Thursday, May 28, 2009

SeaDream Yacht Club - Special Ensemble Travel Sailing on January 17, 2010.

Goldring Travel, as a member of Ensemble Travel Group, is offering a special sailing on SeaDream Yacht Club:  The Jewels of the Caribbean a seven night yachting adventure. The cruise departs on January 17, 2010 from Charlotte, Amalie, St. Thomas to San Juan, Puerto Rico aboard SeaDream Yacht Club’s SeaDream II. 


During the voyage, guest expert Susan Jacques will share her in-depth knowledge of gemology with Jewels of the Caribbean guests through a series of onboard lectures and a complimentary Ensemble Inspired Journeys event ashore, featuring hands-on demonstrations of local artisans designing unique jewelry with native materials. Jacques received a fellowship from the Gemological Society of Great Britain, where she was awarded the Raynor Diploma prize as the outstanding student worldwide. In 1994, she was appointed president and CEO of Borsheims® Fine Jewelry & Gifts by Warren Buffett, chairman of the board of its parent company, Berkshire Hathaway. Jacques continues to nurture her keen interest in rare and unusual gemstones developed at GIA through product journeys around the world.

There will, of course, be a private beach barbeque and, if you like, personal turn-down service on one’s very own Balinese Dream Bed for guests wanting to sleep on deck under the stars.

Ports of call for the January 2010 departure include Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas; Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands; Gustavia, St. Barthelemy; Charleston, Nevis; Little Bay, Montserrat; Marigot, St. Martin; Jost Van Dyke, British Virgin Islands; and San Juan, Puerto Rico. Many of the land activities are focused on water sports and the spectacular natural scenery including volcanic rock formations in Virgin Gorda and Little Bay and the rain forests in Charlestown.

Other inspired highlights include a $100 per stateroom credit in the SeaDream spa, specially planned farewell dinner, and watersports via the SeaDream Marina. Clients booking Jewels of the Caribbean will also enjoy the personal services of a seasoned cruise host from Ensemble Travel Group throughout the sailing experience.

Prices start at $3,299 per person, double occupancy. For more information about Jewels of the Caribbean and other exciting vacation options, call (877) 2GO-LUXURY or email me at eric@goldringtravel.com.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Goldring Travel Website and Gold Standard Luxury Cruise and Travel Forum Maintenance

Just a short FYI:

Goldring Travel Website and the Gold Standard Luxury Cruise and Travel Forum are undergoing a migration from one server to another.  This will cause intermittent outages of either or both sites through May 29th. 

When it is completed the sites will operate faster and more consistently.

Sorry for the inconvenience.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Regent Seven Seas - Sometimes "It" Just Doesn't Cut It

There is a very interesting article/interview with Mark Conroy, President of Regent Seven Seas Cruises on the ABC News website: http://abcnews.go.com/Travel/story?id=7671941&page=1.

In the article it is explained that the reason the fishing line which damaged the azipod did the damage it did was because the cutters which are part of the system had been modified and, alas, that modification caused the cutters...well, not to cut the line. I am not sure who approved the modification or if same was tested prior to being accepted, but me thinks there is someone who as some explaining to do.

There are some other interesting tidbits in the article such as Regent is expecting to operate at approximately 80% of capacity. That is not great, but it could be worse. It is just a matter of how you slice it. (Sorry for the pun.)

Another fact: Regent, while it still operates the Paul Gauguin, accounts for 1.1% of the entire cruise market. Put another way, the article point out, all of Regent's capacity on a single day would easily fit on one of Carnival's megaships.

In any event, word has it that the cruise from Iceland is going well with the azipods working just fine.

LuxuryCruiseBible.com Cruise Review Contest For Goldring Travel Clients Only!

Contest Exclusively for Goldring Travel Clients


LuxuryCruiseBible.com wants to hear from Goldring Travel clients (particularly you Seabourn fans) and will reward one lucky respondent with air miles or a Barnes & Noble gift card.

LuxuryCruiseBible.com has just launched and includes photo and video galleries, articles, and useful trip-planning links. However, the most useful aspect of LCB is its library of unbiased cruise reviews written by travelers just like you. I hope you'll consider contributing a review or two. Reviews may be as long or short as you feel necessary. You may review your cruise itinerary or simply give your thoughts on the ship and cruise line. You may review any luxury ship from any of the above-mentioned cruise lines.

