We’re coming into fall as I write this, and that has me looking south of the border for a quick, affordable getaway to escape what I can only assume will be an all-too-cold winter.
One of my favorite warm-weather cruise destinations is the Mexican Riviera. Made up of itineraries leaving from Southern California bound for the Mexican ports of Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta, these cruises are steeped in history, sun and culture.
In many ways, I prefer the Mexican Riviera to the Caribbean. It’s hot — but never stiflingly so. It offers up plenty of memorable sights, like Mazatlán’s Centro Historico district and Puerto Vallarta’s Sierra Madre mountains. And it has yet to be overrun with tourists in the same way that many Caribbean ports of call are.
In fact, I never tire of watching the cliff divers in Mazatlan or visiting the nearby mission town of Todos Santos when calling on Cabo San Lucas. In Puerto Vallarta, a walk along the picturesque Malecon at sunset is practically a requirement, as is one of the ubiquitous tequila tastings offered here. If you think you hate tequila, you’re probably just drinking the wrong kind: the type made in Mexico’s Jalisco region is as smooth as butter.
Only a handful of cruise lines sail to the Mexican Riviera in the winter, but they each do it well.
The biggest player in the region is Carnival, which offers weeklong cruises to the Mexican Riviera from Long Beach, Calif., just outside Los Angeles. Carnival operates here year-round and is using the pretty-but-soon-to-be-transferred Carnival Splendor until the end of September. Then, Carnival Miracle takes over for a few months before the brand-new Carnival Panorama debuts in Long Beach. It’s the hottest ship in the region, complete with its own on-board brewery, waterpark and ropes course, and all of Carnival’s trademark FunShip features.
Holland America Line also returns this fall, sending the 2,104-guest Eurodam on a handful of voyages along with her sister Oosterdam, which operates a more comprehensive schedule of weeklong cruises out of San Diego. Oosterdam is one of my favorite ships in the region: elegant and classy, but at a price that won’t break the bank. Her open promenade decks and ample viewing areas don’t hurt, either: this is a very scenic region filled with amazing sunsets.
From Norwegian Cruise Line, the equally gigantic Norwegian Bliss and Norwegian Joy offer cruises out of Los Angeles (San Pedro) to Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta. Both ships are a good choice if you need all the latest bells and whistles, and are particularly good for solo cruisers since they have Norwegian’s single-friendly Studio accommodations on board.
Princess Cruises also sends some of its biggest ships to the region but offers more variety. In addition to weeklong sailings out of Los Angeles (San Pedro), cruisers looking for longer voyages might want to check out the line’s 10-day voyages from San Francisco aboard Grand Princess that call on Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, Manzanillo, and Puerto Vallarta; or the 10-night voyages aboard Royal Princess and Star Princess that leave Los Angeles bound for Cabo, La Paz, Loreto, and Puerto Vallarta.
After nearly dying out in the early part of this decade, it’s nice to see that the Mexican Riviera is finally beginning to bounce back, with some of the best ships around offering these often-overlooked warm-weather itineraries.
If you’ve sailed the Caribbean so often you could put on a vest and become the tour guide, a cruise around the Mexican Riviera could be just the place to get away to this winter.
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by Aaron Saunders