Sunday, November 2, 2008

2008 - Oct. Holland America Oosterdam Mexican Riviera Cruise: Cabo; Mazatlan; Puerto Vallarta

Oct. 25-Nov. 1, 2008:

This was my sister's and my 2nd sisters' cruise. We enjoyed the short Baja cruise that we did a couple years ago so much that we decided to go for a 7 night cruise this time. After much surfing on the internet, we decided on giving Holland America a try. Not that we were unhappy with Carnival, but this had the ports, dates, and debarkation city that we wanted. The price wasn't bad, either, at about $650/person for an inside cabin. As it got closer to our departure date and after final payment, I did find a cheaper fare, so I called them and asked if they could do anything about that and Holland America moved us to an obstructed oceanview cabin (4061-HH). I actually liked the room---full length windows so lots of light came in.  I think my sister disliked it for that reason. She's prone to migraines and likes the total darkness of the inside cabins even in the middle of the day.

Our room was a nice size, for a cruise ship - approximately 197 sq. ft. The beds were very comfortable.  It had a lot of nice touches in these cabins: small loveseat, chair, adjustable height coffee table, hair dryer, flat screen tv, bath robes, makeup mirror, basket for room stewarts to put fruit in if you request it, even trial sized Elemis shampoo, conditioner, and lotions. I don't really remember who our steward was, but he did a good job. The one thing about the room that we both were a bit bothered by was the wierd picture of lobsters used as decoration.

We loved that the bathroom had a tub/shower combo in it instead of just a shower like most cruiselines.

Holland America likes to tout that they have a "classier" ship then most cruise lines and the food was ranked high by reviewers. The food was very good, but I don't know if I'd say it was leaps and bounds better then Carnival or Disney (albeit was better then RCI).  They also use lots of fresh flowers decorations and have a great art collection on board. The cabins were slightly larger then most and the overall decorations around the ship aren't as flashy as some cruiselines. All in all, we were very pleased with Holland America---but then we were also very pleased with Carnival.

One of the first things we did when we got on board was go to the spa tour and treat ourselves to the weekly spa package. Don't know why I never knew about these before, but I loved it. Too bad I didn't know about the spas when Dad and I were cruisin'. The cost of the pass was a bit high, but the spa was never crowded. It was $250/couple or $150@.

Here is the view from the heated ceramic chairs in the spa area as we were sailing away from Long Beach, California, the first night.

Here's my sister enjoying the heated loungers. They really are nice!

Here was my favorite spot on the cruise--the thermotherapy spa pool. It, too, has loungers but they're in the water. The round thing shown here is a stand up jacuzzi area of the thermotherapy pool. The water isn't as hot as a jacuzzi, but it was the perfect temperature for me.

As with any cruise, the first thing we did on this one was head to the Lido buffet and have lunch. We really enjoyed the Lido buffet and ate there often, even for dinner. Another thing I liked about this cruise was the option of eatting when you want instead of being assigned a time. We did eat in the dining room 3 or 4 times and didn't have to wait for a seat. They kept the lower diningroom open for anytime diners and the balcony for assigned times. We met some really interesting folks the 2 times we shared tables. A couple other times we requested a table for 2 and were given one which was also nice. But since you could get the same meal in the buffet (except for lobster), we didn't mind going there for dinner, either. We ate most breakfasts there, too. We did try room service a couple times for some early morning breakfasts before touring and the last morning, but it was never delivered in the time scheduled. One late night order took 45 minutes to be delivered. After that if we wanted a late night snack we wandered up to the lido buffet. We also enjoyed the big outdoor bar b q bash the night after touring Puerto Vallarta.

Here's just one of the many food bars in the buffet.
And here was my first lunch.
They also had a diningroom that had an additional fee to go to--the Pinnacle Grill. We decided to try it out for lunch one day. I believe we paid $10/person for lunch (it was $20@ for dinner). I was a bit disappointed in it. The food was good. Here is the appetiser we had (mine without shrimp). I don't even remember what I had for the entre. Service was not much different then in the regular diningroom. I had been so impressed with the pay restuarant on the Disney ships that I wanted to try this one. There it was more about the dining experience then the food (which was very good), but I felt like lunch on Holland America's Pinnacle Grill was not much different then going to a steakhouse on the mainland. Perhaps dinner would have been different, but i think the Disney Palo dinner is going to be hard to beat!

Here was dessert---good, but nothing really fancy.

