Monday, October 31, 2011

What's Going On at Oceania Cruises and Prestige Cruise Holdings? Lots of Changes at the Top

Oceania Cruises has of late been changing its officers more often than hurricanes alter cruise itineraries.  Why?  I, honestly, do not have a clue.   

What I do know is that while change is good, there is a very curious and worrisome apparent conflict between reports of "All is well...and even better than that" and elimination of the officers that were involved during those period of success.  More on that in a minute.

There is no question that Prestige Cruise Holdings and its wholly-owned Oceania Cruises (and Regent Seven Seas Cruises) are the babies of Frank Del Rio, Senior.  This past May 2011 Bob Binder, long time (in Oceania's relatively short existence)  President of Oceania Cruises, was appointed President and Vice Chairman of Prestige Cruise Holdings.  While this sounds as if it usurped some of the authority of Frank, Sr., the CEO and Chairman, it did not.

Filling the void at Oceania Cruises was Bruce Himelstein, who had previously worked at a number of the top luxury hospitality companies, including Ritz Carlton during its rapid expansion.  Was appointed the new President.

Quietly, at the same time Victor Gonzalez, who was originally involved on with Oceania Cruises and then took on similar responsibilities for Regent Seven Seas Cruises, involved with call centers, yield and revenue management, training and development and...if that was not enough...Guest Relations.  (I always wondered how the person  in charge of getting the most dollars out of a passenger could be put in the position of overseeing Guest Relations, but I digress).  He was given the title of Executive Vice President...but with the curiously announced direct reporting to Frank Sr.; making me wonder not only what was Bill Binder in charge of, but what Himelstein would be in charge of.

The former head of yield and revenue management, Howard Sherman (one of the original founders of Oceania Cruises), was, in my opinion, demoted to overseeing the small area of overseas air; which I saw as an invitation to leave; reporting to Gonzelez; rather than Frank Sr. 

But, there was more:  Frank Del Rio, Jr. - who was in charge of hotel and land programs for Oceania and Regent was elevated to Senior Vice President of Port and Destination Services reporting to Robin Lindsay, Executive Vice President (and also a founder of Oceania Cruises).

Tim Rubacky, who served as Senior Director of Communications for Prestige Cruise Holdings and Director of Communications for Oceania was, shortly thereafter, let go.

While I will not bore you with who else was let go, the point is that less than six months ago there was a major reshuffling at Prestige Cruise Holdings and Oceania Cruises.  Relying on the old adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it", red flags started waiving in my breeze, if not everyone else's.  

But three things of significance happened:

First, Oceania announced the long term charter of the Regatta to Hapag-Lloyd, but it didn't announce it as she was permanently leaving the fleet.  Strange, but an oversupply of berths is an oversupply of berths...and if you can't sell them, you need to find someone who can that is not your direct competition (like Azamara Cruises).  And when someone doesn't want to buy your older hardware what do you do?  You charter it out.

Second,  there was the shocking (to me) 75% Off Sale (yes, 75% off) on a variety of sailings caused, I believe, in part by Oceania seeking a price point that might seem like a bargain compared to its sister company Regent Seven Seas Cruises, but actually quite similar (or more expensive than) the all inclusive luxury lines of Seabourn  and Silversea cruise lines as well as the very inclusive Crystal Cruises.  Let's face it even though cruises are marketed as 25% - 40% off right from the start, cutting that pricing by 50% in the cruise industry is pretty drastic.

Third, there was the announced, but never really explained, one month delay in the delivery of the the new Oceania Riviera.  This delay is unusual for a couple of reasons:  First, in this slow economy the ship yards have no backlog and a history of delivering virtually ever other cruise ship early, if not merely on time.  Second, the reason given:  To give the crew more time to become acquainted with the ship.  Folks, nobody has hardware costing hundreds of millions of dollars sitting around for a month so the crew can figure out how to do there job.  Ever hear of another cruise line doing that?  Didn't think so.

Now, Kunal S. Kamlani, has been appointed to replace Bruce Himelstein as President of Oceania Cruises.  However, in September 2011 Kamlani was appointed President and Chief Operating Officer of Prestige Cruise Holdings with both Himelstein and Mark Conroy (Regent Seven Sea's President) reporting to him.  Back then he was put in charge of  "overall strategic marketing, sales, e-commerce, public relations, promotions and procurement".  To make things a bit more confused, Mr. Kamlani was previously the Chief Financial Officer for Prestige Cruise Holdings before departing for Bank of American for a short stint. 

By this point I am confident you are confused about the structure and operating chain of command at both Oceania Cruises and Prestige Cruise Holdings...and why the things that are happening are, well, happening.

I have no answers, but I do have serious questions and concerns.  Whether it is a case of people jumping ship, being forced to walk the plank, a combination, or something else, in no way does this signal stability or promote a feeling that all is well.  What is does do is bring back memories of Renaissance Cruise Lines - also headed by Frank Del Rio, Sr. - that rapidly expanded, was hit by an economic slowdown and then filed for bankruptcy.

I am not saying Prestige Cruise Holdings or Oceania Cruises is at or even near that stage.  What  I am saying is that - just like I called the consolidation of Regent Seven Seas into Oceania Cruises years ago (and a process that keeps drawing nearer and nearer as more and more functions are Oceania-sized) - something is happening...and I don't know that it is all that good.

