Friday, October 23, 2015

Seabourn Is Going to Alaska in 2017!!!!

Later today Seabourn will be releasing the Seabourn Sojourn's 2017 Alaska itineraries. As an expert on Seabourn and Alaska Goldring Travel is the perfect travel consultant to not only get your information from, but to book your vacation with.  (All of the photos are taken by me...and I can share hundreds more with you.  I love Alaska!!!)

Allow me to explain the difference with a Seabourn experience and, of course, Alaska.

Bookings for Seabourn's Alaska are now open!!!!
The Seabourn Sojourn will sail from Vancouver, British Columbia and Seward, Alaska on 11, 12 and 14 day cruises.  Here is a typical 11 day itinerary:
  • Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  • Cruising Seymour Narrows
  • Cruising Queen Charlotte Sound
  • Ketchichan, Alaska
  • Rudyerd Bay (Misty Fjords) and Rehm Narrows
  • Wrangell, Alaska and Cruising Sunmer Strait
  • Cruising Decision Passage
  • Sitka, Alaska
  • Cruising Tracy Arm and Endicot
  • Haines, Alaska
  • Juneau, Alaska
  • Icy Strait Point, Alaska
  • Sea Day
  • Seward, Alaska
Incredible Views...
But don't expect this much ice in the water if you cruise in  July or August!
Your cruise will include (in addition to the "normal" fantastic Seabourn service, cuisine and amenities):
  • Optional Ventures by Seabourn excursions using both zodiacs and kayaks
  • Guidance from our onboard Expeditions Team 
  • Complimentary Seabourn All-Weather Jackets 
  • Inspiring Seabourn Conversations with special onboard guest speakers 
  • "Caviar on the Ice" deck party and other special deck events
Add a beautiful train to or from Anchorage to Seward. 
The beauty of an Alaska cruise is that it can be as active as you wish (hiking through rain forests, fishing for salmon, ziplining, kayaking and more) or as sedate and peaceful as possible (beautiful train rides, whale watching, sipping champagne as you slowly cruise through awesome fjords).

Of course Seabourn will be utilizing all of the freshest seafood and produce.  So, unlike other lines, you can be sure you will enjoy actual, true, fresh Alaskan salmon (trust me I have seen some other lines try to pawn off farmed salmon as being the real deal...and you can see and taste the difference),crab and more.  And, of course, no matter what the ingredients are, the dishes will meet the exacting specifications of world-renowned American chef and restaurateur Thomas Keller. 

Bald Eagle in a rain forest
Alaska is a fantastic destination, which I have enjoyed twice (once on Regent Seven Seas and once on Silversea).  I am so looking forward to experiencing it a third time...with Seabourn.  The addition of the Expedition Team's naturalists, zodiacs and kayaks will most certainly add many layers of additional experiences...just like they did during the 2015 Goldring Travel Culinary & Cultural Cruise through the Norwegian fjords. (You can see one of our experiences in Norway here).

Want more than zodiacs, kayaks and hikes?
How about ziplining in Sitka, Alaska!
Of course there is more to Alaska than what you see from the ship or a shore excursion.  You can - and I highly recommend - you spend some time in the northern parts of Alaska including Denali or Kenai. 
Bear tracks
And, of course, if you are ending your cruise in Vancouver, you can take a beautiful train ride and spend some time in Seattle.

There is no place like Seabourn's hometown:  Seattle
If you are interested in cruising Alaska and doing it with Seabourn, why not reserve your vacation with a travel agent that is an expert on both?  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, October 15, 2015

Oceania Cruises - Yet Another Way To Improperly (And Maybe Unlawfully) Put Its Hand Into Your Pocket

I have always had problems with how Oceania Cruises (and its sister brand, Regent Seven Seas Cruises) has done business.  This time it is more than some of the more slick marketing practices that result in you paying more for your cruise than you should be as they convince you that you are getting a bargain (by, for example, telling you things are "free" when you are actually paying for them...and paying more than you would on pretty much any other cruise line).  This one is more serious.
Sometimes things happen and you have to cancel a cruise after final payment.  It is unfortunate and disappointing.  But when it happens those penalties kick in...and they do apply.  [Before you ask, this is not an issue that is resolved by the purchase of travel insurance.]  The issue here is how is Oceania applying them because it appears to me that what it is doing may well be illegal.


I have a client that needed to cancel their Oceania cruise when there was a fifty (50%) penalty. The math should be very easy.  But this is where Oceania Cruises is just "slick" or worse.  When calculating the "full fare" Oceania Cruises uses two (2) different formula (or, shall we say, definitions of "full fare") dependent on whether you are cancelling at a 100% penalty rate or something lower.  Huh?

Let's backup for a moment so this madness (and I am being kind) can make some sense.

