Mexican Cruise Report

So I’m finally getting this online after two weeks of being home. This is the (hopefully) short story of the ten days involved in a seven day cruise to three ports of call in Mexico (my first time there) with my wife-to-be Firefly and her two parents. Thursday night I got home from work and did a marathon packing session, getting out the door around 8 or 8:30. Follow that with a quick (3 hour) drive down to Seattle and then a night in a freezing hotel before a morning shuttle to SeaTac, followed by sitting and waiting for a flight to LA. More, including lots of pics if you read more….

Puerta Vallarta Port

This entry isn’t complete I don’t think, and there are still more pictures coming, but it’s stagnated way too long as a draft. Check out the photo set for updates later on.

First, I must say that SeaTac is a very nice airport, clean, interesting displays, nice view of the (frozen) field and runways from the gate that we were at.

Seatac Art Frozen Seatac

However, the second thing I want to say about SeaTac is they sure do know how to make you feel like a criminal. First you get herded into long lineups where a little balding guy with the air of one completely in charge wanders up and down the line yelling out that you can’t have any liquids, if you do have any liquids they will become prohibited items, how you have to have your paperwork (“paperz! we need ze papers!”) out, your shoes off, your butt cheeks pre-spread, etc, etc. Of course, you really can’t complain or say anything about the complete lack of respect because if you do you will probably a) not get on your flight and b) be thrown where ever they put terrorists these days. Bleah.

Anyway, back to the fun. We got our flight via which has really cheap flights, with the caveat that you don’t know when they depart or arrive until you pay for them, so if you have to have a flight to get somewhere at a specific time, you have to get there a day early to ensure you can get there in time. Therefor we ended up in LA (San Pedro actually, where the cruise ship port is) a day early. The weather was quite nice though not hot, which was nice (though the poor LA-ites were in hats and mitts). Our hotel was a bit nicer as well, right beside the monument to Fishermen and the monument to the Marines, which I wandered through with a camera.

San Pedro Sailor Monument San Pedro Fishermen Monument

Come noon Saturday morning it was time! We got another shuttle to the port and…. stood in line some more. Then moved a bit, then stood some more. Eventually we finally made it into a big room with lots of other people where we waited some more. Eventually we got to file slowly on to the boat, after going through another X-ray machine. Pictures were taken of each couple as they boarded in front of a fake palm tree or something (to be later sold for $24.99 along with pictures taken of people while they got on and off the ship).

San Pedro Harbor Bridge

I’d never been on a cruise ship before and I have to say it was big. The center open deck area had a pool and two hot tubs, which was just forward of the inside pool and two hot tubs. The rear of the boat also was laden with pools, and everywhere there were cool details of artwork or carved wood or what have you. During the entire trip the upkeep of the boat was of high priority, and on more than one occasion handrails or wooden stairs received additional coats of paint and/or varnish. We got three days to sit around and do nothing or everything. On a cruise I think the worst thing that they can have happen is for any guests to be either a) hungry or b) bored. There were several restaurants (each with their own theme) and a 24/7 buffet for those 3am munchies. There was also a pizza stand and a hotdog/hamburger stand beside the pool, and bars everywhere. There were even scheduled afternoon teas where you sat around with other passengers and were served tea, finger sandwiches and snacks. It was really hard to be hungry. As for being bored, if you got this way it was your own fault. Each morning a paper appeared at the door with everything that was going on during the day. From $25 computer classes to bridge tournaments to talks and lectures about the places we were going, they had it all. You could involve yourself in any or all of these. I for the most part enjoyed sitting on the deck with a book or wandering around the ship with my camera.

Ship Mosaic Detail Ship Name

Stop #1 – Puerto Vallarta
Our first port of call was Puerto Vallarta, the southernmost city of the route. We got into port at 7am on the fourth day of the trip. I was up at 6:50 to catch the sunrise and I have to say it was quite a shock to get out on deck and suddenly you’re surrounded by a bay instead of hundreds of miles of empty ocean. After a breakfast we followed the heard of people heading into port. We had gone to the "shopping in Mexico" talk with the expectation of actual information like “how to haggle” or “the farther you get from the ship the cheaper the beer is”, but sadly it was basically a diamond sales pitch, telling us how our five “must-see” (and I say that with great sarcasm) stops in PV were Diamonds International, Tansanite International, High-Priced This, and High-End That. I’m a bit frugal and objectionable to advertising as it is, so I was a bit discusted, however we found out that if we went to Store A and got a coupon we could get a free taxi ride into town to Store B. After this same thing happened two more times I was quite convinced that the only purpose for a cruise was to convey people from one shop to another, via a big boat.

