Friday, July 24, 2015

Crystal Cruises - Have Patience and Don't Forget What Crystal Is...Because It's a Long Wait for Edie Rodriguez's Vision

I am excited by Crystal Cruise's announcement of new ships, a new yacht, a new charter aircraft experience and, possibly even, the river cruise addition BUT...hype is one thing, however remembering your roots and your current guests is critical to Crystal Cruises' success.

Crystal Symphony
These are some of the facts:

1.  Its a Long Time From Now to Then

Crystal Cruises will not have a new ship until almost 2019.  That means its product will not have a dramatic change for 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.  And, let's not forget that Crystal Cruises has not firmly committed to more than one new ship.  To the extent there is a commitment, Edie Rodriquez has admitted that Ships 2 and 3 won't be delivered until 2019 and/or 2020 at the earliest.


That is essentially 3.5 years with the same hardware (oceanview and veranda staterooms with a limited number of suites) and guest profile...which is upper premium to luxury; not exclusively luxury.  And then there is potentially going to be either a transformation over the following two to three years as (five years from now) with Crystal eliminating its mixed category older ships (Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony) or Crystal expanding to five ships and selling two different products. (I won't eliminate the possibility of a transformation of the Crystal Serenity or Crystal Symphony so that they have more suites.) 

It is a long time from now to then and I am concerned that the hype may well cause people to balk at sailing on Crystal now because of the intimidation factor, the dislike of such bold hype or a feeling of downgrading while they are excitedly waiting for the new ship(s).

Personally, with only one ship truly committed to and a long wait for that one, I believe a significant amount of focus needs to be made on the present excellent Crystal Cruise product.  The reality is that there are some tremendous deals for late 2015 and early 2016 because sales are a bit soft.

2.  Crystal Esprit Yacht Is Nice, But...

Crystal Esprit
With Crystal Cruises selling over 4,000 cruises (1,000 staterooms with two berths per stateroom) on average every ten days, a 62 berth yacht sailing on average seven day cruises is not exactly going to radically change Crystal Cruises' bottom line.  Yes, it is sexy, but there is more to it.

As I previously wrote, the acquisition of the Crystal Esprit from another Gentling HK enterprise that held it as a burdensome asset provided two solutions:  Ridding one company of a problem and giving Crystal Cruises, which had had a bit of a stodgy reputation, a bit of flash.

However, and I know Edie Rodriguez loves the charter market, I predict this yacht is not going to be primarily for those individuals wanting a quite yacht-like holiday, but for the incentive market where corporations can charter  the entire yacht.  And that is where the practical problem lies.

I, personally, love the SeaDream Yacht Club ships and the overall product.  However, because these small, 100 guest ships, are small, groups (family, partial charters, etc.) can radically change the individual cruiser's experience.  On the even smaller Crystal Esprit the issue may be even more serious.

One other note, I recently had clients booked for a March 2016 cruise on Crystal in a Penthouse Suite with Veranda and another couple in a Penthouse.  Crystal chartered out the entire ship...and cancelled their cruise with minimal compensation to the guests no less.  Unless Crystal installs a "no cancellation for charter" policy and also has a proactive notification of partial charters (with the ability to cancel without penalty if that were to occur anytime after booking the cruise) I would be extremely cautious about booking this product for your quiet yacht holiday.

3.  Crystal River Cruises May Be Interesting, But...

While I understand the concept of not losing guests to other cruise lines, I also understand that (1) the river cruise product is significantly different than the ocean cruise product, (2) the river cruise market is - to my mind - probably at or beyond its saturation point (as soft sailing now exist that never did), (3) the onshore experiences are far more important overall than the onboard experiences; and, (4) those onshore experiences are quickly becoming degraded because there are just too many river cruise ships coming into these small, quaint, towns to the point that tourists are overwhelming the local populations.

And, of course, there is another factor:  Most people that take a river cruise in an area are not going to be repeating it anytime soon so with a very limited number of river cruise ships in a very limited number of areas, the concept of keeping the Crystal guest with Crystal when they river cruise may be a one shot deal (though some may be better than none).

There are some great luxury products out there already. I enjoy both Scenic and AmaWaterways, with AmaWaterways having far more diverse itineraries.  And there is Tauck, Uniworld and a few others. I am very interested to see what Crystal Cruises is going to be doing to differentiate itself or if it is planning to just rely on similar formula, brand recognition and guest loyalty.

Yes, if you want to get into the river cruise business you have to start somewhere, but this a relatively small investment with plans that do not, as of yet, seem to speak too much into the future.

Conclusion

Crystal Cruises presently has a wonderful product that people need to experience to appreciate.  I have sailed on Crystal Cruises and I regularly book my clients on Crystal.  It has the best overall Onboard Education and Lecture Programs, Ballroom Dancing, a fantastic Cigar Lounge, Volun-tourism shore excursions, Nobu at Sea and other great Dining Experiences, a well-trained and enthusiastic staff and crew all in an inclusive (beverages and gratuities are included in your fare) experience.

So while all of the recent hype has been about the Hardware, I will continue to focus on the Software and cruise experience that presently exists and not chase away those who are not of the "suite or better" economies.

There is plenty of time to see how this all plays out.  But there is a time to take a Crystal Cruise right now!

