Monday, January 30, 2012

Churchill Did Not Say It!

I have received dozens of emails from people allegedly quoting Winston Churchill along the lines (no pun intended !) of this:

Late in his life, Sir Winston took a cruise on an Italian ship. A journalist from a New York newspaper approached the former prime minister to ask him why he chose to travel on an Italian line when the Queen Elizabeth under the British flag was available. Churchill gave the question his consideration and then gravely replied. 'There are three things I like about Italian ships. First, their cuisine, which is unsurpassed. Second, their service, which is quite superb. And then - in time of emergency - there is none of this nonsense about women and children first.'

The fact is that Winston Churchill never made the comment at all.  It seems that it was actually a joke from 1917 that was later sort of adopted by Noel Coward.  The Quote Investigator ( has a wonderful analysis that debunks the myth.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Seabourn Signature Sale Continues - Let Me Clarify Cruise Sales For You

I previously let you know about what I see as Seabourn's first real sale in a very long time.  That sale, due to its success, is continuing.

How do I know this sale has excellent pricing?  It is, in part, because my client's followed my advice and booked that when this sale came along my client already had the category and suite they desired and I had to reprice their cruises (if one of us discovered their cruise and suite category was included). 

It is a lot of extra work for me, but my clients have received the best of both worlds:  The Best Price and The Best Suite in their Desired Category on the Sailing of Their Choice.

You need to trust me on this being the best approach.  I have had many calls and emails for cruises that may or may not be on sale, but which clients waiting until later have found that what they desired was not available or that they had to move up or down categories (costing them more money or disappointing themselves with lesser accommodation or location). 

OK, now for the wording of the offer...Almost. 

The other day I was at a luncheon and the speaker said, "Listen carefully.  I will say '1,2,3 Clap'...and then you clap."  So he said "1,2,3" and the audience interupted him with a clap...and then he said, "Clap".  His words were clear:  Don't clap until after he said, "clap", but the audience was already trained through life to clap after "3", so they did what they were trained to do...and clapped before he said the magic word.

Now the wording.  If you read the words they are dead-on accurate:
Save up to 50% or more
Receive up to a 2-category upgrade
Up to 15% savings on select combination cruises
$1,000 per suite shipboard credit on premium suites
* On select sailings. See Terms and Conditions for details.

Complimentary upgrades are up to two categories on select voyages in oceanview, balcony & veranda categories only and are subject to availability at time of booking. Upgrade will be reflected in fare paid for selected suite category. Shipboard credit offer of $1,000 per suite ($500/person) on select voyages available in PH , CS, OW , SS , WG and GR suite categories only.

All the proper clarifications are there.  But...and to me it is a big "but"...the cruise consumer has already been trained to see what isn't highlighted.  So you "see" a 2-category upgrades on all suites and a $1,000 shipboard credit.

Unfortunately, what you don't see is that there are some really great prices independent of the hard to find 2 category upgrade and you become frustrated because the majority of upgrades are only one category and only from say an A to an A1 or a V1 to a V2 on the majority of sailings.

You are also confused by the term "premium" suite is because all suites on Seabourn are "premium", while the clarifying language is right the fine print.

Now, let me give you an extreme, but all to common, example of how this can really confuse the already "trained" cruise consumer: I recently read a reader's comment in the Los Angeles Times about booking a Seabourn cruise in a veranda guarantee 10 days before sailing and that he wound up with a midship veranda suite (no category noted) that as a single would have cost him over $32,000.  Can you say, "Not true!"? That might have been the Brochure Price (something that I think should be eliminated from this industry as no cruise is ever...and I mean ever...sold at that price; only significantly less than that. 

To put this into perspective, the brochure shows a Brochure Fare of $15,900 per person for a V3, but that is immediately cut by 25% for the Early Booking Savings of 25% to $11,925 (all the other similar sailings had EBS of 35-45%...right in the brochure!).  That figure, as he was a single, was - according to the brochure - subject to a 200% single supplement:  Hence is $32,000 cruise and the reality of - absolute worst case scenario - $23,850.00.  That is a 34% overstatement of the absolute highest price one could pay for this cruise.

But, remember, this person booked a veranda guarantee and could have well wound up in a V1 suite and, for that matter, one with a very small balcony.  Knock another $2,250 off his $32,000 figure and now we are looking at a 48% overstatement of alleged savings off the absolute hightest price that could have been paid.

The fact is that this sailing was discounted further as, for some reason, South America was selling a bit soft for all of the cruise lines this autumn and winter.  I booked clients in a confirmed V6 suite for the next sailing at $6,499 per person back in July a suite that they absolutely loved (and want on their next cruise)...because they listened to me.

Now, all of a sudden that $32,000 cruise for $9,000 doesn't sound like such an incredible deal; does it?  Was it a wonderful value?  Absolutely.  But we need to get away from the hype and smoke and mirrors.

So, if you are interested in a cruise, whether it be Seabourn, Crystal, Silversea, Azamara, Oceania, or whomever, you need a knowledgeable travel agent.

In the coming weeks you are going to see far more in the way of online booking engines.  Heck, my consortium, Ensemble Travel Group, is making one available for me to install on my website. But, I am not going to be doing thatWhy?  Didn't you just read this article?

If you have any questions or need information, please give me a call or drop me an email

United States:           (877) 2GO – LUXURY
London, England:     020 8133 3450
Brisbane, Australia: (07) 3102 4685
International:            +1 732 578 8585
Skype                         egoldring
I will clarify things for you...and give you great service and excellent pricing/added values.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Seabourn World Cruise Update - January 25, 2012

A quick update to show you where the Seabourn Quest has been during the first 20 days of its 2012 World Cruise.

