Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Silversea Tsunami: Marilyn Conroy and David Morris Terminated. What's Next?

I have heard this evening that Marilyn Conroy and David Morris have been terminated by Silversea Cruises.

From two sources I have heard that Ms. Conroy was escorted out the door by security. Apparently she never saw it coming.

My concerns over Silversea approach and finances have been unpopular, but I am very, very concerned about the continued viability of the Silversea.

You don't fire your two top executives unless it is getting ugly.

A Difference in Philosophy: The Yachts of Seabourn versus Regent Seven Seas

The internet is an interesting place.  A few days ago I posted my Seabourn Challenge:  a $1,000 guarantee that Seabourn provides a better overall cruise experience than Regent does.  Seabourn Challenge: $1,000 Guarantee. Now there is a rumor that Seabourn will honor the perks Regent gives to its frequent cruisers.   Not only is the rumor false, it highlights the impossibility of same since the philosophies of the two lines are so different.  For me it highlights the difference between a true luxury product and one marketed as one.

As background, Regent rewards its frequent guests with a number of perk...and they are nice.  At 4-20 nights you get an onboard cocktail party, special savings on certain cruises and a few lesser perks.  At 21-74 nights you get complimentary internet access (within limits), one hour of telephone time, 2 items pressed for free, and the other perks.  74-199 nights gets you a possible upgrade, 2 more items pressed, a daily newspaper, a special shore event, and increased insurance benefits (if you pay for the standard insurance). At 200-399 nights you get 6 hours of phone and complimentary laundry. 400+ nights gets you complimentary dry cleaning and transfers from your home (within 50 miles of an airport).  One other thing Regent does is increase your involvement in its Advisory Board; more on that later.  (There are a few window dressing benefits of little to no value, as well, across the range.)

Seabourn doesn't give you any of that as past passenger perks.  It has a much simpler benefit:  Cruise for 140 days and you receive a complimentary seven (7) day cruise in the category of suite you most regularly cruise...with no limitation on itinerary.

That may sound like Regent favors its repeating guests in the near term, but that is, in fact, not true.  The reason:  Seabourn treats all of its guests exactly the same way.  It is considered, on Seabourn at least, impolite - better, improper - to treat any single person as "better" or "more entitled" than another person.  Seabourn's philosophy is that the person taking his first Seabourn cruise should have the identical experience on its ships at the person who is on their 40th cruise.  Owner's Suite or Oceanview Suite, it doesn't matter.  Seven day or 30 day cruise, again no difference.  The Seabourn Experience is what it is...for everyone.

Not only is it the goal of Seabourn to have that person return to Seabourn time and time again...with (what is the magic word?) consistency of service...but to earn that loyalty through satisfaction rather than bribes (or "earned" entitlements). 

Regent's philosophy can be seen as an acknowledgment of loyalty akin to a frequent flayer program and/or a way to install a class society aboard its ships.  "You are only Bronze?  I am Platinum.  You are not as good as I am."  (Don't kid yourself, this does happen.  If you read my message board The Gold Standard Luxury Travel Forum you will see that this sort of conduct does occur.)  In other words, Regent seeks to get you to come back because you will get more perks and because it will make you "more important" in its eyes, including placing you on its Advisory Board.  (Does the fact you take longer cruises make your taste, attention to detail, standards higher or your opinion as to how to provide a product to ALL passengers more weighty?  Me thinks not.)

Now, lets look at value:  Seabourn's 7 night cruise is usually worth usually far in excess of $10,000 per couple.  Regent's internet, telephone and pressing is worth about $200 per 7 day cruise...if you use the services, and most do not!), so over the same 140 days you would need to take 20 cruises.  20 x 200 = $4,000 per couple.  Let's also keep in mind that most luxury cruisers take cruises longer than 7 days, so the benefits are actually less (ever spend $400 on internet in 14 days...and, remember, if you reading this you use the internet?)  So, in reality, Regent is providing less than 40% of the value Seabourn is for those who cruise with any frequency.

But you say, Regent offers certain discounts for those who have sailed longer and has certain sailings with special onboard discounts.  Seabourn offers the identical past passenger savings for all past passengers - regardless of whether you have been on a 5 night cruise or 500 nights.  It also offers an across-the-board 5% discount if you book your next cruise on board...or even if you just place an open booking; no tselected sailings. 

And Seabourn does not do what Regent does:  There is no $200 cancellation fee...ever.  Book on board and maybe save $400, but Regent will definitely take $200 out of your pocket if you later choose to not sail with them. 

Now, back to the rumor.  As you can see there is now way for Seabourn to transfer any "benefits" you might have with Regent.  The philosophy is different.  The treatment of its guests is different.  And the program itself is a far lesser value than Seabourn's.  Put another way:  Seabourn Cruise Line is not Regent Seven Seas Cruises and has absolutely no interest in reducing the quality of its product or changing its philosophy to one inconsistent with its mantra.

For those of you who feel the Regent benefits are worthwhile enough to buy your loyalty (rather than the cruise product itself), ask your travel agent to give you a $200 onboard credit or so and try Seabourn.  You will get it all.  If you book with Goldring Travel, you will get value far in excess of that.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Regent Voyager World Cruise - Pod Problems Update No. 3

I had a long conversation with Prestige Cruise Holdings today and, before I give the details, I would like to say that I am quite impressed with how Regent Seven Seas is now responding to the situation.  It is, it would seem, a refreshing return to the former Radisson levels of customer service, or quite possibly, just a new and long awaited approach consistent with that which is expected of a luxury cruise line.  Yeah!

Now for the details:

First, I have been told that Mark Conroy is going to be meeting the ship upon its arrival to address the passengers' concerns.  That is a very welcome acknowledgement of Regent's guests' importance.  (It is not known if he will sail with the ship from Dubai for one or more ports.)

Second, Regent is going to be refunding the full cruise fare for all guests for the Singapore to Dubai segment.  In addition, World Cruise passengers are going to be given the option of transferring from the Voyager's World Cruise to the Mariner's World Cruise at no cost or expense.

Third, for the guests planning on embarking in Dubai they will have a number of options.  They can cancel without penalty; or, They can stay with the sailing and if there is a problem either delaying the Dubai departure or after departing (more below on that) they will receive a 25% refund and a 25% future cruise credit; or, they can transfer to the Mariner World Cruise for its next 14 or 28 day segment (their choice as the next Voyager segment, I believe 17 days) at no additional cost.

Regent will be taking care of all flight changes and assoicated arrangements.

Now, here is the news on the pod repairs.  Regent is planning on constructing a watertight cocoon around the pod so work can be completed in the necessary dry environment.  (I am told a similar arrangement was used when the Oceania Nautica had a propeller issue in Livorno, Italy last year.)  The technicians are all scheduled to arrive on March 30th and the ship will be arriving either late on the 30th or very early in the morning on the 31st. 

Work will start quickly as it will, regardless, be dark under the ship so underwater floodlighting will be used. The key is to get the seals appropriately seated so that there is no water infiltration into the pod.  The problem...if it is a problem...is that the repairs cannot really be tested at the dock.  The seals can be tested with the pod motor at idle speed and the main engines running at the dock, but until a load is put on the pod motor the new seals cannot be tested.  So Voyager will have to sail away from Dubai to test the repairs.  The plan is to keep sailing with all being well.  The alternative is to return to Dubai for further repairs...which nobody wants.

So keep your fingers and toes crossed.  When I have more info I will pass it along.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Head to Head Challenge: Seabourn Odyssey vs. Regent Seven Seas Navigator

Here is a great opportunity for those Regent loyalists to experience Seabourn in what is about as close to a head-to-head opportunity as possible. And Goldring Travel is going to guarantee you are going to find Seabourn to be a superior overall cruise experience.

The terms of the challenge are simple: If you have sailed on Regent Seven Seas, but have never sailed on Seabourn (and you verify same) you are eligible. All you need to do is purchase and sail on the Seabourn Odyssey on its November 28, 2009 sailing and if you do not agree that the Seabourn Odyssey provides an overall better cruise experience than the Regent Seven Seas Navigator, Mariner or Voyager, Goldring Travel will refund to you $1,000 in cash. (That's right, no gimmicks like a future cruise credit so you are obligated to take another cruise through Goldring Travel to get the benefit. You will get a check sent to your mailbox.)

The only thing to be excluded in your evaluation is that your shore experiences are not to be included. Why? Because the cruise lines do not guarantee ports or the experiences at the ports. You may pay for an extraordinary Seabourn event or choose a complimentary beach day on Regent. You may select the Ensemble Experience (which is not run by Seabourn). You may just not like a particular port (ex. for me, St. Thomas is a sea day...I don't get off the ship).

