Is the Mexican Riviera Back for Good?

After a week in the Mexican Riviera aboard Holland America Line’s Westerdam, it was easy to see that this once-dying cruise destination is on the verge of a magnificent comeback. Concerns about crime have been erased, and the cities of Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta have never looked better. New attractions are open, and new initiatives and upgrades are in place to entice tourists to say “Hola!” to the Mexican Riviera once again.

Puerto Vallarta’s Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The steel crown at the top of the clock tower was once blown off by a hurricane, and had to be re-mounted. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Perhaps even better, cruise lines are starting to embrace the region once again in a way that hasn’t been seen in nearly half a decade. Carnival has three ships sailing year-round to Baja Mexico and the Mexican Riviera, while Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Princess Cruises have all rolled out short winter seasons designed to take advantage of the favorable weather.

It’s good news for cruisers from around the world, but it is even better news for those who live on or near the West Coast of Canada and the United States who, for many years, have had to deal with a lack of warm-weather cruises from drive-up or quick-flight ports like Los Angeles and San Diego.

It should come as no surprise that the mainstream lines are leading the way when it comes to the resumption of Mexican Riviera cruises.

Carnival Cruise Lines

The sleek Carnival Miracle, at anchor off Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, on June 1, 2015. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Carnival is the biggest player on Mexico’s Pacific Coast. At the moment, the line has two of its smaller Fantasy Class ships, Carnival Imagination and Carnival Inspiration, sailing roundtrip from Los Angeles (Long Beach) on three-and-four day runs to Catalina Island and Ensenada, Mexico.

On the weeklong run to Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta is the 2,124-guest Carnival Miracle, which operates year-round out of Long Beach. That will change in 2018, when the much larger Carnival Splendor returns to Long Beach to take over for Carnival Miracle. Carnival Splendor will be transferred to P&O Australia in late 2019, and as of yet Carnival hasn’t announced which ship will be replacing her out of Long Beach. Still, with three ships sailing in the region year-round, Carnival looks to position itself as the dominant leader off Mexico’s Pacific Coast.

Holland America Line

Westerdam will be joined by her sister, Oosterdam, in the Mexican Riviera in the fall of 2017. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Holland America Line’s Westerdam will operate in the Mexican Riviera until this February, when she takes a little break to go into drydock and sail to Europe during the summer months. She returns to the region in November 2017, and stays on the weeklong Mexican Riviera run from San Diego until February 2018. Sister-ship Oosterdam will also offer sailings to the Mexican Riviera from San Diego, with departures in September, October and December of 2017.

Norwegian Cruise Line

Majestic Maersk Meets Norwegian Star
Norwegian Cruise Line is heading back to the Mexican Riviera late next year. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle

Norwegian Cruise Line is operating a few runs to the Mexican Riviera this winter aboard Norwegian Jewel, with sailings in January, March and April.  Norwegian Star returns to her old stomping ground for the winter of 2017-2018, with weeklong sailings out of Los Angeles (San Pedro) during December 2017 and March and April of 2018. Norwegian has already scheduled Norwegian Star for more calls during the spring of 2019; those voyages are now available for booking too.

Princess Cruises

Emerald Princess is a direct sister-ship to the 2006-built Crown Princess. Photo courtesy of Princess Cruises

Ruby Princess and Emerald Princess do the heavy lifting for Princess Cruises on this run, with winter sailings that continue until April and resume again in the fall and winter of 2017-18. Operating out of Los Angeles (San Pedro), these voyages are interspersed with Princess’ “California Coastal” sailings that go as far south as Ensenada, Mexico to satisfy cabotage laws. Fans of longer cruises, however, will love that Grand Princess has a handful of 10-day cruises to the Mexican Riviera from San Francisco. These depart in January, February, September, October, November and December of 2017, and resume again from January to March of 2018.

Expanded One-off Calls

Small-ship lines, like Un-Cruise Adventures, offer voyages to Mexico’s Sea of Cortes. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Numerous other cruise lines operate cruises that call for one or two voyages on various Mexican Riviera ports, and while these voyages typically occur as repositioning journeys from places like Alaska, Hawaii and the Panama Canal, there are still plenty of other cruises sailing to the Mexican Riviera. Some lines, like Un-Cruise Adventures, even offer expedition-style, small-ship cruises to the Sea of Cortes.

Is the Mexican Riviera back? For now, the answer is a very enthusiastic “Si!”

Also see Cruising the Mexican Riviera with Holland America Line

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