Tom Wolber: Crystal Expedition Cruises

On his recent river cruise on Crystal Bach, Ralph had the opportunity to sit down with Crystal Cruises’ President and CEO, Tom Wolber.

Tom Wolber, president and CEO of Crystal Cruises. © 2019 Ralph Grizzle

Ralph conducted three interviews with Wolber, the first two were about river cruising on the Moselle and what makes Crystal stand out. This time around, the focus is on Crystal Endeavor, a new expedition ship that will be delivered in 2020.

What will Crystal expeditions look like? Listen or read the transcript below to find out.

Ralph: If we turn to expedition…You have Endeavor coming up August 2020, is that correct?

Wolber: August 2020 she will go into service.

Ralph: How’s it going with the building?

Wolber: It’s becoming quite imposing. It’s a big ship. Yeah. When you see the renderings, you go like, wow, that’s, that’s a nice expedition ship. But when you actually see it, it’s quite a big ship and it, it really hit home to me when I saw that marina open on the back. The sheer size of that was so much bigger than anything I had imagined in my head. That, yeah, it’s a big ship and it’s coming along. It’s coming along.

Ralph: Yeah. I mean, I guess you have the itineraries out for what, ’20 and ’21 or?

Wolber: Yes, for ’20 the inaugural season and then ’21 is out as well. And ’22 is about to be released over the next month or so.

Ralph: Okay. Well, what excites you about expedition?

Wolber: Well, one, it is a, it’s yet another evolution of travel that you can do within the embrace of the Crystal brand. And as we’ve seen with the yacht and with the river, our repeat guests are very open and very embracing of doing new things. As long as Crystal is taking them there. So doing something new, is exciting. Taking people to the kinda last frontier is very exciting. And just the chance of bringing a product like that out and again, try to replicate the level of service, the products that we now have done in three different other categories to do that on the on an ocean, polar class ship is gonna be quite exciting. I don’t want to over hype the Crystal products. I’m not going to be satisfied until it is what it is and on the ocean, on the river and on the yacht. But again, we built the expedition experience around the core principles that we discussed. What do we need to do to make that experience for a luxury traveler an unforgettable experience? And it’s, again, it is centered around the crew experience on the ship and we will have 200 crew for 200 guests. The size of the accommodations. And then because we knew that the ship was going to be sailing the most spectacular landscapes and views in the world then, you know better than anyone, how completely overwhelming some of that scenery can be. We try to design the ship completely around the views. It’s very externally oriented ships. There’s views from everywhere that you go from the restaurants. Even our Umi Uma Nobu’s restaurant. We designed the sushi bar in such a way that the sushi bar servers are serving up and behind a big window. And as you are having sushi, you are looking at the scenery that goes by as the ship travels through. And that is true for, for a lot of the restaurants, the Palm Courts, the Waterside. We have a big solarium space, two stories solarium space that can be used during the day for activities like swimming, the jacuzzi and so on. But there’s also a restaurant space at night a buffet restaurant. So it’s a little different than that in that sense but all the elements for a true Crystal experience are there. What we have to learn is what does it take to really deliver an outstanding expedition experience. So we have engaged veterans out of the expedition community, and they’re working with us on getting that right. We have veterans in the itinerary planning that have helped us get that piece right. We have experts helping us with the permits that we need. And then we just have to put it together. I learned quickly like we did with the other products that we brought out and make it a true Crystal experience. Are we gonna have problems? Hopefully not, but we are completely prepared to have some of them. And therefore, I mean I’m absolutely confident it’s going to be an absolutely outstanding product, but I’m not going to go out with blazing guns, boasting about how great that it’s going to be. I mean, I’ll let that be decided by travelers like you and everyone else that that continues to award us great recognition.

Ralph: Oh, good. It sounds like I’ve been promised an expedition cruise just then. We have it on record. Yeah, I mean you are going to one of my favorite places. Russia’s far east. It could’ve just been the time that we went or whatever, but it was in terms of wildlife, culture and just the whole experience. It was incredible.

Wolber: And that is the, I mean when you talk about expedition cruising, everyone, for obvious reasons, always hones in immediately on the ice experiences, the Arctic or Antarctic experiences. But there’s a lot of seasons in between and they’re fairly limited seasons and there’s a lot of in between that you’ll have to fill as well and do that in a way that is true to a more expedition product. So yes, we are going to be taking the ship to places that are a little off the beaten track, that are a little more rough and natural and nature experiences. And we’re going to be taking people to cultures that they haven’t seen yet before. And because it’s a small ship, tiny thousand-ton ship, you can go into much more depth and into areas that otherwise can’t. In the inaugural season, we’re doing practically every Fjord of New Zealand in one cruise. It’s a 12-day cruise, six out of those days we will be spending in Tasmania. And again, it’s gonna be, even though it’s not a nice cruise, it’s gonna be an absolutely spectacular cruise cause it will take you to places that you just can’t go anywhere in any other way. And that is truly something I think that expedition cruising does. And adds to the travel experience of sophisticated travelers. It truly allows you to go to the last edges of the world that aren’t overrun with tourists yet. And that is quite special.

Ralph: Yeah. The Zodiacs, as long as you can…The Zodiacs sort of make that experience. Without the Zodiacs there would be no expedition cruises really. I mean, you have to have those to get ashore.

Wolber: And it’s something that we do with the Espirit, with our yacht, as well. We land people on small little islands in the Adriatic that otherwise you can’t get to. And people love that. They’re very open to doing that.

Ralph: Then you have another precedent, too. You did the Northwest passage, so…

Wolber: Right. We saw that there was quite a bit of interest in that type of experience. Yes.

Ralph: Well, this interview will be real interesting about a year from now. Well, good luck with expedition.

Wolber: Yes. Thank you.

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