One afternoon we did go to the High Tea. It was free, but again I was a little dissapointed---again it paled to the Disney high tea in the Palo or even the little high tea on Carnival. The choice of desserts was fantastic (and tasty), but there was only one type of tea and I don't even know what it was. There weren't any little sandwiches, either. We were routed into the diningroom and shared a table with 6 other tea drinkers. The company was good, but the atmosphere was not "high tea", but it was free, unlike the $5 fee at Disney.

We did alot of wandering around the ship. There was lots of artwork on board. We never made it to any of their art auctions. But I have gone to a couple in the past and some of them can be quite interesting. It is amazing all the fine art they manage to have on board these ships.

Another thing Holland America is known for is their use of fresh flowers arrangements. Having worked as a florist for a couple years, I found them really interesting. We even went to a class on how they do their arrangements. I never would have thought of adding apples to the vase of an arrangement!

We also went to one of the classes on fancy fruit and veggie carving.

There were several areas where we were able to just sit and chat. Here's just one of many.

They also had an extensive library where you could borrow books from or sit and read in quiet.

I enjoyed the internet room. I bought a package deal. If I remember correctly, I got 20 extra minutes with a 100 minutes package and paid something like $50 for it. I never had a problem getting a computer.

Holland America also offered several digital demo classes. I enjoyed going to a couple of them. Even learned how to use the Windows movie maker program. I managed to go to 3 of those classes. Some of it was really basic, but it was also an oppurtunity to upload some pictures onto your own online photo site.
Entertainment on the ship was pretty good. The crew shows were good. Not as good as the Carnival ones I've seen, but still good. The comedian was good (Derrick Cameren)---as they all seem to be. The Elton John piano impersonator was fantastic! He played twice. The piano bar player (Johnny Jones) was also exceptional. We were lucky to have a singing group on the cruise, too, who loved to hang out in the piano bar and harmonize with Johnny. It was really unique. Those 4 or 5 from the singing group also entered the talent show and all advanced to the finals. It was fun watching them perform (and the crew judges interact with them).

We also met up with a group of people from a couple of times. They were a fun group. We met for a wave to a camera at the beginning of the trip, then for a gathering with a couple officers of the ship and were treated to free drinks and appetisers. There was even a wine tasting in a fellow cruiser's penthouse suite. They supplied the snacks and cruisers supplied the wines. I even brought one from Missouri. It was a really fun meeting and seeing the penthouse was really neat. That would certainly be the way to cruise! Too bad my sister was fighting a headache then and didn't join us.
On to our excursions:
Our first port was Cabo. I had set up a tour for us without going through the cruise ship. First time I've done a non-cruise tour, but it was great. I wanted to spend some time in the water, so Carolyn agreed to this tour and I let her pick the tours for the other 2 ports. I chose the CHILENO and SANTA MARIA 4 hour snorkeling trip with a stop at Lover's Beach on the way. It was a zodiac tour with Ocean Riders and was $64/person---really reasonable compared to cruise ship tour prices. Getting to the tour place was an experience in itself, though. Cabo is a tender port, so we got up early and headed out to get in line. Ended up being so early that there was no line and we were put on the first tender. Once on the dock, we weren't sure where the dock was that we needed to be at, so we hired a little boat taxi to take us to the side of the port where Ocean Riders was. Beforehand I had read that the taxi ride is about $4/person, so that didn't come as a surprise. But when we were getting off at the other dock, someone came up and said we had to pay to get off there, too! The bull in me came out and I jumped off saying we aren't paying. He tried to push the boat out so Carolyn couldn't get off, but I grabbed it and pulled it back in and told her to get off. Hindesight says, "pay the $1 each !" Since then I've seen way to many episodes of "Locked up Abroad"! We ended up arriving at our tour office a couple hours early. So we decided to walk around a bit along the nearly empty port.

Finally it came time to head off on our adventure. First stop was near Lover's beach. Those who wanted to were allowed to jump off the boat and swim to shore (it wasn't knee high water like some of the advertisements say, but that was ok with me since I like to swim and the water felt great). Carolyn chose to stay on board the zodiac. The white rocks and bluegreen water and blue sky made for amazing viewing.

Walking to the back side of Lover's Beach is Divorce Beach. It's on the ocean side and the water is rougher. But the views are still amazing.

