Friday, December 22, 2017

Azamara Club Cruises - Azamara Journey - April 8, 2018 (Singapore to Dubai) - Revisiting the (Upgraded) Experience

Goldring Travel will be experiencing Azamara Club Cruises' Azamara Journey on its April 8, 2018 sailing from Singapore to Dubai.  Azamara Club Cruises focuses on wonderful itineraries - and have some of the most unique in the industry focusing on exotic ports and multiple overnight stays - and its ships offer everything from inside to oceanview to veranda staterooms as well as suites.  This provides great opportunity for those "travelers" to have great experiences while being sensitive to their budget.

This cruise, on the Azamara Journey is no exception.  Note not only the exotic ports, but the late night and overnight stays combined with relaxing days at sea; a great balance.  This is something fairly unique to Azamara Club Cruises which makes it very attractive for the true traveler and is especially good for those who, like me, love Night Markets, but also don't want to be exhausted by the more typical "a new port every day" itineraries. 

SUN 8-APR Singapore, Singapore Embark 5:00 pm
MON 9-APR At Sea 
TUE 10-APR At Sea 
WED 11-APR Yangon (Rangoon), Myanmar (Burma) Docked 12:00 pm (Overnight)*
THU 12-APR Yangon (Rangoon), Myanmar (Burma) Docked (Overnight)*
FRI 13-APR Yangon (Rangoon), Myanmar (Burma) Docked 12:00 pm*
SAT 14-APR At Sea 
SUN 15-APR At Sea 
MON 16-APR Hambantota, Sri Lanka Docked 12:30 pm 9:00 pm (Late Night)
TUE 17-APR Colombo, Sri Lanka Docked 8:00 am 8:00 pm (Late Night)
WED 18-APR Kochi, India Docked 6:00 pm (Overnight)
THU 19-APR Kochi, India Docked 10:00 pm (Late Night)
FRI 20-APR At Sea
SAT 21-APR Mormugao, Goa, India Docked 7:30 am 3:00 pm
SUN 22-APR Mumbai, India Docked 8:00 am 6:00 pm
MON 23-APR At Sea
TUE 24-APR At Sea
WED 25-APR Dubai, United Arab Emirates Docked 5:00 pm (Overnight)
THU 26-APR Dubai, United Arab Emirates Debark

   * I am not thrilled about visiting Myanmar at the present time due to the very troubling conflict there.  It is my hope that either the situation changes or Azamara Club Cruises will alter its itinerary at the cruise approached.  If not, and as I have been to Myanmar previously, I do not intend on any in depth exploration.

This will not be my first time cruising with Azamara Club Cruises.  I sailed on the Azamara Quest in February 2015 from Bali, Indonesia to Osaka, Japan.  For a bit of background please read my article:  Azamara Club Cruises in Asia:  It is Amazing?  Reflections.  

Short version:  It was a well designed and delivered exotic itinerary and an extraordinary travel experience.  But it was prior to the extensive renovations to the ship and, especially, its suites.  I am looking forward to experiencing these upgrades as I found my Club Continent Suite quite comfortable before the renovations, but in need of some spiffing up.

But more importantly, I have been told that Azamara Club Cruises has been working hard on addressing the little things that were in need of a bit of polish and I am looking forward to finding out how it has progressed.  Improvements in the main dining room cuisine (the specialty restaurants already shined!), shore excursions and a few other items are now in place.

There remains some availability for this cruise, so if you would like to join me, please give me a call, drop me an email or message me on Facebook.

US: (877) 2GO-LUXURY (877-246-5898)
UK: 020 8133 3450
AUS: (07) 3102 4685
Everywhere Else: +1 530 562 9232

Friday, December 8, 2017

Celebrity Xperience In The Galapagos- Part VII (Reflections & Updates on the Ships - Including the new Celebrity Flora - and What to Consider.)

My reflections on my fantastic experience on the Celebrity Xperience in May 2017 has been somewhat intentionally delayed because I knew there was some BIG news coming out:  Celebrity Cruises has just introduced a new, quite luxurious, all-suite, purpose-built ship for the Galapagos: Celebrity Flora.  The Celebrity Flora will be replacing the smaller, and one I really enjoyed Celebrity Xperience and the even smaller Xploration in May 2019.  But more on that later in this article!

