Is a drop in European demand cause for concern?

In:
12Aug2010
By: Matt Hochberg

If there's one cruise company that has placed the most resources in the idea that European cruise demand is what will drive profits, it's been Royal Caribbean.  Over the past couple of years, Royal Caribbean has been moving more and more of their ships to Europe to meet the perceived demand for cruise ships as well as the strong Euro.  Yesterday, cruise stock prices fell on the New York Stock Exchange on concerns about demand in Europe and on a drop in the broader stock market.

Royal Caribbean stock dropped 4.9 percent to $26.74 after trading on Wednesday and competitor cruise line stocks followed as well. The reason for the drop in price was a day earlier, Europe's biggest travel company, TUI Travel, said strong booking patterns seen in early May were not sustained during the early summer period.

"TUI Travel (Plc's) cautionary comments coupled (with) recent comments from European-based consumer staple companies of slowing demand cannot be dismissed and will bear ongoing close monitoring," Wells Fargo analyst Timothy Conder said in a research note Wednesday.

All isn't lost quite yet, as Wells Fargo Analyst Timothy Conder also said that booking and pricing trends for European-based cruises remained "encouraging."

Royal Caribbean adopts cage-free eggs for dining

In:
11Aug2010
By: Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean has joined some other cruise lines in adopting policies to incorporate cage-free eggs into their dining operations.  Royal Caribbean worked with the Humane Society of the United States when they created their new policy.

Royal Caribbean will go from 3.2 million eggs to cage-free immediately, and will increase to 6.8 million within one year. The Human Society estimates this change will spare nearly 30,000 hens each year from being crammed inside tiny cages.

"Many vacationers take their concern for animals, food safety and sustainability with them when they travel, and we applaud Royal Caribbean and Carnival for taking those concerns seriously by reducing their reliance on eggs from caged hens," said Matthew Prescott, corporate outreach director of The HSUS' factory farming campaign.

Star-Tribune reporter takes a cruise on Freedom of the Seas

In:
11Aug2010
By: Matt Hochberg

Neil Clarridge of the Star-Tribune, a Virginia newspaper, chronicled his recent cruise aboard Freedom of the Seas.  In part one of a three part series, Clarridge embarked on the cruise as a graduation gift for his oldest daughter.  Clarridge chose the cruise over the traditional beach vacation to avoid the "most disturbing teenage debauchery accessible to high school graduates in our area" and off they went.

Clarridge seemed to enjoy his time on the ship, and tried a few different venues on the first night of their cruise.  Here are some of his thoughts...

  • Balcony stateroom: After supper we retired to our stateroom until the show began at 9. Since we had a balcony in our stateroom, we sat outside and watched the ocean go by.  There was nothing but blue water as far as the eye could see. Luxury surrounded by beautiful desolation.
  • Entertainment for the night: The show was very entertaining. The singers could sing, the dancers could dance, and the comedians were funny.
  • Windjammer: Deck 11 was home to the Windjammer caf/. The quality and quantity of the food was superlative.  We went to the Windjammer for breakfast and lunch.

Cruise Lines International Association spent $529K on 2Q lobbying

In:
10Aug2010
By: Matt Hochberg

The Cruise Lines International Association, a lobbying group that represents cruise lines including Royal Caribbean, spent $529,134 in the second quarter lobbying federal officials on immigration, seaport inspections and other matters, according to a recent report.

If the number seems large, it's actually down from the first quarter, when the CLIA spent $696,000.  This quarter's spending is also down from one year ago, when they spent $728,216 last year's second quarter.

The trade group, which represents cruise companies such as Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and Carnival Corp., also lobbied the federal government on legislation related to vessel sanitation, crew and passenger health issues, vessel waste and port security, among other topics.

The CLIA also lobbied the Department ofHomeland Security, State Department, Customs and Border Patrol and the U.S. Coast Guard, among other agencies in the April through June period.

Interview with Maureen Brandt, new chef at 150 Central Park on Allure of the Seas

In:
10Aug2010
By: Matt Hochberg

Today we have the exclusive opportunity to interview Maureen Brandt, who just won the Allure of the Seas Culinary Challenge, and is the new Chef de Cuisine for 150 Central Park onboard the soon to launch Allure of the Seas.  Maureen was generous enough to give us some of her time and offer us a look into how she managed to win this highly touted contest.

