Tuesday, December 29, 2015

It's a Sale! It's a Deal. It's on Miles! - Seabourn, Crystal, Silversea, Oceania? It Doesn't Matter! You Need a Travel Agent!!!!

Eric J. Goldring
Not Your Ordinary Travel Agent!
Earlier this week I was contacted by someone looking to book their honeymoon and had focused on a Seabourn cruise.  One would think the approach would be, "Easy. Book him and be done!" But that is not how Goldring Travel works because there is more to creating a memorable honeymoon and, at least more importantly to me, creating a relationship that keeps my clients coming back to me again, and again, and again.

So I put this cruise on the back burner and we chatted.  Long story short:  In a matter of less than an hour worth of emails and phone calls, the pre-cruise airport transfer, hotel and pre-cruise tour and transfer were decided, the Seabourn cruise booked and a plan for airfare agreed upon.  Most importantly - aside from freeing hours of time now available to plan their wedding - my new client understood everything from what was actually included, what the cost would be and was thrilled that I had actually been there and able to provide first hand information.  In other words, there are no mysteries and hours of endlessly scouring the internet for conflicting and hard to verify information were eliminated.

And then I received the email I always love receiving which said:
Thank you again for being so informative and quick in our responses.  I confess I have not always perceived the value of a travel agent but you have been very different.
I posted it on the Goldring Travel Facebook page.

  • And then some of my other clients from Australia and the United States "liked" it.  
  • And then another European client sent me an email from the Seabourn Sojourn thanking me for sending birthday wishes (and letting me know about the booking she made onboard).
  • And then another American client emailed from the Seabourn Quest thanking me for talking her out of cancelling her Antarctic cruise not even half way through writing:
Fantastic cruise. Across the Drake in one fast smooth day, so an early day of zodiac landings. This is the most impossibly gorgeous, fabulous and mysterious place. THANK YOU for not letting me cancel. 
  • And then another Australian client sent me a "dirty joke".
Then there was an issue:  Seabourn's Thomas Keller menu is a huge success, but is not yet fully implemented (Not to worry:  It is just about there!) so with the demands of the new menu, some of the other menu items seem not up to standards (and, let's face it they aren't up to Thomas Keller's standards which is why they are going away!).  Within minutes of getting this email I was in communication with the top Seabourn executives, has it circulated and arrangements made for my client to be contacted.

On a recent Silversea Expedition cruise one of my clients booked a premium suite and used Silversea's business class air.  The only problem is that on that particular day there was no business class on the plane Silversea had space on...and nothing was said until long after final payment was made.  Over two dozen phone calls (including directly to the airline) and even more emails I found/created a solution.  My client, while upset by it, had to do nothing to do because I handled it all and the expedition cruise went off without a hitch.

On an upcoming Oceania cruise (as I previously wrote about), the cruise fare dropped over $2,000 after my clients had made final payment.  Oceania was, shall we say, less than cooperative and my clients were not happy.  In the end, I was able to get my client's a future cruise credit for the full amount, keep the good relationship between Oceania and my clients (eliminating the "I'll never cruise on them again" option) and, of course, pretty much assure they will be booking another Oceania cruise.

Then there are the "I am going to do it all by myself!" and "I am going to use miles" issues.  This happens with airfare, hotels, etc. 

  • I have a wonderful, well traveled, client that decided to book his first class air by himself (actually using some sort of consolidator).   The result:  I was re-booking his airfare the night before his disembarkation because he accidentally booked a roundtrip ticket rather than one departing from his port of disembarkation!
  • I have another wonderful, well traveled, client that decided to use miles to book a pre-cruise hotel I recommended.  She booked the right hotel...but did it as her post-cruise hotel! Fortunately, she was able to still get a room when she arrived to a very confused front desk staff.  (The staff at that hotel are wonderful...as is the hotel!)