Obviously the last few days have been sea days with lots of relaxation, but also a good bit of fun.

Italy Gives The Cruise Industry Another Black Eye: Oceania Riveria's Delivery Is Delayed

What I have known to be a somewhat chaotic maritime industry in Italy (sometimes truly unbelievably chaotic) as once again proven to be the rule rather than the exception.

Oceania Cruises has, unfortunately, announced that the Oceania Riviera's delivery has been delayed...a second from April 24, 2012 to May 16, 2012.  The cause of the delay:  Strikes in Italy.

Being the delay is significant in time, there is simply no way that Oceania - being forced to cancel two cruises - can shift people who booked the Maiden Voyage to the new, anticipated, Maiden Voyage.  Instead they are being offered either a full refund, or if they rebook, a credit ranging from $250 to $1,000 per person.  (I, personally, think that is a bit on the cheeky side as most people booked to be on the Maiden Voyage and they will be given nothing if they request their money back.  Everyone should be given a future cruise credit of some sort, not just if you allow Oceania to keep your money.)

I was skeptical of Oceania's first announced delay of the Riviera's delivery when it said it was to allow the crew to get better acquainted with the ship.  I "knew" it was problems with the yard, but politics being what they are, a seemingly innocuous reason was given.

This raises some real concerns for me concerning the eventual fit and finish of Riviera; not that it is Oceania's the contrary.  I have seen the work of Italian yards when the yacht or ship is the last big project for the yard or there will be a significant cutback in staffing after delivery.  Pride in workmanship goes out the window and slapping it together with a rather arrogant "Who Cares?" attitude becomes pervasive...or, at least, pervasive enough to cause real issues.

This is truly unfortunate; especially because Oceania's Marina is a truly wonderful ship that has great ratings and truly pleases its passengers.

If there is silver lining for those who just found out they will not be on the Maiden Voyage, it is that those folks will miss what probably will be a host of issues and problems that will be the result of a rushed and not terribly well finished product.  That said, I am confident that given time and Oceania's now famous teamwork once Riviera is delivered she will be brought up to "ship shape" as quickly as possible.

Now, let's see how firm that May 16, 2012 date is!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Hype About the Costa Concordia Tragedy Is A Disservice

There are few things worse than bad journalism and hype causing not only unnecessary upset and poor decision making for the consumer, but distracting the professionals (from regulatory agencies to cruise lines to travel agents) from doing the job that is actually needed to be done.

The reporting on the Costa Concordia, and some of the reactions caused thereby, have more than bothered me.  I mean, would you expect less, when I complain bitterly about how individuals post, repeat and foster huge amounts of misinformation on Cruise Critic and the site’s owners not only don’t do anything to correct the erroneous information, they foster its creation. 

Why?  Because just like the media, it has become a matter of gaining readership and, therefore, increased rates for, and number of, advertisements.  In other words, veracity of content just isn’t that important; traffic is.

It started off slowly. My ears perked up when I heard a CNN report referencing the “luxury” cruise liner.  I think it is clear that the Costa Concordia is/was nothing close to a luxury cruise ship (and it is not a “liner”, but let’s not get too technical).  The ship itself is very closely related to a number of Carnival Cruise Line ships.  ‘Nuf said.

But then it grew. 

Undocumented passengers were allegedly onboard.  And then it expanded to there being secreted (possibly illegal) workers onboard. Those things were reported quickly.  What hasn’t really been reported is that the original claim was from a telephone call to the Hungarian Embassy from a person with a fictitious name supposedly looking for a relative.    But what it also did (other than bring Costa under false attack for allegedly not having a secure ship) was have a significant number of man hours spent not only by Costa, but governmental agencies and rescue workers to be sure that there were no more people missing…and trying to find these phantoms; not to mention the public relations/consumer concern end of things.

There has been huge focus on the muster drill procedures and, emotionally, a significant number of “consumer advocates” jumping on the bandwagon of how allegedly dangerous this was.  I am going to go out on a limb here and speak without emotion:  There were 4,000+ people on that ship and, worse case, 99.25% of them were safely evacuated and they were evacuated the idiocy of captain Schettino causing the problem, his delaying the evacuation for over an hour (rendering half of the lifeboats useless) and then he and his officers leaving everyone to their own devices as they abandoned ship and the passengers. How many lives would have been saved if the muster was held earlier in the cruise?  How many would have been saved if everyone brought their life jackets to the muster; noting a number of the souls discovered were wearing their life jackets and at least one woman died of a heart attack!

I know this may sound cold-hearted, but there are accidents within all modes of transportation and while everyone strives for, and prays for, 100% success rates in saving lives, it is just not possible.  Imagine if it was an airline crash (there are far more of those…and they are very rare) and 99.25% survived.  That would be considered a miracle.  Imagine a major highway pile-up type accident and 99.25% survived. 

I have read about there being a faulty design in the ship, but this is by people that don’t really know enough to make those calls.  Trust me on this: There are many very distinct professions and expertises in the maritime world and I have heard people speak of stability, hull shapes, etc. that not only haven’t done the engineering, but aren’t capable of doing it.  Hence I wonder (not really) why these are the people who put their faces out front stirring a pot that probably need not be stirred.  (I am still waiting to hear if all of the water-tight doors were properly closed and secured.  I have noted my hunch, but have not stated it to be a fact.)  Systems are only as good as their being followed.