From May 20 through August 15, I'm asking Goldring Travel's clients to submit cruise reviews (make sure to write your review in Word first and then cut-and-paste it into the submission form): http://www.luxurycruisebible.com/submit-review .

On August 16, one lucky respondent will be randomly selected as the winner of his or her choice of:

1,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles, or
2,000 Delta SkyMiles, or
$50 Barnes & Noble gift card

Anyone may submit a cruise review, but only clients of Goldring Travel are eligible for entries in this contest...one entry per review submitted. (i.e., if you submit two reviews, you'll be entered twice in the random drawing.) You, of course, always maintain the copyright to your reviews.

Contest Rules

Eligibility: Only Goldring Travel clients are eligible for this contest. When submitting your review, be sure to indicate "Goldring Travel" as your "Preferred travel agency or website." [Remember, LCB will be checking with Goldring Travel to verify!]

Number of entries per person: Each review submitted is considered one entry. You may submit as many reviews as you wish and each will count as a separate entry.

Promotion period: May 20, 2009 at 12:00 am to August 15, 2009 at 11:59 pm.

The winner will be randomly selected from all eligible entries.

[Note from Eric: LuxuryCruiseBible.com is fast becoming a great resource. It's owner is in the travel writing business and is working hard to develop a fantastic site. It is another example of those in the luxury travel business wanting to take things to a higher, more sophisticated, level. Like any third party site, I cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information or if there is any bias in the third party reviews or comments. However, there is some great content and quite a number of good links.]

Monday, May 25, 2009

SeaDream - Predicting Rough Waters For 2010

SeaDream's Bob Lepisto has recently commented that it sees 2010 as a very challenging year.  The reason:  As I previously noted, SeaDream has historically depended on a very active charter business.  With the charter business suffering in all areas, SeaDream is having to find ways to make up a 30% hole in its business.

As with Seabourn and Regent, SeaDream has used significant discounting to fill it ships (claiming it is running at 97+% of capacity).  Candidly, SeaDream is now heavily discounting its Med sailings this summer.  (Last summer it was sold out.)

And it is finding that its normal 8 to 12 month booking window is now down to 1 to 5 months.  That makes planning, pricing and provisioning significantly more difficult.

With a booking window still looking at 2009 I wonder what 2010 will actually hold.  I remain cautious; not of the product, but the security of the cruise line.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Seabourn Odyssey Maiden Voyage - The Documents Are Here!

A little heads up that the cruise documents for the Maiden Voyage of the Seabourn Odyssey are now being delivered. 

I was going to post some photographs of them, but I do not want to spoil the surprise for those lucky 450 guests...er, uhm, I mean godparents.

What I will say is that the presentation box is back and an updated travel wallet (rather than the purse type wallet) is back as well...but both are different than before.  The luggage tags, also improved, are specially embossed for the Maiden Voyage.

I will post some pictures in a few days, after the godparents get their documents.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Seabourn Crew - Simply The Best...Just Listen To Their Stories

I have spoken often about the difference between the crew and staff of Seabourn and the other cruise lines.  Yes, there are outstanding members of other cruise line's staff, but they generally act as individuals among many.  On Seabourn they act as a team (or, as they say, a family). 

After so many posts I have been struggling how to best express this because it is generally a "You have to experience it to understand it" kind of thing.  Yes, the stories of champagne magically appearing as you sit in the whirlpool, the first meal of your second cruise being gluten-free without your asking, your favorite music being played as you arrive at the Sky Bar, etc. abound, but those that haven't experienced Seabourn just cannot understand the quality of the people.

There is a sort of private site (you need to know it exists) maintained by Seabourn which gives great insight into what it takes to even be considered for a position.  More importantly, at least for the purposes of being "wowed" by the crew, there are a few short videos where the crew express the reason Seabourn Guests are so fond of them.  Go to  Seabourn Crew Videos and click on each photo at the bottom of the page.  (You also get a few peaks behind the scenes.)

In exactly one month I will be in Venice having to struggle through one last night before I board the Seabourn Odyssey.  It is going to be more than just the most luxurious cruise ship at sea, it is going to be the most luxurious cruise ship at sea with the best crew wanting to make it even better.

