Travelling to different places is my passion and finds that travelling is the best way to learn more about life. For the vacation around Christmas and New Year, I wanted to explore something new. This year, I started to plan about my December vacation sometime in September. Usually, weather in the USA is not really travel friendly around December. I wanted to explore some different part of world and Europe was top on the list. Did some research and found that December is not a good time to visit Europe. The next sets of countries on my list were Australia, New Zealand and Mexico. I was looking forward towards a relaxing vacation and decided to visit Mexico.
I started exploring different cities, airfare and cost of the trip. I knew, planning and executing this trip will be lot of work. I just wanted to take it easy. With my past experience, I knew that getting on a cruise ship would be most relaxing way to enjoy. I have cruised previously with Carnival and was really happy with their service. I compared the prices of all cruise ships and again, Carnival came up with best price. Carnival adds discount for past guests and California residents.
After you know that you want to go on cruise and you pick the cruise line, the next question on your mind would be which type of room I should book. On the ship, the rooms are called as staterooms. There are different categories of rooms and shall discuss in detail over here. Usually, ship will have 9 to 11 floors. Since you are sailing in the ocean, sailing will not be smooth. All the time, you will feel the motion. Picking a room location is very important task. The cruise ship has inside staterooms, rooms with see-through ocean view window, rooms with balcony and suite. The rooms are located all over the ship. Since there are so many options, you will definitely wonder which room to select. Front of the ships observes most motion. At the back of the ship, the motion is little less. Usually, center of the ship is most stable. As you go towards upper floors (also called as deck), you will feel more motion. In short, the room on upper deck towards front will have most sensitivity to motion whereas rooms located at lower deck in the middle of ship will notice least motion. The top decks are close to most of the fun activities and provide better view.
Once you know the preference of your deck, you can work on room type. The interior rooms have no visibility to outside world and are not a good option if you have claustrophobia. These rooms are least expensive and good option if you want to save money. If you are not going to spend much of the time in your room then this room is a good choice. By shelling out a little more money, you may upgrade to rooms on lower deck with ocean view window. You cannot open the window and it is really not enjoyable watching the ocean from lower decks. For my first cruise, I opted for such room. I did not find worth spending the additional dollars for the window. Pick the inside cabin if you are on budget.
The next option is room with balcony. The price difference between rooms with window vs room with balcony is steep. But you do get actual balcony where you can step out and enjoy the breeze and ocean. There are three types of balconies. Normal balcony, extended balcony and aft view balcony. A normal balcony is small enough to sit for 2 people and a coffee table. An extended balcony has more space and you can fit the extended chair for relaxing/sun bathing. An aft view balcony is located on very back side of ship towards the aft.
You can get a complete view of back and is very nice. The first 2 balconies feel very windy as they are located on the side of ship. Since aft view balcony is on aft side, it is not windy and you may enjoy extended time in this area. You can even have your breakfast in this balcony without any problem. The aft view balcony rooms are limited. Booking in advance is necessary for this room. Be aware that the aft view balconies tend to get little warmer.
With extensive research, I decided to go on cruise to Mexico for 9 days and booked an aft view balcony room. The cruise was scheduled from 12/23/2011 to 01/01/2012. I contacted Carnival agent and started negotiating with her. It is very important to ask for discounts. If you do not ask, you will end up paying higher price. I booked this cruise about 4 months in advance and only paid around $200 deposit. You need to make complete payment only 75 days in advance. Once you make payment, keep tracking the price prior to your vacation. If you notice price drop, carnival provides on-board credit for the difference. You have different insurance options to protect your trip but I picked none. I find it waste of money but that is just me. Taking insurance would be your call.
The cruise was scheduled to depart from San Pedro port on 12/23 at around 4.00pm. Ensenada was first port of call followed by Cabo San Lucas, Puorto Vallarta and Manzanillo. You may book shore excursion through Carnival which provides convenience and peace of mind. You will pay a premium for that. The advantage of booking though Carnival (or the cruise ship) is that the cruise ship will not depart until you board the ship. Another option is to search on internet for shore excursion and book them personally. Please be careful when you are booking the shore excursion through third party. Check the websites for the review before making purchase. The other option is to arrive at the port and then look for the excursion. This is the least expensive option but you will need to spend some time when you arrive at the shore.
Since I travel alone, I do not book the shore excursion through the cruise ship. I find them rip-offs. In the month of December, I started looking for shore excursions. After doing enough research, I noticed that Ensenada has nothing much to offer from tourist point of view. I decided not to book any excursion and work it out on the fly when I reach the town. For Cabo San Lucas and Puorto Vallart, http://cabosanlucastours.net/ is the best website to book the excursions. Their customer service is extremely good. More in details later. Manzanillo is relatively new port of call for cruise ships. It is more like an industrial town and a good place to explore real Mexican town. Through Cabo San Lucas tours, I booked 2 activities. A luxury yacht tour in Cabo San Lucas and Canopy tour in Puorto Vallarta. The pricing was really good as compared to Carnival.
With this preparation, I was all set to sail. I flew to Los Angeles on 12/22, a day in advance as I wanted to get on vacation mood. I picked Embassy Suites near LAX for overnight stay. This is an amazing hotel with good amenities that include free breakfast, airport pick-up/drop-off and free drink at manager’s party in the evening. The overnight stay at the hotel was very nice.
On next morning, I had arranged a “super shuttle” for transportation to the port of San Pedro. The private taxi would cost you around $90 from airport hotel to San Pedro harbor. The “super shuttle” cost me around $35. If you travel from LAX airport, it would be just $17. A lesson learnt, just take a shuttle from your hotel to LAX and get onto “super shuttle” to save money.
