Saturday, August 31, 2013

Double Standards - Why Was Regent's Sanitation Failure Buried and Now Downplayed (When Silversea Problems Were Highly Publicized)?

I am baffled as to how Goldring Travel seemingly was the first outlet publishing that the Regent Seven Seas Navigator significantly failed its Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Inspection.  On August 26, 2013 I wrote the article:  Regent Seven Seas Navigator Fails CDC Inspection on June 16, 2013 - Why Was This Not Reported?

Regent Seven Seas Navigator
In that article I mentioned the following failures, among others:

  • Tuna salad that was being served to guests was being stored on the same trolley as raw meat AND it was never cooled (being kept at too warm a temperature)...because the staff did not know tuna needed to be refrigerated.  Not bad enough, Regent Seven Seas and its did not have the controls in place to be sure it was not presented past its expiration date.

  • More disgusting to me, the inspectors found so much condensation (read "dirty water") falling from the deckhead (ceiling) in the Poultry Freezer that the deck head was bent and thick ice had formed on boxes containing various foods.  A leak was also found in the vegetable storage room, but it wasn't leaking directly on any food.

  • There was no soap dispenser in the Pool Grill galley hand washing area also is pretty disgusting.  Aside from the people handling your food not washing their hands, one must wonder how such a thing - in plain sight - could be permitted.

  • Two racks of chocolate mouse and a bowl of whipped cream were stored at too high a temperature.

  • There was, of course, the obligatory cockroach found in the Galley Washing area and clean linens being stored on dirty, greasy, racks and clean, white, dishes stacked against a dirty/dusty cabinet

Three days later, on August 29, 2013,.Cruise Critic finally reported this June 2013 failure of the Navigator, but sanitized the article by eliminating all of the foregoing and claiming the failure was really more about bookkeeping errors: Two More Upscale Cruise Ships Fail June CDC Inspection.

Last  night I received my copy of Cruise News Daily, normally a very reliable (and enjoyable) daily newsletter on the cruise industry...and once again there was a whitewash.  In fact, it wrote, "But none of the infractions were anything like what was found on Silver Shadow..."   Actually, other than efforts to hide food (which was high on the stupid scale...and stupid is now off that ship!), the actual sanitation issues were pretty much the same or worse on the Regent Seven Seas Navigator.  (I am not sure how the above are not considered serious.)

Excuses seemed to focus on "the paperwork wasn't correct".  Wait a second!  The paperwork is required to assure things are being done properly.  No paperwork = No documentation = No record of errors, problems or issues.  To me that is a BIG problem; not just merely "crossing t's and dotting i's.)   Possibly it is because of my legal background, but I always look at what isn't there harder than at what is.

My question is, "Why?".  Why is it that Regent Seven Seas Cruises' failure have been reported belatedly and softly and with excuses?  I don't have the answer, but I do have my suspicions.

What do I suspect?  I suspect there is a combination of a much higher advertising budget (Regent Seven Seas Cruises is owned by Apollo Management...which also owns Oceania Cruise Line and a good portion of Norwegian Cruise Lines), far greater leverage with journalists and, to be sure, a significantly different approach with the media.

What does it mean?  It means don't believe the hype, but get all of the facts.  Silence, to be sure, is NOT golden.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Oceania Cruises Increases Cancellation Fees and Beverage Charges...Again (Twice in 10 Months)

Oceania Cruises has just announced that it is, among other things, increasing the cost to cancel a cruise long before final payment is due as well as the price of its Beverage Packages.  It is, to be sure, deja vu all over again!

And it is not lost on me that the announcement is made just as the Labor Day Holiday Weekend, as politicians know, nobody reads the headlines announcing the bad new.

On December 12, 2012 I wrote an article:  Oceania Cruises - A Little Less Consumer Friendly. Why? And What's The Good News? wherein I cautioned that Oceania has redefined "long" cruises so as to commence the penalty periods much earlier than previously. 

Increasing Penalty Period and Cancellation Fees

Having increased the penalty in December, now Oceania is increasing the penalty (more kindly called an Administrative Fee) when you cancel 120 days to 91 days prior to sailing from $100 per person to $250 per person on cruises of 14 days or less; just as it is for longer cruises.  And for Owner's, Vista and Oceania Suites the cancellation amount (a/k/a for lesser staterooms "Administrative Fee") of a whopping ten (10%) percent of the cruise fare.

At the same time, as Oceania's longer Grand Voyages are usually also sold in shorter lengths, Oceania is increasing the deposit for staterooms to $1,500, up from $750.

Increasing Beverage Package Cost...Again

Oceania Cruises has also announced that its Beverage Packages that it raised prices on in December by $5.00 per person per day are being increased again by $5.00 per person per day.  This increases the prices as follows:

  • House Select Package (Wine & Beer with lunch and dinner) - $39.95 per guest per day
  • Premium Select Package (Premium Spirits, Wine & Beer whenever you wish) - $59.95 per guest per day
If you do the math, the price increase from $29.95 to $39.95 is a whopping 33%  and from $49.99 to $59.99 is a very significant 20% in just ten months.

Are people drinking more than expected?  No.  Trust me on this, the cruise lines know...almost to the drink...what a guest will consume broken down by categories such as length, itinerary and ship.

The reason is, to me, obviously.  The Holy Grail of cruising:  Increasing Onboard Revenue.

What's This All About?

Oceania is, clearly, having a very difficult time with people booking cruises and then cancelling them very close into final payment; leaving Oceania with a good bit of inventory and very little time to sell it. 

Why is this happening?  It is either a realization that Oceania is not the great bargain they thought they was when they booked it or somehow Oceania has its marketing keyed in on people that are less committed to their travel than the other cruise lines.  (While I find some of Oceania's tactics troublesome, the onboard product - when viewed as premium - not luxury - is quite good.)

At the same time Oceania is claiming it is increasing its pricing on various cruises, but truth be told I am pretty tired of Oceania's "Let's Make a Deal" approach to bookings.  The reality is that Oceania regularly seeks move-offs (people moving off their cruise to another less popular one) with significant discounts. For example, I have a client that is booked on a 10 day January 2014 Caribbean cruise and has been offered to move to the Regatta on entirely different itineraries:   12 day New England Cruise or a 14 day November Transatlantic Cruise.  (Some offers are already being made for cruises that are in late 2014.)

Other clients are offered highly discounted cruises if they back-to-back them with their existing cruise. 

While this speaks to Oceania using some pretty creative and aggressive ways to fill its ships - for which I have no issue (other than the time it takes me to contact the client with the barrage of offers...taking up my time relaying pretty much worthless to my clients offers), it also speaks to Oceania not so truthfully telling the public that it is not discounting its prices, and is increasing them. 

But there is something more important that I see...Much more important.

