Sunday morning early - the first full day on board and I was so eager to find out about the Celebrity Life Activities that I woke up before sunrise. It was 6 am and the Eclipse was moving swiftly but smoothly on her way to San Juan, Puerto Rico. I was writing my travelblogue from the spacious balcony of our cabin, seated in a comfortable chair with a strong breeze whipping up my hair, and listening to the sound of the water rushing by against the hull of the ship. It seems that my internal clock wakes me at 6 regardless of the time zone.
We had ordered room service breakfast for later this morning – coffee for me, tea for Pat, and some fruit. As well I thought I would try out their plain yogurt. The tray arrived on time. The yogurt however was a no-fat variety and had that slimy texture that comes from thickeners. That’s why at home I love the thick Greek style yogurt that has no additives. Crossed this brand of yogurt off my list for the rest of this trip. But the sliced pineapple was sweet and delicious. And the coffee was hot.
Today was my first opportunity to check out the Celebrity Activity Lets Dance Program. The dancers who perform in the shows teach these lessons. The first one listed was a waltz lesson with Vitaliy and Anna. It was held in the stunning Sky Lounge at the front of the ship on deck 14. There is a medium sized circular dance floor there. It’s a marble floor – so not great for the legs but certainly a nice space. The problem is that it does not come with dance partners!
Maybe twenty-six people showed up for the lesson. I was curious to see what they would cover in the time allowed. They demonstrated a basic box and a turning box, a hesitation step forward and sideways, and a promenade step. At the end they played one waltz for people to practice what they had learned and I sat and watched. It was fascinating to see the difference in what people had picked up and how they moved in time to the music – or not.
Shortly after that the next class was scheduled in the Foyer on deck 3, which also has a marble floor. This class was cha cha cha with Philippe and Remy. About the same number of people crowded onto the floor.
Remy, who is English, said that they would be teaching International style cha cha cha and indeed they taught the basic step, the New York step and an underarm turn. I decided I could lead those steps so I partnered with Pat to practice.I am not a very good leader though as I have not developed that aspect of my dancing and in fact, my main objective these days is to be able to follow anyone on the dance floor easily.
About twelve years ago I took a basic certificate course on wine and wine tasting, and became fascinated with the history and science of winemaking. On trips to the US, South Africa and Australia, and visits to our Okanagan wine country [ (A Taste of the South Okanagan) and (Destination Kelowna)] I enjoyed visiting wineries and vineyards, and amassed quite a collection of tasting glasses from vineyards all over the world.
Sometime after I began my second career of on-line reviewing and writing, I realized that I needed, and wanted, to learn more about wine. Lacking the patience and discipline to attend weekly courses over many weeks, I signed up for the WSET level I intensive held over two weekend days, with the exam at the end of the second day.
Having had a lot of fun doing the level I and having learned just enough to realize that I wanted to know much more about wine, and needed plenty of practice in the art of tasting, I decided to take the Level II course. Again I opted for the weekend day long sessions.
When I first looked at the course workbooks which arrived by mail several weeks in advance of the course, I realized that this was not something I could take lightly, especially I chose to do the course over three full days rather than in three hour classes over 9 weeks. I visualized myself trying to remember which varietal was used in Burgundy and which in Bordeaux, while my brain was in an alcoholic haze from tasting wine. And yes, I know we are supposed to spit not swallow, but I remember being quite mellow after the level I course days. So I started reading early.
I also had to buy a set of the ISO tasting glasses - the glass has a rounded bowl large enough for swirling without spilling, tulip shape to concentrate aromas, and the stem so one can hold the glass without warming the wine. Which got me thinking about the stemless designed Riedel glasses that were supposed to be the new great thing in wine glass design a couple of years ago. The pouring size for tasting is 50 ml or just about 1 and 2/3 oz.
The third full day session of the Level II course was held on the weekend following the first 2 sessions. It was on the Sunday, and after the educational component, we were to write the multiple choice examination. Luckily at this level there is no actual tasting component. By this stage in the course I was feeling pretty good about white wines, but probably had no hope of getting through a red wine tasting.
I had planned on spending time during the week and and then all of Saturday studying for the test. At this stage of my life it takes more than once over for me to remember regions and towns, never mind which varietal is grown where. I had a general concept in my head, though some of the facts had been filtered through a slightly mellowing haze of alcohol from the wines I had not been able to compel myself to pour out rather than swallow. So Saturday I was going to sit down and pull an all-dayer since the days of all-nighters are long gone for me.
