Perfect planning

Crystal's Anita Hodson shares the highlights of her work
Perfect planning

By Michele Witthaus |

Navigator turned itinerary planner Anita Hodson is director of nautical operations and port operations for Crystal Cruises. She shares the highlights of her work with Michele Witthaus

Hodson joined Crystal in November three years ago, after 22 years at sea as a navigator. She has been in her current post at the company for two years. “I feel this is the perfect job for me in some ways,” she remarks. “I got to be a navigator at sea and went to a lot of places and was passage planning on the ship and got first-hand knowledge. Planning itineraries is a highlight because I really love finding interesting places for us to go and making people happy. I get quite attached to some itineraries because it is quite a creative process. I often pretend I’m going on the cruise and ask, ‘what would I want?’”

Finding new and intriguing places for Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony to visit is one of the most enjoyable aspects of her role. Hodson says that she often talks with guests and listens to their suggestions for new ports of call. “I also talk a lot with crew and officers, and ask if there is any port that they can recommend from their home countries or that they have been to on other ships. I have a file and add these calls, along with my own research. We are always looking to have an efficient itinerary – A to B and something in the middle. I really love maiden calls and making itineraries different.”

In June, Hodson was busy sketching out the 2017-2018 itineraries, which can be expected to build on the appeal of voyages designed around iconic events in ‘bucket list’ destinations. For example, guests can enjoy New Year’s eve in Hong Kong this year and in Rio in 2015.

Upcoming itineraries will also offer the option of extended overnight stays in port, sometimes featuring up to three or four nights in a destination. Ensuring that each port visited offers a selection of interesting activities for shore excursions is a priority, says Hodson, but she emphasises that independent travellers are just as important to Crystal. “We don’t want to forget those people who are more comfortable doing their own thing. Some people don’t even want to get off the ship. There are two trains of thought: to have as many ports as possible and to maximise sea days. I like to try and mix it up.” But she admits: “Over the last couple of years we have become more port intensive.”

It stands to reason that itinerary and deployment planning has changed somewhat in the quarter century that Crystal Cruises has been sending people on luxury cruises. For Hodson, as for her peers in this challenging role, the need to manage resources effectively is a defining factor in itinerary planning today.

“Efficiency is a big play – 25 years ago people didn’t think about it as much. Everything is becoming more about optimising the itineraries with regard to fuel and port costs or how much garbage is going to cost to offload. So-called ‘fees’ in ports are going through the roof. And in ECAs, low-sulphur fuel is more expensive.”

Overnight calls present their own demands, especially longer stays. “With overnights we have a lot of grey water, so we have to see how much we have produced onboard and ask if ports can take our waste,” she explains. “Coming into port we can’t discharge, so we have to look at both garbage and grey water. Not every port is ready to take waste. In Helsinki they take it for free as an incentive, while other ports charge a lot of money. Also, bunkering fresh water is another cost.”

Not that any of these challenges stops Hodson planning calls that may be affected by these considerations if she believes the guests will love them, she hastens to add. “We want to make cruises as interesting as possible, with as many maiden calls as possible. It’s a juggling act to balance that.”

This article appeared in the Itinerary Planning Special Report. To read more articles, you can subscribe to the magazine in printed or digital formats.

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