and I took a Princess Cruise to New Zealand and Australia
in early 2002. We loved both countries and had a wonderful
time when we were on shore but the cruise ship was a
disappointment. We decided we were finished with “Cruising”
planned two trips for 2003. The first was a river trip
in France ultimately cancelled because of the “Hostilities.”
We weren’t afraid to go to France, (you’re
probably safer in Paris than you are in L. A.), we were
just angry with the French and decided we’d rather
spend our money in more friendly countries.
other planned trip was a short cruise to Mexico. OK,
so we were “cruised out” after last year,
but a group of Rotarians headed by our friends Gregg
and Laura Freedman had booked a one week cruise to the
Mexican Riviera on the Crystal Harmony. It was scheduled
to start exactly one week after Patricia’s big
“Bash” of the year, the Friends of the Sierra
Madre Library annual Wine Tasting she has chaired the
last two years. She needed the rest and so did I. Also,
we had heard the Crystal Harmony was a “cut above”
ordinary ships and we wanted to see if it was worth
the extra bucks. It was.
SHIPMATES Laura is a Past-President of the Arcadia Rotary
Club while Gregg was President of the Sierra Madre Rotary
Club when it was founded six years ago. From the Arcadia
Club came Dong and Betty Chang, John and June Fee, Rich
and Gayla Hutton, Ernie and Gail Jensen, Gil and Carol
Stromsoe, plus Larry and Patti Webber. The Sierra Madre
contingent consisted of Steve and Marge Garrett, George
and Susie Sladoje along with your humble correspondent
and wife Patricia.
Patricia and I have been on many cruise ships on several
different cruise lines. We’ve sailed on Princess,
Holland America and Sitmar, among others. Like the airlines,
the cruise lines have begun to offer deep discounts
in order to fill up their ships. Also, like the airlines,
service has begun to decline in almost direct proportion
to the size of the discounts being offered. Beware the
“Two for one.”
we took our first cruise on the Crown Odyssey in 1992
we were impressed. The food was terrific. If you didn’t
like what they were serving they’d whip up something
special for you. The stewards and dining room waiters
were all Italians and Greeks who spoke excellent English
and catered to your slightest whim.
the next few cruises we noticed those European waiters
were replaced with Indonesians and other Pacific Islanders
who seldom spoke English well enough to understand what
you were talking about.
You might say to your waiter, “I’d like
the Pasta with just a little tomato sauce instead of
that Alfredo sauce you have on the menu.”
times out of ten you would subsequently receive a big
plate of Fettuccini with lots of Alfredo sauce. Then
your smiling waiter would deliver a dish of sliced tomatoes
on the side, nodding in self-satisfaction.
over the last few cruises we’ve noticed these
Pacific Islanders are being replaced with Eastern Europeans
– Poles, Hungarians, Serbs, Slovaks, etc. Their
command of English is much better, because most of them
had to study the language in school, but still the service
wasn’t up to par because there were too few of
them to serve the large number of passengers.
GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR” This is what my father would
say to his restaurant patrons. His complaint concerned
the McDonald’s down the street, which was serving
a 19-cent hamburger while Michener’s Drive Inn,
which my Dad owned and operated, was charging a half
a buck. (He was right; by the way, his Burger was far
the high-end cruise lines, such as Crystal, you still
get superior service, but you’re going to pay
CRYSTAL HARMONY IS DIFFERENT: There are only 900 or
so passengers in the about the same square footage that
would accommodate 1,800 folks on a Princess ship. Some
of the extra square footage is devoted to more shopping
“opportunities” and many more dining possibilities.
In addition to the Main Dining Room and the ever-present
Lido Buffet, there are two specialty restaurants –
one Italian and one Japanese.
space is also devoted to crew quarters, as there is
a crewmember for every two passengers. This pretty much
guarantees great service. There’s the usual spa
and workout room, pool and jacuzzi, shuffleboard courts,
etc. But, there are a few special amenities as well.
Each stateroom is equipped with a VCR and videotapes
are available free in the library. There is also a “Computer
University at Sea” where you can use computers
to pick up your home e-mail and surf the net, for a
fee of course. Classes are offered – the most
popular being those devoted to understanding Digital
Casino is operated by Caesar’s Palace (Park Place
Gaming) and it shows. The dealers rotate to the ship
from their regular duties in New Jersey, Las Vegas or
the Mississippi Gulf Coast. They seem friendlier and
more skilled than their counterparts on other ships.
there are fewer passengers and more crewmembers you
are hardly ever wasting your time standing in a line.
