Friday, October 30, 2009

Seabourn "Bon Voyage" - "Free" Air Sale - Starting November 2, 2009

Seabourn's Bon Voyage Event, which repackages its discounted cruise fares with airfare, starts on Monday.

The details as to the cruises (on the Seabourn Odyssey, Seabourn Legend and Seabourn Spirit) and starting fares is set forth below:

Call or email Goldring Travel with any questions, to compare offers or, of course, to book your cruise at (877) 2GO-LUXURY or +1 732 383-7398

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Regent Seven Seas - Combating Cancellations Through Aggressive Penalties

I have always felt that Regent Seven Seas' $200 "administrative fee" to cancel a cruise was an affront. Recently Regent softened its position by allowing the $200 to be applied as a future cruise credit. Now, that is the least of your concerns!

Today Regent announced a new, incredibly aggressive, penalty schedule for those who book and then cancel cruises in 2011 and beyond. More specifically:

Deposits, Final Payments and Cancellations

For cruises of 25 nights or less, a deposit of 15% is due within 7 days to secure the reservation, final payment is due 90 days prior to sailing, and the following cancellation penalties apply:

• More than 120 days prior: $200 per booking administrative fee (Future Cruise Credit applies)
• 91-120 days prior: 15% penalty
• 51-90 days prior: 50% penalty
• 31-50 days prior: 75% penalty
• 0-30 days prior: 100% penalty

For cruises of 26 nights or more, a deposit of 20% is due within 7 days to secure the reservation, final payment is due 150 days prior to sailing, and the following cancellation penalties apply:

• More than 150 days prior: $500 per booking administrative fee (Future Cruise Credit applies)
• 121-150 days prior: 25% penalty
• 91-120 days prior: 50% penalty
• 76-90 days prior: 75% penalty
• 0-75 days prior: 100% penalty

Let's review what this means.

It means that unlike, for example, Seabourn Cruise Line, you are being hit with a penalty as far out as 150 days (five months) prior to sailing! And, folks, we are not talking about World Cruises or World Cruise Segments. Most other lines have a 25% penalty at 90 days, or at 120 days for World Cruises and Segments.

But let's leave, for the moment, the longer cruises and focus on what the vast majority of people book: Cruises of 25 days or less. Regent now hits you for 15% 120 days prior and 50% at 90 days prior versus the mainstream such as Seabourn which has a 25% penalty at 90 days.

The reason for this seems obvious to me. (I have yet not been able to verify it though.) It says to me that all the "record breaking" sales have lead to record breaking cancellations. And those cancellations are happening so close to sailing that Regent doesn't have enough time to effectively market the newly available suites to the public. By making the penalties further out and painfully steep, it does two things: Causes those that want to cancel to do it earlier and those that might be willing to take a smaller penalty hit of a late decision to take the cruise because of the larger penalty.

While I cannot fault Regent for implementing the new policy (for, as I explained, it seems to be necessary). What I can do is wonder why Regent has become so attractive to a market segment that appears to be so fickle.

Personally, the steep penalties (and the administrative fees) make it clear to me that rather than a travel agent pushing a Regent cruise as the best option, one might need to first look into the personalities of the clients to be sure that administrative fees and penalties don't become the subject of the conversations ending the agent/client relationship. In other words, the policy might make travel agents and clients to hesitate a bit more before booking a Regent cruise.

Silversea's Curious Press Release: Silversea Spirit Sales Figures

It is now October 29, 2009, less than 90 days from the Grand Inaugural Sailing - a 91 day cruise commencing on January 21, 2010. Today I read a news release on Reuters which reads, in part:

"30% of the Silver Spirit`s 91-day Grand Inaugural Voyage, starting at $42,000per person, is sold out. An additional 60% of the 91-day voyage has been sold in segments. Plus, the top priced Grand and Owner`s Suites, topping at $129,000 per person for the full 91 days are 98% sold."

Being one who tries to read between the lines, I paused immediately to ask what is 30% sold out? Does that mean there is 70% availability?

But then there is the second figure that 60% of the Grand Voyage has been sold in segments. What does that mean?

Does it mean that only a portion of the 91 day voyage was ever offered as a 91 day cruise, with 60% reserved for segments only? If that is the case then there are not many guests on the Inaugural. And there could well be over 50% of the suites vacant for the entirety of the 91 days - unsold to full or segment guests.

If it means that 30% of the Silversea Spirit's total capacity has been sold as the full 91 Day Inaugural Grand Voyage, then in this economy it is quite good news. Similarly, if it means that an additional 60% of the suites have been sold for the 91 days (through various segment sales), that too is great news. If combined that would lead one to possibly conclude that around 90% of the sailing has been sold.

What causes me concern is that no clear figures have been used by Silversea. Instead it used the worrisome tactic of using statistics over statistics (a/k/a "You can misuse statistics to say anything.")

I, therefore, ask why didn't Silversea clearly state something along the lines of "Over ___% of the Inaugural Grand Voyage capacity has been sold, with ___% of our guests opting for the full 91 day voyage."

Any answers? Any clarifications? Please!

Regent Seven Seas - Now Offering "Free" Membership Rewards Points Along with "Free" Air.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises is offering a bonus of 25,000 Membership Rewards points if you book any of the following cruises. You must use an American Express card. The booking window is now through February 1, 2010. This promotion is in addition to the "free air" and discounts presently being provided.

Russia & Scandinavia
Seven Seas Voyager 5-Jun-10 London to Copenhagen
Seven Seas Voyager 19-Jun-10 Copenhagen to Copenhagen
Seven Seas Voyager 4-Jul-10 Copenhagen to Stockholm
Seven Seas Voyager 11-Jul-10 Stockholm to Copenhagen
Seven Seas Voyager 18-Jul-10 Copenhagen to Stockholm
Seven Seas Voyager 28-Jul-10 Stockholm to Copenhagen
Seven Seas Voyager 4-Aug-10 Copenhagen to Stockholm
Seven Seas Voyager 11-Aug-10 Stockholm to Copenhagen
Seven Seas Voyager 21-Aug-10 Copenhagen to Stockholm
Seven Seas Voyager 28-Aug-10 Stockholm to London

Seven Seas Mariner 22-Mar-10 Ft. Lauderdale to Monte Carlo
Seven Seas Mariner 7-Apr-10 Monte Carlo to Venice
Seven Seas Mariner 17-Apr-10 Venice to Rome
Seven Seas Mariner 4-May-10 Istanbul to Venice
Seven Seas Voyager 12-May-10 Ft. Lauderdale to Reykjavik
Seven Seas Mariner 14-May-10 Venice to Athens
Seven Seas Voyager 26-May-10 Reykjavik to London
Seven Seas Mariner 28-May-10 Venice to Istanbul
Seven Seas Mariner 11-Jun-10 Istanbul to Athens
Seven Seas Mariner 21-Jun-10 Athens to Istanbul
Seven Seas Mariner 28-Jun-10 Istanbul to Rome
Seven Seas Mariner 10-Jul-10 Rome to Venice
Seven Seas Mariner 21-Jul-10 Venice to Barcelona
Seven Seas Mariner 31-Jul-10 Barcelona to Rome
Seven Seas Mariner 7-Aug-10 Rome to Venice
Seven Seas Mariner 19-Aug-10 Venice to Athens
Seven Seas Mariner 26-Aug-10 Athens to Istanbul

