Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Visit To Seabourn's Offices...and Some News

Earlier this week I had the opportunity, and pleasure, to visit Seabourn's offices in Miami.  I had the opportunity to visit with everyone:  reservations, marketing, sales, tours and hotels, guest relations, the Seabourn Odyssey "command center", etc. and, of course, the President, Pamela Conover.

It was great putting faces to those voices in Reservations who have so wonderfully assisted me over the years.  As many of you know from when you speak with them, we have a great relationship.  What I truly enjoyed was seeing that they not only sound like nice people, they are nice people.  And they seem to really enjoy each other.  Great photos of their fun moments are proudly posted by many desks.  So, if you call Seabourn, I can assure you that the pleasant voice you are hearing is not fake.  They really do smile...a lot.  (In fact, the only complaining I heard at all was about a certain someone - who will deny it - hoarding the brownies I had sent over earlier in the day!)

I was able to get a quick peak at some new things...Seabourn is always looking at ways to improve.  So for those few misinformed complainers and doomsayers (and you know who you are posting away on Cruise Critic), I can assure you that you are very wrong.  I never heard or saw anything about cutting back or modifying anything.  All I heard about, and saw, were improvements.  Sometimes improvements require change, but change can be good.

An example:  I was, with some arm-twisting, able to see the new Pre-Cruise Documents that are going to be used shortly.  They are so well designed and good looking.  While they will not be leather-bound editions, I can assure you that many people will consider then keepsakes of their cruise before they even board.  They have great style and, more importantly, much more useful information then the present ones, in an easy to read and use format.

Another example:  Being nosy, I asked to see the new place settings for the Seabourn Odyssey.  Each venue has its own style and, though I was not able to see the exact colors of the final pieces, the samples clearly reflect Seabourn's concern with the details right down to the differences in presentation of the cuisine in each restaurant.  (Restaurant 2's menus have a far different need than the Main Restaurant, for example.)

I caught wind of some other things to come, but suffice it to say, if I tell you I won't ever be told anything again!  Trust me, it is all good.

Barry Hopkins, the Seabourn Odyssey's Cruise Director, was hard at work with Hotel Manger, Guenter Steinbrunner.  They were so intense I felt like I was intruding...but, of course, I was.  In typical Seabourn style, they stopped what they were doing (with a smile) and enthusiastically answered my questions.  They are feeling the pressure of the new ship, but they are very excited.

One place where there is what I will call "New York intensity" is on the hotel/tour/private excursion front.  If you ever thought Seabourn was sitting back or placing less emphasis on these items you are well mistaken.  Seabourn is really working hard to not only assure truly excellent experiences, but is pushing its vendors and hotel partners to provide better pricing.  I should point out something that many probably do not consider when comparing Seabourn's hotel pricing versus doing it privately.  Seabourn's pricing includes all taxes (which can be very significant) and gratuities plus private sedan transfers.  So, while Seabourn works on getting the prices down, be sure you do the math correctly when choosing your pre- or post- cruise hotel.  (Also, many hotel packages include tours...so keep that in mind too.)

My day was completed with a wonderful private dinner with Pamela Conover.  The best part of it was that it was really just friends having dinner.  Of course we talked about Seabourn, its plans, my goals, etc., but it also was just a nice evening spent in a little, local, Italian restaurant.  It was, as Seabourn is really all about, the people.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Oceania Cruises - Ship Inspection of the Regatta Made Me Smile...Really.

I flew down to Miami yesterday to do a ship inspection of the Oceania Regatta; one of three virtually identical ships operated by Oceania Cruise Lines.  I was not really expecting it to be very interesting - from an inspection point of view - since I had previously inspected the Azamara Journey...which is a sistership in a former life as part of Renaissance Cruise Lines.  Being the skeptic I am I was, however, wondering if I could get some real input and feel as to the effect of Apollo Management's impact on the Oceania product and approach...and how the "Prestige Cruise Holdings owns Oceania and Regent" affects same, and what downsides exist, if any (as it relates to Oceania).

Verdict: I literally came away with a smile.  Honestly.  As a was walking out of the terminal one of the security guards stopped me and said, "You look like you had a good time.  Nice smile."

For those of you not familiar with the ships, they are mid-size ships holding 684 passengers with some suites, but mostly fairly compact cabins.  As Oceania emphasizes, it is NOT a luxury cruise line, but a premium one.  The cabins (with or without balconies) are small at 164 square feet, but are tastefully well designed and comfortable save two major flaws:  extremely small bathrooms with "overly friendly" shower curtains and mini-sofas that just aren't comfortable.  (The Penthouse and higher suites do not suffer from either of these flaws and, in fact, have bathtubs, plenty of room and comfortable furniture.)  Personally, I like the cabin finishes better on Azamara, but not enough to really have it as a factor when choosing which line to cruise.

You will pay as you go for water, drinks and liquor.  There are no complimentary shuttle buses into town.  You will pay gratuities (unless you book one of its special promotions before the end of March 2009). Smoking is forbidden and children are specifically discouraged.  Men can cruise for weeks without ever donning a jacket, though many do wear sport coats to dinner.  Other than the specialty restaurants, it is open seating.

The public spaces are very nice with a country club feel (i.e. casual but elegant), two specialty restaurants (Polo for steak and Toscano for Italian, but without additional charge for either) plus the main dining room and the casual venue, which has a portion (even outdoors) transformed to a tapas restaurant in the evenings.  There are very nice cabanas which you can rent for a day or an entire cruise that give you a fairly luxurious retreat.

The food I had was very good.  Now, while I know a bit of a show is put on for travel agents, what was served does indicate what Oceania does with its cuisine.  We started with a nice serving of caviar over a potato terrine of sorts, followed by lobster risotto, beef fillet and a chocolate dessert.  What my impressions were are very Jacques Pepin (who designed the menu):  Good quality ingredients served in a simple, honest way that looks and tastes good.  My beef was ordered medium rare and it was served medium rare...and cut with a fork.  (By way of comparison I found the presentation, flavors and taste to be superior to its sister line, Regent Seven Seas.)

A note on service:  It appears to be solid, but not as polished as one would expect on a luxury line.  Oceania not being a luxury line would seem to make this an irrelevant observation, right?  Well, the overall impression is such that you cannot help but consider same.  (That is a compliment.)

Okay, so you are reading this and saying, "This doesn't sound like the Eric I know."  Well, here goes...A nice cabin and a good meal does not make me smile.  People make me smile.  The people on Oceania from the room stewardesses to the Chief Financial Officer were warm, friendly and, most importantly, were proud of their product and were absolutely beaming with the personal pride of being on a team that wants to do the best they possibly can.  For me, even if things are not perfect, if someone is genuinely giving their all and want to improve what they do, I willingly embrace any minor slip-ups because they are part of a very productive process.

I had a very enjoyable lunch with the Prestige Cruise Holding's Director of Communications, Chief Financial Officer and others.  We discussed Oceania's philosophy, efforts during refits, happiness of the crew, etc.  I even was introduced to a couple of very happy former Seabourn folks (who spoke with such kind words about Seabourn!).  To be sure, however, I made sure that we spoke of some of the issues regarding Regent, the interrelationship, etc.  What I walked away with was these are the sort of people I, personally, want to do business with.  And, if I want to do business with them, it gives me great comfort in encouraging my clients to cruise with Oceania.