Monday, May 18, 2009

So You Waited For A Better Luxury Deal...And Now...

Bookings for luxury cruises this summer on Seabourn are tightening up and prices are rising.  Regent has recently announced the strongest bookings ever.  Oceania has quite a number of soldout sailings.  The discounts and incentives may have done their job...but for those of you that didn't listen to me, you may be out of luck if you were planning on taking a luxury cruise this summer at rock bottom prices...at least on some lines.

I heard today that some travel agents are asking the cruise lines to protect their now gone lower prices and they are not finding any success.  (I can't imagine they ever would.)  That does not mean all the deals are gone or every cruise is sold out.  What it does mean is that if you didn't listen to me you may be getting the same percentage off, but on a higher category.  (I told you to book and cancel later if you had to, but to protect the lowest available category.)

As a bit of an aside, I am having more clients being offered upgrades at reduced prices on some of the premium lines.  All of a sudden those who wouldn't pay more than X for their cruise are now feeling a bit more comfortable about the economy and their future so they are upgrading at a cost of thousands.  I find this quite encouraging because months ago the concerns were so great that $200 was a deal breaker, now it is 10% or less of the upgrade cost.

I am not sure how this all plays out, but one thing is for certain:  People are coming out to play...err, cruise.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Windstar Situation May Be Improving, But Caution Is Warranted

Windstar's owner, Ambassador's International, has been selling off some of its assets in order to stay afloat (pun intended). It is exiting its Majestic America cruise operations and has recently sold its marine group after selling its travel and events a month ago. But there are other assets which it needs to sell that it is apparently having trouble finding buyers for.

On Friday it stated that unless it can renegotiate with its lenders/debtors, sell other assets and find some financing it may find itself curtailing certain operations and still speaks of the bankruptcy option, according to Seatrade.

With occupancy at around 85% on significantly discounted fares, if you are interested in experiencing Windstar sooner may be an option, while later may not be.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Piracy - Discussions of the Problem and Solutions at the American Superyachts Forum

During the American Superyacht Forum in Seattle there were very interesting discussions, on a somewhat more technical basis, about the piracy issues facing the superyacht (and cruise) industries.  The conclusion I came away with was that the problem has, in large part, been caused by various international (external) matters, has been exacerbated by those same factors, the logical solutions have been blocked by the same factors...and the bottom line is very simple.

What the heck do I mean by that?

The issue of piracy is not limited to the Gulf of Aden off of Somalia.  There have been issues with piracy in the Caribbean (actually a present growing concern for yachts), Indonesia, the Philippines, and the Strait of Malacca off of Singapore among others.  In most cases the problem arises out of economic strife.  One speaker (who is French) gave a wonderfully French analysis of how the problem in Somalia is the result of the economic hardships visited upon the people of Somalia by the wealth of the industrialized countries.  I will not get into all of the logic, but remember this person.  (He is actually quite a funny and charming individual!)

Now, many flag states (countries who have vessels documented in their countries for tax and other reasons)...such as you see noted on the sterns of many cruise ships with their flags wafting in the breeze...forbid arms being kept on their ships.  These same countries also require (and usually for good reason) that ships maintain an AIS system (Automatic Identification System) so that they can be identified not only for government control of their ports, but so that other ships can see who is around them and what speed/direction they are traveling relative to themselves.  (You can see an example here, just click on any box and then hover over any identified ship.)

Adding to that some countries do not permit ships to bring weapons into their waters, so even if the flag state will permit the weapons, there are issues getting them to the ships, having them aboard while in an objecting countries waters, and then getting them off the ship.

What this does is - in most instances - is give the pirates two key advantages:  They have a good idea which ships are not carrying weapons and they know exactly which ships are where, where they are coming from and probably going to, and what kind of ships they are.  (Remember, pirates being pirates, they are carrying weapons and the ships they have commandeered will not have their AIS turned on even if it is against the law.)  [NOTE:  Please remember that while most pirates are becoming quite sophisticated there are still some worthy of a Darwin Award...such as the ones that recently tried to board a French Navy Frigate!]

So what can be done? 

