Friday, July 31, 2009

Seabourn Cuisine - Seeing Is Believing

You know I consistently rave about the quality of Seabourn's cuisine and have found it to be of even higher quality on the Seabourn Odyssey.

While I was onboard the Odyssey I had the opportunity to chat with Charley Palmer about the new and enhanced menus, his galley setups and his philosophies.  H explained that with the truly purpose build galleys on the Odyssey he has much more latitude both in the menu possibilities and in the ease of the chefs and cooks providing the cuisine at a consistently high quality.

The triplets are, of course, much older ships and the galleys were, before modification, much older in equipment and design...and created with a philosophy of cuisine that has changed dramatically since the 1970s.  As the present cuisine proves, it not to say that the triplets suffer from a lesser quality cuisine, but rather the chefs and cooks have a greater challenge in preparing that high quality product.

As far as quality control, there is not a cruise line that performs at a higher level.  There is another blogger/author, Ralph Grizzle, who maintains the Avid Cruiser website.  He provides some nice photos, and limited commentary, on the various cruise lines.  Presently he is on the Seabourn Odyssey and posted on YouTube a great video of Seabourn (actually Executive Graeme Cockburn) going thought one of his daily reviews of the evening's offerings to assure the highest of quality.  Hopefully without offending the Avid Cruiser I am providing it here rather than merely a link to his site:

You know when the cruise line and chef allows you to truly see what is going on in the galley and to allow the critiquing to be videoed it is very confident not only of the product, but its production.  That is not hype of "Six Star Luxury" or gourmet cuisine.  It is, in fact, pride and a desire to show it off...with confidence.

That confidence translates to your cruise.  You can, with confidence, enter into any dining venue on a Seabourn ship knowing you will be receiving truly exceptional cuisine...brochures and emails be damned!

Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Regent Seven Seas v. Seabourn: Philosophy, Pricing and Practice

Frank Del Rio, President and CEO of Prestige Cruise Holdings, owner of Regent Seven Seas, recently was interviewed by Travel Weekly Magazine. The article was about sales and marketing of Oceania and, to a much lesser extent, Regent.

There was an interesting exchange:

Q: With Regent, you chose to include shore excursions rather than lower prices. Did that stimulate sales?

A: Like nothing you've seen. It's one of the reasons why our business is stronger than most right now. This industry is one of lemmings. There is too much copying going on. Everyone lowers prices to stimulate sales. It works, but it hurts the travel agents. Every week I hear that half a dozen agencies are going out of business. We said, we don't want to hurt travel agents, and knocking $60 off our cruise won't motivate a sale the way it might at [a mass-market line]. Including shore excursions makes them commissionable.

I recently spoke with Mr. Del Rio at an Oceania event and let him know that I was not fond of the inclusive shore excursions. He questioned me as to why and I told him because it is not a luxury amenity. I explained that in the luxury market most people do not take cruise ship tours, but rather private tours. So, to my way of thinking, the inclusion not only doesn't add real value, it brings in a way of cruising that while positive for the cruise line's immediate bottom line is not necessarily so for the overall luxury cruise experience. (I offer complimentary Ensemble Travel tours on many of the cruises I book for clients. As a new alternative, I am able to offer a $150 per person onboard credit if they don't want to take the tours. This came about for the very same reason: Luxury clients tend not to take the group tours.)

There have been some recent articles on the internet about dissatisfaction on the Regent Voyager due to cutbacks in food quality (I struggle with the quality of the product, it may be the preparation or menu descriptions/marketing) and service. The issues with Regent Mariner being literally overrun with children with 125+ on its Alaska sailings may look positive to Regent's immediate bottom line, the negatives of poor service, an overwhelmed dining room, crowds and a very non-luxury experience...even at embarkation. (I will leave the Regent Navigator out of the mix...anxiously awaiting the major refit upcoming in January!)

Seabourn, on the other hand, has taken the approach which Mr. Del Rio has criticized: Seriously cutting its prices. I, too, believe that is the wrong thing to do as far as long term benefit. However, that is where we part company. As anyone who as recently been on Seabourn, including the new Seabourn Odyssey, will tell you, the service and cuisine is as good - or in the case of the Odyssey: better - than it was before the cut rate pricing.

The result I am seeing the most of is clients who were booked for 2 or 3 weeks in 2010 not looking to benefit from the reduced pricing, but rather to extend their cruise to 3 or 4 weeks for the same, or in some instances, less money. Yes, there are those that have never tried Seabourn that are coming onboard, but it is not with an expectation of anything other than it being more of a "privilege" than a "bargain"...event though the bargain has drawn them in.

So, if you believe getting more stuff equals more "value", Regent may be the way to go. However, if you are looking for more "value" in a true luxury experience, there is no question that Seabourn consistently provides that.

And if you still want some included never know, I just might be able to provide that for you as well.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Seabourn Undercutting Silversea - Incredible Discounts!

While I am writing how there seems to be little cross-over from Silversea to Seabourn, it appears that Seabourn may well be trying to change that!

