Thursday, July 31, 2008

Ship's Tours, Private Tours or Doing It On Your Own

I am frequently asked if the generic question of I would recommend taking a ship's tour. My answer invariably is, "It depends." And it depends on a number of factors.

The first thing I look at is whether there is anything unique about the tour. In October I am taking a Seabourn tour in Kusadasi which has two parts. The first part is a tour of Ephesus while the second part is a tour of a small village with a cooking class. If it was just the first part I would say, "Don't bother. Take a taxi to Ephesus and pick up a private guide at the entrance. You will have less people, more information and you can do it at your pace." Walking tours of Halifax, a visit to the New England Aquarium, the beach in Mykonos or lunch in Marseille you can do on your own in more comfort and at your own pace. But a cooking class for a limited number of people in a small town in Turkey. Even if you could privately arrange it, the time, logistics and hassle alone...no less even knowing where to start with such an event....makes the ship's tour an almost ideal solution. Others: a visit to a specific private chateau in Bordeaux; an early morning boat ride up close to glaciers; tours tied into onboard educational courses, etc.

The second thing I look at are the logistics of getting there, doing it and getting back to the ship. In August I am going on a Royal Caribbean cruise (Mariner of the Seas) and will be stopping in Cozumel. We will be taking the ship's tour of the Mayan ruins at Tulum. In order to take this tour you must take a ferry (more like a rocky boat) to the mainland, then a bus to Tulum and eventually the ferry back to the ship. While I could arrange a private tour and I do not relish sharing this experience with potentially hundreds of my fellow passengers, I relish less the thought of missing the ferry or it being delayed and the ship sailing without me. This particular tour is cancelled from time to time because of rough seas and the ferry is delayed at times for the same reason. When you are on a ship's tour you are protected from the possibility of the ship leaving without you. Doing it on your own is doing it at your own risk. I recall quite a few passengers left in Civitavecchia when there was a snap strike on the trains from Rome. The ship left them behind, without their passports, and the next port was in France. Independence is a wonderful thing...but I caution it should be exercised with caution.

The third thing I look at is whether there is a private tour option. There are many times when there is a private tour that is better than the ship's tour and it is (especially when paying for 2 or more people) less expensive. An example is a tour of Athens. In October I am providing those on my Seabourn Spirit Food & Wine Cruise a complimentary tour of Athens and Cape Sounion. Our guide will meet us at 7:30 am so that we beat the crowds and the afternoon heat. After providing us with a beautiful overview and explanation of the Acropolis from a nearby park we will arrive just as the Acropolis opens...before the crowds are even getting on their buses...and will be able to enjoy the site for quite a while ourselves. Then passing the masses as they arrive, we will head off to some of the other sites followed by a wonderful visit to the Temple of Poseidon followed by a waterside lunch in a nice taverna with a real menu. Doesn't that sound much better than climbing in a bus, standing on your toes to get a glimpse, shouting "Can you speak up. I can't hear you." and then waiting while "that person" just needs to make one more purchase?

The fourth thing I look at is price and value. There is a difference between the two. Sometimes you know you are being overcharged, but if you want the experience enough it remains of value. As I mentioned, sometimes a private tour is a far better value than a ship's tour, but then there are tours that you can only obtain through the ship. One example above is the cooking class in Turkey. Another might be a zipline in the Caribbean. Is that one hour tour - and 10 minutes of excitement - worth $80.00? For me there is no way I would spend that kind of money, but others would find the experience something to think back on and talk about for years.

We were in Tahiti last year on the Regent Seven Seas Paul Gauguin and took the Swim with the Stingrays tour as part of Regent/Jean Michel Cousteau's incredible and unique Ambassadors of the Environment program. Well, we thought this might be a bit better than Captain Marvin's private tour in Grand Cayman and was it ever. It turned into my family's first experience swimming with sharks (black-tipped reef sharks) and the beginning of their appreciation of sharks and a willingness to venture a bit out of their comfort zones to experience nature. Incredible value.

I have an incredible private guide that I use in Florence. She makes the city and the art and architecture come alive...and she is charming. Want to miss most of the lines in Italy? Use a private guide. Want a real explanation of what you are seeing? Use a private guide. Are they a bit expensive? A bit (but not so much for a family of four), but oh is there value.


I also look to see if an independent option is available. Taking a walk to the fish market in Marseille followed by a wonderful bouillabaisse lunch does not need a ship's or private tour nor does a walk around Charleston, South Carolina with a buggy ride and some good ol' southern cooking. Halifax is a great place to wander and they even offer recorded walking tour rentals on the pier for only a few dollars. Le Lavendou, France has a wonderful local market where you can get lost for a couple of hours followed by a lunch seaside. Barcelona is one of the great walking cities where shops, markets food, culture, architecture, etc. come at you from all sides, but in a fun and not overwhelming way.

Theory is one thing, but reality is another.To be sure, independence is good for some and not so good for others. For many travelers the concept of not having to worry or having it all planned out is one of the very reasons they go on cruises. For that sort of traveler I would caution against striking out on your own. You can most certainly enjoy these cities and have the comfort of a tour, ship or private.

So when asking, "Should I take a ship's tour?" you should first ask what it is that you want to do, where you want to do it and might I be better off doing a private or independent tour. Only then will you be able to truly access the benefits and/or pitfalls of a ship's tour.

On It's Way...Finally

The Clipper Pacific finally set sail from Tampa, Florida late on July 29th after completing numerous repairs. In addition to the failed steel plating being replaced, numerous other safety violations were addressed. The reports are that the crew was cooperative and they attended to many of the violations that were not required to be completed in order to have the vessel cleared to depart.

Hopefully with the crew now aware of what is required for there to be a safe ship (and for their safety) the progress made in assuring the former Song of Norway's passengers sail safely for years to come.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

I Demand a Free Cruise!

I have been reading a thread on Cruise Critic about Seabourn cancelling a March 28, 2009 repositioning cruise from St. Thomas to Ft. Lauderdale. Seabourn - giving eight (8) months prior notice - has offered a 10% discount plus a $200 onboard credit. The Host chimes in immediately that the compensation sounds low and then someone declares the cancelled passenger should get a highly discounted or free cruise.

Does not providing the guest with possibly over $1,000 discount on a future cruise and a $200 onboard credit show enough concern by the line for it to have earned loyalty...or at least fend off scorn?

While I do agree that there should be some sort of compensation because the cruise was planned and, possibly, airfare was already purchased, but let's consider the normal person's "damages" worthy of compensation: Possibly a $100 air ticket change fee and some time finding an alternative cruise or vacation...and a bit of upset/disappointment at the cancellation. (Hotels, etc. can be cancelled with no penalty.)

Oh, there are the cries of the cruise line needs to promote loyalty and effectively only overcompensating someone will achieve that. There is, alas, a difference between earning loyalty and buying it. Trust me, buying it doesn't work.

Case in point: I was able to procure a group of six people a total refund plus free cruises due to a last minute issue with Seabourn. Imagine six (6) free cruises just so they could go a week later. Having pocketed the very significant sum of money, when it came time to pay for the next cruise: Cancelled. To be fair, there were understandable circumstances from the guests point of view, but Seabourn was out not only 6 fares and 6 free cruises, but 2 other fares on the guest cancelled cruise...and I was out as well; having to do far more work than expected and, obviously, making far less money.

The loyalty - when it comes to such things - almost always rests with the guest and not the company providing the services or product. For if the product or service is not in the guest's best interest, it simply is not going to be paid for. Loyalty would have the guest saying, "Gee, we got all of our money refunded, so Seabourn has effectively paid for our next cruise and then some. I am loyal to Seabourn and want to do right by it, so extenuating circumstances aside, I will take cruise rather than cancel it." To be fair, there are some that would take that approach, but they are far and few between. (Do it and see what a company like Seabourn will do for you...the ones that really show the loyalty!!!)

In the end, from my perspective, the "free cruise" demands are not about "loyalty". And it should not be about trying to extort something under the guise of loyalty. It should be about being treated fairly and respectfully...both ways.

American Superyacht Regatta 2008 Video

For any of you interested in a bit of silly at times, but also beautiful, video of the Regatta click on this link: http://www.synfo.com/SynfoTV/synfotvLargeScreen.asp?video=1196

As they say, Yachting: Steeped in Tradition. Soaked in Beer!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Prinsendam Fans - An Unbelievable Deal - And You Can Only Get It Here!

