Let The Anticipation Begin!

Would you like to hear the Denton theorem regarding a universal trait seemingly shared by every intrepid soul in the travel business?   (By way of  warning, unless you hit delete immediately, you are about to.)  So, here it past-present-future-traffic-sign-on-a-sky-backgroundis.  As much as we enjoy reminiscing about the past and reveling in the present, our secret passion is anticipating the future.

As Edward Streeter put it, “”Travel is ninety per cent anticipation and ten per cent recollection.”  Sometimes this affliction is so acute that we actually catch ourselves in the midst of one glorious travel experience dreaming about the next.  Admittedly, that is a little sad.

But here is another great travel insight (I am just full of them today, or as  some would say, just full of it.).  As much as we enjoy anticipating the next experience, for better or worse, it seldom turns out quite the way we expect.  The brilliant Benjamin Disraeli once observed, “What we anticipate seldom occurs, what we least expected generally happens.”   That, however, is precisely what makes travel so rewarding.  If it were predictable, it wouldn’t be an adventure, don’t you see?.

So what has prompted all this philosophical musing on my part, you may (or may not) be asking yourself.  As it happens, I am brimming over with keen anticipation as I stand on the precipice of another travel odyssey. Frankly, like so many of my travel exploits, I am indebted to one of my favorite travel partners, in this case Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.

A couple of weeks back, RCCL announced a contest where travel professionals were invited to submit an essay of 100 words or less explaining why they were “Loyal to Royal”.  I quickly realized that I can100 Words To Wow merely sneeze and expectorate at least 100 words, so I decided to enter.

To cut to the chase, five executives at RCCL headquarters were obviously feeling particularly magnanimous that day because miraculously, I was one of the five winners selected from over 500 entries!. Here is my entry.

Loyalty, like faith, is never sounder than its intended object. No amount of fanatical belief will support a heavy man standing on thin ice. I am “Loyal to Royal” in part because I have confidence in their consistent product, respect for their professional staff and agreement with their strategic vision. A much more important reason for my loyalty, however, is simply that across the span of twenty-eight years the foundation of my faith has never seen so much as a fissure. When one’s own commitment is consistently reciprocated and one’s trust proves entirely justified, loyalty comes very easily indeed!

Quantum of the Seas under construction

The prize was a trip tp Papenburg, Germany to the Meyer Werft ship yard for a sneak peek at the soon to be launched  Quantum of the Seas. The trip will be hosted by Vicki Freed, RCCL’s Senior Vice President Sales and Trade Support & Service and Joanne Schimelman, Vice President of National Accounts.  I interviewed Vicki on this very blog a while back which you can read and listen to here.

As I pen these words, I am wending my way at 30,000 feet to Miami. Tomorrow around 1:00 pm we board a special Miami Air charter for Germany.  I invite you to follow along over the next few days as I chronicle my journey and publicly post many pictures beyond even those on this blog.

In a sense we have come full circle.  I venture forth not knowing who else will be participating, where we will be lodging or the seating configuration of our silver chariot. If you imagine that I find these little gaps in my knowledge disconcerting, you need to go back and reread the first two paragraphs. The mystery only augments the anticipation.

I learned long ago that it is not getting there that is half the fun.  Thinking about being there . . . now that is half the fun!

 

The Zambezi Queen: Humble History, Bright Future!

The Zambezi Queen, for those familiar only with her present glorious incarnation, has a rather intriguing history.  Referring to something that began in the early 1990’s in historical terms probably risks offending professors of classical antiquities but I am not sure how many academicians would openly admit to reading my humble blog anyway.

Zambezi QueenThe ZQ, as she is sometimes affectionately called, was given the original charter to carry guests from Katima Mulilo down the Chobe and Zambezi Rivers and back.  Unfortunately, there was one small miscalculation.  The sheer size of the vessel made navigation difficult and it wasn’t long before the ship was unceremoniously converted into a floating hotel moored to the river bank for the benefit of visitors to the Caprivi Region of Namibia.   This is like imagining a 50’s era Santa Fe Super Chief dining car ending up as a burger joint along a rural Arkansas highway.

