Friday, May 28, 2010

The Quest of the Seabourn Sojourn - The Inaugural & Maiden Voyage Travelogue - Part III (The Seabourn Sojourn Has Been Delivered!)

I received a personal note from Seabourn Cruise Lines today, along with the press release noting the Seabourn Sojourn's delivery, that the issues which plagued the delivery of the Seabourn Odyssey (shipyard's failure to complete various areas and items as well as its turning the ship over in terribly dirty condition) are not so on the Seabourn Sojourn.  That is a very positive start!

Here is the press release:

T.Mariotti shipyard reports it has delivered the new Seabourn Sojourn to The Yachts of Seabourn. It is the second of three 550 million euro ships. The third sister ship is under construction for delivery in 2011.

The new vessel, twin to Seabourn Odyssey delivered in 2009, is 32,000 tons and accommodates 450 guests. A unique detail is the addition of a marina on the stern that lowers directly to the sea. "We are very pleased to take delivery of Seabourn Sojourn, whose first guests are eagerly awaiting her arrival in England to be named and start her maiden voyage," said Pamela C. Conover, Seabourn president and CEO. "We thank the men and women of T.Mariotti for building us a beautiful vessel that will enable us to serve our guests in the finest style."

The christening is scheduled for June 6.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Quest of the Seabourn Sojourn - The Inaugural & Maiden Voyage Travelogue - Part II

I just returned from Newport, Rhode Island and the American Superyacht Forum.  While it was, as always, good for business and good for a bit of fun, it was also rather depressing because of the state of the industry.  There was significant discussion about yacht chartering and, truth be told, I was quite consistent in discussing The Yachts of Seabourn in relation to product delivery, marketing and potential client base. 

A room full of skeptical (and a few jaded) yachties eventually...slowly...started to get it.  Then a well known yacht broker brought up SeaDream Yacht Club in relation to the charter market.  And that, in turn, lead to some talk between professionals about the differences between Seabourn and SeaDream...and the overall impressive nature of the Seabourn product.

But then the skeptics were more of the "Goldring can't be a yacht lawyer, because he is a travel agent!" mindset...right up until I explained who I would be dining with on the Seabourn Sojourn during the Inaugural events.  You will have to wait to hear who it is :-)   Instant credibility...Well, I actually already had that.  Better:  silence of the skeptics!

So today, in typical Seabourn fashion, my Cruise Documents were waiting for me as were the confirmations for my  private transfer and day room at the Four Seasons Canary Wharf, the schedule of events, etc. And the confirmations for my private adventures in Iceland were also delivered.  Icelandic horseback riding, a boat tour to observe the puffins, flight back to the mainland from Heimay Island, a stay at Radison Blu 1919, dinner reservations at Sjavarkjallarinn (The Seafood Cellar) and more also arrived.

This caused me to reflect back to yesterday when I was at Derecktor Shipyard in Connecticut, where I toured M/Y Cakewalk, a 281 foot superyacht being built there and, while nice, actually doesn't have the style of the Seabourn Sojourn or Odyssey.  While the design has nothing to do with the shipyard, but rather then owner's designer, the design did make me think about how "brown" the Silversea Silver Spirit is. 

In short, the superyacht made me look forward to the maiden voyage of the Seabourn Sojourn and to be even more impressed with Seabourn's focus on style and detail...detail that exceeds that found on a 281 foot superyacht....a very nice 281 foot superyacht.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Iamboatman's Favorite Restaurant: Doris & Ed's...Now Refreshed and Impressing Anew

Back in 1979, in the summer before law school, a musician friend of mine told me about a bartending job in a restaurant near the humble shack where he lived:  Doris & Ed's Seafood Restaurant.  The new owner, Jim Filip, and his then wife bought the lobster and clam joint from Doris after her husband, Ed, had died.

Working for Jim was no picnic.  He had big plans to upscale this previously "locals only" restaurant, so I needed to learn the menu, learn how to make then chic drinks like frozen strawberry daiquiris and Frozen Grasshoppers. 

And, thankfully, I had to learn about wines. Jim, you see, is truly a wine lover and expert.  So me, a long-haired college graduate hanging out on the Jersey Shore, saw what it was to have a passion about wine...and to appreciate it...and how to grow and nurture it in others.  But, also thankfully, we're talkin' the Jersey Shore here...so it had to remain fun and approachable.

Do you think that summer on the Jersey Shore hanging with my musician friends, bartending and learning how to appreciate and understand food and wine had an impact on me?  Silly question, huh!

