Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Norwegian Cruise Lines Purchases Prestige Cruise Holdings (Regent Seven Seas and Oceania Cruises)

This morning Norwegian Cruise Lines announced it was purchasing Prestige Cruise Holdings, owner of Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Oceania Cruises for US$3.025 billion dollars including both cash and debt with another $50 million payable to Prestige's shareholders if certain performance targets are met in 2015.

What does it mean from a luxury cruise perspective?



Before getting to the analysis, you need to understand that NCL is partially owned (20%) by the Apollo Management, who were the owners of Prestige Cruise Holdings, so there is a bit of "shuffling of the deck chairs" so to speak.

You also need to know that NCL, under the guidance of Kevin Sheehan, has risen from the brink, but still has its struggles. (The Norwegian Epic is a disaster of a ship, the Caribbean cruise market can't sustain the pricing the cruise lines need, and NCL has a number of ships on order, among other things.)

I also want to point out that with all of the bluster coming out of Regent Seven Seas and Oceania Cruises, the fact is that Apollo Management is doing exactly what it planned from the beginning:  Build up and then sell off assets at a profit (and jettisoning the burden of financing and building a new ship).

Using its leverage to have its assets acquired by acquired another of its assets (NCL which has a market value of about $6.8 billion dollars) is a pretty smart move for Apollo -as it only owns 20% of NCL, but I am not so sure it makes great financial sense for NCL.

As you know I predicted and then watched Oceania pretty much consume Regent (albeit, admittedly, Oceania has not totally combined with Regent).  See for example my June 2008 article:  The Oceania-fication of Regent Seven Seas Cruises Line and my March 2012 article: Oceania Cruises New, Creative, All-Inclusive Approach (TheOceania-fication of Regent Seven Seas Cruise Line - Another Chapter). Meanwhile I have watched Oceania improve its food quality (I can call it "cuisine") while Regent Seven Seas has struggled in that area, the crew from each line crossover and Regent struggles to profit while garnering the highest prices in the cruise industry as it provides a premium (not luxury) product through slick marketing and unfulfilled promises to its passengers (and recently failed a CDC ship inspection).  See, for example, its poor customer service and paying off travel agents with higher commissions just to get you to book a Regent Seven Seas cruise.

I have to wonder how NCL, and Kevin Sheehan (who is a pretty straight shooter!) will deal with Regent's false marketing that it is actually less expensive than say Celebrity or Holland America.  I have written about this a few times.  For example:  Regent Seven Seas vs. Holland America - Really? Let's TalkEthics and Regent Seven Seas Pricing - It Is Out of Control...Seriously, Why Pay That Much?

Oceania Cruises, on the other hand, while a bit weak on customer service before you board, is a strong product with great itineraries though to me it is a bit over-the-top with its extra charges.  I honestly consider it to be a superior product to Regent on many levels...and that may be the attraction!

Now, let's get down to finances.  I wrote just two weeks ago Regent Seven Seas Cruises - Reported Earnings for SecondQuarter 2014: A Lesson In Making the Bad Seem Good...which makes that $50,000,000 performance bonus seem like I hit the nail on the head.  In other words, Regent is not doing well.

When this is combined with NCL doing better, though not necessarily well, I then look at the points NCL and Prestige Cruise Holdings highlighted in their joint announcement (their words, not mine):

  -- The diversification of cruise market segments by adding upper premium and luxury brands;  We can agree that having a contemporary, premium and luxury product can have its benefits as the cruise customer generally moves up over time from an NCL or Carnival to more sophisticated brands.

  -- The further enhancement of industry-leading financial metrics;  I am not sure what "financial metrics" either leads the cruise industry in other than very high prices with low, if any, profits.  

  -- Opportunities for synergies and the sharing of best practices among brands;  Opportunities?  Really?

  -- An increase in economies of scale providing greater operational leverage;  Clearly larger cruise lines have the ability to leverage themselves, so by combining some of the opportunities NCL, Oceania and Regent could not achieve individiually that Royal Caribbean and Carnival Corp. have had for years become available.  

