Nina Hazard Baldwin
Number of Cruises: 4
Cruise Line: Cruise West
Ship: Spirit of Endeavour
Sailing Date: March 22nd, 2003
Itinerary: Baja California
We were part of a group on the
Baja Whales and Wildlife trip on the Cruise West Spirit of Endeavour from March
22-29, 2003. Our group consisted of friends and family of Ann Hazard, Baja
author and travel writer. We had seasoned cruisers (Windstar, Holland America,
Seaborne, etc.) and first timers in our group and ranged in age from late
forties to over eighty years old. For all of us, it was our first time sailing
with Cruise West and we were excited to experience small ship cruising.
Cruise West is a family-owned company and has an energetic, knowledgeable American crew. They are environmentally-sensitive and eager to share the wonders of the areas visited with their guests. Compared to the larger cruise ships, the focus of the cruise is on what is outside of the ship. You will not find Vegas-style shows, casinos, art auctions, fitness centers or spas on the ships. Our entertainment consisted of a game show put on by the crew, interpretative lectures from exploration leaders and a slide show of our week on our last night. Instead of going to n onbard health club, we of hiked, snorkeled and kayaked. This cruise is geared for people who want to experience the wildlife, culture and natural beauty of an area. It’s a photographer’s paradise. Small ships are able to go places where the larger ships cannot go. Itineraries are flexible to take advantage of wildlife viewing opportunities.
The Spirit of Endeavour accommodates 102 guests and is 217 feet in length. It can cruise at a speed of up to 13 knots and, has a main deck, lounge deck, upper deck, a bridge and sun deck. There are four categories of staterooms, all with wide picture windows or portholes. The lounge area has ample seating, large windows a bar and a book and video library for guests. The dining room is casually elegant and also features large windows so you can always see what is going on outside of the ship. We were able to view whales during several meals.The sun deck has both shaded and open areas with plenty of deck chair and chaise lounges.
My husband, father and I left San Diego a day before the cruise on Friday March 21, 2003 and flew into the Los Cabos airport. Our add-on hotel stay was at the Posada Real, one of the hotels offered by Cruise West. We were promptly met by a Contactours representative and boarded a shuttle bus to the Posada Real hotel in San Jose del Cabo. The three-story hotel is situated on the main beach in San Jose and was recently renovated. The hotel is quiet for the Los Cabos area and is suited for families or couples who want to be away from the Cabo party scene. The hotel is spotless with a Jacuzzi and a pool with a swim-up bar and restaurant that is open for lunch and afternoon snacks. The rooms are decorated with a Mexican motif, have cable TV and patios or balconies. The hotel staff was courteous and efficient. We ate breakfast and lunch at the hotel and thought the food and service were good. The Posada Real Hotel was also used as a check-in location for Cruise West and passengers who arrived at Los Cabos early on Saturday were shuttled to the hotel to relax before the 2:30pm bus departure for La Paz where we would board the Spirit of Endeavour. The check-in procedure was quick and we were given our name tags prior to leaving the hotel.
Our bus left the Posada Real hotel promptly at 2:30pm. The trip to La Paz would take a little over three hours passing through San Jose del Cabo and Todos Santos. It was a beautiful but long ride and the Contactours representative narrated the trip and provided information on the areas we passed. We arrived at the La Paz pier around 5:30pm. We were greeted by the Spirit of Endeavour crew and were directed to the lounge on the ship for a brief orientation while our bags were delivered to our cabins. They served refreshments and snacks. In less than a half hour we were escorted to our cabins.
The staterooms on the Spirit of Endeavour were smaller than those on many of the larger ships but they are comfortable and efficient. Our cabin had a large picture window that was great for viewing the stars at night, sunrises and wildlife and also offered us privacy. Our cabin had a queen bed, TV with VCR, closet with drawers, small desk, chair and a bathroom with shower. Each cabin had two pairs of binoculars for viewing the wildlife. Our cabins were cleaned every morning and each evening we received candy with a newsletter containing the following day’s itinerary.
After a safety drill and additional orientation from Captain Dave, we went down to the dining room for dinner. We were scheduled to depart at 7:30pm but left a little later as several flights were delayed and we waited for them to arrive. Halfway through dinner the Spirit of Endeavour departed from La Paz.
