No Ordinary Adventure

Through the Porthole with Bill Panoff

May 12, 2023 No Ordinary Adventure by UnCruise Adventures
No Ordinary Adventure
Through the Porthole with Bill Panoff
Show Notes Transcript

Join Captain Dan Blanchard and Bill Panoff, a renowned travel expert and host of the Travel Series, Cruise and Travel. Bill, the publisher of Porthole Cruise and Travel Magazine and Chairman, brings  35 years of expertise in the cruise and travel industry to the conversation.

In this captivating episode, Bill shares his recent experience aboard the Wilderness Discoverer with UnCruise in Alaska. As Bill and Captain Dan delve into their shared passion for travel, they explore the charm and allure of smaller, more intimate ships that foster a sense of community among passengers. They discuss the joy of meeting new people from different walks of life, forging connections, and fostering a love for exploration. 

Whether you're a seasoned traveler or an aspiring adventurer, this conversation will inspire you to embark on your own extraordinary voyage.

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Hey adventures. Welcome to the no ordinary adventurer podcast, a place we call home for adventure and the conversations you want to have. We bring you inspiration stories from the field and talk with adventure travelers and industry experts from around the world. This is the place to fill your heart and head with tribal knowledge. Now, your host Dan Blanchard, a lifelong Mariner traveler and CEO of UnCruise Adventures, a small boat adventure company defining the icon in UnCruise. Let's get started. Well, good morning, everyone. This is Captain Dan Blanchard coming to you from my office in Juneau, Alaska, which is also my home. And I have a really special guest today on our no ordinary adventure, my podcast and the podcast of UnCruise Adventures. And I am super excited to bring on board a guy that I have loved to get to know and deeply appreciate. Sometimes I feel like Bill, who I'll introduce shortly, is like, I think we're brothers from a different mother we are. And Bill and I have been in the industry both for a long time. So we're gonna chat with Bill about his life and and what he's doing. But welcome to Nora ordinary adventure bill and thanks for being onboard with us, Dan, it's it's a great pleasure and even a greater pleasure to just have been sailing with you on the Wilderness Explorer. And what an amazing experience. Yeah, I was so happy you got on board. And it's you know, you were here during the early season. You know, which, you know, we forever had been saying to people come during the early season, the chances of Sun is greatest. But you know, it's always hard to get people to come up in April, you had some great weather. Yeah, I wasn't disappointed. It's actually sunny every day. So it was phenomenal, phenomenal. And even if it wasn't sunny the the scenery and the way you execute the cruise is so very, very different than anything I've ever been on. I've actually I had trepidations of actually sailing on a small ship because I never have but those those fears are long gone. And I am I am hooked. I am signing up for the next one. Sounds good. I like that idea. Well, uh, tell me, you know, one thing I was just pleasantly surprised with. And I even knew I knew you had been in the industry for a long, long time. I went as we got closer to closer to having you up in June. And all of a sudden all my friends around town start popping up, you know, people that you and I know a time Right. Exactly. Yeah, Laura, I don't know all these people that we know. And I found out that wow, Bill's kind of a celebrity even in my own town. So tell me, I mean, you have evolved and done a lot of different things I know now in the travel industry. But tell me what's happening today. And what is Bill and porthole all about. So I'll give you the Reader's Digest version of how I got started in this business much like yourself, and you're a captain of the ships. I started working for a cruise line, almost 45 years ago, Carnival Cruise Lines. And at that time, they had three ships, the Nina the Pinta, and the Santa Maria know they had who was the carnival, the Mardi Gras and the festival and I was the cruise director, they hired me to be the, you know, the folks who looked after the passengers to make sure they had a great cruise. I was also I'm also a professional magician, actually, they hired me to do magic. And they liked the way that I did my magic. And that led to me being you know, a cruise director, you know, I was doing simple card tricks, you know, stuff like this, you know, where you take the cards and you shuffle them, you know, it's it, I mean hours of practice to learn this data, it's really very, very difficult. So I did that. And then, you know, I worked on board for 12 years. And while I'm bored, I saw an opportunity as the cruise industry was growing. And the consumers were more interested in cruising to develop a magazine that captured the cruise experience, especially for those who have never been and hence the birth of porthole magazine, which is going on 35 years, and still going strong today. And that's