Sunday, August 30, 2009

Celebrity Equinox - Egypt...Impressive and Depressing

As we arrived into the port of Alexandria, Egypt, the Celebrity Equinox seemed so out of place; being a beautiful new cruise ship in a huge, dirty, port filled with rundown freighters. But then we arrived at the cruise terminal which, to be honest, is probably the prettiest cruise terminal I have ever been at. It was, however, pretty much empty of shops or anything else. We met out private guide and were off on our two day adventure.

I will note at the outset that based upon the dozens and dozens of tour busses which arrived back to the ship late on the second day with well over 1,000 (probably close to 2,000) guests, I have no doubt that I could not have stood the 3 hour drive each way to Cairo in the Egyptian required caravans with security escorts. (I phrase I quickly learned about the authorities is that according to the Egyptians they are for “decoration”.)

Our guide was OK, but no more. I was more willing to accept his somewhat inappropriate comments because I have been reading a book which I will review in another entry which gives an American’s perspective on Egyptian culture. When I asked him about a tree, he said, “I am Egyptian. It if it is green it is a tree and if it flies it is a bird.” In other words, there is a script and that is what we will be receiving. Nothing more…and, I think, possibly less. Our mineral water and soft drinks amounted to four small bottles of water for two days. Our Costar van was a somewhat dirty minivan with cigarette burns in the seat. What I can tell you is that I suspect that Ramses Tours is no better or worse than any other tour operator. The guides float between them and, judging by the names on the various vans, so do they.

That said I am very glad we had a private guide and made it a two day overnight tour rather than a one day tour packed in both time and people. It afforded us, as you will read, with better information, better access and, overall (after speaking with people who took the ship’s tours) a more complete experience. Now, with that out of the way…

The first thing that hits you is not the history or architecture, it is the filth and litter and poverty. It is everywhere. As we left Alexandria I thought things might get cleaner as you got out into the countryside. It did not. Litter and rubble is everywhere. Partially built and abandoned buildings, from shacks to commercial, are omnipresent. (I do note that in Egypt there is a technique of not completing the top floor of residences, but living in the buildings, so the building is not taxed. I do not speak of these occupied buildings.) Rubble from old road construction is everywhere.

As we approach Cairo there was a partially built bridge over half the highway with no road even hinted to meeting up with the bridge. You can ask why or just accept it. I have found that the Egyptian way is to just accept it. (Just like the pipes I saw over canals attached to nothing and no prospect of anything being there either.)

Another thing omnipresent is traffic police. They do not seem to do anything, but you find them everywhere…including in the middle of the highway sitting in a plastic chair with no ability to stop a car or respond to an accident. What could their purpose possibly be?

Our real touring started with the Egyptian Museum holding so many antiquities. What was there was amazing, but the way they are not cared for (no air conditioning and layers of dust, for example) is shocking. Add to that the extremely limited amount of information provided and the poor exhibits and without a guide the place could be quite frustrating. The displays of Tutankhamen’s burial mask, sarcophagi, jewelry, etc. were impressive, but would have been more so with proper lighting and information. (At least the room with the most important pieces is air conditioned.)

After a bad “complimentary lunch” at the Hard Rock Café and an hour felucca ride that lasted 20 minutes with no explanation (as it sailed around downtown Cairo…not what I had asked for!), but with a very memorable old Egyptian “captain” with bad teeth and no underwear, we were diverted against my wishes to a papyrus “institute” that I also requested we NOT visit. It is Egypt and it is what it is.

Then it was to the Le Meridian Hotel with Pyramid View Rooms. The hotel was an oasis from the dirt and litter and I recommend it. We ate that evening at its Nubian Village restaurant and had a really wonderful meal with incredible Egyptian bread (I mean really good!), stuffed vine leaves, falafel, pigeon and other selections. I also tried an Egyptian white wine, Scheherazade made with vines imported from France. The wine was surprisingly all right. It wasn’t good, but it was far better that the Palestinian selection. The shisha (water pipe) was present again!

The next morning we were ready to go at 7:30 a.m. and then the local police decided that because we were American we needed police protection. Our guide said it was merely “decoration” and upon his negotiating with the police giving them a waiver of sorts, we were on our way. I figured it was a scam to get “baksheesh” which you might refer to as a tip or bribe, but in reality is virtually every person you meet expecting some of your money for doing nothing or next to nothing. Based on what I learned, I figure the police protection would have hit us up for at least $100 to allegedly protect us for the day.

After that we still arrived at the Giza Pyramids just before the 8:00 a.m. opening. This allowed us not only to see the very impressive Pyramids without crowds (and get some incredible photos), it provide us with instant access to entering into the Middle Pyramid – which was very cool…and which was greeted by a person inside with a tiny windup flashlight demanding baksheesh – rather than the normal queues of around 30 minutes in the hot sun, it provided us with our 15 minute camel ride (which I was convinced was going to be 5 minutes). A nice surprise was that with no other customers they gave us about 30 minutes and took as all around the pyramids and snapped a ton of photos on my camera for me. Once again baksheesh was demanded, but this time it was well worth it and I provided what I thought was a more than generous amount…only for them to press me for yet more because it was Ramadan.

We then traveled a short ride to see the Sphinx, which was too brief, but very interesting. Then it was to Sakkara and the Step Pyramid and the Teti Pyramid (which we were able to enter and which was more interesting because it contained lots of hieroglyphics…of course paying baksheesh along the way). The drive to Sakkara was disturbing because the road runs along a highly polluted canal which we say children playing and fishing in.

Just down the road is Memphis with its Colossal Statue of Ramses II and other statues. It was worth the journey. Some friendly tourist police offered to take a family picture for us…and then demanded baksheesh. I refused, maybe foolishly, but I had really hit my limit.

It was then a 2 hour ride back to the ship…since I decided to forego the Mohammed Ali Mosque because I just didn’t want to face downtown Cairo again and the mosque really wasn’t of interest to me. Guess what? The road back to the ship went right through Cairo and it was not 2 hours, but 3 hours plus. Just another ruse by the guide.

We made it back to the ship around 4:00 p.m. which I think was a good thing. Starting around 7:00 p.m. all the busloads of ship tour passengers started to arrive. Way too many people for me.

