Thursday, September 1, 2016

Be Wary of Booking Your Travel Online: A Personal Story

A little warning about using Online Booking Websites.  I know many of you think that using online booking engines provides you with convenience and empowerment.  Alas, what you see may not be what you are really getting...and it might even cause you not to take that once-in-a-lifetime trip!

Silversea Silver Discoverer
Yesterday I was arranging my airline tickets for my Silversea Silver Discoverer cruise from Singapore to Phuket, Thailand which is focused on exploring a number of the islands in the Myanmar (formerly Burma) archipelago.  (I will be writing an article explaining the trip soon...and if you would like to travel with me on this exotic and exciting itinerary, please do contact me!)

I researched the flights I wanted (sticking with Star Alliance carriers as my status provides me with significant perks) and found the "perfect" flights.  OK, there are not perfect flights flying home from Phuket, Thailand; especially the same day you disembark the ship, but let's say they were the best flights available. 

However, I wanted to use some of my American Express Membership Rewards points rather than paying cash for the ticket, so I went to the American Express Platinum Travel website.  (Yes, the Amex Platinum Card can be a good deal for travel agents too...and I can show you how to best benefit from it while still using Goldring Travel!)  But no matter how hard I tried, the flights I wanted were not displayed.  

Not only was that frustrating, the flights that were displayed:
  • Had more stops (ex. why would I want to stop in Taiwan, Japan or Hong Kong when there is a non-stop from San Francisco?), 
  • Took up to 10 hours more time (not only flying indirectly, but sitting in airports)
  • Were on older aircraft (ex. why would I want to fly on an old 747 when I could fly on a new 787 Dreamliner?) and, of course, 
  • Were many hundreds of dollars more expensive.
So I called and explained the situation to American Platinum Travel agent...Yes, I needed a live person!  She booked the correct flights and said there was a $39 fee for calling in.  

Wait a minute!  Amex was going to charge me $39 because I knew the Amex website was pushing me to more expensive and less desireable flights and was smart enough to call in?  Honestly, it didn't take much for the agent to say that "just this time" Amex would waive the $39 booking fee.  

But there is more to this experience than getting the best flights at the best price.  There is a bigger issue:
If you were considering this Silversea Expedition Cruise and were faced with 34 hours vs. 22 hours of total travel time (flights, sitting in airports, etc.) you might balk at even considering this once-in-a-lifetime experience.  
I was very glad to be my travel agent. I saved me (a/k/a the client) over 18 hours of travel time, $450 (or 45,000 points) and made the long distance travel experience for this incredible Silversea Expedition Cruise far more convenient and comfortable.  Oh, yes, and I could have saved myself a lot of time by not fighting with the online travel agency website!

If you would like more information or would like to book your Silversea or other exotic cruise, please give us a call:

United States:      (877) 2GO-LUXURY
United Kingdom: 020 8133 3450
Australia:              (07) 3102 4685
Everywhere Else: +1 732 578 8585

Or email me at

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Goldring Travel's 2016 Culinary & Cultural (Food & Wine) Cruise on the Seabourn Quest - Part VII (Belfast, Liverpool - And Another Seabourn Moment!)

The 2016 Goldring Travel Culinary & Cultural (Food & Wine) Cruise spent a second day in Belfast, Northern Ireland, so we headed out to St. George’s Market for a wander around and to buy some souvenirs.  

St. George's Market - Belfast, Northern Ireland

It is packed with both culinary and cultural items ranging for local cheeses to more exotic fare to t-shirts with a truly Irish flare.  If you can’t wear a smile while wandering here there is something wrong.

We then headed upstairs for a drink.  But when I saw what was coming out of the open kitchen in Georges at the Market, my pint of Guinness became a pint with a full Irish breakfast (which most certainly beat out the full English and full Scottish breakfasts I previously sampled).

A beautifully prepared and delicious full Irish Breakfast
George's at the Market
It is all it is supposed to be
It was then time to head off and wander about Belfast and wander we did.  The politics of the past are very much the politics of the present.  As we walked we saw many people milling about in various dress and most without smiles.   We didn't know what was happening as we walked, but we would eventually find out.

