12 May 2016

Crystal Luxury Air to Lloyd Werft Shipyards, 9-11 May 2016

Okay boys and girls, today we are going to try something a bit different: an actual travel report. I was going to post this earlier, but then wifi problems intervened. But it's still before midnight in the current local time (although not Finnish time), so here goes:

The Crystal Luxury Air jet that flew me from Italy to Germany and back again.
During the past three days, I have been whisked away from one press function to another, with one unifying theme: Crystal Cruises. As you already know, I'm sailing on the Crystal Symphony as a press representative on their Sales Gala cruise. But on Monday, 9 May, the cruise was interrupted by what Ralph Grizzle of The Avid Cruiser described as the longest shore excursion any of us had ever taken.

Early Monday morning, our group of 12 people (nine journalists and three people from Crystal, including the President and CEO Edie Rodriguez) got off the ship at Crotone and transferred to Crotone airport and the awaiting Crystal Luxury Air Bombardier Global Express XRS jet.

Inside the jet - which will hopefully get a proper name at some point, making it much easier to write about. Sitting closest to the camera is John Honeywell, alias Captain Greybeard.

Now I don't like flying. I never have. Apart from the fact that it's fast, I find it has nothing to defend it as a method of transport. Crystal's first aircraft made me change my mind. The small plane is quite simply gorgeous. For the first time in my (adult) life there is enough leg space, the service is fantastic, the food is fresh and tasty, and because it's a private jet then security procedures are much simplified.

The buffet for our little two-hour flight. Notice, on the plate, the actual menu for the meals available; the buffet was just for little snack things.

All this does come at a price: flying with the 12-seater plane sets you back 8 000 US dollars per hour, plus possible extra expenses. That 8 000 gets you the entire aircraft, however, so with a group sharing the price it might be worth it. I'm fairly certain I'll never be able to afford the plane with my income, but being able to fly with it from Italy to Germany and back was an experience I will not soon forget.

So, a little over two hours we had left Crotone we landed in Bremen, from where we transferred to a bus that speeded us to the nearby town of Bremerhaven and the Lloyd Werft shipyard for the opening of the Lloyd Werft Design Center. As eaders are probably aware, Genting Hong Kong (who also own Crystal Cruises) bought Lloyd Werft last year and quickly made evident their intention to build a series of new ships for Crystal at the yard. Subsequently, Genting also acquired the Nordic Yards company with three shipyards in Wismar, Warnemünde and Stralsund, which were recently merged with Lloyd Werft to form Lloyd Werft group. With the new Crystal Cruises ships in the works, Lloyd Werft group needs to radically expand their design capacity, thus the new Design Center, which is located in Lloyd Werft's former administrative building. Interestingly, the red brick house was originally built as a laundry to serve the ocean liners of Norddeutsche Lloyd (North German Lloyd) who, as the name suggests, were also the original owners of the shipyard.

Opening ceremony - or more precisely, after the opening ceremony - of Lloyd Werft Design Center (we actually arrived late and missed a part of the celebrations).

In fact, the Lloyd Werft Design Center will be fully operational on 30 May. As other related ceremonies were to be held this week, the yard decided to hold the opening ceremony at the same time. At least from the point of view of international coverage this was a smart move.

Edie Rodriguez of Crystal Cruises (left) with Rüdinger Pallentin of Lloyd Werft (right) shortly before the steel cutting for Crystal's first newbuilt river yachts commenced-
After lunch and a brief tour of the Design Center, it was back to a bus and towards our next destination: a factory in Bremen that Lloyd Werft had subcontracted to do the steel work of Crystal Cruises' four new luxury river yachts, the Crystal Debussy, Crystal Bach, Crystal Ravel and Crystal Mahler. Following instructions from one of the workers Edie Rodriguez pushed the button and the first piece of the new river cruise ships – a rather intricate shape – was cut. Although marketed as a quartet, the new ships are actually two not-identical pairs: the Crystal Debussy and Crystal Ravel will be 110 metres long and accommodate 80 passengers in lower berths while the Crystal Bach and Crystal Mahler will be larger at 135 metres and 110 passengers. Regardless of size, all four are slated to enter service on the rivers of Central Europe in 2017.

