Thursday, December 16, 2010

Oceania Cruises to Acquire Regent Seven Seas Cruises: A Theory?

I am fascinated by the interrelationship between Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises and I have come to the conclusion that eventually Oceania is going to take over Regent Seven Seas’ ships and Regent will no longer to exist.

On January 10, 2010 I wrote an article: Hello Oceania Marina…and, Quite Possibly: Bon Voyage, Regent Seven Seas.  It discusses a number of reason I believe the new Oceania Marina (and the since announced Riviera) mark the beginning of the end for Regent Seven Seas.  I would encourage you to read it as it lays the foundation for much of what I am about to say.

In the year since writing that article, things at Regent Seven Seas have not gotten better.  In fact, it shows - at least to me - strong signs of it beginning its breakdown. 

1.  A couple of months ago Mark Conroy, Regent Seven Seas now (but previously not) extraordinarily quiet president, publicly stated that over 25% of those who book a Regent cruise cancel it before final payment.
You can read more about this in my article:  Regent Seven Seas - What The...(People Are Jumping Ship) .  Regent's response to this was not to improve its any way...but rather to increase its penalties for those who wish to cancel their Regent cruise and to start those penalties further out.  You can read my article:  Regent Seven Seas Expands and Increased Cancellation Penalties.

2.  Regent has announced nothing to improve its onboard product in any way.  While more and more former Regent loyalists are trying and enjoying Silversea and Seabourn (noting on most all message boards that the service on those two lines is far superior to that on Regent) and others are complaining about the quality and disorganization of the "free" Regent tours, Regent announces that it is (a) increasing its industry high prices yet again; and, (b) if you book at those higher prices you receive a "free" pre-cruise hotel room.  (But, of course, if you booked at the lower price you do not get the "free" room.  Do the math!  I did in this article.)

3.  PCH floated the idea of offering Regent Seven Seas as a publicly traded stock in an IPO and/or floating $200,000,000 in bonds.  Either way, there is an indication that Regent may not be so favored. 

4.  Regent Seven Seas announced that in 2011 it is moving its offices to the same location as Oceania Cruises headquarters. In Regent's press release Mark Conroy stated, "‘Our lease here in Fort Lauderdale is up in 2011 so we will be consolidated in one office which will put us closer to our finance and accounting team who are already in the Prestige Cruise Holdings office in Miami." So now finance, accounting and executive offices are all under one roof.

5.  Oceania Cruises is training some of the staff it will be moving to Marina on the Regent Seven Sea's ships.  Obviously being trained to work on a ship of similar size, with similar sized accommodations, and with similar passenger loads makes all the sense in the world, since when does one cruise line use its ships to train a competing cruise line's staff.  (Don't even think of Holland America training Princess staff!)

6.  Oceania Cruises has, to my mind, a curious marketing plan where it pretty much ignores the differences between its three smaller ships (and their attendant much smaller cabins, less dining options, etc.) and is focused on pushing the overall Oceania product of higher quality cuisine and service.  To me that is like ignoring the elephant in the room. One thing I am very confident in is that Frank Del Rio and his executives are smart people, so there must be a reason - a good reason - they are ignoring the elephant. 

With the greater consistency between the Oceania's Marina and Riviera and Regent's Voyager and Mariner (and even Navigator), the combining of financial, accounting and executive offices, the generally lesser performance of Regent and the higher quality of Oceania and the actual difference in the products (other than Oceania's generally more consistent service and cuisine) merely being Regent's higher prices incorporating gratuities, drinks and tours vs. Oceania's ala carte structure, it just makes sense to me to get rid of Regent's issues and focus on what both lines actually are:  Premium (Not Luxury) Cruise Lines.

I could be wrong and, to be sure, I have absolutely no information confirming my conjecture.  However, I am pretty good a reading tea leaves and even if I don't, I think it is a very good idea.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Royal Caribbean's Handling of the Brilliance of the Seas Situation - It Did The Right Thing, So Why the Negativity?

On December 13, 2010 Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas encountered totally unexpected rough seas and high winds, but not your normal that if known ships would do most anything to avoid. 

According to reports on CNN a "low-pressure system left a wake of destruction as it moved across the region, producing 48 sustained hours of severe weather conditions...In the port city of Alexandria, strong winds and heavy rains contributed to the partial collapse of at least 28 buildings".  The Port of Alexandria was closed and one ship sank (though the crew was saved). 

During the storm, Brilliance of the Seas encountered huge  waves and repeated rolling up to 15 degrees (which seems a lot steeper when you experience it than it sounds); and the rolling condition was probably exacerbated when the ship reduced speed during it abandoned attempt to enter the soon to be closed port.  This resulted in lots of broken glass and overturned furniture, the closing of the teen disco, video arcade and spa and minor injuries to up to 60 people.  (Fortunately the worst injuries were two people suffering from an unspecified broken bone.) 

Cruise lines' knee-jerk reaction is to immediately provide an onboard credit and Royal Caribbean in turn immediately offered a $200 onboard credit.  To be sure, that was not sufficient compensation and the person that decided that was the right thing to do probably needs to get a job in a field other than guest relations. But as time went on (and truly not that much time) Royal Caribbean decided the right thing to do was to refund the entire cruise fare.

I find it interesting that most folks perceive that Royal Caribbean folded to pressure rather than it decided that it was the right thing to do.  The issue here was not merely missing a port or hitting some rough seas, it was about the guests being subjected to an extended very scary situation which resulted in some injuries and lots of inconveniences.

In addition, Royal Caribbean is dealing with international clientèle and the laws in Europe are significantly different than they are here in the United States.  Hence its legal obligations are different.  How do I know this?  I am a member of the International Forum of Travel and Tourism Advocates.

This raises issues on three fronts: 

1.  What is the legal obligation due to the passengers under the applicable laws?

2.  How to deal with differing legal obligations to various guests on the same ship? 

3.  What is the "right thing to do" from business, marketing and moral standpoints?

When one considers the fall out from what is perceived as insufficient compensation, one might just consider that Royal Caribbean weighed the situation taking all factors into account - which takes some time to truly is not instantaneous - and determined the compensation was appropriate on a number of levels.

In October 2010 the Regent Seven Seas Voyager was disabled at the pier just as a cruise was about to commence.  While I wrote an extensive piece on the various issues, which you can read Regent Seven Seas - Cruise Canceled, in another post I wrote the following:

It is mind-boggling to me how compensation equal to nothing more than an invitation to spend more money with Regent (i.e. the $1,000 future cruise credit) can be seen as anything other than "snow in winter". Similarly, offering to fill otherwise unsold berths on close-in sailings (they would be empty anyway) but only if you waive any form of actual compensation is no better. I do not run Regent and cannot tell you how or why this decision was made (bean counters?). What I can do is compare it to what its competition does. What I do know is that if Seabourn is in an oversold situation, it provides voluntary guests willing to change plans not only return of the cruise fare, but a complimentary cruise along with some other benefits. To me the Regent situation is worse...because the guests were already there and had no choice. I just don't get it.

