‘WOW-ing’ Them at Sea

Holland America Line’s exclusive wine-themed cruises set sail

By: Maryann Hammers

Indulgent, bordering on decadent” was the way my envious brother-in-law described the wine-themed cruise aboard Holland America’s ms Zaandam. It wasn’t hard to figure out how he came up with the description or why he was jealous that my sister and I had signed up for the juicy journey, with an agenda that included private cocktail parties, culinary demonstrations, wine and chocolate tastings, gifts and fancy wine-paired dinners.

Along with the Washington Wine Commission and AAA, Holland America offered the first Wines of Washington (WOW) coastal cruise in late September. As WOW guests, we felt like we were on a “private cruise within a cruise,” for not only did we get to take part in all the regular amenities and activities onboard the elegant ship, but we also enjoyed the (indulgent and decadent) exclusive wine-themed itinerary.

During the three-day, Vancouver-to-San Diego sailing, we socialized with wine makers, top chefs and educators from Washington’s wineries. We spent hours mastering the art of pairing chocolate truffles with fine wines, under the guidance of chocolatier Fran Bigelow, owner of Fran’s chocolates. We mingled with Tom Hedges, proprietor of Hedges Family Estates, who was eager to showcase his finest vintages. Wine educator Joel Butler, of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, taught us how to blend Bordeaux, with repeated tastes to make sure we were getting it right. Now that I’m back, my mouth may be numb, but I’m definitely not complaining.

Just 84 passengers signed up for that inaugural WOW cruise, so the various wine events had an intimate, privileged ambiance. However, future sailings will likely attract more guests.

“Cruising, enrichment activities and wine are all getting increasingly popular, so the sky’s the limit including, one day, a full-ship wine-themed charter,” said Mary Schimmelman, public relations manager for Holland America.

Many presentations and panel discussions were geared to a sophisticated, wine-savvy audience. For example, there were debates about what percentage of alcohol the wine should contain, how global warming affects what’s in the bottle and the merits of cork versus screw caps. A discussion on the politics of wine was livened up by a pop quiz, with winners taking home rare vintages as door prizes.

Even newbies had to love the chance to pair red, white and port wines with dark truffles and artisan chocolates. (Lesson learned: Wine should be sweeter than whatever dessert it accompanies.) WOW guests could sit down in the ship’s specialty dining venue for a multi-course dinner, paired with extra-special Washington wines for an additional $90 (or $45 for an equally elegant wine-paired lunch.) As an extra bonus, the ship’s captain joined us at the table one night.

My culinary expertise begins and ends with dumping Cheerios in a bowl. So I opted out of the two cooking demonstrations, held in the ship’s Culinary Arts Center (part of the fleetwide Signature of Excellence enhancements). But my sister, an accomplished cook, returned from the events happily clutching signed cookbooks.

Upcoming WOW cruises present dual opportunities for travel agents, who are welcome to book clients on the wine cruise and receive full commission. Or, using the WOW cruise as a model, entrepreneurial-minded agents are encouraged to partner with local wineries and put together a themed sailing of their own.
“This type of enrichment program, and the demographic it attracts, are well-matched with Holland America and the type of experience we provide,” said Schimmelman.


The next Holland-America/ Wines of Washington (WOW) cruise is slated for April 28 on the Oosterdaam. The four-day coastal sailing embarks in San Diego, followed by two sea days packed with wine events and activities. On May 1, the ship docks in Seattle, where WOW guests will be offered exclusive shore excursions to Washington wineries. The cruise ends in Vancouver on May 2. Prices have not yet been determined.


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