How did you find out about the Allure of the Seas Culinary Challenge and why did you feel compelled to enter it?
I received an email from The Culinary Institute Alumni Association announcing the challenge as the job of a lifetime.  Who can pass that up?  I love my business Cook In The Kitchen (catering and personal chef) but I've wanted to run a fine dining establishment for a while.  What a perfect opportunity!  My grandparents owned a travel agency, and my mom is a travel agent that has been on 55+ cruises and so it kind of runs in my blood.  I have no other real attachments aside from my black lab Stella so it seemed like a great idea.  How fabulous that I now get to design my own menu and be the chef of 150 Central Park with the most innovative cruise line in the world.
 
Prior to the Culinary Challenge, how much cruising had you done, if any?  If you had cruised before, what were your thoughts on cruising in general?
As I mentioned it kind of runs in my blood.  I have had the opportunity to cruise 5 or 6 times (can't remember right now.)  I've enjoyed each trip thoroughly.  It's so pleasant to unpack once but enjoy several different ports of call.  You really get the most bang for your buck out of any vacation of ever taken. 
 
To enter the contest, you had to include a dish that you can cook for the restaurant.  Tell us our readers what your choice was as well as why you chose that particular dish.  Was it because you thought it was your best dish that you make or was it something you thought would win over the judges?
The rabbit dish was something I developed when I was taking a continuing education course on culinary competition.  I ended up winning an American Culinary Federation sponsored competition with that dish, as well as working with a PR firm after cooking that for them.  It's my lucky rabbit's foot.  There wasn't much time to put together the video so I decided that would be the most logical choice because it was well developed, refined, and it looks beautiful.  I know it's somewhat controversial and not necessarily what everyone would choose.  After looking at the menu for 150 Central Park onboard Oasis I knew that I would have to make something else for the competition.  Royal Caribbean caters to a very international clientele and I needed to come up with something else using a little more mainstream proteins.  The final decision for the three courses was 
 
Chilled Lobster, Fennel, Carrots, Citrus, Caviar, and Tempura Battered Lobster Mitt
Provencal Lamb Loin, Dijon Potato Puree, Ratatouille, Pattypan Squash, and Olive Tapenade
Pistachio Cake, Whipped Rosewater Creme Fraiche, Carbonated Raspberries
 
The first portion of the contest involved voting from people all over the world where they viewed your video as well as the other contestants and voted on who they liked best.  Tell us a little about what that was like and if you did anything special to garner a few extra votes for yourself from friends and family.
Well having my own business has been an education in itself.  I learned how to market at a very basic level, and then outsourced.  I'm fond of saying that I'm an idiot-savant of sorts.  I can cook very well, but when it comes to writing, or design, or anything else I hire the best I can find and they make me look great!  For the actual voting period I posted on facebook like a fiend, and also emailed people nearly daily, much to their chagrin!  I also utilized the designer, writer, and photographer (Angela Ferraro-Fanning of 13ThirtyOne Design, Lindsay Berger of Inkwell Marketing, and Verna Pitts of Verna Pitts Photography respectively) that I used for my website to come up with a voting flier that I passed out absolutely everywhere, and for a press release that was sent to every news media in MN that I could think of.  Obviously that all helped!!
 
How did it feel to win the fan vote?
Spectacular!  I think I screamed like a teenage girl that just saw Justin Bieber!  I was cooking for an event that day and it was very difficult to concentrate following that.  It's amazing I didn't cut or burn myself!
 
After the fan vote, it was onto the cooking challenge last week.  Walk us through that experience and what it was like to put everything you had worked for on the line.
I didn't sleep well, for about a week.  In fact the night before I left for New York I was up sick all night!  I spent the day before writing out lists and packing very carefully.  I brought all of my own plates, so that was somewhat nerve-wracking as well.  I brought a few extra just in case any of them broke.  In the weeks preceding I hosted a few practice dinners where friends and clients could come and eat what I was going to prepare for the judges.  I just asked for a donation to cover the food cost.  That was a HUGE benefit.  Not only did it give me the chance to practice actually making the food and the timing, I could refine my plating, take some criticism, take photos for my assistant, and eat everything myself to make sure that I liked how it all worked together.
I worked as a teaching assistant at the Culinary Institute of America so being back was so much fun.  I got to see so many of the chefs and administrators that I spent a lot of time with and they all had pearls of wisdom for me.  I'm not going to lie though, it was very stressful!  The waiting was the hardest.  When I was in the kitchen prepping the first day, and cooking the second I was fine.  I was focused and ready.  I had mise en place lists for myself and my assistants, as well as the photos of the actual dish.  I had already labeled containers and was as organized as possible.  Which was a good thing because I used every second they gave me!  I can't thank my assistants enough, particularly Viraj Borkar.  I knew we were going to be okay when he told me about his personal kitchen experience and when he walked around the corner before we started and he had his headphones on listening to music to get focused just like me!
 