Redemption came in 2008 in the form of two visionary entrepreneurs, Tony Stern and Brett McDonald.  Where others saw only fading glory, they saw future greatness.  The redesign and renovations were extensive with an entire new top deck added.  The Zambezi QueenAs is pointed out on the website, “Celebrated South African fashion designer Jenni Button lent a hand in the classic yet contemporary interior with understated muted tones.”  The very bright future was only burnished when the Zambezi Queen became part of The Mantis Collection (a world-class organization you will learn more about in future blogs).

I don’t know if a vessel that claims a total of 14 suites (10 standard and 4 master) qualifies as a small ship or a large houseboat.  (If you are anal about such matters, you can find seven differences between a ship and a boat here.) All the suites share these features:  they are all located on one of the first two decks, they all have floor to ceiling windows offering spectacular views and each has an outside deck where you experience the sights and sounds of Africa first hand.

Zambesi Queen bedroom If you harbor a secret fear that experiencing the wilds of Africa requires compromising your “comfort room” expectations, let me flush away those concerns . . .  so to speak.  As the Zambezi Queen bathroompicture to the left clearly reveals, you will not only enjoy a cabin with a spectacular view but one with an equally remarkable loo!

When we ascend to the upper deck, we find a surprising array of enchanting public areas.  The dining room, the comfortable lounge with unobstructed views and the bar are woven together in a subtle fashion. Speaking of the bar, it is stocked with local and imported wines, beers and spirits with the locally sourced variety of each included in your cruise rate.  As was pointed out above, we have Jenni Button to thank for the impeccable yet understated taste that runs throughout the Zambezi Queen.

For those who place almost as much value on ambiance as taste when it comes to food, you will not be disappointed.  Let me introduce you to your Namibian wait staff.

our-staffNot only will you dine on savory, mouth-watering morsels but your meals will be delivered in a uniquely African manner.   Close your eyes and you would think you were in the heart of Africa.  Oops, that’s right.  You are in the heart of Africa!

The Zambezi Queen experience includes opportunities for bird-watching, Tiger (the aquatic variety) and Bream fishing in season, water based game drives by tender boat and even a visit to a local village.

Bird-watching   Fishing in Africa

African safari   African Village

There is so much more to say about this incredible experience but alas, no time left to say it.  I will just have to allow my feverish fingers to cool down until we meet again.  In the meantime, the obvious solution . . . to me at least . . . is for you to let me assign one of my crackerjack staff (at least I think that’s what I caught them nibbling on) to explain how you can make the Zambezi Queen part of your own bright future!

Cruising The Caribbean . . . Mediterranean Style (Parte Seconda)

Since our discreet little assignation a few days ago, I must confess I have been off flirting with another destination in Mexico.  You needn’t be jealous!  I assure you that it was completely innocent . . .  platonic even.   Therefore, assuming after a couple of tequilla tasting events in Los Cabos (blog post to follow) I can still reconstruct where we left off, let’s take up the narrative from that point.

OK . . . it is all coming back into focus.  We were midway through our discussion of “hardware” and about to transition to “software”.  If you are picturing toggle bolts and Firefox browsers, you probably should go back and read Parte Uno.   In my previous post, I mentioned spending obscene amounts of time in a dark corner of La Cantina Di Bacco being caressed by an impertinent Cabernet from the hills of Tuscany.  But the Divina offers any number of respites such as La Caramella, L’Angolo Dell’Oggetto, Il Gioiello and Caffe’ Italia.  Is the “Mediterranean Style” thing beginning to click for you?  Caribbean mystique meets European chic!  Did I mention that Sophia Loren is the godmother of their fleet?

MSC Cruise Spa And FitnessIf you are like me and an aficionado of spa treatments (the full body massage being my personal treatment of choice), you will certainly enjoy the MSC Aurea Spa and Fitness area.  I do take umbrage at their unauthorized use of my likeness in the picture above.  Oh well, as one of the “Don’t hate me because I am beautiful” crowd, I suppose one should remain sanguine about such things.  Can you really blame them?