Hundreds of people in prior dress were seen as we wandered
through Belfast, Northern Ireland.  Why?
There was a palpable tension.  Police in riot vehicles and heavily armed were omnipresent.  So as we came upon The Garden of Remembrance (those who died during the Catholic Hunger Strikes protesting against British rule and occupation) 

The Garden of Remembrance - Belfast, Northern Ireland

and the Peace Wall

A small portion of the Peace Wall separating the Protestant and Catholic
populations of Belfast, Northern Ireland
the troubled past and tensions between Catholics and Protestants were clearly also in the present. 

The name of this abandoned bar was not lost on me
Possibly as a Jew struggling with the positions of the Jewish-Palestinian conflict (and the terrorism and Wall) it hit me harder than most.  

A surprising portion of the Peace Wall
And speaking of walls, I thought it was remarkable...and important...that there were a number of Anti-Trump posters advertising rallies against him.  Alas, all walls are not the same; though needing any walls is, at best, heartbreaking and troublesome.

So what were the uniforms and hundreds of stowic people about?  The answer was found in a souvenir shop next to a Sinn Fein office. (Sinn Fein, or "We Ourselves", is the political party, considered by some to be a terrorist organization, that has fought for the reuniting of Ireland.) The shopkeeper said that there was a march honoring the hunger strikers starting at 2:00 pm.

So there we were, by happenstance, fortunate enough to be present for a march honoring the 35th anniversary of the start of the hunger strikes protesting British rule.  I was especially lucky to have found a place on the curb to watch the march next to a Belfast fireman named Norman.  I first asked him, at 2:30 p.m. why the march hadn't started at 2:00 p.m.  He said,  with the charm of Irish humor that fortunately broke the tension, "It's Irish time!"  Norman then went on to explain the meaning of each act, wardrobe, etc.   It made the march truly meaningful and memorable.

First we heard a number of garbage can lids being banged on the ground.  This was how the Irish Catholics would warn each other that the British army was entering their area.  Today it was announcing the start of the march.

The marchers wearing only blankets honored those Irish Catholics
that refused to wear the British jail clothes, but rather wrapped themselves
in their bed's blankets.
H-Block is where the hunger strikers were jailed

I must again emphasize that when people ask me what tours they should take I think about days like today.  There is no tour that would could have provided this experience.  Wandering and meeting people are, to my mind, one of the keys to meaningful travel.

After returning to the Seabourn Quest it was time to unwind and reflect before another Goldring Travel Culinary Event:  A Cheese Tasting which highlighted cheeses of Britain and Ireland.  Of course there were the appropriate wines to pair with the variety of cheeses…and some wine and champagne for those that, well, just wanted a nice glass or wine, champagne, sparkling wine or cider...including some from our pre-cruise experiences in Kent, England prior to boarding the ship!

The next day a beautiful sunrise greeted the Seabourn Quest as we sailed into Liverpool, England; a surprisingly interesting and revitalized port.  

A beautiful sunrise as the Seabourn Quest arrives
 in Liverpool, England
While much of the previously depressed area near the port has been transformed into a huge modern open-air shopping area (though I did take the opportunity to load up on English candy; which my kids love), the magic is actually right along with waterside. 

A Cheese on Toast Truck?  You gotta try it.  
The old marina area has been transformed into a lovely but still historical area filled with shops and restaurants.  However, the Slavery Museum drew my attention.  It was interesting, but a bit too jumbled for me. 

What blew me away was the Maritime Museum (located in the same building).  It is undoubtedly one of the finest and most comprehensive museums of its type anywhere.  If you are interested in maritime history you could easily spend a day or more lost in this treasure trove of models, relics and information.  

I cut our time short in Liverpool, much to the frustration of my girlfriend (as you know we love to explore and find an interesting place for lunch), because there was yet another Seabourn Moment to come…and I had to get her back to the ship because it was, yet again, for her.  