Of course, there are so many folks that jump on the phrase "SALE" when, when really analyzed, there really isn't much of a sale.  (You did start to read this article because it said "Sale", right?) More importantly, the issues of "value", "total cost" and "logistics" are lost.  It takes a truly knowledgeable and dedicated travel agent (travel consultant, travel professional...or whatever it is that you want to call me) to sort things out for you...in far less time, and usually with far more accuracy, than you could do on your own.  I mean I am a "highly trained professional!" 

Whether you are looking for a great travel "value", assistance in creating a wonderful honeymoon, a voice of reason when an immediate crisis clouds reason, an advocate or just a really experienced and knowledgeable travel advisor, think of Goldring Travel.

And if you want a travel agent that is available as, is happening just now, clients are traveling on land through India, Vietnam and Cambodia, cruising through Asia, South America, Antarctica and the Caribbean and planning honeymoons and summer vacations, Goldring Travel is your answer. Whether office phone, mobile phone, email, Skype or even satellite phone, Eric Goldring is always available.

Interested in booking a Seabourn Cruise? Please give me a call:

United States:       (877) 2GO-LUXURY
United Kingdom: 020 8133 3450
Australia:              (07) 3102 4685
Everywhere Else: +1 732 578 8585

Or email me at eric@goldringtravel.com.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Seabourn is Having a Sale - Some Great Holiday Season Opportunities!

Seabourn Cruise Line is having one of its Signature Savings Events with:

  • 50% Reduced Deposits on sailings from May 1, 2016 through April 30, 2017
  • Complimentary Veranda Upgrades on select sailings
  • $200 per suite Onboard Credit on select Sailings
  • $1,000 per suite Onboard Credit on Penthouse and higher suites
with sailing in the Mediterranean from $2,999 per person, Northern Europe $3,499 per person, Canada/New England, Asia and India/Arabia cruises starting at $5,999 plus more deals on Australia/New Zealand, South America and, of course, Antarctica cruises (taxes are additional) there are some really great savings out there.

Remember, Goldring Travel still provides you with even better pricing, the Goldring Travel Seabourn Referral Program still is applicable and, of course, you will receive the world-class service we are proud of.

Don't be discouraged if you hear that a cruise you are interested in is sold out.  Many times there are a suite or two I can find even on cruises that you may think you missed the boat on.

Remember that Chef Thomas Keller, owner/executive chef of The French Laundry and Bouchan restaurants (and more),  is now partnered with Seabourn and, with that, Seabourn and Thomas Keller are in the process of creating new menus throughout the fleet.  I was fortunate enough to receive, as a present from Seabourn, Thomas Keller's "The French Laundry Cookbook" personally autographed and with the inscription, "It's all about finesse".  

"It's all about finesse" - Thomas Keller
When deciding which luxury cruise line you are going to travel will remember Seabourn is also "All about finesse!"

Interested in booking a Seabourn Cruise? Please give me a call:

United States:       (877) 2GO-LUXURY
United Kingdom: 020 8133 3450
Australia:              (07) 3102 4685
Everywhere Else: +1 732 578 8585

Or email me at eric@goldringtravel.com.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Crystal Serenity - Lisbon to Monaco: Crystal As a "Move Up" & "Move Over" Luxury Option - Part IV (Food & Wine!)

In this fourth installment discussing my cruise on the Crystal Serenity last month I wanted to focus on the special events Crystal had which truly impressed me and give good reason for those who truly love food and wine to "move up" from a premium cruise line or consider "moving over" from a luxury line.

During this cruise we were truly fortunate to have Kevin Zraly, the James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, wine director of Windows on the World, and author and teacher of the Windows on the World Wine Course onboard for some special "enrichment" as part of Crystal Food & Wine Cruise.  Kevin held two very entertaining, high energy and informative wine tastings and, for 14 of us willing to pay, selected the wines for a truly spectacular Vintage Room dining experience.

