Friday, May 27, 2011

Sake and Wine on Oregon Celebrity Stop

It was my first trip to the Willamette Valley and though I knew it wasn’t going to be as long as I’d like, I didn’t know that it wasn’t just wine I would be discovering.

Ron Burke of Oregon Wine Tours was waiting for Lynn and I when the Celebrity ship docked in Astoria, Oregon. We had been warned that the drive to the Willamette Valley would be a long one, but the scenery and the tales about the area’s wine vineyards made the ride go by quickly. The valley has a total of 17 AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) and it was easy to see why with the hills, peaks and mountains on each side.  It is by far the largest wine producing area in the state, claiming over 300 of 425 wineries. Though Pinot Noir is the grape Willamette is known for, additional varietals are popping up around.

Our first stop was at Patton Valley Vineyard. On a clear day, you can see Mt. St. Helens from here, and on a slightly cloudy day we still got some good views. Monte Pitt owns 24 acres of sustainable vineyards. He only grows pinot noir, getting grapes from others he likes to occasionally make. I started with one of those, an excellent 2009 Wente Clone Chardonnay, just partially oaked so it has a bit of butter, but retains plenty of lemon and melon.

The Pinot Noirs at Patton Valley are equally memorable, from the 2009 Declassified, dry yet light, with an easy drinking fruit jam finish, to the 2008 Ten Acre, which is a bit sweeter and more fruit forward, though the nose is quite earthy. I also enjoyed the 2010 Pinot Noire Rose, which is very light in color from a short time on skins, but picked up a great combination of berry and melon, with a little acid.

Next was Adelsheim Vineyard, a completely different winery than the last. This family owned company was started 40 years ago and now encompasses 190 acres on the Chehalem Mountains that produce 45,000 cases of wine each year. The operation is still overseen by David Adelsheim and is done with complete environmental protection, including recycling waste water and using solar panels.  The wine collection is a bit unique, especially to this area.

They started me right off with the unusual, the 2009 Auxerrois, a white grape from the Alsace region of France.  It’s a rare grape with a rather unique taste, herby and fruity at the same time. I was much more familiar with the red choices, and chose the 2008 Bryan Creek Single Vineyard Pinot Noir, with a nose full of ripe, red berries that continues onto the palate before a bit of spice sets in, thought it is lighter than most pinot noirs. Lynn favored the drier 2008 Temperance Hill Vineyards Pinot Noir, which had much more tobacco, nutmeg and cinnamon to the smell and taste.

Before we left Adelsheim Vineyard, we had a delicious lunch from Recipe, a Neighborhood Kitchen.  It brought me back to my days in Champagne with Jambon Persille, Duck Liver Pate, Pork Terrine, Cheeses with Poached Figs, accompanied by a Turkey Sandwich with Pesto Cream Cheese and Sun Dried Tomato Tapenade. I washed it down with Adelsheim’s 2009 Pinot Gris, an excellent combination of pineapple and grapefruit with just enough minerality.

Our next stop  didn’t work out as planned and Ron suggested that we instead check out Momokawa Sake One instead. Within minutes he had arranged it and we were on our way to this premier sake maker that works in partnership with Momoikawa Brewing Japan. Sake One uses local Oregon water, rice from Sacramento and Japanese yeast to create this spirit – and make various infused versions.

I freely admit that I knew nothing about sake and really enoyed the tour, which takes you through the production step by step, with full explanations on everything from the grain of rice to the yeast and the water in this gluten-free beverage that is filtered five times.  There is no vintage here as the idea is to make every one of the 17 varieties taste the same this year as last.  

After the tour, we got to taste a number of the sakes and I was certainly impressed.  My absolute favorite was the Plum Moonstone,  which tasted like fruit punch (with 7% alcohol). I also really enjoyed the Diamond Junmai Ginjo, a little drier tastying with more balance, and the G, an American style Sake full of butter and vanilla that definitely makes you believe their motto that sake belongs with barbecue. (If you make it to taste at Sake One be sure to get some of the draft, which is really special, but has a short shelf life so it can’t be shipped.)

I had to say that I was quite confused as to why Celebrity would choose Astoria as a stop on the wine cruise. Portland would have been much closer to Willamette Valley and had a lot more to offer downtown. I did understand the value of the stop, though, when Ron took us up to Astoria Column. It was quite a view, not just of the port and the valley, but a chance to look at the four mile long Astoria-Megler Bridge that connects Oregon and Washington.

