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Last year was a year of firsts for me — my first time in the UK, my first cruise, the first time I got to see Mt. Fuji. But with all these really exciting experiences that I was able to add to my “life” list in 2009, it seems like the beverages I experienced were the real stand out last year. Below are five of my favorite excursions from last year, each of which involved a unique beverage experience.
Blended Coffee DrinkParadise Taveuni, Taveuni Island, Fiji
When my friends ask me where my favorite place in the world to visit is, I’m hard pressed to pick between Japan and Fiji. Fortunately for me, I was able to visit both in 2009. As with Japan, this year’s Fiji trip took me to destinations I had not yet seen. I had heard a lot about Taveuni Island, known as the Garden Island and, after a short two-day stay, I can see why travelers are so taken with the island.
I enjoyed two nights at Paradise Taveuni that were very likely two of my best nights of 2009. The outstanding cuisine prepared by owner/chef Al Gortan, instant access to amazing snorkeling, just off the resort’s dock and quickly being adopted as part of the family by staff members like Suli or Shelley all helped catapult this trip into the best-of-the-best category. A real standout in a trip of highlights, however, was when chef Al, knowing of my caffeine addiction in a place where Starbucks has yet to be heard of, prepared an amazing blended coffee drink. Caffeine cravings sated, I started to plot ways that I could “stow away” at this resort for several more nights.www.paradiseinfiji.com/
Whisky TastingEdinburgh, Scotland
My first time in the UK left me asking why I hadn’t been here sooner. Although I visited both London and Edinburgh, I found myself particularly charmed by Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh. For a girl who dreamed of being a princess for most of her childhood (ahem, if you define childhood as anything before age 50), there’s nothing finer than a city with a real-live castle in the middle.
But what really stood out was the education I received in whisky tasting. Our journey included a stop at the Whisky Experience in Edinburgh and continued on to the Tullibardine Distillery, where I met (and developed an instant crush) on John Black, the distillery manager. So valued is Black, that Tullibardine honored him with his own private-label bottle of scotch, to which Black quipped, “the only difference between me and Johnnie Walker is that I’m still alive.” Despite his elite status in the world of whisky, he spent much time helping us sample the distillery’s finer scotch blends.
Tangerine WineShizuoka, Japan
Although I was fortunate enough to experience many firsts this year, I was also lucky to return to one of my favorite destinations, Japan, this time visiting a new area for me, the Shizuoka Prefecture. Although the area borders Mount Fuji, it is not as well known to international visitors as is Hakone.
Shizuoka is a true country getaway, and I spent much of my time investigating the hot springs and ryokan (traditional Japanese inns) of rural Japan. Each ryokan treated me as if I were a celebrity, making it easy to see why royals escape to this area every year.
At the Atami Taikan-so Ryokan, we had a particularly amazing dinner, a multicourse feast that provided elegantly prepared and displayed local dishes. For me, the highlight was the wine made of the tangerine crops that blossom every year in Shizuoka.
Ice Mochas, Mango SmoothiesMS Veendam, Holland America Line, Alaska
My first-ever cruise took my mom and me to Alaska on Holland America’s Veendam. We enjoyed uncommonly warm and beautiful summer days, which allowed us to fully appreciate the gorgeous scenery of the inside passage from our Lanai stateroom, a new category of outside view rooms that Holland America unveiled last year. Due to a recent surgery, my mom wasn’t able to drink, so I was worried the beverage options might be a little disappointing for her.
What we didn’t know, was that there would be an onboard cafe, sponsored by The New York Times, which would allow us to enjoy our daily espresso drinks, just as if we were at the neighborhood Starbucks. The cafe served as the ship’s central meeting place and sitting there long enough allowed us to clue in to most of the ship’s crew gossip.
At night, when we wanted to go a little more upscale, we discovered an amazing blended mango smoothie that was so good, it almost made us forget we weren’t drinking alcohol. The intimate nature of the Veendam, a smaller-class ship, was such that we only needed approach our favorite bartender or “ship-ista” and they would already know the drinks that we wanted.
Molecular MixologyEquinox, Celebrity Cruises, Off the Coast of the UK
My second trip the UK last year involved sailing on the launch of Celebrity Cruises’ newest ship, the Equinox. Because we were only onboard for two nights, I mapped out a strict activity and dining schedule in order to maximize my onboard experiences. Although sitting on a real grass lawn on the ship’s Lawn Deck and attending a glass-blowing class both were unique experiences, what really stood out to a drink aficionado such as myself was the Molecular Mixology class with the Liquid Chef, Junior Merino. The world-class drink mixologist has worked with the food and beverage staff to create healthy and visually stunning drinks for passengers. After sampling a drink with a liquid nitrogen flume and the equally tasty (but less visually interesting) ginger mojito, I quickly scanned the list of programs to see if a second drink class was offered. Sadly, no. My original plan for an hour of uninterrupted window shopping in the ship’s two-story galleria would stand.
The writer samples John Black Whisky with the scotch blend's namesake. // (c) 2009 Monica Poling
The massive dinner served by the Atami Taikanso Ryokan included a sampling of the local Tangerine Wine // (c) 2009 Monica Poling
When the writer wasn't enjoying ice mochas, she spent most of her time taking in the amazing sights of Glacier Bay // (c) 2009 Monica Poling
The Liquid Chef, Junior Merino (center), poses with Equinox staff after the trio serves up a variety of unique drinks during the Molecular Mixology class. // (c) 2009 Monica Poling