After taking effectively two showers to cleanse ourselves, our dinner onboard was open seating. The food was fine and the waiter was friendly, if he did make a few mistakes. What really bothered me was that both my evening’s wine steward (not my “regular” one) responded to my “thank you” with “Bless You”…twice and then the busboy did as well. Folks, I went to have my dinner and some wine, not to be blessed. Maybe I am being a bit overly sensitive because of the Jewish/Arab-Muslim and American/Arab tensions of the past days, but I considered it a major faux pas.

We were to sail away during dinner, but we didn’t. And then the fireworks began…!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Celebrity Equinox - Private Tours, Israel and Conflicts in Perceptions and Perspective

The next couple of posts are going to be difficult to write; not because of too much to do, but because there is so much to say. As I write this I think I will provide a bit of an overview and my thoughts of private versus ship’s tours – giving examples – but will leave many of my personal thoughts…and there are many of them (and many more still being formulated)…for discussion on The Gold Standard Forum and elsewhere upon my return.

If I have not previously mentioned it, Israel is quite thorough about checking passports. Israeli officers boarded the Celebrity Equinox days before our arrival in Haifa to first review each passport and then to meet every person and put the face to the passport. I am not sure if it was only my family since I have endorsements to non-Israel loving countries or if it was shipwide, but our passports were not stamped. Boarding Cards were issued to all passengers which were delivered to our stateroom the night before arriving. Upon disembarking you show your Boarding Card and your SeaPass. (The same thing upon your return.)

Disembarkation was a breeze and we were off with our truly exceptional private guide, Ronnie. I will say that we took the “Jewish” route heading down the coast visiting Caesarea (truly fascinating), through Tel Aviv, all the way to Jaffa, where we had a great lunch in a little Falafel joint…and it was definitely as local as you can get. We then drove east to Jerusalem and had – what I thought at the time was – an in depth overview. [Note: The ship’s tours took the Eastern route to Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee; areas probably of more interest to Christian passengers. There was a bit of complaint that this left their journey onward to Jerusalem with little to see as they traversed the desert near Jordan.]

Our last stop for the day was East Jerusalem, where the Jerusalem Hotel is located. There was a bit of culture shock, when the clean streets and orderly way of life changed to a frenetic and seemingly disorganized and loud one filled with litter and dirt as the Arab inhabited area prepared to break the fast of Ramadan.

The Jerusalem Hotel was a bit of a respite from it all. It is not a sparkling clean and modern hotel, but the Palestinian owned and operated hotel staff was friendly and anxious to please, if not polished. Our room, with beautiful stone walls and floors and three large arched windows (no real view though) had two queen sized beds. The bathroom was, shall we say, not the best, but functioned.

We had ordered a rollaway bed which was missing. They quickly brought in what seemed like an old mattress and clean sheets and unceremoniously dropped the mattress on the floor and left. A few minutes later the bed frame arrived…which almost worked, collapsing as my son sat on the bed. My family was not thinking very highly of me at the time.

So we decided to take a walk to the Old City of Jerusalem; only a long block away. We walked through the Palestinians preparing for Ramadan break fast and hawking pretty much any junky looking thing you can think of. We eventually made to the Damascus Gate and…it was more of the same, and definitely not what I expected as my first experience in the Old City. I had much to learn and there is oh so much to understand! We essentially gave up and walked back to the hotel.

The kids were happy with the flat screen TV and tons of cable channels and I was able to take a little advantage of the complimentary Wi-Fi. I went to the attached, attractive, restaurant and ordered some water, sodas and a Palestinian beer (and, of course, forget its name at the moment). They refused to allow me to take them to my room, because that is what they do. The drinks arrived quickly, with the appropriate glasses and a nice dish of nuts. Things are looking up. And then…

BOOM. There was what sounded like an enormous explosion. My DW turned and looked at me with fear; with the look of “Our family is about to die.” I assume my look was sort of “I know, but I won’t let it happen.” So I raced to the front desk – trying not to look upset…especially because no one else in the hotel had any reaction at all – and was advised that to mark the end of the fast the tradition is to shoot off a cannon. Of course it had to be a block from the hotel.

My wife still trying to find a way to forgive me for placing my family in East Jerusalem in this hotel I convinced her that we needed to eat and that the food in the hotel restaurant looked good. So with trepidation we entered the restaurant…

And, as travel would have it, we had one of the most memorable experiences and wonderful experiences of our trip! We sat at a table off to the side in a very attractive garden setting. Next to us was an older couple smoking a shisha (water pipe). My wife asked about it and they struck up a conversation about how they just returned from San Francisco and offered my wife a try of the pipe, which she liked.

They left and our feast began. I ordered “Palestinian Mezza” which are, obviously, small plates similar to tapas or meza. We were to get 8 dishes, but they brought us an extra dish to try. The waiters spoke very little English, but after seeing we were enjoying ourselves (and I guess the suspicions or tensions reduced) they engaged us nicely. As is tradition in most Arabian cultures, forks are out and pita bread for dipping is in. I ordered a bottle of Cremisan, a white wine grown in Bethlehem and processed in Ramallah. It was not the best wine, but it really wasn’t the point.

After some more food and a second bottle of wine the children went back to our room (with concerns for safety now reduced) and my DW ordered up her own shisha with mixed fruit tobacco. When the kids came back to check in with us, they found their mom puffing away and thought it was cool (and much better than cigarettes since you don’t inhale!). Too much wine and shisha later we called it an evening. All of us had big smiles rather than the fears or concerns we arrived with.

We woke to one of the most moving days of my life. It was the day we “saw” Jerusalem. We saw the various important sites for Christians, Jews and, due to restrictions by the Palestinians, to a lesser extent Muslims. We saw the differences between the ways the Israelis cared for and improved things, how charity (tzedaka) has been utilized to improve both the lives of people and infrastructure, modern and ancient alike, and their forward looking perspectives vs. the Arabian approach which is more “in the moment” with little apparent concern for what was or what will be.

I have started to read This Week in Palestine, Issue No. 136. There is an article by Yousef A. Ghosheh entitled, “Resilience Revisited: A Young Palestinian Perspective”. He writes, “Palestinian youth are talented, motivated, and, to a certain extent, innovative. Yet the young men and women of Palestine often find it challenging to make it in the labour market or business world…[T]he youth of Palestine must learn to be persistent. The ability to maintain action and keep pushing oneself to the limit, regardless of feelings, is what many young people lack.”

