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August 27, 2012

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DNCruise 2 Delights Domain Industry Guests on a Wonderful Week-Long Cruise Through the Caribbean

By Ron Jackson 

When DNCruise - the first (and only) domain conference on a cruise ship - debuted in 2010, the fledging event managed to impress its attendees even though it had to overcome some high hurdles. Not the least of which was the sudden appearance on Hurricane Paula in the Gulf of Mexico, a storm that forced the Carnival cruise ship to do an about face and head for the Bahamas rather than its original destination of Cozumel, Mexico

Still the attendees kept a sunny disposition throughout, delighted to have an opportunity to spend several days networking with industry veterans and newcomers alike in a casual, fun filled environment that was made available at a very low cost (starting below $400 for the entire week - a fee that covered not only cabins, but all the fun, food and drink one could imagine).

Many alumni from that inaugural cruise were first in line to sign up when DNCruise organizer Patrick Ruddell (Chef Patrick) and his wife Zezura announced plans for DN Cruise 2 to run Sept. 5-10, 2011. This time the weather and everything else about the event was picture perfect. A change of port to Tampa, Florida also opened up an especially attractive Western Caribbean itinerary that not only took cruisers to Cozumel but also to Grand Cayman for an unforgettable day with legendary domain investor Frank Schilling on his home turf. 

My wife Diana and I were among those returning for the second voyage, one that was 

DNCruise 2 getting underway Monday, Sept. 5, 2011
as the Carnival Inspiration leaves port in Tampa, Florida

made especially enjoyable by a wonderful mix of people from around the world, many of whom we had never had the pleasure of meeting before but will certainly want to see again - people like Truc Tran from Norway, Duane Jones and his wife Stefanie from Germany and a number of newcomers from the U.S. and Canada who are giving the industry an injection of fresh and energetic entrepreneurial blood. 

The Carnival Inspiration anchored at Grand Cayman during DNCruise 2

Many well-known veterans were there too, including highly successful investors, developers, attorneys and company executives, people like Gregg McNair (PPX International), lead gen whiz Braden Pollock (and his fiancee, best selling author, TV personality and attorney Lisa Bloom), Jason Boshoff (DomainHoldings CEO), Donny Simonton, Alan Dunn, Paul Goldstone (DomainIt.com and iGoldRush.com), Michael Ward (DirectNic), keynote speaker David Sams and many more we will be talking about and showing you photos of in this wire to wire recap of the 2011 cruise.

Gregg McNair (left) greeted by DNCruise organizers Zezura and Patrick Ruddell 
when he arrived for the opening night cocktail party aboard the Carnival Inspiration.

The adventure started Monday, Sept. 5 (which was also the Labor Day national holiday in America) when attendees boarded the Carnival Inspiration for its 4pm departure from Tampa (a port we found to be especially convenient since it is also our home town). Just an hour after leaving the dock, everyone gathered for the first time for a Welcome Aboard cocktail party. 

Scene from the DNCruise 2 opening night cocktail party, Sept. 5, 2011

After the opening event, attendees had a 90-minute break to explore the ship and get ready for dinner at 8:15pm. All DNCruise guests had dinner together throughout the week in our own reserved corner of the huge Inspiration dining room. We switched tables each evening so we could get to know a different group of people better with each meal. 

After dinner, PPX Chairman Gregg McNair opened his suite for an open house party that attracted most attendees (as well as ship security personnel who turned up repeatedly to see where the commotion was coming from!). Inspiration management wisely decided to give McNair exclusive use of one of the ship's lounges for a second party he hosted after dinner Thursday night. It was all fairly cordial - I suspect that by this point in his career Gregg (who is on the road almost year around) knows every major hotel and ship security officer, customer service rep and concierge on a first name basis

Gregg McNair (center) welcomed attendees to the PPX cabin 
for an after dinner party Monday night (Sept. 5, 2011).

The next day - Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2011 - was a day at sea as the Inspiration steamed toward its first destination, Grand Cayman (which would be reached Wednesday morning). Patrick Ruddell programmed the day with a full slate of interesting sessions covering a broad swath of industry ground.

After opening remarks from Patrick, the rest of the morning was spent with each attendee coming forward to tell their fellow travelers a little about themselves. That was one of my favorite things abut the first DNCruise and was again this time. It's a great way to put names and faces together and learn a little bit about everyone in the group from the get go. 

