The Tasting Experiences Aboard Cruise Ships

“You can’t go beyond the rail.” My wife wasn’t an immediate fan of cruising when we first met back in the 1970’s. Her logic was she would easily get bored because it’s like being confined to a hotel. Fortunately she quickly converted because cruise lines know they need to offer activities for every interest.

One of these categories is tasting classes. People love food and drink. Cruise ships have offered kitchen tours for years. They also bring their chefs into the theater for cooking demonstrations. That’s good, but not immersive. People want to participate. You’ve heard studies show Millennials value experiences over possessions.  Cruise ships took the next step.

When we sail, I look forward to “the tastings” organized as onboard activities. Here are a few of my favorites:

  1. The Scotch Tasting. I’ve done this a few times. For some unusual reason, it’s often done later in the evening, around 10:00 PM. Perhaps because some people think of single malt scotch as an after dinner drink. The format has been standardized: You are seated with four empty glasses and a glass filled with water. A presenter, often a skilled bartender, pours you a measure, then tells you about the Scotch. On Cunard, their tasting covered different geographic regions of Scotland. On Holland America, it was a whiskey tasting, featuring one each from Canada, Scotland plus a Kentucky bourbon and rye whiskey. The group is often small, making it intimate. Here’s my favorite line from a tasting on Cunard:  A fellow asks: “What do you know about (name) scotch?”  They presenter didn’t know much and asked “How did you come across it?”  The fellow answered: “I own the distillery!”
  2. The wine lunch. This is another of my favorites. On a sea day, there’s a four course meal organized in one of the specialty restaurants. Everyone is greeted with champagne. Each course has a wine pairing. The presenter talks about the wine and food, explain why it’s a great match. The group is larger than the scotch tastings. There is interaction among passengers within the group. This is a “must do” activity on every voyage.
  3. The martini tasting. My wife and I did this once on Cunard. You are seated in a comfy chair with a side table and four stemmed martini glasses. The presenter explains there are different drinks called martinis. The gin martini and the vodka martini are obvious ones, but you’ve seen flavored martinis on restaurant wine lists too. They finished off with a molecular martini. The presenter (and staff) mixed each martini in shakers, then filled each glass halfway. These were big glasses! There was lots of liquor there!  They talked about each type and how they were made. My wife strongly believes martinis are only made with gin and vermouth. They are garnished with an olive. That’s it. She is a purist. Once you substitute a cocktail onion for the olive, it becomes a Gibson, not a martini. Peppermint or chocolate martinis don’t exist in her universe.
  4. The walk around wine tasting. Cunard holds wine tastings as a perk for higher tier World Club members. Your invitation arrives at your cabin. There’s a scheduled day and time. You show up. Your invitation is collected at the door. The tasting is held in the main dining room during off hours. Several stations are setup around the room, each featuring one wine, dozens of glasses and platters of snacks. There is a wine steward stationed at each table. Groups of about eight are led to the first table, where wine is poured and the sommelier gives a talk. As you proceed to the next table where fresh glasses await, the next group of eight moves to the first table. It’s kind of like playing golf. You leave when you’ve completed the course.

These are great shipboard experiences. We look forward to them. They are reasonably priced and good value for money.

Editor’s Note: Browse Discount Cruise Ships and Cruise Lines (

Cover photo: Queen Victoria Scotch Tasting, credit Bryce Sanders

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