Monday, November 28, 2011

UK Luxury Cruises? - Holland America and Seabourn Merge Sales Offices...Be Careful!

It has just been announced that HAL and Seabourn are merging their United Kingdom (UK) sales offices and teams; mimicking the rather frustrating endeavor in the United States.  The reason is not to increase operational efficiencies, but according to the press releases:  Carnival wants to group its "luxury" brands.

Unfortunately, what it will not do is provide a better, or more efficient, entree into the luxury cruise market, but rather a more confused and inaccurate message for the British and European cruiser.

Why?  Apparently, because according the Carnival UK if it is not a mass market experience is it a luxury one.  That is simple not true!

I must contrast this new message to the British/European cruiser against the message given in the United States that Seabourn is, and shall remain, a distinct brand with a distinct office and hierarchy, and most importantly a different clientele.

More specifically, Seabourn's entire inventory consists of suites in an all-inclusive, high service, high cuisine, atmosphere.  Holland America has an inventory of cabins where you pay extra for almost everything...on one side of one ship that equals the entirety of Seabourn's suites on all of its ships.  In fact, on Holland America it doesn't provide a single complimentary drink (save a welcome bottle of sparking wine) to even its top suite guests.  (And the Neptune Lounge is the least robust of almost any cruise line...even Royal Caribbean!)

So the British luxury cruiser is going to wind up getting support from travel agent and back-office philosophy that is focused on calling Holland America a "luxury"product when it is, without any question, an upscale mass market cruise that what really matters to the luxury cruiser is lost.

To make this point even clearer, one need not compare Holland America to Seabourn, but to - let's say - Celebrity Cruises which offers far more amenities for suite guests (complimentary cocktail hours, for example), has multiple alternative dining venues (including the world class Murano Restaurants), etc. Or how about Oceania Cruises or Azamara Club Cruises, which provide a more inclusive (not all inclusive) experience with finer dining options throughout their ships with a higher level of service and 50% or less passengers on their ships.

For an overall article on this subject please read my articles:


A Luxury Cruise: What is the "Industry Accepted Definition of 'Luxury'"? Does One Exist?



Budget Cruises Pitching Luxury: You Don't Get What You Pay For, You Only Think You Do...Because You Have a Bad Travel Agent!


Can someone please explain to me how someone pitching a Holland America cabin to you is going to be better qualified to explain the entirely different experience you will have on a Seabourn cruise...and that person is going to do it telling you, with a serious face, that both are luxury experiences?

So while the newly combined UK offices of Seabourn/Holland America want to represent to you, the traveling public, that they are "luxury" sisters, do not be duped.  And do not ever think it is appropriate to combine the Holland America and Seabourn brands for anything other than back office reservations systems, provisioning, etc., is absolutely an appropriate way to increase efficiencies.

If you are in the UK, elsewhere in Europe or even Australia, please give me a call on the telephone numbers below or email me at eric@goldringtravel.com  to get the accurate information, great service, excellent pricing and, most importantly, the truth.


(877) 2GO-LUXURY 
UK: 020 8133 3450 
AUS: (07) 3102 4685 
International: +1 732 383 7398

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Holiday Season = Airline Food = Not Too Many Good Choices

Lots of suggested articles are sent to me from various industry sources and companies seeking to push a particular product or position.  Generally I read them with interest, but don't find them something my readers would find interesting or useful or, frankly, they are just are too biased.

However, today I received one today and thought:  I was going to write about how I have become so disenchanted with the poor quality and lack of healthy choices on my airline flights that it is something I should write about, but now I don't have to.  Here you go:


2011 DietDetective.com Airline Food Investigation

Survey Provides Travelers with the
Best In-flight Food including Health Ratings
Making Healthier Choices 35,000 Feet in the Air
Virgin America and Air Canada Receive Top Rating, United Falls from Grace (again),
Spirit at the Bottom, Spirit and Delta Least Cooperative

NEW YORK, NY (NOVEMBER 22, 2011) According to Airline Transportation Association, there will between roughly 23 million passengers traveling over this Thanksgiving season. Knowing what are the ‘best’ and ‘worst’ choices is a valuable tool for any traveler, so DietDetective.com once again rated the best ‘Calorie Bargains’ and “Calorie Rip-offs” at 35,000 feet.