  -- The expansion of growth trajectory and global footprint; It will expand the NCL brand worldwide, but not the overall global footprint, and I am not sure how combining is going to increase its "growth trajectory" as the number of ships in the pipeline through 2019 is pretty much fixed. (See below) unless the growth spoken of is profitability.

  -- The opportunity to complement Norwegian's new build program with the existing Regent order that provides measured, orderly capacity growth through 2019. Huh?  I guess that across the brands if one measures growth it is slower overall rather than having more peaks and valleys such as what would have happened when Regent finally obtains its first new ship in a very long time.  Combining that with NCL's pretty consistent growth will that over.  The effect?  Not much overall.

So what do the above six points mean?  Honestly, not much.  Those six points can be condensed down into this:  A larger combined company can use its diversity and breadth to get better pricing, lower its overall costs and retain more of its passengers (rather than NCL's losing them to unrelated cruise lines and Oceania/Regent having to find them)

Will this make Regent and Oceania stronger?  I am not so sure it will.  Will it change their products? Again, I am not sure it will. 

It is my hope that Kevin Sheehan puts his mark on Regent Seven Seas and brings Regent back to what it was when it was Radisson Seven Seas Cruises; a true luxury product with fair pricing and superior cuisine and service.

What do you think?  Visit The Gold Standard Luxury Travel Forum and express your opinion and see those of other people.

Interested in a cruise?  Give me a call at (877) 2GO-LUXURY (or one of my international numbers) or email me at eric@goldringtravel.com.

Monday, September 1, 2014

"The Cliff": Did the Sale of The Seabourn Pride, Spirit and Legend to Windstar Cruises Send Them Over the Edge...Or Give Them a New Life?


Windstar Cruise's Star Pride
(in her former life)
On Monday, September 8, 2014, I am boarding the Star Pride for a seven day Black Sea cruise. Windstar Cruises has invited me to see what they've done to the Pride and how things have changed. It's going to be different...but is that bad?

Before I get to the specifics, I want to talk about "The Cliff".  You've all heard the expression, "It's all downhill from here", well The Cliff is when something is so good, so spectacular, so incredible that when it goes way it is like suddenly falling off a cliff; like there is nothing that could replace it.

When word of the Seabourn triplets being sold came out to many it was like The Cliff.  The intimate, personal, 208 guest "yachting" experience that was Seabourn would be gone forever.  The number of times I heard, "I guess I will have to find another cruise line when the triplets go" is countless...as are the number of times people want me to forget they said that.

It is, personally, rather ironic that I am about to experience and review the new life of the Pride as she transforms from the Seabourn Pride to Windstar Cruise's Star Pride.  Why?  Because I, personally, have been facing my own "The Cliff".

Gazing Over The Edge of "The Cliff"
Over the past months I have been going through four (4) of what most would consider fairly traumatic life experiences:  I am going through a divorce after 20+ years of marriage; my son has just headed off to Colorado for his first year in college; I am adjusting to being a single parent to my 15 year old daughter (though I pretty much have been a single parent to both of my children for years); and, I am transitioning out of the practice of law to focus solely on Goldring Travel.  The Cliff?   Nope.

I had another significant change:  Through all of that stuff there have been wonderful new transformations of my life...and a wonderful person to go through the bumps and successes with.  My approach is different. My perspective is different. My ability to enjoy is different.  And, I think, all for the better.  But it is a process.

For me "The Cliff" is what I face if I let go of any of that...or it lets go of me.

However, since gazing over "The Edge" is not my favorite thing (though taking a peek is unavoidable!), I prefer to know the potential for The Cliff is there, but not to focus on it.

So what does this have to do with the Star Pride and her sisters?  Heck, this is not a therapy session, is it?  It is simple:  Seabourn needed to change its world and Windstar needed to change its world. Caught in the middle (one might say "fortunately") are the three ships that had defined Seabourn for years.


