Last Cruise in the Sea of Cortez
Story and Photos by Deborah Loeb Bohren
If you’re looking for a cruise ship the size of a small city with the likes of rock walls, extreme water slides, go-karting, and laser tag, you can stop reading now because this isn’t the cruise for you. But, if the idea of a historic ship and otherwise inaccessible intimate ports of call with a dash of soft adventure thrown in for good measure appeals to you, then a cruise on a ship like Cruise & Maritime Voyages MV Astoria may just be what you’re looking for.
The MV Astoria made its maiden voyage in 1948 as the now infamous M.S. Stockholm – yes, you heard right, the ship that collided with the S.S. Andrea Doria off Nantucket in 1956. Now the oldest working cruise ship, sailing on it means being a part of history. According to John Dennis, CMVs Vice President for Sales and Marketing, their cruises — especially this one — “are for travelers, not cruisers.” At only 550 passengers the MV Astoria itineraries offer small ship cruising at an affordable price, making it the value proposition in its class.
With solid brass railings, Murano glass light fixtures, bidets in the bathrooms and a teak promenade deck that fully encircles the ship (6 circuits = 1 mile) the MV Astoria harkens back to an era of cruising gone by. Her lines are still beautiful— calling to mind the French phrase une femme d’un certain âge — and the original bell from the Stockholm’s bow is proudly displayed as a reminder of the ships storied past.
I had the opportunity to experience this slice of maritime history on CMV’s first Treasures of the Sea of Cortez cruise. Sailing out of Puerto Penasco the 11-night itinerary included rarely visited destinations between there and Cabo San Lucas. At each distinctive destination, we were offered a variety of excursions, ranging from cultural experiences to outdoor activities.
For example, in La Paz, you can take in the sea, sun and some great art strolling along the roughly 3.5-mile malecón, or simply relax at one of the many excellent restaurants overlooking it all. There is also the Museo Regional, a small but excellent anthropology museum where the cultural history of the region unfolds before your eyes.
In Loreto, a leisurely stroll and shopping for local handicrafts is on the agenda. So is a visit to the 300-year-old San Javier Mission, high atop the Sierra de la Giganta mountain range, up a seriously winding road, about an hour and a half out of town. The church has been restored and the Mission is home to the oldest olive tree in all of the Americas.
Then there was Santa Rosalia. Truly off the beaten tourist path, we were the first cruise ship to anchor there in more than a decade. Originally a copper mining town with a large French presence, the residents came out to greet us with music, handicrafts, homemade baked goods, and even some local wine. Not to be missed is the Panadería El Boleo bakery, where the original wood ovens have turned out classic Mexican bread along with the occasional French croissant for nearly 120 years.
Up for more active adventures? The ship offered a multitude of opportunities for whale watching, kayaking, snorkeling, and nature walks through the Baja Canyon, as well as beach escapes like the one to the exquisite Balandra Bay — with idyllic white-sand beaches, it’s perfect for snorkeling, bird watching or doing nothing at all.
Sadly, the day I returned from the cruise, the company announced that they were retiring the M.V. Astoria at the end of the year. But for history buffs, you still have the opportunity to be a part of maritime history with seven sailings from England on a variety of itineraries from Iceland to the Baltics set for the remainder of 2020. And if it’s the image of exploring the real Mexico in towns like Santa Rosalia along with the unique ecosystem of Baja California and the Sea of Cortez, stay tuned because the company is developing new itinerary’s to take you there on another intimate ship.
Deborah Loeb Bohren is a fine art and travel photographer. Photography has been Deb’s passion since her father put a camera in her hand when she was only five years old. Today she combines that passion with her love of travel, using her camera to capture the intersection and interplay of light, line and color to create visual stories from the flea markets of Paris to the dunes of Morocco and from Machu Picchu to Havana and beyond. She lives in New York.