Before You Go
Or order free information about Holland America cruises through the business reply card in this issue. Visit the AAA Grand Holidays Web site at www.aaagrandholidays.com for additional cruise ideas.

For Travel Assistance
AAA offers Sea of Cortez sailings at up to 61 percent off regular Holland America fares on Nov. 16–23, Nov. 23–30 and Jan. 4–14. In addition, Holland America’s Statendam and Ryndam will visit Mexico’s Riviera on seven, eight- and 10-day cruises, plus combined 10- and 12-day Sea of Cortez/Mexican Riviera cruises in 2003. All cruises depart from San Diego. For more information, contact your AAA Travel agent or call 1-888-366-4222 to locate an office near you.

Down Mexico way
Sea of Cortez gives cruisers another choice

Published: Nov/Dec 2002
By Deborah Reinhardt
Managing Editor

This precious face welcomed us to Canipolé, a cafe in Loreto./ Leslie Weil Masaki photo; Below, Jésus Castillo took a group from the Statendam snorkeling in La Paz./ Leslie Weil Masaki photo;
Anticipation swelled the closer we got to the water’s edge. The short drive from San Diego’s airport to the pier seemed long, then, there it was–Holland America’s sleek Statendam. Rising gracefully from the dock, the ship’s curving lines matched those of the city skyline.

Meeting the ship in the familiar city of San Diego was comforting in this uncertain era. Many passengers drove from California homes to meet the ship, others boarded morning flights to arrive in the golden afternoon sunshine.

While Statendam’s surroundings were familiar, the ship had many surprises awaiting its passengers, none the least of which was a new itinerary: exploring the Sea of Cortez along the Baja Peninsula.

Ask and you will receive

The Sea of Cortez route was added to Holland America Line’s Mexican cruises in October 2001 because passengers asked for an itinerary different from the Mexican Riviera, said Hotel Manager Frits Gehner.

“No other cruise lines call at Loreto or La Paz. The Sea of Cortez is a less developed area, but that can be nice,” Gehner said.

Guests on this unhurried, seven-day cruise could take in Mexican culture, hospitality and natural beauty of this rugged coast, while enjoying superb shipboard service and amenities for which Holland America is noted.

Colorful handicrafts are plentiful in Cabo San Lucas /Deborah Reinhardt photo
The ports of Loreto and La Paz had an old-world charm, while Cabo San Lucas gave passengers a resort flavor.

First call: Loreto

Passengers tendered to the first port of Loreto, Baja’s first capital. Several tour options were available; we chose the walking tour. After meeting our guide, José, at the dock, we took a short walk to the city center, where the first stop was the Nuestro Señora de Loreto mission.

Built in 1752, the mission is Baja’s oldest. In 1948, the mission’s priest called upon the faithful to help restore the mission. Morning and evening Masses are held daily. The church’s holy presence fills the square, demonstrated by a boy crossing himself while he passed the mission on a bike.

Next door to the mission, the Museo de Las Misiones held statues, paintings and books from Jesuit, Franciscan and Dominican missionaries. Histories of three Indian tribes–Pericú, Guayura and Cochini–are also told.

Following the tour, we shopped for silver jewelry. Some merchants moved as much as 40 percent on prices. Most of the silver came from Taxco. Fine silver will have a stamp of 9.25 or better.

We called at Loreto on Cinco de Maya, but the streets were quiet and shops were open. At a café, Canipolé, owner Anna and her family cooked fish tacos with tortillas and made margaritas as fast as we consumed them.

Other sightseeing opportunities could include seeing the mission of San Javier 23 miles west of town, Loreto beach and snorkeling excursions.

Second call: La Paz

Statendam’s atrium
Despite being the current capital of Baja California Sur and one of its biggest cities, La Paz maintains a special tranquility. It is Mexico’s ecotourism capital and with excellent reason. Within easy reach are outstanding beaches and offshore islands, creating havens for divers and snorkelers.

