Sunday, February 27, 2011

Revisiting Silversea Cruises: With Good Things Being Done By Good People, Silversea Just May Be Worth A Closer Look

Is it time to revisit Silversea as a true luxury cruise option? I think it just may be.

After all I have had to say that wasn’t so nice, why would I be saying this now? Silversea is listening….and doing much to improve what needs to be improved.

On Friday I flew down to Fort Lauderdale, Florida to meet with Silversea’s executives at its U.S. headquarters (Monaco is its home base, but most of the operations occur here.)

With the former arrogant management gone, the present team headed by Ken Watson and Christian Sauleau is not only downright friendly, they ooze caring and enthusiasm. And that approach trickles down throughout Silversea’s offices. (An interesting side note: Everyone was quite casual; quite surprising considering Silversea operates one of the more formal cruise lines out there.)

I received the expected dog and pony show, being introduced to everyone, and spending some quality time with Ken Watson, Christian Sauleau and others.  However, for the most part we discussed what Silversea is doing to get better in the one area I have been harping on: Consistency.  I don’t care if you are selling hamburgers or cruises, the customer needs to know that each time he purchase one the quality is exactly the same.  (We also discussed what the future may hold for Silversea.)

Silversea knows its luxury product was slipping a bit (presumably because of the financial issues it was facing and the problems associated with its former management) and that something needed to be done. With the financial issues well on its way to being a thing of the past with its stronger performance of late, Silversea has quietly set out to make sure that the quality in each department (cuisine, housekeeping, service, etc.) is the same on each ship from the Silver Cloud to the Silver Spirit.

This is being done by sending out heads of the various departments to virtually live on the ships; going from one ship to another supervising and overseeing the implementation of consistent standards and practices fleetwide. This shows a commitment that is far more invested than sending out memos and barking orders from the main office. If executed properly, it should be paying dividends in the near future.

Further, each of Silversea’s ships either have recently or will be undergoing significant refits in the near future, including the Silver Cloud who had one previously scheduled delayed due to the past fiscal issues. But now the plan is to expand the refurbishment and to be installing the very popular (if not luxurious) Hot Rocks restaurant on all of Silversea ships in the coming months.

There are also little things that, for reasons unknown, Silversea doesn’t really publicize; like mattresses that have two sides (soft and firm), so you can have your stewardess flip your mattress to the type you prefer. 

The problem is, as I pointed out to Silversea, is that a number of people have had a less than wonderful experience say two or three years ago, but they don’t know what it is that Silversea is doing to make things right. Since then they may have tried other luxury lines and found the consistency they were looking for, but unless they know what Silversea is doing to improve itself the less than fond memories will continue to sway future cruise decisions. Silversea needs to get the word out. (To be sure recently the Silver Spirit has taken a good bit of the publicity; some good, some not so good. And, as we all know, timing is everything.)

So, no, this is not a warm and fuzzy article on why Silversea is the best. It is more of a wake-up call to say that now may be a great time to plan a Silversea cruise because it most definitely is working on getting better…challenging for the title of The Best.  And, let's face it, with some excellent itineraries, spiffed up ships and consistency being focused on, considering Silversea just might make some sense.

I am doing just that…and I will let you know which Silversea cruise I will be hosting soon.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

2011 Goldring Travel Food & Foliage Cruise on the Seabourn Sojourn - September 21, 2011

The 2011 Goldring Travel Food & Foliage Cruise will be a nine (9) night cruise on the Seabourn Sojourn on September 21, 2011 departing from Quebec City, Quebec sailing up the St. Lawrence River and then down the East Coast to New York City.

For this cruise I wanted to combine a few things that I love: The beauty of the Northeast Maritimes, the incomparable color of the leaves changing color, fresh lobsters and clams, the salt-filled autumn breezes and, of course, a Seabourn cruise. As always there will be an Ensemble Experience, this time in Halifax, Nova Scotia (or a $150 per person onboard credit; your choice), a special event that Goldring Travel is organizing and, of course, the annual Food & Wine Tasting onboard the Seabourn Sojourn.

An interesting twist on this year’s cruise is that you have the option of starting earlier with a northern traveling transatlantic crossing. Your cruise starts on September 3, 2011 in Dover, England and visits some of the places I did on the Seabourn Sojourn’s Maiden Voyage including Denmark’s Faroe Islands and Iceland as well as port calls in Scotland, Norway and Greenland before Newfoundland on your way to Quebec City.

Here is the detailed itinerary:

Sep 21 W Quebec City, Quebec, Canada - Embark From 2:00 PM - Depart 6:00 PM - For those arriving before the cruise starts, a stay at Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, the most photographed hotel in the world, is recommended. Described as “standing high on a bluff overlooking the mighty St. Lawrence River, it is not merely a hotel located in the heart of Old Québec - it is the heart of Old Québec”, Goldring Travel has arranged for complimentary amenities including Buffet Breakfast for two daily, a $100CDN Food & Beverage credit per room, per stay, an Upgraded Room at time of check-in when available and Early Check-in/out if available. Whether you enjoy adventure eco-tourism, upscale shopping or fantastic dining from small patateries to fine restaurants, Quebec City offers a great port of embarkation. After your independent explorations, it is time to board the Seabourn Sojourn.

22 TH Port Saguenay, Quebec, Canada – Arrive 8:00 AM Depart 2:00 PM - Whether you are interested in fishing, the plethora of art shops or even visiting local farms raising organic vegetables or Highland cattle, there is much to do in a beautiful setting of fjord, rocks and hardwood trees and, of course, it is a perfect place to just do nothing.

23 F Cruising Gulf Of St Lawrence - If you are not relaxed enough yet, enjoy this day at sea and all the Seabourn Sojourn has to offer…like champagne and caviar while soaking in one of the many whirlpools, a spa treatment or two, high tea or trivia, just to mention a few.

24 S Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada – Arrive 8:00 AM Depart 5:00 PM. Nova Scotia has rolling hills, picturesque valleys and craggy coasts and Gaelic is still commonly spoken in the central part of the island. Photography, nature and local history are the focus here. Walk along the Esplanade for a casual history tour and local fare or head off to the island’s center to reconnect with your Celtic heritage.

25 SU and 26 M Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada – Arrive 1:00 PM OVERNIGHT Depart 1:00 PM. Halifax is not only a beautiful small city, it is the place where the Titanic’s rescue was launched. It is also the location of this year’s complimentary Ensemble Experience (courtesy of Goldring Travel) which includes a leisurely and informative afternoon tour of the city and its outstanding gardens, a visit to the Titanic Graveyard and a visit to The Halifax Club (founded by Samuel Cunard) and all of its British Victorian traditions. There you will have a tour of the rooms and the impressive Art collection, followed by a relaxing afternoon tea with local delicacies. I also suggest a morning venture to the idyllic fishing village of Peggy’s Cove where you can visit “Goldring Travel’s” lighthouse! With this being an overnight stay something about a local seafood dinner sounds pretty appealing.