While other ships were getting bigger and fancier the Seabourn mantra became, "It's not the hardware (the ship), its the software (the people)" and those three ships sailed full on virtually every sailing.  But then the luxury market really needed to provide more in the way of alternative dining venues, more and larger public spaces, faster ships so that more exotic ports could be visited, more modern galleys for more complex menus and the list goes on...while the triplets were potentially and seriously looking at The Cliff.

I mean who would have the vision and the money to transform these circa 1988-1996 small ships with no real balconies?  Would they wind up like the incredibly popular but far too unique Radisson Diamond (I loved that ship!) ferrying Asian gamblers out to sea in smoke-filled casinos and little elegance...or worse? Oh The Cliff was very real.


And then Xanterra Parks and Resorts, the nation's largest operator of park-based hotels, restaurants and stores, purchased Windstar Cruises and orchestrated the purchase of the Seabourn Pride, Spirit and Legend. (You can read more about it here:  Windstar's Wind Surf - What Does It Tell Us About theTransformation of the Seabourn Pride into the Star Pride? Leave Your Tuxedo and Bring Your Flip-Flops!

And their transformation began...and so did a change in the perspective for these ships.  The Star Pride and her sisters are no longer focused on the luxury, but premium, market and their "attitude" is not on providing luxury but Windstar's friendly and warm, service.  This takes a lot of pressure off of the ships AND it allows the Pride to more than competitively complete with the other players in the Premium market.  How so?

The Star Pride is an all-suite ship with marble bathrooms (with double-sink vanities and full bathtubs), large sofas and true in-suite dining capabilities with true refrigerators and a modern entertainment system.  What other premium line offers these amenities?

The Star Pride has an elegant dining room, two possible al fresco dining options and tons of deck space...along with the ability to visit ports that many of the premium cruise lines simply cannot visit plus tenders with true tenders rather than lifeboats (a nice touch).

Windstar has made some changes to the Pride including transforming the Observation Lounge into its Yacht Club thus giving it more purpose than it had in the past, as well as redesign of what was formerly The Club into the Compass Rose Lounge.  I will talk more about these and other changes when I am onboard next week!

Artist's Rendition of The Yacht Club.
And so, faced with The Cliff, it seems that the Star Pride has turned away from it, and its new support is giving it a bit assist.  Do I expect there to be a few bumps and adjustments to come?  Of course.  It is part of the process.  But I am truly looking forward to boarding her since my last cruise on her for the 2012 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise.

The cruise I will be taking is perfect for the Star Pride:  A Black Sea cruise with some smaller, unique, ports...ironically very similar to a 2004 cruise I took on the Radisson Diamond; visiting Istanbul, Amasra and Samsun, Turkey; a day at sea; Odessa, Ukraine (we shall see), Constanta, Romania; and Nessebar, Bulgaria. I will be spending two nights in Istanbul pre-cruise at the Hotel Nena in the heart of the Old City.  I have always stayed outside of the Old City and visited it when I wanted.  Taking a different perspective and a premium (rather than luxury) approach right from the start, should put me right on course to view and live the Star Pride in the proper, and refocused, light.

I have also made sure that I did not have too many conversations with Windstar Cruises prior to my departure because I don't want any pre-conceived expectations.  I have enough of those as it is.  

And, to be sure, what I need to be careful of is saying, "The last time I was onboard..." or "On Seabourn..." 

It is time for fresh starts, fresh perspectives and appreciation of what is right in front of me and the Pride...and we both know it is not The Cliff.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Regent Seven Seas Cruises - Reported Earnings for Second Quarter 2014: A Lesson In Making the Bad Seem Good

Today Regent Seven Seas Cruises, the world's most expensive (and purportedly most inclusive) cruise line, announced its earnings for the second quarter of 2014.



