Driving The Big Boat! Yee Haw!

Natalie (excitedly) "Hey kiddo! We're going on a cruise over the holidays!"

Simon (more excitedly) "Oh yeah?!!"

Natalie (even MORE excitedly) "So you'll be on your own this year! Have fun kiddo!"

Simon (perplexed) "Ummm ... Whaaat?!!"

What Simon didn't know ...

Friends Gary* and Lynn Clark had asked us to join them on adventures before, but the timing was never quite right. This time was different ... and we said "Yes!" A holiday cruise along the Mexican Riviera was perfect for a long-awaited rendezvous ... and a respite from current times.

*The CliffsNotes version of how I know Gary goes like this:

  • When I was 9 years old, I saw Gary when he was the drum major for the University of Idaho Vandal Marching Band. Here's an awesome picture of what the drum major does.
  • Fast forward a few years and Gary was my 8th-grade math teacher. I was, of course, his finest student.
  • During this time, he taught me, Mark Jonas, John Morgan, and a few other junior high studs the basics of rock climbing.
  • Gary and friends traveled to the Alps the summer of 1975 to climb and they took me along. It was an eye-opening experience; the Alps are BIG!
  • Over the years, there were other trips to climb rocks.
  • In a very real way, I've known Gary most of my life ... and that's pretty cool. He has been, and remains, a true inspiration.
  • Gary paid me to say these nice things about him.

Mis Amigos!

¿Navidad en un barco?

¿Año nuevo en un barco? 

¡Bienvenidos al primer blog de TourAlongWithTodd del nuevo año ... 2022!

Mis amigos ...

Put on your life jackets, pour a glass of your favorite tequila, and cozy up on a chaise lounge in the sunshine along the Promenade Deck because it's time to drive the big boat on the high seas in Picture-n-Caption format! ...  Mexico Riviera Style!

Let's go! Shall we?

¡Arriba, Arriba!



The Zuiderdam!

Our mighty ship for the journey, built in 2002, the Zuiderdam weighs 82,000 tons, is 936 feet long and 106 feet wide, has 11 decks, accommodates 1,964 passengers hosted by a crew of 812, and can rip along at a breathtaking 27 miles per hour!

The best part of cruising on such a giant vessel is how smooth the motion is. Walking along the Promenade Deck is like floating along in a hot air balloon. Well, unless there's a raging storm with gigantic waves, in which case the humongous vessel can seem very, very tiny.

How about a video to soothe away your worries about cruising?

You're welcome!

Let's get on the ship!

Ho, Ho, Ho, and Merry Christmas!

After two years interrupted by COVID, the crew of the Zuiderdam was genuinely excited to see passengers come aboard; their enthusiasm was palpable.

Crew members, many hailing from
Asia and Oceania, had been out of work during the pandemic and only recently have been called back to sea. To make this work, everyone coming aboard had to be vaccinated and then test negative within 72 hours of sailing. Yet halfway through the cruise, the captain announced that 28 crew members and 2 passengers had tested positive for the virus and were in quarantine. As a result, we were denied coming ashore at one port of call, Topolobampo, and spent an extra day at sea instead.

The silver lining was that our cruise news made U.S News & World Report!

There's no such thing as bad publicity! Right?

Just Hanging Out

Gary and Lynn hanging out from their balcony on the Veranda Deck prior to our departure from San Diego. Before the cruise, Gary assured me that the captain would let me drive the big boat! Yippee!

The captain did NOT let me drive the big boat.

Not driving the big boat could be one of the biggest disappointments of my life. Well ... that and never being asked to race in the Men's Downhill ski event at the Winter Olympics. I'd be awesome at that. In fact, Natalie often remarks about the time it takes me to descend steep, icy slopes!

First Port of Call?

Cabo San Lucus! Pictured here: The rarely photographed sea arch - El Arco - and the rock cliffs marking land's end and the junction between the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean.

