There is nothing nicer than relaxing on a ship out in the middle of the ocean, soaking up the sunshine as you cruise down the West Coast of Mexico. It’s a fantastic and cheap last minute holiday for your over-stressed mind. It can be a romantic getaway or a chance to have a holiday with friends or family. Nowadays it is so easy to get from Vancouver, Canada down to one of the departure ports in California.
I always like to arrive a day before my ship sails, so I have a chance to enjoy some of the area that I’m sailing from. Also, if my luggage got left behind, it has time to catch up with me. Sailing out of a major port is always such a wonderful experience. It’s fun watching the people on shore, waving to them, listening to the music as the ship leave the harbor.
Of course you’re all set to have this wonderful experience and all you want is to be sitting in the bar with a drink in your hand but there are a few housekeeping rules that have to be gone over the first. The major one of course is the lifeboat drill. Expect to be held up for about an hour while you learn to line up, put your life jacket on, and find out which lifeboat station you are required to report to should there be an incidence. In all that time I’ve been cruising I’ve never had to use a lifeboat!
Now comes the joy of finding your room. On a ship with seven stories and many hallways the first day or two you spend a lot of time lost. That’s okay because the ship is huge and there are lots of things to see as you try to find your room! It’s also a good way of meeting new people.
There are a number of cruises on the Mexican Riviera that you can take. The last one I was on made its first stop at the end of the Baja Peninsula. There is a beautiful natural arch where you approach the city of Cabo San Lucas. It’s not surprising to see whales on their migration route jumping and playing in the surf. In fact the ship often gets close enough to take really great pictures. Depending on the ship’s itinerary you may have half a day or a full day in port.
If you do have at least a full day take the opportunity to go into one of the quiet coves, which you can do by chartered boat or yacht. The ship will have all the information you need to make these decisions and the prices involved. Take your bathing suit and enjoy a swim in the surf. The sands are absolutely beautiful there. If you don’t have too much time to spend, Cabo San Lucas is a nice place just to wander around. There isn’t much shopping available near the water but there are some fantastic restaurants. Check before you leave the ship and asked where a couple of the best places are to eat. Most eateries are located down by the boat launch.
You’re going to be spending a certain amount of time at sea of course. As you journey down the coast, check out what is available on ship for shopping. That way you can price the souvenirs before you leave the ship. Sometimes the prices are better onboard than in some of the tourist areas on shore. The other thing to note is often the ships stores will have tremendous sales rate before you get back to port. So you can pick up lots of T-shirts and other momentos from your trip at a very reasonable cost.
The next stop on the last cruise I took was Mazatlan. Mazatlan really gives you a feeling of what the real Mexico is like, unless of course you stay right around the beach area for your whole onshore experience. If you do take the bus or a taxi into the downtown area you will find wonderful modern shopping area. The prices of the clothing and the shoes are very reasonable because this is where the locals shop. Go into some of the restaurants and check out cost and cleanliness before deciding where you want to eat. The meals are about one third less than what you would pay in the beach tourist areas.
It’s always good when you’re on ship to find out what entertainment is going to be available to you each night. There might be dancing, musical reviews, or even a stand up comic in one of the show lounges on the ship. Most of the ships now have casinos too for those of you who like to spend a little more money. During the daytime there are exercise rooms (if you happen to eat too much) and many cruise lines now have climbing walls. Or you can just lie around one of the pools and soak up the rays.
There are so many choices of places to dine and choices of meals on the cruise ship. Take the time to check out what is available to you. Getting all dressed up for dinner used to be one of the main events on a cruise ship. A lot of younger families choose not to do the fine dining offered but will take in the barbecues or various other deck meals that are available to them. But if you are still one that wants to be able to dress up and go out and dine in splendor it is still well worth packing an extra suit case of fine clothes.
Check your table reservations too because you may find yourself sitting at a table for eight looking at your partner. Now if that is what you want to experience that’s okay but you can ask the maitre d’ on the ship to please move you to another spot where there’s a number of other people also dining. It’s really interesting the people you meet and where they live. They are often from all parts of the world and all walks of life.
There is usually only one night that it is expected that you will really get dressed up in the main dining room. That is the night of the captain’s dinner. The rest of the time it is okay to come in just a nice pair of dress slacks and shirt with pullover, or a skirt and a blouse. In the dining room they do frown on flip-flops, or sandals and shorts, and will quietly ask you to please return to your room and put on something a little more suitable for the occasion.
Tipping is now a fixed expense on a cruise and is included in the fare. But if you have an exceptionally good server or room attendant, find out their name so you can leave a tip for them at the end of the cruise. Make sure the money is put in a separate envelope for them. The people working on the cruise ships are often from 3rd world countries and get very little pay for what they do. They don’t see their families for months and really depend on tips for any extras because they send all their pay home.
Liquor is an extra cost even though all your food and non-alcoholic beverages are included. You cannot bring liquor onto the boat with you unless it is packed in your luggage already. If you go to a liquor store on shore they will take the bottle away from you when you get back on the ship.
The final stop on this particular cruise I took was Puerto Vallarta. Ignore the fact that the cruise ship terminal is right across from Wal-Mart. As soon as you get off the ship, arrange for a very reasonably priced taxi ride to take you downtown to the Malecon from the port. There you can experience the city and it’s history. As you stroll along the walkway, sand sculptures built each day capture the imagination of all ages, ranging from 8-headed lizards to Mayan temples. Mimes covered in bronze-colored sand quietly reflect the ocean’s beauty as children try to make them laugh. It’s difficult for children, young and old, to resist climbing a ladder toward the azure skies that beckon them, which is one of the many permanent bronze sculptures.
Traditional entertainment is also available throughout the day and evening at no cost, although donations are gratefully accepted. The famous Paplanta Flyers circle their way head first toward the ground as the flute and drum players keep the rhythm. The Arches are the backdrop for many hourly folklore presentations. The Malecon has a carnival atmosphere and vendors and artists sell their wares along the way. It is well worth tasting the roasted corn, a staple in Mexico, or trying some horchata, a sweet rice drink.
At any point along the way, you can turn off to check out the local markets and even swinging bridges to carefully cross. Thousand year old trees are perfect backdrops for pictures along the river. Don’t be surprised to see an iguana sunning himself in the early morning! The Malecon is only three blocks from traditional Mexico if you want to experience some very reasonably priced pastries or tacos.
Or you may want to take a boat tour out into Banderas Bay or have fun in the jungle doing a zip line adventure. This information is available on board ship before you arrive in port. Be prepared for a fun day!
I always try to do as much as I can onshore because I’ll have lots of time on the return trip to put my feet up and just relax. Even on a seven-day cruise, by the time I get home I feel like I’ve been gone for about three weeks because I have done and seen so much!