27 T Bar Harbor, Maine - Arrive 8:00 AM Depart 2:00 PM – Famous for Acadia National Park and its breathtaking coastline, as well as the lesser known Mount Desert Island, you are met with freshwater lakes to the west and the Atlantic to the east, with granite mountains in between. From shopping to whale watching, art studios to eco-adventure, Bar Harbor provides many wonderful opportunities. You may even want to take part in a Lobster and Seal Watching experience.

28 W Boston, Massachusetts – Arrive 8:00 AM LATE NIGHT Depart 11:00 PMGoldring Travel's Special Event will be held this morning at the New England Aquarium. The complimentary event (again courtesy of Goldring Travel and exclusive to my clients) includes entrance to one of the best aquariums in the world, Private Behind the Scenes Tours with touch-tank experiences and a truly special Food & Wine Tasting with a Marine Biologist who will give a talk on Sustainable Seafood and mingle with our group to answer questions as we enjoy our Private Seafood Raw Bar and New England Clam Chowder along with specially selected wines (and a non-seafood option). You then have the afternoon and evening to explore Boston from Fenway Park to Faneuil Hall and dining at No Name, Legal Seafood or dozens of gourmet restaurants.

29 TH Cruising The Atlantic OceanThe Famous Goldring Travel Food & Wine Tasting. Let’s see if Seabourn’s chefs and sommelier can top the 2010 event where we enjoyed eleven (11) different gourmet cheese-based dishes coupled with eighteen (18) different carefully selected wines! Again, compliments of Goldring Travel.

30 F New York, New York – Arrive 8:00 AM

With Goldring Travel’s special pricing, you can enjoy this incredible experience, in a Category V3 Veranda Suite starting at $4,900 per person including all fees and taxes (which is less than the regular price of an Oceanview Suite). Call (877) 2GO-LUXURY in the United States, +44 20 8133 3450 in the UK, +61 7 3102 4685 in Australia and +1 732-383-7398 elsewhere or email info@goldringtravel.com.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Seabourn Tops All Cruise Lines in Conde Nast Gold List For Service, Food & Accommodations

Generally I do not discuss any of the "lists" put out by various publications because of a variety of flaws incumbent in how the lists are compiled.  However, of late I have been discussing at length just what the heck "luxury" is and why, for example,  anyone who believes Oceania Marina is competition for Seabourn simply has no real concept of what "luxury" is all about.


So with that intro, I offer you part of Seabourn's news release today:

MIAMI, February 14, 2011----They say a rising tide lifts all boats, and in the case of Seabourn’s intimate, luxury cruise ships, a tide of enthusiasm from cruise travelers has elevated the entire fleet to the top of Condé Nast Traveler magazine’s prestigious annual survey of its readers. Seabourn’s ships were ranked above all other cruise ships, regardless of size, in the three all-important categories of Service, Food, and Accommodations in the 2011 edition of Condé Nast Traveler’s prestigious Gold List, published in the magazine’s January issue. In the February issue, individual ship results show the 450-guest Seabourn Odyssey as the highest-rated cruise ship regardless of size. Odyssey’s smaller, 208-guest sisters Seabourn Spirit, Legend and Pride, are ranked number two, three and five respectively in the small-ship category. Odyssey’s twin sister, Seabourn Sojourn, debuted in June of 2010 and was not rated in the poll. Seabourn Legend, meanwhile, achieved the highest scores in several categories, including a perfect 100 for Crew/Service, 99.1 for Food/Dining and 97.4 for Schedule/Itineraries.

“Scores like these would be an outstanding achievement under any circumstances,” noted Richard D. Meadows, Seabourn’s President. “The fact that they were earned during a period of very rapid fleet expansion is a testament to the professionalism and passion of Seabourn’s onboard management and their staffs.”

Seabourn enjoys a peerless reputation for delivering exceptional, personalized service to guests. Its small ships carry nearly one staff member per guest, hand-picked and trained to anticipate not only the needs of their guests, but also extra touches to surprise and delight them. Guests cite being addressed by name almost immediately as a hint of good things to come, and one recent guest recounted how the executive chef called his counterpart on another Seabourn ship to get a recipe for a dish the guest had enjoyed on a previous cruise, and served it the next night. Because Seabourn’s onboard experience is so all-inclusive, with open bars and no gratuities expected, the relationship of service staff with the guests is sincerely helpful and free of any ulterior agenda.

Dining is a key metric for luxury cruise guests. They are generally patrons of the finest restaurants ashore, and arrive on board with elevated expectations. Seabourn enlisted the guidance of two-time James Beard Award-winner Charlie Palmer in designing its menus, and the partnership has created a repertoire that is varied, intriguing and eminently satisfying. Innovative dining alternatives such as the line’s avant garde small-plates tasting menus in Restaurant 2, have kept it at the top of the list consistently. Unlike many of its competitors, Seabourn never charges extra for any alternative dining on its ships.

Accommodations aboard Seabourn’s ships are all ocean-view suites. Generously sized and thoughtfully appointed, they are designed as gracious vacation homes, perfect for private relaxation and large enough to welcome company if desired. The in-suite bar is stocked with the guests’ requests prior to arrival. Walk-in closets, marble or granite bathrooms and separate seating and sleeping areas are enhanced with clever touches such as personalized stationery, a World Atlas and even an umbrella to carry ashore.

If you compare the ratings of the other cruise lines you will see that there is something...regardless of how you may want to define it...that sets Seabourn apart. 


Cabins:
Seabourn 95.3
Silversea 88.8
Crystal  88.3
Regent 93.2


Service:
Seabourn 97.9
Silversea 92.1
Crystal 95.5
Regent 95.1


Food:
Seabourn 97.1
Silversea 88.8
Crystal 94.3
Regent 92.6

What does this all mean?  Possibly nothing other than the folks that read Conde Nast and decided to vote consistently find that Seabourn is the best and by a margin that makes one take note.  But then again, possibly that Seabourn has good reason to believe that it is the best...and that it needs to (and is) improving its product so that the distance between it and the competition increases.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Crystal Serenity to Undergo Major Refurbishment

Crystal Cruises has just announced that during a May 8-22 drydock it will be spending $25+ million dollars refurbishing its largest ship, Crystal Serenity.  This is on the heels of it spending over $50 million dollars in just the past two years on the Crystal Serenity and the Crystal Symphony.

According to Crystal Cruises there will be a "massive redesign of her 531 Deluxe Staterooms, Penthouses and Penthouses Suites; retail centers; expansive outdoor pool deck and other design projects"  with the concept to be "modern classic elegance".   Crystal wants "Fifth Avenue – crème de la crème New York-inspired living and retail spaces that people love and look forward to spending time in.”

New Deluxe Stateroom and Penthouse Accommodation Décor - All of Crystal Serenity’s Deluxe Outside Staterooms, Penthouses, and Penthouse Suites will sport new, floor-to-ceiling tufted headboards, bedside cabinets, wallpaper, sofas, curtains, pillows, and custom carpets in contemporary lines and classic stone, silk, velvet, leather, and crisp linen textures. New modern lighting features and electronic “do not disturb” and doorbell system will allow guests greater personalization of their home-away-from-home.

