Jeffery Lindenmuth - January/February 2012
Today’s passengers expect their cruise booze—whether beer, wine, or cocktails—to be on par with their land experience. Jeffery Lindenmuth raises a glass on Celebrity’s Silhouette.
Just as designer Adam Tihany’s monumental glass wine tower declared that Aureole would be the destination for wine on the Vegas strip, his two-story glass wine towers onboard Celebrity Cruises are making waves, suggesting a sea change is afoot in the cruise industry, where wine and beverage options now rival all the exciting possibilities of a night out in any major city. “The image of that wine tower has become iconic for Celebrity. We feed nearly 3,000 people a day onboard, and the tower keeps wine front and center in the restaurant. It’s a reminder that we’re able to create something that will be memorable for a long time,” says Scott Steenrod, associate vice president, food & beverage operations, Celebrity Cruises.
The 2,886 passenger Celebrity Silhouette, launched on July 23, 2011, with its North American debut last November, is the fourth ship to include Tihany’s 1,800 bottle shrine to wine, along with showcasing the company’s latest innovations spanning wine, spirits, and beer, designed to satisfy every imbiber.
A variety of restaurants, including the health-conscious Blu, whimsical Qsine, and fine dining Murano, the brainchildren of Celebrity Cruises vice president of culinary operations Jacques Van Staden, each harbor a distinctive wine list, totaling over 465 labels in all. Each restaurant maintains its own identity in terms of food, as well as wine, whether it’s the world-class Bordeaux and super Tuscans at Murano, or the half-bottle emphasis at Qsine. “In every respect, the beverages grow out of the food experience,” says Steenrod. “At Qsine the food is so dynamic, you might be eating small bites of Mexican, then move on to a sushi lollipop, so half bottles were our solution. They give the guests and the servers the ability to experiment and adjust.”
At The Lawn Club Grill, a 58 seat outdoor grilling concept that debuted on Celebrity Silhouette, where guests lend a hand grilling steaks and flatbreads for the table, the wine program is backyard casual, offered verbally by the server and focused on Celebrity’s proprietary house wines—Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon made in partnership with Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates. Other options include buckets of beer and sangria.
Even without visiting each specialty restaurant, guests are given ample opportunity to taste new wines. Cellar Masters, helmed on Silhouette by sommelier Mike Pereira, a 21 year cruise industry veteran, is an Enomatic® wine serving bar, where guests use prepaid debit cards to dispense 64 rotating wine selections. “One function of Cellar Masters is to give people a taste of wines from the different restaurants,” says Pereira. “They can try an exclusive wine like Opus One in a small portion of a few ounces, and they may then decide whether they want to purchase it in a restaurant later in the cruise.”
And, using their in-room television, guests can select bottles from among the ship’s complete wine inventory, have it charged to their account, then delivered to their stateroom or their dinner table, making ordering a Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay ($88) or Château Latour 1998 ($1,200) as simple as ordering a movie.
Like some of their terrestrial hotel counterparts, the cruise industry has shown the ability to reinvent dusty tropes for a new generation, as they hope to appeal to younger travelers. Celebrity’s Michael’s Club, named for Michael Chandris of Celebrity Cruises founder Chandris Group, is a Celebrity mainstay that has managed to stay relevant, morphing from a cigar lounge, to a piano and Cognac bar, and now a sanctum of craft brewing. “I have a 24 year old son who makes his own beer, but it never dawned on me we didn’t have enough beer. Our team figured out that we were missing out on the craft beer craze,” says Daniel J. Hanrahan, president and CEO of Celebrity Cruises.
While Scotch lines the backbar, the focus at Michael’s is clearly on the glass coolers displaying 64 varieties of chilled beer, from American standards like Budweiser ($4.50) to rarities like DeuS Brut des Flandres, from Belgium’s Brouwerij Bosteels ($49). In keeping with their dedication to staff education (all sommeliers are trained in a proprietary program developed with Johnson & Wales University), Celebrity has enrolled Michael’s staff in the Cicerone Certification Program, which appropriated the archaic Italian word for “guide” as its mark of certified beer knowledge. Celebrity’s wine and beer professionals conduct educational “101” tastings, including a Wine Glass Comparative Workshop, offering tastes of four varietal wines in a variety of stemware, developed with Austrian crystal manufacturer Riedel ($15).
While it’s difficult to walk far without stumbling into a bar or lounge aboard Silhouette, modernist mixology has found a home at the discreet Galleria Tastings bar, tucked into Deck Five near the Art Gallery and Galleria boutique shops. The Molecular Bar by Junior Merino is a partnership with Junior Merino, proprietor of The Liquid Chef, to offer a rotating selection of 15 fresh and complex cocktails spanning popular spirits categories. Merino says it takes 40 hours of additional training before a Celebrity bartender can step behind the Molecular Bar, mixing up drinks like the Watermelon Felon (Chopin Vodka, St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur, fresh watermelon juice, fresh lime juice, agave nectar, and guava/chipotle foam) or Dragonfly (Russian Standard Vodka, Cointreau, dragon fruit juice, pink grapefruit juice, Dainzu hibiscus essence, Persian lime, topped with liquid nitrogen). “Celebrity Cruises has to source liquid nitrogen at different ports around the world as well as some of the ingredients that are more perishable. There are challenges in getting consistent fresh produce for these cocktails anywhere around the world,” says Merino.
Of course, one area where cruise ships have a distinct advantage over a night about town is in terms of ease of payment and selling packages. Whether one is a teetotaler content with unlimited premium bottled water ($12 per night) or in search of a Premium Package ($54), including nonalcoholic drinks, and beers, spirits, cocktails, and wines by the glass up to $12 per serving, a variety of options enable guests to prepay and enjoy drinks across the ship’s venues.
Asked whether Celebrity would enlist the restaurants and star chefs that have opened outposts in landlocked oases like Las Vegas, Hanrahan appears bemused. “We do different programs where we bring in chefs, but quite honestly I think our internal guys are as good or better than what you find in Vegas. We compete quite favorably. A question we get a lot is, ‘When are you going to take one of these restaurant concepts and put it on land?’”