SOFTWARE

The time has come to move from facilities to features.  One feature I place a premium on is a great itinerary.  Try these on for size.  If you like the western Caribbean, Divina calls at Falmouth, Jamaica; Georgetown, Grand Cayman; Cozumel, Mexico and Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas.   If the eastern Caribbean floats your boat, try Philipsburg, St. Maartan; San Juan, Puerto Rico and again Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas.   There are additional itineraries with other fascinating ports of call called Caribbean Enchantment, Caribbean Wonders and Southern Caribbean.  For details about every itinerary, there is an online brochure which is available here.  And if you fall in love with Divina and can’t bear the thought of separation, you can follow her to the Med next summer!

MSC Divina ItinerariesI would be more than remiss if I did not devote a few words to the MSC Yacht Club or, as they like to style it, your Sanctuary At Sea.  The best way to describe this experience is to imagine you are traveling as the special guest of Gianluigi Aponte himself, the owner of MSC Group, who invites you to partake of his own inner sanctum far away from the maddening crowds.  You would expect that a man of his eminence would have his own private lounge, bar and pool, naturally.

Lounge on MSC Yacht Club  MSC Yacht Club bar

What else would you expect to be at your and Signor Aponte’s beck and call?  An exclusive butler and a private concierge desk, of course.  When you check in at the terminal, you would expect to skip long lines and to be discretely guided to a lounge where you would meet your butlerMSC Yacht Club butler who would escort you to your cabin.  You would no doubt anticipate gourmet dining in a private dining room.  It would almost be a given that each afternoon you would be invited to an English high tea where you and the Signor would converse about matters of international import.  What was not resolved in the afternoon session could be resumed over champagne and canapés before dinner!

Sadly, we can’t all be lifelong bosom buddies with “Luigi” as he starting asking me to call him after I saved his life for the second time.  Not to worry!  Everything I have described and more can be yours if you simply remember to book the Yacht Club on your next MSC cruise.  What’s more, it will not require a king’s ransom.  I was quite shocked to learn that the differential is much closer to a serf’s ransom, and a pretty scruffy serf at that.  This, without a doubt, is one of the greatest values on the high seas.

The Past Is Prologue

Here is some information you should know about MSC, the fastest growing cruise line in the world, before we wind up this little tête-à-tête.   In 2003, MSC sailed 127,000 passengers.  In 2014 an estimated 1,680,000 will live the MSC experience.  In that same period, they have gone from four ships to twelve and 5,000 berths to 39,000.

But even more interesting than where they have been is where they are going.  They are currently building two ships at STX France (2017 & 2019) and two more at Fincantieri (2017 & 2018).  Click here to go to the press release section of their website.  Read the 5/22/2014 news release and you will find they are not just building new ships.  They are building **NEW** ships in the most dramatic and revolutionary sense.  They will be “futuristic ships with groundbreaking designs.”   I witnessed a recent slide presentation of the new builds and even a jaded seafarer like me was knocked off my peg leg.  Fortunately the parrot was uninjured.

As I see it, you have two choices at this point.  You can dream the dream or you can live it.  As we like to say, “Lend us your dreams and we will repay you with memories!”

Cruising The Caribbean . . . Mediterranean Style

Rick Sasso is a man with a vision.  Perhaps it would be more precise to say the vision belongs to the Italian founder, owner and president of MSC Group, Gianluigi Aponte. This amazing family from Sorrento owns one of the largest cargo shipping businesses in the world. Their vision is to draw upon three hundred years of family sailingRick Sasso expertise to bring a new Mediterranean style of cruising to the US market, starting for now with the Caribbean.

So let’s say instead, Rick Sasso is a man with a mission. His mission, which he chose to accept in April of 2004, is to transform that amorphous, if grandiose, vision into a living, breathing reality. You have to admire the sheer audacity of the challenge. The US travel industry is just now crawling out of one of the deepest Rick Sasso, President of MSC Cruisestroughs anyone can remember. There are a number of well established cruise lines with instant brand recognition that have been plying the Caribbean Seas for more than a decade.