Situated at the southern tip of the 800-mile-long Baja California Peninsula, Cabo was used by pirates as a hide out and today is frequented by tourists as a spot to party it up! It seems Cabo has always been a place for needed "arrrr and arrrrrrrr!"

FUN FACT: Every now and then, the moon and tides cooperate to create a beach under the arch large enough that you can walk under the famous landmark! Don't hold your breath though ... years pass between the rare event.

Trusty #16

Every cruise ship has a bunch of these boats that can be lowered from the Promenade Deck for one of two purposes:

1. Used as tenders to shuttle passengers from the ship (and back) at ports of call that can't dock enormous vessels.

2. Used as lifeboats in case things go very wrong at sea.

Trusty #16 was the boat we were assigned to in case of times of trouble. In such an event, we would actually board Trusty #16 from the Promenade Deck, about 30 feet above the sea, and then be lowered into the water, left to bob up and down like a ping pong ball until help, or land, arrives.

Hey! How about another video to further soothe away your fear of cruising!

Hey Junior Birdmen, Let's Fly!

The happy adventurers are ready to take flight at Cabo San Lucas with Happy Flights Cabo Parasailing! The concept is simple enough: You put on a harness attached to a parachute, clip into a rope on a winch attached to the boat, the boat goes faster, and the parachute lifts you up off the boat as the winch lets the rope out! Easy peasy!

Each flight lasts about 10 minutes, but it's super cool and very much an experience you wish would last 10 times as long.

Parasailing really is fun! ... as long as the rope doesn't break. It's a good thing THAT never happens!

Smile for the Camera!

Gary and Lynn floating high above Bahia San Lucas! Yee Haw!

I Can't Drive Anymore Because I'm 74!

Nothing says "authentic Mexico" than 74-year-old American rocker Sammy Hagar screaming his 1984 hit "I can't drive 55" portside at Cabo promoting his local bar, Cabo Wabo! To the right, Gary (en mask) is contemplating if a shot of tequila would remedy his aversion to Sammy's screaming along the boardwalk.

Seriously, you HAVE to check out the I can't drive 55 video. It's hilarious!

Still, I wish a had a dollar for every dollar Sammy made on that tune.

Double, Double Toil and Trouble; Fire Burn and Caldron Bubble

Here's Natalie relaxing in one of the hot tubs on the open-air Lido Deck. These tubs were WICKED! See how the water churns? In typical hot tubs, the bubble action provides relaxing relief from the day's stresses and frustrations. But in this case, the super-charged boiling bubbles rearrange internal organs or, at the least, result in bruising. I'm not kidding; I had to cut short my time in the Tub of Torture.

Still, the outdoor portion of the Lido Deck, with its pool, hot tubs, bar, snack shack, and lounging area was a fun place to hang out!

The World Anchored at Cabo

The World isn't just another cruise ship. It's a cruise ship on which you can buy a permanent residence and pal around with your new neighbors, Madonna and Arnold Schwartzenegger! One catch, starting at $2,000,000 per residence, plus hefty annual maintenance fees, The World's lifestyle might be a wee bit of a stretch.

Do you want to see where The World is right now? Or almost any other ship on the seas? Go to marinetraffic.com and enter "The World" in the search bar!

Off the Tourist Trail: El Cañon Tabor! 

Loreto was my favorite port of call ... probably because it's a small town (pop. 20,000) and was seemingly well organized to host the crush of cruise goers. I'm guessing that's also why it's a popular spot for ex-pats.

We didn't spend time visiting the shops and restaurants. No ... being the manly men and women that we are, we heard the call of the mountains ...  or at least the echos of the mountain canyon pictured here—El Cañon Tabor! 

A Walk in Nature's Park

El Cañon didn't have a trail. Rather, we wound our way up via the path of least resistance ... and there's something satisfying about such a simple form of exploration. Note though: There were often small stacks of rocks—or cairns—to help point the way. There's one at the very upper right in this image!

