Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Cruise "Journalism" - Cruise Critic and Skift Articles on Seabourn and Fathom Feed Those Seeking Negativism...Not News

Note:  Immediately after originally posting this article, Dennis Schall, Skift News Editor, chose to engage in an infantile Twitter war with his first response being " nattering nabobs of negativism, not us." and then, " I was just quoting you Spiro Agnew..."  Obviously when a publication immediately goes to infantile name-calling, it speaks volumes as to its credibility.  Read on to what caused Skift's reaction! 

Yesterday I read an article pushed to me on Cruise Critic (one of my least favorite websites as it is filled with misinformation...usually pushed by a few self-professed experts on its message boards) -and then today one on Skift, a more or less industry-facing magazine sort of website.

The Cruise Critic article entitled:  Just Back from Seabourn Sojourn: Searching for Thomas KellerThe article started off poorly and inaccurately, claiming that those on the Cruise Critic message boards were "skeptical" and that "Longtime fans of the luxury line prefer things to stay as they are".  More importantly, the scarcastic prig that wrote the article (and I am being kind) was on the Seabourn Sojourn before the Thomas Keller menus were even scheduled to be released.  (If you can stand to read the drivel, he admits that they were only first being installed on the ship and Seabourn/Keller refuse to call the new dishes "Thomas Keller" until they are perfected.)

In short, this "journalist" claims skepticism and an inability to find Thomas Keller's dishes because???? I think it may be because:  Let' just say his head was somewhere it shouldn't have been.

More particularly, if one reads the Cruise Critic Boards (and, as painful as it was I just did), the reality is there are no more than maybe three dozen people that post on the Seabourn board.  That would be - in their entirety - less than 3% of the people that sail on Seabourn at any given time and, since they generally take only one cruise a year (if that) these 36 or so Cruise Critic posters on the Seabourn board represent less than 0.05% of those that sail on Seabourn annually.  Hardly representative of anything.

Even still I read his article and the message board and guess what?  Apparently more people on the Cruise Critic Seabourn board have no idea who Thomas Keller is than do.  And an almost equal number don't know who the former Seabourn celebrity chef, Charley Palmer, is.  (His menus were introduced in the same rolling out fashion back in 2003 and then the association was ended in 2011 when Seabourn management changed and there were claims of his menus - which had been enhanced, changed, etc. - were "tired").

[That reminds me of the so-called "Seabourn loyalists" that objected to the Charley Palmer menus because the liked the old Seabourn menus; then those apparently same loyalists that were tired of the Palmer menus and wanted them changed; then those 'er um, loyalists that liked the changes (and improved quality of ingredients) but not the reduced use of heavy sauces; then those assumedly same loyalists that tired of the present menus.  In short, an author making a wholesale reference to "Seabourn loyalists" as a group - and ignoring the differences in tastes from Americans to Aussies to Brits to whomever (and all the permutations within those culinary cultures) is naive at best.  In short: There are many people that are loyal to Seabourn and are so for many reasons. To tar all of them with the brush of a few is not only inaccurate; it is disrespectful.]

While I struggled through his article, his comments were such that it became clear that he has no qualifications to judge Seabourn's cuisine pre- or post- Thomas Keller.  (I would put his comment as being akin to reading a review on Cruise Critic's sister company site: TripAdvisor - where I just stayed in a rundown, watered down, all-inclusive that TripAdvisor rated as Four Stars)

You will find Thomas Keller's cuisine
when it is actually on the menu!
And then confirming his intentional deception of anyone who reads his article (presumably someone interested in a Seabourn cruise) he buries in the second to last line...and it was a struggle to get there:
We did meet some foodies, on the younger side of Seabourn's demographic, who were excited about the partnership; there's no denying that, among Americans at least, Keller still has a significant cachet that's bound to set the line apart from some of its luxury competitors.
I have had a number of clients that have enjoyed cruises with the Eureka! actually implemented Thomas Keller menus and they loved it.  Simply put the uniform feedback (other than some reservations about the family style dishes in the Colonnade) is:  Seabourn's cuisine was wonderful before, but Thomas Keller's menus bring Seabourn to a whole new level.  

And that brings me to the unfortunate and missed opportunity of an article concerning Fathom Cruises published in Sift:  Fathom Is Still Trying to Explain the Meaning of a Social Impact Cruise.  

Being involved in a Fathom Cruise social impact program
creates lasting memories
This article is especially disturbing to me because it opens with a focus on the line changing from a small "f" to a capital "F" and now calling it a cruise rather than travel.  In other words, if you start to read the article it focuses on minutia rather than "explaining the meaning of a social impact cruise". Is that Fathom's fault, or the author's?

And then there is the author's take right under the title, "Fathom is drumming up good press for the cruise industry, but will enough people really pay a premium to devote their vacation to volunteering? Probably not at first.".

Why would a journalist use that title and open with that sort of negativity?  It isn't to convey anything of relevance, is it?   To be sure, if readers got past the first rounds of negativity (title, minutia, premium and apparently total "devotion" comments) only then would any explanation of the product and social impact be discovered.