The judges named you the winner and you're now the next chef at 150 Central Park on Allure of the Seas.  What does that mean to you?
Well you can't wipe the smile off my face that's for sure! It was so gratifying to hear them call my name because it affirms every decision I have made about my career up to this point.  Cooking really isn't glamorous, it is hard physical labor and the pay is peanuts!  You do it for love of the game, but eventually you hope all of your hard work will pay off and that you will get to run the show someday.  I'm just so excited that all of the hours I've put in, and all of the research that I do has not gone un-noticed.  I know that this is just the beginning and that Royal Caribbean hired me specifically because of that work ethic and that I'm ready to put my best foot forward for them.  The real work is about to begin, but I appreciate the recognition along the way.
 
Let's get to know you a little bit more...
  • Favorite food cuisine (Mexican, Italian, chinese, etc)
    I'm not sure I have one.  I call myself a human garbage can because I'll eat anything.  But I really do like bold flavors so I'm a fan of Mexican, Indian, and Thai.
  • Favorite drink to have on a cruise (either one you've had or one you think would be great on a cruise)
    Corona's in the sunshine, wine pairings at dinner, and a specialty cocktail in a lounge.  I take the same unbiased approach to drinking as I do to eating.  I like it all! Dark beer, light beer, clear liquor, brown liquor, bubbles, white, and red wine.  No I am not an alcoholic!  I think the drink I most often order is a Manhattan on the rocks just like my dad! 
  • Favorite port of call to visit 
    Monte Carlo.  I loved the luxury of it, seeing the palace and the casino, and driving the roads!  How fabulous! Plus it's just a hop skip and a jump to France and Italy.
  • Favorite song on the radio/iPod today
    Somewhat embarrassing, but I'll give.  Right before I walked in to the kitchen before the finals I listened to Dynamite from Taio Cruz 3 times as loud as possible. There's a line in it where he sings that he'll be the last one standing, I just took that and ran with it!

You can visit Maureen's company, Cook in the Kitchen, as well as follow her on Facebook and Twitter. Congratulations Maureen!

Royal Caribbean and The Culinary Institute of America formally name Maureen Brandt winner of the Allure of the Seas Culinary Challenge

In:
10Aug2010
By: Matt Hochberg

Maureen Brandt of Stillwater, Minn. Nabs Job as Chef de Cuisine for 150 Central Park Onboard Allure of the Seas

MIAMI, Aug. 9 /PRNewswire/ -- After hosting an eight week-long contest, which culminated with five intense hours in the competition kitchens at The Culinary Institute of America, Royal Caribbean International has found the next culinary superstar to lead the kitchen of the signature restaurant onboard Allure of the Seas, the cruise line's newest ship which will make her debut in December 2010 and share the title of world's largest and most innovative cruise ship with sister-ship Oasis of the Seas.  Maureen "Molly" Brandt of Stillwater, Minn. has landed the job of a lifetime: a one-year paid contract to be the Chef de Cuisine of 150 Central Park onboard Allure of the Seas.
 
Brandt was one of six chefs – all graduates of The Culinary Institute of America (CIA), the world's premier culinary college – to be a finalist in the Allure of the Seas Culinary Challenge, a contest open exclusively to the CIA's network of 40,000 alumni.  The six chefs participated in a two-part final challenge at the college's Hyde Park campus in New York on August 5 & 6, where they were each required to showcase their culinary prowess and creativity by participating in an interview with, as well as preparing a three-course meal for, an esteemed panel of judges from Royal Caribbean and The Culinary Institute of America.
 
"Partnering with the Culinary Institute and having the ability to tap into their alumni has been an amazing opportunity," said Lisa Bauer, Senior Vice President, Hotel Operations, Royal Caribbean International. "Each of the finalists truly showcased their passion and knowledge in the kitchen and we are extremely excited to have selected Molly as our new Chef de Cuisine for 150 Central Park."
 
