Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Silversea - Lost at Sea????

Every time I go to post something about Silversea Cruise Line, something else comes about that makes me shake my head. 

Not so long ago I posted about the Prince Albert II making a big play in Tahiti and French Polynesia.  Well, scratch that out.  That itinerary has been pulled.  It is not surprising in that it drew so little interest.  I, personally, found that a March sailing was literally wide open....and I mean WIDE open.  Obviously, either from a marketing, pricing or some external factor, people found the Paul Gauguin to be a better choice...if they even knew about the Silversea option.

Instead the Prince Albert II is. according to a Silversea announcement, heading to the Artic, but there is catch.  If you go to the Silversea website there are no itineraries.  That three month block of time is nowhere to be found.  On March 8, 2009 the ship is in Valparaiso, Chile and on June 1, 2009 it is in Hamburg, Germany.  Huh?

There may be good reason for this, but as a travel agent who specializes in luxury clientèle, I am very confident in saying that the appearance of chaos is not a good thing.  And, without question, this appears like chaos.

But then there is the whole discounted cruise issue and how that was handled.  Silversea announced that it was discounting its cruises through March by as much as 50% or more.  But then it was announced, to the public in places like Seatrade, that it was providing its travel agents with an unheard of 25% commission.  Doing the simple math:  A $10,000 brochure fare would really have a 20% early booking savings on it already, so it is a real $8,000 fare.  When that fare is reduced to 50%, it becomes a $5,000 fare.  When you then give a 25% commission, it becomes a $3,750 net fare rather than a much more significant one.  (I can't give you the exact amounts as commission information is supposed to be confidential, but know it is significantly more.)

This resulted in literally every one of my clients that showed any interest in a Silversea cruise afraid to book a cruise with it because it sounds like the line is starving for cash.  And being cash-starved in a credit-tight world is not a good thing.  Considering the last thing someone wants to worry about is whether their reduced expendable income is going to be lost (or, at a minimum, a credit card dispute tying up funds for weeks or months) or their getaway becoming a "get involved" or worrisome, the logic of Silversea's actions just escapes me.

I started to write, "I am assuming there is a plan in there somewhere", but then I thought again.  I must restate it as, "Is there a plan in there?" 

I am, to be sure, very concerned about the survival of Silversea.  Do I have firm evidence of financial
distress?  Absolutely NOT.  But I still have my opinion based upon the following series of events: 

     - Change from European to lesser trained and not all English-fluent Filipino staff;
     - Rotating chefs and reduction in food quality;
     - Announcement that Silversea wants over 50% of its passengers to be non-U.S. based;
     - Claims of passengers loads increasing by over 30% (a clear indication of empty ships, for you can't increase passenger loads if you have full ships and no new ones in operation);
     - Touting that there are many new passengers, so there should be no intimidation of feeling left out (Isn't that an admission of passenger not being satisfied, so the repeater numbers have declined?)
     - Sharp reductions in pricing through March 2009;
     - Publicly announcing 25% commissions to travel agents; and, without limitation,
     - Prince Albert II chaos.
     - (Note:  I have no solid information on this last one, but I have heard rumors of it:  Construction on the new ship has been slowed.)

I may criticize some aspects of other lines, as I just did with the Regent Seven Seas Prime 7 Steakhouse, but there is a big difference.  I have commended Apollo Management and Prestige Cruise Holdings for taking a much more fiscally responsible approach any effectively canning the new ship, not wasting money on the Navigator (which I believe will be leaving the fleet at the earliest possible time...which probably will be at least a couple of years away) and making upgrades (mechanical and in public spaces) on the Voyager and Mariner.  I also surmise that ending its relationship with the Paul Gauguin is based upon the net smaller returns since it had the added costs of chartering the vessel to deal with.  I also may not agree with Regent's pricing, but alas it is not "giving away the ship", but has focused on marketing (even making cold calls to past passengers).

So, there are ways to be aggressive in this slower market and there are ways to cut costs and expenses.  I see Apollo/Prestige Cruise Holdings/Regent's logic and await the results.  I hope someone can tell me what is going on at Silversea. 

I think it is important that Silvesea survives and flourishes.  Competition and Alternatives are both good and necessary...and they inspire Confidence in the marketplace.

Celebrity Solstice - An Absolutely Amazing and Impressive Ship - Part II

Having reviewed some of Celebrity Solstice's overall design, the pool/outside public spaces and the restaurants,I did want to add some additional photos.

Below is one of the bars aft of The Lawn Club.  As you can see there is interesting lighting, the expected bar stools and tables with chairs...and in the rear (closeup shown further below), comfortable all-weather wicker seating.  This sort of furniture, in various permutations, is found throughout the outdoor areas of the ship.



The Library is also of note.  It is a truly inviting space with the addition of wonderful natural light.  The proof of its good design was in the number of people I saw enjoying this space on a short cruise.



