Veendam Cruise Review by cantdance: Veendam - Mexican Riviera
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Veendam - Mexican Riviera
In addition to loving cruising on our own sailboat around coastal Floria where we live, we have been regularly "big boat" cruising for the last twenty or so years with family, friends and many of sailboat club members. As a result we have exhausted all ends of the Caribbean, especially the east coast of Mexico and the Yucatan. We have danced in the conga line at Carlos and Charlie's in Cozumel, snorkeled at San Francisco Beach, hiked up the ruins at Tulum, taken the long bus ride to Chitchen Itza, hiked in the rain forests and cave tubed in Belize. This year we intended to do something different and book a cruise in the Mediterranean, but after seeing the cost of airfare to Europe, we opted for a 10 day cruise out San Diego down to Baja California (our Mexican guide explained they owned all of California once and just because we gringos took part of it, they were not changing the name) and up the Sea of Cortez to mainland west coast Mexico. Each port was new and different and reminded More
us why we love to travel. The real unexpected bonus was the intimate Holland America ship the Veendam.
We usually cruise on very large ships that are more like floating cities so at first glance we were a little underwhelmed by the size of the ship but after a few days we really learned to appreciate the benefits of a smaller ship. It was less crowded, easier to embark and disembark, easier to get around but the best part was how nice it was to get to know the staff and to be made to feel like part of the HAL family. Not only would we definitely do it again but we are already booked on that Mediterranean cruise for this spring on another HAL ship. Finally, there is not an option fro reviewing either Loreto or Toppolobampo but we loved both of them and would definitely go back. Less
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Cabin review: Veendam
Our cabin was very comfortable and centrally located but it was a standard cruise ship cabin. Nice bed though.
Port and Shore Excursions
True to my memory though, the cruise ships still anchored within the sheltered waters of Bahia San Lucas. Just to prove that cruising is cruising, our ship's captain was gleefully gloating that he beat the Princess and the Celebrity cruise ships to the anchorage and got the best spot, in the deepest water, closest to the tender docks.. Reminded me of BCYC going to Moore's for the weekend.
When we were here in 1985, it was a sleepy little cove that had one fishing pier. Now they have dug out a new inlet - -try getting away with that in the states - -and added a huge marina. The bay and surrounding docks are alive with activity now. The harbor was surrounded by dozens of new restaurants happy to supply cerveza, margaritas and nachos for a small fee. There were also scores of people on land selling tours, jewelry, clothes, hats, glassware - -you name it. On the water, they were buzzing around on jet skis, parasailing, boating, and swimming. Of the numerous tours offered, there were a number of small boats and charters to take you in and around the Land's End beach area for $12.00 a person. Swimming, snorkeling, and kayak activities abound in the areas near El Arco known as Lover's Beach. We also saw sea lions and whales in the bay and surrounding waters.
On this cruise, we decided to forgo the expensive tours offered by the cruise ship and be a little more adventurous. After all we knew at least a dozen words of Spanish between us so what's to worry about? With that in mind, we planned to start with a land tour up the coast to the quaint little colonial town of San Jose Del Cabo when we got off the ship's tender at about 8:00 a.m. Although my Spanish is limited to ola and peso, my negotiating skills are fearless, so I was sent ahead to make a deal. While I negotiated with a dozen adorable little short round Mexican men, I heard the other lady in our party call out, "we'll take the one in the fatigues." I looked up, the cherubic guides parted like the red sea for "Alex" a seven foot Antonio Banderas look-alike and sound-alike. After we wiped my drool off his shirt, I pulled it together enough to negotiate a price-ahh who am I kidding- we gave him what he asked for plus tip, he piled us in his van with a nice Oregonian couple from the Princess ship which was also anchored in the harbor. Fortunately, he turned out to have a lot more going for him than just being easy on the eyes and ears. He was funny and very well informed about the city - historically and currently. Plus, his wife, who also worked for the tour company, was constantly calling him keeping him on the ball.
Our guide Alex pointed out the requisite stars' homes high overlooking the ocean - -Madonna to Sammy Hagar and he pointed out the resorts that draw celebs including Jessica Alba, Sandra Bullock, Gwyneth Paltrow, Chris Martin, Tom Cruise, Kate Beckinsale, and many others. We never saw any of them so who knows?
On the way to San Jose Del Cabo, we stopped at glass recycling plant where they made-what else-margarita glasses. It was fascinating and we did buy a sample but I must add here that after our return home I found identical glasses for a third of the cost in our local Marshall's. Heading up the coast we spotted several whales. Alex explained that Cabo's waters have a high salt content that makes the whales more buoyant and aids in making babies. Sounds fishy to me but again - -he could have read the phone book and it would have sounded good. Unfortunately, while we were enjoying watching the whales, they were spotted by a band of jet skiers who charged at them full speed and chased them off.