Seven Seas Navigator 13-Jan-10 Ft. Lauderdale to Ft. Lauderdale
Seven Seas Navigator 23-Jan-10 Ft. Lauderdale to Ft. Lauderdale
Seven Seas Navigator 2-Feb-10 Ft. Lauderdale to Ft. Lauderdale
Seven Seas Navigator 26-Feb-10 Ft. Lauderdale to Ft. Lauderdale
Seven Seas Navigator 8-Mar-10 Ft. Lauderdale to Ft. Lauderdale
Seven Seas Navigator 19-Mar-10 Ft. Lauderdale to Ft. Lauderdale
Seven Seas Navigator 29-Mar-10 Ft. Lauderdale to Ft. Lauderdale
Seven Seas Navigator 9-Apr-10 Ft. Lauderdale to Ft. Lauderdale
Seven Seas Navigator 14-Apr-10 Ft. Lauderdale to Ft. Lauderdale
Seven Seas Navigator 25-Apr-10 Ft. Lauderdale to Ft. Lauderdale

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Seabourn Offers "Free" Air On 20 Spring 2010 Sailings

Well folks, blame your travel agent!

The infamous not really free "free air" has hit a limited number (20 sailings in the Med to be specific) 7 day sailings on Seabourn for Spring 2010.

The booking window is November 2 -30, so if it is attractive to you (and I really don't know why it would be - see below) next week is the time to act.

Here are the details:

"Free roundtrip airfare" from 28 North American gateways.

On the Seabourn Spirit and Seabourn Legend, if you book Category A - B3 economy class is included. In Classic or Owners Suite categories you get business class. Of course, you still have the option of taking a credit for the air...which should bring you right back to where you started.

On the Seabourn Odyssey, Category A – V6 gets you economy air and Penthouses through Grand Suites receives business class air.

Transfers between the airport and the pier, as with all Seabourn provided air, are also included.

If you have booked a one of the earmarked cruises already, Seabourn will make the promotion available to the new pricing.

Please folks, remember what I wrote just days ago: Seabourn Offering Free Air - Is it Time? Does it Matter? Is it Free?

Goldring Travel is available to explain the promotion to you...and to assure that you receive the best pricing and value; not a gimmick insisted upon by travel agents that just want to "Keep it simple, stupid." My clients are not of that character and, I believe, not many of Seabourn's are either.

If there is an upside, now you can compare the "free air" offers from all of the cruise lines and make a quicker analysis.

Silversea Offers Pillows All Around and Crystal Offers Some Holiday Spirit

Silversea has announced it will have the previously announced Pillow Menu on its new Silver Spirit will now be available on all its ships in 2010.  They include:

*Soft sleeping pillow of 25% down/75% feather
*Medium-firm choice with a firmer core and a 30% down/70% feather composition
*Firm pillow with extra neck support for sleeping or back support for reading.

*Memory foam that molds to the user’s sleeping shape
*Buckwheat pillow to relieve aches and pains and help prevent snoring
*Body pillow with extra fluff
*Aqua plush polyester down alternative fill pillow
*Fairfax polyester pillow for a down alternative with extra support.

Silversea will also offer aromatherapy pillow cases.  The Tiara Collection pillow covers, 300-thread-count cotton or 100% silk charmeuse, have hidden pockets with chamomile or lavender scented sachets.

Crystal Cruises is offering complimentary Christmas trees to the guests in its top suites for its Holiday cruises   Lower suites may purchase trees and optional decorations at a very reasonable cost.  Cabin guests may purchase table arrangements (as a tree would be a bit crowding) also at a modest price.  Hanukkah decorations, if desired, are available for all guests.

Little touches like this can truly make your in-suite experience a bit more special.

Friday, October 23, 2009 - Flash...And Most Definitely NOT Seabourn!

Conde Nast Traveler is now partnered with an outfit called which, in turn, has created as an "exclusive" and "by invitation only" website where you allegedly can get some great bargains on a limited number of luxury items including a few close-in sailings on Seabourn.

I discovered this alleged great new luxury site in an article in the New York Times.  It noted that Conde Nast has had something like a ten million dollar ($10,000,000) loss in advertising revenue this year and is looking for new ways to market itself.  A red warning flag if I ever saw one.

So desiring to check out the competition I took a look...and found out is not exactly "exclusive" or "by invitation".  I simply entered my name and email address and -you guessed it - I received my invitation to join.  I logged on, started to take a look...and then I wanted to take a shower.  YUK!  It is exactly the type of travel agency you never want to do business with.  As I am not in the habit of bad-mouthing the competition, let me give you some details.

First, if you want to place a Seabourn suite on hold while you think about making the commitment you are required to pay a non-refundable deposit equal to 10% of the total cruise fare.  If you then choose not to take the cruise you have one year to spend it on another item.  Wait a minute:  Placing a suite on hold is a no cost option with Goldring Travel.  So what makes so special that it requires a10% non-refundable deposit?  I dunno! To me it sound like nothing other than a ripoff.

Second, you are not dealing with a human being.  You get to book the cruise for an unspecified suite and then, as they say "deal with it".  By the way, I tried to call yesterday at 4:26 p.m. and there was a message that it was closed for the day and should call back tomorrow.  Huh??

Third, you better know the product before you purchase it.  There is almost no information about Seabourn, the ship, the itinerary, what is included, etc.  But I digress and ask, "Your 10% deposit gets you...what?"

Fourth, and I will end my analysis with this:  After you pay your non-refundable deposit for an unspecified suite on a cruise for which you have  been given merely the minimum of information...Wait, you are going to love this...Stay with me...the price is no different than that which Goldring Travel can provide to you...and Goldring Travel also provides you with a complimentary tour in Da Nang or a $300.00 onboard credit! 

If there ever was a way NOT to sell a Seabourn cruise, is it.  Now, let's all say it together:  Slick advertising and websites don't assure a quality travel agent, a better deal or really anything other than, well, slick advertising. 

Let the buyer be ware.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Seabourn Odyssey - Dinner Reservation Issues Solved

There is a phrase that comes to mind...and I shudder to mention it when speaking of Seabourn or any other luxury line:  "Chair Hog"!

The problem associated with those towels, books and t-shirts strewn across lounge chairs "reserving" them for all daylight hours; only to use them for a portion of that time, apparently was the problem with dinner reservations on the Seabourn Odyssey.

