Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Walker & O'Neill - Bad Attorney Conduct Again - Turning the Holland America Alaska Flightseeing Tragedy Into Hyperbole and Hype

The recent flightseeing accident killing eight people on an excursion from the Holland America Westerdam was a real tragedy.

What attorney Jim Walker, of Walker & O'Neill, the Florida based law firm has done is, in my opinion, nothing short of disgusting.  I perceive it as yet another attempt by him to self-promote by exploiting the tragedies of others and then exacerbating that act through the use of hyperbole and wildly inaccurate allegations.

While I see Attorney Walker as a truly troubled individual and most certainly an attorney I would never use or endorse using, the more important thing to do is get the facts right and let Walker play in his sandbox of seeming dishonesty and disillusionment.

Walker has repeatedly, and clearly knowing of its falsity, asserted that Holland America (and, it is inferred, other cruise lines) put great pressure on their passengers to take excursions such as the flight seeing trip involved here when there are poor conditions.  (Let's keep in mind that the cause of the accident has not yet been determined, so jumping to the conclusion that it was singularly poor weather...when it was the only flightseeing trip that ended in tragedy that day...is troublesome; especially when it could have been pilot error or a mechanical failure, etc. To me such a claim at this point is irresponsible.)

So what does Walker  base his "pressure" theory on?  He claims it is that there is a requirement that the passenger cancel the excursion at least three days prior in order to avoid losing the full amount of the excursion cost.  That it.  Nothing else.

Wait a second!  Let's get some perspective here:

  • Did Holland America pressure anyone to purchase that excursion?  No.
  • Did Holland America fail to clearly disclose the three day cancellation period?  No.
  • Did Holland America fail to clearly disclose that weather may affect the excursion?  No.
  • Does Holland American cancel excursions if the operators advise it may be unsafe?  Yes.

As one person claiming to be a Holland America Westerdam Officer posted on Walker's website...only to be personally attacked by Walker (as he has done to me and many others)...wrote:
I am currently an Officer serving on the Westerdam, as I was last week during the terrible accident last week. 
Your article insinuates we forced, or 'exerted pressure' to make those tours fly last week
That is DEEPLY offensive to us the crew onboard that are still distraught over the events of last week (and yes, the Company has put a councillor onboard this week for the crew) 
Either post evidence we, as a Comapany, force or pressure tours to override their safety protocols to 'maximize profits' or retract your deeply hurtful insinuations.
We sell tours provided by local companies and orgnisations. Before doing buisness with them we do an in depth review of their policies, procedures and safety history. We are not in the buisness of flying or maintaining planes, and so leave the judgment of whether a tour is safe or not with with the experts.. the tour providor. As an obvious note, the pilot himself is in the plane, so would be very unlikely to fly if he thought it was unsafe and so risk his life.
As it turned out, some flights were cancelled last week, and the persons on those tours got a full refund from HAL we do not, and would not, EVER force a tour company to override their safety protocols for profit, and for you to insinuate we do and that to be the underlying cause of last week's tragedy is an unacceptable offense to us, the crew of the Westerdam...
Walker's response speaks for itself:
Deeply Offended:"
What's your name?
I'm sure that you will be deposed under oath and will be able to tell your tale at an appropriate time...I see that you continue to refuse to identify yourself (your email does not include you full name). This is a typical ploy of a cruise coward - full of personal insults but lacking the backbone to identify yourself.
...You have chosen to be the first cruise line representative to feel compelled to make a written statement in public. You will be eventually identified in the legal process. You will be subpoenaed for a deposition, as much as you now try to distance your employer from your statements.
The cruise line excursion policies and procedures remain dangerous nothwithstanding your anonymous ad hominem attacks.
You can read it all here.

Ad hominem attacks are, by the way, ones attacking a person rather than the issue.  It is clear that Walker is the one engaged in that disingenuous practice as well as overtly threatening the individual for nothing other than stating obvious facts.  (By the way, that person was identified - Walker just wanted more - and the chance of him ever being deposed is between slim and none. A lot of bluster and something else that begins with "b".)  