Interested in a Crystal Cruise? Call me:

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

Monday, July 20, 2015

Seabourn's "Dirty Little Secret" - It Blocks Suites and Sailings to Make Longer Sailing More Expensive, Appear Almost Sold Out...and Then Offers Less Desirable Suites

This post pains me to write, but I must be honest and maintain my integrity.



While I believe Seabourn provides one of the best cruise experiences out there, Seabourn engages in a practice that I find incredibly troublesome and, to my mind, one that seems to be - when the evidence is put together - by design.

Seabourn's "dirty little secret" of which I speak can easily:

  • Cause you to unnecessarily pay more for your cruise; 
  • Create a false sense of urgency to book when there is none by giving you an inaccurate impression that there is high demand for certain of its cruises; and,
  • Limit your choice of suite to the less desirable ones.
This would, of course, increase Seabourn's revenue and keep the most desirable suites available to make sales easier for the shorter, higher profit, cruises.

I have been, without success, asking...then begging...then fighting to have Seabourn fix this for quite a while. Seabourn's brass first told me that it did't happen, so I kept providing examples of it.  Then I was told that is a limitation within its reservation system.  But then today I was told, Seabourn expressly refuses to fix what supposedly is an innocent programming error or software limitation. Seriously?   One would think that Seabourn would, if it was a problem and not by design, FIX IT; not refuse to!

So how does this work?  Let me give you an example:  

Sunday a client emailed me in a panic.  They want to sail for 21 days in August 2016, but there is no a 21 day cruise (only a 7 day and the following 14 day) and there is very limited availability for the 14 day segment.,,even though  the cruise is over a year away.  So how is it that over a year way a 21 day cruise in the same suite cannot be had?  The reality of it is, it can be...but it is not easy and if done wrong it can cost you thousands of dollars.

Because it is Goldring Travel, also on Sunday, I log into the Seabourn reservations system and see the 7 day cruise is wide open with the very best suites remaining available.  But when I go into the 14 day sailing I see limited availability, and almost none of the better suites in the category can be booked; and those pretty much do not match up with what is showing as available on the earlier 7 day cruise.

But what I also see is that Seabourn is offering the cruise as a 21 days sailing, but it is not shown in its brand new brochure (mailed just this past week).  And as a 21 day cruise it qualifies for a Grand Voyage discount; making it almost $1,200 less expensive than booking the 7 day and 14 day cruise back-to-back.  As I look at this significant savings for my client I see that there are only two suites, and most certainly, not the better ones, available to book as a 21 day cruise.  And those suites are not available for either of the 7 or 14 day cruises!

I then manually take an inventory of suites that are available if I booked the cruise in the most expensive way: Three seven day cruises.  Low and behold:  EVERY SINGLE OF THE BEST SUITES IN THE CATEGORY WERE AVAILABLE FOR THE FULL 21 DAYS.

Now, having booked my clients at the lower Grand Voyage fare I attempted a number of ways to secure the desired suite through the reservations system.  The result:  "Invalid Entry".  Huh?

Not satisfied (I do the best I can for my clients), first thing this  morning I called Seabourn Reservations and asked for that prized suite to be placed on the reservation.  Nope. Can't be done by Reservations.  "Permission" from another department....which was eventually had....was required!

Wait a minute.  There is a system in place to have suites that are blocked from being unblocked, but only at the discretion of someone in a back-office department!  That is not a software limitation or programming error.  "Permission" should not be a factor.

In the end Goldring Travel's client received the best suite at the best price (along with a discount and onboard credits), but only because I know about Seabourn's "dirty little secret" and how to protect my clients from it.

Do I still believe Seabourn is one of the best cruise experiences out there?  Yes.  But am I sincerely disappointed that Seabourn is doing business this way?  You better believe it.

Interested in a Seabourn Cruise? You know I will make sure you get the best suite at a great price! Call me:

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

Seabourn One Week Sale - Great Deals on Antarctic, South America, Asia, Canada, Mediterranean and Caribbean Cruises

Seabourn Cruises is holding another of its One Week Sales.



This sale offers some deals such as purchase a cruise at the price of an  Oceanview Suite and receive a Veranda Suite and even seven day Mediterranean cruises for as low as $2,499 + tax per person.

Below are only some of the offerings.  But when looking at the prices, remember that Goldring Travel will provide you with even better prices and on certain sailings added amenities such as onboard credits or shore excursions.

The Seabourn Odyssey and Sojourn have suites on sale on many sailings from late August through October including an October Black Sea cruise starting at $2,499 + tax per person, a Veranda Upgrade on its August 22, 2015 sailing for 11 nights starting at only $4,499 + tax.

The Seabourn Quest's beautiful Montreal to/from Boston sailings are now being offered at prices as low as $5,499 + tax per person with a Veranda Uprade.

South America...even the November 29, 2015 Antarctica sailing...have some attractive prices. How about Antarctica in a Veranda Suite for only $10,999 + tax.

Interested in an Asia cruise?  There are a few included as well.

Seabourn has even include a limited number of Caribbean sailings.  And if you want to sail Seabourn in the Caribbean now is the time to do it, because it won't be until 2017 that Seabourn will return to the area!

