Celebrity Millennium refurbishment

16 07 2012

We were excited to experience the recent refurbishment of Celebrity Millennium, so jumped at the opportunity to ride along on the repositioning along the West Coast to its summer home in Vancouver. The ship had just finished adding the popular Solstice features like Qsine and Cellar Masters. A repositioning cruise, where a ship is moving from one market to another is one of the exceptional bargains in cruising.


The Celebrity brand identity is Modern Luxury and the theme is reflected by the modern subdued decor in the ship. No Vegas glitz and mirrors here. Luxury is featured in the food, wine and service. A growing theme in cruise ships is offering cabins with a unique level of experiences. Celebrity offers this in the Aqua Class® veranda cabins. Aqua Class® guests have unlimited access to the Aqua Spa® Relaxation Room and Persian Garden, along with seating in Blu, the restaurant exclusive to Aqua Class® guests.


We found much to like on the ship. There are plenty of quiet corners to relax and read on sea days. Our favorite hangout was Cafe Al Bacio, the coffee shop and Gelateria. We were able to really enjoy because of another of our favorite features for Celebrity, the All Inclusive Beverage Package. For $44 per person per day (plus 15% gratuity) we got unlimited glasses of premium teas, specialty coffee and glasses of wine and cocktails up to $8 in value. Since our wine and coffee tab can normally exceed our cruise fare, this was a great deal for us. Also offered is the premium package for $54 a day, which we will try on our next Celebrity cruise.


Qsine, the specialty restaurant on deck 11 was one of the top 5 dining experiences of our life. It is a must do experience for foodies! In addition to the unique, mind blowing flavor combinations and creative presentations, we got to enjoy sailing out under the Golden Gate Bridge while we had our meal. A priceless experience.


Cellar Masters features self service dispensers of premium wines. No need to wait for a wine tasting to enjoy an extra special wine. While I would never buy a bottle of Opus One, I would share a glass. The wine selection offers enjoyable quality wine with prices and wines from moderate to exceptional.


We had been wanting to go to San Francisco for months, and are glad we did so by ship. San Francisco is an ideal cruise port. While we were in San Francisco, we enjoyed a view from our balcony that was better than any offered by the expensive hotels downtown. Considering the per day cruise price that included the ride under the Bridge, meals and a room with an awesome view, we got a great deal!  Between walking and cable cars, it is easy to enjoy much of The City by the Bay in a day.


We walked up to the North Beach area and then went to the Ferry Building to enjoy a plate of oysters at Hog Island Oysters. Shore excursions are offered for San Francisco.  Napa and Sonoma shore excursions are also offered for wine lovers. I can see the difficult decision for passengers not from the West Coast. Spring is a beautiful time to be in the Napa area, the vineyards are every bit as picturesque as Italy or France.


One of the signature entertainment features for Celebrity is an a cappella singing group. This group along with a chamber group, a piano player and a classical guitarist rotated through the ship’s public areas during the day and evenings. We rarely enjoy the evening entertainment in the theater, usually opting for the smaller venues. The night we did go to the theater, we found it large enough to accommodate everyone who wanted to see that performance.




El Dorado AVA

1 04 2012

The El Dorado AVA was officially designated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in 1983. El Dorado is a sub group of the larger Sierra Foothills AVA and contains an additional sub group identified as the Fair Play Appellation. The El Dorado AVA contains all the portions of El Dorado county between 1,200 and 3,500 feet. The local winery associations will feature the distinct ‘altitude’ of the AVA.

Grape growing and wine production has been a feature of the area since the 1840’s. There are a few vineyards producing Zinfandel from 100 year old vines. It is these vines that sparked the renewed interest in wine production for the area. With a diversity of altitudes and soil profiles, growers have been successful with almost all the well known grape varieties. Many of the French varieties are represented by plantings in the county. Initially, growers focused on the better know varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and Petit Syrah. Recently, growers are finding success with Italian varietals like Sangiovese, and Barbera. You can also find Spanish grapes like Tempranillo. The Burgundian grape Malbec is growing in popularity in the area.

Irrigation is now used in most vineyards, but head pruning and dry farming is still used for some Zinfandel vines. If you see the designation Sierra Zinfandel, it usually signifies a dry farmed vine that will produce a rich, concentrated wine.

I divide the county into several areas. North of Highway 50 is the Camino/Apple Hill area. Here you will find Boeger Winery, who reestablished the area as a premier wine producing area beginning in the 1970’s. Because the Apple Hill area is a destination spot for many visitors to the area, the wineries in this area may charge for tasting or limit the number of tastes. When we taste, we try to buy a couple bottles of wine in return for the wineries hospitality. If you take an interest in the wine, and do not try to act like a know it all, the wineries in this area will often waive the tasting charge if you buy some wine.

South of Highway 50, off Pleasant Valley Road, is the Pleasant Valley area., The Pleasant Valley area growers have focused on Rhone varietals such as Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre,  and Viognier. A popular yearly event is Rocks and Rhones, paying homage to the grapes and the rocky soil in the area.

At the south of the county is the Fair Play Appellation, where the bulk of the county’s wineries are located. The combination of the area’s deep granitic soil and high elevation produce a unique terroir suited for the production of dry table wines.  Vines are often planted on ridge tops to allow the cold air to drain off the vines. The area is known for late spring frosts that can damage early budding grapes.