I find it interesting that in its press release Chairman and CEO, Frank Del Rio stated, "We are pleased with our financial results, including record revenue... In July, construction began on Seven Seas Explorer [which] marked the beginning of what we believe will set the standard for luxury cruising when Seven Seas Explorer joins the fleet in the summer of 2016. Our strong financial performance and new construction are a reflection of our commitment to providing our guests with an extraordinary experience."

I, of course, pause.  And then I ask, "OK, with 'record revenue' how is it that you parlay that into 'providing our guests with an extraordinary experience'?"  So I took a harder look at the figures!

The first thing I saw was that occupancy was down to 95.4%...from 96.9% for the same period last year.  But then I saw that the available guest nights were also down almost 3% since the Seven Seas Mariner was in dry dock this past April.  That means last year there were 166,658 guests and this year there was 160,071 guests.  Sooo....Regent Seven Seas generated record revenue with 3.6% less passengers.

What does that mean for you, the cruising public:  Regent is charging a whole lot more and over this past year it has not provided you with much of anything extra...other than a larger bill.  (Yes, Regent' did have a "big" announcement that for its highest paying guests it was giving free internet.  Not so big, huh?) I am just not sure how that amounts to providing its "guests with an extraordinary experience".

Let me be fair:  Regent Seven Seas provides most everything in hardware that you might want.  It provides you with tours that some love, but many think are too far too basic and far too crowded and for which you pay for whether you take them or not. It provides you with very nice suites as well.

But where Regent Seven Seas consistently fails is service, service and cuisine.  (Did I mention service twice????)

I regularly receive unsolicited emails from people telling me that they wished they had read my articles before they took their Regent cruise and then they go on to complain about the service and the cuisine. (OK, one of my last emails said that after five cruises, they did notice the cuisine had improved.  Not sure I would take five cruises with marginal food, but the marketing of all the alleged "free" stuff works!) Note that my most read article on the subject was written four (4) years ago...and it still is ringing true.  I don't consider that to be a good thing.

To me this signals an even larger problem:  Why would people be finding my articles AFTER they have cruised on Regent?  The answer is, obviously:  Dissatisfaction.

So Regent's reduced occupancy on reduced capacity says one thing.  And its record profits off the backs of less passengers says something else.  I receive emails from sites pitching the world's most expensive restaurants and hotels.  I am sure there is a market for those that want to claim spending the most money for something, but honestly, that is not Goldring Travel's market and I, personally, don't want to be in the business of price gouging.

Goldring Travel is in the business of assuring its clients receive the best value on the cruise or land vacation that meets and, hopefully, exceeds their desires.

Frank Del Rio, please tell me what exactly is it that you are providing your guests that makes it "an extraordinary experience"?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Goldring Travel Quoted In Travel Market Report Article on Luxury Travel

Eric Goldring, of Goldring Travel, was recently interviewed by Travel Market Report on the trends in luxury travel.  It is an interesting article (of course!) and I hope you enjoy it.


http://www.travelmarketreport.com/content/publiccontent.aspx?pageid=1365&articleID=11439

For Luxury Cruise Sellers, Times Are Good



As the consumer market for luxury cruises matures – and the cruise lines’ diversify their product and pricing models to meet demand – times are good for luxury cruise sellers.

Agents report brisk sales. They also note an ever-lengthening booking window, as clients look to secure a space in the face of tight supply.

Luxury cruising, and especially luxury river cruising, is becoming more attractive for vacationers who have more time and money to spend on a trip, regardless of their demographic, agents told Travel Market Report.

Clients are booking far into 2016. And they’re taking advantage of the greater choice offered by today’s luxury lines – ocean and river cruise alike.

“The luxury market is maturing,” said Eric Goldring, owner of Goldring Travel in Colts Neck, N.J. “The market is 20 years old, and that’s about a generation; people now in their 60s and 70s have done the traditional luxury cruise, and they are looking for something new.”
In search of variety
“Many of my clients are those who have ‘been there and done that,’” said Mike Brill, a Cruise Planners agent from Palm Springs, Calif. “They’re looking for something more intimate and unique.”