Possibly smelling Silversea blood in the water, Seabourn has essentially put all of 2010 on sale adding additional discounts to virtually all of its 2010 sailings.

Clients are calling me to extend cruises because it now is less expensive to cruise for four weeks than it was for three.  Others are looking at adding additional cruises. 

I am not sure that I agree with the concept, but it is here and I would urge you to take advantage of it.

And remember, even with these incredible fares I still discount every cruise and have my exclusive Goldring Travel Seabourn Referral Program, special complimentary Ensemble Experiences on many sailings and, of course, the best service for my clients.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Oceania Cruises - More Great Improvements...But It Is Still About The People

Oceania Cruises invited me to a exclusive event last evening at the French Culinary Institute in New York City where they announced another great feature for their new ship, Oceania Marina: a Jacques Pepin French Bistro style restaurant aptly named "Jacques".

I have met Jacques Pepin a number of times...not because I am anyone special, but because he is so approachable. Last night, while waiting for the official announcement, I recounted with him some amusing moments some years ago at the Aspen Food & Wine Festival which he attends almost annually. He introduced his wife and spoke of his daughter. And briefly chatted about his working on the menu for the about to be announced restaurant.

After chatting with him I thought about my chat with Charley Palmer on the Seabourn Odyssey Inaugural Cruise less than a month ago. First I thought about how lucky I am, and how cool it was, to briefly chat with two remarkable chefs and to do it in such a short span of time. But then I thought about how these two men were similar in many respects, but also so different. Charley Palmer is a guy I could easily see sitting down with a glass of whiskey and talking about anything in a "manly" way. Jacques Pepin comes across more as your favorite uncle who you just can't wait to be invited over to his home for a family dinner with wonderfully simple, but elegant, food, wine and conversation.

I also had the opportunity to speak with Frank Del Rio, Chairman and CEO of Prestige Cruise Holdings (owner of Oceania Cruises). He was warm, caring, proud and enthusiastic. We had a bit of a chat about both Oceania and Regent Seven Seas wherein I explained my confidence in the Oceania product, but my concerns with Regent. Unlike you might expect, he was not defensive, but very interested. He brought me over to the wonderfully charming head of Hotel Operations and the three of us had a pleasant, but candid, conversation where each of us learned some things. It was all about making the product the best it can be. (I did tell Mr. Del Rio that I am not a fan of the inclusive tours on Regent as luxury clients tend not to take them, so it was more of a negative than a positive...but that is a discussion for another blog post.) The conversation left me feeling upbeat and enthused.

Bob Binder, President of Oceania Cruises spoke during the formal announcement of Oceania's commitment to the use of the finest ingredients when making everything from chocolate croissants to its steaks; emphasizing Oceania's cuisine and its constant development and improvement.

The Marina will also have a very cool 22 station culinary center where, unlike anything else at sea, guests will be able to actually cook either a single lesson or a cruise-long course, rather than simply watching a demonstration. Mr. Binder spoke of going shopping with the chef and bringing local ingredients back to the ship's culinary center to create, for example, a wonderful pesto. (I think this is a wonderful concept and I am sure there will be very high demand for this. For me it is reason enough to book a cruise on the Marina. Imagine learning the ingredients and techniques necessary to bring the local cuisine home with that you can relive your cruise whenever you step into your home kitchen. Great life experience...and great marketing!)

And that brings me back to Jacques Pepin and his new restaurant. He spoke, as he always does, of Jacques having "honest" food that is simple and prepared properly. As he said in his later cooking demonstration (how many of those has he done in the past 50+ years?!) that the key is not to screw up great ingredients, but rather to touch them the least amount possible.

To me, that is what Oceania is about. While the public spaces are beautiful (though the standard cabins are a bit small) and the itineraries interesting, what makes Oceania a great value and easy to recommend is simple: It is the ingredients.

From Frank Del Rio to the busboy, the buffet to the new Jacques Restaurant, Oceania is all about a very simple concept: High quality ingredients (be it people or food) which are prepared properly (whether in training or in the galley) and which are not screwed up (with faux luxury/pretense or unnecessary complication.)

Note: Oceania has told me there is going to be a BIG surprise on the Marina that will be announced closer to the launch. No one will tell me what it is, but they are very excited about it. With the installation of Canyon Ranch spas on the ships, the Marina Culinary Center and Jacques already announced, it has to be something special. Of course with the launch still more than a year away we are going to have to wait. Such problems!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Seabourn and Silversea Cruise Lines - Are They Really Competitors?

At first blush this may seem like worse than a naive question, but one that is just silly. I mean, how could the two largest true luxury cruise lines not be direct competitors?

Yesterday I learned some very interesting statistics. Silversea claims that it actually has more former Princess passengers on it ships than Seabourn guests. More Holland America passengers. More Cunard (actually the highest percentage). More Crystal. In fact, when providing the statistics Seabourn wasn't even mentioned; and clearly isn't in its top four sources of prior cruisers.

When first faced with this surprise I was, frankly, shocked. Of course Seabourn had to been in the mix, didn't it? But then I started I do.