No wonder Crystal has the highest rate of return customers.
More than half the passengers on this cruise had been
on the ship at least once before.
JITTERS: The war in Iraq was still up in the air as
the U. N. dithered and Democrats fretted. This cruise
was about 90% full as some vacationers (like us) cancelled
European trips and substituted vacations closer to home.
On the other hand less than 150 passengers had booked
the next cruise to Yokohama, a “transition cruise”
so-called because the ship was changing venues from
a Winter cruising South America and the Panama Canal
to a Spring in Asian waters.
ENTERTAINMENT: Most of the ships we’ve been on
before offered only CNN International on the room TV.
This network is so anti-American that we generally refused
to watch it. Crystal offers CNBC, ESPN, National Geographic
and A & E as well. Thus you at least watch your
stocks “go in the tank” or your favorite
team “take gas” as an alternative to watching
Larry King throw “softballs” at some celebrity
shows on the Crystal Harmony are outstanding. Singers
and dancers of Broadway quality appear nightly. We took
a backstage tour one day and met some of the dancers.
They weren’t young people hoping to make it to
Broadway, these were young people who’d been on
Broadway and wanted to see the world. We were pleased
to see Political Correctness hasn’t taken over
entirely, as the dancers still referred to themselves
as “Boys” and “Girls.” That’s
show biz – do as we say, not as we do.
this time you must be wondering if we ever got off the
HOLIDAY: This cruise was particularly convenient for
us since it left the port of San Pedro and returned
to the same dock a week later. We were actually on the
ship for 6 full days, 3 of which were spent at sea and
3 in Mexican Riviera ports.
most male California natives, my introduction to Mexico
occurred in Tijuana as a college student. Drawn by “Girlie
shows” and beer we would periodically pile a bunch
of guys in a car and go to “T.J.” for excitement.
We were easily excited in those days.
was another 30 years before I ventured south of Tijuana.
I regret not discovering Mexico a lot sooner.
SAN LUCAS Situated on the very tip of Baja California
are “Los Cabos” – Cabo San Lucas and
San Jose del Cabo. San Jose del Cabo is the traditional
one. Cabo San Lucas is the trendy, touristy one. When
Patricia visited here 15 years ago, Cabo San Lucas was
nothing more than a place for Fishermen to charter boats,
drink beer, play cards and have their pictures taken
with a Marlin (their catch or someone else’s).
It had been a dusty, hot little place where one would
never, never drink the water.
“Cabo” is not only a bustling fishing port,
but a tourist destination as well. Mexican law still
prevents Gringos from owning property near the Ocean,
but there are many variations on the theme of “Club
Membership” or “Time Share.” The warm
weather and devalued Peso make Cabo a “Trendy”
destination. Unfortunately, like Los Angeles, there
is no indigenous fresh water, so it must be brought
in at some expense.
were given a map as we prepared to get off the ship
which included “approved shopping opportunities”
“Approved” meant the merchant paid a fee
to the shipping line in order to be listed. More than
half of the approved merchants were jewelers. Some offered
“free diamond earrings” or a “gold
charm” to every person who showed their map on
entering the store. We showed our map and received the
earrings and charm reminiscent of the prizes kids get
in a Cracker Jack box.
leather store offered a 10% discount to morning shoppers,
but since the ship docked at Noon we were too late.
But, most merchants still enjoy negotiating.
collects Holy Water Fonts from around the world. In
the first pottery store we visited she saw one she liked,
but decided against buying it because we were at the
very beginning of the trip. She never saw another one
in 20 or more stores we visited in the next 3 days.
The moral is, when you are traveling and see something
you like – buy it!
found a tobacco shop selling Cuban Cigars which you
are allowed to purchase and bring on to the ship, but
you must consume them before reentering the United States.
retrieving our free earrings we retired to the “Giggling
Marlin” a famous Cabo “Watering Hole”
for a beers and Margaritas. The place is decorated (if
you can call it that) with outrageously garish cartoons
of various sea creatures holding musical instruments,
with names such as “Fleetwood Mackerel”
or “Bob Marlin.” A sign informs customers,
“If our food, drink and Service aren’t up
to your standards – please lower your standards.”