Shortly thereafter the Celebrity Century suffered damage to one of its propellers shortly after the cruise started (which you can read about here) and it provided its passengers with a full refund and a 25% future cruise credit...far more generous compensation than Regent Seven Seas offered it luxury guests.  And, to be sure, it is greater compensation than the Brilliance of the Seas passengers received as there is no future cruise credit component.
Now,with an admittedly scary situation, Royal Caribbean (which owns Celebrity) promptly steps up and refunds the cruise fare due the incident clearly ruining the cruise for many of its passengers and within argument of its legal obligations to many of its passengers. (And it avoids the publicity nightmare of offering European passengers compensation x and US passengers compensation y...not that I perceive that would have every happened.)

The negative spin I keep reading boggles my mind.  Does this open the floodgates for greater compensation if ports are missed?  Why compensate for rough seas because people should know better?  Heck, the passengers may be should have thought twice about booking a Med cruise in December.

Why can't it just be said, "Royal Caribbean did the right thing.  It is refreshing, welcome and hopefully a signal that at least some cruise lines get it"?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Eric Goldring in Fox Business Article

I thought you might find this article on Fox Business interesting.  Oh, it is about the new Oceania Marina, but has a good bit on me in it.:

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Seabourn "Value Fares" on 56 Cruises - Available Only Through March!

Seabourn has extended its special “Seabourn Value Fares,” previously offered on all 2011 cruises, into the first quarter of 2012, creating exceptional values with savings up to 65 percent aboard the award-winning line’s intimate, all-suite ships. Seabourn Value Fares start from $2,399 per guest for a seven-day cruise. The fares vary by itinerary and apply to all worldwide voyages for fall 2011 and winter 2012.  REMEMBER:  Goldring Travel has Private Sale Pricing...which is even better!!!...on a number of these offerings.

To take advantage of these value fares, guests must book by March 31, 2011, after which the prices are subject to rise. As previously announced, due to increasing demand, the company has implemented a new pricing strategy for 2011 to increase fares to restore the advantage to those who book early.

The limited-time-only fares apply to 56 cruises departing between November 2011 and May 2012 in Asia, the South Pacific, Central and South America, and the Caribbean, with itineraries ranging from seven to 26 days.

Some examples of regions and per-person Seabourn Value Fares are:

• Seabourn Pride 14-day voyages exploring Vietnam and Thailand, from $4,999.
• Seabourn Legend 10- to 18-day cruises in Indonesia and Arabia from $3,999.
• Seabourn Odyssey 14- to 26-day South Pacific voyages, from $6,299.
• Seabourn Sojourn 14- to 17-day voyages in South America from $5,499.
• Seabourn Spirit 14-day Panama Canal voyages from $4,299.
• Seven- to 14-day Caribbean cruises on Seabourn Spirit, Seabourn Sojourn and Seabourn Quest from $2,399.
• Seabourn Spirit, Seabourn Odyssey or Seabourn Sojourn transatlantic voyages from $2,599.

Seabourn Value Fares are also available for the entire 109-day Seabourn Quest World Cruise or shorter segments. Rates begin from $43,080 per person for the full world cruise or from $7,600 per person for a shorter segment.

The promotion includes optional air add-on, with round-trip economy air starting from $600 and business class air from $1,300 from 39 North American gateways.

Book early to take advantage of the Seabourn Value Fares, which are available for only a limited time. Rates are subject to increase and space available, and are based on double occupancy. Certain other restrictions apply.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

It The End For "The Yachts of Seabourn"?

"The Yachts of Seabourn", "This Is My Yacht", "Yachting Lifestyle".  Is it gone?  Is the party over?

Not to worry.  Seabourn is discussing eliminating the phrase "The Yachts of..." and referring to itself - again - as "Seabourn Cruise Line."  (Seriously, how many times have I or yourselves every called it "The Yachts of Seabourn"?) While the final decision actually has not yet been made, someone leaked this to the press and now it is out there as purportedly being the final decision.

Personally, it doesn't make a bit of difference to me...or, I am sure, to you.

Why the possible change?  The reason, at least to me is simple.  Back when the Big Sisters (Seabourn Odyssey, Sojourn and Quest) were announced and the "This Is My Yacht" concept was floated, I said to Pamela Conover, Seabourn's President, that Seabourn had better make sure it was going to be delivering a "yachtlike experience" rather than a luxury cruise experience...for they are, to be sure, different experiences. 

Well, guess what?  Seabourn has been providing, and will continue to provide, probably the best luxury cruise experience out there...but it isn't (and never really has been) a yacht experience. The reality is that the "yachting" concept was more directed to the Seabourn triplets (Seabourn Pride, Spirit and Legend) as they were (and remain) three of the smallest cruise ships in the industry; both in size and passenger count.  There really is no way to call the big sisters "yachts".  The triplets are  440 feet long/10,000 gross tons and  big sisters are 650 feet long/32,000 gross tons.  By comparison, one of the worlds largest yachts, owned by Paul Allen of Microsoft is 416 feet and Larry Ellison's Rising Sun is 452 feet long...and technically sleep only 12 guests....not 208 to 450 guests.

Does this mean there is going to be a change in the Seabourn Experience?  It is an unqualified, "No!"  The fact is that the experience hasn't changed and is not planned on being changed...except to make it better.  By way of example, Seabourn is in the midst of an extensive revision of its Past Passenger Program.  While the details are still being finalized, I have been assured that the amenities and benefits will be in addition to the current ones.

Again, personally, I look at it as Seabourn being more accurate in the experience it provides.  While the "yachts" concept is (was?), in reality, what in the legal business we call "mere puffery", it is refreshing that Seabourn is looking at the accuracy of its name vis-a-vis product.  (Compare, for example, cruise lines that claim that are providing "free air", "free tours", etc. when you, obviously, are paying for those things.  In fact, just this morning one client tried to use a luxury cruise line's "free air" and, frustratingly wrote back to me, "
Yes – we would like cruise only.  As you say – there is no such thing are free air.")

So whether this happens or not, the point is that it really is a distinction without a substantive difference.  That is, of course, unless you are looking at marketing.  And by making the change, possibly you may see something like:

"Seabourn Cruise Line - The Most Luxurious Cruise Line at Sea"

Just a thought.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Goldring Travel and Iamboatman are Offering Exclusive Pricing on Seabourn World Cruise Segments and Christmas, Caribbean, Asia, and South America Voyages

I am pleased to be able to offer you some incredible Private Sale* pricing on Seabourn.  Visit the temples of Bangkok, shop the bustling markets of Ho Chi Minh City, or see the Great Barrier Reef. Choose a Caribbean holiday cruise, or a segment on Seabourn Sojourn's Maiden World Cruise.  *These fares are only available from a very few travel agents, so I can assure you it doesn't get any better than this.