New Shops - Crystal Serenity’s retail shops will receive a similar, sophisticated metamorphosis. The Facets fine jewelry store will mirror a jewelry box, with mother-of-pearl feature wall, beveled chrome vitrines, and new, private sales area. The Apropos boutique will become three-shops-in-one, with a flagship Christian Dior cosmetic/skincare area showcased amongst rich Zebrano wood and herringbone rosewood, arresting black-plum-magenta carpeting, and tufted leather seating.

New Chic Pool Deck - Inspired by Crystal Symphony’s recent transformation, the Seahorse Pool teak deck will be refashioned with circular pod beds, plush sofa groups, and lounge chairs in a kaleidoscope of lime green, azure, and mango.

New Lighting and Furniture - The corridors throughout the ship will be transformed with new, custom carpeting, inspiring artwork, and mood lighting. Dramatic new lighting will also be installed in the Crystal Dining Room, as will new furniture on all stateroom verandahs.

Crystal Cruises provides a luxury cruise experience with a larger ship ambiance.  It appears that Crystal Cruises is making a great effort to bring its standard accommodations up to the ever-improving luxury cruise category, if not in size than amenities, style and, importantly, design.

Apropos of my last article on the Oceania Marina, the experience on Crystal Cruises is truly a luxury one and these improvements on the Crystal Serenity further differentiates Crystal from the greatly improving premium cruise lines.

Oceania Marina - A Great Addition, But It Is NOT Luxury

As many of you know I have withheld my opinion of the new Oceania Marina until she is truly operating under normal day-to-day conditions. There is no question that master marketer, Frank Del Rio, knows how to put on a show and to create buzz. That is not only because of his talents, but because he knows what people in his intended market want. Mr. Del Rio has gone out of his way to say that Oceania Marina is not a luxury cruise ship, but an "upper premium" one.

He has to have a reason. To be sure, to the educated luxury travel agent and the sophisticated luxury traveler it is obvious: Oceania Marina is NOT a luxury product. That is not a slap at the ship or Oceania or Frank Del Rio. It is simply the truth and what Oceania Marina is.

What do I base this on?  Over the past weeks I have been writing about what is "luxury" and what is faux luxury, misperceptions of luxury and, in fact, what is the standards that should apply when determining if something is "luxury".  While I haven't finished the series, its timeliness suggests that if you haven't read the articles, you take a moment or two and read them before proceeding:

What is a Luxury Cruise Experience? - Part I: "Nickel and Diming" - A Realistic Perspective
What is a Luxury Cruise Experience? - Part II: Service - A Realistic Perspective
What is a Luxury Cruise Experience? - Part III: Cuisine - A Realistic Perspective 
What is a Luxury Cruise Experience? - Part IV: Shore Excursions - A Realistic Perspective

But, of course, there are those in the press that are more interested in making headlines or, to be sure, simply have no idea what they are talking about...despite their beliefs that they do...exclaiming Oceania Marina is a new standard in luxury and that every cruise line from Crystal to Seabourn to Regent Seven Seas needs to watch out.  Puuuullleeeeeze!

Oceania Marina is a beautiful ship and she has some very nice restaurants and a culinary school.  She has larger staterooms and some truly top of the line suites, but it is not just about the hardware.  For me it is not about walk-in closets or showerheads that some don't like, but rather how the ship's facilities are offered to the passengers and how the staff utilizes them.

For example: 

- Oceania remains a "pay as you go" (a/k/a "nickel and diming") product.  You are going to pay for your drinks (other than soft drinks and water), wine with your dinner, etc.  And, on top of that you are going to pay a hefty 18% gratuity.  Internet is $.95/minute and $.70/minute in the smallest package.

- You want to order "off menu" for dinner? Not happening.
- You want special services?  If you can get them you are going to pay for them.
- Ambiance in the public spaces are, it is said, very nice, but then you read about hundreds..yes hundreds...of people converging on the Observation Lounge after dinner.
- Enrichment lectures?  No so much.  (Port shopping talks, yes.)
- No matter how you slice it there are 1,250 people on the ship, so when you go to the casual (buffet) dining venue there are going to be lots of people and food of a type, nature and presentation that can keep those crowds moving.

And, speaking of food, from what I have seen, the offerings seem good, but the overall presentations are not what you would expect on a luxury cruise line.  (Some yes, but most not so much.)

Crystal carries about 1,000 guests.  Its cuisine is consistently tops and its enrichment lectures are the best at sea.  It provides hefty onboard credits so that you are not paying additional for your drinks (if you drink) or your spa services (if you spa) and it has some pretty amazing shore excursions (also paid with the onboard credits).  And, to be sure, you never hear a complaint about Crystal's service.  So, does Marina have better standard cabins?  Absolutely.  Does it have a few more dining venues?  Yes it does.  But do these things establish it as a challenger in the luxury market?  I don't think so.  However, I am certain there will be competition from Oceania Marina and that Crystal may have some worrying to do.  However, it is not because Oceania Marina is a luxury product, but because it is a wonderful new ship that provides significant value.  There is a balance that each person must make (itineraries aside).

Seabourn carries 208 or 450 guests, so you are talking only 16% or 27% of the guests.  It has highly trained, intuitive, service with the lowest guest to staff ratio and the highest space to guest ratio, resulting in highly personalized service in a spacious and uncrowded setting.  Cuisine is just not going to be comparable in most instances (some I am sure would be), but then again, if you want something "off menu" Seabourn not only will do it, the staff may well suggest it or anticipate your desire for it. Sorry, it is just not in the same class.

Regent Seven Seas is the most interesting of them all.  Oceania's sister company operates ships that carry 700+ guests and the staff of Marina was, in large part, trained on Regent's ships.  Since Regent has the highest prices in the industry, the issue is not so much if the drinks are included, but is the premium worth it as compared to the much newer and more modern Oceania Marina.  Cuisine will be comparable or better on Marina, but Regent does offer "off menu" dining.  With many Regent faithful complaining about lines for tours and sizes of groups on the tours...and, at times, even just getting off the ship because of lines...and inconsistent service in the dining room, one must ask first if Regent is luxury and then if Oceania Marina is competition.  I would say no to the first question and yes to the second question.

I will end by saying this:  I have said repeatedly that on Celebrity's newest ships it is most definitely possible to have a near luxury experience on a clearly not luxury product.  Without having even set foot on the Oceania Marina, in the right accommodation and with some planning I do believe you can achieve a near luxury experience (and, even, possibly a luxury one) on this "upper premium" cruise ship. 

But that said, I must remind everyone that Frank Del Rio has insisted his baby is not a luxury product, but still an extraordinary one.  As of now, I agree.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Seabourn Private Sale - February Through May 2011

I have just received some really amazing deals for close in Seabourn cruises.  These are Private Sale prices that are not available except through a very select few travel agents.  I am fortunate to be one of them.

Because there is very limited inventory you only have the option of an Oceanview Guarantee or a Veranda Guarantee (You are guaranteed to have a suite in that category or better...yes, it could be better - though chances are you will not be cruising in the Wintergarden Suite!)