Oceania has created its own monster.  It's efforts to move passengers off of cruises, give high discounts on back-to-back cruises, regularly offer upgrades at discounted prices (yes, it does that too), it has created a philosophy that nothing is certain and better deals are bound to come the passenger's way.

Honestly, if you are one of those people, you probably are not a Goldring Travel client.  You are not cruising for a particular itinerary, at a particular time, in a particular category, on a particular ship.  You are probably looking for a deal...and have set yourself up for getting that deal by plunking down your $750 deposit.  But when that deal doesn't come, or the deal isn't good enough, you simple cancel your cruise.

And now you see the problem.  Oceania has trained its marketed to clientele to bargain hunt and bail if the bargain doesn't materialize.

So, to me, what seems like sophisticated marketing strategies are actually plays that don't work in the real world.  Oceania is plagued with near sold out cruises that wind up with significant availability, mid-range stateroom categories that don't fill while the inside and oceanview staterooms sell out, and a bigger problem:  It markets hard that it does not discount...or rarely does.

So, while your cruise price might, as a result of all of this, be a "deal" Oceania has a plan to get it back through higher Administrative Fees, higher Beverage Packages, higher priced shore excursion/transfer, and more extra-cost onboard activities.

Don't get me wrong:  As I said, Oceania Cruises onboard product is quite long as you know what it is going to ultimately cost you.  My job, as a travel professional, is to make sure you know.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises - "Ship Happens"...But You Are On Your Own: Inexcusably Poor Customer Service

Regent Seven Seas - again - lets down its passengers with poor customer service...again!

Lousy Customer Service...Again
The Regent Seven Seas Mariner was late arriving into Civitavecchia, Italy today due to a malfunction of some lifeboat equipment during routine maintenance the day before; so the last leg of the cruise from Livorno was delayed.  This resulted in the ship being approximately three hours late...and, therefore, many of the passengers' flights home would be missed.

For those passengers (I can't call them guests after you read this) who booked their air with Regent Seven Seas, efforts are being made by the line to arrange new flights for them, provide them with hotel room and a $100 per person stipend for meals.  However, while the passengers were told that Regent was working on new flights, apparently that was not the case (for at least some) as the United Kingdom office was closed and nothing was done for them. 

So while the Regent air-booked guests assumed all was being taken care of, the fact is it was not...and it is reported that their on-ground support consisted of a single individual that road with them on the bus to the airport advising them he knew nothing and, upon arrival, simply pointed them to the airline check-in desks (some of which were not even open for the flights finally assigned).

Worse, for those passengers who did not book their air with Regent Seven Seas, the were - shall we say - cut adrift.  Regent offered them nothing and, in fact, even cut off the internet leaving many of the passengers unable to communicate with the airlines or to book alternative flights.  (Regent had, apparently, provided free internet until the ship reached Civitavecchia, but it is reported it then cut it off with the crew claiming that the cruise was over.)

The fact is that "ship happens" and it is totally understandable that the late arrival occurred to do a mechanical issue.  It is why when clients ask me if a close connection will work I always...that is always...advise against it.  (When I flew out of Rome last month after my SeaDream Yacht Club cruise, I chose to make a later flight with a connection so my departure time was 1:20 p.m.)

However, when "ship happens" - especially on a luxury cruise line that claims it is not five star, but six star - there better be some pretty great customer service...not only for the arriving guests, but the departing ones as well.  And while to expect Regent Seven Seas to deliver a perfect solution for each of its passengers is not reasonable, for it to hinder its passengers from even arranging their own solutions is inexcusable.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Crystal Symphony - Patricia Riley's Review: August 22-September 2, 2013 (Lisbon to Dover) - Part II - Bilbao

I am a big history and art enthusiast, so I love Bilbao!

Bilbao has a long history. Though founded in 1300 many seem to be under the impression that Bilbao only came into existence with the Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim Museum. The  museum, which opened in 1997, and the city of 353,000 it resides in, our now synonymous.  Bilbao was a perfect choice for the Guggenheim.  They are both brimming with culture, are unique and independent.

Some people come to Bilbao and only see the Guggenheim.  Some come to Bilbao and only see the city and skip the museum.  To do either of these things without the other is to miss the essence of Bilbao.

Bilbao - The Museum

The Guggenheim Bilbao, like its sister in New York, is an architectural masterpiece.  One can love it or hate it but there is no denying that it is jaw dropping impressive.  Upon approaching the entrance you are met by Jeff Koons's  "Puppy"    

The admission fee is 10€ for adults and if you are 60+ entry is only 7.50€.    The exhibits are spread over three floors.  The inside is as stunning as the outside and the galleries themselves are also pieces of art.  During my visit an exhibit L'Art en Guerre (Art in War) was on display.  It included works by Picasso during his time in occupied Paris. The most moving display, The Camps, featured the works of artists who were imprisoned and perished in the Nazi concentration camps.

The permanent exhibitions include additional works by Picasso as well as Rauschenberg, Rosenquist and Warhol.  Among Warhol's works included is an iconic series of images of Marilyn Monroe.  One of the most impressive galleries contained a work called "Torqued Ellipse"and covered an entire gallery.  It could be viewed and appreciated from above and was also designed to interactive with the viewer walking around and through the pieces

Bilbao - The City

A 10 minute walk along the riverfront at the back of the Guggenheim brings you to the original Bilbao, the Casco Viejo. While the area around the Guggenheim is all about modern the area of the Casco Viejo (old city) is all about tradition and history.  This medieval district of Bilbao was originally comprised of just 7 streets.  It is the most colorful section of Bilbao and is a hodge podge of narrow alleys, churches, plazas and balconied apartments.  It is full of cafes, bars, restaurants and shops and is a great place to wander.

Wandering on your own has its own rewards. Among these rewards are the chance to meet with the locals, sample the local cuisine or beer and perhaps sample a local market.  Sometimes, if you are lucky, you get the chance to experience all of them.

As I strolled In the Casco Viejo area I had a feeling this was not a normal Sunday.  Indeed, it was not.

I stumbled upon the last day of celebration of a local fiesta, Aste Nagusia. Everyone was proudly wearing their Bilbao/Basque scarves and children were dressed in traditional costumes.  The biggest surprise is that I wandered into the local equivalent of a "chili cook-off"!

I still have not figured out what they were cooking but the judging table contained 42 pans of what is shown in the picture above,  all lined up and ready to be judged.  Every entrant seemed to have a crowd around their table cheering them on. [Note from Eric Goldring, of Goldring Travel:  The week-long contest is called "Sukaldaritza Lehiaketa"...interestingly, if not creatively, translated from Basque into "Cooking Competition".  What they are cooking is a traditional Basque lamb stew.  I know this because there is a Basque population in the Sierra Nevada mountains where I visit often.]

