Report: Mexican Riviera Poker Cruise
Lou Krieger, Card Player Magazine Strategy Columnist
and author of Poker for Dummies, Hold'em Excellence,
and More Hold'em Excellence. Lou Krieger is one of many professional
poker players and authors who join Card Player Cruises voyages as
participants and seminar speakers.
Friday, December 1, not yet 7:15 in the morning, and while most
North Americans are shivering somewhere in the early winter chill,
about to step gingerly out of bed in hopes that the a day brings
a hint of sunshine and warmth, I've got a dive bag full of snorkeling
gear and a bathing suit on. My hand trails along in the Sea of Cortez,
creating the smallest of wakes, as the water-taxi "Zigi"
beats a path from the dock in Cabo San Lucas to a remote spot called
sun's already come over the horizon, but hasn't yet climbed up over
the mountains that rim Cabo, so the dawn is cast in the muted colors
or indirect light. Later on, when the sun breaks over the top of
the bare, rocky hills, the sky will turn deep blue, the day will
grow much warmer, and the sea will become almost transparent when
the sun shines down on it.
are three of us, plus the driver, in this water taxi. My companions
are two dealers from the Muckleshoot Casino in Auburn, Washington:
Janie, who is dealing on this cruise, and David, who won the cruise
at a cardroom and who is known to one and all as "David, the
Fun Guy." We were not only fun, we were fast. And ready. When
the Carnival cruise ship, the Elation, anchored at Cabo, we boarded
the day's first tender, which ferried us from the ships anchorage
to the pier at Cabo. From there we quickly negotiated a deal with
Zigi, and were now on our way -- snorkel gear at the ready -- to
guys at the ship's snorkel desk touted Lover's Beach as the best
snorkeling spot of the week, and it's a wondrous place even without
the snorkeling. No roads lead there. It is reachable only by water
taxi, and is one of the few spots in the world with two beachfronts.
On one side faces the Pacific Ocean, where the tides are high and
the current strong, and it's far too turbulent for good snorkeling.
But a walk of less than one fourth of a mile across the sands brings
the visitor to the other side of the beach, which faces the placid
Sea of Cortez.
outcroppings stand like pillars anchoring each side of the Sea of
Cortez beachfront. The rock formations serve as roosts for the pelicans
that live there. Pelicans are not dummies. They know where the food
is, and the sight of pelicans is an assurance that there are plenty
of small fish nearby.
no dock at Lover's Beach. You hop out of the boat and into the surf
at calf-depth, after first heaving your gear onto the shore. We
were the only folks on the beach, except, of course, for a few T-Shirt
and silver jewelry vendors who must have arrived before sunrise
to set out their wares for the tourists that would soon be arriving.
and a half hours in the water, looking at schools of fish -- bright,
vertically striped black and yellow Sergeant Majors, small, narrow,
translucent purple fish, big fish, mid-sized fish I didn't recognize,
and watching the well-nourished pelicans dive and grab a beak full
of breakfast -- went by all too fast, and finally the three of us,
thoroughly waterlogged, climbed back on the beach to buy the obligatory
T-shirts and await the arrival of Zigi, who had promised to return
for us at 10:30 a.m.
the time we finally hauled ourselves out of the water and dried
off, we were amazed to look at our surroundings. Far from having
the beach all to ourselves as we did when we arrived, Lover's Beach
was packed. The three of us were certainly not the only ones who
took water taxis out to the best snorkeling of the week, only the
two hours in the water, the sun felt good. It had long since crested
the hills, and I could feel it warm my skin as I stretched out on
a beach towel and basked in the thought that right then, right at
that moment, I was where most of North America would prefer to be
-- if they even knew this place existed and could miraculously transport
themselves here. I may be a Southern Californian of long standing,
but I'll always be enough of an easterner at heart to count my blessings
anytime I can go snorkeling in December.
did I do this? How did I come by this wonderful opportunity? I took
a cruise; that's what I did. And not just any cruise, either: it
was a Card Player Cruises vacation on the Elation. A 70,000-ton
behemoth with a dozen decks, shops, discos, a trio that played Mozart
and Vivaldi each evening in the central atrium, a free sushi bar,
and all the other amenities that are standard fare on modern cruise
ships, the Elation is one of Carnival's newer ships -- and one of
the largest too. Card Player Cruises has made this trip before;
it's their almost-annual Mexican Riviera cruise, which leaves from
San Pedro and sails to Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, and Cabo San Lucas.
was a weeklong jaunt, which began with two days at sea. The ship
steamed around the tip of Baja California to its furthest destination,
Puerto Vallarta, a spot made famous by Richard Burton and Liz Taylor
-- who partied and fought so hard and long during the time they
filmed Night of the Iguana there -- that the town itself experienced
a boom of unabated proportions that continue on to this day.
we docked at Puerto Vallarta, a group of poker cruisers headed for
a chartered catamaran, for a trip to Los Arcos, a bunch of rocky
arches that rise up out of the water a few miles from town. It was
supposed to be a snorkeling trip. But snorkeling was only an incidental.
