Friday, July 18, 2014

Goldring Travel Cruising the Peruvian Amazon With G Adventures

In 1986 I traveled to the Peruvian Amazon Jungle when I was single and wanted a truly rustic adventure spending my days and nights under the deep forest canopy if not canoeing around some of the backwaters.  It was, well and truly, one of the most invigorating and inspiring journeys of my life...and one, along with my African safaris, inspired me to travel.  

G Adventures' Queen Violeta Amazon River Cruise Ship
Alas, it is now almost 30 years later and, while I am extremely excited to return to the Amazon jungle, I am not going to be roughing it, or spending quite as much time, in the biosphere that impresses me so much.  And I am taking my 18 year old son with me as a "father-son" trip before he heads off for his first year of college, so it isn't going to be all about my getting that great photo or my individual experience.  I am, now a bit wiser and maybe a step slower, more than ready for new perspectives on a fascinating area that far to few people experience.

I have organized this trip through G Adventures (which, as it develops its brand) offers trips that range from the truly rugged to pretty much, sort of, luxury. This nine (9) day trip is leaning more to the comfortable and fairly well taken care of side...but isn't quite what one would call luxury.  

It conveniently it takes two weekends and only one business week - and starts in Lima, Peru for one night at the Dazzler Hotel (a good thing after the 1:45 a.m. flight I have to Lima!), then an early morning flight the next day over the Andes to Iquitos, Peru for a visit to a Amazonian Manatee Rescue facility and a quick city tour (which I understand has grown significantly, if not for the better).



It is then on to our ship, the Queen Violeta, a new 32 passenger ship (though maximum 28 guests are on any sailing) (Note:  Starting in 2015 G Adventures will be using a different ship.) 

G Adventures' Queen Violeta Amazon Cruise Ship
While the accommodations will be simple, they are a huge upgrade from the hard bunk with mosquito netting in a room open to the jungle - no windows, no electricity and a basin with muddy Amazon River water...with the latrine-style outhouse and community 55 gallon drum shower (also using muddy Amazon River water)...down the dock...that I experienced the last time.  I will talk more about the ship after I am aboard.

Once a board the ship it will be six (6) days cruising the Amazon, but not heading east as I did the last time (when I visited the Yanamamo and Napo River areas), but doubling back west to the Pacaya Samiria Reserve.  

The first day will be spent sailing to the confluence of the Marañon and Ucayali rivers, considered to be the point where the Amazon River begins, where it should be possible to see monkeys, sloths, a variety of birds and the famous pink dolphin. Over the next five days, guides will lead jungle walks, give lectures and point out unique species of bird and marine life as we explore the smaller tributaries of the river.

Two days of excursions in the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve are designed to provide excellent wildlife viewing opportunities, and a chance to interact with the locals…including a local shaman.  I had an experience with the locals on a far less structured basis the last time (some great stories are coming in the next articles!), but I also endured what was a surprisingly touristic, but still very cool, demonstration of blow gun expertise.  While I don't know how things will go with the shaman, I don't think I will be trying to bring back a blow gun again, as in 1986 the airline said it was a weapon (a wood vs. pvc pipe, but OK, I guess!).

We will also go piranha fishing Last time I brought my own rod, but not this time (though I did catch some pretty nice fish other than piranha).  I know the technique to use, but will let you know about that when it happens!  And, of course, swimming in the back waters - with all of the folklore - and truths - as to its dangers is also on the agenda.


Something I am really looking forward to is exploring the mangroves in a dugout canoe.  I hope we visit some of the areas with giant lilies that are six feet or more across, as I did last time.  We will also visit the Sapisapi River to look for charapas and other turtles. 

Finally we will visit  the port town of Nauta and visit a local market.  Considering that the diets of the locals are almost entirely based upon what is available in the jungle, there are most certainly going to be some very interesting things to see...and, possibly taste.  (I mean you know I will try just about anything including balut eggs in Cambodia, so I am looking forward to this!)  

There are more than a few clients that I have urged to go deeper into the Amazon than Manaus, Brazil; heck, how pristine can it be when they are playing World Cup football (soccer) there entertaining tens of thousands of fans. That is why I regularly suggest that if you want more than a "taste", less of a "tourist" experience, and to experience the "real deal", Iquitos, Peru is your better jumping in point.

Now, speaking of G Adventures and its evolution into the luxury expedition market, I want to make you aware of its Galapagos luxury cruise experience. Its 32 passenger ship provides true luxury accommodations - something one luxury line is struggling mightily with - with many of the amenities that are difficult to find in the Galapagos.

