Friday, January 29, 2010

Boards of Education and Cruises - Both Have The Same Issue: What Standards Apply?

Another part of my life, which I don't really talk much about, is that I am a member of the Colts Neck Board of Education.  As much as I seem so focused on the cruise and yacht industries, the reality of it is my heart is with the kids.  It really isn't something to boast about, but rather quietly do.  (Can you imagine?  Me wanting to be quiet about something!)

Because of my diverse background, having an B.S. with honor in biology and a law degree...as well as CLIA's Elite Cruise Counselor certification (sounds kind of silly next to the other two, but it is still a sign of upper level diversification), and my obvious desire to strive for the best, I seek the best of others.  Whether those "others" are teachers, curriculum, administrators, stewardesses, waiters or captains one issue that seems to always pop up is "What is the Standard That Applies?"

There are language arts classes in the same grade in the same school with the same written curriculum that I would defy anyone to find any similarity between.  One may be working at a much higher level, with students engaged and excited, with another having virtual chaos running rampant with a teacher that seemingly looks at her students as a way to get paid rather than her charge to nurture and educate.  There are the science teachers that teach old wives's tales while others make science come alive, social studies teachers that innovate and change approaches as our rapidly altered world faces our children with others defiantly stating, "I have taught this course the same way for the past decade and there is no reason to change it."

This is where my school board focus comes in.  While many would focus on "that" teacher, I focus on "those students".  Can you imagine the lack of learning and the mixed messages when Student A gets all the motivating teachers and is learning, Student B gets all the "easy" teachers and is bored to death and Student C goes from great to gallows as the bell rings.  Essentially one in three students is getting a proper education, but I bet Student A with a C average is better educated...and happier...than Student B with an A average.  How do we fix that?  It is tough.

Take a moment.  Now, don't you think that also applies to the cruise lines?  Guest A has a great experience(consistently high quality cuisine and service on a solid ship).  Guest B has a good experience (inconsistent cuisine, service and/or ship, but enough good and the fellow passengers made any imperfections seem minor).  Guest C has fine cuisine, but has to engage in "seat in this area of the dining room" or can't get a drink while watching a show. All three guests are asked to grade the experience and all, based upon varying standards, declare all three cruises receive a grade of A.  How do we fix that? It is tough.


I think a start would be an series of objective standards and a consistent manner of measuring them (testing); not only at the end of the marking period (cruise), but during it.  Some cruise lines have taken to this concept by handing out comment cards about midway through a short cruise or early on on longer voyages.  And some of those lines actually seek further education (speaking with guests) and then, with that extra help, try to improve and do better on that end of the marking period test (end of cruise comment card). 
 
However, as I wrote yesterday, there is an emotional aspect to a guest perceptions of "their" cruise and a honest desire and focus on making the best possible.  (And, folks, don't we all know that there are the "others" that make a sport of finding fault and then demanding a free cruise on the very line they found all the faults with!)  The problem, of course, with the emotional aspects being a part of the situation is that there is a most definite loss of objectivity.  So the comment cards, even with criticisms, really aren't all that objective.  In fact, you might be surprised to know how many of my clients intentionally don't give honest grades because they don't want the crew to suffer the consequence.  (I call that intentional grade inflatation!)
 
I know you are waiting for my answer to this conundrum. Unfortunately I don't have one...other than to simply speak my mind about what I expect and what I observe in as an impartial way as humanly possible.
 
I do, however, leave you with this thought - which applies to teachers, students, yacht crew, travel agents, lawyer and whomever else:  If you have an understanding of what is expected, put in the serious effort needed to meet or exceed those expectations, don't worry about the grades.  Eventually, if you are consistent in your efforts, the grades will come. There is not a cruise line out there that cannot achieve an objectively graded A if they truly define their product/expectations and put serious effort into meeting or exceeding them. 

My "job" is neither to engage in grade inflation or reward those that don't put the "serious" effort in.  So I ask you, "What is the Standard That Applies?".  Let me know on The Gold Standard Travel Forum.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Does Your Travel Agent Need to Love Your Cruise Line Or Love To Provide Excellent Service?

"Be Treated By Your Travel Agent As You Will Be Onboard!"

is the slogan of my travel agency:  Goldring Travel.  When I developed that saying I, honestly, had the upscale cruising market and the treatment I received on The Yachts of Seabourn, Radisson Seven Seas and Celebrity Cruise Lines in mind; not the "in your face, drink-of-the-day, inch of gold, reach into the sucker's pocket" kind of cruise lines. 

My premise is that service is to be intuitive with the server spending enough time (with enough prior training and experience) to pick up on those slight hints that allow for the "How did he know that?  I didn't even know I wanted it, but I guess I did!" Experience.

As a travel agent you find yourself dealing with all kinds of people.  There are the ones that book five cruises, but take only one of them.  And the ones that inquire about ten options and book none.  The ones that go on the same cruise year after year...but only at the absolute rock bottom price.  The ones that are emotionally attached to a particular cruise line or ship.  The ones that know it all.  And, of course, there are the ones that say, "Tell me what the best cruise is."  and the first time cruisers who believe that feigning great knowledge will assure they will not be ripped off by the questionable tactics of this unknown travel agent (because they "have heard stories about sleazy travel agents").

While there are many variations on these themes, each style of client has another factor:  They are each individuals.  In fact, more times than not they come in pairs (couples) or sets (families), so there are actually many different personalities that have to be respected, considered and appropriately treated.

How does a travel agent do this AND also assure the client is actually purchasing the cruise they truly "desire" as opposed, at times, to the one they "think" they want?  The fact is books have been written on the subject and courses are regularly given by CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association).  While I am not going to turn this article into a training manual, the actual point is that the vast majority of travel agents are nothing more than "order takers" and all those courses are intended to teach them not to be.

Why?  Because it is far easier to take an order than to spend hours developing personal relationships and discussing what the client wants, is concerned about, and quite importantly, is emotional about.  A person tells the agent, "I want this cruise." or "Put me on the cheapest cruise" or "I heard Cruise Line X is the best, so book that or nothing."  If it is "OK, I will take your order" the travel agent will get the cruise booked...and it might get paid in full...but there is no loyalty; especially because the travel agent hasn't done anything to assure the client isn't disappointed or merely shopping for price.  Yes, it is a commission...but only a one time commission.

There is the other kind of "order taker"; the one that I find truly offensive.  They try to brainwash prospective clients into believing Cruise Line X provides the best service or food.  If the client buys into the argument, then they can't really compare what is being offered to any other standard.  Great for the travel agent, but possibly not so great for the client (unless getting less for your dollar/pound/euro and not knowing it is OK with you).  Why would a travel agent be so myopic in their approach?

As a travel agent that has been (falsely) accused of same, there can be economic factors that cause an agent to do that (be it greater commissions, free cruises, etc.) or it is easier (great knowledge of a product equals less work) and therefore more efficient.  There is also the "follow the leader" marketing aspect where the travel agent "causes" a group of people to band together and then throws out some cruises that the group "has" to go on...because that is what they do.  (To be sure the cruise lines are well aware of these groups, so they make sure they are well tended to...which can, of course, be a benefit to the client if that style of cruising is what they like.)

But in the end, the good travel agent provides both objective and subjective advice.  As you all know, I believe Seabourn Cruise Line provides the best overall luxury cruise experience and that Celebrity Cruises provides "The Best Bang For The Buck In The Business"...and I consistently give you and my clients the objective bases for same.  Similarly, I have great words for Regent Seven Seas ships, but have great issue with the service and cuisine it provides (and which even many of my critics now admit).  That is not because I want to push another line or have a grudge with Regent, but because of objective facts.  Its sister line, Oceania Cruises, in comparison receives raves from me...based on objective standards.

So with that, what happens when a client "loves" a cruise line and the travel agent doesn't.  Objectively, should it matter?  I think you know my answer:  Absolutely Not! 

What should matter is whether the client receives all that he/she is entitled to (or more).  Is the service the best possible?  Have all discounts and promotions been provided?  Have any prior issues and present concerns been addressed?  Has the travel agent spent the appropriate amount of time making sure the cruise is the one the client truly "desires"?  Remember, your travel agent doesn't take the cruise with you.  The travel agent's criticisms of cuisine or service are not those of your cruise and, frankly, are irrelevant if you are happy with what you are receiving (or are willing to say to yourself, "Geez, Eric told me about this problem.") 

When you step onto that ship, you are the cruise line's guest.  If there is a problem once onboard, you want the cruise line to fix it.  (But truth be told, you also want your travel agent to be available and effective if the problem isn't resolved to your satisfaction...and to get it addressed while you are on the cruise; not afterwards.)

If the travel agent does all of that for the client, then: Subjectively, does it matter?  Are you ready for the answer???  Absolutely...for some people.

It is because it is what the client desires.  Just like chocolate and vanilla, there are different types of clients and different types of travel agents.  Sometimes it isn't about the quality of the product or service, it is about whether you enjoy that particular flavor.  Understanding and respecting that, by the way, is the difference between a travel agent and a good travel agent.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Why You Need A Knowledgeable Travel Agent - Regent Seven Seas, Using "Fuzzy Math", Goes After the Premium, Not Luxury, Market

Read this article and you may save over $4,000 on your next cruise vacation!

For the past year I have urged you to consider Regent Seven Seas cruises as Premium, not Luxury, cruises.  I based this on a number of factors including a significant, and often noted by many, slippage of service quality, decent though not outstanding cuisine/food, and the focus on ":free", "free", "free" rather than value, quality or experience.  Noting that same is not a criticism, but rather a change in marketing and focus, I think a further analysis based upon the most recent Consumer flyer is worthy.  But, possibly, not exactly the way Regent intended. 

First, the flyer:



Now, comparing the Regent Seven Seas Mariner Cruise to the Celebrity Equinox is probably the most appropriate for my purpose because it has the greatest price difference, compares a true suite vs. a true suite and, as you know, I do not believe Princess is even marginally in the same class nor can Holland America provide the same quality (not that it is a bad product...just too different...and the SY is large, but doesn't come with suite amenities).