Silversea provides a very upscale product; no question about it. It has gone through, and probably will continue to go through changes, while it struggles with its present situation. However, Silversea has stressed that it is not cutting back, but rather adding value through essentially keeping the product the same and lowering prices. (I do not acknowledge that to be true - I don't have personal knowledge - but that is the company line.)

Seabourn also provides a very upscale product, but what I experience and what I hear consistently - even with the launch of the Seabourn Odyssey - is that it is the staff that makes Seabourn Seabourn. (How many expressed concerns abouth whether Seabourn could deliver the same quality service on its larger ship? I have not heard a single person say Seabourn hasn't succeeded.)

Aside from opinions about cuisine and service levels (or, better, style differences) the ships are markedly different. The Seabourn triplets with only 208 guests are yachtie and the 450 passenger Seabourn Odyssey provides the same yacht-like service. Silversea, however, provides a large platform for all its ships (which are medium to medium-large). Is that why Silversea mentions passenger to space ratios rather than differences in service? Probably.

So with the similarity, and knowing that many cruise these lines to be on the ships first of all and itinerary second, why isn't there more cross-over? My experience tells me that I have a much more prevalent move to Seabourn from Regent and Celebrity (and a bit from Oceania). I have had Seabourners try Holland America or Cunard...once. But not so much the other way round. I do have some serious Crystal clients that happily swing between it and Seabourn.

One interesting observation: Seabourn's ships are sailing pretty full this summer. In fact, Seabourn is running into situations where it is oversold. Silversea, on the other hand, ha thrown everything it has (butlers, $1,000 onboard credits, deep discounts, etc.) to attract more guests...and its ships still have significant space available.

With such great deals (and they are) why aren't more Seabourn guests giving Silversea a try? I believe that at this level the guests know what they want and it is not necessarily about getting the best deal...when measured solely by the dollar/pound/euro.

Backtracking to the move-up clients, it would appear that it is a bit more in what the style of service is provided (or, in some instances, marketed) in the mass market/premium market that a particular person latches onto and becomes comfortable with. Every line tries to pitch some sort of service difference and, it would seem, that comfort with the "hint" given on Princess may build a natural acceptance to Silversea's marketing, while the "hint" on Celebrity favors Seabourn.

Regent is a whole 'nuther kettle of fish which I will address another day. Suffice it to say, as I recently discussed with a client, Regent seems to be more of a premium line with great suites; rather than a luxury line with great service and cuisine. It is when those that have been trained that what is truly faux luxury discover what luxury cruising is truly about, the change to Seabourn or Silversea happens. My experience is that there is no real trend toward one or the other. In that respect, I guess, Seabourn and Silversea do directly compete.

I guess, then, it is not so ironic as a top seller of Seabourn cruises I also tend to sell more Celebrity and Oceania than I do Silversea, Princess or Cunard. Mind you I sell them all, and am very familiar with each, but I cannot ignore the trend.

Funny thing, "This is My Yacht" and "Starring You" do have some symmetry.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Is Cruising Really Travel?

My post of yesterday has started an interesting discussion on The Gold Standard Forum with a question posed by Diebroke (I love that name!): Is Cruising Really Travel?

I thought it better to express my thoughts here and allow others to discuss their feelings on the forum. What is interesting about the premise is that a cruise is a personal thing. For every single person that walks onto a cruise ship their idea of what a cruise is differs, their desires differ, their aspirations differ and, therefore, their perspectives differ. That is why, in large part, there are so many different flavors of cruise lines.

But before I get to that I do want to point out a bit of irony. Diebroke mentioned a June 29, 2009 blog post by Arthur Frommer, the travel writer and publisher entitled: My 12-Day Med Cruise: Loads and Loads of Fun, But Not the Deeply Fulfilling Activity Travel Can Be. The article starts of, "Don't ever call it Travel. It's not. At best, it's a prelude to travel, like the appetizers that precede a meal, like an hors d'oeuvre. It's like those whirlwind tours by escorted motorcoach that used to bring you 13 countries in 14 days." Knowing that Frommer's Guide information is going to be available on my website Goldring Travel very soon, the irony becomes apparent.

One must juxtapose Mr. Frommer's comments from the philosophy of AFAR Magazine, "If your idea is staying at big-name chain hotels, touching every attraction in the guidebook, easting what you eat at home, and being in bed by 9 p.m., we're afraid that AFAR might not be for you." Respectfully, isn't AFAR referring to the very same Frommer's Guides???

And then there is the Iamboatman/Goldring Travel approach. Yesterday I said it very clearly: Cruises are supposed to be about travel; seeing new places and seeking out life-enriching experiences.

How can that exist if Arthur Frommer says it doesn't? It is simple: Frommer's is a wonderful and reliable resource for "information". It is not a resource for "how to travel" or "how to see things". Arther Frommer made a huge mistake...because he obviously doesn't have the experience of traveling by cruise ship: He did what the cruise line told him to do! (Didn't we just have a "discussion" yesterday that it is up to the traveler to do what is best for him/her, not be trained by the cruise line, because doing otherwise is fraught with danger?)