It takes two things to attempt this sort of breathtaking challenge: boat loads of money (literally, in this case) and the courage, cunning and quickness of a cat burglar. The Italian patriarch is presumably providing the cash and Rick the cojones.  If you are privileged to hear him present his strategy in person, as I was  a couple of weeks back, you will likely come away convinced that Rick will find a way to fulfill his mission. MSC DivinaTwo weeks ago, the Travel Leaders advisory board on which I serve conducted our most recent meeting in Miami at the JW Marriott Marquis to be continued on board the MSC Divina. We were special guests on a 36 hour cruise to Nassau before the ship headed to Brazil for the World Cup.

If you are unfamiliar with MSC Cruises, no need to berate yourself.   To be honest,  you share this rather embarrassing nescience with most of my counterparts in the travel industry, including me (Or, as they say in Italy, “me”.  I’m also quite the linguist!).  When this meeting was first announced, I was quite pleased because: 1) any sort of travel short of visiting Pyongyang beats the daylights out of performing actual work and 2) here was a great opportunity to fill in another hole in the sizable swiss cheese which is my cerebral cortex.

MiamiAs a quick aside, I took this picture of Miami just before we pulled away from the dock.  I airbrushed the clouds in for effect.  Nice touch, don’t you think?

Getting back to business, I am going to share with you a quick overview of the MSC Divina under two rubrics: hardware and software: I am selecting this approach because we professional travel snobs foolishly imagine that we can impress you, the travel consumer, by sprinkling esoteric travel terms through our writing like peanut butter chips on a double scoop sundae.

HARDWARE

By the term hardware, I mean the ship itself.  (For why I didn’t just say ship, see paragraph above.)  This is certainly one of MSC’s major points of differentiation.  There is an old saw that says, since you won’t be spending all that much time in your cabin, getting an outside balcony is not that important.  I don’t really subscribe to that theory.  For one thing, if you get a nice cabin, you probably will spend more time there.  Sitting out on the balcony for a morning cup of coffee or indulging in some late night star-gazing is a great way to start the mellowing out process.  It’s your vacation.  Live a little!

MSC Divina  Balcony cabin on MSC Divina

When you do venture out of your cabin, you want a cruise ship that offers variegated and interesting public areas to explore.  The Divina has those in spades.  My personal favorite haunt was La Cantina Di Bacco on deck seven.   Late afternoon, when you need a little relaxation, I recommend you stopMSC Dvina wine bar by, order a glass of vino and nibble on these little delicacies!   If you can still remember what you found so annoying last week at work, you’re obviously making the amateur’s mistake of stopping after one glass.

Speaking of being annoyed, I am on a roll here and once again I find myself banging up against my self-imposed limitation on loquaciousness.  I have barely touched upon hardware and we haven’t even gotten to software, firmware, dinnerware, or underwear (oops, sorry, that slipped in from another post.)

Come back soon and who knows what other mysteries I may unravel.   In the meantime, take three short minutes and watch this moving video (it really is heart tugging) which captures the essence of the cruise line quite beautifully.  You will see how these Masters of the Sea have infused the Caribbean experience with a Mediterranean flair.

Next time, I will take you by the hand (tell me you don’t have sweaty palms) and lead you to glorious new destinations, both inside the ship and without.  Feel free to bring along a few friends.   Just remind them to bring their passports!

The Un-Cruise Fab Five (plus a little surprise)

In the travel world there are, generally speaking, two kinds of travel companies:  the ones striving to offer something for everyone and those like Un-Cruise Adventures who are quite content, thank you very much, to provide everything for someone. To put it so simply even I can’t misconstrue, there are generalists and there are specialists.

Honesty compels me to admit that there are a myriad of places in the world where Un-Cruise is simply not an option.  They do serve five incredible destinations, however,  and should you long to experience one of those, congratulations are in order.  You have just won the travel equivalent of the Powerball lottery!  OK, that might be slight hyperbole but it is definitely your lucky day.

