Thursday, April 17, 2014

Celebrity Silhouette vs. Royal Princess - Which Is A Better Value For The Upscale Cruise Guest? Part IV: The Wine Lists Speak Volumes (As Do The Beverage Packages)

Now a word about wines on Celebrity versus Princess.

I am traveling as a single adult with my daughter, no different really from a couple where one does not drink or may not during meals, purchasing a bottle of wine is generally not a good option (unless I dined in the same restaurant each evening) so I would have been suffering throughout this week…if I had sailed on the Royal Princess.

Let me explain:  Before departing I took a long (well, it really could not be that long) look at Princess’s wine lists.  They are, except in Vines, pretty ordinary.  Sabatini’s prides itself on its extensive Super Tuscan list, which is fine, but I find it a bit offensive when you are given only two options:  Purchase expensive bottles of wine or select from rather ordinary wines by the glass…pretty much forcing you to purchase by the bottle if you care about wines.

Further, elsewhere on the ship you are pretty much stuck with marginal to acceptable wines, but not much that you actually want to drink.  Let me put it to you this way:  Your only "by the glass" options cost no more than $7.95 and are nothing other than you would find at a typical chain restaurant in the United States.

This, obviously works for the vast majority of the Princess guests, but I was not invited onboard to consider Princess for its average guest, but the upscale to luxury guest.

Celebrity’s approach is much different. 

Of course it has Cellar Masters which has a wonderful wine list and a very large egnomatic machine selection (where you can purchase various amounts of some truly outstanding wines through a pre-paid card sort of like using an ATM for wines. 

Carrying on with the "wine is important" theme, each of the Celebrity specialty restaurants has a solid variety of wines by the glass and bottle, so that you are not “forced” to purchase a Super Tuscan if you want a Cabernet Sauvignon or a bottle if you want a glass or two (or use your Premium Beverage Package).  Note that the wine lists vary by restaurant, so overall there are a pretty extensive offerings around the ship.  I can enjoy a quality Bordeaux in Murano, a solid Malbec in the Lawn Grill, an excellent Abarino in QSine.

What I truly like is the ability to supplement my Premium Beverage package, which allows me to order any wine up to $13.00 a glass without an additional charge.  But if I want a glass of a very nice Bordeaux which sells for $17.50 a glass I can pay $4.50 extra. (The Bordeaux went very nicely with my venison I enjoyed in Murano on my second night aboard.) Or if I want a 20 year tawny port with my cheese I can pay $2.00 more rather than “suffer” with an acceptable port.  With this approach I can readily change my wines by the course, creating my own parings with or without additional cost.  This is truly a more upscale experience available on Celebrity and really not on Princess.

On the issue of Beverage Packages, Celebrity has had them for years and they are truly a good value if you enjoy alcoholic beverages throughout your day.  If you have a Bloody Mary or Mimosa with breakfast, a couple of beers during the day, a glass of wine with lunch,  pre-dinner cocktail, two glasses of wine with dinner and an after dinner cocktails, the Classic or Premium package (dependent on the quality of wine and spirits you enjoy) can be a significant savings.  (Princess is first dabbling with the beverage package concept, having introduced it on a few ships.  But as the wine selection is limited I am not sure that for an upscale guest it will be of much value.)

Also interesting is Celebrity’s approach to “sales”.  More than once I have heard those folks selling water by the gangway and buffet remind people that if you have a package the water and Vitamin Water and Gatorade is included.  Similarly, while a person purchasing a cocktail has the spirit measured, when I ask for a double it is provided without hesitation.    It is nice to see that Celebrity understands that the cost of offering up that bottle of water is nothing compared to the cost of otherwise winning back a guest that might not be totally loyal to its brand.

This sort of focus on making the Celebrity guest feel valued is not lost and is seen in a number of touch points throughout the cruise.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Celebrity Silhouette vs. Royal Princess - Which Is A Better Value For The Upscale Cruise Guest? Part III: Treating You Right From The Start

The ambiance on the Celebrity Silhouette is significantly different from the Royal Princess.  To me it is a simple matter of “Class versus Mass” and, as I ask some of the passengers on this cruise that have been on both lines, and there are many, not surprisingly the vast majority say that Celebrity is far superior.  (Obviously, if they felt Princess was they would now be on the Royal Princess, right?)  It is their reasons for concluding it that is of interest.  

