Sunday, August 10, 2008

Cigar Musings from my Eastern Carribbean Cruise

Michelle and I booked a 7-day Caribbean cruise aboard the Carnival Valor cruise ship out of Miami, Fla. last week (along with our friends, Shaun and Charity Brannen and Kim Sass). Other than one issue, described below, the cruise was great. We swam with dolphins in Nassau, snorkeled off the coast of St. Maarten, and enjoyed one of the world's Top 10 beaches in St. Thomas. The food was superb and the nightly entertainment (dancing, comedians, ventriloquists, jugglers) was fun.

But there was one bummer: We chose this ship, in large part, because it advertised on Carnival's web site a comfortable, fancy cigar bar that featured nightly live jazz. But my first night on the ship, as I was about to clip a Fuente 8-5-8 Flor Fina, I was told by the bartender that Winston's Cigar Lounge would no longer allow cigar smoking. I complained to our cruise director and learned that (starting last week), the Carnival corporate office had decided to test a new no-cigar policy on the Valor. If customer complaints aren't too high, they plan to enforce the new policy on their entire fleet.

Cigar smoking is still allowed on open decks (starboard side only), but not in any bar or lounge or casino... not even the Winston Cigar Bar. I thought this was extremely disappointing, not to mention a tad dishonest. If I had known about the new policy, I probably would have sailed with another cruise line....

Smoking cigars on the open deck proved to be a not-so-good alternative. 1) It was windy, and 2) it was difficult to enjoy conversation with friends, since the open deck movie theater was playing every night. (I don't fancy having to watch Bee Movie with my cigar and cognac.)

C'est la vie. Here are the fine cigars I enjoyed on the ship:

Saturday: El Titan de Bronze Redemption Sungrown Habano Toro
Monday: Graycliff Red Label
Tuesday: Leoninos by La Aurora
Wednesday: Boliver ("yello cello"), Hemingway Signature
Thurs: Fuente Curly Head, Flor de Allones
Fri: Fuente Double Chateau
Sat: Fuente Cuban Corona

The highlights included Graycliff Red Label (which Shaun picked up while touring the Graycliff resort) and an aged Bolivar in Megan's Bay, St. Thomas. But extra-special mention goes to the El Titan de Bronze.

I went to the El Titan de Bronze factory on 8th Street, Miami the day before the ship departed. I had wanted to go to LGC or the Pepin Garcia factory, but they were closed. The store is run by a very friendly, older gentleman named Carlos. He and I talked for about 45 minutes. All his cigars are made by 4 rollers right in the front of the shop. He showed me pictures of all his famous customers, then gave me an informal tour of the rooms where he stores his tobacco and then ages the cigars after they are rolled. You could tell that Carlos is very passionate about his work, and that passion is definitely evidenced in his cigars.

After dinner, I had the Redemption Sun Grown Habano, relaxing in South Beach, and it was very, very good. Spicy and bold, similar in taste and body to a La Flor Dominicana Ligero, but with an even better finish and draw. I still can't believe the world hasn't found out about these cigars.

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