Kevin Zraly during one of his two wine tasting seminars
during the Crystal Serenity's Food & Wine Cruise
Unlike the "shtick" that Celebrity Cruises calls a wine tasting (that is really more of a sales pitch to purchase wine glasses while sucking down bad wine...and I really like Celebrity Cruises) or Oceania Cruises significantly extra cost wine tastings, Crystal Cruises provided truly high quality wines with a true master (not a ship sommelier) each lasting about an hour.

For the first of two tastings was of Italian wines.  We arrived to a wonderful glass of Prosecco (unfortunately I have forgotten which one).  This was followed by four wines:
  • Soave Classico, La Rocca, Pieropan, Veneto 2011 - $32 a bottle
  • Chardonnay, Rossj Bass, Langhe, Angelo Gaja, Piedmont 2014 - $88 a bottle
  • Chianti Classico, Riserva, Marchese Antinori, Tuscany 2008 - $30 a bottle
  • Brunello di Montalcino, Castello Banfi, Tuscany 2009 - $50 a bottle
This was Kevin's first return to the sea since the fall of the World Trade Towers and while it was a bit emotional for him, he was "on" and made the wine tasting about what it should be:  Fun!  So even if you really didn't care much about the tastings, you had fun!  

Complimenting the wine events were culinary events by Chef Fredric Castan, who worked his way through a number of two and three star Michelin restaurants, as well as executive chef positions with Ritz Carlton, Sofitel and St. Regis while also appearing on the television shows Hell's Kitchen and At the Chef's Table.  In addition to the expected cooking demonstration, where he was quite personable and charming, he oversaw a special menu one evening in the Main Restaurant.

However, his real impact was his personally preparing the seven course Vintage Room dining experience I was able to enjoy.

Chef Fredric Castan
Personally preparing our Vintage Room Food & Wine Experience
Crystal Cruises' Vintage Room is a rarefied event where only 14 guests are served a specially pared dinner in, of course, The Vintage Room.  Fortunately for me, with Kevin Zraly and Chef Fredric Castan onboard, this was not the "Classic" Vintage Room, but the "Ultimate Vintage Room".

Now, this experience comes with a hefty price:  $350 per person ($250 for the Classic).  Before I explain the menu and wines, I received a study from Michelin earlier this week about what people are willing to pay for an "unsurpassed" meal.  It varies by age group and location, but for Americans this is right on par with what a male from California would pay, but about triple what a 65+ year old woman from the Northeast would be willing to pay.  In other words, you really have to want to do this for the experience...and I was looking forward to it for months. 

Crystal Serenity
Ultimate Vintage Room Menu
I was very excited to see this menu for a few reasons regarding the wine:

  • The first wine (after our Billecart-Salmon Rose Champagne) was a Georg Breuer Reisling; and during my 2015 Goldring Travel Culinary & Cultural (Food & Wine) Cruise I had a private wine tasting at Georg Breuer with seven different wines...including the Nonnenberg Rheingau Reisling chosen for this dinner.
  • One of my top five wines:  Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateanuef-du-Pape was served with the cheese course (though I find the wine too delicious to drink with anything but itself!)
  • My favorite port;  Graham's 30 Year Tawny Port finished up the evening
Of course there was, as you can read above, other truly exceptional wines...and delicious to the eyes and mouth culinary treats.

Duo of Oysters Belon Green Apple Wasabi and Caviar
paired with
Maine Lobster "Raviolis" of Turnips Sweet and Sour

Slow Cooked Duck Breast
A decadent Roasted Cap of Rib-Eye with Bone Marrow

Chef Castan topping off the Chocolate Surprise
Along with the menu comes an excellent written description of the wines and the vineyards, but trust me, after this meal reading is the last thing you are going to do!