For those who want to cruise on the former Seabourn Sun, Holland America has made two incredible 2008 European sailings available to me (and to very few travel agents anywhere!) on the Prinsendam which are - ready for this - AIR INCLUSIVE at cruise only rates!

Here are the details:
14 day Black Sea Cruise Rome to Piraeus
September 18, 2008 or
October 16, 2008

Civitavecchia (Rome)
At Sea
Dubrovnik, Croatia
Sarande, Albania
Argostoli, Cephalonia, Greece
At Sea
Istanbul, Turkey
Istanbul, Turkey
Trabzon, Turkey
Sochi, Russia
Sevastopol, Ukraine
Nessebur, Bulgaria
At Sea
Kusadasi (Ephesus) Turkey
Piraeus, Greece

Pricing is as follows:

Inside from: $2,299
Oceanview from: $2,499
Veranda from: $4,999
Veranda Suite from: $6.749
Deluxe Veranda Suite from: $10,499

Prices include the fuel supplement, but do not include taxes of up to $236 per person. Also, there is some limitation as to air gateway cities, with some having a $100 or $200 supplement. Obviously, restrictions apply and the offer is subject to capacity controls and/or prior sale and may be withdrawn at any time. (If you check the posted fares on the Holland America site you will see this is not a "smoke and mirrors" offer, but the real thing. )

If you are thinking about a cruise this fall, a 14 day European cruise air inclusive in an oceanview for $5,000...on the Prinsendam no less...is something you just shouldn't pass up. Call or email me quickly as this is sure not to last.

Clipper Pacific Update - Still in Tampa and The News Is Not Great

I wanted to give those of you interested an update on the Clipper Pacific...and it is not really very good news.

She remains in Tampa and, according to a U.S. Coast Guard release late yesterday there is work being done to replace a 5 foot by 6 foot plate of steel along with some internal structure (beams and related metal).

What is also disturbing is that the passengers are not permitted to remain on board because there is no approved Emergency Evacuation Plan.

You may recall that I immediately commented that a patch was not going to be acceptable and that the plate would most probably have to be replaced. That is exactly what is being done. So hopefully I have kept Iamboatman's reputation intact.

I must, however, pause and ask a question. "For all the passengers who are spending their time and money (along with the operator's money) vacationing in Tampa, how many have taken the time to think about who is running the ship, how they could have allowed them to have their lives risked with such deplorable conditions, and how come they remain willing to cross the Pacific Ocean with those very same people in charge?"

Far more money is being spent keeping the passengers in Tampa than the cost of flying them back home. Is the need to complete the journey, or getting one's money's worth, sufficiently strong that people are willing to risk their safety and possibly their lives? I cannot fathom how this question should even need to be asked.

A caveat: The United States Coast Guard is not going to let a truly unsafe vessel depart Tampa, so to be fair to the ship, when she is ready to leave she will be at least minimally seaworthy from the Coast Guard's perspective. And, yes, the captain and crew will have the necessary licenses attesting to their technical competence. But are they actually competent? The facts here tend to strongly infer not.

There is far more to competency than a piece of paper. This is a major area of concern and conflict in the superyacht industry and, I assume, in the shipping industry as well. The days of "putting in sea time" are fading away as technocrats sitting behind desks create regulations that try to equate passing exams with seaworthiness. But that is another topic for another day.

In th meantime I will continue to shed a tear as I fondly remember sipping a Tequila Sunrise on the deck of the Song of Norway thinking how great was to be on a cruise.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

It's Like a Sandwich! Seabourn Spirit - New Ports for 2009

It is not the bread that usually distinguishes or defines a a sandwich. Tuna or cheese, roast beef or chicken salad; you don't usually mention the bread. It is not that the bread is unimportant, but it is just not as important for most. "Tuna on rye" or "Chicken salad on a hard roll"; never the other way around. Without the bread you don't have a sandwich and with the bread (save white bread) you add flavor and texture...but it is not the meat of the meal.

It is not so different for cruise itineraries. Figuring out new ports for a cruise ship is not easy because there are only so many ports that can be used to provision a ship and, at the same time, efficiently and quickly gather passengers from a close by airport (oh, yes, and also fly out "those other people" who have been using "your" ship...disembarking guests.)

So when you see Athens-Istanbul or Venice-Rome or Barcelona-Nice don't assume because you see the "bread" of the itinerary that you know what the "meat" is. You just might be missing a truly outstanding and innovative feast as you declare "Been There. Done That!"

And please do not make the mistake of saying, "I've been to Italy before." I live in Colts Neck, New Jersey. I live in horse country, am 10 minutes from beautiful lakes, 15 minutes from the ocean and 45 minute from New York City. Oh, and a Six Flags is 30 minutes away. I would never think that visiting my home is the same as visiting New York City or would give you the flavor of the Jersey Shore. These are not subtle differences, but rather far more unique than related. Italy, Croatia, Spain, France, etc. are all very similar in that regard. To a true traveler, it is pretty hard to say "Been There. Done That."

Now, let's take a look at the the Seabourn Spirit's 2009 itineraries. Borrowing from a Seabourn release I offer to you the following:

In 2009, the Seabourn Spirit will inaugurate three (3) new week-long itineraries sailing from Civitavecchia and Venice to some of the most unusual and desirable destinations on the Dalmatian and Apulian coasts of the Adriatic. The itineraries may be combined without repeating ports.

The Dalmatian Coast is a veritable filigree of islands large and small, most harboring medieval towns as picturesque as they are friendly. Some, like Rovinj, Croatia, are joined to the mainland by causeways. They share the red-tiled roofs and candy-colored facades that have enchanted visitors to Dubrovnik, but the ones Seabourn Spirit is visiting are less crowded. Most have some claim to fame, such as ornate Austrian villas at Split and a Roman theater at Trieste, but the real attraction is the scenic beauty, the clear waters, forested peaks and the friendly people. Rovinj, Hvar, Kotor and Korcula and Koper all are places you will never forget once you’ve seen them. All offer chances to bike, kayak or explore on foot, and all three itineraries offer a Marina day at Triluke Bay, Croatia or in Italy’s Gulf of Squillace.

Situated on the heel of Italy’s boot, Apulia is “Italy as it used to be.” A latecomer to tourism, Apulia has been happily supplying wine (10 percent of what’s consumed in Europe is grown there), olive oil, almonds and other foodstuffs. Now small luxury inns are springing up among the rustic towns. Apulia’s landscape looks different from the rest of Italy, slightly Oriental with intensely local customs and unique, round stone-roofed houses called trulli.

So, is Seabourn is offering up the same old thing? Rome and Venice is the bread (tasty in their own rights), but the stuff in between seems like a wonderful buffet of new experiences.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Boat International USA 50 Largest US Owned Yachts - MSY Islander

Today I received the August 2008 edition of Boat International USA and it lists the 50 largest yachts with a United States owner. I, quite proudly, saw that the superyacht that I breathed, ate, slept and drank for almost five years of my life remains - after an incredible 18 years - on the list.


With the boom in the superyacht market (yachts over 150 feet, more or less) and a five year waiting list to have one built, to think that what once was considered an impossible feat remains relevant more than two decades after she was conceived and the first aluminium cut is remarkable.




In 1990 Showboats Magazine was gave her an award, "The Magnificent Enigma". Why? this unique 192 foot (58 metre) superyacht has huge sail volumes, two retractable keels and water jet drives, with only a 7.5 foot draft (with keels retracted), a full depth swimming pool, the ability to hold a cocktail party for 250 guests and a list of features that most yachts of today still cannot match.

........................................................................................... I have many, many, many stories of this yacht and my involvement; most good, but some not so good. But they are, to be sure, stories which fill a very large portion of my lifetime.
If you want to hear more about her, log onto one of my websites: http://www.goldringtravel.com/ or http://www.yachtlaw.com/ and watch the video.





Seabourn Odyssey - The Suite Details

Some of you have inquired about the suites on the Seabourn Odyssey and how the compare to the triplets and other luxury cruise lines. I will give it a shot, trying not to be too numbers oriented (as many can't tell size from reading square footage) or adding too much "stuff" about things you would expect in a luxury suite. (All suites have separate bathtubs and showers and twin sinks, flat screen tv(s), etc.)