Listen, I do not believe Fathom (or fathom) will be an instant hit...mostly, as I was quoted towards the end of her article, because new concepts need to be explained and then embraced:
“I think a lot of people are really interested in it. They think it’s really cool. But they want to know what the heck it is,” he said. Goldring described the experience in detail on his blog and said in an interview that he offered feedback during the trip about brochures, equipment, and other parts of the volunteer activities.
I don’t see this as like it’s a new Royal Caribbean ship everybody wants to go on,” Goldring said. “It’s not that kind of product. Just like with the programs, it’s going to be an education process. I see it more starting slower than they would like but then building.” 
By the way, for the sake of accuracy, you can "devote" as little or as much time on a Fathom cruise on social impact activities.  And the author inaccurately advises at the outset that you are going to pay a "premium".  I say, "What premium?"  A seven day cruise including three voluntourism activities per person in a balcony stateroom for under $1,700 per person is not much different than booking a balcony stateroom on a contemporary cruise line and then paying $500 for three average shore excursions.

The real "premium" question, at least to my mind is, "Aren't you actually paying a premium to go on, say, a Norwegian Cruise Line ship where you are going to pay for everything, wait in line for everything and may well come away with nothing more memorable than a huge bill slid under your door with all the bar, restaurant and shore excursion charges?" Personally, I think the fathom (or Fathom) experience is a bargain and you will come away with something far more memorable than the cost of the cruise:  Memories of a great family vacation where you focused on your heart and helping.

If that is not what you are into, that's fine.  Heck, I don't want to go on an NCL cruise for a lot of reasons and I should not be judged because of that. Similarly if Fathom doesn't float your boat that is fine...

BUT, journalists please highlight WHAT MATTERS, and don't hinder same by focusing on a small "f" being capitalized or seeking to grab interest by writing negatively; especially about things that are either not true or irrelevant.

Looking for accurate and unbiased information about a cruise line?  Give me a call at:
  • United States:        (877) 2GO-LUXURY
  • United Kingdom:   020 8133 3450
  • Australia:              (07) 3102 4685
  • Everywhere Else: +1 732 578 8585
Or email us at eric@goldringtravel.com.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Now It's Really Winter! Lots of Cruises on Sale...With Signficant Added Amenities Too...for the Spring and Summer

I am always skeptical of "sales", but there really are legitimate, great value, sales going on with most cruise lines for closer in cruises. 

If you are looking to travel during February through June or if you are looking to take a cruise that might be beyond your travel budget if taken during peak seasons, NOW is a great time to make those plans!  (And as skeptical as I am about supposed sales, I am equally wary of false urgency, so when I say NOW I honestly mean it.)

Let's take a look at some of the great cruise deals are presently available.  (This is just a sampling so inquire if you are looking for something different.)

Seabourn's Signature Sale

Seabourn is holding its 2016 Signature Savings Event.  It is offering, on its all-suite ships:
  • 50% reduced deposits
  • $200USD per suite shipboard credit on select Europe voyages
  • $1,000USD per suite shipboard credit for Penthouse and Premium Suites
  • Complimentary Veranda Suite upgrades (from an Oceanview to Veranda)
There are some seriously great values.
  • Mediterranean from $2,999*
  • Northern Europe from $3,499*
  • Asia from $5,999*
  • Arabia & India from $5,999*
  • South America from $7,999*
  • Australia & New Zealand from $9,999*
  • Canada & New England from $5,999*
  • Antarctica & Patagonia from $14,999*
*prices do not include taxes which vary by cruise

Crystal Cruise's Book Now Savings

Crystal Cruises is very excited about the launch of its yacht, Crystal Esprit (now plying the waters of the Seychelles during the winter and the Adriatic during the summer) as well as it River Cruises (starting in 2017) AND its new cruise ship (launching in 2018), but its present ships are offering some great value in a very inclusive product ranging from oceanview staterooms to suites.  it is offering:
  •  Limited-time 2-for-1 Cruise-Only Fares from $1,845 per person (remember that includes almost all beverages, gratuities and alternative dining!)
  •  Limited-time Book Now Savings between $400 to $4,550 per person
  •  Exclusive Crystal Society savings of up to $5,435 per person for returning Crystal guests; plus, additional New-to-Crystal Savings of up to $4,350 per person for our first-time cruisers on our Full World Cruise
Want an example?  How about a 14 day Mediterranean cruise from Monaco to Athens for only $3,125 per person for an Oceanview stateroom, $4,520 for a Veranda Stateroom and $7,730 for a Penthouse Suite. 

Silversea Expeditions' Seriously Reduced Solo Traveler Supplements
Silversea Expeditions is a fantastic travel opportunity with many cruises having extended exotic itineraries that truly offer once-in-a-lifetime experiences.  Of course, travel to such far off places many times are beyond the budgets of single travelers (whether 30 or 90 years old).  Silversea Expeditions has a total of 56 upcoming voyages that have reduced single supplements...some as low as 10%!

As an example, as a single person you can enjoy the February 11, 2016 16 day cruise on the Silver Discoverer sailing through less traveled ports in New Zealand up to Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands (just a bit of paradise!) for only $13,365!