But now for my thoughts.  I will  get to other passengers thoughts later in this cruise.

We arrived at the port very early as our flight was at 6:00 AM; so early that everyone still had not disembarked the ship.  So we had to wait in line…very near the front of the line.  But when the doors opened Celebrity had everything running smooth as silk.  We were through security, processed, and SeaPass in hand in less than 15 minutes.  We then were directed to a seating area and shortly thereafter was onboard the ship. 

After being greeted with a glass of “champagne” I asked were we could sign up for the Ultimate Dining Package and was directed to the Grand Cuvee (main) Restaurant.  Very efficiently we were signed up, had our reservations (at our chosen times…without compromise) for each of the next seven nights.  Having combined this with our Pre-Paid Gratuities and Premium Beverage Package, a fairly seamless experience without any “nickel and diming” was – again – to be had.

We were then off to the spa, where a massage on the first afternoon at sea was arranged with no issue (other than this is the first cruise with Canyon Ranch being the spa operator, so the question of my 14 year old daughter having a massage without a parent present in the room was raised – more on that later!).

As I seem to have hit the jackpot of CDC (Center for Disease Control) inspections, the Celebrity Silhouette was having one, so our embarkation lunch at Bistro on Five was a bit delayed.  While we had our dining package so it was included, Celebrity waived the $5.00 per person cover charge for all of the other diners.  Our lunch included a very nice cream of tomato soup (not too creamy) and an excellent Salad Nicoise.  The waiter brought over an excellent (and totally unneeded) banana, Nutella and pistachio crepe for dessert. There were some quite unique wines offered by the glass.  I enjoyed a Gruner Vetliner from Austria.  (By the way, I will be talking about the wine selections later.)

 After enjoying our lunch, my daughter and I arrived at our stateroom (8279) which was very conveniently located near (but not at) the midship elevator and separated by nicely designed walls to eliminate any chance of noise.  It is a standard Celebrity Solstice-class stateroom, but with a very large balcony angled so that we have a great view both to port and aft.  As it started to rain heavily, we decided to just chill out on our balcony while we waited for our luggage to arrive.  Because the balcony was so deep we were easily able to sit out, recline the back of our chairs and wonder if this is going to be Spring Break Part Deux (as last year it rained virtually every day). 

My Standard Veranda Stateroom on the Celebrity Silhouette
(the sofa and desk areas are not shown)

My Celebrity Silhouette balcony has to be at least five times the size
of the balcony on a standard veranda stateroom on the Royal Princess.

The view from my balcony looking astern.  

The standard Celebrity Silhouette bathroom
Celebrity sent my daughter some chocolate covered strawberries
A nice touch!
While out there pondering how I could have made it a week on the Royal Princess with a tiny balcony that would have to sit sideways on…no less that Princess was treating me, as their guest, to a view of a lifeboat…I stood up, looked to forward and saw the Royal Princess.  How did I know?  It was the giant bright red television screen overlooking the pool that was easily visible from about a half mile away.  I had forgotten that “feature” that I am sure would be a turn-off to most, if not all, upscale cruise guests.  (Movies Under the Stars is a nice feature, but television and blaring lights and sounds of all sort all day; not so much.)

The Royal Princess.  And, yes, the giant television is that bright.
This photo is not retouched...I promise.
After a few telephone calls, we venture out and wander the ship.  I am not going to repeat all of the various spaces, which you can discover searching my articles on the Celebrity Solstice, Celebrity Equinox and Celebrity Silhouette, but suffice it to say Celebrity has created some of the most elegant and subtilely creative spaces at sea which not only attract your eye, but breaks up the larger number of people into smaller, more manageable, groups.  (I note the Royal Princess holds about 25% more people than the 2,800 passenger Celebrity Silhouette.)

Speaking of my fellow passengers, this is definitely a more “bargain hunter’s cruise.  It is the last Caribbean cruise as the next cruise is a transatlantic crossing on the way to the European season.  You can tell the staff – while working hard and always being pleasant – are ready to get to Europe and the passengers are definitely more on the budget plan.  (The specialty restaurants are fairly quiet, the shops and casino are quiet, etc.)

