Friday, November 26, 2010

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

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

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

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


invited my guests for a Private tour of the Bridge.


Waving Good-Bye to the Pilot!















a Private Galley Tour was also arranged



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



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

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






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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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




…with a beautiful, personalized, menu.

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


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








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














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

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



Each pairing was better than the next.

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

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

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

Bravo!


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

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






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


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







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



Wednesday, November 24, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 22, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tomorrow: The Food & Wine Tasting!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 19, 2010

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

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

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

Now back to the business of blogging!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tomorrow: Crete and a few other topics.

Friday, November 12, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Regent Seven Seas Cruises Expands & Increases Cancellation Penalties

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the new policy:

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

2010 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise on the Seabourn Odyssey - The Beginning...Almost.

We are about to start out on our 2010 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise aboard the Seabourn Odyssey. We will be visiting a wide area of the Mediterranean during the “off season”, so hopefully we will get a taste of what a number of ports are like without tourists…other than, of course, us!

Our adventure has us visiting Greece: Athens (with a pre-cruise excursion to Corinth) then on to Patmos, Pylos and Crete. We then travel to Sicily visiting Catania, hopping over to Valetta, Malta, and then back to Trapani, Sicily before cruising on to Naples, Italy and ending in Rome.

We will enjoy a number of experiences along the way. During our visit to Corinth and the Corinth Canal we will enjoy a typical Greek lunch (olives, cheese, lamb and/or fish); Shopping with the Seabourn Chef (“where” remains a secret); a private Wine Tasting (with regional food compliments) onboard the Seabourn Odyssey; a tour of Malta’s port towns with a visit to Mdina (the Silent City) and lunch at Bacchus, a restaurant built right into the city’s wall; a visit to the market in Catania with a special lunch (again, compliments Goldring Travel); and, possibly a surprise or two.

Our group includes guests with a wide range of personalities and perspectives. One that I am truly interested in (and enjoying immensely) is a blind couple; who have graciously allowed me to write about their experience from my perspective. I hope that sharing my thoughts will not only provide some interesting thoughts, but will make what many people to think to be “unspeakable” to be fodder for interesting discussion of different perspectives.

Here is one example: We will be staying at the St. George Lycabettus Hotel, which is located in the Kolonaki area of Athens…more a residential setting far away from the noise and traffic of downtown Athens. What I truly enjoy, beyond the local restaurants and tavernas, is the view of the Acropolis which you can enjoy while lying in bed. The hotel’s Deluxe Acropolis View rooms even have a small balcony. While you probably think, “Why spend the money on an Acropolis View room when you can’t ‘see’ the Acropolis?”, the answer lies with the different perspective. You would be correct that an Acropolis View room would be a waste of money, but the Deluxe Acropolis View room provides a feast for the senses: The sounds of the neighborhood and the smells of Athens (rather than stuffy hotel air).

So with some “regulars”, a returning guest after a few years away, some lovers of the smaller Seabourn triplets on their first cruise on a big sister ship, and new to Seabourn cruisers, with both Veranda Suites and Wintergarden Suites occupied, there will be lots to take in and even more to enjoy and talk about!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Goldring Travel Integrates Facebook and Twitter

My concern about using Facebook and setting up a Goldring Travel page is the overloading of my clients and potential clients with information from yet another source.  I mean with mail, emails, The Gold Standard Luxury Travel Forum, GoldringTravel.com, This Is My Yacht Blog and now Facebook, is it too much...or just another way to relay information and marketing using the available technologies.

After much thought I figured:  Why not? 

I have linked this blog right into Facebook, so if you Like the Goldring Travel page you can receive new blog posts automatically.

I have also added quite a number of photos; some of ships (especially the Seabourn Odyssey and Sojourn and Celebrity Solstice) and quite a few travel photos interspersed.

Also included is a link to The Gold Standard Luxury Travel Forum.

In the future I will be letting you know about special deals, cruises of interest and topics that might not be that well suited to this blog.

Should that not be enough, now my Twitter account (GoldringTravel) also can automatically update you. 

So call, email or Skype me.  As you can tell, I am on top of it!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Regent Seven Seas Cruises - What The...(Are People Jumping Ship?)

I recently attended a conference where Mark Conroy, President of Regent Seven Seas Cruises spoke.  He shared information which I found rather disturbing.  Disturbing not because it was aggravating (like the "FREE" hotel stay that is not free because it is only available if you pay a higher fare...which more than covers the cost of the hotel stay), but because it shows there is a significant problem with the Regent product.