G Adventures' Evolution Standard Stateroom
While I will be talking more about the Galapagos opportunities later, now is the time for me to get packing for my Amazon experience!

If you are interested in any G Adventure tours or cruises, please drop me an email at eric@goldringtravel.com or call me at (877) 2GO-LUXURY...but wait until after July 27th.  Internet and telephone are not prevalent in the Amazon!


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Last Minute Availability - 2014 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise - AmaWaterways: Amsterdam to Budapest

I have just been advised by AmaWaterways that a very few staterooms have just become available for the October 6, 2014 Goldring Travel 2014 Food & Wine River Cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest on the AmaWaterways AmaCerto. 


This fourteen (14) day cruise has numerous included high quality tours and will also have some tastings of the little-known but extraordinary wines of the regions.  All this is provided without any additional cost to you with the tasting and other special events being provided courtesy of Goldring Travel.  (If you have ever been on a Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise you know a once-in-a-lifetime experience is more than probable!)

Whether you are a wine buff, a history buff or a scenery buff, this is a truly exceptional cruise during one of the most beautiful and comfortable times of the year.

Interested?  Please read the details on our website by clicking this link: 


and then give me a call at (877) 2GO-LUXURY or +1 732-578-8585 or email me at eric@goldringtravel.com

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Windstar's Star Pride Christened!

Windstar's Star Pride (formerly the Seabourn Pride) was christened yesterday in Barcelona.


Now with all-suite accommodations for 212 guests and a newly refurbished interior - which have some major changes - the Star Pride will start her Mediterranean season.

I am anxious to actually see the newly redesigned Yacht Club (previously the Observation Lounge)


and the Compass Rose (previously The Club):


as well as the Windstar touches throughout the ship including all of the suites.  When I receive actual photos of the Star Pride's interior I will, of course, share them with you.

Consistent with Windstar changing from only motorsailing ships, it has unveiled a new logo:


Taking the Star Pride for a Test Drive - Knowing how much I loved cruising on the Seabourn Pride - the first Seabourn ship I ever sailed on - and how much I enjoyed my first Windstar cruise this past January on the Windsurf, which you can read about here:  Windstar's Wind Surf - What Does It Tell Us About theTransformation of the Seabourn Pride into the Star Pride? Leave Your Tuxedo andBring Your Flip-Flops!I am truly looking forward to sailing on the Star Pride on September 8, 2014.


While I am onboard I will, no doubt, spend a lot of time looking at the differences, the changes, the improvements and, of course, enjoying the Windstar rebirth of this wonderful intimate ship.  (OK, I might have a few moments...a lot of moments...of nostalgia.)

If you would like to join me on this unique cruise of Istanbul, Turkey's Black Sea Coast, Romania and Bulgaria (and, possibly, post-crisis Odessa, Ukraine) call me at (877) 2GO-LUXURY or email me at eric@goldringtravel.com.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Celebrity Silhouette vs. Royal Princess - Which Is A Better Value For The Upscale Cruise Guest? Part IV: The Wine Lists Speak Volumes (As Do The Beverage Packages)

Now a word about wines on Celebrity versus Princess.


I am traveling as a single adult with my daughter, no different really from a couple where one does not drink or may not during meals, purchasing a bottle of wine is generally not a good option (unless I dined in the same restaurant each evening) so I would have been suffering throughout this week…if I had sailed on the Royal Princess.




Let me explain:  Before departing I took a long (well, it really could not be that long) look at Princess’s wine lists.  They are, except in Vines, pretty ordinary.  Sabatini’s prides itself on its extensive Super Tuscan list, which is fine, but I find it a bit offensive when you are given only two options:  Purchase expensive bottles of wine or select from rather ordinary wines by the glass…pretty much forcing you to purchase by the bottle if you care about wines.


Further, elsewhere on the ship you are pretty much stuck with marginal to acceptable wines, but not much that you actually want to drink.  Let me put it to you this way:  Your only "by the glass" options cost no more than $7.95 and are nothing other than you would find at a typical chain restaurant in the United States.


This, obviously works for the vast majority of the Princess guests, but I was not invited onboard to consider Princess for its average guest, but the upscale to luxury guest.

Celebrity’s approach is much different. 



Of course it has Cellar Masters which has a wonderful wine list and a very large egnomatic machine selection (where you can purchase various amounts of some truly outstanding wines through a pre-paid card sort of like using an ATM for wines. 