DietDetective.com issued the 2011 Airline Food Survey rating foods for eight airlines. The survey assigned a “Health Score” (5 stars = highest rate, 0 star = lowest) based on snack/on-board food service offerings, number of healthy offerings, airline cooperation, fruit and vegetable offerings, and improvements. The survey includes health ratings, cost, comments, food offerings, calories, and exercise equivalents.

“This year Virgin America and Air Canada provided the ‘healthiest" choices in the sky, while United had a fall from grace, Spirit received the lowest rating, and Spirit and Delta were the least cooperative (and also received a low health rating),” says Charles Platkin, PhD, MPH, public health advocate, editor of DietDetective.com and assistant professor at CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College.

Below are the surveyed airlines’ “Health Scores” (Health Score: 5 stars = highest rating, 0 stars = lowest). For full survey results including full listings of the snack/on-board food, comments, ratings, cost, calories, exercise equivalents, and tips go to www.DietDetective.com or email Mary Cummings (mary@nutritionpr.com), 212 -367-6199 ext 2

Air Canada (514-393-3333, www.aircanada.com)
Health Score: (****)
Best Bets: This airline cares about its passengers’ health--that's for sure. The airline calls their food Air Canada NutriCuisine and prides itself on the freshness and optimum quality of ingredients. They contract with a company called Food with a Conscience nutritional program ( www.foodwithaconscience.com) to help create their menu.
They can do slightly better on the individual snack offerings though. Pick the Nissin – Chicken Ramen Noodle Soup. It will fill you up and it's more like a meal. The cashews need to be shared. They will fill you up but have too many calories for one person.  I love the idea of the Celery & Carrots with Ranch Dip -- nice touch. I just wish the dip were hummus or something healthier than ranch.  As far as the meals go, they are all relatively low in calories. Go for the chicken or roast beef wrap or the vegetarian sandwich (nice!).  The healthy oatmeal is also a great offering.

Virgin America (877-359-8474, www.virginamerica.com)
Health Score: (****)
Best Bets: In terms of individual snacks, the PopChips are a low-calorie choice; however, the best choice is the nuts. They are packed with important nutrients and will help keep you full longer than other snack choices. But you still need to split them with someone. The oatmeal is a good breakfast choice at 310 calories -- a nice whole grain to get you started in the morning. Virgin's snack boxes, such as the protein meal with hummus, nuts and tuna, are great. They’ll fill you up and will be a real meal. To be honest, the Jet Set Kid’s Pack could set a better example. I wish it had some healthier choices, but at least it's relatively low in calories (compared to other airline snack boxes). In terms of meals, the Edamame and Portobello Mushroom Wrap is filled with great stuff and has 9g of fiber and 20g of protein. Wow! The only negative is the high sodium content (1300mg). Another good choice is the Egg and Vegetable Salad Wrap, which is filled with high quality protein and has only 370 calories. 

United Airlines (800-864-8331, www.united.com) / Continental Airlines (800.523.3273, www.continental.com)
Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information:
Health Score: (*** 1/4)
Best Bets: On flights longer than two hours, go for the Tapas; it has some great foods, including almonds, olives, hummus and bruschetta – just toss out the cheese spread.  All the individual snacks are pretty high in calories. I realize they're meant to be shared, but even so, there is no one standout among them. If you have a family of five or six (not very likely) and wanted to split the almonds, they are really the only snack choice that has real nutritional value. You should avoid the chips and cinnamon rolls. That doesn't leave too many individual snack options. All the snack packs are very high in calories. There are elements in each that are ok; however, if I had to choose, the Savory is probably the best -- just watch that fruit-and-nut mix. In terms of meals, the yogurt is not too bad for breakfast. Skip the cheese and fruit plate -- it gives the illusion of being healthy, but it's not at all, and there is really not much fruit to speak of other than the dried fruit. 
For flights longer than three hours, United has several healthy choices, but I really like the Grilled Chicken Spinach Salad at 360 calories including the dressing. The other choices, including the Asian Noodle Salad, Thai Chicken Wrap and Turkey Sandwich are ok choices compared to those of other airlines, and in term of calories they are decent for lunch or dinner.  For breakfast, your best bet is the Yogurt Parfait – or, if you're interested in meat ,you can order the Ham and Cheddar Rustic Ciabatta Sandwich, which is 318 calories (not bad), and you can get rid of half the roll and save about 100 calories.