Back on the Celebrity Millennium, we had dinner at the ship’s specialty restaurant the Olympic, named after the sister ship of the Titanic and matching its classic décor. Although at first glance the menu looks very similar to that in the regular dining room it is anything but. Both the food and the service were over the top and I can’t say enough about my dinner of a Warm Goat Cheese Souffle; Wild Mushroom Cappuccino with Mushroom Gelato; Mushroom Crusted Rack of Lamb; a French Cheese Cart; and a Dark Chocolate Souffle! Our waiter, Sasha from Macedonia, made the evening fun and luckily gave us awhile to digest between delicious courses.  It was a good thing we had until late morning the next day to get ready for our Chocolate Tour in Seattle.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Between Ports, A Day in the Life of a Celebrity Cruiser

In many ways, my travel experience is quite different from the average vacationer. This is most notable in my schedule. When I’m on a trip, I am usually following an itinerary that leads me through each day and night. In the hours that I don’t have something on the agenda, you will find me in front of the computer writing or uploading photos. So, what happens when I’m in the middle of the ocean on the Celebrity Millennium without working internet and no strict schedule?  I get to find out how the other half lives and in this case I got to be a cruiser on vacation (at least for a day).

I will be the first to admit that I am a Type A personality who doesn’t do well sitting around and doing nothing. For me, doing nothing means not working at least two things at once. There was no reason for me to do that, though, as I had a rare free day, and, it was also Mother’s Day so I had another excuse to relax.  I safely tucked my computer into the stateroom safe, filled my bag with all the magazines I brought with me, and headed off to a leisurely breakfast in the main dining room.

One of my favorite parts of a cruise is getting to know new people and meals are the best time to do that.  We had some great ladies at our evening table, but the morning was open seating so I got to meet some more guests in my first breakfast in the dining room (as opposed to the quick grab at the buffet I had done previously).  I enjoyed talking with a varied group from around the country who were enjoying themselves on the Millennium as I had a sweet and soft Baked Apple with my Egg White Scramble and perfect Hash browns.

After breakfast, I took a long walk around the deck, on the track on the ship’s top floor.  Even getting caught in a quick rain shower didn’t ruin my mood. I just found my way to the Cosmos bar.  It was a little early to drink anything other than the latte (which was included in my beverage plan), but I was tempted by some of the coffee drinks available, including Café Royale, with Bailey’s Irish Cream, Tuaca Liqueur, or the Agave Toddy, with Remy Martin VSOP, agave nectar and fresh lemon juice. 

While I dried off, I decided it was time to get wet.  I headed to the indoor Solarium, an adults-only area where I got comfortable in a lounge chair and caught up on my magazines between dips in the hydrotherapy pool and the whirlpool. I also enjoyed a healthy spa lunch, full of fresh fruits, vegetables and grains, and finished off with some herb tea before heading window shopping through the ship’s stores and going back to the room to change.

Activities on board a ship have definitely changed since the last time I cruised. The Celebrity Life series adds a whole other level of things to do, from computer classes to mixology. While both of those would be considered “work” for me, I did take in a traditional shipboard staple --- bingo. I came really close to the jackpot, but almost doesn’t count in Bingo.  Fortunately, I didn’t need any cash at the daily Captain’s Club Cocktail Hour, where I enjoyed a few Apple Martinis with Lynn before a delicious pasta dinner in the dining room.

I was able to keep a few dollars going in the casino for awhile before retiring for the night.  My day of rest was officially over and I needed to get ready for the very strenuous work of checking out the wine (and a few surprises) on our next stop… Astoria.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Leaving California for a Celebrity Sail

It’s hard to complain when everything has been going so well with my travels, but I was very disappointed to get the phone call that Up & Away had cancelled our Hot Air Balloon ride.  I had really been looking forward to it. Safety comes first, though, and the wind was not cooperating.

No balloon ride meant that we had a bit of extra time in our apartment at Camellia Inn in Healdsburg. I had remembered a great coffee shop down the block and we enjoyed some lattes and pastries from Flying Goat Coffee before the driver picked us up for our final Sonoma wine stop.

