Thursday, December 12, 2013

NCL's Suites - They Are Not Luxury...They Are Excuses To Charge Extra For What Should Be Included

As you know I have lots of issues with Norwegian Cruise Line's (NCL's) ship-within-a-ship concept.  Beside the curious décor and the feeling of being trapped in a small area or else being overwhelmed with huge mass market throngs of people, there is a new reason.

Seatrade reports that NCL has announced that its passengers (not "guests") can now choose from a selection of luxurious baths drawn by their butlers. The new 'Butler Bath' menu includes a beverage selection and is available in all of its suites, including those in The Haven.

That sounds OK, but then there is the catch:  It'll cost you.  And it will cost you a lot!  The "Mediterranean Soak" which includes French verbena bubbles, a bottle of Dom Perignon champagne and sturgeon caviar costs $499!

Seriously, I can offer you a cruise on Seabourn, Silversea, or Crystal with a per day cost for the cruise at significantly less than that and you will receive the same (OK, different champagne) for less money.

But, as you know, the little things always catch my eye.  When NCL feels compelled to let you know that the caviar it is serving is "sturgeon" you know the rest of what you are being served is not exactly top shelf.  Folks, if the fish eggs in front of you are not from a sturgeon it is called "roe"; not "caviar".

I wonder, does NCL give you real champagne glasses or are they plastic?

Honestly, if you are interested in a luxury experience that includes a luxurious bubble bath, quality champagne and caviar, you need to look to one of the luxury cruise lines.  You will find there is not only a much higher quality of service and cuisine throughout the ship, but a far better value for your cruise dollar.

Don't believe me, give me a call and I will do the math for you!  (877) 2GO-LUXURY or email me at eric@goldringtravel.com

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Another Shake-Up at Silversea Cruises: Ellen Bettridge Resigns and Moves to Unique Vacations-Sandals

The revolving door at Silversea continues.


Ellen Bettridge spent less than two years as Silversea Cruises' President of the Americas and has now, reportedly by her own decision, departed to become president of Unique Vacations, the US distributor of Sandals Resorts in the Americas.

Taking over as General Manager (curious position?) is Kristian Anderson who was brought in with Ellen as Vice President of Sales.  He will also improve his position becoming Senior Vice President of Sales in what I guess would be considered a dual role.

Silversea has had quite a bumpy road of late and "stability" does not seem to be a word associated with this cruise brand...troublesome for a luxury cruise line.  Personally, every time I seem to forge a relationship that seems to be worth developing and trusting, there is a shake-up.  That, to me, means one thing...and one thing only:  Silversea's ownership is not allowing those that know the business to actually run the business.

It is no secret that Silversea has been suffering from soft sales of late.  While it might have seemed curious that with slow sales and lower yields, it has made a strong move into the expedition cruising market with its expansion from the single ship Silver Explorer into the Galapagos and then with the purchase of the Discoverer, to me it makes perfect sense.

While I have absolutely no idea if Ellen or Kristian had anything to do with the plan, I would bet my bottom dollar that Silversea figured it could (and did) pick up two expedition ships dirt cheap (there is a very small market for them), fix them up and be able to charge a higher per day rate on relatively high demand expedition ships to prop up Silversea's sagging classic fleet sales and yields.  (I have said this to quite a few people in the past and nobody seems to be overtly disagreeing with me after they hear my theory.)

So what does all of this mean for the future of Silversea?  Honestly, I don't think it will mean much at all. 

That is not an insult to Ellen Bettridge or Kristian Anderson.  It is simply because until Silversea's ownership lets the people that actually know what they are doing do their job there will be a continuing revolving door and a suffering not only of Silversea's profitability, but the quality of the product it delivers to the luxury market.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Goldring Travel's 2013 Food & Wine Cruise - The Event: Montevideo, Uruguay- Caviar, Caviar and Sturgeon

Seabourn Cruises and Caviar have always gone hand-in-hand.

On Seabourn:
You have Caviar Sailaways.  
You have Caviar In The Surf.  
You have Caviar at the Captain's Reception.
You have Caviar and Champagne delivered to your suite at 3:00 AM complimentary and with a smile.

And on the Goldring Travel 2013 Food & Wine Cruise on the Seabourn Quest, we had an overnight stay in Montevideo, Uruguay...which is the home of Seabourn's exclusive caviar supplier: Black River Caviar.

Caviar in Uruguay, you say?  Yes.  

