An Interview with Ralph Grizzle, Founder of Avid Cruiser
Ralph Grizzle founded the Avid Cruiser in 2004, first a print magazine before going fully digital in 2007. He began his journalistic career at the age of 32, following the conclusion of a ‘sabbatical decade.’ From 1980 through 1990, Ralph bicycled across America, pedaled through Europe and island-hopped the South Pacific. At the end of his travels he landed in Switzerland before returning home, where he settled, quite naturally, into a career of travel writing.
Now, over 20 years later, Ralph’s work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and numerous consumer magazines. The North American Travel Journalism Association awarded his article, “Ship Shape”, which appeared in the September 2005 issue of Hemispheres, in the category of ‘Best Cruise Writing.’ He has also published four books, including Remembering Charles Kuralt.
TRO: What inspired your love of travel?
RG: It’s really the same thing that inspires me today, which is a love for seeing how other people live, tasting the food they eat, experiencing the lifestyles they live, hearing the languages they speak. Plus I love connecting with others. What I’ve noticed about Americans is we love to connect to other people. I haven’t found that to be so true in other countries but here, for some reason, we really care and we want to connect.
TRO: Why did you choose to focus on cruising during your career as a journalist rather than general travel?
RG: I really love general land and air travel and, in some ways, I honestly prefer those, because you get to see more of a particular place. But cruising is an easy and very convenient way to travel, and I fell into it it back in the early 1990s when I was assigned to do a cruise review. I’ve been cruising ever since.
TRO: Based on your knowledge of the industry, how do you foresee recent events (Costa Concordia, ship fires, engine troubles) affecting the industry?
RG: While I think travel agents would know better than I would, I believe these incidents have affected travelers’ comfort levels with booking cruises, which it shouldn’t. It all boils down to the individual traveler’s tolerance for risk. Mine is very, very high because I think the chances of something bad happening are just as likely on land as it is at sea. I think travel agents have a challenge to overcome some of the fears people may have about cruises, but how do you reassure travelers? I still assert cruising is a very safe way to travel.
TRO: What is your favorite cruise destination?
RG: Definitely Europe because it’s so varied. Europe has ocean cruises in the eastern and western Mediterranean, Northern Europe and the British Isles. Then you have the component of river cruises on all the different rivers in Europe, so there are a tremendous variety of experiences available for travelers. You can cross borders so easily that you can experience dozens of cultures in a matter of a few days. I’ve fallen so in love with Europe that I even live in Sweden for a good portion of the year now. We often hear that Americans live to work and Europeans work to live; that lifestyle is something I really enjoy.
TRO: Are there any destinations on your bucket list?
RG: Definitely. My bucket list nowadays includes destinations to visit with my children. I’m taking my daughter to Sweden for two weeks in January and my son (the lucky boy) on Crystal Cruises with me from Istanbul to Monte Carlo. I want to show them the world I’ve seen and experience these destinations through their eyes.
To be more specific, however, I would like to visit Antarctica and Africa, perhaps on one of the new AmaWaterways Safari Cruises.
TRO: Do you ever participate in shore excursions during your cruises? If so, what is your opinion on them?
RG: I’ve done some shore excursions and my opinion is that they are hit-or-miss. Some are great, some are just okay. Usually, my rule of thumb is if it’s more than a two-hour bus transfer to get to the excursion site I do not participate because I believe that is too much time and energy to spend when you are on vacation. I understand many travel agents have excursions they can offer that may be better than what the cruise line offers.
TRO: Speaking of travel agents, please explain your experience with them.
RG: From 1990-1995 I was one of the editors for ASTA’s trade magazine called ASTA Agency Management. Our goal was to help agencies manage their businesses and also to give them information about destinations and travel products and cruises. At first we did not focus so much on cruises but interest really started to increase around 1992 and that’s what brought me into the world of cruising. In 1995 I left that position and, along with another editor, we launched another publication called Cruise Week which informs agents about the industry. We covered things like commissions and industry issues. I still write for that publication even though I don’t own it anymore.
TRO: What advice do you have for travel agents who wish to focus on selling cruises?
RG: I could only advise them to do what I did with my career, which was to follow my passion. I wanted to become a digital storyteller. I believe selling is a lot of storytelling so agents could benefit from thinking of themselves as storytellers. Get their stories out there, on the web, in newspapers, wherever they can.
TRO: How can agents benefit from reading your publications?
RG: Avid Cruiser is a huge site, I have somewhere around 3,000 posts and probably 400 videos. I try to have a little bit of everything so agents can, hopefully, always find something to help with their current sales goals. I realize it can be difficult to find content in a site with that many posts so I urge agents to send me an e-mail if they are having trouble locating anything in particular. You can find my contact info on the site.
TRO: Anything else you would like to share with the travel agent community?
RG: I would like to tell agents about a new project we are doing in river cruising. The site is called rivercruiseadvisor.com. I’m going on two river cruises during the next couple of weeks so there will be a lot of information coming through about these two voyages. I feel if agents can find something on either of my sites that is helpful, I’ve been successful in my goals.