Friday, October 21, 2011

How to Read a Cruise Review? Carefully. Very Carefully.

As the saga of  CruiseMates.com's editor, Paul Motter, cruise on the Seabourn Sojourn comes to an end what really needs to begin is a discussion of how does one actually read and consider a cruise review.

One would think that because a person is in a particular position (travel writer, editor of a cruise website, travel agent, etc.) their opinions should carry more weight.  One would be wrong...sometimes very wrong.

Last evening I attended a truly fantastic experience in New York City put on by the Basque Country tourism board (that is the region in the northwest of Spain and Southwest of France) which I will write about in more detail separately.  During the event I was speaking with two alleged travel writers who asked me how I would explain my impression of the Basque people. I said, "passionate", to which they said, "You have to do better than that!".

OK, then, how about "They are like people from New Jersey:  Immensely proud, but not as respected as should be and, quite frankly, don't really care about that."  After they uncrossed their eyes I said, "OK, how would you describe the Basque people?" A flummoxed look came over them.  It was like they needed to confer just to gather a thought that had some color.  They had been thinking in formulas rather than useful ways...and had nowhere to go.  Alas, they are not true travel writers, though they may eek out a living writing stuff.  The fact that their words may end up in a travel guide or magazine does not make them worthy of being relied upon.

I thought of them as I awaited Motter's next comments on his Seabourn Sojourn experience...and then today, as I read them and, possibly more importantly, another poster who said, "Having read Pauls report I feel like I'm reading about a first time cruiser with no manners.".  And that is when it hit me:  Motter went on his Seabourn cruise without doing any research or having any understanding of the product.  He is like the guy that complained his cruise was bad because he didn't like the ports. Huh?  Research before you go...just don't go blindly.

Motter is a  person who is promoting a four day "Rock Legends Cruise" on a Royal Caribbean ship...one that is offered with squirrely pricing (average per person cost rather than first and second berths and then the lower third/fourth pricing) is just on the wrong cruise ship.  Heck, he proffered his lxuury expertise because he worked on Royal Viking Line (for one year as a stage manager...in 1982!)  His baseline of luxury knowledge is, honestly, nil.  (I don't think my being in a summer camp presentation of Oklahoma so that I could hang out with a girl I liked qualifies me as a stage manager either.)

Motter, an alleged travel writer, obviously had not even taken to read what the time regular first time Seabourn do...like sample menus (ex. http://www.seabourn.com/assets/cruise-vacation-onboard/The_Restaurant_Sample_Menu.pdf)   So as I read Motter not being able to figure out how people are ordering beef every night...and it right there on the menu every single night under Classic Fare (and regularly a filet mignon appears) I know to discount his complaint that there must be a secret decoder ring that Seabourn only gives to certain people.

And while he baths in the glory of Seabourn's staff apologizing to him left and right (something that Seabourn doesn't do often, because it doesn't need to... for its other guests) he missed the very obvious fact that all Seabourn is trying to do is appease him by being gracious.  His seeing this a victory of sorts is pathetic.  (OK, you are right.  I am wrong. Now take your ball and go home.)

As he justifies not knowing that fresh lobster was being served  (as if eating lobster is what a luxury cruise is all about; though it is big deal on a mass market line) because he doesn't read the menus placed in his suite every night, I can only think of the tons of paper thrown into Princess cabins every day along with the omnipresent announcements so that those who turn their brains off when they board a cruise ship have a chance of knowing what is happening.  Can you imagine someone being so obsessed with this?  The tremendous job Seabourn did for his wife's "no sugar, no gluten, vegetarian" requirements in Restaurant 2...which is not an appropriate venue for such things...is a mere notation compared to his missing - heaven forbid - one of his many lobster meals.

And while he speaks of aromatherapy baths - apparently he believes they should be provided through something other than bath oil - I wonder why he was so concerned that he was given three bottles of them and, it seems clear, he never took one bath.  And the point is, I guess, "How much free stuff can I get?"  If he had taken a moment to read the Seabourn site or brochures he would have known they say, "Draw you a Pure PamperingSM bath" with "exclusive Therapies bath products by Molton Brown, London".  [Honestly in all of the years I have sold Seabourn cruises I have never heard of this being an issue...ever!]

And while he...Oh, you get the point...I think of those alleged travel writers who thought they sounded so witty asking a supposedly challenging question, but looked so pathetic when trying to answer it themselves.

Moving away from the challenged travel writer (faux luxury guru)...and skipping the whole thing about him not having caviar thrown to him because he didn't attend many of the public events where it was served

Caviar Being Served on the Seabourn Pride - October 21, 2011
as captured by Granny Lorr

and never asked for it either... or his mistreatment of the staff...

This week I received an email from a client that was so horribly wound up by a couple of people on Cruise Critic complaining about smoking on the Seabourn ships.  He was so concerned before going that he was thinking of cancelling the cruise.  I warned him to be careful who he relied upon and that I do not have experience on one Seabourn cruise, or two or three or....nor do I gave information from just me, but literally hundreds of others.  His email stated that smoking was not an issue other than a couple of times in the smoking-permitted Observation Lounge...and that he is booking another Seabourn cruise.

In other words, whether Paul Motter had a vendetta (which I believe to be the case) or is poorly informed and ill-experienced travel writer (which I also believe is the case)...or if the people who inaccurately ranted and raved about smoking (when it really is not an issue) or whatever, the point is:

When reading reviews, please be careful.  Very Careful.  And when you are done reading them, look for consistent comments rather than focusing on a negative one (people tend to believe bad before they believe good) and be sure you have a very good reason to believe what the person wrote is accurate.  The internet is a place filled with lots of information...and much of it simply is not reliable.

How can you help protect yourself?  Use a travel agent that actually specializes in the product you think you are interested in.  If they tell you they are experts on all cruise lines, run away.  There is simply no way that an expert on a Carnival cruise experience can be equally saavy about a Seabourn one....and I regularly say, "If you want to book a Carnival or Princess cruise I am probably not your travel agent.  But if you want to book a luxury cruise on Seabourn, Crystal, Silversea, Orion Expeditions, Paul Gauguin, etc. I am your guy!"