The Second Day: Wines by Region and Classic Varietals
Lynn had alerted us that the afternoon of the second day might be a bit challenging as the focus was on red wines. But despite the fact that I spent the previous night enjoying Richard III instead of studying my WSET manual, I hopped off the Canada Line and walked over to BCIT with a definite sense of optimism. After all we were starting the morning with two of my favorite varietals, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, I figured they would be a lot easier for me to write intelligent tasting notes about than red wines.
We started off with a Riesling tasting and a discussion of German wine regions and labeling. This was a familiar area to me because I have been enjoying wines from the Mosel, Rheingau and Pfalz for ages, through the Opimian Wine Club.
In spring, summer, fall and winter in British Columbia's stunningly beautiful Okanagan Valley, the Okanagan Wine Festivals Society organizes a Festival to celebrate wine, food, culture and a wide range of summer and winter outdoor activities.
I was in Kelowna for the May 2010 Spring Wine Festival and met with Christina Ferreira and Blair Baldwin of the Society to learn about the origin and current festivities of these Wine Festivals.
This year is the 30th anniversary of the first Fall Festival which was an informal gathering of local 5 wineries to party and celebrate the end of harvest. The Spring Festival was started much later but over the 16 years of tracking attendance at these two festivals, it seems that their popularity is now on a par.
Thirty years later, the Spring and Fall Festivals have grown into 10 day events that see approximately 200,000 visits to participating wineries. About 1000 people attend the smaller weekend long Winter and Summer Festivals held at the resorts
This is the index of postings to my Travelblogue that documents my ballroom dancing-focused West Coast cruise in the Sapphire Princess from Los Angeles, California to Vancouver, British Columbia. I traveled with a group of ballroom dance enthusiasts led by Wendy from Dancers at Sea. With three hours of dancing every night,a dance workshop, excellent food on board and excursions to wine country en route, it was the perfect trip for a gourmet food and wine-loving , ballroom dance addicted, travel writer.
The nature of blogs results in the latest posting appearing first on screen, so that later events appear first. This Travelblogue index lists the postings in chronological order from pre-embarkation to the termination of the trip, as a guide to your reading.
Astoria and the South Oregon coast Wednesday May 13 The ship schedule stated: Arrive Astoria, Oregon 7 am - depart 5 pm.
When pre-booking my tours I decided that after three days of dancing and two wine tours it would be time to have a relatively quiet day, try out a Deep Tissue Massage in the Spa and catch up with my writing. That was wise planning as I was by that time three days behind in posting to my travelblogue. But the evening before, Raoul, Nancy and Dean had invited me to join them and share costs of a drive down the south Oregon coast to Tillamook. It took me about two seconds to decide that if I could change my Spa appointment I would join them. A phone call later and my massage was set for Friday , and I was up for the trip.
The view through my window showed a grey overcast sky so I decided jeans and layers would be wise. Raoul had rented the car so after assembling at the Passengers' Services Desk at 9 am, we disembarked onto the pier of a cold and very rainy Astoria and made our way through a series of market stalls to the rental car area. As Nancy observed ironically, the overhead announcement said it would be ”partially cloudy” but they neglected to mention that the other part was rain. Lots and lots of rain! It was very cold and wet but being from Vancouver, I found it nothing out of the ordinary.
Dancing at Sea: Gourmet San Francisco Food and Sonoma Wine Tour
Monday, May 11th, 2009
Part II. The Wine
As we headed into the Sonoma Valley wine country, Jim told us about the wineries we would be visiting. We were going to the Carneros region, the southern part of Sonoma.
As it turned out our first stop actually was not at a winery but at Cornerstone Co-Op - a little village with several interesting stores, a gallery with some unusual and expensive sculptures, a gourmet food market / coffee shop and 4 winery tasting rooms. As we alighted from the bus, Jim handed each of us a coupon, good for a tasting at one of the four wineries.
The village area looked arid, dusty, sand-covered. I guess Sonoma is a desert and the area had a dry desert feel about it. I wandered away from the crowd who were heading for the closest tasting room and further back in the village I found Roshambo. When I heard that the only white wine currently up for tasting was a Chardonnay, I asked the pourer about other varietals. He said that he thought Larson was pouring a Gewürtztraminer, and though he gave me a taste of his wine, he very kindly did not take my coupon.
I wandered back to look for Larson. It was warm and windy - and I was feeling rather tired by now. I found my way into the Larson Winery and had a nice chat with Bob, the gentleman manning the tasting bar. He first poured their 2005 Sadler Wells Chardonnay - and then their 2006 Gewürtztraminer. I also tasted a Merlot which was quite pleasant- not much tannin but little body also.