With the suffering economy, upscale hidden treasures, like this James Beard Award winning, Wine Spectator noted, restaurant had to find a way to keep true to itself, yet reinvent itself at the same time, for being someone's favorite just isn't enough.  Well, Jim jumped in with both feet, both arms and a wing and a prayer.  The result has been incredible...remembering he had established a pretty high mark for many years.

New Jersey's major newspaper, The Star Ledger, recently wrote a review of Doris & Ed's, which I copy here.  It speaks for itself:

Legendary shore spot starts summer afresh

By Cody Kendall/For The Star-Ledger
May 14, 2010, 6:51PM


Doris & Ed’s. 348 Shore Drive, Highlands, (732) 872-1565 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (732) 872-1565 . DorisandEds.com. Hours: 5-10 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays, 5-11 p.m. Saturdays, 3-10 p.m. Sundays. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays except July and August, when it’s open on Tuesdays. THREE STARS

Shore fixture Doris & Ed’s is keeping up with the times while remembering the past. That’s a balancing act, but owner Jim Filip pulls it off with aplomb via two separate menus and a complete redo of his iconic restaurant.

Everything’s fresh, from the seafood to the paint and the linens. It’s a perfect setting for new chef Thomas Donohoe to reference “The Shore Today” — that menu develops complex dishes such as butter-poached lobster ($36) with truffle honey-glazed sunchokes, celery root, red ribbon sorrel and English cucumbers.

In contrast, “The Shore Yesterday” sticks to old faves, among them stuffed flounder ($30) and the predictable litany of unadorned fried and broiled seafood choices.

Both variety and execution are awesome in each category. Masterful balance is achieved in the grilled Washington State Quinault River sturgeon ($33), its essence elevated by a Madras curry jus that mixes dusky undertones artfully with the slightly sweet backstory of sautéed apples and turnips. Those seeking cool refreshment in the summer can indulge in the salad that jumbles Maine lobster with rock shrimp and littleneck clams ($19). High, low and mellow notes come courtesy of citrus, avocado and shaved fennel.

Traditionalists likely will revel in the regal jumbo lump crabmeat “Virginia style” ($31), unadulterated except for a soft veil of butter, parsley and vermouth that subtly boosts the enjoyment level. It comes with fries that thankfully are both hot and crisp, unlike the limp and cool versions we’ve suffered through elsewhere recently.

Lobster bisque ($9, cup; $15, bowl) has a gentle and flavorful soul that will please fans of either menu. Fish is the highlight here, yet there are sufficient choices of meat and fowl to satisfy those in your party who disdain seafood.

Donohoe, most recently of the Rainbow Ranch Lodge in Montana, trained with chefs Thomas Keller of the French Laundry in California and Jonathan Waxman at Barbuto in New York. His feeling for the food guides him with a touch that is light enough to assure the integrity of the ingredients, yet sufficiently creative to let them speak in different ways.


After a seafood supper, some prefer a low-profile dessert, such as the house-made sorbets and ice creams ($9), but my choice often is the classic Key lime pie ($8). For the trendy, there’s the strawberry-rhubarb tart ($9) with excitement provided by the black pepper and honey yogurt for a mini-rainbow of exclamation point flavors.

The spirit of Doris & Ed’s has been instilled in those who work there. Taking care of the patrons is a mission, not a duty, and even on a busy night we never lacked for attention.

This is definitely a high-end establishment, but there are some breaks available. The possibilities for kids 12 and under include a $7 burger platter (as well as a $15 lobster tail for budding gourmets). A three-course prix fixe option ($33) offers hearty eating with good, if limited, choices. The wine list presents excellent selections from around the world, but there are always five wines for $25 that should work with anything that comes out of the kitchen, though one can also indulge in bottles with dizzying prices.

Filip, who bought the restaurant in 1978 from its original owners (Doris and Ed, of course), is to be congratulated for risking reinvention and not being satisfied with the status quo. He went just far enough. That’s exemplified by the decision to drop the all-white interior for pale camel-colored walls that glow in the sunset looking out over Sandy Hook.

During the season, Saturday night reservations are a must. Try to call at least a week before you plan to go; otherwise, you might not get your favored time slot. This place has always been in demand, but it should be even more popular this summer. Doris & Ed’s is keeping up with the trendy new spots in Long Branch and Asbury Park while indulging its longtime patrons with their traditional choices. It doesn’t get better than that.

Cody Kendall may be contacted at CodyDine@aim.com.

You may recall that Goldring Travel hosts a Food & Wine Cruise every year on The Yachts of Seabourn.  Jim Filip co-hosted on and, hopefully, will co-host another.  In the meantime, if you are interested in the November 13, 2010 Food & Wine Cruise hosted by Jim's former bartender (that would be me), you can read about it here...or call or email me.