Going with the flow of the crowds I found myself immersed with the locals as well as full sized, dancing puppets.  This was entirely unexpected and is one of the things that I love about traveling, stumbling on to the unexpected.  These puppets require team work and in addition to the man inside the puppet they have men on the outside leading the way and making sure nothing happens that should not.  The puppets walk, dance and twirl madly to the traditional music that is playing.  You can see how large these puppets are in comparison to the people standing near by. Truly amazing.

I personally am not a fan of tours.  I feel that in most cases they isolate you from the destination. With the exception of the always limited "free time" you are mostly herded around to the obligatory stops, never getting a chance to discover a destination on its own. Granted, some cities are not that easy to get around on your own but when they are I say, do it.  

Now you know why!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Regent Seven Seas Navigator Fails CDC Inspection on June 16, 2013 - Why Was This Not Reported?

Regent Seven Seas Navigator - Prime 7 Restaurant
Regent Seven Seas Navigator failed the CDC's inspection on June 16, 2013 with a score of 86 or higher is passing.  I am not sure how this rather disgusting score wasn't the focus of media attention as was the Silversea Silver Shadows higher score of 82...but I have a good idea!

When Silversea's failure - which was not as bad as Regent Seven Seas - was hit hard by the media I surmised in my article:  Silversea Silver Shadow Fails CDC Sanitary Inspection - Some Information and Thoughts, "There is a law firm that spends much of its time going after cruise lines - with very mixed results - that even has an app to "assist" you should you have an issue onboard a cruise ship.  I am not sure that there is any legitimate reason for this law firm to be publishing this information (draw your own conclusions!), but it is probable that without its publicity this situation would not be as widely known...and it should be. "

If I thought Silversea's failure should be publicized, there is no reason for me not to believe Regent Seven Seas' failure should not be...and so I write this article.

Let's talk about the rather troubling conditions the Centers for Disease Control inspectors found on Regent Seven Seas Navigator.  Leaving out the various violations in the crew mess, the lack of appropriate signage or lighting, I want to focus on a few of the disturbing "lowlights":

  • Tuna salad that was being served to guests was being stored on the same trolley as raw meat AND it was never cooled (being kept at too warm a temperature)...because the staff did not know tuna needed to be refrigerated.  Not bad enough, Regent Seven Seas and its did not have the controls in place to be sure it was not presented past its expiration date.

  • More disgusting to me, the inspectors found so much condensation (read "dirty water") falling from the deckhead (ceiling) in the Poultry Freezer that the deck head was bent and thick ice had formed on boxes containing various foods.  A leak was also found in the vegetable storage room, but it wasn't leaking directly on any food.

  • There was no soap dispenser in the Pool Grill galley hand washing area also is pretty disgusting.  Aside from the people handling your food not washing their hands, one must wonder how such a thing - in plain sight - could be permitted.

  • Two racks of chocolate mouse and a bowl of whipped cream were stored at too high a temperature.

  • There was, of course, the obligatory cockroach found in the Galley Washing area and clean linens being stored on dirty, greasy, racks and clean, white, dishes stacked against a dirty/dusty cabinet.
While I understand that food being hidden in crew accommodations is great fodder for discussion and disturbance, a few weeks ago there was outrage and tabloid journalism in just about every media outlet when the Silversea Silver Shadow failed a CDC Inspection...and not nearly as bad as Regent Seven Seas did.  But I ask, "Do you want your tuna salad stored with raw meat?"  Didn't think so!

But it goes deeper:  I took a look at Silversea's ships' recent CDC scores:

  • Silver Spirit - 100 (April 5, 2013)
  • Silver Cloud - 96 (March 15, 2013)
  • Silver Whisper - 94 (May 4, 2013)
And then I looked at Regent Seven Seas ship's recent CDC scores:

  • Seven Seas Mariner - 95 (January 7, 2013)
  • Seven Seas Voyager - 91 (December 10, 2010)
This shows me two things: 

  1. Silversea failure was a one-time an anomaly (which I understand has been corrected); and,
  2. Regent Seven Seas had not scored terribly high (and never perfect) and is hardly ever in United States waters long enough for its ships to be inspected by the CDC.
In short, don't think for a minute that just because you haven't heard anything Regent Seven Seas is doing a great job on keeping its ships clean and compliant with United States standards.  (And just to keep those who think I unjustly have it out for Regent Seven Seas, in 2012 five of Seabourn's six ships were inspected with scores of 98, 97, 96, 93 and 90.)

Regent Seven Seas Navigator's dismal failure of the CDC inspection is what it is.  To me it yet another reason not to sail on that troubled, quirky, ugly duckling of a ship and to think twice before you pay the highest fares in the cruise industry of have all of those allegedly "free" things Regent is "giving" you...along with faux Six Star Service.

Crystal Symphony - Patricia Riley's Review: August 22-September 2, 2013 (Lisbon to Dover) - Part I

Guest blogger, and industry legend, Patricia Riley, has just embarked on a cruise on the Crystal Symphony cruising from Lisbon to Dover, which is essentially the reverse itinerary of the Goldring Travel 2012 Food & Wine Cruise on the Seabourn Pride.  She is on the same ship as I was in April 2011 when I cruised the Crystal Symphony in Pacific Northwest with my family.  


Goldring Travel's review of Crystal Cruises comes from a different perspective than mine as he was traveling with his family in the Pacific Northwest and has interests which are much different, so I gladly jumped to the challenge to provide a review of a Crystal Cruise from a different perspective..  

As I have "been there, done that" finding a cruise that would allow me to experience and review new ports on a Crystal Cruise ship was a bit tricky.  It all came together though with me booking the Crystal Symphony on August 22 for an 11 day cruise from Lisbon to London.  This cruise is aptly named Aquitaine Tapestry as the bulk of the ports are in France.  

It started in Lisbon, with an overnight port call.  After a day at sea on August 24 ports to be visited include Bilbao, Spain; Bordeaux, Lorient, St. Malo and Honfleur in France and Guernsey, Channel Islands in the UK.  The cruise will end in Dover, England.  A perfect itinerary for seasoned cruisers who have done the Med, the Baltic and Western Europe.  The itinerary alone would have made me jump on at the chance to cruise to these ports.  The icing on the cake was that I would get the chance to do it on the Crystal Symphony.  

This is not my first time on the Crystal Symphony though.  I was on her maiden voyage in May, 1995.  While I was only on for three nights from NYC to Bermuda the ship left an impression on me.  I'm not sure what the magic spell was but I definitely was entranced by the experience.  Perhaps it was the fact that it was the first time I had a balcony cabin.  Perhaps it was the fact that in addition to the Main Dining Room there were two alternative restaurants (obligatory now on any luxury line). It may have been the production shows that I saw or the spa experience.  I know the service was part of the attraction also.  Maybe it was all of those things combined.  Whatever it was it had left an extremely positive impression on me.  I was anxious to see if it would be as good as I remembered.  So far it is as I remembered and even better.