Seabourn Pride
Thailand & Vietnam
Bangkok, Thailand to Hong Kong, China - 12 days - Seabourn Pride From - $3,199 JAN 18, 2011, FEB 11, 2011
Vietnam & Thailand
Hong Kong, China to Bangkok, Thailand -12 days - Seabourn Pride - From $3,199 JAN 30, 2011, FEB 23, 2011

Seabourn Spirit
Java, Bali & Great Barrier Reef I
Singapore to Cairns, Australia - 15 days - Seabourn Spirit - From $3,999 FEB 3, 2011
Java, Bali & Great Barrier Reef II
Cairns, Australia to Singapore - 15 days - Seabourn Spirit - From $3,999 FEB 18, 2011

Seabourn Legend
Caribbean Splendor
Round-trip Fort Lauderdale - 10 days - Seabourn Legend - From $2,299 DEC 13, 2010
Legendary Christmas & New Year's
Round-trip Fort Lauderdale - 14 days - Seabourn Legend - From $4,999 DEC 23, 2010
Caribbean Hideaways
Round-trip Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas - 7 days - Seabourn Legend From $2,199 FEB 25, 2011

Seabourn Odyssey
Treasures of the Inca Coast
Fort Lauderdale to Santiago (Valparaiso), Chile - 19 days - Seabourn Odyssey - From $4,499 JAN 4, 2011
Patagonian Passage
Santiago (Valparaiso), Chile to Buenos Aires, Argentina - 19 days - Seabourn Odyssey From $5,999 JAN 23, 2011

Seabourn Sojourn
Christmas & New Year's Sojourn
Fort Lauderdale to Los Angeles - 16 days - Seabourn Sojourn - From $5,799 DEC 20, 2010
World Cruise Segment 1
Los Angeles to Auckland, New Zealand - 20 days - Seabourn Sojourn - From $5,199 JAN 5, 2011
World Cruise Segment 1
Auckland, New Zealand to Sydney, Australia - 11 days - Seabourn Sojourn - From $4,499 JAN 25, 2011
World Cruise Segment 2
Sydney, Australia to Hong Kong, China - 20 days - Seabourn Sojourn - From $5,999 FEB 6, 2011
World Cruise Segment 3
Hong Kong, China to Singapore - 14 days - Seabourn Sojourn - From $4,599 FEB 26, 2011

*Fares are in U.S. dollars, for new bookings only, per guest, double occupancy and subject to availability. Some suite categories may not be available. Fares are not combinable with any other offer, may vary by sailing date, are capacity controlled, subject to change without notice, and are only available to residents of the Americas. Government fees of $32.58 to $498.66 per person are additional.  World Cruise segment fares exclude published World Cruise inclusions. Voyage Auckland to Sydney includes one designated complimentary shore experience.

If you are interested or would like additional information, please call me at (877) 2GO-LUXURY or +1 732-383-7309, email at or Skype me

Saturday, December 4, 2010

2010 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise on the Seabourn Odyssey - Finding Pizza and What It Means to "Travel"

After an incredible Food & Wine Tasting on the Seabourn Odyssey yesterday, I was faced with another visit to one of my least favorite ports: Naples, Italy...and it is the last day of our cruise.  There has to be something interesting to do, but what?

As it is November, taking a ferry to Capri is a limited option, but let's face it Capri in November is closed.  On a Sunday it is really closed.  Sorrento is also an option, but once again it is effectively closed.  Pompeii for a couple of hours is a possibility, but to just do it to do something didn't feel right.  I mean we have had such a great experience the past few days we needed to "travel"; not be a tourist checking off things.

For all of you that shun the port representative that comes in...or just say, "Tell me what there is to do"...let me tell you want I did.  I said, "Listen, I know Capri is closed and Sorrento is closed because it is a Sunday in November.  Pompeii is not an option.  So I want to do what the locals do AND I want to have true Neapolitan pizza.  Help me!"

On Sunday the shops are open until noon, so we head to Via Toledo to stroll the streets in search of who knows.  On the way we stop at Galleria Umberto, an architectural wonder of a shopping mall.

Once we arrived at the Via Toledo we saw dozens of hawkers selling knock-off pocketbooks next to actual fashion shops next to cheap, imitation fashion shops...and lots of people. 

I stopped in a bakery to sample some Neapolitan pastries; as one does in Naples.

After a good wander - watching the Nigerian hawkers pick up their counterfeit wares when the police drive by and then putting them back down after they leave, we headed off to find the perfect pizza.

Now, how to find the perfect pizza?  This is the key:  I asked the port representative where he goes for pizza after a night out on the town.  He said it was a bit out of the way, and I shouldn't be put off by the name, Amore y Fantasia (Love and Fantasy), but the pizza was excellent.

So we walked away from the shopping area, past some beautiful plazas and then took a right turn...into the real Naples.  Garbage was piled everywhere.  Graffiti was abundant.  People were not.  After walking a while, just when we thought we were never going to find the place, a local told us it was just on the left.  And there it was.

Now I do not know about you, but when you walk into a place that looks like this:

you just know that you are going to get pizza that looks like this:

But there was so much that made me love this place.  It was pretty early for Naples on a Sunday (about 1PM), so the restaurant was just open.  The people were very nice, spoke very little English, and were most concerned about getting the football (soccer) match on the projection television.

The manager comes over, complete in a dark purple shirt and black tie, and "recommends" bufalo mozzarella and tomatoes (Caprese salad) and another appetizer.  We weren't really that hungry, but when a big guy in a dark purple shirt and black tie "recommends" you order something...well, you order it. 

A bottle of local wine (OK, twist my arm) and a couple of local beers and we started watching the football match between Genova (Genoa) and Juventus.  With Juventus playing great it seemed the team to support...until we looked at the faces of the staff. Oops!   Wrong team.  Go Genova!!!

It was then time for Pizza.  And, as you saw, it was great.  Everything you imagine it is supposed to be: a light, crisp yet chewy crust, fresh tomato and stringy, gooey and flavorful cheese...all with a smoky overnote.  (Sounds like wine tasting notes, doesn't it?)

We were pleasantly full...mission accomplished, but (and isn't there always a but) our purple shirted/black tied friend came over and "recommended" a dessert sampler.  OK, he was right.  It was fantastic.  So good, in fact, that getting a photograph of it wasn't even an option!

Yes, folks, that is what "traveling" is all about.  You find the locals, get off the beaten path, go around the piles of garbage, deal with the purple shirted/black tied manager, root for the wrong football team and enjoy the ambiance and cuisine that the locals do.   What a great time...and in Naples, one of my least favorite ports.

It was then a nice, needed, long walk back to the Seabourn Odyssey where, in utter insult, our luggage was set out on our bed.  I am not doing it!  I headed to the forward whirlpool for a 2 hour soak with my friend.  It started raining.  But we endured and loved it.

It was then time for sail-away.  I am still not packing!

It was then time to get ready for dinner.  OK, I better start packing.