US Airways (480-693-0800, www.usairways.com)
Health Score: (** 3/4)
Best Bets: The CafePlus is not bad because, at the very least, you get the protein from the tuna, and it's low in calories. Maybe you can get rid of the cookies (give them to the flight attendant as a gift). I also like the Cobb Salad, and the good news is that the dressing is typically on the side. In terms of snacks, the only one that looks good is the chips and salsa at 130 calories. The nuts would be great; however, you need to split them with 8 to 10 people. Avoid the new Bacon/Egg Salad Croissant Box at more than 700 calories.

JetBlue Airways (800-538-2583, www.jetblue.com)
Health Score: (**3/4)
Best Bets:  Not much in the snack area to eat other than the Quaker Multigrain Fiber Crisps. They are made with whole grain oats-- nice touch. Try to stick with no more than one snack. Just because they are free and they let you take more than one doesn’t mean you have to take them, especially if you’re not hungry. In terms of the meal boxes, the Shape Up is the clear winner if you're thinking of this as a meal. It has 8 grams of fiber and only 2g of unhealthy saturated fat. While the Cheer Up is low in calories, I’m not sure it will do the trick as a meal. However, if you're just looking for a snack and you share it with someone, you're only at 130 calories. Last year JetBlue started to offer more than just snacks, but only on longer flights. The problem is that they still need to add some healthier real meals and snack options. The individually packaged snacks are portion-controlled; however, most are lacking in any real nutritional value. And the worst part is that they no longer sell nuts -- which were the most nutrient-dense offering they had.

American Airlines (817-963-1234, www.aa.com)
Health Score: (**1/2) Their snacks are still high in calories with few healthy offerings.
Best Bets: Your best bet is the Sabra Roasted Red Pepper Hummus with Pretzels; at least the hummus has a few health benefits.  The Fruit and Nut Blend is a decent nutrition choice, but make sure to split it with at least two other people. Nuts are very high in calories but will help fill you up. If you're on a longer flight, the best choice is a new item -- Marcus Samuelsson’s New American Table Turkey and Chutney Sandwich, which is packed with protein and even has apple slices on the sandwich for flavor. It’s only 323 calories without the chips (give them away or refuse them). Another good choice is the Boston Market Chicken Caesar Salad with chips (which you can give away) and dressing for 660 calories. I like the fact that the dressing is on the side (use it sparingly). Again, you need to make sure you differentiate a snack from a meal. A 600-calorie snack is very high; however, a 600-calorie meal, especially for dinner, can be reasonable. Watch out for the Boston Market Deli Chicken Pesto and the Boston Market Turkey Carver -- they have way too many calories for one person. For breakfast, the fruit and cheese plate is an ok choice. I like it because at least it has walnuts and grapes, and the cheese portions are small. The Breakfast Café Croissant Sandwich is low in calories at 320, and the ham might fill you up nicely. The other breakfast choices are high in calories, low in nutrients, or both.

Delta Air Lines (404-773-0305, www.delta.com)
Health Score: (** 1/4)
Best Bets: In terms of individual snacks, there are no good options; however, sharing a  Flight Delights snack box is a pretty good idea (or have it as a meal and eat the whole thing). It has a variety of nutrient-dense foods that are low in calories for what you get. Of the breakfast options (on flights of 3 ½ hours or longer) your best bet is the Breakfast Snack, which has light yogurt and a fresh banana. Delta also offers a fruit and cheese plate that’s available for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The cheese is very high in calories, but it’s still a nice option if you skip the crackers; at least you're getting some nutritional benefit from what you're eating.  For lunch/dinner options, there are not too many offerings. You have the Chicken and Turkey Cuban at 552.5 calories or the Turkey Peppercorn Ranch Ciabatta at 576 calories. The chicken and turkey is the lower-calorie choice and is probably healthier based on the ingredients -- try to have only half the bread.

Southwest Airlines (214-792-4223, www.southwest.com)
Health Score: (*3/4) Not much variety and not much in terms of nutritional value.
Best Bet: Go for the nuts and skip the pretzels and other items.