The prices below are per person, double occupancy, for Oceanview Guarantees and do not include taxes, which range from $32.99 to $549.49 per person dependent on the sailing.  Also, any World Cruise Segments do not include any Seabourn Complimentary Shore Experiences...but they do include any complimentary Ensemble Experiences - courtesy of Goldring Travel - as long as you book more than 75 days prior to that sailing...if not, you may be entitled to a $150 per person onboard credit.  And, of course, all of these sailings are subject to prior sale and may be withdrawn at any time.

I have highlighted a few truly incredible deals.

Seabourn Odyssey

Portugal Passage I
Fort Lauderdale to Lisbon, Portugal 12 days $2,149 MAR 18, 2011

Crossing to Byzantium
Fort Lauderdale to Istanbul, Turkey 24 days $4,999 MAR 18, 2011

Mediterranean Spring
Lisbon, Portugal to Istanbul, Turkey 12 days $2,999 MAR 30, 2011

Grand Voyage Lisbon-Athens
Lisbon, Portugal to Piraeus (Athens), Greece 19 days $5,499 MAR 30, 2011

Turkish Delights & Greek Isles
Istanbul, Turkey to Piraeus (Athens), Greece 7 days $2,599 APR 11, 2011

Turkish Delights, Greek Isles +Dalmatia
Istanbul, Turkey to Venice, Italy 14 days $4,999 APR 11, 2011

Greek Isles & Dalmatian Coast
Piraeus (Athens), Greece to Venice, Italy 7 days $2,599 APR 18, 2011

Dalmatian Coast & Greek Isles
Venice, Italy to Piraeus (Athens), Greece 7 days $2,599 APR 25, 2011

Seabourn Sojourn


World Cruise Segment 4
Singapore to Dubai, United Arab Emirates 14 days $4,499 MAR 12, 2011

World Cruise Segment 5
Dubai, United Arab Emirates to Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy 20 days $5,999 MAR 26, 2011

World Cruise Segment 6
Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy to Southampton, United Kingdom 12 days $3,999 APR 15, 2011

Mediterranean Sojourn I
Southampton, United Kingdom to Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy 9 days $3,499 APR 27, 2011

Mediterranean Sojourn II
Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy to Southampton, United Kingdom 9 days $3,499 MAY 6, 2011

Seabourn Pride

Jewels of India & Arabia I
Singapore to Dubai, United Arab Emirates 16 days $3,199 APR 2, 2011

India, Arabia & Mediterranean
Singapore to Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy 34 days $5,999 APR 2, 2011

Kingdoms of the Sun II
Dubai, United Arab Emirates to Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy 18 days $3,599 APR 18, 2011

Seabourn Spirit

Orchid Isles & India
Singapore to Dubai, United Arab Emirates 16 days Spirit $3,599 MAR 5, 2011


The Spice Route to Rome
Singapore to Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy 34 days $6,999 MAR 5, 2011


Kingdoms of the Sun I
Dubai, United Arab Emirates to Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy 18 days $3,999 MAR 21, 2011

Seabourn Legend

Yachtsman's Riviera
Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy to Monte Carlo, Monaco 7 days $1,999 APR 17, 2011

Yachtsman's Riviera + Bella Italia
Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy to Monte Carlo, Monaco 14 days $3,499 APR 17, 2011

Riviera & Spanish Splendors
Round-trip Monte Carlo, Monaco 7 days $1,999 APR 24, 2011

If you have any questions or you like to book one of these fantastic values, please email me at eric@goldringtravel.com  or call me at (877) 2GO-LUXURY or internationally on +1 732 383-7398 or UK on +44 20 8133 3450 or Australia on +61 7 3102 4685.

Seabourn and Cruise Critic: Frustration, Ignorance and Misinformation. Let's Correct That!

I generally don't talk about what I speak directly with Seabourn's top management about, but I will say that the misinformation, tone of comments, censorship and generally bad attitude on the Cruise Critic message board for Seabourn is one of them.

When accurate information is deleted (as it regularly is) and then it reappears when the moderator decides with a triumphant and misleading post as if he has been anointed by Seabourn to announce the information (when, in fact, he is not anything other than the only conduit Seabourn has...as the accurate information previously posted was deleted), it does Seabourn and its guests a tremendous disservice.

For example, last evening a frequent poster (Margate Cruiser) posted, the following, "Seabourn with the new ships are having great growing pains. And with Holland America being in charge and very few people moving to Seattle Washington. You can see who is going to run the show. Seabourn as of now have not told the TA"s all know but what are they waiting for." That is just wrong...and on so many levels...and this is but one of many examples.

Here is how I would respond (which I did on The Gold Standard Luxury Travel Forum)...If I did it on Cruise Critic the moderator would delete it:

Ignorance is, well, ignorance. The comments remind me of "friends" when there is a divorce. So many of them stir the pot, say how bad the other side is, spend hours winding up the poor spouse and the, after the divorce...they disappear. Why? Because the conflict was of interest. The net result really isn't.

These are the facts coming from someone who (a) is naturally skeptical; (b) is naturally a pessimist; (c) has spoken directly with every top Seabourn person past and present - at length - including Rick Meadows.

1. There is a DEFINITE road map of keeping Seabourn as a separate entity. Everything that I am aware of shows that Seabourn is going to be run as a separate entity. Most people do not know that Seabourn and Cunard had a similar relationship until only a few years ago. I never heard any passengers claiming Seabourn was run by Cunard. Now Cunard has a similar "shared services" relationship with Princess and I do not hear many Cunarders focused on that relationship. As I previously stated, the back office stuff will be kept separate, but use the same system. They will be in the same building, but have separate offices.

Yes, there may be some crossover on the Reservationist side of things...but that is a great reason NOT to book directly. I have been assured I will not only have the National Accounts Manager (who I have known and worked with at Seabourn for years), but a specially trained and Seabourn-only specialist just for top accounts. That, of course, is in addition to the personal relationships I have with reservation folks that are going to telecommute and others in important areas that are going to relocate. But then again, the geniuses on Cruise Critic that book directly or believe there is a need to have an up close and personal relationship with folks in the office BECAUSE THEIR TRAVEL AGENT DOESN'T PROPERLY TAKE CARE OF THEM...may well find themselves frustrated.

2. There are people moving from Holland America to Seabourn, but they are giving up their positions at Holland America. Why not keep the Seabourn folks? Why use HAL folks? The answer is simple. The back office stuff is in Seattle. It made absolutely no sense to have a small satellite office in Miami (3 hours ahead) trying to work remotely on a system that most have absolutely no knowledge of, and using back office resources that were not down the hall, but 2,500 miles away. Now, some folks from Seabourn were offered to move and some have taken that offer up. Others did not (and some were not offered a position for various reasons.)

HAL people have a strong skill set for things that Seabourn wasn't doing a great job with. Why continue with the people that were not going a great job when there are people available that know the system and are doing a great job. Further, the movement between cruise lines is almost incestuous. As a former outsider it is amazing to me. If you ask anyone in the business for more than a couple of years, they will tell you the multiple lines they have worked for. So, while it may seem like a takeover to those not in the know, it is pretty ordinary in the actual real cruise back office world.