The smallest area for wine production in the county is the Coloma/Gold Hill area, home to two wineries. Gold Hill Winery produces Chardonnays and Bordeaux reds close to a site that produced wine 150 years ago. David Girard grows Rhone varietals on 38 of his 85 acres and also has an event center.

While wine production has been going on in the Sierra Foothills for over a hundred years, it is only within the last 40 years that scientific study and experimentation has resulted in the successful production of new varieties of wine to the area. I would recommend you try Petite Syrah in wineries producing it. It has become one of my favorite varieties for the area. Growing wine at one of the State’s highest elevations (3000 ft), Madroña Winery  produces some excellent dry Rhine varieties. Do not pass up the opportunity to try the dry Riesling.

Montserrat, Spain

8 02 2012

Finding the right shore excursion for your one day cruise stop always leaves you anxious. So many choices, so little time. We had picked our Med cruise for an overview of Europe. I had never been to the Med, my more traveled wife had been years ago. We based our shore trip choices for well rounded exposure to the culture and sights of the region. For Barcelona, we did the city tour and then a trip to Montserrat. We got the highlights of Barcelona, with plenty of Gaudi, a drive through the country side and a tour of the remote abbey at Montserrat.
A rewarding day trip destination from Barcelona is the Benedictine monk retreat of Montserrat. Montserrat or “jagged mountain” in Catalan is the home of the Benedictine abbey, Santa Maria de Montserrat. It has called pilgrims for hundreds of years. The Monastery has religious significance and the ride there will treat you with visions of small villages tucked in the mountains. Once you are there, the vista is breathtaking.
Hikers will be rewarded with some of the most unusual rock formations in Catalonia and of course vistas of the country side. Take the funicular (cable car) to the top of the mountain If you enjoy walking there are also some interesting walks through the mountains where you will experience magnificent views of some of the most unusual rock formations in the whole of Catalonia. You can take a funicular to the top of the mountain and from there you can choose a number of different walks, all with amazing views of the Catalonian countryside.
Montserrat’s religious significance began in 880 when a group of shepherd children saw a bright light descending from the sky accompanied by angles singing. The children ran to tell their parents who went to see for themselves. The parents experienced the same vision, not only once but for whole month. The obvious conclusion was that this was a sign from God.
A local vicar substantiated the vision in a cave on Montserrat. Exploration of the cave yielded an image of the Virgin Mary. The site of the visions is marked by a Holy Grotto, an ordained holy place that is visited by pilgrims and the curious from around the world.
The monastery is home to one of the oldest publishing houses in the world, publishing since 1499. It also is the home for the Virgin of Montserrat, Catalonia’s favorite saint. The Montserrat Boy’s Choir (Escolania) is one of the oldest in Europe. The Basilica’s museum houses works of many important sculptors and painters, including El Greco, Dali and Picasso. www.sacreddestinations.com
Ever the foodies, one of our found memories of our day was the local farmer’s cheese and honey we bought from the vendors inside the grounds. The altitude will bring a chill, be sure to take a jacket, and bring a good camera. On a clear day you can see Majorca, but even if it is not clear, you will be rewarded with a breathtaking panorama of Catalonia.

Kinnee O’Reillys

21 01 2012

You are not in Dublin.  Dave and Betsy Wohler’s recreation of an Irish pub will make you think you are. Find them at: 1010 White Rock Road, El Dorado Hills, CA. www.kinneeoreillys.com  The dream was to create a local gathering place, and what better model than a pub? The fastidious attention to detail ranges from the decor to the food. The decor is homey, the cuisine is Irish comfort food. The standard pub favorites are there: bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie, corned beef and cabbage. If you prefer lighter fare, try the salad or soup and salad combinations. At some point try one of the sandwiches with the garlic aioli, it has a sweet flavor that takes me to taste bud nirvana. The menu is still being improved, and of course your favorite brews are also on tap.

Thursday-Saturday 11am-12pm, Sunday-Wednesday 11:30am-10pm

Kinnee O'Reily's Irish Pub & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Taste Restaurant

21 01 2012

Taste Resturant

An exceptional restaurant find in an unexpected place is Taste Restaurant in less than bustling ‘downtown’ Plymouth, CA. It is worth the drive from Sacramento and a must do if  you are experiencing the Amador wine region. In my opinion, it is the best restaurant in the Sacramento region.

Taste is open Thursday through Monday, opening at 5 pm weekdays and 4:30 on weekends. Lunch is from 11:30 to 2 pm on Saturdays. For dinner and lunch, reservations are suggested (strongly).  If you find yourself in the neighborhood, you can still enjoy Taste by eating at the wine and beer bar, where no reservations are required.  A taste of Taste can be found at the wine bar, requires no reservations and features such delights as: Duck Rillettes, Lamb Crepes, and Foie Gras Torchons.  You can also order from the menu. You can also order from the full dinner or lunch menu.

Monday night is Prix Fixe night and features chef Mark Berkner’s specials for under $30 per person. Thursdays enjoy an appetizer and beverage pairing at the bar for $13. The second Thursday of each month is Corkage Free.

One of our favorite appetizers is the Mushroom Cigars also selected the best appetizer in Sacramento by Sacramento Magazine. Main dishes will be locally sourced, creatively presented and delicious. You will find them at: http://restauranttaste.com/pages/home.cgi. Enjoy!

Restaurant Taste on Urbanspoon


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