I close with the inevitable comparison:  Oceania versus Regent.  To me this is not even close:

     1.  Food:  This is, hands down, to Oceania.  Not only did I have a meal onboard, I snooped around and saw what was being offered to the paying passengers.  I know that Oceania spends more per passenger on quality ingredients than Regent does.  I understand and appreciate the philosophy of an elegant piece of beef fillet you can cut with a fork trumps a giant rib eye falling off of a plate.

     2.  Service:  I used the term once before, "Comfortable in its own skin" and Oceania's service is just that.  It is solid, but imperfect.  But is offered with a smile, a desire to do it better each and every time and with an intangible warmth.  Regent struggles with uneven service, confused waiters and a lack of polish.  It is working on "it", but Oceania has "it".

     3.  Itineraries:  This is not even close.  Check out Oceania's itineraries.  If you want to see the world, they are so much stronger than Regent's.

     4.  Cabins:  Regent is must stronger, even in most suites.  It is, to me, the only "ace in the hole" Regent has.  That said, the Penthouses on Oceania are nice, though the bathrooms (even with a tub) are a bit spartan.  The upper suites are competitive, though.

     5.  Ships:  If you take the Regent Navigator out of the mix, the pubic areas are both fine.  I do find that most of Oceania's public spaces are more to my liking...with the caveat that I have not been back on the Regent ships since their recent refit.  The style of Oceania works for me, but I would not chose or dismiss either line because of their public areas.

     6.  Value:  If you read this far you know the answer:  Oceania by far.  You could not possibly drink enough or pay enough in gratuities to even begin to justify the price difference. 

So, if you are looking for a value cruise or prefer to pay ala carte (non-drinkers, for example), take a good look at Oceania.  I am confident you will like what you see...especially for the price.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Regent Seven Seas Does It Again...And Shouldn't. UPDATED..AND UPDATED AGAIN (SERIOUSLY)

Look for Updated Comments.

I was checking over on Cruise Critic to see if there were any issues or topics worthy of comment and low and behold there it was. So I have to ask the question:

Why is it so hard for Regent Seven Seas to deliver what it promises?

The Failure to Deliver a Themed Cruise - A fewer months ago there were some disgruntled Regent Seven Seas guests because a Spotlight on Chocolate themed cruise was not delivered. These unhappy folks were greeted with others noting that Regent has failed to deliver these themes appropriately in the past. (I, personally, was on one that was to highlight caviar, but it was relegated to listening to a sales pitch from a California company trying to sell flavored fish eggs.) Regent promised improvements, but...

This week: The Regent Navigator's February 23, 2009 cruise is clearly noted in its brochure as a "Spotlight on Food & Wine" cruise. I checked Regent's website and it clearly states, "This cruise currently has no specialized enrichment programs scheduled." A passenger onboard posted that she was expecting the Food & Wine program, but was greeted by a "Spotlight on Chocolate" cruise. I am baffled as to what Regent was to deliver...and obviously others are as well.

It does not matter if you are a foodie, oenophile or just wanted something a bit special on a Caribbean cruise, if you booked a Food & Wine cruise then you should have received a Food & Wine cruise. If Regent's plans changed, for whatever reason, then it should (a) properly advise the guests of the change; and, (b) allow the guest to change their cruise without penalty or provide them with an appropriate credit. (Being pretty sure who this particular guest's travel agent is (and it most definitely is not me) I am confident the change wasn't passed on to the agency.)

Also, while those that did not think they were having any sort of Spotlight on this cruise the Chocolate theme might be considered a very nice added benefit...or, for some, a real problem. Possibly they have chocolate allergies, they are diabetic and it is it is their downfall, they hate the smell of chocolate or whatever. The fact is that Regent has created a potentially issue that was easily avoidable. Treating a guest as, well...hummm...not a guest, but merely a revenue stream can cause this sort of thing.

The Failure to Deliver Service - One of the Regent Cheerleaders that I have posted about (and who tends to rate anything negative I say about Regent as a "1") is on this particular cruise. She is the person who posted on Cruise Critic and another board about the above issue. What she did not post on Cruise Critic, but did on another board is that the service in Portofino (the specialty restaurant on the Regent Navigator) "has not improved since we were on the Navigator two years ago"; noting that returning guests known to the staff were given "a great deal of time" while she was provided with "minimal service".

UPDATE: I have read that the dining service in the Compass Rose (main) dining room on the present cruise is abysmal. One night it took 30 minutes for bread and wine to be offered...menus were though. The next night: 20 minutes...and then the poster complained. I note the person reporting these inexcusable service lapses attacked me relentlessly on Cruise Critic for saying the same things. Now you know, for certain, I do not have an agenda (as was claimed to be the case), but just speak the truth. [Please read my Navigator review posted on my website at http://www.goldringtravel.com/review.aspx?id=4010 . It is 2+ years later and the horrific service remains the same! ]

Here's another unforegivable issues: It is reported that the Italian waiters in Portofino were speaking Italian to each other in front of the guests during dinner. That is not only rude, it is the height of disrepect. Such conduct is specifically forbidden on almost every line...it is even stressed in the Princess Cruise Line training manual!

Folks, as I say, I call it as I see it and I have seen this before. Regent Seven Seas simply fails to deliver consistent service! So it is - even in the eyes of a cheerleader - very possible (even, dare I say, probable) that two people on a Regent cruise may have entirely different experiences with service and dining.

Regent, if you are reading (and I believe you are): THIS IS EASY STUFF! Every table is to be serviced exactly the same way...every time. And this is not a "training" issue. THIS IS A MANAGEMENT ISSUE. I am sorry for shouting, but the failure to provide appropriate service is right there and smacks you in the face. Where is the Staff Captain, Hotel Manager, Maitre d', Head Waiter??? How can the servers be permitted cruise after cruise, year after year, to continue to make the same blatant error? The reason is that they probably do not know any better, for what they know is "This is how it has always been done".

(What I again find fascinating, and you have to love the Regent cheerleaders, is that they rave about how wonderful the Matrie d' is. Huh? He is supposed to be in charge of such conduct. What they speak of gives me the feeling of a guy who smiles to a guest's face and sticks his tongue out when they turnaround. It is baffling how such misconduct has been so effectively marketed to these people that they really think that incompetence is not only acceptable, it is a sign of great treatment. Scary!)

UPDATED AGAINFailure of Hardware - Now it is reported that the Navigator went dark (no electricity) for about 20 minutes; not really an unusual problem for this ship.  Then it was reported that the water in the suites turned brown for a while.  Granted, occassional discolored water is not that unsusual on cruise ships, but when added to what seems like monthly (or more frequent) power failures, it is just unbelievable.

Sorry Regent, I cannot recommend people pay a premium to be ignored. There are lots of nice suites on cruise lines that cost literally 50% of what Regent charges.

Please Regent: Tell me what it is that you are delivering at the highest prices in the industry?!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Luxury Cruise Product and Pricing - Close In vs. One Year and Longer...Homogeny Is No Longer Present

There has been much discussion on the internet, newspapers and magazines about the prices of cruises.  There are so many factors that affect pricing that, dependent on how you look at them different strategies can been seen as the "right" one or the "best guess" as to how to proceed; keeping in mind that these are truly "uncharted waters".

I am starting the discussion of this issue from the luxury consumer side (and there is a general difference, as there always has been, from the mass market consumer side).  Luxury consumers are...and should be...selfish.  Essentially it is, "I am not worth near what I was six months ago and my income is down as well, so there better be really good prices for any line to keep my loyalty or attract my business." Some people in the market add the caveat, "If the price is not low enough I just can no longer afford to enjoy the luxury product."

