AZAMARA JOURNEY To The Sea Of Cortez, Part Three

Peter Knego concludes his three part Sea Trek on board Azamara Club Cruises’ spruce MV AZAMARA JOURNEY during one of the ship’s recent Sea of Cortez sailings.

Azamara Club Cruises

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All Photos by and Copyright Peter Knego 2011 unless otherwise noted.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011: Mazatlan, ctd.

Our on time departure from Mazatlan at 4:00 PM found us on the Deck 9 jogging track surrounding the pool. It was sunny but a blustering, chilly breeze kept us from lingering on the open decks.

Liesl in Shore Excursions.

There was still some time to book the next day’s kayaking excursion in La Paz, so we headed to the shore excursions desk. I asked Liesl if there were any reports of noseeums (nasty midge flies that tend to inflict lasting, intensely itchy bites I experienced on my last visit to this region). She said she would check into it and let me know. Later, when we returned to the cabin, the message light was blinking. Liesl had called the ship’s agent in La Paz and rang to give us the “all clear” on the noseeums. So, here’s props to Liesl for her incredible follow through!

Hotel Manager Heike Berdos.

Applause must also go to Hotel Director Heike Berdos, who is as kind and personable as she is steadfast and efficient. Her staff is one of the most well-trained and happy I have ever experienced at sea. Heike was born in Germany and raised in Algeria, Canada and Germany, attended the Bonn Hotel School and began her first cruising contract aboard Starlauro’s (later MSC) SS MONTEREY in 1994. She joined the Celebrity fleet in 1999 and subsequently completed the Hotel Management School in Salzburg, Austria, with distinction, becoming a Celebrity Cruises hotel director in 2006, switching to Azamara in 2007.

After our trek to the gym, where Astral Spa staffer Joseph wore us out with a core training circuit (all such classes are also included in the fare), newfound appetites needed satiating. No better remedh than a trip to the Windows Cafe, where the buffet specialties had a Mediterranean twist.

I devoured marinated artichokes, roasted aubergines, spiced carrots and Greek salad, then returned for more. There was also homemade paella, fresh jumbo shrimp, marinated chicken and a host of other offerings.

The main stage show was “The Best of Broadway”, including a routine of familiar tunes sung and choreographed with lighthearted skill by the ship’s enthusiastic, talented young troupe, the Azamara Cabaret Vocalists.

The alarm was set for the morning’s excursion.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011: La Paz


I was remotely familiar with Baja California’s capital, La Paz, via John Steinbeck’s works, “The Pearl” and “The Log From The Sea Of Cortez”. In recent years, it seems to have faded from mainstream tourism, although much of the area around it is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Bio Reserve.

When we assembled in the Cabaret Lounge for our Paradise Beach kayaking expedition, I snickered to Rob that the photo of the beach with the radiant green waters in the shore excursion pamphlet was probably photoshopped. No matter, it would just be nice to paddle through the shallows and soak up some sun

Mariachi welcome at La Paz.

Moments later, when we disembarked the AZAMARA JOURNEY, a welcoming mariachi band was playing.

Kayaking in Paradise Cove, La Paz. Photo by GiGi.

We signed waivers, then clambered into a van that took us through two security checks along a highway that bordered the desert mountains and a vividly turquoise sea. Maybe the brochure wasn’t enhanced, after all? Soon, we were at magical Balandra Beach in Paradise Cove, donning life vests and climbing atop kayaks, rowing ourselves through the shallows toward a mangrove forest.

Entering the mangrove swamp in Paradise Cove, La Paz.

The forest was an amalgamation of craggy, mossy roots and tangled greenery. A huge frigate bird alighted as we approached, cawing its way out of view before I could dig out the camera.

Great Blue Heron.
Pair of Pelicans atop the Mangrove.

But we did manage to capture a few other nesting fowl.

Paradise near La Paz.

We next paddled across the lagoon to a powdered white sand and black rock beach. On the return, we managed to flip the kayak over and ended up dragging it back to shore. There was time for a brief swim before we were taken back to the ship.

Aqua versus orange at La Paz.

Following lunch in Windows, we returned shoreside for a 30 minute shuttle ride into La Paz, itself.

Pier to nowhere on the La Paz waterfront.

From the bus station, it was a quick walk to the waterfront. There was a rickety pier…

Bronze pigeon on the La Paz waterfront.

And a large sculpture of a pigeon…

Scary-go-round at La Paz.

And a run down merry-go-round. Our eyes soon met in a mutual “Back to the ship?” glance.

Folklorico swirl at La Paz.

We had a couple hours at the terminal to utilize its high speed wifi to take care of business, load images and check e-mail. As we clicked away at our keyboards, the room filled with fellow passengers who had gathered to see a wonderful local folklorico show.

Aqualina, facing aft.