Giggling Marlin’s mascot is a rooster who roams
the place occasionally jumping up on a table to crow
enthusiastically. The joint’s “Trademark”
is a Marlin standing on his tail with a man hanging
upside down apparently attached to a fishing pole in
a “take off” of the traditional photographic
pose of the “Sportsman.” For a fee you can
be hoisted upside down on a winch to have your photo
taken as the “catch” of the trademark Marlin.
Steve Garrett had the gumption to have his picture taken
by wife Marge in this set up, but then he was the only
one to buy a huge black and silver sombrero, too. That
tells you the kind of guy he is – a “Fun
collect T-shirts from famous bars around the world we’ve
visited such as Sloppy Joes in Key West, Mickey Mantles
in New York and the Red Dog Saloon in Juneau. But, the
Giggling Marlin’s T-shirt was too awful even for
my taste and Patricia breathed a sigh of relief when
I decided not to buy one.
TOUR The next morning we were treated to a tour of the
Ship’s Galley by the Executive Chef, Franz Something
or Other. He told us that those working in the galley
work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week for 8 months. Then
they have 2 months off.
70 % of the water used is “desalinated”
seawater processed on the ship. The rest is purified
water brought on board at various ports. The ship “re-provisions”
every ten days. Fruits and vegetables are purchased
in three degrees of ripeness – ripe, half-ripe
and green in order to last the whole voyage. All meat
comes from the United States except the lamb, which
comes from Australia. Of course the galley was spotless
and we were interested to watch crewmembers preparing
displays of fruit and pastries.
VIRUS” At this point I should mention the virus
that has been plaguing cruise ships. For those of you
who may have been on the Moon over the last year, an
intestinal “Montezuma’s Revenge” type
virus has shown up on several large cruise ships. It
isn’t an air or water-born virus; it’s transmitted
from hand to hand. All ships captains are paranoid about
it– passengers, too. I asked a crewmember why
it was called the “Norwalk-Like Virus” and
he said, “Because it’s like the Norwalk
Virus.” I remain unenlightened.
combat it you are handed a disinfectant wipe to clean
your hands each time you return to the ship from a port
visit and all crewmembers are instructed not to shake
hands with passengers. This even extends to the “Captains
Dinner” where you still can have your picture
taken with the Captain, but he doesn’t shake your
hand. Day and night the crew can be seen disinfecting
banisters and railings.
heard about one passenger who became sick a couple of
days before the end of the trip, probably from eating
the local Puerta Vallerta lettuce with her guacamole.
The ship’s doctor confined her to her cabin for
the remainder of the trip. She wasn’t even allowed
to visit the ship’s sickbay, the doctor and nurse
treated her in her room.
VALLARTA Located on the Pacific Coast of Mexico, Puerta
Vallarta was the southernmost port we visited on this
trip. It was warm and tropical. A hurricane had devastated
Puerta Vallarta just last fall and there were still
some remnants of that event. The Sheraton on the Beach
still hasn’t reopened, for example.
Vallarta was a sleepy village until the 1950s. When
the Communist revolution closed Cuba to American tourists,
Puerta Vallarta (which has a similar climate to Havana)
really began to take off as a “destination”
for the “jet set”. When Liz Taylor and Richard
Burton filmed “Night of the Iguana” here,
famously carrying on an affair while being married to
other people, the town gained a worldwide reputation
as a place to get away “from it all.” The
“Liz and Richard” houses, linked by a secret
passage, are still part of the “Grey Line tour”
of the City.
months before, Laura Freedman had learned about La Palapa
”lapa lapa” by us Gringos) a restaurant
on the Beach in Puerta Vallarta through a program on
the Food Channel. She located their site on the Internet
and made a reservation for all of us to have lunch at
this wonderful spot. Under a thatched roof and open
to the sea breeze without benefit of windows, it reminded
me a lot of restaurants in Hawaii. It also had a spectacular
view of the bikini-clad beach-goers packed “chin
by jowl” up and down the beautiful white sand.
They had great food, too.