The meals on the Spirit of Endeavour were excellent. Each morning they had a continental breakfast in the lounge a cooked to order breakfast in the dining room where you could choose from a selection of quiche of the day, omelets, French toast, pancakes, eggs cooked to order and more. For lunch, you can choose from a selection of daily specials like fish tacos, chicken enchiladas, Cobb salad, seafood salad, hamburgers, hot dogs and lasagna. One day each week they have a barbeque on the Sun Deck which was our favorite with a choice of ribs, mahi mahi, hamburgers, hot dogs, salads and all of the condiments. Each night before dinner, the Chef presented the dinner menu in the Lounge. The dinner menu offered soup, salad, freshly baked bread of the day, dessert and a choice of at least six entrées like oven roasted grouper with fresh tomato coulis, tortellini with sun-dried tomato cream, chile relleno, local snapper with cashew cream sauce, prawns in scampi sauce, prime rib of beef au jus, New York steak, chicken breast and veal loin chops with mushrooms and sage. Seating was open so you could sit anywhere and eat with anyone you wanted. The CSR’s that served you in the dining room were friendly, fun and attentive.
Our morning of our second day, we were anchored in Bonanza Bay off of Isla Ispiritu Santo. After breakfast you could sign up for kayak tours or hikes that were offered throughout the day. The hikes and kayak trips were led by onboard Exploration Leaders. You could snorkel right off the beach on the island and observe coral and many species of tropical fish. Snorkeling gear and wetsuits were available for use at no charge and were in excellent condition. The Demaree inflatable boats (DIBs) shuttled passengers to the beach and back to the Spirit of Endeavour. The crew had the beach set-up with beach chairs, snacks, drinks and the kayaks. You could be as active as you wanted on this two and a half mile stretch of deserted beach or just sit in your chair with a good book and enjoy the scenery. We went snorkeling in the morning and signed up for one of the kayak tours after lunch. I really enjoyed the kayaking as it was inspiring to see the pristine island, crystal clear water, pelicans diving and fish swimming below us.
The third day we spent the morning searching for whales and wildlife and followed a school of over 500 dolphin while they put on a great show for us. One thing unique about to Cruise West is they are flexible and may change their itinerary during the week based on weather or wildlife sighting. The Captain decided that we would visit Los Islotes this afternoon instead of later in the week as the sea was calm with very little wind. Those that wanted to snorkel with the sea lions at the sea lion colony on Los Islotes attended a brief orientation and signed up for a snorkel trip. DIB tours of Los Islotes and the sea caves were also available by sign-up. Five members of our group went snorkeling with the sea lions and had a blast watching them swim around us.
We spent the morning of the fourth day whale watching in the morning and saw blue whales. There was an onboard whale expert that gave a narration on the whales that we observed. It was a special experience to be able to observe these gentle giants up close. The Spirit of Endeavour always kept a safe distance from the whales but it was amazing how maneuverable the ship was in following them. This afternoon, the ship anchored several hundred yards off of Isla Coronado near Loreto. The DIBs shuttled passengers back and forth to the beach. Another island hike was led by two of the Exploration Leaders. You could snorkel in the clear aquamarine water or just enjoy sitting on another beautiful deserted beach. The crew brought over drinks and snacks. They even had a cooler filled with beer that you could charge to your shipboard account.
On the fifth day we visited the quiet seaside town of Loreto. Loreto is famous for the Mission Nuestra Senora del Loreto founded in 1697. The included shore trips consisted of a tour of the mission and museum that was offered in the morning and a wine and cheese reception in the courtyard of the mission in the late afternoon. You could book optional shore excursions for an additional cost like the San Javier Mission tours, Loreto sports fishing or a Ceviche by the Sea cooking class. We went on the complimentary Mission tour in the morning and spent some time shopping and exploring the quaint little town that seemed like it was from another era. We returned to the ship for lunch. Due to the wind and choppy seas, the Captain decided to move the ship to the picturesque Puerto Escondido about a half an hour away. We were treated to more blue and humpback whales while we cruised to Puerto Escondido. A bus picked us up later that afternoon for the ride back to Loreto for the wine and cheese reception at the Mission. We enjoyed local wine and goat cheese from Baja California while entertained by a local singer and guitar player. We returned to the ship before sunset and the Captain decided to treat us to a sunset whale watching cruise around the islands near Puerto Escondidoas there were many whale sightings in the area. What a show—there were whales everywhere. You’d look to the port side and you could see three spouts at once and then look to the starboard side and you could see even more whales. The whales were so close to the ship that you could hear them as they breached. It was an experience I won’t ever forget.