Oceania's website states, "Cruise-related government fees and taxes are included"; clearly acknowledging that those dollars you paid over to Oceania Cruises towards governmental fees and taxes are not Oceania's money...ever...but are merely collected by Oceania Cruises to be paid to the various governments for each actual passenger visiting its port on that particular cruise.  We are talking collected taxes here for which Oceania is merely the legal safeguarder. 

Oceania Cruises is not, and never will be, the owner of those tax dollars.  It is similar to putting money into a trust account and it can only be used for its intended purpose. That is why if you ever skip a port (due to weather or otherwise) you will find a credit on your onboard account refunding the taxes and fees for that port back to you.

This is how Oceania rips you off and may well be acting unlawfully:
If you cancel at a 100% of the "full fare" penalty rate Oceania returns all of the governmental fees and taxes, but none of your cruise fare.
If you cancel your cruise at anything less than 100% Oceania only returns only a portion of the governmental taxes and fees along with remaining (unpenalized) cruise fare...but it tells you that it is properly keeping only a percentage of the "full fare".
You could say that Oceania is using two different definitions of "full fare" or you could say that Oceania is intentionally deceiving you into believing it can properly convert 50% of the taxes you paid into its own money...violating that trust.  I believe it is undeniably the latter.

Let me give you an example:

A couple books their cruise and each passenger (I can't call them guests on Oceania, that's for sure) has a cruise fare (after all discounts, credits, and whatever else Oceania markets) of $11,649.00, of which $355.00 are specifically designated as "Gov't Fees and Taxes" (which, by the way and logically, Oceania specifically does not pay commissions on...because it is not their money or part of the cruise fare).  They cancel when a 50% penalty applies.  The math would seem simple:

$11,649 - $355 = $11,294 x 50% penalty = $5,647 penalty. 

So the guest would receive a refund of 

$11,649 - $5,647 = $6,002 per person, or $12,002. Right?  

WRONG.  Oceania only uses that formula ONLY if there is a 100% penalty of the "full fare" because it knows that it cannot keep the taxes and fees it collected...and apparently it hasn't been successful in finding a way to hide those entrusted funds from the governmental agencies, the regulators or the passengers.

When the penalty is less than 100% Oceania Cruises redefines "full fare" and pockets the taxes rather than refunding them, so in this 50% penalty example Oceania calculates the refund differently:

$11,649 x 2 = $23,298 x 50% penalty = $11,649.  

So passengers that do not know they are to get the taxes they paid refunded it makes sense and to the uneducated it seems to be proper since.  However, by redefining "full fare" Oceania Cruises believes it has a literal "Safe Harbor" to convert your tax dollars into its profits.

By the way, Norwegian Cruise Lines does not play this game.  It is far more transparent in its dealings.  It's terms and conditions state "Fares do not include certain taxes, fees, port expenses and charges imposed by governmental or quasigovernmental authorities."  That leads me to believe this is another Frank Del Rio approach that I just have so much trouble with.

I firmly believe this is something the regulators need to scrutinize and you, the cruising public, should be aware of.

To me it is a shame.  Oceania Cruises has some wonderful and unique itineraries.  Its ships are attractive.  Its cuisine is quite good and its service staff work hard to please.

Why wouldn't Oceania Cruises simply want to treat its passengers with respect and fairly? It seems that it isn't about integrity.  It is about short term profits...whether obtained properly or not.

Something to think about when you book your next cruise.

If you want a travel agent that truly looks out for you and makes sure you know what you really need to know, give me a call at (877) 2GO LUXURY or email me at eric@goldringtravel.com.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Crystal Cruises - An Excellent Cruise Option for Both Luxury and Premium Travelers: The Perfect Move-Up and Move Over

I regularly hear...and I mean regularly..."I never thought of Crystal Cruises!" when I make the suggestion.  It is both frustrating and fascinating.  So I thought I would write about "Why?" 

And why now?  There are a few reasons, but mostly I am preparing to join the Crystal Serenity on November 13, 2015 as she sails from Lisbon to Funchal to the Canary Islands to Malaga, Spain to Monaco.  Pretty unique itinerary, isn't it?  But I don't want to get ahead of myself.

I met up with Crystal Cruise's president, Edie Rodriguez, for a private lunch in New York City earlier this week not so much to discuss all the new things happening at Crystal, but to "get personal".  I may love certain types of luxury, but I'm not really big on hype or flash.  I'm all about the people and how they relate to their product. (It tells me a whole lot more than the "most luxurious" mantra.)

Edie and I have never really had the chance to really sit down and talk and the new driving forces at Crystal Cruises decided it was time to remedy that.  We met at Ca Va, the Todd English brasserie in the Intercontinental Hotel near Times Square.  The choice was perfect:  Casually elegant with fantastic cuisine and wonderful service...without any pretense. 