After our 6:00 PM departure, there was time for another workout before our 8:30 PM reservation at Aquilina, the 90 seat specialty dining room featuring Mediterranean-inspired sea food on the port side of aft Deck 10.

Aquilina Porcelain detail.

The settings include handsome china, heavy silverplate and Riedel stemware.

Baja Shrimp Amuse Bouche in Aquilina.

The amuse bouche was a breaded shrimp, fresh from our call at Mazatlan.

Apple salad in Aquilina.

Rob dove into the endive and apple salad.

Aquilina Arugula and Pine Nut Salad.

But I was in the mood for some roasted pignolia-topped arugula.


The red pepper soup was a show stopper. It came in several different patterns.

Aquilina Chicken Ragout Entrée.

The chicken ragout gnocchi was possibly the best gnocchi I have ever tasted. With creamy layers of flavor, from parmesan to sun dried tomatoes and basil, it was also quite rich.

Seared Ahi Entrée in Aquilina.

Rob savored his seared ahi entrée.

Aquilina Chocolate Soufflé Dessert.

The menu of soufflés and creme brulées is presented before dinner so that the chefs have ample time to prepare them fresh. I succumbed to the chocolate soufflé.

Aquilina Triple Gelato Dessert.

Gorgeous gelati and sorbets are also available.

Darryl delivers!

Our smiling waiter Darryl was attentive, unobtrusive, never missed a beat and kept the courses flowing with seeming ease. He is a veteran of now-defunct Premier Cruises, having served (literally) aboard the OCEANIC, BIG RED BOAT II (ex EUGENIO C) and BIG RED BOAT III (ex TRANSVAAL CASTLE, etc.) before joining Celebrity and ultimately, Azamara Club Cruises.

AZAMARA JOURNEY encountered some bumpy seas that evening as she skittled across the Sea Of Cortez toward the Mexican mainland.

Thursday, January 13, 2011: Topolobampo

MV AZAMARA JOURNEY at Topolobampo.

When we awoke, the ship was berthed at Topolobampo, an industrial port founded in the 1800s by a socialist society of Americans led by Albert K. Owens. His goal was to link central U.S with a super port on the Mexican coast via a railway through the adjacent Copper Canyon. Completed in 1961, the Chihuahua — Pacific Railway is the main reason people visit this industrial, barren port. Since I had done a very complete Copper Canyon train trip a few years, prior, we decided Topolobampo would be a nice place to get some work done and stayed mainly on the ship.

Smoothie Bar.

In lieu of the typical breakfast, I had a berry and yogurt smoothie, made fresh at the smoothie bar in Windows Cafe.

Native dance, Topolobambpo style.

I did go ashore for a few minutes in the late afternoon to witness some of the local native dances in a pavilion set up alongside the ship.

Mexican Buffet by the pool.

Mexican Barbeque on board.

Our plans to have a “regular” dinner in Discoveries were scuttled by the gala Mexican buffet by the pool. The ship’s duo, Ray and Carla, played poolside as we worked our way through a number of salsa-drenched courses.

Friday, January 14, 2011: Guaymas

Chief Engineer Nicolaios Baltsavias.

I arose in the mid-morning to meet with the JOURNEY’s kind Chief Engineer Nicolaios Baltsavias. Born in Kefalonia, he schooled at the Merchant Marine Academy of Aspropyrgos and served in the navy. He began his sea going career on cargo ships and tankers before joining the engine crew of the gorgeous Sun Lines’ steamship STELLA SOLARIS, which he recalls (as do most former SOLARIS crew) with great fondness. He joined Celebrity Cruises in 1997 and Azamara in 2008.


Our northernmost port of call, Guaymas, is hidden behind an island at the end of a wide bay in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. First populated over 2,000 years ago by the Guaymenas, Yaqui and Sera Indian tribes, it was not officially conquered by Spain until the 1700s. The Guaymas horseback riding excursion we wanted to take through the desert and along the beach was fully booked, so we opted to just roam ashore and walk through the town.

Bus boarding at Guaymas.

The shuttle came every 15 minutes or so to deliver AZAMARA JOURNEY’s guests to the center of town.

Holy blur on the shuttle to Guaymas.

It wasn’t until we returned that the shoreside staff greeted us with an incredulous, “You made it?” Perhaps they lacked faith in the numerous religious icons festooned to the bus.

Guaymas ice skating.

At the Plaza de los Tres Presidentes, in the shadow of three tall scuptures of Guaymas-born Mexican leaders, there was an open air ice skating rink.

Church of San Fernando, Guaymas.

A block or so away, adjacent to Plaza de 23 Julio, we found the twin spired, 19th Century-built Church of San Fernando.

Arachne-bellum at Guaymas.

The center of the plaza was dominated by a crumbling wooden pavilion with a spider web-like ceiling.

Guaymas for sale.

