During their recent conference in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, Holland America Line’s culinary team took time to give back to the local community. Holland America Line Vice President of Food and Beverage Frits Van Der Werff, Culinary Consultant and Master Chef Rudi Sodamin and several of the cruise line’s executive chefs spent hours making nearly 700 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for three children’s homes in Jalisco: Refugio Infantil Santa Esperanza, Casa Hogar and Fundación Corazón de Niña.
“Thank you so much for the beautiful sandwiches and your generosity,” said Melissa Leigh Canez, president, Fundación Corazón de Niña, A.C. “Our children thoroughly enjoyed the treat.”
The team delivered the sandwiches to the three children’s homes during lunchtime and enjoyed seeing the impact they had on the kids.
Going on vacation on a cruise ship is still a very popular choice for many travelers. Quite a few cruise ships make embarkations in Mexico on both coasts. This type of vacation combines the luxury of a floating resort with excitement of exploring a different culture with day excursions. There are some great shore excursions available for cruise guests that range from swimming with dolphins to exploring ancient Mayan ruins. But, what considerations should be made when deciding on whether to take a cruise ship to Mexico?
To begin with, as of January 1, 2008 all United States citizens will need to have a valid passport for any travel to an international destination, including Mexico. You will need to present your passport to your cruise ship when checking in. Whenever you disembark for a shore excursion in Mexico you will need to show your passport as well.
Staying healthy on a cruise ship has never been more important with the rash of food poisonings and disease outbreaks aboard several ships in recent years. Make sure you are in good health before you travel and ask your physician if you might need any preventative medication, especially if you are older than 65, have had acute or chronic illnesses, or are pregnant. Good sanitary practices, such as frequent hand washing and the use of antibacterial soap, will also help reduce the risk of illness. If you begin to feel ill, inform the medical staff on board right away and avoid contact with the general population to lessen the risk of spreading a disease.
Packing light and leaving valuables at home are advised. Anything that you can’t afford to lose would be best placed in an in-room safe. Avoid bringing large amounts of cash or more than a couple of credit cards. On the ship, you can have most purchases charged to your room and once on shore, most purchases can be done with Pesos acquired from a currency exchange. Also avoid using a handbag, fanny pack, or outside pockets for your currency. If you need a larger amount of money consider using a money belt.
When you go ashore you should ask questions of your ships tourist counselor about any unsafe areas of the port of call that you should avoid. They will have suggestions for what to avoid as well as where the more common tourist areas are located. Staying close to those confines will help to keep you safe.
There are so many choices of cruise ship companies, Mexican destinations, and shore excursions to choose from. Making that choice should be the hardest part of your vacation experience, while keeping these tips in mind will make the rest of it easier. Vacationing on a cruise ship combines a luxury hotel experience with ports of call that are hundreds of miles apart. Cruising can provide a safe and secure feeling of traveling in a guided fashion with the ability to range far a field and experience the culture and history of the country. Taking a cruise ship to Mexico can give you a very satisfying vacation experience.
We had a good day to day in Costa Maya, a day we shared with another 6000 guests coming from the Norwegian Jade and the Rhapsody of the Seas. All the 3 berths were full and we were once again on berth 3 which gives the shortest distance from gangway to the resort itself. On arrival there was little wind and that gave a head start as during the day the normal trade wind picked up under the influence of the sun. This wind builds up waves and those waves make the ship rock alongside the dock and if the ships movement becomes too much the ropes start breaking. If you arrive with very little wind, then the buildup of waves has to start from scratch and by the time you leave (for us at 15.00 hrs.) the waves are not that high yet and thus the ships are not moving so much yet. During our last call, there was a weather front coming through and the last 4 hours of our call the captain had to put the thrusters and Azipods on to glue the Oosterdam alongside and reduce the strain on the ropes. Today it was a lot better. Also the Oosterdam was half hidden behind the other two ships and that helped as well.
View from the shore side of Costa Maya Pier. The ms Oosterdam was docked where the ship is with the stern towards us. (Photo Courtesy, Costa Maya Tours)
I am always greatly concerned about breaking ropes, especially at the bow as they run under various angles to the bollards ashore. If they snap, they can whip over the dock. Hence the bow area is roped off and local security is very good in stopping guests, who cannot resist the urge to take a bow shot, from scooting under the ropes of the no-go area. For the aft ropes there is less of an issue as they are all under 90 angles. When those break, they break on the edge of the chock where they go inboard and then the the breaking force settles on the piece which is inboard and the outboard part falls in the water. Hence we can let guests walk on the pier along the ship to the resort.
Progresso. The cruise terminal is far out from the main land and a shuttle service is in place over this long bridge to an artificial island with the cruise terminal.
