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Crystal Cruises: The end of an era


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Over the last few weeks it has been extremely upsetting to see Crystal Cruises, a line that has long been one of my personal favourites, struggle and ultimately fail. What makes the situation all the more difficult to bear is that Crystal seemed to have finally come through the challenges of the pandemic.

Both their classic ocean ships had resumed sailing in the Caribbean and their new expedition vessel, launched as recently as September 2021, was operating an inaugural expedition cruise season in Antarctica, to great acclaim. It's been a chaotic demise made more challenging by the lack of communication from Crystal which, ultimately, was caused by parent company Genting Hong Kong, part of the huge Genting Group (who incidentally are unaffected by the losses incurred by Genting Hong Kong). The Genting Group is one of the biggest conglomerates in the far east, with 62,000 employees and a market capitalisation of US$ 37.87 billion.

Genting's management of Crystal dates from 2015 when they purchased the line from the Japanese founders NYK. Ambitious expansion plans were announced including river, yacht, expedition and even air programmes. Significant investment was made including the purchase of German ship builder MV Werften Holdings Ltd (MVWH) to help with Crystal's growth as well as Dream Cruises, an Asian cruise brand under the Genting Hong Kong umbrella.

Crystal Mozart

Over the last few years, several potential suitors courted the brand. This was rumoured in industry circles and it has recently been confirmed in the travel trade press that former Silversea Cruises owner Manfredi Lefebvre d'Ovidio, chairman of Heritage Group, whose holdings include Abercrombie & Kent, was, and may still be, interested. Meanwhile Sycamore Partners, the private equity firm that acquired Azamara last year, is also rumoured to have made an offer. These offers were ultimately rebuffed by Genting, who were, so they say, 'a challenging negotiating partner'.

One thing worth noting here is that it appears that the US management of Crystal Cruises LLC were not free to make decisions relating to the company, as everything was managed by the Genting Hong Kong board.

The catalyst for the end of Crystal was the failure of MVWH. The yard was to receive a significant bailout from the German government, however it was deemed that Genting Hong Kong had failed to meet the criteria so payment was halted. This led first to the bankruptcy of the yard, and then to Genting Hong Kong's filing to wind up, which Crystal Management in the US learned about from reading Genting Hong Kong's public statement. This put an end to the allowance Crystal Cruises had been receiving since the start of the pandemic, making continued operations impossible. It looked like rescue was still plausible, until the banks holding the mortgages on the ocean ships pulled the plug.

Crystal Endeavor under construction

This has not been stated by Crystal Cruises, who have not sent any communication beyond the announcement on their website, dated 19th January, stating that their ocean and expedition ships will be suspended through to 29th April 2022, and their river cruises suspended though to the end of May 2022. However, their U.S. shoreside team have all left the business and the ships' crews have also been released from their contracts. It is upsetting that the Crystal family has been broken apart and we've seen an outpouring of kind sentiments from Crystal guests who have celebrated and shared so much with friends, family and staff on board.

For many there is also a financial concern, as Crystal Cruises leave a huge number of creditors with no clear timeline for refund. These range from millions of dollars of unpaid fuel bills to individual guests and of course travel agencies.

For those owed monies in the form of pending refunds, monies held as a Future Cruise Credit, or the monies held against a future booking, you will be questioning whether your money is safe. If you have booked in UK£ with a UK travel agent, such as Mundy Cruising, and your contract is with The Cruise Portfolio in the UK, the answer is a definitive Yes.

In this case, the Cruise Portfolio acts as tour operator for these bookings, and is responsible for ensuring refunds of all customer monies owed on bookings made in pounds sterling through their offices. The Cruise Portfolio is wholly solvent and fully able to meet its current and future financial obligations.

We should clarify that The Cruise Portfolio is not associated with Crystal in any way other than being a sales agent, a function they have fulfilled for 31 years. The Cruise Portfolio are in fact a separate arm of Mundy Cruising plc and as such are a part of our small family company. The Cruise Portfolio does not hold any client monies and passes all payments to Crystal in the same week they are received. It currently seems unlikely that they will be able to recover these funds from Crystal or their liquidators.

To those who are affected, patience and understanding is key as The Cruise Portfolio organise their finances to expedite all refunds.

There are suggestions that there might be a resurrection of the brand in future, it seems possible but at this stage unlikely. Currently the ships and other assets are being sold off - very sad given that the value of the company lies more in the Crystal Cruises brand itself, which has commanded such loyalty over so many years, with an extraordinary line-up of awards. We are thinking at this time about so many people whose livelihoods are affected by the outcome, not least the fabulous crew, and all the company employees. The cruise industry will be poorer for the loss of this very special brand.

Past guests, myself included, will see Crystal as irreplaceable, but others are looking to step in. Silversea, whose expanding fleet has been growing in number and guest capacity, offer some of the best dining at sea across a fantastic choice of dining venues. We are particularly excited about the upcoming launch of the 596-guest Silver Dawn and their new class of vessel, the 728-guest Silver Nova.

Silver Dawn

Seabourn's exciting expansion into the expedition arena matches Crystal's ambitions, bringing the spacious accommodation and exceptional service their classic fleet are known for to the world's most remote regions.

Regent's lavish ships have plenty of facilities, superb cuisine and a host of additional inclusions: the magnificent Seven Seas Splendor was launched just before the beginning of the pandemic in February 2020, and Seven Seas Grandeur follows next year.

Explora Journeys, the exciting new entrant into the luxury cruise sector from the shipping colossus that is MSC, is due to launch the first of their four ships is in May 2023, accommodating up to 922 guests in spacious, all balcony suites on a purpose-built vessel set with an abundance of dining choices and facilities.

All of these cruise lines have extended exclusive offers for Crystal guests. I hope to see these brands step up to fill the gap left by Crystal and provide a new home for some of the amazing Crystal team.

Edwina Lonsdale
Meet the author

Edwina Lonsdale is Managing Director and, together with husband Matthew, owner of Mundy Cruising.

More about Edwina

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