Crystal Symphony, Crystal Serenity and the brand were acquired by A&K Travel Group. The new owners bought these assets after the company went into liquidation. They are not responsible for refunds, commissions or payments to other creditors after Crystal Cruises shut down in February with the collapse of Genting Hong Kong.
Several executives formerly associated with Crystal expressed enthusiasm about its future.
'Experience, vision and integrity'
'The Crystal brand and the magnificent ships Symphony and Serenity could not be in more capable hands,' said Jack Anderson, past Crystal Cruises president. 'The new ownership and leadership of Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio, Geoffrey Kent and Cristina Levis brings luxury cruise and vacation experience, vision and integrity. Crystal will again be the best of the best.'
Anderson added: 'And I am so happy for Crystal’s crew/family. I do believe many of the amazing onboard family will be excited and returning.'
'I'm very happy to see someone with passion and great experience in ultra-luxury taking over the stewardship of the brand,' said Dietmar Wertanzl, president and CEO, CMI Leisure Management. He was member of the Crystal Cruises start-up team in 1989 who ultimately became SVP hotel operations until 2002.
'The partnership with A&K is a differentiation and will add value to the guests with the land tours,' Wertanzl said. 'The brand is well-positioned. It's good to see.
'This is a good day for the cruise industry.'
Like Anderson, Wertanzl is happy for the Crystal team and thinks some will return.
He also considers A&K Travel Group CEO Cristina Levis, who will oversee Crystal Cruises and Abercrombie & Kent, a 'very capable lady.' Wertanzl's company managed a couple ships for Silversea Expeditions when Levis was managing director. She subsequently joined Lefebvre d'Ovidio's Heritage Group as chief investment officer.
'She has experience and she will definitely carry the brand to the next level,' Wertanzl said, 'She always spoke very highly about the Crystal brand.'
Comeback better than ever
For Walter Littlejohn, former SVP and managing director of Crystal River Cruises, 'With A&K Travel Group backed by Heritage, the experience that Manfredi and his team bring to the table creates tremendous opportunity to revive the brand in a meaningful way that creates opportunities for everyone — shipboard, shoreside, travel advisors and, most of all, customers — because I've no doubt the product is going to come back better than ever.'
Older ships, extraordinary staff
Larry Pimentel, past president and CEO of Azamara, SeaDream Yacht Club, Cunard and Seabourn, and a board member of Virtuoso Travel, said the ships are older and the capacity is limited yet 'Crystal was a brand generally loved by its older clientele.'
Its 'genius' was its 'extraordinary onboard staff,' he added. How many guests return depends on the vision — refurbished ships, deployment, unique land offerings — and how people might have been affected negatively at the end.
Will customers return?
Given the new ownership, Pimentel thinks many travel advisors and customers will be willing to try Crystal again. A more limited group may be bitter and stay away unless their money is recovered. 'Some guests and agents may “expect” the new owners to help resolve past issues. This could be problematic,' he said.
As for the A&K connection, 'A&K is an outstanding operator with a reputation broader than Crystal’s,' according to Pimentel, adding 'It will be interesting to see how the programming will develop. The ability to provide extraordinary land [tours] with the vessel might be very different than a traditional cruise-only product. Let’s see how creative the experience is that A&K is known to create on a worldwide basis.'
With Lefebvre d'Ovidio and Kent both accomplished entrepreneurs recognized for creating luxury experiences, Pimentel expects further quality to come from their new venture.
But it's complicated
Alex Sharpe, president and CEO, Signature Travel Network, agreed A&K and Lefebvre d'Ovidio are well-positioned to rekindle Crystal Cruises, 'but it is certainly more complicated now than it would have been six months or a year ago.
'They will now need to rebuild ship staff and shoreside, but Manfredi certainly understands what it takes,' Sharpe said.
'On the advisor/consumer side, there are bigger fences to mend,' he continued. 'Guests have been abandoned in many cases, while others are still trying to navigate refunds through their insurance or credit card [companies]. We have millions in future cruise credits, currently without value, and advisors are still owed significant commissions during the toughest time in our history.
'So, to truly resurrect this brand, it will take a lot of work on all fronts in order for us to throw our endorsement and support behind the “new Crystal,” Sharpe said of Signature, 'but I am certainly looking forward to those conversations with our old industry friend Manfredi.'
First tried to buy Crystal in early 2021
In fact, as earlier reported here, Heritage Group had sought to acquire Crystal Cruises in first quarter 2021, a year before Genting HK went into liquidation. The Group made another fully funded offer after the liquidation was filed in January.
Those bids were rejected, leaving Heritage to persist through the liquidation process.
Ultimately the Group paid $25m for Crystal Symphony and $103m for Crystal Serenity at auction — a 'good deal,' in the view of one shipbroker — with the brand name acquired separately for an unknown amount.
The two ships are to resume service in 2023 after undergoing extensive refurbishment.
Update adds insights from Larry Pimentel