Why the November 28, 2009 sailing? Because the Regent Navigator has a similar cruise for a similar length of time at a similar price. Also, for most people there will be no issue with air logistics or differences in pre-cruise accommodations, so that would not a factor. So here are the cruises:

Seabourn Odyssey (12 Days with base Cruise Fares starting at $358.25 per day excluding Goldring Travel special amenity and Ensemble Experience or $300OBC):

Nov 28 Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Nov 29 Cruising The Atlantic Ocean
Nov 30 Grand Turk, Turks And Caicos
Dec 1 Cruising The Atlantic Ocean
Dec 2 Deshaies, Guadeloupe
Dec 3 Bridgetown, Barbados (Complimentary Ensemble Experience or $150 pp obc)
Dec 5 St. John's, Antigua
Dec 6 Marigot, St. Martin
Dec 7 Cruz Bay, St John, USVI
Dec 8 Cruising The Atlantic Ocean
Dec 9 Cruising The Atlantic Ocean
Dec 10 Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Regent Navigator (11 Days with base Cruise Fares starting at $345.00 per day excluding $500 OBC if booked by March 31st or $200 OBC if booked thereafter)

Nov 30 Ft. Lauderdale, United States
Dec 01 Princess Cays, Bahamas
Dec02 Cruise the Atlantic Ocean
Dec 03 San Juan, Puerto Rico
Dec 04 St. Thomas, USVI
Dec 05 St. John's, Antigua
Dec 06 Philipsburg, Saint Maarten
Dec 07 Gustavia, St. Barts 08:00 23:00
Dec 08 Tortola - Roadtown, BVI
Dec 09 Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos
Dec 10 Cruise the Atlantic Ocean
Dec 11 Ft. Lauderdale

So, I am sure you are still asking, "What is the catch?" There is none. It is your opinion, your decision, your choice. All I ask is that you be honest with yourself about your experience: Service, Amenities, Cuisine, Consistency, Spa Facilities, Alternative Dining Experiences, Caviar, etc.

Put another way: You are going to trust me about my recommendations when booking this cruise. I am going to trust you when you tell me how it measures up. And, even if you tell me you didn't find Seabourn an overall superior cruise experience, I will still give you a great deal on your next Seabourn cruise...or any other cruise. (That mean: You can book your next Seabourn cruise onboard - even if just an open booking - take the additional 5% onboard booking discount, and you won't disqualify yourself from the promotion!)

Fine Print: This offer is subject to being withdrawn at any time. Prices are not guaranteed and are subject to change. Suite categories are subject to prior sale.

Regent Seven Seas Offering Zero (0%) Percent Single Supplement

Regent Seven Seas Cruises has just announced a 0% Single Supplement on the following voyages for a limited time:

Seven Seas Voyager in the Baltic Sea
RT Economy Airfare, Shore Excursions Included!
July 10 – 7 nights – Copenhagen to Stockholm – all-inclusive fares from $5,550 per suite
July 17 – 7 nights – Stockholm to Copenhagen – all-inclusive fares from $5,550 per suite
July 31 - 7 nights – Stockholm to Copenhagen – all-inclusive fares from $4,250 per suite

Seven Seas Navigator in the Mediterranean
RT Economy Airfare, Shore Excursions Included!
August 7 – 7 nights – Monte Carlo to Athens – all-inclusive fares from $3,650 per suite
August 14 – 7 nights – Athens to Istanbul – all-inclusive fares from $3,650 per suite

Seven Seas Navigator in the Caribbean
Shore Excursions Included!
December 18 – 10 nights–RT Ft. Lauderdale, Western Caribbean – all-inclusive fares from $3,895 per suite

All prices are for single occupancy suites only.

This offer for standard suites only, penthouse and above available at additional fare – subject to availability.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Regent Seven Seas Voyager Pod Update No. 2

I have heard again from Prestige Cruise Holdings with an update on the Regent Seven Seas Voyager which had its starboard pod damaged when entangled by fishing net after departing Singapore.

The technicians arrived in Cochin, India as scheduled and conducted a "thorough inspection".  Unfortunately it revealed the damage is such that the pod "will require more work than than originally anticipated" (hoped?  prayed for?).  As a result any chance of stopping in Mumbai or Abu Dhabi has been eliminated.

The ship is now proceeding to Dubai where it "should have a two or three day window to complete the [more extensive] repairs".

Remembering that I am, well, Iamboatman, I can give you a bit more insight than a travel agent as to what the factors are and why things are not more definite.

First, you may ask, "Why 2 or 3 days?  Don't they know?"  Well, the reality in the ship repair business is that timing is everything.  It depends on what day the ship arrives and what time of the day it arrives. (A 2 AM arrival is not a good thing.) This can be affected by winds, sea conditions, etc.  So, hopefully, it is a three day window, but the work should be able to be completed in two days.

Second, there are issues of whether the workers will work during the Sabbath (as a weekend is involved in a Muslim country...but fortunately it is a very cosmopolitan Dubai!).  Will the parts arrive via air freight as anticipated.  Will the dock is available when it is supposed to be.  Etc. 

Then there are the mechanical issues of whether the damage is limited to what the inspections revealed.  Then simple things like if that darn bolt frees up or if the anticipated salvageable bearing or whatever actually is.  (Let's not even go to the "You dropped what where?" or the "You lost what?" possibilities.)

So, from the silence of comment, it appears that drydocking (who decided that was supposedly necessary anyway?) is not happening (and would generally take many hours in and out, plus a good bit of preparation.).

And, it would appear that Regent is not anticipating any delay (or significant delay) in the next segment of the World Cruise.

Another Publication and Another "Best of" List That Makes You Go "Huh?": Forbes Traveler

Forbes Traveler has posted an article World's Best Cruises, Period. and, while it does have some useful information, it left me scratching my head.

I knew things weren't right when I read that NCL had the "Best Overall Vibe". That is the cruise line detailed just last night on "Cruises, Inc." CNBC's production, which I mentioned a few days ago CNBC Discusses Cruises With Goldring Travel . Faced with thousands of other guests, the name of the game is "Keep 'em happy and they will spend". Waiting in lines, paying for dining, sodas, drinks, etc. (NCL needs to have very man, woman and child to spend $7.25 per day on drinks just to break even. For a family of four on a 7 day cruise that is $203.00.) So the Vibe is spend...and wait...spend. Meanwhile comments from professionals suggesting SeaDream and Windstar were dismissed because they "carry as few as a few dozen passengers". Isn't that the point?

My best vibe is "Jimmy Buffett meets a great glass of wine with an awesome view with my wife sitting next to me"; not, "Sammy the cruise director getting me to spent $50 at bingo as I amass a collection of different plastic 'drink of the day' glasses". Alas, my best vibe would drive the person with the other best vibe to drink. (OH, yeah, that is the point...Isn't it?!)

Yes, the article has some decent information, but you need to read the qualifiers that are laced through out and ask "Why is line X missing?" "Does that professional have an allegiance of some sort with line Y?"

Overall, I just have to say, as I do whenever I see these lists (and, I admit it, I am like a deer staring into headlights; I read them): YUK.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Carnival Corp Posts 10% Increased 1st Quarter Profits

Folks, I have been saying it for weeks now:  You will never see prices as low as they are now, so book your cruise (even if only as a "wish") before the prices increase.

Today Carnival Corp. (owner of Carnival, Cunard, Holland America, Princess, Costa and Seabourn) posted a ten (10%) percent increase in profits for the 1st quarter over the same period last year.  The reasons are really two-fold:  Significantly lower fuel costs and stronger than expected close-in bookings.

Of course there are still signs of weakness on two fronts:  advanced bookings (even at lower prices) are weaker and some lines are not doing as well as others (so the growth is not necessarily across the board).  So I would caution you that if the lower prices are not driving advanced bookings there may be other strategies which may come into play.  The last thing you want to do is be in the position of losing out because the extras awarded to long range planners are missed.  I do not know this will be the case, but it costs nothing to protect yourself as your deposits are fully refundable.

In Memoriam: A Reason I Love My Job

Every morning I have coffee with the local farmers. This morning one of them said, as he turned to the Obituaries, "Let's see who I know today"; commenting after it seems so many of his friends has recently died. I don't know why I looked, but there was a name I knew: It was one of my Seabourn clients.
The strange, but nice thing, was that I was not immediately sad, but thought about how much her husband cared for her during her long illness and that I was fortunate to be on their last cruise together. I will call them John and Mary.
You think you know the type of people; the ones that want to be sure everything is taken care of in advance. But for John it was not a matter of it needing to be perfect, but rather he had a big task in front of him in making sure Mary was able to enjoy this cruise. He (no spring chicken) would need to be able to manage it all as he had to take special care of Mary throughout the trip.
Logistics with luggage; renting a wheelchair (I eventually bought a travel wheelchair for them), etc., all needed to be dealt with special considerations.
Once onboard the Seabourn Legend I saw what "it" is all about. John and Mary, married for 50+ years, were in love. It was hard work and exhausting for John, and at times (when Mary couldn't come along on land excursions) lonely, but John was intent on living for himself and for loving Mary. Both John and Mary were very social people, but they always ate diner by themselves...because that is what they liked to do.
I recall being in Marseilles sitting outside at "the" restaurant having a classic bouillabaisse with my wife. I glanced inside and there was John, alone, having his bouillabaisse. I felt a bit sad that he was experiencing it alone as I was sitting with my wife having a romantic moment. When I approached him his eyes lit up and said with enthusiasm, "How could I come to Marseilles and not have bouillabaisse?" John taught me something just then: You can be in love with your wife, but you also have to remember to be in love with life. There are no medals for doing otherwise.
I hope through the sadness of these days John will remember his last cruise with Mary with fondness and a smile. I know that I do and that I need to be content with the fact that I was able to make their last one a bit easier and a wonderful memory.
And, for me, Marseilles will not be foremost in my mind for Shopping with the Seabourn Chef, the early morning fish market or "the girls" going on a bit of shopping spree. No, for me it will be about how to enjoy bouillabaisse.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Update on the Regent Voyager Problems

I have been in touch with Prestige Cruise Holdings and here is the info regarding the Regent Seven Seas Voyager:

Sometime after leaving Singapore the starboard pod shut itself down.  This is not a good thing, as it is an indication that something bad happened (past tense), so it is a "The damage is done, now what is the damage?" situation.  This caused the ship to sail at reduced speeds, hence its delayed arrival in Phuket.