Here goes:

The suites will have 13 varieties of suites ranging from a few oceanview to many balconies and some really incredible premium suites.


- The Seabourn Suite are oceanview suites that are slightly larger than the present oceanview suites at 295-302 sq. ft., but which have the mentioned separate tub and shower. The Veranda Suites are approximately the same size and have the same amenities, but also have a balcony ranging from 32 sq. ft. (only two of these 745 and 746) to 66 sq. ft. Comparison: About 35% bigger than the standard balcony on the Regent Seven Seas Mariner and Silversea Cloud/Wind and about 10% larger than the Silversea Whisper/Shadow.


- Penthouse Suites are 436 square feet (except 635 which is a wheelchair suite at 611 sq. ft.) and support dining for four guests, two flat screen tvs and a 98 sq. ft. balcony. Comparison: Regent Seven Seas Mariner's Penthouse suites has a 15% smaller interior and a 25% smaller balcony. Silversea doesn't really have a comparable suite.









- Owner's Suite range from 611 to 675 square feet of interior space with a 149-212 sq. ft. balcony, all with whirlpool tubs, but which vary in amenities and layouts - one having a sofabed and others having separate living and dining areas with a butler pantry. On Regent, its Mariner Suite compares nicely as to size. Silversea they are in between the Whisper/Shadow Medallion and Silver suites.









- Signature Suites are 819 sq. ft. with two verandas totalling 236 sq. ft. with a living room/dining area and forward facing windows. Regent Mariner really doesn't have a comparable suite nor do the Silversea ships.












- Wintergarden Suite - at 914 sq. ft with a 183 sq. ft. balcony the really cool feature is the private glass enclosed solarium. Regent Mariner's Grand Suite is similar in interior space, but has only about 40% of the balcony space. Silversea's Whisper/Shadow's Royal, Grand and Owner's Suites in a single bedroom configuration are about the same size...and the comparisons to the other upper Seabourn suites in various configurations follow.









- Grand Suites are 1,135 to 1,182 sq. ft. internally with two bedrooms, but are of two types: Forward with 3 verandas totaling 301 sq. ft. or with a solarium and 2 verandas totalling 236 sq. ft. Regent's and Silversea's top suite compare nicely, as they should. These are essentially created by utilizing the adjoining suites to the Signature and Wintergarden Suites.
There is a lot of information which will be forthcoming on the Odyssey. Some of the information has been released, but others have yet to be announced. Keep checking back!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Seabourn Pride, Legend and Spirit - Long Range Plans

There has been in further inquiry about the plans for Seabourn's current fleet of three small yachtlike ships with more than enough false rumors and innuendo that their end is near. The fact is, as I had previously posted, the triplets are part of Seabourn's long range plans.

Here are some truths:

1. The smaller triplets are loved by many passengers and there is a style and comfort level that makes the larger Odyssey just not attractive to them.

2. Many Seabourn passengers (not all by any extent) could care less about the new bells and whistles.

3. There are many unique ports that the Odyssey cannot visit and, therefore, the triplets remain as a real asset for those destinations.

4. There are itineraries that may well support 200 guests, but not 450 guests.

5. The Seabourn Pride will be focusing on Asia with new ports and extended itineraries. Seabourn has not advised what its plans are for the Legend and Spirit, but I would not be surprised if there was a Caribbean/South American presence as well as one in Africa and parts of Australia/New Zealand. I don't know, but I would put my money on the latter!

6. There is a need for capacity, as Seabourn's ships consistently sail at or near capacity. So with one ship in 2009 being delivered, the present demand for capacity might be met to a degree, but assuming any sort of growth, additional capacity will be needed into 2010 and 2011.

7. With the new ships in place, it may well be possible for there to be truly extensive refitting of the older triplets so that its machinery and environmentally related systems can be replaced, and some older design elements changed, at a fraction of the cost of new ships while there is sufficient capacity to meet the demands of Seabourn guests. (BTW, I do not know this to be true, but it is not a large jump for me to get there...in my mind).

One other bit of speculation to be addressed: Pricing. It is something that is based upon demand and costs of operation. If you want exotic ports, it is gonna cost you. No matter how you cut it, the Caribbean will cost less than Africa. Asia will cost you more than France. If you are looking for a deal, I would be looking at low demand seasons for particular locations rather than new versus old ships.

What Drives Me Crazy About Message Boards and Why I Am Here

As many of you know, someone incorrectly posted on Cruise Critic that Seabourn "stole" away a Silversea ship...then it was that it was meant to be a Silversea ship and that "Some people were even crossed with Seabourn for taking over the contract! " Where does this stuff come from?

Then, on the Silversea board someone posted that - as I reported days ago...again - that the yard owned the hull design and that it was never an issue of using another cruise line's design. In fact, the poster commented that is a cost savings measure rather than designing an entirely new hull form. Geez that sounds really familiar, doesn't it?! (I am not attesting to that poster's knowledge or the basis for it; only that he posted it.)

So then there was the comment that the original premises came out of something found on Google. So I looked: Nothing even close.

So which poster has the correct information? Why was the original post phrased in a way that it inferred an answer that was controversial? Why wasn't the post, "Does Anyone Know How Seabourn Chose The Shape of Odyssey?"

Obviously if I had posted a response it would have been short and sweet...and there would have been some sort of personal attack...and more misinformation would be posted...and then some posts would be removed...and then, funny enough, the actual information as to the inquiry might well have been so buried that it was never recognized or appreciated.

Many of you have asked me to try to post again on Cruise Critic. Some of you have even posted requesting Cruise Critic allow me to post again. I truly appreciate and am flattered and honored by your pleas and compliments.

However, those that really want information are learning where to get it...with detail and thought...and without the clutter (and, at times, absurdity): Right here.


Monday, July 21, 2008

Seabourn Odyssey - The Details.

So what is this new Seabourn Odyssey all about?

First, let me state the obvious...which might not be that obvious to those who have not cruised on Seabourn. The new ship is about service. Consistent service. The service you expect.

Carnival, Princess and Royal Caribbean have far more toys and venues than the Odyssey, but you would never cruise on them expecting the same level of cruise experience. So when thinking about the new ship, don't think you need to go WOW! about anything. (OK, the Spa is a WOW!) Think about how the venue, its setup, its atmosphere blends, embellishes, or compliments Seabourn Service.

I will keep away from most statistics because they are to most just boring or, worse, confusing.

SEABOURN SQUARE

Every hate the feeling of having a barrier between you and the purser, when you want to discuss something? Dread lining up to talk about a tour or to book your next cruise? Well Seabourn is implementing something pretty cool (actually somewhat more akin to what private banking used to be like). You will be able to sit in comfortable chairs in a lounge atmosphere and deal with your requests, inquiries and needs in a most civilized manner. And what would make your feel a bit more comfortable? A coffee bar will be located in the same area....and just down the corridor from the Card Room.

DINING:

Main Dining Room - Seabourn has done something pretty unique. It has very shrewdly designed the Restaurant to be essentially two mirror-images of the triplet's dining room (as far as layout in the dining room and galley). Even the waiter stations are in the same locations. Why you might ask? So that any staff that comes from one of the triplets knows exactly where to go, were things are, and how to serve. While the room will be beautiful, the service will be - here's that word - consistent.

Restaurant 2 - Again consistent with the Pride, Spirit and Legend, this alternative restaurant will feature innovative menus with wine parings.

The Colonnade - This is an indoor/outdoor restaurant with an open kitchen serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. It will feature a different theme each evening. Sound familiar? How about both indoor and outdoor seating?

Patio Grill - This is not just any poolside grill. There will be nice touches that make it a bit special at various times of the day. Wander by with a cup of coffee in the morning and you will be greeted with the aroma of warm cinnamon buns.

In Suite - Seabourn does this the best of any cruise line. Your meal will be served course by course, timed as you like it, with the Main Restaurant's menu available. If you simply want a late night pizza or an afternoon snack, there will be an extensive menu available.

SPA

Seabourn will have a unique, two story, indoor and outdoor spa with expanded services. But what is really exciting is that there will be 750 sq. ft. Spa Villas which provide you a private indoor area with seating and dining areas, a double bed lounger, two treatment beds, an oversized bathtub and shower...plus a private outdoor wraparound terrace with sun loungers. You will be able to rent these villas for your private treatment sessions for half or, demand permitting, full days.