Without going on too long, regardless of phony claims of stowaways, baseless claims of ship design issues, focusing on muster drills (because we understand them), etc., the fact is this accident was so obviously avoidable and the captain was so obviously incompetent…or worse.

What is found in almost every accident is that there is a significant human factor involved. Changing a muster drill may make you emotionally feel safer, but the reality of it is that the human (here the captain and the ship’s other officers) factors would have – not “could have” – avoided the entirety of the accident and would have – not “could have” – increased the survival rate to even closer to 100% if for no reason other than starting the evacuation procedures earlier (if not with more direction and supervision).

Yes, hype sells advertising.  But at what cost? 

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

Friday, January 20, 2012

Shangri-La and Pensinsula Hotels Stop Serving Shark Fin Soup!

Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, which operates 72 luxury hotels worldwide, announced on January 17th that it would no longer serve shark fins across its portfolio of properties.  Headquartered in Hong Kong, the hub of the shark fin trade, Shangri-La’s announcement comes right before New Year celebrations in China, which is said to be the main season for consuming shark fin soup.  

Greg Dogan, President and CEO of Shangri-La International Hotel Management Ltd, announced that it will no longer serve shark-fin soup or endangered species.  This is a very important step in changing the way many of Asian culture looks at sustainable foods, the environment and our natural heritage.

Mr. Dogan said:  "Shangri-La has been working on a number of projects related to sustainability for many years now. ‘Sanctuary, Shangri-La’s Care for Nature’ project was launched in 2009 precisely to make a concerted effort to ensure that biodiversity conservation and habitat protection is consistent across all resorts. Some of our resorts are testimonies to the commitment we have made to marine protected areas and overall reef protection to ensure the stability of the underwater and marine life. 

In December 2010 we started the first phase of our sustainable seafood campaign by taking shark fin off all our operated restaurant menus. The next step was to put logistics in place to be able to reduce and eventually eliminate stocks completely. On purpose we decided to look at a long term wider policy for not only shark fin products but also other endangered species before issuing a public commitment."

Back in November 2011, Peninsula Hotels, Asia’s oldest hotel company, announced they would stop serving shark fin across its portfolio of hotel restaurants and banquet operations.  Clement Wok, CEO, issued a statement that he hopes to inspire other hospitality companies to do the same, spreading awareness of the need to “preserve the marine ecosystem for the world’s future generations.”

Fins from up to 73 million sharks are used in shark fin soup every year and as a result, up to 1/3 of shark species are now threatened with extinction.  With China’s rapidly expanding economy and burgeoning middle class, an increasing number of consumers can now afford shark fin soup, which had once been accessible to very few.

Booking Your Cruise or Vacation Online? Think Again!

This is the second article I am writing about why using an online booking site, whether it be a cruise line's or a tour operator's...or even just email, probably isn't the best idea. Take a moment to read my first one:  Your Order Room Service With Your Telephone, So Why Not Your Vacation?

The other day, on the Today Show, the head of Virtuoso Travel (an organization that many top travel agents belong to; similar to Ensemble Travel Group of which Goldring Travel is a member), gave an interview on why using a "travel advisor" is your best option.  It is worth a couple of minutes to watch. 

Remember "value" vs. "price".  A low price on something you don't want isn't a great value. 

Chances are Goldring Travel can provide you with the same or better pricing...and will work with you before, during and after your vacation to assure it meets, and hopefully exceeds, your desires.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Some Words of Experience About a Seabourn Captain - From Someone Who Knows When It Matters!

On August 17, 2011 Shelly Davies and her partner where adrift in a very small boat (which they had rented and, to their great dismay, broke down) in the cold and dark of night in the Aegean Sea of the coast of Greece.  Captain Geir-Arne Thue-Nilsen and the crew of the Seabourn Quest rescued them.  You can read the details here.

Shelly read my recent article about Captain Geir-Arne and emailed me about it.  I asked her if I could share some of her thoughts and she enthusiastically said yes. 

I am sure you will agree after reading them that absolute confidence in the training, experience and humanity that goes into being a Seabourn captain (and especially THIS Seabourn captain) is in order:

"The crew onboard the Quest that night were incredible people and...we are are still in touch - which is lovely as we shared such an experience that night.

I did smile reading a recent news article regarding the manoeuvrability of these new breed of cruise liners...[I]f only the reporter who had written this could have seen Captain GA and his team manoeuvre the Quest just a few feet to shield our little boat from the wind so that they could rescue us (without the wind blowing us further away) he may have eaten his words!

Captain GA is a lovely man and a fantastic Captain...You can't believe how grateful I am that it was GA and team out on the Aegean that night!

Captain GA is everything you wrote in your article and more!"

Shelley said Captain GA...and team.  Something to think about...with a smile.

2012 Seabourn Quest World Cruise - Having Some Fun!

Let's all enjoy what cruising is about.

We are reminded, sometimes with more emphasis, that everything around us is not perfect, we should - at the same time - remember that sometimes looking forward to just having some fun is the best way to keep us centered...or, possibly, a little off-center!

Here are a few photos from the 2012 Seabourn Quest World Cruise

The Crossing the Equator Ceremony

Cruise Director John Barron as, well, John Barron!

