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American Cruising Rivers of Wine

In the world of cruising, wine is much more than a four-letter word. It is powerful.

Celebrity has a room dedicated to wine, 24 hours a day, called Cellarmasters. Norwegian has a wine cruise whenships are being re-positioned on the way to or from Alaska. Oceania has a sommelier for every 50 or so passengers on the Marina and Riviera.

Theme cruises are often built around the grapes. One of them is simply called the Wine Theme Cruise — in October — on two rivers in Washington state on the America Cruise Lines ship Queen of the West. It operates between Lewiston, Idaho and Astoria, Oregon but 95% of the travel is in Washington. You can board at either end and journey up or down the Columbia and Snake Rivers for eight days.

There are wine tastings on board and there's plenty to interest the history bugs, especially if it involves the Lewis and Clark expedition almost 207 years ago. The explorers followed the rivers to the Pacific Ocean, at the mouth of the Columbia, on the last leg of their journey. But even for historians, it's not all about the Lewis and Clark Trail.

There are forts and museums and gardens and meeting some of the indigenous peoples who were in this part of the country long before Lewis and Clark. There are city tours of Portland and Astoria, there's Mount St. Helen's and the Columbia River Gorge and the cowboys of Pendleton. And there is wine…with 160 wineries within 50 miles of the ship when it stops in Walla Walla country.
Walla Walla?

Of all the years we have been buying wine from Washington state, Walla Walla trumped our past when we visited the area last year. As Queen of the West goes, it's a little off the beaten path, but close enough that passengers will undoubtedly be sampling wines from what you could call the "France of the U.S." — perfect soil and temperatures for producing wines to rival those of Burgundy and Bordeaux.

Curiously, the eight-day trip offers 12 shore excurions. Guess how many are wine-related? One.

You think "wine" is a powerful draw?

Norwegian Dawn
7 nights
November 18, 2012
Tampa (return): Roatan, Belize, Costa Maya, Cozumel
Inside: $599
Cost per day: $85

Once a Millennium, Celebrity Millennium

We met less than two years ago. If it wasn't love at first sight, it was at least affection. She was a beauty, and she introduced us to all kinds of nice people. A helpful Puerto Rican named Leo…a friendly Colombian named Sandy…an old friend from Little League days…the Panama Canal…and Saravan the Sommelier, the best at his craft we've ever met.

No wonder we like the Celebrity Millennium.

Now here she is, just 12 years old, and they say she needs a facelift. She's going in April 22 to get Solsticized, in Celebrity speak, and when she emerges next month she'll be better than ever.

Hard to imagine.

What may be better is what she can introduce us to next, and that would take some doing, too. After making another west-bound trip through the Canal, the Millennium is making a 5-night wine cruise from San Diego to Vancouver. There is no mention of Saravan.

Then she's spending the summer in Alaska, or going back at forth from her new Canadian home. There are worse ways to spend a summer, Millennium or not. In the fall, when she heads south again…another wine cruise. This one takes 8 nights. That sounds better than the first…wine is meant to be consumed slowly, and savored. At least that's what Saravan says.

Two more trips through the Panama Canal, and then the Millennium's off to Hawaii and points beyond. That would be across the Pacific in 20 days, to Sydney, followed by 17 more seeing the ports of Australia on the way to Singapore.

If this all sounds delightful and romantic and desirable, that's probably because it is, even if it isn't do-able for most of us.

But remember, it is the Millennium at her best.

Holland America Veendam
7 nights
September 22, 2012
Boston, Bar Harbor, Halifax, Sydney, Charlottetown, St. Lawrence Seaway, Quebec City, Montreal
Inside:  $1,039
Cost per day: $148

Dream Cruise for Wine Aficionados

As consumers — a word not to be confused with connoisseurs — of wine, we are familiar with Vinopolis. In case you aren’t, this is an organization in the heart of London that specializes in wine and food pairings.

In the fall, Vinopolis is pairing with Celebrity, the most progressive cruise line anywhere when it comes to wine. A cruise leaves Southampton on October 13, destined for some of the great wine regions of Europe during the harvest season.

Can you say Bordeaux, for starters?

