Walt & Malia Young
Number of Cruises: 3
Cruise Line: Princess
Ship: Diamond Princess
Sailing Date: November 13th, 2004
Itinerary: Mexican Riviera
Booking: We had been on two Caribbean cruises before, one on the Sea Princess in 2000 and one on NCL Norwegian Sea out of Houston in December 2003. We thought it would be fun to try one of the big, new Megaships, and decided to do the Mexican Riviera so that we could drive from Utah and not pay the airfare. We didn’t book until the first of September, and just took the cheapest inside cabin. We were traveling with another couple who was celebrating their 1 year anniversary.
Embarkation/Ship: We drove right to the pier, following instructions from Princess and the website for the parking company. Arrived about 3:00 and pretty much went right aboard. A beautiful ship! Right away, we liked the subdued décor, with tasteful wood and tile throughout, but in pleasant shades of blues/greens/tans, and not so much the garish, bright colors you often see in cruise ships. We were really impressed with the multitude of handcrafted tile mosaics on the floors and walls of the common areas, not to mention the pool and conservatory areas. We really liked the multiple pools around the ship, four in all, as well as the eight hot tubs. Ah, the joys of the megaships – many choices in pools, hot tubs, sun decks, etc. There were always deckchairs to be had at virtually any time, with the exception of those right around the main pool, but we don’t like to hang out there anyway. We like the quieter corners of the ship, and we could always find multiple options. The area around the spa, at the front of the ship, was particularly quiet most times, and we loved the multilevel back deck area, and spent most of our time there.
Our cabin was small, but was the most comfortable, tasteful, and well laid out of any of our three cruises. Lots of wood trim and mirrors made it feel warm and spacious. Good use of space – we even had empty drawers and shelves for most of the week, until we started shopping and bring back the loot. The bed was very comfortable, and the whole cabin was a pleasant place to be, for as little time as we actually spent there.
Food: We really enjoyed the Personal Choice dining, with the main daily menu available in every one of the four main Personal Choice dining rooms, but we also liked the familiarity of the reduced menu in each dining room that helped us choose which dining room for which night. After the second night, we just made reservations for the rest of the week, at different restaurants. We ate twice each at the Sterling (American/Steaks), Vivaldi (Italian), and Pacific Moon (Oriental), but only once at the Santa Fe because of the slow service (but they had fantastic guacamole, which we were happy to find other days at the Horizon Court buffet.) Dinner each night was fantastic, but the service, while very good, seemed a little less personal than other cruises. Hard to complain too much though, and the food was excellent. We felt the food and the service were superior in the Sterling and Vivaldi. We never ate at Sabbatinis, with the additional surcharge. Give me a break! Why pay extra? Like the fantastic dinners in the other dining rooms aren’t enough? I think Sabbatinis is for the same people who drive a Mercedes Benz just because it’s more expensive. I guess we’re not those kind of people. Thank heavens!
The Horizon Court was very good, and we were actually a little surprised at the quality. It easily surpassed the quality and changing selections of our previous two cruises. We had fun each night going up there for a late night snack and seeing what items from the main dining room menus were being served up there as well. Enjoy the Sea Scallops Medditeraneo that were served for dinner? Chances were you could get some more at 10:00 at the buffet. The pizza and grill items on deck were also nice for sea-day snacking, or a quick bite when boarding the ship. The only complaint is that they would have three choices of pizza, and they were never very loaded, like a meat lovers version or even a combination. But you could always get a piece of basic pepperoni and it was quite tasty. Must have been – I think I had about 8 of them.
Shows/Entertainment: First of all, a disclaimer: We really don’t much care for Vegas-style shows, with the often disconnected succession of singing and dancing bits. We would much prefer Broadway style musicals with an actual story to tell, but that is tough with a 45-60 minute show. That said, we enjoyed the productions of The Piano Man and Undercover. The Piano Man was a montage of songs by Billy Joel, Liberace, Paul Anka, Bary Manilow, Elton John, etc. Pretty elaborate costumes, and the dancers were good. Singers were OK. Ironically, one of the male singers was also on our Sea Princess cruise in 2000. He’s lost a little hair. Haha! The Undercover show was a salute to spy movies, and actually had some pretty clever bits that made us laugh. The house band was impressive and polished.
The comedians/”magicians”/jugglers were about what you expect: Some gut busting moments, some funny stuff, some that isn’t so funny, but all in all, a pleasant way to kill an hour with friends. No worse than PG-13. The theater was very comfortable, and lent itself very well to the productions. As always, there is the wide ranging selection of other things that you never quite find time to fully experience. The piano bar singer in Crooners lounge got on our nerves though. We just didn’t think he was very good, every time we walked by on our way somewhere else.