What do you think of the revolving door and consolidation of power and operations?  Join us on The Gold Standard Luxury Travel Forum to discuss it.

  

Saturday, October 29, 2011

"A Certain Blogger" - Calls Paul Motter and CruiseMates.com Out on His Yellow Journalism

So, on the cold, snowy, night I decided I would read Part I of a supposed review of a recent Seabourn cruise by a guy who likes to talk about himself rather than the cruise line (Paul Motter of CruiseMates.com).  As I start reading I am thinking, why is he rattling on about a bunch of garbage and then I read this:


"Now, why did I just bore you with that story? Because I have gotten wind of a certain blogger who has already written a great deal about my comments on this trip - before I have even written this article. I have not read the rant in question, but I hear this person claims I am so deranged and unethical that I would come to this beautiful ship, at company expense, solely prepared to criticize it mercilessly because... well, frankly I don't understand why he thinks I would do that."

But this is the same guy that on October 23, 2011...just days before writing the foregoing...posted on CruiseMates.com concerning his "virtual" cruise:  "if a person had a good travel agent, like Eric Goldring, then he could have cooked up some organized activities for the people like me and kept me in the loop"

But then he then goes on to write again about me:

"I mentioned a certain blogger before. He loves to speak of certain experience on another luxury line where he was treated to champagne and chocolate strawberries, and the waiter was so efficient, he filled his champagne glass when he wasn't looking (or something like that). A good butler knows chocolate strawberries go with red wine (not champagne)..." 

It leads one to think, "Is the writer dishonest, stupid or has an agenda?"  Unfortunately it is all three...and it is not only tiresome, it is a testament to why you must...repeat "must"...be careful from where you get your information about  cruise or a cruise line.  Too many people have agendas or are, well...you get the point.

Let's get accurate because specifics always show where the truth lies:

The latter first:  In November 2010 during the 2010 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise I wrote an article entitled 2010 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise on the Seabourn Odyssey - Pizza or the Wintergarden Suite's Spa? Let's Try Both!.  In that article I wrote:  

Our dear friends surprised me and my DW by arranging for his Wintergarden spa to be prepared with flowers, champagne, chocolate covered strawberries, and Molton Brown bath oils...Of course, solely in an effort to assure I can advise you on every aspect of the Seabourn experience we begrudgingly agreed to partake. (OK, and if you believe that, I have a bridge I want to sell you.) It was a lovely and enjoyable experience...complete with waves of optic fiber lighting from above, appropriate music from Seabourn's extensive library and...well that is enough information for you!


Adding to the kind of perverse writing Motter engages in, let's get the whole champagne and chocolate thing right...and, of course, he has it way, way, wrong.  

But you don't need to take it from me.  I mean I only have years of true food and wine experiences all over the world.  Take it from Jacques Torres who is probably the world's expert on chocolate.  He wrote in a Wine Spectator article, "Milk chocolate: "Milk gives you different texture in your mouth, which can be washed away with a demi-sec Champagne." and "Chocolate truffles: "A truffle with cocoa powder dries your mouth out. You want to wash it out with something not too dry, like a sweeter Champagne or Sauternes, which gives back the sweetness that the truffle takes away and coats your mouth, giving you a nice, pleasant finish."

So with that I go back to Motter's first premise:  That his purpose is not to simply do a "hatchet job" on Seabourn.  While Motter dedicates paragraph after paragraph about how Seabourn has mistreated him by not paying for him to attend the inaugural festivities for any of its three new ships ("But for some reason Seabourn never invited me or my staff to any of their inaugural ceremonies, even though I was sure to say I hoped to attend all three.") he leaves out the very premise that he published about Seabourn just a few months ago:

I find small ships to be boring - especially when the primary attraction is food and wine. I don't find gluttony to be that appealing, and that seems to be the main reason why people tout Seabourn the most. I find their itineraries to be the least appealing of all the "luxury" ships BY FAR because they have the most days at sea, and to me the only difference between a day at sea on a tiny ship and a prison is the food is better.

"Fair and balanced" he ain't.  Heck, "well adjusted" is seems elusive. Enough of that.

So I started looking for facts in his writings and they, again, were very elusive.  What was truly dishonest...and mean essentially fraudulent...were some of his alleged comparisons between Seabourn and other luxury cruise lines.  He wrote and placed photos as if he were writing an expose for the National Enquirer.  You know what I mean:  A bad photo that makes a beautiful person look ugly or a comment taken out of context or a description that has a shade of truth, but a full portion of knowingly false content.  (Like showing a closeup photo of a partially eaten room service caviar presentation for one person as what Seabourn offers which he compares to a caviar display for a party on a Crystal cruise as an alleged comparison.  BTW, I have to note that the photo shows everyone drinking red wine with the caviar.  Yes, Crystal is excellent at providing you with what you ask for...even if it is unquestionably inappropriate. As I said, you have to "look for facts in his writings".)

I don't care if you are talking about Seabourn's demographic, which he tries to paint as filled with retirees (h decides this from who is on his one long cruise in November where that demographic is ubiquitous on almost very line) or his presenting a page of the Seabourn Herald posting dinner times (rather than the delivered at the same time menus for the next day) to support his assertion his own stupidity in not reading it is Seabourn's fault, the fact is that if you really read Paul Motter's rants it shows an infantile demand that he be spoon-fed what to most is common sense information.