The Quest of the Seabourn Sojourn - The Inaugural & Maiden Voyage Travelogue

Last year I was fortunate enough to be honored by The Yachts of Seabourn with a trip to Venice for the Inauguration of the Seabourn Odyssey.  I was further honored by dining with Captain Buer on the first formal night ever on the ship...and by dining with Carnival Corp.'s Chief Financial Officer the other night.

This year I have been invited not only the Seabourn Sojourn's Inaugural, but the black tie charity event for Breast Cancer Haven (a very worthwhile British charity) and, last but most certainly not least, to sail on the Maiden Voyage.

Unfortunately, I will not be able to sail for the entire Maiden Voyage, as I must get back to work, but on the upside, I will be spending three days in Iceland (a definite "A" on my Life List) and have integrated the visit with the Seabourn Sojourn's itinerary.

My wife and I will be arriving in London on June 4, 2010 for the Inaugural Celebration.  I understand that only five travel agents from the United States will be in attendance, so while both an earned honor, it is also going to be interesting to see how the British travel agents react to the Seabourn Sojourn.

The next day will be spent with some very dear friends wreaking havoc in London and, quite possibly, inspecting a superyacht which is scheduled to be berthed close by, before attending the evening's charity event.

After another fun day in London, the afternoon of June 6th will begin the Maiden Voyage events.  I am sworn to secrecy, but I understand they will be quite spectacular...and a fitting send-off for Seabourn's newest ship.

After a day at sea, June 8th will have the Seabourn Sojourn visiting my wife's homeland, Scotland, where I have every intension of doing most things Scottish; though donning a kilt is probably not going to happen this time.  Some nice whisky and possibly some haggis in a good pub sounds about right.

The next day is a brief stop in the Faroe Islands on June 9th, which has me a bit fascinated and wondering if seeing means doing something or just being there.  I am still working on that.

After a second day at sea (what a great way to truly enjoy the Seabourn Sojourn), June 11th
bring the ship to Reykjavik, Iceland where I have scheduled a half day of riding the famous Icelandic horses and a countryside lunch to start things off.

The ship will then make the short sailing to Heimay Island which I understand is an Icelandic treasure.  Small fishing villages coupled with a very nice boat tour of the cliffs filled with puffins and other birds, and visits into its caves, followed by a traditional lunch at whatever place just looks good. 

I will then say goodbye to the Seabourn Sojourn and fly back to Reykjavik where we will spend our final night.  I have dinner reservations at a very unique restaurant called Sjávarkjallarinn (The Seafood Cellar) which is supposed to a truly creative place where fish is elevated to a new level.

As those who know me know I do plan, but I leave lots of free time to "wing it" and see what moves me at the moment, what the locals do, and take it from there.

If you have questions, or want to comment on my writings, I will be starting a thread on The Gold Standard Luxury Travel Forum.  Feel free to stop by and ask or comment.

In the meantime, there is much to do before I depart...like attend the American Superyacht Forum in Newport, Rhode Island which starts on Sunday!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Thinking of Cruising in Asia? Here is a Great Travelogue From the Seabourn Pride

The Gold Standard Luxury Travel Forum has some fantastic information and some excellent cruise reviews.

Presently one of my clients is visiting Japan, Korea, China and more on the Seabourn Pride.  You can read his candid comments and impressions here

Very interesting and entertaining reading.

Seabourn Private Sale For May 20, 2010

I can't tell you what the pricing is here, but I have truly outstanding values on close in Seabourn sailings on all five ships.  All are either oceanview or veranda guarantees.  It is well worth an email or call if you haven't made your summer plans as of yet.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Goldring Travel Offers Exclusive Close-In Fares on Seabourn - Seriously Great Pricing and Values!

I have been given access to weekly special pricing on close-in sailings on The Yachts of Seabourn that are, in fact, so low that I am not allowed to publish the prices.   Every Monday afternoon I will have a new set of offerings, so please get in touch with me early each week to find out what I can offer you.

This week's offerings include some spectacular pricing on the Seabourn Pride, Seabourn Spirit, Seabourn Legend and Seabourn Odyssey in June and July. 

My weekly offerings are for only limited number of sailings and, of course, vary by sailing, but are very aggressively priced. 

Unless you have real flexibility as to ship, itinerary, and category I would not wait to see if a cruise you are interested in has a weekly special price because you may wind up with a great deal on a higher category than you otherwise would have booked (so you aren't saving any money) or the itinerary is not exactly what you desire.