Mr. Frommer speaks of motorcoaches. Anyone who has ever sought my advice will tell you that I pretty much suggest avoiding taking a ship's tour "with 50 of your favorite new friends". (How many of you have heard me say that? Show of hands!) There is usually no good reason to get on the bus. It will, especially on the larger ships/lines, be a huge disappointment and a frustration.

Example: (And I have written about this, so obviously Mr. Frommer hasn't read my blog!) Next month I am taking my family on the Celebrity Equinox and will be visiting Israel for two days. We have arranged an expert guide specializing in Jewish history to take our family in a private van from Haifa to Jerusalem to Ashdod, overnighting at a Palestinian owned and operated hotel in Jerusalem. The cruise ship experience (at substantially more money BTW) is a bus ride to and from Haifa to see things from a more Christian view (the obvious majority) and then the next day is another long bus ride to and from Ashdod to see Jerusalem...or an overnight at a non-descript hotel at even more money. Hence, many more hours in a bus, less seen, less done, less experiences.

Mr. Frommer speaks of it being a prelude to travel, like appetizers. That comment, to me, is so "ugly American". If you have been to Paris you have been to France. If you can't see it all, why bother going. Who came up with stuff? Spain, Italy and other cultures have made such things an entire cuisine and mainstay of a lifestyle: Tapas anyone? Ever go to a really good buffet and get excited because you don't know where to start. It all looks so good, but you don't want to overfill your plate. So you carefully plan and taste the things that look best to you. You then say, "That was good, but not as good as I thought" or "I want more of that. I have to make a second trip to the buffet" Cruise travel is exactly the same thing.

I have written extensively on how to travel and have given hours and hours of advice to my clients on how to do it so that it is "life-enriching". I have been to Athens how many times? I am excited to go back because there is is the brand new Museum. I was just in Venice last month and "have to" go back in September where I will take a walking wine tour. Rhodes - looking forward to getting lost in the labyrinth of alleys again. Do you remember my story of the little restaurant in St. Tropez which we found only by strolling around and seeing a wonderful galvanized bucket with bright red gladiolas down a very narrow alley? What of the wonderful woman in Sirince, Turkey who cooked and cooked for our small group? Ever get lost in culinary heaven at La Boqueria in Barcelona? These are not bus trips. They are not 50 people with a flag-holding guide. But they are all life experiences taken in while on cruises.

And then there are the comments about Santorini, for example. They may never made it out of the town of Fira! We rented a car, drove to Akrotiri to see the Minoan ruins, stopped for lunch at a local restaurant with awesome views (and pretty much no English spoken), walked on the black sand beaches, dropped the car, dropped the kids back on the ship and came back to enjoy an incredible sunset with a bottle of local wine and fruit before making it back to ship. An incredible day...and not one shopping. (OK, we did some shopping.)

Mykonos - OK, the place is not one of my favorites. But the last time I was "blessed" with having to shop for some dresses with my wife. (Long story.) My reward was being able to sit in a waterfront restaurant with my friend for a couple of hours and watch the boats in the harbour and the people on the promenade. It was, to be sure, quite Greek as we drank ouzo, beer and ate olives and anchovies. (I could have taken the $49 cruise ship bus to the beach, but I thought my experience would be better.)

Naples - Ever try the high speed ferry to Capri for the day? What about a family walking tour where you make pizza in a true Neapolitan pizzeria?

You get the point.

So where does the cruise ship come in. Is it merely transportation? No, it is alas much more. Whether you want Royal Caribbean's "Why Not?" (I love that!!) or Seabourn's "This Is My Yacht" you can find different ways to wind down or up. For me, I prefer a soak in a whirlpool with a glass of champagne, a great meal (assuming I haven't over-indulged on land...or maybe so anyway), some nice conversation with new shipmates and a nightcap. Others want discos and rock climbing. Whatever floats your boat.

So, as I said yesterday, Now regardless of what the cruise lines are doing, in their various forms, it is incumbent upon the traveler to do that which they originally intended to do: Travel.

Mr. Frommer, do you need a good travel agent? I know one. Do you need a good magazine to teach you how to travel? I know one of those too! (I couldn't resist. It is, of course, said in fun and with respect.)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Let's Get Back to Basics - Why Do We Do This Stuff????

The past few weeks have been a sort of a travel roller coaster.

I spent a fantastic two days on the Seabourn Odyssey marveling at what a fantastic ship she is; absolutely dumbfounded by how incredible the Seabourn staff, crew and executives pulled off a miracle after her horrifically late deliver and the shocking condition T. Marrioti left the ship in.

That was sandwiched in between two wonderful days in Venice with incredible views, outstanding stays at the Ca' Segredo Hotel, and my favorite meal of liver and onions in a little local restaurant as we watched a local man eat his meal, sleep for about an hour and then carry on as if all is normal (as he apparently does nightly). And it was coupled with my planning for a great family cruise on the brand new Celebrity Equinox visiting Israel, Egypt, Turkey, Greece and Italy at an absurdly low price. (What could be bad?)