how I started I got the idea from being on board and visualizing the cruise from the from the crew members point of view from the guests point of view and then developing this publication and we're really we're the only one out there that reaches the consumer directly. There's many b2b publications, but only one consumer magazine that targets cruising. Yeah, that's really true. And you and I both been in the industry for so long know that there are plenty of publications from business to business, as you say. But but the piece that that we're porthole has been so successful, is really in that outreach to, to people interested in cruising. I mean, how is that championship? There's a little off script here, but how has that changed since the day of print and digital and all this kind of thing? In terms of the magazine itself? Yeah, yeah. Well, I think that you know, during COVID We made it We made a decision to take the printed version of Corvo, which is this was filmed in Antarctica, actually, you'll be on the cover. And then in the upcoming issue, by the way, just so you know, I didn't want to surprise you. So it's going to be, it's all digital now, because the printer was very expensive, obviously. And more and more people wanted a digital publication. It's more shareable. It lives longer, and we can update it more frequently. So we've taken all our subscribers from print to digital, and they seem very, very happy with it even happier, because the magazine has a little more life than a printed piece. Yeah, you know, and I reflect that as well. And we did the same at UnCruise Adventures. And, you know, I think it's there's also the, the environmental impact is is something to consider as well. So it's, yeah, honor what you're doing there. Yeah, I mean, I get it. And I've been with porthole reading your magazine for years and years and years. Really appreciate it. But I knew we had a reader. I knew we had. There was at least one out there. Bill. You shared with us a little bit about how you got in the travel industry. Sure. Sure. You know, and in those early days at carnival, and in Florida and such and you still make your home in Florida, I believe we do. We live in a little town called Delray Beach, which is about an hour north of the Port of Miami and 30 minutes north of Port Everglades, and about two hours from Orlando. So we're right in the center of it really, in terms of cruising. Yeah. And you've seen that the whole industry grow and take off. And then there's this kind of specialized thing here at UnCruise. And, and you were recently on on with this, can you can you share kind of maybe some of that? Yeah. So I was honestly I was I was nervous about taking a small ship, because I'm a big ship guy. And I've been on, you know, the big Royal Caribbean ships and carnival and Princess and, you know, with the full scale entertainment, and then the and the the big cabins and this and that and you know, but you know what, once I sailed it all, that doesn't matter, it doesn't matter. Because what you do, the way you bring people to the destination, and the people who are on board are all there for a common good, they're all there for the for the same purpose and the beauty of a small ship. Although the cabins are small, it doesn't matter, it really doesn't matter, the experience was made. And by the way, the food on board, that's another thing I was worried about the food was damn good to me that we really, really was good. I can't remember the name of the chef. But every night he had something that outdid the previous meal. So I was very happy about that. And I met some really nice people, unlike a large ship where you bump into someone one day and might not see them to the end of the cruise, I made lifelong friends on this ship that I'm staying in touch with. And we hope to cruise again on UnCruise in the very, very near future. So the experience for me was eye opening. And I am a little hesitant to go back on a big ship after being on a small ship. It's actually been in Alaska on the larger ships. You know, I've been on Holland America, I've been on princess in Alaska, and you get up to the glaciers and it's really a drive by so to speak. But you guys take us into the to the air. I mean, you're that close, you can not that you can touch the Glazer. But you're it's a whole different perspective that you have and the places that your ships can go, the large ones cannot so for that I am I am hooked I really am. Well, I appreciate that Bill and and as you know, my, my my significant other Megan was traveling with you on that trip and poor girl, she wanted me to say hello. First of all, she's got the day off today. She She was telling me just how what a joy it was to work. I mean, you have a tremendously confident film crew, I believe, you know, one of the things we were talking about earlier, you know, the digital brochure for instance. So the digital magazine in your case, I'm assuming that you like us have adapted even bale be able to put video into that publication. Well, absolutely. Yeah, I know. The digital version has links every day to different videos. Usually, the story is connected to a video