Baja Blog

Baja Blog by Peter Knego

The MONARCH OF THE SEAS, shown departing Los Angeles on September 16, 2005. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2005.

In two days, I will be embarking RCCL’s striking, 73,937 gt, 1990-built MV MONARCH OF THE SEAS for a four night adventure from Los Angeles, calling at San Diego, Catalina and Ensenada, Mexico. Technical issues notwithstanding, I hope to be reporting on the cruise from the lovely vessel, once the largest and most advanced cruise ship in the world. The second in the SOVEREIGN OF THE SEAS class of ships (which were the first vessels to break the size record held since 1980 by the SS NORWAY — ex FRANCE), the MONARCH and her sisters have a particularly handsome architectural form that includes a NORMANDIE-inspired stern. Now the MONARCH, SOVEREIGN, and MAJESTY OF THE SEAS are among the smallest units in the RCCL fleet, which saw the introduction of the 158,000 gt LIBERTY OF THE SEAS this week.

Part One: April 30, 2007:

Cabin 3090, facing starboard. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

MONARCH OF THE SEAS pivots past the SS LANE VICTORY at Los Angeles. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

We boarded the MONARCH OF THE SEAS shortly before 2:00 PM, carried our luggage to our cozy category G cabin, 3090, on forward starboard Deck 3, and proceeded to the Windjammer Cafe for buffet lunch before exploring the ship.

Following boat drill, we lingered up on Deck 12 in the breezy sunshine, awaiting the ship’s departure from Pier 93. At 5:30, the MONARCH’s baritone whistle sputtered as she thrust her way out of the greenish waters of the slip adjacent to the historic SS LANE VICTORY and the towering Vincent Thomas Bridge.

Top, sailaway from MONARCH’s upper decks. Bottom, facing aft along the ship’s wide port promenade. Photos and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

The upper decks were filled with passengers, many of whom would soon gravitate to the sheltered pool area and the sounds of the ship’s steel band.

My traveling companion, Rob Di Stefano, and I head down several levels to the wide, fully encircling promenade, anticipating the ship’s customary salute to either the San Pedro fire station or Ports O’Call Village. Our majestic, but strangely silent craft continued onward through the channel, past the derelict Southwest Marine shipyard and the coast guard station to the outer basin, and, ultimately the breakwater and historic Angel’s Gate lighthouse. After dropping off the pilot, she picked up a bit of speed, converging with Carnival’s sunlit PARADISE, which had simultaneously departed Long Beach.

The gym on board MONARCH OF THE SEAS, shown facing port, has four elliptical machines among its array of features. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

We watched from the gym as the PARADISE drew back, allowing the MONARCH to cross her starboard bow. As neither ship was in a particular hurry to get to her next destination, the PARADISE lingered off our starboard stern, backlit by the setting sun.

Claude’s Dining Room, facing forward. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

A lovely tray of sushi was awaiting us when we returned to the cabin, stimulating our appetite for our 8:00 PM second seating dinner in Claude’s Dining Room (adjacent to the Centrum on Deck 4). The service was extremely attentive, from our Macedonian bus boy, Elvis, who kept the delicious bread (don’t miss the sesame/olive triangles) and ice water fully supplied. Our Indian waiter, Shawn Rodrigues, not only served the food quickly and efficiently, but offered sage advice for first time cruisers about the dining process and getting the most out of the cruise experience in the upcoming days.

Following dinner, we walked around the Promenade Deck, then up to the 360 degree panorama of the Viking Crown, which would have been an ideal place to linger, were it not for the prevalent cigar and cigarette smoke. Our walk continued along the pool area, which was a bit chilly for a typical late April California evening, then into the shelter of the Windjammer Cafe for some water, eschewing the temptation of cookies and pizza.

It’s nearly 11:00 PM and things are simmering down on board the MONARCH OF THE SEAS. The seas are calm and our ship is devoid of any discernible movement, with just a faint high frequency rumble emanating from her engines a few decks below. The Christopher Guest movie, “For Your Consideration”, is on the stateroom’s television, which for some reason is much funnier the second time round. A dose of laughter to ring out the day…

Part Two: May 1, 2007:

The MONARCH OF THE SEAS’ Viking Crown Lounge facing starboard from forward. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

A colorful abstract art panel in the MONARCH’s aft stairtower vestibule
, facing up. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

The MONARCH’s four storey, trend-setting Centrum, facing starboard from Deck 7. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Eye-catching! Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Awakened by a phone call at 8:15, I decided to take advantage of my unplanned conscious state to begin documenting the MONARCH OF THE SEAS. Surprisingly, it was raining outside, so many of our fellow passengers chose to stay on board instead of exploring San Diego. As a result, there were just a few select uninhabited places to photograph, from the ship’s lovely, terraced afterdecks and the empty Circuit Lounge to the panoramic Viking Crown.