My thoughts now turn to the lounges.

One of my favorite spaces on Celebrity's Millennium-class ships is Michael's Club; a wonderful warm wooded, formal yet comfortable space originally designed as a cigar lounge, but transformed into a piano bar.  On the Celebrity Solstice the space has been refined and made more cozy.  Rather than being oriented for larger groups to have a performance, it has been broken down into three smaller areas:  piano/bar, lounge by the fireplace and the living room.

What this does is allow those who want to interact with the pianist to do so, those that want to be with the music, but not interact to do so, and those that like the ambiance to do so music in the background.  Quite ingenious. [Note as to service:  I am a regular drinker of Glenfiddich whisky.  During my pre-inaugural cruise there was an open bar policy, but with only certain brands available.  Somehow, without any real magic, I always had a Glenfiddich available.  I certainly received, yet again, "Star Treatment".  Outstanding!]

Another wonderful space is the Ensemble Lounge.  It is the perfect name for this space, as it works as a sort of upscale jazz club and hub for the specialty restaurants (Murano, Tuscan Grille, Silk Harvest and Blu).  It is a larger space with comfortable sofas, chairs and a bar with nicely designed pathways to the various restaurants and Michael's Club, so it seem intimate enough, rather than merely a passageway.

The Martini Bar on Deck Four (sorry, no photo) is definitely a hub for more high energy activity.  It is not my favorite space, but that is a personal preference.  By the crowds and noise (yes it is one of the only loud spaces on the ship) it is definitely a place to have fun.  One fellow passenger noted she enjoyed playing with the ice permanently located in the middle of one of the tables.

Across from the Martini Bar is the Passport Lounge, which is supposed to be a yacht-like locale.  Having been on many yachts, I am not sure where that description came from..  It is not a great space; giving me a feeling that it probably is meant to handle overflow from the Martini Bar or for those who want to watch the action from afar.

I did not have a change to really enjoy the Sky Lounge Observation area, high overlooking the bow.  It is a large space with great views and a very clean, white, appearance.  It is pretty, but definitely reminds you that you are on a very large ship.


There is also a nice bar by the Casino which has an interesting row of LCD TVs showing "art-like" images either across the screens or simultaneously on all of them at the same time. 


Finally, as to the lounges I am mentioning (and, yes, there are more), is Quasar, the disco.  It has a definite Jetson's feel to it.  I had wondered if the hanging chairs (see below) would be a hindrance or cool and, seeing the club packed, they are very cool.  The space definitely has the feel of a good dance club, rather than a ship's disco.  Also, being located just outside the Solstice Theater (as is the Stage Door Comedy Club), it draws people in to it rather than being a hidden place you need to seek out.  Well done!


My last post will be discussing the Accommodations, focusing mostly on the AquaClass Cabins.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Regent's New Prime 7 - A New Luxury Restaurant or Just an Extra Ordinary Eatery?

So the news announced today by Regent Seven Seas is that it is about to install its new Prime 7 Steakhouse on its Voyager and Mariner ships. My question, to be honest, is "What, in real terms,is new and luxury?"

This replacement for the lackluster and curious Asian-esque Lattitudes sounds physically appealing:  a "rich pallete of greens and golden hues", "supple leather furniture" and "polished granite and burnished woods".  I am most interested to see the design, especially after seeing just last week what Celebrity accomplished with its Celebrity Solstice's steakhouse.

That said, the menu sounds like a very common steakhouse menu and nothing more. It starts out with an interesting "trio of steak tartares and foie gras sliders with rhubarb chutney", but then hypes them as being avant-garde.  They aren't.  Did Regent find the recipe on The Food Network website?  See http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/emeril-lagasse/rhubarb-and-foie-gras-recipe/index.html .)  After those highlights it was old fashioned oysters Rockefeller and jumbo lump crabmeat cakes.  To be fair, they can be extraordinary or just the same old, same old.  Time will tell.

So I look further into the menu and am really disappointed.  Once I get past the 32 ounce Porterhouse and the 18 ounce Cote de Boeuf (ribeye steak), the remainder is nothing extraordinary, but rather exactly what you would expect...nothing more: surf and turf, lambchops, frozen crab legs, frozen lobster tails and roasted chicken.

OK, you probably think I am being harsh...even anti-Regent.  No, I am wondering where the gourmet "6 star" luxury experience is.  (Regent is the one that started the 6 star hype.)  I would expect that coming out with a new restaurant on these ships would bring something special.  (It is not hard.  For example, Celebrity Solstice has Kobe beef as an offering in addition to homemade gnocchi and ravioli.)

If I am going on what is clearly one of the most, if not the most, expensive major cruise line in the world I expect better than expected, more than ordinary and, most certainly, something better than hype.  While it is only one element of a cruise, I find it worrisome that Celebrity seems to have executed the steakhouse concept better on on a cruise that will cost you literally a fraction of what a Regent cruise will.