This approach clearly has its upsides (like putting serious downward pressure on prices), but it also has its downsides (such as focusing too much on price).What do I mean by focusing too much on price?  I have seen, in some, a phenomenon recently that, while understandable, has sort of perverted the cruise experience from one of entitlement and enjoyment to one of hostility (overtly blaming the cruise lines for the situation) and irrational "business" acumen.  If Line X does not give  my cruise at $A, then I am not cruising with them, I am going to give my business to Line Y" even though there is no association between $A and the cost of providing the cruise experience desired and, dare I say based on the vitriol, needed.

The fact is that a cruise ship cannot, and will not, operate at a continuing loss just to be in operation.  We have all seen cruise lines go out of business because of this.  Post 9/11 was a very difficult time and, as an example, Renaissance Cruise Line folded.  Don't think lessons were not learned from that recent history.  Silversea has an extreme situation:  It is mothballing the Prince Albert II for a few months (end of February 2009 through mid-May 2009) because of a serious lack of demand.  (While this may not only be an economic thing, it is a telling example of a cruise line weighing the economics rather than possibly overvaluing the negative perception.)  In other words, no matter how loudly the luxury cruise passenger shouts, there is only so much the cruise line can do about it before the ships stop sailing.

Before moving on, I do want to mention that it is not the cruise lines' faults that the passengers are in the the financial situation they are in.  Blaming the cruise lines for not being sensitive to their plight might sound like a feasible argument, but it really makes no sense at all.  Of course the cruise lines are aware of, and sensitive to, your financial and emotional situation.  And just as there are infinite opinions, there are infinite ways the passengers believe their predicament should be handled by the cruise lines.

Regent Seven Seas has decided it would address the situation by increases prices and packing that higher price with what it perceives as more value.  Regent has decided to include tours (a subject I, not so fondly, previously wrote about Regent Announces Plan For Big Changes) and push their free air (which I think we all know is not really free...on any cruise line).  The more inclusive product is somewhat inconsistently applied in 2009 (based upon demand), but is omnipresent in 2010.  Regent is also making an effort to actually provide the product it promises with improved service, higher quality cuisine, better dining venues, etc.  This is a process which is underway, but remains - at least for now - inconsistent.  Also on Regent's plans is enticing travel agents to shift their clients because of  slightly increasing their commissions; a point I find most disappointing.  (Regent Gives Commissions on NCFs). 

Seabourn is taking the approach of significantly discounting its prices on cruises inside 6-8 months, but insisting the product is consistent - with no reductions in service or product.  (Seabourn had eliminated most of the once-per-cruise complimentary Seabourn Experience due to a reduction in guest participation resulting in many cruise passengers paying for someone else's experience.  This is nonetheless seen as a singular reduction by some.)  While some have protested that Seabourn's pricing in 2010 is too high, I believe same is based upon the mistaken theory that there must a direct relationship between what someone believes they will have as disposable income in 2010 and what Seabourn must price its cruises at.  Seabourn is not a discount cruise line and if those who protest cannot understand that just as Tiffany, Louis Vuitton, etc. do not normally market discounts, Seabourn must be willing to forego some sales in 2009 for 2010-2011 sailings at near or below-cost pricing or it will cheapen its product forever...causing greater damage.

Silversea has taken a mixed approach.  It has tired inflated commissions and significant discounts.  It has also tried high onboard credits to be used to pay for tours, etc.  (Obviously it is a more luxury approach to tours, as true luxury guests tend to prefer private excursions and an onboard credit allows them to use their funds for that purpose, while Regent's does not.  Seabourn has not gone with onboard credits or tours, but has expanded its private tour operation significantly.)  Silversea has - in contrast - also taken to some serious cost cutting measures.  While Seabourn still had complimentary caviar, Silversea eliminated that some time ago.  And while Seabourn and Regent have complimentary alternative dining venues, Silversea is now charging for same.  (So some of that new onboard credit is being eaten away by that which used to be included.)  I am a bit uncomfortable with the variety and changing of approach with Silversea.  To me it seems all a bit unfocused and desperate.  (I am not saying it is, and I have no basis to know same to be true other than ships generally sailing less than half full, it just seems like that to me.)

So what does this all mean?  It means that the luxury cruise customer needs to really look at the alternatives, rather than say "Cruise line X is not getting my business because of Y."  Why?  Because there is a new world out there and homogeny is not part of it.  As shown above, Seabourn, Regent and Silversea have all taken markedly different approaches to pricing and marketing.

If you are looking at a cruise in the next 6-8 months, you really need to look at the specific cruise because what you get may be significantly different from one cruise to another, no less from one cruise line to another.  If you are looking at a cruise which may be about a year away or longer, I would suggest you book now and if the product changes you can reassess your decision...but you have your desired cruise and suite.

But, and I mean "but", I would suggest that consistency of product is going to be far more important to the luxury cruiser than the next gimmick in pricing.  Most luxury clients want to know first and foremost what it is they are buying and then determine if the price affords them the value they require.  Put another way, "If it sounds to good to be true, it probably is."  So with the homogeny of product no longer there...and no indication that it is going to be returning soon...

Friday, February 20, 2009

So You Think Seabourn's 2010 Cruise Prices Are Too High...Check This Out (Again)

OK, today I am cheating a bit. I am working on a post analyzing the various sides to cruise prices and pricign strategies and hoped I post it today. It may be posted over the weekend. But in thinking about it, I remembered my post from October 30, 2008 and thought you might be interested in reading it, if you hadn't seen it the first time. (It is exciting for me that this blog is quickly becoming sort of a library of information rather than posts with a relevance life of but a few days!)

Here you go:

I love to find "stuff". I get in trouble for finding "stuff". But I will always be on the lookout for some good "stuff". And here is one bit of "stuff" that you have to see to believe.

I recently purchased a pile of old Seabourn brochures and advertisements. Included were ads for Asia, the South Pacific (oh, Seabourn please go back there!!) and the Caribbean. As the Caribbean cruising season is just about upon us, I thought I would share part of a 1995-1996 Caribbean promotional brochure from Seabourn. (If you click on the images, you will see a full size image in a new window.)

Let's do a bit of comparison:

I. Holiday Cruise

December 21, 1995 to January 6, 1996 (16 days) - Lowest available price, taking into account an air credit of $350 and $200 for a hotel and transfer credit: $13,410 per person ($838 per day)

December 19, 2008 - January 2, 2009 (14 days) - Lowest available price: $6,995.00 per person ($499 per day).

Can you believe it is virtually half the price to cruise on Seabourn today as it was 12 yeas ago...and that doesn't include cost of living adjustments?

II. Panama Canal Cruise:

November 16, 1995 - November 26, 1995 (10 days) - Lowest available price, taking into account an air credit of $400 and $200 for a hotel and transfer credit: $5,950 per person ($595 per day).

December 5, 2008 - December 19, 2008 (14 days) - Lowest available price: $4,373.00 per person ($312 per day).

Again, it is virtually half the price to cruise on Seabourn today as it was over a decade ago.

Also, keep in mind that back in 1995 the concept of discounting cruise fares really did not exist. Goldring Travel discounts literally every cruise we sell...last year, this year and in the future.

I found this, and lots of other information, fascinating. I will be looking through this treasure trove of material and, from time to time, will share some of it with you.

Now, remember, I will have a lot to say about pricing in the coming days. But in the meantime, take a look back in time and see how far we have come in the way of cruising and its availability to literally millions more in just the past decade.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Seabourn's New Sale - Aggressively Price An Excellent Product; Don't Pad The Cruise With Extras

With Regent Seven Seas padding its prices with tours and air (which otherwise might not be used), Silversea padding its prices with large onboard credits (which otherwise might not have been spent), Seabourn has found success in these times by keeping it simple:  Seabourn is just pricing its cruises to the point they become incredible value...while keeping its product the consistent.