But if you just want to get away, or haven't figured out what to do with the summer approaching, or consider this a great way to try moving up to the luxury experience of The Yachts of Seabourn, my weekly specials will provide you with some fantastic opportunities.

Call me at (877) 2GO-LUXURY or email me at eric@goldringtravel.com .

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Twiggy Names Seabourn Sojourn's Godmother

Twiggy, the British model, has been names godmother of the Seabourn Sojourn.  She has been given the honor not because of her modeling career, but because of her devotion to causes seeking cures for breast cancer and for her animal welfare work.  It also doesn't hurt that Seabourn is actively seeking to further engage the UK market and she provides great exposure.

Twiggy said: “I am incredibly excited that Seabourn has asked me to be godmother to Seabourn Sojourn. I am thrilled that Seabourn is combining their inaugural celebrations with Breast Cancer Haven’s 10 year anniversary – it really is a wonderful organization."


Pam Conover put it this way: “Seabourn enjoys a truly international clientèle and welcomes a significant number of new and repeat British guests on nearly every sailing...As such, it is entirely appropriate that we should choose London to introduce our beautiful new vessel to the world. We are all very much looking forward to welcoming Twiggy on board Seabourn Sojourn. She is the perfect choice to name our beautiful new yacht in London."

For those interested in Breast Cancer Haven, you can read more here.  If you want a small peak into what the events will be on Saturday, June 5th, for Blush Riveria, you can see them here.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Silversea's Prince Albert II Impounded For Unsafe Operations

If there is one thing Iamboatman cannot tolerate it is operating a passenger vessel in an unsafe manner.  Yesterday the MCA (Maritime and Coastguard Agency of the UK) impounded Silversea Cruises Prince Albert II for two reasons:  Overloading and apparently senior officers not receiving enough rest time.

Overloading a ship is in excusable...and, frankly, hard to do.  It means that too many supplies were added to the ship so that the water level was over the "loadline"; which is a funny sort of symbol on the side of the ship that identifies where the water level can be with the ship remaining stable.  (How you establish a loadline is rather complicated, however.)  The officers should know what the weight of the provisions and supplies being brought on and should also be monitoring the water level versus the loadline...which is why it is there in the first place.

So the Silversea officers not only allowed the excessive weight to be onloaded, they were willing to pull away from the dock knowing or being ignorant of the unlawful and unsafe condition.  That does not make me happy!

But to make matters possibly worse, the log books showed that Silversea (through its management agent, V. Ships) was not providing the senior officers with sufficient rest.  While this was eventually resolved as being a record keeping error, I pause and ask, "How is it that a group of seasoned mariners would not know how to properly enter the information?  It is not like this is a new or different system."

But more importantly, it sounds to me like two potentially serious safety violations may indicate that there are other issues as well.

In the meantime, sufficient supplies were removed and the records "corrected", so Prince Albert II is back at sea.  But knowing the MCA, I am confident it will be watching this ship with a sharp eye.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Seabourn's Marketing Misses: Let Me Tell You Why To Cruise With The Yachts of Seabourn.

As I prepare for my attendance at the Seabourn Sojourn's Inaugural and Maiden Voyage (which I will discuss in detail and will be blogging from), I am frustrated by Seabourn's silence...and, honestly, Seabourn's overall marketing efforts.

Over the past months, and over my complaints, Seabourn has focused on discount pricing as the way to drive business to its ships.  That has caused a few things negative to happen: 

1.  The cache of Seabourn has, to my mind, been diminished.  Seabourn is a special cruise product.  It is not about getting from Point A to Point B, nor is it about getting the cheapest price.  The highly discounted fare business has actually perverted some of Seabourn's loyal guests to think of "lowest price" rather than Seabourn's hallmark:  Service; that is until they get onboard.  [You would be amazed how many of my former/future clients come back to me after they couldn't pass up the "lowest price"...and then suffered the service lapses of the true discount travel agency.]

2.  What separates Seabourn from other cruise lines has been lost.  It is amazing to me that after all these years I need to explain to people that spending $X on Holland America or Oceania vs. $X on Seabourn is a comparison that cannot be made...because there just isn't any comparison.  Whether it is the quality of the accommodations or the cuisine or the service or the classier and more open public spaces, less people, free flowing champagne and caviar, etc., I am well and truly frustrated that the conversation needs to be had.

But I am not frustrated by my clients, but rather Seabourn.  Seabourn marketing is so poor and so out of touch that Seabourn's message is all but lost.  And I remained baffled by how Seabourn pumps out all of the brochures and mailers...which it sends to its past guests...like that is going to make them take a cruise. 

Seriously, Seabourn has gone from a small line to a midsized line, from constantly full ships to triple its capacity almost overnight...but its marketing has not changed...except for volume and discounted pricing.