So it is with that background that I begin my journey and my review.

When choosing a cruise vacation many decisions have to be made.  Two factors that must be considered and are usually the two most important components of the decision are itinerary and ship.  Many place primary importance on itinerary.  Others do not care where they go as long as they are on their favorite cruise line or a cruise line that they have heard much about and want to sail on.

Both facets have their challenges, especially for the more experienced cruiser.  Having a knowledgeable travel consultant help you through the process is invaluable.  If you favor itinerary over ship are you seeking new ports to visit?  Do you want less ports but more time in those ports.  Do you want a port every day (sort of like a marathon) or do you want to break it up with days at sea?  Many cruisers who have been cruising for 10, 20 or 30 plus years have the "been there, done that syndrome" (like me) and that presents yet another challenge

For those that make their decision based on the cruise line, it's a little bit easier.  This is especially true in the luxury category.  In that category the choice is among Seabourn, Silversea, Regent Seven Seas and Crystal. You may notice I did not include Sea Dream Yacht Club.  As Eric has just reviewed Sea Dream I think that the product, while all inclusive and to the highest standard is in a different category based on his review.  Eric has also reviewed Silversea recently.  We all know how Eric feels about Seabourn, which is the same as I do.  I worked for Seabourn for 14 years and had the pleasure to visit most of the ports that the 6 ships of Seabourn call on.

Embarkation began at Noon.  Upon embarking the ship there is a definite WOW factor.  The lobby soars two stories and is elegantly appointed.  A spiral staircase links the two decks.  

Crystal Symphony's Lobby
This area of the ship is where you will find the concierge, the shore excursion desk and reception.  It is large and appropriately staffed so as to eliminate long lines,  A pianist plays a baby grand in the Crystal Cove which is the name of the intimate lobby bar on the upper level of the lobby area. 

Crystal Symphony's Lobby Bar
I I arrived at 1:30pm and was told my room, Category A - 9006, would not be ready until 3:00.  There were no lines at check in which was handled in the main lobby.  Guests can choose to wait for their room to be ready in The Bistro, which is basically a cafe that serves light fare through out the day, or any of the other lounges. Food was available at The Bistro and in the Lido Cafe.

I rarely use a concierge.  Unfortunately I had to put them to the test as my luggage did not arrive on the flight it was to have been on.  Patrick and Hayley who are the Crystal Symphony concierges deserve mention by name as they both went above and beyond the call of duty to reunite me with my luggage.  I did have to go 24 hours without a change of clothes.  Crystal came through with a fully stocked amenity kit and an offer of pajamas.  Though I had these in my hand carry luggage the offer was much appreciated.

What is unique about Crystal Cruises is that their concierges on  the Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony are the only cruise line members of the prestigious Les Clefs d'Or (Society of the Golden Keys).  On Crystal Symphony the concierge is not a  multi-tasker as on other cruise lines.  They are there to serve exclusively as concierges.To read more about this society you can visit 

In the last 9 years the largest ship I have sailed on was the Odyssey class vessels of Seabourn.  At 450 guests I thought the size was perfect.  I was a little worried as to how I would transition to a 900+ passenger ship.  The answer is:  Easily.  

The size of the Crystal Symphony allows for a winning combination of multiple dining venues, entertainment venues, bars and lounges, without any of them seeming over-sized.  The Crystal Symphony actually has some features that have to be sacrificed on smaller vessels such as an actual movie theater.  They also have a very large casino, which follows Las Vegas rules, and includes a craps table.  The library is a nice size with a good variety of books.  

Crystal Symphony's Fully Stocked Library
As there is a DVD player in every cabin a full array of DVD titles are available for checkout.  If you check out a DVD there is a 48 return policy.  While many cruise lines offer an infotainment system, with on demand viewing, there never seems to be as complete an offering as a DVD library.

The first 24 hours on a cruise usually sets the expectations for the voyage.  Dining is always a highlight of any luxury cruise and the first night should provide an accurate reading of things to come.  The Crystal Symphony has a rather unique dining scheme.  They have the traditional early (6:15pm) and late (8:30pm) dining.

Crystal Symphony's Main Dining Room
Has Plenty of Tables for 2 or 4 Guests
Crystal Cruises also offers a hybrid, which I chose, that is Dining by Reservation.  You simply decide when you want to dine and what size table and you are accommodated as close to possible based on your choice. I love the ability to choose and not having to dine on a schedule and I am not a fan of seating at the same table with the same people every night.  I think the dining by reservation is a nice compromise which would work best for singles, couples or two couples traveling together.  (There are a lot of tables for two in the dining room which is a great feature that benefits those that like to done alone or with a partner.)

Something to consider is that if you come in at 8:00 there is the advantage of a nearly empty dining room.  This is because the first seating diners are mostly finished or have finished and left the dining room.  So, until the late seating diners arrive you have a quiet dining room and almost personal service.  There is about a 10 minute time frame where this vanishes.  This is from 8:30 to about 8:40 when the second seating diners arrive at their assigned tables.  Those 10 minutes are a hustle and bustle for the staff as they great the new arrivals and help them settle in.  

The menus offer a large selection for each course as would be expected of a luxury ship.  What I really enjoy and have had the first two nights is an Entree Salad,  I have never seen this offered anywhere before and is a great alternative to a salad course and a large entree.  On the first night the offering was a grilled salmon salad and the second night a Mediterranean Steak Salad featuring filet mignon.  Crystal is noted for its Crab Meat and Brie Soup.  If you cruise on Crystal in the future, and I hope you do, it's a must have.  Desert is served with cookies and my one comment is that I would prefer chocolates to cookies! 

A nice surprise is that Ben and Jerry's ice cream is served daily at the Ice Cream Bar in The Trident Lounge.  The traditional favorites are on offer including Chunky Monkey and Cherry Garcia.  The Trident Lounge is an area conducive to reading, eating, drinking or just contemplating how fortunate we are to be on the Crystal Symphony.

Crystal Symphony's Trident Lounge
I'll end this first post here and in later posts will describe the cabins and hopefully set aside some misconceptions about their size. I'll also be writing about the entertainment and lectures that are offered onboard.  Again, it's an abundance of choices.  I will offer separate posts on the ports as well.

I hope you enjoy reading about my journey.  I know I enjoy writing about it.  If you have any questions on Crystal please be sure to email or call Eric at or (877)2GO-LUXURY.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Travel Insurance Nightmare - Why You Should Not Buy By Price And Why You Need to Know ALL of Your Options

Purchasing travel insurance is a dilemma.  You are betting something bad is going to happen and the insurer is betting you will be just fine.  With travel insurance you need to be especially careful because you have to consider what happens if you are injured or have a serious medical emergency in a foreign country where the medical care is not up to the standards or needs you may have.