Remember that French man who blamed it all on the society of the rich?  Well, he actually owns a security company that places armed sharpshooters on these private ships.  His staff, made up of naval specialists - for land-based "special forces" individuals are not trained in sea conflicts, are brought in and taken off the ships with their own weapons.  This is not inexpensive.  (And lets you know that capitalism works even for those with a more socialist philosophy!)

Others are voluntarily breaking the law by turning off their AIS for the duration of the transit in the troubled waters so they are somewhat "invisible".  (Seriously what is the fine for that?!)  And yet others are training their crews and secreting weapons onboard which will be dumped into the Mediterranean Sea or Gulf of Oman so the flag state, the port state or the countries whose waters are being transited really have no idea they are there. 

But some of the countries are starting to change their regulations and will, for example, allow ships carrying their own flag, but not foreign flags, to have weapons onboard.  So what do they do?  For a "small fee" they are allowing ships to have two flags for just the limited period while it is in their waters, thereby "justifying" the presence of weapons while not changing the law which is suppose to protect the country from having illegal weapons gaining entry through its ports.

An attorney I have know for almost thirty years was recently quoted as saying that captains and crew should be trained, armed and given the "flexibility to commence firing as soon as he or she perceives a threat by an unidentified vessel, which approaches and refuses to turn back."  While I don't know if he would recommend his clients also turn off their AIS, he claims it has worked "with 100 percent success to date...[as] all unidentified craft have wisely turned back when confronted by hostile fire."

Clearly those incidents are not going to be reported because both of the combatants are violating the law.  Personally, I don't know if I would want to go on record making that statement knowing it is like expressly condoning the violation of international law.   And therein lies part of the problem.  There needs to be a way to prevent piracy from becoming an excuse for the Wild West on the High Seas. 

But at least the French and Americans are starting to agree on things!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Superyachts and the Cruise Industry - American Superyacht Forum Day 1

I arrived in Seattle for the American Superyacht Forum (which is annually held in a "yachting" city or hopeful yachting city, such as Newport, Rhode Island,  San Diego, California, etc.)  Though I had been to the airport I had never actually visited Seattle, so I was looking at this trip not only from a yachtie standpoint, but from a cruise one as Seattle is a fairly regular embarkation port.

I am staying at the Marriott Waterfront which has a lovely bay view and typically comfortable, but not flashy, rooms.  My view is of a small yacht marina inside of the commercial pier.  The Bell Conference Center is pretty much 2 minutes away...and the cruise terminal is literally attached to it.  So,the first connection between the two industries I found on Monday is that yacht conference or cruise, stay at the Marriott Waterfront the night before.

The Keynote Speaker is the owner of the 152 foot (46 metre) sailing yacht S/Y Antara.  It was a joy to listen to an "old time" owner that still enjoys the "getting there" more than the "being there" (i.e. the journey is what he enjoys most as opposed to many new yacht owners that want to meet their superyacht once it has arrived in a port...usually by way of their private helicopter landing on the yacht's deck).  Just as that was enjoyable to hear, I was more than surprised to find out he lives literally in the town next to my office and he sails his smaller 44 foot sailboat in the Navesink River, which my office oversees.  (I had to fly to Seattle to meeting because...why?)

During his talk he discussed his experiences from his first sailboat to present.  Then he mentioned he just loves being at sea and spoke fondly of doing a crossing on the Queen Mary 2 just watching the water.  I asked him about his cruise, taken as a Grill Class guest, and he said he was very impressed with the service, but that was before he owned S/Y Antara, his first superyacht.  When I asked him about the difference in service quality he said from the moment he stepped on his superyacht he was "blown away" by the much higher level of service.  He has, for example, hosted former President George H.W. Bush for lunch and a sail on S/Y Antara.  Yes, there is a difference between cruise ship luxury and superyacht luxury.

But we talked a bit more after his talk and I asked him if he would like to sail in the Pacific Northwest, which is quite beautiful.  His answer was that it just wasn't practical to bring his yacht such a distance.  That lead me to ask if he would consider taking a cruise.  The response didn't really surprise me:  Concerns over the level of service, cuisine, etc.  I then asked him if he knew of Seabourn and he admitted a vague knowledge of a cruise line that had something like 90 passengers (SeaDream).  Obviously we spoke a bit about Seabourn and his interest grew and thoughts of spending time on the water visiting more exotic places became a viable option that he never had really considered.