Then we sped our way on to Chileno Bay. At the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, Chileno Bay overlooks the shimmering Sea of Cortez from two-and-a-half miles of pristine coastline and nearly 1,260 acres of richly textured landscape. The boat anchored in the bay and many of us jumped in and snorkeled around the bay. I was expecting Santa Maria to be better for snorkeling, but this particular day Chileno Bay was quite a bit better. I would have loved to stayed even longer, but after about an hour or so we were told to reboard and headed on to Santa Maria.
At Santa Maria Cove Carolyn finally decided to get off the boat and swim to shore with the aid of a snorkel mask and a noodle. I didn't find out until later that she was terrified, but I did stay close by until she made it there and came back to accompany her back to the boat. I was surprised that the charter didn't supply fins, just snorkel masks. There were fish to be seen, but they were pretty far out.

When we got back to the port, we elected to walk back to the ship tender. It was an easy 1/2-1 mile walk. Only bad part about it was constantly being bombarded by people selling trinkets (mostly made in China, I believe). All in all, though, I think we both had a great time on this tour and they even extended our trip to last 5 hours instead of 4.

Here we elected to take the Mazatlán Highlights and Papantla Flyers/Deluxe City Tour tour offered by Holland America. I believe it was something like $39@.
Included in the stops was the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conceptio. This building was finished in 1899 and is being restored to its original beauty. A unique detail is that at the time of the construction, there was a Jewish family living in Mazatlan who donated money towards the construction. People were so happy that they decided to set the Star of David in the top windows of this cathedral. One of the only Catholic churches with the jewish symbol.

We also saw Cliff divers (middle top picture). These daredevils do something similar as in Acapulco, but it is lower and more shallow. The rock formation that they climb up is about 45 feet high and dive into water that is only 5 to 6 ft deep. They also have "associates" walking amongst the onlookers asking for donations for the diver. I wonder if the divers really do get the money?
Another stop is to see the Dance of Papantla's flyers (middle lower picture). It is a ritualistic dance in Veracruz, Mexico performed by the Totonac Indians and Olmeca Indians. Five men, each representing the five elements of the indigenous world climb atop a pole, one of them stays on the pole playing a flute and dancing while the remaining four descend the pole with a rope tied by one of their feet. The rope unwraps itself 13 times for each of the four flyers, symbolizing the 52 weeks of the year.

The tour also took us through various parts of town:
The Lighthouse—now the highest natural lighthouse in the world (Gibraltar was the highest, but now not in operation), it is 515 feet above sea level.
El Mercado marketplace.
Machado Square shopping and arts area .
It was very hot in Mazatlan (upper 90s and humid---sort of like St. Louis in the summer), so we didn't do much there after the tour. We weren't too impressed with what we saw of Mazatlan.
Puerto Vallarta:
Here we did the ship sponsored town, country and tequila tour. I believe it was $39, too. We traveled by air conditioned bus to Puerto Vallarta’s centro, where we visited the main points of interest such as El Palacio Municipal (City Hall), the main plaza and other city landmarks, such as the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe), Gringo Gulch, and the boardwalk, or malecon. This malecon area was really pretty impressive. Would have liked to spend more time there.

More views along the malecon as we walked around it and up to the church.

Then we boarded the bus again and headed on to the southside, or the "famous" Romantic Zone, for a 25-minute shopping & bathroom stop at a jewelry and tile store, where they offered us a free drink and salemen followed us around trying to sell us stuff. All I can say about this stop is, "Why?" Leaving Vallarta, we continued south along the Bay and up to the residential zone of Conchas Chinas, overlooking Los Arcos and the town of Mismaloya, famous for the filming of “The Night of the Iguana” starring Richard Burton. Up there is also where we ended up at a tequila factory (Mama Lucia's) for a lesson on how tequila is made and some tequila tasting. I don't know if I've ever had tequila straight before, but it isn't too bad---especially the orange flavored one. There were also a few little shops and a little restaurant by the factory. They also gave us free soda or water before starting our trip back.
Here are the pinapple look-alike pina things (blue agave heart) that the tequila is made from.

I was somewhat impressed with Puerto Vallarta. I wouldn't mind spending more time exploring this area. My first view of it from the ship (far left picture) actually reminded me a bit of Kauai--very lush and green with green mountains and blue ocean. Plus it can't be all that bad if there's a Walmart there!

We thoroughly enjoyed the cruise---but then I've thoroughly enjoyed 6 cruises now! My sister enjoyed it so much that she booked us on another one with the same itinerary for Dec. 2009. That time we'll be on the Carnival Splendor ship.

1 comment:

  1. thanks for the info. I'm doing this same cruise in December.................