Crystal Skye is something very different than most other aircraft that have landed at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.
The wide-bodied Boeing 777-200LR is a lot larger than most, capable of carrying about 380 people.
But in the interest of comfort and luxury, the aircraft has been limited to 88 fully reclining flatbed seats, a stand-up bar and lounge, and six VIP lavatories.
Passengers will be served by a crew of 19 flight attendants, an executive chef and a mixologist.
The Crystal Sky, which landed at SRQ on Wednesday afternoon, is scheduled to take off for Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport in South Africa on Friday.
Passengers will be headed to a week-long private safari at Singita South Africa game reserve. Package price: $37, 950.
A year ago, Malaka and Ryan Hilton, owners of Admiral Travel International in Sarasota, announced they were planning the first-of-its-kind charter flight from SRQ.
“We are very happy with the way it was received in the market,” Ryan Hilton said Wednesday as he awaited the arrival of the Crystal Skye.
Hilton declined to say how many fares were booked for the safari, but said that it was more than 60, with about 60 percent of those coming from the Bradenton-Sarasota area. The rest were drawn from every U.S. time zone.
“We definitely aim to do this again. The travelers’ response has been exciting,” he said.
The Crystal Sky safari to South Africa is a new venture for the Hiltons, who have been working in the luxury travel market 20 years, offering escorted tours to Egypt and South Africa.
The only plane larger than the Crystal Skye to land at SRQ was Air Force One, said Rick Piccolo, CEO and president of Sarasota Bradenton International Airport.
“It’s another unique amenity that’s been brought to the airport. We hope it leads to many more,” Piccolo said. “Maybe it will show charter operators that there is a big demand here.”
Chef Francois Van Zyl took the news media on a tour of the aircraft, past the galleys where meals are cooked, the bar and lounge area where drinks are prepared, and even the wine storage area, where bottles of vino requested by label by passengers are chilled.
Passengers can take their meals either in their seats on in the lounge. In either case, dining places are set with linens, china, crystal and flowers.
When it is time for sleep, passengers have custom-designed cashmere blankets and lumbar pillows, goose down pillow, duvets and mattress toppers.
“Francois makes dreams come true,” said Richard N. Ziskind, vice president and managing director of Crystal AirCruises.
Wherever passengers may come from, they will have crew members who speak their language, including English, Spanish, German, French, Bengali, Chinese (Mandarin or Cantonese), Afrikaans, Japanese and more.
As they cruise at 550 mph at 38,000 feet, they will have Bose head phones and can stretch out into plenty of space with an average of three windows between each seat.
For this flight, the company will for the first time have a violinist on board to provide live music.
“This is going to be very special,” Ziskind said.
For more about Admiral Travel International, visit admiraltravel.com.
For more about Crystal AirCruises, visit crystalaircruises.com.