I was taken back at first by the term “to a certain extent, innovative” because doing things and making things better just seems so obvious and ingrained in our thought processes. Then I began to struggle with the concept of asserting motivation exists, but then admitting “maintaining action and keep pushing oneself to the limit” is a serious problem. Without understanding, no less having, motivation and innovation, the Palestinian culture clashes with the Israeli and Western ones.

But enough of that, as I said, it was about the tour, but without having a hint as to the underlying issues, I cannot convey to you the benefit of having a truly experienced and caring guide. Being able to have one-on-one discussions with a knowledgeable and caring guide rather than merely scripted descriptions of physical places makes one’s experience in such complex areas really makes the experience much richer.

Another benefit was being able to walk into various sites without having to queue up for 45 minutes to 2 hours waiting to enter (required to deal with the large groups).

I did hear that quite a few people were upset with the Celebrity tours because they went to Bethlehem and Jericho; obviously famous places in religion. Why? Because the towns were so dirty and run down with virtually nothing of interest to see. Ironically I did not have the opportunity to visit them because they are effectively “no go” areas for Israelis. (And our guide warned us of their condition in advance.) Clearly I don’t think this is Celebrity’s fault and, as I have said before, some of my best experiences (good or bad) have occurred in the least likely places. If you want to miss certain places, or are unsure of their real value: Use a personal guide or ask your experienced travel agent.

One stop we made was the Holocaust Museum (Yad Vashem). This was a deeply moving experience that truly required a one-on-one guide to assist you on what becomes a very personal and emotional experience. It was, even for my 10 year old daughter (the youngest age allowed in certain areas for obvious reason), the most emotional place visited in our two days in Israel. I do not believe there were any ship’s tours to this museum.

Our tour did not end on such a note, however. My son has decided to start a collection of Zippo lighters from places he has visited. He wanted an Israeli one, so our guide called his wife and she scouted the largest mall in Jerusalem for us and found the perfect one. (Talk about personalized service!) We turned this into another local experience by having lunch at the food court. We ate more local Israeli food and spend some time observing what for me was a sort of culture shock. Hours before we had been walking down the street in utter filth with street vendors selling low quality “necessities” and then just a few miles away, we were at a mall nicer than the one closest to my home. It makes you think…and that, in large part, is what travel is supposed to be about.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Celebrity Equinox - Dining With the Captain and the Reidel Wine Seminar

The great thing about a great cruise is that so many great things are happening you don’t have enough time to write about them as quickly as you like…because there are other great things to be done.

Our next day, August 24th, was a sea day. It nicely allowed us to rest up before four hectic days visiting Israel and Egypt. However, I was so busy and having so much fun that “rest” never really happened. (I am actually writing this after having been to Israel and Egypt – which were truly fascinating and enlightening experiences – and which I will write extensively about.)

After spending some time with the kids, being a bit frustrated by the crowds around the pool and spas, and attending the Corning Hot Glass Show, which is quite popular, both in its education and the fun of hoping you will win one of the beautiful glass pieces they create in front of you, it was time to start checking out some of the Celebrity Life wine seminar offerings. Note, however, that the Celebrity Life program announced seems to be more of a repackaging of already existing Celebrity offerings; just with a bit more cache.

I attended the Reidel sponsored seminar on how the shape of the wine glass affects the taste of the wine. While I was familiar with the concept, what I had never done in quite so much detail was drink wine out of the various “wrong” glasses to confirm the glass makes a serious difference – good and bad. It was, to be sure, enjoyable and even a bit enlightening…and I have drunk and talked about my fair share of wine in my time. At the end of the seminar (which costs $87) you are given a voucher for a single set of four Reidel crystal glasses which you can carry off or have shipped for a reasonable price. You are also given the option of purchasing additional sets at a discounted price.

While I usually am very skeptical of the cruise lines pushing anything onboard which costs money, I honestly believe this seminar/purchase is an excellent value for anyone interested in wines except for the true expert. And Celebrity limits the number of people per cruise that can take the seminar to 40 (a number which was not reached on our cruise.) Also, this seminar is not available on every Celebrity cruise, so if you are interested, you may want to check in advance…though you cannot sign up for the seminars before boarding.

On the next sea day Celebrity will be holding a Wines From Around the World tasting in Cellar Masters. It is presented not so much as a seminar, but an opportunity to taste 20 different wines from 12 different countries along with appropriate canapés and such. Frankly, at a cost of $20 per person I think it is another tremendous value, even if you don’t care about another other than having a few glasses of wine. I will, of course, let you know how it goes.

I also had the honor of dining at the Captain’s Table with Captain Apostolos Bouzakis. Aside from the fact that my DW sat next to him and had nothing to do with me because she was so charmed by him and his good looks, Captain Bouzakis was the most open, friendly and animated captain I have dined with. Of course he answered questions, but he made us laugh. The Captain has invited us to the bridge and I am truly looking forward to seeing what one of the most state of the art large cruise ships has onboard.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Celebrity Equinox - Asian Flair Onboard and On Shore

We dined at Silk Harvest, the Celebrity Equinox’s Asian specialty restaurant. I was quite pleased, though it hardly compares to Murano. The space is, frankly, elegant and the touches from the tables to the dinnerware is beautiful. The service, from waiter to wine, was very good as well.

The menu allows you to mix Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and Thai dishes as you wish, in small plates and large. They adjust the size of the portions based upon what you order. Some of the dishes were excellent and others were just OK. Nothing was bad. Spring rolls had excellent flavor and ingredients but were a bit greasy. Various sushi rolls were excellent. Phad Thai was toned down, but good. A spicy curry duck was a bit tough, but with nice flavor. Wonton soup with a seafood wanton excellent. You get the idea. (One small miss: Disposable wooden chopsticks.)

What jumped to my mind was the old Lattitudes restaurant on Regent Seven Seas that was always a disappointment and a frustration. It is gone, so I will not dwell on it. However, it is of worthy note that Celebrity has truly executed in a premium brand that which Regent, which markets itself as luxury, simply could not hold a candle to. That is a compliment to Celebrity.

As another travel story, our pre-booked taxi for our trip from Kusadasi to Sirince, Turkey was a “no show”. Rather than being a frustration, the head taxi dispatcher called him (since he was not answering my calls) and let him have it. Then he “told” the other taxi drivers that one of them would be taking me and my family to Sirince at the price I was quoted. (I was quoted 46€, but the going rate at the pier was 150€…so negotiating down to that price was never going to happen.)

