And so we’re back: relaxed, revived and probably half pickled by now. On the bright side, we’ll probably never go mouldy as we’re about 99% alcohol. I’m keeping away from open flames for a few days, just in case.
Ah we had a fabulous time. We sailed from Harwich to Le Havre, La Rochelle and Bilbao in utter luxury and feel that we’ve learned so much about wine. The wine tour was hosted by the lovely Oz Clarke (who, I believe, is actually 100% alcohol) and the equally knowledgeable and fabulous Tom Forrest from the famous Vinopolis in London.
Luckily for you, I took notes during all the wine Masterclasses and I have some incredible wines to introduce you to, as well as some wonderful wine and food matches. Tom and Oz have a marvellous rapport (making it bloody impossible to take notes as they frequently finish each others’ sentences) and their wine masterclasses were hilarious, informative and, as you can imagine, a bit boozy. They weren’t at all snooty or snobby and spent a lot of time talking to us about wine, both during the masterclasses and also rather late into the night in the martini bar!
The Celebrity Infinity is a seriously luxurious Millennium Class ship (although it’s somewhat knocking on in cruise world terms, being the grand old age of 12 and a bit), holding over 2000 guests, with several speciality restaurants, including Qsine (where a cover charge of $45 applies), a quite incredible modern dining experience. At Qsine, you order an array of small plates (although they shouldn’t be called plates as the food arrives on everything but plates!) and then dive in and share, chat and scoff away while the waiters bring more and more delicious food to try. Highlights for me were the lobster escargot and an amazing Moroccan banquet served on a kind of culinary ‘block of flats’ type arrrangement – quite incredible. Plus, having two wine experts choosing wine to match your food choices made it all the more special!
People come back year after year for the Immersive Wine Cruises and we met some truly lovely people on board: Carol and David, Sharon and Bill, and new cruisers, Tony and Carla (who I managed to call ‘Sharon’ for a whole evening by mistake, and who was still nice to me). It was great to share experiences with the group as they were from really diverse backgrounds and varied from seasonal cruisers to cruise ‘virgins’. They all had a love of wine in common and it was a real treat to sample incredible wines, visit vineyards and enjoy food-matching dinners together. Lots of people on these cruises strike up friendships and return to meet up again next time.
Our one gripe (if you can call it a gripe) was with the drinks packages which were a bit confusing. The ‘classic’ package, for example, costs about £35 a day (costs vary) and entitles the cruiser to drinks, including coke, juice, tea, coffee, bottled water, beer, etc, up to $5.75. It also entitles you to wine by the glass, cocktails etc up to $9.25.
This can be confusing as, for example, if you fancy a glass of wine that costs $10 you can’t have it unless you pay the whole $10 for it. You can’t just pay the difference and add on £0.75 to your bill. It can be embarrassing if you order something over your package price by mistake (or on purpose if you’re prepared to pay the extra) and have the waiter say ‘I’m sorry, madam, that’s not on your package so you’ll be billed for that’, and it’s a pain to trawl through a wine list finding things you can ‘afford’.
Still, you don’t have to buy a package (my maths isn’t up to whether it’s better value than just buying your drinks as you go along – depends how much you drink, presumably), and we were incredibly lucky on the Immersive Wine Cruise to be treated to all sorts of fabulous wines from all around the globe, and had the added thrill of being guided through the tastings by Oz and Tom.
Being on a cruise brings a whole new meaning to the words ‘all inclusive’ though. Most nights we ate in the Trellis restaurant, where the food was superb. Highlights included a delicious slow-roasted dish of short ribs that just fell apart, a deliciously delicate sea bass, and a surf and turf dish with a steak so enormous that it beat even Mr English. Desserts were another highlight, and we felt it was lovely to dine at the table with proper waiter service. It made the experience seem really special. If you’d rather just eat buffet style, though, there’s the Ocean View Café up on deck ten where we ate breakfast (everything and anything you could possibly imagine, including eggs benedict made to order – yum).
We rather fell in love with a little place called ‘Bistro on 5’ ($5 cover charge) where they did lovely crepes, soups, salads and paninis. we popped in most days and got to know the staff who led us straight to our favourite corner. The decor is gorgeous, with muted gold leather sofas and dark wood. We also spent rather a lot of time at the Martini Bar where the bar is made of real ice and the bar staff make amazing drinks and entertain with all sorts of theatrical shenanigans, including pouring several martinis at once.
Away from the food and drink, there is a beautiful pool area with lots of different pools, whirlpools, etc, plus an indoor thalassotherapy pool which is gorgeously warm, even when the weather’s not up to much. There’s a wonderful AquaSpa, where I had my favourite Elemis tri-enzyme facial, but you can have anything from Keratin hair straightening to teeth whitening and botox if you so desire! Mr English chose to pound the treadmill in the gym a few times. I preferred a gentle walk around the deck or a coffee and a slice of cake in Café Al Bacio. Each to their own, I say!
Next up, then, it’s wine, wine and more wine. Brace yourself!
Join Celebrity Cruises’ (www.celebritycruises.co.uk; 0845 456 0523) Celebrity Infinityon a 12-night France and Iberian Discovery cruise-only from £736 per person (based on two people sharing an interior stateroom).
Price includes a 12-night cruise departing from Harwich (England) and calling at Paris (Le Havre, France), Bordeaux (La Rochelle, France), Bilbao (Spain), Vigo (Spain) and Porto (Leixoes, Portugal) before returning to Harwich; meals and entertainment onboard and all relevant cruise taxes/fees. Price based on 19 September 2014 departure.
For more information or to book call 0845 456 0523 or visitwww.celebritycruises.co.uk