Princess Cruise of Baja California
Although the Princess Cruise people had originally scheduled Luigi and Dodge and me
to fly to San Diego on Saturday, February 23, at 11:20 A.M., I decided that due to the
uncertainty of Chicago's weather in February, we would fly out a day early to make sure that if
O'Hare should be shut down on Saturday we would nevertheless reach San Diego in time for the
afternoon boarding of the Pacific Princess. (I did not realize until after I made
the reservations that this was the ship that played the title role in the television series "The Love
Alice, Don, Luigi,
and Manly, 1985
Jane Hunt, who came for a visit on Tuesday, the 20th, was to go to the airport with us and catch
a 1:30 P.M. plane to New York. Because of her status as an international visitor, she could get a
special rate by flying on PanAm, unavailable to Americans; but PanAm does not have many fights
to and from Chicago. Leaving about 10:00 Friday morning, we took a cab to O'Hare where we
found that all flights were delayed and some canceled because of fog. Ours and Jane's were
delayed for 45 minutes or so. We waited until noon and looked at the screens again and our flight
had disappeared from it. Inquiry established that it had been canceled, but there was another at
6:00 P.M. which we were able to get reservations on. While wandering about the terminal I felt a
sudden pain in my left heel and turned around to find that I had been hit by a speeding wheelchair,
propelled by a young woman who accused me of having stopped too abruptly.
We took the subway back to town and the bus back to our apartment for lunch about three
o'clock, then returned to the airport to arrive before six. Jane called saying that her flight had been
canceled, so Luigi invited her to come back for the night, whether or not we were there. On
arriving at t he airport we found that the six o'clock flight had been canceled. After standing in
line for an hour, I got the American airlines ticket clerk to re-validate our tickets so that we could
take a 7:55 TWA plane to St. Louis and an Ozark plane from St. Louis to San Diego on Saturday
because all the American Saturday flights from Chicago to San Diego were booked solid. While I
stood in line, Luigi called Jane at our apartment to tell her that we would take her to dinner on
our return from the airport. We took the subway back to the loop and then a cab home, and had
dinner at the Parkway Restaurant.
When we returned from the restaurant (in a heavy downpour) Jane asked Juan to
arrange for a cab for her at 4:45 in the morning, as the next PanAm flight was at 6:00 A.M. I set
my alarm for 5:45 so that we could get up for the 7:55 flight to St. Louis. When I got up, Jane
had gone and the fog was still there. I decided that it would be unwise to take the TWA flight
because if it didn't get there on time, or if St. Louis were fogbound, we would be stranded in St.
Louis which would be even worse than Chicago. I called American Airlines (and was able to get
through to them at 6:00 A.M.) and talked with a pleasant young woman who said she could get
me on a 10:09 flight on United Airlines even though all American flights were booked solid.
However this was only a reservation according to the computer, she could not get through to
United to talk to anyone by telephone, and was not sure whether the reason the computer showed
availability of seating was that the flight had been canceled.
We again took a cab to the airport without breakfast this time, and were on a standby list for a
9:00 A.M. flight to San Diego via Phoenix; it was filled before we got called but it actually got off
the ground. I walked over to the United ticket counter to see if they really did have a reservation
for me, but the lines were so long that if I were successful the plane would have left before I got
to the head of the line. I also checked with Continental Airline and found, after a 15 minute wait
that their one plane to San Diego was booked solid. We then went and stood by for the 11:20
American flight and to our delight were able to get on the same flight that we were originally
I am reminded of various Oriental tales demonstrating the futility of attempts to outwit
destiny. Had I simply accepted the reservations that the cruise company picked for us, I could
have gone to work on Friday and made it unnecessary to spend Thursday night at the office until
10:30, to miss the concert and to spend Friday vainly trying to reach San Diego. Luigi took Jane
to the concert and both enjoyed it very much.
The flight was uneventful and we arrived in San Diego about 2:30 California time.