Galapagos Tortoise
There are many different types of people that want to visit the Galapagos Islands.  There are nature lovers, "bucket list checkers", deal finders, cruisers, luxury travelers and "new to cruising" adventurers.  There are, however, two things that each of them will come away with from their Galapagos Adventure:  A deeper appreciation of nature and bragging rights.

Baby Sea Lion in the Galapagos Islands
With my background in biology I was extremely excited to finally get to a destination that has been on my "I Need to Experience List".  (I don't have a "bucket list" because that both has a morbid feel to it and an end.  I believe one's list should grow as we grow and expand our horizons...but that is another topic for another article!)

Marine Iguana in the Galapagos Islands
I was Celebrity Cruise's guest for my trip on the Celebrity Xperience, a 48 passenger older vessel that it had just acquired.  It was, at the time, a bit surprising to me that Celebrity would have a vessel that is fairly inconsistent with its other product in the Galapagos and its overall product.  I assumed Celebrity had seen a demand for which it did not have the supply and with the quirky laws and regulations in the Galapagos it acquisition of the Celebrity Xperience and 16 passenger Xploration was the most efficient way to increase its presence.  But as noted above, this was not the case, but rather these ships were an interim solution.

Celebrity Xperience anchored in the Galapagos Islands

Celebrity Xperience stateroom.  Mine had a great window
next to the desk, so I could observe the Galapagos as we cruised.
Mola (Sunfish) seen from my stateroom window
on the Celebrity Xperience in the Galapagos 
That said, I truly enjoyed and would recommend the Celebrity Xperience as long as she is with the fleet.  Her intimacy, larger staterooms and open deck space make for the lack of "modern luxury" that Celebrity Cruises is known for.  You become more of a family enjoying and supporting each other more than being cruisers that have individual experiences.  And, to me, that enriches everyone as individuals observe things only from their perspectives and sharing those perspectives opens one's eyes to seeing and perceiving more.

Sea Turtle in a Galapagos Island Mangrove
Rather than repeating my day-to-day observations here I refer you to my prior articles:

Celebrity Xperience In The Galapagos- Part I

Getting There, Pre-Cruise, Baltra & Black Turtle Cove, Santa Cruz Island

Sea Lions & Boobies & Penguins, Oh My!

The Attack of the Flightless Cormorant...and Other Cool Stuff!

Magnificent Frigatebird in the Galapagos Islands
Because the guides used by Celebrity, by Equadoran government mandate, are the same guides (who rotate from ship to ship) as those used by Silversea Expeditions, Lindblad National Geographic, G Adventures, and others and the locations in the Galapagos Islands (and times each ship visits) is similarly shared and governed, the more central issues become "What sort of on ship and group experience do you want?" The demographics will be significantly different; especially if your travel agent/advisor/professional give you proper advice (as Goldring Travel strives to do every day with every client).  

Celebrity Cruises new ship, the Celebrity Flora (sailing from May 2019, but available for booking now) is a purpose-built Galapagos expedition ship that will, in terms of luxury and features, will arguably be the most luxurious ship in the region; exceeding even the Silversea Silver Galapagos in terms of accommodations and facilities.

Celebrity Cruises' Celebrity Flora
Celebrity Flora aft deck
has both a large boarding platform and floating "dock"
The Celebrity Flora is 100 passenger, all-suite, ship with the consistent Celebrity suites (Penthouse, Royal and Sky) though there are three versions of the Sky Suite (Ultimate, Infinite Veranda and Veranda).  The premium suites have large bathtubs overlooking the water.

Celebrity Flora Penthouse Suite

Celebrity Flora Royal Suite
Celebrity Flora Ultimate Sky Suite

Celebrity Flora Sky Suite with Infinite Veranda
There is no question that having this sort of purpose built luxury vessel in the Galapagos opens up experiencing this rather rugged area to those who desire or require a level of comfort and privacy that is not readily available.  It also signals to me that Celebrity Cruises is focused on entering the luxury expedition market as so many other companies are now looking to do as people age younger (today's 65 year old is generally far more active than those of twenty years ago) and have more world travel experience as the world grows smaller.