Also, if one is being honest, there is another factor:  Personal responsibility.  If those that perished believed it was unsafe they could have decided the money wasn't worth it and not taken the trip.  It was an expensive tour, but only a few hundred dollars.  They could have asked the operator questions, challenged him, and had more information that Holland America could have had.  Maybe they did. (We, of course, don't know what they knew or what were thinking and may have been very enthusiastic to go regardless of the weather and being fully informed...to the extent a lay person could be fully informed.)

Did Holland America do anything to encourage those that perished to give up their own personal responsibility?  Clearly not.  And if one's personal responsibility is lost for a few hundred dollars that raises questions that we need not delve into now.

Speaking of "now", let's now look just a little bit deeper.  Walker also fails to mention or discuss that passengers regularly cancel excursions without any penalty for such things as simple as second thoughts, a change in plans, hangovers, and even spending too much money on that hand-carved totem pole souvenir (that will eventually wind up in a garage sale for 5% of what was paid for it)...none of which has anything to do with the cruise line.  Clearly that is Holland America eliminating certain pressures!  

And those pressures are eliminated even though those cancellations come at a cost to both the tour operators and the cruise lines in the way of lost revenue...if there is not sufficient time to find others to book those excursions.  We all know there are wait lists and last minutes "Hey, let's do something" examples throughout cruises...and if there is not enough time to reach those folks, the revenue is lost forever...and, as has been the case in some instances, the result is the loss of particular excursions for ever based solely on high cancellation rates cutting too far into profits.

So there is a balance between an individual's desires to take an excursion, an individual's desires to cancel excursions and tour operators and cruise lines being financially able to offer excursions at a profit by protecting themselves from last minute cancellations.

As such I am baffled by where the alleged "pressure" came from...other than Walker trying weasel a way to hold Holland America liable.  And I believe "weasel" is the correct word.


Shall we allow those families that are suffering do so in peace?
Shall we allow the National Transportation Safety Board and FAA to perform their investigations?
Shall we allow the facts to all become known rather than trying to find or create facts simply to make an argument in an effort line Walker's pocket?  (He is trying to reach the families to represent them, isn't he?)

Clearly there are theories upon which liability may well rise.  I do not claim Holland America is not responsible in some part.  That is not the point of this article.  Those matters will be litigated and, in great probability, settled before a trial.  

But for now, let's allow the tragedy to be just that...without the personal attacks on those suffering and without tugging at the nerves of those directly affected.  And, especially without hyperbole and ad hominem attacks.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Goldring Travel's 2015 Culinary & Cultural (formerly Food & Wine) Cruise - Seabourn Quest - Part VI (Bergen, Stavanger & The Last Two Culinary Events: Shopping with the Seabourn Chef and A Cheese Tasting)

Even though the 2015 Goldring Travel Culinary & Cultural Cruise on the Seabourn Quest was coming to an end, there still were more events and more to see as we return to the more “civilized” parts of Norway.

Bergen, Norway
As soon as we arrived in Bergen, Norway it was time for our Private Shopping with the Seabourn Chef.  Chef Jes, properly adorned wearing the 2015 Goldring Travel Food & Wine jacket I gave him as a small “thank you” (and which he did wear during his zodiac trip later that day!), took us for a short walk to the local fish market. 

Shopping with the Seabourn Chef Jes Paskins
holding a King Crab 
We were able to sample side-by-side smoked wild and farmed salmon.  Never was the flavor, texture and fat difference so striking.  Aside from the health benefits of eating wild salmon, every other aspect from a culinary perspective is better too.

 Fresh and smoked sea trout was also sampled as well as marinated salmon (gravlax) and more.  Chef Jes purchased some sea trout which he prepared for us that evening as an “off the menu” selection.

One of the fishmongers explained that King Crab is not actually native to Norway, but was introduced into Russian waters from the Alaskan fishery.  Who knew something so “Norwegian” is not actually “Norwegian”?