You see, last year it was actually her birthday during the June 2015 Goldring Travel cruise, but for a bit of humor I put down on my preferences during the Guest Registration that it was her birthday…though obviously it was not during this August cruise. When I arrived the Hotel Manager and Executive Chef enthusiastically told me that the same pastry chef was onboard and he was excited to create an even bigger Seabourn Quest birthday cake for her.  Although I admitted that it wasn’t her birthday, Seabourn insisted we celebrate anyway…and so Seabourn did, well, Seabourn.

When we arrived back at the ship, the opened the suite door to a huge Seabourn Quest cake along with champagne…and balloons all over the suite, along with photographs of the two of us from our travels all over the world:  Portugal, Denmark, Norway, Spain, etc.  hanging from balloons and pasted to the walls and windows.


It is, at times, surreal that one can travel from the tensions and troubled history of Northern Ireland to being spoiled in rarefied world onboard a Seabourn ship in a matter of hours.  To my mind, the ability to have different types of moments can, at times, allow one to appreciate each in a way otherwise never possible.  

Next up:  Another Goldring Travel Culinary Event!

If you would like more information or would like to book your Seabourn cruise, please give us a call:

United States:         (877) 2GO-LUXURY
United Kingdom:   020 8133 3450
Australia:               (07) 3102 4685
Everywhere Else: +1 732 578 8585

Or email me at

Friday, August 26, 2016

Goldring Travel's 2016 Culinary & Cultural (Food & Wine) Cruise on the Seabourn Quest - Part VI (Oban, Greenock and Belfast - Seabourn Moments!)

The Oban Distillery stands over downtown Oban, Scotland
The Seabourn Quest arrived in the quiet town of Oban, Scotland to rainy skies, so after a few active days it was good to slow things down a bit.  After strolling through the seafront I headed up the hill, winding through pretty, well kept, streets to McCraig’s Tower, a former battery, which overlooks the town and harbor.

Oban, Scotland

Oban, Scotland
Afterwards I wandered down to the local museum, which was packed with all sorts of military memorabilia…a little gem of a place for those who have interest in such things.

It was then just a few steps back to the Oban Distillery, which has two types of tours…and the ability to skip them and simply head to the Tasting Room.  After our tour of Highland Park, the tasting room is all that we really needed.  With Oban really offering only one whiskey commercially (its 14 year old), being able to taste two others: Little Bay and Distiller’s Edition, was a treat, as they are not available in the United States.  (Personally, I am not a fan of Oban’s style and felt the other options were nothing special…so I wouldn’t worry that you cannot purchase them in the U.S.)

A small, but enjoyable, Oban whiskey tasting

It was then back to the ship for a bit of a lazy afternoon, but not before I undertook my usual hamburger test (skipping the hot dog this time).  I compared the standard Seabourn hamburger versus the Napa Hamburger designed by Thomas Keller.  The Seabourn burger is pure beef and is served with the usual compliments of lettuce, tomato and onion.  The Napa burger is a mixture of pork and beef along with a sharp cheddar cheese and a ‘special sauce”.  Honestly, for me (more of a purist) the Napa burger was all a bit busy and I did not like the contrast between the cheese and the sauce.  I understand there is probably a 50/50 consensus as to which is better.  

Seabourn's regular, all beef, hamburger
Seabourn's Thomas Keller inspired Napa Burger
(Note: I asked for the fixings on the top,
but they are normally placed under the bun)
Unfortunately, the next day, Greenock, Scotland (where you could take the train to Glasgow) was almost as equally rainy.  

Greenock, Scotland - Hints of a more grand past
After a wander about this historically pretty if you look closely, but now struggling, town, with my Pok√©mon Go pointing out seemingly endless churches, it was again back to the ship; albeit a bit disappointed that the past two days were less than stellar…but every port cannot be a winner for everyone.  (If the weather had been nice I would have taken the train into Glasgow and watched the first day of the World Pipe Championships.  Yes, hundreds of bagpipes.   You see there just may be a silver lining to those clouds!)

Seabourn Whiskey Tasting in the Colonnade
It was the only night I dined in the Colonnade as it was themed Scottish Night.  I had some local smoked salmon (from Stornoway), haggis, black pudding and a steak pie along with a wee dram of Scotch whiskey.  While I enjoyed the cuisine and the fun presentation, honestly I found it to be too informal for my liking, with it feeling more like a late lunch than a dinner. 