Divers were sent down and found more than 10 meters (over 30 yards) of fishing net tangled around both the propeller and the shaft, which was removed.  One problem is, of course, how much more net is there inside the pod.  That is actually secondary to how badly whatever amount is logged in there.

When the ship arrives in Cochin, India divers will try to re-seat the seals on the pod and, hopefully, restart the propulsion motor (which, on a pod system is not the main engine). 

If it works then everyone will be very happy (though a few ports may be missed on this segment).  I, however, always keeping in mind the definition of a boat "A hole in the water, surrounded by wood, in which one throws money", am keeping my fingers crossed, but my expectations low.

As I get more information I will let you know.

Interesting Piece on CNN about Blogging and the Travel Industry

I think this is a very interesting article worth a quick read:


Regent Seven Seas Voyager World Cruise Problem - Oh Nets!

It seems the Regent Seven Seas Voyager, the flagship of the cruise line, cannot avoid problems. It hit the dock in Rhodes, it snagged a fishing net on its transatlantic voyage about four months ago and now has another fishing net apparently wrapped around one of its pods. (I also heard the Crystal Serenity presently has a pod issue, but it is electrical.)
As I understand it the pod was disabled by the net outside of Singapore during a 14 day segment of its World Cruise. It is not known what damage has been done to the pod itself, if any, but the fact that manufacturer's representatives/technicians have been flown to the ship leads one to believe that there is going to be far more done than merely cutting away the entangled net.
This is supported by the comments by some that the ship may be going into drydock in Dubai. This has not been confirmed anywhere that I can see. Frankly, I am not sure why the ship will need to be drydocked unless there has been serious damage to the pod. Many repairs can be made without having to haul a ship. I could speculate on damaged bearings or propellers, but I really don't have a clue. One thing is for certain, there are very limited parts worldwide for pods (and each is essentially a custom made item) so it is not like you just take out the old and put in the new.
Obviously the World Cruise itinerary is being severely modified - on this segment only so far - as Regent has to consider the long term effect on the its itineraries rather than simply this one short 14 day segment. As this is a case where most of the passengers (especially those that booked just this segment) have placed the itinerary over the ship as the reason for this cruise, there is going to be lots of frustration and disappointment...and little sympathy for Regent's need to minimize the same feelings for those booked on subsequent segments. (It is their cruise, after all.)
From what I understand the port calls in Penang and Phuket, Thailand were late and shortened and will be a day late in Cochin, India; thereafter omitting Mumbai, India and Abu Dhabi, heading straight for Dubai. With Sri Lanka omitted just prior to this segment due to the ever-continuing conflicts, port calls in Penang, Malaysia and Phuket, Thailand but a few hours, the longer overland excursions in India probably (but not confirmed) to be cancelled, things cannot be good. If there is a bit of good news, Abu Dhabi and Dubai are about 1 1/2 hours apart by bus or car, so there is literally nothing that the guests will not be able to do if the ship arrives in Dubai on or about on schedule.
The tricky thing is that Regent is trying to reschedule ports, arrange for dock space, figure out what parts are possibly needed, get the parts and technicians there on time (for dock space with no parts is very expensive in time, money and guest relations!)...and make arrangements for its guests. I am not onboard so I cannot comment on the quality of what is being told to the passengers and informations seems to be coming from both "upset" and "go with the flow" type passengers (possible with Segment versus World Cruise perspectives).
While this is an unfortunate example of the complexity of the cruise industry and the competing needs and desires of the passengers, it does highlight the delicate balance which the cruise lines must deal with on a minute by minute basis. It isn't easy and it isn't necessarily someone's fault. But in the end, the customer is always right and here the customers clearly were not interested in a boat ride, but rather an elegant journey to visit some exotic locales. Instant results are not going to be happening, but with a little patience and understanding of the complexity of the situation, the time those passengers have on the Regent Seven Seas Voyager are still going to be on a really nice ship with some wonderful things available for them.
As a final, for now, comment: We need to understand that as the populations around the world grow the resource we know as the Ocean is being exploited with greater and greater intensity. Whether it be local fisherman or mega-fishing fleets trying to increase their catch, there are going to be increased conflicts with cruise and other ships that ply the same waters. There are some technologies available to reduce these conflicts, but they are not perfect or omnipresent. Do not be surprised if these type of events increase in frequency.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Seabourn Odyssey Update

It is only weeks until her Maiden Voyage and the Seabourn Odyssey has her name.  Above is a photo of her name ready to be hoisted and installed.   
She is also getting her navigation mast put into place.  Many parts of a ship - even sections of a ship - are virtually completed somewhere other than on the ship and then are installed as a finished product.  Here, if you look closely, you can see the radar antennae (the blocks that are turning all the time) and navigation lights (red and green lamps) are already installed.

OK, so that is the hardware...now the software:

Above are the new Guest Services personnel who will be manning the Seabourn Square.  They are in Miami for a six (6) week training course.  That's right, six weeks of training...so that they have the ability to know what they are doing when your arrive onboard.  Why should it be any different than when you board the triplets?  (BTW, the photo was taken at the Reception Desk...not on the ship, but at Seabourn's offices in Miami.)
And speaking of your arrival, the following is edited from from the Seabourn blog on how the restaurants are going to be run:

The main kitchen, which is over 6,400 square feet, is constructed on two mirror plans, so that during the dinner service the staff can be divided into two lines to ensure speedy service. As I previously mentioned here, there is another purpose:  They galleys are set up to be similar to the triplets, so that wait and galley staff can move from one ship to the other without having confusion as to where things are located.  It is also essential so that the cuisine, which is prepared ala minute, is not sitting on a shelf getting cold because of a backup in the waitstaff line. 

The Colonnade and Restaurant 2 will operate out of a combined galley on Deck 8; the Officer and Crew Mess has its fully equipped galley on Deck 3 and the Patio Grill has another galley of its own.

Let’s have a look at the manning:

The Executive Chef de Cuisine supervises all the outlets. He’s responsible for proper manning, flawless and timely execution of all dishes, ordering of provisions, quality of food, maintaining Public Health standards and more. In order to accomplish all of this he’s assisted by a workforce of 57:

1 Chef de Cuisine – Colonnade
3 Executive Sous Chef
1 Executive Pastry Chef
1 Patio Chef
13 Chef de Partie (station or line cooks)
2 Chef de Partie - Crew
1 Baker
1 Asst. Baker
1 Butcher
1 Asst. Butcher
11 Demi Chef de Partie
3 Demi Chef de Partie – Pastry
1 Utility #1
14 Utility Staff
1 Garbage Manager
2 Utility Garbage Staff

Four distinct dining venues served by three seperate galleys.  Pretty impressive.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Do Cruise Critic and Other Message Boards Have An Obligation To The Public?

There is an obvious struggle between the ultimate and honest reason almost every message board exists (profit, whether it be cash or promotion) and what the public perceives the message board to be.

There are boards which are essentially technical support assistances for software. You read a thread about a question and hopefully you see the appropriate troubleshooting technique and can correct your own issues. Sort of like a more detailed FAQ. Those boards have a profit motive, because answering a question one time rather than 100 means less tech support people and less interruptions.

Other boards, such as Cruise Critic, Luxury Cruise Talk, Cruise Freeks, CruiseFools, Cruise Line Fans, etc. are of another ilk, though using different flavors of approach.

Cruise Freek has unabashedly turned its boards into a marketing site; basing many of its threads around marketing group cruises on Royal Caribbean, Carnival, etc. I am, personally, offended by that as the board was not presented as a marketing ploy or as a license to fill my inbox with email after email concerning $599 cruises. I am not saying they are not nice people; just it is not my kind of place. At least there the posters know that the forum is really a marketing site.

Luxury Cruise Talk was established as a marketing tool; a place to go when Cruise Critic told its owner that she essentially had to stop marketing through the Cruise Critic message board and it told her clients that they had to stop talking in code about specific group cruises as it was exclusionary and really for the purpose of marketing the travel agent's cruises. LCT, however, became cult-like in my opinion. It didn't matter if the cruise was one you actually wanted to go on or if the ship was actually to the standard desired. No, what mattered was that you conform and support the group. As with a cult, eventually reason and facts became clouded because supporting the group and its leader became the motivation to cruise.

Is that illegal? No. Is it right? Well, that depends on your perspective. The travel agent's motivation all along was to make money through the message board. That she was able to do. However, most people who travel at a luxury standard are not looking at who is giving them a $599 cruise opportunity, but rather who is giving them the best service and comfort believing that the travel agent actually cares about them. Personal service is, of course, the cornerstone of luxury. Now, there is no question that sometimes you (anyone) will feign joy to make a friend happy. But to feign friendship to nurture an affinity to a cult; that is another thing.

