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Cruise News: Crystal Announces an Unprecedented Expansion

Plus: A Christmas bargain and a family cruise in France

The luxury line Crystal Cruises has long been renowned for its award-winning service, culinary innovation, and amenities. But as great as the company has been in the past, it’s about to get even better. Since being acquired by Genting Hong Kong last year, the line has announced one sensational expansion after another. In the next months and years, it will introduce large "Exclusive Class" ships with a top deck of private homes, a mega-yacht that will explore remote destinations, new river vessels, and private jets for around-the-world trips. And as if that weren’t enough, it may even revive a historic ocean liner.

This unprecedented expansion is the product of a partnership between Crystal President and CEO Edie Rodriguez, who conceived the plan, and Genting Chairman and CEO Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay, who is pouring funds into the company. (Genting, a resort and gaming giant, is the parent of both Asia's Star Cruises and the new Dream Cruises and once also wholly owned Norwegian Cruise Line.) Genting sees Crystal as "the core of what will become the world’s premier luxury hospitality and lifestyle brand collection."

Crystal’s changes are as wide-ranging as they are ambitious. For starters, the company is building a 200-passenger mega-yacht, the Crystal Endeavor, which is designed for global expeditions in the Arctic, Antarctic, and tropics and will be loaded with exploration "toys," including a trio of seven-person submarines, underwater scooters called Seabobs, a pair of helicopters, and a multi-person ATV. The ship will launch in 2018 and will join the new Crystal Yacht Cruises division, which bills its vessels as “the world’s most extraordinary luxury yachts.” The line already includes Crystal Esprit, a 62-passenger yacht that was introduced in December and sails adventure cruises in remote destinations like the Seychelles; its three-person sub takes underwater enthusiasts to a depth of up to a thousand feet.

Then there’s Crystal River Cruises, which launches this summer. Its first ship is Europe's largest riverboat, Crystal Mozart, which was acquired last year and is currently being renovated, and it will add four newly-built yachts next year: the Crystal Debussy, which will sail on the Seine; the Crystal Bach, which will sail the Rhine; the Crystal Ravel, on the Garonne and the Dordogne; and the Crystal Mahler on the Rhine, the Main, and the Danube. The itineraries for these all-suite vessels will emphasize port overnights so that the guests can visit Michelin-starred restaurants and exclusive evening events.

As for those large "Exclusive Class" vessels, Crystal plans three, the first of which will be finished in 2019. These sumptuous, ice-class ships meant for worldwide cruising will be super-spacious: each will have all-balcony suite accommodations and carry around a thousand passengers. (For perspective, this is about the same number of passengers as on the line's current Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony, but the ships are almost double their size.) On the top-deck, the largest of the 48 private Crystal Residences—basically sea-going second homes for those who want to live onboard for months at a time—will have more than 4,000 square feet of interior living area. (Crystal Residences will also have their own private restaurant, reception area, and facilities.)

Plus, Crystal is going beyond cruises and introducing around-the-world trips by private jet. These itineraries, called Crystal AirCruises, will feature top hotels, cuisine prepared by celebrated chefs, and fabulous local cultural entertainment. The first trips, in 2017, will feature a specially configured twin-aisle Boeing 777-200LR with 88 seats, all first class, and a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which will carry just 52 travelers. (The company also recently introduced Crystal Luxury Air, which transports families and friends to meet virtually any Crystal voyage, anywhere in the world, in a 12-seat Bombardier Global Express XRS jet.) 

Lastly, in one of its boldest initiatives, Crystal is studying the feasibility of bringing back the world's fastest ocean liner, the SS United States, which holds the trans-Atlantic speed record (set in 1952) and has been mothballed since 1969.

To show off its vast luxury portfolio plans, Crystal has just announced a showroom to open in downtown Miami next year. It will have a 180-degree cinematic experience, models of the Crystal Residences, a café and restaurant with Crystal cuisine, and a mini-submarine suspended from the ceiling.

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Christmas in April

AmaWaterways just unwrapped a limited-time offer for its Christmas markets and New Year’s cruises on the Danube and Rhine rivers: Travelers who book by April 30 will get up to 40 percent off their fare, per stateroom. These cruises offer a chance to enjoy European holiday traditions, from festive lights to choral music, hand-carved toys, gingerbread, roasted chestnuts, and hot mulled wine. The sale applies to 26 departures from late November through December, including on the line's new AmaStella and AmaViola.

Family Fun Along the Seine

The deluxe tour operator Tauck is expanding its family-centered river cruises with a new "Family Fun Along the Seine: Paris to Normandy" itinerary. The eight-day program begins with a two-night hotel stay in Paris where families can take part in a scavenger hunt at the Louvre, have dinner high above the city inside the Eiffel Tower, and enjoy a guided bicycle tour along the Seine. Travelers will then board Tauck's Sapphire riverboat for a five-night cruise with excursions to places like Monet’s house and gardens in Giverny, the beautiful region of Les Andelys, and the Chateau Gaillard. At Versailles passengers can roam the palace or choose between a walking or biking tour of its gardens, while a full-day excursion to the beaches of Normandy will take families to an innovative museum offering hands-on encounters with World War II-era military vehicles, weapons, and communications equipment.

 Anne Kalosh doesn't count the cruises she’s taken, though there have been hundreds—including five years as a shipboard newspaper editor, sailing the world. She loves the experiences sea travel offers. Her byline has appeared in many major publications, and she's on top of the latest cruise developments as the long-time U.S. editor for Seatrade-Cruise.com and Seatrade Cruise Review.