Friday, October 31, 2008

Trump National Golf Course - Colts Neck Update

I have noticed quite a number of people are visiting my blog looking for information on the Trump National - Colts Neck golf course.  So here is what I am aware my new neighbor is up to.

Work has already begun on the reconfiguration of the golf course itself (lengthening/reconfiguring some holes, moving bunkers, etc.) as well as the planning for the new swimming pool and tennis courts.  (I also understand that some interior improvements are also started, but I do not know what they are as of yet.)

As part of those plans the two ponds were emptied last week which, inadvertently, caused a bit of a problem:  The water from the ponds is also the water source for the sprinkler system in the Clubhouse.  So without the ponds filled, the sprinkler system has no water supply.  If the Clubhouse was empty that would be one thing, but it is not.  So with events planned and water sources needed, tanker trucks filled with water are, as necessary, on site to supply water.  (Such are the logistical problems with being pretty much in the country.)  I am not sure how long this is going to be going on, or what the total logistical situation is, but it is an interesting quandary.

On another front Trump wants to change the name of the road leading into the Club to "Trump Boulevard" from Professional Circle.  While the name sounds good, if you ever saw it, you would know a boulevard it is not.  Apparently the businesses on the road are in favor of it, but some in town have objections like a supposed unwritten rule that streets aren't to be named after living people (though there are streets named after existing businesses, i.e. Slope Brook Farm Road...which isn't even related to the business and was named by other people) and someone didn't like it promoting Mr. Trump.

As for the present name "Professional Circle", I have to wonder if so much interest and concern was put into such a terrible name for our fairly rural town?  Personally, as one living in the area, I think if the present road name had any historical significance, like Hominy Hill Road (which is the back entrance into the development) there might be a legitimate issue.  I live in the Hominy Hill area in between it and Hominy Hill Golf Course (a public course); both named after an old farm. 

However, there is no such history and, just as Hominy Hill Road was named for an existing entity, Trump Boulevard should also be so named.    I am sure more people will eventually be familiar with the name Trump than Hominy Hill so to me it makes sense.  Just my neighborly opinion.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

So You Think Cruise Prices Are High and You Are Holding Off Booking a Seabourn Cruise...Waiting For a Bargain? Check This Out!

I love to find "stuff".  I get in trouble for finding "stuff".  But I will always be on the lookout for some good "stuff".  And here is one bit of "stuff" that you have to see to believe.

I recently purchased a pile of old Seabourn brochures and advertisements.  Included were ads for Asia, the South Pacific (oh, Seabourn please go back there!!) and the Caribbean.  As the Caribbean cruising season is just about upon us, I thought I would share part of a 1995-1996 Caribbean promotional brochure from Seabourn.  (If you click on the images, you will see a full size image in a new window.)

Let's do a bit of comparison:

I.  Holiday Cruise

December 21, 1995 to January 6, 1996 (16 days) - Lowest available price, taking into account an air credit of $350 and $200 for a hotel and transfer credit: $13,410 per person ($838 per day)

December 19, 2008 - January 2, 2009 (14 days) - Lowest available price:  $6,995.00 per person ($499 per day). 

Can you believe it is virtually half the price to cruise on Seabourn today as it was 12 yeas ago...and that doesn't include cost of living adjustments?

II.  Panama Canal Cruise:

November 16, 1995 - November 26, 1995 (10 days) - Lowest available price, taking into account an air credit of $400 and $200 for a hotel and transfer credit: $5,950 per person ($595 per day).

December 5, 2008 - December 19, 2008 (14 days) - Lowest available price:  $4,373.00 per person ($312 per day).

Again, it is virtually half the price to cruise on Seabourn today as it was over a decade ago.

Also, keep in mind that back in 1995 the concept of discounting cruise fares really did not exist.  Goldring Travel discounts literally every cruise we sell...last year, this year and in the future.

I found this, and lots of other information, fascinating.   I will be looking through this treasure trove of material and, from time to time, will share some of it with you.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Troubled Waters on the Luxury Cruise Front...And A Safe Harbor: Seabourn

Over the past days I have seen a number of troubling things happening in the luxury cruise market.  I preface my comments below by stating just because it is "troubling" it doesn't mean it is a disaster.  So please take a breath and then read on....

One of my Seabourn client's wrote two weeks ago, "These markets are taking their toll though. people are scared on the ship and the talk at dinner is often about the "market." Thought we could get away." 

But just yesterday, upon her return, the email was remarkably different:

"We are back from another perfect Seabourn experience. The weather was magnificent, food seemed more delicious than ever and we had a great time. It is the ideal vacation for us. So ideal that I'm sure you know by now, along with [our friends], we have already signed up for the next trip."

With the concept of "Is taking...or even thinking of taking...a luxury cruise at a time like this?" at the fore of most people's minds, the cruise lines are feeling the pinch.  The question becomes, from the guest's perspective, how much trouble are the cruise lines?  That is not, in most cases, an easy question to answer.

Case in point:  Royal Caribbean/Celebrity/Azamara, etc. (albeit not luxury lines).  This week it announced record 3rd quarter earnings, but great concern for the future.  This raised concerns over cash flow. Fortunately, it assured the markets by announcing it has $1.4 Billion dollars in cash and no need for new financing.

But on the luxury front the story, at least for some, MAY be a bit different:

First, Regent pushed off its heavily touted new ship, then it announced the ending of its relationship with the Paul Gauguin and now rumors abound that its $40 million dollar refurbishment of two of its three ships will be cut back (though this has not been confirmed.) and its third ship, Navigator, will be waiting about 2 more years for any upgrades...if at all. While all this may well be prudent business (a good thing), it is evidence that reliance on the perception of their being a high profit/cash flow "gravy train" in luxury cruising may have been a bit too much. 

Then , Crystal announced a very generous reworking of its booking policies so that you cancel within 45 days of departure without incurring penalty.  To me this signaled a concern for getting people to book cruises they were "just not sure about"  and to get them onboard the, in part, generate onboard revenue.  There is a great truth that once someone books a cruise they become emotionally invested and, therefore, are less likely to cancel it even if times get rough.  It  did not concern me much since it does not seek to keep your cash if you cancel.

Then Silversea came out with drastically discounted cruises...and a 25% travel agent commission on close in sailings.  (I did not previously mention the amount, but it quickly was spread publicly over the internet, so what the heck.)  This is a clear cry for cash.  To me, and honestly to most of my clients I have spoken to about it, it is a Red Flag that Silversea may be in serious trouble.  A cruise line cannot sell a $10,000 cruise at a 40-50% discount (OK, it is really at a 35% discount, since a 10% Early Booking Savings already applied) and then discount it another 25% for the travel agent's (frankly, perverse) commission.  The result, at least for me, has been interesting:  Not a single booking.  Rather, the questions are uniformly, "I am uncomfortable booking with Silversea.  Will my deposit and final payment be protected?  Do I need added insurance...and from whom?  Will my cruise actually take place?" 

Now SeaDream has announced a "Cancel Anytime Within 48 Hours of Departure and Get a 100% Credit" toward a future cruise within 18 months thereafter.  This is, again, very scary...and SeaDream is quite a fine product.  SeaDream had always prided itself on its charter schedule being its base.  But charters are drying up as corporations are not making the same profits and perceptions of such expenditures are presently more negative then positive.  Being a unique product it is not the easiest cruise experience to get people to consider and, honestly, not many travel agents even think about SeaDream as an option.  With its new program, a more aggressive play on the new Crystal approach, SeaDream will keep your cash so that it operates today with a (hopefully) positive cash flow and worry about what cruise you take later.  Clearly this short-term strategy is worrisome.

Seabourn has, at least for now, taken a different approach.  Ala Tiffany's and Louis Vuitton, it is taking the approach of Stability.  It has not changed its deposit policy.  It has not changed its cancellation policy.  It has not offered travel agents any increased (or absurd) commissions.  Has Seabourn reduced some amenities?  Yes, such as the less-and-less popular once a cruise complimentary tours. Seabourn has done, possibly with a bit more aggressiveness, what it has always done when there is a slower selling sailing:  It has offered a better deal...but never "giving away the store".  For example, its $1,000 off on any 2009 Med Sailing is a way to lower its prices for some and to, possibly, attract new business.  (Truth be told, that promotion has caused me more headaches than happiness because the vast majority of my clients already had a better deal since they were on 14 day or longer cruises or on Club Signature Value sailing offering 50% off.) 

Will Seabourn be making better or different deals?  My guess is: Yes, but with a caveat.  When you are not taking drastic actions (because you do not need to:  Stability), you can tailor your promotions to the then existing market (subject to forecasting sailing performance).  So will there be some offers for complimentary upgrades?  Sure.  Will there be added values?  I am confident there will be.  But will it give you a sense of desperation?  I am confident it will not.

Seabourn is mostly concerned with the long term...because it has no short term need for cash.  Yes, it wants full ships and, after being spoiled with, consistently selling out cruises, the concept of empty suites is a bit hard to come to grips with...but a few empty suites does not create a disaster.  Plain and simple:  Seabourn is focused on keeping "luxury" luxury.

When I think of Seabourn I keep thinking of the old commercial, "We Make Money the Old Fashion Way.  We Earn It!" 

How does it make you feel?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Celebrity and Royal Caribbean to End Fuel Supplements

Effective November 10, 2008 Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean Cruise Line will no longer charge fuel supplement for cruises scheduled to depart on or after January 1, 2010.