Seabourn has led the way with providing a luxury experience while being socially and environmentally responsible.  (Yes, there are more ways to improve that...like selling off the smaller triplets and operating the more sophisticated and environmentally responsible Odyssey-class ships, but that is another topic!)  In February 2012 I wrote an article on this: Seabourn's Sustainable Caviar - The Real Deal...Done the Right Way.  

So I was thinking about how can I partner with Black River Caviar to create a unique Goldring Travel Food & Wine Experience.  If you read my articles or have traveled with me, you know I come up with some unique, once-in-a-lifetime events that have never been done.  (For example:  Goldring Travel's 2012 Food & Wine Cruise on theSeabourn Pride - Part VII (Bordeaux- Day 2: Chateau Margaux and ChateauLynch-Bages and Goldring Travel's 2011 Food & Wine Cruise on theSeabourn Sojourn - Part IX (New England Aquarium) )

I found out it was too far to travel to the Black River Caviar aquaculture farm where stocks of Caspian Sea, Siberian and other species of sturgeon from which caviar is harvested are raised. So as they say, if I can't bring my guests to the sturgeon I can bring the sturgeon to my guests.  And from that the spectacular Goldring Travel Caviar Event was born.

Our day started with a Private Shopping With the Chef, but we were honored by not one of Seabourn's Executive Chefs, but two:  Chef Rafael Peterkovic and Chef Pasquale.


While the shopping was not outstanding, we were able to see the "other" more upscale side of Montevideo while picking up some items for a special meal on our last night.

It was then time for the Goldring Travel Food & Wine Event at Rara Avis, one of the finest restaurants in Uruguay.


In order for the Event to have its best impact, I kept the specifics from everyone.  All my guests knew is that at the Food & Wine Tasting onboard the Seabourn Quest, I gave each of them a black chef's jacket.

Luca Di Matteo, Seabourn's Manager of Restaurants,
Eric Goldring (modeling the Goldring Travel Food & Wine Chef's Jacket)
and Executive Chef Rafael Peterkovic
To start the Event, a Champagne and Caviar Extravaganza with more caviar than you see on a Seabourn ship to be enjoyed by the spoonful and also served eight different ways.

Black River Caviar by the spoonful
Black River Caviar accompanied by free flowing Champagne

Trays fill with truly creative recipes -
All of which included Black River Caviar

One of my and the Seabourn Chefs' favorites...believe it or not:
White Chocolate with Lemon Mousse and Caviar



Don't ask me how they did this!
But things were just starting!  After explaining who Black River Caviar is and how they raise sturgeon in a socially and environmentally sound manner, it was time for the surprise:  Everyone was going to assist in the harvesting and making of caviar!

So with that Black River Caviar brought out four fresh sturgeon.  After I explained the various interesting (at least to me) things about this unique and prehistoric animail, one by one each guest came to the processing table and touch the fish, its unique scales, its barbels and its toothless mouth.

A 4 foot long sturgeon.  That's what caviar comes from.
Beginning the harvest of $12,000 of caviar.

Chef Rafael tries his hand at harvesting the sturgeon eggs for making caviar.
A once in a lifetime opportunity...and a lot of fun to see him enjoy the moment!

Sturgeon ovaries filled with eggs ready to be screened
to release them for processing
Rubbing the ovaries over the screen
pushes the separated sturgeon eggs into the tub below


Cleaning the sturgeon eggs with purified water.

Cleaned eggs getting ready to be salted.  Yes, that's right:  It isn't caviar if the eggs aren't salted.
In fact, if they aren't preserved with salt you won't have anything but rotten fish eggs!
Salted eggs - almost caviar.  Wait about four minutes and wash them again.


Now the getting the caviar into the can.
Did you think that much would fit into one can?

Placing the caviar can into a press.
Compressing it a little at a time allows the eggs to distribute with breaking.

Caviar - The finished product.
Look familiar to what you see on every Seabourn cruise?
With caviar served eight ways completed and the caviar having been processed, our Event was not nearly over.  It couldn't be because this is a Goldring Travel Food & Wine Event.

A beautiful salad followed by a filet mignon


And then, of course, Grilled Sturgeon with Uruguayan Bacon and Caviar

Grilled Sturgeon with Uruguayan Bacon and Caviar
Our meal was pared with two special Uruguayan wines: 2007 Familia Deicas Preludio Barrel Select Red (primarily Cabernet Savignon and Tannat) and Familia Deicas Preludio white.


Oh, yes.  I almost forgot:  Dessert!


When putting something together as sophisticated and complicated as it was, a huge Thank You has to be given to Black River Caviar and Seabourn.