King Neptune

Wanting to be King Neptune!
Presentation of the Ceremonial Fish

Kissing The Fish

Captain Geir-Arne Thue-Nilsen Spending Time With Some Seabourn Guests

Other Views of the World Cruise

Local Performers Brought Onboard the Seabourn Quest

Getting Ready for an Al Fresco Breakfast in The Seabourn Quest's Colonnade
Gourment Cooking Demonstration

Any Chance of a Free Cruise?  No?  LET ME IN!!!!!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Seabourn Quest's 2012 World Cruise Captain Geir-Arne Thue-Nilsen: A Captain's Captain...And A Really Nice Person!


This is what is expected of the Captain Geir-Arne Thue-Nilsen during the Seabourn Quest’s Inaugural World Cruise which started on January 5, 2012.  But what the Seabourn guests and crew have received is much more. 

Captain Geir-Arne is a special breed; a special person.  He is more than a captain that says “Hello” as he is passing by or a sought after dinner host.  He is more than the captain with the great cameras, artistic photographs, and an endearing accent.  He is a captain that, having worked his way from the bottom up, understands and appreciates the needs and nuances of those that he commands…and takes the responsibility of being a Seabourn captain not only seriously, but to heart.

But what makes him this great captain, and one that I would be extraordinarily comfortable sailing with (yet again!), is summarized by a single comment he made to me during my interview with him on the Seabourn Quest as she was preparing to depart on her 2012 World Cruise.  He said, “Management is a pyramid, but not the way most people think of them.  My pyramid is upside down.  I am the point and then come my officers.  We support everyone on our ship:  the crew, the staff and our guests.”

In other words, Captain Geir-Arne sees himself as not only being responsible for, but the foundation, of the ship and her “family”.  He walks the ship with a smile and says hello to the crew, acknowledging them by name, congratulating them on promotions, high fiving another.  But one thing is very clear when you see the crew:  They know who the captain is and they know Captain Geir-Arne runs a very tight ship.  (And now you know why I have not referred to anyone working “under” him.)

There are many captains that believe arrogance, or abusiveness, is the way to make crew perform.  I have been around many of them, and have seen the consequences.  You see resentment and jobs not being performed as well as they could (Why should they if they aren’t going to be acknowledged or the captain is going to find something wrong anyway?) and, unfortunately, leads to mistakes.  But Captain Geir-Arne just doesn’t do that.  Take a look at his photography website:  It is filled with photographs of his staff and crew, from Hotel Manager to deckhand, so that their loved ones can not only see them, but can see that they are well cared for.  I know, first-hand, how much these sort of things matter.

So how did this extraordinary captain come to be the master of the most luxurious World Cruise ship on the seven seas? 

Captain Geir-Arne Thue-Nilsen started out fishing from small boats in Norway and found that being on the water gave him peace of mind.  After four years as an infantryman in the Army, it was back to sea; but not on ships:  Oil Drilling Rigs.  He spent one year on the Ekofisk oil field in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea about 200 miles (320 km) southwest of Stavanger and then three years on the Ross Rig.  This now well-polished cruise ship captain spent his time as a Roughneck (hard manual laborer in dangerous working environs) and then a Derrickman (an extremely dangerous job handling piping and rigging from near the top of a derrick).

Being most observant, Captain Geir-Arne told me, “From the top of the derrick I noticed during the summertime that quite a few cruise ships ‘came by’ to have a look at us.  I knew that they would be [in] calmer seas during wintertime and probably more comfortable than here in the North Sea during fall and winter storms.”  So he applied to the Norwegian America Line in 1978.  He was offered employment almost immediately and joined the Vistafjord as an able-bodied seaman in 1978 and began to rise through the ranks.

Feeling the need to know more, the captain took time to attend Masters and Horten Engineering Academy (obtaining an engineering degree) and worked on cargo ships for the next five or so years.  He then he returned to the cruise industry being employed by Cunard as Staff Captain on the Sagafjord, Vistafjord and then the Royal Viking Sun.  When Cunard and Seabourn combined synergies he continued as Staff Captain of the newly renamed Seabourn Sun and then in May 2002 became Captain of the Seabourn Legend. 

Since then Captain Geir-Arne Thue-Nilsen has been the master of every other Seabourn ship (Pride, Spirit, Odyssey and Quest)…except the Seabourn Sojourn.

So now that we know the person, it is time to talk about his thoughts concerning the 2012 World Cruise of the Seabourn Quest…and a few other things.

What do you love about World Cruise guests?  “I know the majority of our World Cruise guests from previous cruises.  Since we are together onboard for a rather longer period than other cruises, we all get to know each other much better and enjoy each other.  It is special to see the World, or at least a large part of it, in ‘one go’ together.”

What World Cruise ports are you looking forward to?  “On this World Cruise it is the first time for the Seabourn Quest, her Guests and Crew for almost all of the ports, so I am looking forward to every one of them.  Of course the big cities have a lot to offer and are always exciting, including overnights in Rio, Cape Town, Ho Chi Minh, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Dubai.”

Note Captain GA's signature red and green (port and starboard) socks!  (You might otherwise never see them!)
What World Cruise ports are new to you?  “Jamestown on the island of St. Helena; Walvis Bay, Namibia; Maputo Mozambique; Le Port in Reunion; Male in Maldives; Georgetown in Malaysia; and, Keelung in Taiwan.”

Are there any special tours, experiences or photographs you are looking forward to enjoying along the way?  “I haven’t had a chance to look into any tours just yet, but I am very much looking forward to getting a good collection of pictures for the entire Seabourn Quest’s first World Cruise. As we all know that sometimes pictures can say more than 1000 words. 

I will try my utmost to get a few special pictures of all the places we visit and pictures of all of the crew that is doing the entire world cruise together. I will also take many crew pictures with wishes to their friends and families back home.”