People would call up and reserve a table at the the Colonnade, Patio Grill and/or Restaurant 2 and then "no show" resulting in people who really wanted to dine there blocked out and the restaurants wanting to serve guests suffering with empty tables.  The "Hogs" were at it!  They selfishly made sure they had what they wanted, but were simply inconsiderate of literally everyone around them. And they did it knowing that of the vocal complaints by those frustated by their actions.  (Seabourn would never say this...or even admit to this really being the issue...but I can and do!)

The solution:  Take the damn stuff off the lounge chairs!  The answer is so simple.  But it has been done in a Seabourn way.  Rather than removing the stuff (in this case reservations for those that have "no showed" a prior reservation during the cruise) Seabourn has eliminated the ability to put the stuff down in the first place. 

That's right:  The solution was to eliminate the ability to rudely block others.  No Reservations will be required for Colonnade or Patio Grill (or, obviously, the Main Restaurant).  Reservations will still be required for Restaurant 2, but the menu will not change on a daily - but rather, a weekly - basis.

Obviously more people will be able to enjoy the various venues without a worry of the not having a reservation and the number of empty tables will be reduced.  However, people may have to to be a bit patient and enjoy a cocktail or the view if a table is not immediately available.  (Or they have the other dining options.)

As for Restaurant 2, since the menu will not change as frequently - which may be a disappointment for some - it will most certainly reduce the demand.  The disappointment will be two-fold:  Those that really enjoy the frequently changing menu and those that don't like the weekly offering.  (Obviously, those on for 8 days or longer will have two menus or more to enjoy.)

Now, please keep in mind this remains a work in progress.  For example, possibly the Restaurant 2 menu can be changed more frequently.  Possibly their may need to be a tweaking as to those who really want to dine al fresco. 

If you have an opinion, concern, complaint or whatever, please join the conversation on The Gold Standard Forum.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

I Hate Stupid Comparisons - Seabourn Odyssey vs. Silversea Spirit

Ralph Grizzle has obviously made quite a play, with his "review" of the Silversea Spirit sea trial being repackaged and represented on a number of different websites. Bless him for the marketing, but seriously, it is enough with pushing out blatant marketing material, week after week, month after month, as allegedly objective cruise reviews.  It is, at least to me, downright offensive and a blight on those of us trying to be objective.  In a way, it is similar to the "cheearleaders" that post false information on message boards because of some sordid belief they must support their favorite all costs.

Now the substance:

When I read a review that gives one ship higher marks because its standard suites are allegedly 11 square feet larger I think, "How Stupid!" That amounts to less than 6 inches in length or a foot in width. Objectively, heaven forbid, I would challenge one to be able to actually feel any difference no less live in the suite better.  Yes, a couple of inches here or there - dependent on whether the admittedly absent furnishings are placed - may make a difference, but as a "it is better" makes no sense.  What if, as it seems may be the case, the bed conflicts with the bathroom door?  Still and edge with "all" that extra space???

Compare his comments about the televisions: Silver Spirit has two 26" TVs (one behind mirror) and Seabourn Odyssey has one. Fair enough. But would I ever use that criteria for "giving the edge" to one ship over another? Never. Seriously, how many luxury cruisers truly care about the televisions? How many actually never turn them on? I legitimate point (and important to a few), but in the world of comparing entire ships...nothing more than a footnote. In fact, as a foot note, to me it is no different than Silversea having a pillow menu ala Celebrity Concierge Class cabins. (Not so special now, is it?!)  It is a nice touch, but really not so special...and anyone with experience in this industry knows this.
Then there is the comment that Silver Spirit gets an edge because it is larger than the Seabourn Odyssey? Huh? In the luxury cruise world, larger passenger counts have never been seen as better...ever. So with 540 guests vs. 450 guests (20% more) on a ship that has yet to explain what public spaces are truly unique (style of restaurants aside) or function better I am sort of baffled by the alleged "benefit". Maybe there is one...but tell me what it is!

My favorite is the comments, "With its reception area, Spirit has matched Seabourn Square (Odyssey’s library/internet café/coffee shop/purser’s desk/shore excursions and attractive public room), by integrating a bar and dining area for light snacks." Huh??? Aside from the fact that the Seabourn Square has more going for it than stated (such as a full bar, something a bit more upscale than a "coffee shop", a complete concierge service and multiple public spaces indoors and outside) to say the addition of a bar and dining area for light snacks (now, why didn't he call it a "snack bar"?????) takes a purser's counter and transforms it into an area which has drawn consistent raves from Seabourn guests, is just dishonest.

As Mr. Grizzle finally admits, Silversea is going to have to deliver service.  The best hardware in the world is not going to to do much for guests if the service...and not up to standards.  He admits he had no service during the sea trial, but writes as if that is cool.  While I cannot imagine any cruise line wanting journalists (or marketeers) on a sea trial, what I do know is that if Seabourn was to do it, it would have provided some service...because Seabourn is all about service.  I expect, as a guest, at least some acknowledgment.  Possibly a bottle of wine, some nice sandwiches, nothing big...but some service.

I would think that before anyone makes comparisons they would (A) actually see the completed ship; and (B) experience the ship in its completed state.  But maybe that is because I am not looking to be paid...or even shall I say "brown nose"...Integrity has some place in a cruise review...doesn't it?

To be sure, I am hoping the Silver Spirit is delivered as a fine ship.  I have been told all those finishes that were were missing when Mr. Grizzle was onboard are not up to standards.  But, alas, I have not seen how could I comment?!  (Get the point?)  But if the Silver Spirit is all that it is supposed to be, it may well be the answer to Silversea's lagging sales and somewhat lackluster experiences of late. 

Remember, just as much as I believe in the Seabourn product I believe in competition and options.  No cruise line is for everyone and I don't work for the cruise lines. 

I work for my clients...the cruise guests.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Seabourn Offering Free Air - Is it Time? Does it Matter? Is it Free?

I wrote last week about how Regent Seven Seas Cruises "free air" and "free tour" pricing when compared to Seabourn's straight pricing really shows "free" is not "free", but rather "packaged". The same holds true for literally every other cruise line that offers "free" air...taking a credit for that "free" air may well work out better.

But, alas, there are some quandaries:

1. Is there confusion or just some difficulty in comparing cruises with two different pricing schemes?

2. Are travel agents savvy and motivated enough to explain the differences to their clients.

Let me take No. 2 first.  Many travel agents, generally, have a problem with really working for their clients. They are, in reality, nothing more than order takers. Heck, most travel agents haven't even been on more than a couple of cruises...and then the number that have been on the luxury lines is even less. (Remember, just because a travel agency sells luxury doesn't mean that all of its agents are knowledgeable and experienced with luxury.)

So, if Seabourn offers pricing structure A, Regent offers B, Silversea offers C and Crystal offers D, how many travel agents -who may find comparing the products themselves challenging - will be able to accurately advise their clients of the actual net pricing?  And of those that are "able to", how many are "willing to"?