Luxury vacationers have already been to Europe, long the go-to destination for luxury cruises, and now they want something more exotic – and that’s benefitting travel agents.

“Our business has really been driven by what is new and different. Luxury is moving toward new destinations,” said Scott Caddow, owner of Legendary World.

At the same time, Caddow said, “most of our clients are pretty brand-loyal, so they want the same cruise experience” – to new parts of the world.

Mediterranean always strong
Michael Consoli, a Cruise Planners agent in Roswell, Ga., said that for him “Mediterranean cruises always seem to be the biggest draw for the luxury market.” Certainly for clients new to luxury cruising, Europe remains a solid bet.

But Consoli said he is also seeing “big interest in the Galapagos because of the environmental regulations and changes coming to that area of the world in the next few years.”

Agents also mentioned Antarctica, the Arctic Circle, Africa and South America as attractive new destinations for the more-experienced luxury cruiser.

Multiple deposits
The booking window for luxury cruises remains long due to strong demand coupled with limited product.

Some luxury clients are so concerned they’ll miss out on their preferred cruise that they’re making deposits on multiple cruises, and deciding later which of the trips they’ll actually take.

“My clients will book two or three cruises and end up taking one or two cruises in the end,” said Caddow. “Cruisers are getting smarter about itineraries they book.”

In response, some cruise lines are tightening their policies on refundable deposits to try and rein in this type of shopping.
“Cruise lines are now trying to combat people who have a history of cancelling,” said Goldring. “Lines like Regent and Oceania have increased the cancellation penalties, even right from the start.

“But I’m still seeing lots of bookings made far in advance,” Goldring added.


All-inclusive craze
While pricing is slightly up, luxury lines are also driving revenue by offering cruise passengers more opportunities to pre-book add-on packages and excursions.

“The lines are trying to make the more-upscale product all-inclusive, by making you buy before you get onboard,” said Mary Ann Strasheim, ACC, owner of Custom Cruises & Travel, an Ensemble agency, in Omaha..

By adding value to their cruises with new initiatives, the lines are doing an effective job of attracting demand. And the adds-on are usually commissionable.

“Regent is one of the better all-inclusive values,” said Caddow.

The all-inclusive packaging appeals especially to those who like to integrate land tours with their luxury cruise experience, as well as to customers who are used to paying for everything upfront.

“We have clients who move to a cruise from land vacations, and they would rather just have everything paid for” instead of paying as they go, Caddow said.

Itinerary changes
Some luxury lines are adapting their itineraries to include longer port stays in a response to travelers’ desire for more in-depth experiences of destinations during a cruise.

“Most luxury travelers don’t want to move from place to place on land, but they do want to get a taste of the culture and say they’ve been to a destination,” said Goldring.

“Cruise lines are also doing more over-nighting because it is a cost-savings for them, since they’re not moving the ship,” Goldring said.


Pricing remains solid
Today’s luxury cruise clients are willing to spend more, according to agents, and the lines are rolling out longer, and more expensive, itineraries to take advantage. This means higher commissions for agents.

“More lines are beginning to offer world cruises,” said Strasheim. “Retirees have more time on their hands, and they are asking why they should buy a winter home when they can travel the world instead.”

To entice would-be cruisers looking for a deal, the luxury lines are throwing in value-adds, rather than lowering prices, agents noted.

“The luxury lines are masters at adding value to this product without degrading their pricing model,” said Consoli.  “So they are offering air incentives, free hotel nights, Internet packages and onboard credits to encourage early bookings.”

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Goldring Travel Visits Seattle To Find Out What's New at Seabourn Cruise Line: A New Ship, Improved Enrichment Programs, New Itineraries, Partnership with UNESCO and More!



What is happening at Seabourn?

What is changing?
What can you look forward to?

Seabourn has been pretty quiet of late compared to some of the other luxury cruise lines, but there not only has been a lot going on, there is a buzz of constant refinement of its product.