I hope I am wrong, but having just come off a ship which wow'd me and which provided me with more than solid service and which proudly calls itself "premium" not "luxury" I just expect more.  We shall see.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Seabourn Announces: Seabourn Sojourn's 2010 Inaugural in London

Seabourn Cruise Line has announced that the Seabourn Sojourn, sister to the Seabourn Odyssey, will set sail from London in June 2010 on its inaugural cruise. 

The itinerary from Greenwich includes the Faroe Islands, Iceland and the Norwegian Fjords.  With the Seabourn Sojourn's Maiden Season being in Northern Europe, and its inaugural cruise commencing from London, Seabourn is making a very big statement of its commitment to the United Kingdom, how important the British are to the line and, also, what growth potential lies within its shores.

Fares and complete itineraries will be available in February 2009.  I believe the remainder of the fleet's itineraries will also be announced at that time.

Celebrity Solstice - An Absolutely Amazing and Impressive Ship - Part I

Being as skeptical and critical as I am, I did not board the brand new Celebrity Solstice for my Pre-Inaugural Cruise with any expectation other than it would be a solid, but similar, Celebrity product but in a megasize. I was very wrong!

The Solstice impresses from the moment you board and Wow's you at literally every turn. Simply put: The Celebrity Solstice is, overall, the most elegant and beautifully designed cruise ship I have ever been on.


First, some perspective, as we take a short tour of the ship. The ship is very large. While you can have some absolutely wonderful, and true luxury experiences, all over the ship...you do have to walk, well, all over the ship. While it is a bit smaller than the QM2, it probably is the best ship to compare it to in the premium market (about 122,000 gross tons vs. 150,000 gross tons...which is actually a complicated measure of volume). However, the Solstice simply blows away the QM2 when it comes to design, style, fit, finish, amenities, elegance...well you get the picture. Even if you are traveling in Grill Class on the QM2, you need to stay in your "protected space" to have an upscale to luxury experience. On the Solstice, you can have it all over the ship.

Specifically about the ship, I want to first mention The Lawn Club. I thought this was just hype and silly...that was before I boarded. It is actually a really beautiful space where you get a wonderful feeling of peace and color (as it is is a painting). Little touches like beautifully shaped teak benches, huge flower pots that light up from within, arching canopies and the like make it a sensory feast. There is golf putting, bocce and other lawn activities. Yes, it sounds hokey, but it isn't.


The Pool Area is also, while too large for me (personally) is absolutely beautiful and provides many nooks, types of shade, open spaces and things to see and do. If you look closely at the two photos you will see large beige beds tucked in between white sailcloth, the dancing waters fountain, lots of architecturally interesting details and style. What you can't see are the many different seating options, ranging from all-weather wicker chairs and lounges to hanging tented hammocks for two.

What you also cannot see are the areas forward and aft off the Pool area. There are so many different places to sit, lounge or gather in groups. It really impressed me with not only the amount of open deck areas not involving the Pool area, but how many different types of seating, awnings, shapes, etc. Celebrity used.

The Solarium is a beautiful space and also has many nice and creative touches, from dancing streams of lit water, to unique tented beds and a solar grid on its glass roof. It is also home to the AquaSpa Cafe for lighter lunches in smaller portions such as blackened tuna or chicken breast and an awesomely chosen salad bar.

The Speciality Restaurants are each a work of art and Celebrity has emphasized that not only are the menus unique to Solstice, but the food quality is much improved, more creative and it at a standard much higher than on its other ships. (The improvements in quality and creativity will be migrating to the other ships by the summer.)

The main restaurant, The Grand Epernay, really didn't do much for me during the day. In the evening "the look" was there. Elegance in a huge space with incredibly comfortable chairs, wonderful lighting and no sense of crowding at all. The chandeliers are unique and the wine cellar is awesome. In the photo below it is the long tower at the far end of the restaurant and runs floor to ceiling. As for the food, whether it was a goat cheese and beet salad, roasted quail or a chocolate tower filled with a light chocolate cream creation, it complimented the room.



Now, each speciality restaurant has its own personality and I am confident in saying is as beautiful as some of the finest restaurants on land. There is a reason for this: The restaurants were created by the top restaurant designers in the industry. I will talk about them more in another post, but in order of appearance below there are Murano (most formal); Tuscan Grille (steakhouse); Silk Harvest (Asian); and, Blu (AquaClass - more on this below).






Although I do not have photos to share at the moment, the Oceanview Cafe and Grill (aka buffet) is also a winner. It is bright, clean, plays off of the colors of white and blue and uses - with great success - a number of islands in addition to more traditional buffet setups. This pretty much eliminates long lines (other than for fresh pasta) and with the lighting and presentation make the food very attractive. The food varies from Asian to BBQ to Mexican to Continental and are all clearly marked overhead (so you don't have to crowd areas to see what is there). And get this: There are actual bowls for salads! Missing: Trays! You actually bring a plate of food to your table and dine. Very nice touches.