Here are the latest deals, some of which are actually up to 65% off.

If you are struggling with Regent's pricing, the additional charges which Silversea is creeping into its product or pay the regularly cruise in the upper categories of Oceania, Azamara, Celebrity, Holland America or, honestly, any other cruise line, this is THE time to take a good look at The Yachts of Seabourn.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Newest Deceptive Practice Exposed - When Cruise Price Goes Down You Get An Upgrade...Not a Price Reduction! (Read the Comments!)

It was only a matter of time, but I just read about a group of travel agents and agencies (which shall remain nameless for now) have come up with a new scam. I find it to be deplorable.

With the present market having so many price reductions, which usually results in travel agents having to take a lesser commission (because commissions are almost always based on a percentage of the price), many travel agents have been hit with lower income. So what are some doing to shore it up? They ripoff their clients!

Here is how it works: You book a cruise for X dollars and sometime later the cruise line reduces the price of your cruise. Rather than your travel agent truthfully telling you that there was a price reduction, he tells you, "Hey, I have great news! I was able to get you a double upgrade at no cost to you." That way his commission remains at the higher level and you are not only none-the-wiser you are defrauded into thinking your travel agent is fantastic pulling off such a great thing just for you. (Whattaguy!)

Here is how I do it...and how I believe it must be done: You book a cruise for X dollars and sometime later the cruise line reduces the price of your cruise. I tell you that there has been a price reduction on your cruise and give you the option of taking the savings or, as an alternative, getting you the upgrade.

Simply put, you came to me to book a Category A suite at the lowest price I can sell it to you for. You did not come to me to book you the best suite I could sell you for X dollars. What would give me the right to sell you your cruise for more than you asked me to?

By the way, I have (through various cruise line promotions) been able to secure upgrades and double upgrades for my clients. Those upgrades are such that there is no discount for taking a lower category suite or cabin, so if the upgrade was declined the price remained the same. Those are what we call "Complimentary" upgrades.

In this economy I would urge you to stick with those who you trust. It doesn't matter if the agency goes out of business and you are left with no cruise because they took your money directly and didn't pay the cruise line (ala Cruise Value Center) or they scammed you into overpaying for your cruise by deceptively upgrading your cabin. Either way, the travel agency pocketed your money without your knowledge or consent.

I work hard to earn your business and I do that by earning your trust. That is why I am so fortunate to have a very loyal client base...and my integrity.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Seabourn Odyssey: Some News About Public Spaces

Back on July 21, 2008 I laid out many of the details for the new Seabourn Odyssey. I thought it might just be a good time to repeat some of that content since Seabourn is providing a bit more information about the Seabourn Odyssey on its blog.

Here is what I can tell you (and, actually did, back on July 21, 2008!...again, you heard it here first!):

LOUNGES

· The Club
· The Sky Bar
· The Grand Salon
· The Patio Lounge
· Seabourn Square
· The Observation Bar

The first thing you will notice is that, independent of size and layout, there are significantly more lounges than on the Seabourn Legend, Pride and Spirit.S peaking of layout, The Club will be significantly different from those on the triplets, which basically have a bar, a glass-in seating area (a/k/a "the fishbowl") and seating around the dance/entertainment floor. On the Seabourn Odyssey The Club will be an indoor/outdoor lounge with a water feature/pool that will have a water show in the evenings. In addition, it will be utilized more than on the triplets with day and evening activities, while having the ability to seat a full one third of the ship's guests...but in a number of different seating areas.

Yes, The Club and the Observation Lounge will be larger, but their layouts are such that they are broken up into smaller spaces. Seabourn has not forgotten that it is the socialization among its guests that is one of its strongest features and these spaces are designed to enhance conversation.

Also, while the Sky Bar will be present in its familiar location and with a now fairly consistent look (thanks to the recent upgrades to the triplets!), there will be a second outdoor bar one deck down...right by the main pool.

SEABOURN SQUARE

Every hate the feeling of having a barrier between you and the purser, when you want to discuss something? Dread lining up to talk about a tour or to book your next cruise? Well Seabourn is implementing something pretty cool (actually somewhat more akin to what private banking used to be like). You will be able to sit in comfortable chairs in a lounge atmosphere and deal with your requests, inquiries and needs in a most civilized manner. And what would make your feel a bit more comfortable? A coffee bar will be located in the same area....and just down the corridor from the Card Room.

DINING:

Main Dining Room - Seabourn has done something pretty unique. It has very shrewdly designed the Restaurant to be essentially two mirror-images of the triplet's dining room (as far as layout in the dining room and galley). Even the waiter stations are in the same locations. Why you might ask? So that any staff that comes from one of the triplets knows exactly where to go, were things are, and how to serve. While the room will be beautiful, the service will be - here's that word - consistent.

Restaurant 2 - Again consistent with the Pride, Spirit and Legend, this alternative restaurant will feature innovative menus with wine parings.

The Colonnade - This is an indoor/outdoor restaurant with an open kitchen serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. It will feature a different theme each evening. Sound familiar? How about both indoor and outdoor seating?

Patio Grill - This is not just any poolside grill. There will be nice touches that make it a bit special at various times of the day. Wander by with a cup of coffee in the morning and you will be greeted with the aroma of warm cinnamon buns.

In Suite - Seabourn does this the best of any cruise line. Your meal will be served course by course, timed as you like it, with the Main Restaurant's menu available. If you simply want a late night pizza or an afternoon snack, there will be an extensive menu available.

SPA

Seabourn will have a unique, two story, indoor and outdoor spa with expanded services. But what is really exciting is that there will be 750 sq. ft. Spa Villas which provide you a private indoor area with seating and dining areas, a double bed lounger, two treatment beds, an oversized bathtub and shower...plus a private outdoor wraparound terrace with sun loungers. You will be able to rent these villas for your private treatment sessions for half or, demand permitting, full days.

In addition to Finnish saunas and aromatic steam rooms, there will be seven private treatment rooms with a much broader spectrum of services than is available on the triplets including a full service salon.

Seabourn will also be providing a state of the art gym for cardio, strength and weight training along with a Kinesis Wall. (For those of you that don't know what that is, don't worry about it - you will never use it!)

And for those wanting to just relax, the indoor pool will be located on Deck 8 and the Spa's own outdoor whirlpool will be located on Deck 9.

POOLS

If the triplets have glaring weakness it is the pool's location and layout. No more. On the Odyssey the outdoor pool is centrally located on Deck 8 with two whirlpools adjacent thereto. Modern, upgraded, lounges will be provided as well.

There will be a second smaller outdoor pool with two more whirlpools aft on Deck 5, as well, providing a quiet place to relax.

Wait until you see the water effects.

MARINA

Seabourn will have its very popular marina installed on the Odyssey and the offerings will be expanded to include water skiing and windsurfing in addition to snorkeling, banana rides, etc.

STAFFING

Seabourn has announced that its bar staff will include: Head Bartender, 1 Sommelier, 3 Assistant Sommeliers, 7 Bartenders, 11 Bar waiters, 3 Deck Stewards, and 2 Bar Utilities. If you think about the five lounge areas, plus dining venues, these men and women will be very busy indeed; especially if you think that some may actually take breaks during the day or evening and just once in a while might even get a day off.