The first thing I noticed was that Regent decided to compare its 7 day August 19, 2010 sailing at $5,550 per person ($793 per day) to Celebrity's 7 day September 2, 2010 sailing and thought that was curious because not only is the month different, literally ever port is different.  So, I looked to see what Celebrity's other September cruises were and saw that it was offering two 13 night cruises as low as $2,819 per person in a suite...over 33% less on a daily basis.  Regent didn't point that out.  (BTW, that is the same cruise I took last year and the prices are pretty consistent, so I did not selectively pick a better priced Celebrity cruise.)

Then I said, I probably should look for a Celebrity cruise with a similar itinerary at a more comparable time...say in August!  And there is was:  A 10 night cruise on August 6, 2010 with 4 identical ports + Dubrovnik vs. Split, Croatia + others for a base price of $2,979 per person + $78 in port charges = $3,057 per person vs. Regent's $5,550 per person...and the Celebrity cruise is 30% longer.  This leaves me with a starting base per day cost of Celebrity - $306 vs. Regent - $793. 

According to Regent, gratuities, drinks and liquor will add another $52 per day.  Gratuities are $15 per day for suite guests, so that leaves me $37 per day for beverages; a fair figure for most people.  Regent then claims I will dine in the Alternative Restaurants (there are four upscale options on Celebrity vs. two on Regent) three times in seven nights...which I will make four times since the cruise is longer, averaging $30 per meal (though that is on the high side in usage and pricing), or $120 per person, or $12 per day.  So that brings my Celebrity daily cost up to $370 per day vs. Regent's $793 per day.

Now all I have left to deal with, according to Regent is tours and air fare.  Regent claims the tours (included on Regent) will run me $556 on Celebrity for a seven day cruise, so on my ten day cruise, the cost would be $790 total, or $79 per day. 

This now brings my total daily cost on Celebrity to $449 per day vs. Regent's $793 per day.  So before dealing with airfare let's look at the hard numbers:  Celebrity will cost me $4,490 for a 10 day cruise and Regent will cost me $7,930 for an equivalent 10 day cruise.  Am I making this up or speculating?  Nope!  Regent has a 12 day cruise on the Seven Seas Mariner on August 6, 2010 which prices a Category H Suite at $8,760.

Now, Celebrity's airfare of $1,329, which includes transfers, is actually pretty close to the available individual pricing, so let's go with that to keep things simple.  That brings my total cost for the Celebrity cruise up to $5,819 vs. $7,930 for an equivalent Regent cruise.

So I am struggling here to find the parity.  I am going to spend $2,000 more per person ($4,000+ total!)for the Regent  cruise; nothing close to what Regent claims in its flyer.  

But there is more.  A cruise is not just about the money.  It is about the experience.  I have provided some detailed information on my recent cruise on the Celebrity Equinox on the Goldring Travel website and the rest on this blog (just search Celebrity Equinox). 

Suffice it to say, for this article, each ship has its benefits.  I have found the cuisine (especially in the alternative dining venues) and the service on Celebrity to be consistently better than on Regent.  The suites are, for the most part, comparable enough that the differences wouldn't make the decision for you.  On Celebrity you are dealing with a large ship with many more guests, but other than if you want to lay out by the pool (and chair hogs have found their way onto Regent) there are many public spaces on the Celebrity Equinox that are equal to or superior to the Mariner's. Size may be a deal-breaker, but at least you know that the size difference will save you thousands of dollars. Children:  Regent has a program, but Celebrity has an excellent one and many more options to keep the children happy.  (We are comparing cruises during summer vacation aren't we?!) 
The point is that an experienced travel agent that has your best interests at heart isn't going to plunk down a Regent...or any other cruise line's...brochure and let you make a decision. 

I bet for some of you I just saved you over $2,000 per person...That is over $4,000 total...on your next cruise vacation. 

Imagine what I can do for you if you are my client!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Seabourn Odyssey vs. Silversea Silver Spirit - Reality and Fair Comparison

I am conflicted.  I want Seabourn to have stiff competition, not just for marketshare, but for what a luxury product is supposed to be.  "Increases the Stakes", "Keeping Them Honest", "Refining the Luxury Cruise Experience" or whatever you want to call it.  However, calling it as I see it, Silversea is failing miserably with the Silversea Silver Spirit.

As I did when the Silver Spirit undertook its Maiden Voyage and Maiden Transatlantic cruises I have scoured the internet (and emails from my clients) for some insights into the Seabourn Odyssey World Cruise and how she is performing.  (I have looked for anyone posting from Silversea's Inaugural Cruise and I cannot find much...just some casual comment on Cruise Critic that nothing special has been happening.)

The differences in comments have been striking...and I am not just talking about the Hardware, but the Software. 

The comments about the Silversea Silver Spirit have been basically that the ship is OK, but nothing special and has quite a number of shortcomings.  They include Suites that are too narrow (ex. you have to climb over the bed to get to the bathroom if the vanity is in use) and are not suited well for those with physical challenges (ex. besides being narrow, a walker doesn't fit through the door and cannot be maneuvered around the suite).  The Bathroom has vessel sinks that cannot be filled with water and which prevent toiletries being kept on the countertop.  In the public areas, the Spa is largely unisex and the area for exercise classes is so small no more than 6 people can participate.  The Main Show Lounge is tightly designed (the Captain's Cocktail Party has to be split into two events), incredibly has no bar service and has no real accommodation for the physically challenged.  There are only six computers for internet access provided. The Japanese and Le Champagne Restaurants are extra cost...and significantly at that ($80 for a couple and $60-400 a couple, respectively.)  And the list goes on.

The Seabourn Odyssey has a few minor quirks (like the televisions in the suites are too small for some) and some cannot find a good home for their laptops, and the showers are a bit tight if you are larger, but on the hardware side there aren't many complaints.  With great and much larger Spa and Main Lounge areas (a couple of support poles aside) and no additional cost alternative dining (all are complimentary), and the very well received Seabourn Square, it seems the Seabourn Odyssey is a significantly superior piece of Hardware.

Note:  Both ships have some complaints about less then sufficient sound insulation in certain suites (Deck 7 under the pool on the Seabourn Odyssey and near the Pool Deck and Lounges on the Silversea Silver Spirit).

But, as I say, the Software (people and amenities) are generally more important than the Hardware.  And here it seems that Seabourn has truly overwhelmed Silversea.

It was noted during the Silversea Silver Spirit Maiden Voyage that the guests (many of whom were not too happy) were told it was actually their privilege to be on the cruise and other than luggage tags really received nothing...not even a celebration.  The Maiden Transatlantic was treated the same way.  Reports are that, to date, the Inaugural Cruise is similarly low-key and not reflective of appreciating the guests.  It also seems that Silversea engaged in minimal, if any, pre-cruise training for many of the staff.  While things have reportedly improved significantly, there is a difference between "growing pains" and having guests virtually train the staff.  .  I just don't know where to go with this.  If Silversea isn't taking care of its guests at the start, I cannot imagine it is going to get better down the road.

With the qualification that the Seabourn Odyssey has been sailing for about six months now, I have been reading many posts and waiting for the shoe to drop.  Things cannot be that good for that long, can they?  I mean over the past four days the guests have been "rocking and rolling" through seriously rough Pacific Ocean storms so I figured the posts would be reflecting some crankiness.  What was I thinking?!  After just over three weeks, I have yet to read of any significant complaint. 

More importantly, the reports the Silversea Silver Spirit have pretty much been limited to this drinking or eating venue is great, or the close circle of friends are fun (or for two couples, they were treated royally by the Captain and staff), the experience seems to be rather empty; not fulfilling in any cultural or intellectual way.  Other than an occasional comment about how a special order dish was excellent or the "meat on a stone" dining venue is popular, not much in the way of comment that the guests have been wowed exist.

In contrast, the details of the Seabourn Odyssey's great lecturers, interesting discussion groups, outstanding Guest Speakers, varied and unique entertainers and outstanding meals has been non-stop.  (There was one post about some undercooked penne, but that was by the same person who complained his personal hot sauce was missing... al dente anyone?).  One of my clients sailing on the Full World Cruise wrote this past Saturday (gently edited):

Jan. 23, 2010
We are on our way to Hawaii but, at this moment at least, it cannot be said that the Pacific Ocean deserves its name. The series of storms that battered California with high winds and heavy rain have roiled the sea with swells 15 to 20-feet high tossing the Odyssey around in every direction. Everyone will be happy to have some relief from these rough seas. We reach Nawiliwili, Kauai on the 26th.

Jottings from [DW] – My general impressions after the first two weeks of our journey: We’ve been planning this trip for nearly two years and, as most would agree, expectations sometimes have a way of exceeding reality. In this case, however, the cruise is even better than we anticipated! When I say they’ll have to extract me from this life with a crowbar, I’m not kidding. I therefore offer my top ten reasons for cruising the world:


1) The ship. The Seabourn Odyssey is brand new, stunning and efficient.
2) Seabourn Square, on the 7th deck. It’s the heartbeat of the ship – lattes 24/7, staff assistance 24/7, extensive computer WiFi setup, conversation nooks everywhere.
3) Shore excursions. Fabulous treasures to see and experience. Just sign up and show up.
4) The food. What can I say? Wonderful! Want lobster for every meal? No problem.
5) Our veranda – we sit outside in our robes and watch and world and whales go by.
6) Housekeeping 24/7. Suites cleaned twice daily.
7) New friends. Interesting, well-traveled people, most with a great sense of humor.
8)The great catalog of activities for every taste or deliciously-honored leisure.
9) Popcorn at 1:00 a.m. No problem.
10) Spending uninterrupted time with my favorite spouse – priceless!


[DH's] impressions:


This trip was a very good idea. Although photographs of the various features of the ship accurately depict its places and spaces, the Odyssey is a much more than what appears on the screen. All of the spaces on the ship are well-designed, beautifully appointed and comfortable, but when all this is complimented by an attentive, friendly and responsive staff, the result is much more than we imagined it would be. It’s simply a very inviting, comfortable place to be.  We I have particularly enjoyed presentations by guest lecturers and demonstrations by chefs from around the world. The evening entertainment is varied and first rate.