The next morning, as we arrived in Belfast, Northern Ireland for an overnight stay, the skies cleared and a Seabourn Moment was about to happen.  My girlfriend of almost three years was finally arriving onboard and Seabourn had arranged a car for me to pick her up at the Belfast International Airport (a rather small airport that I am shocked can handle larger jets).  I walked down the gangway looking for the car, but what I didn’t know was right behind me was the Hotel Manager and Guest Services Manager with a giant bouquet of flowers and a cooler, which I assumed held a bottle of champagne and two glasses.  It, however, held two bottles of champagne and caviar with all the accouterments.

A Seabourn Moment:
Champagne and Caviar for an airport pickup of my girlfriend.
There was a huge bouquet of flowers as well.
The driver had never seen anything like it.
(We shared a bit of caviar, but not the champagne...He was driving!)
As I waited for her late-arriving flight the driver agreed to give us a bit of a tour of Belfast, as it would be a shame to not have sufficient time to enjoy all that Seabourn had prepared for us.  So with my girlfriend collected, the champagne open, caviar spoons in action and our driver at the ready, we saw many of Belfast’s sites including the Peace Wall, Titanic Museum, movie production site for Game of Thrones and more.

The Titanic Museum, Belfast, Ireland

After arriving back at the Seabourn Quest it was then time for the Goldring Travel 2016 Culinary & Cultural (Food & Wine) Cruise Private Galley Tour with Chef Andreas.  We were greeted with a variety of whiskeys and a sous chef preparing whiskey infused beef tenderloin to pair with it, as Chef Andreas ironically explained the cold galley.

Yes...More Whiskey!
Seabourn Chef Andreas explains how the galley works,
while his sous chef makes beef tenderloin in a whiskey sauce
for us to sample
Moving through the galley we came to the all important pastry area where we were greeted with an whiskey ice cream and champagne cocktail.

And then we moved on to the all important cheese tasting paired with a variety of ports and a Sauternes. This would, however, be just a sampling of what was to come the next day!

Belfast was an overnight port, but a special birthday dinner for one of my clients was on the schedule for The Grill by Thomas Keller.  I will be writing a separate article on The Grill, but suffice it to say, The Grill is not for everyone and not every dish works for the culinary palate of every culture onboard.  My Australian dining partner was very unimpressed with the rib eye steak as it is cut so lean, but he devoured the rack of lamb!  Something to keep in mind.  By the way:  Order the chicken!

The Grill by Thomas Keller
Presenting the Lamb and the Chicken tableside by the Chefs
But in another Seabourn Moment, I had mentioned to Chef Tom earlier in the cruise when he was pouring caramel sauce over an ice cream sundae for someone that my girlfriend loves caramel.  He winked at me and said he had something in mind.  Well, boy did he have something in mind:  A beautiful dessert that was caramel over caramel, covering caramel, and covered in caramel that took two days to create.
Another Seabourn Moment:
A one of a kind Caramel, Caramel, Caramel Dessert

But that was only Part One.  Part Two was a special birthday cake that was not only incredibly beautiful (and tasty) with a spun glass dome, but had as a filling a dense, chewy…caramel.

A Seabourn Moment:
Now that is a culinary wonder of a Birthday Cake
That is truly a crowning achievement for a birthday cake
Absolutely incredible and, without exaggeration, presented at the culinary and artistic level of Michelin star restaurants...on the Seabourn Quest.

If you would like more information or would like to book your Seabourn cruise, please give us a call:

United States:         (877) 2GO-LUXURY
United Kingdom:   020 8133 3450
Australia:               (07) 3102 4685
Everywhere Else: +1 732 578 8585

Or email me at

Monday, August 15, 2016

Goldring Travel's 2016 Culinary & Cultural (Food & Wine) Cruise on the Seabourn Quest - Part V (Kirkwall, Ullapool, Whiskey and the Kindness of a Stranger)

The Seabourn Quest’s arrival into Kirkwall, Scotland, the largest town in Orkney; an archipelago of islands in the far north., marked one of the highlights of the 2016 Goldring Travel Culinary & Cultural (Food & Wine) Cruise:  An exclusive tour and tasting at Highland Park Distillery followed by a gourmet pub lunch.