After her entry video was selected as the "fan favorite" in the consumer voting portion of the contest, Brandt went on to impress the judges at the Final Challenge by serving up a menu consisting of Chilled Lobster with fennel, carrots, citrus, caviar and tempura battered lobster mitt; Provencal Lamb Loin with Dijon potato puree, ratatouille, pattypan squash and olive tapenade; and Pistachio Cake with whipped rosewater creme fraiche and carbonated raspberries.  
 
"This entire process with The Culinary Institute of America and Royal Caribbean has been such an amazing experience and hearing my name announced as the winner of the Culinary Challenge was surreal," stated Maureen "Molly" Brandt, Chef de Cuisine, 150 Central Park, Allure of the Seas.  "I am beyond thrilled to open this amazing restaurant and look forward to crafting the perfect menu for our guests over the next couple of months as we count down to the launch of Allure."
 
A 2006 alumni of The Culinary Institute of America, Brant was named a Food and Wine best student chef in 2006.  While in training she worked at the Food Network as a culinary extern, where she prepared food for a variety of production projects including "Iron Chef America," "Emeril Live," and "Semi-Homemade with Sandra Lee."  Immediately following graduation, she spent a year as a teaching assistant in the CIA's Escoffier restaurant, before going on to work in the kitchens at many reputable restaurants in New York, Minnesota and abroad, including the critically acclaimed, Michelin starred Cafe Boulud in New York City.  Currently Brandt owns her own private chef and catering company, Cook in the Kitchen in the Twin Cities.  She is also the co-founder and villa chef for Flavors of Italia, a company that offers intimate, culinary-focused vacations in Northern Tuscany.
Located in the lush and tropical grounds of the ship's Central Park neighborhood, 150 Central Park will feature decor that will embrace the mellow earth tones, unique textiles and fixtures inspired by nature's four seasons. Inspired by the simple elegance concept of trend-setting restaurants in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, each detail of 150 Central Park will be dedicated to enhancing the dining ambiance, from the tabletops to the service team uniforms. The restaurant menu and certain design aspects will be developed and determined by the winning chef of the Allure of the Seas Culinary Challenge.
 
Allure of the Seas shares the title of the world's largest and most revolutionary cruise ship with sister-ship Oasis of the Seas. An architectural marvel at sea, she will span 16 decks, encompass 225,282 gross registered tons, carry 5,400 guests at double occupancy, and feature 2,700 staterooms. Allure of the Seas will tout Royal Caribbean's exclusive neighborhood concept of seven distinct themed areas, which will include Central Park, Boardwalk, the Royal Promenade, the Pool and Sports Zone, Vitality at Sea Spa and Fitness Center, Entertainment Place and Youth Zone. The ship will alternate a Western Caribbean with an Eastern Caribbean seven-night itinerary from her home port of Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. 

Restaurant Review: Giovanni's Table

In:
09Aug2010
By: Matt Hochberg

For those looking for Italian food on their next Oasis of the Seas cruise, Giovanni's Table offers family-style Italian in the Central Park area of the ship.  Today, we review this Mediterranean enclave.

Interesting note about Giovanni's Table, prior to our cruise, we tried to get a reservation online but couldn't get one for the time and day we wanted.  We decided to wait until we boarded the ship and try to go to the restaurant on the first day of the ship and get a reservation.  Sure enough, we showed up on the first day and got the day and time we wanted without a problem.  Might be worth trying this idea out if you are in a similar situation.

Atmosphere

Giovanni's Table is situated in Central Park and features a very quaint and somewhat romantic setting.  It kind of looks like that restaurant from Lady and the Tramp meets chic restaurant downtown.  Inside the restaurant, you will find the place small enough to have some charm while big enough to handle a lot of hungry customers.  There are tables that have a window to Central Park as well as seating outside to choose from.  Further inside the restaurant are more tables that can accommodate larger groups.

Giovanni's is meant to remind you of a restaurant in the Tuscany region of Italy along the coast.  With it's northern Italy influences, Giovanni's Table certainly exudes the atmosphere one would expect from an Italian restaurant that serves traditional Italian dishes.  Serving to help sell the idea of a real Italian restaurant is the fresh meat slicer that frequently is used by the wait staff to slice fresh prosciutto ham in razor-thin slices.  The smell fills the room each time and it adds to the charm of the restaurant.

