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Nassau: An Incredible Experience


One of the Caribbean ports that attracts a lot of cruise ships is Nassau, partly because of its geographical location as either the first stop or last stop for ships based in Miami and Fort Lauderdale…and perhaps partly because of those constant TV commercials about Paradise Island and Atlantis.

In any event, Nassau is popular.

During our visits to the capital of the Bahamas, of all the places we’ve visited — and for whatever reasons, Nassau is a place where we’ve always had a tendency to go off on our own — the most memorable was a hotel. The Graycliff Hotel.

We stumbled on it, while walking the streets not far from the cruise terminal, where we’d disembarked from the Norwegian Sky, on a four-day cruise. It turned out to be an amazing stumble, and here’s one of the reasons why…

Somehow we wound up in the cellar — a genuine cellar — that allegedly houses the third-largest private wine collection in the world. It’s owned by Enrico Garzaroli, who also owns the hotel — or did — that he bought in 1973. It’s a hotel that’s only had four owners, the German whitefirst of them a pirate named Captain John Graysmith, whose presence clearly had something to do with its name.

That was more than three and a half CENTURIES ago.

It’s important to remember that we just walked in off the street. There was no arranged tour, no greasing the palm of a concierge, no introductions by somebody in high places because we didn’t know anybody in high places in the Bahamas, or anywhere else for that matter.

It was simply our good fortune to wind up in the presence of the cellar master, Sudhir Varot Kangath, and that he was kind enough to show us the corks, as they say. One of them was sealing the wine in a bottle of 1727 Bremen Ratskeller Rudesheimer Apostelwein, a German white that hasn’t been tasted in 46 years. When it was last tasted, the wine passed the test and today that bottle is worth an estimated $200,000.

The entire cellar has been valued at $20 million.

In it, you can arrange for private dining, for $1,000, at a long rectangular table at which the likes of Sir Winston Churchill, Jay Z, Aristotle Onassis and Lebron James have dined. We didn’t ask if that was $1,000 per person…we just assumed that it was. And when we combed through the dusty racks that supported these dusty treasures, it wasn’t like we had to keep our distance. The wines were RIGHT THERE.

On one wall there are maybe 100 bottles that Sudhir calls the "Million Dollar Rack" because that's the total value of bottles worth $5,000 to $25,000 each. According to him, his boss sells "four or five" of them a year. We did spot a 1900 Chateau Lafite, a case of 1982 Bordeaux that is in "high demand", and a couple of Barolos from the '50s. They are all carefully catalogued, of course, and there are cameras everywhere in case any visitors dared.

On the other hand, most visitors would just feel lucky to SEE something that unique.

Like we did.

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Norwegian Getaway
7 nights
January 24, 2015
Miami (return): St. MaartenSt. ThomasNassau 
Inside: $469
Cost per day: $67

Royal Caribbean And 'The Wine'

Okay, it’s time to whine about wine again.

As regular consumers, we once lugged 17 bottles back in luggage from Europe and were greeted by customs with “Welcome home” and no questions about wine. That was one of the times that we were lucky enough — and we always tell the truth when asked — to beat the system.

On cruise ships, a couple of times we’ve taken more than our quota on board and, while Vintagessometimes we’ve paid the corkage fee, sometimes we’ve been lucky, too. Consequently, we are owed nothing when it comes to taking more wine than is allowed — free.

So today we celebrate the success of “whining” for other passengers with similar taste.

Royal Caribbean’s rules — and every cruise line is different — were that two bottles could be taken on board, and were subject to a $25 corkage fee if they were consumed in public places. Such as restaurants, bars, by the pool, in the elevator…

That’s changed.

Although the change has not yet been made on Royal Caribbean’s website, the two bottles per stateroom can now be taken to a cruise ship restaurant, for dinner, and there’s no corkage. This “news” was broken by passengers and later confirmed by the cruise line. The same rules apply to champagne (750-ml bottles only, not magnums). And if it’s more than two bottles, they will be confiscated and returned on the last day of the cruise.

It’s not perfect, because perfect in our world would be allowing you to take as much as you want, and charging you corkage in the restaurants. At least then you can drink your own wine.

But this news is worthy of a toast!

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Holland America Zaandam
14 nights
November 24, 2014
Santiago, Puerto Montt, Puerto Chabucu, Chilean Fjords, Strait of Magellan, Punta Arenas, Ushuaia, Cape Horn, Port Stanley, Montevideo, Buenos Aires
Inside: $799
Cost per day: $57


Cruise Question: To Surf Or To Drink?

An online travel agency called Cruise Holidays conducted a quickie survey on its Facebook page recently, asking readers to choose between two options for “something free” if going on a cruise:

• Free Internet

• Free drinks

The creators could’ve called it De-vices vs Vices but they didn’t. They also resisted the Burrowing Owl wineiPhoneurge to call it a “straw poll” although that’s what it was. What they did call it was “shocking” because when the results were compiled, nearly one-third of the respondents said “free Internet.”

Think about that. Drinks on cruise ships are expensive — all drinks, including soda pop. One estimate is that a couple could save more than $1,000 on a 10-day cruise with a free drinks package. Plus people go on cruise ships to get away from the office, so to speak, right? Plus holidaying and partying and socializing usually comes with a generous number of drinks (alcoholic or not), and that’s a big part of being on a cruise.

Yet 32 per cent of the people who responded to the question chose free Internet. Maybe it shouldn’t be such a shock. After all, people are infatuated with — dare we say addicted to? — “devices.”

What would you choose?

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Norwegian Star
7 nights
November 30, 2014
Los Angeles (return): Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta
Inside: $299
Cost per day: $42

Spillage on a Ship — a Dilemma?

Before you start accusing us of wining about wining, the following is not a complaint, just an observation.

During one of our cruises this month, we did what we usually do with wine. In our bags were three nice bottles. They didn't make it through the scanner, as we expected they wouldn't, so we happily paid the $15 corkage fee that allowed us to consume them during a week on the ship.

However, one night — and our closest friends will understand — we, uh, ran out.

So we ordered a bottle from the menu. The way these things work, if you don't finish a bottle one night, the waiter will see that it's corked and stored for you to drink the next night. As difficult as this may be for our friends to swallow, that's precisely what we did. 

Twenty-four hours later, the junior waiter was pouring the wine when, for whatever reason, he spilled some onto the table. Hey, it happens. We've done the same thing at home…well, one of us has.

So, the question is: What to do about the missing wine?

The senior waiter took the bottle away, returning a few minutes with it in one hand, and a small carafon half full of wine in the other hand. In other words, he more than replaced the wine once he had found another bottle that was the same…and it was the same.

Now, what if that had been a bottle we'd brought onto the ship? None was a wine on the ships menu, so how would he have replaced the wine? What if it had been a special wine, a special vintage, the kind that on a ship you will only get in a specialty restaurant and maybe not even there?

We're just saying…

Disney Wonder
4 nights
February 21, 2013
Miami (return): Key West, Nassau, Castaway Cay
Inside: $399
Cost per day: $99

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

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