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Holland America's RYNDAM cruises the west coast of Mexico from September through April. On the third Thursday in November we boarded in San Diego for a 10-day cruise to the six major resort cities on the Mexican Riviera.
San Diego may be the most picturesque and convenient cruise port in the United States. The waterfront is located right downtown and the airport and train station are within walking distance to the cruise terminal. For those driving to the ship, there is a secure long-term parking lot ($12 per day) just across the street from the dock.
Embarkation was one of the easiest we have ever experienced. We breezed through security and registration in about 20 minutes and were settled in the Ocean Bar by 11:30 AM. Within an hour our cabin was available and our luggage was ready to unpack.
This was the Ryndam's 485th voyage since Holland America put her into service in 1994. She is of a class of medium size cruise ships which include the Statendam, the Veendam and the Maasdam. Ryndam carries 1250 passengers with a crew of 600 and is rated at 55,500 gross tons. She cruises along at 17-19 knots with a top speed of 22 knots.
With two days at sea before our first port, Manzanillo, we had time to explore the ship and get acclimated. Since our last cruise aboard Ryndam, she had undergone an extensive upgrade through Holland America's "Signature of Excellence" program.
In our cabin we found all new high-quality soft goods, drapes, linens and bedding. A DVD player and a flat panel TV replaced the former CRT unit which had taken up too much shelf space.
There were extensive changes in the public areas of the ship. The biggest and most impressive change is the integrated Library, Internet Cafe and Coffee bar located on the Upper Promenade Deck. The library is the most extensive and up-to-date we have seen on any cruise ship.
Eleven hundred and thirty nautical miles from San Diego we entered the harbor of Manzanillo. Manzanillo is now the busiest commercial port in Mexico. There were quite a few container ships and bulk carriers all busy loading and unloading. Even with all this activity, the water was amazingly clear. We declined any of the ship's sponsored shore excursions and opted to hire a van and driver. This was fortunate for our driver, Hector Garcia, spoke perfect English and was knowledgeable and informative.
The highlights of our tour included the Cathedral of Saint Guadeloupe, the view from the Campos Lighthouse, the "Green Roller" surf at Cuyutlan and the resort area which included Las Hadas where the movie,"10" was filmed.
Nine o'clock the following morning we arrived at the Bay of Acapulco, one of the most beautiful harbors in the world. We docked at the Malec?n in the heart of Old Acapulco right next to Fort San Diego. Soon after we left the ship we found Louis Ramos Salmeron another English speaking tour guide who took us on a wonderful tour of the city.
We visited the Hotel Casablanca. It is one of the original hotels built in the early 30's and now in dire need of restoration. But, from its terrace, one has a magnificent view of the bay and our ship at the dock. A short distance from the Casablanca is "La Quebrada", the hundred foot cliffs where the famous Acapulco cliff divers performed for a huge crowd.
Driving to the other side of the bay along the Miguel Aleman boulevard ("La Costera"), we passed the tourist center of Acapulco with its discos, time-share condos, markets, boutiques and high-rise hotels. Continuing on we visited the Acapulco Princess Hotel, the famous Las Brisas resort and from above the Mexican Naval Base, another great view of the Bay.
By four PM we were back on the Ryndam relaxing in the theater lounge being entertained by a folkloric dance company. After dinner, the ship sponsored a Sail-Away Party on the aft deck that lasted through our 11 o'clock departure from port. In retrospect, this day in Acapulco was one of the highlights of this cruise.
Ryndam dropped her anchor just after dawn in the Bahia de Zihuatanejo. There are no docking facilities here, so we arrived at Zihuatanejo's municipal pier via the ship's tenders. Zihuatanejo (see-wha-tah-NA-ho) was just a sleepy fishing village a few years ago. But now along with its resort neighbor, Ixtapa (EEKS-tah-pah), there is a population approaching half a million. We were to be here only a few hours so we grabbed a cab to show us around.