One last wonderful dinner and Sommelier Karen was there with a special bottle of wine for us...of course after I had selected a wasabi coated tuna steak.  Perfect.

And that was a great end to a truly fantastic 2010 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise. 

Friday, November 26, 2010

2010 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise on the Seabourn Odyssey - The Food & Wine Tasting to Die For!

There are so many memorable things that happen on a Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise and this year’s on the Seabourn Odyssey. But, without question, the most memorable of all was the Food & Wine Tasting organized, taken over, nurtured and presented by an incredible group of individuals that are a sparking example of what makes Seabourn the class of the luxury cruise market.

As I always do, early in the cruise I sat down with Marcel Gademan, the Hotel Manager, and the Executive Chef De Cuisine, Friedrich Mayer, (a/k/a Chef Fritz) to discuss the various events I would like to assure my guests enjoy and my philosophy of having a fun Food & Wine experience that is not so much focused on critical wine tastings and pairings, but on enjoying food and wine as a way to engage the culture of the places we visit during the cruise.

Captain Geir-Arne Thue-Nislen, after inviting me and my wife to dine with he and his wife

invited my guests for a Private tour of the Bridge.

Waving Good-Bye to the Pilot!

a Private Galley Tour was also arranged

Check out the Reconstructed Egg upon which the Caviar is sitting!
Shopping with the Chef in Catania, Sicily needed to be quickly rearranged as there was a conflict for the other port considered

Chef Fritz eyeing up the sea bass that we later found on the menu in The Colonnade
Chef Fritz enjoying a coffee and Sicilian pastries in the Catania, Sicily town square while...

Sous Chef Martin carries a 17 kilo tuna
The various Cooking Demonstrations which were going to be held were noted for all of my guests.

And then there was the infamous, “Leave it with us. We will get back to you with some ideas.”

Being a control freak that normally is not something I take kindly to. But, alas, this is Seabourn so I have confidence that something good…really good…is going to be coming back to me. In the meantime I had to get working on my end.

And, oh, is it hard work. I had to find wines, both familiar and not so familiar…and some that were, well, Greek to me (a/k/a I had absolutely no idea, but went with labels that seemed to have some sort of quality that appealed to me). I knew of a wine shop in Patmos, Greece that would be a good starting point. And then I found two wines in Crete, as I have heard some Cretan wines were actually fairly drinkable.

But wine was not my only item to search for. I was on the lookout for food too. And in Heraklion, Crete I found a nice little cheese shop that had some nasty looking cheese. I don’t know about you, but I have a great fondness for nasty, smelly, ugly cheeses.

And then Seabourn got back to me. It seems that the Executive Sous Chef, Martin Kitzing, is going to prepare eleven, that’s right, eleven, different cheese dishes which Seabourn’s Sommelier, Karen Siemens, is going to pair wines with. I mean we are talking Greece and Italy which are home to many wonderful cheeses…but Seabourn means, “OK, but we need to do this with Seabourn Style!” so there are no limits.

I start to ask questions and quickly realize that I am to know nothing and that I am to be as surprised as my guests. All I know is that at least one of the cheese dishes is a cheese soup and another is some play on a soufflé. That, my friends, was not even a legitimate tease when compared to that Chef Martin created.

At 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, after exploring Trapani, Sicily (and trying to starve ourselves – unsuccessfully) so that we would be able to truly enjoy this homage to cheese…and wine…

We enter The Restaurant.  On the high tables there is an elegant setting for each of my guests

…with a beautiful, personalized, menu.

But before the tasting begins, Chef Martin and Sommelier Karen are presented with 2010 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise fleece jackets (Chef Fritz had been given one in Catania, Sicily as you can see above) as a small token of my appreciation (and which, of course, they are highly coveted!).

Now it is “Game On” and each dish is not only extraordinarily impressive in tastes, but in presentation. Rather than me talk about them, just take a look:

Pecorino Val d’Orcia as Ravioli shaved and foam with black truffle

I do have to say that the Pecorino Val d’Orcia as Ravioli shaved and foam with black truffle is one of the best things I have ever eaten in my life.

With these cheeses there were eighteen, that right, eighteen different wines when the ones Seabourn offered were combined with the ones I provided. Again, I won’t bore you with each one, but they ranged from wines from the Greek winemaker Samos, to a Placido Chianti Classico Reserva 2005 (a true classic!), to a Sirius Bordeaux Blanc to a La Scola Gavi Bianco Secco (a favorite of mine) to a Masi Paso Doble 2007 Argentinian Malbec.

Each pairing was better than the next.

It was, well and truly, an absolutely over-the-top and extraordinary experience that I, personally, feel extremely fortunate to have been able to be a part of.

You can feel and see the pride of Chef Fritz, Chef Martin, Sommelier Karen and all of the supporting staff exuded. They never said a word, but you knew…you just knew…they were saying, “Yes, Seabourn does it better than anyone. But let me show you what we can really do when given the opportunity.”

As many of you know, I have exposure to some of the fanciest and most extravagant events working with superyachts. This event – if done at night and in black tie – was as elegant and good as or better than any of them.  (Isn't it great that on Seabourn you can be informal and just enjoy the moment without pretense?!)


Oh, did I mention there was Cooking Demonstration at 4:00 pm by Restaurant 2’s Chef Yael Kerouanton which included “Caviar in the Cloud” that we were a bit late for? Yes, this was two and a half hours of bliss.

Of course this was the day after our Ensemble Experience in Malta where we had a wonderful lunch in Mdina at a restaurant named, aptly, Bacchus

Which, of course, was preceded by the aforementioned Shopping with the Chef and lunch in Catania, Sicily at Ristorante Ambasciata del Mare

And was followed by my Quest for truly authentic pizza in Naples...but more on that later:

Interested in the 2011 Goldring Travel Food & Foliage Cruise on the Seabourn Sojourn from Quebec City, Quebec to New York City on September 21, 2011? Call me at (877)2GO-LUXURY or email me at

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

2010 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise on the Seabourn Odyssey - Pizza or the Wintergarden Suite's Spa? Let's Try Both!

We arrived in Tripani, Sicily my focus was not on this small town, which is nice enough, but which really didn’t have much to offer of interest on a Saturday morning. We took a stroll around town, did some window shopping and such, but really don’t have anything of interest to note…other than I had an excellent slice of Sicilian pizza. (Hey, you gotta do these things.)

It really just happened upon us. We had agreed not to have a big breakfast and we would skip lunch because the Goldring Travel 2010 Food & Wine Tasting on the Seabourn Odyssey was happening later in the day. But things being what they are…and our stomachs used to being on Seabourn…we had to eat something.

It just so happened that we observed a woman pulling up a basket from street level to her balcony and paused to watch this ancient but oh so logical event. While stopped, my DW asked a local where we could find a slice of pizza. He said something we did not understand, but pointed next door. Through a doorway filled with hanging ropes was the local bakery and there it was: Sicilian pizza. While I am not a fan of the thick crust variety I figured I would overcome this by getting the one with the most “stuff” on it. It was a good choice. The others, we found out, were pretty ordinary. One half of the Pizza Pilgrimage complete.