Are there any navigational or logistical challenges?  “Weather-wise we should be doing very well for the entire cruise so I don’t see any challenges there.  Sometimes the pilots, such as sailing into Shanghai, who can be a challenge due to language difficulties. Of course, any new ports are in itself a challenge as I have no prior experience with them, but I am comfortable that myself and the ship’s officers will be properly prepared…as always.” 

Related to that, and ignoring “Pirate Alley” and the Panama and Suez Canals, what cruises in Seabourn’s brochure are the most challenging as the ship’s captain from a navigation and seamanship perspective?  “Pilots in China can sometimes be a challenge due to language problems and sometimes you might have three of them at the same time up on the bridge and all of them "screaming" at each other (very loudly and in Chinese, of course). Sailing the Saigon river or up the river to Bangkok you have to watch the pilots very closely as some of them don't manage to handle the ship through certain sharper turns. (I have had to take over the driving at least 4-5 times in the last 10 times up the rivers.)  Also sailing the river up to Seville in Spain as sometimes the water in the river is very low - meaning we are almost touching the mud banks in the river - slowing us down and making the steering a little more difficult.”

 If you could take off your uniform and be a guest on a Seabourn ship for several weeks, where would you like to cruise and why? “I would definitely take the World Cruises!  I also love areas like Alaska, Norway fjords, sailing in to Stockholm, Sweden (Baltic Sea cruises), South America cruises, Panama Canal cruises, and the South Pacific islands too. It could be on any of the Seabourn ships as all the people working onboard our ships are so dedicated, professional and good-hearted human beings.”

I would like to thank my friend, Captain Geir-Arne Thue-Nilsen, for taking the time to allow us to get to know him just a bit better and to understand the things that make this Captain - and a Seabourn World Cruise - so special.

Captain Schettino of the Costa Concordia - No Duty. No Pride. No Wonder.

As many of you know I am an admiralty attorney in addition to being a luxury travel agent.  It may seem strange, but as you will now see, there is a true synergy between the two professions.

I previously stated that I would withhold comment until I knew more of the facts.  I now know more and feel comfortable making some responsible, educated, comments and observations.  Last evening on The Gold Standard Luxury Travel Forum I said the following (slightly edited here):

"There are many reports and, to be sure, there is some truth in most, but total truth in pretty much none.

What I do know is that the Captain did not have authority from Costa to alter the course of the ship (which has made this journey many times). What I also know is that the change of course had to be known and intentional as there are alarm systems which notify (quite persistently) any time a ship strays from its programed course.

I also know, from the industry releases, that the captain was a - get this: a mere Security Officer in 2002 - and became a captain in 2006. This is, to me, outrageous. (Wait till you read my article on Captain Geir-Arne Thue-Nilsen, captain of the Seabourn Quest for the World Cruise, which I am about to publish about what a qualified captain's experience is.) Logging time at sea so that you can get your 3,000+ gross ton ticket should never, ever, be enough.

Troubling more is the fact that the captain should have stayed on the ship while rescue operations were underway. I cannot fathom how he left his post...even if he claims all the known passengers were off the ship (which I am not confident was the case).  [Note:  The transcript confirming it was not the case is set forth below.]

Now as to why the ship came in close: Only one time prior - for the Festival of San Lorenzo - had the ship altered its course. But even in that singular instance (so the island could wave to the ship and visa versa) it was nowhere near where the accident happened.  Even if true, one never, ever, responsibly plots a course with no room for error. Essentially shooting the ship between two rock outcrops is inexcusable regardless of whether there was an understanding of clear water being below the ship.  What is to port and starboard matters just as much.

But the thing that really gets me is that it seems pretty clear that watertight doors were left open. If those doors were shut- as required by law and regulations - then a compartment might have flooded, but there is no way the entire ship could. What seems like the arrogant, rule-breaking, manner of the captain filtered down to the engineering crew as well. (Not the first time I have seen this!)"

Today the Port Authority has released the transcripts of the communications with Captain Schettino and, to me they are appalling.  While I am sure Captain Schettino was in shock and panicked, resulting in his unforgivable behavior, the point is that if he was fully and properly trained that training and his experience would have prevented him from acting as he did.  (Just ask anyone in the military how they are trained to react.):

Captain Schettino: It's Capt. Schettino. 

Port Authority: Schettino, listen to me, there are people trapped onboard, now you go back, you will go with your rescue boat under the stern of the ship, there are some steps, you climb those steps and you get onboard and you get back to me letting me know how many people are on board. Is that clear to you? I am actually recording this conversation captain.

[inaudible, captain mumbles] 

PA: Speak in a loud voice. 

Captain: So, the ship right now [inaudible]... 

PA: Speak in a loud voice! Put your hand by the microphone to cover it and speak up! Is that clear?

Voices in the background: "Tell him to come here. Tell him to come here." 

Captain: So, right now the ship is tilted… 

PA: I understand that. Listen to me, there are people that are getting off using the rope ladder on the stern side, you go back there and you go up that ladder the opposite way, you go onboard the ship and you tell me how many people [are there] And what they need. You tell me if there are children, women or people that need assistance and you give me a number for each one of these categories is that clear? Look Schettino, you may have saved yourself from the sea but will put you through a lot of trouble it will be very bad for you! Get back on board for [expletive]'s sake!!!

Captain: Officer, please. 

PA: There are no "pleases"! Get back on board! Please assure me that you are going back on board.

Captain: I am here on the rescue boat. I'm right here, I didn't go anywhere else, I'm here.