Oh, but there is more!  The next day Kevin Zraly held a second wine tasting; this time exploring the wines of France.  Again, high quality wines and a very lively, informative and fun experience...and many of my Vintage Room tablemates were there as well.  As with his first tasting we enjoyed four different wines;
  • Sancerre, Le Mont, Fourcher Lebrun, Loire Valley 2013 - $20 a bottle
  • Meursault, Theirry et Pascale Matro, Burgundy 2011 - $25 a bottle
  • Nuits St. Georges, Dubois, Burgundy 2007 - $30 a bottle
  • Connetable, Chateau Talbot, Bordeaux 2011 - $45 a bottle
Having sailed on all of the major luxury cruise lines and quite a few of the premium ones, I am confident in saying that other than private events, such as a Goldring Travel Culinary & Cultural Cruise (noting our August 2016 event is almost sold out), Crystal Cruises offers the highest levels of such experiences.  

For those looking to "move up":  Remember, these wine tastings are included in your fare and is a significant step up not only for the wines, but the sommelier presenting them.  For those considering a "move over", the Vintage Room experience is unparalleled. 

But, alas, with all the superlatives and fine dining, there is one test that undertake on every cruise: The Hamburger and Hot Dog Test.  For me, it is about the little things and, to be sure, with all sorts of exotic and rich foods engaging your palate on a cruise, sometimes you need the basics...and those basics give telltale signs as to the "regular" food onboard...and again it proved to be true.  

Crystal Serenity's Hot Dog and Hamburger
from the Trident Grill
As you can see the presentation was pretty darn nice with the buns properly toasted, the hamburger and hot dog both properly cooked, all the appropriate garnishes and the French Fries creatively presented.  But, unfortunately, both the hamburger and hot dog (which was really a miniature hot dog) just didn't have much flavor.  Ouch.  

Unfortunately, I did find the same sort of issue with flavorlessness in suprising ways, such as a truly delicious spicy Thai soup with chicken in the Lido.  The problem was that the chicken was clearly cooked elsewhere without any spices and was added at the last minute to the soup.  

Nitpicky?  Yes, I admit it! But with so many culinary hits (Nobu's Silk Road, Vintage Room and even the Main Dining Room) it was surprising.

Suffice it to say, that Crystal Cruises really does rate as "Foodie Worthy" with a consistency that, in the luxury cruise market, is only topped by Seabourn.  So if you are looking to "move up" you will be extremely impressed and if you are looking to "move over" from any luxury line you will be more than satisfied!  Personally, I can't wait to get back onboard for another Vintage Room Experience...and maybe even a wine tasting or two!

Interested in booking a Crystal Cruise? Please give me a call:

United States:       (877) 2GO-LUXURY
United Kingdom: 020 8133 3450
Australia:              (07) 3102 4685
Everywhere Else: +1 732 578 8585

Or email me at eric@goldringtravel.com

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Crystal Serenity - Lisbon to Monaco: Crystal As a "Move Up" & "Move Over" Luxury Option - Part III

In my continuing analysis of how Crystal Cruises measures up as a "move up" from premium cruise lines and as a "move over" from other luxury cruise lines, my November 13, 2015 cruise on the Crystal Serenity continues...

Having explored Lisbon and Madeira in Portugal and a good bit of the Serenity, we set sail for the Canary Islands (which, by the way, is part of Spain).  Our first stop was Santa Cruz, Tenerife, which is not exactly the hotbed of culture or cuisine (and is better know as a cheap warm holiday destination for Europeans).

Because the Crystal Serenity does not go to bed after dinner, with the lively piano bar, Avenue Saloon,

Crystal Serenity's Avenue Saloon Piano Bar
A beautiful venue where oldies and show tunes are sung
each evening by a talented pianist/singer
with a loyal crowd enjoying it.
and the disco, Pulse,

Crystal Serenity's Pulse Disco
Home to late night dancing and a couple of Karaoke Nights
drew a good crowd every night of our cruise
both in full swing until at least 2:00 a.m. we had a rather late night (for research purposes only!)  so the next morning was a bit slow; starting with another lovely breakfast on our balcony.

With no real "must do" highlights we decided to simply take a walk...a long walk...exploring the town, old and new.

Crystal Cruise's port lecturer was fantastic.
When he mentioned this church, he knew exactly when it would, curiously, be closed.
He was right! 
The African Market (really just a mercado) is with a quick visit
One of the more interesting site is the Audiorio de Tenerife, which is a very attractive structure with a small cafe if you are interested.