People were there to meet all who were to take the Pacific Princess, and we were loaded onto a
Grey Line bus and taken to the dock where the ship, which we saw from the air as we flew in,
was tied up. Miraculously our baggage had reached San Diego ahead of us, and we were able to
claim it immediately we got off the plane. One of the Princesses advised us where to put it, with
tags showing our cabin numbers, and the next time we saw them the bags were in our cabins. We
were kept in a large building for check-in and waiting until the 4:30 boarding time, and then
stayed there another 45 minutes or so until Uncle Don and Aunt Alley showed up with Nate,
Nancy and Henry Soule. It took longer for us passengers to board than it did the guests, so the
younger generation explored the ship while we were getting into our cabins. Eventually we all
met and wandered about the ship looking for a bar that did not have music. Finding three bars
that did not meet this requirement, we picked one of them, ordered drinks and took them out onto
the deck where we watched the sun set over the western edge of the harbor.
Don and I both were amused to see a sign on the bar saying that liquor could not be sold to
visitors, as the younger Soules were the main instigators of a search for it; the younger ones
looked quite dismayed until it was pointed out that liquor could be sold to passengers who were
free to give it to visitors if they chose. We went to dinner shortly after the visitors left, and then
went up on deck afterward to make sure the captain was able to take the ship out of the harbor all
right. Departure was delayed two or three hours because of weather conditions, and consequent
flight delays, in various parts of the country.
Though smaller than the QE2, the Pacific Princess is nevertheless a large ship;
we were told that about 550 passengers boarded at San Diego with 50 leaving at Puerto Vallarta
and a hundred boarding there for the return to the U.S. Unlike the QE2, this vessel does not have
a computer room; however Luigi and I each brought our own. We cruised down the coast of
Baja California with the peninsula or islands visible to port much of the time, though we were out
of sight of land occasionally. When we were close enough to see it well, the land looked much as
it did when we were there with Shaw and Dodge but more so -- covered with dry sharp
mountains. The sea was nearly calm, the sky blue and cloudless and the temperature in the sixties.
Dodge and I shot clay pigeons off the port side at 3:00. Luigi, Don and Aunt Alley watched us
briefly but did not choose to participate. I did not see any whales, though I kept looking. Luigi
and I shared a cabin with a couple of portholes, as did Alley and Don. Dodge had an interior
cabin to himself across the hall.
Sunday and Monday were spent as one does on board ship; making sure that one gets to
meals on time is the major responsibility. Monday being my birthday, Alley and Don gave me a
book A Quiver Full of Arrows by Jeffrey Archer, and Dodge wrote a program on my
computer which enabled him to write "HAPPY B-DAY" on the screen in huge letters. Don and I
went to a brief gathering near the purser's office for a discussion of hiring a boat to take us fishing
from Mazatlan on Wednesday, and ascertained that the only type of fishing they would sign us up
for was big game fishing for sailfish and marlin. Both he and I had previously agreed that this
would not be our cup of tea, so we decided we would wait until we get to Mazatlan and see what
we could line up by ourselves, on the theory that Mexicans will do anything for money, even take
us fishing for the kind of fish we want to catch. Perhaps the galley staff has encouraged the
purser's office not to help people go after a kind of fish they are likely to bring back to the ship
with the request that the staff cook it for them.
One of the things that makes a man of 60 feel young is to get on the elevator on the
Pacific Princess and observe the other people who also get on. Many of them don't have
the choice, as a practical matter, between walking and riding between floors.
Dinner was French. The waiters were dressed in black pants and jumpers with red
scarves. Snails were offered as an appetizer, and Don and I had some, though the others did not.
Onion soup was good though not outstanding. All of our party but me had duck a l'orange, which
was delicious; I had frog legs Provencal, which were not bad. Don bought a bottle of Heidsicke
Champagne, which was very good indeed. After the entree they brought a small birthday cake
with one candle on it, which I was able to blow out without help. The waiters and the rest of our
party sang happy birthday. In addition to the cake we had cherries jubilee, made at the table with
flame and brandy. When we left, a pair of girls in cancan costumes put an arm around each male
guest and a leg in front of him, while a photographer took a picture. Dodge got two cancan girls,
but Don and I rated only one apiece.