PA: What are you doing captain? 

Captain: I'm here to coordinate rescue operations. 

PA: What are you coordinating? Get back on board and coordinate rescue operations from onboard the ship.

[silence, sound cuts out] 

PA: Do you refuse to do that? 

Captain: No, I'm not refusing to do that. 

PA: Are you refusing to back on board? 

Captain: No, I am not refusing to go back. I am not going because the other rescue boat stopped.

PA: Get back on board! This is an order! You don't need to make any other assessment. You have declared that you have abandoned ship, therefore I'm in command. Get back on board right now is that clear?

Captain: Officer… 

PA: Can you not hear me? 

Captain: I'm getting back on board. 

PA: Then go! And call me right away when you are on board. There's my rescuer there.

Captain: Where is your rescuer? 

PA: My rescuer is on the stern side, go! There are already bodies, Schettino! Go!

Captain: Officer how many bodies are there? 

PA: I don't know. I know about one… I've heard about one, but you must tell me! [expletive]!

Captain: Do you realize it's dark out here and we can't see anything? 

PA: What do you want to do ? Do you want to go home? It's dark so you want to go home? Get on the stern of that ship climb the ladder and tell me what can be done, how many people are there and what they need. Right now!

Captain: I'm here with my second officer. [Schettino identifies second officer.] 

PA: You and your second officer must get back on board right now is that clear? 

Captain: I just wanted to tell you that the other rescue boat here with other rescuers stopped. It's just stopped. Now I've called the other rescuers.

PA: You've been telling me the same thing for an hour now get back on board! On board! And you get back to me right away telling me how many people are there.

Captain: It's fine officer, I'm going.

PA: Then go, right now!

There are still more questions than answers, but one thing I am very, very, confident of:  Nothing like this will happen again.  With six souls confirmed dead, 29 still missing and probably somewhere around US$1,000,000,000 - not all Carnival Corp.'s - in damages, liability claims, lost revenues from the ship and lost sales, (yes, economies play a significant role) there will be some significant changes...on some ships (as the vast majority of cruise ships fortunately are run in a safe, conservative, manner they do not need them) assure such things never happen again.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Costa Concordia Runs Agrounds - Passengers Dead and Missing - Some Thoughts and An Update

With a Korean couple on their honeymoon, the Italian Purser (with broken leg and suffering from hypothermia) rescued from the ship and the number of missing reduced to 17 ovenight, I want to provide you with some thoughts...knowing that everything you and I read ultimately is not going to be found to be 100% accurate.  (So don't take my comments as gospel, please.)

News reports are painting a picture of Francesco Schettino as an absolute, if not arrogant, captain. 

Captain Francesco Schettino is quoted as saying he was the last to leave the ship.  Forgetting the stories to the contrary, I am seeing a situation where 50 people were reported missing and, so far, 3 people were rescued.  The ship had no risk of capsizing and I am not aware of any order from the Italian Coast Guard for him to abandon the ship, so why would have have left his command?  I know captains that would have been leading the search and rescue...without hesitation (and probably ignorning any such order to leave the ship).

Captain Francesco Schettino is quoted as saying his charts did not identify the "rock" that tore a 160 foot gash into the the hull of the Costa Concordia.  Folks, today ships require more than paper charts; as electronic charts are not only used, but heavily relied upon...and interface with autopilots, GPS and radars.  And, by the way, those electronic charts are custom made for the Costa Concordia.

And, by the way, what of local knowledge of an extremely rocky coastline and then trying to pass a huge cruise ship between two large rocky outcrops?  It makes no sense to me.

OK, that said, the reports are that the ship was 2.5 nautical miles off course...a course that she had repeatedly taken on her prior voyages (according to crew members).  So far he has not provided any reason for this.  It has been speculated that he wanted to bring the ship into shallower water, but that - so far - makes no sense.  Why?

1.  If you look at the charts, this alleged course to shallower water was not the most direct.

2.  The ship's design is such that water-tight doors, if properly closed, would have prevented the flooding of the ship, so there would be no reason for this.  While I do not know what happened on this ship, it is a notorious problem of lazy crewman propping open these heavy watertight doors rather than turning those big wheel-like closures and pushing and pulling these heavy doors.

I don't have all the information, but cruising significantly off-course, blaming charts that are used by thousands of others, apparently failing to use common nautical sense, and seemingly having abandoned his ship (whether technically permitted or not) does not sit well with me.  When the failure of safety systems is added, it is most troubling.

I am seeing this as "human errors" and the result of what happens when a ship is run arrogantly rather than as if 5,000 souls and half a billion dollars are at stake.

Join the conversation.  Let us know your thoughts.  Ask your questions.  Comment on The Gold Standard Luxury Travel Forum.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Costa Concordia Runs Agrounds - Passengers Dead and Missing - Updated

The Costa Concordia ran aground late last night tearing a large gash into her port side and is not resting at an approximate 90 degree angle.  She was, apparently, 2.5 nautical miles off course.

Photo courtesy of CNN.

There are conflicing reports of the number of dead and missing of the 3,200 passengers and 1,000 crew members. As an updated figure, it appears there are three confirmed dead (2 French citizens and a Peruvian crew member) 6 have died - one reportedly being a heart attack -  and up to 51 are missing (and may have found there way to small churches, homes or other places on the island of Giglio.

Reports are that the captain, Francesco Schettino, is now under arrest and may have abandoned ship before the passengers.  It is also of concern that apparently a Mayday distress call was not made until long after the evacution had begun.

