My Partner Greta and I are on a 48-day trip from San Diego around Cape Horn in South America, up to Rio. The first 34 days are on a Holland America ship, the Zaandam. After disembarking in Rio, we will stay at a beach house in Itamambuca Beach, 180 miles south of Rio along the Green Coast.
Holland America ship MS Zaandam at pier about 5 miles north of central Puerto Vallarta
The Zaandam departed San Diego on September 28, 2017. So far, we have visited Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. The seas have been pleasantly calm. However, the temperature in both cities was around 87 degrees and very humid. Going ashore meant carrying lots of bottled water and staying in the shade as much as possible.
In Cabo San Lucas, the ship anchored about a mile from the shore., which meant riding a ship life boat, called a tender, into the dock. This would happen in about six different ports.
Zaandam life boat called a tender takes passengers ashore in some ports
As a newspaper and newsletter columnist, the biggest challenge on ocean cruises is finding locations where the wi-fi is adequate and useable. Yes, there is satellite-driven wi-fi on the ship. But, it is sporadic and the reception is poor, and often not working. Sending photos or attachments is nearly impossible.
The cost of using the ship’s wi-fi is expensive. If you use it “as needed,” as the ship calls it, the cost is 76 cents per minute. But the problem is, it may take you 4-5 minutes to connect, and then again to disconnect. And you can lose the signal at any time. The shipboard wi-fi might become a last resort for me sometime during the cruise, especially in remote areas near Cape Horn and Antarctica.
The alternative is to find wi-fi locations in port. As sad as it sounds, you go ashore and look for a McDonald’s or Starbucks, which have free wi-fi. In Cabo San Lucas, the ship anchored offshore and passengers going ashore rode on the ship’s tenders, small boats that took you to the dock. I found a Starbucks a mile walk away in that incredible heat. The wi-fi signal was only so-so, but I did manage to get about an hour online.
Senor Frog's restaurants are all over Mexico, including this one in Cabo San Lucas
Senor Frog's restaurant in Cabo San Lucas
Cabo is known for its marlin fishing. This is the symbol of marlin fishing on a walkway in Cabo:
Cabo San Lucas is home to marlin fishing
Going ashore was different in Puerto Vallarta. The ship docked about five miles from the city center. I opted to ride a public bus into the city with the locals—at a cost of about 70 cents each way. The bus was hot as a blaze, and traveled all the way on cobblestone streets. There were no shock absorbers on the bus so my teeth got a good “chatter” work out.
After strolling around the old city for a while, and walking on the Malycon, I noticed this stunning statue
Stunning dancers statue on Malycon in Puerta Vallarta
I found a Starbucks near the cathedral. Not only was the wi-fi signal strong and instantaneous, the air conditioning was functioning perfectly. I got caught up on my Internet chores and enjoyed an ice-cold passion tea.
Puerto Vallarta Cathedral in the heart of the city. Mass was being celebrated
The bus ride back to the ship was about the same as coming into the city. On the downward side of a couple small hills, it seemed the bus had no brakes—it sounded like metal on metal. We hit several cobblestone street potholes. I kept telling myself, “This is part of the experience.” When the ship came into view, I was happy to get off the bus and walk the quarter mile back.
Where was Greta during the two shore excursions? Since we had been to Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta before, she opted to avoid the heat and stayed aboard, enjoying the air conditioning and the delicious food the ship provides.
In next week’s newsletter, I’ll share observations of shipboard life. There are about 1,600 passengers and 600 crew members aboard the Zaandam. And since the cruise originated in Vancouver, B.C., before stopping in San Diego, where we got on, there are lots of Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders on board. All of the passengers we’ve met have been friendly and wonderful.