As you read it, if you dare, remember that I have the privilege of sending dozens and dozens of first time cruisers on Seabourn and literally none of them have reported anything like the trials, tribulations and problems Motter claims.  In fact, in the hundreds of repeat guests I have taken care of none of had such issues.  Heck, you don't even read about them on Cruise Critic either.  (Yes, I am actually mentioning that bastion of misinformation as a better source that Motter!).

I will say Seabourn did fail terribly and Seabourn owes an apology.  Whoever was the Public Relations representative that decided it was a good idea to invite Paul Motter, a dishonest, arrogant and totally unqualified, prig onto one of Seabourn's ships got the ball rolling for the crew to be abused, false and misleading information about the line to be put out there, and those of us that write accurate information about the luxury lines to have our hard earned reputations sullied.

Paul Motter:  I shall enjoy champagne and chocolate (a perfect combination), caviar with an appropriate wine, fresh lobster, the Chef's Dinner, the finest crew at sea and, of course, more champagne while enjoying the forward hot tub...on all of the Seabourn ships.  I also find comfort in knowing you won't be there to ruin it for me...or my clients.

That's Me and My Champagne on the Right...and that dear friend I mentioned on the left.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Cunard's Changing of Flag from UK to Bermuda - Almost The Last Vestige of British Marketing

There has been some rather emotional news on the Cunard front.   The company that owns the Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth cruise ships has changed its flag from United Kingdom to Bermuda.  This may sound like a royal slap at tradition, but it actually is not.

First, Cunard has a history of its ships being non-United Kingdom flagged.  In its history the fact is the vast majority of its ships have been flagged elsewhere.

Second, Cunard has been owned by Carnival Corp; not a British entity for going on 15 years...and most certainly not the Crown.  In the past four decades Cunard actually spent a good bit of its time and energy buying up other, non-British, cruise and shipping lines!  

Third, and more importantly, Cunard has been essentially based in California sharing services with Princess Cruises for years, even though it maintains a London office.  Before that it was paired and shared services with Seabourn Cruise Line in Miami, Florida. In fact, the design of its newest ships, the Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth, are based upon designs shared from another Carnival brand:  Holland America.

Fourth, and most relevant to me in this world of ever-increasing internationalism, there are only a very few aspects of the Cunard product (especially on the newest ships) that are even remotely British in style or culture.  Yes, there is the Red Lion Pub, tea service (though lagging of late), and certain menu offerings, but throughout most of the ship the product is very similar to, well and not surprisingly, a Princess cruise.

I know there is an undeniable loyalty that some have to a particular cruise line, but this is yet another example of why you should not be blindly led by marketing or history. 

If you like the Queen Mary 2, or are looking for a good alternative to flying due to fears or lots of luggage, by all means take a cruise on her.  If you really enjoy the manner in which the  Queens Grill delivers its product:  Enjoy.  But please, please, please, do not take a cruise based upon the flag the ship flies or the name on her bow.

Stiff upper lip!

"Fair and Balanced"? Yes, Paul Motter/CruiseMates, There Is A Santa Claus...And An Admittedly Good Travel Agent He Admits He Should Have Used!

After almost two weeks of reading about all the allegedly terrible things that supposedly happened on his cruise on the Seabourn Sojourn, today Paul Motter's rather mild article for Fox News appeared...and so did a couple of rather complimentary comments about me on the CruiseMates.com message board.

Not "looking a gift horse in the mouth" I appreciate Motter's present comments about me.  For example, one reader commented that it seems from Motter's comments that guests are expected to know certain things, to which Motter wrote:

[T]his was why I told Seabourn I really prefer to go with a group instead of on my own...Or if a person had a good travel agent, like Eric Goldring, then he could have cooked up some organized activities for the people like me and kept me in the loop.

He then continued:

It's too bad Eric decided to leave this board, as I now write for FoxNews and not FoxBusiness, 32,000,000 readers/month, and this would have been the perfect opportunity for me to give his agency incredibly valuable publicity. His guided groups would be just the kind of thing a person like me would need. Alas- I had no travel agent at all, and really no guidance at all from the company on what to expect.


The important point is that if you do not know what you are buying, don't buy it based upon what someone else says and, whatever you do:  Don't Just Show Up!

For example, just yesterday (while I was watching "my" New York Jets beat the San Diego Chargers) the man next to me said he has never been on a cruise, but his wife says they must go on the Queen Mary 2.  I then asked why and...in between plays...I discovered her desire was based upon misperceptions and marketing.  He now knows what to expect, how it works...and, of course, other options that might fulfil his wife's actual desires better.  You know she isn't going to be going on that cruise without a clue, right?

So, if you are interested in taking a luxury cruise...or any cruise...or, frankly, any vacation:  Ask Questions and make sure you receive Real Answers.  And, most importantly, if you don't actually know the questions to ask, tell your travel agent that and see if she/he offers real information and where to find detailed answers. 

Goldring Travel sells far more than just Seabourn cruises. Whether it is a Crystal Cruise, a Silversea Cruise, Orion Expeditions, Celebrity Cruises or whichever, Goldring Travel provides all of its clients with lots of information. I spend as much time as a prospective or actual client needs.  For me it is about the quality of the pre-cruise and cruise experiences my clients have; not the volume of clients I can book one time.  Goldring Travel wants to book a client's holidays for their lifetime.