that revolves around that particular story, for example, so we we take advantage of that and we develop all the video content here internally. The fellow we took with us to Alaska we have Christian of course works travels with me all the time. He's my digital right hand helps with all the social and our videographer Felipe who's been with the Discovery Channel for God knows how long has a tremendous eye and he's the one that will do anything for the shot. You know, he yeah, as you saw by the video, which we're releasing tomorrow, and we'll send you all the link obviously, it's a 20 minute video about the experience from A to Z with UnCruise on the wilderness explore. And if after you watch that video you don't want to book I would be very very surprised because I mean it will hook you honestly. Well, you did give me a sneak preview that video and I have to say we we've watched it at least three times at least. So you know it's been a lot of fun. I look forward to a release and sharing it myself. One thing I found on with you and your team is, I'm really curious, you know, how does Bill and his team travel all over the world go on all sorts of different types of tours, ships, cruises, you name it. I mean, what have you found are like keys to get behind that veil, to really understand what a company is doing or what a destination really looks like. We tried to do a lot of research pre pre cruise before we actually board the ship. But once we're on board, we, we talk a lot to crew members, actually, who give us like a lot of insight tips about, you know what to do, or maybe places to see in the various ports that give us a little, you know, a sneak peek. And then we follow the guests. And we really watch what they do and try to create a video through the eyes of what the cruise guests would like to see. And we'd like to find those hidden spots in each port, you know, those those gems, if you would, that are off the beaten path that are not really readily available. So, you know, I've been on ships for many, many years. And Felipe also worked on ships and Christian as well. So everybody in our team has cruising in their blood. So we have a little bit of an advantage over, you know, a video team that has never been on a ship, for example. Well, that's really interesting. You know, when you mentioned about the crew and your team's experience on ships, you know, back in the day when what blow decks TV program? Yeah, blow deck. Yeah. You know, they they contacted us. And we were, you know, kind of interested in maybe talking about we thought, well, maybe that's a little bit too far below deck. Seems like you found a balance in in doing the research, but I find it quite interesting and actually encouraging that you spent so much time talking to the crew. Oh, yeah. Yeah. Because our crews Great. Yeah, yeah. It's, the crew is amazing. And matter of fact, we went I went kayaking apart with Megan, I think the Gala was our server on board was so engaged she went to and kayaking with me one day, I went hiking with someone else on board. And they were just amazing. And the expedition leaders, I mean, we're just one was better than the other. And they really are well schooled. I mean, they're not just expedition leaders that you put out there. They really know what they're talking about, honestly. So well, that that brings up a good point, because, you know, the expedition leader is really the person in our case that can guide you down the path. Yeah, as you were being guided down the path aboard the wilderness discover, what would you I mean, as you left the trip, and maybe you're at home now, what are some of the remarkable memories that are important to you personally, first of all the the authenticity of the experience, the friendliness of the crew, and the authenticity of the crew, they weren't there to put on a show. They were they all wanted to be there. I mean, these are people you know, apart from, you know, getting paid to work on a cruise ship, or a boat, rather, they love Alaska. And every week I asked him, I said, Do you enjoy it, he said, I look forward to this every week, because every week we go something is different, the scenery changes or something, the landscape is a little bit different. So everybody on board wants to be there, as opposed to some of these larger ships, where you, you find some crew members that are really just saying they're there because they have to be there. So everybody was so welcoming, and friendly, and they really wanted to become part of, of you, I mean, part of your group. It's a different mindset. It's a different, it's hard to explain, you know, crew members on the larger ships in general, you know, they're all They're all very nice. And they've been doing it many years, and they jump from one ship to another, but on the on the Wilderness Explorer, and I'm sure like many of your other vessels, they really enjoyed being there. And they commented on you know, how great it is to work for UnCruise and that came up over and over again, I'm not just blowing smoke but that they did come up often on board. Well, that's that's really great to hear. Thank you. I'm a I'm a real believer