Extreme Exposure!

El Cañon Tabor adventure featured three short sections where fixed ropes and strategically placed tree branches provided a way past giant boulders. Above, Natalie employs the trifecta: Rock, rope, and branch! Though it doesn't look like much, a slip here is best avoided.

The Food Up With Which We Had to Put!

In this case, medium-rare filet mignon, hand-crafted lobster raviolis, heirloom carrots, tender leaves of Brussels sprouts, and swishes of not one, but TWO sauces! How beguilingly saucy!

There's no question that dining is a BIG part of the cruise experience!

Upon our return home, I was confused: I had to make things to eat. I've started with scrambled eggs. Soon I'll add toast.

Dining on the ship was so much easier.

You know what was weird about the cruise of the Mexican Riviera? There was no themed dinner featuring authentic Mexican food!

¡Ay, caramba! 

Type II Diabetes Anyone?

And then there's dessert! From left to right, we begin with Crème Brûlée featuring a crunchy sugar crunch thing that itself is topped with sugar pastry-thingies. Next, a giant Baked Alaska—oddly lacking the traditional internal ice cream—but including a raspberry sauce spiked with sugar. And finally, a piece of pie topped with another sugar pastry-thingy.

Bottom line, the food on a cruise is amazing and plentiful. I gained three pounds in ten days—despite walking at least three miles a day along the Promenade Deck!

Extrapolating this out a bit, if I lived on a cruise ship for 10 years, I'd gain 109 lbs. a year, or 1,090 lbs. by the end of my residency. By that time, you could probably just find me at my new residency: The table in the dining room labeled "The Todd Blob!"

See you there! And bring a bib!


The city of Guaymas welcomed us with a marching band!

In one of the odder events during the trip, these kids played three tunes over and over and over ... for about an hour ... until we were cleared to deboard the ship. Were they good? Well, I'm guessing it's a junior high band ... so ... But! They absolutely deserve extra credit for being an unexpected and fun welcoming committee!

Picture-Perfect Pretty Pelican

We saw LOTS of birds and I took photos of them! There are more examples in the photo album (linked at the end of this post), but by far my favorites were the pelicans. They're more beautiful than I'd ever imagined. They're also viciously efficient fishing machines ... and they poop a lot on sea cliffs ... so much so that it's called "Mexican snow." I would not want to have to shovel that!

So Grand, Majestic, and Dominating!

Our ship docked at Mazatlan. But our ship is on the left. The ship on the right—the Norwegian Bliss—carries twice the number of passengers and crew!

Dolphins and Palms

Just a small section of the La Continuidad de la Vida sculpture along Paseo Olas Altas at Mazatlan, and just one of the stops during our private tour with guide José Luis.

Unlike the other guides trolling for clients near the dock that morning, José first gave us directions to walk to the cathedral area before making his pitch: An hour-long tour in his cab for $30. It was money well spent. He was nice, knowledgeable, and made any stop for me to take photos.

At one point, we were stuck at an intersection while a tour bus tried to make a turn from one narrow street into another. As the bus driver performed a record-breaking 1,000-point turn, José managed to reverse our direction and continue on. Five minutes later, we passed by a street from which we could see the tour bus ... still negotiating its ultra-slow-motion turn.

I hope they had bathrooms on that bus!

Photo credit: Vegas Experience.

Power Rangers at Mazatlan!

After lunch it was time to zipline!

We didn't bring phones or cameras to record our experience at Huana-Coa Canopy Zipline Adventure. So instead, above is a photographic illustration of Natalie and me flying as Power Rangers!

No!!! I'm not the pink Power Ranger!

Photo credit: Wild Canyon.

The Intimate Zipline?

Or maybe we flew more like this! Who knows? It all happened so fast! If you've never ziplined, you should. Most people survive the experience. In fact, most people say, "OMG, let's do that again!"

What's it like? Here's someone else's video of the first zipline at Huana-Coa!