For 2009 and 2010 cruises booked prior to November 10, 2008 RCCL will determine on a quarterly basis whether fuel supplements will be refunded. Refunds, in the form of an onboard credit, will be provided if the closing price of West Texas Intermediate fuel is $65 or less, at the closing time of the New York Mercantile Exchange, two weeks prior to the beginning of the upcoming calendar quarter. When those conditions are met, an onboard credit will be provided to all guests on sailings that begin during the upcoming calendar quarter.

Put simply, adjustments will be made only four (4) times a year.  That will be done two weeks prior to the beginning of each calendar quarter.  So, for example, if on March 16, 2009 the price of oil is $65 those cruises departing during the period of April -June 2009 would have the fuel supplement refunded by way of an onboard credit.

This is a far less cumbersome formula than that being implemented by Carnival.  I think it may be a balancing between using an understandable method with some of the risk spread versus trying to be as accurate as possible.  I can't say that one is "better" than the other.  What I can say is that I am glad this is happening sooner rather than later.

Some Interesting Options...And The Seabourn Difference

Some of you keep reading about Seabourn, but really don't know what the ships are like.  Let's briefly compare a few ships, so you get the idea of how Seabourn can be so intimate and personalized. 

I have chosen three of the better quality ships, so the comparison is meaningful.
Celebrity Solstice

Regent Seven Seas Voyager

Seabourn Legend

All all three are high quality ships and each provides a quality product. 

The Solstice has far more in the way of facilities, options and unique venues (and I am very much looking forward to my pre-inaugural cruise in an AquaClass spa stateroom next month!).  It also must service over 2,800 guests.  In a way, the fantastic facilities are a substitute for some of the "impossible to provide to everyone" personalized service.  To be sure, there is a WOW factor and a price point for most cabins/suites which is but a fraction of the two others it is compared to. However the top suites do get more personalized service to combine with those facilities and, at times, the prices are not so different from the other two.  But if you shop carefully, good deals abound!

The Voyager has less facilities (and it is about to have some of its more tired ones updated shortly!) and, of course, less guests:  708.  While I have issues with its staff training and inconsistency of service, the theory is that the service is of a higher, more personalized, nature.  Its size and lower passenger count allows for open seat dining and a more "restaurant" vs. "grand ballroom", "club vs. dance hall" feel.  However, due to the number of passengers it is almost impossible to provide proactive service.  If you ask you will probably get what you want - within limits.  But don't expect to get without asking.

The Seabourn Legend (and her two sisters) has the least amount of facilities, with a small (but adequate) spa, fitness center, library, etc.  But with only 208 guests...7% percent of Solstice's and 30% of Voyager's guests...intuitive service and special touches are not only possible, it is a way of life.  The staff quickly learns your name.  They can give you real advice as to wines and menu items.  They can see that you might want a lounge chair "just there" and also bring you refreshments, just in case...and unasked for.  The food is of extraordinary quality and made ala minute rather than staged as hundreds (or thousands) line up at meal times on the other ships.

So as I sit here writing I recall just a few weeks ago I was sitting in the hot tub on the bow of a Seabourn ship with two friends (can you find it in the photo?), sailing out of a small port the other two ships cannot visit (for they are too large), and a bar waiter came up to us and said, "You look like you could use a bottle of champagne and three glasses."  He was right...and we hadn't even thought about that. How did he know that?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Seabourn Will Cruise Asia Year-Round in 2010!

Seabourn has announced today that the Seabourn Pride will cruise Asia year-round for 2010.  This is great news for all cruisers that are looking for new ports to visit. 

The interesting question is: "Where in Asia?"  While all of the ports have not been determined, Peter Cox (Seabourn's maven on such things) is working as hard as ever to discover ports that have not only the uniqueness desired, but the required infrastructure from docking/tendering facilities to land operations to facilities for those interested in exploring the ports independently.

What I can say is that the Seabourn Pride will operate a number of unique itineraries such as Hong Kong to Tianjin, and Tianjin to Kobe. 

Mr. Cox has described Tianjin is ‘very advanced’ in planning for a cruise terminal, Dalian has having a "magnificent waterfront development plan" and Qingdao, where the Olympic sailing competitions were held, as "a revelation" (though I do remember the tremendous problem with pollution-induced algae just prior to the Olympics).

But do not worry that all the focus will be on China.  Although there is great interest in China, Seabourn is, for example, investigating many other ports such as those in South Korea in addition to those of Busan and Inchon.

For those of you who insisted Seabourn would be getting rid of the triplets as the new ships arrive I am very pleased to be able to say, "Told You So!"  They are not going anywhere...anywhere other than new and unique ports with the same outstanding Seabourn service and food and in the same extraordinarily personalized manner. 

Seabourn will be announcing the remainder of its 2010 itineraries as well as its first quarter 2011 itineraries during the first quarter (or so) of 2009. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Regent Seven Seas Voyager - Rhodes Docking Mishap UPDATED

It is reported today that Regent Seven Seas Voyager hit the dock in Rhodes, Greece today.  From the limited information I have, it seems that there is 5 foot (3.5 meter) dent in the hull.  As is standard operating procedure, the ship will not be able to sail until the classification society inspects and approves the ship's sailing or recommends repairs to be made prior to departure. 

The ship apparently hit the dock while coming into port.  The damage was, obviously, minor as the ship was able to depart on time and is continuing its cruise apparently without any changes.

Paul Gauguin - The Future

Today I had a very interesting discussion with Roy Grimsland, Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Paul Gauguin Shipping Limited, the owner and soon to be exclusive operator of the Paul Gauguin cruise ship now being chartered, in effect, by Regent Seven Seas Cruise Line through 2009.

As is set forth in various press releases, while the ship is owned by Grand Circle Travel (and, to be honest, there have been some consumer-related issues associated with it), Paul Gauguin Shipping Limited is being set up as a wholly owned subsidiary. This will probably allow some independence and - unique to GCT - opens up the ability to work with travel agents directly (something GCT does not do). While the goal is to have this in place by January 2009, it may take a bit longer. In the present state of affairs, the greater the marketing abilities the better.

Also, while not explicitly discussed, the concept of the Paul Gauguin leaving French Polynesia as GCT had previously announced it was contemplating seems to be a thing of the past; allowing everyone to still have a year-round option for cruising French Polynesia in style. UPDATE: It has been announced that for 2010 the Paul Gauguin will operate the same seven night cruises to the Society Islands (Papeete, Raiatea, Taha’a, Bora Bora and Moorea) as well as longer cruises of 9 to 17 days including the islands of Fiji, Tonga, New Caledonia, Australia, Cook Islands, Marquesas, Tuamotus, Australs and the Society Islands.

While Mr. Grimsland is still "getting his feet wet", one of the interesting - and promising - focuses of my discussion was the desire for consistency of product from staffing to cabins to food to service. Rather than discussing the "hits" we spent more time discussing the "misses"...something I was pleased about. Patting oneself on the back is not a way to improve a product...even a good one.

While the essence of cruising French Polynesia is for most, well French Polynesia, some of misses I saw during my August 2007 cruise will be addressed if they have not already been. Making sure service is consistent was one topic he raised; discussing the problems heard about another luxury line...and not from me! He asserts that "hit or miss" is not acceptable. All dining room service, for example, must be solid. To be fair, he did not state it must be of luxury quality, but alas most don't really look for that in FP. We look for consistent, solid, quality.

We also talked about some of the little things, like lower category cabins having old TVs and VCRs while upper cabins have flat screen TVs and DVD players; inconsistent toiletries; occasional threadbare towels, etc. Mr. Grimsland commented that if they still exist it is disappointing (he is so new that inspecting the ship hasn't yet happened...but give him a a bit of time!) and are easy fixes...noting that there is about to be a $6,000,000 refurbishment with new balconies added and updated soft goods. It is nice to hear that such things are not seen as acceptable or obstacles.

We did not have time to discuss how transitioning is going to happen as to crew, staff or operations. Considering there is a year to sort those things out, that is not to be unexpected. While I am sure the staff and crew are going to be anxious, and rumors are things that crew live on, I hope that it is addressed sooner rather than later.

UPDATE: I have a bit of further - albeit tenative - information. While things are very fluid and are subject to change, the plan seems to be to keep everything that works and to keep the staff as well. So, the liquor inclusive policy, Ambassadors of the Environment, scuba program, etc. are all anticipated to remain in place. Similarly, the idea appears to be to keep the present staff on the ship.

Why am I not being more definitive? Because there is a long way to go from "We want to do this" to "We have this finalized and in place". To be fair it will take some time to sort it all out. But what I can say is that Paul Gauguin Shipping's responsiveness has be exceptionally good so far. Fingers Crossed!

For a bit of context I have posted below a compilation of my comments on my 2007 cruise on the Paul Gauguin.

Review: Regent Seven Seas Paul Gauguin (August 2007)

Having just provided a rather lengthy review of my Goldring Travel 2008 Food & Wine Cruise on the Seabourn Spirit and my Goldring Travel 2007 Food & Wine Cruise, I thought posting my last year's review of the Regent Seven Seas Paul Gauguin might be of interest. I have pieced it together from a few posts on Cruise Critic.

