"Hearty Boys" Cruise France on A-ROSA

| Friday, 19 Apr. 2013

A-ROSA River Boat in France

Let the good times roll on a South of France A-ROSA river boat cruise August 10-17, 2013. This Rhône trip - round-trip Lyon, France - stars food celebs Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh, better known as "The Hearty Boys" and former hosts of Food Network's Party Line with the Hearty Boys.

Yup, it's The Hearty Boys, not The Hardy Boys. But it was the latter mystery series (the male take on Nancy Drew) that inspired McDonagh and Smith (former actors and self-taught chefs) to open a café and sandwich shop in Bethel, Maine in the mid 90s with a take on the popular books' and television series' title. A catering business came next and by 2003, The Hearty Boys had moved to Chicago and opened The Café at Hearty Boys. The place was such a success, soon cooking classes and private dinners were added. In 2005, they opened Hearty restaurant and won many kudos, including making Chicago Magazine's top-10 hotspot list.

These guys know how to have fun. They recently initiated HBTV, an interactive on-camera cooking class, dubbed by some as "cooking karaoke."

This duo made the big leagues after sending a tape to the Food Network and beating some 10,000 entrants to be selected to participate on The Next Food Network Star in 2005. They won this reality show contest. Soon they had their own Food Network series, titled Party Line with The Hearty Boys. Smith and McDonagh are also authors of The New Old Bar and Talk with Your Mouth Full. (See heartyboys.com to order.)

In keeping with today's entertaining style, Smith's and McDonagh's recipes are simple and flavorful. Chilled melon soup, coriander lime grilled chicken legs and rose petal cupcakes are primo examples. (Recipes online at foodnetwork.com.) At their restaurant, the menu features American comfort food with a modern twist. Think lobster pot pie, rabbit sausage corndog and tuna noodle casserole updated with seared ahi.

The Hearty Boys share the spotlight on this August cruise with Mark Van Laanen and Tony Marchese, owners of Palm Springs, California's TRIO restaurant. Van Laanen is also the executive chef. I've not dined at TRIO, but it is well regarded as a casual American eatery with Midwest flair.

Perhaps, like me, you are Hearty Boy fans but thinking - who and what is A-ROSA River Cruises? I was not familiar with this line, although river cruises are currently the hottest thing since, well, ocean cruises.

Until recently, A-ROSA was marketed to a European audience. This cruise line began operation with just two ships in 2000 by a company called Seetours, a joint venture of P&O and DSR. The brand and ships were sold to DSR in 2003 and now run under the AIDA brand. The company is based in Rostock, Germany (cruise ship port and gateway to Berlin) and has been introducing new tonnage and new trip regions to further expand the fleet.

Now David Morris International (DMI) is partnering with A-ROSA River Cruises to introduce three of the 10 ships to the North American market. I don't know David Morris personally, but I'm certainly aware of his work. He was a sales-and-marketing guru for luxury cruise lines like Silversea and Crystal Cruises before forming his own company. Morris has an excellent reputation in the industry.

A-ROSA has a few pluses to stand out from the pack. For one, the price is all-inclusive, including airfare. Except, that is, on this sail, which is cruise-only. Good to know for other A-ROSA cruises, as airline seats to Europe from the U.S. can cost up to $2,000 for economy class this summer. Also included in A-ROSA cruises are transfers, accommodations, open bar, cuisine and shore excursions. In some ports, guests have a choice of up to three excursions.

On this August 10-17, 2013 cruise through Burgundy and Provence on the Rhône, special amenities include a $300 dining certificate to TRIO or Hearty (per couple), a seven-course wine-paired dinner onboard and - my favorite - lunch at Paul Bocuse's restaurant in Lyon, France.

Bocuse, one of France's most famous chefs, is legendary. He has won countless awards, include "Chef of the Century." Bocuse was one of the creators of nouvelle cuisine (modern, lighter food) and has earned three Michelin stars (the highest possible).

So what is the riverboat like for this culinary journey? It's called Stella, appears posh and has 86 outside cabins that average 156-square-feet. The onboard spa offers a fitness room, personal training, bicycles for onshore, steam and sauna and deluxe treatments. Expect an outdoor pool, putting green and shuffleboard, too. There is no dress code or fixed seating; dine with whom you wish.

All four special guests will share entertaining tips and offer demonstrations. The Hearty Boys are planning a special mixology presentation on their favorite spirited drinks and how to reproduce them at home. (Their restaurant is known for artisan cocktails.) Expect the four to also schmooze up passengers, participate in shore excursions and join onboard social gatherings.

The price for this food-and-wine-filled experience is $3,099 per person. For more information, visit arosacruises.com or call 1-855-55-AROSA.

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