Un-Cruise Adventures DestinationsYou see, regarding those destinations Un-Cruise Adventures does offer, they are all over them like “white on rice”.  (If you are not familiar with that expression you need to listen to last Sunday’s segment on PBS radio’s A Way With Words.)  If you are a regular reader, you are probably not shocked to learn that this is my favorite radio program.

So which five destinations are we talking about?  Some of you have already cheated and looked closely at the image above and know the answer.  If you are over fifty, that bit of skullduggery was likely of no help anyway since, like me, you probably can’t read print that small.  If you are looking for your reading glasses, they are on your head.

Here is a quick look at all five with a comment or two about each one.  (The same sneaky little buggers who cheated and looked at the map have undoubtedly already glanced at the bottom of this post to find the little surprise. Tsk tsk . . . very naughty.)

Alaska’s Inside Passage

Un-Cruise Adventures AlaskaOn the Un-Cruise website there is this nice quote from Henry David Thoreau, “We need the tonic of wilderness.  We can never have enough of nature.”  Un-Cruise offers more than a dozen different Alaska cruises ranging from 7 to 21 nights.  If you enjoy wildlife (presuming that term doesn’t conjure up images of table dancing at Senior Frog’s in Cancun), you will be pleased to discover that every one of these adventures teems with God’s creatures.  You will encounter such diverse creatures as humpback whales, orca, bears, wolves, deer, bald eagles and all manner of sea birds.

Washington and British Columbia

I would venture to guess that, unless you are from the Pacific Northwest, most of you are Coastal Washington and British Columbiarilike me and unfamiliar with the seductive sounding San Juan Islands, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Salish Sea, Princess Louisa Inlet and the vast archipelago of islands that grace the coasts of Washington and British Columbia.  Let’s be honest, you were born to have High Tea in Butchart Gardens and to take in nature’s wonders from a kayak or skiff.  I know I was!

Columbia and Snake Rivers

Columbia and Snake RiversBy any chance are you looking for something extremely cool (in both the literal and metaphorical sense) to do this fall or next spring?  Without giving away too much about my next post, Un-Cruise Adventures offers four very distinctive styles of adventure.  One of these is called Heritage Adventures.  I know this is a shameless tease but come back again and I will reveal everything.  (Hmm. That didn’t come out quite right!)  In any case, if you love history with period costumes, legacy reenactments and dead people walking . . OK, just kidding about the last bit . .  you are going to LUV this experience.

Mexico’s Sea of Cortés

Sea of Cortez with Un-Cruise AdventuresTo cite the Un-Cruise website again, “Just south of California lies an unrushed and uncrowded inland sea known as the Gulf of California, Vermillion Sea, Sea of Cortez or Sea of Cortés.  Apparently you can call the thing whatever strikes your fancy at the moment.  I sort of like the Sea of Moi but maybe that’s a trifle pretentious.   I love the fact that this destination offers an area the writer John Steinbeck referred to as “ferocious with life” but also the culture and beauty of the mission town of Loreto and the rich history of La Paz.

Hawaiian Islands

Last but hardly least is the ever popular Hawaiian Islands.  Captain Cook dubbed them the Sandwich Islands after his visit in 1778 because, according to his diary, he had an incredible pastrami on rye at “The Little Mermaid Dive Shop” on Oahu.  See, it’s fascinating little historical tidbits like this you will learn on an Un-Cruise (if you travel with me, anyway).

Hawaii on an Un-Cruise AdventureGoodness, time flies when the words are flowing from your keyboard like syrup from a Vermont maple tree.  I do seem to recall promising you a little surprise.  If you like the fab five destinations, exercise a little patience and in late 2015 — if the dirt doctor hasn’t paid you a house call by then — you can add Costa Rica, Panama and Belize to the list creating the Exciting Eight!

When you come back for your next visit (I prefer the assumptive approach), I will tell you about the four very different style of adventures offered by Un-Cruise Adventures.  You will discover which one floats your boat, so to speak. Until then, which of the Fab Five destinations appeals to you the most?

