How else to
describe the SS Oosterdam, HollandAmerica's beautiful
cruise ship, awaiting us at the San Diego Marine Terminal?
She is huge . . .
she is sleek, streamlined . . . an elegant work of art, both inside and out.
experience a cruise at least once before they depart this planet.It is one of life's more pleasant
This was to be my
fourth cruise.We were to experience an
eight day cruise on the Mexican Riviera, leaving December 22nd and returning on
Friday, December 30th.The plan was to
escape the hectic Christmas season and try to relax a bit before welcoming a
new and busy New Year.I had learned
that cruises offer the finer things in life; fine foods, outstanding service,
total relaxation, or activities in which to participate, it was all up to you,
the passenger.If you wanted to sleep
all day . . . eat all day . . . do a little of both . . . it was your decision.And you would be waited on like you were
The adventure was
about to begin.You're welcome to join
us on our adventure and glean some feeling for what it's like to be on a cruise
on board one of the world's loveliest cruise ships, the SS Oosterdam.As to the name . . .("Ooster"
(pronounced 'oast' as in 'toast') is named for the
east point of the compass.Her sister
ships, Zuiderdam and recently released Westerdam are named for the south and west,
respectively.In February of this year
the Noordam (North point of the compass) will enter
service and this four ship fleet will now represent all points of the
compass.Holland American ships have
traditionally been named with the "dam" suffix.The "dam" has been coupled with
famous rivers, cities and even directional bearings.As large as she is, the Oosterdam
is considered a medium sized ship.
Day 1:We board Thursday
afternoon, late.We had a extraordinarily long wait at the embarkation point.Not a good omen. Once aboard we marvel at the
beautiful art work that adorns the walls, the statuary, the
abundance of art throughout the ship.We
go to our beautiful stateroom, head for the Lido Restaurant for a quick bite to
eat and then head back to the stateroom,
A typical stateroom, very similar to ours.
Vista Dining Room, evening: We meet
our table mates, a couple from Chicago, a couple from Santa Clarita, and two
widows from Solvang.It is an amiable
group.Following a delicious meal, weopt to forego the
evening's opening night show.We were
exhausted and retired early.
We sleep well but have heavy seas; as a consequence we
occasionally awaken to the comfortable feeling of being gently rocked, just as
a baby in a cradle. We are en route to our first stop, Cabo
Day 2:We are at sea and awaken to a
beautiful day.We head for the Lido
Restaurant, have an excellent breakfast, head back to the stateroom and nap
again till .We apparently are more tired than we had
realized and need the rest.For a time
at least, we have no deadlines, no urgent matters that need to be tended to.It's time to rest and then to recharge the
batteries.The process has begun.
Day 3: We awaken to find ourselves in port at Cabo San Lucas.We
grab an early breakfast then jump on a tender to head to shore (a tender is a
small, covered motor launch used to transport passengers when there is no dock facilities
sufficient to accommodate a ship this large.It's not our favorite way of hitting the beach, but the only option
available, so we all make do.
We meet our tour guide, Libby, who was raised in Northern California and is totally bilingual.She is a retired teacher and an excellent tour guide, providing a great
deal of informative commentary en route to Todos
Santos, a town that purports to be an artists’ colony.
Upon arrival we are disappointed.The TodosSantosMuseum is a joke.Most of
the "art galleries" hold art of little interest and offers many
novelties and crafts that could just as easily be obtained in Tijuana.Much of the art we
saw merely looked like someone had taken different swabs of color and applied
them to canvas, then called the product 'art.'
We visited the Hotel California which was supposedly the
inspiration for the song by the same name by the Eagles.The Hotel is fairly modern in design, as is
the adjacent restaurant and bar.I,
however, shall never return to the Hotel California, and likely never return to
Todos Santos.I visited the restroom at the Hotel California Restaurant and have
seldom seen a more foul, fetid, filthy restroom.More about this later.
Todos Santos did have some decent shopping malls; our restaurant
was adequate, but that's about all.
We return to Cabo and purchase a
lovely solid silver necklace, bracelet and ear ring set for Santa to deliver to
a certain lady.It is important to note
that we paid less than half the original asking price.Point?Negotiate.It is expected.More about this later.