I will be providing lots more info on the Seabourn Odyssey soon. It is getting close to the June 24, 2009 Maiden Voyage and the time to really introduce this ship to everyone is upon us.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Goldring Travel Has a New Website!

After a lot of thought and work I have just "gone live" with the new Goldring Travel website.

You can find it at:

And now you can simply go to the site, click on This Is My Yacht and see this blog without having to go to another site or opening a new window!
My intent is not for the Goldring Travel site to be everything to everyone, but rather a place to start, find some insight and, honestly, to let you all know about me and what I can do for you as your travel agent.

Take a look around: Search for some cruises; check out the Ensemble Specials; read about some of my cruises, etc.

And, I would greatly appreciate your comments, good and bad. I want to make the site the best it can be. Ideas for content, things that just don't work for you, suggestions, whatever.

It has been a longtime coming, but I am very pleased it is here!

As I say so often and most genuinely:

Thank you for allowing me to earn your business. It is greatly appreciated.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Perceptions and Demands

I have a bone to pick.  I am fed up with people that perceive they are "special" and demand that they receive "special" treatment regardless of the effect of same on fellow cruise passengers.

As many of you know, my motto/slogan/business philosophy is simple: Be Treated By Your Travel Agent As You Will Be Onboard. But what does that really mean? What are the client's or guest's expectations?

When I first entered the travel business I went to a seminar when the speaker (now a very good friend of mine) said essentially, "Someone will pay $399 for a cruise and expect a white glove assistant to meet them at the bottom of the gangway, take their bags, and then be greeted at the top of the gangway with a glass of champagne and the captain. It will never happen. But if the person pays $3,999 they will expect none of it, but get it all." I immediately knew what market I would focus on, but not necessarily for that reason.  I still needed to figure out what it is that I needed to do to focus on the luxury market.

But I also made a decision: Carnival or Seabourn, it doesn't matter. Every single client will be treated the same way: The best way I know how. Just as I would never think of asking how much someone makes I do not look at the cruise they are interested in as defining who they are...or, most importantly, how they should be treated.

My years in the superyacht industry has a very simple concept ingrained in my soul: That scruffy looking guy walking down the dock can just as easily be the owner of a yacht as the guy cleaning the bilges on the yacht...so regardless of which it is, that human being is entitled to my best...and my respect. 

With this I look at the cruise industry and the perceptions and demands of some guests and passengers. I must make the point that there is a difference between expecting the product that the cruise lines promise to deliver and demanding that you be treated extraordinarily special or be allowed to exploit a "We never say 'No'" philosophy or that you have the right to act with impunity regardless of how "your cruise" just might affect the cruise of your fellow passengers...who are just seeking to enjoy even if it is different than yours.

We all have experienced the "chair hogs", the guy that orders 12 shrimp cocktails each evening,  etc. Those sorts of selfish behavior is really not of what I speak.  I am talking about the taking over of public spaces such as hallways, bars or lounges by these private social groups and then their looking at you as if you are infringing on their private space. But, alas it is neither "theirs" nor is it "private".

A few years ago a client of mine was upset to the point of tears because a group on a Radisson cruise were not only cliquish, they were mean to (snubbed) this person.  A few years later this same group was to be on a cruise I was hosting a group on.  I made sure they knew in advance that I would not accept such conduct despite their intimidation.  This is, of course, an extreme case, but there were comments left in a recent post about similar types of actions by a group on Seabourn.  (What was that about the expectations of luxury clients?  Money don't buy class!)

The point I guess I am trying to express is that when a social group takes over that bar, or blocks a hallway or seeks to consistently jeopardize the staff (who have to tend to hundreds of other guests just as important as them), they need to take a moment and think about how their demands affect that "other" guest who they may not know or like.  They are equally entitled to a seat at the bar and to have their drink quietly (or not) as they wish regardless of your chosen manner of doing so.  They are entitled to equal service in the restaurant and their own quiet conversation. 

When you think of how "you are treated onboard" remember that "those people" also are entitled to be "treated onboard" just the same as you.

Perceptions and Demands.  Just remember that which you may perceive as a request to make your cruise special just may be seen as an unreasonable demand that improperly affects that other person's perception of what their cruise is supposed to be...or the cruise line's ability to afford those less demanding guests with the quality product they are entitled to.

Should we not demand at least that much of ourselves?

I will now step off  my soapbox.

Non-Cruise News...You Can't Make This Up!

Last evening I received a news alert from the New Jersey Law Journal and I wasn't sure if I should laugh, ask "What is the world coming to?" or to say, "It really is comforting to know that our Constitution is being protected".  In the end I decided it was all three.

The alert itself needs no explanation: 

JUDGE DISMISSES 'HOT CHICKS WITH DOUCHEBAGS' LIBEL SUIT

A Bergen County judge has poured cold water on a defamation suit by three women whose photos appeared in the book "Hot Chicks with Douchebags," finding the author's use of the pictures is protected First Amendment speech. Yvette Gorzelany, Joanna Obiedzinski, and Paulina Pakos had alleged that the photos, taken of them clubbing at a Clifton bar with ostentatiously dressed men, caused them harm in their personal and vocational lives. But Superior Court Judge Menelaos Toskos found there was no actionable defamation because the photographs and accompanying text were used for humorous social commentary and a reasonable person would conclude they were meant to be satirical and not an assertion of fact.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

2010 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise on the Seabourn Legend

Even though it is still months from the 2009 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise (http://goldringtravel.blogspot.com/2008/10/2009-golding-travel-food-wine-cruise-on.html with limited space still available), I am already working on the 2010 Food & Wine Cruise. (Hint: You won't believe the price!)

With Seabourn expanding into the Middle East, I have chosen a seven day roundtrip Dubai, U.A.E. cruise departing on November 28, 2010. It will visit Dubai, Bahrain, Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Sir Bani Yas, and Oman.

Late November is a great time to visit this area as the daytime temperatures are comfortable and the evenings can even be a bit cool. I am planning on arranging for a pre-cruise Desert Safari outside of Dubai, including an exotic dinner under the stars (extra cost). As always there will be the complimentary Goldring Travel Food & Wine Tasting and a suprise or two along the way.

While there are some restrictions on the consumption of wine in some of the ports, the fact is that the Middle East is not exactly a hot bed of wine production. However, the paring of wines with a rather diverse and very interesting palate of Middle Eastern cuisines will be a lot of fun. And if you are a vegetarian (or would like to focus on vegetarian dishes) this is actually the ideal cruise experience.

I am sure many of you are saying, "OK. I have heard of most of these places, but where the heck is Sir Bani Yas?!" It is an island off the coast of Abu Dhabi which has many unique features. This is a new venture on a very old island. Opened only recently to tourists, it holds itself out as a "nature tourism" spot; not an eco-tourism one. What does this mean? It means that this island is largely "reclaimed" from the sea and has been involved in creating a lush environment with mangroves, trees and grasses where only sand once existed. It is said that one mangrove tree will be planted for every visitor (but they started by planting over 3,000,000 of them!) Virtually everything has/is being brought to the island, including 40 giraffe, 400 Arabian oryx (extinct in the wild), stripped hyena, various deer and blackbucks (and, possibly soon, cheetah) among other wildlife. All of the irrigation is run by the largest wind turbine in the Middle East. So whether you want to trek, bicycle, drive or kayak the focus here is on nature and wildlife in a man-made ecology.

So with so many wanting to experience the "Glitz and Glamour" of Dubai, wondering what Oman, Bahrain and Qatar are really like (I will write more on this later!), and now pondering "What's up with Sir Bani Yas?) now is a great opportunity to book this cruise at an incredible starting price of less than $3,500 per person.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Seabourn's 2010-2011 Itineraries: You Got What You Asked For...And Didn't. (Read The Interesting Comments.)