But there is another, darker, motivation by many travel agents:  "Free Air" promotions provide the agent with a larger commission because the pricing is higher and because there is no commission on air which is booked directly.  Couple that with the "idiot-proof" nature of the air (the cruise lines arrange the air and do all the work), it allows the travel agent to make more commission while performing less work. 

Let's add up those points:  "Free Air" promotions pay travel agents more money to do less work.  Regardless of the fact that the cruise client may suffer as a result, which offer do you think the majority of travel agents will jump on and push to their clients?

You may ask, "Isn't my travel agent supposed to get me the best deal?"  Well, the cruise client is, in part, also at fault.  Many see the ads for "free, free, free" and jump on it, instructing their travel agent that they have, in fact, drank the Kool-aid and believe it is the best deal, so it is the one to be booked.  Not many travel agents will take the time to educate their clients.  The agent will give the clients what they want....and get paid more...and do less work.

In January 2009 I wrote a piece which discussed this topic as it relates to commissions on Non-Commissionable Fares (NCF's).  You can read it here.  I concluded, in that article:

... As Mark Conroy, President of Regent, is quoted in Travel Weekly as stating, "We think it gives the agent one more reason to sell us versus the other guy."

I am sorry, for me it does not. I know it may seem I am oh so skewed toward Seabourn, but try this on for size: While Regent is trying to increase sales by lining the travel agents' pockets with a little bit more cash, Seabourn is running 60% off sales on its slower selling cruises...keeping more cash in its guests' pockets and generating more commissions for its travel agents through those sales...

Finally, I do agree with Regent that there should not be any NCFs and most every travel agent will agree with me on this. I hope all of the cruise lines drop the NCFs...or at least limited them to actual port charges. But make no mistake, the motivation should be it is a good business practice; not a motivator to push clients one way or another.  

Guess what?  Many travel agents are pushing Seabourn for "free air" promotions and admit they leading their clients to those type of offers.

There is a New York area clothier, Syms, which has the motto, "An educated consumer is our best customer."  I believe in that motto and so to my clients.  (I believe that is why, in part, they use me and my business is significantly growing during these difficult times.  Great service and caring obviously also helps.)  That is why "doing the math" and assuring that ultimately the best cruise for my client is sold, not the one I make the most money on or which is the easiest to sell is, is how I operate.

But that now brings me back to Question No. 1. Is there confusion created by different marketing schemes?  The answer, by now should be simple:  Use a travel agent that is willing to educate his clients and is willing to put the time in and there will not be any confusion...only the best choice for the client.  However, that is a great concept  that fails so often in practice.

So maybe, not because it is right, but because it is necessary, Seabourn should offer "free air".  It'll bother me and drive me crazy having to explain even more that nothing is free, but it may be time.  I just hope that if it happens Seabourn is transparent about the pricing and doesn't do what some cruise lines do by offering a small credit for not taking the air...and slipping in the hundreds of dollars in taxes and fees that also fall by the wayside.  (I mean seriously, do you think most cruise lines are going to let an opportunity to make a few extra bucks slip through the cracks?)

If you want discuss this, please click over to The Gold Standard Forum and let us know what you think.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Conde Nast Traveler Awards - If You Didn't Believe They Were A Joke Before, You Will Now!

For years I have noted, complained and even ranted that the Conde Naste awards were worthless "awards" which were nothing more than the result of the explicit stuffing of the ballot boxes with the knowing consent of Conde Nast Traveler Magazine. This year it makes the elections in Iran and Afghanistan seem legitimate.

The results for the for Best Small Ship Cruise Line:

1. Sea Cloud 2. Yachts of Seabourn 3. Regent Seven Seas

I pause and ask, "How many of you have even heard of Sea Cloud?" and then I ask, "How many of you know that this very small line has two sailing ships and two river boats?" I am not saying Sea Cloud is not a good product, but if the votes are from those that have actually sailed on the line, one must wonder...seriously wonder. Each ship carries no more than 64 passengers.

So, I must ask, "Who voted and how many times?"

But then I got to wondering, "Where the heck is SeaDream Yacht Club?" "Where is Silversea?"

And then I pondered, "How does Regent Seven Seas qualify as a 'Small Ship Cruise Line'?"

I could go on...but why should the facts get in the way of a sham. What a shame. Heck, aren't the three best hotels in Hawaii all Four Seasons?????????????????

Regent Seven Seas Dress Code Downgrade - Relying on Cruise Critic: A Mere Ploy. But What Is the Value Of It All?

When Regent Seven Seas Cruises posted a poll on Cruise Critic seeking out preferences as to dress code I smirked.  I "knew" the decision has already been made to go casual.  That poll was, to be sure, more like a lawyer looking for support for a position than a scientist looking for data.  And, alas, any good lawyer knows to never ask a question if you don't already know the answer.

Let me explain:  Cruise Critic may be the largest community for cruisers in the world, but it represents far less than one (1%) of the cruising population.  Just take a look at the poll itself.  As of today there were only 443 votes...less than the number of guests found on the Voyager or Mariner at any time (even including if occupancy is little more then half full)...and about what you might find on the Navigator.  So there can be 1,850+ guests (plus 3rd and 4ths) on three ships at any time. Then consider that the poll was conducted and the decision decided in little over a month; so figure conservatively 3 voyages x 1,850 guests = 5,550 guests stays in the month.  The poll represents less than 1% of the sailing guests over that brief period.

But it is actually less relevant than that.  Why?  First, because there is no way to know that everyone that voted has (a) actually sailed on Regent; and, (b) actually has any intention of sailing on Regent in the relevant future.  And I am sure there are those with multiple sign-ins.

Of course the biggest reason to question the 66% in favor of a "causal only" dress code is because the demographics of who even knows about Cruise Critic vs. those that only lurk vs. those that actually post vs. those that actually cruise on Regent essentially renders the statistical validity of the query worthless.  (Of course it also seeks to justify offending 34% of the CC voters who want formal nights...and in this market offending such a large population is generally avoided at all costs.)

And then, of course, is the announcement on Cruise Critic by Mark Conroy, President of Regent.  He states, in part, "Most importantly, the recent poll on Cruise Critic showed that the majority of current guests and those that are considering sailing with us support a slightly less formal dress code – two thirds of those who voted are in favor of an Elegant Casual evening dress code."  Wait a minute, 293 people voting on Cruise Critic are the "most important" factor in making the decision.  Sorry, I am not drinking that Kool-aid.

By now you must be wondering, why all the statistical mumbo-jumbo.  Because the "justification" comments are just silly.  If Regent really wanted to know what its guests thought, they already knew what to do:  Have some focus groups onboard and in local events (like they did when designing the now abandoned new ship) or have a brief telephone poll.

Please understand that I am not protesting the Regent decision.  I think it is part of a plan that is long over due...and, for what it is worth, I support it.  I think Regent is quickly becoming an inclusive Oceania-type product and that result will be many more happy guests, less frustrations for management and guests, and a much easier time marketing an actually achievable product to an audience that is very receptive to "free" being a better thing than "value".

