Ralph Grizzle: Hi, I’m Ralph Grizzle, the Avid Cruiser, and this is the beginning of a new podcast. I’m going to call it Avid Cruiser Unscripted, because we have no idea of where we’re going with this. That’s not entirely true, because we do, we’re going to talk about what we put on the site during the month of January, and what we think will be beneficial for readers, and what we think you’ll enjoy. Along with me is my favorite Canadian – I shouldn’t say that, there are a lot of great Canadians – but Mr. Aaron Saunders. Welcome to the show Aaron.
Aaron Saunders: Thanks very much Ralph, how’s it going?
Ralph Grizzle: It’s going great. I’m over here in Sweden, you’re over there in Canada, and we’re both probably a little bit eager to get away. You’re going to do that soon. You’ve got an upcoming cruise that you’re going to be reporting about on Avid Cruiser.
Aaron Saunders: Yeah, starting on January 31st, I’m going to be sailing on the Carnival Magic out of Galveston, Texas. We’re going to do a run through, they call it the Eastern Caribbean, but really it’s Florida and the Bahamas. We’re going to be calling on Key West, Freeport, and Nassau. It’s a great chance for me to discover the Carnival Magic, which is a really cool looking ship, based off Carnival’s Dream Class. It’s also a nice excuse to go back to Key West, which is a place I love very much.
Ralph Grizzle: You’re doing this as a Live Voyage Report, and this is one part of the site we’ve been working on. We’ve been migrating our Live Voyage Reports over to Avid Cruiser. I think these are great pieces, because they give people the chance to cruise along with us while we’re on these cruises. If you go to the front of the site, AvidCruiser.com, you look at Voyage Reports, you’ll see a new organization there that will allow you to access the reports. This is still a work in progress, we’re still updating some of those and all.
One of the things we learned in looking at our analytics is that people they do want this. Of course, Cruise Reviews is our number one visited section, but right behind that is Port Profiles. You mentioned you’re going to be going to a few places, and you’re going to focus not only on the ship, but also on the places you’ll be visiting as well.
Aaron Saunders: Exactly. For next week what we’re going to be taking a look at is things that you can do. That not only includes things that the cruise line offers to do, for example, shore excursion options in say Key West or Freeport, but also what can you do on your own.
Can you do anything on your own? In certain ports, for example, in Key West it’s very easy to get off the ship, the town’s highly walkable, you really can do your own thing. Whereas in Freeport the port itself is removed from a lot of the actual sites that you’re going to want to see, so in those cases it really can make sense to book one of the cruise lines excursions, or take a private excursion.
We’re going to try to look at all that when we’re on these voyages, and then develop Port Profiles off of that. Again too, while we’re doing the Live Voyage Reports that’s a great chance for readers to ask us, “hey what can you do here?” I mean, if we don’t answer something, either about the ship or the port, it’s a great way for you to get in touch with us, and ask the questions you wanted to ask. We have a much better chance of answering that when we’re actually there.
Ralph Grizzle: That’s one of the parts I enjoy most about our site is the engagement we have with our readers, and it’s a very engaged audience. We have about 6,000 people on our e-mail list. We get about 100,000 visits every month. The people are very engaged. They leave comments, they tell us when we’re wrong, they tell us when we’re doing a good job. I actually like it when they tell us we’re wrong, because I look at the posts that we do as they’re living posts, that people can go in add, “I was in Nassau, and I ended up at this great restaurant.” We are trying to build community here.
We just run a survey about should we have forums? The numbers weren’t outrageous on the respondents, but 81% want forums on the Avid Cruiser site. They’ve asked us to promise if we do launch a forum that it’s not a forum for people to snipe at one another, or to snipe at the cruise lines, or the destinations. We’re going to keep it positive, but yet very informative. That is our mission, it is to help people make informed decisions about cruise travel. I say travel not vacations; for some people it’s a vacation, but at least for you and me Aaron, I think it’s more of a lifestyle, it’s more of a travel experience that we’re looking for.
Aaron Saunders: It is. I think that you know I’ve always said that travels a lot like riding a bicycle. Everybody wants to get the mountain bike out of the garage, and go for a spin in the woods, but before you can do that you’ve got to ride the one with the training wheels first. I think travel’s a lot like that. I think that there’s some of these experiential trips that you work your way up to. People just don’t go from 0 to 60, and decide you know what, I’m going to take a cruise along the Mekong River, or I’m going to go and I’m going to do a South African Ocean cruise.