On our walk towards the waterfront, we found the abandoned Neo Classical ruins of the once majestic Bank of Sonora.

Guaymas folkloricos.

On the waterfront, there was a festival with folklorico dancers.

Color cart at Guaymas.

Guaymas was colorful and friendly but its best attractions, including many spectacular beaches, a pearl farm and its coastal sea life are an excursion away.

That evening, at 7:00 PM, a huge marching band gathered pierside to send off the AZAMARA JOURNEY as she made her way back across the Sea Of Cortez to the Baja California hamlet of Loreto.

Russian Pianist Liana Forest aboard MV AZAMARA JOURNEY.

That evening, we peeked into the Cabaret Lounge and found ourselves particularly smitten with the dazzling talents of Russian pianist Liana Forest. Her virtuostic renditions of Gershwin, Beethoven and Rachmaninoff were as spectacular as her graceful, swanlike movements and her charming, occasionally biting wit. I later learned her first “working” cruise experience was aboard the SS MAXIM GORKIY (ex HAMBURG).

Saturday, January 15, 2011: Loreto


High winds forced the cancellation of our planned morning snorkeling expedition off Loretos’ Coronados Island.

Staff Captain Aristides Mertzanis prepares to receive the Loreto port plaque from the local authorities.

Staff Captain Aris Mertzanis was kind enough to shuttle us around the ship in the late AM so we could get optimal views of the AZAMARA JOURNEY at anchor. The Athens-based captain began his career with the early ships of Celebrity Cruises.

MV AZAMARA JOURNEY off Loreto, ctd.

Tender Viewfinder. Photo by Rob Di Stefano 2011.

Astern of MV AZAMARA JOURNEY off Loreto.

The wind and seas began to kick up when later tendered to town.

Loreto beachfront.

We brought beach towels — just in case there was time for a swim.

AZAMARA JOURNEY to the Centro Historico. Photo by Rob Di Stefano 2011.

Signs on the waterfront directed us to the historic district.

Loreto Mission.

We turned inland and walked through a topiary-covered open air mall toward the solo spire of the historic Mission Nuestra Señora de Loreto, built in 1697 but rebuilt following an earthquake in 1752. It was the first of the missions in a chain of Spanish settlements in California and begins the El Camino Real (“King’s Highway”) that stretches all the way to Sonoma in Northern California.

Mission Cathedral, Loreto.

The museum was closed (siesta again?) but we did manage to peek into the cathedral.

Borrachos Loretos.

Although the food on the ship is non-pareil, we couldn’t resist stopping in one of Loreto’s friendly cantinas for an ice cold Modelo Negro beer, fresh fish tacos, salsa and chips.

Loreto leftovers.

They didn’t last long.

AZAMARA JOURNEY awaits off Loreto.

We wandered back along the quaint Avenue to the waterfront.

Waving to MV AZAMARA JOURNEY off Loreto.

Definitely not a great day for a swim, it was back to the ship for us after a somewhat bouncy tender ride.


Just after sail-away, we joined Captain Tysse on the fo’c’sle for a quick photo or two.

Facing the JOURNEY.

Alas, our Azamara Club Journey was nearing its end…

Curry made to order in Windows.

Yet another culinary extravaganza unfolded in the Windows Cafe with a feast of fresh Indian cuisine. One last Broadway style show in the Cabaret, hosted and performed by Eric De Gray, The Azamara Cabaret Vocalists and The Journey Orchestra; a pit stop in the Looking Glass to see the ABBA tribute and then back to the cabin to pack.

Sunday, January 16, 2011: Cabo San Lucas

End Of JOURNEY at Cabo San Lucas. Photo by Rob Di Stefano 2011.

Sparkling, sunny Cabo San Lucas was the perfect setting to bid a fond goodbye to the AZAMARA JOURNEY and her sterling crew. Most cruises are special but this one was better than most. My already high expectations were exceeded. And then some.

Very special thanks: Chief Engineer Nicolaios Baltsavias, Heike Berdos, Ernie Beyl, Martin Cox, Janet Diaz, Rob Di Stefano, Harrison Liu, Johanna Jainchill, Staff Captain Aris Mertzanis, Captain Johannes Tysse, Tonya Tysse

Click Here For Part One

Click Here For Part Two of AZAMARA JOURNEY To The Sea Of Cortez

Peter Knego

Peter Knego

Having documented over 400 passenger ships and taken more than 200 cruises, MaritimeMatters’ co-editor Peter Knego is a leading freelance cruise writer, a respected ocean liner historian and frequent maritime lecturer both on land and at sea.  With his work regularly featured in cruise industry trades and consumer publications.  Knego also runs the website which offers MidCentury cruise ship furniture, artwork and fittings rescued from the shipbreaking yards of Alang, India.  He has produced several videos on the subject, including his latest, The Sands Of Alang and the best-selling On The Road To Alang."
Peter Knego

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