We have an early 7:00 PM reservation in Murano, the French and most formal specialty restaurant.  While we are first asked our stateroom number rather than our name, that quickly changes as the staff recognizes me from prior cruises.  What was very nice was watching the waiter figure out how best to interact with my fairly shy daughter. (Can you imagine one of my offspring being shy?) They eventually have her so much at ease that she actually started ordering for herself!  The food was excellent:  Goat cheese soufflĂ©, diver scallops with truffles in a puff pastry, Dover sole (prepared tableside) , Lobster Murano (prepared tableside), an excellent cheese course (eight different French cheeses), Grand Marnier and chocolate souffles…and a petit fours.

Our dinner was delicious.  The ambiance was beautiful.  The restaurant is quiet (save when the door is opened and you hear the singer in the lounge outside – that does bother me!).  (I did notice a decline in people on this cruise – as opposed to last year’s March cruise – dressing for dinner.  Hawaiian shirts in Murano is just inappropriate and while Celebrity should restrict it, “technically” it is a buttoned shirt with a collar, so it is more of a failing of being on a more mass market cruise than the cruise line.)

We decided to make it an early evening (having gotten up at 3:15 AM for our flight), so we headed back to the stateroom for a drink on the balcony (Glenfiddich for me, Vitamin Water for my daughter) looking at the sky and hoping for sun the next day and then a good night’s sleep.

The next morning I went to Michael’s Club to check out the Captain’s Club Elite continental breakfast.  It was just that; nothing more…and very quiet.  So I headed up to the buffet for a light breakfast.  What impressed me was one particular staff member (I wish I caught his name).  I was juggling my Microsoft Surface, my dish and a coffee cup as I went to pour my coffee.  He stopped what he was doing, ask me if he could pour my coffee, took my cup, asked me if I wanted milk, and then took my plate and escorted me outside to a great spot overlooking the ship’s wake. 

Little things like that do make a difference…especially on a larger cruise ship.

Princess, you were right.  I won't ever use my balcony.
I mean this looks like such a waste of time, doesn't it?

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Celebrity Silhouette vs. Royal Princess - Which Is A Better Value For The Upscale Cruise Guest? Part II: The Standard Veranda Staterooms

Tomorrow I board the Celebrity Silhouette for a seven day Caribbean cruise.  I was, however, supposed to be sailing on the Royal Princess on her  April 13, 2014 seven day Caribbean cruise. For reasons I previously wrote about I am confident I made the right decision.  (For those who don't want to read that article now it focused on customer service and making me feel like a valued partner).

Obviously, by my nature, I had already started to compare what was to be my Princess cruise experience with my Celebrity cruise experiences and that, equally as obviously, starts with the stateroom; especially since Princess invited to sail on the Royal Princess and "graciously" gave me a veranda stateroom with a view of nothing but a lifeboat!

So what are the differences between a standard veranda stateroom on the new Royal Princess (and her sister the Regal Princess) versus the Celebrity Silhouette (and her sisterships, the Celebrity Solstice, Eclipse, Equinox and Reflection)?

Princess has clearly designed its ships, including its new Royal and Regal Princess ships to get you out of your stateroom and into all the public areas...where you can (and will) spend, spend, spend.  Along those lines, the plea I heard when I advised Princess I would not accept being given - as their guest - a view of a lifeboat for seven days, was that I wouldn't be spending any time in my stateroom because there is so much to do.

Let me tell you what I tell everyone that says that to me:  You aren't spending time in your stateroom because you have a bad stateroom.  Meanwhile, since you are in those public areas you buy that extra drink or two, you go to bingo, you buy something in the shops, you go to the art auction.  You pretty much do anything NOT to be in your stateroom...and some cruise lines train you that is what your vacation is supposed to be about.

But there are many, like me, that actually enjoy the sea.  We enjoy sitting on our balcony reading a book, doing some work, enjoying  a glass of wine, or - get this - doing nothing.  As you will see below,  Princess clearly is not looking for that kind of guest.

Meanwhile, Celebrity Cruises has just announced it's new advertising campaign:  "It's About More Than A Moment - It's About Everything."  And that, to be sure, includes your stateroom.  (To be fair, it also means Celebrity has plenty of things for you to do and spend your money on when you aren't in it.)

Though Princess doesn't want it to be about "everything" least not the Staterooms - Let's start there!