Highland Park Distillery, Kirkwall, Scotland

The day started out with torrential rains that, but for the annual Goldring Travel jackets, would have left everyone soaked as we made our way from the ship to our private Highland Park bus waiting to pick us up.  After our wet Scottish welcome the weather fortunately cleared...not exactly into a sunny day, but most certainly sufficiently dry!

Our tour started with the typical introductory movie…and that was all that was typical.  Our tour of the Highland Park Distillery, which is both ancient and beautiful, was in depth and very interesting; led by James…who you could instantly tell has done this for years and loves his job.

Highland Park Distillery's Bonded Warehouse
This is where the aging is done.  The days of the unique painted
labels (on the right) have been replaced by bar-coding (on the left)
but the product remains the same.

Highland Park Distillery's beautiful stills.
It was an interesting discussion on what angle leaving the still
 is best when making whiskey
But the real enjoyment came after the tour where we had a truly exceptional tasting of eight (8) whiskeys starting with an unaged whiskey (also known as “white lightning” or moonshine), and following then Highland Park’s 12, 15, 18 (declared “the best spirit in the world”), 25, 30, 46 year old and then a 60+ year old whiskey (pretty much priceless at an estimated 9,000 GBP per bottle).

Goldring Travel's Culinary & Cultural Cruise
Enjoying an Exclusive Whiskey Tasting
at Highland Park Distillery
While the first seven were enjoyed in Highland Park’s private tasting room, the 60+ year old whiskey (which I describe as subtle and smooth as your most comfortable pair of slippers) was properly presented and relished in the Eunsun Room.

Enjoying "The Best of the Best"
in Highland Park Distillery's Eunson Room
I love my job!
After our Highland Park experience, it was time to head off to the quay in Kirkwall for a gourmet pub lunch at Helgi’s; a true Scottish pub renowned for its exceptional Scottish fare. 

Helgi's Pub - Kirkway, Scotland
Helgi's Pub - Kirwall, Scotland
Goldring Travel’s guests enjoyed such delicacies as a platter of smoked mussels, scallops and salmon, cauliflower and smoked cheddar soup, Bubble and Squeak with Scallops and fish & chips (though some did order hamburgers!), combined with local beers, stout and other beverages. 

Goldring Travel's Culinary & Cultural Cruise
is not just about consuming food and wine,
but the culture:  Here sitting in a real pub with real people
and enjoying a local beer or two
The Best Fish & Chips...with really tasty Mushy Peas
A gourmet take on Bubble & Squeak with scallops
(leftover vegetables with potatoes)
And I could not resist the Sticky Toffee Pudding.  (I ordered it with cream, but the waitress, with a sparkle in her eye said, “You want it with ice cream”.  I said, “I do?” and she replied, “You do!”  She was, of course, right.)

Sticky Toffee Pudding...with the recommended ice cream
After lunch a stroll around Kirkwall completed our day…and a great day it was.

Seabourn Quest anchored off Ullapool, Scotland
The next day brought us to the lovely little town of Ullapool, Scotland; a hidden gem introducing us to the Scottish Highlands.  With a soft rain being omnipresent, one would think the place dreary and dank.  It was, quite to my surprise, anything but!

The brilliant green glowed against the grey skies in Ullapool, Scotland

I disembarked the tender and went into the local information tent.  There I was met by an utterly charming, if not incredibly cheeky, woman with a little grey woolen cap, bright eyes and a huge smile.  I asked her if there were any hiking trails…and this Irish transplant let me know it was going to be an interesting day.  (And, of course, her cohorts did nothing but encourage her banter.)