I preface this review by stating that overall it was one of the best cruise vacations I have ever taken. (With a full moon over Bora Bora which turned into a full lunar eclipse, the heavens were most certainly aligned properly!) It was, however, a testament to the adage “The whole is greater than sum of its parts.” Put another way, it was not perfect (nothing is), but the staff and crew more than made up for any issues.

After flying from New Jersey to Hawaii and overnighting at the Kahala on Oahu in a Dolphin Lagoon Room and the kids partaking in the Dolphin Quest swimming with the dolphins programs, it was off to the Intercontinental in Tahiti in an over the water bungalow for four nights.

Because my reserved OWB was being repaired the first night was spent in one of the OWB nearer to shore, but was moved the next day to the one furthest out on the pier. While the OWBs were identical, the experience in the deeper water one, from snorkeling to privacy/noise to unobstructed views was far superior. In fact some of the best snorkeling of our trip was right from our private platform! The Intercontinental’s staff was very accommodating and the facilities are top notch including a wonderful artificial sand beach which runs into a sand-bottomed infinity-edged swimming pool with a swim-up bar and a fantastic view of Moorea as well as a second huge infinity-edged pool with waterfall and large restaurant and bar overlooking it…and the Lagoonarium (which is a great way to ease the novice into snorkeling with the fish). Food prices (as everywhere in Tahiti) are very expensive and the quality was lacking a bit. Overall though I would stay there again without question. (Notes: Thank you Wendy for the Ambassador Program tip as we wound up with one free night and some added benefits as a result…a great bargain for $150. Also, because we stayed there pre-cruise we were able to spend the day there post cruise for the day, utilizing all the facilities and transit rooms gratis.)

Before the details, I want to again preface them by stating that the ship just plain felt good. From the Captain to the brand new cruise director (Dionne- who was perfect) to Travel Desk (more on them later) to most of the restaurant staff and the stewardesses you were greeted with a smile and a “What can we do for you” attitude.

We boarded the Paul Gauguin with the unique ability to use it from two perspectives: Veranda cabin on Deck 7 and a Porthole cabin on Deck 3. While the cabins were pretty similar the experiences were markedly different. The biggest difference really hit home in Bora Bora when I left the Porthole cabin and walked into the Veranda and it just had a breathtaking view vs. a view of water. (To me that was huge.) The Veranda had a flat screen TV with built in DVD and the Porthole had an older TV with a VCR. Veranda regularly had good quality towels that matched while the Porthole had a variety of towels some of which were threadbare. The Veranda was quiet while the Porthole cabin (302) had lots of noise from the anchor and whatnot as well as the crew bar (especially on crew Karaoke Night…which didn’t bother me as the crew was so wonderful!). Both cabins were compact, but very livable with the veranda making one far more enjoyable…and it was utilized.

What stood out the most for me was the Ambassadors of the Environment Program (AOTE) for kids 8 to about 15 years of age. This Jean-Michel Cousteau program is simply and unequivocally the best children’s program at sea. It consists of various adventures, tours, projects, dinners and lectures which the parents are encouraged to participate in. If the tour involved only Regent/AOTE staff there was no additional charge (above the $199 per child fee for the program), but if there is an outside vendor then the adult is charged an average of $75 per tour. The two instructors (Laura and Estelle) were incredible not only with their knowledge, but their ability to interact with each child on an individual (not one way for all) basis, so the way they dealt with my 8 year old was different (though equally effective) for my 11 year old. They also dealt with big kids (like me) with aplomb. They also utilized a guest lecturer, Mark Eddowes, who is the Natural Geographic anthropologist for French Polynesia and he not only was a wealth of knowledge, but great fun. We all had a great time and learned far more and had better experiences than if we took the “adult” tours of a somewhat similar kind.

The travel desk was incredible. Not only did they make my job so much easier (as did Guest Relations) they went above and beyond time and time again. For example, my DW was scheduled to go horseback riding in Huahine, but it was cancelled for lack of interest. They tried at every port to get her riding and eventually did the last day without so much as a surcharge…and, by the way, she loved it.

Dionne is a wonderful young woman who was on her first cruise as Cruise Director. What a great job she did, allowing the events and performers to be the stars, rather than playing herself up. I know a number of more “experienced” CDs that could learn a thing or two from her!!

The Maître‘d, Franco, and Noel (headwaiter in Le Grill) were outstanding, always greeting us by name and a smile and taking great care to assure all was well throughout our meals. It is a shame that the food did not live up to the same high standards. Lunches in Le Grill were always of solid quality, if not memorable, but the food in the main restaurant, L’Etoile really had much to be desired. The food was never hot, usually not terribly flavorful...but it did look good. Menu choices were somewhat odd at times and limited. La Veranda just wasn’t to my liking at all. The lunch buffet was good, but dinner just wasn’t anything special and the room had no ambience other than spot lighting an otherwise dark room. We preferred (as others have noted) L’Etoile overall. One nice thing was the new (first time) Polynesian Night with a semi-fixed menu.

The enrichment lecturers (Laura Brands, Estelle Davis, Mark Eddowes and Michael Poole) were excellent and added a tremendous amount to the cruise as they not only were eloquent and entertaining, but their topics truly integrated with the cruise. One lecturer –which I will not name – just came across as a “snake oil salesman” and I was very disappointed in that.

Also, for only the first time in my career, I must compliment a ship’s band. Siglo (pronounced Sea Glow) was excellent. They were, hands down, the best entertainment on the ship.

Motu Mahana was great. There has been more than enough description of this private motu (islet) event by others. It was, well and truly, a lovely day and the hard work of the staff and crew to make that happen so seamlessly is greatly appreciated. (Note: Book a 25 minute massage for that day. It is in a wonderful private cotton tent perched over the water in a quiet area. My DW loved it.)

I did find that there was a serious lacking in bar staff. While those that were there were very good, there were many times when they were overwhelmed or a waiter was totally absent and the bartender was left to do it all. More than once we had to go to the bar to get our own drink orders placed. Not good, especially on a luxury line.

One thing that really bothered me: Les Gauguines. After hearing how wonderful they were and how integral they were in making the cruise special, I found most of them to be fairly pretty, fairly talented, young ladies that really had no enthusiasm and when they weren’t performing they just couldn’t be bothered with the vast majority of the passengers. I also heard them speaking rudely to some of the other staff, which really put me off. (They do have some nice shows, to be fair.)

I did notice a number of little things that bothered me: use of old Radisson drink coasters, some sugar packets with the old Radisson logo (how old were they…even though the sugar was till good), turnaround of room servicing was slow because there were no assistant stewardesses, the occasional threadbare towel, a somewhat unpolished dinner service by most wait staff, disappointing food quality (noting supplying a ship in French Polynesia is no easy task), etc.

I figure I should also add the comment that many regular readers of my post will wonder, “Was it as good as Seabourn?” Keeping in mind that Seabourn doesn’t cruise this area and there are limitations due to the remoteness of it all, I felt while the upper echelon was pretty fantastic, much of the service was “reactive” rather than “proactive” when dealing with day-to-day matters (drinks, extra towels, room maintenance, dinner/bar service, etc.). The food was not even close. But as I said, on this cruise, in this area of the world, the Paul Gauguin is unquestionably the way to go.

So I close this review by wondering, “When can I do it again…and if I do could it could it ever be as good as this cruise was?”

Next relevant post:

Last summer's cruise on the [August 2006 on the Regent Seven Seas] Navigator was one of my worst cruises ever. The small things were exacerbated by the crew and staff issues and failings. On the PG they were relegated to "This ain't gonna ruin an otherwise great day in Paradise with such wonderful people around me."

Estelle and Laura (AOTE) made my day and my kid's day...every day. Dionne's introductions were fresh and genuine. Franco and Noel's greetings were perfect. My wife's thrill after her horseback ride and her massages were wonderful.The Gauguines' sourness and a threadbare towel were just not that important to me (though I let y'all know about them, for sure.)

At Motu Mahana the food was OK. The BBQ was chicken, fish kebabs or minute steak. Not really impressive. Nor was the hokey floating bar, but for whatever reason it all worked...and I was happy with my rum punch filled coconut with a nice beach chair and a bit of snorkeling. In fact, it seemed everyone was happy. So what is to be gained or potentially improved upon with an unrealistic expectations of better food? A better day probably could not have been had.

To be sure, as I have suggested in other posts, I lowered my expectations so I was not as disappointed as I was on the Navigator. Call it "improper but expected" and the disappointment dissipates. I have gotten over Regent's marketing blitz and fabricated "6 star" rating. I just no longer expect what Regent says it will provide, but rely upon experience - and this board among others - to accurately tell me what I realistically will get for my money. (For example, Regent has never impressed me with its food. Celebrity exceeds Regent in my opinion and Seabourn just blows Regent away...but I knew that going in and did not expect anything different, and that was not why I took this cruise. It would have been an issue if I expected more, but...)

...Net: I received an excellent, if imperfect, experience that as long as others keep the misses in perspective they too will have a wonderful time.
Next relevant post:

BTW, that was another example of a memorable event: I asked the lecturer, Mark Eddowes, during one AOTE outing where the best place to purchase one was. He said on the street by the bank across from the pharmacy there would be a man sitting on a concrete planter with authentic ones (not the ones in Le Marche made in the Philippines) lined up against the building. And there was this rough looking, but friendly, man who showed us how one is really played...with a big smile. It made the last day special.

