Edie Bornstein: Beginning a New Story With Crystal Cruises

Edie Bornstein and Crystal Symphony senior officers in Manhattan: Cruise director, Scott Peterson; food & beverage manager, Norbert Tesar; Captain Mark Symonds; chief engineer, Johan Flinkl; hotel director, Herbert Jäger and Vice-Captain Tonci Hladilo.
Edie Bornstein and Crystal Symphony senior officers in Manhattan: Cruise director, Scott Peterson; food & beverage manager, Norbert Tesar; Captain Mark Symonds; chief engineer, Johan Flinkl; hotel director, Herbert Jäger and Vice-Captain Tonci Hladilo.

There’s a lot that’s new at Crystal Cruises. The luxury cruise line has just moved its offices a few miles down the road to West Los Angeles where two floors have been crafted especially for its 200 employees. The luxury cruise line’s two ships have been redesigned—$120 million has been invested in them over the past few years; the most recent initiative was a $17 million drydock for Crystal Serenity. A new Wi-Fi policy provides repeat customers with a healthy dose of free Internet minutes throughout their cruise and an enhanced no-smoking policy means the Connoisseur Club smoking lounge on either ship is the only indoor venue in which one can light up.

Also new on the scene is Crystal’s new president and COO, Edie Bornstein; she’s been in her role since October 2013, hailing most recently from Azamara Club Cruises, where she was senior vice president of sales and marketing.

We visited with Bornstein in late January, eager to hear what she has in mind for Crystal. Bornstein was right up front; she loves everything about the line, whose ships consistently have won “best of” awards from top consumer publications for the past 20 years. And while she’s not looking to change things for the sake of change, she does see more ships for Crystal, which currently operates just two vessels.

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The move would be a welcome one for the luxury travel advisor community, many of whom make a good living selling top cabins on Crystal, which attracts a loyal following of ultra-affluent consumers.

“My vision is to grow this brand with seven ships for seven seas for seven continents and I think in time we will achieve that,” she tells Luxury Travel Advisor, speaking from her spacious corner office in those new L.A. digs, with views to die for of the Hollywood Hills and the Getty Center, perched way up high. “It won’t happen overnight but that is my long-term vision for the brand and I believe that thanks to the great efforts of our team we will see that vision come to fruition in time.”

Will they be as large as the existing vessels? Crystal Symphony holds 940 passengers and Crystal Serenity carries 1,050. “I envision a combination of ship types. I want to offer our Crystal Society members [repeat guests] several choices. I want to thank them for their loyalty and ensure that Crystal has a plethora of options,” she says.

Boom Times for Crystal

There’s no timeline set in place for such growth, but when the moment arrives, Bornstein will be keen to implement all that is right with Crystal on any new ships. “We want to embrace why we won all those awards, that incredible delivery of service on board, that incredible elegant and beautiful style of décor, all of those rich attributes that are the hallmark of the brand will continue. We never want to lose sight of that,” she says.

Indeed, Bornstein joins the line when its bookings are doing incredibly well; in fact, Crystal’s wave season in 2014 has been so successful, it publicly announced it’s raising prices on most of its 2014, 2015 and 2016 cruises on March 1, reflecting strong demand. That’s a tactic that’s virtually unheard of in an industry that is known for discounting last-minute bookings.

Also remaining intact is Crystal’s “Begin A New Story” ad campaign, which uses whimsical water-color imagery to reflect the line’s high level of service on land and at sea.

In the past few months, Bornstein has been traveling the world non-stop since she moved to Los Angeles from South Florida, where she’d lived most of her adult life. Since pulling up her roots and heading west, she’s spent every moment visiting Crystal’s top national accounts, attending Southern California regional gatherings and flying to board meetings in Tokyo where Crystal’s owner NYK is headquartered.

In fact, as of late January, Bornstein had only spent two weekends at home, and one of those was spent moving into her new apartment. Here’s a snapshot of one of her most recent travel stints:

One Wednesday afternoon, after spending time in the L.A. office, she drove down to San Diego to attend Avoya Travel’s 50th anniversary gala. She left there at 9 p.m. the same night to drive to Los Angeles International Airport to take the red eye to New York to attend a CLIA media marketplace. She spent the day there before flying back to Los Angeles, where the next day she spent several hours with the Cruise Professionals team. That evening, she attended Crystal’s World Cruise Gala in L.A. and on Saturday morning hosted a meet and greet on the Serenity for those world cruise passengers who hadn’t been at the festivities the evening before. After meeting with local press all day, she drove down to Ojai to attend a Virtuoso regional meeting. On Monday morning, she was back at Crystal’s L.A. office bright and early to begin a new week.

To what does she credit her endurance? DNA for sure (she says her mother had the same stamina right up until she passed away), and Diet Coke. Then there are those Venti Nonfat Caffe Lattes from Starbucks, which is always her first stop wherever she goes. She can also sleep on a plane, which doesn’t hurt.

“I’ve always had this energy; when I was 14 I read that Donald Trump sleeps four hours a night. When I grew up I started doing the same thing,” she says.