So for all of you who have heard of Seabourn, but really don't know what Seabourn is about...and cannot tell from Seabourn's marketing materials, let me explain it a bit...and I will do it comparing it to some other quality lines.

Service - I do not care what cruise line you prefer, one thing you will never hear is that its service is "better than Seabourn".  You may hear "as good as Seabourn", but never better.  Let's take a look at that for a moment.  Regent Seven Seas Cruises has a following that says, "Be sure to ask for Z as your waiter.  He is great."  On Seabourn that concept does not exist.  Service is consistent in the dining room.  I do not know of a single person that must dine with Waiter X.  But service is far more than dinner service. 

Seabourn has intuitive service.  What does that mean?  In September I was on the Seabourn Spirit and was talking with some friends at breakfast, mentioning I would meet them at the forward whirlpool at 3:30 pm.  At 3:30 pm a Seabourn bar waiter arrived with a bottle of champagne and four glasses stating, "Mr. Goldring, I am glad you were able to make it on time."  Think I made that up, how about the chief editor of Cruise Critic's story in her review of the Seabourn Legend:

Standing at the deserted stern, away from the hullabaloo of the pool deck on our first sea day, watching Montserrat pass by, I started to think that "it would be nice to sit here all afternoon in a lounge chair," when Ian, one of the most attentive of an already attentive crew, called out to me: "May I set you up here?" Within minutes I had a fancy tropical drink , a lounge chair pulled up to the railing, and even a little table on which to rest my book. He would have brought me lunch from the Sky Grill, too, but I declined.

So as you fight for a lounge chair by the pool on another cruise line, or struggle to muster excitement to enter the buffet for lunch, imagine sitting poolside on Seabourn with a lovely glass of Chardonnay...and knowing something good is going to happen.

Or, possibly return from a long day and have your bath drawn for you or have a one of the staff perfectly prepare a cigar for you...or possibly even go Shopping with the Chef.  (I mean, you could have your group tour's included in an inflated price or tender tickets with an hour wait to get off the ship, but alas that is the Seabourn service difference.)

Cuisine - Seabourn really doesn't tell you much about its cuisine other than that Charley Palmer has designed its menus. I am not sure why.  Oceania really markets its butter, its flour and now its Wine Spectator affiliation.  But the fact is that the cuisine on Seabourn - as many Seabourn guests who have cruised with Oceania have confirmed - is far superior.  Butter and flour are wonderful things, but you must have a totality of quality ingredients, great recipes and, here is that personal thing again, the staff and chefs to put them together not only to taste excellent but to look appetizing.  And the, of course, waitstaff able to serve the cuisine with sufficient flair that it becomes part of an experience, rather than just a time to eat.

A typical Chef's Menu on a seven day Seabourn cruise may be as one I recently enjoyed:

Cream of Foie Gras with fresh mango, aged Balsamic and brioche
Celery Cream Soup with vanilla foam
Sautéed Quail Breast with pumpkin puree, maple syrup, port wine reduction
Passion Fruit Shot sorbet
Pan Fried Fresh Local Sea Bass Fillet with roasted blue potatoes, Mediterranean vegetables, noilly prat sauce
Tournedo Rossini - fillet of beef, seared foie gras, glazed vegetables, truffle sauce
Sweet Pastry Impressions
Grand Marnier Flavored Truffles

Would you like lamb chops with your eggs in the morning?  How about smoked salmon?  A cup of true espresso?

How about an elegant cheese plate with gourmet cheeses?

A wine steward that actually knows about wines...and has the confidence to say, "Let me get the sommelier for you.  He can better assist?"

Sophisticated, but Not Stuffy, Social Experience   -  Some people love big shows and loud music, but others prefer conversation or a Quiet after dinner drink under the stars.  Some prefer pool games while other prefer an afternoon of reading a book or "supervising" a sail away from a hidden whirlpool.  If you prefer the latter concepts, Seabourn is for you. But do not think it is all about being quiet and stuffy.  There are many fun activities...just not with cannonball dives into the pool, giant screens with music videos and huge production shows.

Everyone is Treated as Equals - One of my favorite aspects of Seabourn is that everyone is an equal.  No different colored room cards to show who is in a suite (everyone is).  No preferential treatment for the top suites (other than possibly a dinner reservation in Restaurant 2).  No tender priority.  No check-in priority.  No special disembarkation lounge.  Everyone gets everything.

