Careful planning and ‘little surprises’: How Crystal delivers the perfect food and drink experience

By Tully Luxury Travel in Cruise Professionals on

As Vice President, Food and Beverage Operations Toni Neumeister is responsible for the dining experience across the Crystal fleet, including creation and implementation of all restaurant and bar concepts, product sourcing and quality control.

How demanding and hard to impress are Crystal’s guests?

Our repeating guests know our standards extremely well, so it is extremely important to deliver a consistent product across the fleet (ocean, river, yacht and air). First time cruisers are often amazed at the choices we offer, and our challenge is to communicate it before they cruise with us so that they can make the right selection and take advantage of all our offerings. In general our guests are impressed with our product – they compare us with other cruise lines, hotels and Michelin star restaurants, but we normally win because of the high quality of food and service we offer.

Do you often manage to surprise them?

Yes! During the North West Passage, as the guests were sitting in Zodiacs looking at polar bears on pack ice we approached from behind them and served hot chocolate from a separate boat.

We also try to remember the names and special requests of returning guests so we can give them little surprises that we know they love. There’s a Mr. & Mrs. Evans who always get cookies in Avenue Saloon on formal nights after the shows. There are plenty of stories like that. I remember a butler who took a hospitalized guest his favorite sandwich and newspaper. Then there was the passenger who wanted to wow his partner during an Alaskan cruise – his butler organized a helicopter flight to the glacier, and served the couple Champagne when they landed. That’s the level of service we provide onboard Crystal!

What are the biggest challenges in provisioning ships with a standard of dining this high?

Sourcing consistently high-quality fresh produce can be a big challenge. But we have established very good relationship with producers and suppliers around the world. The key is itinerary planning, because in certain countries it’s impossible to get the quality and variety and quantity we need. We ship a lot of products around the world by sea and air, but agriculture and import regulations can become a huge issue, so planning is everything. Worldwide cruising needs experienced professionals and I’m glad we have a team who is able to deliver the nearly impossible.

How did you provision Crystal Serenity for the North West Passage transit? Did anything run out?

We loaded the ship to maximum capacity before we sailed out from Alaska. We delivered most of it from Vancouver by truck, and also shipped sea containers from Seattle. We also air shipped 42 pallets of fresh produce by air to Cambridge Bay, which meant chartering a plane out of Canada six months ahead of delivery. Then we also air-shipped another 20 pallets of fresh produce to Nuuk Newfoundland. I’m pleased to say we did not run out of any essential items!

What wines in the cellars onboard are you most proud of?

Romanée-Conti, Grand Cru, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 2005. It’s one of the best wines ever made and is very difficult to get. I’m also proud of Crystal Connoisseur Collection Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley 2012 – a perfect Cabernet from California, made by our own team of sommeliers.

What are the current fashions in dining and drinking, and how does Crystal keep up with them?

We keep up by reading, participating, learning, and visiting new hip places and the internet. Food is in a very creative place at the moment. It’s all about creating a memorable experience with exciting presentation, flavors and textures, using unique techniques and equipment.

In the drinks world, there’s a trend towards fresh ingredients, homemade infusions, bitters and even custom-made gin. Bourbon is popular, and guests are also interested in trying some lesser-known wines such as Viognier, Gruener Veltliner and Traminer.

What’s your personal favourite restaurant on board and why?

Of course I love the Cuisine of Nobu because it’s a unique experience. However my favorite Restaurant is the Crystal Dining Room with its modern and classic Cuisine. The menu selection is amazing. It changes every day and not one dish is repeated during a cruise.

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