Crystal Cruises Ashore: An Interview With Crystal’s Vice President of Land Programs, John Stoll
I recently cruised on Crystal Serenity to experience and write about a few new innovations on board the vessel, which was recently renovated to the tune of $17 million.
Two big changes were to the dining program, and I wrote about those in these posts: Crystal Serenity’s Modern Cuisine & Charges At The Sushi Bar and Crystal Serenity’s New Dining Programs: Some Changes You May Love, Some You May Not.
But Crystal is evolving in more ways than dining, and on one afternoon, as Crystal Serenity was making her way from Bordeaux to Lisbon, I got the chance to sit down with a guy who I consider to be a kindred spirit, John Stoll, vice president of land programs for Crystal Cruises.
Imagine a job like John’s: He gets to travel around the globe to identify and often participate in some of the world’s most-coveted travel experiences, which he and his team then develop into land programs that the company offers to its guests through the Crystal Adventures program.
Throughout the years, John & company have come up with some innovative land programs, such as offering guests the opportunity to take flight in a MiG Fighter Jet. Cost: $47,500. Number of Crystal guests who have opted for this land program since its inception a few years ago: 3. (If you’d like to see a description of that excursion, click Crystal Cruises Mig Fighter Jet to view a pdf.)
I feel that I am a kindred spirit to John because while we both love our time on ships we have an even greater love for the places that ships can take us. Maybe you’re that way too.
I always get excited when I think about stepping ashore, whether I’m doing so to participate in a cruise line shore excursion, a custom shore excursion arranged by a travel agent, or whether I’m setting out on my own. On my recent Crystal cruise, I spent one day just walking through Bordeaux by myself. It was wonderful.
During our interview, John told me that Crystal has two new programs that will be of interest to active travelers: Bicycling Tours and Site Running.
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Crystal Cruises Bicycle Tours
Crystal will offer 16 bicycle adventures this year in Europe. “For many, it is a lifelong dream to cycle through Europe’s most beautiful landscapes – a dream one wouldn’t necessarily expect to fulfill while on a cruise,” John says.
As a side note, I came to Europe seven years ago to be part of a bike-friendly culture. I’ve cycled all my life, having crossed the United States, Canada, New Zealand, the east coast of Australia and much of Europe by bike. I still cycle everyday when I am in either of the two places that I call home, in the south of Sweden near Copenhagen, and in Asheville, North Carolina, where I enjoy mountain biking and road trips along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Just writing that last sentence makes me realize how lucky I have been in my life.
A sampling of the half- and full-day excursions from Crystal’s website:
- Malta – A 12.5-mile route travels through countryside only accessible by bicycle and along the western coastline toward the highest point in Malta, the Dingli Cliffs – dramatically sheering straight down to the Mediterranean Sea and providing spectacular panoramic views.
- Tallinn – Guests will seemingly cycle back in time as they ride to the Baroque palace and summer home of Peter the Great, and around the UNESCO World Heritage Site that is the city’s Old Town, complete with ancient walls, cobblestone lanes and 16th century architecture – including a pharmacy that has been in business since 1422.
- Copenhagen – In one of the world’s most bike-friendly cities, guests can truly experience the sites as the locals do, including a winding, five-mile ride through a forest en route to a 500-year-old amusement park (the world’s oldest), Bakken, where they’ll have time to play and explore.
- Bordeaux/Bassens – Along a nine-mile combination of flat and hilly roads in the quaint village of Saint-Émilion – whose entire wine “jurisdiction” is a UNESCO World Heritage Site – where guests will enjoy views of beautiful chateaus and expansive vineyards of such premier estates as Château Angélus, Figeac and Cheval Blanc.
- Barcelona – An invigorating five-mile ride through the city’s bustling streets affords the opportunity to admire the profoundly impressive architecture of the cathedrals and other icons, while also enjoying performances from street artists that liven up the La Rambla boulevard.
- Guernsey/St. Peter Port – Along a six-mile stunning coastal path, travelers can marvel equally at L’Ancresse and Pembroke beaches and the Le Dehus Dolmen, home to Neolithic-era tombs that resemble a miniature Stonehenge.
Crystal’s bicycle adventures are also offered in Valencia and Mallorca, Spain; Corfu, Greece; Dubrovnik, Croatia; Helsinki, Finland; Holyhead, Wales; Kotor, Montenegro; Skagen, Denmark; St. Tropez, France; and St. Petersburg, Russia.
Prices for the bicycling excursions range from $89 to $249 per person and include bottled water and the use of helmets, and of course, a guide.
Crystal Cruises Site Running
Lace up your running shoes for escorted 3-mile to 6-mile runs that vary from jogs past historical sites to nature runs through magnificent parks on Crystal’s new Site Running Adventures.
“Recreational joggers can get an intimate overview of an area on foot, with expert insight and guidance,” John says.
