|Down Mexico way|
|Sea of Cortez gives cruisers another choice|
|Published: Nov/Dec 2002
|By Deborah Reinhardt
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 Statendams 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 Lines 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.
First call: Loreto
Passengers tendered to the first port of Loreto, Bajas 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 Bajas oldest. In 1948, the missions priest called upon the faithful to help restore the mission. Morning and evening Masses are held daily. The churchs 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 tribesPericú, Guayura and Cochiniare 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
The Statendam docked at Pichilingue, La Pazs 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 wasnt 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. Ive never seen water as blue as thisnot 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 youfor 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 cant 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 Foura Beatle tribute band booked for a group of Beatle fans on boardhighlighted 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 isnt to your liking, theres something else to enjoy.