Crystal Cruises Completes Relaunch 20 Months After Bankruptcy
Crystal Cruises completed the relaunch of its ocean cruise operations today with the return to service of its second cruise ship, the Crystal Symphony. It follows the restart of cruising a month ago and comes as the new owners of the brand are discussing new cruise ship construction.
The cruise line was launched 33 years ago by NYK Group as its entry into the modern cruise industry focusing on the U.S. market. Initially in the upper premium segment, over the years Crystal evolved to become one of the leading luxury brands as a prestige holding for NYK. Crystal was sold by NYK for a reported $550 million in 2015 to Genting Hong Kong, which promised to further expand the brand and increase its luxury position.
The cruise operation was expanded with the addition of deluxe river cruise ships in Europe, a yacht cruise ship, and a luxury exploration cruise ship that became part of the financial undoing of the brand and its parent company. After several delays and then the pandemic, the exploration ship began sailing but the company’s attempt at a luxury charter air service failed and finally, in January 2022, they were forced into bankruptcy with the financial collapse of Genting Hong Kong.
Crystal’s exit from service became a fugitive end-run as creditors were trying to arrest the cruise ships. They diverted to the Bahamas, shuttling passengers back to the United States on ferries. Heritage Group, a private equity group with investments in the travel and tourism sector led by billionaire Manfredi Lefebvre d'Ovidio, purchased the ships at auction and the Crystal Cruises brand before announcing that they would restart the operation with A&K Travel Group, a luxury travel company.
The new Crystal Cruises is entering the crowded high-end luxury segment of the market after a multi-million-dollar refit of both cruise ships. In December 2022, the company contracted with Fincantieri, the Italian shipbuilder which is working to expand its role in retrofits, for the transformation of the Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony.
Crystal's ships were both refurbished by Fincantieri in Trieste, Italy (Fincantieri)
Both ships were sent to Trieste, Italy where portions of the cabins were reworked to enlarge them creating more suites and reducing overall passenger capacity. Fincantieri highlights that 230 staterooms were restyled into 100 new suites while another 100 cabins were completely modernized, including the introduction of single occupancy cabins. The Crystal Serenity (built in 2003 and 68,870 gross tons) returned to service with an industry-leading space ratio of 93 and accommodations reduced to 740 guests, while the Crystal Symphony (built in 1995 and 51,000 gross tons) had her capacity reduced to 606 passengers creating a space ratio of 84.
Among the other changes were the refurbishment of the public spaces, the reworking of the spa, and the addition of a new specialty restaurant dedicated to the Italian heritage of the new owner/chairman who had previously started Silversea Cruises before selling it to Royal Caribbean Group. The company removed casinos from the ships, although is now reported to be looking at adding them back in 2024 in a smaller format. Technical upgrades were also undertaken including on the wastewater treatment and energy recovery systems as well as new hull coatings to improve fuel efficiency.
The Crystal Serenity made her first sailing on July 31 for Marseille, France, and today, the Crystal Symphony departed from Piraeus, Greece on her first cruise. The line is reporting that it was able to bring back more than 80 percent of its former crew, including most of the senior officers. Going forward they look to enhance the product by combining it with the land tour expertise of A&K.
Interior spaces on both ships were modernized (Crystal Cruises)
“We are so proud that Crystal Symphony has officially joined Crystal Serenity back in the water, signaling an exciting new chapter for Crystal – two ships refurbished and back in service in under a year,” said Cristina Levis, CEO of A&K Travel Group.
While they were successful at restarting the ocean cruise operation, the two ships are considered to be older after 28 years and 20 years of service. Also, the group did not acquire the expedition cruise ship, which was sold by the creditors to Royal Caribbean Group which relaunched it for Silversea Cruises. The river cruise ships were sold separately to a new company in Germany.
A&K reports that it is working with advisors, lenders, and export credit agents to sign a memorandum of agreement with two European shipbuilders. The company says it is poised for the development of four new ships in the next six years, including two ocean ships and two expedition vessels.
Passenger capacity was reduced by combining cabins to create larger suites (Crystal Cruises)