In addition to Finnish saunas and aromatic steam rooms, there will be seven private treatment rooms with a much broader spectrum of services than is available on the triplets including a full service salon.

Seabourn will also be providing a state of the art gym for cardio, strength and weight training along with a Kinesis Wall. (For those of you that don't know what that is, don't worry about it - you will never use it!)

And for those wanting to just relax, the indoor pool will be located on Deck 8 and the Spa's own outdoor whirlpool will be located on Deck 9.

POOLS

If the triplets have glaring weakness it is the pool's location and layout. No more. On the Odyssey the outdoor pool is centrally located on Deck 8 with two whirlpools adjacent thereto. Modern, upgraded, lounges will be provided as well.

There will be a second smaller outdoor pool with two more whirlpools aft on Deck 5, as well, providing a quiet place to relax.

Wait until you see the water effects.

MARINA

Seabourn will have its very popular marina installed on the Odyssey and the offerings will be expanded to include water skiing and windsurfing in addition to snorkeling, banana rides, etc.

LOUNGES

One of the interesting things is that the lounges are designed to keep the intimate settings that exist on the triplets. Yes, The Club and the Observation Lounge will be larger, but their layouts are such that they are broken up into smaller spaces. Seabourn has not forgotten that it is the socialization among its guests that is one of its strongest features and these spaces are designed to enhance conversation.

Also, while the Sky Bar will be present in its familiar location and with a now fairly consistent look (thanks to the recent upgrades to the triplets!), there will be a second outdoor bar one deck down...right by the main pool.

STAFF

I have kept the best for last.

Seabourn is doing an incredible amount of work to make sure the staff on the Odyssey is trained, knowledgeable and, of course, familiar. Continuing with the tradition of European and South African staff, Seabourn has put in place an extensive shoreside education and training program.

But as you know, there is nothing like actual experience, so Seabourn is doing something unheard of. It is sacrificing suites on the triplets to house some staff so that they can shadow the current staff and learn "on the job" while not compromising either your upcoming cruise on the triplets or having you face an untrained staff member on the Odyssey. While I am sure it will not be perfect, the effort to make the service as consistent as possible from stewardesses to bartenders, pursers to waitstaff, is remarkable.

If you have questions or would like more information on any particular aspect of the Odyssey, leave a comment or drop me an email. Better yet, give me a call!

Iamboatman Jr. - Kayaking. Who'd A Thunk It!

A personal post!

A couple of weeks ago I posted about my thrill of sailing America's Cup yachts. I was writing back and forth with an industry executive the other day about our fond memories of sailing my friends Hunter 42 docked across from my then office in Coconut Grove, Florida and his Hunter 36. My 12 year old son hates sailing.

I have such wonderful memories of quietly canoeing in Vermont and Upstate New York as a child. Canoeing on Lake George back in the late '60s/early 70's for miles, dipping my cup into the water to have a drink (Don't try that now! If you don't get run over by a powerboat you will get sick from the water.) I went canoeing briefly with my son this weekend, while visiting him at camp, and his abilities to maneuver a canoe from his seat at the bow was very impressive. But he tells me, even after a pretty cool 6 day canoe trip on Saranac Lake, where they saw two bald eagles on July 4th!, he doesn't like canoeing. (Maybe it was because he needed to portage - carry - his canoe and supplies a mile overland to get to Middle Saranac Lake).

Yachts. They are OK and can be cool if I worked on them, but the fancy stuff doesn't really float his boat, so to speak. No kids and no kid's club.

Seabourn: Boring!

What really impressed me, however, was my son's new affinity for kayaking. I didn't get much information from him during his four week stay at sleepaway camp in Vermont...except that he liked kayaking. When we got to camp all he wanted to do was show me what he could do. First activity: Kayaking!

So as a nervous father, I watched him grab the biggest whitewater kayak and waited for the show...afraid that with the pressure of my watching things might not go so well. What was I worried about? My son blew me away!!!! Not only did he maneuver that kayak with aplomb, he was doing rolls like a pro. (A roll is when the kayak flips over and you are strapped in upside down in the water and you right yourself and the kayak and just paddle away.)

The best was, however, as Parent's Day was winding down. The camp (in its 99th year and well known for its canoeing and kayaking focus) puts on a show of skills for the parents. They choose a few of the more talented kids to display their skills. My son never thought he would be asked, but as he went up to get his second ice cream after dinner, he got the nod!

The pressure was on. The entire camp and all the parents were watching. He did a fantastic job. Very impressive!!

So now the focus is on learning offside rolls, rolls without a paddle, stalls, etc. We just need to find the right kayak. (A much better investment than faux kayaking on a video game!)

I guess it is in the genes. Funny thing, though: Kayaking was never my thing! I am glad he's not a clone, but thrilled that he takes after me.

That's my boy!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Seabourn Odyssey Is NOT a Silversea Ship - Updated

There is a rumor being spread on Cruise Critic that the Seabourn Odyssey is a Silversea ship that Seabourn sort of took away from Silversea. That is simply untrue...as are some of the other conjectures. It amazes me how this stuff gets started.

Now, let's just take a moment and think about it. Would Silversea let Seabourn "take" its ship? Use its design? Steal its place in a production schedule? Would Seabourn want that sort of albatross?

Here are the facts: Silversea was in no position financially to build any new ships when Seabourn decided to build the Odyssey and 2 other sisterships. Further T. Mariotti was not negotiating with Silversea to design something that wasn't going to be built. Yes, there are some similarities in overall design with the newest Silversea ship, but that is a function of T. Mariotti; not Silversea.

One of the most time consuming and costly aspects of designing a new ship is its hull. Not only is there a huge investment into "What is it we want to fit on this ship, but how much ship do we need to fit it all in?" Once you have the "above the waterline" design info you need to design the "wet" or "below the waterline" ship...and that can be time-consuming and costly. You need to deal with hydrodynamics, or how the ship will move through the water. You need to deal with stability issues (how she will handle seas, if she will be top-heavy, if she will roll too much for a passenger vessel, etc.) After computer generated analysis there must be models built and the hull tank tested. (There are special tanks which can test various hull models with to-scale waves, currents, etc. It is pretty cool stuff - though the photos of the process do not make it look very exciting; it is, after all, "dry" engineering. Sorry for the pun; I couldn't resist!)

So, how does one accellerate a process? Do not reinvent the wheel. If there is a basic wheel out there that works, there is a huge economy in time and money if you can exploit prior work. Seabourn apparently did just that. (An example you may be familiar with: The Jaguar X-Type has the same basic platform as the Ford Contour. Does anyone what to claim that the quick, all-wheel drive, automatic everything, leather and burl wood clad, etc. luxury care is the same car as a Contour? Obviously there will be someone who will, but your personal experience says that they may be similar, but very different.)

As far as what is being offered on the Odyssey that Silversea never had or contemplated: a Marina platform; a two deck, indoor/outdoor spa; a profile that compliments the present triplets...and there is more, but that is for a post later this week. That is why you will see some similarities, but there will be many, many differences.

An please keep this in mind: How many actually cruise Seabourn for its hardware? That's right: Very Few. What Seabourn is bringing to the Odyssey is its software: Its people. Its service. Its style. And that is, of course, why most people cruise Seabourn.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Clipper Pacific Is An Old Friend - My Introduction to Cruising

I was reading Cruise News Daily (a favorite of mine) this evening and discovered that the Clipper Pacific is the old Royal Caribbean Song of Norway. She is the first cruise ship I was ever on.

An old girlfriend of mine, Kelly S., worked for a design firm in Coconut Grove, Florida (while I was doing my law clerking thing) and they were awarded the contract to, among other things, design the Viking Crown Lounge and casino on the Song of America. Well, never having been on a cruise ship Royal Caribbean thought it best that they sent Kelly to better understand what it was all about and how it all worked. I, of course, being the supportive boyfriend (and a broke, struggling law student eyeballing a free vacation!) was there for her.

We had a blast sailing out of Miami to Ocho Rios, Jamaica, Cozumel, Mexico and Grand Cayman. (Side note: This summer I am taking a Royal Caribbean cruise to...you guessed it...the same ports. Too weird!) We met a great couple from Alaska who were on their honeymoon. I will never forget that cruise...or attending the christening of the Song of America.

So I wish the Clipper Pacific well...and hope that they take better care of "my" ship.

