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Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Monday, December 19, 2011 – Day 29 – Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

JoeTourist: Cabo San Lucas &emdash; Land's End beach - empty in early morningLand’s End is beautiful in the morning light as Rotterdam sails into the bay. The beaches along Land’s End are devoid of the crowds at this early hour, and display their charms through my binoculars as the ship anchors.

I wait until the tenders are less crowded later this morning, and then go ashore to the Cabo San Lucas Marina area. The whole area is nothing but tourist shops and guys trying to sell boat trips to see Land’s End or the various scenic beaches. There is every tourist excursion known to man being hawked to the cruise ship passengers as they walk the marina area. There are surprisingly few hotels; instead there are thousands of condos lining the beaches and marina area. Some are even built up on the arid hills surrounding the town. I’m sure there are some beautiful views from those properties. I walk around about half of the huge marina area and poke through some of the shops and “flea markets” before getting fed up and return to the ship after about an hour.

The Carnival Spirit has just anchored beside the Rotterdam in the bay, so the boat excursion salesmen ashore will have a fresh batch of customers to work on. Eight shore-based tender boats immediately head to the new mother ship, ready to take the passengers ashore. The tendering business must be lucrative and steady in such a popular cruise port…probably a better business to be in than the excursion business, which is obviously oversupplied.

I feel sorry for all the excursion salesmen. They just don’t realize that the Rotterdam passengers are at the end of a 30 day cruise, and have been propositioned so many times over the last few weeks; they are immune to the pitches, and certainly not interested in any more boat tours. That said, Cabo San Lucas will roll on, offering a destination beach experience like few other Mexican Riviera towns. It is a spectacular setting.

The Christmas vacation crowd has already descended on the place as I discover when I scan the beaches with my binoculars from the ship. I’m sure all the accommodation is booked, and the flights down here are full. As I sit on the Lower Promenade Deck writing my journal, the little excursion boats are dashing back and forth, taking people to see Lands End rock and the beaches along the way.

People are drifting by parasailing, and little Seadoos are zipping by, squirting water in the air as they noisily slap the waves, going every which way across the bay. As the day progresses, the beaches near Lands End fill up with people who, I suppose thought they might “get away from the crowds” only to create their own crowd! The Seadoos swarm around the Rotterdam and become a bit annoying, but I guess they are having fun. I come inside to get away from the noise, and who do I see but Santa standing beside the big clock in the Atrium, being videotaped by the ship’s photographers. You just never know who you will meet on a cruise ship!

JoeTourist: Cabo San Lucas &emdash; Beachfront condos and hotels on the Pacific side of Cabo San LucasThe Rotterdam pulls anchor and sails around Land’s End and along the outer coastline where all the rich and famous retreat to – Solmar Beach, Divorce Beach, and the steep cliffs where the spectacular homes are built away from the hustle and bustle of the downtown core. We have a glorious sunset to enjoy on our second to last day aboard ship.

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Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Sunday, December 18, 2011 – Day 28 – Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

I go on the horse riding excursion today – a nice way to get away from the commercialization of Puerto Vallarta. A bus takes us inland to an arid area behind Puerto Vallarta, where the real Mexicans live. There are no Walmarts, Home Depots or upscale shopping centres here…just little cafes beside the road with a few tables and dirt floors, and vendors barbecuing chicken beside the road, selling to the local families for their Sunday dinners.

We arrive at the hacienda and are assigned our horses based on our weight and skill level. I get a horse called “Grandpa” (“Abuelito” in Spanish). There are about thirty riders from the ship, so it is a good-sized group as we leave the corral single file and try to get used to our steeds (and them to us, no doubt). Grandpa seems to be very good at following the horse in front of him, and that suits me fine. We travel slowly across country similar to the dry and scrubby land landscape I remember from La Enscenada Lodge ranch on the Gulf of Nicoya in Costa Rica. We cross the river twice, once where it is less than a foot deep, and another point where it is probably about a metre deep. “Grandpa” is one of the bigger horses, so I don’t get my feet wet, while other riders do.