For those of you afraid of what Turkey is like or believe it to be a dangerous or unfriendly place for Americans, take note: The way this Turk stepped up, and protected me as an honored guest, is what Turkey and its people is really all about.

Our driver was a gem. He and my wife (who speaks Turkish) talked for the entire 30 minute ride there and the 30 minutes back. He was willing to take us anywhere for the same price. So if you need a driver in Kusadasi, I know the man!

In Sirince we walked, tasted some of the local wines, bought some hand embroidered linen and candy and then had pretty much a Turkish feast in a great restaurant near the top of the hill, Ocak Basi. In September while hosting my Seabourn Food & Wine Cruise we ate in another restaurant out of town after the owner/chef gave us some lessons in Turkish cooking. Here, we just ate and drank local wine. Kofte (like spicy hamburgers with yogurt), cicek (yogurt with garlic and dill), manti (Turkish mini-ravioli in a yogurt and tomato sauce), green peppers stuff with feta cheese and tomato), etc. OK, the wine wasn’t great, but it all just felt right…with incredible views of the farmed hills and mountain homes.

Back on the ship, the size and passenger mix came into play again…to my disappointment. Trying to get into a whirlpool with my daughter at 6 pm was a challenge (eventually accomplished in the Solarium area) and then my DW’s efforts to enjoy the sailaway sunset with a light dinner at the Sunset Bar on the stern of the ship was frustrated by an unruly and loud British group. While these sorts of things can happen on any cruise line, they do happen more often when on a ship with 2,800+ passengers vs. 208 guests.

We were to dine in the Tuscan Grille Steakhouse tonight. However, our plans have changed. We have been invited to dine with the Captain.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Celebrity Equinox - Traditional Celebrity Touches and Some Nice Offship Experiences

On the Celebrity Equinox there are a number of “traditional” touches that Celebrity Cruise Lines continues ranging from complimentary iced towels and water greeting you when you return to the ship to complimentary sorbet passed out in the afternoon around the pool to the lack of announcements to the staff, without exception, saying hello as you pass by. They are the little things that make the cruise a bit more upscale.

The pretty much always open complimentary pizza and ice cream (including candy toppings) keep the kids and the kid in you content.

Last night we ate in the main dining room again. The atmosphere was definitely more settled, but there is nothing you can do about the noise or buzz of activity. If you enjoy the more stayed and quiet aspects of dining on, say, Seabourn there is no way you will be happy in the main dining room. For us it is a place to have an occasional dinner; nothing more. For many around us, it is the traditional time for families, friends and/or tablemates to gather and discuss their day and their plans for tomorrow.

After our two dinners in Murano we decided to eat lighter. My chicken broth tasted of chicken and was not salty and my Cesaer Salad with Shrimp was crisp, had appropriate flakes of Parmesan cheese and a light dressing. My DW had the lobster bisque which was essentially the same as served in Murano, but with less of a presentation and a shellfish risotto which I think may also be similar to that offered in Murano.

I am not a fan of cruise ship entertainment and after watching two shows, I remain not a fan. They were not bad shows, just nothing that makes me feel my time was well spent.

Afterwards we made the “mistake” of checking out the Martini Bar with its frozen bar. Let’s just say the martinis were well prepared and we were a bit sluggish waking up this morning.

As far as off the ship events, yesterday we took a taxi to the new museum in Athens which opened in June 2009. DO NOT MISS THIS. It is truly a world class museum; very modern and with countless ancient Greek artifacts in a very approachable setting. (And as such even though there were crowds, you did not get the sense of it being crowded.) Next time in Athens I think I would hire a guide to really explain many of the pieces to me in detail. I understand the prices are going to rise next year, but at a total cost of 2€ for our family of four, it is by far the best deal around.

We had a very nice, traditional Greek lunch, in a restaurant hidden way down one alley and then onto another. If you didn’t know it was there, you would never find La Palentine. As such, it was not touristic at all. Greek salad, tzatziki, marinated anchovies and grilled cuttlefish with a carafe of the house wine. (And so you know it is good value, we notices some of the ship’s dancers were eating there.)

Today we were in Rhodes and had a lazy day. After a walk around the medieval city we were recommended to Alexis 4 Seasons’ Restaurant for a fish lunch (after being warned by a few locals that there are no good meat restaurants in the medieval city). Once again, you had to know where to look to find the place. Our waiter was very quiet and polite, but could not wait to brag that Senator John McCain had eaten there two days ago and then showed us his photo still on his phone. We had a truly wonderful lunch of Greek salad, steamed clams (two kinds) and mussels and grilled octopus. We had a white wine locally made in Rhodes (Rodos 2400) which was acceptable, but nothing memorable, good or bad.

Tonight we are trying out Silk Harvest, the Asian specialty restaurant.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Celebrity Equinox - Wine Matters and So Does Your Veranda

The wine issue of which I had referred was a comment printed in the first Celebrity Today. It mentioned chilling red wine for twenty minutes. While I knew this was crazy, my DW “had” to mention it to the sommelier at Murano. Oh, what drama! How could this be said? Everyone was in disbelief, so I retrieved my copy for them.

We dined at Murano last night again. As a joke I asked for my Chateauneuf du Pape to be chilled before being presented and we were told, with honest concern for the ship’s wine integrity, of the efforts to point out the error to the home office and have it corrected. It is not an issue for me, but I genuinely appreciate that the sommeliers truly care.

After another truly wonderful meal at Murano, mine being a repeat of the diver scallops, followed by foie gras (with a wonderful pastry filled with duck) and venison with a slightly spicy rub. My DW ordered a much lighter steamed lobster tail (as the rich dining is definitely taking its toll…in a good way!). Unwilling to allow such a simple dish to be presented, the head waiter slipped a Lobster Thermador onto our table…just to try. And it was very, very good; prepared properly with a richness, but without a heavy sauce…as it should be.

We did have another minor wine issue. I had ordered a 1980 Graham’s port to accompany my dessert. It had a nice sized piece of cork in it. Our sommelier was shocked, but recovered quickly presenting me with a 1985 Dow’s port (another outstanding port, though a different style), an apology and no charge on my bill. How could you ask for better service?

Another point about wine: The concept of “smuggling” is really overblown. Not only do I have my carried on wine out on my dresser, our room steward makes sure we have two fresh red wine glasses every day. And when our room is turned down in the evening extra ice is provided for my late night Glenfiddich on the veranda.