The coastal drive itself was beautiful. The Sea of Cortez was on one side and the Pacific on the other. The water ranged from aqua to dark blue when the water got deep. It was beautiful. Between the two bodies of water Baja is a thin strip of land bordered by deserts and mountain ranges. It was all very, very dry and brown. Alex assured us if anything was green, it was a golf course. There were, however, tons of huge cactus everywhere. In the median in San Jose, Alex pointed out one cactus that was reputed to be over 500 years old. Since San Jose was founded in 1730 that means the cactus was two hundred years old when the Jesuit priests showed up. Impressive. If cactus could talk. Well maybe it does - -after visiting the shop offering free tequila samples, I thought I heard it. We finished up our tour with a stop for a batería de baños (bathroom) at a MacDonald's and then back to Cabo for- what else? Margaritas, cervza and nachos.
Then we did what all good small boat cruisers do when one of the group starts pulling up anchor and heading out, we did the mad scramble to get dinghies up on the davits, start the engines, pull up the anchor and head out to sea. Our captain, having made it first to the anchorage, seemed determined to leave it in record time. The Princess was scheduled to leave at 1:00 and our ship at 2:30. The princess was late leaving as their tenders were way overtaxed getting their passengers back on time. Having gotten all our fellow passengers on board, our captain started his engines at 2:15 and by 2:30 was pulling up anchor leaving four of our tenders to chase our boat out of the anchorage and be hauled out as we were underway. The sailaway from the port gives you some of the best views of the cruise and is not to be missed.
Ignoring news reports of Americans being kidnapped and held for ransom or worse, we headed off in search of the promised paradise. Fighting off the taxi and tour hawkers we left the relative safety of the secured port area and walking past concrete walls covered with barbed wire, we headed in the direction one helpful cabbie had pointed us. A couple of blocks down a very deserted road, we reached what looked like a military compound with men in uniform carrying uzi-looking guns. Just to the right of it was a small gravel path pretending to be a driveway. We were pointed in that direction by another passing cabbie. Sure enough, as promised, there were small wooden pangas (boats) taking people over to Stone Island for a very nominal fee-$4. roundtrip. Our panga driver (captain?) did not say a word on the trip over–just smiled, even when the small boat cut across the path of an approaching tanker.
We were joined on the panga by two lovely couples. One couple was two American men (ex-pats) who lived on the island and were carrying over a load of cigars to sell. I had read that in the 1960s –American hippies starting coming to the island and slept on the beach. These two looked like leftovers from that earlier time. They were very helpful and knowledgeable though so we picked their brains for the island inside scoop. They led us to an awaiting pickup truck that gave us a ride to the other side of the island, dropping us at a local hotel that welcomed day trippers for the price of a beer.
And indeed they did. They quickly led us lounge chairs on the beach under big umbrellas. Cervezas and Diet Cokes were promptly produced and kept coming. As it was very early on a Sunday, the beach was basically deserted except for three twentysomething American girls who were sleeping in a tent on the beach under the protection of the hotel. As the girls rose and went about preparing for their day by washing and changing right out in the open in front of us, the explained that they had come down to teach with a church missionary group and that they worked in the mornings for the mission and then tutored children in the afternoons and worked at a local bar at night. I could not imagine having my young daughter living on the beach in a foreign country working three jobs. Different.
While I found it interesting, I don’t drink cerveza, the sand was bit too much dirt for my taste ( we are spoiled on west coast Florida with our white powder sand beaches) and the water was way too cold to swim. The water was pretty though with its mountainous formations protruding out of it. And it was interesting staring up and down the beach–like Daytona Beach 100 years ago. What you won’t see on Stone Island are high rise hotels. The beach stretches for about 28 miles, although the palapa restaurants and activities cover only about two miles of that. Instead there is one new, three story apartment style hotel. While there are about 15 palapa restaurants strung along the beach, some catering almost exclusively to Mexicans, Stone Island is rarely as noisy and hectic as other resorts. That may be because it’s not well known to non-Mexicans and because it’s not easily accessed. Bad sand aside the palapas are worth the trip. These little restaurants are owned by locals who were originally given the land in the 1930s as a result of the Mexican revolution. They are nothing more than small wooden sun shelters around stone fire pits with dirt floors and plastic chairs but the best food I have ever eaten. We made this discovery just when I was ready to pack it in as rather disappointing adventure. It was a little after 11:00 and we were getting hungry–after all we had been away from the cruise ship buffet for over two hours–our hippie friends had recommended Victors so visions of salmonella and ptomaine aside we decided to go native and pull up a plastic chair in the dirt. The menu was in Spanish and pesos, so we ordered on faith. We girls had the grilled shrimp which were more like small lobsters that were in the shell, split in half, drenched in garlic butter and cooked on the open pit in front of us. The mounded platter of shrimp was served with onion rings and was the best thing ever. We both had butter dripping down our chins as we wolfed it down. All for the princely sum of about $8.00. They served margaritas and beers and kept it coming and our bill was under $50.00. While we waited we did have to contend with the small Mexican children selling us their wares but they were as cute as can be and the prices were right. By the time we left the local population had shown up with their large families, their boats and other toys. We were sated and happy and glad to have shared their piece of paradise if only for a few hours.
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