When we awoke Tuesday morning we were in Puerto Vallarta. The sky was overcast
and the hills partly obscured, but we could see the nice sweep of the bay and the hotels along the
beach to the south and the small boat harbor to the north. After breakfast Luigi and Dodge and I
walked along the beach past the hotels, noting the constant smell of burning garbage, which was
replaced sometimes by the smell of putrefying garbage or horse manure. Horses are allowed on
the beaches, which makes the latter rather messy for swimmers and sunbathers. A pool where the
local stream enters the sea is covered in part by a brownish scum which I suspect is a product of
raw sewage. My initial impression of Puerto Vallarta was that of a combination of Miami Beach
Lunch aboard the ship was advertised as a Champagne brunch any time after noon, and
without seating at the normal places. Alley and Don, who had gone on a tour of the downtown
area went to the bar for a Margarita, and Luigi, Dodge and I were seated at a table with a pleasant
couple from Arkansas and a gregarious couple plus a single woman from Sun City, Arizona, but
originally from northern Indiana. All appeared to be in their seventies.
After lunch, finding the deck warmer than I cared for, I went into one of the many bars
on the ship and sat off in a corner behind a tinted glass window and watched people para-sailing
among the circling man o'war birds. Para-sailing consists in a harness beneath a parachute while a
towline from the harness to a motorboat is pulled along at high enough speed to make the
parachute lift the person into the air to a height of a hundred feet or so. I believe that man o'war
birds live largely on fish and carrion.
On Wednesday morning the ship pulled into Mazatlan Harbor at breakfast time; by
acting promptly after breakfast we were able to climb up topside to one of the upper decks where
we could supervise the casting of the lines ashore and make sure the ship was properly tied up.
Alley and Luigi went shopping and Don, Dodge and I wandered off toward the small boat harbor
in search of someone to take us fishing. The first place we stopped at did not have anyone in
charge on the premises; the next place was operated by a man who seemed very glad to see us and
advised us that we could have a boat and crew all day for $160.
We bit (Don paying via a charge card) and were ushered onto a pier whose parts did not quite
meet, requiring a two foot jump down from the ramp to the floating part of the pier. Tied up
stern on were two boats, one of which appeared to be relatively neat and recently painted. Ours
was the other. After we boarded we were asked if we wanted some beer or soft drinks; we said
yes and a man appeared with six minute bottles of beer and a few Pepsi Colas asking five dollars
for the lot. Then the crew of three and four or five other Mexicans spent twenty or twenty-five
minutes trying to get the engine started. At the end of that time the three of us got up and walked
off the boat and ashore along the pier, and were about to demand Don's credit card check back
when the operator advised us in fair English that there was no problem, just the battery, and they
would have the boat going right away. Don told the operator to get the engine started before we
would walk back to the boat. It started immediately.
Once it got started (about 10:30), the boat demonstrated good speed and soon took us
so far into the Sea of Cortez that we could see land only as a low ridge of hills under the clouds.
We motored around for a couple of hours without a bite, then the crewman in charge of such
things pointed out that one of the bait fish had been bitten in half. We saw a pair of fins sticking
out of the water, about six feet apart and moving in unison. It turned out to be a large ray. A
little after two o'clock in the afternoon the crew spotted a shark in the water and gave chase,
motoring around the beast so that the baited hooks crossed in front of it.
Eventually it bit and the crewman grabbed the rod and handed it to me, shoving the butt into the
rod holder beneath the chair I was sitting on. Another crewman took off my camera and handed
it to Dodge. I was told to pull the rod up without reeling and then to let it down and reel fast. I
did this many times. Every now and then the fish would run a little, stripping the line off the reel
as he went, but mostly it just resisted my attempts to pull it toward the boat. The captain kept the
boat an the right distance from the fish and kept the fish on the starboard beam as much as
possible. One or two of the crewmen moved my chair, with me in it, so that I could brace my feet
against the gunwale rather than the deck. I wondered if I really wanted to share deck space with
a creature that could easily bite off one or both of my feet. The shark tired even sooner than I
did, and after about fifteen or twenty minutes I got it near enough to the boat so that two of the
crewmen were able to pass a heavy line with a loop at one end around my fishline, then he made a
noose by passing an end of the line through the loop and let the noose fall down and over the
fish's head and past its gills. A heavy pull on the rope then tightened the noose around the shark's
neck and raised the head out of the water where it could be clubbed with a baseball bat of which
the handle had broken off. Steely gray above and white beneath plus a sharply pointed snout
established that the creature was a Mako Shark.