Regent, Oceania and Information

One the best things I have found from my brief time blogging (don't let all the posts fool the new visitors, I've only been doing this a short time) is that there is a really great mix of people reading this blog. And the result is that I am getting some great input, interesting insights and information as well as different perspectives. Hopefully as this little part of the internet develops we can get into a higher level of discussion and, therefore information, than is not found elsewhere.

Now, what the heck does this have to do with Regent and Oceania? Possibly a lot. Here is a bit of perspective as explained to me. Regent and Oceania obviously have much in common: Both use good quality food, hotel supplies, marine services, etc. There is an economy of scale that clearly makes sense to utilize. (Said in plain language, if you give a vendor more business you can get better pricing due to the increased volume.) This is actually a similar concept that I explained is why Seabourn is able to push forward as part of the large Carnival Corp. behemoth...and if it is good for the goose it should well be good for the gander.

The other concept is that nobody does everything the best way possible. Everybody does something better than the next guy. There is apparently a systemic "look see" going on between Oceania and Regent as to who does what which way and what works better...so that the better approach, or possibly a blending of approaches...can be utilized by both (possibly in variations?).

Both concepts make sense and is consistent with what I have read and reported. The difference may be one of perspective, to wit: Is the approach being used to better each individually or (here's that word again) blend them. I am told it is definitely the former.

Now, me being me (and we know that is part realist and part skeptic) I understand the concept of keeping Regent and Oceania separate entities from the "product" side, but I remain concerned about there being too much homogeny...especially because once you take away the included alcohol and gratuities from Regent, Oceania is looking very similar...other than the suites (but new ships are coming, so I am anxious to see the details on this point!).

On the other hand, the hardware of Oceania and Regent are sufficiently different today that they are different products. For me, I would take a bill for drinks and gratuities with an awesome itinerary (and Oceania has much stronger itineraries...and isn't cruising about going places?) over a very expensive cruise just because it is more inclusive with larger suites.

Does this sound a bit confused about where things are and where they are going? Do I sound a bit non-committal? Yes and Yes. I think what I am getting at is that the concept at Prestige Cruise Holdings may be to keep 'em separate, but practically speaking Regent and Oceania may be far more similar than different; and as the cruise market shakes out with this troubling economy, and if the pricing is not outrageously different, the choice may ultimately be "itinerary vs. suite accommodation". I say this noting I think the "inclusive vs. pay as you go" is generally more hype than anything else.

I am told that in the coming weeks and months there will be some good news from PCH in the coming weeks and months. That may give us even more info...and insight. I have more thoughts, but that'll do it for now.

Clipper Pacific Update: Cleared to Sail...Sort Of.

According to Newsday, the Clipper Pacific has as of about noon been cleared to sail...but not to Venezuela as contemplated. It is cleared to sail to Tampa, Florida so that permanent repairs can be made.

As I had written yesterday, the temporary patch with cement and whatever else the ship might have done would never have been cleared for open ocean sailing. As there are no shipyards in the New York area that could handle such a large ship, it appears there is some space in Tampa. I am curious as to whether they are going to have to drydock her to make the repairs, but what is certain is that the damaged plate (and who knows what else) will need to be replaced.

I do not have any information on what is happening with the passengers, though from what I have read I do not think many have the finances to simply walk of the ship and fly to wherever, nor do I think the ship's owner or operator would have the funds to do such things based upon the conditions found aboard the ship. I also do not know if the ship must be escorted since it has so many passengers aboard.

I will keep you posted.

Is Regent Seven Seas Proposed New Ship Dead in the Water?

Today there was an announcement from Regent Seven Seas Cruises about some internal shifting of management, focused on sales and marketing. That is not really news.

However, for some reason I looked at the fine print at the end of the news release. It states, Prestige Cruise Holdings, "the parent corporation of Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Oceania Cruises...is the market leader in the Upper Premium and Luxury segments of the cruise industry with more than 4,450 berths between the Regent Seven Seas and Oceania Cruises brands, a number the company expects will grow to more than 6,700 berths by 2011.

I paused and said, at the 2007 Seatrade Cruise Shipping Conference Frank Del Rio announced Oceania was building two new ships, each being 1,260 passengers and are to be delivered in 2010 and 2011. (Cruise Critic confirmed this announcement: http://www.cruisecritic.com/features/articles.cfm?ID=403 for those doubters out there.) Now, if you do the math: 6,700 berths in 2011 - 4,450 present berths = 2,250 new berths divided by 2 new Oceania ships = 1,150 berths per new ship. The announcement notes "more than 6,700 berths"; not more than 7,800 berths (which would be able to include a new Regent ship)...and there you have it.

Where, oh where, did the proposed new Regent ship go????? You may remember it was only a few days ago Mark Conroy, Regent's President, commented that a new Regent ship may be using an Oceania designed hull. (See my Oceania-fication of Regent post.) Doing the math is pretty easy. Soon, but not yet, a decision will have to be made about which line is going to get that 2011 hull...if it has not already been made...if the option to have it built is even exercised.

UPDATE: I received info directly from Prestige Cruise Holdings a few moments ago and wanted to post this immediately, while waiting for more info (if any). PCH advises that the language I referred to is "boiler plate" (form language) that has been used since the beginning of the year. PCH also advises the Regent ship is not accounted for because no firm order has been placed (same for Oceania's option for a third ship) nor have the number of berths been finalized.

RE-doing the math, it seems like good news, if not great. Oceania is still expanding with two new ships (no giving up a hull to Regent) and there has not been a "no" put on a new Regent ship. I infer that design, timing, demand, finances, etc. are all still being weighed.

I will keep you posted! (And it is great that Prestige Cruise Holdings is reading my blog!).

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Clipper Pacific Update

It has been reported in the New York Times that "Commander Hitchen said that a temporary patch had been applied to a one-inch hole in the ship’s hull by its crew before it docked. “It’s a minor leak that could be handled by the pump, but any hole is of concern,” he said at a news briefing."

A ship with a hole is not acceptable and, to be sure, relying on a pump to address the hole is unsafe in most any instance; especially when it is below the water line. In that regard, it is the cause of the hole that can be more disconcerting than the hole itself.

NY1 reports, "A commercial diving company has made temporary repairs with cement to the hull, but the vessel is being held at Pier 92 on the west side of Manhattan, until the Coast Guard gives the all clear. Coast Guard officials say the 38-year-old ship might be suffering from corrosion. "

I do not know which classification society is involved or which insurance companies are involved, but I don't think either is going to approve open ocean travel with a cemented patch to a potentially corrosion caused hole in steel plate. Normally a welded patch, at a minimum, would be required with a requirement that the damaged plate be replaced within a specified time. I do not think that can be permitted until the plate thickness is determined.

But there is more. It is reported that there were blocked emergency exits, doors marked as exits that are not exits at all, damaged lifeboats, shortage and/or unapproved life vests, etc., etc.

I will let you know more when I know more.

What Makes a Good Travel Agent Even Better. Thank You Seabourn!

I always find the different perspectives on with whom to buy one's cruise interesting. There are those that only consider price, those that consider assistance and yet others that consider extras.

An interesting thing happened just today when a client was given an inaccurate quote from another agency and then asked me to beat that price...after I had given a very significant discount already and irrespective of the hours spent discussing which cruise to take, logistics, quoting possible alternatives, etc.

I really thought about "Was it all price?", "What about the assistance I gave?", "What is the it extra that I could give or did give versus the other agent?"

But then I thought, if it was only about price then I would not have had to spend the hours working things out. And if it was about assistance, it would not really be about the price. But then I thought, "Ya know, it is actually about the extras...and that doesn't really mean a free tour or cocktail party."

The extras is making sure the client has a wonderful experience from beginning to end. So even though the travel agent with the error wasn't my employee (and, in fact, was my competition) I thought about the client being put in a bad place through the act of a bad travel agent. So I not only honored the erroneous quote, I beat it.

Maybe it was not the most expedient thing to do from a business perspective as to that single booking, but from a way to do business, I think it was the only thing to do. It put my client in a "win, win" situation. The client knows it got the best price AND it knows there is a travel agent willing to go the extra just to make sure the client is more than content.

As most of you know, I am a Pinnacle Club (top tier) agent with Seabourn Cruise Line. And you know that I believe Seabourn is the best cruise product out there in spite of it having (at least for now) the oldest, least amenitied, ships in the luxury market. Why?