that you know, you hire on personality and Yeah, at first that's the most part but bill you know, just because I like you so much. I'm gonna put on my my bill glasses. Oh, there you go. We're wearing the same color frame. So a little dry. Look, I'm noticing there, your hat on and you should have mine on too as we did an event where we think and what were we thinking? I'm kind of curious about your your personal travels outside of journey of maybe ships or could be chips. But I'm curious, you know, you are such a well traveled guy. And you know, I can certainly share you know, places that have just bowled me over and changed my life. Give us a little insight into you know what, what turns Bill's crank? Well, my wife, we both love turkey. We spend a lot of time in Turkey every year. I have a lot of friends and I've always I've grown to a great fondness of, of Turkey. So a part of all my travels, you'll find me either in Istanbul or Kusadasi or boardroom or, you know, one of those places for about two or three weeks every year. But apart from that I'm traveling and you know and it's traveling for work, but it's really love I mean, I wouldn't do this if I didn't love doing it because in the next month I'm out. Nonstop nonstop one trip after another trip after another trip after another trip. So, but we love we love turkey. That's one place. We both love to go. Yeah, well that's a that's a great maritime destination as well. Oh, yeah, yeah, the port there is quite active. Is there any crazy mishaps or just, I can share? You know, having gone to a destination on a volcano goes offline and diving underwater? And you know, that that was in the Solomon Islands, for instance. But is there something that you through all your travels that just sticks out in your mind is one of the most eye popping experiences you've had? We've we, when I was on the cruise ships years ago, we were caught unexpectedly in hurricane. Because Alan, and that was, that was there was a lot of rock and rolling out there. That was that was quite It was exciting at the same time, a little nerve wracking, but that was, that was one of them. And that was a smaller boat. That was about 800 guests at that time. Quite a pretty heavy duty hurricane. Apart from that, not really, I mean, not really. I mean, I've had experiences, you know, as a cruise director on the ships, I have funny, funny things that I can remember, I mean, passengers who have never cruised before, come up with the craziest questions, you know, they're there on a ship. They've never been to these ports. And they'll come up to you as the cruise director, because you're the guy they see and go to after watching Love Boat and all those shows that were very popular back then. I was truly McCoy if you would on the ship. So they would come with me. And they would ask questions with a straight face. They first of all, they would ask, do the waiters and do the busboys sleep on the ship? They would ask me this quote. I said no. At night, we lower the lifeboats, we send them home. You know, that was one question that came up. And they would ask questions like, you know, do the stairs go up and down? You know, so it's just people who are, yeah, it's funny, funny questions. But after a while, you know, after being on ships for for 12 years, and doing, you know, eight months at a time on a cruise ship seen 800 to 1000 people every week, back and forth, and back and forth, the questions start to repeat themselves in the face and start to repeat themselves as well. And you swear you saw this person two cruises earlier. But obviously, it wasn't. But unlike UnCruise, you know, after the first two hours, I knew everybody, not only the crew, but every guest and they knew me, which was phenomenal. You know, and that experience you do not have on a large ship. And that's what I think is missing. Because cruising is an opportunity to bring people together and to form relationships, long lasting relationships, and, and you guys do it very, very well. Well, thank you. Yeah, you know, I think you had, like 57 people on your trip boat boats maximum capacity is like 74 Yeah, it does. You know, it does build for a very intimate experience. I will share though back in the day when I was a captain, one of the you're kind of talking about people asking if the stairs go up or down. I remember one time pulling up, we'd we'd sailed up to a fjord in the in the night. We're cruising up there. And there's the glacier. And I had a gentleman come to me and and kind of put his hand on my shoulder and he goes, Well, when did we go through the locks? What elevation are we at now? Because they were they were used to mountains and glaciers being high, right? They weren't used to them being right down at the water. So I kind of thought that was entertaining and, and a fun story as well. Because, you know, wake up, all of a sudden you're right at a glacier. And all you're associating glaciers with is mountains is kind of perspective from visitors. It's funny, you remember also before I sailed he knew I was jokingly saying to Can I can I see a whale breach in front of my kayak or can I see the Northern Lights? Well, I think I