After a quick coffee it was time for Chef Jes to head back to the Seabourn Quest to head out the much larger Shopping with the Chef…and that led us to the sweetest strawberries I have ever eaten.  There was a stand selling Belgium strawberries and Norwegian hot house strawberries.  While you might think the farmed ones would be better, it was not even close.  Extraordinary…and unexpected!

Our group went in various directions with Diane and I heading out for a walk along the quayside.  Eventually we wound up at the Bergen Aquarium.  While it was a bit of a disappointment if you don’t venture out you will never know…as you will soon see!  We meandered back to the market for lunch.  I had seen a giant, but empty, paella pan earlier and I am a sucker for paella.  Many of the vendors and fishmongers are, curiously, not Norwegian and at this stand, Age Sorenson, they were from Barcelona.  However, since we were in Bergen, Norway we did order some grilled King Crab with garlic and herbs…and it was delicious.

Earlier in the day I was looking at the tourist map you pick up in each port.  I saw the LeprosyMuseum and said, “We gotta see that!” and so, after lunch, that is exactly what we did.  Our first impression was of a miniature Alcatraz.  The building was a long rectangle with tiny rooms (just big enough for two small beds and a shared bedside table) with single windows on two levels with a catwalk.  While it was a bit creepy, it actually did a wonderful job of explaining the disease and assuring you left knowing each patient was a human being with a story and a life ending in sadness.

From there we headed back to the ship, exploring a castle along the way, and another beautiful sailaway.

A very lively Bergen, Norway waterfront
Our last port was Stavanger, Norway.  I did not expect much, but it actually was a very interesting port.  

Historic Part of Stavanger, Norway

We headed out looking for the Canning Museum, where those little keys on the side of sardine cans was invented.  (How could we not?)

Without getting too humiliated, as we tried to find this little gem I used my male instincts and an app on my phone convinced I could locate the museum.  Under this road, around that bend, up this driveway and then we see bottles in a window (It had to be close!), as we reached the crest of the hill there was a concrete wall and, peeking over it, I triumphantly said, “Here we are…at the Shell gas station!”  Ugh.

We eventually found the place (I let Diane take over) and the museum was actually quite interesting.  But there were two bonuses:  First, the cashier saw my Goldring Travel Food & Wine jacket that also says “Seabourn Quest”…and with that he said since we were associated with the ship we got free entry (and free entry to all of the museums in Stavanger!). 

The machine that made those little keys for sardine cans
is at The Cannery Museum
The second bonus is that while the sardine cannery has long been closed, they still smoke sardines (actually sprat) for the visitors.  Right out of the ancient smokers, still warm…and delicious!
Smoking sardines the old fashioned way

From there we headed back to the quay and visited the truly outstanding Stavanger Maritime Museum.  The history, artifacts and dozens of super high quality ship models was fascinating.

And then it was off to the Norwegian Petroleum Museum.  The first floor is all about the technology of drilling for oil, but the other areas have a very interesting simulated oil rig where you can sit in the control room, try to maneuver equipment and try an escape slide.
Norwegian Petroleum Museum
More importantly, there is a significant area devoted to the question of how to balance the use of fossil fuels against the negative impact upon the environment.  I was surprised to see such a well-balanced presentation; especially in a country whose wealth is so strongly linked to oil revenue.

After a bit of a stroll it was time for lunch of moules frite Norwegian style, a really good spicy hamburger with salami and jalepenos (who thought of that winning combination?) and, of course, another beer tasting.

It was then  back to the Seabourn Quest for a final sailaway in the hot tub on the bow.  I looked on the television screen and it was empty.  Perfect…except when we arrived moments later there was a party going on with a guy wearing a plastic Viking hat with faux horns.  As that was not exactly the sailaway we were looking for, we headed to the hot tub after on Deck 5 aft of The Club.  It was actually better as we were sheltered from the seriously increasing wind plus we had a great view of Stavanger as we sailed out.

Our last day was then unfortunately upon us, but there was still one Goldring Travel Culinary & Cultural Cruise event left:  The Private Cheese & Wine Tasting in Restaurant 2.  This was to be a small farewell event, but…Seabourn made it very special.  

