Erics of the Mexican Riviera: at world's end!
Yes, a week after we moved in to our new house, we took the vacation we planned at the beginning of the year. I wanted to go snorkeling in the Caribbean and Eric wanted to take a cruise to Alaska so we compromised and took a cruise to the Mexican Riviera.
We took an eight day cruise on the Golden Princess round trip from Los Angeles to Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, and Cabo San Lucas. As some of you may know from reading Other Eric's blog, he was thrilled to be on the "Love Boat" and I got a little snorkeling in so we had a great time!
In case any of you are thinking of taking a similar cruise, I will give you my review of the vacation:
We drove down to San Pedro (Long Beach) and did the whole embarkation thing. It wasn't too bad; kind of like a good day at the airport. We had a balcony stateroom (you have to call it a stateroom) and it was really nice! We have been in hotel rooms that were smaller than this so we were completely comfortable. The bathroom was pretty nice but larger people might have a little trouble maneuvering in it. Eric thought about getting a mini-suite, which had a small sofa, but I thought that was unnecessary; the important thing was the balcony. Having the balcony was totally worth it! We sat out there and had some wonderful views; we even watched dolphins jumping right outside our room!
We were on deck 11 (Eric kept correcting me when I called them "floors"), which was the Baja deck, and we were toward the back. It was a very good location; we could look down on the decks below but nobody could see down onto our balcony; and the buffet was just two decks up, almost directly above us.
Our balcony and room were very quiet; we couldn't really hear all the partying on the decks above. And the ship really didn't feel crowded, even though there were three thousand people aboard. People warned us that it would feel like too many people but the ship was so big, there was plenty of space; in fact there were many places on the ship that were completely deserted.
However, as big as the ship was, it still wasn't as big as I expected. I was especially disappointed with the shopping. It wasn't that I wanted to do a lot of shopping but the brochures seemed to go on and on about it and it clearly stated that anything I forgot, I would be able to find on board. I was expecting a complete shopping mall on that ship! Maybe at least a drug store. Well, no; there were two jewelry shops, a perfume shop, and a souvenir shop like you would find in an airport. I did manage to find a small bag to take on our shore excursions and I also found some sunblock but the selection was really limited.
The dining was pretty good. We ate at the buffet a lot; like I said, it was very close to our room so it was very convenient; we could even grab things and take it back to our room (oops, I mean stateroom). I had a continental breakfast delivered the first morning because I thought it would be nice to just hang out on the balcony before I ventured out. It was pointless because you could get much nicer things to eat right upstairs. We didn't order any other room service because the menu was very limited and there was just no point. Some of the food at the buffet was bad but most was edible and some of it was really delicious; this was definitely not Hometown Buffet.
I think I ate five or six meals a day! Apparently cruising makes me very hungry; I really stuffed myself. I swear I must have gained at least four and a half ounces! (Seriously, I can't wait to go to the gym and see if I actually gained any weight.)
We ate in the regular dining room twice. The food wasn't bad. We got the "personal choice" dining, which meant we just went to the dining room whenever we wanted to instead of having a regular time and table. We actually think we might like to try traditional dining next time. The first night we were placed at a table for eight and it was a little unpleasant because the table was too big to really have conversations with total strangers. The second time we went to the dining room we were at a table for six, which was much better. We had a nice time talking with the two other couples. Of course, it was also later in the cruise so we were a little more comfortable. You can also request to sit alone but that seems so unsociable and not very cruise-like so I'm glad we did the group seating thing a couple of times to get the full cruise experience.
I've learned that you don't bother introducing yourself by name on a cruise. You tell people where you are from and ask them where they are from (sorry about ending those phrases with prepositions but I just don't know how else to say it). You can, of course, exchange names but it really isn't necessary since you will never see these people again. It seemed strange to me at first but it makes perfect sense. Where you are from (sorry again) seems to be the most important thing to people on a cruise. The staff all have their country of nationality on their badges (interestingly, I don't think any of them, from waiters to captain, were American). Many guests seemed to be from the Los Angeles area, where the cruise originated, but I think most people came from elsewhere, many from other countries. This is a little surprising because one of the reasons Eric and I took this cruise was because we didn't have to fly anywhere, which adds one more annoyance to a vacation.
Oh, so back to the food: there are two specialty restaurants on the Golden Princess: an Italian restaurant called Sabatini's and a steak house. You pay $15 and $20 extra to eat at these restaurants. I can't recommend Sabatini's ... highly enough! Hah, got you! No, really, it was fantastic! I'm sure it wasn't the best food in the world but we really enjoyed it; it looked like the menu at a normal Italian restaurant but the difference is you get all of it! You get something like eight courses of lots of little things (the only thing that was bad was the gnocchi) and my main course of lobster was delicious. The steak house was a dud. My wine glass was dirty, my spinach-artichoke dip appetizer was more like soup, and I couldn't eat my steak. I don't eat much meat anyway but I do occasionally love a good fillet minion. The dessert was OK but by that time I wasn't very happy.
Anyway, in general, I was pretty satisfied with the food. It was nice to be able to just eat whenever and whatever you wanted without thinking about how much it was costing. The drinking, of course, is a little different. I think everyone knows "that's how they get you." Eric hardly drinks and I have about one drink a day so this wasn't a problem for us but there were people onboard drinking from ten in the morning until they went to sleep at night and they must have spent at least $100 a day on booze. The nice thing is they really don't gauge you; the drinks cost what they would at any bar. But they should at least give you free soft drinks. You do get free iced tea, coffee, and what I hope is filtered water.