It was left so lifted partially from the water until we were half way back to Mazatlan and there
was no more evidence of life in it. We continued to fish until 3:30 when I asked the captain to
return to Mazatlan so we could make the 5:30 deadline for passenger embarkation on the Pacific
Princess. On arriving back at the small boat harbor the three crew members pulled and pushed
the shark up the pier and onto the land where there was a concrete structure shaped like the
Greek letter pi, about eight feet high with pulleys on the crossbar. They tied a line from one of
the pulleys to the shark's tail and hoisted it free of the ground for me to take a picture of. As
Dodge took a picture of me beside the fish Don judged the shark's length, measured against my
6'3", as about 6' 6".
It was Olde Englishe Nighte in the Coral Dining room so we had roast beef and
Yorkshire pudding. As usual the headwaiter, Enzo, made pasta in a chafing dish near our table,
and then made dessert as well in his chafing dish; this time the dishes were noodles Alfredo and
flaming bananas. Almost as good as the bananas Foster I had when Shaw and I ate Breakfast at
Brennan's in New Orleans a couple of years ago, and enhanced by a little chocolate sauce. At
lunchtime Luigi told Enzo that Don, Dodge and I had gone fishing and he said that the galley staff
would cook our fish if we caught any. He seemed relieved when I told him that I had caught a six
foot-six inch Mako shark but had not brought it aboard for the staff to cook.
The five of us had a table for six in a corner of the dining room and were regularly
served by our waiter, Bruno and busboy, Ugo. They seemed to have had only one or possibly
two other tables to take care of and they did their jobs very well. Ugo, being younger, and
probably not knowing much English, did not say much, but Bruno made up for it and was very
jovial and attentive. Our wine stewardess was named Sarah Jane (but not Smith) and is very
pretty, looking like a young Iris Witkowsky, but has one of the worst Cockney accents I've heard.
At a get-acquainted meeting the Deputy Captain advised us that ship's crew was sort of like the
United Nations with British Officers, Indonesian deckhands, Chinese carpenters and laundrymen
and Italian cooks and waiters. I forget what nationality the engineers are.
Luigi and Alley went shopping while the three males were fishing, and looked at the
local church as well. In addition to a nice blanket like the one Luigi got for Shaw, Alley got some
very nice pottery plates and various other goodies. She did not have to take them home on an
We left Mazatlan Wednesday evening immediately after dinner and sailed overnight to
Cabo San Lucas at the extreme southern tip of Baja California. I was able to enjoy one of my
favorite pastimes while sailing on salt water: at night, when my eyes are fully adjusted to the dark,
I put on my glasses and go into the bathroom without turning on any lights and flush the toilet.
The action of the water stirs up the luminescent plankton living in the sea water which is used in
the toilet and I can see them flash.
The ship anchored rather than tying up to a pier at Cabo San Lucas. Luigi had breakfast on deck,
where such meals are served to those who are willing to get by with a continental breakfast plus
scrambled eggs and bacon. Then we all went ashore, Luigi, Dodge and I in one boatload and
Alley and Don in another. The three of us decided to walk to a nearby beach, so we set out in a
likely direction and walked and walked, climbing a hill to find that it did not have a beach on the
other side even though a hotel was being built there. So we started back and immediately came to
a beautiful long sandy beach which we walked along. Luigi took off the clothes she was wearing
over her bathing suit and went for a cooling swim, briefly. Dodge did not take off his clothes and
went wading when an unexpected wave came along.
Cabo San Lucas did not smell of burning garbage, and appears to have a better sanitation system
than some Mexican cities. For the entire length of the beach that we walked, we did not see one
sewage outfall line. As the city appears to be almost exclusively devoted to North Americans, it
may be that the developers decided they had better build according to North American sanitary
standards. Nestled in the area between mountains and beaches, the city is quite attractive. Luigi
went back to the ship at one point while Dodge and I wandered on in search of a liquor store
where I could buy some Bacardi Anejo rum, which we don't seem to get in the U.S. We found
one without difficulty and were able to negotiate in Spanish (or at least not in English) for one
bottle of rum and six bottles of cold Bohemia beer for a total of $10.30. We found an
out-of-the-way sidewalk where we sat and drank one bottle of beer apiece. We put the empties
and the two bottle caps in the six-pack, but on our way we encountered a small dump and left the
empties and caps there.
Back on the ship we were still thirsty, so had a couple of more bottles, giving the fifth to Luigi
who was just about to go to a bar for a beer.