It was thinking about what Seabourn would have done for its guest that gave me the answer.

Clipper Cruise's Clipper Pacific Ordered Held in Port

It was reported today that the Clipper Pacific, which had just arrived in New York Harbor from Greenland, is subject to an Order to remain in port while previously undisclosed and leaking "significant hull damage" is repaired and some of the 66 other violations are addressed.

Any cruise line which knowingly has passengers board one of its ships, that is leaking through significant hull damage and has issues with damaged lifeboats, apparently insufficient life jackets and fire safety issues is one that is crossed off my list of ever booking a client on.

Safety issues on this particular cruise aside, such conduct indicates financial and crew problems which make things even more dangerous. I know many captains that simply would refuse to leave port and engineers that would walk off the ship rather than risk their licenses and reputation. I also know that any cruise line that doesn't value (or cannot protect) its safety record is one that has more problems than I care to think about.

Piracy or Ignorance on the High Seas - Art Auctions

A few days ago I mentioned that Regent Seven Seas cruise line has removed the art auction discount from its Seven Seas Society past passenger program benefits. I do not know if it is coincidence (probably) or related, but there is a very interesting article today in the New York Times about cruise line, and more particularly Park West, art auctions. It can be found at: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/16/arts/design/16crui.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&ref=arts.

The initial premise of the article is that one individual on a Regent cruise spent about $73,000 on art while on his cruise. When he returned home, he alleges he discovered the art work was worth less than $15,000 and the supposed authentic Dali signatures were, in fact, not authentic. Quoting The NY Times article, "Including the buyer’s premium, he had paid $24,265 for a 1964 “Clown” print by Picasso. He found that Sotheby’s had sold the exact same print (also numbered 132 of 200) in London for about $6,150 in 2004. In addition, he had paid $31,110 for a 1968 print, “Le Clown” by Picasso; Artprice.com, an online art database, showed it going for about $5,000. " Obviously there are two sides to the story and Park West vehemently denies the allegations. However, it was reported that immediately after the NY Times contacted Park West about the matter it provided the individual with a full refund.

Personally, I all too well understand the concept of getting caught up in cruise ship art auctions and have seen the loss of rational thought when prices are bid up or the 40% off the appraised value offers start flying towards the end of the cruise (like there is desperation to make a sale because you are leaving...but you forget there is another "you" boarding moments after your depart, creating a weekly faux urgency).

I know many people who are very happy with the art they purchased during their cruise. They are momentos of a wonderful time that actually do not wind up in a closet, but rather hang on your walls and cause you to think about that cruise. I know this because I, yes I, have purchased art on cruises. A Spiderman gel for $50 that made my son very happy for many years as it hung over his bed (and relief when it was taken down when it became "uncool") is now in a closet...and not something I ever looked at as an investment. A few prints that had the right size, subject matter and colors to fit in "that" spot, but never something that cost thousands of dollars.

I have even happily purchased a very small oil painting on my first Regent (actually Radisson) cruise on the wonderful Diamond for a very modest sum. It sits in my formal living room and, while I do not ever look at it as a financial investment, I do look at it as a reminder that the investment in travel and cruising with your family has in incredibly valuable return.

So, having gone from Park West may be the bad guy, to possibly implying Regent shouldn't condone such conduct, to they can be a bit of harmless fun and enjoyment, what is it that I really think? Well:

1. I think anyone that pays $5,000+ for a piece of art on a cruise ship has no one to blame but him/herself. If you want something that valuable, go to a true land-based art house, a real auction, use a professional expert, but do not - ever - rely upon the words of a commissioned salesperson in a setting where jurisdiction to bring a claim you may never be able to figure out. That does not mean there should be no recourse, but if you have earned enough money to be able to afford that $15,000 piece, you should be intelligent enough to proceed with caution.

2. I think the cruise lines need to take some responsibility in curbing any sharp practices. Gold by the inch, fabulous watches for $10, clearance on logo-wear, etc. are one thing, but when the pitch is for $5,000+ and the cruise line profits from the grotesquely overstated value or misrepresented quality they simply cannot turn a blind-eye. And I am not talking about addressing only those that complain, but rather policing the auctioneers/salesman so that every one of their passengers is treated fairly. (And yes, overpaying for things is part of what happens on vacation, so let's not get carried away with the concept.)

Remember, the passengers rely upon the cruise lines to provide them with an enjoyable and safe experience. To me there is no difference between stealing someone's wallet and selling them bogus art. So just as you would not hand a thief your wallet, don't hand them your credit card. And cruise lines: Do better at keeping the thieves off of your ships!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Holland America Eurodam Dedication Video

And now for some good news!

Below is a link to a short video of the July 1, 2008 Dedication Ceremony for the christening of Holland America's newest ship, the Eurodam.

Shake Up at Silversea!!! What Does It Mean?

Silversea is, it appears, in either a crisis or a very proactive mode, based upon an article today in Lloyd's List. According to Amerigo Perasso Silversea is reacting to a number of factors including (1) soaring fuel prices; (2) weakening dollar; (3) softening US economy and (4) difficulty in retaining high quality staff. There is also a fourth: the "credit crunch"!

Briefly, Silversea has shaken up its hotel operations by firing senior vice president for fleet operations Rocco Auteri and vice-president of hotel operations Silvio Rossi and transferring operations to Ft. Lauderdale from Monaco, where Christian Sauleau will be located. It is also expanding its use of V.Ships for crew staffing and management.

Plans for a second new build are not necessarily on hold, but the option has not been exercised. While Silversea is in the beginning stages of a $500 Million dollar expansion and upgrade, Mr. Perraso made a very telling statement, "The credit crunch is also a factor. We have strong support from our lenders but in this climate there are doubts about syndication.”

And then there is the final quote from Mr. Perasso, "We have to increase customer loyalty and we will try do that through crew excellence".

What does this mean? I have previously commented that Silversea was for sale and that it was having serious problems retaining both passengers and crew. While I was slammed for saying such terrible things, it seems that now - a year plus later - it is all true.

Connecting the dots, Silversea announced its major expansion - leveraging its assets rather than paying for new assets - with the goal of attracting investors. Silversea placed such a high value on itself that the potential investors balked...and now they are simply not an option. I do not know what the means in the way of its ability to service its debt, but..........

Silversea has needed more passengers for quite a while. So about two years ago it announced it wanted at least 50% of its passengers to come from Europe; not something that encourages U.S. travel agents to push their product. Clearly that has not worked sufficiently as far as repeat passengers go as is evidenced by the comment about increasing loyalty.

While I again commented negatively on the announcement earlier this year that Silversea's passenger count was up over 30% (for how could that possibly happen if its ships were previously sailing at anything but half of capacity?), the problem with a lack of passenger loyalty is now obviously admitted. (And it costs a lot more to find new clients than to retain present ones!)

I had also previously commented that Silversea was having problems with retaining chefs and passengers not be as pleased as in the past with crew interaction providing an overall polished and positive experience. Clearly Silversea has admitted this as well.

I pause, however, and ask: Is there a reason the 800 pound elephant is not being addressed, to wit: The skyrocketing cruise fare prices? It may be that Silversea will need to adjust its pricing (possibly swallowing some pride) so as to increase its passenger loads and loyalty.

So, as I said, it may be a very positive thing that these concerns are aggressively being addressed, or it may be a signal that it is too little too late. I really don't know.

With the recent news from Regent and now this from Silversea, it does show the benefits of Seabourn being part Carnival Corp. Fuel, operations, cash flow, credit, etc. as part of a behemoth allows Seabourn to continue profitably if not only because of the quality of its product, but its ability to efficiently cope with (hopefully) short term problems in a way that not only allows its service and products to remain consistent, but to improve.

Hold on to your seats. I think it may be a bumpy ride.

Friday, July 11, 2008

American Superyacht Forum - America's Cup Regatta

As I had mentioned, two weeks ago I fulfilled a dream of sailing on the 12 metre yachts that are the America's Cup. It was all in fun and we had a blast. Here are some photos:



Sometimes you just have to love your job...no matter how hard the work is!









Regent's Former Head of Luxury Cruises Back to Silversea

It was announced to day that Christian Sauleau has rejoined Silversea as executive vice president of fleet operations, overseeing marine, technical, hotel, crewing, entertainment and land programs. He had been with Silversea in the mid-1990's before taking a position with Radisson Seven Seas, which later became Regent Seven Seas...just as it was being marketed for sale.