You are never going to hear Seabourn make headline grabbing, but very silly, announcements ala Regent Seven Seas Cruises that it has "the most luxurious cruise ship ever built" or it "will establish a benchmark for style and service"...or that it will have the highest guest to space ratio (which simply is not true; no matter how Regent wants to make that calculation!)  I do have to ask a question"If Regent's new ship is where it will establish its benchmark for service and style, what does that have to say about its current product quality?"  I think it says volumes; but I digress!

Seabourn doesn't market hyperbole.  It's just not its style either in its offices or on its ships.  The reasons are known as "class" and "understated elegance".  Seabourn lets its product speak for itself.

In this article you will read about Seabourn's:
  • New ship
  • Greatly Improved Enrichment Program (Conversations)
  • New Itineraries
  • Partnership with UNESCO
  • New e-News"paper" Service
  • Menu Changes
  • Wines
  • A few other tidbits here and there.

I asked Seabourn’s President, Rick Meadows, and Senior Vice President, John Delaney, if I could spend a day with them and find out what's happening and what to expect.  Rick and John  agreed and were the most gracious of hosts.  What fascinated me the most was that, aside from the new ship (to be delivered in 2016), there was no real focus on making big changes, but rather on what sort of refinements are being considered.  OK, the new ship is a big change, but the cruise industry doesn't wait two years for things to happen.  

Menus, Cuisine and Wines

I arrived in Seattle in time for a dinner with John Delaney and the head of Seabourn’s charter and incentives program.  Seabourn arranged for me to meet them at Matt's In The Market, a Seattle institution, where  you have to make reservations a month in advance.  It is located at the Pike Street Market and specializes in fantastic seafood.  This was a purely social evening as the next day a number of Seabourn executives would be converging on the Seabourn Conference Room  as I went through my list of concerns, observations, and questions.


What I wasn’t prepared for was waking in the morning to receive an email at 7:00 AM that Seabourn had just the day before signed the firm contract for its new 604 guest Odyssey-class (plus one deck) ship.  Why wasn’t I told during dinner just hours earlier?   The reason, it seems, is that on the corporate level Seabourn is sort of the antithesis of what the guest experience is on its ships:  Seabourn keeps everything…and I mean everything…very close to the vest.

You need a security card to get into Seabourn’s offices and, even then, leaving items in the Board Room results in the door being locked.  (Seabourn obviously shares some space with Holland America and even getting into the Employee lunchroom requires a security card.)  Now this might seem like the “control freak” approach is necessarily a bad thing, and as I don’t run the company I can’t comment on if it the right way to do business, but it does provide an air of Seabourn being a bit fanatical about quality control…and that is a good thing.

A good bit of time was spent discussing cuisine, menus and complimentary wines…something near and dear to most of your hearts.  The focus: 

1.       How to better promote that Seabourn’s menu offerings – which have been and are expanding - while some guests perceive they are more limited;
2.       How the dishes are more complex with layers of flavors and more sophisticated spices than ever before;
3.       How Seabourn is spending more money on higher quality beef, chicken and prawns than ever before; and,
4.       How Seabourn has 26 wines included in its complimentary pour wine list, etc.  (Did you know that Rick Meadows is actually sort of foodie and it is really important to him that Seabourn meets his, personal, expectations.)

I suggested comparing some similar dishes from five or fifteen years ago with today (photographically and by recipe). I don't know if this will happen, but I am confident that many of the "It was better 'back in the day'" comments would disappear.

Here's something I didn't know…and I bet you didn't either:  Seabourn has a Test Kitchen!  Yes, Seabourn does try its proposed new dishes at its headquarters (sharing the facility with Holland America, of course.)  I was fortunate to not only see the Test Kitchen, but to have lunch with Rick Meadows, It was a very nice lunch with Rick Meadows, John Delaney, Chris Prelog, and Stijn Creupelandt

John Delaney, Rick Meadows, Chris Prelog, Eric Goldring and Stijn Crepelandt
enjoying lunch in Seabourn's Test Kitchen
Salmon, Prawns and Clams with Saffron Risotto
prepared by Bjoern Wassmuth, my dear friend and recently departed head of Seabourn's Culinary Operations 


And I don't mind saying lunch was superb!

