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Mexico’s Roller Coaster, Copper Canyon Wilderness

By Marty Martindale

No other luxury cruise line stops at Topolobampo (“Topo”), yet Holland America does because she’s on the fast track to bring cruisers to another “Denali.”

This time it’s Copper Canyon National Park high in the Mexican wilderness. Considered by some the most spectacular scenery in the world, the canyon train journey takes visitors through gorgeous deep valleys and up to 7,200 feet above sea level into the lands of the mysterious Tarahumaran people. Almost every climate in the world can be experienced in one day in the park due to its wide ranging peaks and lows. The port of Topo should grow tremendously as more cruise lines follow suit and bring visitors to this park entry point.

Holland American has figured prominently in much of U.S. history. Back in 1898 she had six ships and carried 490,000 new settlers to America, and by 1945, she lost a total of 277 seamen and 22 ships at sea during World Wars I and II. By 2006, Holland America, with a fleet of 13 luxury ships, has carried 10-million pleasure-seeking passengers. While she treasures her past, she looks eagerly to her future.

On a typical Baja-to-Topo sail, your ship spends two days at sea following the Baja Peninsula’s western shore. On our cruise, our first port was Puerto Vallarta, where the TV show, “Love Boat” was filmed. Some of us found ourselves making tortillas in a Mexican cooking class. The next port was Mazatlan where some went to the Shrimp Feast, others to Deer Island Kayaking. Many excursions are available at all ports. The shopping shipside was good too.

The ship’s next stop was Tolo, and those not taking the Copper Canyon tour were entertained shipside by bright local townspeople bringing live music, fresh-made huaraches, and large serving dishes of fresh green chile, red chile sauce, salsas, tortillas and beans. Others came in folkloric costume and danced through the evening to the delight of passengers and crew, alike.

Loreto was the next stop, a very attractive little town with good shopping and a charming hotel which entertained visitors in their tapas bar. Others on excursions attended a Mexican Fiesta & Traditional Clambake or went snorkeling on the Coronados Island tour. Next stop was LaPaz or Pichilinque (Peech’-a-lin-kay’), the capital of Baja and a good area to look at locally-made pottery and weaving.

Our last stop was busy Cabo San Lucas, majestically positioned with a many-shored advantage. This was our last chance to shop or take advantage of a wide variety of beach and boating activity.

Holland America’s food is always something to look forward to due to its distinctive variety. For one thing, you can count on a Dutch influence accented by Indonesian and Filipino touches plus, on this trip, Baja Mexican dishes and of course many foods of North America.

Holland America’s rich Dutch history goes back to the ancient spice quest days and her centuries-old association with the Indonesian and the Filipino people. With an all-Indonesian dining room staff trained in HAL’s own “ss Jakarta” training school in Indonesia, graduates staff all the dining rooms in the fleet. Filipino personnel staff the kitchens, lounges and front offices, and soon a new HAL school opens for them in Manila.

Dutch food choices on the cruise ran from the Dutch Sailor’s Fruit Cocktail with Orange Curacao, also Dutch Brisket of Beef and Rijsttafel. Mexican highlights included a Southwestern Style Cheese Manicotti with Olives and Jalapenos to Mexican Five Spiced Duck Breast. Examples of Asian selections were Indonesia’s Soto Ayam and the Filipino dish, Beef Kari-Kari. Of course, always expect Crostini Samplers, Roast Legs of Lamb, Pheasant Breast in Sage Walnut Sauce, Italian Wedding Soup, Prime Rib, Escargot, Chilled Strawberry Bisques, and Crab many ways, Lobster night, Salmon exotic ways and other North American favorites.

HAL was the first to introduce the Lido deck to pleasure cruising in 1968. Now, beautifully appointed, yet casual, a few of the newer type cruise passengers eat in the Lido exclusively. Buffets there include carving stations, salad bar, an omelet station, sandwich bar, hot Mexican foods, quick hamburger-type foods, a pasta station and hot Asian foods, in addition to what’s offered for breakfast, noon or night in the main dining room.

As HAL looks favorably on her past and hopefully to her future, she brings back favorites. David Wood, a Canadian and Director of Culinary Operation on the Ryndam says, “It has just been announced the line is enhancing our room service and bringing back the rolling card which sets up with leaves and has a warming unit below. Another thing I’ve noticed is they are bringing back some of the old comfort favorites, like Coq au Vin.”

There’s a third dinner option on board these days, the special Pinnacle Room, an extra-fee, top-class, dining experience. “It’s more of a chance,” states Woods, “to have a quiet meal with a good amount of privacy, also a great amount of personal attention.” It’s fancy, as well, with elegant Frette® linens, Bvlgari® fine china and Riedel® stemware, especially designed to enhance the taste of good wine.

Another between-meal food venue on each ship is the Culinary Art Center a partnership with Food and Wine Magazine. The center hosts visiting chefs who work with guests in workshops and in one-on-one sessions. This particular trip, Chef Marc Cummings, of Iron Chef fame, demonstrated his Caesar Salad method in the culinary theatre, then hosted a special group for a spectacular meal he prepared in the Pinnacle Dining Room.

Holland America Cruise Lines

Author: Marty Martindale

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