Crystal shines on the Rhine

Crystal River Cruises CEO Walter Littlejohn is living his dream job. Having decided at the age of 14 that he wanted to have a career in cruising, he’s now in charge of what is arguably the most exciting new operation in Europe, with the deep pockets of Crystal River Cruises owner Genting Hong Kong allowing him to achieve what other lines can only dream of.

Crystal River Cruises is just one arm of the burgeoning Crystal empire, which is built on the foundation of ocean ships Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity. Created with the aim of providing more holiday experiences for Crystal’s longstanding discerning clientele, the new river operation currently has three ships, with two more newbuilds on the way in 2018. The fleet includes Crystal Mozart — a double-wide vessel which cruises on the lower Danube which launched under the Crystal brand in 2016 after a major refurbishment. This year the company added Crystal Bach and Crystal Mahler, smaller “Rhine-class” newbuilds which carry just 110 passengers along with 68 crew, and next year two more identical ships will join the line-up to give a total complement of five river ships.

Littlejohn told travelBulletin the company aims to redefine the river cruising sector. Every cabin has a panoramic floor-to-ceiling window which electronically slides open vertically to connect passengers to the river. “We don’t have any ‘swan view’ cabins,” he said, while all guests receive full service from dedicated butlers. Crystal has made pains to keep control of every aspect of its operations, with all crew and hotel staff employed by the company rather than through subcontractors. There’s a real gym and guest laundry on board, and the galley is five times the size of those on competitor vessels, Littlejohn said. The fully inclusive experience features daily shore excursions, top shelf beverages and fabulous on-board cuisine, while every voyage also includes a free on-shore restaurant experience in a Michelin-starred eatery in one of the ports visited.

Travel agents are key to Crystal’s strategy — and Littlejohn has deep insight into the needs of the travel trade having owned his own agency for 14 years so he truly understands the sector. He’s also previously worked at AmaWaterways and Expedia so has a good grasp on the wider travel industry. Interestingly, while Crystal aimed to provide a new option for its rusted-on ocean clientele, there has been strong interest from cruisers new to the Crystal brand, with expectations that they will in turn want to experience the product on the larger ocean vessels.