Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Goldring Travel Revisits Regent Seven Seas Cruises (Seven Seas Voyager: Rome to Barcelona - August 1, 2017)

Goldring Travel will be sailing on the Regent Seven Seas Voyager on its 10 night August 1, 2017 sailing from Rome to Barcelona.  Yes, I know:  Shocking!

But as I am open to experiences pretty much anything (sometimes even not within reason!) I was asked to host an Ensemble Travel Group sailing and thought:  "Let's see how all the changes at Regent Seven Seas have come together."  I mean I do have more clients booking Regent Seven Seas cruises since Goldring Travel relocated to California, so this is a great opportunity.

This is also a great opportunity for you to sail with me and also enjoy the Ensemble Travel amenities. Plus I will provide you with some additional Goldring Travel amenities and, quite possibly, an impromptu Goldring Travel culinary experience in one of the ports!  But more on that later.

Regent Seven Seas Voyager
Some Background  

It has been a few years since I have experienced a Regent Seven Seas cruise (starting back when the cruise line was Radisson) and, to be sure, when I previously sailed in 2004 on the beloved and long gone Diamond, in 2005 on the Seven Seas Mariner, in 2006 on the Seven Seas Navigator and in 2007 on the also departed Paul Gauguin.  Back then there were no "free" offerings such as shore excursions, airfare, hotels, etc.

And then Regent Seven Seas went from one of my favorite luxury cruise lines to one that I avoided at all costs; especially because - to my mind - I was being asked to be dishonest with my clients.  The claims of "Free. Free. Free" for things you are actually paying for and inaccurate cost comparisons to premium lines.  There was also a new inconsistency of service and the mantra, back almost a decade, that a new ship was coming when it clearly wasn't, just made it untenable for me to be its advocate.  (As you know I am not a fan of the marketing things as being "free" when you are paying for them, so if you are getting "free" air or hotel, there should not be a credit if you don't use them...and on Regent you do.)

The Cruise and My Focus

However, the "free" thing is different issue than the delivery of this very inclusive product.  And, to be sure, there are those that find value in having a "One Stop Shop" where they can book a complete vacation package with included air and hotel (a more common approach in the United Kingdom and Canada) raised to an even higher level with included gratuities, beverages, basic tours and even internet. So, for this cruise I will focus on the quality of the product from service, cuisine, the suite, public spaces, enrichment, to the included tours.

Regent Seven Seas Voyager Deluxe Veranda Suite
The 700 guest, all suite, Regent Seven Seas Voyager, launched in 2003, completed a major refurbishment in November 2016 with virtually every public space on the ship being updated, with some areas such as the Compass Rose main restaurant being completely gutted and rebuilt, and the suites refreshed.  The standard suites are 305 square feet with a 50 square foot balcony.  (There are no oceanview suites; only veranda suites and better.)  There are a total of 447 crew servicing the guests.

One difference between Regent Seven Seas and most of the luxury cruise lines is that larger production shows are a main focus.  Along those lines a very significant investment as been made to upgrading the Constellation Theater.

The main restaurant, Compass Rose, has what seems to be a new, steakhouse-esque, menu where there are a variety of offerings (meat, fish and seafood - yes fish is seafood) and you choose your causes and side dishes.  This seems curious to me, as I generally have the chef design and prepare my culinary experience, but I shall keep an open mind.

One specialty restaurant, Chartreuse, is the new French restaurant (reservations only) that mimics a similar restaurant on Regent's newest ship, the Seven Seas Explorer. This is the most upscale of the dining venues.

The second specialty restaurant is Prime Seven (reservations only), a true steakhouse; and extremely popular.  I know there have been some iterations of the menu of the past years, and am looking forward to comparing this to Seabourn's The Grill by Thomas Keller, as it clearly fills the same culinary space.

La Veranda is the casual dining venue that transforms into Setti Mari, an Italian restaurant in the evening.  And, of course, there is the Pool Grill.

The itinerary is a nice combination of a rather standard itinerary (perfect for those new to the Mediterranean and those not loving sea days):

Aug 1 Tue Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy                  Depart 8:00 PM
Aug 2 Wed Florence/Pisa (Livorno), Italy          8:00 AM 8:00 PM
Aug 3 Thu Ajaccio (Corsica), France                 8:00 AM 6:00 PM
Aug 4 Fri La Spezia (Cinque Terre), Italy          8:00 AM 8:00 PM
Aug 5 Sat Monte Carlo, Monaco                        8:00 AM 11:59 PM
Aug 6 Sun Antibes, France                                 8:00 AM 7:00 PM
Aug 7 Mon Provence (Marseille), France          8:00 AM 9:00 PM*
Aug 8 Tue Palamos, Spain                                  8:00 AM 6:00 PM
Aug 9 Wed Palma De Mallorca, Spain                8:00 AM 9:00 PM
Aug 10 Thu Valencia, Spain                                8:00 AM 6:00 PM
Aug 11 Fri Barcelona, Spain                               7:00 AM

* I will be the host for all guests who have booked through an Ensemble Travel Group agency and will lead a very interesting Ensemble Experience in Les Baux Village in the Provence region of France as well as a cocktail party.