Another thing I want to mention, as I think about it, is the size of the veranda and its furnishings. Each veranda has two reclining chairs with separate foot stools as well as a lightweight teak and metal table which is at dining height. This allows for two people to lounge, eat, read or have a late night drink in (It provides real comfort without feeling confined at all.

When you open up the divider between the two rooms we have, it is truly like having a two room suite with tons of room. In fact, I would have to think twice about paying for a suite as this configuration may reduce our living space a bit (but not uncomfortably), but it actually increases our (and our children’s) privacy. I will talk a bit more about this in a later post.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Celebrity Equinox - Luxury Touches Here, There and OK, Not, Everywhere...But There Are Lots of Them!

We decided to spend our day in Naples by taking the ferry over to Capri. While people were lined up probably 50 deep to buy tickets for the 10:30 am ferry I walked down the ticket booth and found virtually no line for the 10:00 am ferry. We had run, but we made it. (I figure people were still standing in first line as we approached Capri!)

Capri, unfortunately, was overrun with tourists. Unlike our visit some years ago, the funicular had long lines so we opted for the 20€ taxi ride to Capri Town. It was worth the premium to avoid that additional line. Unfortunately, the crowds at the top were no less as we tried to wander the streets and visit the shops. Too many tour conductor paddles and throngs of people following them.

“My” pizza restaurant was still there and we had some great pizza and awesome views, though the rose wine was terrible. (Some sort of Italian yuk rather than a rose de Provence.) Talking to the waiter he was said he had heard of New Jersey as the place second generation Italian Americans move to after their parents emigrate to New York. He, like I, called it “the migration” to New Jersey.

After lunch it was just too crowded to be enjoyable, so we opted to just go back to the ship. At 32€ per person roundtrip times 4 people it was kind of an expensive disappointment, but alas such are the reasons I encourage people that can to travel during months other than August when all of Europe is on holiday.

Speaking of Europeans on holiday, Americans are definitely in the minority on the Celebrity Equinox. There are large contingents of British, Spanish and Italians. Quite a number of Israelis (which is interesting since Israel has two port calls) and some French are also onboard. It makes for a very nice mix.

Before dinner we had a glass of wine at Cellar Masters. While I hate the name (it seems far too Royal Caribbean) the venue…including the artwork…is very upscale and it is a rather underutilized lounge. There is a wide range of very good wines by the glass and a complimentary cheese and bread presentation. Later in the evening a string quartet was playing. Luxury? I think so.

Last evening we ate at Murano, the “fanciest” restaurant on the ship. It was quite a pleasure to be dining in a quiet stayed venue rather than the rather frenetic, though nice, main dining room. The food was excellent. I started with Diver Scallop with Black Truffles in a puff pastry. (I could have done without the pastry shell, but the dish was excellent and the presentation wonderful.) Next up was a Mushroom Cappuccino Soup with a side of a mushroom sorbet. Excellent, with a wonderful presentation. (My DW had similarly high quality lobster bisque.) For our main courses my wife had Surf & Turf which was absolutely beautiful and extremely well prepared with perfectly cooked lobster tail and melt in your mouth fillet mignon. I had excellent Sautéed Turbot. Desserts were very good (if not necessary) and the wine list was limited but of surprisingly good quality and range.

Frankly, my dinner made me think of Regent Seven Seas Prime 7 with its oversized steaks and crab legs which are pushed as “luxury”. It is not. Celebrity’s well proportioned and frankly, stunning, Surf & Turf presentation and foaming Mushroom Cappuccino soup is how “luxury” is to be done. (Even the potatoes were presented two ways…and formed into a small flower, which was understated rather than tacky.)

Now, for the not so great.

The pool is, for me, just too busy. It is nothing like pool games and giant LCD televisions blasting music videos, but for me there are just too many people. (There was a very good guitarist playing live music.) Fortunately, there are many spaces and places on the Celebrity Equinox so you can find a semi-private and quiet area to sun or snooze. Far forward on Deck 15 affords you a very nice view, breezes and some solitude.

There are lots of people, so feeling exclusive is not going to happen regularly as you travel around the ship to the more exclusive venues. However, Celebrity has taken the approach of disbursing the passengers rather than accumulating them. So, for example, the pool has many different areas which are visually or physically broken up rather than fixed with lounge chairs stacked as close together as humanly possible, and the lounges are on different levels with public spaces or elevators adjacent to them to keep the areas feeling smaller.

Keep in mind that I have never been a fan of pool clubs or beach clubs. Many people love them. People watching is a way of life for more than a few folks. So, there are many very happy people enjoying the Celebrity Equinox pool areas. (Interestingly, and I guess consistent with my comment, the indoor Solarium pool area is NOT crowded and you can regularly find lounges right in front of the pool or next to the glass overlooking the sea.)

The bar waiters have slowed, but not stopped, the pushing of drinks and bottled water. Late yesterday you could not find a waiter without a drink of the day on his/her tray and you needed to avoid eye contact or you would get the question. Bottled water (two sizes) also seems to be ubiquitous on waiter trays. Mind you, they are not coming up to you pushing it ala NCL or Carnival, but for me it is a sore point.

I have had some wine issues, but I will leave them for another post. Nothing which ruined an experience, but along the lines of “Huh?”.

All in all, I am very happy to be here and am very, very relaxed.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Celebrity Equinox - Settling In Made Easy

We arrived at the Celebrity Equinox at noon with our luggage efficiently taken and we were quickly ushered through security and to Concierge Class check-in, where we were met by no line at all. In about five minutes we were onboard. It was, pretty much the most efficient check-in ever.

With our staterooms not ready until 1:00 p.m. we went to the Oceanview Café for a bite to eat. This space quickly reminded me that its design and variety of foods makes it a truly superior “buffet” (albeit the various stations make it anything but a “buffet”). I had small portions of three types of curries (beef, shrimp and veggie), while my DW had some fresh pasta and the kids had Vietnamese stir fry.

One bad thing struck me; something I had not seen on Celebrity before: There was a very aggressive push for the Drink of the Day and bottled water. I found myself trying not to make eye contact so that I would not get another pitch. Hopefully this will be the exception, but it was a very unwelcome start to my cruise.

Right at 1:00pm our staterooms were ready. A bottle of Celebrity champagne (actually more like a very light Cava) greeted us along with a bowl of fruits, fresh flowers, etc. Sherwin, our steward, made himself available almost immediately. Our luggage was delivered to our staterooms before 2:00 pm. Very efficient.

