April 21, 2007
TRAVELING WITH WINE - taking wine on a cruise

My wife and I were going to take a cruise to Mexico, and I wanted to bring along some wine. Luckily, we'd taken a cruise to Hawaii in Oct 2005, so I'd had some previous experience bringing my own stash aboard. Of course, this was before the recent spate of people jumping overboard or otherwise disappearing from shipboard - mostly in the Caribbean. All of this caused the cruise lines to tighten their published (but not necessarily enforced) restrictions on bringing alcohol aboard at departure.

(Before we get into details here, I should mention that the wine I wanted to bring aboard was never intended to be taken to the dinner table. Rather, it was all intended to be consumed during the day or before or after dinner. I did witness others doing bringing wine to lunch or dinner, but there were very few people doing so.)

Each cruise line seems to handle differently the issue of bringing your own alcohol aboard. Generally, a few bottles of Champagne or wine is permissible, but liquor is not. Some are very specific about the number of bottles or wine one can bring; others don't name a number. Here's an account of my first experience, contrasted with the most recent one.

Hawaii - Celebrity Cruise Lines
We were leaving out of San Diego, so I stopped at SD Wine Company just off the 805 & Miramar Rd. I chose this store because they have lots of lower priced offerings. I'd read the Celebrity rules and they didn't specify a limit, so I thought ...what the heck. Considering it was a 2-week cruise, I figured about 10-12 bottles would be sufficient -- well I was also going to be pouring for my in-laws as well.

As sort of a side note, my mother-in-law was determined to bring some wine along too, and having read the rules had a somewhat different interpretation of things. So much so, that she decided to treat her wine as contraband. I was elated to hear that she had bought a "box" of wine to bring along (yes, I did try to talk her out of it...or did I?). She also decided that the best way to keep it from prying eyes or security confiscation was to wrap it as a bon voyage gift...to herself! Well, suffice to say that 5 liters of wine is a heavy price to pay.

Meanwhile, back at SD Wine Co I picked up 10 bottles of wine and a 6-pak carrier. My wife and I put 2 bottles each into our carry-on luggage, and I was also toting the 6-pk carrier. As the line to board wound around throught the terminal, a fellow behind me commented, "Is that alcohol? They won't let you take that aboard." No, it's my medication, I replied tongue in cheek. Another passenger asked, "Is that a cat?" I gave them the medication answer as well, but upon seeing people with small animal carriers, I wondered if I hadn't missed an opportunity to punch some holes in the box and label it Rose the Cat, or some such thing. Next stop, the x-ray machine.

No problem going through security at the x-ray machine, and no problem boarding past the cruise line security. Piece of cake!

Mexico - Princess Cruises
As I mentioned, there'd been a rash of people getting drunk or drugged and leaping overboard or otherwise missing from the boat. As a result, more stringent rules had been invoked by some cruise lines (notably Royal Caribbean) and Princess seemed to indicate a limit of 3 bottles per cabin. Well, always willing to test the waters as it were, we brought 3 bottles each aboard in our carry-on luggage. I sense I could have brought more along, but frankly, we didn't see the need.

This time around, we did not have any wine in plain view, so we did not receive any unsolicited comments. I wondered if we'd run into any problems with the x-ray machine, but not a peep from security or staff.

As mentioned before, each cruise line is different. You'll need to check their restrictions beforehand, and then plan your needs accordingly. Worse case scenario, if you've brought more than they deem "proper," they will keep and store the excess wine for you, and apparently dispense it to you on an as-needed basis.

One interesting side note here was the difference I found in the "wine service" between the two cruise lines. Celebrity was what I would have to call full service. When I asked for wine glasses, the cabin steward asked "white or red," and brought the higher end stemware from the restaurant. He also brought Champagne stems when he saw we had sparkling wine. The stems were changed as frequently as we used them.

In contrast, our room steward with Princess asked me to call room service to get wine glasses, which is exactly what they were - glasses. Used glassware would be taken away, but not replaced unless new glasses requested. Their restaurant stemware was better, and in retrospect I wished I'd asked room service to see if they would supply them.

We've booked a cruise on Princess again for this November, and I will undoubtedly bring wine along this time as well. As to how many bottles, who knows. But one thing's certain, I'll ask for better stemware.

April 19, 2007

The GrapeRadio guys had the opportunity to give a studio call to Stephen Tanzer, wine critic and editor of the International Wine Cellar. We'd talked with Stephen before in Oct 2005 (Pt 1, Pt 2), and welcomed another opportunity to discuss things like the point system, how one critiques something as subjective as wine, and disturbing new trends. The new interview will air April 23 (that's 4 days from now).


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