Spirit Airlines (800-772-7117, www.spirit.com)
Health Score: ( *)
Best Bet: Bring your own food!!!  However, I guess the soup, at only 300 calories, could work as a meal. Keep in mind that all the calorie information below was estimated by our staff from the Spirit Airline menu descriptions and food manufacturers’ websites.
___________________
Bring Your Own Snacks
Even if you ate before you left home, you are still going to get hungry. We often underestimate the amount of time a trip can take. A two-hour flight could mean four or five hours of travel. Keep in mind that you can take most foods through security, but you need to check with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for the latest rules about carrying on food and water:  www.tsa.gov/311/index.shtm
Here are some ideas for snacks you can bring or buy in the airport:
-       Water: Buy it after the security checkpoint to take onboard. Dehydration can cause or exacerbate hunger, jet lag and fatigue.
-       Cereal: Kashi, Shredded Wheat or other low calorie cereals. Look for portable, low-calorie choices, under 120 calories per cup. You can also look for cereal in a cup. It’s portion controlled in 1.5-ounce packs that are easy to store and easy to use.
-       Fruit and salads: Stick with fruits like apples and oranges that can withstand some rough treatment. You can even bring a banana if you put it in a container such as a banana saver (www.bananasaver.com). Grapes or almost any other fruit can be carried in a plastic container. Also, they often sell cut up fruit or salads in the airport. They’re a bit more expensive than bringing your own, but at least they’re healthy alternatives to what is served onboard.
-       Energy bars: Although they tend to be high in calories and fat, they are generally better than a slice of pizza or a candy bar at the airport. Choose Larabars; they have nothing but healthy ingredients.
-       Nonfat yogurt: Yogurt is a great portable snack. You can purchase it after you go through security.
-       Sandwiches: Pre-cut them into portion-controlled sections so you can pull them out at different times during the trip without making a mess. Chicken, turkey, cold cuts and cheese (on 100 percent whole-wheat bread) are all great options for sandwiches on the go.
-       Soy chips and PopChips: Yet another portable, low-cal, high-fiber snack. (www.glennys.com, www.popchips.com)
-       Peel-and-eat tuna and salmon cups: Chicken of the Sea makes these easy-to-open cups that give you a quick protein source. With no draining required, this wild-caught tuna or salmon is perfect for on-the-go lunches and snacks.
-       Nuts: They're a good source of protein and they help fend off hunger. Portion them into 1-ounce bags (about 160 calories each).
-       Dried or freeze-dried fruit and vegetable snacks: Eat dried fruit in moderation; it's high in calories. (e.g., www.sensiblefoods.com, www.brothersallnatural.com, www.funkymonkeysnacks.com)
-       All Natural Fruit Roll-Ups (no sugar added): Check out Stretch Island Fruit Company's Original Fruit Strips, FruitaBü and Smoooshed Fruit Rolls (www.stretchislandfruit.com)
-       Whole-Wheat Crackers: Make sure to get 100 percent whole-wheat crackers such as Ak Mak (www.akmakbakeries.com), Dr. Kracker (www.drkracker.com) or Mr. Krispers (mrkrispers.elsstore.com).
-       Beef jerky: Especially if you're a low-carb fan, but not if you're watching your sodium.
                                          

Friday, November 11, 2011

11-11-11

Today is a pretty unique day.  I figure it is also a great time to remember that we each can view every day as unique and not the "same old same old".  That is, however, up to us...and not a calendar.

As I look out my windows at the clear blue sky, the bright sun, the wispy clouds passing overhead, the changing leaves waving in the breeze, and I feel the coolness of an autumn day, I figure life is pretty darn good...no matter what gets thrown at me.

So with that thought, when you are on your cruise or other holiday and something small (like a poorly tended to suite or a forgotten cup of coffee or a wine that doesn't really please your palate) bothers you, just think "11-11-11. Today is a unique day and life is pretty darn good."

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Seabourn's Fine Cuisine - A New Chapter

For many years Chef Charlie Palmer has been the "branded" chef for Seabourn Cruise Line and he has provided some truly excellent guidance and ideas from the 21 day rotating menus, to the original Restaurant 2 concept (two unusual companion dishes for each course), to the style and offerings in the Colonnade Restaurant (the nicest "buffet-esque" venue at sea).  And, of course, there he brought cache.



But today the Charlie Palmer Group says the creator of the award-winning Aureole restaurants in Las Vegas and New York will be leaving his role as Seabourn Cruise Line's Consulting Executive Chef in December.

Rick Meadows, Seabourn's President, in the same statement commented, "We are grateful to Charlie for the expertise and insight he has provided us. It has indeed been a fulfilling journey and, I might add, a delicious one. Charlie's guidance to Seabourn's highly-skilled culinary team has helped bring Seabourn's cuisine on par with the best in the world."