A blogger writes, with great detail on most days.  With the ship rocking due to the storm and being rushed for an event, she wrote, "[W]e had to get ready in a hurry - whilst eating our early evening caviar and drinking champagne, so you can imagine how difficult that can be on a rolling yacht!! Needless to say we managed very well -practice makes perfect!!

So whether it be the complimentary caviar and champagne every evening or popcorn at 1:00 a.m., how well the ship functions and flows, or the incredible cuisine, what I am reading and hearing is that the larger luxury ship experience on the Seabourn Odyssey is, in fact, a true, refined and multi-faceted luxury experience while the Silversea Silver Spirit is not only nothing special, but chances are you won't even receive the message that you are special.

There is a lot of great information on various threads on The Gold Standard Forum. 

If you want to follow the Seabourn Odyssey World Cruise, check it out here.

If you want to read comments about the Silversea Silver Spirit you can read them here,  here and here.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Avid Cruiser - After Reading the Posts on the Seabourn Odyssey Should Be Renamed Avid Loser - Seriously, What Gives?

After writing this post I feel it needs a preface.  There is so much misinformation being provided by supposed "experts" that people that just want honest and valid information scour the internet...and then are horribly misled.  It is an illness in the travel industry that cannot be healed without some serious surgery.

The spread of knowingly dishonest and paid to be knowingly biased (is that different or just worded less offensively?) as well as well-intentioned but inaccurate information not only makes my job as a travel agent harder, it can unfairly turn your joy of travel into a scary ordeal or, worse, essentially defraud you into purchasing a cruise (or other vacation) that is neither what you expected or your best option.  With that preface...

As many of you know I have been quite vocal about Ralph Grizzle's Avid Cruiser website and its rather shameless plugging of Silversea without disclosing he is paid by Silversea and creates promotional videos for the cruise line.  (There is some good stuff there too, but this issue is just so blatant.) However, I have kept my thoughts to myself about his obvious bias against Seabourn (alas it is not only "pro-Silversea). 

Bias you say?  Well, take a look on his site and you will see that anything Silversea is prominent and anything Seabourn is tucked away.  When you find the main page for the present blog on the first leg of the Seabourn Odyssey World Cruise the first thing you will note is that even thought the Seabourn Odyssey has been sailing around (and Avid Cruiser has been aboard three times) only a three year old sketch of the ship, not a photograph, is present. 

Then you will notice that in the corner of every page mentioning the Seabourn Odyssey is his circa October 2009 silly "comparison" article comparing the half-built Silver Spirit vs. the Seabourn Odyssey.  (I previously commented on that farce of "journalism".)  I wonder why that article hasn't been replaced with one actually comparing the two.  I mean, Grizzle was blogging daily from the Odyssey on her first voyage and was quick to point out niggling little things like the management of the marina (observed only on its first day-ever- being in operation) needs to be better...but there is silence about the Silversea Silver Spirit's first sailings.

So now Avid Cruiser has a person posting from the first leg of the Seabourn Odyssey's World Cruise. After reading posts which seem to be from a novice cruiser - though apparently one who has been on a prior World Cruise - his brief observations rapidly devolved into a lengthy complaint that his stewardess mistakenly removed his personal hot sauce from the suite (presuming it was the ship's) when removing his room service dishes; albeit noting it was recovered from the ship's pantry.  Then the blog was about a tourist trap restaurant (Senor Frog's) in Cabo San Lucas and his plight to guess music so he would score a free drink.  (The curious prior comments about being surprised by things such as wearing a Hawaiian shirt to dinner...and being shocked some men wore sport jackets, no announcements, etc. and refusing to order room service dinner course by course because it seemed strange, etc. made it seem to me that there was a chicken in a cow pasture.)

I pause and ask, isn't the blog supposed to be about the ship, its offerings, its entertainment, etc?  How's this for a description of Restaurant 2 (which, by the way, is an extremely popular dining experience and, as such, the only reservations required dining venue on the ship):  "I couldn’t figure out the courses, or how we would order what appealed to us.  It worked this way: Each paragraph describes a course that is served on an oblong plate. Each described food is deposited on the plate in small separate portions. Tasty for sure, with immediate service and explanations of each course. It was an out-of-the-ordinary culinary experience."  Not "extraordinary", but "out-of-the-ordinary".  Food is not "presented", but "deposited".  And its description other than "tasty"...nonexistent.  Folks, this "expert" didn't even understand that you are given 2 different selections that compliment and contrast...or he intentionally left the essential element out of his description to misleadingly make it sound strange and uninspired.

So then there is the last post, Seabourn Odyssey Last Day.   This guy, who misquoted the rate for an hour's interest usage as $69.99 and later corrected it (and then edited his blog so the error no longer appears!) spent two paragraphs complaining that the dollar-peso exchange rate was misquoted in the Seabourn Herald (due to simple, innocent, error)...and then noted Seabourn corrected it. 

Not done being "one of them", rather than complimenting that within 30 minutes of being advised of the problem, Seabourn repaired the forward hottub which had been fouled by an inconsiderate guest who apparently deposited significant amounts of sand into it, he complained the condition existed. 

But then is my favorite.  Lunch in the Colonnade is served until 2:00 p.m.  He shows up and expects that "being served until 2:00 p.m." doesn't mean "served" it means "If you arrive by 2:00 p.m. you will be served  whatever you want for as long as you want until you are done."  To quote this "expert", "To me this means I can enter at 1:55 and get my meal."  He then complains for three paragraphs about his finding limited options at the Colonnade as service - ending at 2:00 p.m. was winding down.

Folks: On January 20th Seabourn held its Galley Luncheon, which is truly spectacular and offers a phenomenal array of dishes which you select walking through the main galley.  Why this "avid" cruiser failed to even mention this "Seabourn Signature Experience" no less partake of it (I mean he is supposed to be telling you about the ship isn't he) escapes me.  When added to his late arrival the Colonnade was almost empty (a point he also failed to mention).  Fair?  Objective?  Accurate?  Informative?  Me thinks not!

His concluding sentences is the giveaway:  "Is Seabourn Odyssey the best ship afloat? Many think so, but there are competitors that have acolytes of their own. I’ll be writing about this in an upcoming blog."  Huh???? This guy was blown out of the water because he brought too many Hawaiian shirts and focused on singing for a free drink at a Mexican tourist trap.  He is not an "expert" or even an "avid" cruiser.  He is an "amateur"...an honestly nothing more.

Let's contrast the foregoing with some real cruisers, shall we? On The Gold Standard Travel Forum I have been posting entries from the blog posts people of I know and people I don't who have been on the same leg of the Seabourn Odyssey's World Cruise.  As one blogger wrote, "Lunch today was a special galley lunch entitled ‘Seabourn Signature Event’ and the buffet was served in the galley so that we could see how the kitchens were run. We were then escorted to a table in the main restaurant to dine and desserts were set out on a large table. We both had a vast selection of food for our starters ranging from sushi and sea food to crab filled avocado and Mediterranean vegetables. I don’t know how we then managed a main course but we trotted off into the galley to survey the vast array of choices. I had a small portion of stir fried ginger chicken with rice because I just couldn’t face much more than that. DH had baked honey glazed ham with roasted vegetables. We decided against looking at the dessert table!"  Gee, do you think they were on the same Seabourn Odyssey????

Now, if you really look through the Avid Cruiser website you will find the following video on the Seabourn Odyssey.  Fortunately, the video does the talking:



Now, feel free to read and compare the Avid Cruiser's glowing reviews of the Silversea Silver Spirit, the five little annoyances he finds with the Seabourn Odyssey, and the comparisons between the two ships...and after reading the Seabourn Odyssey World Cruise thread,  read what real people are saying about the Silver Spirit on The Gold Standard Forum:  First Impressions; Issues for the Physically Challenged; and, Maiden Transatlantic Review.

As they say, I am just trying to "keep it real."

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Royal Caribbean and Labadee, Haiti - Vacations, Industry, Relief Efforts...And, Yes, Critics.

Royal Caribbean, in addition to its direct relief efforts (providing and off-loading desperately needed supplies), has decided to return to its "private island" of Labadee, Haiti.  I applaud this and will explain later.

On the other hand, one United Kingdom newspaper, The Guardian, has taken a rather sickening approach:  Sell newspapers by twisting the reality to make it all sound sordid.  The writer, Robert Booth, should be ashamed of himself.  But, alas, anyone that would pervert the disaster in Haiti to profit (economically or his ego) has insufficient ethics to enable such feelings.  You can read his two articles here and here...and please read them before reading further.  I want to feel the same disgust and violation I did as you read the truth afterwards.

OK, now the facts. 

First, Royal Caribbean is a business and, in part, "industry" in Haiti.  It employs 230 Haitians directly and supports an additional 270 merchants via its straw market vendors, hair-braiders, etc. for a total of 500 people.  Those 500 people have families and close friends that directly benefit from the income; making the direct impact on over 2,000 people.  Robert Booth and The Guardian have the self-centered and thoughtless approach that it is better to abandon those people and to shift the industry away from Haiti and not only have Royal Caribbean pay people at another port, but have its guests give their vacation dollars to less in-need people as well.  That's right:  Booth wants everyone to shut their eyes by not going there, pull the industry out of the country by going elsewhere, and then say, "See, we are so concerned about the Haitian people and we want to help."

Second, Royal Caribbean has directly donated $1,000,000 to the relief effort.  Royal Caribbean also reports that 100% of the proceeds from the calls at Labadee are being donated to the relief effort and that 40 pallets of rice, beans, powdered milk, water, and canned foods were delivered on Friday, and a further 80 are due and 16 on two subsequent ships. When supplies arrive in Labadee, they are distributed by Food for the Poor, a longtime partner of Royal Caribbean in Haiti.