And if you need a testament to why you need an excellent travel agent...Just ask Paul Motter.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

888-SEABOURN: Please Use 888-732-2687 or (877) 2GO-LUXURY

Obviously with a change of management there is a change in the way business is done.  And one change is the way Seabourn will permit its name to be utilized.  Along with tighter controls over financial and quality concerns, comes tighter controls over the use of the name "Seabourn".

One of the advantages Goldring Travel has being one of the top sellers of Seabourn cruises in the world is that you are always on Seabourn's radar.  It is also why Goldring Travel is at the top of Seabourn's list for enforcement its changes (i.e. Start at the top and work your way down!).  So while over the coming months you will find that not only phone numbers but URLs that contain the word "Seabourn" in it will be disappearing, you will also find that it is happening with Goldring Travel sooner than probably anyone else.

For me that is both bad news and good news.  While there is no doubt benefits to being "found" through the technique of utilizing the Seabourn name, the reality of it is that it plays a relatively small part in my business because Goldring Travel is strongly based upon referrals and providing clients great service along with in depth and accurate information.

The other good news is that my willingness to move quickly and cooperatively with Seabourn assures that my relationship with Seabourn, and therefore my ability to best serve you, remains strong and vibrant. (This is not  a matter of being "right", but the best business partner possible.)

For those of you who have been using the 888-SEABOURN number, you may continue to do so as Seabourn is happy to let me keep the "number" if not the name.  So you will still reach Goldring Travel, just remember it and refer people to 888-732-2687.

Of course you may also:

1.  Use Goldring Travel's other toll free number:  877-2GO-LUXURY
2.  Use Goldring Travel's London, UK number:  020 8133 3450
3.  Use Goldring Travel's Brisbane, Australia number: (07) 3102 4685
4.  UseGoldring Travel's International number:  +1 732 383-7398
5.  Use Goldring Travel's mobile number:  +1 732-693-8797

As for my Seabourn-esque URLs, as I said, you probably don't use them.  But if you do, feel free to use:

www.goldringtravel.com,
www.goldstandardforum.com.
www.thisismyyacht.com or
www.iamboatman.com.

"Talk" to you soon!

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!"  

Regent Seven Seas Cruises Talking...Again...About a New Ship

At this point it seems like a bi-annual event:  Mark Conroy, President of Regent Seven Seas, commenting that there are discussions with a European yard for a new 700 passenger, 50,000 gross ton, ship.  Yesterday, at the Ensemble Travel Group Annual Convention, Mark Conroy stated that Regent Seven Seas was looking at a possible 2014 delivery date.

While in the past I have been extremely skeptical of such announcements (See, for example, my August 2008 article "New Regent Seven Seas Ship Delayed Until 2012...At Least."), I believe the inevitable demise of the Regent Seven Seas Navigator is within the foreseeable future and, having pushed out its service life what will be an additional seven years...if she is not retired earlier, there is a possibility that this time there may be some merit to Mr. Conroy's comments.

But...and it is a big "BUT"...Unfortunately, I remain skeptical.  I do not recall any other cruise line (no less its president) talking about it "may" build or its "possibly" building a new ship.  New ship constructions are otherwise universally spoken of in definitive terms and with great excitement...after periods of secrecy. Thus, to me, it is not like a teaser ad where you know there is something coming, but rather just a gimmick intended to have people believe that Regent is alive and look forward.

In other words, IF Regent moves forward (and IF Regent is not folded into Oceania Cruises - See my article, The Oceania-fication of Regent Seven Seas Cruises: "Regent Seven Seas Is Now A Premium, Not Luxury, Cruise Line...I Told You So!" ) the Navigator, Regent's ever-troubled ship, will be well and truly finished as a pseudo-luxury ship...as its plumbing, electrical and hull issues that have plagued her for many years will probably increase significantly as the patches used to keep her running also begin to fail from age.  So a new ship, which is really needed now, will be truly needed then.

As Yogi Berra said, but which I truly hope is not true, "It's deja vu all over again!"


Monday, October 17, 2011

Paul Motter/CruiseMates on the Seabourn Sojourn: The Arrogance of Ignorance

Paul Motter continues to amaze with what, in my opinion, is his buffoon-like behavior.  It is, in short, nothing more than "The Arrogance of Ignorance".

It is so clear to anyone who has ever been on Seabourn that this imbecile (just my opinion, of course) is so out of his league that it embarrassing to watch and you can only feel sorry for the staff and crew on the Seabourn Sojourn because no matter what happens, no matter what they do, it will never be right in his perverted eyes.

There is a reason that Seabourn has been voted by its guests the Best Luxury Cruise Line, the Best Small Cruise Ship Line, etc. by the readers of Conde Nast, Travel & Leisure, etc. and even on Cruise Critic the omni-present complainers focus on such minor issues as the complimentary wine selection or how they feel one particular person's alleged issues should have been handled by Seabourn's main office.

And, alas, there is a reason or reasons why Paul Motter so negative.  Since I last wrote, he complained that Restaurant 2 would not accommodate his wife's "no sugar, no gluten, vegetarian" requirements.  Considering Restaurant 2 has a fixed tasting menu consisting of multiple small courses served simultaneously, all I can say, is "How absolutely arrogant and inconsiderate not only of the Seabourn staff, but every other person dining in Restaurant 2 that evening!  Everyone's experience needs to stop so that Paul Motter can have what he wants even though it is absolutely inappropriate for that venue."  (See the menu below and you will instantly know what I mean.)