The main attraction was salsa dancing, beer drinking, fun, frivolity,
sun, and water, that began the minute the boat left the dock and
didn't end until the last of us staggered off -- tired, salt-encrusted,
of the catamaraners scampered down a two-lane highway on a chartered
bus to Chico's Paradise, a local restaurant of some renown. It's
perched on rocks, open to the air and elements, with a Palapa roof,
a bunch of parrots that have run of the place, and a fine view of
the river -- complete with waterfall -- that runs right alongside
can, in fact, venture down to the rocks and dip into the water while
waiting for the main course to arrive. But I wouldn't tarry too
long if I were you; you might miss the main course. And believe
me, you don't want to miss this one. Everyone who had been there
on previous cruises touted one particular dish: an enormous portion
of jumbo prawns, shrimp, fish, lobster tail, crab, and other seafood
delights, plus rice and tortillas. It was served on something that
dwarfed most serving platters, and one dish was enough for two people,
or perhaps three or four, depending on whether they had normal appetites
or were poker players.
next day found us slightly south of Puerto Vallarta, in Mazatlan,
a rapidly growing city that's fast becoming a popular resort destination
in its own right. It is also the home of a place called Señor
Frog's. More about that later.
had never been to Mazatlan, so I opted for a tour of the city to
orient myself to its charms. The tour began in the old part of the
city, which has what the guidebooks refer to as "colonial architecture."
But if that phrase has no meaning for you, tell yourself this: It
looks a lot like the French Quarter in New Orleans. Houses and shops
are protected from the sun by overhanging balconies, the streets
are narrow, and the houses are built to the lot line in the Creole
fashion and open to the elements.
no air conditioning; instead the natives keep cool by the extensive
use of clay or adobe as building materials, and the walls are very
thick. We toured a number of places in the old part of the city,
including an artist's home that also serves as his studio. The tour
continued northward, toward the newer sections of Mazatlan, including
the Golden Zone, an area along the beach with modern hotels and
beach facilities. Like Acapulco, Mazatlan also has cliff divers,
which is not a way I'd want to make a living. The youngest diver
is 16; the oldest is 60, and if these guys have beat stories, they're
probably not around to tell them.
has a Señor Frog's gift shop downtown, and another at Señor
Frog's itself. To call it a party bar is an understatement. And
although I bought a Señor Frog's T-shirt, I did not go inside
Señor Frog's; I swear it to you. I had a seminar to give
that evening, and did not relish the thought of having to be dragged
up from under some table, carried back to the cruise ship, and thrust
on stage, microphone in hand, with part of me trying to remember
what to say while the other part was wondering how to tell that
guy inside my head to stop his hammering for a few minutes so I
could get my bearings. I was responsible and sober, and although
I lost one of my favorite ball caps that blew off in the open-air
pulmonaria that took me back to the cruise ship, I was ready for
the seminar. Maybe next time I'll get to while away an afternoon
at the good señor's, but I rationalized my sobriety by telling
myself that even if I had gone, I probably wouldn't have remembered
any more about it than some of the cruisers who did visit Señor
Frog's but were, to say the least, rather hazy about the details
of their day.
poker seminar was similar to the one I'd given on the Caribbean
cruise a month and a half earlier, but I tweaked it somewhat.
I had to strike a fine line in preparing my material, since some
of those in attendance were beginners, while others were experienced,
sophisticated players. A question and answer session -- a time for
the cruisers to ask questions of Linda Johnson, Jan Fisher, and
me -- was held the following day, and that that lasted another hour.
next day we arrived in Cabo, which is where you, dear reader, came
in. But there was more to the cruise than ports of call. There was
poker every minute the ship was at sea. There were $1-$2 games for
beginners, and games as high as $20-$40. Linda Johnson taught a
beginner's class, and there were tournaments too, though I did not
play in any of them. I'm in the midst of writing another book, Gambling
For Dummies, which deals with all casino games -- not just poker
-- and I promised myself that I would write each morning in order
to keep up with the tight editorial deadlines that publishers are
fond of inflicting on writers. And I did, too.
made for a nice routine at sea. Get up, go to breakfast, come back
to a clean cabin where I could sit in solitude and write to my heart's
content. I'd have lunch at about 1:00; play poker until dinnertime,
whereupon I'd commence my nightly ritual of overeating. And I'd
wash that sin away with more poker, or a show. The next day was
either more of the same, or a port of call. Cruises are supposed
to be relaxing; at least that's what they say in the brochures.
But I always find more to do than time to do it in, and it's hard
to pass on all the fun just waiting to be had, simply because your
body is crying for sleep.
now I'm home, where it's cold -- at least by Southern California
standards-- and my feet are tucked beneath me as I type this. I
can hear them talking too. My feet are telling me they wish they
were back in some clear, turquoise and azure-hued warm water where
the reefs, sea birds, and tropical fish reside. "And isn't
that the best way," they're saying, "to while away the
Lou Krieger's website at http://www.loukrieger.com
to read more of his poker articles or to order his books.