It was a tremendous event which was made only better because my guests were fantastic. They enjoyed every moment as was apparent from the smiles on their faces.

Something to give everyone a bit of a smile:  Goldring Travel has arranged with Black River Caviar to provide you with a discount on every caviar purchase made.  All you need to do is sign up for Goldring Travel's email list (or, better, book a cruise or other vacation) and I will give you the discount code.  You can sign up on the Goldring Travel Facebook Page, by emailing me at eric@goldringtravel.com or, of course, calling me at (877) 2GO-LUXURY.




Goldring Travel's 2013 Food & Wine Cruise - Seabourn Quest's Chef Creates An Incredible Tasting Event

The Goldring Travel 2013 Food & Wine Cruise has, so far, spent three days visiting some rather rustic ports on the Seabourn Quest.  It is, however, now time for Chef Rafael to let out all the stops and create the annual Food & Wine Tasting onboard the ship.

But before we get to that, you should know that there is a huge amount of preparation that goes into this event that starts long before we board the ship.  There are emails and telephone calls months before to be sure the wines and some specialty items are onboard.  Menu themes are discussed.  Wines which are available or which might be able to be acquired are talked about.  And when, as here, the ports visited during the cruise leave literally no option for ingredients or local wines, the task became quite involved.

So with that background, on the first day of the cruise I had a meeting with Chef Rafael Peterkovic, Sommelier Tihana Glumac, as well as the Hotel Manager, Food & Beverage Manager and the Restaurant Manager.  We talked about the theme I had been discussing:  A play off of Brazilian and Argentinian Barbecue.

And then I said to Chef Rafael, who seemed a bit nervous, “Experiment.  Make something, but don’t tell the guests what it is.  Don’t worry if something doesn’t work.”  I then saw a bit of an evil glint in his kind eyes…and all of the prior planning went right out the window.  Seabourn Chef Rafael was taking over.

And then he said, “I am not telling anyone what I am doing until two hours before the event.  It is going to be a secret!”  How cool is that?
 
Seabourn Executive Chef Rafael Peterkovic
Of course, there is nothing better than an inspired, talented, chef…and that is exactly what we had.  (The Sommelier Tihana Glumac found this a bit unnerving.  But, alas, she had no choice!)

Seabourn Sommelier Tihana Glumac
The venue was Restaurant 2; perfect since the galley is right next it and it has an intimate feel even during the day.  Seabourn let me borrow some of its best wait staff as well.  It was time for one of the most amazing and delicious experiences ever held on a Seabourn ship.  (So much so that some of the prior chefs…even before reading this article…have made comment!)

Seabourn Quest's Restaurant 2
Prepared for the 2013 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Tasting


There was only one “cooking demonstration” - which was really an opportunity for Chef Rafael to say hello before rushing back to the kitchen to work his magic presenting simply, but perfectly plated, tastings.  We started with a Pata Negra Carving accompanied by French baguette, butter baguette, herb butter baguette, black olive tapenade and green olive tapenade.  This was pared with a 2008 William Seylem Pinot Noir.

Chef Rafael giving some last minute instructions
minutes before the 2013 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Tasting



While the ham by itself is amazing, Chef Rafael providing five different presentations so simply was a sign of the nuanced and elegant dishes to come.

Of course, as any inspired chef does, he “hit us right between the eyes” with his first prepared dish:  Truffled Tempura Foie Gras Pop with Black Label Jelly and green pea puree.  This actually had Patron tequila infused into the middle of the foie gras, so as you bit into it you experienced a clean, smoky, blast of surprise. (Note the wonderfully complimentary quail leg also presented on the right.)  Pared with a 2007 Inniskillin Ice Wine it was a fantastic culinary experience.


Next up could be the best soup I have best soup I have ever tasted.  (Sorry Mom).  It was a Creamy Lobster Broth with Lobster Ravioli paired with a 2006 Meursault Chateau Blagny.  The texture was as amazing as the flavor:  So light it was not really a soup, but with enough body that you had much more than a foam.  Paring a wine with that soup, especially because it was so outstanding, was no easy feat, but it was well done. 


Another surprise was a pair of sorbets:  In homage to our Brazilian cruise a Caipirinha sorbet.  I am not sure how Chef was able to freeze such a potent drink, but he did it.  (Kudos to the bar staff too!).  The star was, however, the Beetroot Sorbet which actually has a touch of mango.  Your initial taste of this purple delight was mango, but then blended into a light beetroot.  It was one of our group’s favorites.  Using the Caipirinha Sorbet to truly cleanse the palate after that taste treat was the way to go.


