Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Seabourn's 2013-14 Antarctic-Patagonia-Chilean Fjord Cruises: Just About Everything You Wanted to Know, But Were Afraid to Ask...or Didn't Know What to Ask

This morning I had a really wonderful chat (not really an interview) with the Expedition Leaders for Seabourn's 2013-14 Antarctic-Patagonia-Chilean Fjord cruises, Robin West and Jarda Versloot-West, while they relaxed in Amsterdam.

First, if you have not done so, please read my first article, "Cruise to Antarctica - Seabourn Style". 

Now, before getting into the details, Robin and Jarda want you to understand that these cruises are going to be unique experiences for a number of reasons:
  • This is NEW cruise product as the Itineraries are not "just" Antarctica. 
      • While almost every other cruise to Antarctica sails to/from Ushuaia, Seabourn's itineraries combine the Chilean Fjords, Patagonia, the Falkland Islands or South Georgia Island, Uruguay and Buenos Aires.
  • The Seabourn Quest is the most modern, luxurious, technologically advanced cruise ship to visit Antarctica.
      • These are not your ordinary expedition cruises where you are ordering spaghetti bolonese or chicken for dinner; nor are you compromising on your accommodations; nor are you bobbing around on an older ship where comfort was not the first consideration when it was built.
  • Seabourn is offering a combination of not only naturalists and photography experts, but political, legal and paleantology and other experts (cruise dependent).
  • If you just want to walk a few steps and observe or even just cruise around in a Zodiac semi-rigid inflatable boat and never set foot on the land, those options will still leave you with a feeling of excitement and fulfillment.
With that preface, I have to tell you that Robin and Jarda are ethusiastic, charming and well experienced with both expedition leading and luxury travelers.  Robin, from South Africa, and Jarda, from Australia, are married and, more importantly, come off as a great team.  They have previoiusly been expedition leaders for both Orion Expeditions and Silversea Silver Explorer cruises and have, thus, lead 40 expeditions to date.  Also, while we discussed the "nitty gritty" of it all, what shown through was their love for being in Antarctica and experiencing news things every time...including the guests.

Here is a bonus if you were thinking about the 2013 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise on November 13, 2013:  Robin and Jarda are going to be onboard the Seabourn Quest starting preparation for these cruises, so your adventure can begin early!  (We actually spoke of my love for nature and how we will be having a special Champagne and Caviar Event where Seabourn's evironmentally responsible supplier of aquacultured caviar is going to fly in some live sturgeon and fresh caviar to explain how luxury and environmental responsibility actually can work hand-in-hand. And, of course, I invited them to join us!)

Robin tells me he starts every Welcome Talk with the following statement:

Every holiday you take after this one will be:
Dissappointing, Dull and Boring!
I don't know about that, but I do know that when you set someone's expectations that high, it better be good...and disappointed guests are not an option.  So let's now delve into this bold statement and why Robin, Jarda and Seabourn are so enthusastic about these cruises.

What is the cruising going to be like?  Rest easy, the Drake Passage has a bad reputation and Seabourn's Captain Bjarne Larsen is highly qualified and experienced.  According to Robin and Jarda, 9 out of 10 passages (which only last a day and half) are calm to fairly calm and the waters in Antarctica are protected and calm.  Also, you will be sailing on one of the most modern designed and steadiest cruise ships in existence (and certainly more comfortable than an expedition ship).  The Chilean fjords are equally as calm.  My readers will recall I was just on a Caribbean cruise where we had days of seas; something that was hardly worth it...and something millions of cruise passengers endure without a thought.  Would I "risk" a day or two of those to visit Antarctica?  Absolutely...especially with 9 out of ten passages being nothing of note.

What is it that you are going to see?   The best answer is:  It depends on when you want to go and what you want to look at.  If you choose the November 20th sailing you will find breathtaking vistas of white and snow (just like you imagine Antarctica) with penguins still incubating their eggs.  You will see many male seals and some minke whales and killer whales (OK, they aren't actually whales, but you call them that.). 

As this cruises sails on you will be in the late spring with the winter snow melt just finishing in the Chilean fjords. You should read Bruce Good's (Seabourn's Public Relations guru) article on his journey here.

As the cruises continue into the season, some will see the Penguin Highway as the birds following a well-worn path walking to and returning from the sea, and then when the snow in the Antarctic melts stones and rocks appear, as do the quickly growing penguin chicks...with one parent always watching them (to their both going to sea to gather enough food leaving the chicks unattended); while the variety of seals increases as do the number and types of whales.  The Chilean fjords warm up, the sweaters (jumpers) are peeled off and the outdoor options increase.

Robin points out there is one very special cruise departing December 11, 2013.  It stops in South Georgia Island for two days; a place considered to have some of the most abundant seabird habitats on earth with an estimate of over 30,000,000 breeding pairs.  Six species of penguins, four species of albatross, numerous petrels (including burrowing), waterfowl, and more. And, of course, fur seals...lots of fur seals.  You want to get Robin and Jarda excited?  Talk about South Georgia Island.

How are you going to see all of this?  Believe it or not, Robin explains that this is the last thing you need to worry about.  Seabourn has invested in some pretty nice Zodiac semi-rigid inflatable boats that will be stored in the specially modified marina of the Seabourn Quest. 

The Robin and Jarda's Expedition Team has many years of experience assisting guests ranging from "ardent explorers" to wheelchair bound "enthusiasts" to the "timidly kinda-sorta interested".