While I tell every client that asks me:  I do not give you advice on which health, life, auto or homeowner's insurance you should purchase, so I can't give you advice as to what coverages you actually need.  But what I can tell you is that shopping by price and the basic coverages can be dangerous...especially if you are traveling to an exotic location.  What you should consider is which travel insurance companies have a history of providing coverage and which ones tend to find limitations or exclusions where others don't.  And that is worth far more than saving a few dollars.

With that background, I just read the following article:  Travel Agent Upset with Azamara/Insurer; Assists Elderly Azamara Guest with Medical Dilemma Overseas .  It is the scenario that I warn my clients about:  An elderly well-traveled client is traveling on a cruise in an exotic area with relatively rudimentary medical care available on shore.  Early one morning he broke his hip and required to be taken to the hospital. The problem is that the hospital did not have the facilities to take care of this elderly man's broken hip and did not even have enough of his type of blood.

While the jury is out on whether Azamara Club Cruises should have had a staff member stay with the elderly couple to assist them practically and emotionally, the fact is this poor man was in need of significant medical care, with virtually no ability to communicate with the local health providers, and a facility that could not truly assist him.

And so began an ordeal of getting this man to the proper facility and who is going to pay for it.

The man had purchased the basic cruise line insurance and, it seems, did not have sufficient regular medical insurance to take over where the travel insurance lapsed.  Meanwhile, as he needed to be transferred to an Istanbul hospital and then onward to the United States, he remained in a rural facility suffering and not receiving the care he required.

How do you avoid this?  Make sure your travel agent knows of all relevant travel insurance options...and if he/she does not, find them out yourself.  Understand that travel agents are not insurance brokers.  They merely sell travel insurance policies.

Here the travel agent claimed that there were no options other than Azamara Club Cruises insurance because it was a "free" cruise.  While this was a "free" cruise, there were other and supplementary options; annual plans, blanket polices, etc. that were available to this man...not that it is the average travel agent's responsibility to be an expert on all of this.

Especially if you are elderly or somewhat infirm check out credit card benefits. Many of the Platinum level cards (such as American Express) have excellent emergency medical repatriation benefits; so even if you are only paying the taxes on your free cruise, by having and using the right credit card you may well have some great coverage.  Yes the credit cards have an annual fee, but it can be very inexpensive insurance for the elderly or infirm traveler; or any traveler.

By combining annual travel insurance packages, cruise line or other third party travel insurance, credit card benefits and your regular medical insurance benefits, a lot of the ordeal and concern over what options are available (ex. Can I be flown in an air ambulance back to the US?) who is paying for what could have been eliminated or significantly reduced.

And, remember, most cruise line insurance is not your best option because the insurance company really works with  the cruise line; not you.  So that great price -especially if elderly or infirm- probably is penny wise and pound foolish.  Remember the old saying, "It the prices seems too good, there probably is a reason."

Does that mean everyone over 75 should pay thousands of dollars for travel insurance?  No, it means:

  • You should pay with the right credit card;
  • You should check your regular medical insurance benefits when traveling overseas;
  • You should consider an annual or blanket travel insurance policy;
  • You should compare coverages not for the common claims, but - like here - the extraordinary ones; 
  • You should NEVER purchase coverages based significantly upon price.
Yes, there are websites out there that compare coverages to some degree, but you need to be sure that you do your homework (not a website or your travel agent) and look beyond a chart and pricing matrix.

And one final thought to consider:  When you are faced with a medical crisis, many times it is more important to get the care than to get the coverage.  You always have the right to fight over money later, but if you really need (not just want) to get to a better facility it may make more sense to pay for it out of your pocket and deal with coverage issues later.  Having a condition worsen so that you have permanent damage (or even possibly die) because you are fighting over insurance is probably not your best approach.

Goldring Travel Cruising on SeaDream Yacht Club - Italy and Corisca 2014 - Part V (My Last Day...and How The Chef's Team Makes It Happen)

My last day on SeaDream II was interesting, relaxing and a bit strange; not my normal day to say the least.

Because of the cancellation of Portovenere, we anchored off of Porto Ercole, Italy which is located just at the southern edge of Tuscany.  I assume this rather sheltered port was chosen so that the water toys and swimming in the ocean could be enjoyed.  

Porto Ercole, Tuscany, Italy
But to me Porto Ercole appeared to be a dying town with virtually nothing of interest.  The boats bobbing in the water were not well kept (some notably having names coarsely painted on their sterns with an old paint brush.)  

I walked into the local fish market and found fish that was not exactly the catch of the day and it was being sold by an old woman with a persistent cough.  The town plaza, as it was, contained what seemed to be a small retirement apartment building with a supply of  benches with elderly Italian men quietly and slowly discussing how to solve the world’s (or, more probably, each others') problems. 

But just outside the port, high on the hillside is a luxury hotel, Il Pellicano, with a two star Michelin restaurant. It is, in my world of travel, a pet peeve:  When a hotel becomes the real destination rather than a place that enhances your experience enjoying where you are.  Don't get me wrong:  The hotel is beautiful and luxurious.  But it stands by itself looking down on - but more so beyond - Porto Ercole.

I was back on the yacht quickly…not that it was a bad thing.  For many, if not most, on this particular cruise the yacht is their destination and the water skiing, wave runners, swimming and pool were being enjoyed…as was a lot of lazing in the sun.  That is not, to my understanding, the norm, but as I often say, each cruise is different so those once a year cruisers who profess definitive expertise about a cruise ship or line based upon one sailing should be listened to with caution.

I found nice table by the Top of the Yacht Bar set for lunch.  As it was my last chance, I put SeaDream Yacht Club to the “hamburger and hot dog test”.  It is a simple test that so many cruise lines fail.  SeaDream passed with flying colors.  Here’s why:  I ordered a hamburger and a hot dog, but June asked me which I would like first.  I told him he could just put them on a plate together, but he replies that one might get cold and it was no problem.  Nice!  After he relented my burger and hot dog were delivered perfectly prepared, on toasted buns with garnish…and, just to be safe, June brought me a side bowl of French fries.  Oh, yes, they tasted great too.

After I finished, the Captain Terje Willassen came over and sat down for sort of a debriefing and a friendly chat.  That was a very nice, and personal, touch.  And, of course, one can’t help but enjoy the pride he exudes about his ship and his crew.

Unfortunately, the time for packing was upon me…but before that I had to have a bit of a soak in the hot tub.

Chef Tomasz Kozlowski graciously arranged for me to tour his galley.  