And then there is Cruise Critic. It markets itself as Cruise "Critic"; a place to critique (good and bad) everything about cruising. Its website states, "Cruise Critic is a critically acclaimed interactive community comprised of avid and first-time cruisers who enjoy the fun of planning, researching and sharing their passion for cruising. No other single resource covers the world of cruising as thoroughly as CruiseCritic.com. Cruise Critic’s world-renowned editorial staff offers objective cruise reviews, features, ports of call profiles and destination stories. The Cruise Critic message boards are the most active in the world...Since its inception in 1995, Cruise Critic has earned the status of being the most influential cruise site on the Web, and an innovator of consumer-oriented cruise travel news."

As we now know, Cruise Critic is not necessarily "critical" or "objective". It is a place where, under the express guise of "critically acclaimed" objectivity, it has become a place of overt censorship and heretofore undisclosed support of third party marketing scheme(s). We do not need to rehash the number of posts deleted because Cruise Critic didn't like the truth being posted or a cheerleader's posts being identified as cheerleading. Nor do we need to repeat again that Cruise Critic knew some of its members were being compensated by a cruise line, then gave the cruise line their information and then...get this...claims it has no way of knowing who these compensated posters are. (If you believe that, please give me your personal information, so that I share it with others and then claim I don't know who you are. Yeah, I known, it just sounds stupid.)

Cruise Critic's non-disclosure of compensated posters known to it is impossible, in my opinion, to defend when it markets itself as the "the most influential cruise site" while knowing it is not the ultimate in "critical" or "objective" information. And so you know I practice what I preach, for years I disclosed I was a travel agent when I posted there. I was blasted by some for allegedly being biased as a result. (I could never figure that out, but that is another topic.) People were able to draw their conclusion as to the reliability of my posts as a result of knowing I am a travel agent rather than just some guy that has been on a bunch of cruises.

Such a disclosure, on a site that markets itself the way it does, should be as mandatory as disclosing that the poster is compensated by the cruise lines, is the cruise line, is a tour operator or whatever. If that is too hard or too much of a hassle, then don't market Cruise Critic as either "critical" or "objective". Market it as what it really is: a For Profit Site that will allow just about anyone to post without disclosing motives and without fear that they can be challenged or outted.

There are, in my opinion, certain duties of candor if you run a site. Disclosures, if you will. It is wrong to draw the public in based upon a false or improper pretense and then keep them there through deceptive practices. JMHO.

So that is how I feel. How do you?  Post your comments on our new The Gold Standard Luxury Travel Forum.

(Note:  I am suspending the Comments section of this blog and would request your thoughts on any of my entries by posted in The Gold Standard Luxury Travel Forum.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Gold Standard Luxury Travel Forum Is Now OPEN

Please visit our new cruise forum: 

The Gold Standard Luxury Travel Forum

at http://www.goldstandardforum.com/.

As is explained in the Welcome message it is a work in progress with limited functionality, but it works and should have greatly improved functionality later this week.

Thanks and Enjoy!

Eric (Iamboatman)

Is Silversea Just Shuffling Deck Chairs?

Silversea has announced today that on top of its 15% discount prepay option (and don't tell me that is not a cry for cash) and the slashing of its prices while still sailing with significantly lower passenger counts, it is adding butler service to all of its suites.

I immediately wondered, "Why?" and then "How?"

According to its press release "Each butler, assisted by a suite attendant, is empowered to troubleshoot problems and provide special service touches, if desired by the guest -- for example unpacking and packing clothing, facilitating a dry cleaning request or preparing a scented Jacuzzi bath -- ultimately creating a suite environment where one can relax and feel totally cared for."

The first thing that came to my mind was, "So what." and then it was "Isn't this exactly what the stewardesses do anyway?" and then "Wait a minute...Celebrity already does most of this for all its suite guests.  Don't tell me that is the measure!"  With that said, let's review:
  1. Unpacking and packing clothes - If there is one thing that most people do not want assistance with it is unpacking their clothes or packing their dirty clothes.  It is so infrequently done that it is, in reality, a nothing...and if requested a stewardess would normally assist a needing guest.
  2. Facilitating a dry cleaning request - Huh?  If laying the drycleaning on the bed and your stewardess needs assistance to take it we are all in trouble.  Anyone ever had such a request from a stewardess declined?  Ever?
  3. Preparing a scented bath - Standard stewardess request.  Heck, on Seabourn there is usually one day where there are lots of long tours where you are "surprised" by it being ready upon your arrival back at the ship.
Knowing that the stewardesses normally do these things and that they are truly nothing special, I ask, "Why?"  The reason is painfully obvious:  Silversea is probably cutting down on the number of stewardesses, so they need staff to shift the workload to.  Folks, there are only so many crew berths on a ship, so it is not like Silversea is bringing more staff onboard.  An alternative:  Silversea is seeking a way to address the reported decline in in service quality; not by improving training and crew retention, but by reducing the stewardess's responsibilities. 

And don't think these butlers are going to be lounging around all day while you are at the pool or dinner or on tours; they are going to be doing jobs which others have not been doing as well as they should.

To me the net result is:  Yes, this is it...you might receive the service you used to receive on Silversea albeit through the use of the previously dismissed European staff that Silversea recently discharged (allegedly for not being friendly or happy enough) being reintroduced.

Please, can anyone tell me what is wrong with luxury cruise lines just providing consistently solid service?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Such a Deal...On Seabourn! UPDATED...I MEAN REALLY UPDATED

I know many of you have been waiting for the special pricing and have been reading about my saying it is coming, it is coming. Well, it is not exactly what I had expected, but I think what I am offering is an excellent value that provides you with the ultimate in flexibility in cruise choice. (I think it is typical of Seabourn to put its guests first rather than to try to unceremoniously herd them onto a few slower selling cruises.)

Before I go on, Seabourn has just announced that starting today, March 17th, through April 15th, you will receive a 2 Category Upgrade if you pay your deposit within 24 hours of making a booking.

Now, what I am offering is combinable with the:

- 2 Category Upgrade AND

- Exclusive Goldring Travel Seabourn Referral Program AND

- American Express Platinum or Ensemble Experience benefits.

It is, however, applicable to new bookings only.

So what I am able to offer you is a 2 Category Upgrade + a $400 First Time Seabourn Guest benefit + Amex or Ensemble Benefits + Goldring Travel's Special Benefit...+ Discounted Pricing.

BTW, I do not know when this opportunity will be withdrawn. It can be at any time, so do not delay. (Seriously, it is not hype.)

Remember, I cannot publish my Special Benefit , so please call me at (877)2GO-LUXURY.

I Made a Big Mistake Today - I Read Cheerleading Posts and I Am Now Sickened...Again.

Folks, if you want to see how to (seemingly with clear intent) mislead people trying to get truthful information (and, of course, to respond to the specific references in my blog) read the posts on Luxury Cruise Talk about its present group cruise on the Regent Navigator. But before doing so, remember TravelCat2's complaints...and the complaints of so many others...about poor food quality, poor food temperature, lacking buffets, spotty service, problems with the ship and, of course, my (and I am confident no one else's) reference to the way things were when it was Radisson Seven Seas.

One cruise after an absolutely horrid report, the comments by LCT members on the cruise are, in part:

"So far, food quality and temperatures have been perfect...For those of you who are worried about your future Navigator cruses, I say there is no need to worry. I think Jackie's [TC2's] review might of made our cruise better as Jackie's comments must of been read by someone with some power to fix the negatives!...The ship looks beautiful, the service is old school Radisson, just like it was in the good old days...perfect!"

"I agree with Karen the food and service have been exceptional...We spoke with the comedian and he said in over 100 cruises he has never seen such an incredible buffet... The boys have been spoiled by their room steward, Victor, and room service...We really feel lucky to have Engelbert as general manager. It is obvious he is on top of things. Franco certainly is a wonderful addition in the dining room."

Please. Which is worse: Cruise Critic playing its games or Luxury Cruise Talk playing its?

Before going on I must pause and ask, "Do I really care or believe a comedian's comment about a buffet? Heck, he is paid by the cruise line and may think Regent is heaven after two months on NCL"

Then I must ask, "Wasn't Engelbert the general manager last cruise? Wasn't Franco in charge of the dining room last cruise? Did the home office blast them or did they know the LCT group was coming and the easiest thing to do is suck up to them for one cruise and then go back to their lazy ways?" Folks, I can assure you there are meetings every single day reviewing the LCT experience the last day and organizing the plan to keep them happy this day. It is what all cruise lines do. (I can assure you wonderful Engelbert and Franco don't want to get an earful from Ngaire or suffer the sure to be ensuing consequences.)

As I have said, cruise lines do go over and above for their top producers. Seabourn does a bit of extra for my groups. I would dare say that what Seabourn does for my Food & Wine Cruises is beyond what is done by any other cruise line. But...and it is a big "but...I also have the confidence that the exceptional service will be present on every Seabourn cruise; not just the ones I have a group on. And, to be sure, if a general (hotel) manager or maitre d' had one cruise of the quality complained of on Regent that would be the end of their relationship with Seabourn. Why? What is that magic word: "Consistency".