Puerta Vallarta Port

Right out of the gate we were hit with taxi ride offers and tours of the city. We let ourselves be roped into one of these with a nice guy who had been doing it for the last twenty years. He took the four of us on a three hour tour of the city, both the “golden zone” (read, high rent tourist trap area) and the old city and “real” Mexico, along with a trip out into the rainforest area and a cool little village tucked in the middle of nowhere. I have to say it was a beautiful area. What the city lacked in being clean and modern feeling, it made up for tenfold in color. We could definately learn a thing or two out here from there. Everywhere there were bright bright colors and beautiful artistic ironwork and woodwork, even in the poor areas of town. We rolled through the areas where you could get yourself a 20 million dollar home as well, where there was some fantastic workmanship.

View of the Bay

Firefly and I were dropped off at a restaurant (where I’m sure they got a lot of this guys’ fairs) FireflyMom and Dad went back to the ship while we had a fantastic lunch and then caught a bus back into town to explore some more. We hit the tequila shops and more than enough jewelry stores. Beer and wine stores out here can learn a thing or two from the tequila shops in Mexico. Free Samples! We went into a higher end tequila shop and basically you get to taste whatever you want, and not a small amount either, basically a full shot. The jewelery stores did basically the same thing, go in and look for a bit and if they don’t get you one by themselves, just say you’re thirsty and would like a beer or water, and they are happy to get you one or two or three. Anything that keeps you in the shop longer and anything to lighten your head helps I guess. I have no idea how they tagged me as a tourist!

IMG_7725 IMGP0820

We made our way back to the port by taxi and re-boarded. Next day was Mazatlan, which we pulled into at around 7am. I got in the habit of noting the times of sunrise and sunset each day, and would get up on deck ten minutes before each every day to get pictures. Sadly there didn’t seem to be that many really fantastic ones, though there were a few that were quite nice.


Aboard Ship
Now a short digression to talk a bit about life aboard ship. We got the lowest level of cabin I think, which while being perfectly adequate, could be a wee bit cramped. You got a small bathroom with shower, closet, then bedroom with basically a bed and not much room for anything else. We got a bad bed as well, horribly hard and with awful pillows 🙁 The pillows we were able to get replace with feather ones but not much could be done about the bed. I didn't do a lot of sleeping there, I can definately say it’s really nice to be back in my own bed though 🙂

The Cabin The Bathroom

Everything on the ship is run off an ID card you get, from using it to pay for your drinks to gaining access back on the ship after a day in port. Not something you want to lose. Speaking of paying for things, here’s the breakdown of what’s for pay and what’s free. Anything that you need to live is free (well, lets say “not extra”). Food, lodging, non-bottled water, access to the gym and access to the pools. Alcoholic drinks were approximately $6.50 USD (15% gratuity automatically added on), pictures taken by ship staff going off to port or on the formal night were $24.99 per 6×8 and computer time is $0.50 a minute.

I also found at the end of the trip that $10 per day per person was automatically added on to each room for gratuity for the rest of the ship. If you think about it two people probably would spend $20 in tips per day if you were on holidays with eating out and so on, but still, not nice for them to slip it in there like that.

Amidst the stuff to keep you busy each day were the shows that were put on in the theater. These ranged from just-out-of-theater movies playing in the afternoon (Mission Impossible 3 and Over the Hedge are the ones I remember) to vegas style dancing and singing shows in the evening, hypnotists, magicians and comedians. Very nicely done and no doubt high quality acts. There was also a TV in each room which gave you a couple of “ship specific” channels. One was a rotating readout of position, miles from X and miles to Y, times of sunrise and sunset, weather, etc, the other was a view from the top of the ship pointed either forwards or onto the midships pool. Other channels had movies (the same ones showing the day before in the theater) and a couple of cable channels (CNN and TNT I believe). There’s also a well equipped gym at the front of the ship, right under the tennis / basketball court to help you work off whatever you gained from the foods and desserts the night before. Now where was I, oh yea….

