January sometimes can feel like a cold gray funk. The hustle and bustle of the holidays are gone and with the dwindling pandemic, the option to cruise was now a real choice.
California in January 2023 was slammed with what the forecasters labelled an atmospheric river; a continual winter torrent of wind, rain, lighting and snow. Hubby and I were hit with power outages and icy temps. It was time to cruise. Mexican Riviera here we come!
Emerging out of the cab at San Francisco’s Pier 27, and with a wave of my hand my 4-wheeled luggage overstuffed with formal wear, pajamas, shorts, sneakers and jeans was sent rolling into the luggage cart for packing onto the Royal Princess. After a very quick and efficient check-in we stepped off the gangway onto the ship at the Piazza level. There we were directed to the elevators for a buffet lunch on the Lido deck 5 floors above us.
For a retiree, a cruise is simple and feels indulgent and fun. There really has something for everyone. The cruise’s activities sheet, the Princess Patter, “your daily guide to life at sea”, listed hourly exercise classes, game shows, live music, trivia, bingo, movies, putting golf, ping pong, and pickleball on the top deck and much more. The multitude of food choices from dessert counters, ice cream by the pool, bars and restaurants are abundant.
Our cruise was 10 nights with 5 port stops, a good balance. As our ship got closer to our first port of Manzanillo, the warmth of the sun on my skin was so welcoming, such a change from our departure port.
Down the gangway, the ship’s port map on our phones and a list of must-see spots researched on the internet, we and two other friends walked along the coast walk where we encountered a stories high azure blue sailfish statue. Manzanillo is known as the sailfish capitol of the world. Picture time!
Onto Centro Historico, we moved along with the flow of this busy town. On a street a block off the through-fare we came upon a vibrant and arty painted walkway, between residences.
Our lunch stop consisted of oysters, tacos and Modelo at Mariscos Dona Conchita. Walking, lingering, and exploring was a nice first day, at Manzanillo.
Our next port was Mazatlan. We boarded a double decker Hop On Hop Off Bus; a great option to hit the popular tourist areas and linger when and where we wanted. We Hopped Off first at a spot along the coast promenade with gorgeous views of the coast and ocean. We watched divers scramble up a tall rock and dive into the deep not so large pool of water. Tips were collected from the tourists, fair trade for the show, and a quick slip into the restroom cost 40 pesos.
Next Hop Off was at the Mazatlan Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, dating back to the 19th century. My head bowed, making the sign of the cross, humbly entering this reverent building. Gothic architecture, baroque deco, crystal chandeliers, gold lined murals and statues of saints Matthew, Mark, Luke and John awed me. History’s most beautiful art and sculptures are in these decades old churches.
Hop Off stop #3, was Acuario Mazatlan (aquarium), we did not disembark.
Hop Off stop #4 was lunch at The Shrimp Factory, shrimp and chips of course, delish! With full stomachs were waddled onward toward the beach shops area, and stopping to dip toes in the Pacific Ocean of the Mexican Riviera.
Time to get back to the ship. The harbor lights came on as we set sail.
During a good night’s sleep our ship docked in the port of Puerto Vallarta. Us and our friends grabbed a taxi to Old Town, stepping out into an alley of hut shop souvenir vendors. At the top of the alley, dominating the town square was the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This Roman Catholic church is the chief religious centre of Mexico, built between 1930 and 1940. The church had a neoclassical structure, and the crown seated above the main building is indicative of baroque style European temples.
Upon entering, I genuflected, made the sign of the cross and approached the altar. The portrait of Our Lady was draped above the altar and hung high up toward the domed ceiling. I said a little prayer to God asking he watch over our trip and then emerged back into the sunlight. Onward!
Our friends, after extensive research, had created our own walking tour. A block left, over a few more blocks, up a long flight of stairs and onto cobblestoned streets. Meandering behind a walking tour we halted at the front gates of the location Liz Taylor , female box office attraction, resided during the filming of Night of the Iguana. Richard Burton, across the cobblestone road was just coming off mega-movie Cleopatra, where he met, co-starred, and began a torrid affair with Elizabeth Taylor; both actors married to others at the time of the filming. A conspicuous bridge was quickly built over the street connecting the two residences on opposite sides of the cobblestone road.
From there we hiked down tiled stairs through residences and over the ‘Aquiles serdan’ suspension bridge. We had lunch at Marismo dining on fish tacos and chilled 7-up. Next stop Mundo de Azulejos, a tile store – wall to wall, counter to counter, dish to dish, sign to sign. A delicate multicolored pitcher came back to the ship with me. Afternoon heat and a bit of exhaustion required a stop at Monzon Brewing Co. Beers and Coca Colas gave us our needed break.
Getting a lot of use out of my sneakers on our own walking tour, we arrived at El Parque de Los Azulejos. Known as the ‘Tiled Park’ , the benches, the gazebo bandstand, and even pillar like poles were covered in vividly colored tiles; tile tile everywhere.
Many photos later, we strolled onto The Malecon, seafront boardwalk; billed as the city’s premier shopping destination, casual, open air and spacious. We shopped, we lingered, and we photographed. The ticking of time and scheduled departure of our ship was nearing, time to grab a cab.
Port Stop #4, Cabo San Lucas: At 8am Hubby and I boarded a water taxi from our ship to the marina, to join the catamaran tour to El Arco and Lovers Beach.
El Arco, the majestic rock
formation defines where the Sea of Cortez meet the Pacific at Land’s End. Pounding waves and strong ocean currents created The Arch; this natural landmark and iconic
symbol of the area. Legend says, the formation was used by pirates as a hiding place where they could ambush the merchant ships heading for the West Coast.
At the completion of our boat tour, we enjoyed a brief bus tour through town, passing the main plaza with historic buildings, the church and local museum. Our bus stopped at Sunset Monalisa, a local restaurant, famous for its panoramic views of the Bay of Cabo San Lucas. We spotted our cruise ship with the dramatic Arch in the background.
Upon returning to the Marina, we walked by many earteries in search for a place for lunch. We spotted a restaurant with reed roofing, bamboo and wood floors -it looked fun, busy and they took Princess dollars. Tacos and margaritas here we come, to Solomon’s Landing.
With a three-sided view and seated at the bar, usually the happening place in most venues, we watched the preparation of their tropical concoctions.
A younger gal, slid onto the bar stool next to me. Our now new bar friend Kerry asked us where we were from, etc. She recommended not- listed cocktails, the restaurant’s specialities and yummy inexpensive tapas. Meeting people on trips, really makes it even more fun. I felt like we could come back someday and meet up with her, despite neither of us took down personal information. And now the last day of port time, we had finally figured out how to pay in pesos.
Two more days at sea,; per the Princess Patter we could go to a music trivia contest, join the Bocce Ball tournament, watch a movie under the stars, participate in a Speedy Sudoku Challenge, listen to live music in the bar on the Piazza, enjoy a facial or massage in the Lotus Spa , view a Peter Max exhibit in the Gallery, gamble in the Princess Casino, and so many more choices. Our last formal night and dinner at Sabatini’s Italian Trattoria , their excellent Italian specialty restaurant, were awaiting us.
The morning of the last hours of our cruise, the Royal Princess stealthily sailed under the Golden Gate bridge. As I looked up under the bridge, my breath halted. Even a ship this size is humbled by our Golden Gates. Welcome home!
Karen Ho is a Travel Writer.