Classic Silversea Cruises is also making an attractive offer:  New-to-Silversea guests can enjoy $1,200 shipboard credit, while Venetian Society guests can receive a $1,500 shipboard credit or 2-category suite upgrade when you book their suite by February 29, 2016.

Windstar Cruises' "Last Chance Caribbean" Sale 
Windstar Cruises is offering some amazing values on its remaining 2016 Caribbean sailings.  For example, you can enjoy a true suite on the Star Breeze power yacht on April 9, 2016 for 8 days for as little as $1,299 per person.

Windstar also has some fantastic offerings in the Mediterranean with very significant discounts and two nights hotel stays included.  These include a number of Athens to Istanbul sailings.  (Yes, I know there are some issues in Istanbul...but unfortunately there are issues in Paris, Belgium and who knows where else.  Remember there is a greater chance of there being an issue driving to the airport than something happening when you are there.  Why not take advantage and go on that trip that you never thought you would take...or as a "little something extra"?

Oceania Cruises O Life Choice Promotions
Oceania Cruises hates to use the word "sale" and focuses more on added value.  Let me give you a hint:  Oceania also has quietly reduced its pricing on quite a number of cruises as well.  And the O Life Choice promotion is quite rich.  Just today I booked clients on a 29 day cruise that, in addition to aggressive pricing, garnered them $1,800 in Onboard Credits and Unlimited Internet.  (They could have selected 9 shore excursions or a beverage package along with the internet.)

How about a 24 day cruise on April 11, 2016 on the Oceania Riveria from Miami to Istanbul for only $4,199 per person plus unlimited internet and your choice of 9 shore excursions for each guest, a house beverage packages for each guest or $1,800 in onboard credits?

Other Luxury and Premium Lines:  There are great deals on most of the mainstream cruise lines. 

Holland America's View & Verandah Sale
For example, Holland America is pushing some pretty aggressive promotions ($1,499 for an April 17, 2016 7 night roundtrip Barcelona cruise in a Signature Suite as it modernizes its product and awaits the inaugural sailing of the Koningsdam - its new, truly modern and upscale, ship entering service in April 2016.  

Celebrity Cruise's "Go Best" Promotion
One of my favorites Celebrity Cruises offering discounted prices along with included multiple amenities: beverage packages, gratuities, onboard credits and internet.  Consider this including all those amenities:  A 11 night Italy, Greece and Turkey cruise for $3,229 in a Sky Suite.  

There are, of course, more sales and outstanding values, so give Goldring Travel a call at:

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

Or email us at eric@goldringtravel.com.

Monday, January 18, 2016

fathom Impact Travel - A Cruise Impacting You Even More Than the Communities You Help.

fathom Impact Travel invited me and my sixteen year old daughter to travel to the Dominican Republic last week to test out and critique some of its social impact programs that it will be offering on its cruises starting in April 2016. (It is also running a somewhat similar program, albeit more "educational" due to the current restrictions imposed by the Cuban government.)

Our time with fathom was, well and truly, a tremendous experience...or, better, experiences.

fathom Impact Travel:  A truly "immersive" experience...
especially when I was temporarily stuck in the mud
while planting black mangrove trees.
We engaged in four distinct programs:
  1. Creating a mangrove
  2. Teaching English
  3. Building Water Filters
  4. Installing Concrete Floors
Your fathom cruise/trip includes three (3) social impact programs at no additional cost as well as the opportunity to do more, as well as more traditional shore excursions either through the ship or privately.  (There is more information regarding the entire experience at the end of this article.)

Background:  Why the Dominican Republic?

I have to admit I didn't really know much about the Dominican Republic before I arrived other than it is terribly poor, is a place some go for really cheap all-inclusive vacations gated off from the reality of the country and, of course, is the home of the Disneyland-eque "created" Punta Cana.  In short, I ignorantly wrote off the country as just another Caribbean destination like most every other one. Alas, this is why one must travel!

The Dominican Republic is actually filled with culture, charming people, a truly diverse population, and a tremendous number of things to do from the typical beach activities, to more adventurous ones to significant cultural experiences.  But while all that is good, there is a lot of poverty and very basic needs that are even more striking...if you open your eyes, let your hands get dirty and allow your heart to open up beyond the pain to enjoy the people and enrich your soul.

And because of all of those factors, there are a number of NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) that operate social impact programs in "The D.R." (as you may hear it referred to).   Hence, the programs you are going to participate in are not newly created, cruise line-eque, tours, but legitimate socially and economically important programs that have existed, been expanded or developed by the NGOs and fathom working in close partnerships.

The Social Impact Programs

Part of your cruise fare will be utilized to assist in underwriting the cost of the various social impact programs, so even before you arrive in the Dominican Republic, and regardless of whether you personally engage in any of the programs, you will be making a difference!

Also, there are a number of different programs that will be available for you to chose from and they may well be the same or different from what I will be describing.  What will be consistent is that the people from fathom, the NGOs and the locals working with you are warm, friendly and, most importantly, passionate about what they are doing. 