While there are less and less people that compare Seabourn and Regent (due to the change in product), a July 10, 2010 11 night cruise on the 700 passenger Mariner departing from Rome starts at $8,060 per person (or $732 per day) per person.  A July 3, 2010 14 night cruise on the 200 guest Seabourn Legend departing from Rome in a French balcony suite starts at $8,549 (or $610 per day) per person. So for the 11 days a guest is paying $1,342 more for the Regent cruise (11 days x $122 per day higher rate).  Right now the airfare for those cruises, booked privately, is under $1,000.  Throw in a couple of "free" tours and you are essentially paying the same price for the Regent cruise as you are the Seabourn cruise.

Remember, though, on Seabourn you are on small ship with higher level of personalized service, a finer level of cuisine, a more refined cruise experience (of course, with formal nights), no lines and access to smaller ports and/or locations in town rather than being bussed to it.

Now does that mean that you should book Seabourn over Regent?  No!  It means that you now have two decidedly different products to choose from. Just don't think because Regent says things are "Free, Free, Free, Free" there is actually any "value" in excess of what, for example, Seabourn offers.

As a travel agent I am thrilled that there is now a defined difference.  I feel far more comfortable selling Regent because it is making it known what it really is all about.  Please, though, do us all one last favor (and I promise I won't ask for much more):  Try to just be straight with us.  Say, "Regent has decided to modify its product (and target market)...and don't do silly things like say 293 Cruise Critic posters (whether they have ever sailed on Regent or not) decided it.

Now, there are "values" out there.  Folks, now is a great time to relearn the differences between the cruise lines,  decide which flavor you prefer and book!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Costa Atlantica - Thoughts After a Ship Inspection and Why Itineraries Can Matter

I preface this post by noting that Costa makes no claim that it is a luxury cruise line.  In fact, Costa makes no claim that it is a "North American" cruise line.  Rather it is, by history and design, a European cruise line...whatever that means. (For example, all Costa ships use the Euro as onboard currency except when cruising the Caribbean, where the dollar rules.  And North Americans will be in a significant minority on any Costa cruise....which can be a very interesting and enjoyable thing.)

The 2,000+ passenger Costa Atlantica has been in New York for a few days and I took the opportunity to, for the first time, set foot on a Costa ship.  This nine year old vessel is fairly well maintained, but to me it just had the feel of visiting someone's grandmother's house:  Dated styling, a bit darker, a little worn and just a bit uncomfortable.  However, I quickly note that there are many people that like that sort of stuff.  Just not me and no when I am cruising.  (Compare, for example, the Seabourn triplets - which are much older.  They have a more modern, brighter, style.)

Little touches like sparing use of Euro-style cocktail napkins (about 30% of the size and half the quality of the American type),  plastic coffee mugs and dishes in the buffet (like child-type plastic; not melamine), spartan cabin amenities, etc. are either of no moment or, for me, things that would grate on me as my cruise went on.

The main dining room was ordinary and, in fact, lacked even proper linens on the tables, with short rose colored table cloths reminiscent of an informal European café instead.  Large bottles of balsamic vinegar were permanently stationed on the tables.  Strangely, we were not given lunch, so I can't really comment on service or food quality (thought I do have some observations about same in other areas). 

The casual dining/buffet area was actually far more attractive with many nooks and booths to have a more private dining experience in .  The buffets, mirrored on port and starboard, were not large.  (As it was a turnaround day and very few guests were onboard, the offerings were minimal...but what was there was very ordinary.)  I think I would actually enjoy dining in this area rather than the main dining room in the evenings - though its food offerings might change that.  (Costa is known of lively themes and entertainment during dinner...another miss for me.)

The cabins, as I mentioned, are very basic, though some travel agents who specialize in Carnival thought they were very nice.  Lots of light rose color (flesh-tone) with virtually no artwork and old televisions, a small desk and small sofa.  There was nice storage, both hanging and drawer space.  The standard bathrooms were tough, with that sort of bluish fiberglass feel and ugly fluorescent lighting with a shower that was really part of the room (separated by a curtain and a water dam on the floor).  There were a few "suites", though I really don't think any of them were worthy of that moniker...and some just had a very strange layout (as if someone wanted to create a suite atmosphere out of a large 20% of the space was lost to otherwise unnecessary walls.) 

The main and secondary show lounges both had very low ceilings which cut off views of the stage.  It was very uncomfortable for me to sit in those areas.  The feeling was one of "it functions", not grandeur or even being special.

After our ship's tour we were taken to the secondary show lounge on Deck 1.  There we were met by waiters holding large rectangular trays with virgin versions of various umbrella drinks.  This was followed by waiters passing a variety of four different canapés.  Unfortunately they were as cold as the drinks and at least half the time no cocktail napkins were offered.  As time went on waiters would come around and take away the glasses, but never removed any of the other items (used toothpicks, orange rinds, cocktail napkins, etc.)  So over the course of the hour we sat there - with no lunch - some people had nice little stacks of garbage...which the waiters would shuffle glasses around.

Remembering that I was just on the Celebrity Equinox for 13 days, I could not help but make comparisons.  But before doing so, it would only be fair to compare the prices.  Costa works pretty much on 7 day cruises while Celebrity European cruises tend to be longer.  I took an August 2010 cruise out of Civitavecchia for comparison.  Seven days on Costa in a balcony runs about $1,929 per person ($275 per day) and ten days on Celebrity runs about $2,549 per person ($255 per day).  That is what really hit me.

Celebrity Equinox is a state of the art ship that has five or more dining venues with very good food and service, great cabins and bathrooms, true suites if you want them, open soaring spaces, and lots of innovations.  While Costa's newer ships do have a number of improvements that make up some of the differences, the Celebrity Millennium class ships are the same age as the Costa Atlantica and they also have so many advantages, from cabins to public spaces, from cuisine to service.

So why would you cruise on Costa:  Itineraries.  Costa has some of the most interesting and unique itineraries out there.  Costa sails pretty much anywhere.  Mauritius, Africa, Middle East, Libya, etc.  Many places that other cruise lines simply do to go to.  Would I take a Costa cruise if the itinerary was perfect?  I am not sure.  Would others?  With over 60% of the Italian market and about 40% of the European market, the answer is a resounding, "Yes".


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Regent Seven Seas - Upscale But Not Luxury...Its In The New Dress Code

Like its sister brand, Regent Seven Seas is going casual.  Gone are formal nights for any cruise less than 16 days.  In other words, other than World Cruise and World Cruise Segments, formal nights will be a rarity.

This is the language used by Regent when making the announcement.  Read it carefully:

Effective with the 2009/2010 New Year's cruises, guests are respectfully requested to adhere to the following guidelines:

Daytime Dress Code (until 6 p.m.) - During the day, resort style clothing (including shorts, warm-up suits, jeans and sneakers) is acceptable in all public areas. Bare feet are acceptable only on the Pool Deck. Note: Bathing suits, while acceptable at the Pool Bar and Grill, are not considered appropriate in any indoor venue.