Interested in a Seabourn Cruise? Call me:

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

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Crystal Cruises Announces Three Ships (including Residences), River Cruises, a Yacht and Boeing 787 Journeys

Crystal Cruises' new owners have announced some pretty exciting and extraordinary plans!  And, to be sure, it sounds like they have a lot of money and are attempting to fill the wishlist of yacht charterers, owners of The World cruise ship and wealthy retirees, luxury cruisers and expedition lovers all while also maintaining the traditional Crystal guest.

It is a very complicated scenario that will require much more than a wealthy owner, and it is going to be wild ride, but let's see where it takes us!

Crystal Cruises's new 100,000+ ton, 1,000 guest luxury cruise ship.
The first of three is expected to be delivered Late 2018
The first part of Crystal's announcement are three (3) 100,000+ gross ton ships that will carry 1,000 guests with 1,000 cruise in an all-suite configuration (standard suites being a very large 400 square feet) with a few extra amenities including eight foot high ceilings and polar-classed hulls (so visits to the Antarctic and Arctic are possible).

The top deck will be reserved for 60 Residences (ranging from 600 to 4,000 square feet)...with,of course, their own private restaurant.  For me this is a far more exciting luxury proposition than, say, Regent Seven Seas' concept of dedicating a relatively huge amount of space for a few luxury suites in the traditional cruise market as its way to claim bragging rights to an otherwise relatively ordinary higher end cruise product.  (For perspective, the Crystal ships will have 1,000 guests spread throughout 100,000 tons of space while Regent Seven Seas Explorer will have 750 guests "crammed" into 54,000 ton of space...or 25% less per guest.)

But before you get too excited, you will have to wait until late 2018 for the first ship to be delivered which means it will probably be late 2019 - over fours years from now - at the earliest that all three ships are sailing the seas.

Crystal Cruises' Crystal Esprit 62 Passenger Yacht
with two person submarine and zodiacs
The second part is Crystal's entry into the sort of yacht charter market in November 2015 through the transfer of a yacht already owned by Gentling HK.  The Crystal Esprit is a 3,300 ton yacht that carries 62 guests and will include some interesting features such as a two man submarine, four ten person zodiacs and a Wider tender as well as kayaking, scuba, snorkeling, water skiing, wake boarding and fishing equipment.


For size perspective, this yacht is 50% larger than SeaDream Yacht Club's two yachts and will carry 40% less guests.  I do not know the pricing yet, so I am not sure how to compare the two...if comparing more than size is even appropriate.)


Crystal Esprit - The Patio restaurant

 The interesting thing here, for me at least, is that Genting just purchased a yacht building company and has a very significant interest in the submarine company (U-Boat Worx) that is supplying the vessel and Wider Yachts that is supplying the tender.  With a floundering superyacht market  Genting is leveraging its positions in the yacht and submersible market to possibly offload some inventory (as it the yacht will be operational later this year) while boosting Crystal's overall position in the luxury travel market by giving it something fresh while everyone waits for three and one half years for the first of its new ships to arrive.
Crystal Espirt - The Cove lounge
The yacht bookings are going to range in length from as short as 4 days, but will generally be 7 day cruises booked in the typical cruise ship fashion.  Itineraries for 2015-2017 include:
  • Seychelles Islands – Mahé, Victoria; St. Anne Island, La Passe, la Digue; Baie Ste. Anne, Praslin; Laraie Bay, Curieuse Island; Anse Saint Jose, Curieuse Island; Cousin Island; Aride; Big Sister Island; and Desroches Island) ·
  • Dubai  - Khasab and Muscat, Oman; Doha, Qatar; Sir Bani Yas Island and Abu Dhabi, UAB) ·
  • Venice, Italy/Dubrovnik, Croatia - Rovinj, Sibenik, Trogir, Vis, Hvar, and Korcula, Croatia ·
  • Dubrovnik, Croatia/Venice, Italy - Kotor, Montenegro; Split, Zadar, and Opatija, Croatia; and Piran, Slovenia ·
  • Dubrovnik, Croatia/ Athens, Greece - Kotor, Montenegro; Corfu, Parga, Itea, Hydra, and Navplion, Greece) 
Crystal Esprit - Yacht Club Restaurant
The third part of Crystal Cruises' plan is to enter into the already crowded river cruise market in Spring 2017.  Crystal has released very little information about their new ships other than they will be all-suite.  While I am confident Crystal will provide a great product, I am concerned that there will be even more over-saturation of the rivers caused in great part by Viking River Cruises (whose ships definitely cannot compare to what Crystal Cruises will offer.)


The final part is Crystal (dare I say Cruises) - actually is it named Crystal Luxury Air - chartering a 60 passenger all business-class 787 offering four approximately 28 day itineraries with stays in 10 to 12 locations (a combination of remote and highly desired) staying at luxury resorts and hotels with cuisine and events appropriate for each destination.  I know the person who is in charge of this product and I have no doubt that it will provide an extraordinary experience for those looking for an extended journey without stepping foot on a ship.

Interested in a Crystal Cruise? Call me:

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

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Windstar Cruises - Going "All Inclusive" in Tahiti, Caribbean, Costa Rica & Panama -For a Limited Time


Windstar Cruises has put together some very impressive packages to go along with its premium product with prices starting as low as $2,499 per person (double occupancy) + taxes.


