Organizing this year’s Food & Wine Cruise has been a bit “interesting” and a bit frustrating. But, in the end, it will be a great time and a wonderful experience.

The economy took a toll with not only some cancellations immediately after the stock market meltdown, but with an unfortunate last minute cancellation. Making matters worse (at least for me), contrary to what you have heard, this particular cruise has been oversold for many months! So people that were interested in joining the cruise after the cancellatoins were unable to…even if they were willing to pay for an upper suite! That, obviously, left me with a smaller group than normal, but some great opportunities to do things a bit differently.

The first thing I did was create a more intimate special event. Rather than a more formal wine tasting onboard the Seabourn Spirit, I arranged a walking wine and food tour in Venice with a a certified Italian Sommelier (AIS) and Master Cheese Taster (ONAF) where we will sample no less than 6 wines and quite a number of cicchetti (Italian tapas, if you will) after an early morning (at least for Venice) wander through the Rialto Market.

Then I decided that with a more intimate group I had the ability to take a really hard look at Seabourn’s new Epicurean Collection of shore excursions. While, for example, Regent Seven Seas is focusing on no additional cost and more crowded tours, Seabourn eliminated its somewhat underutilized complimentary Seabourn Experiences on most cruises, and has upscaled its offerings and truly limited the number of people who can participate in certain of them. (Remember, I don’t believe in the “a group is joined by the hip” approach, but rather there are limited – but worthwhile – group experiences…like the Venice walking tour.)

For example, in Montenegro I am going to try out the “Montenegro’s Resplendent Cuisine and Wines” Epicurean Tour , where we will start the day with a guided 1½ hour walking tour of Kotor’s old town with its narrow streets and medieval plaza and then walk to Galion Restaurant and sit on its enclosed terrace cantilevered over the water where we will enjoy an introduction to Montenegrin wines while absorbing the breathtaking views of the Bay of Kotor. Your tasting will be lead by either a local winemaker or sommelier and will include wines made from local grape varietals like Vranac and Krsta, along with wines made from more familiar Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. Our expert will talk about the different grape growing regions of Montenegro and reveal a few of the unique winemaking traditions. After the lesson, you’ll enjoy more Montenegrin wines paired with a 3-course meal prepared by Galion’s executive chef.

In Split, Croatia we will have a walking tour of the Old Town followed by trip to TERRA wine cellars, apparently in very unique old house, where we will have with a tasting of some of the region’s various cold game cuts, traditionally prepared salamis, domestic deserts, and a great selection of Dalmatian wines.

In Triese, Italy we will travel to Duino Castle (about 30 minutes away) to explore its gardens and history and then it will be off to Castello di Spessa, the hospitality facility of the Pali Wines Group, to visit the prestigious cellar and taste some superb wines. Since the 16th century, Castello di Spessa has been producing top quality wines, but its present cellar is a fitted out old military bunker that built at the end of the ’30s and used during the Second World War. We will then sample award-winning red and white wines in a charming 18th century atmosphere with exceptional scenery; again part of Seabourn’s Epicurean Collection.

Uncharacteristically, I will be partaking of yet more organized shore opportunities. While I will most definitely have time to explore the port independently, I am using this cruise to sort of test out the extensive use of Seabourn’s shore experiences so that I can let you know how they measure up. Sometimes challenging your comfort level can be doing the “ordinary”, I guess. (I am not sure Seabourn offers “ordinary” and these experiences are nothing like those offered on larger ships, but it is probably as close as I am ever going to get!)

I will also be hosting the Ensemble Travel Group’s complimentary shore experience in Kopor, Slovenia…where we will be visiting Šmarje near Capodistria, in the heart of Slovenian Istria, where there are the vineyards and olive orchards of Ludvik Nazarij Glavina. During the visit to the wine cellars there will be a tasting of five wines and grappa accompanied by a snack of local specialties such as homemade breads, olives, cheese and olive oil.
So, for me, if gout doesn’t set in…or some other malady from excessively enjoying ones self…I am sure to have a great experience learning about some places I have never been…and one I love. Heck, isn’t food and wine the key to an area’s culture and history?