But my pre-Food & Wine Tasting efforts were not complete. Our dear friends surprised me and my DW by arranging for his Wintergarden spa to be prepared with flowers, champagne, chocolate covered strawberries, and Molton Brown bath oils for me. Of course, solely in an effort to assure I can advise you on every aspect of the Seabourn experience we begrudgingly agreed to partake. (OK, and if you believe that, I have a bridge I want to sell you.) It was a lovely and enjoyable experience...complete with waves of optic fiber lighting from above, appropriate music from Seabourn's extensive library and...well that is enough information for you!

And, of course, I personally encourage all of you to book a Wintergarden Suite for your next cruise!

Ready for all the info on the Food & Wine Tasting? You will have to wait until the next posting.

Monday, November 22, 2010

2010 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise on the Seabourn Odyssey - Malta and Food for Thought

After a fantastic day in Catania, Sicily it was time for the Ensemble Experience in Malta.

This is a port that is well worth being awake for the arrival. Its imposing limestone walls and architecture lit by the early morning sun was memorable.

After clearing the ship, I arrived on the dock before my guests in order to be sure our tour operator was present and I went over the details with him. Strangely I could not find him and people were walking past me. Eventually I walked up to a few and found our guide, Ernest.

Ernest was a knowledgeable, charming yet quiet guide who provided us with a very nice day showing us Malta and helping us understand Maltese customs and history. I won’t bore you with all of that, but would suggest that Malta might well be considered as a worthwhile cruise port or, possibly, a place for a short holiday.

We stopped at one fishing village which, unfortunately, was very quiet early that morning. However there were a few stalls and we purchased some Maltese linen. While I strolled two of the stall owners stopped me and asked me if I was of Maltese heritage. I thought that was either an interesting sales technique or really strange. So back on our minibus I asked Ernest and he smiled. He said, “You know we were having trouble finding you. You were wandering around at the pier and we said to ourselves, that can’t be Eric. That guy is Maltese!”

Eventually we made our way to Mdina, also known as The Silent City. It was beautiful…and quiet. After a short walk we arrived at Bacchus, the restaurant for our lunch. The restaurant was beautiful; built into the wall surrounding Mdina. Where we ate was actually the room where they stored the gun power and weapons. Its beautiful arched stone ceilings and dim lighting were a perfect setting for our traditional Maltese meal consisting of a ham and cheese starter followed by either a huge cod fillet with tomatoes and capers or a beef filet. Of course we shared some Maltese red and white wine. (I cannot recall the names of the wines, but I will retrieve them and let anyone know that is interested.)

After lunch it was a nice stroll around Mdina and a short ride back to the Seabourn Odyssey. From there a few of us took a stroll along the Valetta waterfront which I think probably is more inviting in the evenings. (I did stop at the Hard Rock Café to buy a ridiculously expensive T-shirt for my son.)

That evening we had dinner in The Colonnade because Chef Fritz had arranged a special, and delicious, appetizer for our group made from the scabbard purchased in Catania, Sicily and he provided each of us with the recipe (hand signed, of course). This was, of course, followed by the fresh sea bass he purchased at the same time.

What Chef Fritz continues to underscore is that “less is more”. Most of Seabourn’s and Chef Fritz’s personal dishes are not huge, but are beautifully presented, elegant, fine cuisine. It is the art of combining a few ingredients so as to create magic that is focused upon.

Compare Regent Seven Seas guests comments and its menus: They are straight forward and in some instances focused on volume rather than quality. How many times do you need to hear about how great the (frozen) Dover Sole was or how great the steak was? Or how about pretty much the focus of Silversea’s unfortunately ever sliding level of cuisine being focused on its Hot Rocks Grill where a huge slab of meat or chicken is presented partially cooked so you can continue to cook it on a lava rock? All of these dishes are fine and can be someone’s favorite, but it just isn’t what Seabourn is about. To me Seabourn is just at an entirely different level.

But I digress. Our dinner al fresco was fantastic and, even with a slight chill in the evening air, warm and friendly. This was highlighted by Chef Fritz taking the time to come up to The Colonnade and stop by each table to be sure we enjoyed his special dishes.

After dinner a few drinks in the Observation Bar and then a midnight hamburger (I know it is terrible) on the balcony before a good night’s sleep.

Tomorrow: The Food & Wine Tasting!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

2010 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise on the Seabourn Odyssey - Shopping with the Chef and Sicilian Seafood Experiences

We arrived in Catania, Sicily and our Goldring Travel Food & Wine Group was treated to a Private Shopping with the Chef experience. I had been looking forward to the fish market in Catania and, of course, being treated to the experience with Chef Fritz, Sous Chef Martin, a guide and a private bus made it that much better.

The fish market was as good as any movie set could make it. Stalls filled with all sort of seafood…much of it live (more on that shortly)…with fish mongers calling out in competition with each other and, to be sure, it was a very friendly atmosphere (unlike the interesting, but rather stern and stodgy, smaller fish market in Marseilles). Swordfish heads, live octopus, prawns jumping on the tables, tuna steaks being carved right in front of you and some fish I have never seen before.

While I tried to keep up with Chef Fritz, my charge was to guide my blind guests around the market. It was challenging, but fun and forced me to observe things with my other senses. One fish monger offered me a live octopus for them to touch (making sure the sharp beak was safely secured). I had the husband touch the head and then shocked the wife when I had her place her arm within reach of its tentacles that stuck to her. Another allowed me to have them slide their hands down the bill of a swordfish, while another offered up oysters (huge by the way), mussels (with their beards) and a variety of clams as a way to compare the shellfish.

The favorite was by far the prawns. One fishmonger took two live prawns, pulled their heads off and then offered them to my guests to eat. Not knowing what was coming allowed for a great discussion about how good the prawns tasted, but how grossed out she was because she just ate live seafood!

The Chef purchased scabbard, sea bass and a 17 kilo tuna. But before returning to the ship we stopped in the Catania’s square for a coffee and some Sicilian pastries.

After returning to the ship most of us ventured back out on the Seabourn courtesy shuttle for the Goldring Travel Sicilian Food & Wine Experience back at the fish market where the stalls were now closing and the restaurants opening. Asking directions to a carefully selected restaurant, Osteria Antica Marina, I was told, in Italian, to go down the street to the left, make a left and it will be on the left about 20 meters down.

There is was…we thought, “Antica Tratorria”. We all sat down and then were given old, beat up, menus with nothing of interest on it. OOOOPPPS!

Next door was Osteria Antica Marina. But despite my telephone conversation and my confirming email they claimed they had no reservation for us. I had warned everyone I had heard they could be a bit difficult and, alas, they were. My recommendation is to stay away from this place. Arrogance and feigning they don’t understand English…as their English got better the more I pressed them…told me my time and money was better expended elsewhere. Yours too! Now what?