Goldring Travel Cheese & Wine Tasting
on the Seabourn Quest
Chef Jes had gone cheese shopping in Tallin, Estonia and found some incredible cheeses (truffled, herbed, soft goat and an old Amsterdamer). I added a firm goat – from Flam, Norway.  We paired the cheeses with a ruby port, a tawny port, a sauterne (as a wild card) and an Inneskillin ice wine from Canada which Soko, the Assistant Seabourn Sommelier guided us through...with lots of charm and information.

Seabourn's Soko and Chef Jess take a well deserved bow!
And with that came the end of the 2015 Goldring Travel Culinary & Cultural Cruise…so I thought.  

When we disembarked we couldn’t find our luggage.  A guest with a large group simply swept up every bag with a blue tag and sent them to his private jet.  While Seabourn advised me that the guest eventually realized the error and returned the bags to the ship, it is not Diane and I setting sail on the Seabourn Quest for another week…it is our luggage.  Not fair!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Goldring Travel's 2015 Culinary & Cultural (formerly Food & Wine) Cruise - Seabourn Quest - Part V (Sea Days & Private Culinary Events)

With two days at sea there was still much to do not only with the 2015 Goldring Travel Culinary & Cultural (formerly Food & Wine) Cruise, but out an about on the Seabourn Quest.

Eric Goldring with Seabourn Executive Chef Jes Paskins
(Nice Jacket!)
I did want to mention the much improved enrichment program, now called Seabourn Conversations.  With a really interesting mix of speakers Seabourn has made sure that much of the history, culture, politics and nature of Norway has been covered.  Whether it be trolls or glaciers, birds or Vikings, or even the Hanseatic League, interesting discussions were had. (I, personally, never seem to be available when the lectures are given, but Seabourn has all of them available both live and recorded in your suite.)

One of those things that kept me busy was a Private Cooking Demonstration by Chef Jes Paskins.  With his “normal” enthusiasm, the Chef made an “amazing” Tom Kah Gai; a wonderfully spicy chicken, coconut Galangal Thai soup.  With champagne during the demonstration and a wonderful Hofstatter Gew├╝rztraminer paired with the finished product, it was a real treat.

Seabourn Quest's Executive Chef Jes Paskins

 That evening I had a bit of a surprise for Diane, as her birthday was coming up; nothing special really…until Seabourn got involved.  All I did was ask if they could make a cake shaped like a ship; meaning a sheet cake, of course.  After planning it for three days simple flowers, champagne and a cake turned into this!

A Seabourn birthday party for two

A birthday cake that only Seabourn would create!

Next up was Olden, Norway and a truly fantastic Private Food & Wine Event designed and personally cooked by Chef Jes.  I had mentioned to the Seabourn Quest’s fantastic Food & Beverage Manager Julian Petrasuc (who I have seen truly move up through the Seabourn ranks) that I wanted to have a culinary event on the balcony of my Spa Penthouse Suite with a magnificent view of the Norwegian fjords for our group to enjoy.  Chef Jes stepped up and said, “Leave it to me!  Is anyone living in there?  I can already smells tons of garlic and herbs, mussels…Oh, it is going to be fantastic!”

Seabourn Quest in Olden, Norway
We awoke to a picturesque view of the end of the fjord and the charming village of Olden.  The clouds hung overhead, but with the sunlight peeking through just enough to make the wildflowers and red buildings pop out of the lush green landscape.  The temperature was a comfortable cool. 

What a view from our suite! Olden, Norway
Now for the rain to hold off and the temperatures to rise just a bit the event could be just as I envisioned.

Ordered to leave our suite to Chef Jes to organize things (OK, Seabourn doesn’t order anyone to do anything…other than appear at the muster), Diane and I took a long, leisurely, walk around this very pretty part of the fjord.  (There was a glacier about 30 kilometers away, but unfortunately we didn’t have the time to make the trip.)

It was then back to the suite to see Chef Jes and his staff putting together a bit of Seabourn magic. 