There are also other venues, such as Bistro on Five for crepes, the Mast Grill and Bar (pool food and drinks) and Cafe al Bacio for coffees and gelato.

I also do not have, at the moment, photos of the Shopping Areas, but they are worthy of note. There are true shops, not ones filled with cruise line "stuff" and they are designed to look and feel like true boutiques and you may not only stroll through them, you can have private cocktail parties or intimate gatherings with an appointments. You have the sense of height, openness and style rather than low ceilings and tables filled with not so special "specials". I hope this concept works out.

In my next post I will discuss the lounges and cabins.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Banks Mansion Hotel Amsterdam - A Great Place to Stay

I arrived in Amsterdam at 5:15 am this morning in advance of the Global Superyachts Forum, dreading having to wait for anything to open.  I was certain that I would not be able to check-in to my hotel, nothing would be open, and I would be miserable.  Boy was I wrong!

Upon arriving at the Banks Mansion (in a great location only two blocks from Rembrantplein) I was greated with a smile, with a complimentary minibar, free wifi, very nice (if smaller ) room with a view of the canal!  It was still dark, so a little bit of CNN and a drink and I was asleep.  (BTW, there are lots of other little touches, like a nighlight on the bathroom floor and a tv speaker there too, a bowl of apples in your room to snack on, free movies, Frank Lloyd Wright inspired furniture, plenty of task lighting and free DVDs among others.)

A few hours later I was awoken by a racket outside.  I opened my curtains and it was a parade; a parade for Sinter Klaus...the "real" Santa Claus!  Children were lining the street, beautiful horsedrawn carrages and floats were slowing going by with jugglers and elf-like assistance giving candy and treats to the children.  What a great way to be woken up!

A bit of complimentary cooked breakfast and it was time to walk around a bit; seeing the familiar and discovering some new things.  What I like about this hotel, among other things, is that its location is fantastic for shopping, dining and people watching...with the museums also being within walking distance...and I can hop on the No. 4 tram right to the RAI Center for the GSF and METS marine industry show.

I try to do one "tourist" thing everywhere I go.  Today was the Heineken Brewery Tour.  The tour has been closed for about a year, so it was brand new.  They did a great job with the renovations.  You would not recognize the place...and most all for the better.  While for an older person it was OK, there is a lot of fun stuff for the younger tourist.  So, age dependent, I would put it on the "Must Due" or "Give it a miss" list.

Another bit of a walk and then back to the Banks Mansion for complimentary cocktails and snacks in a small, but very attractive, lobby...and writing this post. I really like this place.  (And Amsterdam ain't so bad either!)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Cruise Value Center Shuts Its Doors! What Next?

On Tuesday I reported a major discount cruise travel agency had gone out of business.  (http://goldringtravel.blogspot.com/2008/11/use-caution-and-common-sense-when.html ). Yesterday the word was out:  Cruise Value Center shut its doors.

Cruise Value Center, it is reported from a number of sources, failed to transfer $3,000,000+ in cruise passenger payments to the cruise lines and another $1,500,000 in travel insurance payments to Prime Travel Protection.  Obviously, this leaves quite a number of passengers without their cruises and/or without insurance.

What Should You Do First?

The first thing you should do is contact the cruise lines directly to be sure your booking is in place and paid for.  (If you paid  only a deposit, make sure that is in place.) 

Then contact the insurance company, if you used Prime Travel or some other third party insurer, and confirm your insurance is in place.

If you paid with a credit card and find either your cruise or insurance is not in place, but the charge has been made, have the credit card company work with you to either get the cruise/insurance or, more likely, obtain a credit for those amounts to your credit card.  (If you paid with cash, you may well have problem.  Contacting CVC isn't going to happen, so you may need to wait to be contacted...but more on that below.)

If the insurance is in place, but not the cruise, you may well have a claim against the insurance policy for the amounts you paid, but were not paid over to the cruise line.  (Word of caution:  If you were issued the insurance policy...not just billed for it...but CVC did not forward the money to Prime Travel, you may still have coverage!  Check with Prime Travel, your state consumer affairs department or your attorney.)

Where Do You Go From There? 

From what I understand, the bookings with CVC are being handled by Best Price Cruises; a Florida cruise discounter and one of the largest presences on the internet.  You will probably have to speak with Best Price Cruises to get any information on your cruises.  In this transition period, this may be harder than you think because of the logistics involved and the number of passengers affected.  But BPC is a big outfit and with new booking volumes down, they may have the staff on hand available sooner than later.

That said, while I have no knowledge as to BPC's financial situation, I am aware that a number of companies that have a large internet business are under huge financial pressures, so you may want to be sure, if you have a CVC booking that you are not "going from the frying pan into the fire".  (Maybe CVC's failure is BPC's saving grace?  Maybe BPC is solid as a rock?  I have not a clue!)

