The Mexican Riviera is one of the premier warm-weather cruise destinations, particularly for those residing on the West Coast of North America. With the “big three” ports of Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico’s Pacific Coast is more rugged, beautiful, and diverse than its Caribbean counterpart. Towering rock cliffs line the shores of Cabo. Specially-made Pulmonia’s race through the streets of Mazatlán; the city is the only one in the world to offer such transportation. And in Puerto Vallarta, traditional Mexican values collide with North American amenities to create a city that is very much a product of modern and traditional Mexican culture.
After a bit of a downturn over the past decade following a spate of well-publicised but highly overblown violence, the Mexican Rivera is back on the road to glory – and cruise lines are offering more options for sailing year year-round than they have in the past few years.
Here’s a look at the Mexican Riviera’s major players:
Carnival Cruise Lines
Carnival is the de-facto leader in the Mexican Rivera. The line recently committed to deploying the 2,124-guest Carnival Miracle to the Mexican Riviera year-round from her homeport of Long Beach, California.
What’s fantastic about Carnival’s voyages is that they’re not merely weeklong cookie-cutter cruises. Three different seven-day voyages are offered, calling on Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlán, and Puerto Vallarta, or a combination of Cabo and Puerto Vallarta with an overnight stay in one.
Carnival also offers six-day departures that call on Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta, and they recently announced a massive 13-day sailing that visits Cabo San Lucas, La Paz, Mazatlán, Zihuatanejo, Manzanillo and Puerto Vallarta. Departing on January 31, 2016, the voyage is part of Carnival’s new Carnival Journeys program that focuses on providing Fun Ship guests with longer, off-the-beaten path voyages.
Carnival also offers short two, three and four-night Baja Mexico sailings from Long Beach to Ensenada and Catalina Island aboard Carnival Imagination and Carnival Inspiration. Ensenada’s not much to write home about, but we have to admit: it makes a great quick getaway for those who live in or near California.
Holland America Line
Holland America Line’s dark blue-hulled “dam ships” have returned to the Mexican Riviera, though not quite in the same way as a decade ago when the 1,916-guest Oosterdam sailed every Saturday from San Diego.
This year, the intimate 1,350-guest Veendam is operating a handful of weeklong sailings from San Diego to the Mexican Riviera, with calls on the “big three” ports of Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta. Sadly, departures are not numerous: just five weeklong trips between November and the end of the year.
Still, in terms of the Mexican Riviera, Veendam is a great ship to experience the region on. Refitted with Holland America’s Mix bar concept a few years back, this 19-year old ship doesn’t even look half as old as she is. She’s less crowded and more spacious than other ships on this run, and still offers a generous amount of open deck space – important for soaking in the sun to escape the dead of winter.
Fortunately, the “glory days” of Holland America’s Mexican Riviera cruising return in full force in the winter of 2016-17, as the line deploys their Vista Class Westerdam on weeklong runs from San Diego between November of 2016 and March 2017. There are multiple departure dates and price points (including Holiday sailings), but all voyages will call on Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta. One day at sea is included on the way down to Cabo, with two days of cruising the Pacific on the way back from Puerto Vallarta.
Norwegian Cruise Line
Along with Carnival, Norwegian Cruise Line is trying mighty hard to bring the renaissance of Mexican Riviera cruising to its apex. The popular line that created the “Freestyle” movement of dining where you want, when you want, and with whom you want has deployed the 2,376-guest Norwegian Jewel and the 1,936-guest Norwegian Sun to the region.
Norwegian Jewel performs the bulk of Norwegian’s weeklong Mexican Riviera sailings, operating roundtrip out of Los Angeles (San Pedro). These weeklong journeys call on Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta. During the time she repositions to and from Vancouver, British Columbia and her Alaskan cruise season, she also offers longer voyages sailing from Vancouver to Los Angeles and the Mexican Riviera, or reverse – an attractive option for people who are looking to combine an Alaskan cruise with a longer voyage, or for those who simply desire a more unique itinerary.
The Norwegian Sun, on the other hand, is all about unique itineraries. Three departure dates in September and October of 2016 offer up 11-day sailings from San Diego that call on Acapulco, Zihuatanejo, Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlán, and Cabo San Lucas.
Giving both Carnival and Norwegian a run for their money is Princess Cruises, which boasts the largest variety of sailings of any cruise line listed here. While Princess doesn’t operate in the Mexican Riviera year-round, they pack the months between September and April full with sailings on different dates, itineraries and ship that depart from different embarkation ports.
Ruby Princess operates a handful of five-night Baja Peninsula getaways departing roundtrip from Los Angeles that include two days in Cabo San Lucas. Together with her near-sister Crown Princess, she also operates weeklong roundtrips calling on Cabo, Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta on a near-weekly basis during the winter months between now and 2017.
Grand Princess, on the other hand, operates 10-night sailings roundtrip from San Francisco on select 2015-2017 dates. Ports of call include Puerto Vallarta, Manzanillo, Mazatlán and Cabo San Lucas.
Crown Princess, Ruby Princess and Star Princess all offer an alternate 10-night itinerary on various 2015-2017 dates that departs roundtrip from Los Angeles (San Pedro). These call on San Diego, Cabo San Lucas, La Paz, Loreto, and Puerto Vallarta before returning to Los Angeles. Their inclusion of two off-the-beaten path Mexican Riviera ports of call, in addition to the day stop in San Diego, makes these some of the most unique Mexican Riviera itineraries currently available.
Where’s Everyone Else?
Unfortunately, some cruise lines that used to sail these waters still haven’t returned. Celebrity Cruises, which used to send their Mercury (now Mein Schiff 2 for TUI) runs to the Mexican Riviera, pulled out of the region a decade ago. Royal Caribbean briefly deployed the gigantic Mariner of the Seas to the region back in 2009, but by early 2011, they withdrew the ship and haven’t returned since. It’s a disappointment, as they had for years sailed both long and short runs to the Mexican Riviera and Baja California with Monarch of the Seas and Vision of the Seas.
At this time, no luxury cruise line offers regularly-scheduled Mexican Riviera voyages, though many do call on ports like Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas on one-off repositioning cruises. It’s always a good idea to visit your favorite cruise line’s website and pull up all their Pacific Coast and Mexico itineraries to see if they’re offering any sailings to the region.
No matter how you look at it – cruising to the Mexican Riviera is back on its way to being better than ever!