A&K Travel Group (AKTG) has confirmed its intention to grow the fleet of Crystal Cruises with four new build ships earmarked to be operational over the next six years. The composition of the new fleet will be two classic ships and two expedition vessels.
Speaking at a press conference on a shakedown cruise aboard Crystal Serenity, Christina Levis, CEO of A&K Travel Group (which encompasses Abercrombie & Kent and Crystal) revealed talks are underway with two European shipyards to develop the circa 650-passenger classic ocean ships and approximately 220-passenger ice-class expedition vessels.
“We haven’t signed, yet, shipbuilding contracts, so I cannot announce today,” Levis said, noting that AKTG is working with lenders and credit agencies to fund the expansion beyond the two existing ships, Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony.
“Our aim is to have four new builds by the end of 2029,” Levis said.
Crystal’s Bernie Leypold, SVP Hotel Operations along with the luxury cruise line’s marine team have been dividing their time overseeing the revitalisation of Serenity and Symphony, along with developing the blueprints of the new vessels.
Levis said discussions are underway with two European shipyards, whose names were not confirmed.
As an aside, A&K Travel Group partnered with Italy’s Fincantieri on the rebuild of Crystal Symphony (and the now relaunched Crystal Serenity) and has utilised Tillberg Design of Sweden for the interior architectural facelift of those ships. Whether the cruise line uses the same builder and architects for the new designs remains to be seen.
“We are quite advanced in particular for the expedition ship,” Levis noted, adding, “we aim at starting construction of one expedition ship and one classic ship by Q2 next year.”
No big toys
Quizzed by LATTE on the possibility of the expedition vessels being capable of carrying helicopters and a submarine, such has been the trend in recent years, Executive Chairman, Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio said it was unlikely due to the increased weight added to the ships.
The capacity of the new classic ocean ships will be closer to that of Crystal Serenity, which has been wound back from 1,040 to 740 guests.
Same, same but different
The expedition ships are envisioned to operate in the Arctic and Antarctic in the respective summer months of each hemisphere. They will offer a consistent product with that of Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony, including a celebrity chef restaurant.
“The idea will be to offer the same space, the same restaurants and the same experience,” Leypold added. That includes partnerships with celebratory chefs. Crystal recently renewed its partnership with chef Nobu Matsuhisa of Nobu Hospitality for its relaunch of UMI UMA aboard Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony.
“We are working with celebrity chefs. We have in the past – we have over 50 Michelin star chefs onboard in the previous Crystal product and we continue to curate those.”
“We are in conversation with a few of them,” Leypold added.
Levis noted that the chef/s they are keen to align with are “big names” of the culinary industry.
Meanwhile, the introduction of expedition ships to the Crystal fleet will not hamper A&K’s long-standing association and charter arrangements with Ponant.
“For the foreseeable future, Abercrombie & Kent will continue to charter Ponant ships,” Levis added.
She also confirmed that 40 crew members from the existing expedition fleet that operate aboard Ponant’s voyages will be adopted by Crystal.