D’Argenzio Fine Wines was nothing like I expected and nothing like I had seen before. At first I thought we were just going to a boutique winery, but I soon learned that the D’Argenzio family had much bigger plans for this facility, which also has a tasting room in Burbank.  The place looks like it belongs in an Italian village and that’s just what they are helping build around them – in the middle of Santa Rosa, a Sonoma community that currently doesn’t have tasting rooms the way Geyserville and Healdsburg do. It is called “Santa Rosa Vintners Square” and in addition to D’Argenzio (which will be adding a pizza oven this summer), three other tasting rooms call this home, along with Squires Cigars. They will be joined by eight more small wineries and a Culinary Center. It looks to be a full experience of wine and food as an option to the spread apart wineries in this area.

As for D’Argenzio itself, this is strictly a family affair and I met with the owner/winemaker Ray D’Argenzio and his daughter Breanna, who just made her first wine, a tasty 2008 Sant’Angelo Sangiovese with cinnamon notes. Also worth checking out here was the very fruity 2007 King Ridge Pinot Noir and the 2006 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, a totally different taste, with a spicy front and a lot of tobacco on the back.  I really enjoyed their 2009 Tocai Fiulano, made from grapes from Fox Hill Vineyards of Mendocino County.  It’s light and citrusy, a bit like a Pinot Grigio, as well as the dessert wine D’Amarone, a sweet mix of petite syrah and cabernet that’s only available to wine club members.

We left D’Argenzio and made a stop in Marin County to visit the family before heading back to the ship on the San Francisco pier.  It was a nice break to be on land, but we still had more wine regions to get to and a cruise ship is a great way to do it. We made it just in time for a delicious dinner in the Celebrity Millennium’s dining room: cold Black Cherry Soup and  tender and flavorful Short Ribs with Polenta.  I made my nightly trip to the casino and still managed to walk away with a bit more than I went in with.  The ship was rocking a little for the first time, but it seemed to rock me right into eight hours of sleep before our next day at sea.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Cruising to California Wine Country

The Celebrity Millennium Wine Cruise left plenty of time to explore California Wine Country while the ship remained docked in San Francisco. Since I had been to Napa recently, I chose to do one stop there and then spend most of the time in Sonoma.

Wine Road Northern Sonoma County  arranged for our transportation from the ship and we headed to Napa Valley for our appointment at Mumm, a premiere maker of sparkling wines. The weather was warm and sunny and the views of the vineyard were just beautiful.  Winemaker Ludovic Dervin took us around the property and through the self-guided tour of the winery, which was built in 1987. The tour is as entertaining as it is informative (I loved “Bob,” the robot who safely puts the bottles in the boxes).  In addition, Mumm maintains photo and art galleries and I was excited to see some incredible work by famed photographer Ansel Adams, as well as a preview of a brand new exhibition by Robert Buelteman.

Dervin, who has been with Mumm since 2002, also told me that while they follow méthode champenoise for their sparklings, they incorporate pinot gris in with the standard chardonnay, pinot mineur and pinot noir grapes.  They are also always the first winery in Napa to pick their grapes, when they are firm and juicy. I certainly couldn’t argue with the method after sampling their wines on the deck.  My favorites were the 2006 Blanc de Blanc, a fruity blend that benefits from just 10% pinot gris added to the chardonnay, and the Cuvee M, a peachy blend that combines pinot gris, muscat and viognier.  I also enjoyed the Brut Prestige, a non-vintage sparkling that is well-balanced, a blend of pinot noir (80%) and chardonnay (20%).

After Mumm we were off to Sonoma and the Francis Ford Coppola Winery. I had been there in August when they had just opened and the place was still under construction, with a pool to come.  It’s finished now and quite impressive, though this winery was pretty impressive without it. Where else can you taste some of the best wines in California while looking at the car featured in Tucker or the desk the Godfather sat in?  There’s no shortage of Hollywood paraphernalia here from one of the greatest directors of all time -- and he has the Oscars… and Golden Globes… and Directors Guild Awards showcased to prove it.  But this winery isn’t just about the movies, it’s about wine and food, and I got to taste both.

We checked out the memorabilia before making our way to the tasting bar. The 2009 Diamond Collection Sauvignon Blanc was made for me, a light, tropical blend with a bit of mineral and a lot of grapefruit.  I was also thrilled with the 2009 Francis Ford Coppola Presents Chardonnay, unoaked and fruity, just as I believe the grape should be. The 2008 Francis Ford Coppola Reserve Viognier was yet another light and white offering, this one with pear and apple notes.

While I was surrounded with my favorites, Lynn helped me check out some of hers, settling in with the complex and fulfilling 2008 Francis Ford Coppola Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir and the 2008 Director’s Cut Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, a very smooth cabernet sauvignon with a bit of petite verdot.