Others on board ship took other shore excursions.Some went snorkeling, some when deep sea
fishing, some went shopping.There are
many shore excursions available. You are free to book them through the HollandAmericaShore Excursion desk, which we did, or to make your own
arrangements on shore with vendors (as we did at later port calls).
As we were to sail at we returned to board our tenders at .Next stop, Puerto Vallarta!
Day 4 - Again
we awaken early for breakfast before meeting our tour guide, Alberto, who will
show us Puerto
Elizabeth Taylor's home.Alberto was a
very informative guide, showing us all the highlights and readily answering
questions. Puerto Vallarta is located about halfway down the Pacific Coast of
Mexico, on the shores of25 mile-wide BanderasBay.It has a population
of around 350,000.Here you will find
world class resorts, upscale shopping centers, and outstanding
shows us the wealthy neighborhoods, such as Marina Vallarta, as well as the
medium income neighborhoods.
In 1962, film director John Huston selected Puerto Vallarta as the setting for his film "Night of the
Iguana," starring Richard Burton and Ava
Gardner.Burton and Elizabeth Taylor were involved in a scorching love
affair at the time and Liz moved to Puerto Vallarta to be near Burton.She bought a house,
high on a hill, overlooking Puerto Vallarta.Burton bought a house across the street from hers and soon they
built a pink bridge between the two.
We were disappointed in Liz Taylor's house.It was big . . . nine bedrooms (now being
rented out in a Bed and Breakfast mode), eleven bathrooms. When Taylor bought the house it was a prestigious location, being one
of the few homes on the hill.Since
that time, however, houses and apartments have exploded around the area.It is no longer an exclusive, pricey
district.Today, it is a crowded,
somewhat dingy, neighborhood withsteep,
congested streets.It is not a
neighborhood in which I'd care to live.
We visit several small shopping malls
and browse.We find nothing we can't
live without.It is Christmas Day so
many shops are closed.Those we visit
offer us a glass of beer, a shot of Tequila, or a glass of soda . . . all at no
charge.They are friendly, eager to
help.And to sell.
We are amazed at Alberto's ability to
maneuver his van (which is carrying seven of us) through the narrow streets of Puerto Vallarta and between closely parked cars.At one point we had two inches on either side
of our van.Alberto got us through.
Day 5- After leaving Puerto Vallarta at and
sailing overnight, we arrive at Mazatlan.We sleep in today,
deciding to make our own tour arrangements rather than book through the ship's
shore excursion department.
Mazatlan has a colorful history.Always known as a major port and village on the Pacific coast it has
attracted miners and exporters of gold and silver from the nearby Sierra Madre
mines.Later, in the 18th century, a
fishing industry was established and the coastal bounty began to become
exploited.A heavy German immigration
occurred in the 1830’s and this increased Internatinal
Mazatlan’s beach is more than 10 miles long and strolling
the malecon (boardwalk) is a pleasant and scenic
Upon leaving the ship we are met by an
enterprising young man, Hector, who hustles us as passenger's
for the day's tour.We agree.Cost is $20 per person.He supplies cold beer, soda, and bottled
water, at no extra charge and has a new van with air conditioning.There are seven of us.
Hector shows us the wealthy
neighborhoods, view points from high atop the city, and he takes
us to see the cliff divers of Mazatlan.They dive from
craggy rocks about 45' above sea level . . . not as high as in Acapulco, but thrilling nonetheless.Street vendors are everywhere.Evelyn buys three purses for $10.Originally, the vendor had wanted $10 each. We are learning to play the
Mexican negotiating game.
Hector takes us to The
Indio Shop, a spotlessly clean, very attractive jewelry store.They have restrooms that are as clean as any
we would find in the United States.I seek out and meet
the owner, Rubin Espino and his beautiful young wife,
Sofia.I congratulate them on the
attractive layout of their store and especially the clean bathrooms.We discuss the importance of Mexican merchants
recognizing the demand of American tourists to find decent, clean
points out that it has been his experience that if you have clean restrooms,
the rest of the store will also be clean.A tone of excellence has been set.
has owned the business for 50 years, starting it himself.About five years ago his first wife
died.About two years he ago he married
Sofia, who had worked for him for a number of years.She is stunningly beautiful and they make a
We shop his store . . . Evelyn finds
another necklace and ear ring set she likes and buys it, though only after
negotiating a better price than the original asking prices.She is getting good at this and we wind up
being satisfied that we have made an excellent buy at a fair price.
