The third time was the charm. After at least two previous attempts to buy Crystal Cruises, Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio (Forbes Billionaires, #1,929, $1.3 billion) has bought the bankrupt line’s brand and two ocean liners, Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony. It marks his third venture on the high seas. In the late 1980s, his family sold Sitmar Cruises to P&O. He then launched Silversea Cruises as one of the first lines of purpose-built luxury cruise ships before selling it to Royal Caribbean in two tranches over the past decade for $1.25 billion.
The terms of this deal have not been disclosed. However, trade publication Weekly travel reports that the Serenity, built in 2003, sold for $103 million, and the Symphony, which debuted in 1995, went for $25 million.
For three decades, Crystal collected shelves with awards from publications such as: Travel + Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler and Cruise critic as a top luxury cruise line. It was also an innovator in specialty restaurants by partnering with celebrity Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa. Affluent customers spent six euros each year to secure the same cabin for round-the-world cruises and other exotic itineraries lasting two to three months.
This time, Lefebvre can combine seagoing luxury with Abercrombie & Kent, the white-shoe travel agency he bought in 2019 and best known for its silver spoon safaris and private jet tours led by his James Bond-esque founder Geoffrey Kent, who still guides some of the trips .
In a statement, Lefebvre said: “I am excited to begin this new chapter and be back in an industry that has always had and always will have a special place in my heart.” He added: “When the opportunity arose to acquire Crystal Cruises, I didn’t think twice about it. Having my incredible friend and inspirational leader Geoffrey Kent makes this venture even more enjoyable.”
A&K has hired a well-known cruise ship management company to operate the ships. In a press release, the company said of the selection: “With their unique experience, global scale and passionate team, V.Ships Leisure was the natural choice.”
Crystal’s ships have been docked since January, when problems at Hong Kong-based parent company Genting led to a series of bankruptcies with its cruise industry holding companies, including a German shipyard.
Mary Jean Tully, a top seller of luxury cruises and CEO of Tully Luxury Travel, says: “Manfredi is smart…I’m sure he will hire the crew of the Crystal (onboard) back. The company has been doing that for all these years. made so successful.”
She notes that the deal won’t cover Crystal’s debts, including a whopping $100 million in deposits for future cruises that were canceled when the line shut down. “Many customers have been burned by Crystal’s demise,” Tully added.
Anne Sculley, a partner at luxury travel agency EmbarkBeyond, says of the new buyer: “It couldn’t get any better. See how Manfredi built Silversea from the ground up to become what in just a few years was the top-rated luxury cruise line in its category. legend in the industry. I think it’s good for the industry.”
Sculley notes that Lefebvre is popular even with competitors. Viking Cruises Founder and Chairman Torstein Hagen named one of the restaurants on his ocean liners Manfredi.
She won’t be surprised if certain types of rewards or credits are offered to former Crystal customers and to customers who have lost money. “It wouldn’t be a bad idea to thank them in some way for your support. Manfredi is very smart and he has always built top teams and everything he does has always been very customer-oriented. I expect another winner.” †
James Shillinglaw, editor of Insider travel report, added, “It’s great that he’s back in the cruise industry.” The veteran travel journalist believes more deals are in the works. He calls Crystal’s five river vessels “a good match” for A&K, which currently charters river vessels for its European river cruises.
He also expects future orders for new ships. “The (Crystal ocean) ships are beautifully maintained, but the shelf life will be limited at some point. If he really wants to do something with them, he has to order new ships,” says Shillinglaw.
According to the press release, global law firm Paul Hastings LLP was acting for A&K Travel Group Ltd. Callenders Law acted for A&K Travel Group Ltd. related to Bahamian law, while HFW and Stephenson Harwood LLP provided maritime law expertise. CMC Capital, Limited advised A&K Travel Group Ltd. at the takeover.