Oh, but even when Seabourn bends over backwards to appease this prig and tries to figure out how to time the dinner so that his oppressive demands do not totally disrupt the galley's presentation of the actual Restaurant 2 menu to every other guest by asking him to arrive at 8:00 p.m. that becomes an issue as well.

But then, the ungrateful ignoramus (again, my opinion) finds out that he missed the Chef's Dinner and that - OMG - lobster is being served and nobody told him, he goes on yet another tirade.  Yes, I tirade.  The Chef's Dinner is not shown anywhere.  How would he have known?  It is Seabourn's fault.  (Note:  There is silence from everyone else on the ship; not a complaint to be heard.  Motter even admits everyone else is very pleased with their Seabourn cruise.)

Well, if Paul Motter had been doing what "journalists" (that's what he claims to be) do, he would be reading everything placed in his suite.  On Seabourn, every single night...that is every single night...the menus of what will be served for dinner in the four main dining venues  is placed in every guest's suite along with the Seabourn Herald.

Here is an example for the evening of the Chef's Dinner on my Seabourn Sojourn cruise for the evening of September 27, 2011:


You will remember that Motter previously complained that The Restaurant's menu provided only a starter and a main course - far too light for him - every evening.  However, this particular evening it is very clear that there were nine (9) courses and that there is only one selection, to wit:  the main course (with a vegetarian option...that if he asked in advance in the morning could have been prepared gluten free!)  (You will also see the menu for Restaurant 2 and the fact that it is clearly not a menu that can be easily - if ever - adapted to a "no sugar, no gluten, vegetarian" diet.)  Yes, folks, the menu for both restaurants is on the same page...the same page...and this pathetic alleged cruise journalist couldn't see or figure it out..or even determine he just might want to ask a question!!!


Motter, not being done with his complaining, then says his Restaurant 2 dinner was fantastic, but goes on to complain that after all of that it wasn't so bad because Seabourn's fresh lobster wasn't served as a whole lobster (tails only) and that according to an alleged yachtsman (is that a 30' or 150' foot yacht owned by a lawyer, doctor or accountant...as opposed to someone that actually knows) the tails were so small he didn't think they could be legal. However, see the photos below.

Let's remember this guy was complaining that Seabourn's menus were so limited he has been forced to eat lobster every day.  Name one other cruise line that could even have that as an option?  (BTW, he also complained that the lunches in one venue were themed every day, so I am not getting his whole limited menu thing, but I digress....after showing you a typical lunch salad "buffet" in The Colonnade:



But let's also remember I was just on the ship with the same provisioner providing lobster and this is actually the size of the lobsters and some of their preparations (with tuna on the right):



There you go Fox New Business:  Fair and Balanced!

For everyone else:  Who do you want to get your cruise information from?  Be wary of The Arrogance of Ignorance.



Sunday, October 16, 2011

Paul Motter/CruiseMates on the Seabourn Sojourn: When You are Dishonest and/or Prejudiced It Doesn't Motter.


I have a thing about being objective; especially when you know the cruising public is going to read and probably rely upon what you say.  Something about the "Public Trust".

Paul Motter, of CruiseMates.com, and a contributor to Fox News Business is presently on the Seabourn Sojourn.  “Fair and Balanced” is not exactly what comes to mind when reading what he has written so far.  “Dishonest, Prejudiced and Punitive” is more like it.

Some background:  My dealings with Mr. Motter started when he asked me to moderate the Luxury Cruise boards on CruiseMates.com…boards that were dead with literally no posts for months at a time.  I made the mistake of agreeing before I truly knew who the person was behind CruiseMates and, within a short period of time, I resigned from this non-paying job due to his rather curious and erratic behavior.

However, while I was involved he complained regularly how poorly Seabourn had been treating him because all the other cruise lines not only gave him free cruises, but they paid for his airfare and Seabourn refused to do that for him.  (Yes, I have the emails confirming this.)

Fast forward to July 2011 and Paul Motter had an absolute meltdown, spewing insults left and right at Seabourn specifically and luxury cruising generally.  While you can read the sanitized (by him) thread here, let me share with you one quote from Paul Motter:

I find small ships to be boring - especially when the primary attraction is food and wine. I don't find gluttony to be that appealing, and that seems to be the main reason why people tout Seabourn the most. I find their itineraries to be the least appealing of all the "luxury" ships BY FAR because they have the most days at sea, and to me the only difference between a day at sea on a tiny ship and a prison is the food is better.

 What is now the most repeated complaint by Paul Motter:  The food portions are too small and there are not enough courses!  Example:

I was not impressed with the dinner in The Restaurant. The menu comes laid out with just two sections not counting dessert. There were “openers” and “main course.” (Most menus have three or four sections; soups and salads (sometimes these are separate), appetizers and main course. Most of the openers were very light; a small salad for example, so that only left the main course as your entire dinner.

I asked the waiter if people often order more than one “opener” and he replied with helpful specificity…I ordered two, because I was hungry.

You cannot make this stuff up.  Fair and Balanced me thinks not.  A glutton who is not happy because his gluttony is not satiated on Seabourn?  That is my guess.