Third, Booth criticized that the dock was being used by a cruise ship rather than by supply ships.  What he doesn't report (possibly because he didn't think to check) is that the United States Coast Guard surveyed every possible dock in Haiti and determined that the Royal Caribbean dock was not sufficient for the relief effort.  Why?  Well, without having spoken to the Coast Guard, it seems pretty obvious:  The dock is located about 100 miles from the areas needing the supplies and the roads are in ruins as you near the quake's epicenter; the infrastructure was designed to facilitate people, not cargo; and, without limitation, the infrastructure was designed to keep guests on site and to avoid easy access to/from the local Haitian roads and communities.

Fourth, in an effort to find additional ways to assist, Royal Caribbean has begun donating any lounge chairs and other surplus supplies from its facilities and, as a result, has greatly assisted in supporting a local hospital.  Why Booth seems to want to make this sound like it is simply tossing its trash and claiming it is a good thing is beyond comprehension.  In a crisis that sees people desperate for any sort of comfort and doctors welcoming anything that allows them to keep quake victims off the ground, it leaves me (almost) speechless.  (And if the facilities were gutting of all lounges and supplies the millions of dollars in recurring income - discussed above - would simply vanish because there would be no way to sell the goods and services to the vacationers.)

Let me summarize: 

If you are so troubled by the Haitian crisis that you think Labadee, Haiti should be avoided as a Royal Caribbean port, are you sufficiently troubled that you have donated to the relief effort?  And if you have donated to the relief effort, has that donation equaled what you have/will spend in a mere 24 hours on your vacation (that day in Haiti)? Or do you think your vacation (as long as it is not in Haiti) is your business and not anyone else's?

And, if you are in support of Royal Caribbean (or any other cruise line) pulling out millions of dollars of business and shutting down an entire industry that supports thousands of Haitians, what is your suggestion as to how those thousands are going to be supported...today, tomorrow and months from now? Please remember that handouts are a one-time thing and jobs/industry provide a continuous revenue flow.

Oh, and when will it be acceptable to you for the cruise business to return to Haiti?  There will be suffering in Haiti for years to come.  (Like there wasn't enough before the quake!)

Let none of us be righteous.  Let is be smart and caring.

So while you think how hard it is to enjoy yourself while there is suffering of unimaginable proportions less than 100 miles away, ask yourself if it is better to turn your back on the suffering; making it all impersonal, or instead to find a way to personally contribute...with dollars, with business, with support of economic growth.

What do you think?  Join the discussion at The Gold Standard Travel Forum.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Silversea Silver Spirit - Laying It On, But Only For A Chosen Few - For The Others: Watch Out!

What has caused me to write this entry is a very rude slap one Cruise Critic poster made toward a guest that was not given the royal treatment by Silversea, but was - instead - treated as a "normal" passenger.

This is, nonetheless, sort of a tough post because its intent is not to rain on anyone's parade (er, umm, cruise), but there needs to be sense of reality to the reviews and posts of that are being treated differently than the majority of the guests.  I say this because if you don't know there is a difference, then you might believe that all is well.
 
First, some perspective:  There are four people on the Silver Spirit Maiden Transatlantic that are being wined and dined by Silversea.  The reason is, to me, obvious:  They frequently post their thoughts on two or three message boards, have a pretty regular line of communication with the cruise line and...this is actually quite relevant...apparently have a historical relationship (either directly or indirectly) with two of Silversea's top executives from their time at Regent Seven Seas. As such, Marketing 101 kicks in:  Make it wildly fantastic or hear the rath all over the internet.

For example, how many times does the ordinary passenger personally speak with the Captain no less dine with him?  When did Silversea start making caviar complimentary again?  (I mean it ain't Seabourn and the complaints about this change are more than a year old.) Renewal of Vows ceremony?  (Reportedly never before done on Silversea.) Special Order Dinners?  (Not just a single course, but entire meals!)  And the list goes on...and on...and on.

Now, while I am absolutely thrilled that these folks have been treated so well, and truly give a nod to Silversea for doing an exemplary job, the fact of the matter is that while most of us truly enjoy the voyeuristic aspects of reading about another person's cruise, our primary interest is "What can we expect on our cruise?"

And then a poster who did not receive the same level of service wrote (which I have gently edited as to form and some spelling):

Unfortunately, the Spirit does not live up to its billing. We knew that we could not expect too much from a second cruise as we got on in Lisbon, but it has been disappointing. The crew attitude is the only thing making this cruise for us; all are smiling and pleasant and willing to learn. Once our gang finally realized that we were sailing on Faulty Towers, a la Monty Python. John Cleese's wacky hotel, we then took it all as a laugh!

This appears to be the Silver Spirit "throwaway" cruise to get it across the pond, and they are saving all stops for the inaugural next week. No doubt the next cruise will find a very different ship and we wish them well. Some cruise critic regulars on board are having a good cruise; but perhaps they have not

- had to have their TV changed three times;
- a ships hairdryer that blows the fuse every time it is turned on;
- all the 110 plugs in the suite not operational;
- shower doors that have to be kept open with our bathrobe belts so they do not break in rough seas,
- a stereo that only a midget can reach etc, etc,

.... and we are in one of the Grand Suites!


On all lines we have taken there are usually special small attentions offered to passengers in the large suites over and above what is advertised. Guess we are spoiled and have grown to expect these small attentions. Do not expect any attentions on this ship if you book a large suite as none are given. And do not expect a DVD in each suite as advertised in their brochure, no cabin has a DVD. We book large suites specifically for a DVD for subtitles as my husband does not hear well. We were provided a DVD for this reason when we asked for one; but had to rush out to buy our own DVD's in the first port of call, Las Palmas, since there are none on board.


The staff and amenity matters can be fixed; the staff smiles are genuine and they can be trained with time, and the amenities can be brought up to standard, particularly for the large suites.

Unfortunately, the design issues cannot be fixed so easily.

- You are not able to close your sink in your bathroom, no washing out of unmentionables ladies;
- Be prepared to get very friendly with the stinky bodies around you in the gym, it is tiny;
- The hairdressing section is tiny, but lots of rooms for treatments, all empty for the most part;
- Manicure table not under lights;
- The Silver Suites elevators at the front of the ship did not operate in the first two very rough seas days so the wheelchair passengers were marooned on their floors for two days;
-The Observation Level has no washrooms, so its down two floors and along a long hall if you need to go.

Hopefully at some point all these design issues will be addressed.

So as Faulty Towers is now nearing land, two days out of Fort Lauderdale, we hear that many passengers have booked future cruises, many on the other Silversea ships. We too have loved Silversea in the past. We will happily return to the other Silversea ships. As far as this one is concerned, perhaps in a couple of years when this ship can properly be called a Silversea Ship.

Well, when one of the royally treated posters personally attacked this person (Doug Burns)...who apparently spent about $20,000 for the experience...I thought "What a set of *%^$ this guys has! He is nothing other than a bully.  And, possibly more importantly, he well and truly has no appreciation for the extent to which Silversea has gone so far above and beyond for him."
 
And then I thought:  "You know, those guys at Silversea (and formerly of Regent Seven Seas) Christian Sauleau and Ken Watson, were no fools.  This Burns guy would have been all over Silversea and the posts would have been absolute nightmares."
 
Well, folks, there have been some nightmare posts which have been overwhelmed by the postings of the rather unique experiences of the chosen few. I am not talking about whether "meat on a stone" is a luxury experience or whether the vanity basins are too large and dysfunctional.   I am talking about serious omissions, errors and absurd cost-cutting measures that have degraded what could have been a top quality product.  I have posted them in this post, on this blog and on The Gold Standard Luxury Travel Forum.  
 
DidI expect some of the problems the less complimentary posters have written?  Of course.  Are many of them fixable?  Of course.  But some important flaws are not.  One of the flaws that Silversea better fix is treating the chosen ones as "guests" and the others as "passengers".
 
Just some objective observations.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Silversea Silver Spirit - Cheers or Bronx Cheer? Depends On Who You Ask!

Silversea's Silver Spirit is in the last days of its Maiden Transatlantic Cruise which was right on the heels of its Maiden Voyage. To say the reviews have been mixed would be an understatement.


There is no question that a few people are being treated like royalty with special ceremonies, dining with the Captain, private parties, etc. And for those people it is very easy to not only look past (or simply not observe) any issues, but frankly it would be illogical for them to ruin the royal treatment by either noting the problems or discussing them on a blog or message board. As one put it, ""Praise in public, but criticize in private".


However, as happens far too frequently on Cruise Critic, those that express an opinion or criticism tend to be attacked because, heaven forbid, they don't think everything is perfect. So, rather than royal treatment they get insulted.


First, the good news.


1. After an expected rocky start, the reports indicate that much of the staff now doing a very good to excellent job. Yes, there are still some serious misses which seem to be attributed to undertrained staff. To expect more than that at this early stage would be, to my mind, unfair as Silversea simply did not invest in training as it should have...making the staff's hard job more difficult. It appears that the Captain and officers are, to their credit, putting on an absolutely first class show!


2. It also appears that the ship is functioning well overall. While I have read it rides like a Lexus on the highway by one person, another complained of some serious vibration and creaking when in some weather. To me, as of yet, not a big deal either way.


3. Similarly, it seems the variety of dining choices is well received (though the quality of the food or cuisine has been debated...and is debated below).


4. Comment about the ship's decor and public areas has been generally positive, but no one is mentioning how its style knocks them off their feet. It has been described as 1940's Hotel/Art Deco, which is a style if not a youthful or modern one. Rule No. 1 in design: Don't Offend. Let's not go down the other rules just yet.


Now, the not so good and bad news.


1. The Standard Suites - It is reported that the suites are the narrowest the luxury cruisers onboard have experienced. There is a narrow space between the foot of the bed and the dresser and between the hallway and the bed. Further the configuration is such that climbing over the bed is required if one person is using the dressing table. The bed-dresser conflict exists on the circa 1980's much smaller Seabourn triplets and was corrected on the new Seabourn Odyssey. There is simply no excuse for this...other than trying to fit additional suites onto this ship...two decades later. (I mentioned this months ago.)

There is but a single 110v outlet for the entire suite. Not sure what, if anything, was being thought of with that one.