As I mentioned, one of my focuses will be the included tours. I am usually not a big ship's tour person, but will be taking more than I normally would so that I can fairly evaluate them.  However, in a few ports I will either be going it alone or simply using the Regent transfers (for example, from Livorno to Florence and Palamos to Barcelona).  I will, of course, be looking at both value and delivery.  (For example, I noticed that the included tour to Florence is fairly basic and not only excludes some important venues, like the Uffizi Gallery, but other might be skipped if the lines are too long.  If you want to definitely see those things the $269 per person tour, or a private tour -using the included bus transfer - would be the way to go.)  

Speaking of tours, the included full day Ensemble Experience should be a unique and very cool, 'er um, experience.  Travel from Marseille to Les Baux Village and, after wandering its narrow streets, stop for a typical Provencal lunch at the quaint Hostellerie, followed by a visit to Carrieres de Lumieres (Quarry of Lights) where a stunning display of lights and music showing "Bosch, Brueghel and Arcimbold Between Fantasy and Wonderland".   

If you are interested in joining Goldring Travel on this cruise, please give us a call or drop us an email!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Goldring Travel's 2017 Culinary & Cultural (Food & Wine) Cruise - The Special Events!

Goldring Travel's 2017 Culinary & Cultural Cruise sets sail September 4, 2017 on the beautiful, ultra-luxury, Seabourn Encore for 10 days round-trip Barcelona, Spain. And, as usual, Goldring Travel has special pricing!

Seabourn Encore
As you probably know this annually sold out event is limited to only 14 pampered guests plus, of course, me!  And, as always, Goldring Travel does not charge extra for any of the events!

The itinerary is extremely diverse and interesting...and, hey, it starts out in one of the world's culinary hotbeds:  Barcelona!

MON 04SEP17 Sail from Barcelona, Spain 5:00pm
TUE 05SEP17 Valencia, Spain 8:00am 6:00pm
WED 06SEP17 Sea Day
THU 07SEP17 Tangier, Morocco 8:00am 6:00pm
FRI 08SEP17 Cadiz (Seville), Spain 8:00am 11:00pm
SAT 09SEP17 Portimao, Portugal 8:00am 6:00pm
SUN 10SEP17 Gibraltar, British Territory 10:00am 11:00pm
MON 11SEP17 Malaga, Spain 8:00am 6:00pm
TUE 12SEP17 Cartagena, Spain 10:00am 6:00pm
WED 13SEP17 Ibiza, Spain 1 8:00am 6:00pm
THU 14SEP17 Debark Ship Barcelona, Spain 7:00am

(Blue designates ports where Special Events have been confirmed!)

This year Goldring Travel is putting a bit of emphasis on creating extraordinary culinary experiences that you can do yourself...even in a simple camping pot!  

We are bringing with us, Michelle Shea, an Adventure Dining Expert who has her own television show and internet presence to bring some more fun and "get out there" to balance against the elegance of Seabourn's executive chefs.  Ever heard of "glamping"?  It is Glamour Camping.  Not to worry: "Roughing it" is totally out of the question!

The Special Private Events
Goldring Travel is putting the finishing touches on three (3) Private Events off the ship plus more surprises.  

Barcelona:  Our first event is in Barcelona the morning before we depart on the cruise and will highlight two of the culturally driven aspects of the Catalan region.  

Our expert sommelier will take us on a tour through La Boqueria, which I believe is one of the best markets in Europe. While we are there our Adventure Dining Expert and I just might make some purchases to enjoy later in the cruise.

We will stop right near La Boqueria for a wine tasting...just to get things started.  Then we wander the nearby Gothic Barrio (Quarter) where we will enjoy a number of different Spanish and Catalonian wines and, of course, a wide variety of pinchos (literally means "spike" because they are basically tapas that have a toothpick in them which you can pick up) as we wander the barrio visiting a few locations along the way.  

If you are still hungry (which isn't likely!) we will then head to the Seabourn Encore for embarkation...where you can enjoy a late lunch before setting sail.

