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CRYSTAL CRUISES
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MAKING THE CRYSTAL
DIFFERENCE

An interview with Captain Jon Orland, Hotel
Director
Herbert Doppler and Cruise Director
Scott Peterson
of CRYSTAL SYMPHONY (2007)

by Richard H. Wagner
    Crystal Cruises is unique among cruise lines in several ways.  It is
a company that operates with only two ships.  Yet, it is part of the
world’s largest shipping company.  It is Japanese-owned but the
ships are geared toward the American market.  Perhaps most
importantly, it is the only line that is offering six-star plus luxury
service on large (i.e., greater than 50,000 ton) ships.

    The Crystal fleet consists of CRYSTAL SERENITY (68,870 g.r.
t.) and the CRYSTAL SYMPHONY (51, 044 g.r.t.)  For a time, the
line also operated the CRYSTAL HARMONY (49,904 g.r.t) but that
ship was transferred to sister company Akura Cruises where she now
operates as the AKURA II.  While not as large as the mega-cruise
ships that have come onto the market, they are still quite sizeable.  
But with passenger capacities of only 1,100 and 960 respectively, the
two ships have very favorable passenger space rations and passenger
to crew rations.

      Unlike many contemporary cruise lines, Crystal does not base
its ships in a port and then repeat the same itinerary each week.  
Instead, while the ships may stay in a region for a month or more,
the itineraries vary widely and the ships move around the globe.  
This, of course requires the ships to transverse all types of seas in all
types of weather.  “The ships are very stable, very good actually.  
The shape of this ship here compared to many of them [in the
industry] is more streamlined shape, not so wide, more sleek to go
through the waves,” observed Captain Jon Okland, master of the
SYMPHONY.

    While SYMPHONY can do up to 23 knots, the speed the ship
does during a cruise generally ranges from 17 to 20 knots depending
upon the itinerary.  “Coming from Norfolk to here [New York] it
was 14 or 15.  From Boston to Newport, it will be a higher speed
again - - that will require more than 20.  It is very different from port
to port.  We have six main engines and we can run with 2, 3, 4, 5 or
6 but it is best economically when we have 3 today with the oil prices
rather high.  With three engines we do 17 knots.  Then, the ship rides
beautifully, no vibration, no nothing, like you are along side the
dock.  Rough sea it is better too.”

    The ships’ global itineraries pose logistical challenges as well.  
Herbert K. Doppler, SYMPHONY’s Hotel Director explained: “We
do worldwide cruising so it is not this seven day in and out of
Miami.    It is a bit more challenging.  It is a big part in our operation
to figure out how to supply the ship around the world.  However,
having said that, we have been all around for a few years.  We have
a very experienced team together with a good support unit in Los
Angles in our head office.  Over the years, we have worked it our
nicely.  We know by now where to buy what and what to take on
where.  Planning is the key there.”

    The fact that Crystal is owned by Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK),
the Japanese shipping giant, helps as well.  “Our owners operate
about 800 cargo ships so we are better supported than some of the
larger cruise lines. Also, Crystal has a very good reputation. So,
whatever city we go to, we are treated very well.  There is no saying
‘you only have two ships, we are not interested.’  It is actually the
opposite.  The same goes for the venders.  We are associated with
many good companies out there,”  Doppler said.

    While NYK owns and supports the cruise line, it does not attempt
to micro-manage the operation.  “They don’t get involved in the day
to day operation.  They only get involved in the strategic decisions.  
It is run by Crystal Cruises Los Angles.”

    The company focuses on the American market.  According to
Mr. Doppler: “Nationality-wise we are doing about 85 percent
American and about 15 percent international and we are happy with
that..  The UK is a growing market and we are there already.  
However, our prime market will remain the United States.”

    In general, Crystal attracts two groups, one somewhat older than
the other. “The typical passenger, in the older group is the
experienced traveler.  They have been to most places in the world
already during their professional life. For that group the ship is very
important as a destination.  The younger people - - everybody talks
about the baby boomers and we have them too - - for them it is a
combination between destination, where they want to go to, which
part of the world, and, of course, the time of the year comes into the
picture.  But, having said that, the ship is a destination that is very
important to them as well.  They like to cruise with the best and
recently, [Crystal] has been voted again number one by Travel and
Leisure and also with Conde Nast and that is important with the baby
boomers.  They go by rating and things like that when they choose
ships.  I think we tie right in with the Four Seasons and the Ritz
Carlton.  Anyone who would take a five star hotel vacation on land
or even a four star plus would be attracted to a Crystal ship as well.”

    The question then becomes how does Crystal consistently
achieve these high ratings?  “It is a combination of various things.  
First of all, you have to maintain your hardware in the best possible
way, meaning the ship itself, the rooms and the restaurant etc.  
Equally important, if not more important, you have to continuously
focus on your software which is our crew members whether they are
waiters, stewardesses, chefs etc.  [Third] you need to maintain your
offerings that you have in the ship and at the same time improve and
focus on quality of what we do.”

    With regard to the “hardware,” CRYSTAL SYMPHONY went
into service in 1995.  However, it does not follow that she is a 1990s
venue.  “Every two years we go into drydock and last year was a
hectic one,” Captain Orland commented.

    Mr. Doppler added: “First of all, in your operations, things start to
get worn and you cannot replace that on the run, as we say.  Number
two was in the public rooms, especially on Deck 6, we had a lounge
that was sort of locked in that we wanted to open up into a bigger
lounge which we did.  We added a new location up there - - a
nightclub, a designated nightclub.  Thirdly, the most money went into
the [state]rooms.  We wanted to have a more contemporary look in
our rooms, a more modern look.  The ship came out in 1995 so it
was probably planned in 1993.  We wanted to follow some new
trends and that is why we changed the look of the rooms, the
furniture.”

    Turning to the “software,” Captain Orland said: “I have to say
that on these ships we have fantastic crew and we are able to keep
them for a long, long time.   They are fantastic for remembering
names and everything.  When the guests come onboard, they say
‘welcome aboard.’  They know the guests’ names and that is
something the guests appreciate very much and they know what the
guests like and know what the guests like to drink, they know what
the guests like to eat.  Attention to small details, attention to details.”  

     Mr. Doppler continued, “Friendliness is very important to us.   
Today many things are expected or taken as standard so in order to
achieve a constant ‘wow’ for the guests you can really do this with
extraordinary friendliness, extraordinary quality of entertainment as
well as extraordinary food.”
Hotel Director Herbert Doppler
The expanded Starlite lounge.
Friendliness is emphasized.
Cruise Ship interview- - Crystal Symphony - - Crystal Cruises - - page 1
Captain Jon Orland