Auditorio de Tenerife

Passing an old fortress we came upon a couple of private/public swim clubs which you can tell would be jam-packed if it was summer.

Santa Cruz, Tenerife looks pretty from a distance...from a distance
And then it was onto a what I thought would be a lovely garden, the Palmetum.  The woman that greeted us was surprised and happy to have American visitors, which she said was very rare.  And we were off on a winding uphill path with over 400 species of palm varieties and many other plants in a beautiful setting.

Palmetum in Santa Cruz, Tenerife
And then, when you reach the top of the hill, the brochure explains that what you are walking on is actually a landfill that was abandoned in 1983, but which is still "fermenting" and the black pipes you see here and there are used to release methane gas...and the water you hear trickling all around you is from the nearby sewage treatment plant. I actually recommend supporting Palmetum, and similar projects, as it is a environmentally responsible way to address our waste problems.  (Just stay on the path! LOL).  Seriously, take a look at the photograph of Santa Cruz, Tenerife above which was taken from the Palmetum.  An architectural masterpiece and a very popular swim club sit by a garden, but would otherwise be adjacent to a garbage dump.

After a walk through town it was time for some lunch before heading back to the Crystal Serenity. Admittedly I was struggling to find a non-touristic place for lunch...and then I saw, 'er um, heard a place with only Spanish being spoken:  Restaurante El Lateral 27.  Friendly waiters who spoke just enough English for us and good, local, food (though a few things I wanted they were out of).

Fresh fried sardines.  Yum!
Friendly waitress...that insisted we needed a "digestive".
It was a lovely lunch and then our waitress said we needed a digestive afterwards.  Why not?  Well when she arrived with a literally florescent green glowing liquor with two large brandy snifters with ice I knew I was in trouble.  Tasting like a cross between limoncello and sambuca this licor de hierbas could have been the highlight of the day...and the need for a nap immediately thereafter!

When we returned to the Crystal Serenity Santa's elves were hard at work getting ready for the holiday season.  It was actually kind of fun seeing how each day more and more decorations seemed to magically appear.  Alas, it was a little early for Christmas decorations for me, but those on the next cruise might well find late November to be "The Season".

That evening we tried out Prego, Crystal Serenity's second alternative dining venue.  Honestly, it was fine, but I left a bit underwhelmed (as I did after dining in Prego on the Crystal Symphony a few years ago).  Maybe it is because I have had too many great meals traveling through Italy or that I live in the New York area with so many great Italian restaurants.  That said, there were some real highlights including the "signature" mushroom soup served in a bread bowl.  A disappointment was the "signature" lasagna - which was unlike any lasagna I have ever had (and it is not exactly an upscale dish).

Giving it another chance, we dined at Prego again.  Again, it was fine, but not impressive.  The beef carpaccio and risotto were excellent.  When you order pasta (in my case fettuccine) you have the option of the type of pasta and of various sauces. While my pasta was clearly high quality and tasteful it was dried (not fresh) and I was given a green pasta (assumedly spinach) because I ordered it with pesto.  I did not order or want spinach pasta...but I ate it.  The pesto was good and the addition of coarsely chopped pine nuts was nice.

Another niggle:  Dessert offers gelato and then calls it ice cream.  I asked the waiter and he said they are actually the same.  They are not!  Gelato has far less butterfat, is creamer and thicker with less air. In an Italian specialty restaurant that is just not acceptable.  (It was ice cream and it was good, but not gelato.)

Speaking of ice cream in a positive way, Crystal Cruises excels when it comes to ice cream!  At Scoops, its complimentary ice cream bar, a variety of Ben & Jerry's ice creams are available each day in either a waffle cone or cups.

