On Board the New Crystal Esprit
Earlier this week, I was one of a lucky group of passengers to get a first look at the all-new Crystal Esprit yacht, on a two-night "pre-inaugural" voyage in the Seychelles. For those who haven't been following all the news out of Crystal Cruises lately, the beloved cruise line—number one in our World's Best Awards survey for 20 years running—acquired this year by Malaysian billionaire Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay's company Genting Hong Kong. Since that moment, Crystal, which for years has been operating two large ocean vessels, has announced an aggressive expansion plan. This includes new river cruises, new ocean ships and residences at sea, private air charters, and two- and four-week private-air trips.
The first of Crystal's new products to launch is Crystal Yacht Cruises, with the debut of the Crystal Esprit. The yacht was formerly Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay's own private vessel, which the company has transformed into a 31-cabin passenger ship that will primarily sail around the Seychelles for part of the year and the Adriatic (between Dubrovnik and Venice) for the rest. After my two days aboard, I can attest that Crystal has translated the brand and what its fans love about it—including butler service, a (mostly) all-inclusive program, and luxuries like caviar and free-flowing champagne—to a very different and much more intimate experience. The whole vibe is designed to appeal to a younger and more active clientele, especially. Among the highlights: getting up-close and personal with undersea life in a submersible, which even on the low-visibility day I did it was pretty incredible. (It's also one of the few activities that are not included; 30-minute sessions run an extra $599 per person.)
Yachts like the Crystal Esprit can of course get you places the big ships can't, and on its Seychelles itineraries, you'll explore uninhabited islands and laze on completely empty beaches—all reached by Zodiac. Crystal Yacht Cruises will definitely satisfy Crystal devotees who have been longing for something a different and more high-energy. The yacht experience will also attract newcomers for whom the big ships don't jibe. Crystal executives on my trip also said that the ship has already been chartered. So for those looking to drop some serious dough on taking over the yacht—ideal for big family celebrations or corporate meetings—it's also an appealing new option.
Seven-day Seychelles itineraries, which include a two-night Dubai Land Package, begin at $4,960 per person, all inclusive.
The new Crystal Esprit, formerly a private yacht, has 31 guest cabins and will sail around the Seychelles and the Adriatic. The ship has five decks connected by stairs (note there is no elevator) and is done in a fresh nautical style and Crystal’s signature blue-and-white palette.
Standard suites are done in a simple, tailored style and are fairly roomy, with two twins or one king-size bed, a full sofa, plenty of closet space, a writing desk/vanity table, a TV, and a bath with double sinks. Each has two windows, but no balcony, and comes with Crystal’s signature butler service. There’s also the Owner’s Suite for high rollers who want a more opulent space.
Although guest cabins don’t have balconies, there are a number of distinct areas for open-air lounging. I was on a completely sold-out ship, and generally could still find areas completely empty for relaxing in peace and quiet.
The yacht’s top deck, Sunset, has lots of comfy open-air seating and a small pool, over which hangs a large-screen TV for movie nights under the stars.
The Sunset deck is also home to a bar area for sundowners and a grill that serves made-to-order burgers and salads at lunchtime.
Breakfast and lunch are served in the bright Patio Café, which also has outdoor seating. Food is a combination of small bites arrayed on a small buffet and a live station where a chef prepares eggs in the morning and fresh pastas at midday. Crystal is known for the quality of its food and I can say they are on their game aboard the Crystal Esprit.
Dinner is in the Yacht Club, where the à la carte menu includes creative dishes that change daily as well as classics like French onion soup and perfectly prepared steak or fish. Behind the club is the Cove, an indoor lounge area with a full bar for cocktails and nightcaps, and a live piano player nightly.
For such a small vessel, the Crystal Esprit has an impressive roster of amenities, including a gym, a sauna, a small casino, and a spa treatment room (try the massage on a bed of heated granite pebbles).
Shore excursions take guests by Zodiac to quiet islands like Curieuse, where I had a blissful swim off a deserted beach and visited a sanctuary for giant tortoises.
The Crystal Esprit has typical yacht “toys” like Jet Skis, but the real highlight is its submersible, which takes two guests under the sea with a captain to explore marine life. Especially for those of us who don’t scuba dive, it’s an amazing experience to explore the reefs and be surrounded by marine life—in the Seychelles, you see an abundance of colorful fish along with larger rays and sharks.