There are things that I notice, suspect and/or know that I feel are - at the time - better left unsaid.  I have noticed quite a number of changes with the Seabourn menus and, more importantly, the executive chefs having a far greater flexibility with the offerings.  I thought it curious, for example, that Chef David Burke (an excellent chef in his own right and a great guy who started his career in one of the Jersey Shore's finest restaurants literally at the same time I started my entree into the food & wine world at another one five minutes away!) was the chef present on the Inaugural Cruise of the Seabourn Quest; rather than Chef Charlie Palmer.

This, I believe, is a very good thing and now there will be a change...though not necessarily one that will really affect the high quality of Seabourn's cuisine.

Personally, I see it as part of an evolution where Seabourn's executive chefs are now expected to be far more than managers of the galley, but true creative and talented chefs.  As my readers know I have developed friendships (more than working relationships) with two of Seabourn's true culinary stars:

Chef Bjoern Wassmuth (Manager, Culinary Operations) and Executive Chef de Cuisine Rajat Adhikary (seen here in one of the Seabourn Quest's Spa Villas with a culinary feast created by Chef Rajat for me during the Inaugural Cruise in June)...and the finest and prettiest purser at sea, Shannon Storkey.


So with no doubt that Seabourn has benefited greatly from the presence and talents of Chef Charlie Palmer it is time to say, "Thank You" and also to enjoy the ever evolving culinary experiences on a Seabourn cruise.

Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Seabourn Quest's 2012 World Cruise Guest Lecturers Announced

One of the most enjoyable things on a cruise is being enlightened; and not necessarily only in the ports visited.  Guest Lecturers provide great depth to a cruise...and the ports that you expect to be enlightened in.

The guest lecturers on the 2012 Seabourn Quest World Cruise are as follows:


Jan. 5 -Feb. 2, 2012  Ft. Lauderdale to Cape Town
Marvin Hamlisch - Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Award-Winning Composer
Jon Bailey - Musicologist
Daniel Silke - Political Analyst

February 2 - 27, 2012  Cape Town to Singapore
Dr. Robert Copaken - International Affairs Expert
John Doherty - Waldorf Astoria Executive Chef
Bob Graham - Former U.S. Senator and Florida Governor

Feb. 27 - Mar. 13, 2012 Singapore to Hong Kong
Denise Heywood - Southeast Asia Expert
Richard Roth - CNN's senior U.N. correspondent

Mar. 13 - Apr. 2, 2012 Hong Kong to Dubai
Chef Oliver Reschrieter - Princess Diana's former personal chef
Paul du Quenoy,  professor of World and European History at the American University of Beirut.
The Honourable Ronald Sampson, former Chief Executive of the Falkland Islands Government.

April 2 - 23, 2012 Dubai to Venice
Arturo Sandoval - Grammy-winning jazz trumpeter
Major General John Hartley - International Relations Expert
Glenn Robinson - Middle East Security and Political Expert

Regent Seven Seas Reports Third Quarter Results...Not As Good As It Says!

One thing Frank Del Rio, Senior can do better than probably anyone in the industry is market his ships.  Good value, not so good, doesn't matter.  Great service, not so great, doesn't matter.  Great cuisine or marginal food, doesn't matter.  But marketing only goes so far.

Stay with me while I lay the foundation of what Regent Seven Seas Cruises 2011 third quarter results actually show...

As most of you know there are a number of cruise industry tactics that bother me. One is the 30% discounts on cruises that were never, and will never, be sold at the non-discounted price. (In other industries that would be considered to be an unlawful practice; even possibly consumer fraud.)  another one is the hallmark of Regent Seven Seas Cruises:  Everything is Free.  Folks you are paying for every bit of it.  Regent promotes on its website:


  • FREE Roundtrip Air with FREE Upgrade to Business Class Air in Penthouse Suites and higher on Europe Voyages 
  • FREE Unlimited Shore Excursions
  • FREE Luxury Hotel Package
  • FREE Beverages including fine wines and premium spirits
  • FREE Pre-Paid Gratuities
  • FREE Ground Transfers
  • FREE In-suite mini-bar replenished daily
  • FREE 24-hour room service and no additional charge for specialty restaurants


With the some of the highest per day rates in the cruise industry, forgetting about issues with quality and consistency, it is just simply false advertising that those things are "FREE".  (Obviously you can opt not to take many of the "FREE" things like airfare, hotel, etc. and get a credit..so you refunded money for something that was allegedly "FREE".  Not so obviously, is that if you don't want their tours...and many true luxury guests would not want them....you receive nothing back so your "FREE" tours are wasted.)