The bathroom vanity is consumed by the vessel sink so there is no room for toiletries and the shelving for the toiletries is inconveniently placed. I pointed this out months ago as well.

2. The Main Show Lounge - It is hard to imagine how a more poorly designed space could have been created. Getting over the fact that there is no bar service (that's right!), the seating is for couples...and the reports are they had better be couples, for the seats are quite small. There are no tables for drinks (but without bar service...). The space between the seat is narrow for leg room, so passing through is a challenge, if possible. And, incredibly, the space cannot seat the entire ship at one time, so things like the Captain's Reception must be split. This is inexcusable on a luxury line.

3. Pay-As-You-Go Dining - While is wonderful that there are multiple dining venues, charging to dine in them - on a luxury line - is unforgivable. $40 per person to dine a Sheishen (Japanese) with an additional charge for sake. (Do I get charged if I order sake when I am in a lounge? Or what if I order a single malt - as many Japanese do?) $30 to dine at Le Champagne, but $200 per person if I order the specialty menu with paired wines. (For example, Nicholas -one of the highest rated restaurants in the New York/New Jersey area...you can look it up here! - is offering a special six course Black Truffle Menu for $105 per person. Feel free to add $200 of wine to that...and, trust me, there is no way Le Champagne can compete with the cuisine or the wines.) Yes, there are those that think spending money means luxury, but when spending tens of thousands of dollars the luxury better already be there.

4. Stone Grill "Eating" - There is a new al fresco eating venue (I can't call it "dining") where you are literally given a very rare piece of meat on a hot stone and you cook it. (One guest - who loves the place - noted that her husband now knows not to wear a good shirt because the grease splatters!). Take a look:




Sorry folks, that ain't luxury. That is not even appetizing. That is not to say that it does not have a place on a ship, but to me it is a way to cut down on labor (no chefs and little waitstaff) for what may be fun for some...and they can enjoy it...but not a luxury experience. (I have written recently yet again about the apparent effort to "dumb down" people into believing marginal is high quality: What is Luxury? Luxury is What They Say It Is.) I would think that offering it on occasion - as Seabourn does with its Sky Grill - for a casual and fun/quirky option would be far more appropriate.

5. Small and Unisex Spa - Another baffling aspect of the 500+ passenger luxury cruise ship is that the spa is reported to be about two thirds to half the size of the spas on the smaller Silversea ships. One person noted a yoga class with but eight people was akin to a package of sardines. The sauna and other general facilities being unisex is also troublesome. For some the mixing of sexes may not be an issue, but for many it is just uncomfortable. This is the area to literally let your hair down and relax; not to be placed in a situation you just don't have on any ships or, frankly, any semi-luxury or luxury spas...and you haven't for years. It is, to my mind, another example of poor design fueled by cost-cutting.

6. A Physically Challenged Person's Nightmare: It has been reported, in detail, that there are very many aspects of the Silver Spirit that are poorly designed or simply did not consider the physically challenged. The Main Show Lounge literally has no design for wheelchairs, walkers or the like. Guests are relegated to straight-back chairs at the back of the room and no place to even place a drink. (Of course the Show Lounge doesn't have bar service - discussed above - so this may be moot.) The Suite doors are too small to allow a wheelchair or walker to enter. The space between the bed and dresser and hallway and bed are too narrow. In 2010 these sort of design omissions are inexcusable. One wonders if there will be any issues when she enters United States waters (though probably not). I understand there are further issues on this topic and they will be discussed when available.

Before all the cheerleaders start attacking, take a moment and ask, "Is Iamboatman accurate in what he is saying?" If I am (and I am), then all I am doing is pointing out information which those who expect a more inclusive experience, who love cuisine, are physically challenged, who expect separate spas and/or are concerned with the functioning of their suite want and need to have. It is not a slam of Silversea or a condemnation of the Silver Spirit. Alas, it is what it is.

With all that said, is it possible to have a luxury experience on the Silversea Silver? Absolutely. You can dine on good cuisine and have a wonderful meal in Le Champagne. You can love the television in the mirror (or the black rectangle in the mirror). You can enjoy Stars for a tasting menu after 9:00 p.m. or a nice swim in the heated pool.

For me, with the choices that exist in the cruising world today, the Silversea Silver Spirit just cannot gain my endorsement as she now exists. Maybe I am wrong, and I am happy to discuss or debate it. There is no such thing as a wrong opinion; just different ones.

Join the multiple discussions of the Silversea Silver Spirit on The Gold Standard Luxury Travel Forum.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Hello Oceania Marina...and, Quite Possibly: Bon Voyage, Regent Seven Seas.

I have wondered over the past year or so if the sister companies, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises will merge into one cruise line. I first wrote about this in June 2008 with my article "The Oceania-fication of Regent Seven Seas" and then, again in April 2009 in "Oceania Cruises - More Like Regent Seven Seas Every Day...Or Is It The Other Way Around?" While I was originally skeptical about the changes, or more accurately what has actually become the Oceania-fication of Regent, it is clear to me that it was both necessary and successful.

And now there is the Oceania Marina!

First some background: Regent Seven Seas was, in my opinion, a horribly run company. Millions of dollars were expended marketing the company to be "Six Star Luxury" (a term it fabricated) while its management allowed the ships to be poorly maintained, truly never updated anything, slashed its staffing and training and cut the per passenger food costs shockingly low. The reason to me it was obvious: Improve the bottom line by cutting costs and driving up prices so that it would look attractive to a buyer...and make sure the closets remained under lock and hidden...so the truth would not be known until after the sale was completed.

Old Regent succeeded and Apollo Management bought it...and then had to rebuild and restructure a failing cruise line. Its cruise line holding company, Prestige Cruise Holdings (PCH) did a number of radical things and it did them quickly. It quashed the tauted new ship. It poured tens of millions of dollars into the poorly maintained and rapidly becoming outdated ships. It stopped the wasteful marketing and ended the silly Six Star Luxury garbage. It eliminated the poor provisioning. It shook up the staffing. And it did more. (Alas, it is still a work in progress...but with so much to do, there is no way all of that could be completed by now.)

Keeping in mind that PCH is headed by Frank Del Rio, who is also the head of Oceania Cruises -which is a very fine product with very loyal clientèle and strong brand recognition/identity - many of the things that work for Oceania have been transitioned over to Regent, both operationally and marketing-wise. And while the public (that would be you and me) has struggled to keep Regent as one of the few "luxury" cruise lines, the fact is that PCH has been transitioning Regent away from the "luxury" sector focusing on "free" as in "free air", "free tours", "free drinks", etc. and also reducing the overall service levels to one which is overall acceptable, but not "luxury".

It is of note that, generally speaking, people are more satisfied with Oceania's service levels than they are Regent. The reason: The expectations of Oceania are not nearly as high as those which remain of Regent (due to the Six Star Luxury marketing and its prior focus). As old-timers dissipate and new passengers take over (who have no such expectations) the expected levels of service quietly are reduced and, not surprisingly, found to be acceptable.

Now for the BIG transition...and what I believe will be the eventual elimination of Regent Seven Seas as a cruise line: Oceania Marina.

Regent's "ace in the hole" as always been its suites. The are 300 square feet and up and very nicely laid out (with the possible exception of the bathrooms on the Regent Mariner...but those troublesome high tubs are being eliminated over time). On Oceania Marina the 444 Veranda Staterooms will be 282 square feet
and will come with a mini-refrigerator with unlimited soft drinks and bottled water, robes and slippers and full size bathtubs. Forty four (44%) percent of them will be Concierge Level which will add a laptop computer (internet will be extra), welcome bottle of champagne, upgraded toiletries, a private concierge lounge and various priorities (embarkation, luggage, reservations), etc.

I now pause and ask, "So what is it that is contained in the standard Regent Suites that the Oceania Marina doesn't have? I can't say, looking at the computer generated "photographs", that the furnishings are better or the style more upscale (possible less-so). The only thing I can perceive is that Marina will have many more cabins than the present Regent ships, but that relates to service levels; not accommodation standards.

So then I look at the Marina's suites and, of course, first ask, "If 282 square feet is not a suite, then why are the suites on Regent (Silversea and Seabourn...and Celebrity, etc.) called suites? But I digress, there will be 124 Penthouse Suites (420 square feet), 12 Oceania Suites (1,000+ square feet), 8 Vista Suites (1,200 - 1,500+ square feet), and 3 Owner's Suites (2,000+ square feet). These Suites include butler service, course-by-course dining from any of the six (6) restaurants, Bulgari toiletries, access to the Executive Lounge and more. Sounds pretty good!

Dining-wise, there will be six open seating restaurants (all without additional charge) ranging from the main Grand Dining Room to Jacques (Jacques Pepin's restaurant), Red Ginger (for Asian cuisine), Polo Grill (for steaks), Toscana (for Italian) and casual dining venues.

In addition to these venues, there will be two additional cost exclusive cost restaurants. Privee - limited to 10 guests per evening for a 7 course dinner; and, La Reserve - "an elegant wine tasting room" limited to 24 guests for food and wine paring dinners.

Add to this the various other expected (and some unexpected) venues and one must pause and ask, "So what is it that Regent ships have over the Oceania Marina?" The answer - at least at this point - comes down to "free air", "free tours" and "free alcoholic beverages". But, of course, we all know that nothing is "free" and those costs are buried into the cruise fare. These are not things which are not available on Oceania Marina (or its other ships); they are just charged ala carte.

One point of concern: I am not sure what the staffing levels or back-of-the-ship facilities are, but there are going to be some pretty high demands on the Marina staff to match the actual service level with that which is promised.

So with Oceania upping the ante on the size of the cabins, the amenities provided, the inclusiveness of the product, etc...and the levels of service being as good or better than Regent's, how or why would Prestige Cruise Holdings continue to market and operate Regent Seven Seas when the line between the products is so blurred and the benefits of competing with itself so limited? (Heck, I can't even see the benefit of keeping the tarnished Regent name at this point!)

I see myself saying "Bon Voyage, Regent". Maybe not today, but sometime soon.

What do you think? Join the discussion at The Gold Standard Luxury Travel Forum!