Regulations require that no more than 100 people be on land at any one particular time, so Seabourn has created a schedule of 90 people divided into five groups visiting for one to one and one-half (1.0 - 1.5) hour landings on each of the five landing days scheduled.  Robin's experience is that
  • Some people will be more than pleased with a quick landing, a photograph proving it (wearing the Seabourn provided parka which you get to keep as a souvenir) and then a Zodiac shuttle back to the ship to for a Champagne toast.
  • Some people will be happy to find a spot close to the landing site and sit there for 30 minutes or so and then take a Zodiac shuttle back to the ship.
  • Some people will forego the landing, or supplement it, with a bit of a Zodiac tour of the area.
  • Some will partake in some vigorous hikes (up to 45 minutes) to outstanding vistas and nesting areas using every precious minute of their alotted time.
  • And, like me, there are those that just can't get enough and find that observing...just observing...over an extended period is nirvana.  (Dunno.  Maybe there will be small sydicate selling landing slots!?  Only kidding, I am sure there will be opportunities.)
Who are you going to see this with?  Because the Seabourn Quest is larger (and more luxurious), it has the abilty to comfortable host quite a diverse group of specialists in addition to the extraordinary Seabourn staff and crew.  But rather than list the photogaphy coaches, legal and political experts, naturalists, scientists, etc. when you can read about them here,  I want to mention your fellow guests

Robin and Jarda explained that because you will not all be going off on different excursions, but rather will be sharing similar ones a very exciting and interesting thing happens:  You share.  You compare.  You learn from each other.  In essence you become a more cohesive group...without being a group or having your privacy invaded.  "What a great photo!  Do you want to see my picture taken from a different angle?", "Did you see that seal with her pup?" "Those penguins sliding around on the ice were hysterical, weren't they?"

Or, possibly, just sitting out on deck with a Seabourn blanket on your lap and a hot chocolate in your hand, quietly admiring the scenery that is bigger than anything you could capture on a camera and too beautiful to really explain to your friends and family back home, you look at your fellow Seabourn guest and just giving a nod.  A great moment to share without saying a word.

What do you need to bring along? OK, this isn't packing four suitcases for a luxury cruise in the Mediterranean.  The weather can change from short sleeve shirts to parkas in no time.  You can get wet and cold.  "I mean what do I pack?!" The answer is it is far easier to pack for an Antarctic cruise than it is for the Med!  Jarda and Robin have a number of suggestions.
  • Pack keeping layering in mind.  That does not mean 10 layers, but rather two or three smart layers.  It is amazing how warm you can be with an UnderArmour t-shirt, a fleece pullover and a waterproof outerlayer or parka.  There is no fashion show...the Seabourn provided parka is a fashion statement all its own...and you don't even have to pack it.
  • Leave those rubber overboots at home.  Not only don't they work, Seabourn is providing everyone with a loaner pair of the correct footwear for your expedition landings. 
  • Bring two good pairs of gloves.  Trust me, as a skier I know that those waterproof gloves are anything but, so while one pair dries out in your suite you have another warm and dry pair to use.  (Leave those woolen mittens and fashionable leather gloves you love on the ship!)
  • Bring extra camera batteries.  The cold wreaks havoc with batteries.  One that lasts for days in warm climates may well die in an hour or so when its cold.  And store the second battery next to your body, not an outside pocket!
  • Bring Handwarmers.  According to Jarda it is one of the world's greatest inventions.  I agree. You cannot pack enough.  I also recommend you purchase gloves with a slot in the back made specifically for them.
  • Bring Memory Cards. Robin observed that on the first landing he has seen people take over 500 photographs.  They are very inexpensive, so bring extras.  That will keep you from having to sort through your photos in a panic trying to find space while you are looking at something spectacular. 
But as I mentioned this cruise is not just about Antarctica, so you will be able to retire to the Seabourn luxury you love, pealing off those jeans and boots, dressing for dinner and enjoying a contrast in environments that, frankly, only a rare few will ever be able to experience.  Don't you just want to raise a glass of champagne to that alone?

Honestly, this is one of the hardest articles I have ever written.  Why?  Because I already feel myself being dragged off the Seabourn Quest on November 20th, kicking and screaming, because I will be so close to taking this dream travel experience. 

Maybe I will just stay on.  My wife will understand? My kids are getting older, so they will be fine?  I can still take care of my clients while I am at sea? 

I'm thinking about it. 

Are you?

Prices starting at US$14,999 (+ $608.88 in taxes). For more information or to book your Antarctic Experience contact Goldring Travel today!

Please email me at eric@goldringtravel.com or telephone at (877) 2GO-LUXURY or in the UK: 020 8133 3450 or Australia: (07) 3102 4685 or elsewhere Internationally: +1 732 578 8585.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

This Also Drives Me Nuts! People That Complain Seabourn Is Cutting Corners When It Isn't.

In these times of economic hardship; especially in Europe, cruise lines are struggling to maintain profitability and product quality while at the same time providing new innovations.  It doesn't matter if it is Royal Caribbean or Seabourn, the fact is that growth in this industry has slowed to a somewhat distressing two (2%) percent.

While Goldring Travel is fortunate in having another year of record growth and a widening of its diversity (No, Seabourn is not nearly all I sell or recommend.), the travel industry overall is having its challenges.

So what also drives me nuts are the old folks that count their days on Seabourn as if that earns them the right to be arrogant, irrational and, to a good extent, just plain mean.  Presently there is a new fan page on Facebook where some of these nasty people are settling in to provide their pontifications that Seabourn better shape up or they are going to take their business elsewhere.

I, personally, believe that if you are going to complain generically in a public forum whatever it is that is allegedly broken cannot possibly be fixed or even recognized if it is secreted.  And for those that have their concerns raised (because if it is written on the internet it must be true...right?), it is just unfair. 

Of course, I am curious what the problems are that they are so concerned about because I have not seen cost-cutting.  I have seen changes.  I have seen elimination of things that were not being utilized.  But I have also seen additions. 

From my perspective, whether it is new Spa Penthouses, new Antarctic cruises, new Nathan's hot dogs, environmentally responsible caviar (which is still unlimited...just not wasted), new sophisticated and varied menus (with more deference to vegetarians), 40+ new ports, the investment of millions of dollars is anything but cutting corners.