At 6:15am on the sixth day, I awoke to hearing Tracey, one of the Exploration Leaders announce that they had just spotted Orcas. I threw on my clothes, grabbed my binoculars and ran out to the front observation deck. This was the first time that I had ever seen Orca whales outside of Sea World and I was thrilled. We observed several pods of Orcas in the early morning hours. We went down to breakfast in the dining room and could still observe the Orcas while we were eating breakfast. One Orca was so close to the side of the ship and outside our window that I almost thought that he might join us for breakfast. Later that morning, we anchored off Isla San Francisco for our last beach day. There were sign-ups for snorkeling, hikes and kayaking. We enjoyed another kayak tour but decided to pass on the snorkeling tour as there were jellyfish in the water. Right before lunch my brother in law lost his wedding ring in the sand. One of the crew members radioed to the ship to send over some strainers from the kitchen to help sift through the sand to look for the ring. We went back to the ship for lunch. However, some of the crew members stayed on the island to look for the ring and found Terry’s ring while we were eating lunch. This was a great example how the Cruise West staff consistently went the extra mile to take care of their guests. Our last afternoon was spent on the beach at the island enjoying our last afternoon in paradise. The Captain’s dinner was held this night instead of on the last night so passengers could enjoy the nightlife of La Paz..
On the morning of the seventh day we cruised into the La Paz harbor and docked at the La Paz pier. You could spend the day on your own exploring La Paz or take a shore excursion. The shore excursions offered for additional cost were the La Paz City Artesian tour, a nature lovers kayaking tour, El Serpentario reptile center tour, a desert mountain biking tour, scuba diving. Three of our group went on the Artesian tour and visited a traditional weaving factory, a designer pottery factory, the marketplace and the La Paz Cathedral. It was a great tour and a good value for only $29 per person. There was a traditional Mexican fiesta before dinner for all of the guests at the Governor’s mansion on the bay about twenty minutes out of town. They had a buffet of Mexican appetizers like taquitos, tostadas, guacamole, salsa and chips with beer or margaritas. A local folklorico group performed at sunset. The last evening after dinner Captain Dave gave an entertaining PowerPoint slide show highlighting our week with background music by Jimmy Buffet. The slide show was available to purchase for a $10 donation to the La Paz Orphanage.
Disembarkation began at 8am on our last morning and was well-organized. We were sad to leave the ship. Instead of being a passenger on a cruise ship we felt like we had been privileged guests on a private yacht or spending a week with a large group of friends. Everyone in our group had a great time and felt overall that the cruise exceeded our expectations. The American staff was outstanding and consistently went out of their way to make sure that everyone had a memorable week. We wanted to adopt Shanda, our CSR. The Exploration Leaders and whale expert for the week were knowledgeable, fun and eager to assist you. They were also very safety conscious on board and with every activity. There were plenty of choices for activities but not enough time to do everything.
I felt that Cruise West is accurate in how they position their cruises and what they offered on the trip. Their cruises are more expensive than many of the larger cruise ships but I believe that it is a good value. You experience unique destinations with far fewer passengers. Plus you never have to wait in line or feel crowded. There is at least one shore trip included at each port and all of the DIB tours, snorkeling, hiking, kayaking and equipment is included in the cruise price. This cruise is geared to people who are interested in nature and learning about the areas visited. This cruise is not for people who want all of the bells and whistles of a larger ship. The shipboard entertainment, dining and activities are limited as the cruise focuses on what is out side of the ship. The long bus ride from the Los Cabos airport to La Paz was the low point of the trip and I would recommend flying into La Paz if possible. I will definitely take another Cruise West cruise.