Tangier: This should be one of the highlights of our cruise!  Our morning adventure will start out with a cultural walking tour of Tangier's Medina and Kasbah followed by an exciting venture into the food market where our Adventure Dining Expert and I will purchase truly local ingredients for our Culinary Event in an beautiful exotic Moroccan venue where we will both cook traditional Moroccan cuisine in the traditional...and not so traditional...manner as we enjoy local beverages and our expert guide explains the culture and traditions of  the ingredients and the dishes that we are creating for our enjoyment.

After our lunch, you will have some time to explore Tangier on your own or head back to the ship,

Cadiz:  An Extraordinary Andalusian Dining Experience awaits!  With our late evening departure, at 5:00 PM we will head to the famous sherry winery Tio Pepe for a private evening of a tour, tasting and a paired dinner.  Our evening starts with a private visit to Tio Pepe's Historical Archive with a welcome tasting of a 30 year old sherry followed by a visit through the gardens, Lepanto aging cellar and the new distillers...of course sampling this sherry-related brandy.  From there we venture into an ultra-modern tasting room for a Private Four Course Dinner paired with some incredible sherries.

Think you know sherry?  This old school spirit has many flavors and facets and very little resemblance to that which your grandmother sipped.  This will be a delicious and eye-opening experience into one of the least known fortified wine that was created right where we will be experiencing it!

Other Events

This sailing is an Ensemble Travel Group sailing so there will be another event (still being worked on; possibly a cooking class) in Malaga, Spain.  

And as with all of Goldring Travel's Culinary & Cultural Cruises, there will be a special Cocktail Party, and we hope to have a Private Shopping with the Chef, a Private Cooking Demonstration (though this time side-by-side with our Adventure Dining Expert using the same ingredients in a very different way!) and the always spectacular Food & Wine Experience on the last day of the cruise.  Of course there may just be an impromptu event or two along the way, as well.

Of course there is one final thing that needs to be mentioned:  All of these events are optional.  If you want to participate you can, and if you don't, you do not have to.  This is not an ordinary "group cruise" where you feel joined

If you are interested in joining the Goldring Travel 2017 Culinary & Cultural Cruise, please call or email me as soon as possible.  Honestly, there are only a very few suites left to this very small group experience.

United States:        (877) 2GO-LUXURY
United Kingdom:  020 8133 3450
Australia:              (07) 3102 4685
Everywhere Else: +1 530-562-9232

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Celebrity Xperience In The Galapagos- Part VI (Incredible Birding, Baby Sea Lions and So Much More)

Day 6 on the Celebrity Xperience was and extraordinary birding day visiting Genovesa Island.  This island has no reptiles of any sort, but hundreds of nesting frigate birds, Nazcar boobies and red footed boobies, as well as visiting blue footed boobies. By the way, this is one island that the smaller Celebrity Xperience can visit, but the larger Celebrity Xpedition cannot – though it visits other good birding islands.  

Great Frigatebird 

Celebrity Xperience
at Genovesa Island, Galapagos
This is also one of the more challenging dry landings with the very steep and irregular Prince Phillip’s Steps which bring you up the sheer cliff face of the caldera to it flat, low tree covered, surface.

Prince Phillip's Steps - Genovesa Island, Galapagos
Even staying on the paths, you have to be careful not to step on nesting birds, who have absolutely no fear of humans.  In fact, the birds pretty much simply ignore your existence.  All I can say is, “WOW!”

Nazcar Booby with chick

Nazcar Boobies setting up their nest

Great Frigatebirds
One in full display, the other just hanging out

Red footed Booby

Red footed Booby - some have a beautiful green lower bill

Naxcar booby chick
The landscape was, of course, rugged, beautiful and actually very easy to traverse.

Afterwards we enjoyed a short zodiac ride where we saw a few fur seals and lava gulls.

Swallow-tailed Gull

Fur Seal

Fur Seal
and then a snorkel where a fur seal shot past me (ho hum).

We stayed anchored in the Genovesa caldera for the afternoon.  In the late afternoon there was an option for a very short walk and a snorkel or swim.  As the tide was high, I skipped the snorkeling, but that little walk was filled with boobies, frigate birds and lava gulls…and five young sea lions playing in a tidal pool.  Watching one rambunctious one chasing a ray, picking up an tossing rocks, and bothering others to come play was just precious.

Lava Gull

Galapagos Mockingbird
(It actually doesn't mock the sounds of other birds!)

Red footed Booby
This evening there was a Galapagos Trivia Challenge.  It was interesting to see how enthusiastic so many of the guests were…and how little of the information the naturalists gave sunk in!  Oh, yeah, I won!

There is no question that the three naturalists that were on the Celebrity Xperience were highly qualified and incredibly knowledgeable with over a decade of experience (one with over three decades).  However the content and manner of delivery matters.  Celebrity is working hard to assure that the right amount of information is delivered in the best possible manner.  And, if they could rotate the naturalists among their ships it would be much easier, but the Ecuadoran government essentially forbids it.  It makes no sense, but it is what it is.

