Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Crystal Symphony - Goldring Travel's Pacific Exploration of Crystal Cruise's Luxury Experience - Part IX

Our final day was our only tender port. With an arrival of about 10:00 a.m. and a shortened time in port (it was supposed to be 10:00 p.m., but was shortened to 6:00 p.m. so the casino and shops could open for a few hours) I thought there would be a line for the tenders. Nope. We were on the first tender with room to spare. Crystal Cruises’ guests tend to take their time. I never saw anyone rushing.

Today was our Cupcakes and Wine Tasting Tour through Santa Barbara Adventure Company. As I am not one who finds the wines of the Santa Ynez Valley too compelling, I thought combining an adult wine tasting tour with a children’s cupcake tasting tour would be a good idea. It was…other than the eight, rather cognitively challenged, girls having a bachelorette party sharing the van with us. They were nice enough, but the constant inane drivel in high squeaky voices could lead you to drink. Fortunately, I was in the right place!

The drive from Santa Barbara to the Santa Ynez Valley was 45 minutes of nice views. Upon arrival we visited Kalyra Winery, which is owned by an American surfer-dude type and an Australian. The result was a nine wine tasting that ran from awful to “I could drink that with a burger”. It is not a place I would recommend for a serious tasting, but the people were friendly, my daughter loved the dogs lying about the place (and noted the sign that said “No dogs allowed in the Tasting Room”…how Australian!) and the views were nice.

Next stop was Lincourt Winery…a big improvement. Here we had more of an actual wine tasting of eight wines including comparing its unoaked and oaked chardonnays as well as pretty decent pinot noir and merlot. The setting, in this old farm, was upscale and beautiful with the tasting, and our included deli lunch, in a large gazebo with wonderful views of the valley with the mountains in the distance. Ironically, after I mentioned we were on a cruise, the person holding the tasting started talking to me about cruises and how much he enjoys them; sort of getting himself off track about the wines…but I was, obviously, happy.

So as we ate our lunch the bachelorette party began to mellow a bit and there was enough outdoors for the sounds to dissipate and we could have a nice chat among ourselves and with the guides (there were two similar tours being run by Santa Barbara Adventure Company that day). The second guide was a young, good-looking, fellow who was recently graduated University of California, Santa Barbara and was guiding wine tours as he was finding himself (presumably on dad’s nickel) while his father was urging him to go to law school. I gave him some fatherly advice: “If you are going to be spending your father’s money either way, why not go to law school and learn something. It doesn’t mean you have to be a lawyer. Heck, look at me (sort of)!” His buddy started laughing and said, “You have got him pegged!”

After a leisurely walk around it was time for the third winery, err ‘um, cupcake bakery, at Saarloos and Sons tasting room in “downtown” Los Olivos, California really is not about the wines. It is about the family’s other business: Enjoy Cupcakes. When you walk in you are directed to a small glass bakery counter and are presented with six different cupcakes in a paper tray (like you would get a burger and fries in). The cupcakes change each week and, as of last week, they had come up with over 290 different cupcakes.

Each person, with six decadent - I mean seriously decadent - cupcakes in hand, was directed to a tasting bar where we were given a brief description of each wine that supposedly paired well with each cupcake. Folks, let’s be clear: Other than a sauterne, Muscat, Riesling or other high sugar-content wine there is no such thing as a legitimate pairing such as what was offered. But, at this point it didn’t matter. My kids consumed each delicious cupcake quickly as this is what they had been waiting for (with attendant stomach aches following shortly thereafter) and I feigned that I was engaged in some sort of authentic experience. The wines (each with photographs of family members aligned with a story about the wine) were drinkable…but then again after eating such wonderful cupcakes, unless the wine was terrible it would taste OK.

But, alas, the purpose was not to be serious. It was to have fun! How serious could a “Wine and Cupcake Tasting” tour be? And fun we did have. So if you are in Santa Barbara and are looking for a low-key, somewhat different, experience just for fun, you might well consider this.

Dropped back at the ship (after a quiet ride...since the bachlorette party was on a wine and sugar high/crash)it was time to pack. OK, first a soak in the hot tub, then pack. OK, maybe a bit of a rest and then pack. OK, how about sitting out on the balcony and enjoying the view of the Santa Barbara beaches, sailboats, kayaks and a few sea lions? OK, now we packed.

But our time on the Crystal Symphony was not over.  We had to dine at Silk Road one more time. Kathleen took wonderful care of us, including our children – who were fully prepared as they had previously dined by themselves at the Sushi Bar. After another round of Nobu’s special sashimis I had a wonderfully prepared Black Cod (a larger version of what I had the prior time). Beyond full, I was graciously asked twice if I would like more, but still full of cupcakes, I had to begrudgingly decline.

It was then time for one after dinner drink and a quick visit to the casino. (I mean we did leave Santa Barbara a bit early so the casino could be open, so I was sort of obligated.) I quickly hit for $360 and headed straight back to my cabin to show my wife the three crisp $100 bills so I could disprove her belief that I always lose money in the casino.

As Crystal Cruises has a policy of requesting no bags be put out before 8:00 p.m. (so the corridors are not filled while people are going to dinner – a nice touch), it was time to pack the final bits and put our luggage outside of our door. We had noticed that there were very few bags in the corridor when we walked back and now I know why. The crew must have radar (or watch security cameras) because as soon as I put the first bag in the hallway someone appeared to assist me with the rest of the bags…and they were gone.

After I finished my Glenfiddich while sitting on the balcony as we sailed to Los Angeles, it was time for bed…and then a very civilized disembarkation. Our disembarkation was scheduled for 9:30 a.m. without any rush to leave our cabins. So it was up to the Lido for a leisurely breakfast where we were greeted by many of the staff wishing us, by name, a safe journey home and a friendly “Hope to see you back onboard soon”.

Next up my final thoughts.