I.  Creation of a Mangrove (a/k/a Protecting a National Park from Squatters)

The Dominican Republic has recently undertaken a significant effort not only to protect, but to restore, its natural resources; rehabilitating areas that have suffered from deforestation (from cattle grazing and farming...including numerous areas where sugar cane used to be important), but also encroachment by the ever increasing population.  Our project was focused on the latter.

Our group of about 10 arrived at a squatters shanty town adjacent to a former golf course (now occupied by some cows and garbage) that has been expanding into a national park.  The government created a barrier consisting of a creek (really a moat) with the squatters on one side and grasslands on the other.  Our job:  Plant 125 black mangrove trees on the park side.  (If we had another 10 people, they could have engaged in a less physical, but equally relevant, garbage removal program and placement of receptacles.)

Separating an encroaching squatter's village on a
national park by building a creek and creating a mangrove 
What immediately struck me was the devotion and sincerity of the Dominican people actually running the program.  While their English was limited, their passion was obvious and was contagious.  (An NGO representative gave us some background information on the way to the venue, but on an actual fathom cruise you will have a much richer pre-program experience on the ship as you sail to the D.R.)

Black Mangrove trees ready for fathom guests to plant
With my marine biology background I truly appreciated the "elegance" of the Mangrove Solution. Mature mangroves do many things including supporting a complex environment that will help clean the waters and, with their tangled water-loving roots, help establish marine wildlife (fish, crabs, plants, etc.); transforming the barren creek into a productive and beautiful environment.  But...and this is the cool part...established mangroves are pretty much indestructible and are impenetrable.  So the squatters, who could easily cut or burn the previous present grasses to put up new shacks in a continuing encroachment into the park, will be faced with a natural fence that, even if cut down, will have roots and stalks quickly regrowing right through their dirt floors...if penetrating the tangle of limbs and leaves didn't frustrate them; making alternative locations outside of the park more attractive.

Working with the local people adds a real dimension to
the work...truly making it "social" while having a real "impact"
We dug (and sunk) into the muck with old shovels and big smiles, quickly accomplishing our task with the assistance of some very friendly and helpful Ministry of the Environment workers. (Yes, gloves and shovels were provided...and getting muddy was pretty much unavoidable.)   As was the case in each of the social impact programs, you realize this is not a "feel good, make work" program, but truly helpful.  Here, if two workers were assigned to plant 125 trees, working at the expected slow rate, it might have taken them 3-4 days.  Our group of 10 plus the Ministry assistants accomplished the same thing in about two hours; quickly freeing up the workers and allowing for the D.R.'s and NGO's limited financial resources to be used for other needed projects.

After our work was done we headed to a small nursery where we sorted plants and assisted in making potting bags for new plantings.

Not all of the fathom projects are physically challenging.
Here my daughter is making up potting bags for new plantings
While in this forested park we quickly explored two caves that are very popular with cave scuba divers and noticed horseback riding, hiking and bird watching were also available (and are some things you could do in your free time) followed by an absolutely delicious Dominican cuisine lunch of rice with pork, ocra, plantains and avocado in a vinaigrette.

fathom Impact Travel provides a real Dominican dining experience...
not the typically expected box lunch

II.  Teaching English

We traveled a short distance from the port up a narrow unpaved road to a small village consisting of 13 houses and a couple of colmado - or grocery shops - to teach English to some of the families. (Note:  On your fathom cruise you will have a pre-program workshop where both some basic Spanish and how to teach English with the provided materials will be taught.)  Some of the locals met us in the community center (a former restaurant) where we introduced ourselves and engaged in some "get to know each other" activities switching between English and Spanish, followed by a walk through the village.

It was then time to "teach".  Our host, Caren, actually spoke some English so I made the executive decision to work with her thirteen year old son and his friend, who my daughter and I met during our walk and had been working in Caren's colmado.  (Most other participants worked in homes - a good experience for sure - but since someone had to mind Caren's store we worked there.)

It was a blast!  Fortunately I know enough Spanish to fake it (and fathom gives you a Spanish 101 card on the back of your name tag) and I also know teenage boys and how they might try to cheat.  And, of course, I could tell Caren to stop cheating by telling them the answers!  Believe it or not, the boys were charming, fully engaged, and not only had fun, they actually learned some English.

If you don't believe it, Caren gave my daughter her telephone number, invited her to come back and stay with her and asked me if I could contact her on What's App.  You can make a difference in a very short period of time...and Caren, her son and his friend made a lasting difference on me and my daughter too!

III.  Making Water Filters

Ceramic Water Filters:
A simple and elegant solution to a very serious health problem
One of the biggest problems in the Dominican Republic is access to clean water and the resulting gastrointestinal diseases that are omnipresent and consistently keep people from working or going to school.  Most people do not have access to consistent running water, no less clean running water, so they either get water from rivers or ponds or water lines that have been contaminated.  (Where there are water lines they are frequently illegally tapped into and the connections are not sealed and leak. So when the water leaks out and the water flow in the pipe is turned off...as it may only run a few hours a day...the dirty water flows back into the pipe contaminating the entire system.) 