A Goldring Travel Culinary Event
with a spectacular view of Olden, Norway and the Norwegian fjords

Chef Jes is the star, but...
There is a whole team that puts together a Goldring Travel
Private Culinary Event!

Our tasting including a champagne aperitif (of course), followed by cold prawns, crab and lobster paired with a Sancerre, 

followed by those fantastic mussels with garlic and herbs paired with a wonderful Meursault 

 and finally some of those famous Seabourn giant Nigerian prawns finished with more garlic paired with one of my favorite wines, a Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc.

And, of course, there was dessert paired with a tawny port!

But Chef Jes not being done: A Suprise!  He had made an incredible beer sorbet from some of the Mack beer from Tromso, Norway that I brought back to the Seabourn Quest. 

Chef Jes and his team made an incredible
Beer Sorbet from beer Goldring Travel brought back to
the Seabourn Quest from Mack Brewery in Tromso, Norway
Now that is what a great chef does:  He wins you over, then amazes you, then blows your mind...and then POW!

This was followed by a nice, but chilly, Officers on Deck Epicurean Event.  But to be honest, we were all so full that the cold weather served as a wonderful excuse not to linger but to enjoy the Seabourn Quest sailing through the Norwegian fjords.

Breathtaking View sailing out of Olden, Norway

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Goldring Travel's 2015 Culinary & Cultural (formerly Food & Wine) Cruise - Seabourn Quest - Part V (Honningsvag) - Ventures By Seabourn

The 2015 Goldring Travel Culinary and Cultural Cruise on the Seabourn Quest took a marked turn away from the standard travel activities when we reached Honningsvag, Norway as we approached the most northern tip of Europe well above the Arctic Circle.  This is where I was able to experience the new Ventures by Seabourn program that was launched with our sailing on the Seabourn Quest.

Seabourn Quest Ventures by Seabourn - Off the coast of Nordkapp, Norway
The Ventures by Seabourn program provides its guests with the opportunity to do things as simple and relaxing as a casual zodiac ride to kayaking to exhilarating hikes while accompanied by members of the Seabourn Expedition team.

Our (ad)venture was to birdwatch for puffins, gannet, kittywakes, white-tailed sea eagles and more from one of Seabourn’s zodiacs with one of the five members of the Seabourn Expedition team and then an open water journey, ending with a hike up to Nordkapp, The Top of the World.

Seabourn Quest and a Ventures by Seabourn zodiac
Our (ad)Venture started out with a special 5:30 a.m. room service breakfast (typical of Seabourn it was the full menu with our table properly set!) and then meeting our 27 other guests (ranging in ages from early 40’s to at least late 70’s) and the four naturalists (one for each zodiac) in The Club for check-in, fitting us with inflatable (and very comfortable) life vests and a quick safety briefing.  Then it was off to the zodiacs!

The ship stopped briefly on its way to Honningsvag so that the zodiacs could be offloaded and then we could board.  Once the eight of us were onboard our naturalist, Luciano (“Luqui”) Bernacchi, and a crewmember (to later drive the empty zodiac back to the ship) made sure everyone knew how stable the Seabourn zodiac was and how to sit comfortably.  (Later in the cruise I was able to observe the zodiacs used by Le Ponant’s Le Boreal and Seabourn’s are of far higher quality, size and comfort). 

Nesting Gannets
We then headed off to an island filled with birds both on land and flying all about us.  In fact, at one point it looked like a cloud of puffins was approaching.  

Puffins fishing

Black Guillemot
White-tailed Sea Eagle
Our activities were, from time to time, monitored by the local authorities:  A seal or two.

It was then an 8.5 mile run in the zodiacs to the base of Nordkapp.  While underway we looked for some additional wildlife, but it was more of a boat ride than a wildlife viewing period.  It was refreshing and a great way to get some perspective as to the size of the massive granite shorelines we have been viewing for days.  (Note that we actually passed the absolute further point north...which is two longitudinal minutes north of our destination, Nordkapp.  So only our group technically reached the Top of the World.)

We eventually arrived at the beautiful protected, but very rocky, shoreline, passing a herd of reindeer that were absolutely beautiful. 