We also met the store manager, Federico
Metzger y Mantilla.The Metzger name
denotes his German heritage.Many
Germans had emigrated to Mazatlan
and Federico is a product of that emigration.We feel very comfortable in recommending The Indio Shop as a place well
worth visiting and shopping.
Later, we are taken to a large flea
market type shopping center in the heart of downtown Mazatlan.Hundreds of vendors have stalls here . .food, jewelry, clothing, sporting goods, groceries, meat
market, fish market . . . one stop shopping.Somewhat reminescent of the
Pikes Place Market in Seattle.Evelyn buys some clothes . . . I buy a swim suit for $10 (which I wind
up never using).It was a fun shopping
experience and we are grateful to Hector for introducing us to it.
We wrap up our shore excursion with a
visit to Mazatlan's Gold Shopping Center.Up scale stores.Evelyn looks at diamond earrings.I ask the salesman the price.He doesn't want to tell me till Evelyn puts
them on.I insist.$12,000.But he'll let us have them for $8,000.I rather firmly suggest to Evelyn that we
have better things to do than shop for $12,000 necklaces.To my surprise, she agrees.
We visit the Hotel del
Flores (Flowers) and have a quick bite to eat on a patio overlooking the
beach.We watch the parasailers,
the swimmers, kayakers and sunbathers.We return to the van, pleasantly tired and head back to our home, the Oosterdam.
We retire for the evening and the ship leavesat 6pm for Pichilingue . . . the port serving La Paz, the capital of
Baja, California Sur (South).
Day 6- We
are awake Tuesday morning when the Oosterdam
docks in Pichilingue.It is a quiet morning, a small dock and terminal, well organized.We notice an auto ferry docked adjacent.This ferry goes back and forth between Pichilingue and mainland Mexico.
We have a leisurely breakfast, head for
the terminal and take a free shuttle bus into town.There were no shore excursions that
particularly fascinated us so we decided to just stroll about downtown La Paz,
take in the sights, and then head back to the ship.
As we arrive in La Paz, the shuttle bus
narrator gives us a chuckle when he says . . .
“those of you who are interesting to take a peetchur of the Catedral, I show
you where it ees, een the
center of town.Remember, if you doan’ take a peetchur of the Catedral, you didn’t came to La Paz.”
Most tour guides speak English
reasonably well, though they occasionally fracture the syntax, much as we do in
their language when we attempt to speak it.
La Paz was, and is, a very pleasant,
tranquil Mexican town. La Paz, in Spanish, means ‘peace,’ and that’s the
feeling one gets when visiting. I enjoyed walking the streets, seeing the
quaint little shops, the town square (which every Mexican village has . . . a
town square . . . and right adjacent, the town cathedral) . . . the very
pleasant, kind, and helpful townspeople.Not pushy, not dirty, as in Tijuana or Ensenada.This was the real Mexico and I rather liked
it.Evelyn didn’t care for it as much as
it didn’t have a lot of shops and malls that she could visit.That, in fact, is probably one of the reasons
I liked it so much.Our stay in La Paz
was a short one, however, as we were due back to the boat by 4:30pm for a 5pm
Day 7 & 8 At Sea:Both
Wednesday and Thursdy we were at sea, en route back
to San Diego.After leaving Pichilingue, we sailed slowly through the Bahia de Magdalena (Magdalena Bay), the area where whales
would often breed.Several passengers
saw large pods of dolphins cavorting at the rear of the cruise ship.As far as I know, no one saw whales breeding
on this trip.
After leaving the Bahia
de Magdalena we picked up speed but we also began to rock gently as we were
hitting rough seas again.Being a large
ship, the Oosterdam handled the rough seas rather
well . . . but we did have a feeling of gently rolling. One is cautioned to always leave one arm free
to use for balance as one sometimes feels as though one were slightly
intoxicated as you walk.Easily manageable, however.No mal de mer (seasickness).All was well.We relaxed, we dined sumptuously . . . and we toured the ship, scoping
out interesting things to see and do.
On Saturday, Christmas Eve, we were
treated to one of the best shows I’ve seen in a long time . . . a Tribute to
the Tempations by . . . Tribute.This act was dynamite from start to finish. Great showmen, great singers, superb audience participation.They had an audience participation element
that had the rest of the audience howling with laughter . . .and then their harmony, dancing and song stylings all came together again to provide an outstanding
tribute to The Temptations.