You are paying for a Veranda Stateroom, which implies that you will actual receive a usable balcony. Well, while the standard balcony (veranda) on the Celebrity Silhouette is a generous size with quality furniture, the Royal Princes balcony is hardly usable...especially if you want to gaze directly out to sea, a have your breakfast or do anything other than look at your partner, as the balcony is so narrow the chairs have to be placed sideways:

Celebrity Silhouette Balcony
Royal Princess Balcony
In the stateroom itself, on the Celebrity Silhouette you have a comfortable sofa and a desk chair while on the Royal Princess you are limited to an occasional chair and a desk chair.  If you upgrade to a Princess deluxe balcony you do get a love seat, but still not a sofa.

Celebrity Silhouette Veranda Stateroom

Royal Princess Veranda Stateroom
A curious design element is that the Royal Princess has the television mounted to the wall opposite the bed and it is fixed in that position. With that configuration you cannot see the television if you are at the desk (your back is to it) or sitting on the chair. On the Celebrity Silhouette the television is swivel mounted and is located opposite the sofa, so it is easily viewed anywhere in your stateroom simply by swiveling it.

And then there is the bathroom.  On the Royal Princess the bathrooms are, well, fairly utilitarian white bathrooms with molded sinks and standard shower curtains.  The Celebrity Silhouette has a far more stylish bathroom with a vessel sink and a "glass" enclosed shower.  One pet peeve of mine:  Princess has pump bottles of shampoo/conditioner (and no separate conditioner) and bath gel mounted to the shower wall rather than there being personal amenities...and separate conditioner (as Celebrity supplies).  Also, though I am "folliclely challenged", I note that on Princess the hair dryer is built into the vanity, and that is not what most women want.

Royal Princess Standard Veranda Bathroom 
Celebrity Silhouette Standard Veranda Bathroom
As is pretty clear, if you are someone who wants to spend time in your stateroom enjoying your private space, whether lounging on your balcony, reading a book or watching a movie on your sofa or feeling a bit pampered in your bathroom, the Celebrity Silhouette (and the entire Solstice-class fleet) is a far better value.

I will continue my comparisons as I cruise on the Silhouette.  There are plenty of comparisons to make!

Of course, if you are interested in booking a Celebrity or Princess cruise, please email me at or call me at (877) 2GO-LUXURY. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Princess Cruises Doesn't Treat You Like Royalty; Celebrity Cruises Does! Which is a Better Value for the Upscale Cruise Guest? Part I

There is an old saying:

"Don't Bite The Hand That Feeds You" 

Goldring Travel's motto is:

"Be Treated By Your Travel Agent As You Will Be Onboard"

My very poor experience with Princess Cruises proves both are very valuable.

And it is why Goldring Travel strives to make sure your experience is an excellent one from the moment you contact me to the moment you arrive back home.

Celebrity Silhouette
Let me explain:

Many of the cruise lines offer me complimentary cruises not only because they want me to sell their product, but because I write this very well read blog and, with some cruise lines, I offer my insight as to how various things work or could be improved.  (As I am referencing sayings, I must add, "There is no such thing as a free lunch."  I seriously do work when on a cruise.) 

I am always looking at "What is Luxury?" as an individual experience; not what is marketed by any particular company, cruise line or resort.  Including tours that I will never take and/or charging me exorbitant prices doesn't make a cruise or meal better or luxurious...for me; though there are people who honestly believe it does (and, for them, it is perfectly OK...but they are in the minority.)  What matter is "your luxury" - however you define it!

Royal Princess
So when Princess Cruises approached me about the luxury experience I could have on their newest ship, the Royal Princess, I was a bit skeptical, but said I would see if I could fit it into my schedule. For better or worse, the only time that fit was Spring Break so I figured I would take a father-daughter trip on April 13, 2014...even though cruising the Caribbean is one of my least favorite things (and I have already done it once this year!)

Now, remembering I didn't ask for a "free" cruise and I had to pay my way to Florida to get on the ship at Spring Break pricing (costing me an outrageous over $1,700 for two economy tickets!) I figured Princess Cruises would provide me with a nice Veranda Stateroom or, if I was lucky, a Mini-Suite, but nothing fancy.  And, making sure I had done all of my homework, I took all the Princess online training courses required to refresh my travel agent status as a Princess Commodore (Princess's highest level of travel agent training).

And then my confirmation comes in:  It is for a guarantee in the lowest possible veranda:  Category BZ - Obstructed View.  I inquire about this and am told that as the sailing gets closer in Princess would see what they could do to improve this.  Two weeks before the sailing I get my stateroom assignment - only after I ask:  Category BW - Obstructed Veranda (Stateroom E311).  Huh?

