From slow river journeys to epic ocean voyages, there’s a world of wine cruises to enjoy. While some offer onboard tastings with expert sommeliers, others allow guests to go ashore and roam among the vines, chat with winemakers and visit cellars. These excursions are not merely cruises that appeal to wine lovers, but cruises where wine is front and center.
Since travel has picked up again post the COVID-19 global pandemic, cruise lines are looking for new and unique opportunities to get travelers interested in hopping onboard, says Aaron Saunders, senior editor at the cruise reviews website Cruise Critic.
“Theme cruises are one of the biggest trends we see right now, with sailings that offer everything from full-blown rock concerts at sea to cruises that specialize in wine, books, music and other interests,” he says. “Wine cruises and wine appreciation cruises have been growing steadily in popularity over the last recent years, in particular with luxury cruise lines and river cruise lines.”
Travel advisors also see a growing client interest in wine-focused cruise itineraries. “My business focuses on food and wine group cruises and the demand seems to increase year over year,” says Adam Martindale, a San Diego-based luxury food and wine group specialist with Cruise Planners. “I see it increasing as more wine regions are becoming more popular around the world.”
Ready to set sail on a wine adventure? Here are some vineyard voyages to wine regions near and far.
AmaWaterways hosts over 60 different European Celebration of Wine River Cruises tailored to your individual wine desires. Sailings in 2023 and 2024 follow 20-plus itineraries with stops along the Rhine, Danube, Moselle, Rhône and Douro rivers to visit cellars, enjoy expert-led tastings, walk through vineyards and learn about local wine traditions. The cruise line also organizes exclusive events, including private wine festivals in Bourg, France, and Spitz, Austria.
Trips are geared toward all levels of wine knowledge, and onboard wine hosts are experts in the field from North America or Europe, including notable winemakers, vineyard owners and wine educators. They offer lectures, dining events and tastings, plus they join passengers on shore excursions.
“We have seen consistent, rising demand for both our classic itineraries along the Upper Danube and Rhine rivers and the newer options along lesser known, but incredibly scenic rivers like the Saône, Moselle and Lower Danube, which flows into Bulgaria and Romania,” says Kristin Karst, executive vice president and co-founder of AmaWaterways.
Karst notes the rising popularity of their wine cruises among groups, including girlfriend getaways, multigenerational families and school reunions. She says solo travelers are especially drawn to themed cruises because of the ease of meeting like-minded people who share a similar passion.
Celebrity Cruises’ nine-night Australia wine journeys have been a hit with guests. The boat sets sail from Sydney and departs for Hobart, Adelaide, Kangaroo Island and Melbourne. The itinerary features shore excursions to wine producers in the Hunter Valley, Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale wine regions. Plus, you’ll take stops at beaches across the country and have the opportunity to visit the Sydney Opera House, Melbourne Museum, wildlife sanctuaries and relaxing beaches.
Exclusive experiences available along the way include The World of Penfolds Magill Estate, with a private tour and vintage wine tastings with food pairings. Onboard, you can enjoy the many pools, spa activities, gardens and more the ship has to offer. With over 500 wine selections onboard, tastings and wine-paired dinners highlight Australian regional products chosen by the ship’s sommeliers and regional winemaking partners.
For another Europe-centric trip, Belmond’s fleet of seven elegant barges meanders through Burgundy, Champagne, Provence, Camargue and the Canal du Midi. Add on additional bespoke adventures to your cruise like hot air ballooning above vineyards and dining in a 20,000-liter vat at the Maison Champy in Beaune. Plus, a special wine academy program takes passengers to wineries in the company of a specialist, and Belmond’s annual La Semaine des Grands Cru cruise offers passengers a chance to sample all 33 grand crus of Burgundy.
“Our incredible network of partners dotted across France allows us to give our guests access to world-renowned winemakers, Champagne maisons and small secret wine producers through exclusive experiences that might not be available to the general public,” says Marie Poutissou, general manager of Les Bateaux Belmond. “An increasing number of guests are open to new labels and eager to discover local wines, speak with the small producers and understand the philosophy behind winemaking in the different regions of France.”
Keep your eye on the six-passenger Coquelicot, which launches this May in Champagne. It includes three luxurious cabins, a lounge, a Champagne bar and an inviting outdoor deck. It’s available by private charter only, and, thanks to a partnership with Maison Ruinart, guests will have insider access to the Ruinart vineyard, along with special tasting events.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Regent Seven Seas Cruises will host a series of Epicurean Spotlights on Wine cruises in 2023 and 2024, sailing to Spain, Italy, Greece, Brazil and Argentina. Try their Wine & Whiskey itinerary where guests sail on a Lisbon-to-London odyssey that stops in Bilbao, Bordeaux and Dublin along the way or the Wildlife & Wine cruise that travels from Cape Town to Namibia and Mozambique.
“From our complimentary house-selected wines to our extensive Connoisseur wine list and wine pairing lunches, we offer many onboard experiences for the oenophile,” says Bernhard Klotz, vice president of food and beverage at Regent Seven Seas Cruises. “A recent survey of our database showed that over one-third of our guests are wine club members, and our onboard wine experiences always have waitlists.”
Avalon Waterways offers seven wine cruises each year, sailing the Rhône, Rhine, Danube and Moselle rivers. A certified Master of Wine accompanies each cruise, introducing guests to regional vintages and educating them on wine and food pairings. Shore excursions might include an afternoon exploring small, family-owned wineries on the Alsace wine route, or spelunking caves in Budapest for an underground wine tasting in complete darkness.
“We have increased our wine-themed cruise offerings year-over-year and these special departures book faster than more traditional cruises in the same regions,” says Pam Hoffee, president of Avalon Waterways.
On west-bound crossings, Cunard offers a wine education program as part of their Cunard Wine Academy. Passengers can join a lunch and learn session led by an expert sommelier, sign up for a tutored tasting or a fine wine tasting and even earn a WSET Level 1 Award while at sea. This September’s seven-night Festival of Food & Wine aboard the Queen Mary 2 will feature a sparkling line-up of experts to join the fun and feasting.
With top-notch sommeliers, a wine list boasting over 480 wines from 27 countries and well-established relationships with wine merchants and famous wine personalities, Cunard takes wine seriously. “Our discerning guests love to be immersed in a world of gastronomic grandeur and experience-driven dining,” says Edward Dieusaert, Cunard’s director of food and beverage development. “The wine program is a hallmark of Cunard’s onboard program and anticipation is high each time we release new experiences.”
Embarking from Portland, Oregon, is the UnCruise Adventures’ seven-night Rivers of Adventure and Wine experience. The itinerary flows along the Columbia River and invites guests on the 86-passenger Wilderness Legacy to enjoy wine-focused shore excursions. These include winery tours and visits to Walla Walla’s tasting rooms, with onboard wine tastings along the way.
American Queen Voyages
If a trip on a nostalgic sternwheeler is more your style, American Queen Voyages hosts seven-day and nine-day wine-centric cruises starting in Portland or Spokane, which float along the Columbia River and Snake River aboard the 217-passenger American Empress. The itinerary includes jaunts to wineries in the Dalles and Clarkston areas, with optional excursions including a Red Mountain Vine-to-Wine Experience and a tasting at Jacob Williams Winery.