So, what's better than ziplining? How about a couple of shots of tequila after the adventure! Huana Coa is a producer of craft tequila and they ensured we had opportunity to taste their fine product ... and we did ... and it was good!

4:30 Means It's Trivia Time!

We joined in on the fun most afternoons. Teams of 1 to 6 people write down their answers to the 20 questions posed. While the question on the screen in the photo is pretty easy, every session had some true challenges, such as: Name Frank Sinatra's four wives ... Without Googling the answer on your phone!

We did pretty well, but never won.

What did the winners win? Ummm ... nothing.

Still, onboard events and presentations offer something for just about everyone: cultural lectures, musical presentations, cooking demonstrations, and yoga sessions!

Sadly, there were still no opportunities to drive the big boat!


New Year's Eve and my favorite guy on the ship is just getting started! Did we make it to midnight? We DID! But not partying it up with the revelers on the Lido Deck. Nope, we managed to make it by watching the classic James Bond movie Goldfinger in our cabin.

Spoiler alert! In the end, James gets Pussy Galore, Miss Moneypenny remains frustrated, and Q wants his groovy tech gadgets back!

"Oh James!!"

Jenga Time!

Jenga is a fun, challenging game on land, but how about on a moving platform? These folks, in the Crow's Nest lounge on the 10th deck, were up to the challenge. Note that the bottom level of their stack is a single Jenga piece ... on a moving ship! ... These guys were pros!

FUN FACT: The word "Jenga" is derived from the Swahili word meaning "to build." What's more, the wood used to make the blocks is from Alder trees grown in the Pacific Northwest! And now you know!

Jenga on, dude!

Change-Over Day!

It's disembarkation and change-over day and a hub of activity on board the Zuiderdam and along the San Diego dock!

It's a relentless schedule. The crew have to see that all passengers have disembarked by 10:30 a.m. and THEN have to clean, change, and restock everything for another cruise ... all before the 4:30 p.m. sailing time!

And That's a Wrap!

Somehow, we managed to wait in airports, fly on planes, eat in dining rooms with hundreds of other people, and otherwise get around without contracting COVID or being delayed by storms or cancelled flights that plagued this winter's holiday travel!

About This Photo:

When first boarding a cruise ship, your picture is taken and becomes associated with your lifeline to the ship—your cruise ID card. That seems simple enough. But there's also a team of roving photographers employed by the cruise line constantly taking photos of you—getting off the ship, getting on the ship, and even eating dinner.

Using AI technology, those images are matched up with your cruise ID photo. Near the end of the cruise, you're invited to view the images and ... buy them! We declined to purchase any of our images except this one. 

The cost of the image? $20.

The cost of Lynn photobombing the shot with bunny ears without us knowing until we saw the photo days later? Priceless!


Oh! In case you have lingering concern that Simon spent the holidays alone, weeping, huddled in fetal position ... He didn't; he whooped it up with my brother Marc and family in Seattle!

It turns out that mixing up how holidays are celebrated is something we should all do more often ... Especially when it's with friends who make offers ... and an offer finally works out.


More TourAlongs are on the way in 2022 ... seriously!

Until then ... Adios Amigos!

Next time ... I'll let you drive the big boat! I promise!


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But WAIT! There's MORE!

It's time for the ...


Click this link—
Awesome Pacific Ocean Sunset—to begin viewing the photo album. There are a bunch of fun photos just waiting to tickle your eyeballs!

The best way to view the slideshow is when YOU control it! To do this, follow these easy instructions:
  1. Click the link above.

  2. When the album opens, click the right-facing triangle at the upper right corner of the page to play the slideshow.

  3. Next, at the center bottom of the screen, click the pause button to stop the slideshow from automatically playing at its predetermined pace.

  4. Then just use the < or > arrows left of the pause button to move backward or forward.

Easy Peasy!

1 comment:

  1. You are extremely lucky to have such cool friends as the Clarks