Everybody starts off somewhere, so for a lot of people that’s starting off in the Caribbean, or in Alaska, and so we’re really to build this nice mix of providing reports on high-end experiences, that maybe there’s less information about. Along with mainstream ships that are big and popular in the news, but I think for Ralph and I the trips that we enjoy the most are the ones that are very out there, and are very different. That’s one of the most beautiful things about travel is a cruise isn’t just a Caribbean cruise that’s a vacation, but you can have an experience if you’re willing to stretch yourself and your comfort zone sometimes.
Ralph Grizzle: Yeah. Increasingly Avid Cruiser is all about small ship, expedition and river, which is on our sister site, River Cruise Advisor. That’s not to say you’re on Carnival Magic, for example, and there are a handful of large ships that we enjoy, and it’s not really about us, it’s about our readers anyway. We’re not trying to cover, we can’t, we can’t cover all of the big ship companies, so we cover who we feel comfortable covering.
We’ve talked about we’ve got the Voyage Reports, which we are beefing up on the site, and making more accessible. We’ve talked about the small ships and that sort of thing. Also, let’s talk about some of the popular articles this month. The number one article, which sort of blew me away, was Holland America Lines Koningsdam.
Aaron Saunders: It blew me away too. This is a ship that’s been announced for some time now, everybody knew it was coming. We sort of expected in our minds that maybe some of the new Royal Caribbean ships launching that we’ve got the third Oasis Class Ship coming on this year. No, it turns out people are very interested in Koningsdam.
For Holland America this represents a really new chapter in their history, because even though she looks like the Nieuw Amsterdam, and the Eurodam, they’re actually taking her to completely different directions. She’s going to have a lot more features. She’s going to have some new amenities like a new two story Queen’s Lounge that’s going to offer music and and dancing. To that respect, Holland America’s really going back to their roots with this, because traditionally dancing and live music was a huge part of the Holland experience. That kind of got a bit meddled away and bit muted in some their latest ships.
They’re really making a great commitment now to bringing back that live music. In fact, they’ve got an entire area of the ship that will be known as the music walk, because of how many venues are along there. It’s going to launch this year, and it looks like a tremendous ship, especially for people that are loyal to Holland America. It is going to be change maybe from what they know, and have loved in the past. I actually think it will be a change for the better. I think that this will be the next evolution of Holland America.
Ralph Grizzle: This is the largest Holland America line ship. This is getting up there with the Celebrity Solstice Class. For the premium segment these ships are … I don’t know that they’ll go much beyond 3,000 passengers, but that seems to be a good-size ship. It has enough public rooms, and activities, and features for people to enjoy, and yet not so big that they get lost in the ship.
Aaron Saunders: That’s the thing, Holland America, they’re really not going nuts with the passenger capacity on this. I mean for a ship that size they could easily say let’s have 5,000 people in there. They’re really, like you were saying, I don’t think that they can go much beyond that marker, and still call themselves a bit of a premium line, much like Celebrity. I think they’ve managed to find the sweet spot around that passenger base. If you go further than that, then you’re getting into the really big boys, you’re getting into the Carnivals, the Costas, the Royal Caribbeans. There’s nothing wrong with ships that hold a lot of people, but you are changing that experience, it becomes a little bit less intimate.
Ralph Grizzle: Then we’ve got their sister company up there in Seattle also managed there, it’s Seabourn. We’ve got an article about Seabourn, “What will Seabourn do Differently in Alaska.” That’s in 2017, the article’s on the site, a lot of people are focused on Alaska for 2016, so we won’t talk a lot about Seabourn. It’s a small ship in the league of Silversea. We’ve spent a lot of time, because we’re going to update all of our ship reviews, we’ve spent a lot of time in January updating our Silversea section. Tell us what you’ve been doing a lot of work on that, what have you been doing? You’ve done some photo tours and …
Aaron Saunders: What we’re trying to do with the site, and we’ve decided to start with Silversea to begin with, we’re trying to update all of our ship reviews wherever possible with comprehensive photo tours. That means going through deck-by-deck, photographing the public rooms, photographing the public spaces, because again, in a lot of instances biggest or smaller ships, these are more luxury ships. There isn’t the same wealth of information about them generally, that there would be about a mainstream ship. For us, we feel it’s really important, especially on their expedition fleet, Silver Discoverer, Silver Explorer. A lot of people wonder well what do these look like? How do they compare? What are the differentiating factors?