Nest relevant post:

...About provisioning in French Polynesia. I spoke with the chef about that and the costs are very high. (Example: Regent just started to fly watermelons in from the US because they cost 1/4 the amount in Tahiti.) Also the ship doesn't order most of the provisions, as it is done by management. That leaves very little "wiggle room". However a good chef crew can make hot and tasty food with a little bit of creativity regardless of the obstacles. (BTW, the food wasn't bad, just not consistently hot and never memorable.)

I also agree that the lower and mid priced cabins on the PG are very good value. I think the Grand Suite, for example, was way overpriced and very unimpressive. My friends however enjoyed it (save the rocking and rolling) and had no real complaints; noting they did enjoy the butler.

A number of the excursions were similar to the AOTE ones, just without the Cousteau people and were larger groups. I never heard anyone complain...not once...about a tour. I also heard positive things from the divers onboard. The tour/travel desk really did a great job.

The "other" lecturer was "discussing" the use of metal artificial reef structures charged with electricity as a way to quickly cause reefs to form especially near the hotels where there are no reefs. Without getting into all the details, and not donning my marine biology hat too much, he had many conflicting statements about a system that is unproven, has no university or research support and chose to softly seek investors through "free" tours to see and participate in a local project (not through RSSC). Example: He states correctly that if there is a reef the fish will find it and remain, but then he has a "program" to catch developing reef fish (taking them out of their and the established reef's ecology), raising them and then having tourists release them into these barren areas as if these fish will somehow stick around (they won't...because there is no reef!)...while the supposedly growing corals need sea urchins in order to remain vital and there is no program to introduce these less tourist friendly animals. I will now step off my soapbox!

I hope you find this review interesting. Honestly, reading over it just now, I am missing that experience. So, if you need to get away (and right now, who doesn't!) remember: There is a Paradise!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Silversea Has Some Extraordinary Deals!

Silversea is making a big move into heavily discounting its cruises and incentivizing it travel agents.  While it raises some red flags with me, it does provide some really fantastic buying opportunities for those looking to try Silversea and/or explore with an exotic itinerary.

For example, Silversea is offering (lowest fares, subject to availability and port charges and fees additional):


Nov 26 2008 1834 15 Barbados to Rio de Janeiro - 50% off - $5,397
Mar 1 2009 1905 15 Rio de Janeiro to Barbados - 50% off- $5,497


Jan 3 2009 2901 10 Port Louis to Cape Town - 40% off - $4,197
Feb 7 2009 2904 7 Mahé to Mahé - 40% off - $2,937
Feb 14 2009 2905 11 Mahé to Madras - 40% off - $4,617


Dec 3 2008 3829 9 Fort Lauderdale to Barbados - 40% off - $3,237
Dec 12 2008 3830 9 Barbados to Fort Lauderdale - 40% off - $3,237
Jan 4 2009 3901 9 Fort Lauderdale to Barbados - 40% off- $3,537
Jan 20 2009 3903 9 Barbados to Fort Lauderdale - 40% off - $3,537


Feb 25 2009 7905 11 Ushuaia to Santiago (Valparaiso) - 50% off - $3,355
Mar 31 2009 7908 10 Papeete to Papeete - 40% off 0 $3,597

Of course, when you book with Goldring Travel you receive an additional discount or value added, added amenities and, on some cruises, complimentary Ensemble Travel Experiences and/or amenities. 

Call me at 877-2GO-LUXURY or email me at

Monday, October 20, 2008

Goldring Travel's New and Exclusive Seabourn Referral Program

I regularly get questions about Seabourn's Referral Program.  Whether it be something as simple as, "How do I get it?", to "Does it apply to the cruise fare or an onboard credit?" to "What do you mean I cannot combine it with an American Express cruise benefit?" or simple nervousness as to if it has been applied, it seems to me that it can be more hassle than it can be worth.  Add to that all those people that simply forgot to submit the coupon or accidentally threw out their one coupon per year allotment and it all becomes a bit much.  Therefore...

Goldring Travel is announcing its own Goldring Travel Seabourn Referral ProgramIt's terms are simple:  Register a new client with me and when that person books their Seabourn cruise with me - and actually sails on that Seabourn cruise - you will receive a $400 check per suite booked and sailed.  The only other condition is that the person must not have ever sailed on Seabourn. And there is no annual limit to the number of referrals this applies to.   Hint:  If you have never sailed with Seabourn, you can register yourself!    (One bit of fine print:  If it is a double occupancy or more suite, all booked guests must be new to Seabourn.)

Please be aware that this is not the Seabourn referral program, so your referred friend will not receive an onboard credit; rather your referral will receive a direct discounted cruise fare!  The amount of the discount depends - as it always has - on the cost of the cruise.  In many instances the discount will be greater than the $400 credit given by Seabourn.

Now for the best part:  Since this is independent of Seabourn, you can still use any Seabourn annual referral coupon you may have.  So, if you have a referral coupon you can actually receive $800 in value:  $400 from Goldring Travel and $400 from Seabourn! And your friend will receive Goldring Travel's discount and the $400 onboard credit from Seabourn.

For those of my clients who have referred new clients to me, you are going to ask, "Does this program apply retroactively?"  The answer is, "Yes and No".  Will I be sending out $400 checks?  No.  Have I have always included an additional discount in your cruise fare if you have referred someone to me?  Yes.  What I am trying to do is improve upon my way of showing my appreciation; not signaling that I have not reflected my appreciation for your loyalty in the past!  With this new program, you will possibly see an immediate benefit ($400 in cash) rather than a deferred benefit (a further discount on next year's cruise).  And you also know that you will still be receiving a discounted fare on your cruise.

This offer may be withdrawn at anytime.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Seabourn Inaugural Celebration: Additional $1,000 Per Suite Savings! - Clarification

Seabourn has just announced that it is offering an additional $1,000 per suite savings on all 50 of its 2009 Mediterranean 7 day sailings on the Seabourn Legend, Seabourn Spirit and even the Seabourn Odyssey!  This is combinable with Early Booking, Onboard Savings and Sail-and-Stay fares.  Clarification:  I have received a number of emails with confused clients.  This offer applies to any "EBS" (Early Booking Savings) prices noted in any brochure or email you may have received.  These are almost never 50% off fares.  So if you have previously booked with a 50% off fare, you do not want to use this promotion because the net fare will be higher than what you are already booked at.

They are also combinable with any complimentary Ensemble Tours I may be able to offer you!

This promotion cannot be combined with Grand Voyage, Combination Savings, or Club Signature Value fares. Clarification:  If you are booked with any of those three fares, you are receiving a 50% off discount already.  As noted above, you already have a better deal.  (For those thinking of splitting up your 2 week or longer cruise to use this promtion:  Don't!  I have priced some two week sailings as back-to-back sailings to see if it was a better deal and it is not.  So if you are booked for a 14 day cruise which is a combination of two seven day sailings, you probably have a lower rate already. 

HINT:  Your best deal still is to cruise with a 50% off fare discount and/or for two weeks or longer!!!!

So if you don't think the present economy allows you to take a two week cruise, consider a seven day cruise at an incredible price.  If you haven't tried Seabourn before, or if you have a 5% onboard booking discount waiting to be used, this is an excellent time to plan a short reprieve.  If you are not sure, please read this:

Call me at 877-2GO-LUXURY or email me at

The Yachts of Seabourn Voted Best Small Ship Cruise Line By Conde Nast Traveller...And More!

Last night, The Yachts of Seabourn, was awarded the Best Small Ship Cruise Line by Conde Nast Traveller Magazine's poll.  This accolade comes on the heels of Seabourn also being voted the Best Small Ship Cruise Line by Virtuoso.

Not wanting to rain on anyone's parade, it is well known that I am not a big fan of polls, so for me to make too much out of the Conde Nast award would be suspect, at best.

HOWEVER, the Virtuoso award (noting I am not a member of Virtuoso's network, but Ensemble Travel's) does mean something because it is a measure of how travel professionals view Seabourn.  Travel professionals formulate their opinions not by glossy brochures or stuffing ballot boxes, but by three major factors:  (1) Client input...which is necessarily related to a travel agent in a very objective manner (for if something wasn't right we are the first to hear about it!); (2) Quality of the Product; and, (3) Service provided to the travel professional.

Virtuoso's CEO stated, when presenting the award, “Seabourn is noteworthy as they epitomize the best of the world’s largest service industry, travel and tourism, in their dedication to their clients. Not only do they excel in delivering life experiences, but they support everyone in the network in such a way that it elevates the entire travel profession."  That pretty much sums it up.

When I have more information on the rest of the Conde Nast Traveller Awards, I will supplement this post.  But in the meantime, consider that I, most certainly, am not the only one who believes that Seabourn provides a truly superior experience for everyone involved in making your cruise the best it can be.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

World's Largest Virtual Cruise Night

The cruise industry annually promotes the World's Largest Cruise Night as a way to kick off what is called the "wave season", when historically the bookings for the next year start in earnest.  As we move further into the world of the internet, this year a virtual cruise night has been created. 

You can find mine here:  This page, which has videos from some of the cruise lines, will remain up and running through at least October 31st. 


Concerns: Apollo Management and Prestige Cruise Holding (NCL, Regent Seven Seas and Oceania)

I have hesitated to write about the effects of this poor economy on the cruise lines themselves because, in large part, we really don't know what the long term effects will be. While the issues of last minute discounts and more close-in bookings (ala post 9/11) on less than full ships are not beyond possibilities, the fact is that right now people who are cruising paid for their cruises before the bottom seemingly fell out and it is too early to really see what the next couple of months (post-election) has in store for us, the consumers and them, the industry.