I had seen another restaurant which looked interesting right at the top of the stairs leading to the fish market, Ristorante Ambasciata del Mare. What a find! I simply asked them to feed us with a variety of Sicilian dishes and feed us they did…with some local Sicilian wines. Roasted eggplant with other mixed vegetables, small fired fish with caramelized onions, baked sardines, a fritter of broccoli, cheese and ???, incredibly delicious baby artichokes (Catania is famous for artichokes)…and then it was time for the pasta! We were served an absolutely delicious fresh spaghetti with mixed shellfish (mussels, small clams, squid, etc.) and what I would call a long penne mixed with fish and, we think, fennel. The latter one was not my favorite, but many of the group thought it was the best.

I wish I could give more information about the dishes and the people at the restaurant, but they truly did not know much English. They were, however, so friendly and so accommodating. And it was a feast to the eyes to see them roll out black ink pasta, filleting whole fish, serving giant prawns to what seemed like the business elite of Catania…all in a pleasant, but not fancy, setting.

It was now 3:00 pm and time to return to the ship. Overly full both in stomach and senses, we truly had a fantastic day.

If you would like to know about dinner that evening, you will have to ask someone else!

2010 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise on the Seabourn Odyssey - A Sea Day and Some Thoughts About The Dining Expereiences

Oh, a day at sea. Time to relax. Well, sort of.

Sea days are a funny thing. You think you are going to have a lazy day…and then you find out your day has disappeared and all those things you were going to do to catch up (like write this blog) didn’t get done because there wasn’t enough time.

I chatted with some of my guests while my DW headed to the Spa for a hot stone massage. Other guests were so thrilled with the quality of the treatments they have been receiving in the Spa that they pretty much moved in there for the day. (Yes, Seabourn does listen to your comments about what needs to be improved.)

After that my DW and some friends relaxed by the pool, enjoying one of the round wicker lounges for two complete with strawberry daiquiris and some snacks from The Pool Grill.

Before you knew it…lunch time. Speaking of lunch, The Restaurant has been open for lunch and it really doesn’t seem to be utilized near enough to justify it being open. I think of it as being something akin to Baked Alaska and the Midnight Buffet: Things that were traditional cruise ship events that as society has changed and the diversity on the ships has increased…dramatically increased…have become less than passé; they have become pretty much irrelevant. The other day I observed only about 10 people dining there at lunch.

Yes, I know some people really enjoy the formal dining experience. But I also really enjoyed the very diverse and tasty themed lunches in The Colonnade. I also noticed that there was a fair amount of diversity in how The Colonnade was utilized by the guests. Some were very much “buffet style” while others were very much “sit down dining” style. Some were more causal than others in their dress. It is totally up to the guests.

Speaking of The Colonnade, much has been said by a few very poorly informed people that there is some sort of issue with the service in The Colonnade during peak breakfast and lunch times. Folks, I have been through this dining venue at many times and never…and I mean never…has someone not be able to obtain a nice table (inside or out – the weather has been incredibly good) for breakfast or lunch and I have never had  a significant service issue. (I have been asked for coffee or wine refills a bit too often and did have to wait about 15 minutes for my perfectly poached eggs one morning.) BTW, dinner service is equally as good as are table selections.

That evening was Formal Optional Night. We had a six course Chef’s menu which Chef Fritz said would be satisfying, but not overly filling. That it was. Hard to mess with perfection, so I will leave it there. On the issue of dress, there was most definitely a mix; tending to lean to the formal-sort of formal side of things. It blended just fine. For example, this trip I opted to forego the tuxedo. Our table of six had one gown (beautiful), one LBD (little black dress) and one cocktail dress along with one tux, one suit with a tuxedo shirt and one black cashmere sport jacket/dark grey trousers with a French cuffed shirt (me). It all blended nicely into an elegant table with the feel of richness, but not stuffiness.

BTW, I did observe men being asked to wear jackets in The Restaurant during Elegant Casual evenings. It was done quietly and with a loaner jacket being presented as an option so they would not have to return to their suites. It was not often that I observed it, but observe it I did. (I hate writing about dress codes, but I know it is of interest.)

The food coming out the galleys has been as good as it has ever been. Each evening there are usually two hot appetizers, two salads, two soups and five main courses from the evening’s unique menu plus similar dishes prepared in a “light” fashion plus an extensive range of always available options. So with more than half a dozen choices for each course, and the extremely high quality of the dishes, it is no wonder I have heard no complaints about the menu.

Since I am talking a lot about the cuisine, I will also note that I did dine in Restaurant 2 and found the menu to be totally different from my experiences on the Seabourn Sojourn, but equally as enjoyable. The menu did change about halfway through the cruise and while there is no ability to simply show up for a table, I have not heard of anyone not being able to obtain a reservation in the restaurant if they have a bit of flexibility.

Our cruise will intensify starting tomorrow as we starting hitting our stride with more special events and interesting ports.

Friday, November 19, 2010

2010 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise on the Seabourn Odyssey - Doing So Much and Doing Nothing

So where the heck have I been? I mean I have been on the Seabourn Odyssey for about a week and you have heard pretty much nothing. Well…

All is fine; actually better than fine…It is fantastic. However, the mix of people and the timing of events have taken a lot of time that I had not anticipated. It is not that it has been bad, or even disappointing in any way, but rather I have been working very hard to be sure that every single client of mine is having the best experience possible.

Now back to the business of blogging!

I was looking forward to visiting Crete, but came away a bit disappointed with Heraklion as it could have been most any Mediterranean port with a non-descript pier and an old city center focused on a pedestrian walkway/mall crammed with shops. It was really no more than a couple of hours off the Seabourn Odyssey and then back to the ship. Fortunately the clouds thinned into a sunny day. Only after we returned to the ship was there a shower…and then it cleared yet again.

However, once back on board my group was treated to a Private Bridge Tour with Captain Geir-Arne Thue-Nilsen personally providing the tour and letting us observe the sail-away (with one of my guests blowing the ship’s horn three times as we departed!). I especially enjoyed his giant hand waving goodbye to the pilot.

The next day, Pylos, Greece was on tap. It is a very small town (not actually an island, but on the point of a peninsula) which I believe is normally used for a marina day. Being November, even though the temperatures were in the high 60s with the sun shining, it really wasn’t an option. So we took a walk not into town, but up the hillside into the residential area. What struck me, even with so many people obviously gone now that the winter was almost here, is that the flowers growing wild were absolutely gorgeous and in a wide variety. Some were similar to those seen in the U.S., but were nonetheless different. Striking blues, reds and yellows all with different scents.

After a stroll through the town and not seeing any tavernas or restaurants that seems anything other than ordinary, we head back to the ship. Enjoying the Seabourn Odyssey is not difficult; especially when the service is as good as it has been. Just a mention to the bar staff that we were going to the forward whirlpool sent the perfectly timed glasses of champagne flowing.