On the surface, there doesn't seem to be much of interest in Zihuatanejo.. it has a central market place, small shops and a generally disorganized appearance. But four miles north on the coast, Ixtapa could be Beverly Hills with it's wide streets, manicured lawns, lavish hotels and a Robert Trent Jones golf course. Ixtapa looks to be a great place to spend a week's vacation relaxing on the beach.
All passengers were back aboard the ship when at one o'clock we commenced our voyage to Puerto Vallarta.
Hollywood discovered Puerto Vallarta in the 1960's and it's been a booming tourist city ever since. The entire 25 mile shoreline of Banderas Bay is developed or is being developed. We headed downtown for a stroll along the Malec?n where you can see some interesting statuary and sand art. On this day two other cruise ships were in town and it was crowded with tourists everywhere. There is an island on the Quale River which runs through Puerto Vallarta. It can be reached by stairways that lead down from the bridges which cross the river. A tree lined walkway extends about six blocks to the ocean. This is where you will discover the peaceful Puerto Vallarta. The island is uncrowded and has a good number of shops and two really nice restaurants. We recommend it highly. The ship remained in Puerto Vallarta until weighing anchor at 8:00PM. During the night we sailed the 180 nm to Mazatlan.
Thanksgiving morning we docked in Mazatlan. After clearing Mexican customs at 9:00 AM, most passengers were off the ship and into the tour busses, vans or Mazatlan's unique taxicabs. We chose the latter and were off to the Zona Dorada, the area that includes the high-rise tourist hotels, beaches, shopping and entertainment. After some refreshment at Senior Frog's we witnessed a performance by the Papantla Fliers. They are a company of five Totonac Indians, who attach themselves by rope at the top of a 60 foot pole and leap outward to begin a maypole-like rotation. The fifth man remains dancing on a tiny platform at the top while beating a drum and playing a flute. This is all an ancient ritual going back 1500 years. Quite impressive. About 5:30 PM Ryndam left Mazatlan. We enjoyed the sail-away party on the aft deck and looked forward to Cabo San Lucas the next day.
Los Cabos is the fastest growing of the Mexican Pacific resort areas. Cabo San Lucas sits at the western tip of the Baja Peninsula. On the Eastern tip, on the Sea of Cortez, is San Jose Del Cabo and in between the two cities there are 18 miles of of luxury hotels, condos, time-share communities and golf courses.
As there are no docking facilities for cruise ships in Cabo San Lucas, we dropped our seven-ton anchor in the outer harbor and passengers went ashore aboard Ryndam's four tenders. We spent some time in the Puerto Paraiso Shopping Mall, walked some back streets looking for knock-off purses and finally settled in at Margaritavilla, a convenient bar- restaurant where they serve huge margaritas. It was then time to catch the last tender back to the ship which was scheduled to leave at four o'clock. On the way back in the tender we passed a large number of charter fishing boats returning to Cabo accompanied by flocks of frigate birds and pelicans hoping for whatever leftovers the charters were willing to part with. Almost as soon as we left the harbor we caught sight of a gray whale spouting about a hundred yards off to the west of the ship. This was the only one we had seen on this cruise as the migration season had just begun.
The next day and night was spent at sea before returning to San Diego. It was a time to reflect on the previous nine days. All in all, the cruise had been excellent. The rough seas that sometimes occur particularly in the run between Cabo and San Diego never materialized. The weather was mild. The daytime port temperatures never rose above 87?.
This Mexican Riviera itinerary is quite competitive among the cruise lines so bargains are to be had. This is particularly true for those living within driving distance of San Diego as airfare is not a cost factor.
Of the 1250 passengers, 135 were children. Holland America's Club Hal kept them entertained and generally unobtrusive. Our cabin steward was responsive, friendly and attentive, and the bar service couldn't have been better. Tony, our dining room waiter really looked after us. The dinner courses were served in a timely manner and we were never rushed.