Carrying on with the "wine is important" theme, each of the Celebrity specialty restaurants has a solid variety of wines by the glass and bottle, so that you are not “forced” to purchase a Super Tuscan if you want a Cabernet Sauvignon or a bottle if you want a glass or two (or use your Premium Beverage Package).  Note that the wine lists vary by restaurant, so overall there are a pretty extensive offerings around the ship.  I can enjoy a quality Bordeaux in Murano, a solid Malbec in the Lawn Grill, an excellent Abarino in QSine.



What I truly like is the ability to supplement my Premium Beverage package, which allows me to order any wine up to $13.00 a glass without an additional charge.  But if I want a glass of a very nice Bordeaux which sells for $17.50 a glass I can pay $4.50 extra. (The Bordeaux went very nicely with my venison I enjoyed in Murano on my second night aboard.) Or if I want a 20 year tawny port with my cheese I can pay $2.00 more rather than “suffer” with an acceptable port.  With this approach I can readily change my wines by the course, creating my own parings with or without additional cost.  This is truly a more upscale experience available on Celebrity and really not on Princess.


On the issue of Beverage Packages, Celebrity has had them for years and they are truly a good value if you enjoy alcoholic beverages throughout your day.  If you have a Bloody Mary or Mimosa with breakfast, a couple of beers during the day, a glass of wine with lunch,  pre-dinner cocktail, two glasses of wine with dinner and an after dinner cocktails, the Classic or Premium package (dependent on the quality of wine and spirits you enjoy) can be a significant savings.  (Princess is first dabbling with the beverage package concept, having introduced it on a few ships.  But as the wine selection is limited I am not sure that for an upscale guest it will be of much value.)



Also interesting is Celebrity’s approach to “sales”.  More than once I have heard those folks selling water by the gangway and buffet remind people that if you have a package the water and Vitamin Water and Gatorade is included.  Similarly, while a person purchasing a cocktail has the spirit measured, when I ask for a double it is provided without hesitation.    It is nice to see that Celebrity understands that the cost of offering up that bottle of water is nothing compared to the cost of otherwise winning back a guest that might not be totally loyal to its brand.



This sort of focus on making the Celebrity guest feel valued is not lost and is seen in a number of touch points throughout the cruise.


Cheers!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Celebrity Silhouette vs. Royal Princess - Which Is A Better Value For The Upscale Cruise Guest? Part III: Treating You Right From The Start

The ambiance on the Celebrity Silhouette is significantly different from the Royal Princess.  To me it is a simple matter of “Class versus Mass” and, as I ask some of the passengers on this cruise that have been on both lines, and there are many, not surprisingly the vast majority say that Celebrity is far superior.  (Obviously, if they felt Princess was they would now be on the Royal Princess, right?)  It is their reasons for concluding it that is of interest.  

But now for my thoughts.  I will  get to other passengers thoughts later in this cruise.

We arrived at the port very early as our flight was at 6:00 AM; so early that everyone still had not disembarked the ship.  So we had to wait in line…very near the front of the line.  But when the doors opened Celebrity had everything running smooth as silk.  We were through security, processed, and SeaPass in hand in less than 15 minutes.  We then were directed to a seating area and shortly thereafter was onboard the ship. 

After being greeted with a glass of “champagne” I asked were we could sign up for the Ultimate Dining Package and was directed to the Grand Cuvee (main) Restaurant.  Very efficiently we were signed up, had our reservations (at our chosen times…without compromise) for each of the next seven nights.  Having combined this with our Pre-Paid Gratuities and Premium Beverage Package, a fairly seamless experience without any “nickel and diming” was – again – to be had.

We were then off to the spa, where a massage on the first afternoon at sea was arranged with no issue (other than this is the first cruise with Canyon Ranch being the spa operator, so the question of my 14 year old daughter having a massage without a parent present in the room was raised – more on that later!).

As I seem to have hit the jackpot of CDC (Center for Disease Control) inspections, the Celebrity Silhouette was having one, so our embarkation lunch at Bistro on Five was a bit delayed.  While we had our dining package so it was included, Celebrity waived the $5.00 per person cover charge for all of the other diners.  Our lunch included a very nice cream of tomato soup (not too creamy) and an excellent Salad Nicoise.  The waiter brought over an excellent (and totally unneeded) banana, Nutella and pistachio crepe for dessert. There were some quite unique wines offered by the glass.  I enjoyed a Gruner Vetliner from Austria.  (By the way, I will be talking about the wine selections later.)