For people who are wine consumers — a word not to be confused with connoisseurs — it’s a dream cruise. A whole week of being immersed (hmm, wrong word?) in wine and the food that best enhances it, while visiting not only the most famous wine country in France, but also the best of Spain and Portugal.

While Celebrity boasts the most extensive collection of sommeliers we’ve ever seen on a cruise, the experts for this one come from “telly” land (TV personality and wine connoisseur Oz Clarke)…and from Vinopolis.

Ah, Vinopolis.

Our experience there was less than extraordinary, through no fault of Vinopolis. The night before our afternoon appointment at the unique and unusual wine facility, we had stayed with friends named Charlie and Anne in North London. The two males in the foursome were a match when it came to laughter and wine consumption, and the next day, the last place the visiting male felt like visiting was a place connected to wine.

Even after an extensive ride on the top of a double-decker bus.

Ever since, he’s been blaming Charlie.

Norwegian Epic
7 nights
April 7, 2012
Miami (return): St. Maarten, St. Thomas, Nassau
Inside  $599
Cost per day: $86

Wine, Wind Surf a Good Pairing

We were just stopping at the wine store, for a bottle to take to our son’s for dinner, and then it happened. Honest. We saw there was a tasting in the back of the store. Does a bee love honey? What happens to a mouse faced with cheese?

The wines were $90 and up. These are beyond special-occasion wines in our world. The tasting was free. How could we say no…even though nobody asked the question?

These were wines from Washington state, under a brand that’s called Long Shadows, and if you’re wondering by now why this is part of a blog about cruising, we hasten to add that next summer these wines will be casting long shadows on the Wind Surf, one of the three “yachts” that sail (and they do sail) under the Windstar banner.

More about that shortly…after a little wine sampling.

Wines by Long Shadows are crafted by famous — or at least worldly — winemakers. You may have heard of Michel Rolland, the master of the blend. Or the Folonaris of Tuscany, perhaps? How about Randy Dunn (left), who makes the best cabernet sauvignon in Napa and who — alas — is no relation…and that review is based on taste, not genetic fantasy.

There are nine winemakers who pour their considerable talent, not to mention their hearts and souls, into wine bottles after using only Washington state grapes. This was the mandate from Alan Shoup, who ran a string of wineries for two decades before recruiting nine gifted winemakers from Australia, Germany, Italy, France, California and South America.

All of them are committed to being on the Wind Surf next June, from Venice to Athens. They’ll be talking and pouring wine for up to 312 guests, for seven days. Exclusive cruise line, exclusive group, exclusive wine. Does that make it worth $3,400?

While we contemplated the venture, Gilles Nicault (right) talked and poured ninety-dollar wines for us. Originally from Avignon, France, he’s engaging and entertaining. He’s also one of the winemakers and he was kind enough to invite us to call him the next time we’re in Walla Walla, home of Long Shadows.

“We’ll drink some wine,” he promised.

In Walla Walla…or on the Wind Surf?

Carnival Splendor
7 nights
February 12, 2012
Long Beach (return): Mexican Riviera
Inside $419

Cruise Charter for 300 Cougars

You’ve heard of people going on a Cougar Cruise, right? Well, here’s a Cougar Cruise that will probably be news to you.

Six days. Next May 28, starting in Nice and ending in Rome, with stops in Portofino, Cinque Terre, Livorno and Portoferraio.

It gets better.

Private charter of food and wine lovers. Gourmet wine-tasting dinners. Seminars on food, wine and ports (not the drink, the places). Featured wines throughout the day and evening.

Yes, it’s a wine cruise.

The price starts at $2,450, steep until you consider it’s Windstar, an exclusive cruise line that has three “yachts” with a capacity of about 300. For this cruise, which you won’t find on Windstar’s website because it’s chartered only for Cougars, the yacht is the Wind Surf — billed as the largest sailing ship in the world.

Proceeds from this special cruise go to benefit the Viticulture and Enology Program at Washington State University, where sports teams and alumni (and friends) are all known as Cougars.

Yes, those Cougars.

Norwegian Dawn
10 nights
April 8, 2012
Miami (return): Caribbean
Inside  $719

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