On Tuesday, Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises' new 20,000-grt Crystal Endeavor, a new P6 polar-class expedition vessel, moved a step closer to launch as its keel was laid at MV Werten's Stralsund shipyard in northeastern Germany.
Bookings for the new ship open today to the general public. The line's loyal Crystal veterans, members of its Crystal Society, were able to book prior to the general opening.
Tom Wolber, Crystal's president and CEO, told Travel Agent on site that those Crystal Society guests alone have already booked one-quarter or so of all capacity for the ship during its first year of service.
A Celebratory Event
During yesterday's event, a celebratory spirit filled the shipyard drydock/building hall as more than 400 shipyard workers proudly wore blue Endeavor Team tee-shirts and watched the keel laying ceremony.
That maritime tradition included the placement of 88 U.S. dollar coins and 88 European Union euro coins under the keel. Then the 400-ton block was lowered into place with sparklers/fireworks adding a celebratory touch, once that was completed.
In Asia, home of Genting Hong Kong, Crystal's parent company, 88 is a symbol of good luck.
Most anticipated during the program, though, was the appearance of Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel in her role as a member of the German Bundestag.
Returning to her home base, the German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Chancellor Merkel, wearing an orangish-red top and slacks, made quite an entrance. Escorted by executives and government officials, she entered on a long red carpet to the tune of "Gonna Fly Now," the well-recognized theme song from the movie, "Rocky."
Relaxed and upbeat, she told the audience she'd seen the images of the new expedition ship, she liked the ship's name, and it was definitely to her liking: "I wish I could take a voyage on that vessel."
She also wished employees of Crystal, Genting Hong Kong and the shipyard itself, "good ideas and strong nerves."
The event was symbolic of the rebirth of robust shipbuilding in the area, which has a 600-year-history of maritime construction.
But in Germany's re-unification period, starting in 1990, the economic picture had—at times—seemed bleak as Stralsund and other yards in the region struggled to gain new business and awaited the economic infusion needed for modernization.
The knight in shining armor, so to speak, was Genting Hong Kong, which, at the same time, was concerned about its ability to find space in shipyards to build future vessels. Three years ago, Genting Hong Kong invested 230 million euros in the Stralsund yard and two others in the region. It then plowed another 250 million euros into them to modernize the facilities.
Merkel told the audience in attendance that she hoped "made in MV" would become a popular label, adding that the local workers will do their best to create value and they know how to compete.
Also emotional about the day was Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay, executive chairman and CEO, Genting Hong Kong. He said the company is playing "our part to bring the shipbuilding industry to the northern shores of Germany."
In the past, the German share of international shipbuilding for the cruise industry has been about 25 percent, but he said that will rise to 35 percent by 2020.
Also speaking at the keel laying ceremony were Manuela Schwesig, prime minister for Germany's Mecklenburg Western Pomerania; and Peter Fetten, president of MV Werften, among others.
While Wolber, Crystal's president and CEO, didn't speak at the ceremony—as the ceremony was shortened slightly to accommodate Merkel's revised schedule—he did showcase a razzle-dazzle video about the new ship.
Crystal Endeavor is expected to uphold the ultra-luxury standard of Crystal's product in an expedition-style experience. Guests will relax in 100 pampering suites on an ice-rated ship that will be able to sail from the Arctic to Antarctica, and exotic off-the-beaten-path spots in between.
In his originally prepared written remarks, Wolber noted: "It is truly a thrill to mark this important milestone for Crystal Endeavor and the entire Crystal family, as this yacht will change the way guests can explore the world both adventurously and luxuriously.
"I am honored to share this occasion with Chancellor Merkel, Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay and our special guests as well as the skilled workers of MV Werften who are building this game-changing ship," according to the written remarks.
Crystal unveiled the itineraries for Crystal Endeavor’s inaugural season on July 31. The ship will sail a series of charters and special event voyages before it begins that inaugural season in August 2020.
During that first season, the ship will sail voyages of 12 to 22 days. Itineraries will explore the cultural and bio-diversity of Japan and the Russian Far East; Indonesia, Borneo and the Philippines; New Zealand and Tasmania; Australia and the Great Barrier Reef; and Antarctica.
Bookings for Crystal Endeavor’s global journeys open to the public today.
Mark Spillane, manager of sales and marketing, Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises told Travel Agent that 60 percent of guests on the line's first small oceangoing vessel, Crystal Esprit, are new to Crystal. Those guests also tend to be younger and more active, he said. They're travelers who who might not normally book a cruise. They pick Crystal Esprit for the destinations it visits.
Bottom line? That bodes well for Crystal Endeavor, which officials believe should bring similar results -- developing new audiences for Crystal, and then as those guests evolve throughout their lives, they will move to the Crystal larger ships and to the line's river vessels.