It is with that perspective I read a Seabourn passenger claiming to have 498 days onboard wrote, "Sad to see the [P]ride go down hill we are 6 days into an 18 day cruise and told tonight no more lamb, no different butters each night and the canvas Bags are now not given unless you ask !"  I observe the following:  While lamb remains on the new, expanded menu, that does not repeat for over a month at a time, if the issues are Seabourn not throwing out pounds of wasted butter each evening and needing to ask for a $2.00 bag, it is wrong to claim the Seabourn Pride is going down hill.  Talk to me about service, functionality, cuisine quality, etc. Seriously.

The response by another curmudgeon was to attack me...not because my comments were wrong, but because I am a travel agent.  Huh?  I make money selling all cruise lines...and will be sailing on Silversea next month, so what's it to me?

But she continues...again without any specificity:  "I'm on board the Sojourn currently; its lovely but cost cutting is still in evidence and between 6 of us around a table with 1000 + days between us we have agreed that unless they upscale, for which we are prepared to pay, we will start looking elsewhere. Travel agents should perhaps start bearing this in mind."  I ask again: "What is the cost cutting you so adamantly complain about?" 

While I am not getting into the obvious, "So what cruise line are you going to move your angry self to?" I am going to get into the why the non-specific complaints.

  • The why may be that change bothers  them. 
  • The why may be a way for them to feel self-important.
  • The why may be the effect of common effect of people wanting to agree with each other.
  • The why may be that some people just aren't happy if they aren't complaining about how the good old days were always better.  (I don't believe AM radio is better than satellite radio or the world is better without the internet or the air travel.)
Seabourn is changing and it is investing in things that it believes the majority of its guests find beneficial. 

Anyone want to guess how many of those $2.00 canvas bags are left behind or never used?  You can start counting with mine. 

Oh, and I prefer a much healthier and tastier olive oil to dip my bread, so start counting my butter as wasted too.

Sorry if I was too specific. 

This Drives Me Nuts! - Regent Seven Seas Cruise Ratings in Cruise Critic Reviews

This is a rant.  If you don't want to "hear" me complain:  STOP READING.  But, alas, if you do...read on!
I read reviews for most cruise lines written by guests from different countries.  I read them all skeptically and with my focus on picking up facts rather than the reviewers conclusions.  I can pick up on those that will always find fault (or who find one thing bad and will eventually claim it ruined there entire cruise) and those that find the faults and then claim it didn't matter.

Today was one of those days where I just feel like I am being driven nuts by some irrational force that I cannot comprehend or figure out that feeds Regent Seven Seas glowing headlines while acknowledging the facts don't support them.  Sort of like reading tabloid headlines.

So today I met with a charming couple looking to take an upscale cruise.  They knew I sell a lot of Seabourn cruises, but they had a friend who swore by Regent Seven Seas.  As I always say, "That may be perfect for your friend, but let's see what works for you."  This, in turn, led to my discussion of why some people cannot admit they made a mistake by booking the wrong cruise line so they keep making the same mistake...or they don't really know they made a mistake because they haven't tried anything else.

Then this afternoon I receive a notice of a new Regent Seven Seas review on Cruise Critic.  The headline reads, "Wonderful Cruise - AGAIN!" and rates the cruise 5+ Stars, giving Embarkation a 4 and Shore Excursions a 3. 

What follows is the entire review unedited, though I have bolded certain comments:

Wonderful cruise--AGAIN!
Another great Regent cruise!After a rocky embarkation due to computer issues, we boarded our lovely ship and started to relax. Unfortunately, some people never found their sea legs or sea brains. A large number of pushy, rude people seemed to populate the ship--refugees from Carnival? A few well behaved children were on board as well.  The food was very good-- all great meals with very attentive service. The coffee bar in the morning was a great place to meet and greet with expertly prepared coffee.  The pool area, while crowded was somewhat short staffed-- but it was service with a smile as usual and good service for the numbers reclining on the comfy chaises!  We did not attend any of the entertainment--so can't comment there.  Nassau needs to off the list--it was the Navigator and about 12000 other passengers in port. A bit much and a bit crowded.  Our cabin was always neatened up very quickly, morning and night, and although we don't use the butler service a lot, it sure is nice to have. My husband became a convert to afternoon tea and trivia as well!  Disembarkation was VERY smooth and well handled.  Our main issue was the attitude of some of the passengers-- it was really a floor show with some of them. It created a great diversion for those of us waiting for our tours to be called!
We booked while on board for next January and will look forward to our next cruise with Regent.
What I am reading is an embarkation disaster to board a ship filled with uncouth and unruly passengers, which was short-staffed, went to marginal ports and being staged in a lounge to board tour buses.

Am I being unfair in saying Regent is not providing a 5+ Star cruise?  I honestly do not think that by any measure that would be the case.  Would I be unkind in pondering, "Why would someone be looking forward to doing the same thing again...and pay money to do so while enduring it?"

Look at some other recent Cruise Critic reviews.  The following are the next seven most recent reviews.  Please consider the litany and consistency of the misses:




(This is another "5 Star...Really?" review)




It is true.  I don't like Regent Seven Seas Cruises for a number of reasons.  And, to be sure, after reading so many consistent reviews about how Regent fails in so many areas, I have no desire to give it another try after my times on the (Radisson) Diamond, the Mariner and the Navigator.

BTW, I will be sailing on Silversea's Silver Shadow in May...to give it another look.  I think now may be the time to give it another chance.

OK, I feel better now...just a little.


Sunday, April 7, 2013

Silversea's Ellen Bettridge Charity Request - No Free Cruise, But You'll Feel Good!

I met with Ellen Bettridge, Silversea’s President of the Americas at Cruise Shipping Miami last month.  I really enjoyed getting to know her and really love her enthusiasm, warmth and incredibly high energy.  You just have to feel good after spending time with her (and I think it may spell some good things for Silversea). 