Also, while some cruise lines are panicking, others are being creative and yet others are still figuring out what, if anything, should be done differently. So that too is not the focus on this post and speculating would not be fair or productive.

However, over the past three weeks there has been much in the industry news about NCL and Aker Shipyard having a "dispute" over Norwegian Cruise Line's new F3 ship. While Aker claims it has not stopped work on the first F3 (which is about 25% complete), it has been reported that they are now trying to sell the hull to other major cruise lines...and there is not much interest. Aker, though, has also stopped work on the second F3 ship.

Apollo and NCL have been silent claiming they do not discuss disputes or litigation. What has happened, however, is that their announcement of the new ship is not as clear in their taglines, mention of the F3 is all but absent from the NCL website, the F3 microsite has been buried (You you can still find it via and the person who was in charge of the PR for the F3, Susan Robison, has left NCL.

The word on the street is that Apollo has shut down the project as simply being too expensive. I think there probably is another, related, problem: Financing. Most entities like Apollo leverage their assets in order to obtain sufficient cash to improve products and then sell them off at a profit. If the product is losing value, or if a cash infusion will not increase its value, the desire to put money in drops. Banks and lenders - especially now - are not as willing to finance companies to put cash into a potentially unprofitable venture. Add to that the unexpected strength in the US dollar versus the Euro and some of the math turns upside down.

Here, the F3 ships have a radical - and unproven - interior design for a market that is being hit hard by the economic problems and, at least in the near future, probably are not going to be parting with as much cash on the holy grail of the mass market cruise business: onboard revenue. Add to that the downward pressure on pricing and the drop off in (long range) bookings, Apollo and its lenders have probably (my guess) said something along the lines of, "NCL's Hawaii plan seemed good, but we took a bath as it was unconventional and had unforeseen problems. NCL has lost over $350,000,000 in the last two years. Now we have a $1,000,000,000 (yes, one billion dollar) project which is now seeing cost increases (due to the loss in value of the Euro - the currency of the contract - as well as difficulties in creating the radical design elements) and we cannot assure a profit at higher prices with possible reductions in passenger loads...and NCL is bleeding cash flow as it is."

While that "magic" is playing out, the operationally pretty solid Oceania, through Apollo's Prestige Cruise Holdings (separate from NCL) is working hard to clean up the issues at Regent by increasing efficiencies on many levels and revamping the luxury line's ships from hardware to software to crew. We have seen the previously greatly publicized talk of a new ship for Regent being, quite obviously, pushed to the back...see the parallel here!...and, in its place, a $40,000,000 refurbishment of the Voyager and Mariner; leaving the Navigator for another day (if there is another day for that ship!) and there being talk on the street and some publications of the end of its relationship with the Paul Gauguin. Now, there is talk of the Voyager and Mariner refurbishments being scaled back as well.

I am not so sure these fiscally stringent moves are a bad thing. The concept of growth through huge increases in inventory has a great flaw: Not enough buyers of that inventory (i.e. cruise passengers). That, added to the cost of creating that additional inventory, can destroy a positive bottom line. So, Apollo and Prestige Cruise Holdings may just be saying that we would rather utilize what we have and utilize it well, possibly generating smaller profits, than growing ourselves (and our debt) right out of business.

I much prefer a higher quality product from a profitable cruise line than a less quality product from a cruise line trying to find its way out of a problem it created which, inevitably, would cause the passengers to pay more to get less.

It is going to be interesting to see how all this plays out.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

2008 Global Superyacht Forum (Amsterdam)

Every year there is the preeminent gathering of the superyacht industry in Amsterdam:  The Global Superyacht Forum.  ( )This event, with over 650 of the top members of the industry, is held in conjunction with METS, the world's largest exhibition of equipment, materials and systems for the international marine leisure industry. (

I have the honor of just being confirmed as the legal expert on a panel discussing and debating the various ways in which interpretations and consistency of the rules for constructing superyachts would help improve the process of building and designing of these floating palaces. 

For those with an interest in the highly technical world of superyacht construction (it isn't about the glamour you read about!), this is a rather hot topic, as this has been a very confused area of the industry.  There has been great inconsistency between the various classification societies (such as Lloyd's, RINA and American Bureau of Shipping) and the ship's registries (the entities where you document/register your yacht), the governmental interests (such as MCA and the U.S. Coast Guard) and those who are trying to get the yachts built according to the ever evolving specification and regulatory schemes...and on time and on budget (the shipyards and owners).

With the drastic change in the economy I think this will be an extraordinary session as what, at least to me, has been a "who cares what it costs, they all have money" will necessarily have to take into account both the concept of economic costs for the regulations and the "not killing the goose that laid the golden egg".

Joining me on the panel will be ship surveyors from Lloyd's Register of Shipping, RINA, The Cayman Island Shipping Register, the MCA (UK's Maritime and Coastguard Agency -the European regulatory gurus) and a shipyard. 

Monday, October 13, 2008

Report: Regent Seven Seas to Cease Operating Paul Gauguin in 2009 - UPDATED- Renovations Announced

A reliable travel industry source is reporting this morning that Regent Seven Seas will be announcing that it is ceasing operating the Paul Gauguin at the end of 2009.

While I have heard this sort of news previously - believing it to be more of a negotiating tactic than anything else - the fact is that Grand Circle Travel owns the ship and with the departure of Princess Cruise Lines from French Polynesia it really has the market cornered. (True, Star Flyer is there and Silversea is offering its Prince Albert II for a limited period of time, but they put little dent in the year round market that Regent had tapped.) Therefore, it is not surprising that GCT may want the ship for itself.

When one considers the high cost of chartering, the high cost of airfares, the high cost of operations, etc. in French Polynesia, Prestige Cruise Holdings may have decided that in this economy it had better consolidate and focus on its core product.

UPDATE: In an apparent consistent twist, today (October 16, 2008) Paul Gauguin Shipping Limited, not Regent Seven Seas Cruises, announced a $6,000,000 renovation of the ship. It will include the conversion of 26 Category D oceanview staterooms into balcony staterooms (done on the exterior, so the staterooms remain the same size), modifying Le Grill (the poolside dining area) and Le Veranda's (the alternative restaurant) al fresco dining area, recarpeting and upgrading the public areas/internet cafe and "refreshing" the staterooms (whatever that means). The work is to be completed during the late January - early February 2009 drydock in Brisbane, Australia.

Also, on October 10,2008 PGSL announced it has a new Executive VP of Sales, Roy Grimsland. "He will be responsible for driving product sales of the five-plus star, 332-passenger Paul Gauguin." Interestingly, Mr. Grimsland worked for Radisson Seven Seas "where he launched and drove sales of Paul Gauguin for seven years" according to Cruise Industry News.

I will update this as information becomes available.

Friday, October 10, 2008

2009 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise on the Seabourn Spirit

I am pleased to announce that the 2009 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise will be on September 26, 2009 aboard the Seabourn Spirit.  This is a really spectacular seven day cruise (roundtrip Venice) visiting Italy, Croatia, Montenegro and Slovenia.

Embarking and disembarking in romantic Venice,Italy affords many options, both pre- and post- cruise; whether it be a gondola ride or a walk through St. Mark's Square or a visit to the Murano glass factory, there is so much culture and architecture to see and ambiance to soak up, the options are limitless.

The first port is Opatija, Croatia, the Riviera of Croatia with its walkways and cafés running along the water and wonderful seafood restaurants and upscale hotels right along the seafront.  There are beautiful parks, extraordinary botanical plantings and, for those interested, paragliding.

The second port is Split, Croatia is a World Heritage Site with busy port, beaches, a walled palace and so much more.  Suffice it to say, Fodor's calls this port "so spectacular and unusual that a visit is more than worth your time."  Seabourn is offering a canoing trip that sounds quite enticing.

Next is Kotor, Montenegro, a UNESCO site, is one of the best preserved Medieval towns on the Adriatic.  With beautiful overhanging cliffs it is an extraordinary vision.  UPDATE:  I will be offering a complimentary Ensemble Experience here.  (Details are still being finalized.)

Triluke Bay, Croatia is up next; a protected cove for a Marina Day and to relax in incredible beauty with ancient villages, beaches, olive groves and such.

Koper, Slovenia is the fourth port where wine and cheese is at the fore with a number of unique options available including a visit to a local winery in an antique car or a walking tour with a wine and cheese tasting along the way.  This is another ancient town with cobblestone streets and interesting shopping as well.

Back to Italy, as Trieste is our last port.  This city is said to have a more Viennese than Venetian heritage with Slavic dialects and foods being most common.  This medieval town has the largest seaside square in Europe.  Just image the wine and culinary treats which await us there!

As a bonus, Seabourn has just priced this as a 50% off cruise for anyone who has previously sailed with Seabourn or any of the Carnival group of cruise lines.  Add the additional discount (and added benefits - to be announced later) that Goldring Travel provides and this is a tremendous travel bargain both as to experiences and pricing.

I am also pleased that the demand to join our exclusive and small group for the 2009 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise aboard the Seabourn Spirit has been fantastic. With every person who enjoyed the 2008 Food & Wine cruise having booked for this one (and quite a number are making this their third one!), it is a testament not only to the added benefits of being part of the group, but the fun we have.