Interested in booking a cruise on the Oceania Marina? Cruises will open for booking in the next few days. Call me at (877) 2GO-LUXURY or email me at eric@goldringtravel.com.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Royal Caribbean Receives Settlement from Rolls Royce - More Good News For The Millennium-Class Ships.

Celebrity Cruise Line's parent, Royal Caribbean, sued Rolls Royce and Alstom Power Conversion over the multitude of problems Celebrity had with its Millennium-class ships (Millennium, Infinity, Summit and Constellation) pod propulsion systems.  Over the initial years there were a number of cruises which were canceled or modified due to problems associated with bearing failures in the pods designed and provided by the companies.

While the problems have been significantly reduced (to the point that they are no longer noticed and are not news to the cruising public) the costs have been significant and RCCL sought $300 million in damages.  While Alstom settled with a payment of $38 million a while back, it appears that Rolls Royce will be making payment/compensation of around $68 million this quarter. 

I am sure there is more to the settlement than simply the payment of dollars.  Issues concerning warranties, part support, etc. are obviously going to be part of a package that would not be set forth in the required announcement of a $68 million gain by RCCL.

Further, I am sure the RCCL initial demand included the worst case scenario of the expense associated with the replacement of the systems and the anticipated lost revenues.  As such, I think it is clear that RCCL has recouped a very significant portion of its losses and has secured support for these now better performing pods for a significant period of time.

As I will outline in another post, this good news comes on the heels of Celebrity announcing that a number of the very successful aspects of the Solstice-class ships are going to be retrofitted into the Millennium-class ships.

What Is Luxury? Is Luxury What "They" Say It Is?

You know I question the cruise lines on what they call "luxury" and, in fact, if the simply say their product is luxury without specifying why.  Over time this sort of discussion becomes hard to follow as cruise lines blur the differences...even though there are real differences. 

The point is that just because a cruise line such as Silversea calls a hunk of near raw meat on a stone a luxury Stone Grill experience doesn't make it so. And charging $80 a couple to have a Japanese meal (without sake) does not make it luxury. And having a 50% smaller unisex spa with 50% more passengers doesn't make it luxury. On the other hand, if you love the service and that is what is important to you, then consider that value...and whether that level of service is actually "luxury" or just "pretty darn good"...and if that same service level is available at a lower price...or without the extra charges.

I recently had similar experience but in a totally different arena and it actually helped enlighten me and sharpen my focus.  Let me share it with you.

I have for many frustrating, yet enjoyable, years been a season ticket holder for the New York Jets football team.  I enjoyed assigned parking...and then watched it turn into a pre-paid free-for-all where if you don't get to the stadium early you can be walking for a mile or parking on the side of a roadway.  I enjoyed the Stadium Club for a reasonably priced, high quality pre-game buffet with waitservice for drinks...which now costs over $50 a person.  And I have enjoyed a stadium which is just OK; nothing special, but it is where the Jets play.

A new, better, stadium with more amenities was marketed to us.  It sounded great.  It would have private clubs where you can see the game and have great food, better sight-lines, huge television screens, better seats and, believe it or not...yes, its true...cupholders!  There was a big catch, however:  Higher Prices and Personal Seat Licenses (where you are required to buy the right to buy your tickets).  Oh, the cost of "luxury"...or is it?????

So the other week I had a somewhat private tour of the new stadium (which is about 80% complete).  My impression was "Nice place" but not "WOW".  (For me the Jets convincingly beating the Bengals in the first round of the playoffs is a WOW.)  Now I must confess I was offered the tour because the Jets wanted me to "upgrade" my seats to one of the luxury private clubs (being that I have for years been a Stadium Club member...which allowed me to have seats anywhere in the stadium and pay a relatively small annual fee for access to the Club).  However, my interest was really to see exactly where my chosen seats (not in a club) would be in the new stadium.  (Note:  The "upgraded" seats would cost me about $100 per game more...per seat!)

So with some excitement (and my hardhat in place) I found my chosen seats...fourth row, on the goal line, right where the Jets come onto the field and (importantly for my son...but, of course, of little interest to me ;-) ) where the Flight Crew cheerleaders will be located.  I was pleased.





Then I was ushered to the East-West Club to see how much better these luxury seats were.  First I am shown the seats:  They are wider.  They are cushioned.  They have more leg room.  And, of course, they have direct access to the Club.  But they are not on the field...or even the lower level.  They are on the Mezzanine Level halfway up the stadium.  (Am I going on a cruise to enjoy the cruise?...I mean, err, Am I going to the game to watch a football game?)

Then I ask a question:  "How many people are there that have access to the Club?"  The answer is 3,500 for the East Club and 3,500 for the West Club.  So with that I look over the Club space (still under construction) and ask if there is waitstaff.  I am told that there is not; it is buffet service only.  Immediately rushing to my head is my experience on Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas the day I boarded and went to the buffet for lunch before our suite was ready:  3,500 people all wanting lunch at the same time.  It was not a pleasant experience and one I promised myself I would never repeat.

And then I looked out to the field and realized that once inside the Club you wouldn't be able to see the game at all.  Outside were seats blocking the view...and that was before people were sitting in them.  And then it was confirmed that all the food and drinks were at additional cost. 

I shuddered and thought to myself:  "You have got to be kidding.  This is supposed to be 'Luxury'?  Just because I am required to pay more does not make it a luxury experience.  I want great seats and a great game day experience.  I don't want to pay $200 a game more to "enjoy" 3,500 people fighting for a table to eat food that is at additional cost (bringing my additional expense to over $300 per game)...for seats that are not nearly as good as the ones I already have.  And, for the cost of $300 I can have a really nice tailgating grill, chairs, portable tv and cooler...for seasons to come."

Unless, that is, the cache of the label is what matters to you.  And to many, even in this economy, it still does...and there is nothing wrong with that.  It does have its place and purpose.  Just be sure you don't just "drink the Kool-Aid" and believe it is "luxury" because they say so.

So, football fans:  Which seats give you the luxury experience?  Fourth row on the field or second tier with a buffet  and with 50-75% more expense?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Sometimes Love Is In The Air...And Stupidity Grounds Aircraft!

Remember the fiasco at Newark Airport last Sunday when a man walked through a security checkpoint when a TSA officer was not at his post? Remember all the passengers having to be rescreened, the chaos in the airport and the cancellation of so many flights...all on a holiday weekend?

Well it seems that this "genius" apparently thought his sneaking into the restricted area to give his wife/girlfriend a kiss and then, apparently, walk her to her gate was a loving thing to do. What a self-centered and ignorant idiot...if, of course, what you see on the video below is true!

The Kiss Video

(Skip to the 5 minute 15 second mark to see the "action")

In this world of increasingly "It is all about me", I have to wonder if this person (whose identity I think may now be know) ever thought that his romantic selfishness cost Continental Airlines millions of dollars and the innocent passengers even more than that in money, time and emotions.

Although I am one for compassion, in this instance the man should be prosecuted to the fullest extent and his punishment should be posted at every similar entrance...so that other selfish idiots don't try the same thing.

And, while I am on this rant, the TSA officer should not only be reassigned, but fired and he too should be prosecuted if at all possible.

I can't wait for the excuses both these geniuses put forth.

What's that word? Oh, yes: Accountability.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Seabourn Odyssey World Cruise Gala - The Details!

On January 4, 2010 the Full World Cruise guests began arriving at the Ritz Carlton - Ft. Lauderale (Florida) for the Pre-Cruise Gala Celebration. In true Seabourn Style they were met by a Concierge Desk, greeted by name, were privately escorted to their room and were met with some nice amenities, a formal Invitation to the Gala events and an agenda.

Themed with the Flavors of the World the Seabourn Odyssey would be visiting on the World Cruise the Cocktail Party, starting at 6:30 p.m., the guests were greeted by butlers with silver trays of champagne, a quartet playing music and the Seabourn Executives, including Pamela Conover, the President, and the Odyssey's officers. Strolling along, the guests were met by vignettes depicting India, Tahiti, Asia, Greece and Egypt with actors expressing the unique cultural aspects of the area...and, of course, the related foods and drinks. Some examples were in the Tahitian area the guests enjoyed an Ice Bar filled with every imaginable seafood offering, the Asian area had wok cooking offerings as well as passed dumplings, rolls, etc. and the Greek area had a wide variety of meze.

As Cocktail Hour ended a Mariachi Band lead the guests and Seabourn executives and officers into dinner. Again, in typical Seabourn Style, each table was hosted by a Seabourn executive or an officer of the Odyssey. During dinner there was a full band along with a number of culturally tied entertainers interspersed throughout the event including an acrobat, dragon dancer, a contortionist and a hugely popular opera singer. They were so well received that many of them received ovations from the guests.

Dessert was accompanied by dancing and, truth be told, quite a number of the guests just did not want the night to end!

Seabourn had arranged the guests to enjoy breakfast either in their rooms or in the Ritz Carlton restaurant and to have, of course, late checkouts. With their luggage taken directly from their room to their suites aboard the Seabourn Odyssey, the guests were afforded the luxury of checking out of the hotel and into the Seabourn Odyssey in the hotel over a period of a few leisurely hours. Then, after a splendid luncheon buffet the guests departed for the Seabourn Odyssey.

Arriving at approximately 1:00 p.m. the Full World Cruise guests were provided a separate gangway onto the Seabourn Odyssey and into the Observation Lounge where they were greeted by various members of the onboard staff and then whisked away to their respective suites.

Don't you wish you were there?!

Follow the Seabourn Odyssey's World Cruise on The Gold Standard Forum. Of course, if you have any specific questions and do not wish to post them on GSF, feel free to email me at eric@goldringtravel.com

Silversea Silver Spirit - An Interesting Video

Here is a video produced for Silversea highlighting the various aspects of the Silversea Silver Spirit:



What do you think of this new ship?  Join the conversation at The Gold Standard Forum.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Seabourn Odyssey World Cruise Set Sail Today!

Seabourn Cruise Line's Seabourn Odyssey starts its 108 day maiden world cruise visiting 42 ports between Ft. Lauderdale and Athens in a voyage of 108 days from January 5 to April 24, 2010.