By all measures, Bornstein, who replaced Gregg Michel, who resigned after running the line for 21 years, is embracing her new role at Crystal with a high level of vigor, experience and intelligence that’s admirable. Aside from high-level gigs at such lines as Cunard, Carnival, Princess, Seabourn and Azamara, Bornstein, three decades ago, cut her teeth in the industry as a travel consultant with Liberty Travel, taking its intensive training course in Ramsey, NJ.

“I used to say to Michelle Kassner when she was still owner, ‘Michelle, I will always be thankful for that foundation, because that training program you put me through was phenomenal. No matter what job you have in the travel industry, it’s really great, on the supplier side, to be able to relate to your most important audience, the travel consultant.’”

Bornstein worked as a travel agent for a few years in her native New York/New Jersey region (her favorite travel memories are of going into Manhattan on weekends). One year, just as winter was setting in, Bornstein decided to transfer south to a Liberty Travel office in Fort Lauderdale, whose climate she much preferred. She was eventually recruited to become a general manager for a group of agencies, which led to her appointment at System One, a CRS (computerized reservation system) company, which subsequently morphed into Amadeus.

Shifting Gears

The Penthouse bedroom and dining area on Crystal Symphony are elegantly chic following a refurbishment.
The Penthouse bedroom and dining area on Crystal Symphony are elegantly chic following a refurbishment.

“I had come to a point in my career where I wanted to grow. They say timing is everything in life and System One was undergoing rapid growth,” says Bornstein, who was promoted rapidly as the company expanded and reorganized again and again. She rose to the level of vice president of the company’s global cruise division, acclaimed as the most profitable group at System One/Amadeus.

“I grew it to a 90 percent global cruise line market share,” she recalls, noting that the role provided a great foundation for her career going forward. On a macro level, she had to understand the cruise industry, but on a micro level, she had to understand each cruise line and what their individual goals were to achieve their objectives.

“It was also a time when harnessing the power of technology allowed companies to really redesign how they worked; that was all concurrent with the inception of the Internet, which changed [CRS bookings], going from an email inbox to real time.”

Her successes included building efficiencies for cruise lines that saved them money and allowed them to expand their brands during a period when the industry was seeing a surge in growth. But it was a great learning experience as well for Bornstein, who spent quality time with top executives at the cruise lines, learning the details of their businesses. “They were my customers. I often said it was like being the mother of 10 kids. I loved them all. I love them all differently and I kept all their secrets,” she says with a smile.

After 12 years, she jumped to the client side when Larry Pimentel, who was heading up Cunard Line and Seabourn at the time, called her to be vice president of sales just as Cunard was about to announce the contract to build the Queen Mary 2. Bornstein, an admitted Anglophile since childhood, was in her glory, working in the luxury sector for a cruise line with a heritage as British as you can get. She wore two hats at the time for parent company Carnival Corporation, working for both Cunard and Seabourn. Making it even more of an ideal spot was the fact that Bornstein could remain in Weston, FL, outside of Fort Lauderdale, where she was raising her son as a single parent. “At the time my son was a young teenager and I had promised him I wouldn’t uproot him. One of the things I loved about growing up was I never had that upheaval, I always stayed in the same household,” she recalls. After the very successful launch of the QM2, Bornstein went to work for Bob Dickinson of Carnival Cruise Lines in 2004, where she also worked on special projects for Carnival Corporation’s chairman, Micky Arison.

“I loved working for Bob and his management team,” Bornstein recalls. “This was a brilliant man who understood the people aspect of running a business; he was very participative in his style of management as well. I can’t say enough good things about him,” she says. When Dickinson retired, she went back to work with Larry Pimentel, who was now at Azamara Club Cruises. “When Larry called and said come over to Azamara I was delighted, I loved his management style as well. I think Larry is a great leader and I enjoyed having him as my customer when I met him 20 years ago; he was a very good boss as well,” she says.

Fast forward: When Bornstein was approached to work at Crystal last year, the timing was ideal for a move. Her son is grown (he is 24 and starting law school) and so she had no issues with relocating to Los Angeles, a city she has fond memories of, having visited family friends there frequently as a child. Her fiancé was also willing to relocate. (Bornstein at the time of our interview was just weeks away from a February wedding).

Ironically, Crystal Cruises had not been one of her customers while she was at Amadeus and she didn’t cruise with the line until late last year when she booked a sailing independently with them to determine if she wanted to work for the company. “I had admired Crystal very much from afar because I love the luxury sector, it’s another passion of mine, and in all that time, my exposure to Crystal was simply one dinner when I was in Los Angeles on business, trying to woo them,” she said.

When Bornstein did finally sail with Crystal, she experienced immediately what she calls an “extraordinary moment.” She has always kept an eye peeled for extraordinary moments her entire life, those simple “aha” fragments of an experience that stay in one’s mind well after they’re over. As a grown up, it was realizing that she’d enjoyed a seamless buying experience in a high-end retail store because all of her preferences from a previous visit had been recorded. On her first cruise ever on Crystal Cruises last year, it was realizing the idle mention that she was celebrating her birthday during the voyage had spurred the crew to prepare a festive room service breakfast for her and her fiancé—complete with balloons, steak and eggs, plus a formal Japanese breakfast presentation and a whole lot of other culinary surprises. That was just one of Bornstein's extraordinary moments on Crystal, all while traveling under the radar in a standard “Category A” cabin and well before she was heading up the Los Angeles-based luxury cruise line.