If you are interested, I would urge you to make your booking now for the cruise is quickly filling up.  (Yes, even now!).  And remember: The added benefits such as the Food & Wine Tasting, are exclusive to those who book with Goldring Travel.  If you are interested, call me at (877) 2GO-LUXURY or email me at

Carnival Brands Drop Fuel Surcharge For New 2010 Bookings- UPDATED

In a move that I felt was long in I felt was the drop in oil prices...Carnival Corp. has announced today that effective October 31, 2008 it will eliminate the fuel supplement charge on all new 2010 bookings on any of its lines (Seabourn, Cunard, Holland America, Princess, Carnival and Costa) and will, instead, institute a modest price increase. 

If you have booked a cruise with a fuel supplement you may be entitled to an onboard credit dependent on the future price of fuel.  Essentially, for any 2008, 2009 or 2010 cruise where a fuel supplement has been charged, if the price of light sweet crude oil on NYMEX (a primary oil trading exchange) remains below US$70 per barrel for 25 consecutive days ending 5 days before your cruise departs you will receive an onboard credit equal to the fuel supplement already charged.  But if the price fluctuates above US$70 a barrel for even one day during the period, the fuel supplement remains.  Put another way, starting 30 days before your cruise if the price stays below US$70 until at least 5 days before you cruise, you get your money back.

Considering that (a) most people just want to know the price of their cruise and do not care about the breakdown of the cost, and that tacking on a charge that has normally been included in the cruise price seems a bit offensive (even thought it was necessary), and (b) the cruise lines do not want to be seen as profiting from the unanticipated fall of artificially inflated oil prices, this reversion to the "old ways" makes a lot of sense.  Hopefully the other cruise lines will follow.

Goldring Travel's 2007 Seabourn Food & Wine Cruise - Some Observations

Having provided some detailed information on the 2008 Food & Wine Cruise I thought I would go back in time and provide my observations, previously posted on Cruise Critic (and therefore in shorter form) regarding last year's Food & Wine Cruise. It was fun looking pack and comparing the two.

I thought I would give a brief post on how things are going so far. It is amazing how Seabourn continues to outdo itself and come up with ways to make you say, “WOW”.

At the meeting with Wilhelm, the Hotel Manager, and Willy, the Executive Chef, to discuss just how the wine and food events were to happen, Chef Willy advised he had found some extraordinary cheeses in the market in Barcelona for our wine tasting/food paring event. Extraordinary was an understatement.

Then Chef Willy decided that on the morning of the wine tasting/food paring event that best thing to do was for him to take myself, the James Beard awarding winning restaurateur and his chef into Palamos to do some last minute shopping. We came away with some exceptional Spanish hams to supplement some special Spanish sausages Seabourn made available to us…along with some homemade(by the Chef) marinated anchovies!

We also picked up a really wonderful Torres red wine (Mas La Plana) while on the Torres winery tour in Tarragona and some more local sherry and wines for the tasting…asking which were what the locals drank.

But now it was the Sommelier’s (Ingo’s) chance to show off, taking our “modest” tasting to literally world class levels working with our expert to come up with surprising and, frankly, awe-inspiring parings with some very creative wines supplementing our selections. Listening to Ingo and our expert discussing the wines and paring was truly a privilege.

In the end we had a private tasting with 5 samplings of caviar (3 different ways!), six hams/sausages, four cheeses and anchovies pared with fourteen different wine tastings plus vodka in a frozen block of ice served in frozen glasses. And it was all presented in the perfect crystal for each wine with the food presented elegantly by four waiters on perfectly dressed tables…complete with grapes draping down from the windows in our ‘tasting room”.

Every one of us (I think including Wilhelm, Chef Willy and Ingo) left that “small, little” tasting knowing that we had just experienced a truly world-class event that James Beard himself would have been proud to have been a part of.

While, obviously, it would not have been possible without Seabourn’s assistance, it was Seabourn’s incredible talented staff, inability to say, “no” and remarkable intuitive service that created a memory of a lifetime…and some very fortunate and still smiling guests.

P.S. Reading this post it seems like it is a publicity release. The amazing things are (a) it isn’t; and, (b) it isn’t embellished. It really was better than I have explained!

Next relevant post:

We had a phenomenal time! Each day Seabourn outdid itself complimenting our events...and even creating its own event for us.

Shopping with Chef Willy in Marseille was fantastic; walking the quay finding new fisherman arriving with their catch as others finished selling off theirs. Seabourn purchased some beautiful fish as did our chef for our private menu as well as for the ship's guests and crew.

The next day...we did it again! In Le Lavandou Seabourn arranged a little surprise: a private guide to explain all of the local items in the market. Even after it was over the guide said she wanted to stay with us because we all were having so much fun. Chef Willy arranged for our chef and myself a tasting of sea cucumber; a truly once in a lifetime experience...because you taste it once and never in your lifetime will you want to try it again!

That evening our chef had a cooking demonstration blending local fish (Marseille) and shellfish (Le Lavandou) with chorizo (Palamos, Spain) to make a dish that seemed so simple, but was another WOW. Seabourn taped it and broadcast it on the ship's TV for others to see. Ingo, the sommelier, did not stand by, however. He brought out a wonderful white and red wine - with the finest crystal, of course - to compliment the event.

But then Chef Willy and Ingo surprised us by announcing we would be having a Farewell Dinner. The menu was incredible, paired of course with wonderful wines:

- Pallimades tartar in a potato "sandwich" (a fish obtained on the quay in Marseille)
- Baby Potato with Crème Fresh and Caviar
- Foie Gras with Caramelized Apple
- Duck Consommé with Puff Pastry Shell (my personal favorite!)
- Veal Osso Bucco
- Our chef's "Soup & Sandwich" (a special brioche with a secret filling all dipped into a chocolate soup).

By the way, did I mention we had a great time enjoying everything else about Seabourn, the ports and the wonderful guests we met on our cruise. Little extras like in St. Tropez there was a sailing regatta with over 100 classic sailboats, the real sailing "yachts" and some superyachts just seemed like icing on the cake. Heck, we didn't even have a single rainy day or any seas worthy of mention.

I cannot imagine how this cruise could have been better. But with next year's [2008] Food & Wine cruise already being booked, I better figure out how pretty fast!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

A Rose By Any Other Name: Cheerleading (Yuk!) - Calling It Like It Is Would Be Nice! UPDATED

On the last night of my Seabourn Spirit cruise, after enjoying much interplay with the waitstaff, it was time for dessert.  The menus were passed out, the orders taken and then it was my turn.  I asked for strawberry shortcake.  The waiter was stunned as there was none on the menu.  He offered this, he suggested that, asked if I saw it during tea in the Horizon Lounge, etc., but playing with him, I rejected them all.   He just looked at me.  I then let him off the hook.  I said, "You can't say 'No', can you?"  He then gave a big smile, knowing I "got him".  But then our desserts seemed to be a just a bit delayed and everyone at the table started to blame me, claiming Seabourn must be trying somehow to make strawberry shortcake appear out of thin air.  So I let the waiter know not to try such a thing.

On my cruise I never had a meal that disappointed, but more than a couple that amazed.  I never had a lapse in service...except one morning a poached egg was briefly forgotten.  My room stewardess was sweet and efficient.  The word "No" was never heard.  And even with my lost luggage I had a tailored suit and a tuxedo almost instantly.

On the Cruise Critic board there is a discussion of a present cruise on the Regent Seven Seas Voyager (which, ironically, arrived in Istanbul the same day I disembarked the Seabourn Spirit).  The particular poster - who spent much time attacking me when I posted there - claimed she would call it like it is.  To be fair, in part she has.  You can find it here: .

She has complained about the lesser food quality in Signatures, that many do not like Latitudes, that various service lapses occurred in the Veranda at lunch, etc.  She also commented about how two years ago the ship was in need of a face lift as worn interiors and linens were present, but now things are much better.  She also expressed concern about how Regent was changing the itinerary, but did not tell the passengers where they were going; later claiming Regent was extraordinary because the newly chosen ports were wonderful (apparently ignoring the some folks actually choose cruises because of the ports!).  She even claimed Regent was wonderful because she was forced to overnight in Athens because Regent couldn't arrange flights so the put her up in a nice hotel.  Huh?  And she noted that the word "No" was heard more than once.

Then she claims, "The Voyager is just as amazing as it was two years ago. Regent['s] (IMO) is wonderful. The suites are incredible... The service is almost always perfect..." Then the finale, from someone who has never been on Seabourn, "If you want a crew member to remember your name, perhaps Seabourn is the right ship for you." 

UPDATE:  There is another Cruise Critic thread discussing the Regent Voyager cruise the week prior ( and you would think they swapped out ships.  Notably inconsistent service in the main dining room, speciality restaurant and causal dining venue; poor tours (with refunds given); dirty carpets, etc...and one poster claiming it was now time to try Seabourn and another declaring a preference for Silversea.  It makes me wonder if Regent has improved, but more importantly, if it is so inconsistent that I should be willing to risk my money not knowing what product is going to turn up.