3. Seabourn has been very upfront with this Travel Agent. While some (most) travel agents may not have the information I have, the fact is that I do have the information and, as you can tell, it is not like Seabourn's top brass is not being responsive to me. Without getting into a TA bashing thread, the fact is most travel agents are "divas" (don't know what you call the male version) or are just dumb. I am not going to spout off about my business model, but suffice it to say, there is a reason they are complaining and I have the information!

So, if you have questions, I have answers...and if I don't know the answer I will get it.  I am not the type to wait for someone to feed it to me.  I do not consider myself "that" important.  I consider my clients "that" important.   Feel free to email me at eric@goldringtravel.com or call me on (877) 2GO-LUXURY

Monday, February 7, 2011

Seabourn Cruise Line - Just Wait...The Best Is Definitely Getting Better

A shudder was felt when Seabourn announced it was moving its offices from Miami, Florida to Seattle, Washington.  A bit of a list was seen when it was announced the Pamela Conover would be replaced by Rick Meadows as Seabourn's President.  And, to be sure, some have been feeling Mal de Mar (seasickness) with its association with Holland America because, alas, there has been little time for everyone to find their sea legs and understand what that means.

While the thought of change is exciting for some, it generally is quite disconcerting for most.  That does not, in and of itself, make it a bad or destabilizing thing.  Change just needs to be understood and explained.  After some really good conversations with Seabourn's new (and not so new) top brass as late as this afternoon, I am confident in letting you know that the navigation charts have been located, courses for fair weather and following seas are being set and in fairly short order (though, to be honest, never quickly enough) it is going to be Champagne and Caviar at sunset...Oh, yeah, on Seabourn it already is.  Let's see, ummm...

Seabourn guests will be enjoying some real improvements to their Seabourn experience
which will enhance the already existing excellent one present on Seabourn's ships. 

I cannot get into all of the specifics, because (a) I am not allowed;  (b) because I don't know all of them; and, (c) some of them are being reviewed and tweaked.  But I can give you enough to whet your whistle.

First, the Past Passenger Program is going to be much improved.  No longer will you have to wait 140 days to be recognized with benefits.  In much less time one's loyalty to Seabourn will have its benefits and those benefits will be the richest in the industry.  Of course, I must add that if the benefits offered are not focused on what it is that Seabourn's loyal guests desire, the benefits will be worthless, so Seabourn is designing its new program from the ground up.  (In other words, for the skeptics out there:  It is not a Holland America program remade into one for Seabourn. Sorry, no coupon booklets.)

Second, Seabourn's itineraries are in the process of being changed for much of 2012 and 2013.  I can't give you any specifics (because I don't know any), but if you consider some of the more unique itineraries that make Prinsendam cruises so attractive, I think that sort of flavor (not copy cat) will be seen.  The issue with repetitive ports and shorter itineraries has been heard and is being addressed.

Third, Seabourn is committed to having the same sort of personalized support for top Seabourn travel agents  - like me - that allow for the individualized desires of my clients to be addressed.  In other words, it isn't going to be my dealing with a Holland America representative that is trained to support more mass (premium) market issues.  It is going to be a Seabourn representative who deals solely with Seabourn being right there to make my job of exceeding your desires easier.

OK then, why isn't this happening right now? 

If you recall, I have mentioned a few times that the benefit of this move is that Seabourn has been sorely lacking in back office support and software.  Well, it takes time to catch up.  The programs have to be reviewed, the changes proposed, the software modified, the data entered, everything tested and then, and only then, go live with it all.  This is not an easy or quick task.  (Ever get crazed just updating a software program on your personal computer or transferring your contacts from one phone to another?  Try that with an entire cruise line's system.)

Seabourn's new itineraries for later 2012 and 2013 are usually anticipated to be released about now.  They will be a bit delayed because of the foregoing.  So if you look at it one way, you can complain the change in management has caused problems...or, if you look at it more appropriately, you can say, "Seabourn is going to have new itineraries and waiting a bit for them to be confirmed will well be worth it!"  (I have written a bit in the past about how difficult it is to design itineraries, but will leave those details for another article.  Trust me, there is a lot to it.)

The truly difficult one to start up is the new Past Passenger Program.  While the benefits may be fairly set, the real issue is importing all of the Seabourn data into a new computer system...after modifying it to meet Seabourn's needs...while making sure that each past guest's sailing history is accurately noted.  (Remember I told you that Seabourn had a rather simple and antiquated reservations system?  Well now you know one of its shortfalls.) This is a monumental task because the records kept in A need to be combined with the records kept in B, then checked against each other before being entered into the new system that integrates the new Past Passenger Program. 

You may ask, why not start the new program sooner as a showing of Seabourn's commitment to making its "best in the business" experience even better.  The reason is actually very simple:  How many people do you want standing in a circle (square?) in Seabourn Square complaining they are not receiving the appropriate affinity level?  And how would Seabourn respond if its records are not integrated and double checked?  It is going to have its issues regardless, but the last thing Seabourn wants to do is rush something out that creates more ill will than good will.

Yes, it is disconcerting not knowing.  But it should be reassuring that Goldring Travel is on top of the situation and will continue to make sure that your cruise on Seabourn (or any other cruise line) is handled in the best possible manner so that your desires are not only met, but exceeded.

Oceania Marina and S.S. United States - Evolution and Moving On

Two very interesting things happened this past week that most people probably didn't know about, no less make a connection between:  The arrival in the United States of the Oceania Marina cruise ship and the sale of the S.S. United States oceanliner.














I handled the negotiation and sale of the S.S. United States to Norwegian Cruise Lines, representing her owner at the time.  I have a lithograph of her hanging in my waiting room along with another one charting the history of the Greatest Passenger Lines of the 20th Century:  Rotterdam, Queen Mary, Deutchland, France, etc.  They are all there...and they are all gone.

While the S.S. United States represented, at one time, the finest in oceanliner (cruising) experiences for some, there is no question that her day has come and gone.  I have seen her for too many years rotting away at the Philadelphia pier.  It reminds me of seeing the old Rotterdam stripped and sitting in Gibraltar and how sad that was too.  There are those that have spent thousands of hours of their lives trying to save not the memory of the S.S. United States, but the shell of what she once was.  For some reason these folks believe that turning a steel hull with none of original interior into a restaurant or conference facility is going to keep a bit of valuable history. 

"Ships" are a fungible thing. There are two definitions of fungible:  Perishable and Able to be Substituted.  "History" is not such a thing.  History has a permanence, but it also has a life.  The hull of the S.S. United States is fungible, but her history is what we all have the romance about.  And it is her history that, in real terms, we want to remember; for her history is what, in part, makes our present day cruise experiences so fantastic.

So with the Oceania Marina making her Maiden Voyage a transatlantic crossing she, with unintended glamour, has actually paid homage to the S.S. United States as she possibly embarks on her last chance to avoid the fate of almost every great oceanliner before her.

