Last Autumn, I was invited by Celebrity Cruises and Vinopolis to join their Immersive Wine Cruise. The cruise featured Oz Clarke and, from Vinopolis, their head educator, Tom Forrest. They were on hand to not only lead masterclasses on board but also joined guests every evening for wine chats and led the vineyard tours which were offered as on-shore excursions.
The cruise was a 12-day trip starting in Southampton with stops in Le Havre, Bordeaux, Bilboa, Vigo and Porto. 12 days might seem like a long time to be on a boat but the Celebrity Cruises ships really are floating luxury hotels. My cabin was spacious and full of light, complete with a small lounge and a sheltered balcony where I could sit and watch the dolphins playing as we sailed by (I saw them 3 times on the trip) or just enjoyed an evening tipple with friends before dinner. As I was in Concierge Class, we had 24 hr room service and unlike the typical “you must eat at your assigned seating” , I had the luxury of choosing my dining time and dining companions as well as my choice of where I wanted to eat. Whatever you may have thought about cruising before, there seems to be a lot of flexibility nowadays.
There was plenty to do on-board besides the daily wine tasting classes that Oz and Tom gave every afternoon that we were at sea. The ship, Constellation is one of the older ships of the fleet but it still has plenty of amenities and dining venues. There was a full roster of activities from cooking to dance classes and everything in between. My favourite dining venue was the Ocean Liners Restaurant which was the formal dining restaurant on the ship. The wine list was impressive and although a bit skewed to the New World, the prices were reasonable. This may have been in part because the ship is run by an American company so all prices were in dollars.
I found all of the wines reasonably priced by the bottle in all the restaurants. As this was a European cruise, there were many Spanish and French wines on the list as well as wines for the domestic (American) market. I actually enjoyed those more as it was great to try American wines that we don’t see very often in Europe.
After all that eating and drinking, I could hit the gym but preferred the indoor Thessalotherapy pool which had 2 whirlpools and plenty of lounge chairs, which was handy as this pool was indoors and late October off the coast of Northern Spain and France is not the warmest time of year. Having said that though, it was still possible to sit in the outdoor whirlpools and watch the sun set (which I did a few times). There was also a fantastic spa,the AquaSpa where you could book everything from facials to massages. What I appreciated the most about the ship was that I could do as much or as little as I wanted, it really was all up to me. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time at the indoor pool and/or wine tastings!
I participated in one on-shore excursion to Bordeaux with Oz and Tom. We visited Ch. Beychevelle and Ch. Lynch-Bages. Both Oz and Tom gave running commentary on the ride to the vineyards. Oz and Tom are experts on the region and I learned a few interesting tidbits on the journey there. Ch. Beychevelle and Lynch-Bages both ooze history and after guided tours, we were treated to a private winetasting. Talking to my fellow passengers, they all enjoyed the excursions immensely and really appreciated the one on one time that they got with not only Oz and Tom but also the winery experts who also accompanied us on the cellar tours.
12 days flew by and before I knew it, we were docking back in Southampton. While I was on the ship, I met quite a few people who did cruises “back to back” meaning they disembarked and boarded another cruise ship either the same day or the next. When I first heard of this, I thought they were crazy but after my two week trip on the Constellation, I can totally understand where they are coming from! Over the past 12 days the ship had become my home and I was very sad to be leaving my floating 5 star hotel.
Celebrity will be doing another Immersive Cruise on the new ship Infinity in October 2013. Celebrity is also offering a special drinks package on its European sailings from the UK on either the Celebrity Eclipse (the newest ship) or the Infinity. The complimentary drinks package includes domestic beers, spirits, house wines, specialty coffees and soft drinks at a value of $50 per person, per day. The promotion is part of a wider seasonal offering from Celebrity Cruises, including free stateroom upgrades worldwide and reduced air rates to Europe (return flights from £49.00 per person) for those booking with Celebrity Cruises before 28th February 2013.
So hop to it, you have until 28th February 2013 to book your cruise. Happy sailing!