Now for the 2011 third quarter results:

Regent Seven Seas Cruises passenger count was essentially stagnant with a mere 0.8% reported increase in guests.   (Compare, for example, Royal Caribbean reporting an over 3% increase.) At the same time Regent increased its overall prices by approximately 3.0% and cut its maintenance and repair expenditures (which includes the amounts spent on the scheduled extended drydocking of the Voyager).

But possibly of greater interest is that its net income dropped approximately 30% and its adjusted earnings dropped approximately 18%. (Compare Royal Caribbean who reported double digit increases.)

So what does this mean to me and to you, the luxury cruiser?  To me it means that the recent talk...again...by Mark Conroy, Regent Seven Seas's president of a new ship is...again...just not credible.  A cruise line with very slow or no real growth with a reduction in revenue and profits (even though it is profitable) is just not going to invest in more capacity when it cannot fill its present ships or must do so with shrinking (though still cognizable) profits.

Does it mean that Regent Seven Seas is going to change its product or its marketing?  Probably not.

Ultimately it means:  DO NOT BUY INTO THE HYPE OF ANY CRUISE LINE.  You really need to have a travel agent who provides you with the real information so that you can make truly informed decisions.  I have often quoted Sy Syms, "An Educated Consumer Is Our Best Customer!"

If you are interested in more information on Regent Seven Seas Cruises or any other cruise line, please email  or call Goldring Travel.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Vacationcruisesinfo.com - Does It Provide More Than a Claimed Impartiality?

USA Today has just launched a new, claimed to be, impartial cruise website called Vacationcruiseinfo.com.  The premise of the site is ala Consumer Reports:  It reviews cruises without the reviewers receiving any benefits from the reviewed cruise line.  USA Today will pay for the cruise, will not accept any extras and its reviewers will be chosen and overseen to supposedly ensure impartiality.

I think the concept is a great one...but (as there always is with me)...one thing struck me immediately.  You are going to love this:   The site is plastered with advertisements from:  Royal Caribbean Cruise Line.  Not exactly Consumer Reports-esque.  Now, that does not necessarily mean that Royal Caribbean hasn't accepted the premise of its cruise ships being impartially reviewed, but there is definitely a "Don't Bite The Hand That Feeds You!" concern.

Is There True Editorial Review?  I Have My Doubts

Noting that the site is still new, what I have noticed is that the comments (the "review" information) is very, very limited.  For example, a review of the Norwegian Dawn commented on the food:


Overall, we give mixed marks for the food on the Norwegian Dawn. We were disappointed with the quality of dishes at the two main restaurants, Venetian and Aqua, and even the dishes at some of the extra-charge specialty restaurants failed to impress us. That said, we give high marks to Le Bistro, the French eatery, and the Japanese Teppanyaki restaurant.


One nice touch: If you can’t finish your meal for any reason, most restaurants will deliver the leftovers to your room.


One thing we should note is that all the restaurants have different names for the same items, especially desserts. If something sounds familiar, it’s probably the item you ate in another place.


Nice bit of surface information, but not nearly enough to make an informed decision.  By contract, some of the comments on the Celebrity Summit review were more detailed...even flowery; giving a bit more information, but also with a bit of a snide tone:


The onion soup was amazing, with a thick crust of Gruyere cheese on top of a tasty broth with herb croutons. The warm goat cheese tarte with balsamic was another delicious appetizer.


As for main courses, we had good and some bad experiences. The lobster was overcooked. The game hen looked very tasty, but was still bloody (the chefs were probably busy overcooking the lobster, so who can blame them?). One night, we could overhear somebody on another table who had to order the filet mignon three times before the cook got it medium rare. These were isolated incidents, however.


If this review was the subject of editorial review I have to wonder how the first bolded comment survived and why an isolated incident was reported as relevant (of course not knowing if the filet mignon was actually perfect and the passenger was simply impossible to please!).

Who Are The Reviewers?  What Are The Standards?

The biggest flaw, in my opinion, is that we don't know who it is that is reviewing the ship.  Is the person someone really qualified?  From where does that person's perspective come from?  This is vitally important to know because there can be enormous inconsistencies between reviewers and standards.

Recently a person another site reviewed the Seabourn Sojourn.  After rants and complaints for page after page the reviewer admits he is one of the quirkiest people to ever embark a cruise ship, posted whatever he wanted to at the moment and then change his mind (without changing his prior comments...that people will rely upon).  Then he admits that both he and his wife as peculiar dietary requirements.  (He also has had years of scorn because Seabourn did not invite him to any special events and would not pay for his airfare if a complimentary cruise was offered.)  I think it is important to know this before reading the review.