On the following Tuesday the featured
act was Barnaby.Again,
an outstanding act . . . much better than your normal cruise ship
entertainment.A former English
professor who became a juggler with a knack for patter, together with a
combination of dry wit, and the elements all came together for a show that left
us howling, as well as the rest of the audience. Barnaby was one of the
funniest acts I've seen in ages.
Lyle Davis and Evelyn Madison, relaxing
outside the theatre, following the show
cast of singers and dancers and their several presentations did not
impress.They were ‘good’ acts, not
‘great.’Great choreography but staging
and costuming were both weak.The female
lead singer sang to the limits of her range, but the range was not great.The male lead was adequate . . . and the
costumes were like something you would expect from an old LawrenceWelktv show, outdated and rather goofy looking. One thing
I noticed and several other passengers made the same observation . . ."how
could four or five of the female dancers, who must have hours of physically
demanding rehearsals as well as actual performances . . .be
One would think a number of the dancers
could do with a little less pasta in their diets.
We missed several of the other shows
but on the last night we had Barnaby back for a brief encore and ‘bon voyage’
bill earlierwas a purported comedian.His name escapes me . . . but he was
absolutely terrible.Not funny at all.
This guy was not up to the level of exellence one
expects from a classy cruise ship like the Oosterdam.He wasn’t dirty.He just wasn’t funny.
There is a piano bar that is quite
popular.We went there one night but I
found it rather bland.Others seemed to
like it however.We stayed for one drink
and then called it a night.
After Hours in the Piano Bar . . .l-r - Tom Wolf, Mike Small, Dede
Small, Carolyn Wolf and Evelyn Madison - the TableMates!
You have television in your room so
news and sports fanatics can keep up with CNN and ESPN.We watched most of the bowl games.There are Turner Classic Movies, several
situation comedies, and several in-house promotional programs produced by HollandAmerica.
They offer Karaoke - dancing - violin
and piano music while having tea.There’s Bingo - many different entertainment offerings.
At each of the ports you will have an
opportunity for shore excursions.You
can book them on board ship . . . or you can book them on the pier with
independent operators.Those booked on
board ship tend to be a bit more expensive - a minimum of $10 per person more,
and sometimes more than that but (a) the vendors have been screened by the Oosterdam staff and, (b) often there is a snack or meal
included.Vendors from whom you purchase
services at the dock are less costly but you are on your own for lunch,
normally.We were generally pleased with
both the shore excursions we booked through the Oosterdam
($72 each for the tour of Todos Santos, which
included a snack . . . $49 each for the“Off the Beaten Track,” tour
(including the Elizabeth Taylor house) which included refreshments.$20 each for the tour with
Hector, of Mazatlan. Hector was anexcellent
Mazatlan Cliff Diver
Upon first boarding the Oosterdam and reviewing the paperwork I noticed that they
had opted to solve our tipping problem for us by adding $10 per day per person
to our bill for gratuities.For the two
of us, over an eight day period of time, that came to $160 in gratuities.Initially, I felt offended by this imposition
and determined that I would complain to the purser’s office that I, not the Oosterdam,
would determine how much I would tip.
However, after the second day I changed
my thinking 180 degrees.The service was
so good, so impeccable, that I now felt the $160 was entirely fair and
justified.In fact, we were so impressed
with our cabin steward that we gave him an envelope with some additonal money when we disembarked.(This is not at all required.We did it because we wanted to).We later learned that of the $160 collected,
70% went to the cabin and dining room stewards, 30% to the rest of the ship’s
staff.None of the money was retained by
Holland American Lines.
There is a very attractive gym on board
. . . treadmills, stair steps, weights, Pilates . . . all the trimmings . . .
and with a first class view of the ocean while you work out.
While I had every good intention, I
never managed one single workout.I find
it incredibly easy to talk myself out of exercising.