I am a strange sort, I guess.  If a waiter forgets my poached egg once, it doesn't bother me.  When the waiters are standing around ignoring me, it would most definitely get my attention.  If the food, no less in the specialty restaurants, is not good, it is not a wonderful thing.  If ports are changed without notice because of poor planning on the line's part (rather than weather, for example), I would tend to be a bit miffed.  If the tours have not been thoroughly check out BEFORE they are offered to the guests and are not as advertised (and this has happend to me on Regent), I would be furious.  If the interiors and linens on my prior cruise were worn, I would not claim the "improved" version this year is "just as good".  If I was forced to overnight from a major city like Athens I would be angry.  And if I heard "No" I would know I wasn't on Seabourn.

So when I was roundly criticized on Cruise Critic by some posters that I was too hard on Regent and that I was somehow trying to gain Seabourn business, I was puzzled and frustrated.  Now I read that the service on Regent is improved - but still has serious lapses, the interiors are better cared for, the food in is inconsistent and the advertised ports and tour descriptions are not honored.  Every person has there own standards as to what makes their cruise great, but a person's ability to have a good time in spite of a cruise line's failures does not warrant rave reviews of the line.

Now more than ever, I am pleased that I can provide my readers with accurate information and not have to deal with that sort of misrepresentative cheerleading. 

Regent is now working to correct many of the errors and poor decisions of the past few years.  There is a lot of work to be done.  This, I am sure, is made harder by the present financial condition of the world and the manner in which Regent was acquired.  But to me, it sounds like Regent is better than it was two years ago...but it has a long way to go before it can worry about the little things like remembering a guest's name.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Goldring Travel - 2008 Food & Wine Cruise on the Seabourn Spirit Photos

Here are a few photos from the 2008 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise on the Seabourn Spirit. If you have kept up with the blog they will not need any explanation! I hope you enjoy them.

Also, the Seabourn Spirit's very own Captain Geir-Arne - my good friend - has his own website where he posts great photos of all of his cruises.  He is not finished uploading all of the photos from our cruise, but keep checking back to see more here: .

Goldring Travel's 2008 Food & Wine Cruise on the Seabourn Spirit: Travelogue Part IV

Up early we disembarked the Seabourn Spirit for a few days in Istanbul.

We stayed at the Ceylon Intercontinental rather than our normal hotel, The Ciragan Palace.  With the relative strength of the new Turkish Lira to the falling Pound and Euro, coupled with extraordinary hotel demand in Istanbul, The Ciragan Palace became just too expensive.  We made the right decision.  For the same price as a Bosporus view room at Ciragan we were able to book a large suite at the Ceylon.  Combining that rate with our membership in Intercontinental Ambassador's program which provides for a complimentary upgrade...and then using the annual, one weekend night free, coupon...we were upgraded to the Galata Suite (a two room suite complete with a whirlpool tub with a glass walled view of Istanbul from Topkapi Palace to Ortakoy and the bridge to Asia.)

We took a lovely, if not long, walk from Taksim Square to the Galata Bridge, over to the Spice Bazaar and then to the Grand Bazaar, then walking back to the Golden Horn...where we decided it was time to grab a taxi.  After a power nap it was off to a wonderful dinner at Bice with our "family" in Istanbul.

The next day started out absolutely beautiful, so we decided to skip the hamam (Turkish baths) and take the ferry over to Buyukada, the largest of the Princess Islands.  It was a short walk to the ferry and for about $1.50 we were off on a 1 1/2 hour ferry ride to the Asian side of Istanbul and to 4 of the Princess Islands.  Sounds great, right?  Well about 30 minutes in the wind and rain started and then the seas got rough.

We eventually arrived in Buyukada in the rain.  We found a lovely local place for a truly delicious lunch of grilled fish, Iskender kebab, cicik, ekmek and salads and then decided discretion was the better part of valor and we headed back to take an earlier ferry home since the weather wasn't cooperating.  But this is where it got interesting for me.

The highlight of my day was watching all of the different cultures on the ferry.  How the rudest people were a small group comprised of two Arab men and four women in burkhas.  How the tough older Turkish men would not give up their seats for anyone...until two elderly Caucasian women came by and they quickly did so.  How everyone was so tolerant of the Turkish children...who were always treated like treasures.  How I noticed more woman with Muslim head-coverings than I had in my previous visits.

However, my ultimate ferry ride highlight, was the salesman.  A large, bald, loud, voice-strained, man in a crooked tie who was selling sets of kitchen knives - flashing them about like an angry sultan!  He was good...very good.  And all the while I am thinking of those that improperly consider Istanbul such a dangerous place and here was a man literally supplying huge knives to the entire ferry as if it was nothing.  (Imagine that on the Staten Island Ferry going to New York City!).  I did not understand a word of what he was saying, but I kept thinking "Damn, he's good!"  And when the knives were sold out, he sold those little lemon juicer gizmos and then pens.  It was a great day...and an example of ya' never know.

That evening we were guests at one of the hottest restaurants in Istanbul:  360.  Very trendy.  If you didn't know where it was, you would never know it was there.  The views are worth finding the place...which late in the night becomes a "see and be seen" club.  It is nice to have family in Istanbul!

One last walk around Istanbul in the morning before heading to the airport.  And what a memorable ride that was.  There was horrible traffic on the expressway, so our taxi driver used the shoulder, entrance ramps...even construction weave his way to the airport. You had to be there to appreciate the terror! 

But we made it...and so ended our absolutely fantastic Seabourn Food & Wine Cruise 2008.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Goldring Travel's 2008 Food & Wine Cruise on the Seabourn Spirit: Travelogue Part III (The Food & Wine Tasting!)

Oh, the last day.  How I hate...and love...the last day. 
After a bit of a sleep-in it was up to the Veranda for a quick breakfast, a stop by the Purser's Desk to make sure things were organized for the Food & Wine Tasting and then off to the lounge to watch Jochem make his White Plum Tomato Soup and a dessert at 11:00 a.m.  He is a wonderful chef, very friendly and has a sparkle in his eye whenever someone shows interest by asking him a question.  He was, in a way, a "Guest Chef" as he was on the Seabourn Spirit only shortly and is heading to Miami to assist with ordering the various galley equipment needed on the Seabourn Odyssey.

After a quick break it was time for the Galley Market Lunch.  For those who are not familiar, the entire galley staff puts together a huge buffet of everything ranging from fondue to sushi, soft shell crabs to pasta, fried chicken to fish 'n chips with mushy peas, to...well you get the idea.  All of it is set out in the galley so you have the chance to explore the galley while you enjoy the wonderful foods.  That is followed by a beautiful dessert display laid out in the dining room. 

Then it was off to the forward hot tub to relax for a few minutes before making the final preparations for the Food & Wine Tasting. 

There were many on the Seabourn Spirit who were fascinated by my little private tasting as it is something that is exclusively a Goldring Travel event.  As there is much more to this event than just placing down some food and sharing some wine, it is something that I am very proud to be able to offer my clients.  For me the fun is tasting the wines, comparing them and then matching and mismatching them with the foods. 

While Chef Jochem did not provide as many personally created dishes as did Chef Willy on last year's cruise, he did a great job of finding very traditional Greek and Turkish items in the local shops...and if we had 50 people present we would have had leftovers! Thank you so much!  (BTW, the sort of nutty and chewy sweet which some of us loved and thought we had tasted in our youth was, as I later found out, pressed fig and dates with pistachios.)

We started out with a tasting of 16 different olive oils from the area as well as Croatia and some funky blends from California.  It was a lot of fun getting our group to get their noses working and to see their surprise that the flavors were so different from one oil to the next.

Now, for the wines.  We tasted a total of 9 wines; 8 I picked up along the way and 1 supplied by Seabourn.  Without boring you or turning this into a wine tasting class, we found that the "brand name" Turkish white was quite hot, too high in alcohol and, basically terrible.  We tasted two different 2007 Santorini whites finding one to be a truly wonderful, full wine while the other was just OK.  Our fourth white was a funky apple wine that, when pared with fruit was surprisingly good!

Ironically, since the Turkish white was so bad, we were quite suprised to find the biggest and richest nose to be found in a local wine from Sirince, Turkey...and that strangely it had almost no taste when sampled.  As if playing with us, a truly local wine from Sirince (absent any labels or foil...a house wine, if you will) had almost no nose, but was voted the best of all the wines for taste.  (As a fun experiment we nosed the first one and drank the second one...and many in our group then learned about the expertise needed to blend wines:  It worked!)  We also sampled a 1999 red from Katakalon, Greece which was a bit musty and a bit past its prime, but I thought it was quite good paired with the feta and goat cheeses.

Then it was dessert wines.  We sampled two that could not be any more different...and they both were from Santorini; one from 2004 and one from 2003.   The former had a light, fruity, aspect with lots of sugar while the latter drank like a tawny port. We agreed the 2003 was wonderful on its own, but the 2004 only came to life when drunk with some of the dessert items.

After two hours, it was time to...I hate to say it...pack.  Then it was off to yet another wonderful dinner.  All through the tasting everyone said they just couldn't eat anything more, that they would hardly eat any dinner, that maybe skipping dinner would be the thing to do.  Alas, I am sure you know that everyone could not resist any part of their final (for this cruise) Seabourn dinner.
Then, the biggest compliment of all, when I returned to my suite after dinner to put out my bags there was an envelop.  It contained confirmations for every single one of my guests confirmed for the 2009 Food & Wine Cruise on the Seabourn Spirit on September 26, 2009! 