But this article is not about Silversea, but the woman behind it.

The other day Ellen called me and let me know that she is a candidate for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) Man & Woman of the Year and asked for my support in her efforts to help the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s efforts to find a cure for blood cancers and to assist patients and families as they battle this disease.

The top-rated (I checked!) Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) is the world's largest voluntary (nonprofit) health organization dedicated to funding blood cancer research and providing education and patient services. Since its founding in 1949, the Society has invested more than $814 million in research specifically targeting blood cancers.

Ellen is very transparent that her candidacy is about caring…and money.  Every dollar Ellen raises is a vote for her.  She has until June 8, 2013 to reach her goal of $100,000. You can make a 100% tax-deductible donation to Ellen online on her fundraising page.

Quoting Ellen: 

“I know how blessed my family is that our children, Grace and Abby, are healthy and have never had to battle anything more serious than a nasty flu bug. Thank goodness! To be honest I was reluctant to participate because I didn’t think I had time.

I then met two survivors Nour Aboussali and Amanda Lawson, I knew I had to participate.  Nour, is a feisty funny little boy who was diagnosed when he was only five-and-a-half-years-old and spent his sixth birthday in the hospital receiving chemo. But, through it all, he has remained strong and vibrant. He is now in remission and very thankful to be alive.  Amanda, is a Lymphoma survivor. After two years of aggressive IV chemo, several spinal injections of chemo, injections to her legs, losing her long brown hair, hospital admissions, transfusions, and three surgeries, she is now six years cancer free.

I was further inspired to support these efforts by the amazing story of the cure found by utilizing the AIDS virus saving the life of six year old Emma. If you have minute take a look at this amazing story.”

You know a few years ago I was a bit put off by Silversea’s opt-out charity efforts, but this is different.  It is purely an opt-in charity request...and not really associated with Silversea, but Ellen's personal commitment. A little difference, but an important one.

Your donation will not get you a free Silversea cruise or even an upgrade.  But you will be helping not only with the fight against cancer, but some pretty amazing children. 
That just might get you to feel good.

Thanks Ellen!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Nathan's World Famous Hot Dogs Sail with Seabourn! Oh, Yeah, Seabourn Has Some Great New Fine Culinary Offerings Too!

Yesterday Seabourn announced it had added, changed and tweaked its menus providing some truly creative and innovative dining fare. 

Oh, I could talk to you about such new items as Truffled Corn and Mascarpone Tortellini; Farmed Goat Cheese Green Salad; Golden Mussel Chowder; Seared Cocoa & Spice Rubbed Pork Tenderloin; Cumin & Coriander Crusted Swordfish; and Sour & Spicy Assam Prawns.

I could discuss the new "Local Flavors" menu items which will follow the Seabourn ships as they travel the world including such things as Croatian Style Pan Roasted Sea Bass; Feta Stuffed Braised Chicken; and Grilled Dover Sole Fillets with caviar cream butter. 

Or even the expanded Vegetarian options including Vegetable and Potato Gnocchi Risotto, Spring Vegetable Paella, and Warm Baked Thyme Onion & Gruyere Tart.

I could even get into the esoteric details of Seabourn now using Jidori chicken which is organically raised on a vegetarian diet in California or its change from Sterling Silver to Double R Ranch Beef, whose cattle are fed only local crops, are massaged daily (only kidding!), and are raised with an eye on reducing environmental damage and a focus on restoring wetlands which cattle farming so readily destroys.

But I am not.  I am going to talk about Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs coming onboard Seabourn.  That's right, no matter when you are Australian, Norwegian, English, or even Andorran, you can now truly enjoy not only something as American as a hot dog, but the most American of all hot dogs!

I have never seen a Nathan's Famous look this pristine, but this photo is straight from its website!
These are "the" iconic New York Hot Dogs.  
They are made to be grilled; not boiled.
They have the right amount of "pop" when you bite into them. 
They just taste great. 

And you can trust me on this: Nathan's Hot Dogs are not made from coddled chickens or environmentally conscious beef. To be honest, New Yorkers don't really care what is in them. Fuggedaboudit!

So for those wanting to know more about Nathan's (rather than Jidori chickens), it all started on Coney Island, New York (home of the famous ferris wheel) in 1916. 

According to the Nathan's website Al Capone, Eddie Cantor, Jimmy Durante, and Cary Grant were regular customers. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt served Nathan’s Famous hot dogs to the King and Queen of England in 1939 and then them sent to Yalta when he met with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. Barbara Streisand had them flown to London for a party; Jaqueline Kennedy had them served at the White House; and, Walter Mathau had them served at his funeral.

But I am actually quite disappointed in Seabourn.  Why?  Seabourn is not serving Nathan's French Fries with them!

Now with Seabourn bringing this iconic American culinary treat to its ships, I implore, beg and plead with you to watch this video.  Clint Eastwood says it best:   

If you are interested, there are only a couple of spaces left for the 2013 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise on November 13, 2013 sailing on the Seabourn Quest from Rio de Janerio, Brazil to Buenos Aires, Argentina. 

While I have a wonderful Caviar and Champagne Event planned with Seabourn's supplier of its caviar, I just might have to put together a Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest.  Joey Chestnuts is the world champ downing 68 hot dogs (with buns) in ten minutes this past year.  OK, maybe not!

But if you are interested in our Food & Wine Cruise, please give me a call or send me an email.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Celebrity Silhouette - How Upscale to Luxury is a Celebrity Cruise Experience? The Review - Part III

My family's March 24, 2013 cruise on the Celebrity Silhouette has been both a testament to the things I love about Celebrity Cruises and what can happen when you are sailing (a) in the Caribbean, (b) during Spring Break and (c) when the weather has resulted in five consecutive days of clouds/rain/wind and few days of 7-10 foot seas.  In short, this is not the best cruise to measure the Celebrity product. 