Laura also had the presence of mind to arrange for vans
to transport us from ship to restaurant and from there
to the shopping area, so we had plenty of time to visit
more jewelry stores. In a place called "Pacific
Jewelry” Patricia tried on a pretty large “rock”
for the benefit of the other women in the group. The
asking price was $26,000 (U.S. Dollars, not Pesos).
After my heartbeat stabilized she returned the ring
to the sales person who, thinking she was a serious
customer kept lowering the price. By the time we left
the store to wander up the street, the price had dropped
to $14,000. When a half-hour later we walked by the
store again the salesman came rushing out to tell Patty
she could have the ring for $10,000. I told her we should
stick around another hour or so and it might drop to
my price range.
took a taxi back to the ship. It had to be the highest
mileage vehicle on the continent, but it delivered us
chugging and coughing exhaust fumes all the way to the
dock. In Mexico a Car isn’t used, it’s “Semi-Nuevo”
or semi-new, certainly an exaggeration for that machine.
MOUSE CLUB All cruises have theme nights. On Crystal
Cruises it is a “50’s” night during
which guests are invited to dress as they did (or would
have) in the 1950’s. Laura arranged to get “Mouseketeer”
caps for all 20 of us. I arranged for white tee shirts
with our names on them through my son John, who is in
the shirt business (catalog on request, low prices guaranteed).
night we met for cocktails before dinner. On this particular
evening we all gathered wearing our Mouseketeer outfits.
The Bartender found us pretty amusing and as we left
he said, “There go the Mouses.” Later George
Sladoje and I had a discussion as to whether the Bartender
had been grammatically correct. Are a group of Morons
wearing mouse ears “Mouses”? Mice? Or just
is a big guy, but his wife Susie cut the back of his
mouse ears cap so it fit flat on his head. Unfortunately,
Patricia didn’t alter my cap, which was so small
that it teetered precariously on the top of my head.
Also my ample belly made me, perhaps, the largest Mousekeeter
in history. I felt as if the name on my shirt should
have been “Tweedle Dum” instead of “Frank.”
arrived at the Dining Room early to have our photo taken,
then marched through the assembled diners singing:
I C - See you real soon - K. E. Y - Why? Because we
was a bit less dignified than my usual entrance.
didn’t win the prize for best costume, but we
sure had a good time at the “Sock Hop.”
Our final Port was Mazatlan, north of Puerto Vallarta
on the Sea of Cortez. Famous as a “shrimping port,”
Mazatlan is also close enough to Mexico City for a fairly
large number of tourists from within the country to
visit in addition to us Gringos.
Crystal Cruises’ on-board “Concierge”
made luncheon reservations for 14 of us at “The
Shrimp Bucket,” an excellent restaurant across
the street from the beach. It was the first time I’ve
ever been in an eating establishment where the guacamole
and salsa were made fresh at the table. Just outside
the entrance is a sign that says “Hotel Bakersfield.”
Being from Bakersfield originally, I was interested
in the source of the name, but nobody in the Restaurant
seemed to know the answer. There was no “Hotel”
within a hundred yards of the place.
visited Mazatlan on the Monday before “Fat Tuesday”
so preparations were being made in earnest for the Mardi
Gras celebration to begin that night and culminate with
a parade the following night. Many of the streets were
closed while food booths and carnival rides were being
erected. We were sorry to have missed the big event.
IN MEXICO As always when we go to Mexico we were struck
by the number of poor people, the vast majority of whom
are “Indios.” They aren’t “panhandlers”
asking for spare change, they always want to give you
something in return for your money – a stick of
gum or a piece of candy. The Mexican culture is a very
proud one and even in the “States,” you
won’t find Hispanic beggars displaying signs “Homeless
– Please Help.” When you see poor Hispanic
people at Freeway entrances they are offering oranges,
peanuts or flowers for sale.
NEWS AND BAD NEWS – SHOPPING ABROAD We were pleased
to learn that the amount of goods you can bring back
into the United States has been increased from $400
per person to $800 per person. Additionally, the amount
of Duty has been decreased to 5% from 10% on goods valued
over your exemption. That’s the good news. The
bad news is, if you pay duty on anything, the Feds notify
the State of California and Gray Davis will send you
a bill for the California State Sales Tax, 8 ¾%.
really like Mexico and the Mexican People a lot and
hope to go back often.
all for this trip.
you real soon. Why? Because we love you.