I departed from my hotel at around 11.15am on 12/23 and reached San Pedro harbor in around 30 minutes. When I arrived, it was not at all crowded and went through boarding process. It took me around 1 hour to complete the formalities and got onto ship at around 1.30pm. Headed right away to buffet and had good food. The cruise ship is all about eating, drinking, relaxing and making new friends. Took it easy on first day of cruising.
The ship arrived to Ensenada on 12/24 early in the morning. Went out for breakfast on the cruise deck and happened to meet with few Indian families. I had a quick chat and we decided to go together for shore excursion. From the port, we took a shuttle to town for $3 round trip. On the way to town, we got to know about La Bufadora.
La Bufadora is a marine geyser or blowhole located on the Punta Banda Peninsula in Baja California, Mexico. The spout of sea water is the result of air, trapped in a sea cave, exploding upwards. Air is forced into the cave by wave action and is released when the water recedes. This interaction not only creates the spout, but a thunderous noise as well. The phenomena repeats every minute or so with its volume depending on the strength of the waves.
We discussed with local tour operators and took this tour. It takes around 50 minutes to reach this place. It was an interesting place. There is local shopping area around this place and food stalls for authenticate Mexican food. The tour guide told that you do not eat taco at a restaurant. Taco should be eaten at roadside stall. If you see lot of Mexicans eating there then it is a good place to eat. Just like “Bhel” stall back there in India. Experimented with tacos at one of such stalls and it was great experience. The salsa was really hot. Never had such a spicy Mexican food in the USA. Try the tacos out on such stalls when you visit Mexico.
The next port of call was Cabo San Lucas. We departed Ensenada at around 5.00pm on 12/24. 12/25 was sailing day and celebrated Christmas on the ship. We arrived to Cabo San Lucas on 12/26 morning. For this port, ship tenders in the ocean and you need to get on a small boat to arrive to the shore. By 10.00am, I was at shore. I had booked a yacht tour through cabo san lucas tours agency. With reference to instruction, I met their representative but he informed that my tour was cancelled. When I asked for refund, he did it right away. Working with this agency was an excellent experience and I do recommend them.
I think that cancellation of tour was good. I started negotiating with other tour venders at the port and got a really good deal for Parasailing. I paid around $25 (300 pesos) for parasailing. When in Mexico, you must bargain on each and everything. Carnival offered parasailing for $90. The local vendor offered for $60. I got them down to $25. Always begin bargaining with 1/3 of quoted price. For $60, I started with $20. The parasailing was great fun. After this excursion, I started walking alone in the city of Cabo. Away from touristy locations, it was a nice experience. Got few good photos and ate at Pancho’s restaurant. Pancho’s make amazing maragaritas. Do visit this restaurant when you go to Cabo.
12/27 was another day at Cabo and I planned for jet skiing. The cruise companies do not recommend jet skiing as it is a little risky but I took the chance. The deal was $1/minute. Spent around 30 minutes in the ocean and it was fun. Do this activity only if you are in adventurous mood. Do take necessary precaution. I talked to the Jet Ski owner and asked about local authenticate Mexican restaurant. He suggested “Los Ajos” restaurant located at around 15 minutes walk. If you wish to visit this restaurant, just ask anyone out there for direction. I took a cycle rikshaw to visit this restaurant. It is a well know place. At this restaurant, you will face a communication problem unless you speak Espanol. The communication problem shows that it is authenticate local restaurant. The food was good and would visit this place again if I happen to be in Cabo.
We departed Cabo in the afternoon and headed to Puorto Vallarta. Upon arriving to Purto Vallarta, I noticed that the cruise time and local time was different. If you plan to visit places on cruise, make sure about time zone of each place prior to your trip and plan accordingly.
In Purto Vallarta, I decided to go for Canopy Zip Lining. The Zip Line consists of a pulley suspended on a cable mounted on an incline. It is designed to enable a user propelled by gravity to travel from the top to the bottom of the inclined cable, usually made of stainless steel, by holding on or attaching to the freely moving pulley. Zip-lines come in many forms, most often used as a means of entertainment.
I got out of the ship and started negotiating with the local vendors for this excursion. The quoted price was $75. Since we were little bit in hurry, we made a deal of $50. On the way to excursion, another couple informed that they got it for $40. In case you wish to do this excursion, $40 is a good price. The zip lining is located in jungles and you get into special vehicles to reach the location. Overall, it takes around an hour to reach the zip lining area. The actual excursion time is around 2 hours. For this excursion, you need to be physically feet and should not be afraid of heights. I have acrophobia but still I enjoyed it. After the excursion, spent some time at local restaurant but did not like the food much. The place was too touristy. The tour company arranged for our transportation back to cruise ship and I was all set to sail to Manzanillo.
I arrived to the port of Manzanillo at around 7am. and got off the ship at 8.30am.We bargained with tour operators for city tour. We were in a group and worked out a deal of $50 for 8. The tour bus drove through town of Manzanilla and I noticed that this town really has flavor of Mexico.
I decided to step off the bus and explore the town walking around. From tourist point of view, there is nothing much to see. But if you are interested in people and local culture, this is a good town to hang out. Head to Main Street which is about 3 blocks from cruise ship and you will have wonderful time.
For lunch, I wanted to try something authentic. What else can be better than roadside taco? The food was excellent! This was the spiciest Mexican food that I ever had. The good part was that the owner did not charge a penny since it was vegetarian. Mexicans have big heart!
I got back to ship after hanging out in Manzanillo and was all set to journey back home. The next 2 days spent on ship were full of fun. Celebrated New Year’s Eve on the ship, Participated in R rated hypnosis show and spent quality time with new friends.
Carnival, indeed, Fun Ship!