That said, it was very obvious that the guests on the Celebrity Xperience were having a great experience and each found a different naturalist to be their, as they say, "Different strokes for different folks!"  And, I guess, for some the experience is hearing lots of information even though it clearly is not retained was enjoyable; something I notices as they well-engaged travelers would ask questions that had been answered many times.

The next morning, as the sun rose, reality hit:  Our last day onboard the Celebrity Xperience was upon us.  And I’m not happy about it!

Our morning was at Bartholome Island.  Our options were a long walk to the top of the island and an optional snorkel or a zodiac ride and an optional snorkel.  I, of course, went for the long walk.  It was 380 steps up the mountain and the beauty of it and the views were well worth it.

It was then time for another snorkel; this time from a beautiful beach. Once again the number of fish was fine, but the variety was pretty much as found elsewhere.  But there are always exceptions!

Tiger Snake Eel
(Yes, it has spots!)

An amazing number of fish to snorkel through
even with less then optimum water clarity

The ship relocated to Dragon Hill on Santa Cruz Island for the afternoon, where we took a long leisurely walk in an unsuccessful search for flamingos, though finding huge land iguanas, marine iguanas and other birds was very easy.  The differences between this part of Santa Cruz and the other parts of the island is remarkable.

Ruddy Turnstone

Marine Iguana

Another of Darwin's Finches

Land Iguana

Great Blue Heron
As we boarded the zodiac to return to the ship, our naturalist saw something in the water:  A school of golden rays.  It seems there is always something to surprise you!

Golden Rays
Upon returning to the ship there was a Margarita Party that awaited us, followed by a Farewell Toast and then another barbecue featuring lobster tails, octopus and tuna.

On our last morning, I was up early to begrudgingly pack before the last expedition:  An early morning beach walk on Las Bachas beach on Santa Cruz Island. 

Only two of us went...I mean I understand that many are focused on travel, but I want to soak in absolutely every opportunity.  We were rewarded with numerous turtle nests created only hours earlier, a beautiful view of a single flamingo, lava gulls, blue footed boobies diving for breakfast and a lone marine iguana basking on the beach as the sun rose through a partly cloudy sky.

Blue footed Booby diving for breakfast
with Noddy terns in the background

Tracks left by a turtle who just laid her eggs in the sand

Black-necked Stilt

It was a beautifully serene final act.

Upon returning to the ship at 8:00 a.m. I had a light breakfast before showering and getting into "travel mode".  We had to be out of our rooms by 9:00 a.m. (and our luggage placed outside of our room – no need to do it the night before) but my room had already been converted to twin beds and the message was clear:  My time on the Celebrity Xperience and this slice of biological paradise was quickly coming to an unwanted end. 

The Celebrity Xperience has all of the guests place their carryons in the main lounge where it played the first two parts of David Attenborough’s series on the Galapagos…which now was even more fascinating…prior to our last zodiac ride to the port in Baltra and the very short ride to the airport.

I have to mention that despite Celebrity doing everything it could, as with some of the chaos with my arrival, the Ecuadoran approach created a good bit of chaos.  So, while we were able to be easily pre-checked hours before our flight to the Galapagos (and our luggage accepted en masse) Avianca decided that we would have to wait over an hour to check-in for our departure from the Galapagos.

Additionally, two guests that booked through Abercombie & Kent prior to Celebrity purchasing the Celebrity Xperience were never given their flight information (nor was Celebrity!).  Eventually it was determined that the prior owner of the ship somehow checked them in for an earlier flight along with some ridiculous connections.  Celebrity worked hard to assist and a solution was, I believe, found.  But it underscores:  USE A TRAVEL AGENT!  I would have checked to be sure all of the flight information was in hand before they left for the trip and that Celebrity had the information. 

Eventually we all got checked in and we headed to the VIP lounge; again a nice Celebrity touch.

Upon arriving in Quito, a porter with a Celebrity sign met us at baggage claim and took our luggage, then a Celebrity representative met those of us heading back to the JW Marriott and another one for a couple heading to Peru.  Once we got to the hotel the check-in was seamless. Because of my Marriott status I was upgraded to the Executive Floor, but could not use the benefits since I only had time for the Celebrity arranged dinner, a quick shower and my private transfer to the airport and my 12:35 AM flight back to the United States…all of which, again, was flawless.

Check-in literally took seconds and I was sitting in the VIP lounge (this time only due to my status with United) after passing through immigration and customs in less than 10 minutes.  Hopefully the Ecuadorians can make the arrival as flawless when I visit again...and I will visit again.

Next up:  Reflections and a tour of the Celebrity Xperience.