Lunch was at Rustic, Francis Ford Coppola’s restaurant on the premises with the knowledgeable (and fun!) Tracy Logan from Wine Road Sonoma.  This is not a little café that you might find at your average winery. This is a full service, high quality restaurant that you must – and should – make reservations for in advance. Lynn and I shared two pasta dishes: Bumbola A Con Broccoli E Salsiccia (broccoli rabe, Italian sausage, red wine, fontina cheese and cream) and Rigatoni & Meatballs. Both dishes were cooked to perfection, though I was a bit jealous when I saw the Tracy’s Cobb Salad, full of large chunks of turkey, bacon, cheese and tomatoes.

After some perfect cappuccino to finish off the meal, we were off Trione Winery, 8,000  family-owned and run acres. They actually sell most of their grapes to other wineries, but they also keep some for themselves: the 2008 Russian River Sauvignon Blanc  was an oaked version that still retained some fruit; the 2007 Alexander Valley Primitivo is from a young primitivo vineyard mixed withzinfandel, spicy on the back, but fruit forward; and the 2006 Block 21 Cabernet Sauvignon, with some merlot, petite verdot and malbec, was very good.  I also got to taste some of the 2010 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc from the tank and I will be anxiously waiting for that bottle to be released.

We toured the grounds of Trione, which have room for outdoor events and tastings and a great inside banquet area, before heading over to Ridge Vineyard.  The selection here is typical for the California Wine Country region – cabernet, zinfandel and chardonnay – with the exception of 2007 Lytton Spings, 71% zinfandel, 22% petite syrah and 7% carignane, a yummy merlot-like red that’s not overly oaked. My other pick here is the 2009 Paso Robles Zinfandel, which follows up on its red fruit nose with a fruity, semi-sweet taste.

I really liked downtown Healdsburg the last time I was in Sonoma so I was glad we would be staying there overnight. We had an apartment through Camellia Inn (which also has an adorable Bed& Breakfast). It was only a short walk from there past the wine bars and tasting rooms the town is known for to Scopa Restaurant. It was a tiny, bustling place where you could barely hear yourself think, but I was told the food was well worth it and that was certainly true.  I kept it local, sipping an Iron Horse Blanc de Blanc as I nibbled on homemade ciabatta bread dipped in Dry Creek Extra Virgin Olive Oil and equally delicious Chanterelle Mushroom Risotto Balls Stuffed with Fontina. For our main courses we did our best to consume as much as we could of a flavorful Pappardelle with Duck Ragu and lemony-light Artichoke Ravioli with Ricotta , Milk and Chili.  It was easy to see (or taste) why this place was so packed.

It was soon back to the apartment for a good night’s sleep before we finished our time in Sonoma and headed back to the ship.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Eating, Drinking and Exploring on the Celebrity Millennium

After the stop at Catalina, we had a day at sea on the Celebrity Millennium. I decided it would be a great time to learn more about this cruise ship.

I got up very early because I had hoped to get some work done. Unfortunately, the internet was down (what am told is a frequent occurrence). I did get a workout in at the gym, an impressive facility with a huge assortment of equipment, as well as mats, stability balls, weights and fitness classes.  I then  discovered the Aqua Spa Café in the Solarium,  a great adults-only area with a hydrotherapy pool and two whirlpools. The food is wonderful and healthy, with an assortment of dishes that include yogurt grilled chicken and fish, fruits, vegetables and grains, such as couscous and quinoa.  I knew this would be a spot I would return to as much as possible.

My friend Lynn and I made a stop at the casino, where the ship was offering a “Free Money Slot Pull.”  We didn’t walk away with any extra money, but got to play for awhile on the ship’s coins. After that I went to meet Michael Bramlett, Food & Beverage Manager of the Celebrity Millennium. We talked for quite awhile about the huge cocktail menu (only the first two pages are altered, depending on the ships itinerary),  He also told me that this wine cruise was just one of the many options in the “Savor Your Destination” themes, available on a number of different Celebrity Cruises with itineraries all over the world.

One of the things I was most interested in hearing about was the Beverage Plans. They allow passengers to choice from what suits them best, from $6 a day for soda to $46 a day for unlimited premium drinks (alcoholic , non-alcoholic, wine and beer). Options exist for everything you could think of in between, including the Premium Non-Alcoholic I was on, which gave me endless bottled water (including Vitamin Water), soda, juices, smoothies, frozen drinks and specialty coffees.  It worked well for me since I was going to be doing most of my wine and spirits drinking at all our stops. 

