Once the most awarded luxury cruise line, Crystal is back – now with a huge advantage over rivals. The genteel line which features dance hosts and white-gloved butlers is offering some of the most amazing Abercrombie and Kent experiences as part of the package.

First test of this new style of the best of cruise land travel is the world cruise on offer next year.

Crystal Serenity is offering 69 destinations, 29 countries and 125 nights in 2024.

But what’s different is that every one of the destination experiences will be curated by A&K, a name with 60 years of ultra luxe travel under its belt.

A&K executives Deb Fox, Michelle Mickan and Crystal’s Tony Archbold took us through the changes when Crystal Symphony made her first entrance to Sydney after being rescued from liquidation by A&K.

She has been transformed, with some areas of the vessel taken by to bare metal in a major refit – while some suites and cabins maintain the distinct Crystal tradition.

The new Crystal journey has only just begun. So the Symphony is something of a hybrid.

Fierce loyalty has seen staff return to the two ships in droves. The waiters at the world famous Umi Uma Japanese restaurant by Nobu Matsuhisa, where we dined, proudly said they had a combined 20 years of Crystal experience.

The Crystal name has gone from astonishing highs to lows in the last half decade. Bought by Genting in Asia, the gambling company invested in a new expedition ship and tried desperately to leverage the brand into river and air, with disastrous consequences.

The line went into an undignified bankruptcy, the expedition ship and river ships sold and its two historic ships under arrest. And then came a miraculous rescue.

A&K bought the vessels and saw how they could be joined with what is now a vast company of some of the world’s best travel brands. As it happened, billionaire Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio, once an owner of another luxury cruise line, Silversea, had invested heavily in A&K in 2019. So the line now has strong backing and enormous luxury capability.

But what about the guests?

Crystal sailors are a discerning lot – so while the line awaits the arrival of four ships in five years – two classics and two expedition ships – it has renovated some cabins and left others in their traditional stage.

Some suites have been merged – two or even three into one – creating massive and beautifully appointed apartment-style accommodation with connecting doors to feed the new multi-generational cruising family. There’s a kids club, and new solo cabins.

Bathrooms are breathtaking, with beautiful marble and luxury amenities. In room dining, workspace and lounges – all with the legendary Crystal butler service.

Diana, one of the new breed of butlers, told us she had been in the profession for seven years and was loving the Crystal experience.

But the pièce de resistance is that link to one of the world’s great travel names, A&K.  It’s the not-so-secret sauce. And the world cruise this year will put this to the test.

“The idea of combining the unparalleled onboard service that Crystal Cruises is known for, with the extraordinary tailor-made experiences Abercrombie & Kent has been successfully providing for our guests for the past 60 years, fills me with excitement, enthusiasm, and pride,” Geoffrey Kent, who became Co-Chairman of Crystal Cruises along with Lefebvre d’Ovidio, said.

We dined aboard Crystal Symphony and found the service faultless, the staff enthusiastic and the ship an interesting mix of new and old.

She carries just over 600 guests – well down from her original near 1,000 passengers. The staff to guest ratio is among the highest at sea.

More space has been added everywhere – space has been identified as the new luxury definer.

These vessels are not A&K’s first foray intro cruise.  They own four small ships in the Galapagos, and are now planning more, possibly into river cruising.

As an almost 30-year-old vessel, she’s been filled with renewed vigour thanks to the facelift. But she also references her exciting past – the DJ in the Jade night club, for instance, used to work at legendary over-the-top risqué New York hangout Studio 54.

That says a lot about the new Crystal. Luxurious, of course. But also different.

We can’t wait to sail!

For more see Crystalcruises.com