So I take a look and my veranda would have a glorious view of a lifeboat.  Not a view over the lifeboat or some structure, but "of" the lifeboat. (Is this what Princess would do for my clients or am I just "blessed"?)

I take a look at the available inventory on the ship and find that there are plenty of verandas (dozens!) still available with just two weeks to go.  I also notice that the retail price for the highest veranda stateroom is hundreds of dollars less than the Category BW I am in, so my idea of paying for upgrade (so as not to be "difficult") was not even an option. (And, of course, I wonder:  Why the slap in the face?)

So I emailed  my Business Development Manager that offered me the stateroom in the first instance. No response.  So I called her and was advised she was too busy to address it until that evening and that she hadn't even read my email from the day before.  So I wait:  Nothing.  So I email - though not wanting to - the Regional Sale Director.  He does get back to me and advises that this simple move would require clearance from Upper Management.  Really?  But, OK, I wait.  Nothing.  (Have you ever had frustrating experience waiting for your travel agent to get back to you?)

And the longer I wait the more frustrated I become.  I then say to myself:  If I board the ship and stare at a lifeboat for a week after having invested $1,700 plus a week of my time, what kind of "luxury" experience could I possibly have?

And then I think, If Princess finally moves me (not that I would feel like I was now being "treated royally") what would I be thinking about Customer Service?  

Princesses tag line is "Come Back New" and as each day of silence continues, the insulting feeling increases as does my frustration to the point when I then said to myself:  Get Me The Heck Off This Princess Cruise!  My time, my money and my business is far to valuable to be wasted stuck on a ship I now have absolutely no desire to be on with cruise line that I really have no ability to feel that my clients will be taken care of as they should be.

So look to see what options I had since I had $1,700 in airfare invested.  I see there are cruises available at a travel agent rate on the Royal Caribbean Allure of the Seas and the Celebrity Silhouette that sail out of Ft. Lauderdale on the same day on seven day cruises.  Perfect!  I am almost immediately confirmed on both in the highest (not lowest) available balcony cabins on both ships.  (I am not allowed to say what I paid, but both were very good deals...and which, as I will write in future articles, will probably be made up in the reduced cost of the cruise once onboard.)

I ask my 14 year old daughter which she preferred.  We sat and reviewed all the options on the Allure of the Seas.  We talked about the fact I hadn't been on that ship and we had sailed on the Celebrity Silhouette just the year before.  But when it came down to it, a teenage girl who has been on many cruises opted for the Celebrity cruise...because it was classier and had the ambiance she preferred; with the thought of sailing with 5,000+ passengers and too many gimmicks being just too unappealing. (Parents take note:  Teenagers are more sophisticated in their tastes than you might give them credit for!)

So I am now booked on the April 13, 2014 sailing of the Celebrity Silhouette in a Category 1A Veranda Stateroom (8279) with a near perfect location..and with a larger than normal angled balcony that gives me a view both to port and aft.

Celebrity Silhouette Veranda Stateroom
And then I contact my Celebrity Cruises District Sale Manager to let him know and he got back to me immediately even though on a travel agent rate there is little he could possibly offer me.

So as I now prepare for the Modern Luxury of my Celebrity Silhouette cruise, I refer you to my articles from my 2013 Celebrity Silhouette cruise:  Part I; Part II and Part III.  

Please follow me as I take this cruise.  Although I won't have been on the Royal Princess, I will be making some comparisons between what you can enjoy  on a Celebrity cruise versus a Princess cruise.
But more importantly I want you to think about your Pre-Cruise Experience.

  • Princess Cruises - clearly not intentionally - made me feel like I was not valued, that my concerns were a pain and too difficult, and that I was asking for too much.
  • Celebrity Cruises  made me feel like I was truly valued, that my concerns were their concerns and that I didn't ask for anything special.
Now I ask you:  How does your travel agent make you feel?  
  • Do you feel valued?  
  • Do you feel your concerns are your travel agent's concerns?
  • Do you feel like you asked for something special?
Goldring Travel's motto and business plan is simple:  "Be Treated By Your Travel Agent As You Will Be Onboard!"  Right now, without question, I would much rather want to be onboard a Celebrity ship rather than a Princess ship because of how I am being treated.

And if you want to feel that way when dealing with a travel agent, consider using Goldring Travel for your travel needs.  I care that much.  

Give me a call at (877) 2GO-LUXURY or email me at