Ports - While there are some cruise lines that are visiting more unique ports (such as Oceania), most hit the main ports and thousands of people disembark from your and other cruise ships rendering the experience a bit less satisfying than you may have imagined.  On Seabourn you visit more smaller ports, stay later or overnight, visit when other ships aren't present or simply dock in town rather than out in a commercial dock.  (St. Petersburg is one great example:  Walk off the ship and you are there versus taking a bus for an hour.)

Think of this:  If I was hyping Seabourn, how many of you would come back disappointed and complain to me?  I am, however, simply and confidently telling you the truth!  I am not concerned.  You shouldn't be either.

So if you want to look at prices, go right ahead.  (BTW, I have some special prices on close in cruises that are not available everywhere and are too low to publish, so call me if you are interested!) 

But remember, Seabourn's marketing may not be the best, but it has a truly fantastic product that will WOW you in ways that you probably won't expect.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Continental Airlines: Is This Anyway To Run An Airline? Yes...Believe It or Not!

In March I flew down to Miami to attend the Seatrade Cruise Shipping Conference, much of which I have reported about here.  What I don't think I mentioned was that my flight was delayed for hours, resulting in my arriving at my hotel after midnight rather than before dinner.  That, obviously, did not have a positive effect on my plans.  The reason was the aircraft was damaged by lightning when flying into Newark and a new aircraft was required.

But in travel things happen (and because I try to disaster-proof myself, I did not miss anything really important because I was flying in the day before the State of the Industry and Luxury Cruise panels).  I never complained to anyone and figured it was just the cost of doing business.  It was a very inexpensive flight, booked in economy, anyway.

I just received my mail (sort of a miracle in itself as it is but 10:30 a.m. and it usually arrives mid-afternoon) and there was a letter from Continental Airlines marked "important".    It was a letter of apology and a gift of 5,000 frequent flayer miles. 


What can I say?  It cost Continental nothing, but earned them additional loyalty.

When you are deciding on a travel agent, or cruise line, think about whether, in the end, if there is a problem or an issue, is the lowest possible price - with all the haggling, comparisons, "need to get the best price" efforts you go through - more important or is it knowing that after the money has been spent and the trip is underway or completed, that someone is there to address your concerns or issues...even if you don't complain.

And now you know why I believe so much in The Yachts of Seabourn.

I discount my prices, but never my service.  I get it...because I am, in reality, one of you!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Gulf Oil Spill - Please Don't Watch...Help!

In the years before I became a maritime lawyer (and then a travel agent) I was a biologist, earning a Bachelors of Science with honors in biology, spending untold hours on lakes, rivers and oceans studying, working as a biological aid for the National Marine Fisheries Service, etc....and not making very much money.

I decided to attend the University of Miami School of Law and specialized in Ocean and Coastal Law and started out wanting to use the law and my biology background to save the environment.  It was frustrating and, in many ways, futile in the early days of environmentalism.  (Remember when Please Don't Litter was a big deal?)  My efforts to represent the Florida Audubon Society in its goal of limiting development in the Florida Keys was both a highlight and a low of my early career.

But my efforts over the years...before I ever stepped on a cruise ship or a yacht...caused me to spend so much of my time on our waters...really looking at them...really understanding them...really getting that what laps at the shore is but a hint of the real issues pollution causes.

I am convinced that the Gulf Oil Spill is already one of the world's greatest environmental disasters.  And it is growing...and is potentially going to be caught up in the Gulf Stream sending oiling around the coast of Florida and beyond.  This is not alarmist stuff.  It is what is really happening.

Please don't wait to see thousands of oil covered birds, dead dolphins, destroyed wetlands, etc.  There is one thing you can do now that will enable those that can truly act to assist in PREVENTION of greater damage and that is to donate to a responsible environmental organization that is able to act NOW. 

My preference is The Nature Conservancy (www.nature.org).  It is a truly responsible organization that puts its donations where they belong and protects countless acres of environmentally important lands.  There are other wonderful organizations (I donate to many), so ask me for other options if you like, but please donate TODAY so that we can assist in preventing the worst from happening.

Thanks!  Eric

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

So You Think There is a Better Deal Out There? Think Twice If You Think "Currency".

I have been having some pretty interesting discussions with various people from the UK regarding the differences in cruise pricing between the US and the UK. I though it might be time to discuss this a bit more in the open.  (Ironically, as I am writing this, a major cruise industry magazine has just released this day a short article on the subject.)

As many of you know I have the ability to sell cruises to people all over the world on many different cruise lines. This can, on occasion, result in questions and conflicts concerning pricing as many cruise lines still operate as if there is no internet or email, with things like prohibitions against agencies in one country booking people in another country so as to protect their various pricing schemes.  This was a hot topic at the Seatrade Cruise Shipping Conference where I raised the issue during a Q&A session with the Luxury Cruise market lines and the contrasts in approach were marked.