From today through September 18, 2015 if you book your Windstar cruise to Tahiti, the Caribbean, Costa Rica or Panama you will receive..in addition to the already enjoyable Windstar experience:

  • Beverages (alcoholic and not) throughout the ship and in your stateroom or suite, including select "top shelf" brands and wines normally priced at up to $12 per glass.
  • Unlimited Wi-Fi where available
  • Three Shore Excursions PLUS the Windstar Private Event
  • Gratuities
This offer is available on all of its ships, including the all-suite power yachts, the Star Breeze, Star Legend and Star Pride (formerly the Yachts of Seabourn) that have undergone some pretty spectacular renovations and redesigns.  You can read and see how Windstar's power yachts look by reading my articles by clicking here. (And if you scroll down further, you can see the Windstar Wind Surf sailing yacht as well.)

Of course there are some limitations and the sailings are for the remainder of 2015 and some through March 2016.


So if you are looking for a getaway that is a wonderful small ship experience...or even simply dreamed about what it would be like sailing on one of the former Seabourn yachts...and doing it at an fantastic price, this could be perfect for you.



Interested in a Windstar Cruise? Call me:

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

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Scenic River Cruises - A True Luxury River Cruise

Over the past few years there has been a significant increase in interest in river cruises in Europe.  I have to admit that much of it has arisen out of a huge marketing effort by Viking River Cruises, and while I have much to say on that topic, just as with traditional ocean cruising there is a huge difference between the more mass market brands, such as Viking, and the premium brands, such as AmaWaterways, and a relatively new category:  Luxury River Cruises.

Scenic Gem
Sails through France with only 128 Guests
Scenic Cruises is, in my opinion,  a true luxury river cruise brand.  Based in Australia, this company has recently spun off its river cruises from its Scenic Tour operations and is making a real effort to establish itself independently and as an international brand.  I am pretty excited about it, as I have been booking quite a few of my luxury travel clients on Scenic Cruises since its North American operation was essentially one person sitting in an office in New Jersey!

The comparison of river cruise lines to ocean cruise lines that I give to my clients is this:  Scenic is to Seabourn as Viking is to Carnival.  Yes, the differences are that significant.  But, alas, they do come with a price tag.

Scenic Jasper
The newest of the Scenic river ships


In typical Scenic Cruises fashion, it has produced two videos that really explain its experience in a way far more effectively than one can write about it.

The first is a general explanation of the Scenic Experience and ships:


The second is about its Free Choice included shore experiences:




If you are looking for that luxury river cruise experience with a wonderful dining experience (special orders, unlike most river cruise experiences, are not a problem!) and the freedom to enjoy independent or small group exploration with the assistance of the ship (rather than impersonal Viking group tour with 50 people) Scenic Cruises may be perfect for you.

Interested in a Scenic River Cruise?  Call me:

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, July 10, 2015

Cruise Line "Food & Wine" Cruises: Do They Offer True "Culinary Cruise" Experiences

I'm not going to lie.  I'm a bit disturbed.

For many years Goldring Travel has held a "Food & Wine" cruise on Seabourn (I have also held one on an AmaWaterways river cruise).  Last year Seabourn decided it would operate a couple of "Food & Wine" cruises.  It told me in advance and assured me it was not copying my formula and that my events are much different and offer opportunities that  Seabourn (or any other cruise line) just couldn't.  So while I wasn't thrilled with the "competition" I carried on...and even booked some of my clients on the Seabourn's Food & Wine cruises.

Last month, in advance of my annual cruise I advised Seabourn I was changing the name to the Goldring Travel "Culinary & Cultural Cruise" to differentiate as what I offer as truly so much more than what Seabourn does (and other cruise lines do) on its "Food & Wine" cruises...and so my articles each referenced the "Goldring Travel Culinary & Cultural (formerly Food & Wine) Cruise".  I even mentioned that that I might trademark it. (The 2016 Goldring Travel Culinary & Cultural Cruise sails on August 4, 2016 on the Seabourn Quest through the British Isles and Ireland.)


A  Incredible Georg Breuer Riesling Tasting in Rudesheim, Germany 
So I wrote my articles (and you know the folks at Seabourn have read all of them).  Then I received email from Seabourn.  I was shocked (and miffed) to see Seabourn was now referring to its 2016 food and wine cruise as a "Culinary Cruise".

Coincidence?  Me thinks not...and in this case imitation is not the finest form of flattery.  (I mean Seabourn didn't change its Seabourn Conversations program to "Seabourn Cultural" did it?)

And from this I decided I need to explain the difference between what is now being a very overused and offered term "Food & Wine Cruise" and a true "Culinary & Cultural Cruise".

A Goldring Travel Small Group Wine Tasting
of Venetian area wines...in Venice, Italy
Why does it matter? Because discerning and foodie clients want to know what the experience is they are going to receive as opposed to what they perceive from the marketing.

As an example, two days ago (ironically the day I received that email) I had a long conversation with a regular Seabourn guest about Seabourn's January 3, 2016 "Food & Wine Cruise" sailing for 14 days on the Seabourn Sojourn from Hong Kong to Singapore. They were all excited about the marketed culinary adventure the pitch implied they would be having.  But I knew these guests were real "foodies" and needed to moderate their expectations because - as we all know - there can be a big difference between the puffery of marketing and the reality of what is provided.  (By the way, they did book the cruise but with appropriate expectations.)