We have a rest stop after an hour, where they have a little cantina setup with beer, pop and water for sale, and of course there are also bathrooms available. Some people have a dip in the nearby hot springs, while others ride one of the horses which likes to swim in the deeper part of the river. I just take it easy, take some photos, and then climb back on “Grandpa” for the return trip back to the hacienda.

The cruise ship harbour is located in a very central spot with spectacular towers on both sides of the harbour entrance, stretched along the sandy beachfront. A huge marina adjoins the harbour, which is chock full of speedboats and other pleasure craft owned by the gringos in the waterfront towers.

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Huatulco to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico – at sea

Saturday, December 17, 2011 – Day 27 – At sea

Today we are enroute from Huatulco to Puerto Vallarta, sailing up the Mexican Pacific coast. I go for breakfast in La Fontaine dining room this morning, and am seated with a table of veteran cruisers. They are all talking about their various experiences on ships. I am a two star Mariner in Holland America’s loyalty program, and most everyone else has either two stars or three stars. Nobody has achieved Four Star status yet, which is the top level for Holland America cruisers.

I am invited to the 11AM sitting of the Mariners Luncheon, where I see the captain for the first time in this voyage. He greets me as I enter La Fontaine dining room. They pour us some champagne, the captain welcomes us, and then Thom the Cruise Director makes a few remarks about Holland America’s ships and loyalty program. The lunch is nice, and I meet some interesting people at the table. One couple from Michigan has visited Hawaii 16 times. She was on an African safari to South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe, and really liked it. I share that I also did a safari in the same area a few years ago.

JoeTourist: Rotterdam, the ship &emdash; Christmas gifts around the Atrium antique clockThe ship is decorated for Christmas, with some impressive displays around the giant clock in the atrium, as well as a huge gingerbread house, and a sequencing Christmas sign stretched between the twin stacks outside. I understand there will be over 100 children boarding the ship when it departs San Diego in a few days, so their families’ Christmas aboard ship will be assured to be special, particularly when Santa shows up in person.

My friends and I go up to the Lido for dinner, and decide to sit on the semi-open deck around the pool, where we can watch the beautiful sunset over the ocean. We had hoped there might be a Green Flash visible tonight, but no joy since there is quite a bit of sea fog near the horizon.

Later, I go up to Deck 10 forward and do a bit of astronomical observing. Visually and with my Canon IS binoculars I see: Jupiter (2+2 moons) directly overhead, Venus near the horizon, Orion Nebula and constellation, M45 the Pleiades, M31 Andromeda Galaxy, Cassiopeia constellation, and Cygnus constellation. As my eyes adapt to the dark, I can also see the Milky Way.

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Huatulco, Mexico

Friday, December 16, 2011 – Day 26 – Huatulco, Mexico

Since I’m not interested in all the tourist shops available at this cruise port; I go on a snorkel cruise excursion this morning. It is quite a bit of fun, and provides a good opportunity to get away from the ship for a couple of hours. They make us all sign waivers and wear a silly yellow floatation device (which is deflated), but otherwise it is a well-run activity. They take us on a ten-minute boat ride to one of the little bays we saw this morning as Rotterdam pulled into the port.

The group of snorkelers is lead by the crew, and despite several hundred other people swimming in the same bay, there are still a surprising number of fish to see and photograph. I even see a lobster on the bottom before we return to shore. The flippers they give us earlier are necessary, since there are some fairly strong surges as we do the circuit, especially when we are lead into a cave with a narrow opening.

As always, I’m happy to return to the ship to have a shower and put on fresh clothes. I spend part of the afternoon doing one final load of laundry before the end of the cruise. My friends and I have some Becks beer on the stern deck as we pull out of the bay. We decide to have a casual dinner in the same place since the weather is so warm.

Cunard’s Queen Victoria is docked beside Rotterdam at the pier. It is an impressive new ship, with five decks of veranda suites. She is huge – much wider and higher than our ship, but not too much longer. Cunard still runs their larger ships with two classes of passengers, so I expect the two gangways are for First Class and Tourist Class. Seeing this ship brings back memories of when I sailed aboard the Cunard Princess in the 1980’s from Vancouver through the Panama Canal and the Caribbean. The Cunard Princess was a small ship with some 800 passengers, so it was a single class (Tourist Class) ship.