Among Carnival Cruise Line’s numerous sailings are several that depart from Long Beach, California and travel to the Mexican Riviera. The cruises offer terrific value for extended weekend sailings to Baja, California, and week-long cruises to Puerto Vallarta, Cabo San Lucas and Mazatlan. What’s included: Accommodations, food, entertainment and children’s programs.
A Carnival Cruise to the Mexican Riviera is one of the best ways to see the family-friendly port cities of Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan. Although we’ve sailed several times to Mexico, we never tire of these cruises. Different ships and shore excursions make each cruise a new and fun experience. The convenience of sailing from our home port in Los Angeles means no airfare, offering further savings for a week in Mexico. Sometimes we travel as a family of five. Most recently, my two daughters and I left the boys at home while we enjoyed a relaxing seven-night cruise with just the girls.
Our cruise aboard the Carnival Miracle included three days at sea, two formal nights and two ports – Cabo San Lucas for two days, Puerto Vallarta for one. Some Mexican Riviera itineraries include Mazatlan. Starting in spring 2016, the newly renovated Carnival Inspiration takes the helm on Mexican Riviera sailings.
The 2,124-passenger Carnival Miracle was just the right size for us – not too big, not too small. Upon boarding, we easily found our ocean view stateroom on deck eight. It was roomy enough to hold all of our stuff for a week and accommodate three women primping for dinner. The private, spacious balcony was my favorite feature, where I enjoyed morning coffee while my daughters slept in.
Everyone has their own way of spending the first day on a ship while still in port. Some people (especially those with young kids) head straight to the pools, others to the spa, shops, restaurants and bars. We like to drop off our carry-on luggage (the only way we travel) in our stateroom, and head straight to lunch on the lido deck. Horatio’s restaurant offers an extensive international buffet with plenty of seating. Servers come around with water and take drink requests.
After a tasty lunch, we explored the ship, choosing stairs over elevators. Artwork, glass vases, paintings and bronze sculptures adorn public spaces. The ship’s theme – fictional icons – features drawings of famous characters including the Phantom of the Opera and Sherlock Holmes. The theme extends to venues, named Phantom Theater, Gotham Lounge and Frankenstein’s Lab. The central lobby, known as “Metropolis,” features a beautiful 11-story atrium. We also used this time to book our shore excursions. A little after 4 p.m. the ship pulled out of Long Beach as the festive sail-away party began with music and dancing.
Fun Days at Sea
There’s so much to do – or not do – on these relaxing days. I kept the handy Fun Times daily activity program in my bag at all times, so we didn’t miss a special event or show. But mostly during the days we lounged by one of the four pools or curled up in a cozy nook to read or snooze.
Two of the four pools are hubs for family fun and live music. It’s crowded here, especially with families sprawled on chairs or in the pools and Jacuzzis. The lido restaurant, a pizzeria and self-serve ice cream ensure food around-the-clock. There’s also a twisting water slide that’s fun for all ages. The adults-only Serenity pool area is quiet, but you need to get there early to secure a hammock or cabana.
Camp Carnival for Kids
For families with young kids, the complimentary children’s program entertains Penguins (ages 2-5), Stingrays (6-8) and Sharks (9-11) with pirate games, crafts and other ocean-themed activities. In addition, Seuss at Sea features various Dr. Seuss-themed activities including a Seuss a-palooza parade, story time, Green Eggs and Ham Character Breakfast ($5 per person), and Dr. Seuss Bookville stocked with the author’s literature.
I challenged my daughters to a game of mini golf. Perhaps because it was windy, but the sports deck wasn’t crowded. There were just a few people playing basketball and jogging on the track.
I’m the only one in my family who loves going to after dinner shows, so while I enjoyed musicals, my daughters checked out the karaoke and dance clubs. However, they joined me for late night comedy shows in the Mad Hatter’s Ball, a show lounge decked out with a winding staircase, sparkling red hearts and large rabbit statues.
My girls will probably say these dressy nights are their favorite. They especially enjoy posing goofy for photographers stationed throughout the ship.
The two-level Bacchus Dining Room is the one main dinner restaurant, but accommodates passengers in two scheduled seatings or Your Choice Dining. We chose the flexible dining option (a first for us) and usually waited about 20 minutes to be seated. Decked out in purple hues with grape motifs, the restaurant provides an international menu and friendly (and efficient) service.
In addition to Horatio’s on the lido deck, there’s a deli, poolside grill and an amazing 24-hour pizzeria. There was also a great Mexican buffet during a G-rated deck party one evening. It’s worth splurging one night at Nick &Nora’s Steakhouse ($35 pp). Located under a skylight in Carnival’s signature red funnel, the romantic restaurant serves prime cuts of meat, salads and sumptuous chocolate desserts. Service is impeccable.
Cabo San Lucas
On port days it’s a good idea to get up early and be ready to disembark with your passport and essentials for the day. While docked in Cabo, lines form quickly to disembark and ride tenders to shore.
With two days in Cabo we spent one day on a snorkeling cruise that sailed close to the famous Los Arcos Arches. The second day we took a water taxi to a beach near restaurants, then strolled through marina shops before boarding the ship.
I’ve been visiting Puerto Vallarta for 30 years, and though massive resorts and big chain stores abound in the city, downtown Puerto Vallarta has retained its quaint charm. To reach downtown from the ship, it’s best to either book an excursion or travel by taxi. We shared a taxi with another couple. At $8 each way it was a bargain. We walked on pedestrian-only cobblestone streets along the waterfront, stopping to admire unique sculptures, and listen to a mariachi band performing in a plaza across from a historic church that still holds services. We ate a taco lunch at a small eatery facing the ocean, bought some souvenirs and found a swim beach.