Putting Bills Into a Machine

As I type this, Bonnie and I are aboard the Norwegian Cruise Line Encore on a 15-day Miami-Panama Canal-Los Angeles cruise. We get highly discounted 7-day NCL cruises from Caesars because we have achieved Seven Stars status. But a Panama Canal cruise has been on our bucket list for a while, and here it is. Seven Stars players get “significant” discounts on all NCL cruises — even if those discounts are not as big as we get from 7-day cruises.

The Encore is a relatively new NCL ship — one of those with most of the restaurants and entertainment venues on levels six, seven, and eight. It is huge, holding up to 4,000 passengers. But passenger amenities are much less than we’ve experienced on other NCL cruises. Perhaps this is a major change in NCL policy. Perhaps it is unique to the Encore.

As Sapphire cruise members (between 150 and 350 days cruising on NCL), we normally received a bottle of champagne and two one-liter bottles of water when we arrived. We now have a half-liter carton of water. We used to have an ice bucket with water every day. No more. We used to have cabin cleanup in the morning and turndown service at night. We no longer have turndown service.

It used to be when you signed up for the specialty restaurant package, there were three of those over seven days. Now there are two specialty meals over 15 days. Gratuities are now $20 per person per day — up from $15 last year. (Officially the gratuities are optional. We always pay it — plus extra to our cabin steward. These folks work hard for not much, and many are supporting family members back home.)

There are long lines everywhere. The Internet doesn’t work well. There is only one theater. The main show, “The Choir of Man,” is a first-rate musical — we even saw it twice — but the remaining shows aren’t up to the usual standards. These all seem to indicate that NCL might be in trouble financially and is cutting back trying to survive.

So much about the current trip.

I remember what I thought was an AP play on a cruise ship back in 2012. At that time, I had not touched alcohol for 30 years. I didn’t stop because I was an alcoholic. I stopped because alcohol was expensive. I stopped because I was trying to build a bankroll and I believed my mind would be clearer if I simply avoided alcohol. I had a responsible job in an IT department at the time and was trying to improve my backgammon game. This required considerable study.

In 2012, I think it was Richard Munchkin who mentioned that he drank a class of red wine a few times a week because he had heard the resveratrol contained in that glass was healthy. I thought that sounded like a good idea, so I started doing the same.

Still relatively frugal, I never paid directly for the wine. If I couldn’t get it for free from casinos, I would do without. But with comped meals or comped bottles of wine, I’d indulge periodically. Not often. But a few times a week.

On NCL cruises, if you are at least Platinum level, you receive two free specialty dinners, one with a bottle of wine. Until 2012, I’d just let that benefit go unclaimed. But after I decided that a glass of dry red wine a few times a week was a good idea, I knew going forward, I’d collect my bottle. The problem was, I didn’t have enough knowledge to know which wine was the best choice.

I arbitrarily decided on cabernet sauvignon as my wine of choice. It could have been pinot noir, or merlot, both of which are also dry reds. But I had to narrow it down. So cabernet it was.

I looked at the list of free wines offered, and there were three cabernets. I had no idea which one was the best choice. There were no prices on this particular wine list. The price of a wine is not a perfect measuring tool to judge how good a wine is, but in the absence of any other information, I decided to go with the most expensive. 

So I asked for the regular wine list, hoping it would include the wines on the complimentary list. It did. One wine from Ecuador turned out to be the most expensive. This was a surprise. I expected a wine from Europe or California. But my expertise was very limited. So I ordered the one that had the highest price. 

The sommelier asked me if I had ever tasted that wine before. I said no. He said it was not a typical cabernet and recommended that if I wasn’t positive I wanted that one, that I was more likely to enjoy one of the others. Being “too smart” to fall for that trap, I figured he was trying to save money for the restaurant, I stayed with the Ecuadorian wine. Sometimes “too smart” actually means “too stubborn.” It would have been better had I listened to the advice.

Now, several cruises and hundreds of meals with wine later, I now have a better idea of what wines I like. I don’t need to examine the prices to decide.

We’re still early on in the cruise. It wouldn’t surprise me if I write more about it next week.


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