Cruise to Mexico

My wife and I have a tradition of staying somewhere nice to celebrate our wedding anniversary. This being our 15th, we thought we'd do something special, something we've never done before — a trip on a cruise ship.

For our first cruise, we decided to start with a "beginner" 4-night cruise to Baja Mexico on the Carnival Paradise ship. Since it's a special occasion, we sprang for a suite with a balcony.

Overall, the cruise was a great experience. The suite VIP treatment was well worthwhile, with express embarkation (bypassing a 1.5 hour line) and priority disembarkation, among other benefits.

We attended three of the four dinners at our assigned table, including the formal night, and enjoyed conversations with the tablemates. On Wednesday we were feeling peckish early, so partook of the poolside grill instead, which was nice.

We had interesting shore excursions on Tuesday and Wednesday. Tuesday was Catalina Island, where we had a small bus tour of the city of Avalon and walked around the botanical gardens, which was created by the Wrigley chewing gum founder — he originally bought the whole island. We then walked around town and bought some souvenirs.

Wednesday was Ensenada in Mexico, on the Baja peninsula. There we did a wine country tour, with a coach trip out to an organic winery and a wine tasting, followed by a photo stop at a bullfighting ring, then on to a larger-scale winery and more tasting. We bought two bottles of wine at each, plus were given two more as part of the tour. We were worried about getting those home, but they survived the rough baggage handling, buried in the middle of our luggage.

Speaking of alcohol, as people who follow me on Twitter (@dejal) may know, until a couple of months ago I was a teetotaler, by choice — I never saw the point in drinking alcohol. However, I recently changed my mind about that, and have started sampling various alcoholic beverages. On the cruise, I had my first taste of some mixed drinks, including a margarita (invented in Ensenada) and others. My impression was that such beverages are tastier than wine and beer, though of course more dangerous (and expensive).

And speaking of that, it was certainly nice having all the free food and lots of eating options on the ship. I gained several pounds. But they certainly pushed the alcoholic beverages — you hardly sit down somewhere before a server comes by asking if you want a drink. Still, that could be considered good service... and yes, the service was great; everyone was attentive and friendly. Apparently the ship has a passenger capacity of 2,052 and a crew complement of 920, most of which are servers and room stewards.

The room stewards were very friendly, too, greeting us by name when we passed in the corridor, and leaving cute towel-animals on our bed each day.

Another practically constant thing were the photographers — before you even get on the ship, you have your photo taken a couple of times, and getting off in Mexico we had our photo taken no less than four times. There are photographers lining the public hallways, with differing backdrops, and photographers during dinner. They display the photos around one of the main decks, encouraging you to buy them; another great way to extract $$$ out of passengers. We did buy some nice shots of us on our formal diner night.

Thursday was a "fun day at sea", travelling back from Mexico (though most of the day was spent parked off Catalina Island — it doesn't take all that long to travel between the ports). We had a formal lunch and dinner, but otherwise didn't do much... just sat around on our balcony and read for much of the time. We did stop by their evening dance show, but it looked too cheesetastic for our tastes.

Then Friday we woke up early with the ship back at its Long Beach base, and did the VIP early disembarkation, coach shuttle back to LAX airport, and our flight home (which caused some worry, as we had difficulty trying to check in online, but fortunately the check in agent helped us out).

We'll definitely do more cruises in the future. It'd be nice to try a longer one, and one in warmer weather — it was nice enough, though a little cool at times.

Re: Cruise to Mexico

great story and photos. i'm thinking of a similar trip next year.