Finally, let's try this: Even if everything posted about the Regent Navigator's last two cruises are true, at best you have an unrelenting disaster and then nirvana. That is totally unacceptable. The reality is, however, there is no way that literally everything has become perfect; especially since there have been so many reviews asserting problem after problem with Navigator.

So with the service allegedly being wonderfully "old school Radisson" I must conclude that even the LCT cheerleaders have therefore admitted that the "New school Regent service ain't very good"! Seriously, why any reference to Radisson if Regent is "perfect"? Don't bother even trying to find a legitimate answer to that.

Yes, I want Regent to go back to the service levels when it was Radisson...and I want cruise message boards to go back to the quality they were then as well. At least I know that soon...every soon...at least one of those things will be happening.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Cruise Critic Prostitutes Itself and Violates The Public's Trust!

Many of my readers know that I have had a very troubled "relationship" with Cruise Critic and the cheerleaders that are oh so favored on its boards. With the excellent work of a totally independent and heretofore unknown to me journalist, Anita Dunham-Potter, editor in chief of Expertcruiser.com, some of the "symptoms" I have been complaining about (see, for example, my July 2008 post Where Did the "Critic" In Cruise Critic Go? and my March post Another Reason for Caution When Relying on a Too Avid Poster , as but a few examples) now have an assigned "illness".

The "illness" is GREED. Cruise Critic has built its reputation on being a place where people can find accurate and useful information about a cruise line, a destination, or any other aspect of cruising. However, it has violated that trust by sanitizing its message boards (and reviews???) so that the "critics" are silenced or banned (Thank You very much - full disclosure!), debate is curtailed, and opposing opinions deleted into thin air. Why? Because those selling the cruises want a "happy place"...but only happy from a MARKETING standpoint. (Heaven forbid you actually wind up on the cruise line and ship that truly fulfills your needs and desires.)

Ms. Dunham-Potter has detailed in her article A Contagious Virus? Marketing Campaign Sinks Cruise Critic details how Cruise Critic has violated posters privacy by giving Royal Caribbean their information (albeit to provide these avid positive posters with a free cruise) and then deleted - as CC does - posts complaining about how these posters were essentially paid to continue posting good things. Folks, Cruise Critic makes its money by the sale of cruises directly and indirectly through advertisements. It is a for profit site that has sold its integrity to the devil...and sold its readers down the river.

I wish there was more I could write (the article really says it all and backs it up with sources), so I am left with the facts that support the illness that so many have suffered the symptoms of.

What is the cure for this cancer: Cut it out. It is, to my mind, so invasive that it is something that may go into remission if there is severe treatment (like boycotting the site), but it is so insidious that I am unfortunately too confident that it will return. And, regardless, how is that Cruise Critic could ever regain its integrity?

What a shame. And shame on Cruise Critic.

(I want to thank one of my Anonymous posters for letting me know about this.)

Are the Cruise Lines (and Retailers, in General) Sinking Their Own Ships? Just Get On One!

A few months ago (and I know it seems like an eternity for some) the bookings on cruise lines, from mass market to luxury, came to an almost screeching halt.  There were bookings, but not as many.  In typical retail fashion, the answer was "SALES". 

That one word, "SALE", is for American's as the bell ring is for Pavlov's dogs.  (Train a dog that it will be fed right after a bell rings and you can get a dog to salivate just by ringing a bell.)  I was really against the luxury lines putting everything on sale and commented on this to a degree on my blog.  I thought it was setting a really bad precedent and that it just might cause pricing and luxury to start down that slippery slope of degradation.  (And you know I let the cruise lines know I felt it was a bad idea.)

You saw this at high end retailers like Saks and Neiman Marcus and in the cruise industry on lines from Silversea to Seabourn.  And then you saw the bookings were going up...way up...and lines from Princess to Carnival were declaring that January was their busiest months ever.  Was it the right thing to do?  People were starting to fill the cabins and suites that were previously empty.  But, alas, was this the right thing to do?

I must confess that a few weeks ago I admitted to Seabourn that I just might have been wrong; you know, protesting against the deep discounts.  Heck, the ships were filling up.  But I am afraid I was too quick to cave in to the new "conventional" wisdom.  I now think, more than ever, that I actually had it right.

The fact is that now everyone is looking for the bigger discounts...and last minute sales.  We have all been trained:  "Just wait and that price will drop.  In fact, if you buy now you probably are paying too much."  So now that the initial flood of sales have hit the cruise market and passengers on the ships (even if the ships are not selling out) the cruise lines, even the luxury cruise lines, are finding that the bull rush isn't happening.  And it is not because people do not want to, or cannot afford to, go on a cruise. 

It is because the cruise lines and retailers have - in very short order - created a monster:  They have caused their buyers to put a "Let's Make A Deal" strategy into place.  Now, the buyer's mentality is that whatever the price is it is not good enough; there will always be something better.  Just wait!

Well, guess what?  That is not true.  There is a point where "the getting isn't going to get any better".  Saks has essentially admitted it created a monster.  It has tried to re-establish firm pricing by limiting supply.  The problem is Bloomingdale's may not be employing that same strategy...or at least not on that same item.  So what does the consumer do?  Shop around and see who flinches; who drops the price; who is going to "make a deal".

Related to that, there are non-luxury news outlets claiming that "Luxury is no longer acceptable."  That is absurd.  What the heck is that based on?  The reality is that people are just afraid to show their luxury...but I think it is for a very different reason than actual fear of the economy.  It is because the luxury client has a friend who was wiped out by Madoff, or has lost his hedge fund job, or who was going to retire in 2 years and now cannot because his retirement account was wiped out.  That is, without question, far different from not being able to afford luxury or looking for a better price.

On a recent flight I was sitting next to a director for Ferragamo.  We were talking about this subject and that they were discussing the possible use of plain paper bags, so people would not be seen as flaunting their purchase.  My suggestion to him was to put the branding on the inside of their bags because that person just purchased a $500 pair of shoes and feels just fine about it...and will enjoy seeing their brand name when the slip the shoes on.  Their concern is what other people will think.  Let them feel good! JMHO.

Now, let's take a breath...

Where do we go from here?  First, everyone needs to decide if they, personally, want to take a cruise or other vacation.  Second, decide what you - not your neighbor or what your friend - believe is the amount you - not your neighbor or your friend - can afford.  Third, determine the cruise you want to take.  Fourth, Go For It.

Does this sound callous?  Actually it is just logical.  There are people that go on trophy vacations.  Heck, it was marketed to upsell clients by emphasizing "bragging rights."  (I always was offended by that pitch.)  But most people, and the vast majority of my clients, are just too smart to get into the "Keeping up with the Joneses" (or now "Not offending the Joneses"?).  Most people are independent and need to readjust their thinking so they go on "their cruise".  Remember these are the very same people (yes, reader that is probably you) that insist their cruise is a very personal experience.

Related to that, stop waiting for the "best discount" because you are turning that wonderful vacation into a game of cat and mouse...and you are just waiting for that bell to ring.  I know of a number of people waiting who are finding their strategy is a failure on an emotion and financial basis.  The joy is gone because it now not about the experience, but the money.  (Tell me how that makes sense!)  The money is also not saved because that lower category suite is gone and the higher discount on the more expensive suite is the only option...if there even was a higher discount.

Now, coming full circle, you are starting to see at automobile dealerships and some cruise lines that they are now willing to make less sales to stabilize the prices. (With lower or fixed inventory, the need to offload or get quick cash reduces.  Saks, as noted is having a problem because of the wealth of retailers offering the same goods.  But, for example, Seabourn is..well, Seabourn...and there is not a whole lot of competition.  So if the Seabourn Odyssey is going to sail at 75% of capacity (rather than, say the recently reported - though not verified - 35% of capacity on Silversea and 50% on Regent) that may well be what it is. 

You enjoy cruising.  You enjoy luxury.  You earned it.  If you can afford it, do it.  It is, in the end, what you want to do...troubled retail and purchasing strategies aside.


Saturday, March 14, 2009

The "Gold Standard" Luxury Travel Forum

Well, I was working on the forum rules this morning, struggling with how to make the upcoming forum fresh and upscale and, of course, what the heck to call it. Then it came to me The "Gold Standard" Luxury Travel Forum. It expresses high quality, stability, the standard others are measured by and, of course, Goldring Travel.

As for the Rules, other than the normal stuff, this is what they are:

This forum has been established out of need for comfortable place to have intelligent discussion about luxury travel.

Many of us look beyond our next cruise and are fascinated, and want to learn about, what makes the cruise business, a cruise line, or even a crew member, tick. The heart of any good discussion is disagreement, differing views and alternative perspectives. It is the basis of how we, as adults (and you must be 13 or older to even be here!) learn and grow. So feel free to respectfully express your disagreement with someone’s post (Isn’t that refreshing!).

There are a few basic rules: It is essential for this forum to succeed that everyone respects each other’s individual interests, perspectives and reasons for being here. That means, in part, this is a “Cheerleader Free Zone”. In other words, Cruise Line X may be your favorite and you cannot conceive of how anyone could possibly want to cruise on Cruise Line Y, but frankly the members here do not care. (That’s why they are here!) We care about intelligently discussing various aspects of luxury cruising…but we do care about why you love Cruise Line X. So, just as one dismisses the opinion of a child who just stamps his feet and says “Because I say so”, your post may be dismissed/deleted if you don’t provide intelligent discussion as to why you say so.