I am not going to review the staterooms again, but do want to note that it is possible to have the balcony divider opened, so we have free access to the kids’ stateroom and visa versa. It is a very nice and convenient feature. (It pretty much makes the need for interconnecting staterooms antiquated if you have older children.)

Another nice touch: the mandatory muster no longer requires you lug your life jackets. A short video and you are done. Again, very efficient.

As we pre-booked our specialty dining, we took a walk around the ship, easily setup our internet, and then settled onto our balcony with our champagne for the 6:00 pm sailaway.

We had dinner in the main dining room. The room is large and attractive, and we have a great private table adjacent to the Captain’s table with a wonderful view of the Wine Tower/Cellar. My escargot and my DW’s beet salad was OK (not bad, just not memorable), our Caprese salad and lobster bisque was better and my lamb shank was actually quite good (and I would note that it is not easy to make a good lamb shank, no less have it offered on a larger cruise ship). My DW’s steak was as ordered, but not memorable. The one thing that got to us was the sort of frenetic pace of things; something somewhat ubiquitous for a cruise’s first night.

It is worthy of note that there were a number of “difficult” passengers who insisted on this or that, showed up for the late seating rather than dining at the assigned early seating, etc. Celebrity’s staff really shined here with a “We will make it happen” approach rather than the more normal for larger ship approach of “Sorry, we cannot help you.” And it was all done with smiles and class. I was impressed…even though it did make our dining experience less than relaxing. (We will be dining in Murano, the nicest of the specialty restaurants for the next two evenings, so I think our dining experience will be much improved; not that last evening was offensive…just not what we prefer.)

Meanwhile, the kids were busy. They had their respective activities with the kids programs, made some friends, spent some money in the arcade and then returned to their stateroom for some late night room service and a movie on the very high tech television system. They are very happy.

After dinner we found our way to Michael’s Club; a decidedly quiet and classy space with a truly excellent classical guitarist for my after dinner whiskey. I remembered Ryan from my Pre-Inaugural Cruise on the Celebrity Solstice.

A nightcap on our balcony and a nice way to end our first day onboard. I am looking forward to settling in and enjoying our cruise over the next two weeks.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Celebrity Equinox - The Adventure Begins...With a Bump or Two

So everything and everybody was ready to go...and then the car to take us to the airport didn't so up.  Fortunately, I left us more than enough time and had a Plan B, so we piled all the luggage in the car and drove to an airport parking service with valet.  We even had time for a drink in the Continental President's Club before our flight. 

The flight to Rome was fine and we sailed through Passport Control, our luggage was the first off the belt, and an ATM was right there next to the luggage carousel.  As we were going to grab a taxi with all our luggage a van service approached and offered a 160€ price to Civitavecchia (a 45 minute drive).  I was able to negotiate them down to 100€...and things were looking good.

Then we arrived at our hotel; which was always intended to be a sort of economy place to crash until our cruise the next day.  Well, economy is what we got.  Let's just say the pictures online and the comments on were a bit optimistic.  But it worked as a place to sleep and the staff is friendly enough.

But then a wonderful surprise and the reason I love local stuff.  The front desk suggested a restaurant for dinner in the rather depressed port town of Civitavecchia.  We walked to La Palamite and looked at each other as a very non-descript restaurant with bright lights greeted us.  The manager/waiter had a great smile and very little knowledge of English.  With my very little knowledge of Italian, it wasn't looking good.

But then we had a really good meal with lots of smiles, excellent seafood and pasta, and the locals started to slowly arrive for their later dinner.   Wonderful mussels, clams, prawns, langastino and calamari.  Even the spaghetti with tomato sauce was special.  And my son had the best fried calamari I have ever tasted.

We asked for a bottle of wine take back to the hotel.  The manager was so nice he offered to give it to us as a gift.  (We, of course, declined and paid for it.)  And all of a sudden the depressed little port town with the tired hotel seemed like a really friendly place.  For me it made the overnight worth it. 

Would I do it again?  Would I recommend it to my clients?  No and No.  Am I happy we gave it a shot?  Absolutely.

We board the Celebrity Equinox in about an hour and the whole family is looking forward to it.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

AFAR Magazine - The Launch of a Road Hopefully More Traveled

This past Tuesday I attended the launch party for AFAR Magazine, the newest (and I believe best) travel magazine out there.

Launch parties tend try to wow you with flash.  This one didn't; rather it was just cool.  I wanted to bottle the "feel".  It was held in a three story home in Greenwich Village which was filled with the owner's artifacts and collections from her travels around the world. In one room there was a restaurateur serving its Basque foods and wine, in another Tang Dynasty musicians (they were young, the instruments old), yet another had a Moroccan food on one side and French baguette inspired foods on the other...and, importantly, incredible chocolates in between.  Indian music in another room and digeridoo playing in the roof garden.  Owners, editors, publishers, writers and many different languages were all heard. 

In other words, it captured what "travel" does for many:  Inspiration.

Media Life's article:  Making the Case for AFAR Magazine is quite interesting if you want get into the nitty gritty of the magazine's approach.

Now, substantively, I have had a chance to start reading the premiere issue of AFAR and am very excited that the substance has lived up to the pre-publication hype.  This is like a magazine of old:  You have to actually read the articles.  It will take you time and thought.  It is not a Conde Nast list of the 1,000,000 top restaurants in the Caribbean.  It is a journey discovering, in part, why and how bread is such an important part of French daily life.  It is about living in a lodge that you can only reach via zip line. 

Ad Age wrote:  "there are a few articles that seem to clock in at 4,000 words. WORDS! Remember when magazines used to use words, rather than shiny pictures, charticles and infographics?! "

Of course, the point of the magazine - and my post today - is not to encourage everyone to zip line to a tree top lodge in the middle of a jungle, but rather to start to think about some simple things as you you cruise...such as not only that you want to have pasta in Italy, but what kind of pasta and why; to feel and taste the difference between it and the boxed stuff you eat at home.  To taste the earth in the tomatoes and to envision the farmers picking them only hours earlier. 

And, hopefully, from that pasta your thoughts will transform from checking off X when you are in Naples, to (for me personally) being excited to return to Capri to that litle restaurant overlooking the harbor where in 2003 we had a just incredible pizza we watched being crafted in a brick oven with flames flying everywhere.