Mr. Sauleau quit Regent after the sale to Apollo Management. At the time I questioned the plans for the expected new Regent ship and where the focus of the cruise line was going. While I don't know everything, I see the Oceania-fication of Regent now consists of probably using an Oceania hull if there is a new ship (per Mark Conory), Oceania's hotel and food operations being put into place, a stripped down loyalty program and who knows what else.

The indicationsare that Silversea and Seabourn will be the only two major luxury lines. Seabourn will soon be a six (6) ship line (by 2011) and Silversea, with its Prince Albert II and newbuilds, also will be taking up more of the luxury passengers. To be sure it looks like Mr. Sauleau's talents will now be utilized rather than suppressed solely for the purpose of improving the immediate future's bottom line.

Regent Seven Seas Society Membership Changes...The Devolusion of a Loyalty Program

Regent Seven Seas has quietly announced some changes to its past passenger program. As I explain below, the program is providing far less than Seabourn and Silversea do while Regent charges the same price for its cruises (regardless of quality). Essentially, with a couple of exceptions, Regent is repackaging some of the little things it stopped providing its most loyal passengers as part of their cruise fare as "benefits" and then others are cheap efforts to sell insurance and up sell souvenirs.

First a good thing: For those of you who are familiar with the program, the "improved" one drops the silly art auction discounts.

Now, if you dig down, the program really doesn't provide much. After 21 days it provides free internet (which is a very nice thing) and one hour of satellite telephone time (also nice), but not much else of substance...until you sail more than 200 days.

At that 200+ day level Regent will provide complimentary laundry and pressing (and dry cleaning for those over 400 days) and a newspaper. I believe this change is in response to a number of World Cruise passengers who were very upset to see the previously complimentary laundry being limited by day and number of pieces on this past world cruise. So, if you are on your third World Cruise it is not a problem. It is a curious solution, but one that does correct an unintended insult to Regent's most loyal passengers.

Also at 400+ days Regent is providing complimentary transfers to the airport (within 50 miles) or airport/pier transfers for those same 400+ day folks.

But then it gets silly; and I mean really silly. If you purchase Regent insurance and you are one of its most loyal past passengers you get (noting it is a $49.00 value!) increased coverage. Not only that, if you act now and purchase a personalized softcover commemorative album it will be upgraded to a hardcover at no additional cost! Geez.

But saving the best for last, after tauting that its 200+ day passengers will have a special event on each cruise, Regent inserts an asterisk "The exclusive activities offered for Gold, Platinum and Titanium members may be combined with special events already incorporated in our longer voyages." In English: World Cruise and World Segment Passengers - the ones that will probably be in the 200+ day category are probably getting little benefit.

Since Regent competes with Seabourn and Silversea comparing the loyalty programs is only fair and appropriate.

On Seabourn's latest version of its program after 140 days you receive a free 7 day cruise in the category you have most sailed anywhere Seabourn cruises, or you can accrue the benefit and take a free 14 day cruise after 250 days. Comparison:

- Over the life of the Regent program to 250 days you may receive about $3,000 in benefits...if you fully use the internet benefit (at $100 per 10 day cruise and the first two don't count as you are not vested). If you don't, it is pretty much worthless. (Don't get me wrong, the internet benefit is nice.)

- On Seabourn you receive a cruise worth around $10,000 - $15,000.

All of a sudden the Regent program is looking pretty lame. And, for those who have spent 400+ days, you would be looking at $30,000+ in free cruises on Seabourn...while you had to fight to get Regent to do your laundry.

On Silversea you receive an additional 5% off on any Venetian Society discounted sailings after 100 days (value around $375-$500). At 250 days you receive an additional 10% off, plus complimentary laundry, along with early embarkation ($100 per cruise). At 350 days you receive a complimentary 7 day cruise followed by a complimentary 14 day cruise at 500 days. Again, the comparison - while not as generous overall as Seabourn - still puts Regent to shame.

Now, let me add one additional point: Seabourn and Silversea have much less capacity so the guests sailing are the ones actually paying for their one benefits. On Regent there are many that will never make even the first level of benefits as that would require three 7 day sailings. Those passengers are subsidizing the benefits of the most loyal passengers. Hence Regent should have a far more generous program because it is charging as much as Seabourn and Silversea and in actuality is doling out its limited benefits to only a small percentage of its past passengers.

It just baffles me.

For those that want to see the full list of Regent benefits, here they are:


Bronze, 4 - 20 nights
Seven Seas Society cocktail reception
Access to Seven Seas Society cruises, including exclusive events ashore
Seven Seas Society savings on select sailings
Personalized newsletter
Access to Online Personal Profile
Communications with advanced access to itineraries and special offers
Upgrade and referral opportunities on select sailings

Silver, 21 - 74 nights
Everything from Bronze tier PLUS the following items:
Complimentary Internet access on board
One hour complimentary phone time per suite
Complimentary pressing on formal and/or informal nights (up to two items per 7-night cruise segment)
Invitation to participate in Seven Seas Society Advisory Board (on select sailings)
Invitations to exclusive Regent cruise and hotel events in select cities

Gold, 75 - 199 nights
Everything from Bronze and Silver tiers PLUS the following items:
Priority disembarkation at cruise completion in select ports
Additional two hours of complimentary phone time per suite
Choice of newspaper service from around the world
Complimentary pressing of up to two additional items per 7-night cruise segment
Complimentary upgrade to hardcover of personalized commemorative album at soft cover price on select voyages
Exclusive Gold, Platinum and Titanium activity aboard or ashore on every sailing*
Priority reservations at restaurants and spas
Complimentary upgrade to Regent Care Plus when standard package is purchased

Platinum, 200 - 399 nights
Everything from Bronze, Silver and Gold tiers PLUS the following items:
Complimentary air deviation services (one time per sailing)
Additional six hours of complimentary phone usage per sailing
Complimentary pressing
Complimentary laundry services
Invitation to Customer Advisory Panel (on select sailings)

Titanium, 400 + nights
Everything from Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum tiers PLUS the following items:
Complimentary transfers to and from your home to the pier (within a 50 mile radius). OR complimentary transfers from the airport to the pier on embarkation and disembarkation day
Complimentary dry cleaning

The exclusive activities offered for Gold, Platinum and Titanium members may be combined with special events already incorporated in our longer voyages.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Seatrade Cruise Shipping Conference

Today I received my quarterly Seatrade Cruise Review and I was pleasantly surprised when the Supplement had a photograph of me on a panel (State of the Superyacht Industry) as the lead in to announcing the 2008 Conference in video and transcript will be available online at http://www.cruiseshipping.net/ later this summer.

When it goes online I will let you know.

Seabourn World Cruise Update - Extraordinary Seabourn Land Experiences

Seabourn made the following announcement yesterday:

Shoreside Spectaculars Set For Seabourn Odyssey's Inaugural World Cruise
Release Date: Jul. 9,2008

- Experience nature, culture and exotic customs during five complimentary and exclusive shoreside experiences –

July 9, 2008 (Miami) – The Yachts of Seabourn has announced an exciting selection of special shoreside experiences planned to entertain and enlighten the privileged guests aboard Seabourn Odyssey’s inaugural world cruise. The ultra luxury, 450-guest Seabourn Odyssey will launch in June 2009, with its maiden world cruise visiting 42 ports between Ft. Lauderdale and Athens in a voyage of 108 days from January 5 to April 24, 2010.

Full World Odyssey guests are invited to stay overnight and attend a gala Bon Voyage Ball at the St. Regis hotel in Fort Lauderdale the night before departure. Then there will be five complimentary events reserved solely for guests who book the full world cruise. Those guests embarking in Los Angeles for 92 days will enjoy four of them. An additional seven ports will feature complimentary Exclusively Seabourn shoreside experiences to which all guests on board will be invited, regardless of the length of their voyages.

Where will Odyssey’s world cruise shoreside experiences take you? Read on:

• The full world cruise events begin on January 18, 2010, with a spectacular catamaran cruise from tiny Cabo San Lucas, at the tip of Baja California, to seek some of the six species of whales which gather each year in the Sea of Cortez. Sailing on a comfortable catamaran, guests will pass the famed natural formation of Los Arcos, the secluded golden sands of Lover’s Beach, the resident colony of sea lions, and beyond. A naturalist guide will impart details of sea and land life, and answer questions as guests toast the starkly beautiful and biologically rich environment of the Baja Peninsula.