saw both a cruise. Like yeah, you guys did get Northern Lights. Yeah, we did. That was yeah, that was special. I mean, two o'clock in the morning, they made an announcement everyone got up and was phenomenal. Thank you for arranging and I appreciate that. Well, how you captured that was awesome, because I actually saw the video. Yeah, and somebody comes on the mic and says sorry to wake you up. It's 2am Yeah, got Northern Lights on deck and that is a joy about the early season now you know yet that was the last week that we saw Northern Lights. Oh you kidding? Well, we're getting so many hours of daylight right? So right right now it's it doesn't get dark until 930 at night or so. And it's it's getting late at four in the morning and pretty soon we're gonna reach maximum light so you can't see the northern lights so there but you can't see him there's just too much light going on. The other thing that I liked and maybe it was on my cruise only but I'm sure it's on the others that you don't bump into the larger ships even even at sea. I mean, maybe you see them from a distance but we saw nothing that was just us out there. I mean, that's generally the case although I will share our funny story with you that happened aboard your same boat. Last week, right? They were up in Glacier Bay right next to the Yank anchored right in front of lump flew glacier. And the Norwegian bliss went by, and they were having their Polar Plunge with a bunch of kayaks out, right when the bliss went by, we actually had people off that ship. They were they had their telephoto lenses and they were taking pictures. And she said, we all wet who raw when the people wet little. So even the big ships are kind of, I think appreciate what we do. Sure there. I'm sure they're envious seeing that. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, you know, as you're looking towards where porthole is going these days. And for those of you listening porthole is really just a good encompassing cruise magazine that covers everything from Adventure cruise to bliss that I just mentioned. But where do you see porthole going and what's what's in your mind's eye for five or 10 years down the road. We'll continue obviously publishing and online has become the go to website for cruise news and what's happening in cruising, and we're updating that probably four or five times a day. So if you're interested in cruise news, and knowing what's happening out there, you know, with all cruise ships and small ships, large ships will be the go to place regarding the travel show. We're in discussions now with Amazon and we're talking a little bit to Netflix, we would love to get this on on the air as a series. You know, we've done about 12 episodes so far. So we'd love to continue doing that and find a home for it somewhere on one of the streaming services. Oh, that would be so awesome. I think the personally I believe the streaming services are the it's the right direction to go. Yeah, you know, maybe we'll see you on Amazon Prime or something like that pretty soon. Yeah, yeah. But I must say, the show that we did with you that apart from the scenery, and it just really was one of our favorites. And not only me talking, it's my, my videographer and Christian and just yeah, we're really touched touched us, honestly. It really did. And coming from somebody, as I mentioned, it's normally a big ship guy. Well, I was reminded of a an experience you had onboard the boat. I'm just curious about your interpretation of because my wife, Megan was, was onboard with you. And she was working with her guides have some really seasoned training and also kind of acting as your kind of escort and so yes. And she said that something about being down in front of a glacier with it with all these locks of glacier ice around him. And something about a caveat and a wave. Yeah, yeah. Do you want to Oh, yeah, that was That was thrilling for me actually. I've seen calving before from from a cruise ship. But I've never seen Kevin like this. It was like half the glacier came down. And then suddenly, there was a bit of a, you know, not a way the way they came at me. And I have never experienced it that close. I started running. I fell I fell on the ice and cut myself but now I can tell everybody the the story of all I really got caught do is it was a bear scrape. I had nothing to do. Well, that was thrilling. Well, it was it. I had some other there was some pre video going on at the same time. And yeah, so the the scene of you know, this, this cavity taking place and a wave running and against coming up to the beach. And yeah, and I and I thought this was classic bill and staff because your staff was really working hard. You're talking I know that I had to pull Felipe because he was on his camera. I said Felipe, let's go meantime, I'm bleeding he's more interesting getting the shot. Well, I think it just speaks to how close you can be to stuff we had of course the the guests were out of there right away. Oh, yeah. Yes. Went for the last picture as well. Yeah. Good. You got it. And I just I'm looking forward to seeing what's in the video. Yeah, I know it it's it's totally awesome. I guess