The Statendam docked at Pichilingue, La Paz’s harbor, where we met Jésus Castillo of Baja Fun Charters. We were off to snorkel at Los Islotes (Sea Island Colony).

We received equipment instruction before the boat pulled alongside the giant rock where the sea lions lived. Jésus, who went into the water with us, cautioned us to keep a safe distance from the rocks. One of the swimmers strayed too close to the rocks and a bull rammed him. The swimmer wasn’t hurt, but it was a startling reminder that humans are only visitors in these waters.
After a little more than an hour, we boarded the boat to have a beach picnic in a secluded cove. I’ve never seen water as blue as this–not in the U.S. or the Caribbean. The sand was like sugar. Crew members had prepared the meal (delicious fish stew, tortillas, melons and plenty of beer, water or soda) and had it waiting by the time we swam to shore. There was time after lunch to enjoy the beach or swim before heading to our ship. I recommend taking this tour ($98).

Third call: Cabo

The first two ports were more enjoyable than Cabo San Lucas. This may be due to the fact that the ship was in Cabo the shortest time, departing at 3 p.m., two to three hours earlier than other port departures. Tenders were used.

Cabo was the most touristy of the three ports. Because we had less than five hours to explore Cabo, making a choice for one activity was difficult. In addition, cruise staff recommended Cabo for shopping.

After some wrangling, we skipped the sightseeing cruises, sport-fishing, horseback riding, kayacking and diving tours to shop and try and soak up local color.

Cruise personnel recommended larger jewelry stores for diamonds, silver and Mexican fire opals. Most of the jewelry remained out of my price range.

Shops and stalls line Marina Boulevard. A handicraft market near the pier had cute, expensive souvenirs (remember to bargain) and some silver. No pedestrian could avoid the dozens of street vendors. Check out Cabo Wabo, a cantina owned by the Red Rocker, Sammy Hagar. Entertainers and sports celebrities come here to party. No celebrity sightings, but the blue agave margaritas were killer. The second floor balcony is perfect for watching people in the busy square below. My $20 T-shirt was overpriced, but it got attention at home.

Life on board the Statendam

The 1,266-passenger Statendam entered service almost 10 years ago but its public areas are as elegant as ever. Our outside stateroom (196 square feet) had plenty of closet space, a vanity large enough to accommodate the needs of two women and an adequate bath.

In addition to the usual casino, lounges, library, card room and theater, the real surprise was the spa. From facials to chakra-cleansing treatments, the Ocean Spa pampered and preened you–for a price; the average cost for a treatment was $80.

When frequent cruisers discuss cuisine offered by various lines, I always chuckle to myself. Unless you live with a hired domestic staff (including a chef), you will eat better on any ship than at home. First and second seatings were offered at the Rotterdam Dining Room, a beautiful two-level culinary oasis with sweeping staircases and an attentive wait staff. Buffets and a poolside grill rounded out the more traditional food service Statendam offered.
Entertainment was more hit-and-miss. Keeping the adage “you can’t please all of the people all of the time” in mind, musical revues were the weakest link in this chain. There was also a juggler, comedian and pianist on board.

For our younger group, guest entertainers, The Fab Four–a Beatle tribute band booked for a group of Beatle fans on board–highlighted three evenings. Without them (www.thefabfour.net), it would have been the casino, theater or kareoke every night. That is the great thing about a cruise: If an activity isn’t to your liking, there’s something else to enjoy.

Cruising after 9-11

Security measures weren’t obtrusive and passengers seemed to funnel through the terminal lines quickly. Photo identification and a magnetic card, issued at embarkation, were required to get on or off the ship. Other than this, travel was worry-free.

The Sea of Cortez cruise can be recommended for a passenger 50 or older, who likes warmer climes, has cruised the Caribbean and usually partakes in several shore excursions. This profiled passenger will find the Baja ports charming, the waters inviting and shipboard life more than appealing.



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