Puerto Vallarta: We took the ship’s mountain biking excursion and enjoyed it. Nothing too serious, mostly biking around some farms and small cities. Made us sweat. Then a brief tour of a small tequila factory, but we wished we could have just headed back to town. When we got back, we got back on the ship for a quick shower, lunch at the buffet, then back off the ship where we arranged for a Suburban to take us sight-seeing for the afternoon. It was $40 for that, then we ended up having the guy take us to the better shopping areas downtown, and wait for us, then take us back to the ship, for an additional $12 that it would have cost us for a taxi anyway. We went south of town, into the beautiful hillside areas and down the coast all the way to the Mismaloya river. Very pretty. Had a good time. Would like to return and spend more time here.
Mazatlan. We had a tough time picking an excursion here because we didn’t really like any of the choices. Ultimately, we chose a privately booked Stone Island Excursion. Pretty lame. Same as the one off the ship, but only $35, which included a boat ride out of the harbor, around some rocks & sea lions, then back to a 3-wood from the ship, across the channel, and on the beach. If you don’t have a better option, just take a water taxi across the channel, then bum a ride or even walk the couple of blocks south down the beach and hang out. That can probably be done for all of $10 each. Heist some fruit from the cruise ship or something. All in all, we don’t feel the need to return to Mazatlan, with one exception: When we were returning to the ship, we had arranged to take the scenic route back, with a more extensive tour of the city, and our guide took us to this awesome little shop called Sea Shell City. Northern end of the Golden Zone. We have been to Mexico about 10 times in the last 6 years, from Cozumel and Cancun to Tijuana/Rosarito Beach, and we have never found better prices on carved stone and wood animals, and shells, and other fun little trinkets as we found in this store. We already wish we had bought more things, just for inexpensive little gifts. Example: The little carved stone “families” of 7 little fish/elephants/sea horses/dolphins, etc, for just $5. Obsidian carved masks that are always $35-$40 elsewhere were only $15-$20. Huge selection as well. So if you like that kind of inexpensive stuff, don’t miss this store.
Cabo San Lucas: This stop was the highlight of the trip, as far as ports. We booked a kayak/snorkel excursion through an outfit called Baja Wild. www.bajawild.com. It was great! They picked us up on the pier in a nice van, picked up a few other people at hotels on the way to a little beach where we loaded up the kayaks and went to Santa Maria bay. We snorkeled there for a while, then continued on to the Chilleno Bay/Chilleno Reef area where they had drinks, beach chairs, and snacks awaiting us. This was a more extended version of the cruise ship’s excursion, but a better structured version, with more time kayaking and snorkeling, and better service, at a price of $50, compared to the cruise ships $69 price. Some of the best snorkeling I have done, with tons of fish and surprisingly clear water. A great time. Had us back to the pier at 1:00, leaving just a little time for last minute shopping before catching the last tenders back around 1:30. Definitely could have used a full day here, and definitely need to return here some day. I thought Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo were bookends to endless beachfront development and we were pleasantly surprised to find that most of the beachfront between the two cities is pretty much empty. I would love to have time to just wander up the coast, north of San Jose del Cabo, in the sea of Cortez. Our guides say there is all kinds of empty shoreline up there.
Disembarkation: We were surprised at how long it took to get off the ship. We didn’t cross the gangway until almost noon, and I don’t think the last people got off until probably 12:30. But while we waited, we were amused to watch all of the forklifts loading new supplies for the next voyage, and to watch some of the dockworkers stealing fruit by the bagful from the pallets being loaded. Absolute thieves!
Summary: Given a choice, we would prefer the Caribbean just because of the greater selection of ocean-based shore excursions, and clearer, warmer ocean waters. But, a cruise is far more than that. We had a great time just being able to relax aboard a beautiful ship, with top notch dining and entertainment. Yes, there are always a few minor things that you can identify that could be improved upon, but it’s all relative. It’s as if people need something to complain about, and those people can always find something. We give this cruise very high marks, as far as the ship board experience. Handily the best experience we’ve had on a cruise ship. But when it comes right down to it, Mexican ports are just not that good for a quick, single day in port. I would love to spend a week in Puerto Vallarta or Cabo San Lucas, but it’s almost not worth the bother to just be there for 5 or 6 hours. One of the comedians was joking about how the cruise ship was really just going in circles off El Segundo, and every night, the crew would go ashore and change the name on the town from Puerto Vallarta to Mazatlan to Cabo. You know, there is some small degree of truth to that. . . . . .
We really like the idea of sailing on the Diamond Princess again, maybe to Alaska.
We had a great time!