The next conference panel was on State of the Industry - The USA in 2010 and Beyond.  Billy Smith III, the always energized vice president of Trinity Yachts spoke of how to attracted new people to the superyacht industry which, like most industries, finds itself suffering in this economy.  His comment, "The cruise industry introduces people to the ocean if not yachting" obviously jumped out at me.  It hit me that there are millions of potential yacht owners that don't live near the water and that they are part of the 85% of Americans and 95+% of Europeans and Asians that have never cruised.  (BTW, his son is working during his college summer by working for Holland America land tours in Alaska.)

So just on the first day of this conference from cruise terminal to levels of service to practicality of visiting exotic locales, to attracting clients...and even just enjoying the sea...has again tied together the superyacht and cruise industries.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Seabourn Odyssey - Dining Options

Seabourn has just posted a sort of update on the dining venues on the new Seabourn Odyssey. 

I previously had mentioned them in my February 9, 2009 article Seabourn Odyssey - Some News About Public Spaces, but here is the latest and greatest:

On Odyssey, The Restaurant will be open-seating, just as it is on Pride, Spirit and Legend, and will feature a fine-dining setting for breakfast, lunch and dinner. While The Restaurant can accommodate all guests, you frankly wouldn’t expect to see everyone there, because of the delicious alternatives available.

All the way aft on Deck 8, The Colonnade is a more casual, indoor/outdoor option. For breakfast and lunch, Colonnade will offer Seabourn’s signature array of prepared hot and cold specialties, but they have done away with the classic buffet line and instead will offer different sorts of dishes from several positions around the room. Cooked-to-order items will be available at yet another location. Dinners at Colonnade will feature themed menus served at table, restaurant style.

Just forward of Colonnade, Restaurant 2 has its own permanent location in which to serve the innovative small-plates tasting menus.  These are really fun, because you are served 12 to 15 different small portions, each one just a few bites. They are presented with creativity such as a first course being served in a martini glass or the soup poured from a French café presse. Each “course” is paired with a wine. It’s open nightly for dinner, by reservation.

Brand new on Odyssey will be the Patio Grill. Situated poolside on Deck 8 midships, it will offer tempting, freshly baked pastries and coffee in the morning. As mid-day approaches, irresistible aromas will waft from the on-site pizza oven, and the grilled specialties being prepared for lunch. Weather permitting, this will also be a wonderful place to enjoy an alfresco grilled dinner under the stars.

Between all of these venues, there are more than 700 seats available for dinner every night on Odyssey, and that’s for just 450 guests.

On top of all this, you have the option of ordering from Suite Service around the clock.  During dinner hours you may order from The Restaurant menu and having your dinner served in your suite or on your veranda!

In addition, should all those dining venues not be sufficient, Seabourn will, as always, being offernig cookies and snacks at the Sky Bar, pastries and sandwiches at the coffee bar in Seabourn Square, and afternoon tea in The Club!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

American Superyacht Forum 2009

On Sunday I am traveling to Seattle for the 2009 American Superyacht Forum.  It is an event that I look forward to every year, but this year the economy has me wondering. 

The fact is that the superyacht industry is hurting. While there are those that are seemingly immune to the weak economy, or are simply able to endure it without a change in their lifestyle, the fact is that many of the yacht owners are hurting. Cash flow has dried up.  Sales of their "old" yachts has gone from a competition to an almost non-existent event.  And shipyards are having difficulty in keeping highly skilled suppliers around as they go out of business.

But it is not all gloom and doom.  The industry still exists and for me, as a superyacht lawyer, the above problems result in lawsuits over poor quality, defective construction, missed deliveries, deals that have fallen through, etc.  I am hoping the ASF discusses some of these issues.

That said, the fact is that with all the talk about what "luxury" is, the fact is cruise ship "luxury" only occasionally truly rises to the level of superyacht luxury.  There will never be a discussion about how the food was hot or sitting in one section of a dining room is better than another.  Those sorts of things are, well, unthinkable.  People paying $50,000+ per day for a party of 12 expect to go "Wow" time after time after time.

While prior conference have had such luxuries as a 23 Scotch whisky tasting, this year we have having a wine tasting dinner at Château Ste. Michelle.  This is, for me, reason enough to make the trip.  OK, maybe not...but I will certainly enjoy it.

I will keep you posted.