As another regular Seabourn guest and I joust about, there is a difference between "cruising" and "travel".  So too is there a difference between "Food & Wine" cruise and a true "Culinary" cruise experience.

Before I walk you through the latest Seabourn offering, as an example, one must remember that some people simply want "a Taste" or "The Show" or are not terribly interested in, or appreciative of, a more in depth experience.  For those guests a cruise line Food & Wine cruise may be perfect.  But if you are a true "foodie" it may spell disappointment.

What is The Difference?

I preface this by saying that I am friends with a number of the present and past Seabourn chefs.  and those chefs have done some pretty incredible things while onboard the Seabourn ships, both for my small Culinary groups and also for the ship as a whole.  What I am about to write is not a criticism of them, but an explanation of what they have to consider as well as two simple facts:  most Western chefs are not well trained in preparing the extremely wide variety of Asian cuisines; and, the chefs are not supplied with the some of the equipment and ingredients they would need (like open flames and seasoned woks) or ambiance or layers of complimentary and contrasting dishes to create truly "authentic" culinary experiences.

Toning Down Flavors, Textures

Seabourn needs to offer food that its guests will actually eat!  Most guests are not going to be truly familiar with, in this instance, actual local Asian cuisine, but rather Western interpretations of it. Since much of this regional cuisine includes foods that are totally foreign to the Western palate, use spices that are considered curious and exotic, ingredients that have unfamiliar textures (gooey, chewy or cartilagey) and/or chilies cause you to break out in a serious sweat before it can be called "the real thing". the chefs are faced with an obvious dilemma.

Complicating this "toning down", Seabourn, and all of the cruise lines, also have to balance what is offered so that the palates of many different nationalities and regions within those nations are happy. For example the palate of someone from New York will probably be significantly different from those from South Carolina, Norway and Australia.  As such, whatever is offered necessarily will be modified as far as ingredients, spices and heat goes.

Getting your culinary juices flowing or grossing you out (I'm the former!)
a truly authentic Chinese Market Lunch is an experience
you will never forget!
For example, Seabourn talks about its Chinese Market Lunch.  What I experienced in actual Chinese Markets during my recent visit to Taiwan is a far cry from what one will experience during Seabourn's.  I am pretty sure stinky tofu, soup dumplings, duck heads, spicy beef noodle soup, Gua Boa, etc. etc. won't be served or will be toned down.  And then there are going to be the expectations by some guests for "American" Chinese offerings.  (Goldring Travel will be doing an Asian Culinary & Cultural Cruise, possibly in 2017, and you can be assured your senses and palate will be challenged...but you will come away with a far better understanding of the Culture and the how and why the local people eat what they do.)

Seabourn is also going to have Vietnamese Pho Bar at the Patio Grill.  Pho is the national dish of Vietnam, and it is more than just a soup.  While having it available at the Patio Grill that most certainly limits the number that can experience one of my favorite dishes, pho requires a specific noodle and is usually served with offal, lots of fresh herbs and a spicy sauce added.  Without all of the ingredients and "driving instructions" as to not only put it together but how to eat it (slurping and sweating is required!) and some of that stuff is not going to be allowed on the ship due to US health codes (not Seabourn's fault).

Vietnamese Pho - Hanoi, Vietnam
It may not look like it but if you peer in closely
you will see over 20 ingredients in this authentic pho
With Goldring Travel's small groups and careful planning, those flavors being very strong, the ingredients being foreign to your senses or palate, and (at least to me) most importantly the cultural aspects and the stories while enjoying the culinary adventures mean so much more.

The Missing Cultural Element That Helps Make Things Taste Better.

Speaking of the Cultural part of the culinary experience, soup is soup (three types of Asian soups are shown right here), but they have no real reason to be burned into your memory without a story behind them.

Sure, at some point, Seabourn will bring on some local "folkloric" shows and, to be sure, they will probably be quite entertaining, but what they cannot do is put you and 400 other guests into that little shop where English was not spoken, only one thing was sold and where a young girl that spoke just enough English to help me figure out what I was eating and how to eat it...and learn her name, Zinnia, was a flower

This just looks like soup...until you read the story behind it...
or that other shop walking distance away where a smiling, but tough, woman told me to sit down, prepared this amazing soup that was so full of flavor and heat that had me sweating so much, but I couldn't stop eating it....so she put a fan on over my head...laughing at me..I loved it!

and this beef soup too; which could be the best soup I've ever eaten.
Did you know there are two distinct styles of beef noodle soup in Taiwan
and that it is a very important dish?
Hualien, Taiwan
Goldring Travel offers many unique experiences that simply cannot be duplicated by cruise lines because true enriching culinary events cannot be created for 450 or more guests. It simply is impossible.  Just last month, by way of example, I held two private events for my guests in Flam and Svolvaer, Norway providing both true local culinary experiences tied in with the culture from which these foods and flavors arose.