Bramlett told me that many guests go for the top package, enjoying the freedom that they can drink whatever they want and not worry about what the bill at the end would be. He reminded me that it was the ship experience people were on board for and it was the staff’s job to make sure they had what they wanted. “The best island we are going to hit is The Millennium,” he stated.

I finally got an internet connection so lunch was in front of my computer in my stateroom. I was surprised how easy it was to order room service straight from the television, with dozens of options available 24 hours a day for no extra charge. I enjoyed the Margarita Pizza before my Bridge Tour led by Second Officer Stefanos Fallos. The bridge was much bigger than I imagined and as technically exact as the computers that run the ship are, they also follow what looks just like the GPS I have in my car and look up for additional information. This ship also costs a staggering $9-10,000 in fuel per hour.

After the tour I was down in the Grand Foyer for what F&B Manager Michael Bramlett called a “taste of what we do on the Millennium.” Taste was an accurate word as there were chefs and samples from every department, including the sushi that is served each evening. I just took a few nibbles before the Wine Appreciation 101 seminar that was a part of this wine cruise. There was a big turnout for this very basic course in wine tasting that was led by Larry Nocera, Director of Sales for Caribbean, Latin America and Cruise Lines for Kobrand.  The choices came from France, Italy, California, France and Portugal and, while I was impressed with the selection, there wasn’t really anything that caught my eye (or, I should say, my taste buds). It was still an interesting course for the novice in tasting that went over the geographic make up of the wine regions.

Dinner consisted of a fruity Grenadine Scented Pineapple with Honeydew; good French Onion Soup (which I was happy to hear is available every day); and an incredible pasta, Penne Poulet Aux Truffles in Chardonnay Cream.  After dinner, I met Larry again at the “Connoisseur Wine & Cheese Pairing” in Michael’s Club.  This tasting was much more intimate and I enjoyed the cheese and the wines, especially liked the Tignanello from Marchesi Antinori in Tuscany Italy. 

By the time the tasting was done it was time to head to the stateroom for some rest as in the morning the ship sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge and we would head to Napa and Sonoma.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Congratulations to Wine And Spirits Travel May Mean a Trip for You!

I'm excited to announce that Wine And Spirits Travel has been named one of the Top Travel Blogs in the World by Austin-Lehman Adventures (one of the best tour companies in the world)! To celebrate the best of the best, they are giving away a trip worth up to $5,000! You've just got a few days to enter. Make sure you note as the blog you are coming from and maybe we can get to the top of that list next time! Good luck and thanks for the support, Marcia.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Wine, Dine And Zip-Line in Catalina

Our first full day aboard the Celebrity Millennium was a full one, after the shipped pulled into Catalina Island, California.

I had only been to Catalina Island one time before and I really liked it.  It’s a touch of the Caribbean in the west, a walking island full of great shopping, activity and Southern California weather.  There are a few cruise ships that come into Avalon and you can also access the island by private boat, or one of the ferries that go from three definitely mainland ports.

We had a pretty full day planned thanks to Donna Harris at the Catalina Island Visitors Bureau. We were starting with a Zip Line Eco Tour, followed by lunch at Avalon Grille and then a Nautilus Semi-Submersible Tour with Catalina Adventure Tours.

When I was in Mazatlan, I had almost made it zip lining, but the timing didn’t work. I was totally psyched to do it in Catalina.  Unfortunately, reality is not the same as expectations. When I arrived at the top of the mountain and looked and a line that was twice as high and twice as long as Mazatlan, I began to get a bit nervous, but when our Guide Don said this was the shortest course we would be going on, I knew I wasn’t going to make it! That left my brave friend Lynn to take the adventure while I photographed it (after I got out of the gated area they left me in).

Lynn proved to be fearless in her first zip line adventure.  She completed the course while I hiked below and grabbed some shots (and took in the warm Catalina sunshine). When it was done, she was more than ready to enjoy some wine and cocktails with me at Avalon Grille while we waited for the tasting menu Executive Chef Nick Cleveland was making for us.  I had the French Kiss Cocktail, a yummy mix of Absolut Raspberry Vodka, Chambord, pineapple juice and raspberry puree, while Lynn enjoyed a Margarita.