All Full World Odyssey guests stayed at overnight and attended a gala Bon Voyage Ball at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Fort Lauderdale the night before departing today. Here is the full itinerary - with color-coded special events (see below for details of each):

January 2010
5 Tuesday FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA 07:00 AM - 05:00 PM D
6 Wednesday AT SEA
7 Thursday AT SEA
8 Friday CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA 01:00 PM - 06:00 PM D (All World Cruise Guests)
9 Saturday AT SEA
10 Sunday AT SEA
11 Monday AT SEA
12 Tuesday PUERTO CALDERA, COSTA RICA 08:00 AM - 06:00 PM D (Ensemble Travel Exclusive)
13 Wednesday AT SEA
14 Thursday PUERTO QUETZAL, GUATEMALA 06:00 AM - 06:00 PM D
15 Friday AT SEA
16 Saturday ACAPULCO, MEXICO 08:00 AM - 05:00 PM D
17 Sunday AT SEA
18 Monday CABO SAN LUCAS, MEXICO 10:00 AM - 07:00 PM A (Full World Cruise Exclusive)
19 Tuesday AT SEA
20 Wednesday AT SEA
21 Thursday LOS ANGELES, CA, USA 07:00 AM - 06:00 PM D
22 Friday AT SEA
23 Saturday AT SEA
24 Sunday AT SEA
25 Monday AT SEA
26 Tuesday AT SEA
27 Wednesday NAWILIWILI, KAUAI, HI, USA 09:00 AM - 06:00 PM D
28 Thursday HONOLULU, HI, USA 08:00 AM - 11:00 PM D
29 Friday LAHAINA, MAUI, HI, USA 08:00 AM - 05:00 PM A
30 Saturday AT SEA
31 Sunday AT SEA
February 2010
1 Monday AT SEA
2 Tuesday CHRISTMAS ISLAND, KIRIBATI 08:00 AM - 01:00 PM A
3 Wednesday AT SEA
4 Thursday AT SEA
5 Friday PAPEETE, TAHITI, FR. POLYNESIA Arrive: 02:00 PM D
6 Saturday PAPEETE, TAHITI, FR. POLYNESIA Depart: 06:00 PM D
7 Sunday BORA BORA, FRENCH POLYNESIA 08:00 AM - 05:00 PM A
8 Monday AT SEA
9 Tuesday RAROTONGA, COOK ISLANDS 08:00 AM - 05:00 PM A
10 Wednesday AT SEA
11 Thursday AT SEA
12 Friday DATE LINE GOING WEST
13 Saturday AT SEA
14 Sunday RUSSELL, BAY OF ISLANDS, N.Z. 01:00 PM - 06:00 PM A
15 Monday AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND 08:00 AM - 05:00 PM D
16 Tuesday AT SEA
17 Wednesday LYTTLETON, NEW ZEALAND 09:00 AM - 06:00 PM D
18 Thursday WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND 08:00 AM - 06:00 PM D
19 Friday AT SEA
20 Saturday AT SEA
21 Sunday AT SEA
22 Monday MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA 08:00 AM - 06:00 PM D
23 Tuesday AT SEA
24 Wednesday SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA 08:00 AM - 09:00 PM D
25 Thursday SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA Depart: 10:00 PM D
26 Friday AT SEA
27 Saturday AT SEA
28 Sunday AT SEA
March 2010
1 Monday CAIRNS, AUSTRALIA 09:30 AM - 05:00 PM D
2 Tuesday AT SEA
3 Wednesday AT SEA
4 Thursday DARWIN, AUSTRALIA 01:00 PM - 06:00 PM D
5 Friday AT SEA
6 Saturday AT SEA
7 Sunday PADANG BAY, BALI, INDONESIA 07:00 AM - 10:00 PM A
8 Monday AT SEA
9 Tuesday AT SEA
10 Wednesday AT SEA -
11 Thursday MUARA, BRUNEI 08:00 AM - 06:00 PM D
12 Friday KOTA KINABALU, MALAYSIA 08:00 AM - 06:00 PM D
13 Saturday AT SEA
14 Sunday AT SEA
15 Monday HONG KONG, CHINA Arrive: 08:00 AM
16 Tuesday HONG KONG, CHINA Depart: 06:00 PM D
17 Wednesday AT SEA
18 Thursday DA NANG, VIETNAM 08:00 AM - 06:00 PM D
19 Friday AT SEA
20 Saturday HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM Arrive: 10:00 AM D
21 Sunday HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM Depart: 03:00 PM D
22 Monday AT SEA
23 Tuesday LAEM CHABANG, THAILAND Arrive: 08:00 AM D
24 Wednesday LAEM CHABANG, THAILAND Depart: 06:00 PM D
25 Thursday SIHANOUKVILLE, CAMBODIA 09:00 AM - 07:00 PM D
26 Friday AT SEA
27 Saturday SINGAPORE 09:00 AM - 10:00 PM D
28 Sunday AT SEA
29 Monday PHUKET ISLAND, THAILAND 08:00 AM - 05:00 PM D
30 Tuesday AT SEA
31 Wednesday AT SEA
April 2010
1 Thursday AT SEA -
2 Friday COCHIN, INDIA 08:00 AM - 06:00 PM D
3 Saturday AT SEA -
4 Sunday MUMBAI (BOMBAY), INDIA 08:00 AM - 06:00 PM D
5 Monday AT SEA
6 Tuesday AT SEA
7 Wednesday DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES Arrive: 01:00 PM D
8 Thursday DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES Depart: 06:00 PM D
9 Friday AT SEA
10 Saturday AT SEA
11 Sunday SALALAH, OMAN 08:00 AM - 06:00 PM D
12 Monday AT SEA
13 Tuesday AT SEA
14 Wednesday AT SEA
15 Thursday AT SEA
16 Friday SAFAGA (LUXOR), EGYPT Arrive: 08:00 AM D
17 Saturday SAFAGA (LUXOR), EGYPT Depart: 06:00 PM D
18 Sunday AQABA, JORDAN 07:00 AM - 06:00 PM D
19 Monday SHARM EL SHEIKH, EGYPT 06:00 AM - 05:00 PM D
20 Tuesday SOKHNA (CAIRO), EGYPT 07:00 AM - 08:00 PM D
21 Wednesday AT SEA
22 Thursday HAIFA, ISRAEL 06:00 AM - 06:00 PM D
23 Friday AT SEA
24 Saturday PIRAEUS (ATHENS), GREECE 08:00 AM - 06:00 PM D

Then there will be five complimentary events reserved solely for guests who book the full world cruise. Those guests embarking in Los Angeles for 92 days will enjoy four of them. An additional seven ports will feature complimentary Exclusively Seabourn shoreside experiences to which all guests on board will be invited, regardless of the length of their voyages.

• The full world cruise events begin on January 18, 2010, with a spectacular catamaran cruise from tiny Cabo San Lucas, at the tip of Baja California, to seek some of the six species of whales which gather each year in the Sea of Cortez. Sailing on a comfortable catamaran, guests will pass the famed natural formation of Los Arcos, the secluded golden sands of Lover’s Beach, the resident colony of sea lions, and beyond. A naturalist guide will impart details of sea and land life, and answer questions as guests toast the starkly beautiful and biologically rich environment of the Baja Peninsula.

• On February 6, full world cruise guests will be greeted by the haunting tones of a conch-shell salute and fragrant tiare flower leis as they stroll a candlelit path into a tropical garden at Papeete, Tahiti. There, under a canopy of South Pacific stars, they will enjoy an evening of cocktails, lilting Tahitian music and a sumptuous feast capped by a rousing performance of traditional Polynesian song and dance.

• In Sydney, Australia on February 24, a private sunset dinner cruise of scenic Sydney Harbor will end alongside the city’s iconic Opera House, where guests will be escorted inside to enjoy the featured performance, before returning by the same boat to Seabourn Odyssey.

• Hong Kong will be the site of the next world cruise event on March 15. The waterside Aberdeen Marina Club will be transformed into a colorful Chinese bazaar with craftsmen’s booths, traditional fortune-tellers and calligraphers, a Chinese musical ensemble and a spectacular Lion Dance. In addition to a buffet of delectable Chinese specialties fit for an emperor, the kaleidoscopic evening will include exhibitions of Chinese Opera “face-changing,” kung fu martial arts and acrobatics.

• The dramatic climax of the world cruise exclusive events will unfold in a colorful setting on the island of Phuket on March 29. Greeted by a Thai long drum troupe, Seabourn guests will enter a Phuket Thai cultural village to be regaled by women in traditional Thai costumes, gaily decorated elephants, and exhibitions of classical Thai dance, traditional boxing, floral decorations and elaborate fruit and vegetable carving. There will be demonstrations of Thai cooking, puppet carving, rubber tapping, and even chances to ride in an ox-cart or atop a decorated elephant.

The Exclusively Seabourn experiences for all guests on board will include an afternoon tour of Cultural Cartagena in Colombia’s venerable Caribbean port city, A UNESCO World Heritage Site; a rousing re-creation of the classic “Aloha Boat Days” at Honolulu’s Royal Hawaiian Hotel; a Maori cultural discovery experience at Lyttelton (Christchurch), New Zealand; an introduction to the arts and cultures of Borneo’s 32 diverse ethnic groups at Kota Kinabalu; a visit to the spectacular Sanctuary of Truth at Pattaya, Thailand from Bangkok; a spellbinding evening at an oasis near Dubai; and a sortie from Sharm el Sheikh into a sheltered valley in the mountainous Sinai desert, for tea and traditional folkloric music and dance at a Bedouin encampment.