It is understood that the emergency evacuation was quite disorganized with English announcments being unintelligable, filled lifeboats dangling for up to 45 minutes, etc.  All of this must, however, e confirmed.

This is the second fatal accident with Costa Cruises in two years.  The first one was in 2010 in Egypt.

I will keep you posted.

Fortunately, due to calm seas, shallow water and land nearby this tragedy could have been far, far worse.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

AmaWaterways - A River Cruise Ship Takes an Ocean Cruise!

AmaWaterways is currently transporting the AmaDagio from Rotterdam in the Netherlands to Marseille, France to operate 7-night cruises on the Rhone River starting on March 29, 2012. The voyage from its current location in the Netherlands will take the ship through the English Channel, around Spain and Portugal and through the Strait of Gibraltar before it docks in Marseille, France.  Previously, the AmaDagio served the Rhine, Mosel and Danube itineraries.

So how does a river cruise ship head out to sea?  Take a look!

The AmaDagio is no ordinary river cruise ship.  OK, it is "ordinary" for AmaWaterways; which is one reason I am so enthusiastic about this river cruise line.  (I am taking my family on a Viet Nam and Cambodia river cruise down the Mekong River this summer and will be talking about that in some detail soon.)

She has 71 170-square-foot staterooms and four 255-square-foot Junior Suites. Eighty percent of all staterooms and Junior Suites feature large French balconies. Note that the square footage is competitive with what you expect on ocean cruise ships; quite unusual for river cruise ships.

Inside the ship is exquisitely decorated staterooms are all the amenities of a fine hotel with white-on-white plush bedding, a cozy sitting area, individually controlled air-conditioning and ample closet space. The AmaDagio features the latest in onboard entertainment with HD-TVs featuring the Infotainment system offering keyboard with internet access, English language TV stations, a large selection of movies and numerous music programs. Additional amenities include a full-service restaurant, wellness area with glassed-in fitness room, complimentary Wi-Fi and bicycles to explore the small towns and cities along the route.

As part of AmaWaterway’s 15-day Provence and Spain cruise-tour itinerary, the ship will begin sailing 7-night cruises in France between Lyon and Arles in March through the end of the year. Excursions include the Beaujolais wine region; tours of Roman ruins; and stops at UNESCO World Heritage Site of Avignon and Arles, where Vincent Van Gogh spent much of his life. After the cruise, guests will visit the medieval town of Perpignan, France before ending their voyage in Barcelona.
AmaWaterways President and Co-Owner Rudi Schreiner. “Our guests are like family to us and we want the AmaWaterways luxury travel experience to come to life. ”  On AmaWaterways, the "software" is as good as the "hardware". 
So let me ask you, "If AmaWaterways is willing to take an ocean cruise, shouldn't you consider a river cruise rather than an ocean cruise?"

Putting a Goldring Travel Hat To Good Use - Seabourn Sojourn Approaching Cape Horn

It is always great to receive photos from clients as they are cruising the seven seas.  Here a client is happily, as he said, "Living it Large with GOLDRING TRAVEL".

I guess the Goldring Travel hat makes all the difference.  (My questions is, of course, "Where is the champagne?)

Friday, January 6, 2012

Seabourn Quest 2012 World Cruise - Behind The Scenes

The start of a World Cruise is always an exciting day, so I thought I would take you behind the scenes so that you can appreciate what happens and see what makes the start of a Seabourn World Cruise so special.

I arrived in Fort Lauderdale at Port Everglades at 10:15 a.m. and embarked with the staff and contractors coming on board; sort of the “servant’s entrance”. 

Who was the first person I saw?  Pam Conover.  She looks great, vibrant and energized.  She, along with her husband, was at the Gala Dinner the evening before at the Ritz Carlton (with Marvin Hamlish providing the entertainment).  The World Cruise Guests were provided with a private transfers, a pre-cruise night at the Ritz Carlton, a Gala Dinner and various niceties during their cruise.

As I finish dealing with security, she rushes off to tend to things as the Full World Cruise guests will be arriving by private sedans starting at noon and there are some guests remaining from the Christmas Cruise she wants to visit with.

As I reach the top of the gangway, I am followed by Captain Geir-Arne Thue-Nilsen – the master of the Seabourn Quest for the entire World Cruise.  He had earlier in the morning sailed the Seabourn Quest into Port Everglades completing her Christmas Cruise, but had hopped onto a pilot boat to take some pictures of the ship.  (I will be sharing some of his photos with you during the World Cruise.) 

With cameras in hand, Captain GA led me to the bridge for a coffee and a chat.  (My main purpose for being on the Seabourn Quest was to interview him…and you can look forward to a very interesting article; and one that explains why I believe cruising on Seabourn – and with this captain - is so special.) I met the officers, including one of those who rescued the couple adrift in Greece a few months ago.  The First Officer quickly advises the Captain about sea conditions and his options for the departure of the Seabourn Quest.  (It is 10:30 a.m. and the planning for 5:00 p.m. is already in its final stages…and they just arrived in port a few hours earlier.)

Finally, we settle into his office.  It is, alas, not just any turnaround day; it is the end of the Christmas Cruise and is the start of the Seabourn World Cruise. So Captain Geir-Arne had to do his “captain” thing and it quickly became clear that our “interview” was going to be more of an enjoyable catching a few minutes here, some there and a moment somewhere else.  So after a nice chat I leave the Captain to do his thing and I wander the Seabourn Quest. 

Everything is just where I left it when I was on her Inaugural Cruise back in June (sailing from Rome to Monte Carlo). Everything except, unfortunately, my clothes are no longer in Suite 923.