SeaDream II's Executive Chef Tomasz Kozlowski
It is a very compact affair; making the delivery of consistently delicious food a bit more of a challenge.  But was amazed me is the small galley staff that really has to be talented.  You see the galley is so small that each chef is essentially responsible for an entire dish or related dishes.  This is not a typical cruise ship operation where as many as six people can prepare various portions of a dish.  This is "below decks yachting”!

Caviar on SeaDream Yacht Club?  Why yes!
But even with the limited space and staff Chef Tomasz explains how meals are prepared ala minute, as evidenced by the state of the galley during my 6:00 p.m. tour showing only a few items which needed to be prepared in advance for the evenings eight course Degustation Menu having been started (such as the Chateaubriand and souffles shown below) .

My Kuwaiti friends arranged for a small private dinner off the ship at the Il Pellicano’s two star Michelin restaurant (which I had to decline).  SeaDream arranged for one of its zodiacs to transport the intrepid six to shore…albeit the well-dressed group got soaked when the wake of a passing boat drenched them.  (Yes, SeaDream will go to that extent to make things happen.)  But don’t feel sorry for me.

After the Captain's Farewell Speech and cocktails

We enjoyed the Degustation Dinner which was excellent.  My other new friends invited me to a table where the five of us enjoyed some extraordinary wines pared with our courses; so you know I was very, very happy. 
SeaDream Yacht Club's finished Caviar starter...
Creatively and properly presented with a Mother of Pearl spoon.
SeaDream Yacht Club's Branzino with Mushroom Risotto
After dinner with everyone back onboard we each talked about our wonderful last meal and enjoyed a last drink or two before heading off to bed.  

We knew we would see each other at breakfast before disembarkation as on SeaDream Yacht Club it is quite an informal and unhurried affair.  With only 110 guests, and having until 10:00 am to disembark, there is no need to shock one’s system with a very early wake up or a rushed breakfast.  I must admit having a low key disembarkation where you aren’t encouraged to claim your luggage as soon as possible is a rather unique experience. 

It was, of course, a perfectly consistent was to end my cruise.  With great service, a nice meal and a genuine feeling that SeaDream Yacht Club’s staff and crew not only understand what casual Five Star Service is about, but enjoy delivering it…right up to your last minute disembark happy.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Seabourn Cruise's Breadsticks Video...and A Lot More to See

First, enjoy this video on how to make Seabourn Cruise Line's famous breadsticks straight from the galley on the Seabourn Odyssey:

Now that you have focused on the breadsticks, I want you to not look at the chef making the breadsticks, but the galley behind it.  And I want you to view it in Full Screen mode.  That's right, make the video as large as you can.

What do you see? 

What I see is a pristine, clean, modern galley that looks brand new on a ship that was launched in 2009. 

I see a galley that is equipped with some of the best facilities there are; not only for a cruise ship, but even a land-based, restaurant.

I see fresh fruits and only those things out that should be out.

I see an international galley team that is happy and proud of what they do.

And I see the perfect reason why those who feel compelled to provide an additional gratuity (which are neither required nor expected on Seabourn) should make a donation to the Crew Welfare Fund rather than to a particular waiter or stewardess...because there is a team behind those folks you see onboard that make them look great.

Yes, Seabourn has the best breadsticks anywhere.  But when you know that Seabourn's galley puts so much time and care into making simple breadsticks, you have to be confident that whatever you are being served (almost always ala minute) the staff and crew who made it appreciate that it matters.

Now it is only a few more weeks until the 2013 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise on the Seabourn Quest sailing on November 13, 2013 from Rio to Buenos Aires.  I can't wait!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Goldring Travel Cruising on SeaDream Yacht Club - Italy and Corisca 2014 - Part IV (Calvi, Monaco, Portofino, Porto Azzurro...and Stale Bread)

Stale bread. 

Portofino on SeaDream II
I need to take a moment to discuss “travel”.  Since Bonafacio SeaDream Yacht Club’s SeaDream II has been to Calvi, Corsica (not a great port), Monaco and Portofino (a great port…read on), but today we are in Portoferraio on the island of Elba.  (Our itinerary has changed, eliminating Portovenere/Cinque Terre, due to heavy swells…a disappointment).  

Rather than staying the rather depressing port of Portoferraio we take a 20 minute taxi ride to Porto Azzurro (more on the port later). After our walk we find all the good restaurants are only open for dinner, so three of us are sitting at a quayside restaurant and are presented with a basket of stale bread.  It is an insult.  We are American tourists.  We are offended.  It is not good.  Or is it???

A seafood feast in Port Azzurro
I now regress.

Our second port is Calvi, Corsica.  It is not a port of any real interest.  You know if there is something in town worth finding I will sniff it out, but I am at a loss.  
OK, I did sniff out this little gem in Calvi, Italy!
So I am back on SeaDream II within an hour.

Aside from the two hour nap that I never take, I now have a good feel for the ship and its staff.  There is no question that by the third day I feel at home.  The staff has figured out that while I like to be pleased I also like to be teased.  They sense when I want to be left alone and when service is needed…always with a genuine smile.  

Zoltan shows off a perfect Pimm's Cup
on SeaDream II's Top of the Yacht Bar
In the evenings I like to drink Glenfiddich on the rocks.  Being outside in the summer the ice tends to melt a lot fast than I consume the whiskey…which I use as an excuse to drink slower than some others.  Michael has it figured out.  He asked me if I would like more ice; not another drink…unless, of course, there is almost nothing left in my glass.  (As you may have read, Silversea’s inability to provide this sort of service – no less on a consistent basis – was a real disappointment.)

So while you know I am impressed and enjoy the service, many of you have asked how the cuisine is.  It ranges from very good to excellent, but is always creative and enjoyable.  It doesn’t matter if it is a Caesar salad with anchovies or escargot with a gratin or osso bucco (properly prepared, so it not just the name of a dish) or Dover sole or lobster, there is always a subtle twist.  I, and the other guests, really enjoy the surprise to the cuisine.  I have not had a disappointing taste on board…not one.

I mention to the chef when we are heading to Portofino that I love a local pasta called trofie with pesto I find he added it to the menu…with truffles! 

I wasn’t going to have breakfast, but my friends said, “You have to try the French toast”.  So – to be polite – I did.  It wasn’t your ordinary French toast, but rather a thick, but light, grain bread with a light nutty texture…even with maple syrup.  Who knew?!

SeaDream II's Chef's Play on French Toast.
Chef Tomasz Kozlowski explains to me that there are no set menus, though there are regular or consistent items.  Because of the small galley staff there are no assistants, so everyone must be on their game, so with the flexibility of the menu comes a heighted responsibility to assure everything leaving the galley (which is almost always cooked ala minute) is prepared, seasoned and presented at a very high level. 

