At age six, Edie Rodriguez received a porcelain geisha doll from her aunt, who had returned from a trip-of-a-lifetime in Japan. It was a pivotal moment, as the souvenir prompted her to set a goal of visiting every country on Earth.
“While I loved that doll, I also loved to learn new things,” Rodriguez says, waxing nostalgic while on a business trip in Italy. “I asked my aunt a lot of questions about her travels and read lots of books on Japan. As I got older, I wanted to do that in a very luxurious manner. However, I was very independent and wanted to fund it myself, so the best option for me was to get a job in the travel industry.”
Rodriguez set her dream into motion at age 18, traveling alone to Japan. Over time, she not only pushed her own boundaries with visits to 100 countries (and counting), but also emerged as a trailblazer in the luxury travel industry. After building a resume at several prominent companies (Canyon Ranch, Hermès, Chopard, Veuve Clicquot, and Todd English), she was actively pursued by Crystal Cruises. Even with her achievements, however, she believes her ticket to success was paid for through a good education and a willingness to work one’s way up.
“In every position I have held, I have learned an immense amount about the field and the world,” she continues. “I was happy in my prior position, but I found the offer to be an opportunity of a lifetime…to lead the world’s most-awarded luxury cruise line when the brand was overdue for growth and innovation.”
Like the way Rodriguez packs for a trip, her career advice is sensible and simple: As life becomes work, and work becomes life, you better be passionate about what you do. Even after an impressive 34-year career, some may point out that she’s a woman who was in the right place at the right time to rise to the top of a male-dominated world. However, tell her this, and she stresses her success had nothing to do with gender, and that she has “never used my femininity to get ahead.” She feels her effectiveness as a leader lies in “leaving my ego at the door.”
It’s also a good thing to have role models. While she cites her mother as a lifelong influence, she’s long been a great admirer of Jack Welch, Warren Buffett, and Donald Trump. Though she has followed Trump’s career since her teens, Rodriguez says the 2016 presidential candidate continues to inspire her.
“Whether you love or (dislike) the guy in election mode, he is an incredible businessman,” Rodriguez explains. “I liked Donald Trump from the time I read about him in the Sunday New York newspapers at age 15. Life went on, I read his books, and fast forward, many years later, to 2001. As part of an executive team rolling out the Queen Mary II, I had the pleasure of meeting him at a business function. When The Apprentice was the number one show on television, I suggested we make a trip on the Queen Mary II one of the prizes. Since then, we did a few business things together, and I still admire his business style.”
Innovations in Cruising
Rodriguez also says Crystal’s “global brand experience” has changed because luxury travellers’ needs have changed. For example, 30 years ago, a traveler looking for a gym on board would be lucky if it was a small room with a stationary bike and a ball. These were times where ships offered midnight buffets, but not a lot of healthy food options. Today, Crystal Cruises offer top-tier health club amenities and spa-type meals. Also, on-board WiFi is as essential as life jackets and first aid kits, while other new on-board amenities (such as a submarine on one of the forthcoming “Polar” class ships) will take guests further than they imagined.
New bells and whistles notwithstanding, Rodriguez affirms a cruise line is only as good as the ports of call, and cites studies showing creative itineraries as the biggest draws among cruise travelers. “While we already sail to all seven continents, we are cognizant of how important itineraries are,” she says. “[There was a lot of excitement] when we opened our 32-night Northwest Passage Itinerary, for departure dates that were two years out. The response was unbelievable—we sold out in three days. On top of that, there are nearly 700 people waitlisted for it a year out from this departure.”
While changing times have brought about many innovations in cruising, they also bring about certain elements of uncertainty. Rodriguez addresses this by noting a well-equipped cruise line can literally roll with the punches from the geo-political climate as well as the weather.
“We can reposition a ship, unlike a hotel or resort which cannot move around, if there’s a geo-political or weather situation,” she explains. “As guests plan well in advance, whether it is two years or two weeks, they value and work hard for their vacation time. We are proactive, and have a mantra of safety first for the lives of our crews and guests. Guests understand that when we have to make changes, there are germane reasons why we do it, and they get it. While nothing can be totally perfect, as one of the world’s top luxury cruise lines, what differentiates us is how we can recover.”
For many people fortunate to travel internationally, the world is their oyster. For Edie Rodriguez, her job is to ensure the pearls they get from their experiences will be prized souvenirs for life.
More Than Just a Cruise Line
While Rodriguez notes the Crystal Serenity and the Crystal Symphony define her company’s brand, that definition will continue to broaden in a variety of ways over the next few years.
Starting December 23, 2015, Crystal Yacht Cruises sets sail with its maiden voyage on the Indian Ocean. While that journey is completely sold out, space is available for itineraries through the beginning of 2018, covering the Mediterranean, the Holy Land, Cosmopolitan Emirates, and the Indian Ocean.
In March 2017, Crystal River Cruises debuts two new vessels which, while accommodating 120 guests, will boast yacht-like designs and a larger space-to-guest ratio than any other river cruise ship. Also in 2017, Crystal Luxury Air takes off, making Crystal Cruises the first luxury travel company to offer around-the-world trips on the world’s most advanced twin-aisle Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
In late 2018, the Crystal fleet expands with three new Crystal Exclusive (Polar) Class crafts. These state-of-the-art vessels will include 48 first-of-their-kind Crystal Residences with their own private restaurant, reception, and facilities. One will be outfitted with a submarine for undersea weddings and other excursions.
While cruises may naturally conjure images of leisurely indulgence, the fact is they can also be an ideal setting for corporate retreats or meetings. Captains of industry may find allure in holding corporate meetings on the high seas. While hotels may upcharge for AV equipment use, drinks, food, and other necessities, Rodriguez points out that those items are all-inclusive when a company books a retreat, incentive voyage, or other corporate meeting with Crystal Cruises.
Further information can be obtained by contacting Bruce Setloff, VP, Global Charter Sales and Special Projects: [email protected], 310/203.4399