Although Costa Maya is an artificial port, conceived and built purely for cruise ship tourism, its location makes sense from a strategic point of view. There is nothing else in the area. The next three cruise ship ports, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen and Progresso are more than a 100 miles to the north. Cozumel is often full, Progresso has a long channel in and a very long pier to walk over as the area is shallow. Playa Del Carmen suffers from wind and current. It is not really Playa del Carmen itself but Calica a few miles to the south. Calica means gravel pit and that is what it is, a bulk carrier port for exporting gravel. Long ago they built a small cruise terminal and cruise ship dock there but it really only works for small cruise ships with a lot of maneuvering power. When you go in you have the Gulf Stream full on the beam and thus it can be difficult to steer exactly right into the entrance. The current is strong, the entrance is small and the shallows are nearby. Then the moment you are inside you have to make a 90o turn to starboard to the dock and the moment you do that, you get the Trade Wind full on the beam, which sets you towards the dock. The smaller the ship, the more room you have. Carnival tried it for a while and had planned to improve the place but at the moment there is no large cruise ship scheduled there at least until 2018.
Playa Del Carmen itself has a small pier for ferries and Holland America used to stop here in the 1990’s. We then landed our tour people with a local ferry as a quick way for the tours to go Chichen Itza as from there it is about an hour with the bus inland. This local ferry then also brought them back in the evening while the ship was docked in Cozumel. Keeping the ship in position off Playa while the local ferry lay alongside was not easy due to the current and the return trip with this ferry could be really fun and games. If the wind was from the north and thus blowing against the Gulf Stream, then the whole sea surface changed into a sort of washing machine and the returning guests would have to endure a 45 minute real roller coaster ride……… with the expected results………… Thus we gave up on that and as we hardly go to Cozumel anymore other Maya destinations such as Tikal have been introduced.
We sailed at 15.00 hrs. and around 8 pm. tonight we will pass the island of Cozumel on our portside. Normally we can just see the lights at the horizon. Tomorrow is our last sea day while the ship heads for its final port on the cruise, our home port of Tampa. Weather looks quite good, there is a frontal system moving over Cuba, but I think we will be far to the north before it reaches the Yucatan Channel.
Costa Maya is an artificial place, a resort created out of nothing. They basically picked a spot where they could build a T pier into deep water and then attached a resort to it. The T pier can take three big ships and the resort can handle the amount of about 7000 to 8000 guests as well. However two ships give everybody a little bit more space and that worked out today. In port with us was the Norwegian Jade which has about 2400 guests in lower berth capacity but a lot of quad cabins and is thus a real family ship. So I guess we had around 4500 guests hopping or lazing around in the port.
The Norwegian Jade at the side pier with the inner berth empty. A long walk for the guests.
For the captains it is a nice day if it has nice weather. The dock is fully exposed to the elements and tends to catch the full brunt of hurricanes which are coming up to the Yucatan coast or the winter depressions coming down the Yucatan coast. It is not fully winter yet so we are in between and we can get a bit of both. Otto is still churning away in the south and if he is not going ashore in Nicaragua there is a fair chance he will have a look at Costa Maya. Mayhem from the north we had today already. Coming down from the Gulf of Mexico was a frontal system with rain and strong winds. I had sort of calculated that it would reach Costa Maya just around sailing time but by noon time the wind was already building up and rain showers were gathering. The Captain had to put the bow thrusters and one of the pods on to release the strain on the mooring ropes. By the 14.30 we were up to wind force 7 and more power had to be put on line. Nothing dangerous for the ship, just unpleasant.
The one danger which is always present here is the swell. This morning it was nice and quiet but with the arrival of the tail of a frontal system laying over the Gulf, the wind started to whip up the waves. Then we have a problem with the dock as it is not a solid dock but built on pillars. Thus the waves can sweep freely under it, hit the ship (which will then go up and down) roll passed the ship, hit the shore and come back. The ship moves on the waves and pulls at the ropes. Too much pull and the ropes break. At the same time the wind is pushing the ship off the dock as well and that makes the ropes go –ping- even faster. Hence the decision of the Captain to put the machinery on to reduce the strain on the ropes.
If the pier walk is too long then you can catch a ride on this contraption. It is called the “all on board” road train and it runs continiously up and down the main pier.
We had all hoped for a speedy departure but then we heard that the tours were running late. Murphy has been very quiet lately but today he was back in play again. On the day you want to leave before time to have a good head start for Tampa, there are delays on the road and you have to wait for delayed coaches. Thus it was past 3 pm. before all were back on board. I was on the forward mooring deck, teaching a new 3rd officer “ the ropes” and he had a good start as singling up (releasing lines) with ropes under strain can be very dangerous if not done calmly and in good coordination. So Murphy was my friend here as it was a good situation for working on the need of having eyes in the back of your head. You need to keep an eye on the linesmen ashore, you need keep an eye on the ropes on board, you need to keep an eye on the sailors handling the ropes and you need to keep an eye on the winch operators. That is eyes for outboard and eyes for inboard so at least looking in 4 different directions at the same time. Most people do not have four eyes and certainly not in the back of their head so it is a skill that you have to develop.