And from that to exploring, in more depth, the people of a place you have "been to" before.  On our upcoming cruise on the Celebrity Equinox we stop in Kusadasi yet again.  But are going back to Sirince, Turkey -just us- to more explore the local people, wines and foods...which we touched on when on our 2008 Food & Wine Cruise.  Raise your hands:  How many of you would have said, "I have been to Ephesus before and I don't want to shop in the bazaar, so I will just stay on the ship."?

I so believe in AFAR magazine and its importance to developing travel as inspiration rather than as a trophy or (so we are being realistic...philiophy only goes so far!) as a compliment thereto, Goldring Travel not only is supporting the effort as an advertiser, starting today I am going to provide a complimentary subscription to AFAR Magazine to every booking for cruise or land tour with Goldring Travel.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Celebrity Equinox - The Prologue to the Travelogue

On Sunday my family embarks on a 13 night cruise on the brand new Celebrity Equinox. Our cruise is roundtrip Rome with port calls in Naples, Italy; Athens and Rhodes, Greece; Kusadasi, Turkey; Haifa and Ashdod, Israel and Alexandria, Egypt (overnight)...with four sea days.  We will be overnighting off the ship in Israel and in Egypt.

I will be providing you with some of my insights and observations as we travel on a very interesting itinerary; though we have been to many of the ports before.  I will, however, spend less time discussing the hardware as I recently did so in my review of her sister, the Celebrity Solstice

As I have stated for years, I believe Celebrity not only gives the "best bang for the buck in the business" it also provides...if you want it...a near luxury experience.  Starting off with the "best bang for the buck" this cruise retails for $2,164.46 per person including all fees and taxes, or only $166.50 per day...and that is for Concierge Class balcony cabins (we have two). 

Celebrity has elevated and differentiated the cabins on the Solstice-class ships.  There are the oceanview and balcony cabins and then there are the Concierge Class and Aqua Class cabins, followed by the suites.  As I stayed in an Aqua Class cabin (which provides certain healthy amenities including spa access and dining in Blu, the spa restaurant), this time my experience will be different.  Concierge Class cabins provide the following amenities which are additional to the standard cabins (skipping the less relevant ones):

• Welcome champagne
• Daily fruit selection
• Fresh-cut flowers
• Daily hors d'oeuvres
• Menu of pillows-Conformance, Body, Goose, and Isotonic®
• Duvets and pillow-top mattresses
• Hansgrohe® showerhead
• Early embarkation and debarkation
• Shoeshine service

Added to these amenities are the Captain's Club (past passenger program) amenities.  We are "Select" members which afford us (again only relevant onboard items):
• Invitation to the exclusive Senior Officer's Cocktail Party
• Exclusive Captain's Club Celebration event
• 25% off any single internet package
• Complimentary pressing of 2 garment items
• One standard bag of laundry (wash, dry, fold) at discounted price of $20 during cruises of 12 nights or longer

I also have a $200 onboard credit for being a shareholder of Royal Caribbean.

So with my priority early embarkation, chilled champagne waiting for me in my balcony cabin, daily hors d'oeuvres, fresh flowers and the like  all set to go, I am not yet ready to go.  I need to organize some "luxury". 

The main dining room is beautiful and my sampling of the service in November on the Solstice was, honestly, excellent my wife and I tend to enjoy more intimate dinners (and our children tend to enjoy the buffet, room service and the children's activities).  So I have pre-booked 3 dinners in Murano, the most upscale restaurant (and if it is anything like the specialty restaurants on the Millennium Class ships we will be very happy), 1 dinner at Silk Harvest (the Asian fusion restaurant) and 1 dinner at Tuscan Grille (the steakhouse).  When you consider we will be off the ship two evenings, we have already managed to avoid (bad choice of words?) the main dining room for 7 of the 13 nights.

The Celebrity just announced it is introducing on the Equinox "Celebrity Life, a new series of palate-pleasing, intellectually-enriching and life-enhancing programs designed to deliver the most unique and sophisticated onboard experience in premium cruising."  What is the extent the information is a group of enrichment programs broken down into three categories:

"Savor" takes an already stellar culinary experience to new heights, with eight new wine enrichment events, six spirits and mixology tastings, and more than seven different interactive programs for guests, hosted by the ship's Executive Chef and team.

"Discover" presents an opportunity for guests to do or learn what they have always wanted to try, but never had time to accomplish. Whether it's ordering a bottle of Chianti in Italian, or exploring the universe in 40 minutes, guests can delve into a wide variety of interests.

"Renew" offers an improved, more goal-oriented approach to classes, seminars, and treatments designed to help guests on their journey to looking younger, feeling better and living longer.

These three programs are then broken down further.  Without getting into all the specifics, which you can find here, one drew my attention: 

The "Celebrity Vineyards" wine enrichment program, developed in partnership with the United States Sommelier Association, will feature a host of immersive wine events providing guests the opportunity to expand their understanding and appreciation of the fascinating world of wine. Among the varied activities are the comparative wine workshops Celebrity introduced in 2007, sanctioned by the renowned Riedel Crystal.

I have been advised that this is "sign up on the ship" program and pricing was not available yet.  OK, not a luxury start, but it has given me something to look forward to and investigate; an a clearly interesting enrichment opportunity. 

Am I done yet?  Nope.  I know the "smuggling booze" issue comes up.  I am not really overwhelmed with this issue.  Celebrity allows you to bring two bottles of wine per person onboard at embarkation ostensibly to be drank with a corkage fee in the restaurants.  However there is no requirement to drink them there, so our pre-dinner drinks in our cabin are taken care of.  We, therefore, will have our cabin stocked...with very little effort...purchasing some wine the day before while in Civitavecchia.  Also, the kids will get soda cards, so for $5 a day ($65 per child) the soft drink issue is resolved.  Now, purchasing a bottle of wine with dinner is not a big deal and how much more am I going to drink?  Note:  Once this is organized it does nothing to interfere with my 13 night cruise, so let's put substance over form on this one. OK?