We were allocated a fair amount of time at Cornerstone. Too much I think. I wandered in and out of the various stores - saw some great coffee table books with exquisite illustrations. But nothing really tempted me.
I also had a look at the sculptures in the gallery - the theme of the work currently on display seemed to be the human body. I was curious about one called Trophy Wife. It was a figure with a pin sized head, huge breasts and long legs. I figured there must be a story behind that but the man at the computer in the store did not know anything much about it. Too bad really.
Eventually Jim got us all back in the bus and we were off to the next winery at Cline. They had set up a tasting area outside for us but by this time the wind had seriously pickd up and it was quite blustery. The plastic cover snapped and crackled in the wind. They were pouring two white wines, a Rosé and two reds. The 2008 Pinot Gris, an unoaked blend of 60% Pinot Gris and 40% Chardonnay was pleasant; fruity with a nicely balanced acidity.
The 2007 Los Carneros Viognier was a little dry for my taste. The 2008 Mourvèdre Rosé was really nice, slightly dry but full of fruity flavour. I debated buying a bottle but the hassle of carrying bottles of wine home does not really appeal to me unless something is absolutely outstanding. I had not heard of Mourvèdre - apparently it is a Rhone varietal. Or maybe Rhine- I can't read my own handwriting.
Monday May 11The Gourmet San Francisco Food and Sonoma Wine Tour
Part 1. The Food
We docked in San Francisco around 8 am and were scheduled to depart at 10 pm that evening. I had chosen the tour that left at 8:45 and would be back to the ship by 4:45 pm, leaving time for a quick shower and change from jeans into dancing attire. Unlike Santa Barbara where we had to anchor out in the harbor, the Sapphire Princess docked at the pier so for this tour, this ticket indicated that we should meet at the tour bus on the pier. Hmmm... well I guess there will be signs and plenty of helpful cruise staff to direct us to the right bus.
After another 3 hours of late night dancing, getting to sleep after 1 am again, and needing to get up early for the tour, I figured that I would need all the extra sleep time I could get. So I thought it would be a good time to try out the room service breakfast. Unlike in a hotel, there is no extra charge for getting a continental breakfast delivered to your cabin. So I hung out the form requesting my breakfast at 7:30 and to my surprise the breakfast was actually delivered promptly at 7:30 - how do they do that with the huge numbers of people on board?
By 8 I was showered,and dressed, and with fruit, yogurt and a couple of cups of coffee in my tummy, my notebook and camera in my purse, and I was ready to taste and drink the best of San Francisco and Sonoma. We board the bus. This time our group was a little smaller- maybe 30 people including the tour guide, Jim, and John “from the office” who was called in to help with the in-city part of the tour. It is 9 am and we are eager to get going.
The tour guide is pacing outside the bus and checking a list. A frantic-looking lady gets into the bus and calls out “Have you seen Nick?” Nick apparently decided to go and get a coffee and is nowhere to be seen. The minutes tick by. The tour guide is pacing. Nick's wife is hovering. Eventually Nick saunters up to the guide, coffee in hand, blissfully indifferent to the fact that a bus-full of strangers have been kept waiting for him. I think that this is going to be another interesting day.
We were scheduled to arrive at Santa Barbara at 7 am and depart 4 pm. I had pre-booked a Wine Country Tour leaving at 9 am. The directions on the ticket said to assemble in the Princess Theatre at 8:20 am. I knew that I needed to have some food in me or I would be staggering after the first few sips of wine – yes, I know you are not supposed to swallow but who doesn't? I grew up in South Africa where we had signs all over warning against spitting - "moenie spoeg nie" - thats Afrikanns for "don't spit", so Its kind of ingrained in me.
Checking the PrincessPatter (the glossy daily ship newsletter delivered each evening to one's cabin) I noted that the International Dining room opened for breakfast at 7 am. I set the alarm on my PDA for 6:00 am. Since it was well after midnight, in fact after 1 am before I got to sleep I did the belt and braces thing and also placed a wake up call through the ship's automated system. I joined the lineup outside the dining room just as the doors opened at 7 and was shown to a table where 2 couples, a mother/daughter pair and two other ladies were already seated. I declined the pastries and had a frittata with mushrooms, smoked provolone and Italian sausage, some fresh fruit and coffee. Delicious, but I realized soon that the dining room service is designed for a leisurely breakfast. Not a good choice for an early departure. When I excused myself from the table, the others were still lingering over their coffee and baked goods.