But what of a reviewer that loves Carnival with all its high energy reviewing a Silversea cruise?  Great if you were thinking of moving up a quantum leap in sophistication and cuisine...which may be of absolutely no interest and, in fact, be a huge imposition on your Fun Ship desires, but terribly misleading if you are looking for those things and the perspective/experience isn't there.

Then there is an issue of whether a 7.0 on the Norwegian Dawn is a 7.0 on the Celebrity Summit is a 7.0 on the Seabourn Sojourn.  The expectations, the price point, the meeting of a passenger's desire isn't the same. Carnival's bar service is a lot more fun (and more beer-ish) than Crystal Cruises' (more champagne-ish), but the service of each cannot be interchanged.

Douglas Ward, of the Berlitz Cruise Guide, has, in contrast a very complex system of rating everything so you know how things compare ship to ship.  You also know, if you read his reviews, that such things as variety of cheeses and breads, weighs heavy for him...as does identifying when a "suite" is not really a suite.

Cruises Are Not Toasters!

Vacationcruiseinfo.com does have a great photo library of the ships presented and an excellent brief overview of each area of the ship. I strongly encourage it to be used as a resource.  (Heck, I just might use it from time to time!)

But what Vacationcruiseinfo.com cannot do is provide the in depth nuances and comparisons that I believe are really necessary in order to find the best cruise for you. It is more than a Consumer Reports' comment like, "The Volvo wasn't as fun to drive as the Saab."  You know that you will give both a test drive...or at least one of them and will make that decision for yourself.

But for a cruise there are so many things to consider and so many personal issues that can arise that whether it is Berlitz or USA Today's Vacationcruiseinfo.com, that you need real personal advice and consultation.  It is why, alas, luxury travelers hardly ever make a purchase of a cruise over the internet.  But you know that.  It is why you are reading this!

Overall, I applaud the concept, but I need to see more before I can endorse the execution.  Right now I have my concerns and reservations.  (I am also not too fond of the layout.)  The site is new and I am sure there will be tweaks and changes.

Regardless, as it grows it may be a good place to check out.


Friday, November 4, 2011

Cruise Documents - Happy, Hokey or a Horrible Waste?

I just read a some comments about cruise documents which really took me back.

A new Seabourn guest is anxiously waiting for her cruise documents..."What do they look like? What is included?" and all that, another person chimes in, "It's just a corrugated piece of paper product along with a cheap vinyl/plastic folder made in a Chinese sweat shop. Best use is to toss it in the recycle garbage bin after removing the spiral insert."

It is unfortunate that some people are so focused on themselves and the old "This glass is going to be empty soon; not even half empty" approach to life.  But I digress...because the issue is Cruise Documents.

Most people are tactile; that is they like to touch things.  Most people like to touch clothes before even thinking of taking them off the rack to investigate further.  Most people cannot understand blueprints, no less mentally put themselves into room that has yet to be built.  Most people like to receive something commemorating a special event or award (even a piece of cardboard which most people call "birthday cards").

Long ago...OK, not that long ago...having a paper ticket was essential.  There were no sophisticated computers at the airports or cruise terminals to verify you were a passenger.  Remember those red carbonized airline tickets that you placed into the special leather ticket wallet you purchased just for those special occasions known as "air travel"?  That ticket was like gold.  It meant you were really going somewhere and doing it in a special way.

And, to those tactile people out there...which, again, is most of you...Cruise Documents give you that same feeling.

Also, there are many folks that either do not use computers or are not comfortable with them (whether it be all the hype over personal information passing over the internet or just not getting the whole "cyber" thing).  Why is catering to their preferences less important than, say, having your drink costs embedded into your cruise fare versus paying as you go?  Costs?  Someone who doesn't drink is funding the drinking costs of someone who does...and someone who doesn't like cruise documents may be funding the costs of someone who likes them.  (There are lots of these trade-offs in the cruise financial scheme of things.)

Seabourn affords its guests a choice:  Traditional cruise documents or e-Documents for both Pre-Cruise and Cruise Documents.  To explain, Pre-Cruise Documents are provided by lines such as Silversea and Seabourn with lots of planning information.  Cruise Documents are the ones that get you on the ship.  Note:  Silversea, like most other lines, no longer send out these pre-cruise documents, but rather do them totally online.