The Exclusive Ensemble Ensemble Experiences, complimentary for those World Cruise guests who have booked their cruise through Goldring Travel or other Ensemble Travel Group affilliated travel agencies are as follows:

PUERTO CALDERA, COSTA RICA: The Scarlet Sanctuary with Champagne Lunch - Experience some of Costa Rica’s most amazing scenery and wildlife. It’s just a short drive from the pier to the dock where you will board the boat that will take you on a journey through the mangrove forest. As you glide across the waters that coil through the verdant tropical rain forest, keep an eye out for the local residents flying in the treetops, swimming in the mangroves and scurrying along the rich, fertile earth. Long willowy branches drape to the surface of the water, and the canopy of green looming overhead allows the sun to peek through in dappled splendor. After your boat ride, your journey will continue aboard an air-conditioned motor coach as you drive through fields of sugarcane, a mainstay of the Costa Rican economy. You reach the highlight of your tour today, a sanctuary dedicated to the Scarlet Macaw. They are sure to announce your arrival. Be prepared to take lots of photos of these magnificent creatures. Their brilliant red plumage is stunning and during your guided tour, as the birds fly freely about, you are sure to get some fabulous pictures in their natural habitat. Then enjoy a light repast of fresh tropical fruits before going on to the Costa Rica Yacht Club for a delicious three-course lunch with champagne before heading back to the ship.

NAWILIWILI, KAUAI: Kauai Plantation Railway and Lunch at Gaylord’s Kilohana - Fascinating afternoon enjoying the lush beauty of Kauai, considered by many to be the perfect tropical island paradise. Your tour begins with a ride aboard the narrow-gauge Kauai Plantation Railway train. Pulled by “Ike,” the plantations 1939 diesel engine you will find yourself in another era with the clattering of the rails and sound of the train’s whistle. And the elegant mahogany coaches you will be riding in are modeled on the private coach of King Kamehameha. During your journey through the nearly 100 acres of the historic Kilohana Plantation your conductor will provide a narrated history of the island and the property as you pass orchards with over 50 varieties of exotic fruit trees including cherries, cashews, mangoes, star fruit, lychee, mountain apple and more. Admire the fields of pineapple, sugarcane, bananas, papayas and taro as well as stands of Native Hawaiian hardwood trees and myriad colorful tropical flowers. Then stop by the paddock to see the sheep, cattle, horses and Clydesdales. Your final stop today is at Gaylord’s restaurant at the Kilohana Plantation. The restaurant is named after Gaylord Parke Wilcox, who built this beautiful house in 1935 as part of a larger sugar plantation. Now a restaurant and art gallery on this working plantation, it is known for its exquisite cuisine and its historic plantation atmosphere. Relax and enjoy a private dessert with refreshments in the covered patio area before heading back to the ship.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND: Auckland City Sights, School Visit and Lunch at Mc Hughs - Sprawled across the cones, hills, ridges and valleys of an old volcanic field and stretching literally from coast to coast, Aauckland and its far-flung suburbs are divided by two magnificent harbors and as a dramatic back drop, numerous extinct volcanic cones protrude from Auckland's landscape. New Zealand’s largest city, with a population of over one million it is often called the “City of Sails” since there is at least one boat for every four households! During your tour today you will see some of city’s most renowned historic, natural and architectural landmarks during this scenic introduction. Your first stop is Ponsonby School, a well established public primary school for children aged 5 – 10 years. Here the children will sing local and Maori songs and dances especially to welcome you to Auckland and there also will be time to mingle with them after their performance. Next you travel through the downtown area encompassing the America’s Cup Village and Westhaven Marina. Then travel through some of Auckland’s most affluent suburbs, featuring fantastic views of the harbor and islands before driving along the scenic waterfront to the colonial style village of Parnell, where Victorian buildings have been transformed into stylish boutiques and specialty shops. Visit the Botanical Gardens in the heart of the city with its ponds, statues, tropical glass houses, various flowers and a great variety of trees. Set within this idyllic retreat see the Auckland Museum, commemorating those of the province who served and died in the two world wars.stop on the summit of Mt. Eden, one of more than 60 dormant volcanoes in the greater Auckland area. A short walk will take you to an observation platform offering fantastic panoramic views of the city and its two harbors below. This vantage point also shows further evidence of Auckland’s volcanic history. Then travel to the west coast of Auckland through the wine districts and black sand beaches continuing to the North Shore. Enjoy a buffet lunch at McHugh’s restaurant located on Cheltenham Beach near the historic village of Devonport. Nestled on the foreshore of Cheltenham beach, the restaurant offers spectacular views of Rangitoto and the Waitemata Harbor. After a lunch in this delightful setting it will be time to return to the ship.

BALI, INDONESIA: Balinese Traditions, Seafood Dinner and Kecak Dance - This afternoon discover the beautiful, magical island of Bali, a paradise of ancient temples, dense jungles, terraced rice fields, quaint villages and roadside deities decorated with their daily offerings left by the Balinese who believe heaven and earth to be all one, right here. On your tour today you will experience the island’s unique blend of sights, culture and traditions as they unfold before you concluding with a wonderful Balinese seafood dinner and a performance of the exotic Kecak and Fire Dance. After landing at Padang Bai pier from the ship’s tender board your waiting air-conditioned motor coach and travel along the coastline with its many fishing villages, through the lush green countryside, past the beautifully manicured yellow and green rice terraces that Bali is so famous for as well as other crops like chilis, bananas and papayas. Savor these stunning landscapes on the way to the village of Tohpati where you will meet the owner/designer of a Batik Gallery and learn about the complex process of making Batik. While you are there enjoy some local refreshments. Continue to your destination, Kedonganan, as the sun begins to set, creating a uniquely colorful setting. This gorgeous spot, by Jimbaran Bay beach, is ideal for dinner and entertainment. Young ladies clad in traditional Balinese dress will invite you to relax and absorb the atmosphere as the chefs prepare to grill your dinner which will include deliciously fresh lobsters and prawns. After dinner watch a spellbinding performance of the Kecak and Fire Dance. On Bali, a Hindu island, dance is a very important part of the religion; accordingly Balinese dances are as varied and intricate as the deities they honor and religious tales they tell. Kecak is the most Balinese of dances – a ‘trance’ dance with no orchestra or gamelan to accompany it only a choir of up to 100 men who chant and dance and who act as mediums to convey the wishes of their deities and ancestors. Since the 1930’s the old Indian epic ‘Ramayana’ has been included in the dance drama and ritual that you will see this evening. After the performance rejoin your coach and return to the ship.

SINGAPORE: Singapore Discovery - Spend a delightful afternoon exploring the compact city center of Singapore, a fascinating blend of contrasts between old and new and east and west. Your tour begins with a drive through the old Colonial District for a view of Parliament House, the imposing City Hall and Supreme Court, both of which overlook the Padang to your first stop, the legendary Raffles Hotel. Named after the British founder of modern-day Singapore, Sir Stamford Raffles, it is one of the world’s finest and most famous hotels. The high ceilings and colonial architecture reflect the era of British rule from 1819 to 1963. Years of tender, loving care have kept this landmark a must-see for all visitors to the city. Few however experience the legend as you will today when you lunch at Doc Cheng’s, a renowned restaurant. After lunch spend some time exploring the shops and quiet courtyards on your own. Then continue your tour with a sight-seeing drive through the city including Orchard Road, renowned for its Western-style department stores and couturier houses; then catch a glimpse of Singapore's multiculturalism during a visit to Little India, a fascinating area teeming with shop houses and colorful, flamboyant temples, before entering the Arab Quarter, where you will see a different side of Islam among the mosques and lifestyles of the people who live here. Next visit the world’s largest Observation Wheel and enjoy a 30 minute flight. While on board you will be able to take in the many different perspectives of Singapore’s dynamic landscape and as the Wheel turns, on a clear day, you can see as far as neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia. Standing at a height of 165m from the ground, the ‘Flyer’ offers you breathtaking, views of Marina Bay, the entire island city of Singapore, and beyond. Finally, admire the world’s largest fountain from the wheel as you pass by ‘Suntec City’ and the Fountain of Wealth. Designed on the principles of Feng Shui, this unique construction is highly regarded in Singapore for its wealth-giving properties. Then drive through Chinatown, which bustles with frenetic street merchants before returning to the pier and your ship.

SALALAH, OMAN: The Essence of Salalah, with Lunch - Discover some of many varied aspects of Oman today as you begin your tour with a drive through the small village of Taqah with its picturesque white beach and the Qara Mountains in the distance as you head east to the ruins of the old frankincense port city of Sumhumram. The ancient city dates back to 100 B.C. and the remains of what is known as Queen Sheba’s Palace stand on a small hill overlooking the beautiful bay at Khawr Rawri. It is said that the queen used to travel from Yemen to Dhofar (South Oman) for frankincense and that she that had the Palace built as a place for her to stay in during her visits and to store the frankincense before it was shipped back to Yemen. The remnants of a temple dedicated to the moon goddess and a 30m deep well lie within the palace ruins and can be viewed from the outside. During your visit you will stop to inspect the crumbling ancient storage areas. Then continue to Wadi Dirbat. As you make your way down into the wadi you will find it is home to an amazing variety of plants, trees and flowers. Surrounded by steep walls of rock it offers grazing and water for cattle and camels. Returning to the city you will make a photo-stop at the Summer Palace of HH Sultan Qaboos, Ruler of Oman, then walk to the renowned Frankincense Souk where the colorful stalls are heaped with mounds of frankincense, myrrh, incense, bottles of fragrant perfume oils and a large variety of fascinating artifacts bringing the essence of the Orient together. As you begin the journey back to the ship, you will stop at the Hilton Hotel where you will be greeted by men in traditional costumes who will welcome you with rosewater. Relax and enjoy a delicious 3-course set menu lunch as a small troupe of talented local dancers entertains you with sinuous dance movements and lively rhythms of local musicians. After lunch return to the pier with fond memories of Salalah.

In addition ot the complimentary shoreside events are part of a generous menu of benefits included for full world cruise guests, along with a complimentary pre-cruise Bon Voyage event and luxury overnight before departing, door-to-door private car transfers, roundtrip first-class airfare or air credit, Personal Valet luggage shipping service and shipboard credits of $2,000 per suite. There will also be special gala celebrations and gifts for guests on board during the voyage.

I will posting observations from Goldring Travel clients enjoying the Full World Cruise and Segments of it on The Gold Standard Forum. Stop by. Read what is happening and add your comments.