“It was so pleasant and sweet, I can’t even begin to tell you,” recalls Bornstein, who said the food presentation would have been enough to make it special. What really made it an extraordinary moment was all of the thought that had gone into it. “It was the whole delivery, the way they knew it was my birthday, the way they just took care of everything and then the deliverables and right through every delectable bite.”

Crystal chairman and CEO, Nobuyoshi Kuzuya with Edie Bornstein.
Crystal chairman and CEO, Nobuyoshi Kuzuya with Edie Bornstein.

In fact, it was special enough that this veteran cruiser, who has sailed many-a-time on her birthday, found it to be a celebration she will never forget, she tells Luxury Travel Advisor. “It’s a true story and I loved every moment of it, and I say to Crystal Cruises’ credit, you can expect that at every step of the way when you cruise with them.”

For Bornstein, there were many other extraordinary moments on that voyage. “It was a wonderful first impression and I decided, that like our ad campaign, it was time for me to begin a new story and come and join the team here.”

Bornstein will keep those magical moments in mind as she moves the cruise line forward, being ever vigilant to keep what’s extraordinary completely in place.

“I’m really honored to join this amazing team. It’s a great brand made up of great people with great guests who are treated like royalty, in a manner I’ve never seen anywhere else in the world,” she says.

Crystal Cruises

Chairman and CEO: Nobuyoshi Kuzuya

President and COO: Edie Bornstein

Vice Chairman/Senior Vice President Worldwide Marketing & Sales: Jack Anderson

Executive Vice President, Operations: Thomas Mazloum

Headquarters: Los Angeles

Parent Company: NYK (based in Tokyo)

Fleet: Crystal Symphony (940 passengers); Crystal Serenity (1,050 passengers)

Website: www.crystalcruises.com

Luxury Ships Get Upgrades

Edie Bornstein joins Crystal Cruises as president and COO at a time when the line is evolving its existing product. Crystal Serenity in November enjoyed a $17 million dry dock experience and re-emerged with completely redesigned Penthouses, in-room washers and dryers included. Deluxe hypoallergenic Pure staterooms were also installed. Food outlets were also redesigned, and of special note are the ship’s four new living walls, which are lined with plants from all over the world. The move follows Crystal Symphony’s re-do in 2012, when virtually every space on the ship was redone.

Luxe Lido Deck:  The stylish Trident Grill seating and herb garden on Crystal Symphony are the result of a recent upgrade.
Luxe Lido Deck: The stylish Trident Grill seating and herb garden on Crystal Symphony are the result of a recent upgrade.

With the start of 2014, both the Symphony and Serenity expanded their no-smoking policy to all indoor areas, except for the Connoisseur Club smoking lounge. This fall, Wi-Fi becomes free for Crystal Society members (comprised of the cruise line’s repeat guests), who will receive 60 minutes of complimentary Internet access for every day of their cruise.

Also on tap is the Crystal Celebrations program, which provides bespoke luxury event planning services around the world (think, destination wedding in Tuscany). It’s being done in conjunction with Imagine VIP event planners.

Crystal Serenity’s Lido Deck has been made over, with island stations replacing a standard buffet setting. There’s a new lounge and bar area for pre- and after-dinner drinks and an open kitchen enables guests to watch chefs prepare their cuisine. In Tastes, another dining venue, a tapas menu provides another opportunity to dine in a unique manner. Also new? An herb garden on the Lido Deck services all of Crystal’s dining outlets.

Crystal last year launched a Connoisseur Beer menu that includes artisanal ales and stouts on both ships. For oenophiles, the Vintage Room remains the ultra-exclusive experience for groups of 12 to 14. Seven-course dinners are paired with a variety of select wines. Last year, “Ultimate Vintage Room Dinners” were launched, and are held just once or twice a year. New this year, every wine and food themed cruise will include a Vintage Room Dinner with special guest chefs joining in to regale guests with special stories and menu secrets.

Of note on land is Crystal’s program called “Private Services,” which provides private cars and vans with English-speaking guides for guests when they’re in port. The program has been expanded to Asia and Australia and New Zealand.

The cruise line has also expanded its “Overland Adventures” and “Extended Land Programs,” which immerse guests in the destinations they’re visiting. New in 2014 are programs in Siem Reap & Bangkok, Tibet, Vietnam and Beijing/Xi-an, and Uganda.

“Boutique Adventures” for four to 15 people, maximum, will remain an option for guests, taking them on land for insider meals, lessons, workshops and experiences with local experts. An example is the chance to take hands-on cooking lessons with local Michelin-star chefs in Italy or to have lunch with Madeiran winemakers at their winery in Portugal.

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