This was our 9th cruise, the first with RCI. The ship departed from LA and visited Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta. We booked an outside deck 2 aft Category I cabin.
We arrived 2 days early to see the sights at Marina del Rey, Venice Beach, and Santa Monica. We decided to blow the wad and stayed at the Marriott MDR for $200/night, across the road from Mother's Beach. Our eighth floor room offered a great view of the marina, mountains, and ocean in the distance, and the hotel was well located to enjoy the marina activities and quickly get to Venice and Santa Monica. The marina is huge, over a mile long, and in the summer from May to Sept there will be a water taxi taking people to different spots around the marina for $1. The Visitors Center sent us a great map with info about sights to see: www.VisitMarina.com (310-305-9545).
For dinner in MDR we wanted good value and a nice view of the marina. The Cheesecake Factory is well known but has only a few tables with a good view, and a better bet is Tony P's on Admiralty Way, entrees from $10-32, huge portions, great selections on the menu, and tons of tables with marina/sea views.
Venice Beach is the famous collection of street buskers, eccentrics, hotties, and tourists. It's about 1.5 miles from MDR, and has a 30 foot wide ocean boardwalk passing by tons of shops, sport areas such as paddle tennis and basketball courts, roller bladers, bikers, and the Muscle Beach area. Even on a cool March day there were lots of people. Muscle Beach is an open air fitness gym behind a 4 foot railing, and there were always some muscle types pumping iron where we went by. Teens and spring breakers would think this is the coolest place. Here's the link to a good map showing the different areas there: www.venicebeach.com/n_images/vbmap.html
Santa Monica is much more upscale, especially the Third Street Promenade, restricted to pedestrians only, very pretty, cute shops, tons of eateries. The famous S. M Pier is cheesy and tacky, a few entertainment rides, fast food joints, arcades. Lots of parking on the pier for $7 or under/beside the pier for $6. Nice view of the beach and waves. A cab from MDR to SM is about $10-12, and from Venice to SM about $6, or there are lots of local buses (3 companies) for $1. The SM Visitors Center sent another great map: www.santamonica.com (310-393-7593). Cab from MDR to the ship was $65.
We arrived at the port at 11:45, dropped our luggage with the porters, and waited 10 minutes in line to do the Sea Pass ship card. Then we were sent to the security check area, and a welcome surprise was that passengers didn't have to stand in line, but were seated in a lounge until their number was called. We were on the ship an hour after arriving, having lunch in the Windjammer buffet. Cruisers were asked not to go to their cabins to drop stuff off until after 1:30 to give the stewards time to prep them.
In the afternoon we met our Cruise Critic message board friends, and had some fun drinks at the pool . It was cloudy and chilly, had to keep our clothes on.
Our outside deck 2 aft cabin was ok, not as big as CCL, about the size of NCL, and not as well appointed as Celeb, but adequate. The bedspread looked tired, perhaps a bit worn, or just too many washings, which the steward replaced with new when requested. The loveseat also appeared to have some stains, used by too many sun-screened bodies, didn't say anything, mentioned it on the evaluation. Luggage fits under the side of the king bed if you lift it up, but not at the end, bars in the way. 2 electrical outlets, bring a power bar. Good strong hair dryer, good shampoo, bring conditioner. Free safe. Tipped steward to keep the ice bucket full, and bring an RCI robe for Wendy, great job. Stewards ask cruisers to slip the card that says Make Up Room/Don't Make up Room into the card key door slot so they can fit their work to your desired schedule. Push the black button on the shower temp control to turn the knob further for hotter water. Decent shower pressure, removable wand. On the last day we discovered the glass panels on either side of the makeup mirror on the vanity opened up, duh. We had a nice steady engine sound, we find it puts us to sleep and drowns out strange noises, but if you need quiet you should get a forward cabin.
The ship is lovely, nice public areas. We seem to have a favorite area on every ship, and on the Vision it was the pretty Solarium, an indoor hot tub and pool area with glass walls under a retractable glass ceiling. Pillared Greek style pool, wavy bubbles by the steps, upscale loungers, bar, pizza/burger/fries at back. Always quite warm here, 85-90F, a cosy quiet place, no kids allowed (we saw them kick one out). Salt pool, fresh water shower stalls.
The Windjammer buffet had a nice feature, window seating all round the back and sides, and elevated loveseats in the next row facing the water. The Capt said she was designed for maximum glass areas. An extra food area here is easy to miss, at the end of the buffet lines, past the drink stations, in the center of the Windjammer. At breakfast this is where the pancakes, waffles, omelettes etc are, and extras for lunch and dinner there too.
The gym was adequate, several machines of each type, some free weights, nice views. The jogging track was disappointing because it's on deck 10 going through the loungers above the pool, so joggers are bumping into people in this crowded area when the weather's nice, never seen that setup on any other ship.