Also, you may now feel there is a benefit to knowing your travel agent a someone who actually cares about you and your booking.  The concept of "All I care about is the lowest price" may no longer give you sufficient comfort.  Limited communication by way of an occasional form email or disinterested phone call of 30 seconds may not be enough.  You have questions.  You have concerns.  You need answers.  You might even need a little bit of hand-holding.

While CVC technically controls your booking, you may ask to have your booking transferred to another agency.  You may have the ability to simply cancel your cruise and then rebook with a new travel agent.

I know there are a number of "big box" agencies that are in trouble.  Their model, as I briefly explained before, is to have a huge volume of lower priced cruises.  When that huge volume drops significantly there is a huge hole that simply cannot be filled.  While it is hoped that people will start booking more cruises soon, as the travel agents and cruise lines feel the pinch, not all travel agencies working with this "high volume/low profit" business model will survive.

Does that mean you should book directly with the cruise lines?  In most instances:  No.  There are strong travel agencies out there and they still provided many added values (such as complimentary Ensemble Experiences and cocktail parties, travel books with new bookings, etc.), information and discounts.  I believe now is the time to search out those agencies for they will work hard to earn your business. 

Goldring Travel does that every single day.  That is why our motto is, "Be Treated By Your Travel Agent As You Will Be Onboard!"  That said, I work with individuals and never hope to be a mega-travel agency.  I love doing what I do.  Alas, This Is My Yacht!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Celebrity Solstice - A Preview of My Upcoming Pre-Inaugural Cruise

Next week, after my attendance at the Global Superyacht Form  http://www.superyachtevents.com/gsf/gsf2008.asp) in Amsterdam, I am flying to Ft. Lauderdale to board the brand new Celebrity Solstice for a two day pre-inaugural cruise.

What I am most interested in, other than the technical innovations such as the use of solar panels, is its AquaClass (spa) cabins with its private Blu restaurant, as well as its hopefully true ability to make this large ship classy, comfortable and anything but a mega-ship experience.

I will be checking out the Persian Gardens (an oasis of steam baths, saunas and such); access for which is included in the AquaClass cabins, but is extra cost for other passengers.  Also the Solarium and various private lounges (such as Cellar Masters) and restaurants are tickling my interests. 

I will leave to others to right about the "common" and will focus on what makes, or is supposed to make, this ship special.  I do, however, feel obligated to check out the Lawn Club (putting green and all), the Hot Glass Show (in the glassblowing studio) and the dancing waters by the main pool.

One thought that greatly interests me is, does this focus on the ship actually play well for Celebrity as Americans look for closer cruises (shunning Europe due, in large part, to the the higher cost of airfare)?  Does the Solstice provide passengers with an upscale experience where the ship is truly "the destination" as it cruises around the Caribbean?

What I do plan on doing, fair or not, is make a head-to-head comparison between the Seabourn triplets, the new Seabourn Odyssey and the Celebrity Solstice.  It might not be competition, but if the Solstice can provide a sufficiently upscale experience, it might just give luxury passengers who look to the ship rather than the itinerary...and are looking harder at their cruise budget...a pretty interesting option.

The jury is not yet out.  Court will be in session next week and the evidence will be examined and deliberations begun on November 19th!  The verdict will be reported hopefully by next weekend.

If you have anything in particular you would like me to check out, please leave a comment or email me.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Queen Elizabeth 2 Has Minor Grounding Incident

Oh, for the QE2 to exit gracefully! 

Today it was reported that on her approach to Southampton she had a minor grounding incident.  She was refloated, escorted to Southampton and, after an MCA inspection, given the all clear to continue on her final voyages.

Use Caution and Common Sense When Booking Your Cruise

Folks, let's face it.  There are a number of travel agency business models that just aren't working in our new economy. 

I found out that last evening that one of the largest online agencies has effectively closed up shop with millions of dollars of debt and a number of cash paying clients (even luxury clients) apparently hung out to dry with no cruise and no money.  What is truly disturbing is that its website is still functioning while its phones ring off the hook unanswered.

Before I go on:  I don't care what any other travel agency tells you, USE A CREDIT CARD NO MATTER WHAT.  If you have an expensive cruise and need to pay in installments, do it.  If you are concerned about "showing" cash, find another solution.  In this environment there are big and small travel agencies really under the gun.  If you use a credit card (not a debit card) you have real protection regardless if there is a problem with the travel agency or the cruise line.  I would also caution that the credit card charge should be directly with the cruise line rather than the travel agency.  Ask.  Don't Assume!

Clearly, travel agencies that depend on high volume/low profit cruises to fund their day-to-day cash flow needs  are really suffering...and struggling.  When an agency is making $50 net on an NCL or Carnival cruise there has to be lot of bookings to keep the lights on.  What has happened, unfortunately, is that many of these lower cost reservations just stopped being made due to loss of job security, home equity and overall fear of what is yet to come.