Personally, I think that for the vast majority of folks the problems and intricacies of using a non-United States travel agent do not warrant even venturing into the discussion.  Why? Because there are many other factors involved that most simply do not want to, or do not have the stomach for, getting involved with.  And there are risks.  Hence, unless you think you are going to save some serious money, it just can't possibly be worth the effort...though some, at least once, think it is.  (As you will quickly see, it usually is "once".) 

I also note, and preface the following with, this:  The US cruise market is by far the largest in the world and the top travel agents here (such as Goldring Travel, if I might say so) truly understand the business and the cruise product.  And, to be sure, there is something about...SERVICE...that comes to the fore, rather than providing the cheapest price.  (Notice I said "cheapest" not "best value").

I mention service because I am honestly losing count of the number of UK and European cruisers who contact me either before, during or after their cruises asking for guidance or assistance after being frustrated by their UK travel agents.  (Yes, there are some good UK agents, but the "culture" of travel agents in the UK is, for some reason, different.) Some were my clients, who found that when the dollar plummeted in 2008 (no longer the case!), there was a real dollar cost savings by booking an expensive cruise in the UK (under circumstances that allowed it - ex. a UK client).  One client eventually admitted that it didn't matter how much they thought they saved in dollars, because their added costs in upset and abandonment and lack of service, made it so it just wasn't worth it. Another emailed me from their cruise - booked with a UK agent - asking me to assist them because their agent wouldn't.  And the list goes on.  (Of course I assisted every person...but don't think of this as an open invite! :-)

Regardless of some of the pricing restrictions and service issues, there are some other things you had better understand.

For example, UK travel agents charge a pretty much mandatory 10% cancellation fee. So in the event you change your cruise or cancel, unlike when you book with Goldring Travel or many other agencies, you get hit with a substantial penalty...and nothing to show for it. Considering the number of times my clients change cruises or cancel plans, I probably would make a very significant sum...at my clients' expense...just on this little gimmick.

Another thing: Most UK agencies do not guarantee lower prices. One prominent UK agency proudly posts that it will meet or beat any lower price on a cruise you have purchased if you give them the quote from the other travel agency...in writing...oh, yes, and it must be within 48 hours of your booking. Don't get the difference to them within 48 hours: Pay the 10% cancellation fee and move your booking. See how that keeps prices up? On the other hand, as you know, Goldring Travel will do everything possible to obtain that lower price for you, 48 hours or 48 days after you book. Booking for 2011 or 2012? Why bet on prices going up, when you can rest assured that if they go up you are protected and if they go down you are as well.

Want another:  Yesterday, two British based cruise lines, Cunard and P&O have announced the return of the Fuel Supplement (about $3.65 per person per day, converted from Pounds). The reason for this is because the Pound is quite weak at the moment compared to the US Dollar.  Do you think Carnival Corp decided to only apply it to UK based cruise lines was by accident?  Of course not.  The power of the US consumer has forestalled this action at least for now.  Let's see how that trial balloon floats....and it affects UK cruise prices.

Then there is the issue of essentially arbitraging your cruise (betting currency against price). Will the Pound or Euro go up or down compared to the US Dollar?  Why is this important?  Because most cruises are either directly or indirectly priced in US Dollars and then converted to other currencies.  So if you buy a cruise in dollars it is the price, but if you buy it in pounds, it may be based upon a rate in November 2009 or January 2011; dependent on two things:  The date the non-US currency rate was established and the current exchange rate.

Hopefully by now you will see that while looking for a bargain, if it sounds to good to be true, it probably is.  While I always do my best to assure the best pricing, and to adjust pricing if the cruise fare lowers, what I really try to do is educate my clients.

Lesson Number One:  You will probably feel the pain of inferior service and/or the stress of having to pay penalties is if you change your mind, than the satisfaction of possibly saving a few dollars/pounds/euros. 

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Seabourn Sojourn - The Evolution of the Luxury Cruise Experience

Yesterday I inspected Holland America's Veendam, sistership to the Maasdam which I sailed on about a decade ago.  Built in 1996 this 705 foot long, 101 foot wide, 10 deck, ship that carries 1,258 guests, represents where cruising was at that time.  There is a mishmash of cabins (mostly tight fitting affairs with beds underneath the windows, interspersed with public areas (with some new public spaces really improving things, BTW) with a low ceilinged dining room.  You can see where some aspects of the ship are frozen in time, others show a transition (such as the Pinnacle Grill being a smallish and not too fancy, but nice, space off the main dining room).

