(The following is a guest article by noted journalist and travel writer Si Liberman)
By Si Liberman
Alongside cruise line competitors like Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Princess and MSC, Crystal Cruises is a midget. Its fleet consists of only two ships, the Serenity and Symphony twins. Together their total passenger capacity, about 2,000, is less than you’ll find on one of its competitors’ behemoth vessels.
When it comes to awards and innovations, though, the Lilliputian, 24-year-old, Japanese-owned luxury cruise line known for catering to upper income Americans with exotic travel and culinary tastes is a leader of the pack
Almost annually readers of Travel and Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler magazines vote Crystal the world’s best cruise line. It has “too many hospitality industry awards to count,” a Fodor’s travel guide notes, citing its “taste of grandeur of the past along with all the modern touches discerning passengers demand today.”
It’s a cruise line with a conscience. Off-loaded used furniture on Crystal Serenity, which will undergo a $17 million upgrade this fall, will be donated to a Spanish organization that supports recovering addicts. Crystal has also contributed goods to charities in Africa.
An important initiative launched this year offers passengers and crew members on every cruise an opportunity to spread good will in other countries by volunteering to help local organizations there. Examples: Complimentary excursions will include playing with orphans and giving the Cambodian orphanage a blanket hand-knitted by passengers.
Also planned for cruising volunteers: Gardening and weeding to preserve dwindling native plant life on a Honolulu beach; helping to clean playgrounds at a Ghana, Africa, home for disadvantage children; planting trees at a nature reserve near Reykjavic, Iceland;, and crafting commemorative candles scheduled to be lit during Nagasaki’s annual peace ceremony.
At a news conference in Miami Beach this month, Crystal’s leadership team, President Edie (CQ) Rodriguez and Executive Vice President Thomas Mazloum, unveiled a list of other innovations.
The refurbishing of Crystal Serenity staterooms late this fall will include installation of purification equipment, creating the industry’s first hypoallergenic cabins for passengers with allergies and/or respiratory ills. They‘ll be available at no extra charge.
Another upcoming first will be the installation of washers and dryers in Serenity’s 64 penthouse suites, all of which are slated to be redesigned.
A live herb garden will be planted on a wall in the Serenity’s al fresco Trident area near a botanical floral world map, and will serve as a source of spices for onboard chefs.
Effective this fall passengers who previously sailed with Crystal will be entitled to 60 minutes of complimentary Internet access each day of their cruise.
The non-smoking policy is being expanded to include all in-door areas except the Connoisseur smoking lounge on each ship, and for the first time this year persons traveling alone will have female as well as male dance hosts available for ballroom dancing.
Relatively new all-inclusive fares, covering dining room and housekeeping gratuities, now also cover complimentary fine wine and premium spirit choices on all voyages. Complimentary, too, are Computer University at Sea classes for beginner and advanced computer-related education.
In what it calls its “Helping the World Program”, Crystal partners with a firm that turns guests’ leftover toiletries into soap that’s donated to disadvantaged global communities. In less than three years, it estimates, it has plucked two tons from the trash pile and provided more than 800 impoverished families with soap.