I will have more to say about the cuisine after the last night’s Degustation Menu, which will be served in the main dining room.  There is necessarily a definite difference in menu and presentation when dining al fresco versus in a dining room…so stay tuned.

After Calvi we cruised to Monaco which I used as a lazy day, but one to really take a good look around the ship.  Even though she was built in 1985 and shows her age here and there, when something is painted, it is painted well.  If something is repaired it is repaired properly.  In fact, I am impressed that the water pressure is excellent, the water is clean and hot water is not an issue.  (I am told virtually all of the water lines have been replaced with modern, plastic, lines…which is the wave of the future… and the water-making equipment is brand new.)

But make no mistake, this is not a new ship.  The cabinetry in the staterooms show a bit of age, no matter how well maintained, but everything functions well.  One will quickly and happily remember that “It is the software (people), not the hardware” that matters most on SeaDream Yacht Club.

Sailing out of Monaco is my night to enjoy the SeaDream Yacht Club Sleeping Under the Stars on one of its Bali beds.  There is no question that the one on the bow is “prime” as it is secluded, quiet and receives the best breeze.  If you can get that one, do it.  My bed was the only one on the starboard side aft with three others being made up on the port side.  (SeaDream II obviously got the memo that I snore loudly, so it made sure I was alone…and separated from the innocent others by the ship’s funnel!)

It was a nice experience, but honestly it is not for everyone.  If the bar is open late you can be disturbed.  (I grabbed my headphones and some music seeing the situation.)  If the ship is moving slowly (as it did in my case) you can get a whiff of the exhaust from time-to-time.  (This would not be a problem if there is any distance between ports, but on this cruise they are all close together.)  At 6:30 a.m. I heard the staff setting up for breakfast…but then the next thing I knew it was 7:30 a.m. and I felt well-rested.

I needed that restful sleep for our next stop:  Portofino; the picturesque Italian port.  However, today is not set for “the beautiful people” but rather a 10 kilometer hike right up the mountain and ending in Santa Margherita.  It was a real hike, but well worth it.  Besides being great exercise, the views were fantastic and our guide was energetic, experienced and charming.  
The view while hiking
from Portofino to Santa Margherita, Italy

But it almost didn't happen.

You should appreciate that SeaDream Yacht Club has a definite focus on those wishing a more active experience.  When at anchor the complimentary wave runners, sailboats, kayaks, water skiing and trampoline are offered alternating with time for swimming.

Part of SeaDream II's fleet of water toys
Interested in bike riding?  There is a small fleet of high quality touring mountain bikes which you can take yourself or join a complimentary bike tour headed by the activities director or the captain.  Those bike tours range from a casual scenic ride to very serious, challenging, expeditions that will leave even the most fit with burning thighs.

 SeaDream Yacht Club also offers a small variety of additional cost tours ranging from very low key to very active.  The hike from Portofino to Santa Margherita was one of them.  Unfortunately, I was the only one to sign up for it.  I am told 48 hours prior that it won’t be going.  I mention this to a couple and they said they would love to take the hike too.  So I ask the concierge, Kathrin, if we could hire the guide directly.  Rather than the standard cruise line “No!” I received the SeaDream “Yes”.  I asked if we should pay the guide directly.  Silly me.  SeaDream had it all taken care of.  As the group increased to five people, they did the accounting directly so nobody has to worry about collecting funds.

As our hike finished in Santa Margherita one’s initial impulse would be to purchase its famous pinot grigio.  Not me.  I wanted to purchase what the locals drink which I found out was Vermentino and Pigato grape based Riviera Ligure di Ponente.  So with a bottle in hand along with 3 bags of dried trofie we take the 6 Euro/15 minute ferry back to Portofino.  We have touristic, but nice, lunch at Del Fino (The Dolphin) with a perfect view of the beautiful people…and a good number of tourists before heading back to the ship.

A soak in the hot tub was, unfortunately, interrupted by the Norwegian toddlers that the parents/grandparents have let pretty much overtake the swim deck when they are present.  SeaDream has done a great job with segregating them during meals, but the parents and grandparents need to do their jobs and not have SeaDream Yacht Club be the babysitter/children police.  Overall the Norwegian family’s children have not been too much of an aggravation for me, but for those that live by the pool the opinion is quite different.  If SeaDream Yacht Club failed anywhere on this cruise, it is with how the children (and their parents) have not been told, “No!”  (SeaDream has even tried to create a Kid’s Club to move them away from the other guests, but it isn’t enough.)
SeaDream II's Dessert Extravaganza
Rant over, a wonderful lobster dinner was followed by SeaDream’s Dessert Extravaganza poolside.  It was nice but not really my style.  But with the Top of the Yacht Bar closed for the evening, it was time to join ‘em, rather than fight ‘em, before calling it an evening. 

The problems I have mentioned are like the stale bread I mentioned before… 

Back now to Portoferraio.  We find an old Italian taxi driver that tells the fare to Porto Azzurro is 38 Euros.  We get in his taxi and are greeted by a sign in four languages, “I am an honest Italian taxi driver”. He points to the sign and says, “Impossible!” with a laugh. 

As we are driving I hear a harmonica…and then a familiar tune…and then THE voice:  Bruce Springsteen.  My friends speaks Italian and they start talking.  The taxi driver exclaims he has seen Springsteen ten times and he likes him because his grandmother is Italian.

So with the Jersey Shore serenading us we arrive at a very pretty Porto Azzurro.  We wander the town and stumble upon a sign for a ceramic studio.  I follow a small path through residences to a garden/studio where we meet Talo, the gray and wild-haired, slight, elder artist who has combined Italian and Japanese Raku techniques.  I buy a memento.  (Now I just need to get it home!)

Italian Ceramic Artist Talo in Porto Azzurro, Italy

Oh, yes, back to the restaurant!  After the stale bread was removed for fresh bread, nice local white Vermentino wine was brought to the table along with a seafood feast of local fish, swordfish, squid, octopus, mussels, clams, prawns and langoustine. Porto Azzurro provide us with a fantastic lunch and we are picked up by our Springsteen loving taxi driver for the ride back.  Oh, yes, it was 38 Euros each way. 

Back on the ship my friend says he wants to go off the ship to get an espresso as the ship’s isn’t really to his liking.  The best place, we are told, is next to the taxi stand.  Our taxi driver is there…and buys us espresso!

We had a great day with a Springsteen loving Italian taxi driver, a wild-haired Italian artist, a beautiful port, a great seafood lunch and SeaDream II...or we could focus on the stale bread (or a few children whose parent/grandparents should be ashamed of themselves).