Small, Personal and Unique Culinary locations.
This is the Aegir Brewery in Flam, Norway.  
Reindeer with local blueberry mouse, Wild Boar, Wild Salmon,
Mussels, Prawns and more
Paired with Five Different Local Beers... Plus Two Aquavits
in a unique Norwegian setting with a fabulous local "guide"



Stockfish, Arctic Char, Wild Salmon, local Lamb, local Cloudberries and more
pared with Bollinger champagne and a Chassagne Montrachet
in a ancient restaurant that is part of the old fishing village
in Svolvaer, Norrway
where we were also guided through an art gallery
filled with local historical paintings 
Table for Eight?  Why of course!
Other Goldring Travel Culinary and Cultural events include such things as Wine Tastings of Chateau Margaux wines...at Chateau Margaux






Tokay wine tastings, including the rarest of the Tokay wines...near Tokay in Budapest, Hungary 

A Goldring Travel Small Group Wine Tasting
of some of the world's finest Tokay wines 

Sustainable Seafood Tastings at the New England Aquarium, in a room filled with jellyfish tanks after having behind-the-scenes tours, hosted by a marine biologist explaining what sustainable seafood really is

A Hands On Experience - Learning how to shuck 
and, of course, actually harvesting sturgeon eggs and  making caviar with the supplier of Seabourn's caviar...while having caviar served eight ways followed by a wine-paired lunch in Montevideo, Uruguay.
A special experience, even for a Seabourn chef:
Harvesting sturgeon eggs to make caviar
in Montevideo, Uruguay
Seabourn talks of having a "regional teatime ritual".  My guess is that it will not be like this green tea tasting:


with a tea master (who will not let his picture be taken, for publicity is not what he wants) explaining in detail each step and why it is taken using authentic implements.  Seabourn's will, of course, be an interesting "food & wine" event, but probably not an authentic "Culinary" or "Cultural" one.

There is no question that Seabourn creates many memorable experiences and its food is top notch, but truly memorable "Culinary" experiences like these, which provide that authentic local experience, for 450 guests is more than a challenge...it is impossible.  (And, as you know, the Seabourn chefs have done some pretty incredible culinary events for Goldring Travel's elite group, but those cannot be duplicated - even by Seabourn - for a "Food & Wine" cruise.)

 A Private Intimate Culinary Experience created by the Seabourn Chefs
for a Goldring Travel group on a Spa Penthouse balcony
overlooking the fjords of Olden, Norway
An Elegant Private Food & Wine Tasting
created by the Seabourn Chefs and Sommelier
for a Goldring Travel group.


An incredible Scandinavian cheese tasting created by the Seabourn Chefs
for a Goldring Travel group.
Local, Celebrity and Seabourn Chefs 

I understand the concept of bringing the local flavors onto the ships, but while Seabourn boasts "Local chefs will feature authentic dining experiences in the Colonnade throughout the cruise" and that Celebrity Chefs will have noted menu items, I'm fairly confident those local and celebrity chefs aren't actually preparing meals for hundreds of guests and, as noted above, the concept of their presence validating "authentic dining experiences" just isn't going to happen. I also believe that, somehow, the Seabourn chefs are going actually be creating much of the offerings (and they are that talented).

Will the menu be creative and unique from the standard Seabourn offerings?  Of course.  But as noted above, many of the dishes will be modified and, to be sure, dining in the Colonnade will provide you with anything but the marketed "authentic dining experience".  It may be enough for you, and if it is, enjoy!

To be sure Celebrity chefs doing cooking demonstrations (with a taste most certainly being served) is fun...and it is a "food & wine" event rather than a true "culinary" experience.  To be sure, there is nothing wrong with a bit of star-struck fun!

However, Goldring Travel once brought a James Beard Award winning chef along on one of its Culinary cruises and he actually cooked for the group while the Seabourn Spirit sailed the Mediterranean. On another occasion, I brought the Goldring Travel small group to a Turkish chef in a little town outside of Kusadasi where she prepared a number of traditional dishes as we stood in her kitchen and then enjoyed all of them sitting in the garden just outside.

And Shopping with the Seabourn Chef is fun.  But there is a big difference when there are 20+ of you (and how many times are you going to be able do it during a cruise) versus wandering with or without the chef as a small group tasting lots of things in different markets and being able to really interact with the chef rather than just listen to him from third row.  Remember my comments about the Chinese Market?!

Should You Enjoy the 2016 Goldring Travel Culinary & Cultural Cruise
or 
the Seabourn Food & Wine Cruise
or Both?

The answer to which cruise you should take really depends on what your desires are and what you expect from the cruise.

The 2016 Goldring Travel Culinary & Cultural Cruise sails on the Seabourn Quest on August 4, 2016 through the British Isles and Ireland and the 2016 Seabourn Food & Wine Cruise sails on the Seabourn Sojourn (an identical ship) through Southeast Asia on January 3, 2016.

Do you want to sail in the summer or winter?
Do you want to explore Southeast Asia or the British Isles and Ireland?
Do you want to have a true "Culinary & Cultural" immersive experience or a cruise line "Food & Wine" one?
Do you want to fly to Asia or England?
Does the cost of the cruise combined with the cost of airfare fit within your travel budget?

The reality of it is, you can't go wrong.  It is, of course:  Seabourn!

Interested in a Seabourn "Culinary & Cultural" or "Food & Wine" Cruise? Call me:

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

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises - The Differences Are Fewer and Fewer. Is "OLife Advantage" A Good Thing?

