I’m a wine fan. I tell people I drink for a hobby. This explanation upsets my wife when I explain in public, but the simple fact is that I enjoy wine! I also like finding bargains and don’t like being overcharged. What do you need to know when drinking wine at sea?
Understanding the Landscape (or Seascape)
Your cruise line wants to control alcohol consumption. The reasons are obvious: First, it’s a public safety issue. Back in the 1970’s you would see younger adults boarding with a case of beer on their shoulder! If people are paying by the drink, it usually limits their consumption and because you are ordering at a bar, be observed by a responsible party. The second reason is alcohol sales are a profit center aboard cruise ships.
When you read your contract, it will likely explain you can’t bring alcohol aboard. If you do, they will gladly store it for you, returning it when you disembark. But there’s often an exemption for wine, indicating a passenger can bring a bottle or two for consumption in their stateroom or the dining room. Check it out or ask your travel agent.
Eight Ways to Approach Wine at Sea
Let’s assume drinking is part of your vacation experience and you aren’t a problem drinker who should avoid alcohol altogether.
- Drinks packages. Many ships offer an “unlimited” drinks package which you can purchase for your entire voyage or possibly for a day or so. This requires plenty of study. There might be an upper limit on the cost per drink. This means you aren’t able to order Johnny Walker Blue Label or Hennessy Louis XIII cognac. They might require one drink to be finished before the next is ordered. Determine what you likely will be drinking, how many drinks you order on an average day and do the math. Bear in mind you might not be drinking the same volume every day, especially if some days are port days.
- Wine bottle packages. You’ve seen these before. They are often advertised and sold onboard. Instead of ordering wine by the bottle at dinner, you can get a package of five different bottles, which you choose from a shorter list as you require them. This often represents a savings of perhaps 20% off the per bottle price, but you are tied to selections within your category. If you think you will consume or share that number of bottles, it can be a good deal.
- The bin end list. Wine lists often change with the seasons. The ship might have stopped in Germany, boarding many German passengers. They stocked up on German Rieslings, knowing they would be popular. That was two cruises ago! What to do with that unsold Riesling? When the wine list changes, some wines are taken off as others get added. There’s usually a good discount on those bottles. Ask your wine steward if there is a bin end list.
- Read the table. We always ask for a large table. The logic is simple: The more people around you, the more likely you will hit it off with like minded people. We often buy wine the first night, asking the wine steward to offer it to everyone. Sometimes ordering wine revolves around the table, with everyone taking a turn. Other times, some people order a bottle, keep it to themselves or order wine by the glass. A good clue is if they are offered your wine by the wine steward and they decline. In that situation, it’s best to order wine only for yourself or perhaps the one other agreeable couple. You might be ordering wine by the glass.
- Bring Your Own Bottle. (1) Remember the ship had rules? You could bring one or two bottles to enjoy in your cabin or the dining room? Now you are in the dining room! The wine steward likely has a procedure, charging you a corkage fee around $ 20 for serving your wine That’s fair. Generally speaking, you should bring a special occasion wine, not something you found under $10 at the supermarket. When we bring a special bottle, we offer it around the table, but also try to stop drinking when there is a third to a quarter still left in the bottle. We give it to the wine steward to share with their colleagues.
- Wine tasting lunches. There might be one or two if you are lucky. I’ve found these to be a great value. They often take place in a specialty dining room, pairing four wines with four courses. It’s often a tutored tasting. You meet like minded people, relax and learn a lot.
- Bring your own bottle. (2) Let’s assume you ship is sailing in the Mediterranean. You are stopping day after day in countries famous for their wines. Buy something truly spectacular, a wine that never leaves the immediate area because it’s in short supply. Ask your wine steward to open it on a special night. It should be a glorious experience.
- The champagne bar. Does your ship have one? What else could you possibly drink in a champagne bar…except champagne! It’s such an elegant experience. Even if you each only have one glass, it will create a great memory! The waiter will likely swerve canapes too.
We find wine is always an integral part of our vacations, on land or at sea.