When you do a photo tour it’s very easy to see what the kind of atmosphere is like on board, and for a lot of people that can be very important in deciding to spend the kind of money that it takes to go on maybe a Silver Galapagos trip to the Galapagos. We’re starting with that, and then we’re going to be moving along to other lines. Gradually, what we’d like to do is to update all of our ship reviews with photo tours, but only if they’re photo tours that we personally have taken pictures of. We feel that’s really important to not just use stock shots, because stock shots always make the ship look great.
If you take a photograph of the ship, then people can actually see here’s what this looked like on this day, and this year, and this everything. I think too, getting back to the question about forums and boards, sometimes you see questions on other cruise forums, and people say the ship is run down and it looks terrible. Then somebody posts a picture, and it turns out the ship doesn’t look run down and terrible at all.
Ralph Grizzle: Again, if we launch a forum it’s going to be no whiners, no snipers, and that sort of thing. The video section, I do a lot of video. We’ve posted a lot of these Adventures Ashore featuring these different destinations throughout Europe. We covered quite a lot of destinations. We’ve got a lot more of these rolling out this year, as well. Having said that, and I’m not going to butter this up at all, but our organization of our videos is horrible on the site. That’s one of the things we’re going to be working on is trying to put those, give those a good home on the site where people can find those, along with other port information.
We’re going to be working on the Port Profiles section of Avid Cruiser, because it seems to be what people are wanting quite a lot – to know what to do when they get to a destination.
Aaron Saunders: I think that Ralph is correct is saying some of the organization on the site could be a little bit better. We know that, we’re really aware of that, and we’re really making strides to try to make the site really as user friendly as we possibly can. The interesting thing too, as you probably know, is the cruise industry is constantly changing, it’s constantly evolving. With that the interesting thing is our site has to change and evolve at the same time. It’s fun and exciting, but it’s also really a unique challenge, as well. Not only to manage the new content, but to work the back end of it. It’s a bit like car where every month they change all the parts you need to fix it.
Ralph Grizzle: Exactly, … and I encourage people to use that search feature, because if we don’t have it organized the way that we want it to be organized, that search feature, it can be a whole lot of help. I use it a lot myself. We’ve got probably 6,000 posts and pages on the site. You can imagine the organizational challenge. Use the search feature. If you’re having a big problem use the contact link, and those e-mails come directly to us, and we respond to every one of them.
Aaron Saunders: That’s a good point too. If there’s every something that you can’t find on the site, or if there’s something you’d like to see on the site, and we just don’t have it, get in contact with us. Get in touch with us, use the contact link, use the comment boxes at the bottom of each post, and let us know. We actually are very recipient to that, we want to hear whatever we’ll like.
Ralph Grizzle: We’ve got a free little e-book on the site, and I just finished updating that today. It’s called, “Six Tips to Extract More Joy From Your Cruise,” or “Six Tips For Smooth Cruising.” I’ve named it a few things over the years, but basically it’s a free download, and it’s been downloaded nearly 4,000 times. You’ll find that on the site in the sidebar, and it might be worth your while to take a look at that.
Wow, well we’re going to try to do this every month I suppose. We’re also going to do it for our River Cruise site. I wish you a good time on your cruise, and I look forward to what you have to report on from the Carnival Magic.
Aaron Saunders: Thanks Ralph. Enjoy your time in beautiful sunny Sweden.
Ralph Grizzle: Over here in Sweden and heading back soon. I’ll be, next month I’ll be at the Viking Longships Inaugural in Amsterdam toward the end of the month, so we’ll be covering that on River Cruise Advisor. To our readers and subscribers, if you’d like to leave comments, this will be posted on Avid Cruiser, and you can leave comments just below the post.
Thanks for listening, and thank you Aaron.
Aaron Saunders: Thank you too Ralph, and thanks everyone for listening.