The Unconventional World of Un-Cruise Adventures

Have you ever been on a cruise?  Ah, mon ami, but have you ever been on an un-cruise?

About the only thing these two experiences have in common is H2O and a vessel that floats.  My goal today is to introduce you to a travel company that has taken the commonplace and familiar and transformed it into something almost unrecognizable.  In a good way, of course!

Un-Cruise Adventures I say introduce because their product offering is so fascinating and diverse that it is going to take me several posts to do it justice.  In fact, what do you say we create ourselves a brand new category called Un-Cruising.  (I haven’t created a new category on this blog in a couple of weeks and regular readers know that normally brings on an outbreak of unsightly hives.)  That way, when I have whetted your appetite with this initial tantalizing post, you can can easily sate your hunger for more insights with future posts all nicely grouped together.  You could, I suppose, just go to their excellent website, but that would deprive you of my inimitable wit and charm, now wouldn’t it?

So what is unique about Un-Cruise Adventures?  As already suggested, it will take several posts to filet that particular topic like a twenty pound Columbia River spring Chinook but I can give you a few broad hints here.

Intimacy Versus Anonymity

Speaking in generalities, the major cruises lines believe bigger is better.  I suppose that’s true if, in your mind, no cruise is complete without a rock climbing experience . . . on board the ship!  I personally love the big ships too but with 6000 passengers and a couple of thousand crew, I feel lucky if I can remember my own name much less expect to be greeted by name in the bar.  Take a look at the Un-Cruise Adventures fleet.  You can add up the total passenger count from all eight ships and it might not equal one deck on the Oasis of the Seas.

Un-Cruise Adventures Chat with the CaptainBy the end of the cruise all the staff won’t just know your name, you will know all their names and their children in birth order!  You will have spent so much time on the bridge, you will know how the Captain takes his coffee and where he got that tattoo of a Geisha girl on his right forearm.

The size of the ships provides intimacy of another sort that may have never occurred to you.  I am referring to intimacy with the destination.  Their shallow draft and smaller size permits access to Un-Cruise Adventures hot tubplaces the larger ships could never dream of going.   See how close the ship is to the glacier!  Stop staring at the foreground, Mister.  We are not talking about that kind of intimacy.   Try to stay focused, OK?

If your dream vacation doesn’t include standing in long lines but does include feeling like Norm walking into Cheers where everybody knows your name, this is the travel experience for you.  I know a little about the travel business and trust me, with so few passengers on board to pay the freight, it is a certainty that not only will you be treated like a VIP, you will be a VIP!

Goodness!  There is so much more I wanted to tell you.  One of the neatest things is how they have organized their product into four adventure styles: active, luxury, heritage and charter, each with a very distinct focus and personality.  If you promise to come back soon, I will explain not just that but why they serve only five destinations* (and which ones) plus a whole lot more.

Un-Cruise Yoga ClassesIn the meantime, the picture above shows just how unique this experience really is.  This is their non-traditional emergency drill.  The instructor is saying, “Should anyone fall overboard, you should give your most believable impression of a dolphin!”

By now you should be salivating to know more about the Un-Cruise Adventure experience.  Wipe the corner of your mouth and come back soon!  I’m just as keen to tell you!

* One of those five destinations is Mexico’s Sea of Cortes. Click here to watch a great video!

Viking River Flows Into The Ocean

Beep . . . Beep . . . Beep!   Please stand by for another “Hear It Here First” announcement.  This is NOT a test of the Travel By Terry breaking travel news alert system.

Some of you may know that Viking River Cruises has clearly established itself as the indisputable master of the world’s great rivers.  Today they have announced their plans to let some of that remarkable success flow directly into the Seven Seas.  OK, maybe not seven right away but at least a couple.   Travel Weekly has a great article this morning about Viking’s plans to launch their first ocean-going vessel, the Viking Star, in May of 2015.