Linda Kortikoski (.CO Registry) and Kevin Kopas (Moniker.com) 
introduce themselves to fellow DNCruise 2 attendees Tuesday, Sept. 6. 

After a lunch break, the ICM Registry's Director of Sales, Vaughn Liley, presented a session detailing the company's launch and plans for the .xxx extension that went live the next day when its sunrise period got underway. 

The ICM Registry's Vaughn Liley (standing) fills attendees in on the new .xxx extension.

After the lunch break, veteran domain attorney Karen Bernstein followed up with advice on Legal Strategies for Protecting Domain Names

Gregg McNair was up to bat next and delivered an informative, wide ranging talk about the state of domain parking, the future of the industry and ICANN issues.

The business day then closed with Morgan Linton (a guy whom I knew was going places the first time I met him) interviewing me in a Q & A session that also covered a broad variety of topics and allowed us to field questions from the audience as well.

At left: Attorney Karen Bernstein

Below: DN Journal's Ron Jackson (left) being interviewed by Morgan Linton in Tuesday's closing business session (photo courtesy of Michael Law).

The Tuesday night dinner was the week's one night designated for "Cruise Elegant" dress by Carnival and I must say our crowd cleaned up pretty well! (other evenings were "Cruise Casual" nights where it was hard to commit a fashion faux pas no matter how hard you tried). 

Below: A scene from dinner Tuesday night. In the foreground at left is Paul Goldstone. In foreground right is Jazmin Carrillo and Susan Lawrence.


Tuesday night was also the one night that there was no scheduled late night event, leaving guests free to try their luck in the casino, visit one of the ship's several lounges or turn in a bit early to rest up for the very busy three days to come - a run that would start with our arrival in Grand Cayman early Wednesday morning (Sept. 7, 2011).

Shortly after the Inspiration anchored just offshore in Grand Cayman at 8am, shuttle boats took us ashore where we transferred to buses for the short drive to a local yacht club. Two roomy boats and a fleet of jet skis were waiting there, ready to take us out on the azure blue waters for the most highly anticipated day of DNCruise 2.

Also waiting was Frank Schilling, one of the most successful and savvy domain investors of all time. Frank lives on Grand Cayman and took the opportunity to show industry visitors around the spectacular piece of paradise he calls home.  

The first stop for the various watercraft we were on was a sandbar a couple of miles offshore that served up one of the most stunning sights I've ever seen. We were told we would be stopping there to "swim with the sting rays." Oooh....BAD idea I thought! We have sting rays where I live in Tampa and they are known to, well, sting you! It doesn't feel good either. My trepidation wasn't eased when I heard the species inhabiting Grand Cayman waters were about 5-10 times bigger than the ones in Tampa Bay. 

Frank Schilling greeted DNCruise 2 guests 
Wednesday morning (Sept. 7) in Grand Cayman

As we approached the sandbar I could immediately see they were not joking. Dozens of huge shadowy forms were swarming in the crystal clear water that was only a couple of feet deep. I had never seen sting rays that big. What I didn't know is that these sting rays are teddy bears at heart. They are used to tourists feeding them and as long as you don't make any threatening moves, they are as docile as kittens.

Stingrays welcome DNCruise 2 guests to Grand Cayman!

We all clambered into the warm water and were awestruck when the rays allowed our guides to pick them up, let us pet them, massage our backs with their fins and even pucker up for a kiss! Truly an amazing thing. I never thought anyone could upstage Frank at an industry event, but these spectacular creatures may have been  the rare exception. 

Diana Jackson puckers up for a stingray kiss while Ron Jackson is content 
just to pet the creature (photo courtesy of Michael Ward). 

After our unforgettable encounter with the stingrays we re-boarded our boats and/or jet skis and motored a bit further ahead to a beautiful coral reef where we stopped for about a half hour of snorkeling in the pristine waters that were even more stunning under gorgeous blue skies. 

DNCruisers go snorkeling in Grand Cayman (Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011)

After exploring the reef it was on to our final destination - a lunch at Rum Point that featured a personal pep talk from industry champion Frank Schilling whose personal story has served as a huge inspiration for the hundreds  of domain investors who followed him. 