If there is one thing I love it is controversy.  It is fodder for thought.  Motivation for writing.  And a basis for great discussion.  The reactions to the new Seabourn itineraries are very diverse and conflicting.  That may seem like a bad thing, but alas I think it is good.

A Shock to the Transatlantic System - I have heard, read and discussed with some of the well-seasoned Seabourners that they are very disappointed with the end of the triplets making transatlantic voyages as of April 2010.  While these cruises have uniquely become cliquish for the Blue Water Cruisers, they are also extremely costly for Seabourn (actually every line) and, frankly, not terribly popular with those outside the cliques. 

These Seabourners have become used to 175 passengers being waited on 24/7 for 12 days  for about $225 a day (or 50%-75% less than normal fares).  What is there not to love?!  On the other hand, Seabourn is faced with huge fuel costs, significant wear and tear on the ships (transatlantics are notoriously hard on ships), significantly higher per day costs to keep the guests happy, no ports to give the crew even a short break...and fetching only steeply discount the fares just to get people onboard. 

So now Seabourn will, on occasion, have the Odyssey making transoceanic crossings and, apparently from the comments, that ship's size will prevent the clique from taking it over.  I am not sure how that is a bad thing...unless you are of the opinion that you own the ship.  As for those few that now claim they will find a new line to cruise or that Seabourn doesn't appreciate them (ala Host Dan on Cruise Critic claiming he will be left with "nothing special") I say:  STOP ACTING SPOILED

Oh, that's right, Seabourn has spoiled you.  You have no idea what the Odyssey will be like (and I know many will soon migrate to her if the ship, not the ports, is the prime area of interest).  You don't know whether it will afford intimacy or not.  Oh, and by the way, would you please let me know what cruise line is going to offer you what Seabourn does on a 208 passenger ship and will on a 450 passenger ship?  So please, stop lying on your back, kicking your feet, in the middle of the internet "store". 

I am confident once your tantrums are over, you will settle down and remember what it is that made you so comfortable on Seabourn.  If not, so be it.  I am sure the passengers that have actively avoided a cruise because of the cliquish behaviors of some,might just now book them.

New Ports for Older Ships - Let's get some perspective here.  New ships are uniformly tasked with visiting the "tried and true" ports.  Why?  Because the vast majority of the cruising public want to go to these ports. 

Remember that most people have not been on a cruise ("I must go to Venice.") and that most somewhat experienced cruisers have only been on a few (usually Caribbean first and then once in Alaska or the Med).  Then there are those experienced past guests that many times do not get off the ship because they are there for the service, service and service. 

Without question, attracting new passengers is the first priority (over 80% of Americans haven't cruised!...more on this below!) and simply shifting your present passenger base to the new ship will leave any cruise line with empty older ships.  Up there as well is attracting experienced cruise passengers to try Seabourn.  (How many times I have heard, "If Seabourn only had balconies." or "I just am not comfortable on such a small ship, as I need more to do.").  That is not to say that the present Seabourn guests are third class.  To the contrary, Seabourn has made huge efforts to assure a consistency of product...elevating so many aspects of the cruise experience.

All that said, the thing I hear the most from truly experienced Seabourners:  "When is Seabourn going to have new itineraries?  I have been to all the ports."  As - you know I love him - Host Dan complains that the Seabourn Legend, Pride and Spirit have been "banished" I must ask, "Banished to exotic areas of the world?  I wish I was banished like that!  Heck, I have to pay to go to those places." 

The fact is that the triplets have been "stuck" because of demand for the "tried and true" (as explained above) and are now - finally - being set free; free to do that which they can do best:  Venture into Small and Exotic Ports Where Normal Cruise Ships Cannot Go.  If you look at the new itineraries you will discover that most of the ports have either never had cruise ships visit or they are far and few between, with less then prime infrastructure and underdeveloped tourism opportunities.  (I explained this a bit more in my October 23, 2008 post:  http://goldringtravel.blogspot.com/2008/10/seabourn-will-cruise-asia-year-round-in.htmlRemember you heard it here first!!!)  Seabourn has tried to address the needs of yet another group of dedicated and loyal Seabourners. 

Would it be perfect if the Odyssey or Sojourn could sail into these exotic ports?  For some yes, but for other absolutely not.  They love the smaller ships; something which pretty much remains unique. 

Worldwide Passenger Base Expanding- As a final point for now:  Seabourn may be an American cruise line, but the reality of it is there is huge world out there and people from all over the world are starting to discover and enjoy cruising.  Western Europeans have truly exploded onto the cruise scene in the past few years.  Eastern Europe is just starting.  Asia (and boy are there a diversity of cultures there) is but only marginally tapped.  The Middle Eastern nations are another group of people that have yet to really embrace cruising (and have only recently made a push into the true yacht market in a significant way).

Now let me throw a concept at you:  Close to Home Cruising.  Americans did it...and then said, "Enough of the Caribbean, I want to cruise Europe."  Don't you think these billions of people from Europe, Asia and the Middle East might be interested in cruising in their backyard first and then expand to other areas of the world...just like you did?  (Of course, just as you enjoyed chatting with pride to "foreigners" who have traveled to our part of the world, I am very confident you will greatly enjoy being on the receiving end of similar hospitalities!)

Now, think about all the wonderful people you have met on your cruises.  Think of all the cultures you have enjoyed.  Think of all the great service and food.  Now Seabourn can do it better; different in some ways, but better.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Regent Seven Seas Cheerleaders: If You Don't Like What I Write, Don't Read It...Seriously!

I remain fascinated (sort of like a moth with a light bulb) by the rather perverse cheerleaders for Regent Seven Seas Cruises.  These once or twice a year passengers (especially one from Bellingham, Washington) have an obsession with "correcting", challenging, even outright harassing of anyone...and I mean anyone...that dare speak anything but positives about "their" beloved Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

It is, to my mind, a rather dark and scary place where these people live.  It is a place where they are so fixated on insisting their world on Regent is perfect...that it is the center of their soul...and that the cultures and wonders that exist in various ports around the world are secondary to their protection of their beloved cruise line.  (As the youth of today say, "What gives with that?"  There is no such thing as a perfect cruise line, but we all have our imperfect favorites.)

To date I have left these individuals comments and one star ratings on my blog because, frankly, it is not my desire to censor anyone.  While I fully intend on continuing this as an open forum, I would suggest that if you truly believe what I write is inaccurate or worthy of one star, put your name to it or, better...don't read what I write.  That, I know, is not going to happen because these individuals know the information I post here is accurate and unbiased.  (They might not like it being accurately called as it is in public, but they obviously have a desire to get the information I provide.)

So while these Regent Cheerleaders mess about here...and on Cruise Critic...and elsewhere, ask yourself, "What is the value of an opinion of someone who is not only openly and hostilely bias, but unwilling to put their name behind what their opinion is?"  When you read an anonymous complaint or see a one star rating, take it for what it is probably worth:  an unnamed source probably strangely obsessed in a way that is hard to comprehend.  As with Cruise Critic, these people interfere with actual discussion. 

I do still encourage anonymous posts that express true opinion and which encourage dialog. And my readers are sophisticated enough to know the difference.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Perceptions of Who You Will Cruise With - You Usually Will Be Surprised. (The Slipknot Experience)

Last year was a bit of disappointment for me. I went to a Jimmy Buffett concert expecting a great crowd of laid back partiers. Instead I saw a bunch of overweight and over-the-hill people that I could not conceive of ever having been "wasted away in Margaritaville".