Yet another luxury touch are private tours.  We are only taking two tours; both private.  A 2 day in Israel and a 2 day in Egypt.  I will discuss them in more detail as they happen, but I do wish to make two points now.  First, a high quality private tour for 4 people is less expensive than a "similar" cruise tour....and you can have your tour highlight what you want.  (We are Jewish so our focus is somewhat different than what the ship's tours offer to the mostly Christian passengers.)  Second, our overnights provide us with (hopefully) some better experiences.  We are staying at Jerusalem Hotel (Palestinian owned and operated) in Jerusalem rather than the ship's tour chain hotel with a fixed menu restaurant and in Giza we opted for Pyramid View rooms at Le Meridian Hotel rather than the ship's lesser rooms with a private felluca ride rather than a belly dancing dinner cruise.  (I am sure it won't be like falling asleep to a view of the Acropolis in Athens, but it should be pretty cool.)  Obviously the other benefits of private tours will certainly increase the "luxury" aspect of our cruise.

So with only a little pre-cruise effort I think we are looking at a pretty upscale experience.

Now, do I expect it to be as luxurious as when I step onto the Seabourn Spirit or, should I even mention it in the same breath, the Seabourn Odyssey?  No.  But do I think I will be in a great compromise because there will be thousands of other people on the same ship?  No.  My cabin is an upscale sanctuary with nice amenities.  My dining will, for the majority of the time, be in smaller venues.  My tours will be private.  And, I would suggest, take a look at the hardware and tell me you can't find beautiful, uncrowded spaces.  Oh, did I mention the kids will be happy and entertained when on the ship...which will also upscale my, personal, experience?

If there are things you want to know, post your questions on The Gold Standard Forum and I will try to respond.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Seabourn Odyssey - Time Lapse Construction Video

Seabourn has released an interesting time lapse video of the construction of the Seabourn Odyssey.  Enjoy!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Which is the Best Luxury Cruise Line - Another View

I guess I asked for this.

I pointed a number of my readers to Ralph Grizzle's Avid Cruiser website as I posted his short video on Seabourn Odyssey's cuisine. So today I read Ralph's post about which is the best luxury cruise line. He mentions Seabourn, Silversea, Regent Seven Seas, Crystal and SeaDream Yacht Club. His choice: SeaDream, but not because of the totality of the product, but some very specific personal likes (sleeping under the stars, small demand at the marina, etc.)

This is where the difference between analysis, providing info and personal preferences can really create issues for those relying on what one writes or says. (I actually had one client contact Ralph about the marina on Odyssey and then seek advice from me...which is great by the a result of his personal bias - said in a nice way.)

As most of you know, I believe SeaDream is a very good fact, one of the best. However, you really have to want to be on SeaDream or you will be sorely disappointed. It has cabins; not suites and their are no balconies of any sort. It is a fairly casual affair. It is small, so if you do not like your shipmates you can be in for a long cruise. (But also is why the ships are great for large families and charters). They are not fun in even slightly rough seas and rainy days are not filled with activities and venues for private escapes. Also, itineraries need to be considered. These ships are, by nature, limited in ports and duration. However, the cuisine is very good and the service is strong.

But you need to ask yourself a single question before you get into your analysis: Do I need a suite? With so many luxury cruisers answering that questions in the affirmative it is no wonder that such a strong product has so many sailing with availability. That is not a criticism, but a reality check. Balinese beds and a marina are great, but defining the best luxury cruise line by them is - for a competent travel agent - a worry.

I have heard such divergent views on Regent Seven Seas (It was fantastic vs. It was terrible. The service was outstanding vs. The service was horrific., The food was marginal vs. The food is was great., etc. many times from the same cruise) that my approach has to be one of caution. Regent has taken the approach of keeping its prices higher, but adding what it has determined is value (ex. inclusive tours). If those tours are not attracting the true luxury guest, then it is a negative in two respects: Lack of justification for the higher prices (since the other luxury lines have slashed prices) and attraction of one-off non-luxury passengers who are attracted to the perceived added value. With excellent suites, newly renovated public areas and 700+ guests when sailing full, it is in a way the antithesis of SeaDream which has consistent raves from its small ship guests.

It has been mentioned that Silversea pours three different complimentary champagne while Regent pours none and Seabourn pours one. Seabourn continues to serve complimentary caviar. Would either cause me to declare Seabourn or Silversea the luxury champion? Me thinks not.

What I have heard from quite a number of guests returning from the Seabourn Odyssey is that she is the best of both worlds: highly personalized cruising with plenty of private space coupled with extraordinary service and cuisine. There have been grumblings of some minor misses on the triplets from a few people (but they were minor grumblings), but then I received an email from someone just back from the Seabourn Pride stating, "Trip was sooooooooooo over the top........I cannot begin to describe right now. We put the deposit down on a trip for next year." So the question becomes: Does size make a difference? Is the luxury experience on the Seabourn Odyssey better than the one on the Seabourn Pride? Are these two different luxury cruise lines or one luxury cruise line with different offerings?

SeaDream vs. Seabourn Pride vs. Seabourn Odyssey vs. Regent Voyager = 100 vs. 208 vs. 450 vs. 700+ (I use the "+" because Regent actively markets itself for children and, as such, the capacity - at least in the summer and holidays - can well exceed the published lower berth capacities).

So what is the best luxury cruise line? Tell me what your desires are. Tell me what your likes and dislikes are? Let me know what makes you happy. Only after I have that information can I tell you what the best luxury cruise line is...for you.

Are you looking for my opinion for me personally? It depends. You say, "What?". Yes, it depends.

If traveling with only my wife I would choose Seabourn without hesitation. Seabourn has greatly improved and unique itineraries and consistently high service and cuisine. Don't get me wrong, I do love the Seabourn Odyssey, but I would not exclude the triplets as the ship itself is not as important to me (for they all have more than acceptable faciliites for me.)

If I am traveling with my wife and children (ages 10 and 13) I would have said Regent Seven Seas...right up until I cruised on the Celebrity Solstice. (I don't think Seabourn is great for MY kids...though others disagree.) In two weeks I am cruising on the brand new Celebrity Equinox for 13 nights in two Concierge Class cabins. I have five evenings reserved in the specialty restaurants to start with. At less than $165.00 a day, adding a few dollars for specialty dining and having to sign for drinks and water doesn't really degrade the possibility of a luxury experience (as I sign at land-based restaurants and private clubs all the time.) I mean, Regent is marketing value to support its higher prices, right? And higher prices do not mean higher quality to an educated consumer, right? So right now I would say, "I don't know, but there are some good options." In the meantime I would say Regent may be the best of the "marketed as luxury lines" if they get their capacity in line with their ability, but I would look very hard at Celebrity.

So which is the best luxury cruise line...for you?