So I signed up for shore excursions for our three port days:
Other Eric: "We're supposed to be relaxing; not running all over the place."
Me: "Don't worry; they'll be plenty of time to just sit in our room doing nothing."
Cut to the trip:
Other Eric: "What are we going to do now?"
Me: "Can't we just sit and read?"
Other Eric: "We can't just sit around!"
What I'm trying to say is I was forced to watch "Licensed to Wed." In fact, I think this whole trip may have been an elaborate ruse just to get me to watch a Robin Williams movie.
Slightly better than "Licensed to Wed" were the onboard shows. They were pretty bad. I know traditionally these shows were meant to keep people busy as they traveled from one place to another but I thought they were supposed to be better now. These were definitely just a way to relieve boredom. Most of the singers couldn't sing. In the first show, of Broadway songs, one woman did a very good version of "On My Own" from Les Miserables but the tap dancing numbers were ridiculous. The next night we saw a silly magic show; how many times do we need to see a woman being levitated to old Prince songs? Then we saw a ventriloquist; I was sure I would hate it but I actually thought the guy was pretty funny (actually, Eric grew up watching this guy on a children's show in Arizona). The final show we saw was another "big production" show. This one was of movie songs. It was better than the Broadway show but not by much. There was one amazingly bad number that I referred to the the "Cirque du Celine" number: a truly bizarre interpretation of "Windmills of My Mind" with dancers hanging from fabric:
Other Eric: "I'll never be able to listen to that song again."
OK, so young hot guys dancing around in their underwear? Yeah, I get that part. I'm totally down with that. But it wasn't enough to make up for that singing and arrangement.
In Puerto Vallarta we took a boat trip and went snorkeling in a cove and then went to a little fishing village called Yelapa. The little village only got electricity a few years ago and is only accessible by boat. It was very interesting. We hiked up and went swimming under a waterfall. The crew on this Yelapa tour were amazing and we all had a really good time (I even survived being forced to join a conga line). If you like to drink, this trip would be a very good value for you. People got a LOT of free alcohol; I'm sure if they had that many drinks on the ship it would have cost them much more than the $80 excursion price. It was really a full, fun day and I highly recommend this tour. Oh, the water was really warm but pretty murky because there had recently been a storm. I still got to see some pretty fish but you couldn't see very far. Also, on the walk back from the waterfall we had to walk through this stream that probably is usually easy to cross but because of the recent rain, it was waist high and really wide. I was a little worried that some of the older people on the tour were not going to make it across and I was also worried Eric would drop his camera. But everything was OK and it ended up turning it into more of an adventure.
In Mazatlan we took the Sierra Madre tour, which was a bus trip two thousand feet up into the mountains, where we visited two little villages and had a delicious lunch (for some reason, the only Mexican food of the entire trip). The mountains were beautiful. The plant life was very strange; it was like a combination of rain forest and desert, with jungle vines covering cacti. We really enjoyed this tour, too, and it was a nice, more relaxing day. Oh, and apparently you are supposed to buy vanilla in Mazatlan. So I did. You are also supposed to buy silver but what do I need with silver? Every other person on the street is trying to sell you silver chains for a dollar. Seriously, how many silver chains could anybody possibly need? In my case it's exactly zero but, assuming you did need silver chains, would you really need to buy more of them every few feet?
In Cabo we took another boat tour, this one was snorkeling in Chileno Bay off a catamaran. The water was much nicer is Cabo; not quite as warm as Puerto Vallarta but much clearer. I saw some pretty fish but Chileno Bay was a little crowded. This was only a half day tour and the crew were definitely not as good as the Puerto Vallarta crew and the tour was the same price. So we thought the Puerto Vallarta tour was a much better value but the water was so much better in Cabo we still enjoyed it. I can see why Cabo is such a popular tourist site; it's really beautiful. We'd like to go back.
On our last sea day I got a massage and a facial. I found the spa treatments a little confusing but it was very relaxing and my skin looks a little better. However, I expected to look ten years younger and I don't. Oh, well.
After a massage you are supposed to avoid alcohol so I went to a wine tasting. The time was listed incorrectly in the daily schedule so I showed up half an hour late and they were already three wines into the six we were being offered. Several of the wines were very good but I really didn't learn anything about wine and I also thought it was going to be pairing wine with food but it wasn't. Like I said, it was a nice opportunity to try some expensive wines but this experience was still disappointing.
We also went to an art auction. It was kind of fun but the art was really awful. I know I am not the intended audience of this art but it would have been nice if they had actually had something good.
Disembarkation was pretty easy. Our time to disembark was 9:00 AM and by 11:00 we were back in the San Fernando Vally. So it was really not as bad as we had been told.
Eric decided pretty quickly into the trip that we are "cruise people." I would cruise again but I'm not sure we are "cruise people." We don't really love talking to strangers, I don't enjoy most of the activities on the ship, I don't like sitting in the sun in a deck chair, the pools are not very nice, the entertainment is crap, we don't drink much, we went to bed too early to experience the night-life, we didn't do any onboard shopping, and we don't gamble. I do like looking at the ocean, however, and it was nice to get somewhere without flying but I don't know if that's enough to make us "cruise people."
So, we had a wonderful time. The weather was very hot and humid but we missed the storms. The cruise was relaxing but we also did some really fun things. We only saw Mexico on guided tours but we got to see some small villages instead of the cities. We would probably cruise again. We don't know if the next one will be a Princess cruise to Alaska or a Disney cruise to the Caribbean.
Check out Other Eric's blog for a slide show he put together and should be posting soon!