On Seabourn with Newt Gingrich

| Friday, 29 Jul. 2011
Newt and Callista Gingrich aboard the Seabourn Odyssey

On Seabourn with Newt Gingrich

If you are a cruise enthusiast who read the mainstream media reports of the cruise just taken by Newt Gingrich your first thought was probably similar to mine, "Well, June is a nice time to take a European cruise." But then the hyperbolic follow-up editorials came along.

Wolf Blitzer (who has lost all credibility with me since his trouncing on Celebrity Jeopardy by comedian sidekick Andy Richter) seemed to think Newt taking his wife on a two-week summer vacation bordered on insanity. Wolf wrote the following…

What was Newt Gingrich thinking? He announces he's running for the Republican presidential nomination and then goes on vacation with his wife, Callista. Not just any vacation [like] the Grand Canyon enjoying America's majesty. Not a vacation in Florida or California where there are so many wonderful places to relax. But he goes on an exclusive and expensive cruise in the Mediterranean to the Greek Isles and Turkey.

Don't get me wrong. I'm sure the Seabourn Odyssey is fabulous. The pictures of the cabins look great. I've also been to the Mediterranean and it's wonderful. But if you're serious about becoming President of the United States, does it make any sense to go on a European cruise immediately after declaring you're a presidential candidate?

Now – I don't mean this to be a political column. My awe is with the mainstream media profiling the mere act of taking a cruise as odd and outrageous behavior. It was a cruise – not a trip to the moon paid with taxpayer dollars. Plus, Newt's campaign reported he was on vacation and no reporters seemed to care, until it came out that it was on a Seabourn cruise – and then it suddenly became news. Why?

Wolf? Exactly what parts of taking an earned summer vacation at any time does not make sense, and if it doesn't make sense for a "candidate" to take a vacation, what about a sitting President? Remember the ten days the entire Obama family spent in Hawaii last Christmas?

USA Today cited the cruise's "hefty price tag" of $2499.

Really? Since when is $2500 (per person) a hefty price for a two-week cruise on a top-rated cruise line? Compare that to the Hotel Villa in Costa del Sol, Spain, where our First Lady spent $2500 per room per night for an estimated 60-70 rooms for her entourage, plus a flight for them all that cost an additional $146,000 roundtrip.

I was lucky enough to find a couple (to remain anonymous) who were on the same cruise as Newt and Callista and chatted with them regularly. Here is how the couple describes Newt's demeanor on the 450-passenger Seabourn Odyssey:

If you didn't know Newt and Callista were on board you would not have known by the end of the trip either. By that, I mean they did not go out of their way to be in the spotlight.

Now, to get down to brass tacks - Newt and Callista were not in anyone's face at any time. They were travelling by themselves - enjoying a much needed and previously planned holiday. You don't book Seabourn at the last minute - normally it is done at least 12 months in advance - so any talk about them cancelling this trip was crazy. This was a 'one of a kind' cruise put on by the cruise line also attended by one of the ship's (Seabourn Sojourn) godmother, British model Twiggy. And saying this was un-American - holy cow - there were tons of Americans on board. And, some recognized the Gingrichs and some did not.

At dinner time, Newt and Callista normally ate by themselves - quiet time to wind down after a day of touring. And, yes, they did tour with us. We were on three or four tours with them - sitting across the aisle or in front of them on the buses.

We chatted - but because it was a vacation I didn't bring up the election. When we did chat - Callista and I talked about photography and the book about the Memorials and Statues in Washington D.C. they had written together.

They were really looking forward to seeing all the sites of antiquity on this trip. We teased Newt about texting on his Blackberry - I said to him I was envious that his large fingers could go so fast on the keyboard. Callista mentioned that he was writing a big speech.

Some people came right into his face and said some things about running for President but he just downplayed most of the comments. As I said, they were really trying to be just regular people on vacation. This cruise was not like a podium or stage to spout your beliefs to one and all. Most people gave them enough space to enjoy their trip. There were no big speeches about political subjects.

But, you know there are asses everywhere. At an ouzo tasting tour, Newt took one sip of the drink and one idiot (American; mid-twenties) said he was going to post the picture on YouTube. I was standing beside Newt and gave the guy a dirty look. Newt just grinned at me and he said to Callista that it was her turn to sample as he wanted to keep a clear mind to finish his speech.

I took a couple of pictures of them after asking permission and I took some pictures of them together with their own cameras so they could have some memories - not just him or her in the picture. I have included one for you as an attachment.

This is basically the whole story - a nice couple - wanting some privacy for their trip and being sociable when we were on our tours. No entourage - no asking for special favours from the ship or the staff - and the staff being European, really didn't seem to care who they were.

We also had Twiggy on board - she was more in the spotlight than Newt was. She was the "Godmother" of the Seabourn Sojourn.

I think it is a bloody shame that his staff would treat him like they did - he was as entitled to a vacation as any one of them and I think they were just looking out for an excuse to do what they did. They knew his plans months in advance.

And that is the end of the story – Newt goes on vacation, on a nice cruise ship, and somehow our American media turns it into a scandal worthy of disqualifying a potential Presidential candidate. Newt never disappeared from his staff, as implied by the media, nor was he on an "elite and expensive" private yacht engaged in nefarious deeds. He took his wife on a planned and well-known (to his staff) summer vacation to the Greek Isles on an American cruise line.

And all of this makes me wonder – what is the role of the specific media in this country anymore? As far as I know I am the only cruise reporter to point out how silly the mainstream media positioned the act of taking a cruise in this case. Even Cruise Critic, where the story of Newt's location was first revealed, wrote a piece asking "Did Cruise Critic Help Sink Newt Gingrich's Presidential Bid?" where they asked the rhetorical question "maybe it isn't such a smart idea to take a European cruise on a luxury line when you're supposed to be raising money for a sputtering presidential (sic) campaign?"

Once again, is this the real story here? No; the story is that his staff used the cruise as an excuse to bail on Newt's campaign and the media vilified cruising as an "elite and expensive, Un-American holiday" to justify what they did. The way the mainstream media covers cruising just makes me insane sometimes. Did Newt use campaign money for this cruise? No; and neither did he have a taxpayer funded entourage. It was a regular vacation as I hope all of you get to take someday.

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