Start Here...not "there"!
She handed me a map for the Ullapool Hill Path telling me there is a very nice loop trail.  It, very clearly, showed a “Start Here”, but noooo, that was not where I was to start; Edel insisting that I was to start behind the town’s gas station though the map showed no entry point and no trail there.  This led me to believe (sort of) I was being set up as an innocent tourist being taken advantage of.  (Next thing I thought was that she would be telling me where I could find the nests of some wild Haggis.) And the laughs just kept coming.  

Our "discussion" was interrupted by a very rude man from the ship who insisted she call him a taxi; though in this tiny town the taxi wasn’t going to be available until mid-afternoon.  His selfish urgency could have ruined the moment, but Edel told him to wait until she was finished with me...and she wasn't finished!  (I ran into him the next day as well…and he has “rude” well practiced.  Oh well, his loss!)

I was also told of a walk down by the river which, if I put everything together, would eventually lead to the “Start Here” rather than the gas station…and so I went off. 

An absolutely beautiful walk by the river in Ullapool, Scotland
But before I describe my hike, I want to pause and mention that many times I hear an urgency of “What tour should I take?”; especially in small or otherwise unfamiliar ports.  I believe that in most cases those tiny and unfamiliar ports are hidden gems and the places that we, as travelers, are supposed to embrace.  Ullapool and its people oh so perfectly prove that point!

Scottish Thistle
I headed off with one couple from my group (now friends who have done many cruises, including Seabourn World Cruises) and found the river and an amazingly beautiful path with wild strawberries, raspberries and cherries as delicious snacks – of course picked at a height above that of a dog…for obvious reasons) as the wildflowers and omnipresent natural beauty amazed us; the soft rain and light making everything look that much prettier and the colors more intense.

At the end of the river path we headed back towards town and saw the infamous sign for the actual start of the Ullapool Hill Path.  Saying goodbye to my friends it was a really wonderful hike up the “hill” (known as a mountain, except, I guess, in the Scottish Highlands) with yet more beautiful wildflowers, thick patches of heather and as I got higher, fantastic views.

Hiking up Ullapool "Hill" in the Scottish Highlands
(Seabourn Quest and Ullapool in the background)
But just to make sure I wasn’t too full of myself having climbed this “hill” just as I was about 90% of the way, one of the Seabourn waiters, Dawid, comes bounding up behind me hardly breathing.  He was kind, however, and walked the last bit with me at a pace probably a bit slow for him.

As we headed back down, I asked him which way he came.  He said from the left (my having come from the right) and eventually – returning his way – I wound up behind – yes, you guessed it – the gas station.  But we did discover that the only “loop” trail would have involved another three hours or more of hiking and put us miles from where we wanted to be.

Dawid needed to get back to the ship and I needed to stroll through town and find a local, greasy, chippy.  And I did, ordering up fried haggis and fried black pudding with an Irn-Bru (a disgusting, but very popular, orange colored Scottish soft drink that my children love). 

"Culinary & Cultural" - The Scots fry everything
Here:  Fried Haggis and Fried Black Pudding
with an Irn Bru
So with my Scottish delicacies I headed back to the Seabourn Quest tender…or so I thought.  There was Edel ready to once again pounce on this gentle soul.  “What are you doing with an Irn-Bru?! And what’s that you are eating?”  Round 2 of banter began, but ended when she said, “If it wasn’t raining so much I would take you for a ride and show you the area.”  I said “Let’s do it anyway.”  And we did…right after she threw out my haggis and black pudding!  So for about an hour we drove along the water’s edge and viewing this absolutely beautiful area and with wonderful local flare. 

My time in Ullapool had come to an end, so with a fond farewell, I returned to the Seabourn Quest after an absolutely fantastic day.  

After arriving I heard a number of complaints that due to the rain and clouds the tours to see the Scottish Highlands were disappointing.  Now I don’t expect most Seabourn guests to hike a mountain, or hop in a car with a total stranger, but chatting with the locals can be far more rewarding and a far more personal experience than listening to a tour guide on a bus.  At least it is for me!

If you would like more information or would like to book your Seabourn cruise, please give us a call:

United States:       (877) 2GO-LUXURY
United Kingdom: 020 8133 3450
Australia:             (07) 3102 4685
Everywhere Else: +1 732 578 8585

Or email me at