And then I returned to complaints of chaos in the dining room of a Regent Seven Seas ship, demands for more "compensation" for non-compensable issues on a recent cruise, the absurdity of "Fire Sale" marketing by Silversea and, frankly, ridiculous marketing by Seabourn which I believe cheapens its product and name.

So I ask, "With many of the ships essentially full, WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?"

Before I answer that I want you to watch a short video from the owners of a new travel magazine AFAR, which I will be at the launch party for next month:

Cruises are supposed to be about travel; seeing new places and seeking out life-enriching experiences.

Cruises are supposed to be about cruise lines providing the traveler with excellent service (expectations adjusted accordingly dependent on price) and facilities to relax and recharge in while transporting us to the next life-enriching experiences.

Cruises are supposed to be about not seeking perfection or finding things to complain about, but rather the enjoyment of an overall experience.

Unfortunately it seems, as I was afraid would be the case (and which I have written about), the cruise lines cut rate pricing has created a monster...and it is a monster that many cruisers are feeding. I will get to the cruise lines in a minute, but first those feeding the monster.

When things are great the small misses (an unreplenished refrigerator or trying to get a second cup of coffee) are noted, but are weighted as rather petty in light of the entire cruise experience. Now, for some - not all - it "goes on The List". That list becomes the focus - or the game of "How I get a free cruise or big discount" - rather than why I went on the cruise to begin with.

You remember that sleeping man in the restaurant I spoke of earlier. I could have said, "That is outrageous! How dare they allow him to sleep away while I am trying to enjoy my dinner. My dinner is ruined." Instead I said, "What an interesting piece of life! Strange, but interesting. I must truly be in a local spot and what a treat it is to be able to enjoy (or tolerate...take your pick) this moment as if I lived in Venice. It makes my liver and onions taste, well, so uniquely Venetian."

Now there are those that will remember most the missing towel or overcooked fish, but they will actually be the ones that probably will forget they were on the cruise, first and foremost, to be travelers. They turned into the dreaded (by some) "dealmakers". It is all about the "deal".

I firmly believe this has come about, in large part, because over the past months the cruise lines have trained the cruising public that it is about the deal and not about the travel or life-enriching experiences.  After years of trying to make it clear that waiting until the last minute is not a good travel strategy, the cruise lines panicked and decided that more important than long-term price and quality integrity, there must be short term "fill the ships" cut-rate pricing and deals.  So all the effort of the past years to have product integrity has been effectively tossed out.  Add to that some cruise lines loss of cash positions causing changes that reduce the quality of their product. 

Regent has suffered this for a long time and, despite its good faith and concentrated efforts to correct the errors of its prior owners, it is a long process that involves far more than training dining room staff (if the shipboard management doesn't get it, how the heck are they going to train the staff properly?).  Add to that what is a now commonly reported complaint of people that don't normally cruise on open liquor ships are running a bit amuck, interfering with "travel"...and then The List begins and the "I need to be compensated" becomes the focus.

Then there is the Silversea approach (now being somewhat mimicked, but purely for marketing reasons, by Seabourn) of doing anything to get people on their ships.  Increase base prices slightly so that 60% discounts with free air can be offered...with onboard credits too!  They must be desperate, right?!  And then the thoughts of , "Gee, Silversea has cut back here or there.  It just isn't the same. I better start my list!"...placing all the neat stuff to the rear ("That is what I paid for, so why does that count?) and forgetting about the life-enriching travel.

This is followed by Seabourn's most recent marketing "One Week Sale" approach.  I swear it is like opening the newspaper or watching television and hearing a commercial for Macy's  (Lowest prices of the season!  Hurry, limited supplies!, etc.) or, worse, a commercial from a local automobile dealership (A Cadillac for only $200.  That's right, only $200. Of course the Cadillac is a 1984 Sedan deVille.)  Now Seabourn is pitching a $1,349 cruise with cruises selling for $5,499.  The ad doesn't tell you that the first cruise, at $270 a day, is for a historically very low demand 5 day cruise that may or may not become a charter or that the second one is  14 day cruise at a 45% higher per diem.  If the lines, especially Seabourn, treats its prospective guests in such a fashion, what is it that can be expected?...The List.

Now regardless of what the cruise lines are doing, in their various forms, it is incumbent upon the traveler to do that which they originally intended to do:  Travel.  Don't get sucked in.  The cruise lines will see their ways are wrong, but that does little for the guest that used to be thrilled despite the little errors and now has "The List".


Monday, July 13, 2009

Seabourn Wins Travel & Leisure Magazine's Top Small Cruise Line Award

You know I hate these "awards", but I feel compelled to provide the information because some people find them of great interest.

The Yachts of Seabourn has won the 2009 Travel & Leisure Magazine Award as the No. 1 Small Ship Cruise Line.

What is interesting is that the category was dominated by river cruises with Silversea being No. 3 and Regent not even in the category (and, I might add, properly not). Next cruise line was Windstar at No. 7 followed by SeaDream at No. 8.