With that proviso, and with a lengthy travelogue/analysis to follow, what are my main observations, comments and overall impressions? 

-          I really like the Celebrity Silhouette with the addition of Qsine and Lawn Club Grill, restaurants her older sisters lack, but miss the larger, more open, Lawn (but something has to give somewhere).  She is one of the finest larger cruise ships at sea. 

-          Celebrity’s Guest Relations is fantastic (and it is no wonder some of their top staff have wound up working for Seabourn). 

-          Murano remains one of my favorite restaurants at sea for ambiance, cuisine and service. 

-          The combination of the Premium Beverage Package, Ultimate Dining Package and Pre-Paid Gratuities is both a fantastic way to put together an upscale experience while also providing great value. 

-          Other than by the pool, the buffet (at peak hours) and outside the main dining room before dinner you really do not have a sense of crowds or crowding. 

-          The ship itself is beautiful and creative and elegant.  A beautiful library overlooking the atrium (with its floating giant ficus tree) to the wicker lounges by the grass bocce court to the ice-covered martini bar to Cellar Masters wine library den feel, you can’t help but be impressed with the design. 

-          Service outside of Murano, Lawn Club Grill, Guest Relations and Shore Excursions was a bit below my expectations.  With a room steward that did the minimum at best, service that was overall quite good, but with more inconsistency than on any previous cruise.  Notably, overall the bar staff overall seemed exhausted, disinterested and unengaged.  A big qualifier:  This was a rough sea, cloudy, rainy cruise over Spring Break so the staff was required to be going full out full time, so I won’t hold it against them (save two individuals!). 

-          The cuisine very good to excellent with a truly wonderful variety.  Murano stands on its own, but the other specialty restaurants served very good to excellent cuisine and the buffet has great diversity (blood pudding to frittatas to pickled herring to made-to-order omelets at breakfast, for example), the pizza, hamburgers and hot dogs were much improved from my last cruise and the ice cream varieties were great.

 Now the details:

Our flights into Fort Lauderdale went without a hitch and our luggage arrived (though one bag arrived before our flight…a/k/a the bag was lost and then made it onto a sold out flight that had better timing then ours).  We then took a taxi to the Candlewood Suites because I figured we were getting in at 11:00 p.m. and departing at 11:00 a.m. so why waste money on an upscale hotel room.  This was a great concept, but a bad idea.  When my family of four entered our suite, my son said, “This doesn’t look like the picture!  Well, I kinda guess it does.”  My wife and I retired to the bedroom and left the kids in the living room with a sofabed and recliner. I awoke to my daughter asleep on a terribly sagging mattress and my son asleep on the floor.  I felt bad; especially when my son said the floor was more comfortable than the sofabed or the recliner.
I knew it was best to arrive at the Port Everglades Cruise Terminal no later than 11:30 a.m. in order to be ahead of the crowds, so after grabbing a taxi (which now that Yellow Cab in Fort Lauderdale pretty much has a taxi monopoly can be a real challenge), we arrived to a very efficient and quick check-in and were aboard the Celebrity Silhouette before noon.
Upon arrival we immediately did two things:  Purchased our Premium Beverage Packages for the adults and Premium Non-Alcoholic Beverage Packages for the kids.  (You can purchase these in advance, but we had onboard credits I wanted to apply to them.) Then we purchased the Ultimate Dining Package for the adults, which gives us unlimited access to all of the specialty restaurants (Murano, Qsine, Tuscan Grille and The Lawn Club Grill) as well as Bistro on Five and The Porch for breakfasts, lunches and dinner.  (All dining packages except for the limited availability Ultimate are available to purchase online prior to your cruise.) That accomplished, and having already sailed on the sisterships Celebrity Solstice and Celebrity Equinox, we decided to have lunch at Bistro on Five.
We arrived to a fairly quiet Bistro on Five which specializes in crepes, soups and salads with a nicely paired list of wines by the glass.  I won’t bore you with everything we ate, but the salads were fresh, the soup quite good and some of the crepes were unique and enjoyable (some sounded a bit weird).  Service was very friendly and polite, but a bit slow…not that we had anywhere to rush off to.  Before we finished an announcement was made the rooms on Deck 11 were ready.  My son took a look at the jammed elevators and said it was better to wait.  So we did and enjoyed the rest of our lunch.  (I cannot fathom why people would jam into the Oceanview Café buffet when for a mere $5.00 per person you can experience calm, quiet, table service and unique fare.  But I guess I am focused on having a near luxury experience rather than getting my money’s worth.)
When we found our staterooms, located overlooking the stern of the ship on Deck 11, they were in great shape and with a fantastic view. The bed was extremely comfortable and the upgraded bath towels, showerhead and amenities were appreciated.  While our Captains Club amenities were missing (and did not appear until Day 3 – not good) we were not aware of any of the special events, the steward for our children’s adjacent stateroom had the divider between the two balconies opened so we had an extra-large balcony and easy access between our staterooms.  (Curiously, we had different stateroom attendants.)  Our luggage arrived well before sailing, which was a plus.  That done it was time to wander. 
One of the differences on the Celebrity Silhouette and her older sisters is The Lawn Club is less “lawn” and more “club”.  The Corning Glass show has been replaced with The Lawn Club Grill and much of the lawn has been overtaken with The Alcoves – private cabanas you can rent by the day.  I am not a big fan as, at least for me, it is now a place to pass through rather than linger.  (Since we have the great balcony The Alcoves is pretty worthless to us…noting you need to price your entire cruise experience; not just the price of the stateroom!  I also found it curious that the cabanas faced the lawn and not the ocean.)
I stopped by the iLounge (a/k/a internet room) which Celebrity has partnered with Apple offering Macs and lessons on iPads and iPhones to the iDon’tknows to set up my wireless internet account.  The pricing is a bit steep, but with my work and two teenagers “needing” to be connected there is a $399 package for about 28 hours.  This makes the Seabourn $399 package for “always on” internet for the length of your voyage a relative bargain…I don’t think charging these amounts for internet access are appropriate.  
After a rather painless muster drill, it was time for dinner in Qsine; which normally is an extra $20 or so per person charge). I understood this to be a cool restaurant where you ordered your meal off of iPads, so I figured it would be fun for the kids.  I was wrong…sort of. This restaurant (which replaces the Celebrity Solstice’s and Celebrity Equinox’s Silk Road Asian-fusion restaurant) does have iPads for menus and it is fun, but the thing that makes the restaurant cool is – wait…wait…- the food!  Qsine blends cuisines of all sorts with very creative presentations such as sushi lollipops to a sort of dollhouse filled with all kinds of Mediterranean mezes.  It is great for one night of a seven day cruise, but I am not sure it would be as much fun the second time.  One negative:  The service was slow again.  I didn’t say anything, but the staff was keenly aware and offered us four coupons to use at Bistro on Five.  With my dining package they were really not worth anything, but the proactive offer was excellent.
My wife made it an early evening so I had a bit of a walk-around, checking out the preview of the shows (not good…but I don’t generally like the shows) and eventually winding up at the Sunset Bar overlooking the stern to enjoy a cigar.  Ironically three decks just above my stateroom no smoking balcony (which remained private)…noting that Stateroom 1676 has a wider balcony then the others on the stern.  As I smoked my cigar and enjoyed my Glenfiddich (served only one pour at a time, as it seems that with the Premium Beverage Package you are not permitted to order a “double”) I noticed the seas were getting a bit of a swell.  It was a sign of things to come.  
I woke up to gray skies and a constant swell. This, unfortunately, would be the theme for the next five days.  As it was a Sea Day we relaxed (not by the pool!) and enjoyed the ship. 
And then the problems – all minor, but irritating – started: 