Celebrity presently, and will continue to, provide a fully inclusive experience (gratuities, open bar, shore excursions, internet, etc.). And Celebrity will assure that there are no more than 12 guests per naturalist when venturing out.  While small groups are truly essential, I am not a fan of having 8 or 9 groups visiting the same areas at the same time.  On the Celebrity Xperience I noticed that due to the nature of the paths (which one must stay on when visiting most islands) there can be a bottleneck if, as we had, one guide was more prone to talking at length rather than allowing the guests to just experience and observe.  Again, none of the cruise lines have control over who the naturalists are on any particular cruise.

Now to reflect back on my Celebrity Cruises Galapagos experience, I have to say that it was one of the most memorable ones I have had in my years of travel.  That said, the strongest part of the Celebrity experience for me was the cruise aspects complimenting, not interfering with, the shore experience.  For those on my particular trip, it was not about the cuisine (which was fine, but not extraordinary) or the service (which was extremely friendly, but not polished).  It was about being in the Galapagos and the wildlife.

I was able to swim with penguins feeding (though too fast for me to get a photo)

Galapagos Penguin
Swim and play with Galapagos seals (which are actually sea lions)

Swimming with "Seals" (actually sea lions) in the Galapagos
was a highlight

Be attacked by a flightless cormorant that thought my camera was a fish

A Galapagos Flightless Cormorant wanted to eat my camera
Look at boobies

Blue Footed Booby
Red Footed Booby
Nazcar Boobies
And so much more. But while the wildlife is clearly accepting of their human visitors, there is a balance between being able to snap a photograph and being able to observe nature.  For example, if there were 20 people in the water I don't think I would have been able to spend 5 minutes just watching a marine iguana feeding on algae.

Galapagos Marine Iguana feeding underwater on algae
There are instances were solitude (or near solitude) are necessary...and, in fact, enriching:

A flamingo in a Galapagos pond
A Yellow Warbler sitting on lava in the Galapagos Islands
And then there is the land and the sea:

Interested in a luxury, experiential or simply laid back cruise in the Galapagos Islands?  Give Goldring Travel a call, email or Facebook message!

US: (877) 2GO-LUXURY (877-246-5898)
UK: 020 8133 3450
AUS: (07) 3102 4685
Everywhere Else: +1 530 562 9232

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Goldring Travel's 2017 Culinary & Cultural (Food & Wine) Cruise. Interested in 2018?

Here is a video of Goldring Travel's 2017 Culinary & Cultural Cruise on the Seabourn Encore.

Interested in 2018?

The 2018 Goldring Travel Culinary & Cultural (Food & Wine) Cruise on the Seabourn Encore sets sail on October 6, 2018.
Goldring Travel is going to try something a little bit different.  This is a 14 day cruise, which departs Barcelona, Spain on October 6, 2018.  However, you can sail only for the first 7 days, or the last 7 days, by embarking or disembarking in Civitavecchia, Italy on October 13, 2018.

What I love about this itinerary is that you can have a "taste" of Spain, France, Northern Italy, Southern Italy and Greece all on the same cruise.  Imagine the culinary and cultural opportunities there will be!

And, of course, sailing in early October means the weather will still be warm, but the crowds will be gone!

Here is the itinerary:

SAT 06OCT18 Sail from Barcelona, Spain 5:00pm
SUN 07OCT18 Mahon, Menorca, Spain 7:00am 4:00pm
MON 08OCT18 La Joliette (Marseille), France 1 9:00am 11:00pm
TUE 09OCT18 St Tropez, France 1 8:00am 5:00pm
WED 10OCT18 Ajaccio, Corsica, France 8:00am 6:00pm
THU 11OCT18 Monte Carlo, Monaco 8:00am 6:00pm
FRI 12OCT18 Portovenere, Italy 1 8:00am 5:00pm
SAT 13OCT18 Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy 7:00am 6:00pm
SUN 14OCT18 Amalfi, Italy 1 8:00am 5:00pm
MON 15OCT18 Syracuse, Italy 1 10:00am 7:00pm
TUE 16OCT18 Crotone, Italy 8:00am 5:00pm
WED 17OCT18 Kerkira, Nisos Kerkira (Corfu), Gre 8:00am 6:00pm
THU 18OCT18 Katakolon (Olympia), Greece 8:00am 5:00pm
FRI 19OCT18 Nafplion, Greece 1 10:00am 7:00pm
SAT 20OCT18 Debark Ship Piraeus (Athens), Greece 7:00am