But, of course, there was more to do! Executive Chef, Friedrich Mayer, (a/k/a “Chef Fritz”) gave our group a Private Galley Tour – complete with champagne and caviar. What was of the greatest interest to me was the new way the Main Galley is operating which is different from how it was designed…with two identical operations working on the port and starboard similar in size and flow of the smaller triplets; just in duplicate. Now the galley works as a single unit. As I have not seen any issues with the pace of service, it must be working!

What did become apparent is that traveling as blind couple has many challenges and it really requires a good bit of advanced planning; especially when visiting smaller places that are nowhere near ADA compliant. It quickly became apparent that my assistance was not optional and that blind traveling in Greece (for example) without guide dogs or a private guide is more of an effort in frustration than in enjoyable travel. Far beyond issues with uneven pathways are the lack of straight pathways, many drivers and pedestrian disregard for blind people and simple things like plazas really being more set up as obstacle courses (chairs, railings, bollards, tables, etc.) than open spaces where one can “feel” the openness. Fortunately, however, I have two wonderful guests who have trained me well (I think) and we have had more than our fair share of travel experiences…and laughs.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

2010 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise on the Seabourn Odyssey - Oy, Such Problems!

We arrived in Athens to pouring rain. Flooded streets and a traffic nightmare. Sounds terrible, right? Well, it wasn’t.

Everyone arrived at the St. George Lycabettus Hotel and soaked in the fantastic views of the Acropolis from our rooms. We even had all of our luggage!

After a bit of a rest, we met in the lounge with that same great view and had some drinks and made our introductions. One couple went for an evening tour of Athens, another to an early night and six of us out for dinner at a local restaurant which we dined at a couple of years ago. We never made it there.

No, it wasn’t a bad thing. We wound up at a taverna I had had lunch at during a prior trip and it was great. Me being me…and this being a Food & Wine cruise…I had to order the fresh anchovies and the “Grilled Goat Entrails”. Yes, as one person said, “You are doing an Andrew Zimmern on us!” Honestly, they were really good. I mean I would definitely order them again. And the anchovies were also great. (Now selecting a wine that goes with both might seem to be a challenge, but I figure a pitcher of the local Greek house red would work. It did.)

The next morning, after a very nice breakfast and watching the sun rise over the Acropolis in spite of the weather forecast to the contrary, we were off to Corinth to see the Canal and the wonderful museum and ruins. It was interesting – and initially quite stressful – working with a blind couple, because you need to figure out how much guidance is correct and, of course, what the heck kind of guidance you need to give. This became a joke between us as it quickly became apparent that nothing in Greece is in a straight line or on an even surface.

The Corinth Canal is quite a site and standing over it on a small bridge really gives the feeling of its depth…and the feat it was to build such a thing without modern equipment. Then off to the museum and ancient town. I really enjoy the relics in the museum, including the courtyard and rooms filled with statues. Then a walk around the ruins…where you can really get a feeling of an ancient Roman city, but one without the grandeur that Ephesus exudes.

We then strolled to a taverna with a nice view of the Ionian Sea. By that time we had split up into a few groups, but eventually we all came together…almost. One of the group was missing! I ran out of the taverna, checked all the shops, went back through the museum, raced across the ancient city and…nothing. He was nowhere to be founds. Now, about 10 years older, I said to myself, “Let me check the van” and, low and behold, there he was…sound asleep. The joke was that if we hadn’t noticed him missing at the restaurant, we never would have noticed at all; because we were just about to leave the restaurant and head back to the van.

Anyway, we arrived at Piraeus, checked in an about 2 minutes (seriously) and were aboard the Seabourn Odyssey. Everyone was thrilled with their suites and some, to be sure, a bit overwhelmed at the beauty and diversity of the ship. One of my clients has sailed many times on the triplets in an Owner’s Suite and found the Wintergarden Suite to be perfect. His wife loved it so much that it took her until the next day to even care about discovering the rest of the ship!

Another of my clients (who booked the other Wintergarden Suite) walked on the ship wearing a SeaDream Yacht Club polo shirt and within hours was in the shop buying Seabourn polo! They would later say that now that they see all that the Seabourn Odyssey has to offer they really appreciate the limitations of SeaDream Yacht Club. Oh, they still like SeaDream, but also believe it cannot hold a candle to Seabourn.

My other clients were all in V6 Veranda Suites on Deck 7 and love the location. Note: It now Day 4 (sorry, I know this article is a bit late!) and, even with the sunny weather, there has not been a single comment about noise from the pool deck or excessive vibration. (I am also in a Deck 7 suite and have the same observations.

Speaking of my suite, I am in Suite 745 which is a V2 Suite, rather than a V6, because of its unique layout and its tiny balcony. I actually like the suite layout better…but more on that later.

Now settled in we had a wonderful dinner in The Restaurant (no “Grilled Goat Entrails” on the menu, however) an after dinner whisky in the Observation Bar and a great night’s sleep.

Day Two started with…well, not much. We were at the island of Patmos, where it is said St. John wrote the Book of Revelations. Having been to the island before, we opted for a lazy morning then a stroll around town and a stop at a surprisingly good wine shop. (I do have to stock up for the Food & Wine Tasting later in the cruise!) The same old lady was sitting at the register and she, once again, claimed her credit card machine was broken so I would have to pay with cash.

Back on board I met with Marcel, the Hotel Manager, and Fritz, the head chef, in order to arrange some of our special events: A private bridge tour; a private galley tour; the Ensemble Cocktail Party; invitations to the three cooking demonstrations during this cruise; Shopping with the Chef and, of course, the Food & Wine Tasting.

Then it was off to the forward hot tub for a soak and champagne. And, once again, a Seabourn Experience happened: One the triplets we have a bottle of champagne and four glasses available at all times when we are onboard. However, on the Seabourn Odyssey we were told that was not possible. So, instead, Annie brought four glasses of champagne and then, as if she knew the rate of our drinking, appeared with another four glasses of champagne. Then, just when I thought she wouldn’t return, there was Annie with another four glasses. Problem solved…Seabourn Style!

It was then off to clean up for dinner with my friend, Captain Geir Arne. He and his wife are so charming. And, believe it or not, the two of us wound up talking about Einstein’s Theory of Relativity! We had a lot of fun, though I am not so sure the rest of the table did.

I do have to say that there was one couple at the table that insisted they needed to complain about a single problem they had on the Legend years earlier. The Captain was charming as ever, but they just kept harping on this single incident (and I felt like I was trapped in Cruise Critic hell). Eventually I opened my mouth – can you believe that? – and asked, “So how many cruises have you been on?” Four was the reply. “And of those four, how many have been on Seabourn?” He replied that all of their cruises were on Seabourn and they would never cruise another line. So I said, “So overall, over four cruises, that was your only problem and you are here tonight. I guess you do like Seabourn.” End of complaints and problem solved. (Did I mention I felt like I was in Cruise Critic hell?)