And, look how far we have come!  Oceania Marina is the newest cruiseship in the world (at least for a few weeks) and is loaded with features and options that even the First Class guests on the S.S. United States would have been impressed with.  However, in his classic "underpromise and overperform" approach, Frank Del Rio, chairman of Prestige Cruise Holdings (owner of Oceania Cruises) said, "Upper premium is a hybrid of premium and luxury, and we have not strayed any further into the luxury territory but have most definitely set a new standard on the premium side of the fence."

For example, Marina's standard accommodation is 282 square feet...but Oceania does not classify this as a  suite.  (On her sister company's - Regent Seven Seas Cruises - they would.  There are 124 Penthouse Suites (420 square feet), 12 Oceania Suites (1,000+ square feet), 8 Vista Suites (1,200 - 1,500+ square feet), and 3 Owner's Suites (2,000+ square feet). These Suites include butler service, course-by-course dining from any of the six (6) restaurants, Bulgari toiletries, access to the Executive Lounge and more; including designer accommodations in the Owner's Suites.

The S.S. United States may have had some very beautiful and spacious accommodations, but remember that many passengers were lined up to use the facilities down the hallway and the cabins were less than half the size.  (Not so romantic when you think about it in those terms, right?)

Marina also offers six open seating restaurants (all without additional charge) ranging from the main Grand Dining Room to Jacques (Jacques Pepin's restaurant), Red Ginger (for Asian cuisine), Polo Grill (for steaks), Toscana (for Italian) and casual dining venues.  In addition to these venues, there are two additional cost exclusive cost restaurants. Privee - limited to 10 guests per evening for a 7 course dinner; and, La Reserve - "an elegant wine tasting room" limited to 24 guests for food and wine paring dinners.

Yes, there was fine dining on the S.S. United States...for some.  How about cafeteria service for most!

The initial reports are that the ship is fantastic.  Being the skeptic that I am, I must wait and see what happens when Oceania stops pulling out all the stops (open bars, upscaled menus, initial adrenaline, etc. all make things better than normal).  It appears that issues with service and flow have been extremely well handled, but are imperfect...as must be expected on a new ship.  But, alas, the number of people giving feedback is actually quite limited.

Now, to be sure, as Frank Del Rio said, this is not a luxury product.  You are going to be charged for things like a reported $0.95 per minute for internet.  I think the guests on the S.S. United States would have gladly paid $1.00 a minute to communicate with friends and businesses while crossing the Atlantic, but alas it is not an option.

So with beautiful accommodations and many dining options...and the onboard experience just first being explored, I think it appropriate to give Oceania Marina a good look. 

It is also appropriate to give the S.S. United States a big thank you and its present new owners a reminder that it is not the steel hull that holds the memories that want to be nurtured; it is the liner's history.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

What is a Luxury Cruise Experience? - Part IV: Shore Excursions - A Realistic Perspective

Note:  There is an excellent thread on this topic on The Gold Standard Luxury Travel Forum.  So after you read this article, stop by and join the discussion.

It seems counterintuitive that the issue of shore excursions (or tours) on luxury cruises would be at issue, but alas they are. 

Luxury is not, by definition, expensive. Luxury is special, rarefied, if you will. And, let me be clear, I am not talking about the exotic, or significantly more expensive private tours.  I am speaking only of tours that are available to luxury cruise guests and, as such, are limited in nature and number.  And, to be sure, I am talking about "Travel"...not "Sightseeing".  For example:

- Walking the streets of Palamos, Spain with the ship's Executive Chef seeking out unique cured meats.
- Walking through the fish market in Catania, Sicily and then having an authentic Sicilian lunch.
- Having a wine tasting with only a dozen people at a beautiful winery with incredible views in Slovenia.
- Visiting a small Turkish restaurant and watching a cooking demonstration followed by an information (and delicious) lunch in a garden.

These things, or similar, are available on every cruise...with a little planning (or, sometimes, with none at all).  Why then discuss shore excursions at all?  The reason is simple:  Regent Seven Seas Cruises has been wrongly "teaching" folks that packing themselves onto buses to have glimpse of things that should be savored is part of a luxury experience.

I am here to tell you it ain't so! Don't believe the marketing hype.  And, don't let that kind of thought process keep you from "traveling" or "luxuriating" on any cruise or vacation you take.

More specifically, Regent Seven Seas Cruises markets itself as a "Six Star Luxury" product...err' umm, did...and then decided that marketing everything you pay for was "free"; including shore excursions. (I have previously written on how the "inclusiveness" comes at a steep price and that, for sure, it is anything but "free". See, for example, Fuzzy Math.

But those shore excursions are not the same shore excursions as it previously provided...or as provided on any luxury cruise line. Regent (and its predecessor in name, Radisson) did what Seabourn and Silversea have always done: Limit the number of guests who can take a particular excursion because when there are too many people the quality of the experience degrades significantly.

Now, however, Regent may have kept the same itinerary, but it has increased the number of people on its standard tours by up to double...and more than double. Hence you wind up not with the prior 25 people on a full bus and a more personalized experience with your guide, but 50+ on a bus and a tour guide. I can do that on Royal Caribbean or Celebrity, but I can't do that on Seabourn or Silversea...because they are luxury products.  (And don't compromise yourself into justifying the difference because, "heck it was free"...It wasn't.  You paid, and paid dearly, for it.)  [Note:  I am not implying that only Regent has some rather marginal tours.  Seabourn, Silversea, Crystal, etc. all have them.  I simply am using Regent as the example because of the totality of claiming the "free" tours are part of a luxury experience.]

I have read various people talking about how Regent now has you queue up in the show lounge waiting for your tour number to be called. Regardless of the inconsistency of execution such things are never, ever, a luxury experience...and you haven't even left the ship.   The same folks who say they will never sail on a mass market cruise because the will not tolerate standing in line find themselves, well, standing in line on a Regent cruise.  And, as I will explain, more than once!

For example, and honestly by totally random choice, I find that Regent offers "free" visiting Santorini and taking a bus ride to Qia, then walking around, hopping back on a bus for a lunch, then hopping back on the bus, and then being dropped off in Fira to make your way back to the ship.  It is neither a $129 value nor luxury. The very thought of stepping onto a bus in Santorini makes me shudder. (If you have been there you will know exactly what I mean.)

I love Santorini. I remember once sitting on the cliffside drinking a local bottle of wine with some fruit and watching the sunset with my wife.

I remember another time sitting on the roof of a little restaurant in Qia (Pelicanos) having what ranks as one of the best pizzas I have ever eaten (feta and spinach) with one of the best views I have ever witnessed. 

I remember a third time going on a ridiculous shopping spree with some friends and then finding a wonderful little taverna with great views enjoying a local meal after driving around the beaches of black, red and brown sand. (Regent offers something similar for $179 per person extra with very quick stops at two wineries!) 

You tell me which are luxury experiences and which aren't.  Now, aside from the shopping, how much do you think those experiences cost me?  Which ones would you rather have?
This, of course, raises the issue of what someone expects when they visit a place: Travel or Sightsee. Are they just happy to be there? Do they have a deep interest and are relegated to a quick glimpse of artwork they have waited to see for years? Do they want the 45 minute shopping experience in the main part of town rather than the artsy place hidden in the back streets? Let me give you a hint:  It doesn't matter on a large ship's tour because what will be given is an homogenized experience no matter what your take is. That is not luxury.