Truth be told my motivation in writing today was an email blast from Regent wherein Mr. Conroy wrote, "I want to share some exciting news with you regarding the success of our new FREE Luxury Hotel Package. To date, this new program has been a tremendous driver of new bookings with more than 75% of guests choosing this valuable new amenity."  (emphasis original).

What Mr. Conroy does not tell you is that Regent Seven Seas Cruises has an extraordinarily high percentage of people that book and deposit a cruise and then cancel the cruise before final payment.  Before all the "free, free, free" marketing it was in the 15-18% range (which is still high), but then rose to an alarming almost  35% rate.  Regent then started its "free, free, free" promotions and he bragged that the cancellation rate reduced to slightly over 25%. 

Folks, if 25% of my bookings cancelled I would be out of business.  So I have to ask a few questions, "Why would I want to endorse a product that only 75% of the people are satisfied enough to actually go on the cruise?" and then "How many of those 75% will still be satisfied after they take that cruise?"

But there is a more important question, "What is it that is causing 25% of the people that book a Regent Seven Seas cruise to cancel it before final payment?"  It appears to me that it comes down to the adage, "You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time."

I am convinced that empirically, after the excitement of booking that "Six Star Luxury" cruise with all your drinks, gratuities, tours, hotel, etc. included (or "free" if you wish), there is a very significant amount of Buyer's Remorse because the cost of the cruise is actually very high when compared to other cruise lines.  I have done the math previously and shown that it doesn't matter if you book a Seabourn, Silversea or Celebrity cruise they almost always come out being less expensive...even when you add in the cost of those allegedly "free" items on Regent.

When the high price is married to the inconsistency of service and cuisine (that even the Regent diehards have been complaining of as of late), one has to wonder why Regent is focused on deceptively marketing more is "free" rather than improving the product and claiming, "We are worth it because we are THAT good."

Does anyone have any other idea as to why Regent has a 25% cancellation rate?

More importantly, I am wondering why Mr. Conroy hasn't shared the repeater rate progression.  Are less people taking their following cruise on Regent?  I think if that was perceived as a strong point, it would have provided.  But, alas, on this I can only speculate.

Join the discussion on The Gold Standard Luxury Travel Forum.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Oceania Cruises Ups Its Game: Pillars of Distinction Part II

Yesterday I attending a meeting/seminar with Oceania Cruises regarding upcoming changes to its product and for some new information on its newest ship, Marina, which will be delivered in January 2011.

Overall, as Celebrity has done, Oceania is introducing some new concepts (at least new to Oceania) on its newest ship and then, over time, will be introducing them on its R-Class ships (Regatta, Nautica and Insignia) in the spring of 2011.

More specifically:

1.  There will be an expanded menu of “Jacques Pepin Signature Items” in the Grand Dining Rooms, which include Cotes d’Agneau Grillees -- grilled lamb chop served with ratatouille and lamb gravy with thyme -- and Gambas Sauté Provençal -- sautéed shrimp in olive oil from Nice with garlic, parsley and tomatoes.

2.  Evening menus in the Terrace Café will focus on regional specialties from the area the ship is sailing in addition to the changing selection of traditional favorites.

3.  Gourmet VIP canapé service for all suite guests now includes a wider array of specialty delicacies presented on new custom-designed china.

4.  Espresso and cappuccino will be from Illy Coffee of Italy.

5.  Service enhancements include free shuttle service in more than 90 ports worldwide where the ship is docked away from the city center. (This cures a particular pet peeve of mine!)

6.  New production with a full ensemble, original choreography, lavish costuming and musical numbers rather than the modest cabaret style presently offered.

7.  Faster Internet speeds. (This is another pet peeve, but the upgrade is more as a result of MTN phasing out antiquated satellite and software systems so data is more efficiently compressed.)

8.  Owner’s, Vista and Oceania suites will get complimentary in-suite newspaper delivery.

9.  Upgraded bath amenities and toiletries in all accommodations, including Bulgari for Concierge-level and suite guests.

9.  Laptops, currently featured in all Owner’s and Vista suites on Regatta, Insignia and Nautica, will be added to all Penthouse Suites, while iPads will be installed all Owner’s, Vista and Oceania suites.