The head of this program is a Dominican man, who can only be considered an angel, if not more.  He is working with Wine to Water (another NGO whose founder was a CNN Top Ten Hero in 2009) to create water filters out of clay, sawdust and silver that filters out all parasites and 99.99% of bacteria in a small factory about an hour or so from Puerto Plata.

While there, dependent on what is needed that day, you engage in four or five different activities.  We sifted the sawdust (which needs to be particularly fine as when it is burned off in the firing process the 0.3 micron pores in the clay are created allowing the water to slowly flow (killing the bacteria while not allowing the parasites or their eggs to pass through),

created the filters using an hydraulic press (and a bit of technique smoothing the filters),

cleaned, documented, tested and packed the kiln-dried filters

Cleaning the water filters with a bleach solution
Cataloging filters, making boxes, etc. is quick work
when a team approach is used
and emptied the kiln of previously fired products (for us, roofing tiles).

The fifth activity was just fun, using a potter's wheel to make a pot...or at least trying to.

It's not all work!
Working together to create something beautiful and useful
is really the theme of fathom Impact Travel
In between activities we took a break for another delicious Dominican cuisine lunch with rice and beans, beef, plantains and avocado.  (One cool thing is that you know your lunch is fresh when the cooks are literally chopping the vegetables and starting the cooking right in front of you when you arrive and during your pre-event briefing!)

Again, this is not a "make work" program (though I am sure using the hydraulic press probably is, but is also essentially for you to understand the process).  If one person is cleaning, writing down each filter's number and packing them, it would be very time consuming.  With our group, we had one person cleaning, a second writing down the filter numbers, a third making boxes, a fourth writing the numbers on the the box and the worker packing the boxes.  (We rotated so everyone did everything.) The same concept with emptying the kiln and sifting the sawdust.

IV.  Concrete Floors

Another serious problem in the Dominican Republic is the lack of flooring in homes.  Many of the shanty houses have dirt floors that have water rise through them and which get soaked during rains and flooding, with no way for them to dry out or be cleaned.  This leads to mosquitoes, pests and overall unsanitary conditions...and thus otherwise avoidable illnesses.

Concrete floors being installed.
Note:This house is not under construction; this is how it has been lived in for years.
We traveled to a small village in Puerto Plata (where one NGO employee proudly said is her hometown) to assist in installing concrete floors in the small home of a wonderful older woman.

Her neighbor was also an elderly woman who was so excited that her friend was finally also getting a concrete floor that insisted that her water be used to make the concrete.  So before we even started our hearts were touched.

Working with an NGO and a local contractor, this is clearly a project of "many hands make light work" though it was a good workout!  A pile of sand and bags of cement were already on site and then were instructed how to measure and mix them to make concrete.  With a wheelbarrow too large to fit in this small house, there was a "bucket brigade" bringing the concrete into the house while others continued to make large batches of it, supplying the contractor who did the actual floor installation.

Unfortunately our time did not allow for us to see the final product, but it was a great team-building project and left as with heavy arms and a full heart.

Why Engage In Social Impact on a Cruise Ship Rather Than on Land or Independently? 

There are three very good reasons to sail with fathom Impact Travel rather than engaging in a purely land experience.

First, the quality of your accommodations will be superior on the fathom's Adonia.  For this testing of the social impact programs, we were put up at the all inclusive Lifestyles Holiday Village with VIP status.  It is a large gated tourist enclave which is rated four stars on TripAdvisor (my favorite source for wildly inaccurate travel information).  Fortunately, I was not there for, and didn't really care about, my accommodations.  That said, aside from the rooms being extremely basic (ex. my room had huge cracks in the bathroom tiles and a hanging shoe bag to put my folded clothes while my daughter's ceiling leaked as did her tub and she had little hot water), the food was poor and extremely limited, getting into any of the VIP restaurants was a challenge, the liquor was watered down, the pool water was hazy, the internet was extremely limited and slow, etc., etc., etc. Remember this is a TripAdvisor Four Star property!

fathom also explained to me that the new cruise port will have many activities, from a large pool, shops, lounges, etc., as well as a huge outdoor movie screen (you will even be able to lounge in the pool and watch movies), the port area only being available to fathom guests in the evenings.  Thus you will have both a cruise and resort experience; another "bonus".

Second, you will be safe.  While there are many wonderful people and I never felt the least bit unsafe, the Dominican Republic is extremely poor and crime is an issue in many places.  Tourists can be targets for violent crime; hence virtually every resort being gated.  Remember, the people you are helping are not criminals and your efforts to improve the Dominican Republic's economy and social issues will help reduce crime in addition to the illnesses associated with poverty, environmental decline, etc.

Third, there is no program like fathom Impact Travel; especially those that grandparents and teenagers alike can enjoy together.  One of the most difficult logistics is finding ways for multiple generations to share common experiences.  Whether it is Dad hauling tiles while his daughter sifts sawdust or Grandma is sitting under a tent with a cool drink watching her grandchildren reforest an area or Mom and son are teaching English together, fathom's program allows for shared experiences.