We started with some tasty Sweet Potato with Spicy Aioli and an unusual serving of Brussel Sprouts, which had been baked for three hours and pan seared in olive oil with almonds and cranberry to perfection.  There was also incredible Fried Green Beans, Pulled Pork Wrapped in Banana, a Buffalo Burger and decadent dessert of a Flourless Chocolate Fudge Cake with Raspberry Sauce, all while we got to people watch in the ideal summer-like weather. The only problem was that we enjoyed ourselves a bit too much and missed the Nautilus boat tour!  Instead, we walked around the island, doing a bit of window (and real) shopping before taking the tender back to the cruise ship.

Lynn and I watched the ship sail away from our Veranda balcony before freshening up and heading to our first Captain’s Club Cocktail Party in Cosmos lounge. This nightly event for past guests is an excellent way to enjoy a relaxing segway into the evening – with free drinks and snacks and we planned to make it a nightly ritual before dinner, where we met our new Louisiana friends and I enjoyed some perfectly blended Vichyssoise Soup; a Caprese Salad with soft and creamy cheese (though not the best tomatoes); and an excellent Chicken Wellington. 

I spent another two hours in the casino playing the slot machines and couldn’t complain when I walked out $5 poorer before heading to bed.  Our next day was going to be at sea so I would have a chance to find out about this Celebrity Cruise ship and meet some of the people that run it.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Cruising the Pacific Coast on Celebrity

I feel like I’ve been talking about this trip forever and am amazed it’s finally here.  It actually has been quite awhile since Celebrity Cruise Line first invited me to cover their Pacific Coastal Wine Cruise.  I have cruised many times, but not in a few years, not as a travel journalist and never on a themed voyage.  I was able to work this trip in with a British Columbia adventure and bring along my longtime friend Lynn.

The Celebrity Millennium set sail from one of my favorite places, San Diego.  It’s one of the few places where you can count on perfect weather and it didn’t let us down as we had an 80 degree, bright and sunny day. There were some issues that kept us from boarding immediately, and it was definitely not organized at the San Diego pier, but by early evening Lynn and I were in our Veranda Balcony Suite with sparkling wine in hand.

I will get into more detail about the Celebrity Cruise on my third day, when we are at sea and I have a chance to meet with some of the staff, however, I can say it is the perfect size ship for me. I’ve never been on a mega ship and I’m not sure that I’d like to trade in learning my way around and seeing the same people again for an indoor ice skating rink or a roller coaster. The Millennium does have a wide selection of food choices (Main Dining Room, Olympic specialty restaurant, Spa Cuisine, endless Buffet), a huge gym, outdoor and indoor pools and whirlpools, a casino, shopping and theatres.  What more could two women want?

Since this is a wine cruise there are events scheduled every day that give passengers the opportunity to taste wine and/or learn about wine. The introduction, or Wine Expo, was held just after sailing. Passengers were offered champagne or wine, with an assortment of cheeses and breads.  We also had a Chocolate Fountain, accompanied by fruits and marshmallows. I nibbled (dinner was only two hours away) and chatted a bit with one of the organizers of the wine events, Larry Nicer of Kobrand Corporation. He told me about the seminars, tastings and dinners to come and I wished I had time to attend more.

Celebrity Cruise Line
Celebrity offers quite a selection of wine on board from around the world. I had brought a few bottles with me from British Columbia (you can bring two when you embark) and was looking forward to trying some of theirs too.  Lynn and I also purchased their Premium Non-Alcoholic Beverage Plan, which included unlimited Soda, Bottled Water (including Vitamin Water), Juices, Smoothies and Specialty Coffees. It’s one of a half dozen plans that are offered for those who don’t want to get hit with big drink bills in the end.
Lynn and I had dinner on night one at the main dining room, the Metropolitan Restaurant and hoped the food was a sign of things to come for the next 10 days.  I started with a delicious Baked Goat Cheese appetizer, followed by a Mushroom Cappuccino soup which was light and not too salty, the way I like it.  For a main course I had the Moroccan Lamb Stew, which was very tender and full of flavor. Dessert was one of my favorites, Crème Brule and it lived up to my expectations.

We’re on the 8:30 pm sitting which means we have plenty of time to get ready for dinner, but not much energy to do much after.  We did hit the casino briefly and I’m happy to say I started day one $8.50 richer thanks to a slot machine. My gambling goal -- to play for an hour and walk away in the plus column – was met and it was time to retire for the night. Our first port was coming up in the morning. On Catalina Island we had a full day scheduled of Zip Lining, boat riding and lunch at Avalon Grille in between..