Alley and Don had taken a cab to one of the hotels up on a nearby hill; the hotel was
literally carved into the rock of the hillside which formed one wall of the hotel lounge (and of the
men's washroom, Don reported). The views were magnificent, with the harbor in one direction
and a lively beach in another. But getting to the beach would require a climb down 100-200
The ship got underway about 3:00 and passed by the magnificent rocks that guard the
entrance to the Cabo San Lucas harbor. On one rock, just at the very end of all of the rocks, stuck
out of the water about ten feet and formed a near pyramid. On the top of it was a sea lion playing
"King of the Castle" all by itself. Other sea lions were seen on other rocks nearby. On our way
out to see we passed by an old abandoned lighthouse on a low hill near the sea and a new
lighthouse a quarter mile away, further from the sea but at a much higher elevation, testimony to
the higher power of electric lights over whatever they had used before.
Thursday evening a captain's farewell party was held in one of the lounges. We were
able to find a table away from the music and sat there while a waiter brought us drinks. The noise
was perfectly tolerable and we all stayed until the end of the 30 minutes that it lasted. I had
walked out on a previous party because the noise hurt my ears. After dinner Alley and Don and
Dodge went to the floorshow which they said was excellent. Alley and Don even went to the
evening buffet at 11:30, which they said was a magnificent spread with the chefs standing proudly
behind the long table on which many trays of gloriously prepared foods (such as whole decorated
salmon) were displayed. I went to bed shortly after dinner and Luigi did likewise, I think, after a
turn around the deck.
Friday morning I awoke a little before seven and found the sky overcast and the
breakfast, as usual, delicious. This being the last full day aboard, it was time to make preparation
for paying bills, passing through customs on the morrow and generally, regretfully, preparing to
return to real life. Luigi and Alley went to a 10:00 meeting to learn about the debarkation
routine, and shortly after 11:00 I went to the purser's office to pay for whatever I had charged to
my account, to get envelopes to put tips in, to get tickets for the bus from the dock to the airport
in San Diego and to get small bills to use for tips. Luggage to be carried ashore by the crew was
required to be in the hallway before dinner, with only hand items to be carried by the passengers
Shortly after lunch we passed the Cedros Islands, the first on our starboard and the
second on our port. While we were passing the first, we saw several whales frolicking and
puffing in the sea. On the second island there was a salt manufacturing and shipping operation,
where they extract salt from sea water and load it onto freighters; A Mexican vessel was in port
and a Japanese freighter was anchored offshore waiting for a load.
The weather turned colder and all those who had been on deck to watch the whales or to
sunbathe disappeared. Dinner was sumptuous and delicious as usual. Dessert was brought in by
the various waiters carrying a tray apiece, on each of which was a dome shaped baked Alaska
surmounted by a candle. The lights were turned off and the waiters marched around with their
candles furnishing the only illumination; suddenly the candles turned into sparklers, throwing lots
of sparkling light throughout the dining room.
All five of us arose early Saturday morning and walked out on the deck before the seven
o'clock breakfast (previously all breakfasts for the first sitting were at 8:00) partly because of the
fact that we set our clocks and watches back an hour the night before. Although the trip was
mostly north and south, we did proceed east into two time zones; Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan
are in the Central Time Zone and Cabo San Lucas is in the Mountain Time Zone, so we had to
change our time more than we left it alone from day to day. The ship entered San Diego Harbor
in the teeth of a strong north wind and under heavy overcast, passing Point Loma about
After the usual sumptuous breakfast we bade goodbye to Bruno and Ugo and Enzo.
The last of these is quite handsome and many of the female passengers kissed him goodbye,
though Luigi merely shook his hand, as did the rest of us. As we did not have to catch a plane
before noon, we were given debarkation cards lettered J and requested to stay aboard until our
letter was called. This was no great hardship as the Pacific Princess was a pleasanter
place to be than the airport, which is where we had to go next. They had given us tickets for a
complimentary ride on the bus to the airport but didn't bother to collect them. So next time we
are in San Diego when one of the Princess Cruises is debarking passengers, we can probably get a
free ride from the dock to the airport.
Going through customs was as quick and simple as possible, the customs officer stating that we
looked like very low risks. Henry had come to pick up his parents so we said hello to him at the
same time as we said goodbye to him and Alley and Don, in virtually the same spot we met a
week ago when preparing to board.