And, of course, if the family wants to have something great to talk about over meals, there will be no shortage of topics!

Want More Information?

If you would like more information about fathom Impact Travel, its ship Adonia or the overall program, you can call or email.  Of course you can also read my two prior articles:

fathom Impact Travel - Voluntourism: What is it? Why do it?

fathom Cruises: A Great Way to Have a Great Time Doing Really Good Stuff!

If you are interested in a fathom Impact Travel cruise to Cuba or the Dominican Republic, 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, January 7, 2016

"Been There. Done That." - Now What? Exploration of Exotic Locations By Ship in as Civilized a Manner as You Desire

  • The world is getting smaller.
  • People are traveling more.
  • More people are traveling.
  • Cruise ships are getting larger and are fitted with more amenities.
  • Travelers are becoming more sophisticated and experienced.
  • Europe and the Caribbean are getting more "Been There. Done That!" even for many Millennials.

Now what?

Proboscis Monkey in Borneo, Malaysia taken while on an
  Azamara Club Cruise Bali, Indonesia to Osaka, Japan
  • Discovering nature.
  • Discovering unspoiled cultures.
  • Discovering quiet.
  • Discovering WOW!

Some people automatically think that a cruise is clearly not the way to engage nature or the exotics. Ironically, in many instances, cruising is not only the best way; it is the ONLY way.  (You think you can just fly into that tiny Seychelles island or Cambodian village?  Not happening!)

And, to be honest, because of the aforesaid misperception, there are some pretty great deals to be had this winter and spring...just waiting for the sophisticated (or simply adventurous) traveler.

Here is a bit of a rundown of some of the major truly exotic destination cruise lines and generally what they are offering in the way of style, amenities and locales.  If you want more information (or, 'er um, want to really "explore" your options) give me a call or drop me an email.


Seabourn provides more of a traditional luxury cruise, with a highly inclusive product, but with expedition adventures.  It has received stellar reviews from those seeking a taste of the exotic expedition, but with all the comfort, service and cuisine they expect on a Seabourn cruise.  Seabourn has operated Antarctic cruises for a few years now and, it seems, they get better and better.

Seabourn Quest - January 2016
Photo courtesy of Captain Geir-Arne Thue-Nislen
I regularly have clients onboard the 450 guest Seabourn Quest (with its ice-rated hull) being thrilled not only with the the views, wildlife, zodiac adventures and landings, but dining with Thomas Keller (of the French Laundry and Bouchon) cuisine.  Terms like "Fabulous", "Incredible", "Breathtaking" are the norm.  The Seabourn Quest has expanded its expedition adventures from its traditional longer combined Antarctica and Patagonia cruises (21 days and longer) to include the North Atlantic (Norway, Iceland, Faroe Islands, and Greenland as examples) and this summer, the British Isles and Ireland. (Note:  Antarctic zodiac and landings are included, but other shore excursions may be an additional cost.)

A little hike in Norway
after a zodiac expedition around the northernmost point in Europe
Starting in 2017 Seabourn is sending the Seabourn Sojourn to Alaska with a variety of cruises between Seward, Alaska and Vancouver, Canada.  Initial interest has been quite high.

Silversea Expeditions

Silversea Expedition's Silver Explorer
Silversea Expeditions has one of the most comprehensive expedition fleets and itineraries in the world.  When combined with the luxury level of service and cuisine, Silversea Expeditions provides nearly endless opportunities.

Silversea's fleet includes:
  • The 132 guest Silver Explorer, its flagship and most traveled expedition ship, visiting Antarctica (most being 10 day voyages, but three are extended with immersive exploration of South Georgia Island, for example), Greenland and Iceland, and, as it travels to/from there a Britain and Europe, West Coast of Africa and Central and South America.
  • The 120 guest Silver Discoverer offers some truly exotic and unusual itineraries from Russia's Far East and East Asia to Northern Australia, New Zealand, Micronesia, Melanesia and French Polynesia (including roundtrip Papeete, Tahiti) 
  • The 100 guest Silver Galapagos rotating seven day itineraries of the North Central and Western Galapagos Islands providing seven and fourteen day opportunities to explore this fascinating area.
  • Starting in November 2017, after an extensive refurbishment, Silversea's 200 guest Silver Cloud will join Silversea Expeditions (and renamed Silver Cloud Expedition) with a series of Antarctic cruises, presumably providing a more typical luxury cruise experience, but with expedition opportunities.

Silversea Expedition current ships are purpose built and are able to visit, and explore in depth, some extremely remote and otherwise inaccessible locales while also providing you with an all-inclusive experience from complimentary beverages to butler service...and with complimentary expedition activities and shore excursions in all ports.

Crystal Cruises

Crystal Cruises is doing some pretty amazing things of late, working hard to re-brand and refocus itself.  Presently there are two exotic cruises that are worth mentioning.

