The Crystal Skye is no ordinary plane. For starters, it's massive. A Boeing 777, it's too large for many runways to accommodate, and Sarasota Bradenton International Airport doesn't even have a set of mobile stairs tall enough to reach the front door.
That didn't stop Ryan and Malaka Hilton, the husband-and-wife team that owns Sarasota's Admiral Travel International, from bringing the jet to Sarasota to kick off a brand new travel offering: a week-long safari in South Africa, with the trip there handled by the massive Crystal Skye aircraft. This is a first-ever venture for the travel industry. The Hiltons booked a charter trip for the entire plane, and then proceeded to sell each of the 88 seats.
The couple has led several trips to South Africa over the years, but using the Crystal Skye will allow them to fly directly into Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport, a tiny outpost in the northeast of the country, rather than having to transfer through Johannesburg. "We are skipping Johannesburg completely and landing directly in the bush," says Malaka Hilton.
Typically, the least stimulating part of any trip is the flight. Not so with a journey on the Crystal Skye. "Guests are actually excited about the flight," says Ryan Hilton.
A tour led by Crystal Skye executive chef Francois Van Zyl on the Sarasota tarmac on Wednesday shows why guests are enthused. The plane offers a customized food and drink menu, a lounge and bar area with dining tables and couches, an onboard mixologist, bouquets designed with South African flowers, live entertainment from a violinist, full dinner service in plush seats with tons of leg room, a turndown service in the evening with slippers and noise-canceling headphones, a wine cellar and a whole host of other lux touches.
Malaka Hilton says Admiral Travel has no specific plans for further Crystal Skye trips, but the company thinks the new service could be most effective in helping travelers visit areas that aren't currently well served by commercial airlines. Take a trip on this beauty, and you just might not be able to cram yourself into a commercial seat again.