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Best Cruise Line 2009 - Crystal Cruises - Again

Travel & Leisure Best of 2009 Year after year, Crystal Cruises holds its number one position for the "World's Best Large-Ship Cruise Line" by Travel and Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler. 2009 makes it 14 years in a row! In a time of competition for the travel dollar and vacations over promising and under-delivering, it's refreshing to know that one cruise line consistently delivers to its passengers.

The company profile outlines the features that make passengers satisfied, however, outstanding features alone are not what set this cruise line a part from its competitors. Yes, Crystal has one of the highest staff to passenger rations in the industry. The European trained staff delivers Six-Star service. Extraordinary space has been dedicated to staterooms and the public spaces with extra-wide promenade decks, lavish fitness areas, full-size cinemas, nightclubs, learning centers and gourmet restaurants. These features can be found on many ships, the question is, why does Crystal Cruises continue rank at the top of the industry?

The company's vision is simple: to provide its guests with the finest travel experience available in the luxury service business, not just the luxury cruise industry. In the short time the ships have been cruising, leadership at Crystal have been relentless in developing a strong culture and commitment to staff training, resulting in the highest guest return rate in the industry.

The energy spent on staff to passenger relationships could be the secret to success. Authentic warmth, personal greetings and anticipating each customers needs are implemented. One can relate the emphasis on people at Crystal to Disneyland's emphasis on cast members never breaking character. Or the Mary Kay philosophy where the staff envisions a sign around the neck of all customers saying, "Make me feel important".

crystal symphony cruise ship

Teaching and developing a diverse group cruise ship employees to have authentic people skills is not easy. Crystal's parent company, Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK), has developed a training center in the Philippines. The strict policy is maintains all crew must undergo rigorous training for 6 months or longer before being fully deployed. The training system implements the Six-Star Crystal basics, a multi-point credo that addresses attitude, communication, competence, style, safety/environment and execution. Examples are when staff members remember how a guest takes their coffee, how they like the pillow arranged and where they like to sit in the restaurant. Often, travelers remember small acts of kindness and those unforgettable memories make for happy and repeat customers.

The NYK service culture is based on the Japanese principles of kaizen and kaikaku-a belief in continuous improvement and quest for innovation and a radical change. Toyota operates using these leadership philosophies.

High standards for training and a genuine commitment to staff's well-being help develop the sense of inclusion and authenticity on board. Passengers rate the staff high- as high as 95.8%. And Crystal's employee turnover ratio is under 15%, one of the lowest in the luxury resort industry.

Crystal's luxuries, award-winning fleet comprises the 922-guest, 50,000 ton Crystal Symphony and the 1,070-guest, 68,870 tom Crystal Serenity, while sales worldwide itineraries of seven to 100 days. In September, Crystal Symphony will undergo a major multimillion dollar redesign. By the fall of 2009, Crystal Cruises will have invested more that $65 million in its tow ships within a three-year period.

Luxury accommodations create the ultimate travel experience. Most rooms have roomy verandahs; all guest rooms have high end linens, bath robes, slippers, internet, television, twice a day housekeeping and 24 hour room service. Gourmet cuisine pared with a new reserve of 20 rare vintage wines and specialty dinner restaurants featuring famous chefs are noteworthy. Live entertainment, first run movies, shopping, state of the art Feng Shui spa and salon, on board education, unique shore excursions and children's activities add to the Crystal experience.

crystal serenity cruise ship

Repeat cruisers are invited to be a member the Crystal Society loyalty program which entitles members to future savings, stateroom upgrades, onboard spending credits, complimentary cruises, special events and receptions.

For a record 14 years in a row, Crystal Cruises has been voted "World's Beast Large Ship Cruse Line" by the readers of Travel and Leisure magazine. The ultra-luxury line is the only cruise line, resort of hotel to have won the prestigious award each year since the award's inception.

"This award continues to be a tremendous validation of the authentic warmth and professionalism of Crystal's extraordinary staff and our unparallel attention to detail", says President Gregg Michel.


Improve Your Travel Photography

I've been playing around with photography for years, when I was 14 I adopted my older brothers camera and darkroom equipment when he lost interest. But after high school I packed up and went off to college and also lost interest in photography. I found the hardest part of keeping up the hobby was trying to setup a good darkroom in an apartment. As digital photography came on the scene I quickly jumped back in with both feet buying one of Nikons first digital cameras the Coolpix 100.

During those early years I learned a lot about composition and other skills that still apply to digital photography. But I'm a firm believer that you can never stop learning. So I regularly take photo classes looking for a few new techniques or ideas that can help my images. I've taken classes at the Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara and the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena California. But when I got an email telling me about a class titled "Travel and Adventure Photography" offered by a local photo shop Calumet Photographic I signed up.

Ralph Velasco teaching a Travel Photography Class

This class was different that from the others I'd taken that were more fine art or commercial based. This class targeted travel photography a skill I specifically wanted to continue to improve. This was a three hour class offered on a Saturday morning taught by a local pro photographer Ralph Velasco. I noticed that he also was going to teach another interesting session that afternoon called "Capturing the Essence of a Place". I signed up for both. I also signed up my wife Pamela even though she is a writer and rarely picks up a camera. But I thought that maybe with some training she might be able to spot unique shots and point them out to me.

I won't go over every aspect of the class, it was basic, but well done. The instructor didn't spend any time dealing with specific hardware since every camera is different, but focused instead on composition and image content. He said "People take pictures, not cameras." He covered concepts such as the rule of thirds along with suggestions on ways to research your trips photo opportunities before you leave.

He did show us a few gadgets that would help any photographer. He displayed his homemade pocket mono-pod designed to help you steady your camera. I a piece of rope connected to an i-bolt that matches you cameras tripod socket. You screw the bolt into your camera let the rope dangle then step on the rope anchoring it. Pulling up slightly on the camera adds stability that can help you get sharper images when zoomed in tight or when using a slow shutter speed. (see it in the above photo of Ralph)

Ralph Velasco teaching at Calumet Photographic   Ralph Velasco teaching at Calumet Photographic

I asked Ralph for a travel photography tip I could share with my readers. He suggests: "Don't be afraid to be out in less than ideal weather conditions. I make an effort to be out shooting when it's raining or drizzling because that's when the clouds are interesting and rainbows often appear. I like a good snow storm, because that's when other photographers and tourists are at home or snug in their hotel room, waiting out the cold weather, and I'm the one getting the unique shots. There's an old saying, "In photography there's no such thing as bad weather, just varying degrees of good weather." So it's all about how you look at it."

Calumet Photographic has 29 stores, 10 in the US and 19 in Europe. Don Ernst, VP of US Marketing, was most familiar with the domestic stores and said about half of them offer travel photography classes in addition to other classes. He said that Calumet has offered a variety of classes for at least the past 10 years, but has increased their offerings in the last 18 months.

I emailed my local Calumet store manager Daniel Perez and asked for his input. "All individual travelers should take a Travel and Adventure class to improve their composition and pre-visualization skills. Travelers tend to miss or underestimate different points of interest when traveling due to a lack of experience. This class will train their eye when out in the field helping them identify strong photographic subjects in the environment they previously missed."

If you want to improve your photography I suggest you seek out classes to help improve skills and vision. If your near a Calumet Photographic check out their many classes, if not look into offerings from your local commnity college. Take a basic class if your a novice, more experienced shooters should take a class like the travel photography class we took.