Oceania Cruises has just announced "The OLife Advantage" program provides 2-for-1 pricing, "free airfare", pre-paid gratuities and "complimentary" shore excursions and unlimited internet, for all spring, summer and fall 2016 voyages in Europe, Alaska and Canada/New England for those booking a veranda or better by September 30, 2015.

This may be a good deal (and considering what Oceania generally charges for it add-ons is quite high) the issue I see is not with the promotion.  In fact, I believe Oceania provides a better overall product and cruise experience then its sister cruise line Regent Seven Seas.  This promotion gives us the opportunity to compare apples to apples.

But before I get to that I need to address the issue I see with its words in the press release saying one thing and its marketing saying something else...And that something else is the same troublesome wording that its sister company, Regent Seven Seas Cruises uses:  "Free".


You have read more than once about my disdain for Regent Seven Seas's deceptively marketing "included" amenities as being "free"...because they are not "free":  YOU ARE PAYING FOR THEM....WHETHER YOU USE THEM OR NOT!  You can read my article, "Selling a Regent Seven Seas Cruise: Do Travel Agents Have Any Liability to Their Clients?"

Further, since Oceania and Regent Seven Seas have become sister companies I have been closely watching what I call the Oceanification of Regent Seven Seas. In fact, back in 2012 I wrote "Oceania Cruises New, Creative, All-Inclusive Approach (The Oceania-fication of Regent Seven Seas Cruise Line - Another Chapter)".  And this promotion seems eerily close to this happening as it applies to almost all of Oceania's cruises.

It is with this background that I analyze Oceania's OLife Advantage to see if it is, in fact, an "Advantage".  Let's take it step by step:

  • 2-for-1 Pricing - This is just a marketing ploy.  It is, to your pocketbook, meaningless.  These cruises have never been sold...and never will be sold...at full price and have, in no uncertain terms, been given full prices sufficiently high to support this actually non-discounted fare.  NOTE:  This is not unique to Oceania.  Many cruise lines use the same problematic marketing. The problem is that it works!  Customers believe they are getting some great deal on the cruise fare when, in fact, they are just paying what they would normally be paying.  (Sometimes the price may change to 50% off or even 40% off but with other amenities are added.  Regardless, it comes out to pretty much the exact same price for you.)
  • Free Airfare - There is no such thing as "free" airfare.  The simplest way to prove this is to not take the "free" air.  Do you know what happens?  You get a credit for not taking it. Free would be worth nothing, right?  Regardless, dependent on your departure city and whether you don't mind probably taking early morning or late night flights, probably with long layover connections, and no choice of flights this may be good. (By the way, if there is a layover and it is overnight, you have to pay for an overnight accommodation!) Of course for a fee and an additional charge you can have the flights you actually want.
  • Free Shore Excursions - If you are the type of person that likes the standard cruise ship tours this can be a good deal and a real money saver over Oceania's regular prices.  However, if you prefer tours without 50 people on a bus and 200+ people going to the same place at the same time, you have two options:  Pay for premium tours or just don't use the tour at all.  You do not - as you do with the "free airfare" - get a credit for tours not taken.
  • Free Pre-Paid Gratuities - Oceania has quite high rates for gratuities so this is a good thing.  As of today, the rate is $15 per person per day for staterooms and $22 for suites (in the Fall 2015 it rises to $16 and $23 per person per day).  On a 10 day cruise that amounts to $300 to $440 for a party of two.  (I always include that with the cruise fare when calculating the best deal.)  
  • Free Internet - This is also a high mark up item for those that are not part of Oceania's loyalty program.  Oceania is better than most cruise lines when it comes to providing free internet, but you want to be sure that is actually of value to you.  I have clients that "turn off" once they board the ship, but others want to check emails every few days, while others - like me- really want and need full time access. So, in the end, this may or may not be of value to you.
You might want to compare this to Celebrity Cruises new "Go Big. Go Better.  Go Best." cruise pricing where you are knowingly paying for the amenities you desire and will actually use.

Now here is an exercise I would love you to consider:  Compare Oceania's pricing with its "free", "free", "free" to Regent Seven Seas pricing for a similar cruise.  What you are undoubtedly going to find is that Oceania is a far better deal...and, if all of the reports I receive are true (and they are very consistent), Oceania provides a better overall product and cruise experience then Regent Seven Seas.  (The only difference is having all your drinks included...and that can be a significant variable to consider.)

Interested in an Oceania?  Call me:

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, July 3, 2015

Celebrity Cruises Gets It Right Again! - "Go Big. Go Better. Go Best!"

I have long said that Celebrity Cruises provides the best value in the cruise industry; especially if you sail on one of its Solstice-class ships.  Celebrity's latest move, a truly exceptional pricing structure, puts it yet another notch above the rest.



Recently Celebrity has run a number of "1,2,3 Go!" promotions which, depending on which cruise you take and in what category you would receive your choice of a Classic (Alcoholic) Beverage Package, Pre-Paid Gratuities and/or an Onboard Credit of up to $300.  Essentially the higher the category and longer or more expensive the cruise you could receive 1, 2 or all 3 of these amenities.

