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
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
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.