My reason for inspecting this older ship was, honestly, more to refresh my memory when comparing it to its competition in the premium New York to Bermuda cruise market:  Celebrity Summit, whose design is just four years newer from 2000 (alas she is a Millennium Class ship) that holds 50% more guests.    The differences are incredible.  From far more efficient cabin layouts and better bathroom finishes, to a soaring and dramatic two story main dining room, to a beautifully purpose-built specialty restaurant,a large pool deck with running track above as well as a thalosotherapy pool inside a solarium (vs. the Veendam's small pool in magradome which is more inside than outside), superior spa, etc.

But this is article about the Seabourn Sojourn and her development.  She is slightly smaller than the Veendam at 650 feet long and 84 feet in the beam and serves only 450 guests.  But while she is smaller than both the Veendam and the Celebrity Summit, she offers are superior amenities and options.  For example:

1.  Seabourn Sojourn (and her sister, Seabourn Odyssey) offer multiple dining venues including The Restaurant, Restaurant 2, The Colonnade (popular for al fresco dining) and the Patio Grill.  I mention these separate from the Veendam's Lido and the Celebrity Summit's Ocean Café because they are simply buffets; not true alternative dining experiences.  True you can dine in Ocean Café, but it is not purpose built nor with any true ambiance.

2.  Seabourn Sojourn has a two story, indoor/outdoor spa.  The Veendam has a smaller spa with some nice areas, but most certainly nothing extraordinary though clearly updated.  The Celebrity Summit has a wonderful Persian Garden area and treatment rooms.  But the smaller Seabourn Odyssey has an outdoor waiting/relaxation area, private villa, state of the art equipment, etc.

3.  The Seabourn Square is unique and eliminates the dreaded walk and wait at Guest Relations, Tour Desk and Purser.  While you can check your email and have a coffee on all three ships, the Seabourn Sojourn offers more than additional style; it offers integration so you can get it all done in one place; not on multiple decks in multiple locations...and, of course, with no multiple lines.

4.  Accommodations are another area where the Seabourn Sojourn shines.  While one can have a suite on the Veendam, none are really suites worthy of mention.  The Celebrity Summit does have a few nice suites (the Celebrity Suites are some of the best designed suites I have seen), but its Sky Suites aren't really anything I would call a suite at 252 square feet.  The Seabourn Sojourn has 225 suites on this smaller ship, with some of the largest, best designed and most comfortable suites at sea.  I am not knocking the Celebrity Summit's Penthouses - which are fantastic - but rather am noting the number and variety of suites Seabourn has included.

5.  Seabourn Sojourn's public spaces are designed to bring the outside in, while on the Veendam there is far more of orienting the public spaces inside.  The Celebrity Summit suffers a bit from the same condition, with one of my favorite locations, Michael's Club (the former cigar bar) not having a single window.  To me it seems as over the past decade or so, the transition as been a bit more of focus on the ship, to focus on being at sea and its romance.  I prefer that.

5.  Service and Inclusiveness - There is no question that on the higher end of the cruising industry including more is the trend.  Whether it be done by Regent Seven Seas jacking up its pricing or Crystal Cruises providing $2,000 onboard credits, it is here.  Celebrity recently announced various drink packages, including one which includes premium wines and liquors for $66.96 per day (including an 18% gratuity).  If you do the math, that comes out to about $1,000 for a couple on a seven day cruise.  Seabourn, on all its ships, includes same in it cruise fares.  This does have an effect on the ship's design because public venues, bars, etc. are not placed to maximize revenue, but rather efficiencies and comfort.  Think of it as a beautiful display vs. the placement of items at the end of the isle in the supermarket that you think are on sale, but really aren't.  Subtle, but noteworthy.

When I look at pricing and value (different things, of course) it is a bit shocking.  For a Category S Suite on the Veendam for a 7 day Bermuda cruise out of New York,the price is about $2,750 per person, plus, plus, plus.  For almost an identical price I can book a Celebrity Suite on the Celebrity Summit.  To those figures one must add drinks ($500 per person) + gratuities ($100) + specialty dining ($50 for two nights), etc. or, about $3,400.

Seabourn Sojourn is offering 7 day cruises, not to Bermuda, but northern Europe, for virtually the same price.

Imagine:  For those of you thinking about a cruise this summer, you can cruise on an older ship with not much going for it (the Seabourn Sojourn is smaller and carries one-third the guests, so intimacy isn't in its favor) or the Celebrity Summit (a fine ship, but without all the offerings of Seabourn Sojourn) or the newest ship at sea with the finest cuisine and service visiting exotic ports in the highest of country club casual style.