There is a satellite telephone in each
stateroom.Calling ship to shore,
however, is very expensive.$7.95 per
You are far better advised to either
contact your cell phone provider and arrange to have your cell phone programmed
for international calls (do this before leaving the states.We were given the code to program into our
cell phone but could never get it to work). Usually, whenever you are close to one of the
major ports, your cell phone will work.Rates will be in the area of $0.49 per minute, or more, depending upon
your carrier.Second, when in port you
can buy telephone cards for $5 to $10.We bought a $10 card with 40 minutes.That time went rather quickly so we bought a $5 card with 15
minutes.That also went quickly but we
had accomplished most of our necessary calls by that time.
As to using the Internet, they have an
Internet Cafe on board.It, too, is
expensive.It’s okay if you’re in a
pinch but I recommend waiting till you reach port.In port, you’ll likely find all kinds of
Internet Cafe’s and you can rent their computers for $2 to $4 per hour.
Food and Food Service
Be prepared to dine sumptuously.Each evening you will dine in a formal dining
room, having been assigned to a table with, usually, about eight persons, four
couples.Some nights are formal, most
are casual.Formal nights the ship
suggests men wear tuxedos.I don’t wear
tuxedos.A sport coat will do.I refuse to wear ties.
Your tablemates often become good
friends and you’re likely to exchange addresses and phone numbers at the end of
the cruise.There are two seatings, early and late.Usually, the early seating is , the second seating is at .Typically, one goes
to the early show if one is scheduled for the second dinner seating,
and to the late show if they have an early seating.
Somehow, it all manages to work out
A special treat is the Pinnacle Grill,a 5 Star Restaurant
that drew raves from everyone we spoke with . . . and which we raved about as
As elegant as the main Vista Dining
Room is, the Pinnacle is even more so.
A table setting at the 5 Star Restaurant, The Pinnacle Grill
Their steaks (we both ordered a petite
Filet Mignon) are first seared with their 1600 degree oven . . . which seals
the juices in.The filet is then grilled
normally to completion.It is so tender
you could cut it with a butter knife . . . and it almost melts in your mouth.
A colorful tableau of The Old Masters -
overlooking The Pinnacle Grill
Other entree choices include Bone-In Ribeye Steak - Porterhouse . . .a
huge 22 ounce steak that would almost take a squad of Army Rangers to finish .
. . Lamb Rack Chops . . King Salmon .. Chicken Marsala with Washington Cherries, Cedar Planked Halibut with Alaskan King Crab . . Cedar Planked Scampi, Grande Wild Mushroom
Ravioli.It is a dining experience.
For desert I had Baked Alaska, Evelyn had Warm Grand Marnier Chocolate Volcano Cake.
There is a $20 per person cover charge
in The Pinnacle Grill, but it is well worth it.
In all of the restaurants there is an
automatic 15% gratuity added to your drink tab, whether soft drinks or
You can probably find a stateroom for
most any budget.Inside staterooms are
the least expensive.Expect to pay
somewhere around $730 per person, plus the earlier mentioned gratuity of $10
per person per day, plus 15% on your drinks (in addition to your bar tab and
any other on board purchases).
We booked a verandah unit, outside
stateroom, for a cost of $1666.18 each for an eight day cruise.That works out to about $206.25 per day, per
person, for housing, food, and absolutely superb service.It also included vacation insurance so that
if one of us became ill and could not make the trip, we’d receive a refund for
our passage.There are more expensive
staterooms and suites . . . you can easily spend $4000 to $5000 per person, per cruise.It’s all dependent upon your budget.
We booked through a local travel agency
though you can book via the Internet.One of the couples at our dining table did that and they paid about the
same as we did.Our travel agent had a
bottle of champagne waiting in our stateroom for us, however.Theirs did not.
You may wish to explore both options
and decide for yourself which is best for you.I generally prefer a travel agent so if anything goes wrong I have
someone who can intercede on my behalf and talk to the right people to get
Do's & Don'ts
negotiate prices.Even at what appear to
be upscale jewelry stores.It’s
expected.It’s a way of life in Mexico.
We found a lovely solid silver
necklace, bracelet and ear rings in Todos
Santos.The guy wanted $390 to begin
with, came down to $350.We declined and
walked away.Afterwards, we second
guessed ourselves.It was a beautiful
set.Maybe we should have paid
$350.But it was too late.We were on the bus back to Cabo San Lucas.
Upon arriving in Cabo
San Lucas we again shopped the jewelry stores.Lo and behold, we found the identical set that we had seen in Todos Santos.The
jeweler asked $690.We abruptly turned
on our heels and started to leave the store.The guy came down to $390 . . . then $350.We were about to walk out the store again and
he said $300.He made a sale!We bought the jewelery
and were delighted.