Crystal Esprit and its two man submarine
(And you may even be given the chance to drive it!)
Crystal Esprit is Crystal Cruises new 62 guest yacht which plies the Indian Ocean and the Seychelles in the winter months on a series of repeating seven day cruises.  In addition to exploring the islands it visits, you are given the unique opportunity to also explore underwater with its two person submarine.  (And, yes, if you are good, you may be given the opportunity to drive it!  My friend said it was "awesome"!)  One thing to consider, it is a long way to go for a seven day cruise, so Crystal actually starts things off with a 2 or 4 night stay in Dubai...and I highly recommend at least two days afterwards to experience one of the Seychelles unique hotels.

In a one-off sailing the Crystal Serenity has a 32 day Northwest Passage cruise from Anchorage to New York departing August 16, 2016 traveling well above the Arctic Circle above Canada.  


AmaWaterways has three more exotic itineraries that are well worth considering.  One of my personal favorites is their Vietnam and Cambodia combination of land and Mekong River cruise where you spend time in North Vietnam in Hanoi and Halong Bay, fly to Siem Reap in Cambodia visiting Angkor Wat and other temples, then travel down the Mekong River to Saigon (Ho Chi Min City) on a 164 passenger upscale river cruise ship..  It is far more in-depth and personal than any ocean cruise could possibly offer.  "Life-changing", "Incredibly Insightful", "Awe-Inspiring" and "Unlike anything I have ever experienced" are phrases used to describe this experience.

AmaWaterways Mekong River cruise through Cambodia
Ox Cart Ride to a Buddhist Temple
Interested in a "taste" of Africa but do not want to go on a traditional safari, AmaWaterways, utilizing the 28 passenger Zambezi Queen, combines a shorter river cruise with time in Capetown, Victoria Falls, Johannesburg, and, if you like, a three night train experience to Pretoria.

Myanmar is another exotic destination that AmaWaterways explores in-depth with a 14 day river cruise, stopping at 18 different destinations along the way; offering you are more than the typical ocean cruise 3-4 day orchestrated experience.

Lindblad Expeditions

Lindland's National Geographic Orion
providing one of its more luxurious expedition/exotic experiences
Lindblad Expeditions has a number of exotic destinations with a number of ships that, in many instances, led another life before coming to Lindblad.  As such there is a great diversity in the level of accommodation and the itineraries they operate so you may find one exotic itinerary operates in a near luxury manner while another is a bit more functional.  With eight ships operating itineraries range from the Amazon to East Asia to Africa to the Galapagos, the exotics and expeditions are available but each experience will be different. Regardless of which expedition you choose it is a fairly inclusive experience with all excursions and non-alcoholic beverages provided.  Gratuities, alcoholic beverages and such are at an additional cost.

G Adventures

If you are looking for a more affordable, and probably more rustic, exotic trip, G Adventures might just be the perfect option for you.  It has an extensive choice of escorted itineraries from Galapagos cruises to Amazon River Cruises to land trips from Morocco to Patagonia ranging from essentially tents and trucks (and public transportation) to quite comfortable three star hotels and tours.

G Adventures Peruvian Amazon River Cruise
I truly enjoyed my Amazon River cruise with my son.  It was definitely more comfortable and easier going than my prior experience sleeping in shed with latrines, no electricity and travel by canoe or powered row boat.  There is, of course, a trade-off between comfort and truly in-depth experiential hikes and wildlife observation, but for most it is great balance.

So Many Other Options...and Not All By Water!

The opportunities for exotic or expedition travel is not limited to what I have mentioned so far.  In fact, because there are so many different levels comfort, depth of experience, time constraints, distances to travel, etc., virtually every travel operator touches upon exotic, if not expedition, travel.  I would, for example, be remiss if I did not mention the breadth and quality available from Ambercrombie & Kent (having sent clients on very successful journeys from India to Patagonia), Tauck (for a more polished luxury experience) or Big Five Tours (who have put together an incredible ultra-luxury African safari and shark diving experience for some of my clients).

It is a big world out there!  Goldring Travel is here with the experience, knowledge, service and connections to not only assist you, but to assure your expectations are exceeded...while staying within your budget!

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.

Windstar's Star Pride - December Grounding Means No Sailings Until April 9, 2016

Windstar Cruises can't seem to get a break when it comes to the Star Pride.

The Star Pride has a special place in my heart.  She was my first Seabourn cruise; a three day sailing out of New York City.  I have a shirt from her 1988 Inaugural Season hanging by my desk and a five foot model of her in my conference room.

Goldring Travel's Conference Room
The Seabourn Pride (now Star Pride)
Invitations to the Seabourn Odyssey, Sojourn & Quest Inaugural Sailings
When Windstar made its deal with Seabourn to take over the former Seabourn Pride, Seabourn Spirit and Seabourn Legend (now Star Pride, Star Breeze and Star Legend) it had to act quickly; taking the Pride before Windstar was ready with all the necessary plans for its refurbishment and with little ability to engage in pre-delivery marketing.

But Windstar Cruises did a great job getting the Star Pride up, running, partially refit and providing a solid premium cruise experience.  You can read my articles Windstar Cruises - Star Pride Black Sea Cruise - Part I and Part II for a description and photo tour of her.