The Windjammer Cafe, facing port from forward. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

I soon joined Rob for a leisurely buffet breakfast in the Windjammer, portions of which consisted of smoked salmon with capers and a bowl of fresh muesli. Alas, certain seminal links to RCI’s Norwegian culinary heritage have not been forgotten…

I spent a bit of time blogging from the port side of the Viking Crown across from an interesting, Viking-inspired sculpture by Marianne Valkner Ingeberg. Outside the angled panes of green tinted glass I could see the historic ferry BERKELEY and the former Shaw Savill sailing vessel, STAR OF INDIA, on the waterfront. A combination of haze and clouds obscured the mountains in the distance, but the hillside residences and trees of Balboa Park seemed close enough to touch. A Southwest Airlines jet descended quickly over the nearby runway of San Diego’s airport while two black zodiacs steadily patrolled the waters adjacent to our ship.

San Diego’s historic Broadway Pier with the preserved USS MIDWAY to the left. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Following lunch in the Windjammer, Rob and I finally disembarked for a quick stroll along the wharf. On the west side of the cruise terminal, a fleet of Hornblower dinner boats were tied up in the slip between the terminal and Broadway Pier, which was in the process of a major renovation. In my early ship watching days, I visited a number of interesting vessels there, including the SS ROTTERDAM of 1959, the ORIENTAL ESMERALDA (ex RANGITANE) and the SEA PRINCESS (ex KUNGSHOLM).

The Viking Crown obscures San Diego’s Coronado Bridge as MONARCH OF THE SEAS pivots out of the harbor. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

We were back on board by 4:30, just as a few hazy rays of sunlight began to break through the murky cloud cover. MONARCH’s single whistle blast ricocheted off the glass spires of downtown San Diego as her lines were cast and she reared into the basin to begin her pivot. From the terrace of Deck 13, we watched as her Viking Crown spun past the backdrop of Coronado Island, the Coronado Bridge, and the USS MIDWAY. Then, funnel emitting a slight stream of amber smoke, the MONARCH’s forward progression began.

A view over the bow from forward Deck 12. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Facing forward over the pool area and Point Loma from Deck 12. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

The MONARCH’s carved nameboard at the base of the architecturally dynamic Viking Crown. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Accompanied by several small craft, she head toward Point Loma and around the upper shores of Coronado Island, rippling past a network of navigation buoys and their flustered sea lion occupants. After passing Cabrillo Point on her starboard side and entering the sea lanes, the MONARCH meandered slowly on a north by northwest course toward Santa Catalina island.

The aft/center section of the Windjammer Cafe seen facing forward from Deck 12. Sorrento’s Pizzeria looms above the main buffet serving stations. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Another workout, this time with a
canvas of pink clouds for a backdrop, was followed by dinner. Feeling less formal than the evening’s designated dress code, we chose to dine in the casual Windjammer in lieu of Claude’s Dining Room. After consuming an obscenely large spinach salad topped with fresh olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and parmesan cheese, I returned to sample the Indian food offerings. Despite a complete lack of hunger, I managed to fill another plate with deliciously authentic samplings of chicken tikka masala, no less than four types of raita, vegetable korma, two selections of rice, crispy papadums, aloo paratha, lentils, and mango chutney. The night’s Indian offerings were as good as or better than the famous Goan curries on the P&O; ships I have sailed on and far more varied.

The Sound Of Music show lounge, facing aft. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

The internet center, facing aft. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

The show in the Sound Of Music Lounge was a Broadway-style production entitled “Starstruck”(a tribute to the golden age of Hollywood). It was a huge hit with the SRO crowd, but since we could not see much from the recess of room’s starboard balcony, we wrapped the evening up at the internet center trying to launch the first page of this blog.

Part Three: May 2, 2007:

COUNTESS attending MONARCH. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

May 2: We arose late in the morning to the sloshing of the 1977-built CATALINA COUNTESS against the MONARCH’s hull. Right outside our porthole, the red and white funnel of the tender bobbed as the little ship filled with a complement of MONARCH’s passengers to ferry ashore.

