Born and bred in Sydney, Australia, Stuart Gregor is a well-regarded wine commentator and magazine columnist. He is currently sailing on Marina’s “Tastes of Europe” cruise and has colorful tales to tell of his adventures onboard. Please enjoy the following blog post sharing his experiences during his first cruise with Marina:

Confessions of Cruise Virgin

The wife and I are virgins. Well, we were until Wednesday. An odd confession granted, and especially bizarre considering we have two children, but until we walked the gangplank in Dover last week, virgins we were, at least as far as sailing onboard Marina goes.

As we board Marina in Dover there is an undoubted frisson for Sally and I, and this frisson, as we climb the stairs and navigate the corridors to stateroom 9139, is genuine and thrilling. It’s a good room, dead posh with a nice verandah, and I am already getting the sense that I will only ever want to travel on ships during their first season. Everything just feels so shiny and new and untouched and well, virginal…

Cruising and I are off to a good start.

Of course everyone else on board appears to be doing something while we merely walk the halls with mouths agape. Everything can look pretty in the brochures, but in real life Polo Grill really does look like a proper American steakhouse, and Jacques really does look like a genuine French restaurant, and check out that sparkly bar near the casino… I can sense I will do some of my best work there later in the trip…

Casino Bar

Night One we dine at Jacques and it is very good indeed, no surprises there. Delicious roast chicken, bountiful and delicious sides, a crackerjack cheese trolley. But before we even made it to Jacques, I must give a huge rap to the bar staff at Martinis. I had a dead set ripper Hendricks Gin Martini, made strong and long and great value. I expected cocktails like this would be weak and expensive; I could not have been more wrong. Even if unwelcome, I will return.

Day Two I become aware of the onboard BYOB policy. If you buy a bottle onshore, you can take it to any restaurant and pay $20 corkage. Bloody brilliant idea. I will say it again for emphasis. Bloody brilliant. The wine lists onboard are good granted, but for a wine freak like me who simply must seek out the local and bizarre, I am indebted to this excellent policy. In Honfleur I discover a terrific little wine store called Les Vins de Pierre Boinet, on Cours Jean de Vienne 02 31 89 40 19, just behind the Absinthe Hotel. A terrific collection of wines from all the key regions of France, but my brief is to stay local so I buy some Vouvray, Sancerre and Fume de Pouilly. The wife rolls her eyes suggesting we might not need six bottles between Honfleur and Bordeaux… I have no idea who she thinks she married.

In Honfleur, apart from wine shopping, I buy the most expensive chocolate in Europe, and we have a passable, not inexpensive lunch at L’Absinthe. There are probably better choices that can be made in this gorgeous town. There is a Bib Gourmand in town called Le Breard at 7 rue du Puits 02 31895340, and I wish I had gone there. Friends, always travel with a red Michelin guide if food and drink is your thing. It’s the Bible.

La Reserve Setting
Night Two will go down as a trip highlight for sure. We dine at La Reserve by Wine Spectator and fair dinkum it is brilliant. Seriously good. But the real highlight is sitting across from my winemaking lecturer from university in Adelaide some 15 years ago – Dr. Pat Lland, legend of Australian wine education, author and world’s nicest bloke. So a great meal became truly memorable. Best dishes were a stunning, silken pumpkin ravioli with crushed almond biscotti and a lobster and mascarpone pancake. The dessert was awesomeness on a plate, raspberry caramelized mille feuille with Madagascan vanilla cream. There were probably only two criticisms I could make of an otherwise stupendous meal. The first being that the chef was just a little bit too tall and good looking, and he did somewhat gain the attention of my wife. A slightly shorter fatter and older version, perhaps without the fabulous French accent, would be my preference for next time.

My only other comment would be that I would love to see more regional French wines paired to the stunning food. While the wine pairings are thoughtful and appropriate, it does seem slightly incongruous to be tasting two Cabernet Sauvignons from the USA as one tootles down the west coast of France towards Bordeaux!

So good was the meal at La Reserve that I declared it could be awarded a Michelin star. The wife agreed that it might be possible so the following day we did the only thing two thorough and exacting restaurant reviewers would do and sought out the only Michelin-starred restaurant close by the Port of Concarneau, a very well regarded local place called Le Moulin du Rosmardec in nearby Pont Aven, awarded one Michelin star in the 2011 guide. And in good news for Oceania Cruises and Marina, I would declare unequivocally that the meal at La Reserve was superior to this lovely restaurant at Pont Aven. So for serious food and wine lovers I simply urge you to go to La Reserve, it’s Michelin-starred food for $75 including wine. That might just be one of the greatest value food and wine experiences on land or sea.

So we come to today, the weather at La Rochelle is awful but the Wallabies defeated South Africa last night, there is still whisky in my Highland Park bottle, there is still a craps table with my name on it and a booking at Red Ginger tonight. And I think I need to try that Wagyu burger at Waves for lunch…

I am a virgin no more. Thank God.

To think I had been missing out on all this fun for so many years… what was I thinking??