We had a great time on our Mexican Riviera cruise Feb 14-21, 2009 on the Oosterdam. We had a 9am flight from Minneapolis on Northwest the day of our cruise. Some people like to come in the night before just to be safe but we've never had any trouble flying in the morning of the cruise. Just be sure to purchase travel insurance and book a direct flight. We boarded the ship before noon with no fuss, no long lines. We had some lunch on the Lido deck, stopped off at our cabin (inside stateroom 6134), then left the ship and took a $6 cab ride to Ralph's grocery to buy wine. We bought 4 bottles but I regretted not buying more. Each bottle yields 2 glasses of wine each and we easily consumed a bottle per day at quite a savings and better quality than available from the ship's bars. We walked back to the ship, it was a very pleasant mile or so. I was very impressed with San Diego, what I saw of it from the airport and pier. The airport is 2 miles from the pier, with the city wrapping all around the bay. Everything is scenic and convenient. There are lots of activities in this area. I want to go back and spend some time there.
Our inside stateroom was comfortable and spacious. Deck 6 is not a handy location, but on the bright side I had to climb or descend at least 3 flights of stairs to get anywhere and I enjoyed the workout. My wife used the elevators and usually beat me to our destination, but not always. Our deck 6 cabin was a guaranteed cabin and I was upgraded. Next time I'll pick my own cabin as I don't feel I was really upgraded at all. Despite the economy, this ship was full so I suppose there was nothing available for upgrading. In general the food was excellent, both in the Lido and the dining room. The entertainment on the ship was good. I was surprised and disappointed to find there was no orchestra or jazz band aboard. There was an excellent string quartet that we enjoyed before dinner on several nights. HAL employs bar staff from the Philippines and restaurant staff from Indonesia. They are all delightful, friendly people and I make a point to try to remember a few names. They did better than I did at this. Kadek always greeted me with a smile and "Good morning Mr. Tom!" in the Lido before breakfast while I had coffee and read. Rey in the aft outdoor bar area did the same all week. One day he announced "Mr. Tom, Mrs. Jean has been looking for you all morning!"
The first two sea days were chilly, highs in the 60's, but coming from Minnesota it was great. This cruise was all about whale watching for me. The second sea day was actually the highlight of the cruise. The Oosterdam exits the fast lane on the way south and early in the morning enters Bahia Magdalena, or Magdalene Bay, a whale sanctuary and breeding area. It was an amazing couple of hours. Whales were everywhere. I saw more whales in this bay than on all 3 of my Alaskan cruises combined. I felt sorry for the Sapphire Princess, they had been with us on the way south and they just kept going past this very special place. Amazingly, this side trip was not known to me when I booked the cruise. Why Holland America keeps it such a secret I will never know. I hope they offer this itinerary again next whale season (January thru March). I could see a few small boats coming from shore with groups of whale watchers who were able to get very close to the whales. I'm hoping to spend a few days there myself some day.
Our first port of call was Puerto Vallarta. We of course went whale watching. It was actually billed as whale watching, snorkeling, kayaking, bird watching and scenic cruising to the Marietas Islands. It was a very busy and fun trip and we did see whales, but it was not the main focus and there were lots of other things going on. The snorkeling was very good if a bit murky and on the chilly side. The crew offered the use of a wet suit but most declined. Once accustomed to the 78 degree water it was fine. The high energy crew made sure everyone had a good time with music, dancing, drinks and food. I was amazed how well the crew and some passengers could salsa dance. Since we were in port until 9pm we had plenty of time after the excursion to go back to the ship, clean up, and take a taxi to stroll the malecon, the downtown ocean front. It's very nice. On the way back from downtown our taxi dropped us off at Wal Mart so we could buy more wine. This was right across from the pier so we still made it back in time to clean up for our late seating dinner. We enjoyed having dinner with our table mates Rick and Gloria from Phoenix each evening and we were were even joined by a senior officer and his wife on our two formal nights. Vince and Elise treated us to wine and had a lot to tell us about their interesting lives at sea and before.
Our second port was Mazatlan. No whale watching was offered. In fact the list of excursions offered was very slim. We lazily opted for a city bus tour. It was fun and included stops at the Cathedral, a show including the Papantla Flyers and a trip to see the cliff divers. All this could be done on your own but it was easy to just get on the bus, and not too expensive. The bus made a stop at the Gold Zone for shopping. This is a dismal place of jewelry stores, t-shirt shops and street hustlers. As the Oosterdam left Mazatlan we passed by the Sapphire Princess (still at the pier) and passengers from both ships waved, hooted, whistled and shouted "Good bye, see you in Cabo!" from balconies and open decks. The Sapphire even had someone wearing a giant hand costume waving at us. It was fun.
Our last stop, Cabo San Lucas was the most scenic of the 3 ports we visited. I made a mental note to stay here for a week some time. This small town at the southernmost tip of the Baja peninsula has a lot to offer. We of course went whale watching and it was a fantastic trip. We were so close to the whales that we could hear them and see them frolic and slap the water right in front of our boat. Not something you see every day. Before and after the 2 hour whale watching trip we strolled the beautiful area around the marina. I was getting a bit hungry and asked a local who was selling fishing trips in front of the tender pier where I could get a quick taco. He said "follow me amigo" and he took me around the corner from the visitor center to a food stand, just a card table really. He said this is where all the local workers get their lunch. I ordered a home made bistek taco with tender delicious beef, rice and beans wrapped in a tortilla for $1.50.
Our final day at sea was both relaxing and a bit sad, with all the packing and talk of disembarkation procedures. We opted for the SEBS baggage option, where our bags were picked up at midight and not to be seen by us again until our plane landed in Minneapolis. This was very handy. Our flight home was at 2 pm so we didn't rush to get off the ship. We were on the top deck watching all the activity and left at 9:45 am. The ship was completely empty by then. I was amazed how efficiently HAL gets people on and off the Oosterdam. Our 5 minute bus ride got us to the airport 4 hours before our 2pm flight to Minneapolis. I asked Northwest if we could change our flight to the next day so we could go to the San Diego Zoo or Sea World, but it would have been very expensive. Maybe next time.