The food was excellent, like an upscale restaurant. We've never had ship food on any cruise that we could complain about. Best lemonade ever, full flavor, not diluted. Best ship drinks ever, tasted like doubles, first time for that too. And the first time we've seen standard alternate entrees at dinner, about 5 of them, making a total of about 10 entrée choices for dinner. Sometimes the alternate would be the same as on the main menu but with a different sauce. The two of us sometimes had 3 entrees, splitting the third one, although that tended to wipe out dessert. Tough choices.
There were the usual song and dance shows, lots of energy, and other entertainers like comedians, as well as audience participation shows, lots of fun. Lots of activities for teens and kids. Three of the casual night dinners had dress themes, one was country and western, one was rock and roll, and one was island. Very few people dressed in theme, a few in cowboy hats, more in loud island shirts (like mine), but surprisingly the young hotties didn't do the rock theme. Maybe they think they're already dressed like that.
The casino wasn't busy most of the time, always space at the $5 and $10 BJ tables, and at the slots and video poker.
FIRST SEA DAY
Cloudy and cool till about 2pm when the sun came out and we and everyone else made a dash for loungers. Rather windy but the tough ones stayed for an hour or so, and actually got some rays. Later on we discovered 2 sunny spots protected from the constant wind, see below, day 6 and 7.
CABO SAN LUCAS
The ship anchors in the bay right off Medano beach where the resorts are, and the view is beautiful with the rocks of the Arch on the left, the harbor boats in the middle, and the beach and resorts on the right. It reminded us of the pretty hillside towns in southern Italy. It was lovely to be on deck watching the ship come into the bay and anchor.
Cabo is the only tendered port, and cruisers are allowed on tenders in order of their tender ticket number. People without early numbers didn't get ashore until lunch. Tickets are handed out at 9:30 by the piano in the Centrum on deck 4. If you want an early number you should line up at 9:00, which we did with about 100 other people. Perhaps the crew took pity on our long line and started handing out tickets at 9:15. We got a number 1, and the first numbers were called at 10:00, #'s 1-3 all together. To avoid being in a huge lineup down the stairs to the loading area, be at the loading area at 9:40 or earlier, deck 2, main elevator foyer stairs.
We wanted to get off early to be able to shop and see the town in the morning, and then have lunch and drinks at a resort and hang at their pool/beach for a few hours in the afternoon. We got in the tender line rather late at 10 because we were admiring the gorgeous view on deck, and were in the middle of the mob, but got on a boat by 10:20, (I'd estimate they each hold about 100 people) and ashore by 10:40.
When you get off the tender you can take a lovely walk along the boardwalk into town, or get a cab to the left behind the flea market. Here's the link to a pretty good map of Cabo: www.loscabosguide.com/maps/pics/cabo-san-lucas-map-04.jpg , the ship anchors right were the word "Bahia" is printed over the bay. And the ship tours desk hands out a good map too, in the green shopping guide, easier to read and the boardwalk is better marked. To take the boardwalk stay to the right as you leave the tender dock, and there will be marina boats on your right and pretty shops, cafes, and apts on your left. You can walk all the way to the upscale Puerto Paraiso Mall, perhaps 15-20 minutes, or you can turn left at several places, marked on the ship map, and get over to Marina Blvd, lots more shops there. A good place to turn left is at the large lighthouse, walk up the cobblestone aqueduct about 30 yards to the Blvd. We did this area in the morning.
For the afternoon we wanted to have lunch and drinks and maybe a swim at one of the resorts, catch some rays at the pool/beach, and several large resorts in Cabo welcome cruisers as free day guests, including the Finnisterra near the tender dock, and the Hacienda, Melia, and Pueblo Bonita around the harbor on Medano Beach. The beaches are public, and if you prefer you can throw a towel down on the sand anywhere. We chose the Melia San Lucas. This area is a $6 cab ride from downtown, or a 6 peso (60 cent) bus. We took the bus because we got talking to vacationers staying in Cabo who were going that way and suggested we come along, and we wanted to get some local flavor anyway. So we got on with them and used up some of our loose pesos, and had a little "bus route" tour through Cabo.
The Melia was lovely, beautiful grounds, a series of pools, and loungers at the pools and beach (http://www.solmelia.com/sol/hoteles/jsp/CHome.jsp?idSolRes=5833 They also have large rubberized mattresses on platforms with outdoor pillows that 6-8 people can lay on, both at the pools and the beach, but we preferred loungers (although Wendy said the mattresses would be great for tanning on your tummy, more comfy).
