Monday, January 31, 2011

Cunard's Queen Elizabeth's Maiden Call in Los Angeles

On Saturday, January 29th, Cunard's Queen Elizabeth graced the Port of Los Angeles, in San Pedro.  As the second largest ship in Cunard's fleet of three,  she dwarfed the Norwegian Star, docked behind; and she dwarfed the Sapphire Princess, at berth 93. 

It was great for San Pedro to have the three large ships in port at once.  In recent months, San Pedro has lost two ships as they've pulled out of Mexico Itineraries.  I was looking forward to doing a ship inspection on Queen Elizabeth, all spanking new and shining.  She's on her Maiden World Cruise, first time in Los Angeles, and Cunard has a reputation to uphold. 

That reputation for exquisite ocean travel steeped in history and British culture is certainly visible on board - sumptuous leather chairs, beautiful fabrics, polished wood and brass.  We were unable to see any staterooms as guests were on board, but the public areas are beautiful.  There is an air of intimacy despite the size of the vessel.  The Royal Court Theater looks like a London West End Theater.  I was really enjoying the site inspection, until we sat down for lunch.

I realize a site inspection is NOT the same as sailing on the vessel.  It is designed to show travel agents what it looks like, and literally to have a "taste" of what the guests experience.  If our seated lunch is an indicator, then guests not staying in the "Grills" area are in for a fairly rude awakening.  The wait staff seemed to struggle with the service; they were not warm; they were not rude but they were not pleasant either.  They seemed to resent having to serve lunch. 

The Brittania Restaurant is in the aft section of the ship.  Our table was squeezed up against the window, giving us a view of the Norwegian Star, but so close that the servers were unable to adequately reach some of the people at the table.  So, instead of gracious service, they leaned over others, or in one case, handed me someone's plate to pass down.  Hmmm.  Several people ordered beef, medium rare.  They got beef, cooked to the point of grey meat.  I ordered salmon, which came over cooked, over sauced, dry and fishy.  The salad course was excellent, and the desert was amazing but the main?  Not so much. 

I've had similar service issues when I've sailed on Princess - and the Queen Elizabeth wait staff reminded me of that sort of mediocrity.  I wonder if this is because of the parent company, the Carnival Corporation.  Carnival owns Carnival Cruises, Princess Cruiese, Holland America, Costa Cruises, The Yachts of Seabourn, and Cunard.  It's a thought, and I would love your feedback.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Disney Cruise Line: Not Just For Kids Anymore!

The Disney Dream, the newest vessel for Disney Cruise Line, has it's very own Champagne Label.  Champagne Taittinger has created a label just for the inaugural year of the latest offering from Disney.  There are several opportunities to sip in The District, the evening entertainment, Adults-Only, area with five venues.  But the coolest area is probably Pink.  The entire cocktail lounge makes guests feel like they're floating in a glass of pink bubbly.

While there's a lot of buzz about the food & libations aboard the new ship, they've not forgotten about those who prefer not to drink alcohol.  Newly created non-alcoholic cocktails are made with organic fruits & herbs and no-sugar-added fruit purees.  One such drink, the Purple Basil Lemonade, combines cranberry juice, sparkling water, lime and fresh purple basil - sounds incredibly refreshing.  The Mint Tea Punch is made from English Breakfast Tea, cranberry juice, pineapple juice, lime juice, agave nector and a splash of sparkling water.  Who needs a Long Island Ice Tea when you can have that?

Remy is an Adult-Only fine dining venue serving French-inspired cuisine.  It is the most upscale dining venue aboard ship, and perfect for a romantic evening.  Remy's gourmet menu was created by Chef Arnaud Lallement from l'Assiette Champenoise—a Michelin 2-star restaurant just outside Reims, France—and Chef Scott Hunnel from award-winning Victoria & Albert's at Walt Disney World Resort.

And Palo is another Adult-Only dining venue featuring Northern Italian cuisine.  The restaurant is named after the long poles that the Gondoliers use to push and pull their Gondolas around the canals of Venice. 

Yes, friends, Disney isn't just for kids anymore!

Friday, January 21, 2011


Yesterday afternoon, I sat in a seminar led by Matt Foley.  Okay, not really, but he could have been.  He started talking about the Plog Continuum, which refers to a study that defines personality types as it pertains to tourism and travel.  Faux Matt drew a Bell Curve.  Some were "dependables."  The largest group were labeled "Centrics."  Another small group was labeled "venturers."  At another point, Faux Matt said we should never stereotype and then said "All Japanese people travel in groups." 