In fact, I often jog in destinations that the cruises I am on visit, particularly on river cruises. Jogging is a good way to neutralize some of that caloric intake on the ship while seeing a lot relatively quickly.
A sampling of some of the runs:
- Along Dubrovnik’s River Ombla and the old train route to Brgat village – a path usually only traveled by locals – and on to meet the city’s cable car for a ride to UNESCO World Heritage Site Old Town Dubrovnik.
- From Greenock, Scotland, along the inclines, declines, worn and less taken paths surrounding Loch Lomond, known as the Queen of Scottish lakes, set amongst the rolling green hills of the Highlands.
- Among St. Petersburg’s gilded Baroque architecture, across the Neva River to Vasilievsky Island, past Peter the Great’s lush summer garden, then on to the fabled Church on the Spilled Blood.
- Beside Amsterdam’s tree-lined canals, through pedestrian-only areas like the Waterlooplein flea market, and past iconic locales like Anne Frank’s House and museums such as the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh.
- From Monte Carlo, on a rolling path along the French Riviera, around St. Jean Cap-Ferrat peninsula and through the quaint village of Villefranche-sur-Mer to Beaulieu-sur-Mer, rewarded by an optional swim in the Mediterranean Sea.
- Around Cork’s quaint Irish town of Cobh, filled with colorful row houses, a hill-top, neo-Gothic cathedral, and magnificent harbor views.
- Through old Bordeaux – a UNESCO World Heritage Site only accessible by foot – past landmarks including the medieval Cailhau Gate, Napoleon and Chaban-Delmas Bridge crossings, the world’s first American consulate, and other cathedrals, theatres and monuments.
Starting at $69 for runs that range from one to four hours, all outings include comfortable air-conditioned transportation to/from the course’s beginning and/or end, instructor-led warm-ups and stretching beforehand, guide-narrated sightseeing stops, reflective safety gear, and healthy refreshments such as bottled water, power snacks and fresh juice en route.
Crystal Cruises Boutique Adventures
Through its new Boutique Adventures program, Crystal will take guests backstage, behind the velvet ropes, under the hard hat, and into the luxury kitchens, homes, and cars of local European experts with six extremely limited-availability shore-side excursions.
“These excursions go beyond a traditional tourist experience and allow for deeper understanding of people and places that can only be gleaned from the perspectives of local, expert insiders,” Stoll says.
The program will allow travelers to forge deeper, personal connections with local cultures and destinations in the UK, Spain, Italy and Sweden. In all, guests can choose from 15 different “Boutique Adventures” during Crystal’s 2014 luxury European cruise season.
New excursions include:
- Hard-hat tour of Santa Maria Cathedral, for a behind-the-scaffolding view of the 13th-century church’s delicate renovation currently underway, personally guided by one of the project’s architects or technical advisors. (from Bilbao, Spain)
- Special, “backstage” access to Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum, whose Frank Gehry-designed architecture houses not only some of the world’s greatest art, but also Michelin-starred restaurant Nerua, where guests will dine on innovative cuisine rivaling the museum’s other masterpieces—and visit the kitchen to learn how it’s all made. (from Santander, Spain)
- Seafood Master Class at the Cliff Townhouse restaurant, with resident chef Sean Smith, who will instruct on the traditional Irish preparation of the area’s most popular catches, before treating participants to a delectable three-course feast. (from Dublin, Ireland)
- VIP Edinburgh Military Tattoo experience, with a multi-course dinner in Edinburgh Castle’s Gatehouse, pre-and post-show champagne, and VIP seats in the “Royal Gallery” for the annual Tattoo—a a 1000+-person showcase of international military music, drums, and pageantry, concluding with a haunting tune from a lone Scottish bagpiper. (from Greenock, Scotland)
- Exclusive exploration of Italian national monument Casa Cuseni in Taormina, which boasts extravagantly designed gardens and spectacular views of Mt. Etna, plus an elegant Sicilian lunch in the property’s private villa (from Sicily, Italy).
- Stockholm’s must-see sites, vintage VIP style, firstby chauffeured classic car – such as a 1938 Cadillac Fleetwood Limo – then by early 20th-century tram, though historical locales such as the Vasa Museum, enjoying traditional Swedish “Fika” (coffee and local delicacies) en route. (from Stockholm)
Other 2014 European “Boutique” experiences include private artist sessions in Corfu and Lisbon, opera in Lucca, private mass at Barcelona’s Sagrada Família, a Michelin Star-level cooking class in Sorrento, and a VIP F1 party at the Monaco Grand Prix. Fares for the half- and full-day excursions range from $109 to $2,259 per person.
In 2014, 25 Crystal cruises of seven to 14 days will sail through the Mediterranean, Northern and Western Europe and the British Isles. Until June 30, all-inclusive “Book Now” cruise fares start at $1,990 per person.