Friday, October 3, 2008

Goldring Travel's 2008 Food & Wine Cruise on the Seabourn Spirit: Travelogue Part II

Still being blessed with wonderful weather we arrived in Fethiye, Turkey; a small yachting and tourist town near some very interesting historical and beach sites. Having traveled in the area fairly extensively in the past (including chartering a gulet - a Turkish wooded sailing yacht- for a private Blue Water Cruise a few years ago...but that is another topic) we used the day to relax, stroll around the town, permit my wife to start getting back into speaking Turkish, and later to meet up with my brother-in-law and his family who coincidentally were visiting Fethiye on holidays from Scotland. After picking up some local wines (sort of a challenge in Turkey) we enjoyed a very good typical Turkish lunch of various kebabs and yogurt with some local wines at a local restaurant. This was, of course, followed by a well deserved restful soak in the "secret" forward hot tub.

The captain, Geir-Arne, my good friend, invited my group to the bridge for the sail away from Fethiye and, with my good "supervision" of course, he did a great job missing the dock and setting us out to the open ocean; charming everyone as always "aboard yourrrrrrr Seeeeaboooorrrn Spirit"! It was then off to get ready for a wonderful dinner at the Captain's Table for dinner. With the Captain charming everyone I sat back and enjoyed the always wonderful tasting menu. I must say that the quality and small touches that come out of Chef Jochem's galley are worthy of special note.

It was then on to Kusadasi, Turkey yesterday. It was, without question, one of the nicest days I have have ever spent while on holidays. We awoke to a cool, but very sunny, morning for our tour of Ephesus and our cooking class. We arrived at Ephesus with some crowds, but nothing like those seen in the summer months. More importantly, without the heat you were actually able to stroll in comfort rather than feel sort of stressed by the heat to complete your journey back in time down the Roman streets. Our guide was charming and, having been there twice before, I sort of allowed my mind to wonder; knowing my guests were being well cared for. It was then off to the small village of Sirince (pronounced Sur-in-gee) which was filled with wonderful old streets lined with traditional shops and, fortunate for us, many wine shops as grapes are grown in the village. (I picked up a "local" bottle of wine - no label - and hopefully it will be the same wine I tasted in the shop!). Other than the wine shops it was a wonderful step back in time. (It reminded me a bit of Sintra, Portugal).

The highlight, however, was our next stop: our cooking class. A wonderful older woman, with a bright smile, and most definitely "cooking with love" had us gather in her small restaurant's kitchen (and with Seabourn limiting this tour to 16 people it was perfect) where she prepared six different dishes with remarkable speed and then added them to a fantastic buffet which we all enjoyed in her garden; my lunch accompanied by the traditional raki drink. A treat...hopefully...was my Turkish coffee where my grounds were read and I was told of the riches and joy which are soon to come to me as the fruit of my previous hard labor. With Seabourn providing each of us with a Turkish cookbook, we may not be able to repeat the the atmosphere when we get home, but we can sure give making some of the dishes a try.

After the obligatory carpet shop ending to our tour, we then headed into the bazaar and met up with a jeweler we had purchased some things from in one of our past visits. Having dodged that bullet and being able to leave with no new purchases, it was time for a quick rest and then off to the Exclusively Seabourn Experience in Ephesus. We arrived by bus to a beautifully lit Roman city with candle lit tables with small tastings and local wines being poured. Out of pure luck we sat at the table which was right in front of the Library directly viewing the chamber musicians who played a lovely variety of classical pieces in this truly romantic and inspiring at the same time setting. Then it was back to the ship for a wonderful Seabourn Welcome Home greeting. Then it was a fantastic Seabourn Grill buffet and the Rock the Boat show out on deck.

Tomorrow is our last day...but it is the Galley Market Lunch and then our Food and Wine Tasting!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Goldring Travel's 2008 Food & Wine Cruise on the Seabourn Spirit: Travelogue Part I

Our trip on the Seabourn Spirit started uneventfully with an on time flight, a quick pickup by our driver and a traffic free trip from the airport.

We checked into the St. George Lycabettus Hotel, located in the Kolonaki section (Athens's "Beverly Hills area"). The staff at the hotel were friendly and very accommodating...even allowing us to rest in one room while our Deluxe Acropolis View room was still being prepared. This standard room was clean, well laid-out, but very small and with no view. After only a few moments our room was ready and what a difference! While not the most spacious room, it was clean, had a comfortable bed and nice amenities. But that is not what makes the St. George Lycabettus the best hotel in Athens for me. It is the view. We sat out on our balcony sipping our complimentary champagne with a fantastic, unobstructed, view of the Acropolis with the port of Piraeus in the distance. It is, alas, a true $1,000,000 view.

The hotel recommended a truly local restaurant for lunch just a short stroll down the hill. After a very nice lunch of a Greek salad, some hummus and fried anchovies...and a carafe of local white wine, we strolled back to the hotel for a nap. As we lay in bed there was that view...the Acropolis. Very cool. After our nap, we sat out on our balcony, listening to the local sounds of children playing on a Friday evening rather than the cars and trucks of downtown Athens...and we watched a beautiful sunset unfold. It was then off to another local restaurant with some friends, sitting outside under a canopy enjoying the evening. Then, lying in bed looking out at the Acropolis lit up and looking, frankly, spectacular, it was time for a good night's sleep.

After a wonderful breakfast buffet at the rooftop restaurant's balcony...with that was time for our group to gather and our tour of Athens before heading to the ship. Paul, a driver-guide I have used for years, not only for myself but my clients, did a great job. However, the highlight was when we were returning from our walk up to the top of Mt. Lycabettus we, well, ummm, sort a bit lost. In the end it was a good laugh.

We arrived at the port at 2:30 pm and were quickly on the ship. A quick muster and a wonderful champagne sail away. Then it was time to get ready for dinner. One problem, though: The bag with most of my clothes and all of my wife's dresses was missing. The short version is it was gone. Seabourn tracked back to the hotel, the guide and even every one of the 12 ships in port that day and...nothing.

As always we had a wonderful sail away with the champagne flowing, though I did notice an absence of the usually ubiquitous caviar. The staff was a good as ever making our first evening as if we had never left...and this was my first evening ever on the Seabourn Spirit (though I have sailed on the Seabourn Pride and Seabourn Legend previously). After a dinner that included the best veal chop I have ever eaten, and even though it was a bit chilly (and we wound up looking like a bunch of homeless people huddled under blankets, we had a wonderful time at the Sky Bar and really enjoyed the new layout and upgrades.

The next day brought us to Mykonos (which is not one of my favorite islands) along with some intermittent rain, a cold breeze, and a need to do some serious shopping as there was no good news for our luggage. First, though, was a meeting with Oliver (the bar manager) and Jochem (the chef de cuisine) to begin arranging my group's Food and Wine tasting on the last day of the cruise. In typical Seabourn fashion, they took my relatively straight-forward event and immediately put it over-the-top adding, for example, a tasting of 20 different olive oils and insisting they do a bit of wine and food shopping for me! I immediately went from the organizer to the guest. (The same occurred when I tried to organize the Ensemble Travel complimentary cocktail party!)

Meanwhile, though Seabourn quickly provided me with a blue suit and shirt (and later in the cruise a tuxedo) my wife needed dresses...and fast. Luckily, after working through all the expensive shops with their (yeah I believe THAT one) end of seasons sales we stumbled upon a small shop with great clothes at truly reasonable prices...on Mykonos! With the mission accomplished my friend and I took up position at one of the local tavernas overlooking the water and watched the world go by. A short nap...OK not so short a nap...and it was time to eat again. Another great dinner and the waiters figured out we like a good laugh and are having great fun with our little group. Matt Brown, the cruise director, put on a truly enjoyable show in the Club...and I am usually not a big fan of such things. One of my guests, though, really stole the show for some good fun. Then a nightcap at the Sky Bar fortunately sans blankets.

In typical Seabourn fashion our arrival in Santorini - to beautiful blue skies - was delayed until 10 that we would not have to wait in long lines for the cable car or donkeys since there were a few other ships arriving earlier...and then we stayed later after the other ships had departed. This provided us with a far less rushed and crowded time; making Santorini more enjoyable. Deciding that we "needed" to take the donkeys for a good laugh, four of us headed off...only to have one donkey act up, knocking my friend over and sending his wife - like a rocket - walking up the 586 (?) stairs. Oh, we still took the donkeys and we did have a laugh. Having been to Santorini twice before we opted to hang out in Fira and just enjoy looking in the shops (picking up some interesting local wines for our tasting, of course!) and then a nice, simple, lunch in a local taverna with a bottle of local wine and that awesome view. It is one of my favorite things in the world to do. This was followed by a very enjoyable soak in the whirlpool on the bow of the ship where, as advertised, a bar waiter appeared announcing, "You look like you need a bottle of champagne and three glasses". We then realized we did.

Today was a visit to Patmos. There really is not much in Patmos other than visiting the monastery where St. John the Devine was said to have written the Book of Revelations. Our local guide for the Ensemble Experience (complimentary for all guests who utilize a member travel agency) was quite interesting and was able to blend the local history and architecture into an interesting semi-walking tour. After visiting a local house owned by an elderly woman...the 8th generation of the family owning same, we were taken to a local restaurant for some meze (small tastings) and ouzo with a small show. I did spot a local wine shop and make a couple of purchases for our tasting. It was a nice day, though I am not sure that I will return to Patmos anytime soon. Then it was another wonderful gourmet dinner followed by Dancing Under the Stars

Next: We wake up in Turkey.