Now, with that out there, as many of you know, I cruised on the Seabourn Sojourn during the period of September 21-30, 2011 (only two weeks ago) and on a virtually identical path from Quebec City to New York (while he carries on to Ft. Lauderdale), but his is a repositioning cruise.  (We took nine day to cruise from Quebec City to New York and his made the trip in 50% less time…with obviously three less ports.)  So I can obviously compare my cruise experience with his both in detail and in a timely manner.

It is with that preface that I have read his Dishonest and Punitive comments and now comment on here.

Right out of the box, he complains about the itinerary.  Huh?  Can Paul Motter spell “REPOSITIONING CRUISE”?  Or, possibly more importantly, can he spell “FREE CRUISE”. But, alas, let’s give him a bit of perspective:  Seabourn did not design this particular cruise for his edification.  He decided he wanted to go on this cruise with this itinerary. Heck, he might have cruised on my itinerary just days earlier...Oh, that's right:  That cruise was sold out with its three additional ports and wasn't free to him.

But there is more.  He complains he did not have enough time in Halifax, Nova Scotia and Bar Harbor, Maine and that a 15 minute tender operation was too long for him.  But then he says there was enough time to see everything he cared to see.  Huh?  I say this for two reasons:  First, if Seabourn provided you with enough time, then would you have complained if they stayed in port longer…as being a waste?  Second, and more importantly, Paul Motter is, obviously, very superficial…one of those “tick it off my list” Carnival Cruise types. 

Compare what I did in those towns within a similar time period (Read my articles on my 2011 Food & Wine Cruise for more detail): 

-          In Halifax I had about four hours the second day, saw a decent overview of city, drove out to Peggy’s Cove, visited a lobster pound and ate fresh oysters, visited a maple store and picked up some interesting maple wine.  (Oh, yes, I paid for a private tour to maximize my time. Motter?)

-          In Bar Harbor we went Shopping with the Chef, strolled most of the town, stopped for a delicious lobster roll and a beer (bringing back one for a crewmember…always good to show appreciation!) and did some shopping.

He complains about the size of the television in the suite:  Twice he said he can’t see the 22” television properly from the far side of the bed because it is too small and the angle isn’t sufficient.  Huh?  While a bit uncomfortable acknowledging I sleep on the same side of the bed, neither has ever been an issue for me.  I mean I don’t go on a cruise to lie in bed for hours on end watching movies.  (Seriously, I thought he was supposed to be working…not lying down pretending to be important and above actually doing his job!  Let’s say it all together:  FREE CRUISE!)

But then the comment that lets you know he is just a simple person in a place he doesn’t belong:

I have a 60-inch HDTV at home 10 feet away directly in front of me, why would I pay $500/day to watch a movie under these conditions?

No my dear child, people do not pay $500 a day to watch a movie in their suite.  They (obviously not you) pay to actually go to enrichment lectures and interact with the speaker…not passively sit like a couch potato in your underwear (I presume); they socialize with other guests (something you have never mentioned doing…not once); they dine; they enjoy the ports; they enjoy the levels of service and cuisine; etc., etc., etc.  In short IT AIN’T ABOUT A BELOVED TELEVISION!  In fairness, I do note that Motter raves about the interactive television system…and then ruins even that by mentioning the 150+ movies are free (like on a luxury line it would be any other way…something this “expert” should have known.)

You know I think it is best to have Motter choke on his own words here:

Would I take Seabourn again? If I saw a port-intensive itinerary I would certainly consider it. But I would not come for the food or the entertainment. The service is excellent, but I don’t cruise for service, I cruise to travel.

No my dear sir, you cruise to watch television…and not at $500 a day.  You, sir, in my opinion have absolutely no idea what it means to “travel” or, honestly, to “cruise”.  Read on and you will see that being a Pain in the Ass and Impossible to Please is what Paul Motter is about. One thing that is for certain, he isn't cruising to "travel".  (BTW, if you want an interesting discussion on whether cruising is travel, check out this thread on The Gold Standard Luxury Travel Forum:  Is Cruising Really Travel?

He complains about not getting “no sugar, gluten free, vegetarian” food without asking. Other than the fact that just days earlier I was traveling with a guest that required gluten-free dining and, as in years past, he has always been provided with daily freshly baked bread and breadsticks and offered either alternative preparations or creatively made “same as” dishes, I must pause and wonder about his obviously false comments about a poor bread selection.  Brown and six grain breads, in addition to at least two types of “regular” breads are always offered at dinner…along with the famous Seabourn breadsticks. Does he want gluten-free or a gluten smorgasbord? 

So whichever he is complaining about, what happened to just politely speaking with the server and asking him/her to find out the specifics of the vegetarian options offered that evening or arranging to dine in one place so that the special meals can be made ala minute for this very particular guest.  (Which, by the way, is not a problem on Seabourn.) No, Motter wants to have all four galleys (Restaurant, Colonnade, Patio Grill and Restaurant 2) all waiting for him and to instantly prepare whatever fits his whim, whenever and wherever he may be.  (Please fill in whatever adjective for Motter you wish.  I have mine!) 