You Love Your Stewardess...and Other Tidbits

I am also pleased to debunk the persistent rumor (and, folks, it is a rumor) that the Stewardesses on the Seabourn ships are going to be changed out to Filipino staff.  Seabourn is committed to providing the same, personal, experience with European, South African and South American stewardesses for the foreseeable future.  This is a Seabourn signature and so it shall remain.

There were many other things (little and not so little) that we discussed from
  • Customer Service 
  • Port Operations 
  • Tour Quality and Research
  • Visa Handling
  • Communications with travel agents
  • Pricing, etc. 
And while Seabourn may be very tight-lipped about what it is doing and what it has planned, one thing is for certain:  Seabourn listens!  The amount of notes taken and subsequent follow-ups make it clear that Seabourn is committed to improving every aspect of your cruise experience.

Now that I have your attention, let's move on to the "big stuff"!

Seabourn's New Ship - Some Incredible Experiences Are Coming

Just as I had figured, Seabourn – while being extremely guarded about specifics – confirmed to me that the ship will essentially be an iteration of the Seabourn Odyssey class ships, but with an additional deck, so Deck 8 will be accommodations and Deck 9 will have the Colonnade and Pool. Deck 4 (which previously housed the Oceanview Suites – which will not exist on the new ship) will be used for more public spaces.  One point Rick and John emphasized is that while the passenger count will increase from 450 to 604, the staff will essentially increase by the same proportion and the public spaces - which are rarely, if ever, crowded - are also expanding.

Seabourn has brought in Adam D. Tihany, an icon in the hospitality design industry to rethink the entire vessel from the dining venues to the spa, lounges, casino, outdoor spaces and even the very popular and successful Seabourn Square.  Tihany has created remarkable spaces for some of the top restaurateurs (including the likes of Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, Jean Georges Vongerichten, Charlie Palmer, Heston Blumenthal, Paul Bocuse and Wolfgang Puck) and hoteliers (such as South Africa's One & Only Cape Town resort, Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas, King David Hotel in Jerusalem, The Oberoi Hotel in New Delhi, The Beverly Hills Hotel, The Breakers in Palm Beach and Hotel Cipriani in Venice).

Mr. Tihany said, "What I strive to do is to find an aesthetic that expresses the personality of the brand...Thus, my goal is to design a beautiful, and very uniquely Seabourn ship, one that will reflect Seabourn's aura of casual elegance and thoughtful attention to detail, that will make their guests feel welcome and invite them to experience Seabourn's special brand of ultra-luxury."

Here is a wonderful interview of Tihany from CBS News' Charlie Rose...at about 3:30 of the interview there is a little sneak peak of the new Seabourn ship!:



Having been fortunate enough to experience some of Tihany's projects first hand, I can comfortably say that Regent can market its hype all it wants, but Seabourn, quietly, is assuring its clients they will have the ultimate luxury "experience".

The philosophy of Tihany's charge from Seabourn is to not only create new and improved spaces, but to do so in a way that the "older" (they are still "new") Seabourn Odyssey, Seabourn Sojourn and Seabourn Quest can be retrofitted in a way that provides an overall improvement in the Seabourn product and a consistency between all of the ships.

Some guesses:
  • There will be a new, additional, alternative restaurant
  • The Club will be significantly redesigned
  • The Observation Lounge will be tweaked with a skylight brightening the space
  • Restaurant 2 will not only be redesigned but reinvented
  • Patio Grill and Sky Bar (the place to be on the smaller ships) will be tweaked
  • The suites will be tweaked, but without major changes
One thing that needs a change and which Seabourn is already working on is the lounge furniture.  While it is quite comfortable, the ocean air has taken its toll on the finishes.  New furnishings are already being installed throughout the fleet, but it will be interesting to see if something new will be used on the forthcoming ship.