It also means that while we want this place to be comfortable and even friendly, if you have the urge to post to everyone “Have a great cruise” or “Say hello to my favorite stewardess, A” please do it in a way that it doesn’t disrupt an intelligent discussion.

I would love for those to be the only rules, but there are a few more:

Hopefully my next post on this subject will be to announce the board is active.

In the meantime, please let me know of any comments or suggestions. They all are appreciated. (Even if you hate the name. Nothing is carved in stone!)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Update on New Goldring Travel Message Board and Special Seabourn Pricing

I know a number of you are patiently waiting for the news...and delivery...of the new message board and the special Seabourn pricing.  Both are making good progress, but both are taking a bit longer than I anticipated or would like.  BUT both are coming along nicely nonetheless.

Some info on the new Message Board:

I want the discussion to be changed, so I am not going to have it broken down by cruise line.  The areas are, so far:

1.  Luxury at Sea
a.  The Software - Service, Cuisine and Amenities
b.  The Hardware - The Ships

2.  Luxury on Land -Tours, Excursions and Longer Experiences

3.  General Discussions

4.  Cruise Reviews

I am trying to arrange for Anonymous posts to be permitted, but the individuals will still have to register with the site.  This will, obviously, help reduce the "one post wonders" and other disruptive influences.  That may take a bit longer, but it will not hold up launching the site. 

I am told I can work for a Tuesday launch...hopefully.

If you have any other suggestions let me know.

As for the Seabourn pricing.  I am waiting just like you. Sorry, but doing something special takes special handling.  In the interim, if there is a cruise you are interested, please don't wait because if it is a specially priced cruise I will adjust the price. 

CNBC - Discusses Cruises With Goldring Travel - UPDATED

A couple of days ago I received an email from CNBC letting me know that they read this blog and thought I might find its upcoming show "Cruise Inc: Big Money on the High Seas" of interest, which begins airing on March 24, 2009 at 9:00 pm EDT. They also sent me a link to a preview of the show. While the clip tends to show the same thing that many of us have seen on other shows or on the ships, I am hopeful that more than how much food is prepared on NCL is discussed.

According to the just received press release: Correspondent Peter Greenberg and his crew investigate the strengths and weaknesses of the fastest growing segment of travel, as they spend seven days aboard the Norwegian Pearl, one of the newest ships in Norwegian Cruise Line’s fleet...Greenberg was granted extraordinary access above and below deck to document the inner workings of the ship and the business itself.

Greenberg investigates the intricate pricing structure of the cruise industry, starting with the most luxurious accommodations, which go for $26,000 a week, butler included. He explains the huge gap that exists between the baseline cabin fee and the actual cost of indulging all the ship has to offer. The report also explores common perceptions and misperceptions about safety and security at sea, and takes viewers behind the scenes as the crew of the Norwegian Pearl train for worst-case scenarios. CNBC gets a rare look at the Pearl’s state-of-the-art security operation, where officials use 1100 surveillance cameras to monitor the ship 24/7.

But, it got me thinking (as I do): The viewers of CNBC probably would be more interested in how things operate on a ture luxury cruise ship (as opposed to a mass market ship with some luxury suites) and how that business model is run, which is far different. In my initial email I wrote, in part:

"For the majority of my readers, Norwegian Cruise Lines would never be considered an option. The quality being provided just isn’t near acceptable. Food preparation, service and amenities are on a whole other level. For example, while Peter was watching the NCL galley pre-cook meals (lobster, etc.) well before dinner was being served, on Seabourn the meals are prepared ala minute.

And, as another example, for the guest it is not about consuming as many pre-cooked lobster tails as possible, but rather enjoying Lobster, Lobster, Lobster…which is an elegant plate of small portions of lobster presented three ways served with complimentary wines chosen to enhance that specific course. (And, of course, the wait-staff is wearing true formalwear, not t-shirts mocking them.)"

I had some additional preliminary telephone discussions today to see if either a follow-up or compare and contrast type program might be of interest. Hopefully I will be able to report back some progress in the coming weeks.

I did mention to him that CNBC did highlight one of my legal clients is Fischer Travel Enterprises. Fischer Travel is the travel agencies for the ultra-wealthy -and if you watch the video by clicking the link, you will know what "ultra-luxury" is about. BTW, don't try to find the telephone number for Fischer Travel; as they say, "If you don't know it, you wouldn't use him." If you want to engage in an OMG comparison, try to squeeze in our Five vs. Six Star Luxury discussion when talking about that kind of luxury.

So if you have any suggestions as to approaches for such I show I would love to hear them. And, even just putting them out there might just lead to some interesting discussions.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Wonderful Review Shows Why You Need A Good Travel Agent and To Not Rely on Hype

I just finished reading a review by a well-spoken individual who was on the December 27, 2008 11 night cruise on the Regent Paul Gauguin (The PG was not so fabulous ). She was, for good reason, not happy.

As I read it I kept saying, if I had expected a luxury experience I would have written pretty close to the same review.

However, as you may know, I made the mistake of perceiving Regent (as opposed to its former self, Radisson) as luxury, so I downgraded my expectations when booking my cruise on Paul Gauguin. I also swallowed the price because of the lack of viable alternatives. In the end I found the cruise a real success, as the whole far exceeded it parts. (And, by the way, I would strongly suggest you consider the Paul Gauguin as a wonderful way to see French Polynesia...though probably not the Marquesas or Cook Islands, but that is another discussion).

I would suggest that before you read the above review you read mine, from August 2007 (Goldring Travel - Review of Paul Gauguin) . If that guest had a travel agent who had my experience...and candor...he would have said, "I have been there. I have been on the ship. I have been to the islands. If you are expecting luxury it is not going to happen. If you are expecting the marketed Regent experience, you need to change your expectations."

By using a knowledgeable travel agent and calling it as it is, that guest would have been able to make an educated decision on value before stepping on the ship, so that she was not feeling violated every step thereafter. She would have known about the food, less than polished service, lack of entertainment, etc. But, I bet dollars to donuts, that guest would still have gone on the cruise and would have had a far better time and felt comfortable with her decision.

What I am saying is, there is no benefit to "blowing sunshine". The travel agent and the cruise line gained a problem while possibly losing a guest who, if treated fairly from the start (rather than hyped) might have become a great supporter of Regent and/or her travel agent.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Some Thoughts About Silversea Cruises

I was trying to stay away from another concerning post, but the news about Silversea Cruises needs to be discussed.

I have said for a number of months that I have concerns over Silversea's future.  In November 2008 I wrote Silversea - Lost at Sea? which was followed by a telephone call from Marilyn Conroy, resulting in my early December 2008 post Silversea- A Call From The Captain .  The news I have been hearing is not really any different from what I expected, but it is not what I would call good news.

Late yesterday it was reported on a variety of shipping sites that Silversea is effectively indefinitely postponing (canceling) its second new ship.  Now, the wording in these articles, quoting or referring to Amerigo Perasso, Silversea's CEO, is interesting.  I found the most accurate and complete quotation to be as follows, "But I don't anticipate us taking delivery of a second ship until a couple of years after the delivery of the Silver Spirit...I think we are approaching a moment when it will be very interesting to go back to the drawing board and sit down with Fincantieri...Commodity prices are going down dramatically, and not just the price of steel, and the order book of the yards is lagging. I believe it was a good idea not to confirm that option too soon."

But this information (which I will discuss below) must be coupled with two other important facts: 

     1.  Silversea is effectively mothballing the Prince Albert II for months due to slow...and I mean really slow...sales; and,

     2.  Silversea had put off indefinitely the refit of the Silver Cloud, which was scheduled to occur shortly.  According to Silversea, "The drydock is now scheduled to address the technical issues that ships need every so often as well as replacing some carpets as needed. The bathrooms, additional deck, new suites, flat panel TV's (which require a complete rebuilding of the cabinetry), etc. have all been postponed."
Clearly there are financial issues at work here, but that is not to be unexpected.  What really concerns me is that other than the Spirit (and I cannot help by believe there was an intention to confuse the market by picking the identical name of a Seabourn ship...not a class move at all!), there is a huge pull back. 
That may be fiscally responsible or fiscally necessary, but it most definitely is not a message you want to be sending out to the market.
Silversea has, in just a few months, gone from a cruise line that was consistent across the board to one that you need a flow chart to know what each ship offers. So you want to go on a cruise and you are looking for a luxury experience?  What flavor of Silversea are you looking for? 

You know I have been emphatic that, especially when talking about luxury, there has to be - what's the magic word?:  Consistency.  Silversea has now positioned itself to have four (4) distinctly different ships.  Silversea will have one ship sitting idle, one ship in need of upgrading, one ship put off entirely, one ship refurbished and one new ship.     That is not a fatal flaw, and I do not mean to infer that.  But what I see are bigger problems coming...and soon.  I may be wrong, but here is my reasoning:

The delay...really canceling...of the second ship makes sense.  In this economic climate, visions of grandeur if you do not have the financial backing, simply is not an option.  (Why do I say "cancel"?  Because comments like not having a new ship until a couple of years after December 2009, means 2012 at the earliest and "going back to the drawing board"  effectively means that.)  I did not condemn Regent for doing it and do not do so as to Silversea.  So let's take that off the table other than to say the reasoning must relate to long term cash flow and Silversea's obvious perception that there is not a potential for a real return on investment in the next few years as its cash stores are depleted by a soft market not being as profitable as prior years.