I am not sure what Lindblad Expeditions has done to garner No. 5, but suffice it to say whatever the standard (other than multiple votes), Seabourn and Silversea would logically need to be measured by a different standard than Linblad...IMHO.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Newest Seabourn Sale - I Am NOT Impressed

You are going to see lots of promotions for next week. Take a Seabourn cruise for as low at $1,345.00. Before you get all excited, this price is for one five day cruise and the number of cruises included are actually very limited.

And if you really look at the pricing, even the itineraries are good, but the concept of Seabourn giving away cruises is just misleading...and I don't like it.

Here are the details...and if it works for you great:

The sale starts on Monday, July 13 and the ends on Monday, July 20.

Seabourn Legend
11/23/2009 14 days Ft. Lauderdale to Caldera, Costa Rica from $3599
12/07/2009 14 days Caldera, Costa Rica to Ft. Lauderdale from $3599
03/20/2010 5 days St. Thomas to St. Thomas from $1499
03/25/2010 7 days St. Thomas to St. Thomas from $1999

Seabourn Spirit
11/15/2009 12 days Lisbon to Ft. Lauderdale from $2765
12/16/2009 5 days St. Thomas to Ft. Lauderdale from $1349

Seabourn Pride
02/13/2010 14 days Singapore to Hong Kong from $4999
02/27/2010 14 days Hong Kong to Singapore from $5249
03/13/2010 14 days Singapore to Hong Kong from $5249

Seabourn Odyssey
11/28/2009 12 days Ft. Lauderdale to Ft. Lauderdale from $3999

Thursday, July 9, 2009

What Happens When Customer Service, Rather Than The Customer, Is Right (?)

A singer, David Carroll, had his $4,000 guitar, sent as checked luggage, broken by United Airlines. When United jerked him around...

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Goldring Travel's 2009 Food & Wine Cruise - Seabourn Spirit Update

As I mentioned the other day, I had an unfortunate last minute cancellation for the Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise aboard the Seabourn Spirit, departing on September 26, 2009, round trip Venice, so there may still be an opportunity to join us.
For those going, thinking about going, wishing they could go...or just curious, I have finalized our Walking Wine Tour of Venice. Here are the details:

On Saturday, September 26, 2009, at about 10:30 a.m. we will meet in the lobby of the Ca’ Segredo Hotel and take a one minute ride in a traghetti (a simple gondola) across the Grand Canal to the Rialto Market. (If you watch Anthony Bourdain’s show, No Reservations – Venice on the Travel Channel you can see the market…which, because it is Italy, is in no rush to open, so we don’t need to start too early! Here is list of restaurants Tony has visited: Tony's Venice Restaurants )

After a casual wander we will take the traghetti back to Ca’ Segredo Hotel and meet up with our guide for the walking tour, which will start at 11:30 a.m. and last about 3 hours…stopping, of course, to eat and drink. (Don’t worry about starting at 11:30 a.m., the Venetians will have started drinking before us!)

WINES OF VENICE AND THE VENETO - Explore the hidden corners of Venice with your expert wine guide, who is a professional sommelier. Enjoy a glimpse of local life while learning about traditional local wines and their place in the local culture. You will visit 2 wine bars (enoteche) in an authentic area of Venice, off the beaten path. In each wine bar, your personal sommelier will select two typical quality wines for you to taste, each paired with small Venetian appetizers, called cicchetti. We will start with white wines, and finish with red wines.
During your time together, you will learn about the most important aspects of Italian wine production and its role in Italian culture. Regardless of your level of wine knowledge, you will find this walk both informative and fun. Your guide will be happy to focus on any particular wine topic that interests you most, including history, tasting guidelines or quality standards.

Our guide: MARIO PICCININ - Mario is a certified Italian Sommelier (AIS) and Master Cheese Taster (ONAF). His background also includes a degree in the Science of Food Production from the University of Bologna. Mario, a native of Milan, has lived in the Veneto for 35 years, and his grandmother was from the Cannaregio sestiere of Venice. He is an experienced wine educator, and particularly enjoys the wine tasting seminars he regularly organizes for the U.S. diplomatic corps in Italy. In the past Mario led a seminar on Italian wine and food for the undergraduate students of Boston University studying in Padova. He also works as a travel consultant, specializing the wine and food of the Veneto, Friuli and Trentino Alto-Adige. Mario lives in Padova with his wife, Rachel, a native of Ohio, and their two children. He can often be heard to say "A glass of wine is not merely something to drink, but a true reminder of our history, traditions and culture."

We will end the tour back at Ca’ Segredo where we can take a water taxi to the Seabourn Spirit.

As you read from my often, it is more about seeking out and understanding the local life that brings a traveler memories. I think this is an excellent start to a week celebrating food and wine and, of course, discovering the local life, as we cruise the Adriatic Sea.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Sojourn of the Seabourn Odyssey Pre-Inaugural Cruise - The Upper Suite Details

OK, now its time to see what the top shelf Seabourn suites are like on the Seabourn Odyssey.  There are basically four different suites:  Penthouse, Owner's, Signature and Wintergarden.  They are, quite refreshingly, unique, modern, very well thought out and not filled with gimmicks...though if you look you can find one or two.

