Mexico--Our cruise to the Mexican Riviera was a rewarding adventure

.. By Joe Hilbers

My choice of a Mexican Riviera cruise proved to be an excellent one. We were aboard the Holland American ship Oosterdam as part of an International Food, Wine and Travel Writers conference. At sea our mornings were filled with an agenda pertaining to aspects of travel writing and publishing as well as culinary exhibitions by well known Chef and Radio PersonalityMario Martinoli.

Afternoons we were free to explore and take part in Ship planned activities. We always walked our mile on the Promenade deck which was exactly three complete circles of the Oosterdam. One day we did High Tea while listening to the very talented Adagio Strings Quartet. We were much taken with the artistry of these young musicians and enjoyed some of their evening performances as well. Personally we always feel an obligation to help the Captain get the ship in and out of Port. So getting the Oosterdam to anchor in Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas always found us on the Observation Deck. This had the additional responsibility of looking for whales. And in this we were successful four times. Regretfully we could not find the courage to shout "Thar she blows.".

We found the culinary excellence of the Oosterdam outstanding, the competence and courtesy of the staff something to remember. One the first night at Vista, the main dining room, the men at the front desk learned my name and every night thereafter addressed me by name. Remarkable when the passenger list on the ship was 2,000.

Dress code for the Vista was smart casual but many aboard appeared to forget the smart. Two evenings Vista dining was formal meaning at least a jacket for the men. This Writer dusted off the Tux and brought it along. We especially liked the policy of open seating on the Oosterdam.

One day we were given a kitchen tour by Head Steward Harry Simarisea who has been with Holland American for 35 years. We can't image the number of miles he has logged in all those years. The kitchen is huge in gleaming stainless steel from floor and ceiling. The amount of food and beverages consumed on a seven day voyage for 2,000 guests and 800 crewmen is astounding. We were given the list and we will report only the 11,800 pounds of meat products and 137,000 pounds of fresh vegetables.

A Green Ship

Saving the ocean environment is taken to extreme lengths with all food scrapes, peelings and waste paper burned in a on-ship incinerator and the ash returned to a San Diego landfill. Plastics and other nonburnable refuse is bundled and returned to shore for recycling. We had the opportunity to chat with Executive Chef Orly Obierina who has 21 years experience. Computer screens in the kitchen record the number of each entree available and those already served.

One evening we visited the Pinnacle Grill, the premier dining room on the ship. There is an extra charge for the Pinnacle Grill and reservations are a must. Each evening a different menu is featured.

This proved to be a dining experience comparable to the best restaurants in Southern California. Women well dressed, most men in ties and jackets all created an atmosphere to match the elegant decor and gleaming china and glassware.

Our dinner opened with a lobster bisque which we considered memorable. One at our table selected a large prawn cocktail. Entrees included a porterhouse steak, Turf and Surf with steak and grilled shrimp and a perfectly prepared filet mignon. Sides included scalloped potatoes, asparagus and creamed spinach. Our desserts included a strawberry topped chocolate bread pudding as well as baked Alaska and souffles.

Two evenings we attended theatre performances, one evening a talented group of dancers set in a tropical theme, the other evening a Comedian. We love piano bars but somehow never found the time to lounge in the one on the ship. We did enjoy a musical group of seven musicians plus woman vocalist who performed everything from popular standards to rock and roll.

Our cabin was all we desired including a large window, desk, sofa, TV and queen bed. However except for sleeping we seemed to have little time to use it. We were invited and attended three special events giving us the opportunity to meet Captain Arjen Van Der Loo, Hotel Manager Douglas Hernandez and Monica Gragg, Event Manager and other officers of the Ship. These discussions demonstrated the teamwook required to operate an 84,000 ton vessel with 800 crewmen and 2,000 passengers.

Fair Weather

Our days at sea were blessed with cool days, often with enough wind to show an ocean of whitecaps but relatively calm seas. Not particularly a good sailor I never had need for a seasick remedy. We experienced only one short rain squall and most of the time enjoyed sweeping views of sky and water. Cloud formations often produced wonderful dawns and sunsets. And in our usual haunts on the Observation Decks we were on hand to experience both. Early January was the time of our cruise and it offered mild weather both at sea and ashore. Warm sunny days greeted us at all three ports of call, comfortable for our many landfall activities.

We lost count of the number of bars and lounges on the ship but found the prices for cocktails and wine quite modest. Certainly much less than at a comparable hotel or restaurant in Southern California. Also the fact that if you wandered into a lounge sorely for the entertainment no one of the service staff asked more than once if you wanted something from the bar.

For me one of the highlights of the cruise was an invitation by Captain Van Der Loo to tour the bridge. Here the Captain turned us over to Watch Officer Keith Falconer with the reminder to look at will but not to push any buttons.

The huge amount of electronic gear was explained to us and we watched as the radar showed the approach of two other ships. First specks on the horizon they closed to reveal a fishing boat on our portside and a freighter, bright in the sunlight to Starboard.

A second Watch Officer explained that on this sunny afternoon we had an horizon of 20 miles with calm seas. Then on the chart showed our current position which was 60 miles off the coast of Baja at Magdalena Bay and that we were currently cruising at 19 knots. Needless to say

This visit to the bridge was a dream come true for me.

Stories on the three ports of call, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas will all be duly reported in Vittles in upcoming issues by either the Editor or staff writers James Woodin and Jeanne Bartlett who were also attending the IFW & TWA conference.

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Last Update:3/10/09

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