Bob & Gaye Lee
Age: 60 to 70
Number of Cruises: 25+
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: April 30th, 2002
Itinerary: Panama Canal
Some brief thoughts about the ports. HAL's Half Moon Cay is a delightful spot. The water is gorgeous and because we were the only ship there that day (and a lot of the older folks didn't want to come out in the sun) there was never a crowded feeling. HAL offers a lot of activities there – at a price, of course – but just lazing in a hammock and taking occasional dips in that incredibly clear blue 78-degree water is priceless.
Cartagena is a rather pretty city but the street merchants are the most overwhelming we have ever encountered. They surround you everywhere you go and never accept defeat. Most coaches would love to have them on their team, but sometimes – even when you're walking in a tour group – there are so many vendors around you that you can't even see the sights. Also Cartagena is very hot! In early May we were the last ship scheduled in for the season. We could see why.
On the Pacific Coast of Guatemala, whatever you decide to do in Puerto Quetzal, either stay on the ship or get out of town. This is a commercial port and there is no place near the ship for strolling. We took an excursion up into the mountains to a volcano-edged lake. We were disappointed in that the dirty, smoggy air had us trying to view what we feel sure was some pretty spectacular scenery through a thick blanket of haze. All in all, though, it was an interesting trip enhanced by one of the best tour guides we have ever experienced, a middle-aged man of Mayan extraction with a true passion for his country that was nicely balanced by a wonderful sense of humor.
Further up the coast, the port of Santa Cruz Huatulco is Mexico's newest endeavor to create a tourist attraction. The setting is spectacular with nine interconnected bays but development is in its early stages and there just isn't much there yet. Inland is desert – real desert and one of Mexico's poorest areas. You don't want to go there. A water trip around the various bays with views of the aquatic life would seem like the best bet for an excursion here.
Acapulco, of course, is the place that started it all on the Mexican West Coast and definitely shows its age. One thing we decided was that we would have to see the cliff divers. We passed on the many ships tours being offered, and took a cab. The diving site was not far away and we arrived about an hour early. There is a long winding staircase down to the best viewing spot. The charge for going down there was $2 and they threw in a certificate for a free soft drink or beer. (On board the ship we'd have made a buck and half profit on that deal!) We really enjoyed the experience including a long chat with a local fellow who had spent fifteen years driving a cab in Brooklyn. There were moments while climbing back up that staircase after the show was over when Bob wondered if he was going to have call for a medevac helicopter. Eventually he made it the top to join the patiently waiting Gaye and vowing for the thousandth time that he would lose that extra twenty-five pounds he's lugging around. This, however, didn't seem to curb his appetite at dinner that night.
Our final port to visit was Cabo San Lucas, a fun place that we don't need to say much about. We did opt for something a little different there though: a sea kayak excursion. We joined three other couples and led by our grizzled American guide, we paddled our two-man kayaks out to the arches and back, stopping at a beach along the way to do some snorkeling. It was fun and once again we didn't have to call a medevac for Bob.
Amsterdam had several excellent lecturers on board. One filled in the historical details that related to our journey, while a second gave a series of illustrated talks regarding the big-band era. A group of Seattle musicians led by trumpeter Fred Radke played Harry James music almost every day and we got to brush up on the old swing dancing. Bob cuts a mean rug!
Even under Carnival ownership, Holland America has retained its special flavor, but we wondered this time if we were beginning to see signs of changes. Or maybe we are just seeing industry-wide changes. Certainly the times they are changing and the philosophy of the cruising world seems to have become "Get 'em on board at any cost and then we'll start plucking 'em!" The average passenger is finding his on-board bill at the end of the cruise greater than he what he paid for the cruise in the first place. "Hey, didn't my travel agent tell me this was an all inclusive price?"
It kind of reminds us of the car salesman after we've agreed on a purchase price: "And, sir, would you be wanting a steering wheel to go with that?"
You don't have to buy the pictures they take of you, but if you do, they start at $12 and go up. If you go to the Internet café you'll be charged between 50 cents and a dollar per minute. A domestic beer is $3.50, a standard drink $4.50 and they'll fix you a martini for $8. Remember when drinks on cruises and in Las Vegas were a good deal? At the spa, exercise classes have long been free but we were told that the cruise line is working out "exercise packages" that you will be able to buy. And they're real nice to you in the casino. You can charge up to $1000 a day of your gambling debt to your cabin bill.
And finally, there is Holland America's strange "tipping is not required" policy. It's a policy that's always puzzled us. They're very proud of this. They talk about it all the time. But, bottom line, they really do expect you to tip. Isn't that a bit hypocritical?
So this wasn't the most exciting cruise we've ever taken, but we did decide that in the Amsterdam HAL has come up with another damn fine ship. Will we sail again on Holland America? You bet! We can hardly wait!