fleet and our river fleet, 50% of those guests have never cruised and obviously, therefore, never cruised on Crystal.

The Buzz: 50%?

ER: Yes. So we are expanding that marketplace to having people try cruising and trying it in the Crystal style, whether it's on the river, yacht expedition or ocean.

Tim Wassberg

A graduate of New York University's Tisch School Of The Arts with degrees in Film/TV Production & Film Criticism, Tim has written for magazines such as Moviemaker, Moving Pictures, Conde Nast Traveler UK and Casino Player. He enjoys traveling and distinct craft beers among other things.

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