Not to worry, though. Our dinner was charming and fun. The captain and I even had a bit of a competition testing our respective pocket cameras. While I think I won that competition, I dare not even raise the subject of a challenge when it comes to the “real deal”. Captain Geir Arne is a photographer par excellence and I simply drool over his equipment and photographs. BTW, you can check them out on his website: .

Tomorrow: Crete and a few other topics.

Friday, November 12, 2010

2010 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise on the Seabourn Odyssey - The Beginning...Leaving On A Jet Plane

My bags are packed and I am ready to go…OK, those are the lyrics to “Leaving on a Jet Plane” by Peter, Paul and Mary (Yes, “age” is upon me), but that has absolutely nothing to do with this quest for a fantastic sojourn on the Seabourn Odyssey.

The fact is that it was utter chaos before I left for this cruise. A complicated admiralty turned bankruptcy case took an unexpected turn, a cruise line’s computers went down just as I was trying to make payments on an upcoming group cruise (I will write about that cruise in the months to come), the reality of Seabourn raising its prices and people realizing that a Seabourn cruise over the holidays is a great idea caused an incredible rush of bookings (THANK YOU) and, by the way, one of our miniature horses somehow locked herself in the tack room and after having a very good feed cut her nose.

So the car was coming to take us to the airport in an hour and I had not even started to pack. I can’t wait to discover what I forgot. However, pack I did. And we have tried to assure that my dear wife does not have to suffer from lost luggage on this trip. (My loyal readers know that the losing of our luggage is pretty much a sure thing.) We came up with the strategy of carrying on all of my wife’s clothes. (BTW, Travelpro has a fantastic carry-on that has a separate garment bag built right into it, so you effectively have two bags combined into one.) As for my clothes…wish me luck!

So now my bags are packed and I am ready to go. We breeze through check-in and security and head to the President’s Club before our first flight: Continental to Munich. In the ever degrading of air travel we have an old 767-200, but are in 16L&K, so we have bulkhead seats in the small cabin just aft of BusinessFirst with plenty of legroom. Sounds OK, right? Well, it was OK. The “food” was a bit rough (only hours until Athens and great food), but sleep seems not to be an option. Between the rush before the trip and the lady sitting across the aisle who has her light shining in my eyes as she reads Budget Traveler I am awake.

I am, therefore, working on the 2011 Goldring Travel Food & Foliage Cruise on the Seabourn Sojourn, departing Quebec City, Quebec on September 21, 2011 on a nine day cruise to New York City. I am trying to integrate some of my love for marine biology into the cruise so that my guests get a little different perspective of what I consider some of the most beautiful areas in the world.

But I digress! I am so looking forward to spending tomorrow night in Athens in a little restaurant (don’t know which one yet) near the St. George Lycabettus Hotel in the Kolonaki area having some great Greek food and catching up with some good friends and then lying in bed looking at the Acropolis glowing in the night. (There is a photo of this on my website.) Doesn’t take much to make me happy, right?

My weather service forecast calls for sun for our group’s pre-cruise trip to Corinth…after breakfast overlooking the Acropolis and Piraeus. Of course my wife’s weather service forecast calls for rain. Why do we look at weather reports? Regardless, there is a very interesting museum with skeletons and quality statues as well as the beautiful Corinth Canal there. And then, of course, more Greek food before we board the Seabourn Odyssey!

With a very diverse group of guests, I am really looking forward to learning from them, from understanding different perspectives and having a lot of fun. To be sure, I do not run “joined at the hip” groups, so I am also looking forward to spending some quality time with the couple we rented a villa with in Islamlar, Turkey. If you haven’t read those blog entries from this past summer, you should. It isn’t really about what you plan; it is about what you happen upon.

Let’s see what our 2010 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise happens upon.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Regent Seven Seas Cruises Expands & Increases Cancellation Penalties

Earlier this week I wrote about Regent Seven Seas Cruises suffering from a seriously high cancellation rate (around 25%).  You can read about it here.  What I didn't know at the time (and still have not received any official announcement about it nor did Mark Conroy, Regent's President, mention it at the conference I attended last week) is that Regent Seven Seas has significantly increased its penalties for changes and cancellations.  It is a move, I believe, that is intended to stem the tide of incredibly high cancellation rates after deposits have been paid, but before final payments are due.

To be fair, cancellations that occur closer in to the sailing date leave unsold suites that are significantly harder to sell, so they create a nightmare for a cruise line.  However, you can reduce the cancellations by making it more costly or by providing passengers with a value they believe in and are committed to.

Since I have discussed why I believe Regent is suffering this fate fairly frequently in the blog (inconsistent service, high prices and falsely claiming things are "free" when you are most definitely paying for them) I will get to the bottom line.:  It is gonna cost you. 

Essentially the standard 90 days prior being the start of the penalty period is gone.  Now if your cruise is 25 days or less penalties kick in at 120 days and for cruises of 26 days or more they kick in at 150 days. 

This, of course, is in addition to an "administrative fee" of $200 per suite if you cancel at anytime from the date of deposit  until the penalty periods kick in for cruises under 26 days and $500 for those 26 days or longer.  (I am not sure why an administrative fee - whatever it is - is greater for a longer cruise as the administrative work is identical...but I digress.) 

Here is the new policy:

Cruises less than or equal to 25 nights in length
(combo sailings to be based on combined length of sailing)

From date of deposit to 121 days prior to vacation date: $200 per booking administration fee. This admin fee will be converted to a Future Cruise Credit redeemable on bookings made up to 12 months after cancellation and for travel any time.

120-91 days prior to vacation date: 15% of fare per person
90-51 days prior to vacation date: 50% of fare per person
50-31 days prior to vacation date: 75% of fare per person
30-0 days prior to vacation date: 100% of fare per person

Cruises greater than or equal to 26 nights in length
(combo sailings to be based on combined length of sailing)

From date of deposit to 151 days prior to vacation date: $500 per booking administration fee. This admin fee will be converted to a Future Cruise Credit redeemable on bookings made up to 12 months after cancellation and for travel any time.

150-121 days prior to vacation date: 25% of fare per person
120-91 days prior to vacation date: 50% of fare per person
90-76 days prior to vacation date: 75% of fare per person
75-0 days prior to vacation date: 100% of fare per person

I think this is a huge dis-incentive to book a Regent Seven Seas cruise.  Why would you  to book a cruise that hits you with a 25% penalty if you cancel 5 months before the cruise?  Considering that Regent has made it known that it pretty much has inventory on most all of its cruises, it probably is worth waiting so as to avoid the administrative charge and the far out penalties.

BTW, if you want to move down a category (as when you waitlist for the less expensive suite), Regent will get there there too.  You have to pay the cancellation penalty...and then, if it is worth it, you can "save" on the lower category.

Alas, it seems, Regent Seven Seas' mantra of "free", "free", "free" is quite costly.