I then look at the 50% off and 25% commission offerings.  That is discounting far beyond Seabourn's 40-65% discounts and seems to be a real scream for cash.  Add to that the charging for specialty restaurants and the change to less expensive Filipino crew...who were admitted not properly trained when installed on the ships.

Then I look at passenger loads.  One ship is actually vacant; not a single passenger for months.  The other ships are running at around 50% capacity or less.  (Yes, some cruises are higher occupancy, but not consistently.) 

Then I look at the cancellation of the Cloud's refit.  This screams of there not being enough cash in the coffers.  There may be enough to pay for the work (I don't know), but more importantly it tells me that Silversea is looking at its longterm situation and is now looking to keep its cash; calculating that its net cash from sales to reduced passenger loads will not be greatly affected by the loss of luxury quality on the Cloud.  (Remember my comments about downgrading a Five Star to a Four Star?  I am not saying it necessarily applies, for it is still a nice ship...today, but keep it in mind.)

There is no question that Regent's $40,000,000 refurbishment was designed to help it compete with the new Seabourn ships.  Seabourn's service and cuisine, by anyone's standard, is as good or better than any other cruise line's; and most would consider it to be the best.  Regent's "ace in the hole" has been its suites and multiple dining venues.  With the Seabourn Odyssey and Seabourn Sojourn, that immediately disappears, so the quality of the public spaces had to be improved.  [Also, I believe Regent has changed its demographic -so while demanding "Six Star" it shoots for the premium market; there by insulting itself a bit from the Seabourn luxury pull.  (Pricing is now a huge issue, though.)  But I digress.]

Silversea also sees Seabourn as its primary competition.  It has been providing a true luxury cruise experience and its "ace in the hole" was pretty much the same as Regent's (that why I spoke of Regent above).  Silversea sought to meet Seabourn head on:  New ships to counter Seabourn's new ships and to replace its aging (though not ancient) hardware.  Significant refurbishment of its older ships to keep their competitive edge over the Seabourn triplets (which are being modernized in many ways bit by bit).  The Prince Albert II, to grab the younger wealthy adventure traveler away. 

Now where is Silversea?  Regardless of whether Silversea is making the most prudent decisions regarding cash flow, the consistent issue I see in all of them is the failure to honor its plan.  As I showed, Silversea is now a fragmented product with a little here, a little there.  I am just now sure where it winds up.  But what I do know is that a steady course is really needed at this time.

If I have one suggestion, it is one I give credit to Seabourn for:  Make sure your service and cuisine is consistent.  (This is where Silversea has drawn the most criticism of late.)  Seabourn has a very loyal following on the oldest ships in the luxury business because of it.  Silversea's situation, from an operational (not fiscal) standpoint, need not be terrible.  Focus on the maintenance of a consistent luxury product.  Is that merely what I think?  No.  Mr. Perasso was quoted in the same articles as saying he would not reduce Silversea's luxury services. 

Service issues, cuisine issues and extra charges is  what I am hearing at the prime Silversea issues, as noted above.  Maybe Mr. Perasso's words will be backed by some of those unspent construction and refit funds to address these issues. We shall see.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Another Reason for Caution When Relying on Too Avid a Poster - Compensating Good Reviews.

A reader of this blog forwarded to me the following article:  http://consumerist.com/5166291/royal-caribbean-caught-infiltrating-review-sites-with-viral-marketing-team .  (I am fascinated how timely it is considering our recent discussions.)

Basically it discusses Royal Caribbean scouring the internet (and mainly Cruise Critic) for 50 of their most avid, but well written and positive, posters dubbed "Royal Caribbean Champions".  Their reward, after being monitored, was an invitation to a pre-inaugural sailing on the Liberty of the Seas. 

Now, I am sure most, if not all, of the posters were very happy with Royal Caribbean (and, as I mentioned in my extended review of my cruise last year on the Mariner of the Seas Mariner of the Seas Review (4 Parts) there are many happy with this product), but if there was something amiss I dare say they would be a bit more hesitant not to mention it.  To be fair, they are not in the business, so I would not expect anything different.  There is the saying, "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth" and they, I am sure, are wise enough posters to follow that advise.

There are many instances when a line gives special treatment to their supporters.  Regent does it too.  In fact, I am aware that Seabourn even did it - once - a few years ago...and I am very confident it will never do it again. (The postings were great, but the post-cruise "Now I am special...forever" became a problem.)

Selfishly, how about Regent Seven Seas or Silversea giving me a free cruise to show me how wrong I am?  :-)

Goldring Travel Is Setting Up a New Message Board

The response to my blog from so many people has been just fantastic. I, as well as so many readers and posters, are very appreciative.

I know the Comment section of the blog is a bit cumbersome, so I am working on something new. As many of you know I just re-launched the Goldring Travel website. I am now working on adding the optional Message Board to the site!

With it we we can have some real discussions that are easy to access rather than being buried in a particular blog posts where they are hard to find and hard to read. (I will keep the blog going as many of the things I post might be of interest, but not a great topic for discussion.)

It is a new Message Board module that hasn't been used yet as far as I know. I understand it will not be as robust as say Cruise Critic, but then again I don't think it needs to be. While I do not yet know its options or limitations, I am hoping it can:

- Allow for Anonymous posting.
- Allow me to edit postings that have valuable information, but really cross the line vis-a-vis personal attacks; and,
- Allows for Cruise Reviews to be posted without the option for responses (those being left to the Discussion area).

What I would like from you, if you don't mind, is either here or via email if this is of interest to you and, if so, what you would like to see it include and exclude.

Remember, I see this to be more about luxury travel and discussion, but I am open to pretty much anything within reason.

Also any suggested names would be appreciated. If I chose the name you suggest, I will have some sort of Thank You gift. I don't know what it will be, but it will be more than just "Thank You"!

Friday, March 6, 2009

So You Want to See What True Five Star Luxury Cruising Is? Do I Have A Deal For You!

I know there has been great interest in the past days about what is Five Star Luxury cruising, so I was thinking (as I do) and...

It is time to get out of discussing the "theory" and getting you on the ships. The Yachts of Seabourn, that is!

Disclaimer (Don't you love them): What follows is not hype. (Let's face it you know my feelings about hype).

I am going to be putting money where my mouth is! I want you to take advantage of me! Use me! While the details are still being worked on, next week I am going to have some extraordinary deals available for you on Seabourn with pricing that you won't believe. (And, by the way, the airlines are drastically dropping their fares, so that will make these deals even sweeter.)

I am not talking about the Seabourn published discount prices...

I am talking about Goldring Travel prices!

You are going to have truly affordable opportunities that will make you excited to travel and experience Five Star Luxury at sea on all four of Seabourn's ships. (Don't worry, even if you have experienced Seabourn, these prices will be available to you as well.)

There is one (and only one) catch: I am not publishing these fares on either my blog or website. You have to call (877) 2GO-LUXURY (877-246-5898) or email me eric@goldringtravel.com directly.

If you are interested and want to speak to me in advance of the details and fares being available, feel free.

And if you want to consider something while you are waiting, check out these four sailings which are available on March 9, 2009 for one week:

Seabourn Pride - 12 days Round-trip Copenhagen, Denmark
(Scandinavia & Russia including Tallin, Estonia – St. Petersburg, Russia - Helsinki, Finland – Stockholm, Sweden – Warnemuende, Germany and Roenne, Bornholm, Germany)
Dates: June 1, 2009 to June 13, 2009 and June 22, 2009 to July 04, 2009

Category Discounted rate Percentage off brochure fare
Category OW $15,990 50% off
Category CS $12,065 50% off
Category B3 $ 6,849 65% off
Category B2 $ 6,499 63% off
Category A3 $ 5,899 62% off
Category A2 $ 5,599 61% off
Category A1 $ 5,299 59% off
Category A $ 4,999 58% off

Seabourn Pride – 9 Days Round-trip Copenhagen, Denmark
(Norwegian Fjords including Flaam, Norway - Aalesund, Norway – Olden, Norway – Bergen, Norway and Stavander, Norway)
Dates: June 13, 2009 to June 22, 2009 and July 30, 2009 to August 8, 2009

Category Discounted rate Percentage off brochure fare
Category OW $12,005 50% off
Category CS $ 9,275 50% off
Category B3 $ 5,549 62% off
Category B2 $ 5,249 60% off
Category A3 $ 4,749 59% off
Category A2 $ 4,499 58% off
Category A1 $ 4,249 57% off
Category A $ 3,999 56% off

Remember these fares are capacity controlled, subject to prior sale and may be withdrawn at any time. Goldring Travel is not responsible for any misprints.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

What Does the Future Hold For Regent Seven Seas Cruises?

For the past few days we have had some pretty interesting and honest discussion about the trials and tribulations at Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

I am sure as you have read them you probably feel I am very negative about Regent. Well, guess what: You Are Wrong!

