Up Front With Martin B. Deutsch



December 1, 1986 -- They’re still hanging by their fingernails as the end of the year approaches and 1987 comes into closer focus.

“They” in this case embraces several identities: the travel industry folk on both sides of the North Atlantic, and the millions of undecided Europe. Many of these potential tourists, as I wrote last month, were deterred from this unique pilgrimage by such factors as terrorism, the sharply declining dollar and Chernobyl. (I use the word unique because the many-splendored attractions of Europe are exactly that; and that’s why most would-be travelers who chose not to cross the North Atlantic in 1986 did not substitute a domestic U.S. Caribbean or Mexican vacation. Instead, they stayed home to wait until next year, or they motored to the shore or the mountain.)

Travel to Europe was recovering as early as last June, and firming up through the summer months, as terrorist acts took a holiday. But there was a blip on the charts with the Pan Am hijacking in Karachi and a cluster of destructive deeds in Paris.

The French did not strike a blow from tourism, either, with the ill-advised imposition of visas on most countries other than their European market partners, which ironically serve as gateways for most of the violent activists. Why would the terrorists transit through the U.S. or Canada? Only the Mitterrand regime knows for sure. On the other hand, I do sympathize with the French irritation over Uncle Sam’s ongoing retention of visa requirements for incoming tourists from most friendly nations. The so-called visa waiver legislation has been kicking around the House and Senate for years, usually as part of the highly charged immigration reform bill. But something always happened to stymie this laudatory move toward decency and reciprocity. Notwithstanding the current French fumble, we generally don’t need visas to visit our friends. Why prolong the long-standing resentment in Europe, Japan and elsewhere? Let’s pass the visa waiver legislation and get rid of this archaic barrier. Let’s cut the red tape and eliminate the dated bureaucratic thinking that sustains this affront. Has anyone had a look at those terribly long visitor arrival lines at Kennedy lately? They’re a disgrace. (After press time, Congress passed a pilot visa waiver program.)

And talk about accentuating the negative. Although the U.S. press, consumer and trade, has been reporting favorably on travel to Europe since late last spring, leaders of the European travel communities have continued their steady and unproductive bad-mouthing of the Fourth Estate. I heard it again, loud and clear, at an industry conference in Singapore in late September. Hardly statesmanlike.

Anyway, here are further capsule comments about my swing thought bits and pieces of Europe last August. London had been first, then…

Not a nice intro after landing at Nice. Cabbie on twenty-minute ride to Cannes demanded sixty dollars, paid forty-five. (Why les amis stay home.) Later ride to Monte Carlo from Cannes pegged in advance at a pricey $100. Hotel Martinez across from Cannes beach a super property. Comfortable swimming pool area, splendid restaurants, deluxe rooms. Occupancy down 20 percent from last season, but Richard Duvauchelle, director general, says it’s not the Americans who are staying away—defection’s widespread. Nonetheless, he’s most concerned with luring U.S. guests back; will bring his chef to New York’s Pierre Hotel next March.

And if that won’t do it, nothing will. Christian Willer heads the two key kitchens, La Palme D’Or and L’Orangeraie. The former, open only since last May, has earned one Michelin star; second one not far off. (Only privately run restaurants can win coveted third star, or so I was told.) Dinner at La Palme D’Or, with eleven-plus courses of chef’s specialties, one of the best I’ve ever had. Outstanding wine list too, and great setting looking out at the sea. With service and tax, excluding wine, the feast ran a reasonable $60 per head. Another winner: the “health menu” of 649 calories at L’Orangeraie.

La Mirabelle Restaurant in Port of Cannes’ Old Market neighborhood offers excellent menu, fine local dishes at reasonable prices and waiters will translate, with patience. Good place for a casual respite from the more formal hotel dining rooms.

Sea Goddess II weighed anchor from Monte Carlo harbor, a picture postcard venue. The ship is small; more of a large private yacht that a traditional cruise liner. And that’s how she’s run—intimate, friendly, low-key. Every cruise staff member knows your name; you know theirs. Invariably, you also get to know most of your fellow passengers, since the ship holds less than 120 passengers. We had 77—mostly Americans, although there were a few from Europe and South America. Generally, a workable mix.

The vessel is a knockout; so is just about everything provided within her confines. The public space is roomy and elegant, the swimming pool area is ample and there’s an additional sun deck, but it’s the cabins that really stand out. King-sized beds (no bunks), plush couch and sitting chairs, full bathroom facility and a VCR in every room. (The video library has a fine selection of flicks.) There’s also a bar that’s kept replenished; all drinks on the cruise are included in the tariff. The casino, staffed by distaff croupiers from the U.K., is imited to two blackjack tables and a small assortment of slot machines. There’s really no formal evening entertainment (it’s the splendid single-sitting meal), although a singer from the States, Pamela Blake, did several easy-to-take shows.

This dinning is memorable–signs should be hung that say dangerous to your waistline. Breakfast and lunch are outdoors, weather permitting, and they’ll bring or prepare just about anything you can think of. The lunch buffet doesn’t stop; then they hand you a menu with a dozen selections. You can glide into dinner between 8 and 10 p.m., unassigned seating, for a multi-course gourmet evening. Room service is available 24 hours a day; and that includes Beluga with blinis.

The Sea Goddess II (sister ship I was cruising Alaska) called at Porto Cervo in Sardinia (we were denied entry to the Aga Khan’s hotels on the Costa Smeralda); Sorrento (spent most of the day at nearby Capri—jammed, but distinguished from previous summer by absence of Americans); Siracusa and Sicily; Corfu in Greece’s Ionian Sea; and Venice (crowded with August European vacation crowds, but hotels, shops and restaurants miss the U.S. dollar). If I had one equivocal reaction to the Sea Goddess II it was the planning and handling of the shore excursions—not top notch.

Finally, while tipping abroad was firmly discouraged, no one said no when gratuities were disbursed. And the quality of service was certainly worth something extra. Great experience; well up to the premium fare.

While we were cruising this Norwegian flag vessel, it was announced that management of the Sea Goddess fleet had passed into the hands of Cunard Line.

This column originally appeared in Frequent Flyer magazine.

Copyright © 1991-2007 by Martin B. Deutsch. All rights reserved.