Crystal has returned to operations with the line set to start sailings in May under the ownership of upmarket tour company Abercrombie & Kent. But what should we expect when the once most awarded luxury cruise line returns? 

Once a by-word for food, service and destinations, Crystal re-joins a growing number of luxury lines sailing in Australia during the wave season. Lines like Regent Seven Seas, Ponant, Silversea and Seabourn,  as well as upper premium lines like Viking and Oceania have been vying for a slice of the Crystal market.

Now it is up to the new team in charge to woo back its once loyal clientele.

The Crystal Symphony will mark her Australian debut when she arrives in Fremantle on December 6. After departing from Perth on a 14-night cruise to Auckland, she’ll offer New Zealanders a chance to sail back to Sydney on a 15-night journey. This will be followed by a 17-night Sydney roundtrip voyage.

Tony Archbold, Crystal Cruises VP of Sales APAC says the response to Crystal’s resurgence has been very promising.

“The response has been very exciting. We have seen exceptional interest with multiple cruises being booked, along with a high demand for our Penthouse, Junior Penthouse, and Sapphire Suites. Our close to home voyages, in December and January, are moving very nicely, as are the ever-popular Mediterranean voyages for both late this coming season and for the 2024 season.”

Mr Archbold says he sees Crystal quickly garnering the acclaim they had become accustomed to.

“Our focus is on delivering an experience that is exceptional at sea – from dining and personalised service to unique shore excursions and larger accommodations. And we believe that the cruise market, both guests and travel trade, will respond positively to that.

“Crystal was the most awarded cruise brand over many years, and we are confident that the reimagined Crystal will again deliver on that level.”

As far as past guests go, Mr Archbold says there’s a solid contingent of returning customers, but he is aware that there may be some initial hesitancy. 

“We are seeing past Crystal Society guests rebook with excitement, but also know that there are former guests who are hesitant based on what transpired last year. Overall, the consumer and trade sentiment is positive and we look forward to welcoming guests back on board.”

What he is referring to is the messy refund situation left by the former owners, a Malaysian company linked to a casino empire.

There has also been a plethora of announcements around hotel yachts like the Ritz Carlton fleet, also looking to woo a high-net-worth cruise passenger.

Will Crystal’s return make a splash?

Sharon Summerhayes, owner of Deluxe Travel & Cruise says Crystal was not just a personal favourite of hers, but extremely popular among clients. However, she’s expecting some initial hesitancy as cruisers gauge the new ownership.

“Personally Crystal is one of the best lines I’ve sailed with, they really make you feel like a movie star with that absolute top-notch service. I haven’t had enquiries yet, but I think some interest will definitely build.

“Crystal Cruises was so magnificent, with many viewing it as the absolute best sailing at sea, so there will definitely be a lot of interest. I do think there are quite a few people waiting to see how they go under the new ownership and if the standards for luxury and service are as high.” 

While Crystal has only recently released its itineraries and prices, they’ll be sailing in Australian waters as early as November this year.

What are the stand-out luxury lines?

Michelle Levins, owner of My Cruise Concierge, says that for her clients, Seabourn and Regent Seven Seas are emerging as favourites at the moment, but Silversea is standing above the crowd. 

“We love Seabourn and are very excited by their new expedition product, it is very innovative and will delight their existing clients and the new clients they attract.  We are looking forward to the launch of Explora Journeys mid-year.  Very thoughtfully designed, luxurious, with a soft. warm palette and a sophisticated menu, we think client will really enjoy this new cruise line.

“Regent is another favourite of ours and includes shore excursions.  Our absolute favourite is Silversea. They travel to over 900 destinations around the world, which makes them the industry’s most widely travelled cruise line. Silversea also includes shore excursions in every port.”

Silversea is not just a favourite of Ms Levin’s clients, but also a personal favourite of her Australian luxury lines as well.

“Having sailed Silversea ourselves 5 times we really know their product.  Their food is delicious, the service is personal and warm.

“We also love their expedition product, having been to the Kimberley and Antarctica, the selection of expedition staff based on various areas such as geology, marine biology, ornithology and more, makes for a really well-rounded experience.”

Ms Summerhayes is seeing sales for Oceania and Seabourn leading the luxury pack at the moment.

“I’m getting lots of enquiries for Oceania and Seabourn, they’re definitely strong sellers. People are definitely spending at the moment for that personalised and luxurious experience at the moment.”

luxury cruise
Silversea is a favourite.

What line is right for you?

Ms Summerhayes says rather than the luxury lines sailing in Australia being better than each other, different people will simply be suited to different lines.

“As far as what luxury lines are best, it’s always about matching people to their best line for them, and even the best ship as well, based on their personal taste. Especially, for luxury, it’s so important to have a personalised experience, there’s no one size fits. 

“For example, I’ve recently sailed on Regatta and Marina with Oceania, and even those are such different experiences from each other, with a small ship versus a big ship. Different lines and ships will always be suited for different people.”

For example, Ms Summerhayes says the right line may differ for you if you’re seeking pure luxury, versus more of a destination-focused experience.

“For that top, top luxury at the moment, I think the best options are Silversea or Regent, it’s a great lifestyle, just a couple of choices and then everything is done for you.

“However, it again comes down to what you’re looking for, if you wanted more immersion in destinations, then maybe something different would suit you better, such as Ponant.”

If you are looking for a more adventurous experience, with remote destinations and exciting excursions, Seabourn and Silverseas expedition products or Ponant are probably right for you in terms of Australian luxury cruising.

In terms of just pure luxury and service, Regent Seven Seas offers the highest price points, but also the highest levels of luxury. 

Oceania prides itself on the best cuisine at sea, making it a strong choice for gastronomy lovers. 

Viking Cruises aren’t always necessarily marketed as a luxury line, but offer luxury and comfort comparable to any line, and are a consistently acclaimed cruise line, with options across ocean and expedition cruising.

luxury cruise australia
Luxury lines will take you around the world.

What are the trends in luxury? 

As far as trends go, Ms Levins sees more and more clients looking for extra space at sea, as well as more personalised service. 

We have found many clients since the pandemic are looking for extra space, so staterooms or suites larger than 

what they have taken before seems to be common.  

“Smaller ships with fewer people, and personalised service.  Our clients have certainly missed their holidays, they are looking at their entire spend on their holiday so more value and inclusion are certainly attractive to our clients.”

Crystal Cruises have certainly noticed this, with their ships returning with larger staterooms and lessened occupancy.

Per-day price comparison 

The revamped Crystal Cruises prices are coming in fairly standard for a luxury cruise line when compared to similar lines such as Silversea, Seabourn and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

A Crystal Cruises Sydney roundtrip 17-night cruise comes out at $13,600pp which is a relatively modest $800 per night and an Auckland to Sydney 15-night cruise starts from $12,600 per person or $840 per night.

Silversea hits similar price points, but is slightly more expensive, with a 13-night Auckland to Sydney cruise starting from $13,700pp, or $1054 per night.

A Seabourn cruise fares better in price, compared to its competitors, with a 14-night Australia exploration beginning from $9179pp, and a 14-night New Zealand and Australia cruise coming out to the exact same price of $9179pp, both coming out to $655 per night. 

Viking comes out very slightly more affordable, with a Sydney to Auckland 14-night sailing starting from $8,995, or $642.5 per night.

Oceania comes to a similar price point, with a 13-night Sydney roundtrip beginning from $8,800 per guest or $677 per night.

If you wanted to sail with Regent, you’d have to fork out a little bit more, a Sydney to Auckland 14-night sailing starts from $17,330pp, which measures at $1238 per night.

luxury cruise australia
Silversea docks in Australia.