Step onto MV Astoria, and you are transported to the vintage age of ocean cruising. The historic vessel dates to its launch in 1946, making it the second-oldest cruise ship in service.
Classic Cruising aboard MV Astoria
Astoria’s unique and rich sailing heritage makes it of special interest to cruisers who have a particular fondness for maritime history. The ship was initially known as the Stockholm when it launched more than seven decades ago. In July 1956, the ship collided with the Andrea Doria — causing that ship to capsize and sink — and killed more than 50 people in an infamous tragedy.
After this year, though, its prospects look murky at best. CMV says it won’t be using the ship beyond the 2020 sailing season, and the last scheduled voyage is in October on a Norway and Northern Lights cruise. You’ll have to act fast if you are interested in booking a cruise on MV Astoria to grab a little piece of history for yourself.
Cruise Addicts was onboard during the cruise line’s inaugural itinerary in the Sea of Cortez, and this voyage offered the chance to visit some small ports in Mexico, some that were excited to welcome their first cruisers in 10 years.
MV Astoria carries up to 550 passengers, so you are treated to a more intimate experience than you get on the latest and greatest mega-ships. The emphasis is on having a romantic and relaxing cruise, visiting exotic destinations away from the masses.
While the ship offers a certain romance and charm, it comes with limitations, as well. There isn’t much to do on sea days other than the usual trivia contests, enrichment talks from guest speakers, and darts or cornhole (bean bag toss) competitions.
The pool is small and was too cold to enjoy in January, even in Mexico. The pool deck also doesn’t include loungers, only tables with chairs, so this winter itinerary was not for those looking to bask in the sunshine on the open sea.
The heating and cooling systems fluctuated on the older ship constantly, so it wasn’t strange to see passengers bringing blankets to lectures to stay warm.
But we did enjoy the service. With a high staff-to-passenger ratio, there was always a friendly crew member nearby to assist with anything you needed. The nightly entertainment was quite impressive, with staff members pulling double duty hosting and singing.
Dancers and specialty acts (opera, mariachi bands, musical revues and jazz nights) rounded out the array of options. The food was hit or miss in the Lotus Buffet, but the Olissipo Restaurant constantly offered solid and satisfying meals. We’d recommend taking breakfast in the main restaurant over the buffet (the food is the same, but the presentation and service ranks far higher in the restaurant.
Astoria’s traditional wraparound walkway on the Promenade Deck (Deck 5) is a popular outdoor space and offers passengers a great place to take a stroll in the morning or after dinner. It’s also a preferred place to lean on the rail to take in spectacular views of the ocean and sunsets.
The ship also offers a small fitness center, spa (although book your appointments early as the schedule filled up before we were even onboard), beauty salon, steam room, sauna, an auditorium with movie screenings, a 53-seat night club and a casino.
There is a wide selection of stateroom options, including twin rooms, doubles, junior suites, balcony suites and more – all with their own distinct designs. Although some cabins are on the small side, all of them include a full bathtub with shower head.
The Port Stops
The best part of traveling with Cruise & Maritime Voyages – the line features six other small- to mid-sized vessels that offer cruises all over the world – is the value you receive for such affordable accommodations.
Our Treasures of the Sea of Cortez cruise gave us access to small ports you won’t find on heavily traveled cruise itineraries throughout Mexico. This means smaller crowds and more immersive experiences.
We visited La Paz, Loreto, Santa Rosalía, and Guaymas on our voyage.
In La Paz, we strolled the Malecón, a vibrant and busy seaside walkway lined with public art, playgrounds, dozens of restaurants and shops. Afterward, we experienced the natural beauty of La Paz’s Balandra Beach, with its clear blue waters, jutting cliffs, and mushroom rock, a unique natural formation that attracts photographers and Instagrammers alike.
Santa Rosalía, although not visited by a cruise ship in more than a decade, pulled out all the stops for our day in port. The town’s history as a copper mining site founded by the French company El Boleo, creates a mishmash of Mexican and European influence including a famous (and delicious) bakery, a church (Iglesia de Santa Barbara) that some say was designed by Gustave Eiffel and a mining history museum. Yet, the overall feel was that of an old wild west town complete with charming residents eager to share their heritage.
Loreto packed the most punch for a port stop – snorkeling, diving, kayaking, hiking, whale watching, and horseback riding are all available activities. There’s also a beautiful downtown that caters to pedestrians lined with shops and restaurants — don’t miss the most authentic tacos at El Rey Del Taco. If you still have time, take the scenic drive up to the San Javier Mission to step back in time and learn about Jesuit history.
While in port in Guaymas, we took a bus to San Carlos where we enjoyed a small boat ride around the bay and reveled in a pod of dolphins that playfully splashed in our wake.
A mix of popular ports and rarely visited destinations makes Cruise & Maritime Voyages’ new Sea of Cortez itinerary truly special.
MV Astoria is definitely not flashy. The ship is best suited for well-traveled cruisers looking for a relaxing voyage that harkens back to the glory days of traditional ocean liners. Don’t expect a bellyflop contest or decadent, mile-long buffet tables.
Instead, you’ll receive exemplary service and the special experience of sailing on a classic smaller cruise ship with attentive service and friendly cruise companions who are also seeking out refreshing and exhilarating times in fascinating places that are true gems away from the crowds.
CMV’s ships such as MV Astoria offer classic and stylish designs, with polished wood floors and railings, teak decks, maritime-themed décor and inviting bars and lounge areas. This is classic ocean cruising — as opposed to modern resort-style mega-ship sailing.
Written by John Roberts and Kelly McDaniel
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