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BLOG: Beverage Programs Hyper-Focused on Bar Takeovers, Sustainability, Vineyard-Specific Pairings and Exotic Teas

Bacardi Rum Eco-Spirits onboard Carnvial Cruise Line Raj Polo Tea House onboard World Europa
David Yeskel, who has covered the cruise industry for over 25 years - often writing with a focus on F&B topics - shares his experiences from several recent sailings in a series of stories for Seatrade Cruise.

It’s not just about drinking anymore, as gourmet wine-pairing dinners, eco-packaging, bar takeovers and venue-specific spirits are all flowing at sea.

Bar Takeover by Miami’s Finest (Virgin Voyages)

As part of Virgin’s limited Eat & Drink Festival last year, the disruptor line certainly went with some out-of-the-box concepts for the liquid portion of the festival on Scarlet Lady. Purely in the interest of research, I tried them all - just not on the same night, thankfully. In The Galley, Virgin’s creative food-hall alternative to the buffet, I watched the Pops & Bubs cart operator submerge a homemade ice cream pop into a glass of champagne (price varied depending on the vintage) before serving it to me.  But even more impressive was the Bar Takeover by Miami’s Finest. Bartenders from four popular Miami-based watering holes came aboard to mix and serve their respective, signature cocktails during multiple bar takeover events on my 5-night Caribbean sailing.  After sampling beverages from Swizzle, The Sylvester, Sweet Liberty and Cafe La Trova, I picked Sweet Liberty’s Gin & Juice as my personal favorite, but the competitors all delivered impressive libations.  The Gin & Juice combination of The Botanist gin, aperol, all spice, guava, pineapple, mango, lime and absinthe, topped off with cinnamon, was a clear winner.

Gin and Juice onboard Virgin VoyagesGin & Juice Cocktail

Caymus Vineyards Winemaker Dinner (Princess Cruises)

Caymus Vineyards Winemaker Dinner isn’t just a routine meal with wine pairings, it’s an opportunity for oenophiles to slip into their fantasy at an intimate and exclusive event held only two or three times per cruise, based on demand.  As the course-by-course gourmet feast is paired with the California vintners’ best wines, the knowledgeable sommelier doesn’t just pour; rather, he provides an education along with an explanation of why each pairing was chosen - in terms that a layman can understand.  And what I really appreciated was the relaxed pace of the meal. Nothing was rushed, leaving enough time to savor both the culinary and liquid offerings, while discussing them with tablemates. And the event - held in the Crown Grill steakhouse or adjacent room - offers a much-appreciated level of exclusivity in cruising’s premium sector, as a maximum of 12 guests enjoy multi-hour, gourmet dining and wine-pairing experience for $140 per person.   

Selection of wine available at Caymus Viinyard

Carnival Trial Closes the Loop on (Almost) Guiltless Pina Coladas

The cruise industry’s ongoing effort to implement sustainable practices via reusable containers has now gone way past boring, boxed water and straight to the fun stuff:  alcohol.  In a three-ship, Miami-based pilot program, Carnival Cruise Line has partnered with ecoSPIRITS and Bacardi  to introduce closed-loop, glass packaging for Bacardi rum.  During the trial period, the ecoTOTE (designed specifically for the maritime environment), which replaces approximately 4 bottles of Barardi Superior, is delivered to the ship, where it’s transferred into a serving format via ecoSPIRITS’ SmartPour devices.  Each ecoTOTE can then be returned, cleaned and refilled about 100 times, thus creating a closed-loop system.  And why was Bacardi rum the chosen spirit for this trial?  It's one of the most frequently-ordered spirits across the Carnival fleet and the base for a number of popular craft cocktails served aboard.  But the biggest surprise here is that we never imagined that the iconic umbrella drink would go eco-conscious on us.

Bacardi Rum Eco-Spirits onboard Carnvial Cruise LineBacardi Rum Eco-Spirits onboard Carnvial Cruise Line

Raj Polo Tea House (MSC World Europa)

Innovation and creativity are at the heart of all the novel beverage programs in the cruise industry, but MSC Cruises’ idea to focus an entire venue on exotic teas is not only clever, it's a fascinating deep dive into the world of tea and its history - in all its complex variations. In a luxurious lounge that evokes images of colonial India, furnished with wicker seating, ceiling fans and elephant sculptures, guests are transported back to a more genteel time, when proper ladies and gentlemen took their brewed beverages very, very seriously. White-gloved waiters gracefully serve a selection of 27 hot teas out of Sterling silver pots into bone china cups, to be savored with homemade cookies, scones and other sweets. The vast menu also includes five tea liqueurs, which are quite strong and best taken on the rocks. In essence, devoting an entire venue to teas is a bold move by MSC, which hopefully will pay dividends that inspire the line to deploy the concept beyond MSC World Europa to other ships in the fleet. 

Raj Polo Tea House onboard World Europa Raj Polo Tea House onboard World Europa