Aside from the Captain’s Cocktail Party, booze for most of us punters onboard ship is not free. This is a bit vexing, to say the least; I should at least have expected a daily ration of grog for the cost of the voyage.
This is not to say that they do not have alcohol – far from it! I saw rows and rows of desirable bottles behind glass: Richebourg, Romanée St. Vivant, Cos d’Estournel, Lynch-Bages, Leoville. I have had the last three clarets, but not the first two Burgundies. This is a great pity. A friend of mine, for whom I used to buy handles of Wild Turkey, has in the intervening years become a real oenophile. I claim that this partly due to my influence, but he has rather surpassed me. I have only a large wine refrigerator; he has a cellar.
At one point, my friend tempted me to go in on a case of Burgundy because it had one bottle of Romanée-Conti, the most famous of all the red Burgundies. This wine used to be fed by the spoonful to French kings when they were ill, and I would have cheerfully got sick to try it. However, I was not sure I was up to the sixteen thousand dollars the case would have been. (There is dispute about the cost of the case; I think it was more expensive, while my friend tends to minimize the cost. At any rate, I was not going to remortgage the house for a bottle of Burgundy, however grand.) I think it may be possible to try great wines like Romanée-Conti on board ship, but I am not sure I am ready to ask the price unless I am firmly seated. The real problem is what do I do if I really like it? The last time I bought Lynch-Bages, my friend and I went in together on a case, but it was only into three figures a bottle. Romanée Conti online runs several thousand. It may be just as well that I do not know how much I might want it again!
Many people buy wine by the bottle for their dinners aboard ship; the sommeliers keep it for them. I suppose this is a little more economical than buying by the glass, but I like to wait to see what is on the Britannia Restaurant’s menu first to match it with the wine. On the way back, if I have any money left, I may try the wine tastings, either on their own or with a meal. The former is around $45.00; the latter, rather more. For a semi-inclusive fare, it is possible to spend a lot of lolly between the spa, the bar, and the casino.
So far I have avoided the casino. I know to bet red or black (or pair or impair) on roulette to keep my money as long as possible, but I am allergic to casinos, and not only because I hate losing money. When I was a teenager, barely old enough to see what the inside of a casino looked like, my parents took me to the Netherlands Antilles. Forgetting the wise injunction never to be the first to take up a new fashion or that last to leave off the old, I was sporting a new Nehru jacket. My parents wisely let me get only an inexpensive one, for I think it was the last time I wore it. It was white, and one of the patrons of the casino asked me to change chips for him. It was a lesson I never forgot.
There is a mini bar in my stateroom, where a can of cola runs nearly four bucks. It is not even Mexican Coca-Cola, which has the decency to use real cane sugar rather than high-fructose corn syrup. However, the mini bar has 250 ml cans of Gordon’s Gin and Tonic. As a measure of gin and a small bottle of Fever Tree light tonic in the pub cost me nearly twenty dollars with a small gratuity, so the $5.95 charge for the can is something of a bargain. A real wedge of lime would be nice, but for a dozen bucks, I can make do.
I came to drink very late, which is a good way to stave off alcoholism. Apparently binge drinking in College really does take its toll on the bingers. My parents, who were pretty much teetotalers, gave me a set of Waterford glasses in a lovely, plain pattern, knowing full well that I was not going to use them for lemonade (though I do love lemonade.) I know I shocked them when I was the only one of us to accept my Parisian uncle’s offer of champagne when we visited in Paris. My logic was impeccable: how often would I be in Paris and be offered champagne, even though I was only nineteen! I think that was the start of my own oenophilia.
I learned a good deal from my Parisian Uncle. He was a great connoisseur, but I learnt from him never to question anyone else’s taste. My aunt, whose came from an abstemious family, would order rum and coke, which he ordered without even a grimace. Later on she became a Chevalier du Tastevin; though she did not keep it up, she obviously learned what to drink. I once asked my Parisian Uncle what wine I should have with a sandwich as he had opened both red and white; he looked a bit oddly at me and asked which I preferred, and that was that.
My uncle’s father, like his son born in France, refused to follow my Parisian Uncle into taking up American citizenship on the cogent grounds that he refused to join any country stupid enough to pass prohibition. He had a point. Anyway, I have time for another can of Gin and Tonic before dinner, so “Cheers!”