Penthouse Suite - The really unique thing about these suites is the etched glass enclosure which separates the bedroom from the living room.  It gives a great sense of space while dividing it...which seems counter-intuitive...but works.

The Owner's Suites are located forward, overlooking the bow with a nice wraparound deck:
The Signature Suite is really a slightly larger Owner's Suite:
The Signature Suite can be combined with the adjoining Veranda Suite to create two bedroom Grand Signature Suite;
My favorite suite is the Wintergarden Suite, located midship on Deck 7.  It combines great living space with a funky bathroom, a glassed-in wintergarden and nice outdoor deck space in a wonderfully convenient location:
The Wintergarden Suite can also be combined with the adjoining somewhat unique Veranda Suite to create a Grand Wintergarden Suite.  As of now that suite cannot be booked independent of the Wintergarden Suite:
I have many more photos, but this should give you enough of the suite details to whet your appetite.

Azamara's New "Celebrity" - Pimental To Take The Reigns -UPDATED

Since its launch Azamara Cruise Line has been neither fish nor fowl.  It is a wonderful product, but has been stuck in sort of abyss between Celebrity (its premium brand "owner") and Oceania (an ultra-premium competitor operating virtually identical ships but with a much stronger brand identity). 

With limited marketing on top of that, I unfortunately have heard "What is Azamara?" much more than "Great Itineraries.  Great Price." Royal Caribbean (owner of Celebrity and, therefore, Azamara) has, obviously, also heard the same things and had decided to shake things up a bit.

Although not officially announced yet (now it is!), the word is that Larry Pimental, the former head of SeaDream Yacht Club, is going to be taking over the reigns (or, better, finally someone will specifically be taking them!) and will report directly to Royal Caribbean, while Celebrity will merely be providing the operational support.  He is now the President and CEO of Azamara Cruises.

While there is no question that operating a 648 passenger upscale ship is far different from the 100 passenger luxury SeaDream Yachts, Pimental also brings his experience as the head of Seabourn (when it was in its infancy) and the decision to bring in the ill-matched 748 passenger Seabourn Sun onboard.  As a result, there can be no question that Pimental "gets" the differences and understand how the product needs to be differentiated from both the luxury market and the 2,000 - 3,000 passenger cruise ship market.

I have listened to Pimental's energetic approach and almost gospel-like enthusiasm for SeaDream (before the financial problems of its owner caused a relationship-ending riff), so I have no question that he has some sort of vision and will be working hard to make it happen.  My concern, though, is how he will meld with a cruise behemoth when he has spent so many of the last years working in a boutique setting.

I am looking forward to the formal announcement and hearing what the vision is.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Sojourn of the Seabourn Odyssey Pre-Inaugural Cruise - Exterior Spaces...Lots of Them!

One of the concerns for those who have not been on the Seabourn Odyssey is whether the ship will be crowded with double the a guests who enjoy the triplets.  It is bit ironic because with the Seabourn Odyssey being about three times the size of the Seabourn Pride, Legend and Spirit, there not only is more space, there are many innovative spaces.
Starting on the bow is the favorite "Secret" Whirlpool (an improved version over the triplets).  There are lounges surrounding the whirlpool as well.

Up high, overlooking the bow, is the Sun Terrace.  It is wonderful space that, surprisingly, is fairly sheltered from the wind.  A perfect place to supervise the Seabourn Odyssey's navigation.  I do not know if it will be available for use in the evenings, but I could definitely see taking a whiskey (and a cigar?) after dinner and staring at the stars.
Moving aft is The Retreat, a sheltered area with nice lounge seating, shuffleboard and...two Putting Greens:
As you walk aft there is a smaller area above the Sky Bar with comfortable seating and a couple of tables and chairs.  I will not discuss, again, the Sky Bar, Patio Bar, Patio Grill or Main Pool area, though you have to by now understand that crowds are not something to be concerned about.  Seabourn has well and truly designed the Odyssey to have many comfortable, smaller, areas.
One of my favorite areas - if not a bit unusual - is the Second Pool which is behind The Club lounge.
This is the view from the Colonnade on Deck 8 looking down on the Seabourn Square's small outside deck on Deck 7 (sneaked that in on you, didn't I...'err, I mean, Seabourn) and the Second Pool area on Deck 5 outside The Club (which clearly is quite private save the few lounges on the arched area). 
Personally, I think there not only is a remarkable amount of deck space, but a unique mix of wonderful spaces that provide a multitude of opportunities to sun, relax, play, eat, drink or socialize.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

A Possible Last Minute Opening - 2009 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise

I may have a last minute opening for my 2009 Food & Wine Cruise on the Seabourn Spirit departing September 26, 2009 roundtrip Venice.

You can get much of the infomration here:  2009 Food & Wine Cruise

I have some additional information concerning our walking wine tour in Venice pre-cruise, suggested shore excursions and hotel, if you are interested.