Evening Dress Code (after 6 p.m.) - Two types of dress code have been established for evenings in public areas: Elegant Casual and Formal Optional. The number of Formal Optional nights is dependent upon the length of the cruise, as follows:

• Cruises of fifteen nights or less will be Elegant Casual for the duration
• Cruises of sixteen nights or more will have two Formal Optional nights

Elegant Casual: Skirt, or slacks (no jeans) with blouse or sweater, pant suit or dress for ladies; slacks (no jeans) and collared shirt for gentlemen. Sport jackets are optional. Note: Jeans, T-shirts, baseball caps, shorts, sneakers and bathrobes are not considered appropriate in any public area after 6 p.m.

Formal Optional: While guests are welcome to dress each evening as per the Elegant Casual dress code, during Formal Optional evenings, guests may opt for a more formal choice of clothing including gowns and cocktail dresses for ladies; tuxedos, dinner jackets or dark suit with tie for gentlemen.

The first thing I did when I read this was pause at the instructions regarding bare feet.  Are there really that many people that cruise Regent that need to be instructed that bare feet are not acceptable other than at the pool?

Then I read the repeated use of the term "jeans".  Once again, I paused and wondered from where did the issue of wearing jeans become an issue on a luxury line?

It was then time to read about bathrobes not being acceptable in the public areas in the evenings, but only bathing suits are not acceptable at indoor venues at any time.  So I pondered, where would one where a appropriately wear a bathrobe when inside the ship?

All of this leads me to be wonder who it is these rules are focused on addressing.  The rules themselves are fair enough and I know there are many that will applaud the "no formal nights" policy, but I do wonder about the need and focus on rather questionable practices...questionable on most all cruise lines. 

BTW, I am aware there are already disputes and discussion about whether a tennis or polo shirt qualifies as a collared shirt.  And, as I have written and cautioned about before, the "slippery slope" has now been stepped onto. 

So with FREE air,  FREE drinks, FREE gratuities, FREE tours and an explicit NO JEANS and NO FORMAL NIGHTS policy, I have to ask myself what the heck happened to the philosophy that luxury travelers seek value and style?  I believe the answer is that Regent is abandoning its desire to focus on luxury, but rather is focusing on providing an upscale experience.  You know, like it sister Oceania does.

And if you think I am being negative, I am not. I believe that is exactly the market Regent should be focused on.  It is a market they can exceed the expectations of...and Regent can stop spinning its wheels trying to be that which it is not. 

Now, if Regent would only bring its pricing down a bit. 

Thursday, October 8, 2009

We Love to Cruise. We Love Fish. Shark Free Marinas May Help Protect Both

Many of you may not know that I have an honor's degree in Biology with a focus on Marine Biology.  Born on the Jersey Shore (the oceanfront in New Jersey) and as a former biological aid for the National Marine Fisheries Service, I have lived my life loving the oceans and its marine life.

During the recent Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise I was blessed with the opportunity to visit the Fonda aquaculture farm in Slovenia and was thrilled to see it being done right.  It was clean, high quality and run by people that cared.

But the real highlight was seeing a small sea turtle...something not even the owners had ever seen at their farm.  Sea turtles used to be fairly common, but overfishing, habitat destruction and pollution have decimated their populations.  What was once a common sight has become a very rare opportunity...and an occurrence which is as sad as it is happy.

Yesterday I was made aware of an organization called Shark Free Marinas ( which encourages marinas to prohibit the landing of sharks in an effort to have shark fisherman engage in a "catch and release" program similar to what is now mandated for billfish, such as marlin and sailfish.  Check out their short video:

Something to consider?

You can read more about the horrific over- and wasteful, shark fishing, and lend additional support, at the Cousteau Society's Shark and Ray Project.

We love to cruise and enjoy exotic foods, but the next time you are in Asia (or an Asian restaurant) and say, "You know I have never tried (or I Love) shark fin soup or a shark steak", please ask yourself if your few moments of individual pleasure is really worth it. 

And, without being too preachy, remember that the excuses that "Well it is already dead" and "It is only one" only encourage the the shark fisherman to kill another one...It is only one more, right?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Seabourn Cancels 2010-2011 Africa Cruises: Pirates and the Caribbean

Unfortunately, Seabourn has cancelled the Seabourn Legend's late 2010 and 2011 cruises in the Indian Ocean due to continued concerns over piracy.  While the ports are safe, it is the travel from port to port that is the issue.  Seabourn has restated its commitment to providing luxury cruising opportunities in Africa and the surrounding areas, but until the piracy situation is brought under better control it simply is not viable.

What will be a great disappointment for the luxury traveler looking for exotic destinations will be a boon for those looking for a convenient luxury experience in the Caribbean.  The Seabourn Legend will be hosting a number of cruises out of Ft. Lauderdale and St. Thomas; some with extended itineraries.

For those looking for exotic alternatives, in November 2010 the Seabourn Spirit will reposition from the Mediterranean to Asia transiting the Suez Canal and making port calls in Egypt, Oman and Dubai.   Thereafter she will head to India, Thailand and Malaysia and base in Singapore to begin a season of cruises visiting Bali, Borneo and the islands of the Java, Flores and Savu seas with a few cruises reaching as far south as Darwin and Cairns, Australia. 

Seabourn Pride's focus on Asia year-round will not change and the Seabourn Odyssey will make a maiden circumnavigation of South America in early 2011.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Seabourn Spirit 2009 Food & Wine Cruise - Some Final Thoughts

The Goldring Travel 2009 Food & Wine Cruise had a number of moments that made this cruise something truly special, even as compared to the normal, excellent experience, one has on Seabourn. Each suite was provided with a host of no-cost extras:

1. A travel book on the cruise area;

2. A culinary book focused on the cruise area;

3. An exceptional walking wine and food tour in Venice, Italy before the cruise;

4. A private galley tour with a special wine and caviar;

5. A private trip to the Fonda aquaculture farm in Slovenia;

6. A high quality wine tasting (5 wines and a grappa) at Santomas winery in Slovenia; and,

7. My being available to deal with whatever issues come up along the way whether it be how to cost-effectively get from the ship to the airport in Venice or making last minute arrangements for an extended stay in Venice when the city was effectively “sold out” to, say, finding a little place to enjoy an espresso or a couple of bottles of wine.

I am pleased that each of these provided my group with some real added value, both economically and experientially.

One thing that really stood out for me was that, unlike what I am reading more about on other cruise lines (such as Regent Seven Seas), there was absolutely no sense of a particular waiter or bartender being “the best”, but rather there was a desire to enjoy the styles and personalities of every waiter and bartender, purser and stewardess. Each person mentioned they loved Arnold or Hein, David or Heidi, Leigh or Jeremy, but there was never a concern that there would be a drop in service…It simply never happened. And from Captain to Hotel Manager to Chef, the Seabourn senior officers were omnipresent.