Viking Star rendering exteriorThe initial voyages will ply the Baltic and Mediterranean Seas.  It will fit into the mid-size category with 928 passengers.  One thing that should set it apart from its competitors in this market is the fact that shore excursions and beer and wine with lunch and dinner will be included.

Viking Star interior rendering  Viking Star pool rendering

“Another unusual feature will be a ‘snow grotto’ in the spa in which ‘snowflakes gently descend from the ceiling through chilled air,’ according to a Viking description,” reports Travel Weekly.   To learn more, I  encourage you to visited our branded Viking Cruises site and click on Viking Oceans tab at the top.

When your friends ask if you have heard that Viking has just entered the world of ocean cruising, I suggest you give them a dismissive look and a roll of the eyes and simply respond, “Please!  I follow Travel By Terry.  I heard about that eons ago!”

Travel Industry Proposes, Royal Caribbean Disposes

One of my favorite quotes comes from “The Imitation of Christ” by the German-born Thomas à Kempis (c.1380-1471): “For man proposes, but God disposes; neither is the way of man in his own hands.”  We in the travel agency community are a little like that.  We propose all sorts of brilliant ideas, at least in our own humble estimation, yet we face the reality that in most cases we have zero power to dispose.

Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the SeasI recently interviewed Vicki Freed,  the Senior Vice President of Sales and Trade Support & Services for Royal Caribbean International, right here on this incomparable little blog and one of my queries was, for her at least, this very familiar and possibly tiresome question:  “When will Royal Caribbean start sailing year round out of the port of Galveston?”

For a little context, travel agents throughout Texas and surrounding states have for a few years now  been clamoring, cajoling, carping (and various other exertions too embarrassing to mention in print) for Royal Caribbean to position a ship in Galveston year round.  We travel types are nothing if not annoyingly persistent.

I have big news!  Let me share a brief excerpt from a press release issued today.  “Royal Caribbean International, the cruise line known for first at-sea innovations, announced today that it is basing 3,114-guest Navigator of the Seas year-round from the Texas port city of Galveston.”   Unlike when mighty Casey struck out, there was great joy in Mudville today. More than one of our travel agents was observed doing the happy dance on their desks!

Navigator of the Seas cabin

Since by design, these “Hear It Here First” posts are intended to be short and sweet, you can click here to read all the details.One exciting aspect of the news is that not only will Navigator of the Seas begin sailing year round from Galveston beginning this November but also will be emerging from an extensive drydock revitalization in February of 2014.  

This is absolutely going to be a very popular ship and departure port so start making your plans now.   Click here if you would like a full schedule of departure dates and itineraries and reach out to me for prices and to secure space.

Remember, you heard it here first.  And, if you didn’t, then clearly you aren’t as devoted a follower of this blog as you should be!  Come on, let’s muster a little fanatical devotion here.

Vicki Freed: One Of Royal Caribbean’s Leading Ladies

There are achievers and then there are over-achievers.  (You may have noticed,  I intentionally omitted under-achievers since that strikes a little too close to home for some of us.)  Vicki Freed, the Senior Vice President of Sales and Trade Support & Services for Royal Caribbean International, certainly belongs to the over-achiever category.

Vicki Freed of Royal Caribbean

One of the few times you will catch Vicki just hanging around!

She has set an incredible record of accomplishment.  Should I attempt to catalog her rather daunting list of achievements here, it would only serve to make Vicki blush and, more importantly, take time away from hearing her valuable insights.  I suggest instead you read her full bio here.

What is even more remarkable though is how she has managed to reach the pinnacle of the cruise industry while retaining such warm affection and high esteem among so many of her colleagues and travel industry constituents.  I refrained from saying all because surely there must be someone out there for whom Vicki is not the flavor of the month but lacking an electron microscope and a research sabbatical, so far I have not been able to detect one.

Royal Caribbean Oasis of the SeasWhat you will discover for yourself when you listen to the recorded interview below is that Vicki combines a keen intellect with an ebullient charm.  This happy confluence of gifts has served her well in her career.  She embodies the brand she represents:  contemporary style and timeless grace.  Cream rises inexorably to the top and Vicki is the executive equivalent of crème de la crème.  Hey, I would be right there too if I hadn’t somehow become a little curdled along the way!