And then, believe it or not, Chef Rafael decided to really show his stuff.

Brazilian Style Kebobs Churrasquiho (Beef) and Churrasco de Frango (chicken) -  What an incredible layering of flavors; having marinated and basted them for over eight hours in a yogurt/secret ingredient sauce.  Just a nice pop of spice and incredibly tender.  I believe this is where creamy smooth butter, just held together with a bit of mashed potato, was presented.  Awesome!



Next up…as if that wasn’t enough…Lime Marinated Brazilian Pork Ribs with a Black Bean Stew.  After the slightly spicy and meaty texture of the kebobs, this rich, melt-in-your-mouth, experience was a perfect play.  Delicious.


Now, totally full Chef Rafael presented one more dish...just to finish us off.  Iberian Port Rack with a Passion Fruit Sauce.  While it was a fitting, and very tasty, end to the barbecue...and it was tasty!...the real star for me was the Porcini Mushroom Risotto.  I am very finicky about risotto, only having two in my life that actually made me say, "Risotto!" Chef Rafael's was the third.  (Little did I know Chef Rafael actually prides himself on his Porcini Mushroom Risotto...or that he would later make me some more!)


These dishes pared with a 2006 Don Melchor, a 2010 Hanzell Chardonney, Caipirinha (of course!) and 2012 Erioca Riesling (one of my favorites) our palates were as overwhelmed as our stomachs.


Finishing off the 2013 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Tasting, paired with Laurent Perrier Rose Champagne NV, came the desserts.  A Porcini Frozen Praline, Papaya Crème Brulee and Corn Cake with Condensed Milk Crème Brulee.


I know that photos and descriptions cannot possibly do justice to what Chef Rafael and Sommelier Tihana created.  It was an extraordinary event...and one that set up the Goldring Travel 2013 Food & Wine Event  in Montevideo, Uruguay to follow beautifully.

If you are interested in the 2014 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise, please call (877) 2GO-LUXURY or email me at eric@goldringtravel.com.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Seabourn Quest's Penthouse Spa Suites - Are They Really That Good? Yes!

Having now lived in a Seabourn Penthouse Spa Suite for a week (and never wanting to move out), I thought I would review them.

The short review:  Seabourn’s Penthouse Spa Suites are, overall, the best suites on the Odyssey-class ships.

Before I talk about all of the added amenities, I want to explain the suite and some of the adjustments that make them my favorite.  When you walk in there is a longer hallway, but still with separate doors to the toilet (great when having guests, not disturbing someone in the bath) and walk-in closet (perfect for dropping off your coat or staying out of your significant other’s overtaking of the bedroom preparing for dinner).  The suites are also a good bit wider, lending to a larger balcony and an overall roomier layout and feel.
Seabourn Quest's Penthouse Spa Suite
A few steps and on the other side is a long desk with additional storage below and glassware above.  It is sufficiently wide to work as a good desk, but narrow enough to stay out your way walking into the main portions of the suite.  Lighting is excellent and there are – get this – 3 110 volt outlets and 4 220 volt outlets (with two different configurations.  I didn't need to use my usual power strip.  Also, since the area is separated from the bedroom by a solid wall and the large walk-in closet, you can work without waking up your partner.

Seabourn Penthouse Spa Suite's Work Area
(I know you are on a cruise, but sometimes work happens!)
The dark woods are complimented by a variety of soft, beige, fabrics which cover both the chairs at the glass dining table for four, the sofa with chaise (with big white and cream throw pillows) and the occasional chair.  

But what strikes me the most is the 15 feet of floor to ceiling glass leading out to the huge balcony overlooking the stern, complete with two cushioned lounges, all weather wicker table and cushioned chairs for four and a three person sofa.  The newly installed awning provides just the right amount of shade along with protection from the rain (and wash-downs from the deck above).


The entertainment center has a 42 inch television (with all of the hundreds of movies, etc.) and two refrigerators (one regular with beer, soda, etc. and one spa healthy with fruit and vegetable drinks, spa waters, etc.)  To the side is a cupboard with flat and sparkling water, dried fruits/nuts and tea cups.  Also provided are tea infusers with a variety of comfort botanical teas and, of course, honey pearls for sweetness. (A hot water kettle and/or Nespresso machine would be a nice touch as so many other amenities are provided, but room service provides the hot water and coffee quickly upon request.)
Many of Seabourn's Penthouse Spa Amenities are  presented by, or tucked way under,
the console holding the 42" flat screen television.
Seabourns' standard refrigerated setup to the left and the spa amenity setup to the right.
(Another nice touch:  Both refrigerators light up when you open the door!)

