What could be more important than the food on a cruise? The drink, of course. We weren’t the first to board, but when we boarded there were several people carrying around their beer helmets. This is a deal for those who drink a lot of beer. I think that it is buy five, get one free. There is a deposit for the helmet and I chuckled when I saw somebody in line at the reception desk on the last day with a large stack of helmets. That return deposit must seem like instant on-board credit.
All drinks have a 15% gratuity automatically added, so you don’t need to fool around with tipping your server. I found the drinks a tad on the pricey side – my vodka and Frangelico martini ranged from $8.00 to $9.50. Although I never ordered topshelf vodka, the price still varied, but the size remained the same. Basic cocktails cost $5.50.
Our favorite turned out to be Gatsby’s Champagne Bar, although we never ordered champagne.
We enjoyed the martini tasting clinic there and music by Jana, the acoustical guitarist and singer.
We can’t blame it on Gatsby’s, but some of the clientele there were interesting to say the least. On one night, we stopped by to enjoy Jana’s soft-rock style show featuring the likes of Simon and Garfunkel, Arlo Guthrie and even, believe it or not, The Carpenters. Most of the audience seemed too old to remember these folks, but hey, maybe they were as old as us and we just don’t realize it.
The most disturbing part of the show sat directly in front of us. Perhaps they are the reason that we found two empty chairs. It wasn’t until the woman started cackling that we noticed that she and her male companion were twinkies- aka dressed identically. Besides their identical twin dress, they also were loud and annoying. He often gave the performer a standing ovation, which had to be an embarrassment for the performer. Maybe not. I said that they probably have the same shoes and lo and behold, the guy got up to go chit chat with the performer during the break and wasn’t he wearing the same clogs as the woman. They had an ice bucket with champagne and maybe that went to their heads, inspiring the woman to start singing along, off key, of course, with the performer. The laughing and remarks started to annoy me. The last straw was when the guy started grabbing the servers, hugging them and telling them what a service they were doing by working on the holidays. I decided that these two had recently escaped from somewhere and thought it time to make our escape. I had seen somebody on the other side of the bar leave after the set and made a beeline for their seat. Our server came over and apologized, obviously aware of the reason that we had moved. After all, she had been one of the victims of the condescending hug and words. We did return to Gatsby’s on another day and sat as far away as possible from the escapees.
We had heard about the Pearl Martini Bar. Reports mentioned its secluded spot in a corner off the Carousel Bar. Few people frequented this place and although the service there was good, the place was begging for somebody from Trading Places to do something with the decor. Maybe they could switch with the bar staff from another ship. This room features purple chairs, a blue wall, a predominantly orange carpet and wooden chairs. Something about it was disturbing.
I am not usually a conspiracy theorist, but highly suspect that this bar, which includes carousel horses at the bar was created to encourage drinking. On our first visit to the aforementioned Pearl Martini Bar, we experienced the delightful screeching voices of young children sitting at the bar on the carousel horses. The Carousel Bar is the regular venue of the art auctions and karaoke. There is a stage there which seems to encourage the parents of these screeching children to go there and start performing. This all happened when we were enjoying a nice and formerly quiet atmosphere of the Pearl Martini Bar. Obviously, this is a ploy by NCL to encourage the ordering of more drinks, which we did.
The Star Bar
This pleasant bar overlooks the pool area and seems to be overlooked by most passengers, which is unfortunate as it is quite a relaxing spot. The server must have been thrilled to see two customers here when we arrived. When we asked for the same mixed nuts that flow freely in Gatsbys, we were told that they were out and served a savoury mix of unusual munchies. It does seem that different bars serve different snacks with their drinks. The mixed nuts that we found only at Gatsby’s are by far our favorites.
Really, we didn’t just hang out at the bars; we also signed up for the martini tasting and margarita tasting. Somehow, we missed the wine tasting. For some unknown reason, the FreeStyle Daily just mentions these tastings and says that there is a nominal charge, without mentioning what the nominal charge is. What is so hard about saying that there is a $15 fee for the martini and margarita tastings? Just spell it out.
Since we had gone to a liquor tasting in the onboard shop, which offered an amount of liquor equivalent to and in the same paper cup as was used for polio vaccines when I was a child, I was concerned that the tastings would be a few samples the size of polio vaccines. Maybe that polio vaccine was actually larger. I called the front desk to find out the details of this secret nominal charge, which is $15. Unfortunately, I did not ask if the nominal charge for the wine tasting was the same.
For some reason, which is probably because we were at sea, the margarita tasting immediately followed the martini tasting. So what if you like both martinis and margaritas? No problema.
We went to the martini tasting and I verified that we would get more than the polio vaccine size of martini before I plopped down our $15. The person in charge explained that we would get a 4-oz sample of each of the different martinis. That suited me fine. Knowing that we would be going to the margarita tasting right after this, we opted to share the martinis. That was a very smart move on our part.
Our first martini was a classic martini with vodka.(We did miss the first martini tasting, which happened on the first sea day and had the classic gin martini as one of its samples.) We, well mostly I, tasted that martini. I would guess that perhaps 20 people showed up for this session in Gatsby’s although I don’t know how many others shared like we did.
Our next martini was the French Kiss made of Vodka Citroen, Chambord, Grand Marnier with a touch of pineapple juice. Not to my taste at all. The best of the group, which should have been saved for last, was a chocolate martini. That was followed by a peach martini.
Notice that they don’t use the traditional martini glass for the tasting. Obviously, it would be difficult to carry a trayful of martini glasses. Then again, they may not have had that many stocked at the bar.
Throughout the tasting, the servers frequently refilled our water glasses and kept the mixed nuts coming. The bartender gave us the recipes for making these martinis. We enjoyed this so much that we returned for another tasting on the last sea day, which was attended by at least forty people, many of them sharing the tasting.
Recipe for the NCL Chocolate Martini
This martini is quite simple to make: pour almost 4 ounces of Van Gogh Chocolate Vodka with just a touch of Godiva Chocolate Liqueur over ice. Shake or stir. Strain into a martini glass.
Garnish with chocolate shavings or cocoa.
Immediately after the martini tasting, we headed up to the Endless Summer Bar to attend the margarita tasting. This tasting didn’t compare to the martini tasting for several reasons. For one, nobody said anything about the drinks or how to make them. We don’t particularly care for frozen margaritas, which most of these were. They made Golden, Strawberry, Blue and Pina Colada margaritas. A few of them tasted like cough medicine. In spite of that, we sat with a great group of people and had lots of fun.
When we returned for the second martini tasting on the last day at sea, we sampled the Forbidden Fruitini, Lemon Groove, Coco Cabaniti, a rum based drink and the Passionate Martini, which I had tried a day before when I had requested a martini with anise flavoring. The server understood this to mean Aliz
é , which isn’t quite anise. It is a liqueur that combines cognac and passionfruit.
The Lemon Groove should be renamed the Lemon Pledge. The overwhelming lemoncello in it would surely strip and polish any piece of furniture. I had expected it to taste like a Lemon Drop with its much more subtle taste of lemon.
We found the beer at the pool cold and plenty of waiters to take orders. The casino and Gatsby’s seemed to make my drink of choice (vodka and Frangelico martini) the best and the Spinnaker the worst.
Next time: Stateroom 8632