Going back to 2003 or 4 (I don't quite remember) I had one of my best cruises ever. It was on the Radisson Diamond. The Diamond provided a true luxury experience on a quirky ship (that most of us loved). The service was excellent. The dining room was beautiful with Miki doing a great job and with Giuseppe as the Hotel Manager with charm and women fawning over him.

In 2007 I had another great cruise; on the Regent Paul Gauguin. It was not a luxury cruise, but it did not pretend to be. The service ranged from excellent to OK and the food was acceptable, but as I said at the time, the sum was far greater than its parts.

To round things out, my experience on the Mariner was marginal, as the cost-saving transition from European to Filipino staff had just been made and the assistant stewardesses had also been eliminated. Forget service, just being understood and not running out of toilet paper were challenges. My Navigator cruise is better left alone.

What does this reflect: As I have said before, it isn't the hardware the makes a cruise line great; it is the people. The Mariner and Navigator have far superior suites, but they provided the lesser of the cruise experiences. What else was in common: The Management! The Diamond has some of the same, but the change to Regent wasn't there and the Paul Gauguin is pretty much independent.

Looking forward, Regent has two very good ships (Voyager and Mariner) and one dog (Navigator). Leaving the Navigator (and I have bet a case of beer on the fact I do not believe Navigator will be around long enough to have the 2010 refit completed), Prestige Cruise Holdings/Apollo has already done much to address the public area soft goods neglect on the two ships, with revitalized public spaces and Prime 7 replacing the curious Latitudes.

Now, if Regent concentrates on service and amenities rather than Six Star hype and of marginal value "free" tours and "free" air, a turnaround is actually not that difficult for there is a more than decent physical plant. What does it need to do:

1. Stop the hype. Now is the time to honest with the cruising public and earn a legitimate reputation rather than a marketed one.

2. Seriously train the crew. You may notice that I have never, ever, directly criticized the crew. I have blasted everyone from Mark Conroy down to the head waiters, but never the crew. If the management is so entrenched in doing it "their way", get rid of them. If management cannot learn and buy into doing it a new way of doing things, drop 'em. If the management has too far alienated the crew: Bon Voyage.

Why? Because the crew must "believe". With failed management that can never happen. The crew must believe there is a better way. They must believe it matters. They must believe in their future with Regent.

Taken task by task training it is not that complex. But when there is chaos around the crew, that is pretty much all they see and improvements are almost impossible. However, once the crew believes, training them how to properly serve a table is pretty easy. Really fixing that electrical problem rather than patching it "again" will matter. Then they will discover better ways and will want to improve without anyone saying a word. That is called Pride in one's work.

3. Vastly improve the cuisine. Regent has not been spending much on feeding its guests. That is starting to change (ala Prime 7). And it is not about throwing money at food, but as Oceania does, it is about using good quality ingredients to make simply elegant dishes. (Once that is in place, then Regent can get fancy if it wishes.) This kind of cuisine does not baffle the seriously in need of training galley crew or back up a galley when there is a rush in the main dining room....which in turn gets the waiters flustered...which in turn slows the service and leaves guests waiting for wine or just a table. And, by the way, serve coffee that one can enjoy.

4. Improve amenities. There is no excuse for cheap soaps, shampoos and lotions. Personal care is, well, very personal. People enjoy the luxury of great soaps and shampoo that makes your hair feel and smell good. And how many women enjoy taking home a couple of extra bottles of lotion? (Heck it is inexpensive advertising. Every time she looks at the bottle, no less uses it, it reminds her of that wonderful cruise.)

Let's just stop there. Changing amenities is simple and inexpensive. Stopping the hype actually saves money and is easy to do. That leaves two things: train the crew and improve the food. This is not hard stuff.

With good management in place, Regent can do it relatively quickly. So don't look at all the management that is leaving as a bad thing. It may just be a harbinger of good things to come.

Frankly all I want is Radisson back. Hey, maybe that's it: CHANGE THE NAME. Prestige Cruise Holdings, if you are listening (and I know you are!): How about a "do over"? Bring that which Radisson was back to Regent...and change the name so that the tarnished image is gone.

In other words, don't write the cruise line off just yet....maybe just the management and the name.

What Are the Objective Standards Used to Award a Five Star Rating?

Some people are of the opinion that challenging Regent Seven Seas Cruises "Six Star Luxury" claim is, well,biased toward Seabourn or some other line. They even feel that such a challenge is an unfair or cruel attack on them, personally, or their happiness. To the contrary, the star rating system was originally established an an "objective" standard which has been exploited by many entities over the years.

Regent cheerleaders, "Hold on to your hats. This is going to be a bumpy ride!" When you are finished reading this purely and independently objective piece you are going to resent all that "Six Star Luxury" marketing hype that has been placed...with a very big smile...before you.

The Mobile Travel Guide (MTG) site states exactly the concern that I have stated: "For travelers who use the Internet to plan trips, hotel ratings have become seriously suspect. All major travel Web sites offer ratings that appear to help consumers find hotels that meets their requirements. In reality these ratings are intended to help sell hotel rooms, not to provide a consumer unbiased, information that they can trust. Comparisons of Web sites' ratings reveal wild fluctuations that can only be described as confusing (at best) or misleading (at worst). For online travelers, be careful which ratings you trust!"

MTG goes on to quote an independent source as stating, "Travel websites are rife with complaints from travelers who feel they are misled about the quality of a hotel. Frequently ratings conflict to the point of being nonsense ... Mobil Travel Guide is the gold standard in the United States." ... The Wall Street Journal, January 2004 56% of all leisure travelers agree that "hotel guide ratings such as those provided by Mobil Travel Guide and AAA are important when selecting hotel accommodations." - YPB&R/Yankelovich Partners, 2004 National Leisure Travel Monitor

MTG uses unannounced in person visits to the various hotels and uses an objective checklist from which its ultimate rating arises. There is an inspection of the physical plant (for cleanliness, physical condition and location). Service is measured in a second incognito visit by 500 different measures over a period of days "interacting with staff, having a drink at the bar, ordering room service, visiting the spa and taking advantage of other services that a standard guest would encounter.­ "

Measured items include such things a such as graciousness, efficiency and luxury, staff appearance, behavior and skill level as well as food quality, housekeeping and concierge services, etc. Most of the standards are absolute,such as luggage being delivered within 10 minutes (yes/no). Inspectors also detail their thoughts as part of the inspection.

So what are the some of the expectations of a Mobile Five Star rating (quoting directly from MTG, bolded by me for emphasis):

"Exceptionally distinctive luxury environment offering consistently superlative, personalized service and the ultimate in amenities, make these hotels and inns the best in the U.S. and Canada. Attention to detail and the anticipation of every need are evident throughout this exclusive group of hotels. These hotels are remarkable in every aspect from the plush and elegant guest room design to the unforgettable culinary experiences."

- Staff is extremely well spoken, polite and clear, avoids slang and phrase-fragments.
- Staff is extremely well informed about requirements within their department.
- Overall service is flawless from initial reservation call to departure service.
- Guests are offered an escort to their rooms unless they specifically decline.
- If pool service is available, guests are proactively greeted and escorted to their chairs, and set-up assistance is provided or offered.

- If pool service is available, during a 90 minute period and in warm conditions, some sort of complimentary refreshment is offered (for example, mineral water, fresh fruit, water spritz).

In the Restaurant, specifically:

- Service is warm, gracious and anticipatory and committed to providing the guest with a fantastic dining experience
- Pace of meal is never noticed by guest; there are no awkward delays or rushed events
- Food presentations are perfectly executed with evident care given to each individual item on each plate
- Food is flawless, a delightful and interesting experience

(If you want more detail, you can review quite a bit of the MTG standards online.)

Now, is Seabourn "Five Star"? Yes. Is it "perfect"? No. There will always be a slip-up or miss, but Seabourn consistently hits the Five Star criteria. Could it be considered Four Star + because the triplets do not have true balconies? Actually I don't think so, because it is but one criteria and a suite with a full marble bath weights much heavier. (As, the new Seabourn Odyssey is almost all balcony, so that will soon become less of an issue for those that actually want a balcony.)

Is Silversea "Five Star"? Is SeaDream? If they are not Five Star (and they may well be), they are most certainly 4 Star+ (using the same criteria). Why? Am I biased toward Seabourn? No. SeaDream has cabins; not suites (forget about balconies) and other limitations in its physical plant, while its service and cuisine is excellent. Silversea has the physical plant, but it has had some acknowledged slippage in service and cuisine and now charges for more of its specialty restaurants. Fair comment?

Regent, however, simply cannot compare to these lines. You are not greeted with Molton Brown, Bulgari, Hermes, etc. amenities. The staff is not flawless and, as some have recently observed, are overtly disgruntled. Extended waits in the dining room and less than inspired cuisine is commonplace. These are facts, not opinion. And the standards are what they are: Objective.

Having now read the foregoing, and my immediately prior posts about Regent, is there any "objective" standard by which one can claim I am biased? All I have done, and will always do for my clients, is call it as I see it...and this is not even close to being open for legitimate argument.

Now, does anyone really believe Regent Seven Seas Cruises is "Six Star Luxury"...or even "Five Star"?