Email me if you are interested in this really great itinerary to places which are new to most and great for exploring new wines and foods.

Keewaydin's 100th Anniversary - Iamboatman Jr.'s (And Iamboatmanette Jr.'s) Summer On The Water

With all the discussion about luxury cruising and who wears what when, I was thrilled to see the following video celebrating the 100th anniversary of the camp where my son spends a good part of his summer:  Keewaydin.  My daughter now goes to the sister camp close by:  Songadeewin.

The best part of the camp is that kids get to be kids.  The boys live in tents, use handmade wood canoes, kayak, hike and just have lots of fun.

Venice or Vermont...a tough (but excellent) choice!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Cat Calls From The Cruise Critic Wannabes - Get Over Yourselves...Seriously

You know I am a huge critic of Cruise Critic and, honestly, since I stopped posting over there (Thank You!!!!) the board has devolved into little more than a catty obnoxious clique where actually very little of substance is ever discussed and, frankly, much of what is being discussed is, well, disgusting.

I cannot tell you the number of emails I am presently receiving worried if these obnoxious and cliquish people is what Seabourn is about. Thank heavens I know it is not. Those that are upset by this little, actually insignificant Cruise Critic clique, need to understand - these self-absorbed people make up much less than 0.5% of the Seabourn guest list.

Do the math: Most Seabourn cruises have no (zero) Cruise Critic posters. Some have 2 or 3. A few, such as a Crossing have maybe 6 or 8. Out of 100 suites, that is a very significant minority. Take those same numbers and put them on the Odyssey and these folks are essentially invisible to everyone...but themselves.

The most recent absurdity is over how people were dressed that were arriving for, or attending the, Maiden Voyage.  Who cares? Why?  The answer, which is going to piss 'em off, is that those obnoxious and insulting posters are almost exclusively "wannabes".  (Notice I used green - envy.)

They wannabe able to afford the Maiden Voyage, but probably cannot afford it.  (And they weren't considered for the Inaugural filled with the top brass of Carnival Corp. and Seabourn.  Some even had to falsely devolve sailing with Mr. Arison, Mr. Frank, Ms. Conover, etc. into being a junket rather than an honor.)

They wannabe able to fly in from their European home the same day, but they don't own one and/or they are xenophobic Americans who forget that Seabourn  is an international cruise line with many non-US guests who consider flying within Europe similar to taking a bus (and who gets dressed up for that?).

They wannabe able to wear whatever the damn well please, but actually worry that someone who has anointed themselves the fashion police might realize that "the clothes actually don't make the person".

But the reality is that this specific VERY SMALL GROUP on Cruise Critic (most certainly not all who post or read Cruise Critic) tend to be the ones that book the lowest available suite at the highest discount...or they cannot afford to go (or simply will not go).   Read their posts and you will see they are the very same ones complaining that if Seabourn doesn't give away the cruises to them - especially single suites - they are going to other cruise lines. They tend to sail for 7 days...maybe 14...once a year, possibly skipping a year hear or there.

The Seabourn demographic is changing to be younger, but one thing is clear:  There are many guests that cruise multiple times a year and do so for far longer than 7-14 days. 

Another things to keep in mind:  Everyone on Seabourn is treated exactly the same.  I have rarely heard anyone wanting to boast about who they are or what they are worth.  It tends to be exactly the opposite because, in a sophisticated world, it just doesn't matter.  What matters is that you are respectful of the other person and friendly enough for the then situation.

So how did people dress on the Inaugural - for those that want to know?  With a few exceptions (there always are):  Elegantly or Country Club Casual.  After reading this post that you feel insulted you, "Do you now think my compliance with the expected dress code makes me a better person than the one that do not dress as well as me?"  Didn't think so. 

Get the message?

Postscript: A Cruise Critic post (captioend Cruise Critic Dangers) on the Regent Board expressing the problems with rudeness and misinformation...and insignificance of Cruise Critic:

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A Request of My Clients and Potential Clients (and You Are All My Friends!)

I just received a request for submissions to Travel Agent Magazine for the top travel agents of 2009. One of the bits of requested information is client endorsements by clients who are willing to be identified and, potentially contacted.

Therefore I am SHAMELESSLY requesting anyone who is interested in providing such an endorsement, if any ;-) to send them to me at Any specifics you want to include would be greatly appreciated.

I will not use any endorsement for any other purpose without your express written consent; I promise.

I must note that it is uncomfortable for me to solicit endorsements, but something I was taught (and my clients regularly remind me) is that "If you don't ask, you don't get." (As opposed to "Be careful what you ask for!")

Sorry for the intrusion and Thank You!


Silversea Cruises is Really Getting Tarnished

I have heard from reliable sources that today Silversea terminated its:

- West Coast Regional Manager
- One of its Los Angeles Sales Managers, and its
- Colorado Sales Manager.

If you consider that the West Coast of the United States has historically been on of Silversea's stronger sales areas, and considering the wealth in Colorado, this is extraordinarily troubling news.