-          The internet package I purchased didn’t show in the system, though my account had the $399 charge.  The staff at the iLounge was iArrogant and talked at me rather than listen to my issue and then told me I didn’t buy a package, so I bought another; only to later see on my stateroom account that there were now two $399 packages charged.  Got that fixed.
-          My kids’ SeaPass cards stopped allowing charges.  I authorized the charges when I signed up online and again when we checked in.  Apparently with all the children onboard Celebrity decided to shut down all of the kids’ cards and have Dad or Mom sign another form before charges could continue.  Done.  But then it happened again.  And I had it fixed again…interrupting my dinner.

-          Our dinner reservations in the various specialty restaurants were all messed up.  Two or four dining?  Which restaurant?  Which time?  We got that sorted out.  Again, twice. 

-          Our Captains Club Elite coupons and schedule, as previously noted, had not been delivered and that took another day to get accomplished.  My room steward came up with a lame excuse and only on the last day…when the Comment Cards were out…did he decide to own up to his mistake.  (That was a great way to make a minor issue a major irritant.)  

As a travel agent I get it, so these were all minor hassles, but these sorts of things can really be upsetting to someone who isn’t as knowledgeable as I am or who doesn’t cruise as often as I do, or has limited credit on their cards or are very schedule orientated (so a later or earlier dinner means missing the shows they really enjoy on their cruise) or whose kids are concerned they did something wrong. While each was corrected, at the time it seemed that a battery of errors and…just for a moment…really put me in an “Another problem!  Really?!” mode.
I should note that Guest Relations overall was excellent in dealing with each issue and owning up to mistakes rather than making excuses.  They also made sure, after the fact, that I remained satisfied and that their solutions were, in fact, solutions.  This is so important because one cannot expect a perfect cruise, but one should expect a friendly and efficient was to have any issues resolved.  Guest Relations Manager, Christina, and Guest Relations Officer Valeriya, did a great job with this…even during a Spring Break cruise with lots of children, heavy seas, clouds and rain.  The second formal night evening they even delivered to our stateroom a bottle of champagne for me and my wife and chocolate-covered strawberries for the kids…just because.  A nice, though unnecessary, touch.
But I have digressed and it is now back to the travelogue!  
With the kids doing their thing, my wife and I toured the ship, checked out the Bulgari and other shops and had a capuccino at Cafe de Bacio.
Then we had a nice light lunch at Bistro on Five.  Then I, believe it or not, took a long nap. 
Afterwards it was off to the Persian Gardens, which is an area of the spa where there is a steam room, aroma therapy room, rain showers and heated lounges.  A couple of minor irritations:  The door into the area is very noisy so every time someone walks in or out there is a slam; and, the water fountain chillers are also very noisy.  I would think that in this quiet area those things would have been attended to.  Two things of note:  People that are fully clothed can tie up the lounges and some park themselves there for hours (not the purpose of the lounges) and the sauna is a tiny affair located in the men’s locker room so there is some disjointedness and no sea view (as exists on the Millennium class ships). 