Then I went to a Bruce Springsteen concert and, if you saw Bruce during the Super Bowl halftime show, you know he puts on a heck of a show! Again, rather than a rockin' crowd I found myself surrounded by old, rythm-challenged, folks who most definitely knew every word to "Sandy", but never lived the romance and struggles they spoke of...or even understood them. I decided that I could no longer pay a small fortune to go to a rock concert and come away, in part, depressed...even if Bruce was going to put on another awesome show.

Saturday night I took my son and his friend to a Slipknot concert. (http://www.slipknot1.com/ ). You would think that this heavy metal, rather violent-looking, band would have had the rowdiest, troublemaking, fans in the world. Instead the crowd was enthusiastic and incredibly well-mannered; not just well-behaved. This with music that was the loudest I have ever heard, with words that were disturbing, and personas that - at least to this old guy - seemed to stress defeatism and violence. (Ironically, I think the message is actually the opposite...but I have to ponder that some more retropsectively looking at the words and persona of my youth's music: Hendrix, Crosby Stills & Nash, etc..)

As an added "bonus" the concert was in Camden, New Jersey - one of the most blighted places in America. But what I found was actually a very nice venue that I would readily return to (albeit exists as an oasis and got outta there as quickly as I could).

So what does this have to do with cruising? Well, it has more to deal with people's preconceived ideas of who will be on a Seabourn cruise or a Celebrity cruise or a Carnival cruise. I am not talking about what the cruise product is, but rather who the people are.

I receive phone calls and emails concerned about who is going to be on a Seabourn cruise. Are the formal? Cliquish? Impressed with themselves? While I would love to say that everyone is wonderful, the fact is that each and every cruise is different. But there is an overall reality which is far different than the perception. On Seabourn you will not know if the person next to you is wealthy or taking a once-in-a-lifetime cruise. People will laugh and actually wear shorts (though never at dinner).

I also read on certain message boards (especially Cruise Critic) how children should not be allowed or will be bored to tears on various luxury lines. This is not because the posters actually know the children will be bored, but rather their prejudice that children = disruptive behavior. This is especially rampant on the Regent Seven Seas boards; presumably because Regent has a children's program (and, ironically, it is generally quite good). I know, with my children having been on well over 20 cruises, and my having taken well over 30, that the problems more times than not, lie with adults. I have seen far more inappropriate behavior on cruises with no children on board than with them. Adults who are rude, loud, fall down drunk, pushy...even putting bubble bath in whirlpools.

Now, while it is true that historically you will find a far different level of sophistication and/or manners on short Carnival or NCL cruise than on a longer luxury cruise, it remains true that I will never forget being forced out of the casino area on a Regent ship (as were many others) for virtually the entire cruise as a result of a drunk passenger. How could this be? My other Regent cruises had nothing of the sort.

Neither will I forget the flare and elegant service coupled with a gourmet dining experiences I received repeatedly in the Olympic Restaurant on the Celebrity Millennium...meals which I remember in far greater detail than any luxury line dinners.

So before you turn your nose up at a particular cruise line because of pre-judging, take a moment...and think of Slipknot.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Seabourn One Week Sale - Ends February 16, 2009

Seabourn has announced another one-week sale on select 2009 voyages in Europe. The promotion offers savings of 60 percent off brochure fares for 14 voyages of seven to 14 days aboard Seabourn Pride, Spirit, Legend and Seabourn Odyssey, the line's newest ship debuting this spring, between March and August 2009.  Bookings must be made from Monday, February 9 until close of business on Monday February 16, 2009. Lead-in fares begin at $2,840 per person and the savings are valid for all categories of suites on Seabourn Pride, Spirit and Legend and on suite categories up to and including PH on Seabourn Odyssey.

If you have been thinking about taking a high demand Norwegian Fjords or Northern Europe cruise, but have been delaying it because of availability or price, possibly taking one of these early season voyages can satisfy your desire.  I also think the April 14th cruise from Athens to Lisbon is worth a good look.

Here is a list of included voyages:

Seabourn Pride
March 18 Portugal Passage I - Fort Lauderdale to Lisbon 13 days
March 31 Grand Mediterranean - Lisbon to Athens (Piraeus) 14 days
April 14 Mediterranean Panorama - Athens (Piraeus) to Lisbon 14 days
May 12 Grand Harbors of Europe - Dover to Copenhagen 11 days
June 13 Norwegian Fjords - Round Trip Copenhagen 9 days
June 22 Scandinavia & Russia - Round Trip Copenhagen 12 days

Seabourn Spirit
June 20 Italian Idyll - Venice to Rome (Civitavecchia) 7 days
July 11 Italian Idyll - Venice to Rome (Civitavecchia) 7 days

Seabourn Legend
Apr 16 Iberian Spring - Lisbon to Barcelona 10 days
June 20 Cote d’ Azur & Spanish Isles - Monte Carlo to Barcelona 7 days
June 27 The Yachtsman’s Riviera - Barcelona to Monte Carlo 7 days
July 11 Sardinia, Corsica & Cote d’Azur - Rome (Civitavecchia) to Monte Carlo 7 days

Seabourn Odyssey
July 18 Aegean Odyssey- Istanbul to Athens (Piraeus) 7 days
July 25 Greece & Dalmatian Delights - Athens (Piraeus) to Venice 7 days

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Yacht Report's 100th Edition: Iamboatman's Thoughts About the Future of Superyachts Are Published

Yesterday I received an email from a truly innovated, environmentally responsible, yacht designer in France congratulating me on my new article in The Yacht Report's 100th edition.
I was, to be honest, caught off guard as I did not recall writing a new article and, as it is a United Kingdom publication, its U.S. distribution is generally about 2 weeks later than Europe's.

Today I went on line to one of my favorite websites, The Yacht Report's http://www.synfo.com/ and downloaded the lastest edition. And there it was: A full page of my thoughts on the future of superyachts...something I had written in response to an email request some months ago, put into a very nice article.

I consider it quite an honor for what I believe to be the most relevant, highest quality, yachting publication to so prominently include me in its 100th edition. So Martin, Tork and all the rest of the TYR group I want to say, "Thank You."

If you are interested in reading my thoughts...and you wouldn't be reading this far if you weren't, would you?...here you go:

GOLDRING TRAVEL CONTEST - WIN A CELEBRITY CRUISE!

Goldring Travel, through New Jersey Life Magazine, is giving away a 4 night cruise on the Celebrity Century (or you may apply the value to a different Celebrity cruise and take a $1,500 credit).

You can enter the Winner's Circle Contest here: http://www.newjerseylife.com/about/index.aspx?pageID=825 . All the rules and restrictions are on the website.

And while you are entering the contest, check out the online version of New Jersey Life Magazine. There are some great articles and, this month, a number of great Spas worth checking out.

Good Luck!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

And The "Regent Seven Seas" Revolt Begins...Unfortunately.

As I have recently posted, I am very conflicted:  Regent Seven Seas is finally starting to do and deliver the things it should have been doing and delivering, but it is doing it late and at the highest prices in the industry...while saying somethings publicly that don't really help the cause.  So what I am I to do????  Do I compliment Regent on "almost" getting on board...because success by Regent can only assist me in selling more cruises, or do I continue to "call it as I see it" because "close" only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades?