Avalon eternal. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

In contrast to our day in San Diego, it was brilliant, if a bit “nippy” outside. A persistent sun reflected off the kelp-rich waters of Avalon harbor, which was filled with clusters of small craft. The quaint tile-roofed town had hardly changed since my first visit in 1964, when my family spent a happy day taking the historic SS CATALINA to and from Avalon. Some of my first memories were by the CATALINA’s rail, reaching down toward a flying fish and laughing at the antics of the ship’s resident clown, Saltwater Pappy.

Heading ashore. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

A MONARCH from a COUNTESS’ perspective. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Rob and I caught the 11:00 AM tender ashore (departures to and from the ship were every half hour) and head to the El Encanto Courtyard (across from the Via Casino Arch) for its WiFi access and a cappuccino to try and augment the blog.

A migrating MONARCH. Top, morning. Bottom, afternoon. Photos and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Meanwhile, the MONARCH slowly spun around at her anchorage, showing off her many handsome angles as we fidgeted away at our laptop keyboards.

Casino cornices. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Catalina cove (just beyond the Casino promontory). Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

COUNTESS calling. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

We eventually walked out to the 1929-built Casino to take in the view from its promontory before returning to the ship. Although we missed lunch, we were able to nibble on a pizza Margherita and more amazing peanut butter and oatmeal cookies from the Sorrento’s section of the Windjammer to tide us over until dinner.

Captain Strazicic with Catalina over his right shoulder. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2

The MONARCH’s captain, Teo Strazicic, invited us to the bridge as the ship hoisted anchor and began her south by south eastward journey to Ensenada. Unlike most ships of her era, the MONARCH has open bridge wings, which the captain, who hails from Dubrovnik (my father’s birthplace) said he likes very much. Captain Strazicic has served in a number of passenger ships, from Majesty Cruise Line’s ROYAL MAJESTY (now NORWEGIAN MAJESTY) to several RCCL ships, including GRANDEUR OF THE SEAS. Of the RCCL ships, he noted the LEGEND handles magnificently and that she and her sister, SPLENDOUR OF THE SEAS, are able to maintain their 27+ knot speeds, even in the roughest sea conditions.

Rob and I spent a few moments on the sunlit starboard wing, enjoying the view of our massive, liner-like cruise ship with the rugged silhouette of Catalina off her port stern. Once out of the lee of the island, we encountered a moderate swell, giving us our first, barely discernible bit of movement thus far.

Facing aft along starboard/forward Deck 13. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Facets of a Crown. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Care for a climb? Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

An early Southern California “June Gloom” fog had begun to creep over the island’s highest peaks and obscure the horizon on either side of us. We wandered the breezy decks for more views of the mighty MONARCH and adjourned for another round at the gym as the sun finally faded behind the thickening clouds.

The handsomely refurbished Bolero’s Lounge on Deck 7 is home to many activities, from art auctions to tango dancing, adult-themed games and big band balls. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

A duet of striking sculptural forms in the night. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

The nocturnal view from the top. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

We enjoyed a low key dinner in the Windjammer again. This time, the buffet was Mexican, although I indulged in another mountainous spinach salad and the usual round of perfectly-baked cookies. In addition to the myriad of regular activities, we spent some time walking the unusually chilly decks taking a round of photos of the ship’s impressive architecture in its nocturnal lighting. A full moon hung over the bow, casting a silver sheen on the blackened sea.

Part Four: May 3, 2007:

MONARCH OF THE SEAS at Ensenada. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Through our porthole, Ensenada looked its usual balmy, arid self. MONARCH OF THE SEAS was at the new passenger terminal, directly across the channel from the old facility, which now looks like a container depot.

The MONARCH’s sheltered pool area was a perfect place to catch some of Ensenada’s brilliant sun. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Once on deck, we were surprised to find the unseasonably chilly winds persisting, so we returned to the cabin to add another layer of clothing before hopping the shuttle ($2) to town.

The PIONERO DEL MAR was once a U.S. military ship. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

The interesting, brown hulled PIONERO DEL MAR (a fish processing vessel that was once a U.S. military ship before being converted into the salmon fishery, OMNISEA, in 1990) was berthed adjacent to a yard of containers.

This was the latest in many visits I would make to this Baja California port, conveniently located close to the U.S. mainland, allowing foreign cruise ships like the MONARCH a manageable way around the dated Jones Act that prevents them from carrying passengers between two U.S. destinations.