I am not claiming that every ship's tour is a part of a busman's holiday.  There are some excellent shore excursions out there.  But they are limited in number of guests, better in the quality of the guide (not tour guide), and longer in time spent where it really matters.

On most of my luxury cruises I take a ship's tour or two.  And, to be fair, I may well host an Ensemble Experience for any guests who booked their cruises through a member travel agency.  Some of those experiences are luxury and some of them are not, but some are - as one reader has pointed out - the best or safest way to see a place when you are wary or unsure about the locale or getting back to the ship.  (A place like Constanta, Romania comes to mind.) But I get to choose and I get to not pay for tours or ports I do not want to take a tour in...and make that compromise when and how I want to; and only when I want to.

Something else to think about when considering those luxury moments in port:  It is not necessarily about a formal shore excursion.  Some of my favorite and most memorable times were had just wandering around a port town.  Readers will remember

-My wandering into a fantastic local place in Trieste, Italy because I saw a sign that said "Wine Buffet" (though, obviously it meant "wine and a buffet"). 
-The wonderful lunch in a the tiniest restaurant I have ever eaten in when in St.Tropez - complete with a sweet transvestite waiter(ess).
-Wandering the local market in Le Lavandou, France where I watched this fantastic paella being cooked over a couple of hours...then bought some and sat on a wall on the beach and ate a fantastic treat with the Seabourn Legend in the background....followed by a local restaurant serving Vin de Provence with a bowl of mussels in garlic and cream.

Grabbing your paid for "free" tour prevents these things from happening...or even having a chance of happening.

Finally, I am not talking about "value"; I am talking about luxury.  I have hinted (strongly) that I do not believe there is true value in the larger tours and, to be sure, I find it wrong to be paying for an entire cruise's "free" tours when I know I prefer to "Travel" than to "Sightsee" so I will not take many of them.  That is personal for you to decide.  It is for me to raise the issue of whether there is any "value" in that package and in those sorts of tours.  I think it is limited...and actually degrades both the "luxury" and "travel" experience.

I have been receiving quite a number of emails asking me if I actually book cruises or if I would consider booking their cruises or if I would consider booking cruises on other than luxury cruise lines. The answer to all three questions is: YES. You can email me at eric@goldringtravel.com  or call me at (877) 2GO-LUXURY or internationally on +1 732 383-7398 or UK on +44 20 8133 3450 or Australia on +61 7 3102 4685.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Goldring Travel's Art (of) Whiskey and Wine Cruise - Azamara Journey (August 29 - September 8, 2011)

I have become increasingly impressed with Azamara Club Cruises and have decided be an Ensemble Travel host on Azamara Journey’s August 29, 2011 Cruise and to encourage my clients to give Azamara Club - and this particular cruise - a try.

A few years ago Azamara Cruises came into existence with a deafening silence and then a thud. It then became lost and considered – because it operates the same types of ships – to be something akin to another cruise line - but with mystery as to what the product really was. Times have changed and, so too, has the renamed Azamara Club Cruises. It now proudly boasts that its guest satisfaction ratings are extraordinarily high.

Azamara Club Cruises is its own distinct cruise experience that is a bridge between the premium and luxury cruise experience with the concept of providing a meaningfully inclusive upscale adult cruise experience with the basic “upscale” items included in the cruise fare such as gratuities (even for bar staff), wine with lunch and dinner, specialty coffees & teas, water and soft drinks and shuttles into town. This country club casual cruise line offers open-seat dining in the main dining room, two alternative restaurants (Prime C for steaks and Aqualina with a Mediterranean seafood theme) as well as the Pool Grill and Windows Café. And Azamara Club Cruises prides itself on its superior 8,000 bottle wine cellar and vintage complimentary pours. Couple the foregoing with multiple late night and overnight port stays with a focus on unique itineraries and you can understand Azamara Club Cruises’ approach.

Why this particular cruise? This cruise has some unique and interesting ports as well as highlights in various “arts”:

The Art of Irish Whiskey in Dublin and Cork, Ireland

The Art of Wine in Bordeaux, France

The Art of Art in Bilbao, Spain*

*In Bilbao, Spain I will be hosting a wonderful and complimentary Ensemble Experience where we will visit the world famous Guggenheim Museum as well as other art treasures and enjoy a nice Spanish lunch. (I am sure I will find some special things to do along the way…as I do…dealing with, say, Whiskey and Wine!)

Combine those with port calls in Holyhead, Wales (with its seabird watching, rugged seacoast and picturesque setting), Gijon, Spain (a 3,000 year old fishing village, rural northern Spain and beaches), Vigo, Spain (for a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostello) and Lisbon, Portugal and you have a great cross-section of one of the lesser visited and extremely diverse ports of Europe.

Mon, Aug 29 Dublin, Ireland - Depart 11:59 PM – Late NightTue, Aug 30 Holyhead, Wales - Docked Arrive 8:00 AM Depart 7:00 PM
Wed, Aug 31 Cork (Cobh), Ireland - Docked Arrive 9:00 AM Depart 7:00 PM
Thu, Sep 01 At Sea
Fri, Sep 02 Bordeaux, France - Docked Arrive 12:00 PM - Overnight
Sat, Sep 03 Bordeaux, France - Docked Depart 6:00 PM
Sun, Sep 04 Bilbao, Spain - Docked Arrive 12:00 PM Depart 7:00 PM
Mon, Sep 05 Gijon, Spain - Docked Arrive 7:00 AM Depart 2:00 PM
Tue, Sep 06 Vigo, Spain - Docked Arrive 10:00 AM Depart 7:00 PM
Wed, Sep 07 Lisbon, Portugal - Docked Arrive 2:00 PM - Overnight
Thu, Sep 08 Lisbon, Portugal - Disembark

What also makes this an attractive ten day cruise is its value. You can sail in an Oceanview Stateroom for as little as $3,400 per person including all fees, taxes and gratuities and most drinks. Moving up to a Veranda Stateroom and it will be approximately $4,100 per person and a Club Continent Suite (266 square feet with a 60 square foot veranda) is about $5,200 per person. Of course the upper suites are also available.

If you are interested, please email me at eric@goldringtravel.com  or call me at (877) 2GO-LUXURY or internationally on +1 732 383-7398 or UK on +44 20 8133 3450 or Australia on +61 7 3102 4685.

What is a Luxury Cruise Experience? - Part III: Cuisine - A Realistic Perspective

In this third part to my series on "What is a Luxury Cruise Experience" (do you think I am going somewhere with this???), I want to talk about food. Not just what it is, but how it is and where it is.

First, let me get this out in the open. Luxury cuisine is not based upon what you, personally, like. That is a personal preference. For exampled:

1. If you don't like fish, the fact that fish is served does not exclude the cuisine from being luxurious.

2. I love pork ribs and, locally, I am famous for them. (I will be out in the snow and cold Sunday cooking ribs for my friend's Super Bowl party...They are my admission ticket!). I could probably write I book on how to cook them and how to eat them, but however much my sitting with a nice cold beer and a few large ribs with barbeque sauce and pork fat on my face, my napkin and my table, may be "decadent" (or just "great"), it is just not "luxurious".

