A Toast to the High Seas
Why you'll want to cruise in 2007.
Why you'll want to cruise in 2007.
"I'm not a cruise person."
We know. Nor were we, until we learned about the explosion of deliciously inviting cruises that seem custom-made for food and wine lovers. This has not always been the case; the Love Boats of Yore were once the vacation of choice for honeymooners, swinging singles and retirees. While they may have boasted a midnight buffet, they shipped out with wine lists that had oenophiles close to declaring mutiny.
But today, things are different on the high seas. Endless options await travelers who rank fine dining at the top of their vacation checklist. They can select a cruise line with a great cellar, sail with a vineyard-rich itinerary, or dine at a fabulous restaurant when going ashore. In short, great food and wine can easily be a part of a cruise holiday.
Of course, there will always be landlubbers who query: Why cruise? The answer is, short of a private jet, there's no more efficient, economical way to experience a number of fantastic destinations in a short amount of time. And you don't have to deplete your vacation time to do so.
In the past, a traveler couldn't even think about a cruise without having 10-14 days available for a journey. Cruise lines, thankfully, have changed all that. Looking to attract younger, time-pressed passengers, itineraries have become shorter, with some sails lasting no more than a long weekend—just enough time to recharge with a sail along the eastern seaboard while sampling the talents of award-winning onboard chefs from New York, Boston or Charleston.
Some cruise operators are also allowing passengers to individualize their itineraries. Did you visit the Caribbean islands on your honeymoon? Fly into Barbados mid-cruise and head to the islands you haven't yet explored. Or if Portugal's blond Ports interest you just as much as the cruise itself, add a prelude or a postlude to your cruise, with nights in Lisbon, Porto or any city of interest close to your cruise's port of origin. Many lines offer excellent deals that include air and top hotels for pre- and post-cruising.
If the cruise line isn't offering the package you're looking for, call a travel agent. Though the internet may have driven travel agents out of work by inspiring more travelers to book their own air and hotels, many cruises still remain an agent speciality—so don't book one without consulting a pro.
Bring your appetite when you board, and let's get sailing.
The Queen Mary II
The trip of a lifetime on this Cunard flag-ship includes everything from a Canyon Ranch spa to Oxford dons who lecture onboard. But for gourmands, the true attraction is the largest wine cellar on the high seas (350 labels, 45,000 bottles), the Todd English Mediterranean eatery, and white-glove dining. True to its British roots, the QMII employs a class system that divides passengers according to their room category. So, if you want shirred eggs with Sevruga caviar for breakfast and Chateaubriand for dinner, you'll want to book into the ship's top suites, which allows for exclusive dining in the Queens Grill restaurant. That's not to say that other room categories are shabby—all include decent dining options and 24-hour room service—but the top tier is the ultimate culinary experience crossing between North America and Europe, sailing the Caribbean, or skimming the coast of Africa. Tel. 800.728.6273; www.cunard.com
You'll be in food and wine heaven aboard any of Crystal's 2007 sails participating in the line's 11th Annual Wine & Food Festival. Gala dinners with celeb chefs who will also take part in shore excursions (how about hitting the farmers' markets of Bordeaux with Gray Kuntz?), cooking demonstrations, wine tastings and lessons in pairings will fill days on 14 different sails next year. When in port, visit Lafite-Rothschild (note that some excursions are limited in number, so book early) then that evening, back on board, book a dinner in the Vintage Room where the chef and sommelier will custom-design a multi-course meal around your wine selections from the 20,000-bottle cellars. And did we mention that Crystal Serenity has a Nobu on board? Tel 888.799. 4625; www.crystalcruises.com/
One of the first cruise companies to tap into their passengers' passion for wine, this Italian line with an elegant European sensibility, offers more than a dozen sails in their annual Wine Series which includes wine experts, vineyard and tasting trips ashore, and fine complimentary pours onboard. With 30 signature dishes created by Relais & Chateaux guest chefs, the cuisine never gets tiresome. How could it when sailing Silver Shadow's annual World Cruise which departs Fort Lauderdale in January and returns to New York in May, only after traversing three oceans, seven seas, and visiting 60 ports? Of course, you can hop on and off with shorter itineraries and still experience the ocean-view suites with private verandas, Caspian caviar and a Davidoff humidor fully stocked with Cubans. Tel 877.517.2261; www.silversea.com
When this classic tour company arranged a wine-themed cruise of the Pacific Northwest on the Columbia River this fall, they never dreamed that the 98 cabins onboard the 20th-century steamer would sell out instantly. Book now, because the same sail is scheduled for next year. While the draw was, of course, the Three Rivers, Spring Valley Vineyard, Chandler Reach and Beresan wineries, food-and-wine expert Fred Plotkin, author of the upcoming Wine 101 and frequent Smithsonian cruise lecturer, is also a draw. "I love experiencing these wines with Walla-Walla onions, Washington apples and local cheeses," says Plotkin. "I want guests to return home with some dirt under their fingernails; we'll stop off and buy a bottle of wine along the side of the road. We have the freedom to be spontaneous." Look for Plotkin on another Smithsonian Journey, June 2007's "Opera Tour of La Scala," which, in addition to world-class opera, includes coffee tastings in Verona, chocolate tastings in Turin, and many pours from the Piedmont region. The Pacific Northwest cruise is also available again in 2007. Tel. 877.338.8687; www.smithsonianjourneys.org
Seaborn Cruise Lines
These small, elegant ships set sail with 100 to 200 passengers and offer old-fashioned service and refinement with menus created by Charlie Palmer and complimentary French Champagnes, wines and digéstifs. You'll need to dress for dinner here (unless you're on a Seaborn Casual Luxury Yacht, which has a "no tie, no tux" policy), while sailing Hawaii, Panama, the South Pacific and the Caribbean. Day excursions are carefully designed for the line's discriminating clientele: go ashore for truffle hunting in Italy, or for join a wine tasting at a vineyard in France. Look for Seaborn's 2007 Food and Wine Festival. Tel. 800. 329.5384; www.seabourn-cruises-luxury-lines.com
Sea Cloud II
Call it the thinking-man's cruise. A stately five-masted sailing ship—a copy of heiress Marjorie Merriwether Post's yacht, Sea Cloud—sails Europe, the Baltic, and the Caribbean with top lecturers onboard. In 2007, she'll sail with London's Michelin two-star Eric Chavot, who will give cooking demonstrations on a London to Lisbon journey. With just 75 passengers, guests mingle easily with lecturers, joining them at the dinner table with the ship's complimentary wines at lunch and dinner (which are heavily French and German, but change daily). To celebrate the 2007 harvest season, the vessel's sister ship, the River Cloud, will travel the Mosel. Academic Arrangements Abroad, Tel. 800.221.1944; www.arrangementsabroad.com
If the thought of formality and big ships turns you off, consider an old-fashioned wind-in-the-sails cruise where you don't have to do anything but relax. Averaging 150 to 300 guests (they have three vessels), these luxurious sails have cultivated a devoted following of repeat customers who take advantage of the fact that they can slip into smaller ports in the Greek isles, the Bahamas, Costa Rica, and the other 47 countries where the ships call. Onboard, they'll also be
satisfied with the 400+ recipes developed for the ships by chef Joachim Splichal of Los Angeles's Patina restaurant, and the local wines that vary according to the ship's itinerary. Tel. 877.827.7245; www.windstarcruises.com