Crystal Cruises does ice cream right:
Ben & Jerry's generously served in a waffle cone!
Our next day brought us to Arrecife on the Canary Island of Lanzarote, Spain; a curious volcanic island that appears to be on the map of bicyclists and triathletes as well as those interested in its volcanic history and beaches.  But for me, I wanted to explore the island's unique wines!

We headed out, only to have another long wait for the Crystal shuttle buses (seriously, first up they should be running constantly) and then, after some negotiation, hired a taxi to take us to the famous lava fields; opting to avoid the bus tour.

As we headed out of town I sight I did not expect:  A Volkswagen Westfalia Vanagon campermobile almost identical to mine; though in far worse shape!

Soon we began to see some very low growing grape vines (not dissimilar to those you see on the island of Santorini in Greece.  However in Lanzarote the vines are protected from the salt air and ocean winds by low semi-circular walls made of volcanic rock and are planted in very thin soil covered by volcanic dust.

A small vineyard on the Canary Island of Lanzarote, Spain
The wine would have to wait as we headed to Timanfaya National Park.  What I didn't know is that you are required to take a bus tour of the park, which is narrated in various languages (be sure you get on the correct bus) and takes about 30 minutes.  (A tip:  The lines into the park can be hours long, but buses and taxis can skip the line.)

Timanfay National Park, Lanzarote, Spain

It was interesting enough, but the touristic "pour water down a hole and watch it steam" and watch chicken cook over another hole (which you can then buy and eat) kinda put me over the edge.  One of the few "been there, done that" environmental experiences I have had.  Now, if I could have explored a bit it could have been a highlight!

And now, finally, the wine!  Our taxi driver took as past a few wineries to La Geria for a wine tasting of the various offerings.
La Geria Winery
Fortunately, we arrived in between buses so we were able to taste some of the rather interesting and higher quality wines, rather than the cheap stuff doled out in tiny plastic cups to the later arriving throngs...who must have also just been to the volcanic fields.

The Moscatel Dulce was actually quite good and a bottle found its way home with me.  Ya never know!

Our taxi dropped us off in town, which was not terrible inspiring.  I said, "That's it.  There has to be something down one of the side streets!"  and with that I turned down the first alley and saw it: Museo del Vino!  And the tapas crawl began!  (Again, ya never know!)

Paella, empanadas, sausages,

shrimp with garlic, sauteed mushrooms with garlic

and then a change in venue with a bit of a view and cured meats and cheeses

A cute boat basin in Arrecife, Lanzarote, Spain

It was then back to the ship and time to enjoy a sea day before arriving in Malaga, Spain.

Unfortunately, I encountered a major service flaw in the Main Dining Room. It was a one-off situation, but worthy of note.  We needed to have our assigned late seating table moved (not an issue) and our butler took care of it seamlessly.  When we arrived we were quickly escorted to our new table and was told it would be our table for the remainder of the cruise.  The service is was fine and the food quite good.  We were happy.

However, the next evening we arrived and "our" table was occupied so they put us isolated, in a corner, with my view being a mirror...although it was a table by the window.  Making matters worse our table wasn't properly set with glasses, etc. missing.  An oblivious assistant waiter came over to serve bread and when I asked that he not until the table was properly set, I got a good dose of "attitude".  However, once I made it known that was totally unacceptable (not that I should have), we probably had the most cheerful, competent and friendly waitstaff of our cruise.

I have always said that the service makes the dining experience far more than the food and this night was proof of that.  There is no such thing as perfection and a true luxury cruise line can turn that push of your "hot button" into a success...or a disaster that sticks with you.  Fortunately, Crystal addressed the issue quickly; so with our service actually outshining our cuisine (which really was wonderful) Crystal Cruises turned was could have been a disaster into a positive.

For your Food & Wine Lovers:  Look forward to my next article!  Crystal really sparkles in that one!!

Interested in booking a Crystal Cruise? Please give me a call:

United States:       (877) 2GO-LUXURY
United Kingdom: 020 8133 3450
Australia:              (07) 3102 4685
Everywhere Else: +1 732 578 8585

Or email me at eric@goldringtravel.com.