That's when he lost me.  He wasn't amusing.  He wasn't interesting.  Worse, he was horrifically inaccurate as he tried to talk about how cultures differ.  I began to daydream about places I want to go, and places I want to send clients. 

For example, I want to visit Brazil's Pantanal.  This "is one of the last virgin areas on the face of the earth."  This is not an easy place for tourists as there is not a lot of infrastructure (hotels).  This vast array of plains and wetlands and wildlife calls to me, sings to me.  It seems that when I am in wild places, untouched places, my heart fills with joy and I feel whole. 

I may not be the most adept person in the wilderness - far from it.  My desk job has made me soft and overweight.  My desk job has sort of hidden me from who I am.  I used to participate in long distance Bicycle events.  Now I send people on luxury vacations.

Don't misunderstand.  I love sending people on trips.  I love it when they come home with dreams fulfilled.  But I have dreams as well.  I dream of going on a study tour with Heifer International.  Most of all, I dream that through the gift of travel, we can create a kinder world.

What is your dream of travel?  I really want to know.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Are You Watching Oprah's Ultimate Australian Adventure?

Oprah and 92 ultimate fans experienced the wonders of Australia.  Watch her show this week to see every "pinch me, I'm dreaming" minute as they traverse all six states and two territories.  After you've watched, call a Premier Aussie Specialist to plan your own ultimate experience.  I can help.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Uganda Volunteer Opportunity

I have an opportunity to create a Volunteer Vacation with a group, Aid Africa.  We're planning a trip for August, 2011 and perhaps twice a year after that.  Not all work, because all work and no play makes for exhaustion - the beginning of the trip will go to Jinja,  which is the location of the Source of the White Nile.

The heart of the trip will be about 6 days at Aid Africa's center in Gulu - visiting villages, distributing trees, building stoves, dropping shoes donated by a local Montrose California Running Store, and a bit more. 

We will do some game viewing, of course, because it's Africa after all - and for you birders, Uganda has more bird species per capita than anywhere else - like this beautiful Crested Crane, the national bird:

And there is the opportunity to extend your visit by going to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest to observe the Gorillas.  Rates to be advised, dates to be advised, but please comment here if you are interested in signing up for this amazing trip!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Importance of Travel Insurance

I have been a travel agent for 20 years, and I have seen it all.  As a result, I have become a huge fan of Travel Insurance.  Now, here's the thing:  it is the one purchase most of my clients resist.  They think it is just a way for me to earn more money; they think their regular health insurance is enough.  My favorite line is "Oh, no, I don't need insurance. I'm not going to cancel, and I'm definitely going to go."

Sure.  You're not counting on your 91 year old mother falling, breaking her hip the day before you leave, and you can't go.  Jury Duty?  Not you.  You never get sick, right?  That was my client who, at 71, three days before leaving on a trip wound up having emergency abdominal surgery and dying on the table.  No insurance, she didn't need it.  I also had a guy cancel a trip day before travel because he had a problem with his genitalia.  Yes, he told me.  He's 82, and thought he was being cute - and without insurance, perhaps I'd feel sorry for him and get him a larger refund. 

Folks, I'm serious.  It is the one purchase you should make and hope you never have to use.  It is the only way to protect your investment of travel - because travel is an investment: your time, your money - all this needs protection.  You can purchase through me when you book your trip.  You can purchase on your own, I really don't care.  But please, please, make that investment. 

The other part of this rant is part of why you need to use a Travel Agent.  Today, I initiated a claim for a gentleman who had to cancel his trip because his cousin and traveling companion was just diagnosed with cancer.  He was clearly upset about his cousin, and confused about the process (fear and sadness will do that to a person.)  Because I had sold him that policy, I was able to begin this process and take away some of his burden.  It may not help his cousin and the diagnosis, but it certainly helped my client with those details. 

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Adelaide Fringe Festival

The Adelaide Fringe Festival is around the corner!  February 18 - March 13, 2011, Adelaide comes alive with Comedy, Cabaret, Circus, Art, Dance, and all sorts of excitement.  They need volunteers.  Wish I was there, instead of Los Angeles, but I can send you!

Two Wave Season Suggestions

Each week in January Celebrity Cruises will feature a different destination. This week, it's cruises to Australia & New Zealand, Hawaii and Panama Canal. Book between Jan. 3 and Jan. 9 to receive up to $150 Ship Board Credit to spend onboard. It's a great time to book your 2011 vacation.

Silversea Cruises has an adventure ship, the Prince Albert II.  Prince Albert II has a blog!  Plus, I will have exclusive amenities on any of Silverseas' sailings in addition to what they are offering.