As things progress Seabourn will slowly provide more details.

Enrichment Enhancements - It's Not Just About The Ship

Seabourn has made huge improvements in the one area I felt was previously its weakest:  Enrichment.  It has done this two ways:  Seabourn Conversations Series and partnership with UNESCO...as well as some special culinary and other focus cruises.

The Seabourn Conversations program is bringing literally dozens of world renowned speakers on topics ranging from world affairs to marine biology, historians to culinary geniuses and more onto a wide range of Seabourn itineraries.  Please click:  Seabourn Conversations to see a list of sailings by subject matter interest and dates.  (This is a dynamic page, so it is updated regularly.)


Seabourn Captain Hamish Elliott
holding Jon Landau's Oscar for Titanic
Just recently Jon Landau, producer of Titanic and Avatar brought one of his Oscars onboard for the guests to hold while he chatted with them and Apple's co-founder, Steve Wozniak, providing some very insightful and enjoyable discussion.

The UNESCO Partnership, according to John Delaney, Seabourn's Senior Vice President, has been a two year project and as it continues to roll out it will become more robust and more offerings will be provided.  This is one improvement I am particularly happy to see, as I am always looking for ways to make my time on shore "experiential" rather than just looking at things and ticking them off.  UNESCO stands for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.  Many people believe when they hear something is a UNESCO World Heritage Site it must be historical, but alas that is not the case.  It can be of special cultural, physical or scientific importance and includes things as massive as Africa's Serengeti Plains or Australia's Great Barrier Reef to as small as a cathedral in Central America.

Believe it or not Seabourn visits 170 ports with UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Seabourn's program has two types of tours that involve UNESCO:  Seabourn World Heritage Tours and Seabourn Discovery Tours.  Each of these tours has a small donation to UNESCO added to the tour with the former being focused on tours of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, while the latter is focused on an enhanced experience through Seabourn's alliance with UNESCO.

Seabourn's New e-News-"papers"

Seabourn has also announced it has installed PressReader Offline on all of its ships.  It has been testing a version of this for a while.  Essentially you download an app to your iPhone, iPad, Mac or Android device (Seabourn will have a limited number of tablets for those guests who don't have one) and then you will have complimentary access to over 2,500 newspapers and magazines.  And, the best part is, you do not need an internet connection to accomplish this as you can simply log into the Seabourn wireless network.

So if you want to stay connected via  your hometown paper you will be able to do it.

Seabourn's Late 2015-Early 2016 Itineraries

Seabourn is going to be spending less time in the Caribbean and more time with exotic destinations ranging from Southeast Asia to Australia to South America and the Antarctic in January and February 2016, coupled with two trans-Pacific Ocean cruises to/from Los Angeles, California.

Winter 2015 includes cruises in Asia and Arabia, the Antarctic and the Caribbean, but in March 2016 Seabourn is headed to China and Japan as well as the Pacific Islands with an eventual transition to India and Arabia before returning to the Mediterranean in the late Spring of 2016.

With only three ships and extended itineraries, the the demand is going to be extremely high, so don't wait to book one of these improved itineraries.

Conclusion

While I still receive comments about how Holland America will ruin Seabourn, the fact is that while the approach today may be much more corporate and almost secretive, the goal remains to keep Seabourn at the top of the luxury cruise market; not by resting on its laurels, but by improving the product and the onboard experience...quietly and with class.

If you are considering a Seabourn cruise, why not give me a call at (877) 2GO-LUXURY, in Australia on (07) 3102 4685, in the UK on 020 8133 3450 or elsewhere + 1 732-578-8585 or drop me an email at eric@goldringtravel.com.

You do want to make sure your travel agent is an expert AND provides you with excellent service and prices, right?