"Such exotic contrasts," Inez said, layering clothes into her suitcase. "A wine-blending seminar in the tropics. Crossing the Panama Canal while tasting cheese with a maître fromager." She zipped her bag shut. "Le Cordon Bleu with crocodiles and volcanoes."
I'd asked Inez to join me for a two-week "Spotlight on Food and Wine" cruise on Radisson Seven Seas' Mariner, sailing from Los Angeles to Fort Lauderdale via Central America and the Caribbean. Between steamy ports, Max McCalman, the maître fromager (cheese master) from Manhattan's Artisanal Cheese Center, would introduce us to North America's and Europe's most impressive little-known cheeses. Sara Fowler, a winemaker from Napa's Franciscan Estates and Mt. Veeder, would team up with McCalman to teach us about wine-and-cheese pairings; then she'd initiate us into the world of wine blending. When sated, we could traipse around the rain forests, beaches and villages of the Mariner's ports of call: the Mexican resort towns Acapulco, Cabo San Lucas and Huatulco; Puntarenas, Costa Rica; the Panama Canal and its environs; and George Town, Grand Cayman.
On our first day at sea, Inez and I spent some time taking stock of our honey-colored 987-square-foot suite. With a king-size bed and walk-in closet, living-dining room with built-in cherry cabinets and two marble bathrooms each with a full-size tub, it was bigger than a lot of apartments I've lived in. Not surprising, since the Mariner's claim to fame when the ship launched in 2001 was providing all its guests with suitessome of the cruise industry's largestcomplete with balconies roomy enough for tables and lounge chairs. That evening Inez and I stood on our balcony, sipping Champagne. She wore a white linen shift. We watched flying fish skip across the ocean's surface and dolphins race the ship.