This 14 Day cruise is extremely well priced starting at $6,999 + $255 (taxes) for a V1 Veranda Suite and includes all of the Goldring Travel Culinary & Cultural Events.  Interested in only a 7 Day Cruise?  Prices start at $3,999 + $155 (taxes) and all of the Culinary & Cultural Events during your portion of the cruise.

While the Special Events have not yet been determined you can count on their being one in France, Italy and Greece along with a Private Shopping with the Seabourn Chef, Private Cooking Demonstration and Private World Famous Food & Wine Spectacular and, as always, some last minute festivities!

Give Goldring Travel a call, email or Facebook message!

US: (877) 2GO-LUXURY (877-246-5898)
UK: 020 8133 3450
AUS: (07) 3102 4685
Everywhere Else: +1 530 652 9232

Friday, December 1, 2017

Goldring Travel's 2017 Culinary & Cultural (Food & Wine) Cruise - Part VI (Tapas...And I Mean Tapas!)

The Goldring Travel 2017 Culinary & Cultural Cruise aboard the Seabourn Encore left Gibraltar and headed to Malaga, Spain and another Private Goldring Travel Event:  Making Tapas.  And that was followed by Eating Tapas in Cartagena, Spain!

Eric Goldring with the proprietor of 
El Barril del Tapeo (The Tapas Barrel) - Cartagena, Spain
This is the first time I have arranged a cooking class (as our Ensemble Travel Experience), but this was no ordinary class...especially after our adventure in Tangier, Morocco purchasing most all the ingredients I and Michelle Shea (our Adventure Dining Guide chef) needed to cook a Moroccan feast only days earlier.  This time we had two local guides take us into Malaga's market to purchase ingredients, but this time:  My guests were going to be the chefs!

Mercado Central Atarazanas
Mercado Central Atarazanas
We wandered the market not only to make purchases,
but to take all the Mercado Central Atarazanas
had to offer.

After wandering the market (with me, of course, picking up a few things for a later event!) we, bags in hand, headed to Labratorio de Sabores (Laboratory of Flavor), where we met up with our  wonderful and charming "grandmother" chef who guided us through the making of four different tapas:  A fresh Gapzacho, Meatballs in Almond Sauce, Pil-Pil Prawns and Tortilla (a Spanish potato omelette).
Our wonderful Food Sherpa and Labratorio de Sabores Guide
But first we needed wine and beer (just open the refrigerator and enjoy...which always makes cooking more fun!) before we started to grate tomatoes.

Simone explaining that wine was available at all times 
As our "grandmother", I mean chef, did not speak any English our guide was our interpreter, but as both were so charming it just added to the you will later read.

Diving right in:
Grating tomatoes and rubbing it with olive oil on fresh crusty bread
We then made (OK, for this one the chef pretty much did the hard work) gazpacho.
Our group was "hands on" making gazpacho
It was then onto making meatballs and potato tortillas

Tortilla and Meatballs in Almond Sauce in the making

Even those a little overwhelmed with the idea of cooking
dove right in...with impressive results!

("I gotta get a picture of this!")
This was followed by Pil Pil Prawns...nice and spicy. And while I was cooking away, "Grandma" made sure she gave me a hard time, always criticizing me with a bit of a twinkle in her eye.  I think because she could tell I knew what I was doing!  There is no messing with the chef, but clearly messing by the chef!

Goldring Travel's tortilla and pil pil prawns.  Not Bad!
With the cooking done, it was time to sit down and enjoy our culinary creations.  Honestly, I did not know if this would be enjoyed by everyone, but literally everyone had a great time and, of course, were, to the surprise of some, culinary masters!