Todd English's Fig Toast
OK, it has nothing to do with this article other than I enjoyed it
while dining with Crystal Cruise's President, Edie Rodriguez,
but it was soooo good I had to include it!
We mostly discussed personal matters, but as we spoke I kept thinking:
Isn't it great that there is a cruise line that is essentially being run by women?  I wonder what changes are going to be made because of the different perspectives that are being brought to the table along with the freedom to implement them?
While I mentioned it, that answer will be determined over time; not a lunch!

One topic we discussed at length is what I thought of Crystal Cruises now. As I have written here before, I think Crystal is a fantastic cruise product with a number of "bests" including:
  • Best Enrichment Program
  • Best Cruise for Mature Singles
  • Best (Asian) Restaurant at Sea
  • Best Cigar Lounge
  • Best Ballroom Dancing
  • Best Volunteer Tourism Program
And Crystal Cruises also excels when it comes to overall cuisine and service.  (I will discuss all of this more during my upcoming cruise.)

Yes, we discussed the new yacht, the Crystal Esprit, and we touched on river cruises, but for me they are possibilities for the future, but what about TODAY?  I mean there are some fantastic cruises still to sail in 2015 and 2016.

And that brought on a bit of discussion about why is it that people don't first think of Crystal Cruises? As I discussed with Edie, I believe it is because it is perceived as "neither fish nor fowl".  

Crystal Cruise's  Silk Road's Nobu Black Cod
For example, if you are wanting a small ship experience a 1,000 passenger ship is expected to be too large and with too many people.  If you want a large ship experience, the Crystal ships give the impression of being too small.  In both instances you would be wrong.  As I will discuss during my cruise, the moderate size of the Crystal ships allows for more venues and diverse activities which not only spread the guests out, but provides more in the way of intimate settings.

Another example is the perception that the Crystal staterooms are too small.   If you are looking to move down from a suite on Seabourn, Silversea or Regent Seven Seas it would be true...but why would you compare accommodations you wouldn't occupy?  If you are looking at lateral move into a Crystal Cruises suite, which is designated as a PH Penthouse (probably confusing because it is is not really a penthouse and should simply be called a "Suite") it aligns perfectly.  (Crystal's PS Penthouse Suite and the very luxurious Crystal Penthouse align with the upper suites on those lines.)

Crystal Serenity's Penthouse - The standard suite
That said, if you are moving up from a premium cruise line such as Celebrity or Oceania the oceanview and veranda staterooms are actually larger and/or filled with amenities that you do not receive on those lines (higher quality furnishings, double vanities, bathtub, upgraded bedding and towels, bath amenities, etc.) in a very inclusive experience.

Yes, on Celebrity Cruises with its new "Big, Better, Best" pricing you can obtain a significantly inclusive experience at a premium over its base rates, but not quite the same...as you will also being extra for premium alcoholic beverages and will need to pay extra for all specialty dining as the main restaurant cuisine quality is not nearly at the same level as Crystal's (and Crystal includes two nights of specialty dining)....while sharing your experience with 2,500+ fellow passengers with a nice, but lower, level of service. 

As for Oceania Cruises, absent a slow sailing with promotions it makes you pay for everything with extraordinarily expensive beverage packages; though its cuisine is quite good (but still not at the level of Crystal outside of its specialty restaurants).  I regularly compare the pricing of a Oceania cruise to a Seabourn or Crystal cruise and regularly find that Oceania to be more expensive and the service levels, again are nice, but not nearly the same.

On my November 13, 2015 Crystal Serenity cruise I am going to have a really hard look at these issues and I hope you follow along.  Let me whet your appetite!

My accommodations will be a standard 406 square feet, including the balcony, suite (a PH Penthouse) which comes with Butler service with cocktails and canapes each evening, a stocked bar and priority reservations along with a jacuzzi tub and separate shower and, among other things, the ability to dine course by course from the main restaurant, Prego (Italian) or Nobu's Silk Road (Asian) restaurant.

Crystal Serenity's Penthouse - Another view
Just by happenstance this is a Crystal Wine & Food Festival with Kevin Zraly, a James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award winner and founder of the Windows on the World Wine School being the wine expert.  (I know Oceania pitches its culinary and wine experiences, but this is the sort of thing that Crystal just, 'er um, "shines" at.)  This is not going to be a simple wine tasting/paring class or a visit to a winery or a pasta/chicken making experience.  When the extraordinary Vintage Room wine tasting dinner ($250 per person) and a Nobu Silk Road dining experience is added a truly memorable oenophile (wine lover) experience is assured.

Crystal Serenity Vintage Room
Clearly Crystal Cruises has much to offer and, to be sure, it is a cruise line that deserves your attention and, with a wide variety of accommodations being available for those many budgets and desires...all with a very inclusive experience...I would urge you to Think of Crystal Cruises.

If you are interested in booking your luxury or experiential holiday, 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.