 After enjoying our lunch, my daughter and I arrived at our stateroom (8279) which was very conveniently located near (but not at) the midship elevator and separated by nicely designed walls to eliminate any chance of noise.  It is a standard Celebrity Solstice-class stateroom, but with a very large balcony angled so that we have a great view both to port and aft.  As it started to rain heavily, we decided to just chill out on our balcony while we waited for our luggage to arrive.  Because the balcony was so deep we were easily able to sit out, recline the back of our chairs and wonder if this is going to be Spring Break Part Deux (as last year it rained virtually every day). 

My Standard Veranda Stateroom on the Celebrity Silhouette
(the sofa and desk areas are not shown)

My Celebrity Silhouette balcony has to be at least five times the size
of the balcony on a standard veranda stateroom on the Royal Princess.

The view from my balcony looking astern.  


The standard Celebrity Silhouette bathroom
Celebrity sent my daughter some chocolate covered strawberries
A nice touch!
While out there pondering how I could have made it a week on the Royal Princess with a tiny balcony that would have to sit sideways on…no less that Princess was treating me, as their guest, to a view of a lifeboat…I stood up, looked to forward and saw the Royal Princess.  How did I know?  It was the giant bright red television screen overlooking the pool that was easily visible from about a half mile away.  I had forgotten that “feature” that I am sure would be a turn-off to most, if not all, upscale cruise guests.  (Movies Under the Stars is a nice feature, but television and blaring lights and sounds of all sort all day; not so much.)

The Royal Princess.  And, yes, the giant television is that bright.
This photo is not retouched...I promise.
After a few telephone calls, we venture out and wander the ship.  I am not going to repeat all of the various spaces, which you can discover searching my articles on the Celebrity Solstice, Celebrity Equinox and Celebrity Silhouette, but suffice it to say Celebrity has created some of the most elegant and subtilely creative spaces at sea which not only attract your eye, but breaks up the larger number of people into smaller, more manageable, groups.  (I note the Royal Princess holds about 25% more people than the 2,800 passenger Celebrity Silhouette.)

Speaking of my fellow passengers, this is definitely a more “bargain hunter’s cruise.  It is the last Caribbean cruise as the next cruise is a transatlantic crossing on the way to the European season.  You can tell the staff – while working hard and always being pleasant – are ready to get to Europe and the passengers are definitely more on the budget plan.  (The specialty restaurants are fairly quiet, the shops and casino are quiet, etc.)

We have an early 7:00 PM reservation in Murano, the French and most formal specialty restaurant.  While we are first asked our stateroom number rather than our name, that quickly changes as the staff recognizes me from prior cruises.  What was very nice was watching the waiter figure out how best to interact with my fairly shy daughter. (Can you imagine one of my offspring being shy?) They eventually have her so much at ease that she actually started ordering for herself!  The food was excellent:  Goat cheese soufflé, diver scallops with truffles in a puff pastry, Dover sole (prepared tableside) , Lobster Murano (prepared tableside), an excellent cheese course (eight different French cheeses), Grand Marnier and chocolate souffles…and a petit fours.

Our dinner was delicious.  The ambiance was beautiful.  The restaurant is quiet (save when the door is opened and you hear the singer in the lounge outside – that does bother me!).  (I did notice a decline in people on this cruise – as opposed to last year’s March cruise – dressing for dinner.  Hawaiian shirts in Murano is just inappropriate and while Celebrity should restrict it, “technically” it is a buttoned shirt with a collar, so it is more of a failing of being on a more mass market cruise than the cruise line.)

We decided to make it an early evening (having gotten up at 3:15 AM for our flight), so we headed back to the stateroom for a drink on the balcony (Glenfiddich for me, Vitamin Water for my daughter) looking at the sky and hoping for sun the next day and then a good night’s sleep.

The next morning I went to Michael’s Club to check out the Captain’s Club Elite continental breakfast.  It was just that; nothing more…and very quiet.  So I headed up to the buffet for a light breakfast.  What impressed me was one particular staff member (I wish I caught his name).  I was juggling my Microsoft Surface, my dish and a coffee cup as I went to pour my coffee.  He stopped what he was doing, ask me if he could pour my coffee, took my cup, asked me if I wanted milk, and then took my plate and escorted me outside to a great spot overlooking the ship’s wake. 

Little things like that do make a difference…especially on a larger cruise ship.

Princess, you were right.  I won't ever use my balcony.
I mean this looks like such a waste of time, doesn't it?