For dinner we headed to Murano on the first of two formal nights.  (Normally there is a $45.00 per person extra charge to dine here.) While the restaurant has quite an elegant fell, I was not feeling well, so part way through my daughter replaced me as my wife’s dinner companion after I ordered Diver Scallops followed by Dover Sole.  I heard the food and service was very good.  I don’t know what it was, but after a good night’s sleep, the next day I felt 100% better. 
OK, so we arrive in Cozumel, Mexico only to be told our family SCUBA diving lessons were cancelled due to heavy seas and wind.  It was, in fact, so bad that the port and the beaches were closed.  The grey skies made going to the beach a non-starter anyway.  So we took a taxi into town ($8.00) and walked around until we found a restaurant we liked. It was not in the town center, but a block off of it.  We sat in a nice garden-like area and had some really good Mexican food and margaritas.  This was followed by some shopping (the only sport available with the bad weather) and we purchased two sinks for our master bathroom at home.  (We had been sink shopping and when the opportunity strikes sometimes you have to go for it.  And for $200 total for two sinks…what the heck?!  Note:  Sadly, only one made it home safely.)
Back on the ship, I actually took another nap and then a jaunt to the Persian Gardens, before heading to the Molecular Bar for pre-dinner drinks.  I had sampled a couple of the nitrogen topped, strange combination, drinks at a Celebrity Cruise Pop-Up Restaurant event in New York City and knew my wife would enjoy them.  She did.  It was then dining at Murano again and I can say that I enjoyed the food (I had a quail salad and duck confit) and service, both of which were top notch.  We were surprised by our children stopping by and they joined us for dessert. Both went for the chocolate soufflé over my suggestion of the Grand Marnier soufflé.  No complaints from either, but I think they will listen to Dad when we are back dining as a family later in the cruise.
Grand Cayman is our next port.  After unsuccessfully trying to find a dive lesson for us prior to our arrival, I decided to bite-the-bullet and purchase a similar, but shorter and more expensive, tour from Celebrity.  The Shore Excursion Desk was excellent in letting me know it probably would be cancelled when I booked it…and it eventually was.  So I tried to find jet-skiing for my son, to no avail.  With this I figured Grand Cayman would be cancelled as it is a tender port and the seas were rough, the clouds were ominous and there was little to do once we got there.  Celebrity found an available anchorage in Spots Bay so it was a 15 minute ride into George Town after the tender to shore.  Celebrity did a very nice thing by arranging complimentary shuttles into town.  The downside was the line to get to the complimentary shuttle, so I spent $20 to get there faster.  (Again, for a small sum you can eliminate lines…so why not do it?)
After a bit of walking around we headed to Paradise, a favorite rustic restaurant right on the water where excellent conch chowder, awesome conch fritters, fried plantains, etc. and, for me, a turtle burger (not very good) were on the menu along with a drink I remember from my younger days, “Hurricane from Hell”.  That was just enough to bring smiles to everyone’s faces and then we did a bit of shopping.  (My guilt for the lousy weather and seas was getting the best of me!)  It was then back to the ship for a much needed rest and visit to the Persian Gardens.  I mean with temperatures in the 70s, grey skies, no physical activities, it gets tiring!
We had dinner at Tuscan Grille; a third extra charge restaurant (I believe $25.00 per person.)  The Maître de was not good and pretty much ignored me until I said something.  When I told him my name he asked for my stateroom number.  Yes, I forgot that little touch.  Anyway, not being terribly impressed, I was not really looking forward to a good dining experience.  Fortunately, a really good one was delivered with cheerful service (Selma, our assistant waitress from Turkey was exceptional).  I had a very good cioppino and a pretty good seafood risotto.  (I am very picky when it comes to risotto, so there is no shame there.)  My wife’s fillet mignon was quite good, but she felt it had been sitting under a warming lamp for a few minutes…probably waiting for the risotto.
Our next rainy day was Falmouth, Jamaica.  This was, for the Goldring family, a “sea day” as there is not much I find in Jamaica that is worth venturing out into the country for.  The fact that the weather was lousy made it a good decision.  We did take a bit of time to walk around the Disney-esque village that Royal Caribbean has essentially created. 
I noticed over a dozen jewelry stores servicing the Liberty of the Seas and the Celebrity Silhouette and wondered, “Why do so many cruise passengers demand the absolute lowest price for their cruise (with many demanding discounts, rebates, etc.) and then spend $1,000 for a piece of jewelry that is probably worth only $200?”  Could it possibly be all of the in-your-face marketing in the daily program, on the ship’s television and the ship’s shopping expert?  But I digress…as I do. 
As we were caught in the rain, we went into one of the eleven Caribbean Margaritaville Restaurant locations for a light lunch and some time out of the rain…while they played disco music.  Huh?   (Note:  If you buy a soda for only $7.95 you have your choice of a souvenir glass or a bong!  Only in Jamaica.)  It was then back on the ship.  
It was here that I actually was able to get into one of the whirlpools in the AquaSpa solarium area for a bit of a soak.  Remembering I chose to cruise during Spring Break I can’t complain that the whirlpools and pools have been overtaken by kids in age ranging from two to twenty-two, but it is something you should consider if you are looking at a late March Caribbean cruise on almost any non-luxury cruise line.  (And it is a reason I enjoy the refuge of the Persian Gardens.)
Before dinner we were back at the Molecular Bar.  I would have preferred sitting in Cellar Masters, which has an excellent variety of wines and a number of Enomatic Machines which let you choose the size of your pour of dozens of extraordinary wines.  The problem:  The Music/Noise.  
Celebrity has been experimenting with what can only be described as various levels of upbeat and generally loud drum beats with some sort of melody (maybe) in the background.  I am assuming it is supposed to be “Modern”, but it most certainly is not “Luxury”…as Celebrity pushes its “Modern Luxury” branding.  I could hear the beat in the Persian Gardens, in Tuscan Grille, in the bathrooms, etc.  Mindboggling…but the coupe de gras was the music played in the Molecular Bar that evening.  The words to the “music” were about a guy being slipped psychedelic mushrooms by a girl he met.  Seriously!? I would note that finally on the second to last night “normal” music returned to the main lobby/atrium so we could enjoy the venues, like Cellar Masters, we had been chased out of.