Above and below: Legendary domain investor Frank Schilling talking to DNCruise guests
during an outdoor luncheon on Grand Cayman Island on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011. 

After Frank's talk it was time for the return trip to the Inspiration that would be leaving Grand Cayman at 3pm whether we were on board or not! Though the mind-blowing scenery there tempted some of us to stay for good, we all reluctantly said our goodbyes and got back to the big boat just in time. 

We had plenty of free time in late afternoon with many using it to explore the shops on board or take a quick siesta after the busy day in Grand Cayman. We re-convened for dinner at 8:15, then it was on to the first of DNCruise's two popular Game Nights. With a bevy of great prizes donated by sponsors up for grabs, attendees were divided into teams to compete in a variety of games starting with Taboo and ending with the individuals on the winning team going head to head in Jenga to see who would take home the treasure. 

Michael Ward feels the pressure in the Jenga playoff that determinef prize winners.

After Team Mudflap bested the competition in Taboo, Michael Law wound up outdueling teammate Michael Ward in Jenga to claim the top prize - an Ipad 2. While I played a key (and embarrassing) role in my team's early exit in the Taboo round, my wife Diana contributed to the winning team's effort (which I'm sure I will be hearing about until DNCruise leaves port in 2012!) and she went on to claim an Amazon Kindle with 4th place in the individual competition - very impressive for a Jenga rookie. 

The Winners! Team Mudflap (left to right): Diana Jackson, Oscar Correa, Michael Ward
Susan Lawrence
, Charlotte Gilbert & Michael Law. Michael Law wound up claiming the top 
prize, an  iPad 2, when the teammates went head to head in Jenga to determine who got what. 

Game night is a great relationship building experience. I had sat out last year to concentrate on taking pictures but saw people having so much fun decided to play this time around, even though I had never played any of the games before. My teammates would have been better off if I had stayed behind the camera but it was still a blast going into battle with Team KickAss (though more than a little humbling to have to change our name to "Team Got Their Ass Kicked" thanks to me!) 

Fortunately there was little time to dwell on defeat. The next morning, Thursday, Sept. 8, we arrived  in Cozumel, Mexico at 11am. Cozumel has many attractions and attendees went off in a lot of different directions to experience them. Since this was our first  time there, Diana and I decided to spend our time ashore exploring San Miguel (the island's only town). As I wrote in a Lowdown post when I returned home, we started that day in Cozumel in a small group led by Gregg McNair that wound up in a second floor cantina enjoying margaritas for breakfast! We spent the rest of the day exploring shops and admiring the local scenery before  returning to the Inspiration.

Above: View of the Carnival Inspiration in the harbor at Cozumel, taken from inside the 
Mexican cantina where our group had "breakfast" Thursday morning (Sept. 8). 
Silhouetted  in the right foreground are Jodi Chamberlain and Gregg McNair.

Below: The colorful Plaza del Sol in downtown San Miguel.

The ship left Cozumel at 8pm, right before our usual group dinner hour. After another lively meal completed with impromptu entertainment instigated by the service staff, it was on to Gregg McNair's second PPX party - this one moved to the Rhapsody in Blue Lounge. Oddly, having been given a place where we could make all of the noise we wanted - guests spent that evening for the most part engaged in quiet conversations. I guess there was no challenge with security staff taken out of the equation! Even so it was a very enjoyable change of pace (always pleasant to be able to hear yourself think!) and Gregg, as always, was the perfect host.

The next day, Friday, Sept. 9 would be another full day at sea as the ship made its way back to Tampa. Patrick again came up with a timely conference program with every session devoted to domain development. But before those sessions got underway at 11, the women in our group held a Ladies Only session hosted by Zezura Ruddell and Charlotte Gilbert at 9:30. I've often said that I thought this business would benefit by having more women in it (I wrote an early Cover Story on that topic in 2005), so anything that provides support and encouragement for women in our industry is a great thing in my opinion.

Lynn Palm (left) looks on as Zezura Ruddell and Charlotte Gilbert 
conduct a Ladies Only session Friday morning (Sept. 9, 2011). 