Part of the reason for the problem is that the retention rate for their clients is less than 20%...because price, not service, is pretty much the singular draw to these agencies.  I call this the "Love 'em and Leave 'em" approach.  So with a low repeat rate and no real way to draw in new clients, these "Love 'em and Leave 'em" agencies are now trying to figure out how to stay in business, but they are for the most part "One Trick Ponies".

Yes there are those individuals that purchase their luxury cruises on Seabourn, Silversea, Regent Seven Seas and Crystal...even Oceania and Azamara...from these discounters.  They are, with only a couple of exceptions, really not getting a lower price and suffer with lesser service and now, to be sure, insecurities.

I know of no legitimate way to quickly take a "sell low cost, heavily discounted, cruises" model and turn it into a working model of a travel agency that creates loyalty and stability through good pricing (while not giving the cruises away) with great customer service. 
So when looking to book your next cruise, or even maintain your present bookings, please be sure to be cautious.  You might just even consider canceling your bookings deposited with cash or having them transferred to an agency you have faith will be there down the road.  Now is the time to be sure you are getting the most for your dollar, not just what seems like the best price. 

Remember, if it seems to good to be true, it probably is.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Seabourn Upgrading to Exclusive Molton Brown "Therapies" Toiletries

Seabourn announced today that it has listened to me.  OK, maybe they didn't, but it was something I have been speaking to Seabourn about for quite a few months.  Quoting from the Seabourn Odyssey blog:

For many luxury travel enthusiasts, the most fun part of sailing on Seabourn is the designer-label, high-end experience from the guest suites, to dining, to the spa experience. Famed bath and beauty product company Molton Brown, London is a regular fixture on Seabourn, however, we will be introducing a new range of products from Molton Brown, London called Therapies. The Yachts of Seabourn will offer these exclusively to cruise guests. (i.e. no other cruise line will have them.)



The Therapies Range is a high performance , luxury treatment line created solely from active plant ingredients to assist guests while they travel. The new range will help purify the body of pollutants picked up during the journey, ease travel tension, fight the effects of jetlag and aid sleep.

Products you will see onboard include:


Purifying plum-kadu hairwash and plum-kadu conditioner
Purifying ambrusca bath and shower gel and ambrusca body tonic
Purifying ambrusca cleanse bar
Purifying ambrusca thermal salts muscle soak
Sleep cedrus temple soother and soothing body oil

In addition, we will continue to offer the Molton Brown bathing preparations listed in our Pure Pampering menu and a selection of designer soaps including Hermes and L’Occitane.

In this time of people looking for where the cruise lines are cutting back, it is refreshing...and dare I say comforting...to see that Seabourn is still working hard to refine and improve the "details".

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Strategies for Booking Cruises in This Economy: Follow Them and You Will Not Rip Your Pants Sitting on the Fence.

Regardless of the economic pressures, or possible because of them, we all want to take a cruise.  But with job insecurities, retirement accounts depleted and general tendencies not to spend money on anything but necessities, the concept of taking a cruise seems so "pie in the sky". The reality is...and I have written about this twice already, but from different perspectives...a getaway can be a real benefit. 

The question - assuming you are reading on - is: "How do I get the best bang for my shrinking buck?  I gotta getaway, but don't think I can afford it."

First, the easy one:  If you have the ability to get away during the period of December through February there are some incredible deals; where thousands of dollars have been shaved off of cruise prices on mass market, contemporary and premium cruise lines.  If you have ever thought about doing a South American cruise this is well and truly the time to do it.  Offers such as free air, half price for the second passenger, complimentary upgrades are now the norm. 

Second, from a contemporary/mainstream cruise line point of view, I would look very hard at two things:  (1) What is really included; and, (2) What is the service level onboard? 

Why, you may ask, would I not look first a "price"?  The reason is that there is a very real tendency by some lines to cut back on service and push the holy grail of onboard revenue.  So in the end your great deal costs you a lot more than you ever anticipated...and you are stuck on that ship for a week or more.  It is those little things like charges for specialty restaurants that really aren't that special (though some are!).  Or charges for ice cream, pizza or a towel taken by someone from the pool area that you had to schlep from your cabin. 

Complimentary activities can be more enjoyable or enlightening (such as lectures and demonstrations) than bingo or a spin through the shops or the casino.  What about a good library of books or audio?  If your cabin is comfortable and, if you like, there is a good selection of movies you may not feel the urge to be out in the public spaces in order to feel more at ease or entertained. 

Clearly on a $599 cabin you can be spending 100% of your cruise fare on additional onboard revenue items in a heartbeat.  So by careful planning you can actually cut your total cruise cost by as much as 50% or more.