Our second try of Tuscan Grille wound up with more issues than the first, which was very disappointing since the servers were very good and the food was too.  Our 8:00p.m. reservation wasn’t ready, allegedly because someone was just finishing up their dessert, so it would be 10 minutes…which became 20 minutes when they were signing their check…and then our table was ready…BUT nobody had left the restaurant.  I hate being played for a fool and this was the second bad event with the maître de at this venue.  As the service was quite slow, our servers were very honest with us and said the restaurant was overbooked so the kitchen was backed up.  Hence, we were being stalled up front and our meals would be delayed even more once we were seated.  This presented a problem for our children so they had to rush through their main course and dessert as the “critical” 10:00 p.m. social clock was chiming.  
It is a shame when an enjoyable evening of good service and food is overshadowed by such things.  For me this was a serious service flaw!  I did not pay a premium so that I could be ignored, lied to, delayed, etc…just so the Tuscan Grilles Maître de could show better numbers in “his” restaurant.
We decided to check out the Sin City Adult Comedy Show.  It was OK, though some in the crowd really liked it.  There were a couple of one-woman burlesque-light performances, a short warm-up act and the headliner.  Obviously there are limits on what can be seen and said, but a little bit of naughty and adult humor was provided.
Now for our final chance at doing something on land:  Labadee, Haiti – Royal Caribbean’s private resort.  The good news is that the seas were now only a nice swells.  The bad news was the swells were large enough that they almost prevented us from docking.  The good news is that we docked.  The bad news is that the rain was strong as we arrived and the sun never appeared.  Oh, and my son’s day of jet-skiing was cancelled due to the swells.  However, my wife and kids did do zip-lining and that was fun for them.
Labadee has, to me, a Disney feel with pristine faux shacks and neat plantings with for rent cabanas, a water park and crafts market (sold at cruise ship prices by local Haitians…no matter where the stuff was made). A faux barbecue lunch of hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken legs, ribs and salads is provided.  Drinks are charged to your SeaPass card…if they didn’t run out of beverages (which I found to be the case for both beer and soda).  Lunch on the ship would have been better, but we were trying to make somewhat of a day out of it.  My wife likes the place (having been there on a sunny day when hosting a Royal Caribbean cruise a few months ago) and I must say that if I had a beautiful day and I had rented a cabana I probably would have a better feeling about Labadee.  It is highly rated…just not on a cold, rainy, day with no watersports available.
Back on board for a rest, a visit to the Persian Gardens and another fabulous dinner at Murano.  Goat cheese soufflé, lobster prepared tableside, cheese trolley and the Murano sharing dessert with exceptional service by the staff on the other side of this petit restaurant made for a wonderful evening; the second formal night of the cruise.  As I mentioned earlier, the music has become more Celebrity-like so starting off at Cellar Masters really made the evening a wonderful one ending up with a walk about the Lawn Club and a chat by the Sunset Bar overseen by a full moon dancing through the clouds.
Sun.  Yes, the sun!  I awoke early for our last day, a sea day.  The sun was shining, the sea are fairly calm and there is a cool breeze (rather than gale force winds).  It is a perfect day. I walk the almost empty decks and see that about 80% of the lounges by the pool have been claimed by towels, books and shoes…but not many bodies!  Not good.  A take a quiet whirlpool by myself and then walk some more with a cup of coffee.  I am finally on my Caribbean cruise!
I came back to my stateroom to finally truly enjoy my balcony and there is a knock on the door.  The room steward is delivering receipts for my American Express Platinum Card Specialty Dining credits.  Really?   The last day of the cruise?  They should be confirmed at the beginning of the cruise.  Another “Dunno”.  Not a biggie for me, but it would be a hassle for someone who didn’t take the specialty dining package and wondered if the credits were applied to his/her account.
We finally got to try the Lawn Club Grill for lunch, which was only open for dinner except on this last sea day.  I didn’t know what to expect, but I really liked the place.  You dine in essentially a conservatory with an open grill/pizza oven to one side.  You are offered flatbread starters, a small salad bar and a main course of seafood, meats, and kebobs along with sides like Lobster Mac n’ Cheese.  As we were squeezed in, we were not offered the chance, but normally you can make your own flatbreads (including dough tossing lessons).  Children and adults did it and it was done in a way that did not interfere with your own dining experience.  (The staff was great catering differently to the children than the adults.) Our waiter, Mehmet (there are lots of Turkish waiters on this cruise), was excellent, charming and fun.  Our flatbreads were great, my shrimp and scallop kebob and filet mignon was excellent (and way too much food).  For dessert:  Listen to them.  Seriously.  Order the Chocolate Chip Cookie and Ice Cream.  It could be the best comfort dessert I have ever eaten.  (It is not fancy, but it really is that good!)
Having just eaten a much larger lunch than anticipated, we thought we best push our last dinner – at Murano, of course – to 8:00 p.m. rather than the earlier 6:30 p.m. we had reserved.  Stateroom 1676?  No problem.  I am OK with being Mr. 1676 rather than Mr. Goldring as it gets the job done nicely!
A lazy afternoon catching a few rays, taking a nap and writing and then, of course, my last visit to the Persian Gardens before a final drink enjoying the view from my balcony before packing.  A final family dinner at Murano (again excellent) brought our cruise to a close.  But in Murano they spoiled the children and even made them strawberry crepes with ice cream tableside…over and above their desserts and the petit fours.
With the forced reduction in Customs and Immigration staffing and our 10:15 a.m. flight home we decided to carry off our own luggage.  It was a very good idea.  There was a bit of an issue just getting an elevator with room for us, so our 7:30 a.m. start didn’t get us off the ship until 8:10 a.m. and through Customs and Immigrations to our private transfer until 9:00 a.m.  For those that disembarked normally, I could easily see them waiting in long lines well past 10:00 a.m.  There has to be a better way, but until there is:  Keep this ordeal in mind.  
So did I have a near luxury experience?  Honestly, it is something I am still contemplating.  I have to finish balancing the misses I encountered against what I probably would have encountered on a luxury cruise line during Spring Break with lousy weather. 
Did our Celebrity Silhouette cruise provide a sufficiently excellent experience to want to do it again?  We booked a family cruise for next summer visiting Iceland, The Faroe Islands, UK and Norway on the Celebrity Eclipse.