Celebrity Silhouette
Well, now with its "Go Big. Go Better.  Go Best!" pricing structure (no, it is not a promotion, but a new way of structuring your cruise fare!)  Celebrity has taken the concept to a wonderful new place where you pay for what you want..in advance.  No games.  No deceptive marketing.  No claims of "Free.  Free.  Free" when nothing is actually free (ala Regent Seven Seas).

It is, for the consumer, very simple.  There are four (4) amenities:
  • Classic (Alcoholic) Beverage Package - All standard bar drinks and specific beers and wines are included in your cruise fare
  • Prepaid Gratuities
  • Unlimited Internet
  • Onboard Credit (which varies by sailing, with longer and more expensive sailings having higher OBCs)
If you book an Oceanview stateroom or higher you will have three cruise fare rates to choose from:
  1. Go Big - You choose one of the amenities
  2. Go Better - You choose two of the amenities
  3. Go Best - You get all four amenities...and the Classic Beverage Package is upgrade to a Premium Beverage Package
Note:  If there is a third and/or fourth guest in a stateroom they each will receive a Classic (Non-Alcoholic) Beverage Package plus 40 minutes of Internet.

(There are just a few exceptions:  If you book an Inside stateroom you will not receive any of the amenities.  It does not apply to any repositioning or transoceanic, South American repositioning or Xpedition sailings.)

This pricing structure (remember it is not a promotion to be asked for, but a number of fares to choose from) allows you to pay for what you want in advance and not pay for things you won't really use.
  • Need to stay connected, but don't drink - Gottcha!
  • Want to party and disconnect from the world? - Gottcha!
  • Don't want to keep pulling out your card, but you don't really drink much? - Gottcha too!
  • Looking for a more luxury-like inclusive experience - Gottcha as well!
While not part of this pricing structure, on Regent Seven Seas - which inaccurately markets itself as having less expensive suite experiences than Celebrity - you fare includes things like "free" tours that you are actually paying for and probably do not want and either don't take or upgrade from at high prices...so I am glad Celebrity hasn't packed its fare structures with things that really aren't of great value.

On the other hand, I do need to mention that on Cruise Critic (where else?) the spin by some has been that this new pricing structure is a bad thing because you cannot book a stateroom without an amenity.  Huh? Unless you plan on stiffing the staff of their gratuities (and they most certainly earn them!), take the prepaid gratuities and be done with it.  Want to compare pricing before the new fare structure and after?  I can pretty much assure you that the prices will be a bit higher because you are paying for the amenities and, of course, if you booked your cruise six months ago you pricing would probably be lower anyway.

Speaking of Luxury Cruising, if you add Celebrity's new pricing structure to its wonderful suites (I, personally, love the Solstice-Class S1 Suites overlooking the ship's wash with their large balconies, tons of light and exceptional amount of space).  And when you book any suite you have exclusive access to a Suite-Only Restaurant (rather than the main dining room).  Combine that with some truly innovative specialty dining venues and, of course, Murano - one of my favorite luxury restaurants at sea.

Celebrity Cruises Murano Restaurant
Not so sure Celebrity can provide a luxury experience?  I have had many luxury cruising clients...even a number of Seabourn clients...sail on Celebrity and almost without exception they loved it. (Full disclosure:  The only luxury guest that didn't get wow'd chose not to follow my advice on some nuances that matter!)

Celebrity Cruises got it right...again!

Interested in a Celebrity Cruise?  Call me:

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, July 2, 2015

Silversea Cruises Announces Its New Ship: Silver Muse (I Love The Name!)

I am really excited to announce that Silversea Cruises has finally inked the deal for its new ship: Silver Muse.  It will be arriving in the Spring of 2017.


The first thing that I like is the name.  It is creative and playful.  After so many boring and repetitive names, Silver Muse provides a bit of freshness.

This is a 40,000 gross ton, 596 passenger luxury cruise ship that promises to be an "evolution" of the Silver Spirt...which is not one of (in my opinion) the best designed ships.  But the aspects that I don't like should be easily fixed in this new build.

To put the size in perspective, the Silver Muse will be more than 10 percent larger than the Silver Spirit (which is only 36,000 gross tons and carries 540 guests) while carrying about 10 percent more guests.

By comparison, Regent Seven Seas new ship, the Regent Explorer, is 54,000 gross tons and will carry 750 guests...but much of the additional space being eaten up by the massive promotional suite and other non-public areas; rendering it a bit more crowded for the 25% more guests Regent Seven Seas Explorer will hold.  More on a par is the new Seabourn Encore at 40,560 gross tons and carrying 604 guests; almost an identical ratio.

While Silversea has not provided much of any detail about the new ship, which is not unusual, that I did find interesting was a comment by Enzo Visone, Silversea's CEO:
This ship contributes to our ambitious growth plans that will ensure our continued leadership in ultra-luxury cruising
I have been following closely Silverseas strong expansion into the Expedition cruise market (and, admittedly, have been a bit dilatory in discussing same...but that will soon be remedied!), but I have not until now heard about an "ambitious growth plans" as it relates to Silversea's classic fleet or its operations overall.

It leaves me wondering as to if the previously assumed departure of the Silver Cloud upon the arrival of the new ship is no longer on the table.

Interested in a Silversea cruise?  Give me a call at (877) 2-GO-LUXURY or email me at eric@goldringtravel.com.