This was the last port of call on this seven day cruise. Tomorrow we have a sea day and then we are back in Tampa. Out next cruise is a 14 day one, going clockwise around the Caribbean. That will take us away from the area where Otto is going to play, and by the time we get to that area in about 10 days, he should have moved on or petered out.
Otto now almost looks like a hurricane from above but where we are going it looks fairly clear apart from the frontal system (those white bands) moving west.
Depending on how fast our current weather system moves to the West, we could either have a windy and rainy day tomorrow or a quiet day with just grey weather and very little wind. Hard to predict as the ship goes one way with a steady speed of 18 knots and the system goes the other way with a lot less of a steady speed.
In the meantime Otto is making the weather guru’s life not easy as it keeps changing its mind.
Otto to bring life threatening flash flooding to parts of Central America
11/23/2016 6:32:43 PM
Otto weakened to a tropical storm early Wednesday morning and has shown no intensification to this point with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph. Despite this slight weakening, Otto will remain over an area of warm waters and in an environment of low wind shear. This could allow Otto to regain minimal hurricane strength again before landfall. Otto will drift to the west toward Nicaragua and Costa Rica into Thursday.
Whether Otto is a strong tropical storm or minimal hurricane will make little difference in the overall impacts. Otto will bring heavy rainfall over parts of Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama during the next couple days. There is the potential for flash flooding and mudslides, especially in the higher terrain of these Central America countries. Some of the heavier rainfall will impact parts of southern Honduras. The orientation of the mountainous terrain and the orientation of the winds around Otto will limit the amount of rainfall over El Salvador.
We arrived just after 06.00 with a spectacular sun rise behind us. The weather turned out as expected the only thing which we had not hoped for was that all the fishing boats were assembling just outside the port, to go for a fishing derby. The mother ship was calling out the numbers who had checked in and by the time we drifted by, heading towards the anchorage, the count was up to 139 and still going up. Although the authorities were doing their best to keep all the boats together it was a hopeless challenge and the Veendam had to go very slow, to avoid them all. As was expected and as did happen, there were a few of course who wanted to get out of the way but did so by crossing our bow. At for them a safe distance, but for those on the bridge quite scary as the dead angle of view is 45 meters and most fishing boats consider 20 meters more than enough.
The ship had to carefully navigate its way through quite a few of those.
The good thing about it was that the fishing competition emptied out the harbor and that gave more room for our tenders to get in and out. So we dropped the hook and just before 07.00 hrs. we were in full swing. Full swing is a big word; we were trying to swing, as apart from the guests on tours nobody was in a hurry to go ashore. My prediction of yesterday that a lot of guests were not going ashore at all came through as it remained quiet. By 10.00 hrs. the Cruise Director gave up all hope of enticing people to collect a tender ticket and then it was a free for all. Which exactly generated one more tender full of guests. No more than half of all on board decided to have a look at Cabo San Lucas.
Not that the captain minded, it also meant that everybody was back on board on time and the ship could leave the anchorage at 14.00 hrs. It is a tight run up to San Diego and there is the additional challenge of sailing around the South point of the Baja California, with is Sunday sailors, sightseeing boats (whales) and fishermen. That can cost considerable time. Then the ship will try to arrive early in San Diego as we are coming from a non USA port and thus everybody has to go to immigration. An early start is helpful here, especially to get all the pre paper work done.
View from the tender. The port of Cabo San Lucas. This is after most boats went fishing.
In the meantime the four ships tenders kept up the shuttle service with the trainee tender operators running the tenders when empty. Today was a big day as they had to perform under the watchful eye of the officers on the bridge and at the gangway. Tonight they will receive their certificate and on the Eastbound Trans canal they will get a few more tests and then they can be put to work when needed.
Apart from keeping my eye on the trainees, my day was filled with crises management training. When I am on a ship I try to grab the chance and give the Stairway Guides a bit of in-depth training in regards how to handle, obstinate, fearful, obnoxious, scared and panicky Guests in an emergency. We have a few tricks for that, but to get it across some acting is needed and the officers who are normally giving the training are not always comfortable of acting like a fool and getting the rest to act like fools as well. I have no such problems and then the crew is more willing to join in as soon as they see that I am willing to drop my five stripes. And thus we had small far eastern ladies contemplating how to handle big and brawny guests. If it really would happen then the results will be quite scary for those big and brawny guests………..
Tomorrow is the last day of the cruise and most guests will be packing although there are a few who will return with the ship to San Diego. I met one family who joined in Montreal, stayed all the way through, will visit friends in San Diego and then sail back to Florida to spend the winter season there. Not a bad way of living if you have the time to do so.
Tomorrow should be another nice day, with similar weather as today, and as today was nearly cloudless we might have a spectacular sun set tonight.