My first cruise was on Carnival to the Caribbean in 1995, and while the atmosphere was too much of a late night party for my taste (even then, when I was significantly younger!), I fell in love with cruising! Not the days on the ship, mind you. It was the convenience of unpacking my suitcase once, but waking up in a different place every day that appealed to me. With that said, because I prefer to be in port rather than on the ship, I look for cruises that have as few a days at sea as possible, have ports that I’ve never been to, and offer some sort of discount on the single supplement, since that can potentially double the price. I hate being penalized for traveling alone, yet I understand from the cruise company’s perspective. It’s a conundrum!
Having sailed on many different lines, you would think I have a favorite, but I don’t (though I do have a least favorite)! Each has its special features: for example, MCS offered a “single” cabin (1 small twin bed), which meant I didn’t have to pay for 2; Princess offers the option to configure the bed in your stateroom; Royal Caribbean had great entertainment; Viking can get into smaller ports; Costa caters to Europeans (so it has a difference cultural feel). You get the idea that there is something to like no matter which cruise line you choose.
Up until this particular Princess Cruise to the Mexican Riviera, all my others were pre-Covid, which means there were quite a few changes since I last sailed. Instead of mustering on deck for a mandatory safety drill with life jackets, passengers were required to watch a video in the privacy of their stateroom and then check in at their assigned muster station (typically one of the lounges or other large public spaces). The main dining rooms no longer sat people in groups for you to get to know fellow travelers. Instead, just your party sat at small tables. My niece, Gianinna, and I were fortunate that the night we planned to eat in the dining room, we did have a reservation, as those who did not had to wait in a long line. They have also done away with the photo gallery: previously, when a ship photographer took your picture, it would be displayed in a gallery with all the photos of other passengers, and you would just browse around until you found it. This time, we were handed a card to take to the Photo Desk, they printed it out, and you could choose whether or not to purchase it. The cruise industry as a whole took such a hit during Covid, I wasn’t surprised that changes were made during the lull of business to update procedures.
As I mentioned, I was traveling with my niece, Gia, since we were filming episodes for Ms. World Traveler, though we still had the “single” experience by having separate rooms. We also arrived separately: she flew from Phoenix on Southwest to Long Beach, CA (10 minutes from the airport to the port); I drove and spent the night at the La Fashion District, which gave me the opportunity to check out what it was like to use the port parking facilities (a first!). The lot closest to the berth was full, as were all the other designated lots, so I was directed to the farthest lot (seriously – I called it Land’s End, because it looked like if I went any further, the car would fall into the ocean!). Signage was very good, as were the attendants motioning me exactly where to go. And I unloaded at just the right moment to catch an arriving shuttle, so I didn’t have to wait at all. The same thing happened on disembarkation: the shuttle to Land’s End was there and ready with no wait. Because my timing was good, the parking situation seemed as streamlined as it could be, given the sheer number of vehicles to manage, but I could see how it could have been a pain had I not hit it just right. The cost was $20/day or $140 for the 7 day cruise, which, when added with the cost of gas, was still about $100 less than flying. Its question of time (6 hour drive each way) versus money. Isn’t that always the question???
As I always do, I chose an inside stateroom, which has no windows. For me, the cost savings outweigh being able to see the water flowing past outside the window (which I can do for no extra charge on virtually any deck), but for others (like my mom), enjoying a more spacious room, a view, a sitting area and/or other perks is part of the cruising experience. It all depends on how you like to vacation, and on what you want to spend your money (you’ve probably figured out I like to save wherever possible!).
The Discovery Princess (as of this writing) is the newest ship in the fleet, and is set up for over 3600 passengers. There weren’t anywhere near that many on this sailing, which made it easy to find good seats at evening shows and short lines to get tender tickets. So you can see that Gia’s first “adult” cruise experience (she did one at 5 years old, and in her own words, she slept most of the time) was a bit of an anomaly. A lot of time can be wasted waiting in crowded lines (at the port of entry and disembarkation, to get on and off at the ports, at the buffet, etc.), but we breezed right through all the activities that could have been very time consuming!
On nearly every other cruise I’ve taken, I book excursions every day in port. Years ago, on a Norwegian Cruise to Honduras, I decided to do Roatan on my own – and I’ve been sorry ever since! There was a small, poor village with run down shacks and piles of garbage everywhere right at the port, and as I wandered around, a young boy glommed onto me, following me relentlessly and wouldn’t leave me alone. He was trying to entice me to take a tour with his father, who then started stalking me as well….no matter how many times I politely said no. It probably would have been safe, but it made me very uncomfortable, so I went back to the ship. Afterwards, I found out that there was a beautiful side to the island, with a marina, hotels, restaurants and shopping that I completely missed because I didn’t know about it (this was before you could research everything online). That was a lesson to 1) Do better research (which I have truly taken to heart), and 2) Utilize the expertise of local guides, so I don’t miss the important sights. A cruise itinerary, by nature, leaves very little time in each stop, so I’ve determined to always make the most of it.
Ok, that was a very long tangent to get to my point: I can’t speak to the excursions on the Mexican Riviera, because I didn’t take any! It was a whirlwind to try and find entertaining points of interest, riveting people and compelling products/shops on the fly for the web series, but I think we did pretty well (you’ll have to let me know what you think!). We’ll post each of the episodes separately, so check back often for the latest blogs and videos.
You’re probably wondering about the food. Personally, I lean toward the “eat to live,” rather than the “live to eat” mantra, so I’m probably not the best person to ask. I lost what little taste and smell I had (it never was very good) during Covid, and it has only come back intermittently. So for me, the selection was excellent and the food was decent. You don’t have to pay extra for good food, but there are a nice array of specialty restaurants if you want an elevated level of quality and service. Your choice! We did 1 night in the dining room, 1 at a specialty restaurant (my birthday!) and the rest at the buffet (especially important for us to have the flexibility after long hot filming days).
Gia and I split up during our days at sea and participated in different activities. My favorite event was the Meet the Captain, where he and the Chief Engineer answered audience questions with humor and authenticity, though I also enjoyed crafting in the morning (HINT: it wasn’t about the craft, which was a different packaged kit to assemble each day – It was about meeting people and chatting while we worked!)
There is so much more I could say about cruising! But I’m going to leave it here and remind you to check out the Ms. World Traveler web series segment on the Mexican Riviera princess Cruise below!