Star Pride, however, has done more.  She acted as a sort of a working model to make some fantastic upgrades to her sisters (Star Breeze and Star Legend).  You can see the many improvements and more expansive refitting and refurbishment on the Star Breeze and Star Legend in my article Windstar Cruises' Star Breeze Inaugural Cruise - Part II - The Transformation of A Cruise Line

Unfortunately, just before Christmas the Star Pride was run aground off Isla de Coiba, Panama and sustained damage to her hull, so much so that the cruise had to be terminated.  While determining what repairs are required, and what other work can be done to continue the Star Pride's refitting and refurbishment...and while finding an open slot at a qualified shipyard somewhat nearby, she presently is anchored off of Balboa, Panama with her Caribbean season effectively ended.

I am hoping that, as planned, "my" little gem of a ship will be buffed up and ready to sail in all her true glory this coming Spring and Summer seasons plying the waters between Venice, Athens and Istanbul.

In the meantime:  Captain: Take care of my ship!

Interested in booking a Windstar 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.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

fathom Impact Travel - Voluntourism: What is it? Why do it?

As you probably know I am a very enthusiastic proponent of the new startup cruise/travel company fathom, which is owned by Carnival Corp.  It's operations consist of one cruise ship (the 684 passenger Adonia, which in its previous lives was an R-Ship and a P&O Ship) and various social impact projects; primarily in the Dominican Republic, but with some in Cuba as well.
While it has yet to sail, as I wrote in my first article:  fathom Cruises: A Great Way to Have a Great Time Doing Really Good Stuff! it is going to be great way for families to both spend time together and do something truly worthwhile at the same time.  Multi-generational travel with meaning!

Today I read an article in the Britain's Mirror wondering if (better "declaring" that) fathom is having difficulty selling its "voluntourism" experience.  The problem with the article, and even with the concept that magically a new concept that is still developing is going to instantly succeed, is that it is presumes failure.

Ironically, that is exactly what fathom and voluntourism overall is designed to address:  Finding ways to take what appears to be a desperate and downtrodden situation and make it succeed and thrive.  It is not easy.  It takes hard work, adjustments and an open mind.  But it takes more than that.  It takes inspiration, fortitude and an extremely positive attitude.

fathom's Adonia
Next week my daughter and I are flying with fathom to the Dominican Republic. We are not merely going to observe what fathom is doing, we are going to live it for four days.  (No cruise and we were invited to stay a bit longer than a normal trip to see and experience as much as possible:  There are a variety of offerings.) We are going to engage in the social impact programs that fathom has created (which are always developing) so that you can better understand, and be inspired to engage in, them.

And let's face it, it is a great opportunity for me and my daughter to share something that is socially relevant and enriching.  Two winters ago we went on a Celebrity cruise for a week.  It was nice (I do like Celebrity cruises for families), but it was a typical, sort of lazy/empty, week in the Caribbean.  My daughter got a tan, we had some good father-daughter time, but there was nothing memorable (other than naming our theoretical - and now very real - new dog).  This year we will remember, and be significantly impacted by, this trip!

fathom's Adonia Pool 
A cruise out of Miami to laze around and hit the beach or a cruise out of Miami to laze around, hit the beach, learn something, make a positive difference in someone life (even if just a little bit) and experience something totally new?  Surely there are many that prefer the former (it is your vacation and that it what you want to do).  But there are others that believe it is your vacation and your life and you want to do more with it.  There is no right answer.  It is, alas, a personal choice...but fathom gives a choice that isn't otherwise so readily available.

And that brings me to how it is that my daughter is coming along on this trip.

A few weeks ago I sat next to fathom's president, Tara Russell, at the Travel Weekly Awards Dinner in New York City continuing our discussions about fathom.  And then it hit me:
I spent approximately $9,000 for each of my children to participate in the famous People to People Student Ambassador Program.  That is an $18,000 investment for my children to engage in its mission, which is:  "To enhance international understanding and friendship through educational, cultural, and humanitarian activities involving the exchange of ideas and experiences directly among peoples of different countries and diverse cultures."   
It sounded so good and, in the end, it was a huge waste of money and a terrible disappointment for my children.  ("Dad, remember when you sent me on that horrible three week trip where they treated me like I was six and we did nothing?")  The pre-trip orientation meetings were more like schlepping to some place an hour away to learn how to be away from home for the first time.  And the trip was more about ticking off sites without really understanding them, while the social impact activities were, frankly, stupid.  As my daughter said, "We picked up rocks from a field."  (My son's experience two years earlier was pretty much the same.)

So my sixteen year old daughter, who is a far better writing than I, will be writing about her experience, her feelings and her perceptions of fathom's social impact programs and comparing them to her People to People Student Ambassador program.  I will share her writings here so that you can have some first hand information from the perspective of a well traveled, independent, parent and of a mature teenager.

I am confident, even before I have my airline tickets, that you will be inspired by fathom and what we write and will say:

I think both myself and my children will have a real experience that will be so worth it.

If you are interested in a fathom cruise to Cuba or the Dominican Republic? 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.