The latest Regent moves have mixed messages.  To me they say, "We say we are Luxury, but we are moving down to the "Ultra Premium", market."  The irony is Regent - as when it sent out literally dozens of fancy brochures and mailers claiming they raised their standards to "Six Stars" (a new high!) - is saying one thing and delivering another.  I therefore shout:  WHAT IS WRONG WITH JUST PROVIDING AN HONEST "THIS IS WHO REGENT SEVEN SEAS CRUISES IS" MESSAGE?

To many, as I have read on a few message boards and in emails, the Regent pricing is driving away those it is seeking to attract.  Trying to justify the high prices by packing in little desired or needed "stuff" is not working.

Let's review:

     1.  Regent's inclusion of tours do not add value to most luxury clients.  Seabourn's approach has been to expand its private excursions (even running a Best Friends promotion around the expansion).  Silversea has similarly "upped" the private excursion focus with a promotion based upon hefty onboard credits for same.  Regent has, on the other hand, chosen to run bus loads of its 700+ passengers on distinctly impersonalized tours.  (They may be nice tours, but they are not "luxury".)  And many are saying, "I don't want to pay Regent for tours I won't be taking!"

     2.  Regent has installed its Prime 7 Steakhouse on two of its ship, replacing the distinctly indistinguishable Latitudes restaurant.  It boasts of huge steaks and enormous crab legs falling off of oversized plates.  While it is good stuff, and enjoyable by many, it is not "luxury".  Providing excess or inducing gluttony is not what luxury is about.  Luxury dining is not about the volume of food, or even its expense or even the quality of the base product.  It is about having an "experience" where the eloquence of flavors, smells and sights of the dish combine with a wonderful wine and, most importantly, enhance wonderful conversation.  While there is no doubt that Prime 7 is a huge improvement and there will be great experiences had by many people, it misses what luxury is about.

     3.  On the Mariner many of the bathtubs have been removed (reportedly another 60 just went by the wayside).  I can't tell you the number of my clients (male and female) that must have a bathtub on their cruise.  As the "fix" for a poorly designed initial install which resulted in a high step-up into the tub and a low ceiling Regent's solution is to simply remove them (and I hear it is all of them) rather than having tub or shower designations clearly noted when you book your suite (ala Seabourn).

     5.  The Coffee Machine/Corner on the Mariner and Voyager kind of baffles me.  Self-serve is not a luxury concept.  Yes, even Seabourn and Silversea cheat a bit here and there due to staffing issues, but making a coffee machine a hallmark as Regent has?

     6.  A pizza window.  'Nuf said.

     7.  Toiletries on Regent have been made generic.  I am, again, baffled by this.  If there is one thing that makes many women (and some men) smile it is great soaps, lotions and shampoos.  Pampering is HUGE in the luxury market.  On Seabourn you are greeted with a choice of name brand, high end, soaps and Molton Brown shampoo, bath gel and lotions (and the Odyssey will take this to an even higher level).  If US$10.00 is spent per seven day cruise, it is well worth it...if it is a luxury product.

I could go one, but the concept is clear (or disagreed with). 

Regent, if you are listening, try this on:  Regent Seven Seas Cruises provides an all-inclusive upscale experience for those that what solid quality at a fixed price. 

It is a very positive and accurate statement without the baggage.  In fact, in these difficult economic times, downplaying luxury when marketing to those that want the foregoing might just be to Regent's advantage.

Seabourn 2010-2011: Sojourn and Exotic and Exciting New Itineraries

Hot off the Press!

Seabourn announces that 2010-2011 is highlighted by the debut of Seabourn Sojourn, 44 new ports including Zanzibar and Madagascar, and a year-round presence in Asia highlight 2010-2011. I have "highlighted" some of the most interesting points.

MIAMI, Feb. 3 /PRNewswire/ -- Spin the globe and stop it with your finger - chances are The Yachts of Seabourn go where it lands. The ultra-luxury cruise line unveils new itineraries and exotic ports of call for 2010-2011. With two new Seabourn yachts and a host of new destinations, the line's well-traveled guests can look forward to its most extensive and diverse year yet. Cruises are now available for sale, and can be viewed at www.seabourn.com. A cruise catalogue will be published in April.

With its fleet of intimate, all-suite ships, Seabourn is able to access less-traveled destinations that larger ships can't. With the addition of Seabourn Odyssey in June 2009 and Seabourn Sojourn in June 2010, the expanded fleet allows Seabourn to explore more far-flung, exotic ports of call, such as Palopo on Sulawesi; Zanzibar, Tanzania; and Antseranana, Madagascar.
Starting in 2010-2011, Seabourn will operate year-round in Asia - a first for the fleet as well as its first return to Indonesia in years. New Asian ports of call include Dalian, China; Busan and Inchon, Korea; Nagasaki and Kagoshima, Japan; and numerous Indonesian destinations, including Bali, Borneo, Komodo Island and the Karimoenjawa archipelago.

Exotic New Ports of Call

With a deployment of five vessels to the far reaches of the world, Seabourn will call at a record number of ports throughout 2010-2011, including 44 destinations that are either brand new for the cruise line or where they have not called for years. These destinations include: Jeju Island, Yeosu and Mokpo, South Korea; Djupivogur, Iceland; Doha, Qatar; Kuching, Malaysia; Fremantle, Australia; Mayotte, Comoros; Sir Bani Yas, UAE; Manama, Bahrain; Mangalore, India; Muara Port, Brunei; Port Stanley, Falkland Islands; Sibenik, Croatia; Sihanoukville, Cambodia and Szczencin, Poland.

New Itineraries

Seabourn will return to Indonesia for the first time in years as Seabourn Spirit offers Gems of the Java Sea with stops in Singapore, Kuching, and Kota Kinabalu , Java, Bali & the Barrier Reef, a winter cruise from Singapore to Darwin, and a Spice Islands Holiday round trip from Singapore.. Seabourn Pride's China Journey operates between the People's Republic and Taiwan for the first time.. Other new Seabourn itineraries include China/Korea/Japan Journey from Xingang (Beijing) to Kobe; Indian Ocean Edens from Dubai to Mahe, Seychelles; and Pearls of Arabia round trip from Dubai.

Expanded Destination Services

A newly-expanded destination services department offers guests a variety of land-based activities, including escorted Seabourn Journeys extensions to Bhutan, Kyoto and Tokyo, and an African safari in Kenya. Other new offerings include a four-night Florence and Venice Journey, and a five-night Laos and Cambodia Journey.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Seabourn Keeps Up Formalities...To A Degree

Seabourn has always had the reputation as being a more "formal" cruise line. While there is a difference between "formal" and "stiff", many have had a problem differentiating the two.

As a result, and with trends being to more casual attire, Seabourn originally announced that the new Seabourn Odyssey would be entirely Country Club Casual, or "Elegant Casual" in Seabourn-speak. I recall the discussions about possibly having some restaurants as a "formal" venue on certain evenings, but the problems with sort of splitting the ship. (Not exactly like formal nights on NCL with tuxedos and t-shirts standing side-by-side, but possibly uncomfortable nonetheless!)

However, there have been a significant number of past Seabourn guests that enjoy dressing up and did not like the plan. (I am one of them.) So Seabourn has decided to continue the Black Tie Optional nights with one every week on the Seabourn Odyssey.

I also have been told that on the Maiden Voyage and the First Leg of the 2010 World Cruise, Seabourn will have more frequent Black Tie Optional evenings; consistent with the celebratory nature of the grand once in a lifetime experiences.

With the multitude of venues on the Seabourn Odyssey I would suspect that at least one of the fine dining venues will remain Elegant Casual, but only time will tell.