For those of you that think the suites should be ready for you earlier, I – once again – witness the frenetic pace at which the staff is working to make each individual suite perfect for its new guests…some of whom will call it “home” for the next 109 days.  It is not like an ordinary cruise line where everything is pretty much standard.  Yes, everyone receives a bottle of champagne (properly presented, of course) and all the other niceties, and the specified bar stocking requests (Coke Zero, Grey Goose, exotic fruit juices, etc.), but then there are all of the special order floral arrangements, gifts, cards, medical equipment, etc.

Then there is the staff taking down all the Christmas decorations, the entertainers working on new musical arrangements, bartenders restocking, etc.  And, of course, there is the luggage…lots and lots of extra luggage.  And pallet after pallet of provisions keep arriving.

But, while all of this is going on there is a sense of calm in the public areas.  Everyone knows their job and they do it, respecting the fact that there are guests that were on the Christmas Cruise who are staying on for the World Cruise and they are all entitled to the Seabourn Experience.

I eventually wander into the Seabourn Square; a place you know I (and many Seabourn guests) love.  I find Pam Conover – Seabourn’s Ambassador and former President - there and we have a nice chat about what she is doing, how I am doing and just generally catching up…over freshly brewed coffees.  

As Pam is about to walk over to her husband and a guest, John Delaney, Seabourn Senior Vice President comes over to say hello.  Pam excuses herself back to her guest and John and I continue on, chat about some upcoming things with Seabourn and the evening before.  But then he looks at his watch and it is time for him to get down to the cruise terminal as the Full World Cruise guests are about to arrive and he wants to personally greet each one of them.

I take the time to wander to my clients’ suites and drop them a note to let them know I am aboard for the day.  Then I wander over to The Club and run into Rick Meadows, (Seabourn’s President), Bjoern Wassmuth (Seabourn’s Culinary Operations Manager a/k/a Top Chef!) and one of the premier chefs of the world (who I cannot mention and, unfortunately, had to slip by rather than engage as otherwise would have been inappropriate).  I will meet up with Bjoern later.

I then head back to the Seabourn Square to meet up with Captain Geir-Arne’s wife, Juvy, and another couple who are friends of theirs, because the five of us are going to have lunch together.  We are supposed to meet up at The Colonnade at 12:30 p.m. 

At 12:16 p.m. the captain calls to say we will meet in 15 minutes.  (He is running one minute late!) I head up to his office and we walk together, chatting as we go.  It is inspiring to see him stop and say hello to staff and guests.  He congratulates a staff member on his promotion.  He “high fives” another.  And if he inspires me, imagine what he does with the Seabourn staff and crew.

By now, with the guests arriving, The Colonnade is buzzing.  I have a fantastic Salmon with Bok Choy in a light teriyaki sauce, along with an excellent Cauliflower and Pea Curry.  I paired this with a nice South African Chardonnay.  Someone else tries the Tomato Soup and says it is truly remarkable.  One by one each of us heads up to the buffet…including Captain Geir-Arne...and come back with a bowl…confirming its excellence.  (BTW, Seabourn provides nice tureen covers so that you don’t need to worry about walking with a bowl of soup.) 

John Barron, the Cruise Director, comes over to say hello.  He has just finished a terrible journey to the ship with missed connections and delayed flights.  He is exhausted, but when he sees a guest, he lights up, this charm is all there and it is, to be sure, “game on”.  You can see the joy in the eyes of every guest he chats with.  (I am hoping he can get some sleep before Rio!)

Just as I finish speaking with John, one of my clients staying on for the full World Cruise finds me (my card in hand), so I excuse myself and sit with them while they enjoy their lunch.  The staff knows what they want already.  But as it is turnaround day there is a miss as provisioning is still underway.  They ran out of lemons to accompany a drink, so the waitress substituted lime…but, alas, she mentioned it and offer to seek out an alternative.  (Perfection within an imperfection.  Yes, I do notice the little things.)

Bjoern Wassmuth then finds me and we find a quiet corner of the al fresco portion of The Colonnade to have a chat and catch up.  Bjoern was the Executive Chef on one of the first Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruises and we just hit it off.  Our friendship continues today and I am proud to see that he has risen so quickly to be the star that he is.  We talk about some of the culinary things happening at Seabourn (more on that in a separate article) and on what it is like adjusting to a more land-based life living in Seattle with his longtime sweetheart.

It was then back up to Captain Geir-Arne’s office to finish our time together.  As we talk, a possible problem with a guest’s visa is brought to his attention, a truck with 21 pallets is late in arriving, guests’ luggage is still arriving and, in fact, seven guests still have not arrived.  It is 4:00 p.m., so the Captain advises the departure will be delayed by 30 minutes (hopefully) and then makes a public announcement that his pre-muster speech will be delayed 15 minutes.

It is clearly time for me to disembark and for the Seabourn Quest’s World Cruise to begin.  So Captain Geir-Arne escorts me to the gangway.  But, remember what I said about the little details, as we walk he sees two little pieces of debris from the just removed Christmas decorations.  He stops and picks them up.  He doesn’t ignore them.  He doesn’t tell anyone else to do it. 

It is his ship.
It is a Seabourn ship.
It is the ship that his guests will call their home.
It is the ship that her crew and staff will call their home.
It is the attention to detail.
It is the respect of all of that.
Bon Voyage Seabourn Quest!

Next up is a very interesting Interview with Captain Geir-Arne Thue-Nilsen.