Personally, I look at service even before I look at what is included.  If I have good service then the overall feel of the cruise is better and, honestly, I tend not to spend as much trying to find my peace.  I two minute chat with a friendly pool attendant may forestall that urge to "just do something"...like buy that $3.00 ice cream or that $1.50 soda.  Solid service in the main restaurant makes the food taste better (or not be as important), so you don't feel the need to spend for a specialty restaurant just to feel...well...special.  Someone casually stopping by my lounge chair and asking me if I would like a glass of water makes things feel more caring.  It is, to be sure, the feeling that many need right about now.
So having figured out (1) Service; (2) What is included; and, (3) Price you may still have the hesitancy about booking a January or February cruise in November.  If you think waiting will serve you better, I would caution you that while the deal you wanted may still be available, you may well be applying it to a two or three category higher cabin thereby losing hundreds of dollars dashing your plan of getting a better deal. 

The fact is that prices will only go so low and then that is it.  So if you think you will save more than the cost of that three category higher purchase you can risk it.  Personally, I do not think at these prices it is worth it.  (Remember, when the price is dropped to a certain point the cruise lines know that lowering it further isn't going to attract enough new passengers to offset the anger of all those that paid more money.   I think we are, or are about to be there.)

The other day I was at a meeting where various travel agents discussed their philosophies.  Some were pushing the way to increase revenue is by assessing fees; a fee for consultation, a fee for booking, a fee to cancel, a fee for airline info, a fee for passport info.  Geez!  Personally, I find that counterintuitive.  You may make a few dollars on this person or that, but when the cruise passengers are concerned with making a commitment to a cruise and it is going to cost them significant fees if they find they just can't afford to go the only thing that happens is they are not going to book now, but will wait.

Goldring Travel never charges a consultation, booking, cancellation or other sort of fee.  So you have the ability to book now, assuring yourself the cabin and category you want with absolutely no downside other than paying the fully refundable deposit.  So the best way to "keep your options open" is to give yourself the option:  Book now following the above steps and then decide when the final payment is coming due if you are comfortable going. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Science Responds to Needs of Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruises on Seabourn!

I was reading my daily email from The American Scientist and, when I saw the two articles one right after the other, I thought of our recent Food & Wine Cruise:

Scientists to Measure Effects of Earthquakes on Acropolis
from the Chicago Tribune (Registration Required)

ATHENS, Greece (Associated Press)—For thousands of years the Acropolis has withstood earthquakes, weathered storms and endured temperature extremes, from scorching summers to winter snow. Now scientists are drawing on the latest technology to install a system that will record just how much nature is affecting the 2,500-year-old site. They hope their findings will help identify areas that could be vulnerable, allowing them to target restoration and maintenance. Scientists are installing a network of fiber optic sensors and accelerographs—instruments that measure how much movement is generated during a quake.
http://snipurl.com/4wh1s

Persistence Pays Off With New Drug for Gout
from the (Raleigh, N.C.) News & Observer

The line of work Dr. Mike Hershfield has pursued for most of his 32-year research career at Duke University is basically scientific social service. He adopts orphans. Specifically, he takes on so-called orphan diseases—afflictions so rare that the big pharmaceutical companies have no financial incentive to develop treatments. Hershfield and his team at Duke are among more than a dozen research groups at Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill and private biotech companies in the Research Triangle Park area that have contributed to a wave of new treatments for people suffering from diseases such as immune disorders, rare cancers and cystic fibrosis. Each disease afflicts fewer than 200,000 Americans, but all the orphan diseases added together strike an estimated 25 million. http://snipurl.com/4xo11

Yes, during the 2008 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise on Seabourn we marveled at the Acropolis and truly overindulged ourselves with Seabourn’s incredible food…not to mention our little Food & Wine tasting.

So we now know that science is working to preserve the antiquies...and our big toes!

I am working on special plans for our 2009 Seabourn cruise, including a complimentary Ensemble Experience in Kotor, Montenegro (a UNESCO World Heritage site), but I just found the order of above articles too funny not to pass on right away.

Regent Seven Seas and Oceania Announce End to Fuel Supplements

"Effective November 10, 2008, fuel supplement charges will be eliminated from all Regent Seven Seas Cruises voyages departing in 2010. In addition, the company has established specific guidelines under which the fuel supplement may be reimbursed to guests sailing on voyages departing in 2009.


"For voyages departing in 2009, the company will continue to apply a $15 per guest per day fuel supplement. Fuel supplement charge adjustments, if any, will be determined on a quarterly basis. Refunds, in the form of Shipboard Credits, will automatically be applied to all reservations to which a fuel supplement had previously been charged if the quarterly closing price on the New York Mercantile Exchange of West Texas Intermediate fuel is below $65 per barrel two weeks prior to the beginning of the upcoming calendar quarter.