My very first cruise ship, the SS CATALINA, in distress at Ensenada on May 3, 2007. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Ensenada has developed quite considerably from a sleepy Mexican fishing village over the past two decades. There are shore excursions to the La Bufadora blowhole some 25 miles down the coast and tours to a number of burgeoning local wineries. Other favorite things to do here include shopping or visiting a cantina to savor a cold beer, chips, salsa and perhaps the sounds of an out of tune but earnest mariachi band. Of course, we did the latter, but only after hiring a boa
t to circle the wreck of the SS CATALINA and to take us past the shapely MV TERAAKA, the former Yugoslav coastal liner OPATIJA of 1959.

CATALINA’s fo’c’sle is now the domain of Ensenada’s sea lion population. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

The historic 1,766 gt, 2,000 passenger SS CATALINA was built by the Wrigley family’s Wimington Transportation Company in 1924 for daily service between San Pedro and Avalon. She ceased operating in 1975 and was moved to Ensenada in 1985, where she briefly served as a tourist attraction, ultimately flooding in December of 1997 and settling on the harbor floor. A preservation campaign nearly rescued her, but funding ultimately fell short of what was need to raise her. In the interim, the ship has decayed considerably and has been overrun with a colony of sea lions who have made the dramatic wreck somewhat of a tourist attraction. There are firm plans to demolish the CATALINA to make way for a large container facility sometime in the very near future.

CATALINA and MONARCH OF THE SEAS together at Ensenada. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

For $20, one can rent a boat from the Botes Juanitos facility on the Ensenada waterfront. Our “driver”, Salvador, was very accommodating, taking us right up the the CATALINA’s bow and around the ship for several video takes. Her port flanks have been severely damaged by boats that were once moored alongside. Her sun scorched upper decks are covered in bird guano and her bow and inner portions of her sunken superstructure are overrun by sea lions. Their constant yelping can be heard from across the harbor.

The TERAAKA now sports a blue hull. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Salvador then took us back, past the towering MONARCH OF THE SEAS and across the channel alongside the TERAAKA, which now sports a navy blue hull. No one seems to know what is happening with this very handsome 211 foot, 980 gt former liner, which was fitted out with a stern diving platform a decade or so ago. In her heyday as the OPATIJA, she carried 24 first class and 200 deck passengers between Trieste and Piraeus via the Dalmatian coast.

The CATALINA through MONARCH’s wheelhouse window. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Officers on the bridge prepare the MONARCH OF THE SEAS for departure. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

After that visit to a cantina on Ensenada’s main drag, we walked back to the MONARCH OF THE SEAS for a quick lunch in the Windjammer. Captain Strazicic invited us back up to the bridge for the sailing. We watched from the starboard wing, when just after 5:00 PM, the captain and the pilot gave the orders and a score of lines were simultaneously released from her bow and stern. After the ship’s winches spun the ropes to safety, the MONARCH’s thrusters were engaged, churning the murky harbor waters into a cyclone of frothy brownness.

An officer looks on as Captain Strazicic (center) and the Ensenada pilot maneuver the MONARCH OF THE SEAS away from her berth. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Adios to Ensenada and her huge flag! Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

A final view of the CATALINA. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Facing aft from the MONARCH OF THE SEAS’ prow as she enters the Pacific one more time. A lovely face, indeed! Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

The MONARCH maneuvered gracefully away from the dock, pirouetting slightly to starboard until she faced the harbor exit. The touch of a small button on her bridge wing console emitted a deep throated blast from her whistle. Moving past the little CATALINA, she glided out to the breakwater and into a white-capped sea. Soon, the pilot was stepping onto his boat ten decks below us.

An hour or so later, we were back on the elliptical machines, enjoying the passing panorama of the cliffy Baja California coastline through the gym windows. As we neared the town of Rosarito Beach, a large school of dolphins appeared, leaping effortlessly through the MONARCH’s wake in search of their next meal.

Our excellent cabin steward, Dennis, left us a parting towel sculpture in addition to chocolate mints on our pillows. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Following dinner, we began the final night’s ritual of packing, setting out our luggage, and trying to get some sleep. The MONARCH was moving just enough to lull us as she head back to San Pedro.

When we awoke on Friday, May 4, the familiar green Vincent Thomas Bridge was once again outside our porthole. We had an early breakfast and I made an attempt to finish documenting the ship before disembarking, which, due to a shortage of U.S. Immigration officials, was not finished until noon.

The End

Royal Caribbean International

Ocean Liner Fittings, Furniture and Art For Sale at

Peter Knego Videos Link: ON THE ROAD TO ALANG and THE WORLD’s PASSENGER FLEET, Volume Nine

With special thanks to: Lyan Sierra Caro, Martin Cox, Shawn Dake, Rob Di Stefano, Trudy Julius, Captain Teo Strazicic.

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