A true Culinary & Cultural Experience
Enjoying our Spanish culinary creations in Malaga, Spain
having shopped in the market and the cooked
with our Spanish chef speaking only Spanish
Grandmother was not, however, done!  As everyone was turning in their aprons, she pulled me over to the side and told her son to give me a jar of her ground chili (used in the pil pil prawns) as a little gift.  Even more special was her grandmotherly hug and kiss on the cheek.  

To be sure this was not merely a cooking class in a ship's culinary center, but a true cultural experience!  This had less to do with learning to cook as it did with cultural immersion.

After heading back to the ship it was time for a Private Galley Tour with Chef David.  It is always interesting to me how each executive chef explains the galley operations as each one perceives things and talks about it differently.

Chef David Whelehan explaining the Seabourn Encore's galley
operations with champagne and mimosas in hand.
I always make a special note that while our private galley tour was at 4:30 p.m., the galley is quiet.  That is because on Seabourn every dish is made a la minute; as it is ordered.  It is part of the reason a Seabourn guest's special ordering modifying menu choices is not only possible, it is expected.

No Seabourn galley tour would be complete without caviar!
(This counts as tapas, right?)

Seabourn bakes its bread almost around the clock. 
Your dinner rolls are baked right before dinner...not the night before. 
Our Tapas Immersion continued the next day in Cartagena, Spain.  I, along with two friends, took a walk along the charming marina to La Rambla and then to visit the Roman amphitheater and surrounding areas.  OK, we weren't really planning on "the surrounding areas" but we got a bit lost.  It was good to see more...and better to finally find our way back to La Rambla!

Seabourn Encore docked in downtown Cartagena, Spain

La Rambla - Cartegena, Spain
Roman Amphitheater - Cartagena, Spain
Sort of a curious modification of ruins.  Not my favorite.

It was, however, now time to find a place to enjoy some local food.  As I normally do, I just find a place.  This time we wandered down a fairly austere walkway with couple of tables and a blackboard sandwich sign outside a doorway.  I turned to my friends as we approached, skeptically noting the sign said "Spanish Tapas", like there was any other kind.  Fortunately, we decided to peak in the door and we instantly knew this was "The Place" for tapas:  El Barril del Tapeo (literally meaning The Tapas Barrel).
Tapas...Lots of Tapas
Tapas included most of the same things we had cooked the day before
We saw so many delicious looking tapas we didn't know what to order so, in true Goldring Travel fashion, we pretty much ordered everything..and local beer!

El Barril del Tapeo tapas...after the fact!

The apparent owner of the restaurant, who spoke no English (and we had only a little Spanish between the three of us) came over playfully making fun of us for ordering so much food.  When I motioned I was so full, he repeatedlyl made a motion I couldn't figure out...and then we did.  He was saying "Stand up the food settles and you will have more room!"

You know when they bring out the liquor after your meal
you are in trouble!

Our new friend brought out a bottle of a yellow-green liquor in a Gran Duque de Alba brandy bottle.  We don't know what it was and two of us thought we only had one shot of it, but later recalling our day one of us remembered we actually had two.

No idea what is in this old brandy bottle!
Wanting to be nice to our new friend, we asked, pleaded and then begged him to have a drink with us. He slyly refused again and again; insisting that he doesn't have lunch until 3:30 p.m....

And then he said he had something else for us to try:  A white smooth liquor that pretty much finished us off.  Of course, I later did some research and what is in the bottle shockingly was not what was originally in there (which is a bright yellow herbal liquor). 

No idea what is in this old yellow herbal liquor bottle either!
It was then time to head back to the ship for a traditional siesta!

What is the difference between a Food & Wine Cruise and a Goldring Travel Culinary & Cultural Cruise?  We focus on meeting people and embracing the culture of the places we travel rather than having the sanitized experience of merely eating the food from places we have visited.

Interested?  Give Goldring Travel a call, email or Facebook message!

US: (877) 2GO-LUXURY (877-246-5898)
UK: 020 8133 3450
AUS: (07) 3102 4685
Everywhere Else: +1 530 652 9232