Another thing I appreciated was the cuisine was consistently excellent. There was almost nothing that was just OK. In reality, “excellent” was the norm and “very good” was the exception. I did notice a significant difference in variety between the Seabourn Spirit and the Seabourn Odyssey in the casual dining area. While I always found something to my liking, there is no question that from presentation to methods of cooking, the smaller yachts have their limitations…but Seabourn has a way of working with them so that the culinary product is merely different, not of lesser quality.

I started the cruise with a designed and concentrated effort to utilize Seabourn’s tours. The concept, for me, failed miserably. The first tour was a struggle (especially having to be compared with our Venetian Wine Walk the day before), the second tour was cancelled due to Shopping With The Chef, the third was cancelled due to a lack of interest, the fourth was a wonderful wine tasting overshadowed by a overwhelming guide and local music and, by then, I just couldn’t be bothered with the fifth, so I did my own thing…and found a little bit of heaven.

While I enjoy learning more about the history of a port and seeing more of its countryside than can usually be accomplished without a tour or guide, for me, personally, focusing on wandering the town and finding that special restaurant or shop or scene or person is just more of what I prefer my travel to be. Such an approach is unnerving and/or unfulfilling for some, but alas that is why they make chocolate and vanilla ice cream. And I do enjoy both, but definitely have more vanilla than chocolate. In other words, I am not “anti-tour” I just think I need to be very selective in what they are.

All in all, the 2009 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise on the Seabourn Spirit was a great success. We enjoyed many different wines and while the foods were not nearly as varied as in the past, they were very much enjoyed…especially the fish. Most importantly, as we explored four countries in seven days, we had fun. We had lots of fun.

It was “The Best”!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Seabourn Spirit 2009 Food & Wine Cruise - Doing It The Iamboatman Way

Note:  As the internet was effectively non-functioning during most of the cruise I have posted a number of blog entries all at once.  Be sure to start at the bottom and work you way up to this one.

The next day, our last, was Trieste, Italy. I had booked a tour which was to highlight some castles and local wines, but I was pretty toured out after our Slovenian guide, Montenegro being such a disappointment and Otapaji being just OK, so I cancelled and went with another couple for a walk around town.

Trieste is a beautiful town with wonderful architecture, lots of cafes and shopping. In a typical Iamboatman manner, we looked at this café and that café for a place to have a coffee. And then I saw “the place”. It was an ancient wine bar called La Tecia which was oozing: rounded brick ceilings, wooded arched supports and tiny tables crammed into dimly lit spaces. We ordered two local wines (Fantin Nodar Friulano Tocai - a white; and Lis Neris Bottigua - a cab) and a platter of salami, prosciutto and fresh ham and another of a variety of cheeses.

There we sat for a couple of hours thinking, “This is the best”. It was. I had another great food & wine moment and it was with my wife and good friends happened upon by accident and enjoyed feeling just a little bit like a local.

A bit of power shopping thereafter (always dangerous after drinking wine for two hours!) and it was time to return to the Seabourn Spirit to pack and for a final soak in the forward spa watching the world go by and talking about nothing.

A final excellent dinner with great service and wonderful food (duck breast), coupled with a nice Cote de Rhone and it was off to the Club as it was a bit too windy for the Sky Bar. David, a proper butler (and a quirky, but charming young man), prepared my final cigar – and he is magic with it – and it another memorable moment on deck, watching the seagulls and terns fishing in the water lit by the lights of the Seabourn Spirit as we sailed out of Treiste.

It was, alas, time for the 2009 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise to come to an end.

I will provide some final thoughts separately.

Seabourn Spirit 2009 Food & Wine Cruise - Food, Wine and, ummm, Music

The second part of our day in Koper, Slovenia was the private Ensemble Experience which was a tour of Piran followed by a wine tasting at Santomas vineyards. The town tour was hampered by a guide that talked way, way, way too much. That, however, became a distant memory when we arrived at the winery. Santomas is breathtakingly beautiful and, remarkably, the present facility is only two years old (and a labor of love by its owner). Everything from the pressing area to the restaurant where we had our tasting was done first class.

Not expecting much, I was really blown away by the quality of these moderately priced wines. I won’t bore you with the varieties other than to note that each of the five wines (one white, three red, one dessert) were interesting in their own rights and were presented with a really nice offering of prosciutto, a variety of cheeses, olives, local bread and, for the dessert wine, pastries.

A first class experience.

There was one funny/frustrating aspect: The tour company provided us with a Slovenian folk music trio that sang and played a bit too loudly for the entire tasting. When the tasting was over they hopped in their car and headed to…the Seabourn Spirit for the barbeque. That resulted in our group listening to about three hours of Slovenian folk music…and a serious headache! But I digress.

We arrived back at the ship just in time to wash up and hit the deck for the always great Deck Barbeque albeit we were still at the dock. The highlight was the Fonda sea bass. It was so good (and I am a picky fish eater) I shunned most of the offerings and had two fish! Give credit to the fish and to the Seabourn galley staff. They could have easily ruined the fish by being fancy or not giving it enough respect. Instead, with Bjoern’s guidance, it was perfection!

After a bit of the Rock the Boat show on deck, I called it an early evening retreated to my suite for about 45 minutes just to have some quiet. Like I was being set up, at returned to the Sky Bar at 11:00 pm for the sailaway…and like a bad joke the Slovenian folk music started again. Fortunately, the ship was starting to move and the music faded away. A nightcap under the stars and all was right with the Seabourn world.

Between visiting the Fonda aquaculture farm, the Santomas wine tasting and the Deck Barbeque it was a truly fantastic day.

Seabourn Spirit 2009 Food & Wine Cruise - Its About The Fish!

Chef Bjoern arranged for a private inspection of a aquaculture farm outside Koper, Slovenia. Having a background in marine biology and worked as a biological aid for the United States’ National Marine Fisheries Service I was quietly very excited for this. I think the others were more like, “OK. That’ll be ‘interesting’”.

Our “guide” for our journey to the Fonda aquaculture farm in Piran, Slovenia, Irena Fonda, was a bit quiet at first, but this charming woman with a doctorate in molecular biology, came alive when we reached what we would learn is her family business. We boarded an ordinary 10 passenger pontoon boat with a bag of fish food, some water and what I thought was three bottles of champagne improperly iced upside down in a bucket of ice along with a very nice blue shopping bag.

The process of raising the fish(sea bass or locally known as branzino), which takes five (5) years was explained and it was emphasized that the nets are free of all antibiological agents which would kill organisms trying to grow on the nets, that would also introduce poison to the fish. As such a very labor intensive process of net replacement and manual cleaning is required. Also, rather than the fish being fed lots of low quality feed and artificial colors which would cause them to get fat (and thus to market weight, but at low quality, quicker) and look pretty (think color added to farmed salmon), these fish are fed less more often and the amounts eaten are measured every day. (My wife now understands why I have always said do not purchase farm raised fish: It isn’t terribly healthy, it looks funny to me and it doesn’t taste that good either.)