Port #2 – Mazatlan
Mazatlan was tied for first as the city with the most aggressive people selling you stuff. Again right off the ship we got a free taxi ride. This time it was a timeshare though. I didn’t hear "timeshare" actually said (Firefly and FireflyMom did they told me later though), just an invitation to come and tour a new hotel for an hour and in exchange we get a taxi ride from the port into the hotel in town, a $100 voucher for lunch, and a 1 or two hour tour of the city afterwards. Since none of us was going to spend $35,000 on a two week timeshare they really were just wasting our time and theirs, but as with everything in Mexico it seemed, if the slightest chance to make a sale is there, go for it. So we toured some nice hotel and sat down with a nice lady who explained all sorts of things (think used car salesman), gave us water and beer and said she just loved Vancouver. Uh huh. Following this was her manager who did another salesjob involving flip charts and a laptop and who we finally told we just weren’t interested and thankyouverymuch.

After that (it was more than an hour) we wandered around for a bit, hitting the beach, a very cool little flea market and various roadside shops along the way. Very nice beach by the way, if you can tune out the people there selling you things.


Since we had the $100 voucher for lunch, we headed back and coincidently enough when we sat down again the nice saleslady came by to chat. Apparently her manager (the guy with the laptop and flipcharts) told her that we didn’t buy because she hadn’t mentioned one of the fees that he had. The cynical ones amongst you may nod and say “uh huh, sure” at this point. Anyway, we didn’t buy a second time and had an OK lunch before getting our tour of the city. This was probably worth it as we got shuttled all around the town by another nice guy (though he didn’t speak nearly as much english as our tour guide from PV. We hit various sights and sounds of both the “golden zone” and the “old town” areas including a great lookout area and a beautiful old church.

Church in Mazatlan

Again, lots of pictures were taken before we were dropped back at the port in preparation for….

Stop #3 – Cabo San Lucas
This was our shortest time in port, only five hours, as we had to pull out in the early afternoon to get on the road back to LA in time. This was the third morning in a row that I was able to come out on deck at just before 7am to take pictures of the sunrise over a new town. This port didn’t have a port, so people were bussed by boat to and from the cruise ship, which was fun in itself. This town was the other one that had the worst amount of salespeople. You basically had to run a guantlet of people selling silver bobbles, trips in glass bottomed boats, fishing, whale watching, and so on. Saying no to one guy didn’t have any effect on the guy directly beside him selling the same thing of course, so you either

  • ignored them
  • tuned them out
  • said “no” politely to each one
  • killed them one by one with your bare hands as they drove you crazy

I opted for a combination of the first three. We wandered around the bay a bit, and found not a lot of stores open. We made a jaunt a couple of blocks away from the main drag and discovered that like down near Gastown in Vancouver, a couple of blocks can be the difference between luxurious living and high end stores and pretty low living conditions. A couple of beers later and we did the second half of the bay, finding some more stores that were mildly interesting, along with a lot more offers of glass bottom boat tours.

By this time Firefly was complaining about me dragging her for miles of walking in the blazing sun (which I was) and we headed back to the boat, getting some nice shots of the pelicans as we went along. The one salesman that I did want to talk to and buy something from and never did was the old guy with the huge lizard in a small sombrero available for having it’s picture taken with. I realized after we had gotten back to the boat that I would have loved to have some pictures of it wrapped around Firefly’s head 🙂 Before getting back on the water taxi for the trip back to the boat we hit the market for some T-Shirts and blew the last of our cash. Thus ended the last stop and our last day on Mexican land. The rest of the trip back was pretty uneventful. De-boarding involved more standing in lines, then a taxi to a hotel, a mediocre Chinese food buffet for dinner and watching a Scrubs marathon on TV before heading to LAX the next morning to come home. All in all a great trip.

I’m not sure if I’d do the same thing again though, not because there was anything wrong with the trip, just that I’ve done it that way and next time I’ll see Mexico in a different way. I also know what to expect cruise ship wise the next time as well, and other than knowing to budget a bit more for the “extras”, can see myself cruising to Alaska or through the Caribbean at some point in the future.