Plus: Azamara Club Cruises gets you off the boat for exclusive adventures
The popular image of cruise ship cocktails might be a neon umbrella drink whirred in the blender on The Love Boat, but tipples on cruise ships are getting increasingly sophisticated. Sure, you can still sip a piña colada poolside (and it will still put you in the perfect vacation state of mind), but cruise lines are also pouring a lot of ultra-premium spirits and serving craft cocktails. Now a handful of partnerships between cruise lines and mixologists are making seagoing bar menus even more creative and cosmopolitan (if you’ll pardon the pun).
The newest of these partnerships is luxury line Seabourn's collaboration with world-renowned mixologist Brian Van Flandern. Hailed by the Food Network as "America's top mixologist," Van Flandern was part of the opening team for Per Se in New York City. As head barman, he applied chef Thomas Keller's philosophies behind the bar and created a menu of well-balanced, food-friendly cocktails.
For Seabourn, Van Flandern will use fresh produce and botanicals to create a new, exclusive menu of handcrafted cocktails that take advantage of ingredients found in markets in the destinations the ships visit. He will also upgrade the fleet’s barware and staff training and help build an expanded spirits list that will include more premium and ultra-premium whiskeys, tequilas, and spirits, such as a rare Armagnac Darroze 1968.
In another notable partnership, Holland America Line's bars now have masterpieces created by "King Cocktail" Dale DeGroff. DeGroff, a 2015 James Beard Who's Who inductee, developed his mixology techniques while tending bar in famous establishments like Manhattan's Rainbow Room, where he reinvented classic cocktails. For Holland America, DeGroff is shaking up the drinks menu with original creations like the Ritz Cocktail, a mixture of Cognac, Cointreau, maraschino liqueur, and lemon juice topped with Champagne.
Celebrity Cruises recently started a partnership of another kind, working with the beverage giant Diageo to create the World Class Bar, which debuted aboard Celebrity Eclipse and will ultimately be installed in all five of Celebrity's big Solstice-class ships. Here, World Class–certified mixologists (trained at the Diageo Bar Academy) craft specialty cocktails like the Zacapa Old Fashioned, a mix of Zacapa 23 rum with Angostura bitters and a dash of chocolate mole, and the Mystic Ketel One, a mixture of strawberries, pineapple, aloe vera, lime juice, ginger liqueur, and Ketel One vodka that is cooled in a specially designed kettle that uses dry ice, creating a nice visual effect.
Meanwhile, Princess Cruises recently enhanced its Wheelhouse Bar selection by introducing an expansive international whiskey menu featuring some of the best Scotch whiskies, American bourbons, and international whiskeys from Japan, Ireland, and Australia. Among the choices are Johnny Walker Blue, Bakery Hill Classic (Australia), Connemara Whiskey Irish Cask (Ireland), and Hakushu 12 Year (Japan). Specialized whiskey flights, which change daily, give travelers the opportunity to taste and compare selections from around the world.
And last but not least, Carnival Cruise Line has been retrofitting vessels with the Alchemy Bar, which offers a vintage "pharmacy" setting where the mixologists wear white lab coats as they concoct "drinks to make you feel good." Using prescription pads, patrons choose from a selection of liquors paired with fruits or herbs like rosemary, mint, elderflower, or basil, and bartenders will create a cocktail to suit their cravings, like the Quick Fix, a mix of Pernod absinthe, Bacardi rum, Skyy vodka, and Midori melon.
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Not your usual shore excursions
A desert barbecue, dancing under the stars, and overnight accommodations in a resplendent Bedouin tent—the itinerary sounds like a trip of a lifetime on its own, but it’s actually just one of the jaunts Azamara Club Cruises is offering as part of its new Overnight Adventures program. Now travelers can choose immersive mid-voyage land excursions to destinations around the globe. One two-day expedition, beginning in Yangon, Myanmar, lets travelers explore Bagan, Asia's richest archaeological site and home to 3,000 ancient pagodas, temples, and monuments. Another, in Oman, begins with a trek to lagoons, waterfalls, and seaside retreats before heading into the desert to a Bedouin camp for the night (as detailed above). Other Overnight Adventures range from an exploration of the holy cities of Nazareth, Galilee, and Jerusalem to an architecture and art-filled trip through Venice and Florence.
Anne Kalosh doesn't count the cruises she’s taken, though there have been hundreds—including five years as a shipboard newspaper editor, sailing the world. She loves the experiences sea travel offers. Her byline has appeared in many major publications, and she's on top of the latest cruise developments as the long-time U.S. editor for Seatrade-Cruise.com and Seatrade Cruise Review.