Very interesting floral tea infusers.  (Your stewardess will explain!)


The bedroom is literally perfect.  It is feels more secluded than the standard Penthouse suites because there is only one double door of etched glass so you feel much more private.  Also, the corner Penthouse Spa Suites have a window overlooking the port (or starboard) side of the ship making it feel truly like a bedroom.  At the foot of the bed, but with plenty of room is a separate vanity. The flat screen television is mounted flush on the wall and is very easy to view.


Closing the etched glass doors is easy and they feel solid.  Want to black out the bedroom? Soft curtains are provided…they make the room truly cozy.

Seabourn Penthouse Spa Suite Walk-in Closet
Lots of storage with more hidden throughout the suite
Because the walk-in closet is now behind the bed there is no conflict with the doors or having to walk through the closet to get to the bathroom.

The bathroom is near perfect.As you enter the huge shower is to one side and the large soaking tub is on the other along with a large vanity with two sinks.  The floors are black slate with a matte finish. 


Seabourn Penthouse Spa Bathroom Approaches Perfection
The glass–enclosed shower has a rainfall shower head and a shower wand, but the finishes are what wow me.  Black slate floor around the edges with a smooth river stone in the middle (to massage your feet while you shower) and up the wall.  (If you don’t like that, a shower mat is provided.)  On the opposite side from the shower is a wall of complimenting black and white marble and a rich teak bench.

Seabourn has thought of everything from cushions for your head to a rubber duck!
In the Seabourn Penthouse Spa Suites you are almost overwhelmed with the plethora of spa amenities.  A basket is presented with a treasure-trove of different sponges, vegetable scrubbing gloves, loofahs, soaps by Hermes, Ferragamo, Molton Brown and Essence, L’Occitaine aroma oils and more.  Along with the Seabourn specially designed Molton Brown shampoo, conditioner and body wash, a range of aromatherapy baths are supplied along with Molton Brown Thermal Salts Muscle Soak, Purifying Ambrusca Bodywash and Polish and Sleep Cedrus Temple Soother.

There are so many little touches and to me, whether you find them useful or not, knowing that someone has thought of them…made them available to you…created things that you didn’t even know you might enjoy makes the entire experience far more rewarding…and comfortable.  (Did I mention the light switches actually make sense, are properly located and have integrated dimmers?)

OK, criticisms or things you should be aware of: 

Most importantly, there is no elevator to these four suites.  They are reached via a sweeping or Cinderella (though Seabourn calls it a spiral) staircase.  While there is a motorized lift, don’t count on it for regular transport.  Long dress and heals can maneuver the stairs with care.


Because you are not midship, there is some movement.  It is far less than if you were forward on the ship or overlooking the bow, but don’t expect the rock solid comfort of the midship Wintergarden Suites if you are in seas.  That said, last evening we had some seas and were traveling at 19.5 knots and the ride was quite comfortable.  (And with all engines running and in seas, I only heard two noises.  The Seabourn Penthouse Spa suites are extraordinarily quiet!)

The stool at the desk in the hallway is not cushioned like the one for the vanity in the bedroom.  It looks nice with the marble, but is way too hard.

There should be a few more masculine products provided (or swapped out with some of the more esoteric ones).  I, personally, use Molton Brown shave products and it seems a bit strange having all the other Molton Brown products there, but I had to bring my own. 

The stewardess is not as visible because her duties are in two areas:  The four Penthouse Spa Suites and some standard suites...obviously located elsewhere on the ship as these suites are joyfully isolated.  While I have seen mine every day, and she remains a phone call away, if you are someone that feels a more personal relationship with your stewardess is important you won’t find her in your exclusive hallway nearly as much.

One area of polish that is being worked on:  Integrating the spa personnel (not Seabourn employees) into the Seabourn Penthouse Spa experience.  As these are brand new, some training is needed to assure the guests are aware of all of the spa amenities available to them.  Just a little tweak to be sure.

Seabourn Quest's Spa Relaxation Area
If you are fortunate enough to be able to book these suites and can deal with the sweeping staircase the Seabourn Spa Penthouses represent the best of the best in luxury cruise suites. 

They are not the fanciest or the frilliest. The Seabourn Penthouse Spa Suites are, like the Seabourn staff, seemingly clairvoyant in addressing your needs and desires and do so in an understatedly elegant way.