After stopping at the large round nets (each of which were pristine) with increasing larger fish we had a surprise: a very rare sighting of a young sea turtle. They were more excited than we were as they had never seen a sea turtle in their waters. Just a little bonus and a harbinger of the magic that was about to happen.

Tied off to one of the nets a presentation was made. The bag contained a Styrofoam box with a nurtured five year old sea bass fish beautifully presented and protected all of which was explained as to everything from the wrapping to the date tagging (so you know the fish is fresh) to the frozen gel used (as ice would melt and injure the meat). While the fish was then being prepared for some sashimi tasting (which was incredible) we savored gently smoked sea bass.

Oh, yes, that upside down champagne was actually a great treat. It was a Refusco wine prepared in a champagne style. The cool thing about the wine is that it is not purged in the process as is done with champagne, so the sediment is allowed to settle in the neck of the bottle, which is then opened. underwater (quite a feat!). It was a delicious and paired, surprisingly, well with the fish. (Those of the “You don’t drink red wine with fish” really have it wrong!!)
Then as we started to have the sashimi it was explained that Fonda also presses its own olive oil from its private grove and it also uses salt from the salt farm right next door…and it was all being served to us.

After a tour of the salt farm, which still produces the salt by hand processes that date back hundreds of years, Bjoern, the Seabourn chef then arranged for some sea bass to be delivered to the ship for the Deck Barbeque that evening.

What an experience!

Seabourn Spirit 2009 Food & Wine Cruise - Meeting Up With The Big Sister & Chef's Surprises

The next day in Kotor, Montenegro, started out with a bit of excitement. When I stepped into the Veranda for breakfast the Seabourn Odyssey was berthed right behind us. It was great to see her again and also to say hello to some of my clients who were enjoying a cruise on her.

An interesting note for those of you who think she is too large: I have two couples sailing with me who thought the same thing…until they saw her in person. They are now very excited to cruise with her on the 2010 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise. And those on the Seabourn Odyssey concerned that their experience would be less personal came away with a very positive and personal experience.

It was then off to walk around the old city and, possibly, walk up the incredibly steep hillside to a church and fortress. My first impression while I was walking through the local market was one similar to that I had when visiting the Ukraine: It could be really nice, but there is just a sort of slightly not maintained, slightly dirty, less than energetic, feel about the place. There was not a restaurant or café that attracted me and the shops were very ordinary. Others complained about beggars, though I didn’t see any.

We did start the climb up the absurdly steep hill, but we knew starting out making it to the top is something you have to really want to do. When we reached the point where it said 2€ per person, we stopped and quickly retreated to level ground and a more comfortable walk.

Now for my plan: I decided to try to make my own wine tasting and gourmet lunch at the restaurant we were to visit. So we walked over to it and it was allegedly all booked out for a group that was not for the Seabourn Spirit or the Seabourn Odyssey. Curious...and I am looking into this.

At that point I didn’t want to further impact my day, so we returned to the Spirit for a nice lunch at the Sky Bar, a sleep and a soak in the forward spa. After beating my head against the wall, not knowing of the seriousness of the internet issue, it was time for a an exceptional Chef’s Tasting Menu for dinner.

The next day was a late rise as it was a Marina Day in Truike Bay, Croatia. After a dip in the marina’s pool, it was a banana ride followed by kayaking where a friend and I somehow wound up pulling our wives’ paddleboat around the bay. It was then a Sky Bar lunch.

My group was then given a private tour of the galley with Bjoern, the executive chef, and some very nice wine and caviar. Really having the time to understand all that goes on in the galley puts things into some perspectives you would never think of. I will write more about this another time, as it really is a topic unto itself, but just know that I will never arrive for dinner at 9:00 p.m. again as it really puts the galley into chaos. (It is not improper, but it just isn’t something I would do because I would feel guilty.)

After our tour it was a bit of relaxation and boy would we need it for our day in Koper, Slovenia was jam packed! Bjoern let us know we had another surprise in store: An early morning private experience before our afternoon Ensemble tour.

Seabourn Spirit 2009 Food & Wine Cruise - Split, Croatia: Shopping With the Chef & Chilling Out Seabourn Style

Unfortunately there was a failure of the motherboard for the internet satellite system on board, so posting my blog as it was happening just wasn’t possible. Nonetheless, here it is…and know that it was, in the end, one of the best cruises I have ever taken.

We started our day in Split, Croatia, after a very pleasant breakfast at the Veranda, Shopping With the Chef. Because the interest was so great, Seabourn expanded the number that could go to about 30, which was a bit much, but which also had Seabourn arrange for a guide to give us a short walking tour. After a brief orientation it was off to the fish market.

It was a bit lean in the smallish fish market with clear signs of overfishing taking its toll. It was especially sad to see small soles that haven’t had even a chance to breed being offered for sale. The Chef purchased some sea bass and sardines as there wasn’t much else of interest. (The sardines wound up in the Veranda for lunch the next day and the sea bass became part of the Chef’s Tasting Menu.)

It was then a short walk through the really interesting and pretty walled city to the vegetable and fruit market. Things were much more robust there and it seemed that everyone was selling tiny Italian plums. (Local grapes were delivered to everyone’s suites later in the day.)

We thanked the Seabourn staff as it was time to explore more of Split, a town I would readily come back to. It really just felt like a very friendly place to be and it was just enjoyable. We stopped in a café and noticed that the food really wasn’t very exciting, consisting of some pretty standard fare…and pizza was offered everywhere. (I had given, as “pillow gifts”, a book on Croatian cooking, so I knew it was not going to be a world class experience, but rather more one of comfort foods.) We ordered some Croatian beer (I do not recall the brand) and, to be honest, it was awful. The aftertaste stayed with me literally for hours. That pretty much shot any chance at discovering the Croatian wines (and I heard from others on the tour I was originally going to take that the wines really were pretty ordinary).

After a very relaxing day in a beautiful place we headed up to the forward whirlpool – having joked with Jaco, the bar waiter, very early in the day that we would be there at 3:30 p.m. – and at precisely 3:30 p.m. he arrived with glasses and a bottle of champagne. A few of us spent the rest of the afternoon in the forward spa. This was followed by another bottle of champagne and the ever important supervision of the locals fishing (and watching one particularly curious cuttlefish who seemed interested in everything). And then it was time for the sailaway. It was, simply, a Seabourn afternoon.

I received a note when I returned to my suite that the ultra-luxury wine tasting and lunch at the best restaurant in Kotor, Montenegro has been cancelled due to lack of interest and, with virtually no time to arrange anything else, I was kind of stuck. But, alas, I had a plan…and would be very happy if it worked. It was then a wonderful dinner and an evening sitting under the stars enjoying it all with friends…a great Seabourn evening.