Our landing was not only met with the natural beauty, but low tide.  That meant we had to navigate across large, slippery but beautiful black rocks to get to terra firma.  While it was a bit of a challenge, and Diane was insistent on being “first and fastest”, most of the guests quite successfully took it “slow and steady”…with the naturalists assisting as needed.

Ventures by Seabourn landing below Nordkapp, Norway
Once on the lush green land it was time to start the hike up to Nordkapp.  It was pretty steep and very narrow; pretty much being nothing more than a reindeer path.  The wildflowers were exceptional, the trickling streams like music and the views spectacular; especially being up and out in front of the group.

 And then it happened:  Out of nowhere one of the big male reindeer came charging at me!  I didn’t know what to do as I was on this narrow path on this steep climb.  Diane tried to kick him away and then, all of a sudden, a polar bear came up from behind and chased off the attacker.  (I later found him, made reindeer sausage and Diane has his pelt as a souvenir.) OK, that didn’t happen, but I was amazed how many people believed me until I mentioned the polar bear.  The point is that our (ad)Venture by Seabourn was challenging, but Seabourn made sure we were always safe.

As we approached the summit the hike got steeper and my heart got pumping harder and my legs got a bit tired and then, true story, one gentleman from my zodiac that was seasick while birdwatching, etc. pushed past us and was the first to the top.  Imagine:  I felt sorry for him and then he took away my “win”.  (I was, however, grateful that Diane did not leave me and suffered the defeat along my side.)

This (ad)Venture by Seabourn was exhilarating,  fun and left everyone
with a feeling of accomplishment...and awe
Once to the top of the hike it was about a quarter mile to the visitor’s center.  Of course, I forgot to bring any money (focused on the birdwatching and hike), so no celebratory champagne.  I was, honestly, amazed that only one of the guests decided the hike would be too much for them.  All the others made it to the summit.  They took an hour to an hour and a half longer than we did, but there actually was no rush and the feeling of accomplishment will last far longer.

While at the visitor’s center no less than 10 buses of 50 people each arrived from the Caribbean Princess making my decision to enjoy both our small group (ad)Venture and cruising with Seabourn very, very, suite (er’ umm, “sweet”).  We saw the real natural beauty of the area, challenged ourselves, enjoyed the seas…and, let’s face it 10 people in a zodiac beats 50 people on a bus any day.

Honningsvag, Norway
Our (very uncrowded) Seabourn bus eventually arrived and took us to Honningsvag, Norway through some pretty countryside on a windy road (a/k/a a great short nap was taken) we strolled through the small town that earlier in the day was reportedly overwhelmed by the 3,000+ Princess passengers.  We enjoyed our walk, tucking into a small art gallery and some shops.  But there were two things that caught my eye:  One was a nondescript concrete block building by the more commercial part of the pier and the other was an ice bar. 

The former was filled with everything you can do with a reindeer pelt with three Norwegian women in full costume dress making hats and such.  Diane attempted to negotiate with one of the women, who spoke no English (or at least that was her position) and, while kind, was tough as nails as a negotiator.  I liked her.  And, to be honest, that is where the reindeer pelt was obtained.  (The sausage was purchased in Flam, Norway.)

The Arctic Ice Bar was about as touristic a money-maker as possible.   At the back of a well-stocked and pricey souvenir shop was an “ice bar” and sometimes you have to take a deep breath and do the tourist thing.  For about $20 you walk in and they place a silvery poncho over you…and your jacket…and give you two non-alcoholic drinks (a/k/a sugar water of different flavors poured into ice shot glasses).  While Norway severely restricts alcohol purchases this is ridiculous.  Anyway, while you are in the room lined in ice there are ice bars, ice tables with seating (on reindeer skins), an igloo you can crawl inside and a dog sled you can pose in.  

Fifteen minutes is more than enough time for this novelty.

After a bit of a wander it was time to head back to the Seabourn Quest for a glorious two days at sea...and enjoying yet another midnight sun...

The Midnight after sailing away from Hanningsvag, Norway