Thursday, December 16, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This raises issues on three fronts: 

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

Friday, December 10, 2010

Eric Goldring in Fox Business Article

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

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

It The End For "The Yachts of Seabourn"?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just a thought.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 4, 2010

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

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

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

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

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



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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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