"Frank Del Rio, Chairman of Prestige Cruise Holdings, parent company of RSSC, stated that the company was implementing these changes due to the recent decline in fuel prices. "If oil stabilizes below $65 per barrel, we are confident that we can effectively eliminate the need to charge our guests a separate fuel supplement. However, we must see stability in fuel pricing on a mid- to long-term basis as there could still be significant volatility in the marketplace," stated Del Rio."

I think what is implied, but not stated, is that Regent and Oceania - who have maintained the highest fuel supplement charges in the industry on both a per day and cruise total basis - will be adjusting their 2010 prices to incorporate a cushion against fuel increases as others have done.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Iamboatman's Alternative to Cruising: Skiing at Northstar-at-Tahoe, Lake Tahoe, California

I am not only about cruising and exotic vacations.  Years ago I purchased a townhouse in a resort on the north shore of Lake Tahoe, California named Northstar-at-Tahoe. 

How I wound up owning a place out west when I live in the east is a long (and probably boring) story, but my purchase was, as I often say, "the only smart thing I purchased when I was single".  My family loves nothing better than to spend the day on the slopes, then a visit to the Recreation Center for a hot tub or some video games, and then home to a nice wood fire, looking out on the snow-covered pines, and hanging out together.

Over the past twenty plus years Northstar-at-Tahoe (http://www.northstarattahoe.com/) has changed from a small, family orientated, ski resort with picnic tables and a very small village to a world-class resort with an incredible village, the private luxury Tahoe Mountain Club (http://www.tahoemountainclub.com/) ...with a restaurant on the top of the mountain, a private club in the village and Jack Nicklaus designed golf course...and, opening next winter, a Ritz Carlton hotel.  http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/LakeTahoe/Default.htm Our secret getaway is no longer a secret!  While there are upsides and downsides to such intense development, Northstar-at-Tahoe has really transformed from a wannabe to an almost luxury resort to a true luxury destination. 

The beauty of my little place is that it is located away from village (a 3 minute shuttle away) so we have privacy, quiet and views of the mountains...with the bonus of having the glitz located just down the road anytime we want.

As I normally do, I offer my place out for rent when we are not using it.  I do not usually rent it out by the day or week, but rather on a more long term basis.  It is fully furnished down to the blender for Margaritas and the marshmallow fork for smores.  Maid service is available.  You can find more information at http://www.northstarrealestate.com/SkiLease/6126Lease.html .  Feel free to email me at eric@goldringtravel.com or call me at 877-2GO-LUXURY if you want more information.

Carnival Corp.'s Response to Anticipated Cash Flow Reductions: Shareholders, Not Passengers, To Feel the Pinch

Carnival Corp. (owner of Carnival, Princess, Costa, Holland America, Cunard and Seabourn) announced yesterday that it was suspending the distribution of dividends for 2009; not because of a lack of profitability - Carnival's products are, and are projected to remain, profitable - but because of a change in cash flow and cruising habits on most of its brands.

Even though Carnival reports it is sitting with over $1.3 Billion dollars in cash, it is anticipating that (as occurred immediately post 9/11) (1) people are not as easily committing to cruises 6-9 months or longer in advance, so the immediate cash flow from the deposit payments is reduced; and, (2) people are not willing to travel as far to get to their cruise vacation (and the increases in air fares and reduction in airline service doesn't help). 

What this also means is that people are going to be booking more of the less profitable Caribbean cruises than the higher profit European cruises on most of the Carnival brands.  Ships are being repositioned as we speak; with, for example, Baltimore announcing it will be a home port for Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity on an extended (almost year round) basis.  [Note:  Seabourn is not taking these steps.  It has, in fact, announced its expansion into Asia and its commitment to finding additional unique European ports.  More to come on this.]

One other thing to consider, there will not be many new ships added to order books.  So what is seen as a lack of shipyard capacity today, may result in an overcapacity situation in a few years.  To me this is a classic example of how the economy is grown from the bottom up.  If the consumers aren't spending money...or even just aren't spending it as fast...the businesses contract, the investors get less in the short term and industry retracts. 

With Exxon Mobil announcing $13.8 Billion dollars in profits in the 3rd Quarter, one wonders what the effect of shorter cruising itineraries (driving first by the outrageous oil prices and now by reduced/changed itinerary demands) will have on the 4th Quarter 2008/1st Quarter 2009 profits.  We have all seen the drastic effect a 5% drop in U.S. driving has done on the price of a gallon of gasoline, so the cruise lines' changes will most definitely have some affect.  I think those investors - who have been extremely happy over the past few years - may see a bit less in the way of dividends and stock value increases.

While I am not thrilled with the concept of Carnival suspending dividends to its shareholders for 2009, in the long term (as Mickey Arinson asserts) this bit of fiscal conservatism (rather than gimmicks) is designed to assure Carnival will remain fiscally strong in the long term.  (Now reflect on some of the short term gimmicks I wrote about earlier in the week and you can better understand why I see some of them as Red Flags.)