Before you listen to the interview, you might be amused (not that I was at the time) by this quick aside.  In preparing for the interview I alerted my co-workers not to come calling, put my phone on Do Not Disturb, turned off my cell phone and securely shut my door, all to insure that the recorded call would be as clear as possible.  Notwithstanding all my precautions, sixty seconds into the interview a window washer started spraying what sounded,  to my ears at least, like a 3″ fire hose on to my exterior windows rattling the window panes and shattering my nerves.  By some miracle, you will not be able to detect the clatter on the recording!

I seem to have been assigned a guardian angel who requires both morning and afternoon naps.  Granted looking after me has to be particularly exhausting but why can’t I have someone shepherding me around with a little more energy or perhaps, more importantly, a less perverse sense of humor!

OK, let’s get to the good stuff!  In our conversation, Vicki, among other things:

1)  Offers some excellent advice to first-time cruisers

2)  Gives us just a peek into the new Quantum class of ships on the near horizon

3)  Nimbly explains how “Every Ship Can Be The Best Ship”

Click here or on Vicki’s picture to see probing questions magically transformed into perceptive answers right before your very eyes . . .  or ears, I suppose, in this case.

Interview with Royal Caribbean's Vicky FreedDo you have a favorite travel industry executive that you would like to see subjected to the unquestionable prestige of appearing on Backroom Banter?  Vicki has set a very high bar but if you do have someone in mind, send me their name and I will see if can’t appeal to their charitable spirit as I did with Vicki.

WOW . . . Royal Caribbean Style

I seldom, almost never actually, resort to a direct sales pitch on this blog.  My  theory is tocartoon cars alesman so dazzle you with my razor wit and effervescent charm that you won’t be able to resist checking out our stellar travel offers (a theory not yet validated by actual evidence but I remain undeterred).  However, seeing as I pretty much make up the rules as I go along around here, I am going to grant myself the travel equivalent of a special papal dispensation with this post and be blatantly and unabashedly commercial.

My rationalization is simple (again, not that I really need much of one).  I recently started a new category on this blog called “Hear It Here First” where I promised to share breaking travel news thus ensuring your status at cocktail parties as the “Seer of Syracuse” or wherever the heck you call home.

One of our valued travel partners, Royal Caribbean International, promotes a giant, three-day blowout sale just twice a year they call their WOW SALE (hence the title of this post).  As special partners, they have given us a little heads up on this offer which does not launch until this coming Monday, February 25th and ends Wednesday, February 27th.

Royal Caribbean WOW Sale

Here are the basics of the offer:

1)  Book any sailing departing on or after May 1, 2013.  3-Day WOW Sale includes cruisetours and sailings on their entire fleet!

2)  Deposits are reduced by 50%

3)  Up to $200 of Onboard credit

Royal Caribbean WOW Sale

* For a fuller explanation of terms and conditions, click here.

Now that you are armed with this advance notice, you can reach out to one of our trusty cruise specialists who will in turn gather information regarding you, your preferences and your immediate travel aspirations.  Then come Monday, our agent will pounce like a ravished Bengal tiger and secure the best possible cabin and price before the other hapless rubes out there have finished their morning coffee!

Here is a list of some of our cruise experts.

Sandy DuVall  *  Lila Tapp  *  Velma Tollison

Damon Webb  *  Judy Richardson  *  Elaine Goad

Cheryl Lobo  *  Linda Matthews  *  Lana Elpiner 

When you click on the agent’s name, you will be provided a robust profile and contact information for that agent! Check out a few agents and when a particular agent’s cruise experience strikes your fancy,  just reach out to them by phone or email.  It really is that easy!

If you have been thinking about taking a cruise and have been waiting for the perfect value to come along (we don’t offer deals), act immediately.  Hey, I had a root canal this week. This little sales pitch has to be less painful than that!