Second, the fact is that very few people actually want a luxurious culinary experience for the entirety of their cruise...especially longer ones. If your stretch pants don't rip (sorry for the visual!), your big toes will be crying out in pain from gout. There are times when a poached egg with whole wheat toast and a cup of coffee,or a simple hamburger, are all that you want.

Third, there is a difference between "food" and "cuisine". A frozen block of ground meat cooked and presented in a tray is a hamburger. Fresh aged ground Wagyu beef with sautéed onions, olive oil and a touch of Roquefort cheese on brioche is cuisine. (Again, it doesn't matter which you prefer, we are simply defining things here.) A huge T-bone steak presented on a plate with A1 sauce is not cuisine. It may, for some, be decadent, but it is not "cuisine". Alas, it may also be considered to be a luxury item, but it is not cuisine. Cuisine is a Filet Mignon with foie gras that cuts with a fork and has a richness that just a small portion more than satiates your palate and your hunger.

With those three prefaces, over the internet if there is a topic that can raise one's cruise rancor (other than dress codes) it is whether the food/cuisine is good. I may ruffle some feathers here (why should today be different), but whether it is food or cuisine, there are folks that are so hung up or focused on whether they are "luxury" cruisers or if they are on "luxury" cruise lines.

For example, there is a rather well known, boisterous and bullying Regent cheerleader who frequents quite a few message boards. A few days ago he posted, "the "majority" of the cruisers on Regent are working stiffs or retired working stiffs. Often in senior management but I have met a number of school teachers, librarians, post masters, and fellow engineers. Most of us cruise Regent because we do think it is a great value. I do not like paying more than the lowest category cabin; even if I have to take a guarantee. " Add this to the fact that demographically, Regent's biggest draw is from central and Midwestern states, the palate and standards are markedly different than those demographically from New York, Los Angeles/San Francisco or any European country. (Crystal Cruises, for example, has a very significant West Coast demographic.  I am just stating facts here.)

While he is well entitled to his opinion as to how well he enjoys this food (and I can respect that), I believe it is a fair statement to say that while I am sure there are Midwest "working stiffs" that enjoy caviar and champagne or truffle-infused whatever, the vast majority are going to be more attracted to a "damn good steak" and perceive a huge hunk of meat falling over a plate to be "luxury". My educated guess is that he is not going to pay for an exceptional wine (he buys only the least expensive accommodation and is willing to compromise in order to do so) nor is his palate going to have experience when it comes to the subtitles that make "cuisine" something other than "food".

That is fine, but that is NOT my market; nor the market for the vast majority of the luxury cruising public. And, and this is where the "food wars" start, one simply cannot take the comment of someone from whom you do not know their background who says, "I just sailed on Regent and the food was as good as it was on Seabourn." You have to ask yourself, "Is that person speaking from the same perspective as I am?"

While another topic, it is related: Those that love the fact that Regent's basic tours are included in the price and they take many of them are simply coming from a different perspective than the vast majority of true luxury cruisers do not take group tours in every port. I, in fact, work very hard to make sure my clients "travel" and "see stuff". Some of the most culturally enlightening experiences...and, of course, the most enjoyable...are when I simply explore the port or a nearby town on my own or in a small group. While group tours may be for some, it most definitely is a less than personalized, luxury, experience.

Just as an example, for some the following two example of buffets will seem identical, but to others it will clearly show the difference between food versus cuisine:


Regent Seven Seas Voyager Buffet

Seabourn Odyssey Buffet

One thing I will not get into is dueling menus.  Aside from the fact that I am totally baffled by the practice of using heretofore unknown adjectives, nouns and verbs to describe a dish, I am confident that some of the menu descriptions on mass market lines equals or exceeds those on luxury lines. 

What I will get into is the quality of the items and the techniques used to prepare and present the dishes.  For something to be "cuisine" the ingredients (within reason) must be fresh and high quality.  It doesn't matter if it is the breadsticks or croissants or the vegetables, if it can be fresh it must.  Certain claimed luxury lines have a history of taking liberties with this. 

Similarly, there is a recent outcry that some of the mass market lines are charging extra to have a higher quality steak served in the main restaurant rather than having to pay to dine in the specialty restaurants.  Again, there is a history here too with supposed luxury lines saving the higher quality meats, etc. for their specialty restaurants.  For a luxury cruiser, it better not make a difference where you dine.  You want the best "cuisine" every time...while the venue alters the decor, menu and style, it better not cause the main dining venues to be second rate.

Cuisine means, in so many ways, the little touches.  For example, in November I was on the Seabourn Odyssey and my Food & Wine group was given a private galley tour.  We were, of course, presented with glasses of champagne and servings of caviar.  But it was not "just" caviar; it was presented on a reconstructed egg:


I have also seen too many dishes that are just stacks of stuff with sauce around them, on them, over them, through them.  That does not define cuisine. 

My favorite "faux cuisine" of late is the use of squirt bottles.  Just because someone can make squiggly lines on a plate, it does not make it cuisine...or even tasty.  In fact, far too many times the liquid squirted on the plate either has no taste or the wrong taste, but was put there for solely for looks.

Cuisine does not need to, in fact, should not, fill a plate, but fill your eyes and your senses.  Try this, for example:  Pecorino Va d'Orcia as Ravioli, Shaved and Foam with Black Truffle


(By the way, did you notice you could actually understand what the heck was being served?!)

I cannot write this without speaking of the Hot Rocks on Silversea.  It is a fun event where you are given a block of hot lava rock and a partially cooked oversized piece of meat which you finish cooking yourself. 

It may be decadent, it may (for some) be luxury, but it is not to my mind "cuisine".  (Personally I just don't get it...but again it is only one person's opinion.)

So with that, when you read or listen to people tell you how wonderful the food is, you must consider from where the person comes from (literally and experientially) because his idea of great food just might be a huge disappointment to you.  And, to be sure, that goes both ways.  My love of elegant small dishes, truffles and caviar can be as much a turnoff to someone as the giant slab of meat is to me...and, remember, I love ribs!

And to make that point, I recently sailed on the Celebrity Century and had an truly wonderful meal in its specialty restaurant, Murano.  It was as good as anything I have had on any of the luxury lines (for that type of meal).  One of my dear friends hated it.  But, to be sure, he was thrilled that Celebrity had truly authentic meat pies and pasties.  He was in heaven eating British food.  I was in heaven dining on fine cuisine.

Whose opinion would you really rely upon when wondering if the cuisine on one line was as good as on another?  It depends...doesn't it.  But knowing who you are relying upon is critical.

I have been receiving quite a number of emails asking me if I actually book cruises or if I would consider booking their cruises or if I would consider booking cruises on other than luxury cruise lines. The answer to all three questions is: YES. You can email me at eric@goldringtravel.com  or call me at (877) 2GO-LUXURY or internationally on +1 732 383-7398 or UK  on +44 20 8133 3450 or Australia on +61 7 3102 4685.