Eats

For dinner, Giovanni's Table offers a fairly large selection of Italian food.  There are three main courses, appetizers and salads, pastas and entrees.  The appetizers, salads and pastas are all served family style, meaning large plates are brought out of each item with the understand that you will share the items between the members of your party.  In most cases, there was enough food on each family style dish to easily satisfy two people and more than likely could be enough for 3-4 people.

To start with, appetizers are the first course and there's a lot to choose from.  For just me and my wife, we found three options that we both wanted to try before we even got to the soups.

For our starters, we chose fresh mozzarella and tomato, caesar salad and focaccia alla Giovanni.  The mozzarella and tomato was good, much like any other time we've had this dish before.  The ingredients were fresh and we chose to add olive oil and vinegar to give the dish a little something extra.  The caesar salad wasn't anything special and tasted perhaps a tad bit better than the caesar salad we had elsewhere on the ship and wasn't something I'd feel obligated to get again.  The foccaccia alla Giovanni can best be described as cheese bread with a little potato between the cheese and the bread that comes with the option of dipping the bread in a pesto sauce along with other accompaniments such as green and black olives.  This was surprisingly good and was the best choice we had among the appetizers.

Next up is pasta and we decided to share one dish, the gnocchi, which are small potato filled pastas in a white sauce.  Gnocchi isn't by any means a favorite pasta of mine, but it seemed like a decent choice.  While the gnocchi was good, we both felt after a few each that the pasta "got old".  As in, it was still good, but we couldn't eat a lot of it at once.  More than likely going to pass on this for our next visit.

By the time we got to our entrees, we were both feeling a little stuffed.  To Giovanni's Table's credit, they give you a lot of food and you're best served to try bites of each even though we felt guilty leaving any of the food on the dish to be thrown out.  For my entree, I opted for the tuna dish, which was kind of like an Italian version of ahi tuna.  A lightly cooked tuna that is rare on the inside (warm on the inside, unlike ahi which can be cold).  This was really good and was easily the best thing I ate that evening.  The sauce was light, which is key because the fish should be the focal point of the taste, not an overbearing sauce and with the baked tomatoes and potatoes along side, it was enough to stimulate my appetite to want to eat it all.

My wife opted for the filetto di Manzo alla griglia, a grilled 8oz beef filet tenderloin.  It was a good cut of beef and definitely better than the steaks we had in the Main Dining Room.  It also wasn't the best steak we've ever had but it certainly was something we could enjoy and I had a bite of it as well. We both thought it was good and were satisfied with the option.

Overall

In terms of pricing, we found Giovanni's Table to be a good option at $15 for dinner per person and $10 for lunch.  We opted to eat here on "lobster night" (neither of us eat lobster) so a night at Giovanni's Table may be best for a night where the menu doesn't look very good in the main dining room.  The wide selection of food and mostly tasty options really left us happy that we stopped by.  I think we both felt like it was worth the extra cost for a nice evening out and found the service better than the food.  

The Italian food is mostly traditional Italian food that many Americans love to enjoy.  The food here wasn't as good as the Italian food we had previously tried at the specialty restaurant Palo on the Disney Wonder, but felt it was still a good meal overall.  We did not try lunch, although we did notice that the lunch menu offers less options than the dinner menu.

Giovanni's Table is open for lunch 11:30am to 3:30pm and open for dinner 6:00pm to 10:00pm.

And I’d love to hear your thoughts if you’ve been here! What did you order? Any suggestions or favorite items? Let me know in the comments below!

Royal Caribbean second quarter earnings report spikes stock price 6.35%

In:
09Aug2010
By: Matt Hochberg

Two weeks ago, Royal Caribbean (NYSE:RCL) announced better than expected earnings for its second quarter report with EPS of $0.28 on sales of $1.6 billion, beating EPS estimates by $0.09 and missing revenues estimates by $19 million.  Since then, the Royal Caribbean stock price has risen 6.35%, from $27.56 to $29.31 in the last 15 days.

This is obviously great news for those who own Royal Caribbean stock as well as fans of the company, given that a stronger stock price translates out to a stronger company overall.

Royal Caribbean had sales growth of 18.7% during the last fiscal year. The company reported $6.3 billion in sales over the past 12 months and is expected to report $7.5 billion in sales in the next fiscal year according to SmarTrend.

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