Between Christmas and New Year's I took my first ever cruise. It was a leap for me because I didn't have a high opinion of cruises. In my brain, they were nothing more than excuses for people to overeat, drink too much cheap booze and see sanitized and "safe" versions of other cultures. And for some of the people on the ship with us, this was certainly true. People abounded who drank nothing but premixed, sugary blended daiquiris and margaritas and Bud Light. These also tended to be the people who never left the gated and guarded confines of the poolside cabana rentals and shops that sold nothing but luxury goods, people whose only interaction with the local people trying recover from multiple recent hurricanes was with the waitstaff at the swim up bar.
Luckily, though this was a sizable portion of my fellow passengers, this wasn't everybody. Knowing that there was a wide variety of passengers with a wide range of tastes, the cruise line made sure to cater to a wide range of expectations. Sure there was a Guy's Burger Joint on board for when you want some grease on a bun, but there was also a fine-dining restaurant that you had to dress up to visit. And, sure, there were plenty of places willing to blend you up an umbrella drink made with flavored syrup, cheap rum, and ice. But on the other end of the spectrum was the subject of tonight's review: the Alchemy Bar.
The Alchemy Bar was the place I visited most often outside of my cabin. I was there every evening for a post-dinner cocktail. Behind the bar were three very talented cocktail creators, Jakub, Andriy, and Majda. I like watching people make cocktails, and these three did that with style. It was my entertainment for each evening. And they didn't just have panache, they also had talent. Yes, there was a menu of tasty drinks for just about every palate. But these folks were adept at making anything they had the ingredients to make. I saw many people just walk up and say: "surprise me." Sometimes, they would make something off the menu, but other times—if you were a regular that talked to them and tipped a buck or two per drink—they would know your likes and dislikes and use that knowledge to make something off the top of their head.
Jakub was great. After talking with me the first night, he knew I was a big fan of bourbon and rye and had no problem making me a Manhattan or a Sazerac. He even let me talk him through making me my version of a Black Manhattan which uses Campari to up the bitterness.
Majda made me a drink that had me worried at first but turned out to be extremely tasty. It contained bourbon, Chambord liqueur, and Grand Marnier. I didn't know how the combination of raspberry and bourbon would go, but it was delicious, though very sweet. She also knew that before I left the bar, I'd want a Buffalo Trace to take back to the room with me.
And there was one menu drink that I particularly liked. It was called the Island Old Fashioned. You guessed it; it was an Old Fashioned. They made it with eight-year-old rum that they had infused with cinnamon and other spices, house-made bitters, and simple syrup. I ended up having this made for me at least once by all three bartenders. Out of the three, I liked Andriy's version of that the best. I think he added an extra dash of bitters that upped the spice level and made it much more interesting.
I don't know that you should pay for a cruise just to go to the Alchemy bar. But if you happen to be on a Carnival ship that has one, I think you owe yourself a visit or six. You probably won't have the same folks making you drinks that I had. But I'm sure they will be just as entertaining and talented. And why not toss them a buck while you are at it. You're already paying $11 for a drink, you might as well make it $12. They really seemed to appreciate it.
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