Later, in Mazatlan, Evelyn found another necklace set that she liked.They wanted $190.Evelyn offered $125 and they countered to
$150.They finally accepted $125. However,
when we pulled our credit card out they claimed the $125 was a cash offer; if
we used a credit card they had to get $150.We pointed out credit card companies charge around 3% for credit card
sales and $25 was not 3%.They agreed to
$130 and we closed the deal.
Drinking the water: At most
hotels and upscale restaurants the water is bottled or otherwise purified.When in doubt,
careful on the Pacific
Ocean side.There are dangerous currents there.On the gulf side you’ll normally be safe.
normally expect and routinely receive 15%.Bellboys usually get $1 per bag.It is not necessary nor expected to tip cab drivers.Typically, reward good service when you
receive it.We did not tip the shuttle
bus drivers as they offered no particular service other than transport.
you are better off doing business with fishing companies that have an office.Do NOT give money to
someone standing on a boat for the next day’s fishing run.You may show up the next morning only to
learn that whomever accepted your money had no
ownership of the boat.You’ve been
had.If you do business with fishing
companies that have offices on the pier or in town, you avoid this rip-off.
If you take a fishing trip, be sure to
tip the captain.
away from food and fruit stands on the street.That’s the best and quickest way to pick up Montezuma’s Revenge.Limit yourself to upscale restaurants and/or
national chains such as Kentucky Fried Chicken, Burger King, McDonalds,
etc.(Yes, they are in Mexico . . most every major city).
Mexicans always appreciate you trying to learn and use their language, most of
the businesses and their employees speak sufficient English that you can
understand one another.It is always
wise to not laugh at their attempts to speak broken English just as they make
every attempt to not laugh at your attempts to speak imperfect Spanish.
Restroom facilities:This is one
of our hot buttons when it comes to visiting Mexico.
We like clean restrooms.
We take issue with what one our guides,
Alberto, said concerning restrooms.He
acknowledged an awareness that Americans expected
clean rest rooms.“But,” he said, “this is Mexico.A
different culture.The places we
take you to today will have clean rest rooms.Maybe not as spotless as you would expect, but they
are good enough.”
Sorry, Alberto, but we disagree.
At several of the stores he took us to the restrooms were
relatively clean . . with an
emphasis on relatively.While they
weren’t as bad as the one we found at the Hotel California in Todos Santos . . . they were not restrooms that I’d be
comfortable asking my guests to use.
Slowly but surely Mexico and its Department of Tourism is getting, and responding
to, the word that Americans expect clean restroom facilities.More and more business establishments are
responding to this demand/need.It’s
important that they do because tourism is almost universally the number one
source of revenue in any port city.They
have responded with improved infrastructure in the form of streets,
phone service, cleaner, more modern exteriors and interiors of business
establishments.Many of us who’ve been
around awhile can remember when AvenidaRevolucion in Tijuana was little more than a rutted, filthy street.Today it has been paved and gives reasonably
comfortable driving experiences.(Not
that Tijuana is representative of Mexico.It isn’t.It’s a border town).
Suggestion: Politely make inquiries of the nature of the
sanitary facilities at any hotel, restaurant, or other business facility with whom you do business in Mexico.Word will quickly
get around that these crazy Americans actually expect spotlessly clean
restrooms and if they don’t get them . . . they ain’t
And if they are dirty, let the management know!
Buying and Selling Real Estate in Mexico:It can be done.Today, there are US Title Insurance and Mortgage financing companies that will
handle your transactions for you.
Do your homework!
You can acquire real estate in Mexico but make sure you’re dealing with a trusted real estate
broker who knows the market and who has a solid reputation for honesty and fair
dealing. There are, in fact, a number of American realtors in the major port
cities . . . as well as quite competent Mexican realtors.Again, do your homework and find out who is
There are many properties available in Mexico . . . Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallartahave seen an explosion in real
estate opportunities and properties.So
has Mazatlan and, to a more limited extent, La Paz.There are also permanent American colonies on
all major port cities.with lots of expatriates who can assist you and would love
to help you.
Finally, above all else, when visiting Mexico, do relax, enjoy, have a great time.