that's the kind of experience you have out in the wild. That was That and the whales you know, reaching very close to our to our kayak and just the bald eagles everywhere. We saw a bear from a distance. The SEALs were just a plethora of seals passing by on the on the boat. I think I don't think we missed anything. Really? I think yeah. I'm glad you guys were able to get into the Johns Hopkins which class here soon because of the very thing you're talking about harbor seal pupping season. Right. Exactly, exactly. It was amazing, Dan, honestly. And for those who have never considered small cruising from a guy who has lived on big ships and loves big ships, go ahead and give it a go because you will not be disappointed with UnCruise honestly, you really will not. And I speak from the heart. I will. I'm ready to go. I'm ready to go next week. If so, well. We'll get that happening. Bill, thank you that was makes my heart feel good because we try to try to do things a little differently thus the and in UnCruise Yeah, exactly. Exactly. I look forward to getting on with you. You know, we're working on I knew I had northern Baja itinerary that goes up to the midriff islands. And that'll be coming out in the fall of 24. You know, up there, that's where the sperm whales hang out and where we see leatherback turtles. And I would always I might try to recruit you to come on board with me on and maybe our expedition trip up there, count me in count me in. I even considered giving up what I'm doing to become an expedition leader. How do you feel about that? Sign? Where's the contract? I think it's my whole routine would be based on comedy, you know? So yeah, people might be laughing. They might not learn too much, though. So well, maybe maybe we'll match up with somebody. That by the way, the crew did want me to pass on they were here over the weekend before. And they wanted me to pass on. That was kind of build the card trick guy. Yeah, he's doing card tricks for the crew. Yeah. Is there anything else that we haven't covered that you'd like to share? Maybe share a little bit more about how people can find you and that kind of thing? Yeah, I mean, porthole magazine. Obviously, for those you do not subscribe by just go to And you can subscribe there. Again, it comes out six times a year. It's digital only. And every issue features, different ships, different destinations. Soon, we'll be doing a big feature on UnCruise. And the upcoming issues. Yeah, I suggest you to read it. It's written by those who have been on cruises before and those who lived on cruise ships before. It's not just written by any writers, you know. So we try to hire people who are seasoned in the business and have that perspective that they can pass on to people and follow us on YouTube. But cruise and travel with Bill pan off, and we update that quite frequently. And we're going to be releasing the travel show we did with UnCruise. Tomorrow and Dan will have the link as well. And we encourage you to watch that if you're not converted now you will be converted after you watch that because it really captures I believe the true essence of the experience. And Dan again, thank you and Megan and the entire team for making it such a memorable experience for us and for our team. Yeah, that was awesome. So good to have you in Juneau as well. Bill. I really appreciate the time we had said my best everyone thanks for the opportunity and, and continued success then. Well, thanks for listening today, folks. A couple things that I'd just like to share with you before we close down today. Want to let you know that this Saturday coming up, we have a cruise giveaway that's going to be listed on all our social channels, Facebook, Instagram, you know the whole bit. And I also want to let you know that coming up here kind of as a teaser, we're starting some new routes and itineraries as we redevelop and kind of redeploy post pandemic here, we are going to be going much deeper into Alaska. We start next spring, or actually next winter in February next year, we're also moving into Prince William Sound. And then in 2025, we're going out to the Aleutian Islands, all based out of Whittier, Alaska, out to Dutch Harbor. So this is a very rare opportunity to actually come to Alaska, sail out in the Aleutian Islands and back. So we've got some great things coming up. We're also expanding our Mexico routes to the far north of the Sea of Cortez, where in the past we've used to experience sperm whales up there a lot. Quite a few different things coming up as we respond to the new day that we're all experiencing now travel post pandemic. So thanks anyway for joining me on no ordinary adventure, and I look forward to seeing you wherever UnCruise travels Thank you very much and thank you for watching thanks for listening to no ordinary adventure sharing locally harvested stories about adventure Be sure to subscribe leave a review tell a friend and help spread the word we are a community of nature lovers, intrepid travelers and outdoor adventures mostly from the comfort of a small boat and we want to spread our love of this fascinating planet. That's it for this episode. Now get inside