I’m without question focusing on another great day on SeaDream II!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Goldring Travel Cruising on SeaDream Yacht Club - Italy and Corisca 2014 - Part III ("You Can’t Teach Five Star Service" and Bonafacio, Corsica)

I was anxious to see what my first full day on SeaDream Yacht Club would be like.  I was “up and out” early, so I sat by the Top of the Yacht Bar with a table admiring a fantastic view.  (We had been told that the sail into Bonafacio, Corsica is beautiful so to be on deck by 8:45 a.m. to see it.  Not a problem, as I had my spot by 7:30 a.m.)

Breakfast Setting on SeaDream II sailing in Bonafacio, Corsica
My focus, however, was less on the island, but the yacht.  What I observed was a ballet with the staff working as a team (I was later corrected that they are a “family”) providing different styles of service to each guest as they perceived the guests wanted to be treated.  It was interesting seeing how the felt out each guest as they arrived for breakfast (especially so as to myself, as they all knew that I was coming and were concerned about making a positive impression.)  

Once I told some of the staff to call me “Eric”; not “Mr. Goldring” I started to have a hand put on my shoulder when asked “May I get you another vodka and tonic?”  It is amazing how much a light touch can draw you in.

On the other hand, if someone does not like physical contact it can be highly offensive, so how does the staff figure it out?  As one of the staff later said to me, “You can’t teach five star service.  It has to be intuitive.”  I loved that for two reasons:  (1) It means SeaDream makes sure its staff is “intuitive”; and (2) SeaDream isn’t trying to hype its product to be more or different than what it really is.  It puts you at ease quickly…regardless of your preferences.

So, before I get into the details, the short version is:  My first full day has given me the impression that the staff on SeaDream Yacht Club “get it”.  They smile. They tailor their approach based upon each guest’s desires.  They work as a team.  They are focused on the details.  They are very proud of what they do.  And along those lines, I don’t think I ever heard the staff using the word “I”, but “we”.  I could be wrong, but the message is very clear:  SeaDream Yacht Club’s management lets the staff nurture not only the guests, but each other.

Now, back to my day!  As I was sitting watching the world go by it struck me that “al fresco” is an enormous aspect of SeaDream.  The “yacht” is set up to easily handle all of the 114 guests (yes, the ship is as full as it gets!) for al fresco dining with comfortable all-weather wicker chairs and varnished wood tables (with white linen dependent on the meal) spread among four interconnected areas; which keeps things intimate and more private.

Breakfast official starts at 8:00 a.m. (Early Riser coffee and Danish is available from 7:00 a.m.)  I order two nicely cooked poached eggs and sausage with a bagel and smoked salmon.  The nautical themed coffee mugs are a nice touch. 

I see a truly beautiful Bonafacio come into sight and then we docked at the entrance to a very busy yacht harbor with yachts and superyachts lining the quay.  But my yachting experience will have to wait because I have decided to be a “tourist” and take a SeaDream excursion consisting of a boat trip around the island and then a walk around to upper town (a tram ride away).  I was surprised at the limited number of guests taking the tour…and the other tour was cancelled for lack of interest…but the folks that did go were very nice and enthusiastic.

Bonafacio, Corsica's Coastline
We are met by an energetic woman I can only describe as a Corsican Julia Child.  She was, thus, quite entertaining.  The tour was entitled “train and boat”; we got the boat, but there was not train.  There was a short tourist tram pulled by a faux engine/tractor up the very steep hill to the top of the old town.  The tour was worth taking, though honestly, if I was a bit more responsible I could have read up on what she had to offer in a few minutes.  

Solving the problem of laundry hanging above your cafe!
But the boat ride showing off the spectacular coastline and her guiding us through the narrow streets was appreciate; especially because she told us to have a peak in a shop called Roba Nostra.  To her surprise she mentioned that there is a typical Corsican chestnut beer, Pietra, and our group just ordered a round.  (It wasn’t bad; much lighter in body than I thought it would be.)

As the tour of the old town was finishing up she said we would walk down the hill to the marina (where I planned on wandering later).  So, not wanting to climb that steep hill on foot, I asked if the tour was pretty much over; resulting in a number of us ending it early and staying in the old town.  By the look on the faces of the folks walking up the hill it was a very good idea!

One couple and I started chatting and took off on a wander.  Having seen pretty much only touristic restaurants, and really liking the looks of Roba Nostra, we walked in – dozens of jamon and salami hanging from the ceiling:

The woman recognizes me, looks me straight in the eye and says, “Charcuterie!” and walks to the rear of the store where there are a mere four tables.  So I followed.  The menu had three items on it in French:  Charcuterie, Fromage and Combination.  We were told that they serve Black Pig, which is particular only to Corsica. 

You know we went for the combination…along with a wonderful Corsican rose, Clos Canarelli.  I am not sure how long lunch lasted, but every moment was enjoyable from the food to the wine to the company.

As we started our decent down the hill we saw a man, who could have been either of us guys, sweating and looking like if he had to take another step up the hill he would pass out.  He gave us the look like, “Why the hell did I do that?”  And we saw that look from others, both men and women, as we sailed down the hill.  After a short stroll through the yacht basis (filled with touristic and overpriced shops and restaurants) we knew we did it right. 

I also thought that those who thought just getting off the ship for a quick wander would say Bonafacio is not worth a visit…but they missed what the place is really all about.  (It is not a port I would work a cruise around, but I wouldn’t discourage visiting it again.)

Back on SeaDream II I headed to the hot tub which is located on the aft deck, under cover, next to the pool bar and with a great view aft.  It was quite enjoyable, but more of a warm tub than a hot tub.  A waiter came around offering everyone a mango/mint drink that was very refreshing.  Nice touch!

SeaDream II's hot tub by the pool.
 After a bit of work and some relaxation it was time for Dinner with the Captain.  On SeaDream the dinner is not a formal affair.  In fact, I don’t think that is even possible.  We dined al fresco at the Top of the Yacht Restaurant.  

Beautiful al Fresco Dining on SeaDream II

Who needs wine when you can drink in this view on SeaDream II?

Captain Terje Willassen is charming, lively, always smiling man who was a wonderful host and makes his love for SeaDream Yacht Club more than evident. 

But the highlight of my dinner was the woman sitting to my right.  She is Kuwaiti’s first female parliamentarian and a dynamo.  Obviously I do not agree with everything she said or her perceptions on various topics, but the key to understanding the world is to respect and understand from where those positions are coming from.  I, possibly not so subtly, peppered the conversation and, to be sure, we both really enjoyed it…as, it seems, did the entire table.  Captain Terje even commented that it was nice that he didn’t have to worry about carrying the conversation.   (For those who assert cruising/yachting is not “travel” – and you know who you are – I love travel!)

After dinner I retired to the Top of the Yacht Bar for a couple of whiskeys and some fun conversation.  And the bar stays open as long as there are guests present; and this night it was well past 2:00 a.m…and all I saw from the staff were smiles and heard, “May I get you another…?”