The steel cutting machine made an impressive shower of sparks.

With the steel suitably cut, we left Bremen for Wismar (stopping en route for dinner at an obscure but pleasant town with the name Bargdeheide). In Wismar we checked in at a hotel for well-deserved rest after what had essentially been a 15-hour day.

The morning of our second day started off leisurely in Wismar; I took the time to find a shop selling hair gel and sunscreen (both of which I had forgotten to bring along), as well as try to find some buildings dating from East German era – Wismar lying just to the east of the border that divided Germany for over five decades. After that, it was time for another bus ride, this time to a business building near Lloyd Werft Group's Wismar yard where, we were promised, the actual contracts to build the first series of ships for Crystal Cruises would be signed (interestingly, this included the contracts for the four river ships that had already begun construction the day before!).

A random shot I snapped from Wismar's Old Town in the morning. Later on, I realised that the large building you see in the distance is Lloyd Werft's Wismar yard, so the image becomes highly appropriate.
However, as we arrived on site, I noticed there was an extra flag waving outside the venue: in addition to the to-be expected flags of Genting Hong Kong, Crystal Cruises and Lloyd Werft, there was also the flag of Star Cruises. This immediately got me thinking: would we see a new contract from Genting's first cruise brand today too? Entering the press room proved my hunch correct: proundly displayed were renderings of a new, large ship in Star Cruises colours. Once the press conference finally got underway, we learned that Crystal Cruises and Star Cruises were contracting no less than ten ships that day, for a combined price of 3,5 billion euros: six river cruise ships for Crystal (so two more than had previously been reported), as well as two ocean-going ships for the same company (an expedition yacht and the first of the projected three large Exclusive Class ships), and a pair of no less than 201 000 gross ton, 5 000 passenger mega cruise ships for Star Cruises, known as the Global class. And all ships are due to be delivered by 2020. Not a small feat, and no wonder they need to enlarge the design department!

Staff of the shipyard and Genting explain the cabin layout of Crystal Cruises' future ships to the assorted media. I hope they change the wall covering into something more refined in the final version.
After the contract signing and press conference, we took the bus once again, this time to the actual Lloyd Werft Group Wismar shipyard, where mock-ups giving an idea of the cabin size for Crystal's new ships had been erected, alongside with mock-ups showing the layout and size of cabins belonging to brands X and Y (which many in our group speculated were Seabourn and Silversea, though these theories were neither confirmed nor denied by the yard's staff). The standard cabins of the new Crystal ships are going to be, simply put, huge. Even on the river yachts, with their relatively small dimensions, the cabins will be circa 25 square metres, with the figure rising to 32 m2 on the ocean yacht Crystal Endeavour and a whopping 35 m2 on the Exclusive-class ocean ships. Not only that, but the ocean-going ships will have much higher ceiling heights than normal; holding up my arm, I could barely touch the ceiling – and I'm 190 centimetres tall, so there's a lot of reach there.

Assorted journalists and shipyard staff at Lloyd Werft, with Crystal's Edie Rodriguez andPaul Garcia in the center.
The tour of the mock-ups was followed by dinner at Wismar's historical city city hall. Following another night's sleep, we left early the next morning for the Lübeck airport, from where the as-of-yet-unnamed Crystal Luxury Air jet flew us to Naples. For the second time in my life, I was actually a big reticient to leave and airplane (the first time had, of course, been two days earlier, flying on the same plane in the opposite direction). Another bus took us from Naples airport to Sorrento, where we finally got back onboard the Crystal Symphony, after what seemed a lot longer than just 53 hours.

Back to the jet and the awaiting Crystal Symphony at the end of a superb two-day-plus tour.
This is Kalle Id, signing off from the balcony of cabin 8050 onboard the Crystal Symphony. Kships, as usual, will return.

Edited 14.5.2016: added author of the longest shore excursion quote.

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