Expedition is cruising’s hottest trend—for luxury, it’s the most booming subset. Luxury leader Crystal entered the market in 2015 with Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises, whose Crystal Esprit is charting its course for success. And in 2020, that success will be buoyed by the launch of Crystal Endeavor.
For its part, Esprit was built in 1991 and reconfigured into an all-suite vessel with Crystal-style amenities, and it now garners the highest passenger satisfaction ratings of any ship in Crystal’s ocean or river fleets.
Signature Crystal amenities are a big part of Esprit’s draw. Suites feature Egyptian cotton linens, stocked bars, rain bath showers, iPads and butler service. Dining options include the Yacht Club main restaurant, Patio Cafe and al fresco Terrace, a poolside grill and the Pantry, open 24 hours for beverages, sandwiches and pastries.
While Esprit’s intimate size and luxury amenities are key selling points, it’s the expedition features that make it so popular. A watersports platform, Zodiac launch excursions and a two-passenger submersible provide adventure atop and beneath the waves.
Not surprisingly, the ship attracts a younger demographic than Crystal’s ocean and river fleets. The median age of Esprit guests is 55-60, said Mark Spillane, the brand’s manager for sales and marketing.
Furthermore, Esprit’s guests are 60 percent new to Crystal. “Lots of luxury travelers may not want to go on an ocean ship. Expedition is very different,” Spillane said. “Yacht expeditions, as well as river cruises, attract a newer and younger audience to Crystal—and that’s great news for agents,” Spillane said.
Meanwhile, bookings have opened for soon-to-launch Crystal Endeavor. “Esprit offers soft adventure, while Endeavor is more of a rugged expedition experience,” he said.
Endeavor is believed to be the largest polar class (P6) rated ship ever built. “She’s best in class in terms of space and options. At 20,000 tons and [carrying] only 200 guests, suite size is very spacious,” Spillane said. “The smallest suites are 355 square feet, which is close to penthouse size on ocean ships. She’ll have a crew of 206, so it’s a very service-oriented ship also.”
Every suite on Endeavor will feature a private veranda, butler service, walk-in closets, kingsize beds, heated storage for drying parkas and heated bathroom floors.
Like Esprit, Endeavor will feature Zodiac launches and a submersible. But, Endeavor’s submarine will carry six passengers, as opposed to Esprit’s two; and the ship will carry two helicopters for use on sightseeing tours.
Endeavor will feature the only casino on an expedition yacht, a fitness center and spa, a glass-domed pool and solarium.
Where Crystal Endeavor will really shine is in the dining experience. It will offer six venues in all, with specialty options that include the Asian-inspired Silk Kitchen & Bar, Prego for Italian fare and Crystal’s signature Vintage Room winemaker dinners.
Longtime Crystal collaborator and acclaimed chef Nobu Matsuhisa will also have a presence on board. Familiar Crystal concepts, such as the Bistro Cafe and Palm Court, are also part of the mix. “Other expedition yachts have much more limited options,” Spillane said.
Endeavor’s destination roster is also a key selling point. “Guests on Endeavor will have the Russian Far East. They can explore Shackleton’s hut in Antarctica,” Spillane said. “On the other hand, if your clients aren’t interested in sea days, Esprit is the better fit. That ship tends to hop from port to port.”
Crystal Endeavor’s inaugural season will span from August 2020 through January 2021. Voyages from 12 to 22 days will call on Russia, Borneo, Indonesia, the Philippines, New Zealand, Australia and Antarctica, among other destinations.
In 2019, Esprit will sail on Adriatic itineraries, and in 2020 return to the Seychelles, along with the Dalmatian Coast, and Aegean and Adriatic seas. New itineraries will visit historic sites in Petra, the Holy Land and the Arabian Peninsula.
And, what about new ships beyond Endeavor? We’re waiting to see how Endeavor does,” Spillane said. “But because she’s been so well received, additional ships are definitely an option.”
In the meantime, other lines are raising the bar on their expedition offerings. Ponant and Lindblad-National Geographic have announced or introduced polar class-rated luxury ships. And 10 years ago, Silversea entered the expedition cruising segment with the overhauled (and ice-hull strengthened) Silver Cloud.
“There didn’t use to be so many options in the luxury expedition segment,” Spillane said. “It’s booming now.”