Monday, October 5, 2009

Seabourn Spirit 2009 Food & Wine Cruise - Some Final Thoughts

The Goldring Travel 2009 Food & Wine Cruise had a number of moments that made this cruise something truly special, even as compared to the normal, excellent experience, one has on Seabourn. Each suite was provided with a host of no-cost extras:


1. A travel book on the cruise area;

2. A culinary book focused on the cruise area;

3. An exceptional walking wine and food tour in Venice, Italy before the cruise;

4. A private galley tour with a special wine and caviar;

5. A private trip to the Fonda aquaculture farm in Slovenia;

6. A high quality wine tasting (5 wines and a grappa) at Santomas winery in Slovenia; and,

7. My being available to deal with whatever issues come up along the way whether it be how to cost-effectively get from the ship to the airport in Venice or making last minute arrangements for an extended stay in Venice when the city was effectively “sold out” to, say, finding a little place to enjoy an espresso or a couple of bottles of wine.

I am pleased that each of these provided my group with some real added value, both economically and experientially.

One thing that really stood out for me was that, unlike what I am reading more about on other cruise lines (such as Regent Seven Seas), there was absolutely no sense of a particular waiter or bartender being “the best”, but rather there was a desire to enjoy the styles and personalities of every waiter and bartender, purser and stewardess. Each person mentioned they loved Arnold or Hein, David or Heidi, Leigh or Jeremy, but there was never a concern that there would be a drop in service…It simply never happened. And from Captain to Hotel Manager to Chef, the Seabourn senior officers were omnipresent.

Another thing I appreciated was the cuisine was consistently excellent. There was almost nothing that was just OK. In reality, “excellent” was the norm and “very good” was the exception. I did notice a significant difference in variety between the Seabourn Spirit and the Seabourn Odyssey in the casual dining area. While I always found something to my liking, there is no question that from presentation to methods of cooking, the smaller yachts have their limitations…but Seabourn has a way of working with them so that the culinary product is merely different, not of lesser quality.

I started the cruise with a designed and concentrated effort to utilize Seabourn’s tours. The concept, for me, failed miserably. The first tour was a struggle (especially having to be compared with our Venetian Wine Walk the day before), the second tour was cancelled due to Shopping With The Chef, the third was cancelled due to a lack of interest, the fourth was a wonderful wine tasting overshadowed by a overwhelming guide and local music and, by then, I just couldn’t be bothered with the fifth, so I did my own thing…and found a little bit of heaven.

While I enjoy learning more about the history of a port and seeing more of its countryside than can usually be accomplished without a tour or guide, for me, personally, focusing on wandering the town and finding that special restaurant or shop or scene or person is just more of what I prefer my travel to be. Such an approach is unnerving and/or unfulfilling for some, but alas that is why they make chocolate and vanilla ice cream. And I do enjoy both, but definitely have more vanilla than chocolate. In other words, I am not “anti-tour” I just think I need to be very selective in what they are.

All in all, the 2009 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise on the Seabourn Spirit was a great success. We enjoyed many different wines and while the foods were not nearly as varied as in the past, they were very much enjoyed…especially the fish. Most importantly, as we explored four countries in seven days, we had fun. We had lots of fun.

It was “The Best”!