He complains about the spa.  I am sorry, not the spa…then he would have to pay actual money for a treatment…and that obviously isn’t happening on his free cruise.  No, he is complaining about Seabourn not having a megaship “thalassotherapy pool, scented rain showers, hot and dry saunas and great heated ceramic beds that warm up your body to the bone.”  Is there something in the literature that says those things are on the Seabourn Sojourn?  Nope.  Seabourn’s spa is designed essentially for individual treatments, but does have a Kneipp wading pool (not a thalassotherapy pool) with teak heated loungers (not ceramic ones) and a sauna and steam room. You know:  the things a Seabourn guest desires most on a ship which is less than 35% of the size of the smaller Millenium Class Celebrity ships. The Seabourn Sojourn is designed for its guests who want a specific sort of treatment…and makes no bones about not being akin to those servicing 2,000+ passengers. 

And then he complains that the hot tub reserved for spa guests was worthless to him because it was outside and the weather was poor.  (Heck, for me a hot tub inside is worthless pretty much all of the time…which my readers well know!) 


Is Motter so clueless as to not understand these things?  Oh, I believe he knows it well.  Heck, he didn't complain there is no water slide. One must wonder why he did not mention the wonderful space available overlooking the stern of the ship where the hot tub is located that has wonderful lounges, etc. for spa guests, or the fantastic Spa Villa next door.  No, for his $30 he wants the Celebrity Cruise Lines Persian Gardens…specifically that.  And something that is not offered on any other line.  (Want to compare the Seabourn spa to Silversea, Regent, Crystal, QM2, Oceania, etc.?  No, why do that when you can badmouth Seabourn…Right, Paul???)

 He complains about the cuisine.  This is, well and truly, my favorite.  Let’s start with his overall comment Motter goes on to say he had…in a very Forrest Gump kind of way: “As far as food, I have had lobster every day on this trip.”    “We had “surf and turf,” which was a filet steak and a lobster tail. The steak was cooked to perfection.”  “My main course was “open lobster ravioli.” etc.  BTW, that is a complaint…and I will get back to that.

Then he comments about having the freshest Maine lobster he ever had in Bar Harbor.  Really?  Fresh lobster in Maine is the freshest Maine lobster he ever had.  Shocking!  While that really put you on your back foot, did this genius ever think about what kind of lobster Seabourn was serving him every day?  How about fresh lobster! 

He also complains there is not enough variety, but then comments that there is a theme in the Colonnade very day (British, Indian, etc.).  His complaint:  If you don’t like the theme “you are out of luck”.  I guess this allegedly highly professional cruise writer doesn’t know how to read or ask questions.  In the Colonnade there are always a wide variety of salads, meats, etc. available that are not “themed” and a menu with a variety of non-themed alternatives are placed right on each table.  (So from the guy that was complaining that he required a “no sugar, gluten-free, vegetarian” menu in all restaurants at all times and without further notice we get this?!)

Nor did Motter mention the alternative dining options:  Some days The Restaurant, most days The Patio Grill, every day a very elegant Room Service.  All of them with different offerings.  No, Motter wants to complain that having four alternatives to the themed lunch is not enough and you are "out of luck".  Dishonest or inaccurate?  You decide.

The last I will mention is his comment about the wine. If you know wines at all, it typifies someone trying to be something they are not rather than just saying, "I enjoy the wines.":  "The whites are always just the right touch on the tongue. But the reds are exquisite - with the perfect texture and never an afterbite."   Having just finished my 2011 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise on the same ship with the same wines I have to say, "Huh?  The wines (within color...I guess I am forced to say) are wildly different in style and the complimentary pours are not worthy of garnering high praise...even if the praise (as Motter's is) is nonsensical.  Idiocy.  

I could go on and on and on about Paul Motter and his perverse way of giving the public absolutely false and, possibly, dishonest information.  And, folks remember, his cruise is not over.  We have yet more tall tales and tantrums to read about.  Yippee!

Paul Motter: If I am not speaking the truth, sue me.  That will never happen.  Challenge me.  Show where I am wrong.  Write about how I have it all wrong while you are cruising. That will never happen either.

Fox News Business:  If you actually want to be “Fair and Balanced”, you had better get someone other than Paul Motter to do your cruise writings.

What do you think?  Join the discussion on The Gold Standard Luxury Travel Forum.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Goldring Travel's 2011 Food & Wine Cruise on the Seabourn Sojourn - Part X


The last day of the 2011 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise on the Seabourn Sojourn was a sea day sailing from Boston to New York.  The seas were a bit choppy, the skies were a bit gray and the wind was up, so it wasn’t the best of conditions.  In fact, after having sailed on what seemed like a lake for most of the cruise, the conditions left a few guests feeling a bit queasy.

For me it was a great time to arrange the onboard booking discounts of 5% for all of my clients who have booked the 2012 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise on the Seabourn Pride, which is a 14 day cruise from Dover to Lisbon visiting France, England, Ireland, Spain and Portugal and includes a complimentary Ensemble Experience in Bordeaux, France, a Goldring Travel exclusive event, Shopping with the Chef and some other special amenities.  (There are only a few spaces left, so if you are interested please contact me soon.)

After that it was time to put the finishing touches on the Annual Goldring Travel Food & Wine Tasting with the Seabourn Chef and Sommelier.   This is where the various wines I have picked up along our cruise are combined with some cheeses I found and whatever the Seabourn chefs want to do to accompany them. This year, being that we have cruised the North Atlantic, which is not exactly the hotbed of traditional winemaking, there was more of a “creative” approach.