I find this to be a poor marketing choice for both the cruise line and the travel agent.  Poor marketing for the travel agent, you say?  Why, yes I do!

Postage costs and time getting them out them door aside, having Pre-Cruise Documents allows me to re-connect with my clients that do not call or email me regularly and gives me an opportunity to remind them to engage their trip by planning in advance.  In other words, it allows me an opportunity to unobtrusively say, "Let's Get Going!!!!" and show that there is significant value in using me.  It also allows me the opportunity to send along a small gift of some sort.  You know the Thank You For Your Business thing that most people forget to do.

And then there are the actual Cruise Documents.  Pretty much gone are the lovely presentation boxes.  Seabourn was the last one to give them up.  Why?  I really don't think it was the cost...and ecology has nothing to do with it.  (Boy do I hate that excuse  Be honest; don't exploit legitimate environmental efforts when your concern really isn't that.)  What it has to do with in large part are complaints from travel agents that do not want to spend the money forwarding these presentations as it is expensive.  (You would be amazed at how many travel agents take the ticket wallets and luggage tags out of the packaging and throw them into a envelope just to save on packaging and postage!

Goldring Travel, however, takes a different approach.  I think Cruise Documents are a great way to reconnect yet again with my clients and to give them a real Thank You Gift.  Whether it is an embroidered carry-on bag, a canvas duffle, a fleece sweater, baseball caps, etc., it is a way for me to let my clients know that I really do care and invest in them as they invest in me.  If I can't invest a few dollars in saying "Thank You.  Your business and your vacation is important to me." there is something wrong.

Finally, Cruise Documents can send a message about what the experience is that you will receive onboard the ship.  I believe Orion Expeditions has the finest, most useful, cruise documents out there with a zip up portfolio packed with information in an incredibly organized and easy to use fashion.  Seabourn's documents and matching magnetic luggage tags, are simple, elegant and lined, giving a feeling of tradition combined with modernity.  Crystal's green wallets are filled...and I mean filled...with information (though not in the most easy to use fashion); I would say possibly a bit too much as they are truly focused on those that are truly not internet saavy.  Regent's are more akin to its premium (not luxury) sister line, Oceania Cruises.  The are really nothing more than some papers bound together in an overly large folder...giving the impression they are something that they really aren't.  (They are fine, just not special.)

Too many lines have eliminated Cruise Documents, but alas the demographics are such that  you will never miss that which you have never had and "Why do I need paper when I can see everything on my iPad?"  The information gets to the guests, but the richness of the experience starts to be diluted.

In short, Cruise Documents are important.  "[J]ust a corrugated piece of paper product along with a cheap vinyl/plastic folder made in a Chinese sweat shop"? Would you like to dine with that person or someone else  this evening?


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Orion Expedition Cruises - Awesome Itineraries/Special Pricing

Orion Expedition Cruises is a truly unique luxury expedition cruise experience.  Some of my most experienced, most demanding and most travel focused (rather than sightseeing) clients have cruised with Orion Expeditions Cruises and been thrilled with the experiences.

Whether it has been exploring Borneo and visiting the orangutan rescue facilities with its founder or Northern Australia's Kimberly region or Antarctica, the reports are nothing sort of phenomenal.

Orion Expedition operates two smaller, luxury, ships with very comfortable accommodations, fine cuisine, great wines, true naturalists, zodiacs for landings and a classy, but casual, atmosphere all packaged in a pretty much all inclusive cruise experience.

While you won't find an incredible fitness center or lavish shows, what you will find are experiences of a lifetime, relaxation and stimulation.

Orion I focuses on Kimberley, Papua New Guinea, Antarctica, New Zealand & Sub-Antarctic Islands, Forgotten Islands, Great Barrier Reef & Arnhem Land

Orion I













while Orion II focuses on Borneo, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Japan, China, Russian Far East, Micronesia & Papua New Guinea.

Orion II










Watch this video to see more:

 


From now through November 30, 2011 Orion is offering special pricing on many of its cruises.  For more information please visit:  http://www.orionexpeditionspartner.com/goldringtravel/.

Of course, you can also email me at eric@goldringtravel.com or call me:

Toll free number: 877-2GO-LUXURY
London, UK number: 020 8133 3450
Brisbane, Australia number: (07) 3102 4685
International number: +1 732 383-7398
Mobile number: +1 732-693-8797