• On February 6, full world cruise guests will be greeted by the haunting tones of a conch-shell salute and fragrant tiare flower leis as they stroll a candlelit path into a tropical garden at Papeete, Tahiti. There, under a canopy of South Pacific stars, they will enjoy an evening of cocktails, lilting Tahitian music and a sumptuous feast capped by a rousing performance of traditional Polynesian song and dance.

• In Sydney, Australia on February 24, a private sunset dinner cruise of scenic Sydney Harbor will end alongside the city’s iconic Opera House, where guests will be escorted inside to enjoy the featured performance, before returning by the same boat to Seabourn Odyssey.

Hong Kong will be the site of the next world cruise event on March 15. The waterside Aberdeen Marina Club will be transformed into a colorful Chinese bazaar with craftsmen’s booths, traditional fortune-tellers and calligraphers, a Chinese musical ensemble and a spectacular Lion Dance. In addition to a buffet of delectable Chinese specialties fit for an emperor, the kaleidoscopic evening will include exhibitions of Chinese Opera “face-changing,” kung fu martial arts and acrobatics.

• The dramatic climax of the world cruise exclusive events will unfold in a colorful setting on the island of Phuket on March 29. Greeted by a Thai long drum troupe, Seabourn guests will enter a Phuket Thai cultural village to be regaled by women in traditional Thai costumes, gaily decorated elephants, and exhibitions of classical Thai dance, traditional boxing, floral decorations and elaborate fruit and vegetable carving. There will be demonstrations of Thai cooking, puppet carving, rubber tapping, and even chances to ride in an ox-cart or atop a decorated elephant.

The Exclusively Seabourn experiences for all guests on board will include an afternoon tour of Cultural Cartagena in Colombia’s venerable Caribbean port city, A UNESCO World Heritage Site; a rousing re-creation of the classic “Aloha Boat Days” at Honolulu’s Royal Hawaiian Hotel; a Maori cultural discovery experience at Lyttelton (Christchurch), New Zealand; an introduction to the arts and cultures of Borneo’s 32 diverse ethnic groups at Kota Kinabalu; a visit to the spectacular Sanctuary of Truth at Pattaya, Thailand from Bangkok; a spellbinding evening at an oasis near Dubai; and a sortie from Sharm el Sheikh into a sheltered valley in the mountainous Sinai desert, for tea and traditional folkloric music and dance at a Bedouin encampment.

The complimentary shoreside events are part of a generous menu of benefits included for full world cruise guests, along with a complimentary pre-cruise Bon Voyage event and luxury overnight before departing, door-to-door private car transfers, roundtrip first-class airfare or air credit, Personal Valet luggage shipping service and shipboard credits of $2,000 per suite. There will also be special gala celebrations and gifts for guests on board during the voyage.

For those not wishing to take the entire World Odyssey, segments from 16 to 69 days are available, several of which also offer value-added benefits.

It's The Annual Awards Season - Yuk!

Last night I received an email from Crystal trumpeting that it was named the best large ship cruise line for the 13th year by Travel and Leisure Magazine. While I believe Crystal is, in fact, the best large ship cruise line, I take exception to the poll of some "readers" of that publication as being meaningful in any real respect. I say this for two basic reasons:

First, years ago various publications put together "Best of" lists that were based upon a critical analysis of the things which each felt were the critical factors when determining the best of, say, a cruise line: Service, food, cabins, amenities, itineraries, etc. Then someone had the brilliant idea of opening up the Best of lists to the publication's readership...and then some opened things up to, the kiss of death (IMHO): Internet voting. This leaves me wondering what these polls actually mean, if anything.

I have a plaque in my office "2000 Berlitz Guide - The World's Finest Luxury Ships" It names the QE2 Grill Class as No. 1, followed by 5 Seabourn ships (including the former Sea Goddess I and II), Hanseatic and two Silversea ships (Silver Cloud and Whisper). Each entry has a point total, reflective of a quantifiable scoring based upon Douglas Ward's critical analysis of the ships. To this day I utilize the Berlitz guide as a guide...not a bible. The author/analyst has his definite likes and dislikes. (Even though I love cheese, I have never discounted a line because of an inferior cheese assortment.)

The Travel and Leisure, or Porthole Magazine, or Conde Nast, or whomever's polls are not surveys of criteria, but popularity contests of only those that actually vote. First I ask, "Who actually votes?" "Are those that vote actually readers of the magazine?" "Is there a way to improvidently skew the results?" And, the answer invariably is, "There is no way to associate votes with readership of the magazine and, yes, you can - as they say in Chicago - vote early and often." Conde Nast posts right on its website: "Make Your Opinion Count! Sign up to participate in Condé Nast Traveler reader polls, and you may earn a chance to win a free trip in one of our survey sweepstakes."

As readers of this blog, ask yourself, "Did I vote? Would I ever vote? Do I know anyone who does vote?" My guess is that for the vast majority of you the answer to each of the three questions is "No." And if the votes are not by your peers, why would you bother considering or worrying about what others actually think? And, to be sure, you don't even know how many people actually voted...or if they had ever been on the cruise line or at the property they voted for!

This years T&L poll of cruise lines does not provide any shockers as to the top lines, though obviously, who is No. 1 and who is No. 3 should be meaningless...even if you give the poll any credence. But the 2007 Porthole Reader's Choice Awards (BTW, you can sign up online, so you actually don't need to be a "reader" of that magazine either) awards Carnival the best main dining room cuisine and NCL the best alternative dining cuisine. Personally I don't care if your favorite is Seabourn's, SeaDream's, QM2's Grills or Silversea's main restaurant or Regent's alternative Signatures, Celebrity's Olympic Restaurant, QM2's Todd English, etc., there can be no legitimate question that there is no qualitative basis upon which Carnival and NCL can legitimately top the cuisine presenting in those venues.

I also looked at the T&L Top 100 hotels. Five of the top 10 are African safari hotels; one actually being a luxury tented camp. Make no mistake, some of those properties are truly outstanding (and I am truly looking forward to my luxury safari next year), but seriously? What are the standards in making a hotel one of the best. Some might say an absence of insects and really good air conditioning; which are absent/partially absent in some of the those Top 10 choices. (Imagine those missing at the Raffles Dubai - where I have stayed and was blown away by how incredible the hotel is...and it is not on the list at all?) BTW, African safari hotels also took 6 of the top 15 in the Small Hotel category while only 2 from all of Europe made the list.

That brings me to my second reason: What one person finds perfect another finds unacceptable. On CruiseCritic.com, there have been some pretty animated "discussions" about why Regent is supposedly the best cruise line and so far superior to, for example, Crystal. The argument is that Regent has open-seating, is liquor inclusive and has wonderful suites, while Crystal has fixed seating, you pay for most of your alcoholic drinks and it has smaller (though not small) cabins.

Believe it or not, in legitimate surveys people actually prefer fixed times to dine. Even with open seating, you will find that most people schedule the time to arrive...and with whom they will be dining. For some, the concept of meeting new people every night is uncomfortable and they enjoy catching up with their new friends each evening. For some signing for a drink is "so yesterday", while others say, "Why should I prepay at a premium for drinks that I will never consume?" And then while no one would complain about about having a larger cabin/suite, for others big enough is well big enough. (There are so many other factors that should be considered when selecting YOUR cruise, but the point is made.)

So, in the end, in the T&L survey, Crystal was No. 1 in the large ship category and Regent was No. 2. I am very confident that for many Regent loyalists, Crystal is simply not an option at all. For them, Crystal doesn't even belong on the same list as it offers such a different cruise experience.

And that, alas, is my point. These awards lists really have nothing to do what is best for you. They may give you "brand awareness" or a signal that a particular property exists, but use them for nothing more. For me, they just confuse the marketplace and create a false impression.

Now, should I take a Royal Caribbean cruise because they have been voted to have the best Caribbean itineraries (the same major ports every large ship line goes to...at the same time!) or should I consider Seabourn (which cruises from Barbados to Martinique, Guadeloupe, St. Lucia, Grenada, St. Vincent, and The Grenadines).

Let's have a vote! Maybe not.