Executive Chef Rajat Adhikary, with the assistance of Sous Chef Alexander Zillissen, and some contributions by Executive Chef Marcus de Jong, and Sommelier Tilmar Pfefferkorn, the event in held Restaurant 2 was a truly unique experience and a great play off of the New England Aquarium experience the day before.




The wines were a 2010 Williams Vin Blanc and a 2009 Domaine Les Brome Cuvee Julien, both Quebecois wines, a traditional ice wine 2006 Vignoble du Marathonien Vidal, a less traditional (for most) cider wine Le Pedneault Le Glacier and a truly unique Acadian Maple Reserve Maple Wine.








There were nine different cheeses including two Quebecois cheeses, one a rindless brie and another a goat cheese covered in ash, a strong Munster, a Louis d’Or and others. 


Contrasting the cheeses were some wonderful seafood offerings:  Lobster Bellevue, Black Mussels Mariniere, Steamed Clams with Pernod, Tuna Sashima and simply, but perfectly prepared, steamed lobster.






What was really surprising is that the highly rated ice wine actually was perceived by many as being less interesting, and not as easily paired, than the cider wine.  And, for me, the most interesting pairing was the maple wine with the tuna sashimi with wasabi and soy.  (Who’d a thunk that?)


It was a great finish to a truly fantastic cruise on the Seabourn Sojourn.  

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Goldring Travel's 2011 Food & Wine Cruise on the Seabourn Sojourn - Part IX


Today was the Goldring Travel Special Food & Wine Event at the New England Aquarium.  It went off without a hitch and was, honestly, better than I had hoped for.

Goldring Travel’s clients were given access to the entire New England Aquarium to enjoy the penguins, huge central tank and all of the exhibits before and after private behind the scenes tours.  Some were lucky enough to watch a huge sea turtle being lifted by a specially rigged crane and then blood samples being taken.




But then it was time for the Behind the Scenes Tours.  This was no faux experience, but rather one which provided a wealth of information from behind the exhibition tanks…with aquarists regularly walking in between the visitors.  The guides were a great mix of knowledge, enthusiasm and charm.  They explained how the aquarium gets its sea water right from Boston Harbor and showed the equipment in action that cleans and filters the water before sending it to the tanks and then recirculates it.  (It was a bit ironic that they discussed how protein skimmers create the same sort of turbulence that causes proteins to foam up from wind and skims the proteins away…thinking back to my “discussion” of that in Saguenay about that protein foam not being from the ship’s laundry.)  


We were then shown a tank with various fish…and the tanks behind it with “backup fish” (Fish get sick too, but at the New England Aquarium they make sure you aren't staring at identification signs looking for missing fish.) 


Then it was to the Giant Octopus tank with its heavy cover required due to the octopus’s late night fishing exhibitions in the other tanks (I had a pet octopus, Herman, who did the same thing) and then the puzzles given to the octopus where it has to figure out how to get its food.  Then there was the crash of water from the anemone tank simulating surf with cute baby lump fish behind it. 


Next were the lobsters!  A giant blue lobster. A calico lobster.



  And, my favorite, a red and blue lobster…colored red on the right and blue on the left!


What many of the folks really enjoyed was then going back to the public areas of the New England Aquarium and looking anew at the exhibits.  Everyone agreed that they will never look at an aquarium the same way.

But now it was time to eat seafood!  What?  At an aquarium?  Let me not get ahead of myself. 

The West Wing, with its black walls lined with tanks filled with jellyfish, was ringed with a Sustainable Seafood & Wine Experience.  It included:

Lobster
Oysters (two kinds)
Prawns
Swordfish
Red Crab Cakes
New England Clam Chowder (of course)
A variety of cheeses
Miniature Beef Wellingtons
Sesame Chicken with dipping sauce. 






After a “Thank You” toast with a Lamberti Prosecco to all of my clients…something they well deserve!...it was time for an Oyster Shucking Lesson for the newest fan of oysters.  Under the supervision of the New England Aquarium’s Chef Tiger, a new talent was discovered.



It was then time to enjoy all of the food with some great wines: Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand) and Terrabianca Super Tuscan (Italy).

But then the real treat!  Elizabeth Fitzsimons, the New England Aquarium’s Outreach Coordinator for its Conservation Department’s Sustainable Seafood Program gave an informed, inspired, and fascinating interactive talk about sustainable seafood:  The Facts.  The Fallacies.  The Future.  (Those are my words.) 

Elizabeth's basic message was that by making smart use of our oceans’ bounties we can actually improve ourselves as well as our environment.  By eating seafood other than such popular items as salmon and shrimp, smartly regulating species so that they prosper such as lobsters and swordfish, avoiding highly pressured species like Chilean sea bass (actually it is not a sea bass, but a toothfish) and orange roughy, we can make a huge difference…while enjoying all sorts of seafood and flavors.




I love this stuff, but I didn’t know if this, no matter how tasty, might have been a bit too cerebral for an extended period.  It was, I am happy and proud to report, a huge success.  Elizabeth could have talked for two hours and still had the group mesmerized.  

 But all good things have to come to an end…and there was no better way to end the event than with incredibly good cupcakes!


After a lovely late afternoon wandering Quincy Market, it was time to head back to the Seabourn Sojourn for a wind down period in…you guessed it:  the forward hot tub.  A wonderful dinner dining al fresco in the Colonnade brought a relaxing end to a super day.


One day left to our Food & Wine Cruise and that means the Food & Wine Tasting!