The development sessions got underway with an hour anchored by WhyPark.com's Craig Rowe titled Think Big - Large Scale Development. Craig is a very good speaker, who blends great information with wry humor in package that never disappoints. Morgan Linton (accompanied on the cruise by his lovely fiancée Daina Burnes) followed with another rewarding session on Brand Building Basics

After lunch Braden Pollock (LegalBrandMarketing.com) kicked off the afternoon with an illuminating session on his specialty Lead Generation. Braden is doing some very exciting things on the monetization front and I am going to be doing a piece with him soon so we can go into more detail about that. This is the first  time I've been able to spend a lot of time talking with Braden and it was one of the highlights of the trip, as was getting to chat with his brilliant and personable fiancée Lisa Bloom

Braden Pollock and Lisa Bloom (photo courtesy of Jason & Tosha Boshoff)

One of the real advantages a conference/cruise has is being able to bring a relatively small number of people together in a casual environment over an extended period of time. It allows in-depth conversations and real relationship building to blossom in a way that is hard to replicate in more crowded venues. 

A panel discussion on the finer points of SEO featuring three experts on the topic; Craig Rowe, Brian Gilbert and Jason Boshoff, added another productive hour to the agenda. 

Friday's SEO panel discussion featured (left to right) 
Craig Rowe
, Brian Gilbert and Jason Boshoff.

The business portion of DNCruise then concluded with a grand finale - an excellent keynote address from David Sams. David has a remarkable media background that spans success in radio, TV and the Internet. He was part of the original King Syndicate team that put the Oprah Winfrey show on TV in the mid 80's - a program that went on to make TV history. Again, the amount of ground we have to cover in this review won't allow me to go into more detail here, but I'll be telling you much more about David's story in a separate article before this month is out. 

David Sams delivering his keynote DNCruise 2 keynote address Friday, Sept. 9.

After David's keynote, Patrick Ruddell offered his closed remarks and also oversaw a DNCruise tradition, bringing out a cake for those having September birthdays so we could all celebrate with them.

Patrick Ruddell and Caitlin from Carnival Cruise Lines get ready to cut and serve birthday 
cake to DNCruise 2 guests after the final business session Friday (Sept. 9, 2011).

Of course, even though we had already had our dessert that didn't deter anyone from showing up for the closing night dinner!

A great week in the Caribbean gave DNCruise 2 guests good reason to 
celebrate at the closing night dinner (Friday, Sept. 9). Braden Pollock gets 
ready to pour a glass of champagne for Nancy Bianchi (Above.com) 

After dinner it was time for the final event of DNCruise 2 - Game Night #2. This time the action got underway with Trivial Pursuit. That round ended almost as quickly as it began with the winning team zipping around the board before you could bat an eye. They had the good fortune to draw an unbelievable unending string of softball questions, ones that had my teammate Braden Pollock, spouting an impromptu a series of his own queries that had me in stitches - gems like "toes are found where - on the hands or the feet?" and "True or false - The moon is made of cheese?" Call us sore losers but Braden's wit took some of the sting out of defeat :-)

Individuals on the winning team squared off in Hedbanz to see who would claim what from the pile of cool prizes. I was long gone and sound asleep when the matter was decided in the wee hours of the morning, but I understand that one of our favorite up and coming young domainers, Oscar Correa, wound up claiming the top prize - another iPad2.

Members of the winning team on Game Night 2 go head head in Hedbanz 
to determine the prize order. Oscar Correa, who was also on the winning 
team on Game Night 1, wound up collecting the top prize - an iPad 2. 

By the time we woke up Saturday morning, Sept. 10, the Inspiration was already docking in Tampa. We all packed up and went our separate ways but left with some very special memories and richer relationships than we had when we had gotten onboard five days earlier.

When DNCruise rolls around again in 2012 it is an experience you really should consider and as I mentioned earlier, for attendees, it is one of the great bargains in the conference business. A large group of generous sponsors makes it possible for Patrick to keep guest's costs down, so I wanted to recognize them by closing this article with a roll call of the companies that contributed to making this such an accessible and rewarding event: Moniker/SnapNames, ICM Registry (.xxx), Parked.com, WhyPark.com, Above.com, .CO Registry, .ME Registry, Escrow.com, Karen J. Bernstein, Attorney at Law, DomainAdvisors.com, DomainHoldings.com, Directnic.com, .US and .BIZ Registries (both operated by Neustar) and ScienceFiction.com


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