When we entered we went to the girl at the pool kiosk, identified ourselves as day use cruisers, tipped her $5 and requested towels and loungers. She quickly scooted off and came back with 2 big resort towels and offered us either of the only 2 mattress cabanas left. We said if we couldn't find loungers at the beach we'd come back for one, but we found 2 under an umbrella, and ordered drinks and a nacho platter from the waiter for $14. It had lots of great cheese and spicy tomato/pepper sauce and guacamole on the side for scooping. Beautiful view, ship right in front of us, rocks of the Arch to the right. A rope keeps vendors out of the immediate area, but they patrol up and down. We did see one ceramic thing we wanted, and got if for half of the asking price, which is normal.
At the end of the afternoon we decided to walk back to the tender for some exercise, along the beach and then around the harbor to the boardwalk, and along it to the tender dock, which took about 25 minutes. More street vendors, all selling the same things. A lovely full day.
In Mazatlan we wanted to do 2 things, see the historical sights in Old Town where the ship docks, and then go up to the Golden Zone (resort beach area) to do some shopping and hit another resort for some sun and pool/beach time.
Tractor-pulled trams take people from the ship across the dock to the terminal where you pick up cabs. We took a $5 per couple cab ($4 because we split it with another couple) to the Mercado Market, tons of flea market shops in a covered square block, but too touristy, then walked 1 block south to the huge historic cathedral and Revolution Park, pretty area. Wendy sews, and found a local non-tourist fabric store to die for, prices about 10-20% of what she'd pay at home. Then we walked down to the ocean boardwalk, might have been a short $2 or $3 cab, then walked north along the boardwalk to see the cliff divers. Here's a link to a map of Old Town, shows the whole area but many streets not marked: www.advantagemexico.com/mazatlan/images/maz_oldtown.pdf And here's one that has the streets and sights marked: www.pacificpearl.com/images/map3.jpg and here's a suggested walking tour, page 3 of this link: www.guide2mexico.com/cities/mazatlan/mazindex.htm
The cliff divers survived and then we caught a $10 cab to the Golden Zone. We wanted to have lunch with a view of the beach and ocean, and hit El Capitano's on a recommendation, which was good. Lots of tables facing the surf, some live entertainment and dancers, 2 beers and shared combo platter for $10.50. Then hit some shops and then got a $2 cab to the El Cid Castillo, a resort that welcomes cruisers for free day use. Do not bother with the El Cid timeshare people at the dock unless you think 1.5 hours of your time is worth a free lunch and drinks. Don't bother with more of them in the El Cid lobby, just go straight to either of their 2 large pools or beach. Even at peak time, about 2pm, we found loungers, and a waiter got us 2 towels and 2 good margaritas for $7 (he needs to leave your ID with the towel attendant, which you get back when you return your towels to the pool . bring any cheap ID). While there we discovered another great place for a meal, beside the north pool, under the huge thatched roof, called La Concha. Upscale, lovely tables, open air to the sea, other tables outside on a stone patio, great view. $10 cab back to the ship, another day in paradise.
PV time is an hour later than ship time, but the ship advises us not to change our watches. Convenient shopping and nightlife all in one area downtown, rather than split like Mazatlan. In the morning we hit the shops downtown. The expensive cabs are the white ones just off the gangway, about $8-9, but if you walk out to the main drag (3 minutes) and get a yellow cab, it's $4 if you bargain hard and $5 if you bargain easy. They can drop people off near the gangway but can't do pickups there, the white cabs have the gangway contract. Tell the cabbie to take you to the Malecon (beach boardwalk), and drop you at 31 de Octobre street. Often their English is very limited, as was our Spanish, but if we showed them where on the map that worked fine.
The tourist shops and bars are along the beach road, Paseo Diaz Ordaz, starting at 31 de Octobre and going east until you get to Zaragoza street, a pretty treed square with a huge cathedral behind it. On one side of Ordaz are the cafes, bars, and shops, and on the ocean side is a pretty stone boardwalk along the beach. Again the endless peddlers on the shop side, less on the ocean side.
The real local shops with no peddlers and better prices are the next 2 streets in from the ocean running parallel to Ordaz, Marelos first, then Juarez next, running down to Zaragoza. Prices are as marked, no haggling. Wendy found another fabric store, half an hour of heaven. Best price on the #1 vanilla extract, Orlando brand, 120 pesos a litre. Morelos and Juarez are a sea of humanity, mostly locals, but lots of tourists, heavy traffic. We asked about crossing streets, and were told the method translates into "run for your life." Sometimes traffic control cops (?) hold traffic back for tourists.
The tourism people also told us there was good local shopping for 2 blocks in each direction of the Main Plaza at Pitillal (pronounced pity-al), perhaps a mile inland from the ship, a $4-5 cab. The tourism kiosks have maps showing it.
In the afternoon we wanted to hit another resort, and went to the Krystal, a 5-7 minute walk from the ship, which welcomes both cruisers and crew for free day use, no towels included (bring ship towels). Don't go the long way out to the main drag, take the shortcut down the back street. I'll give these directions because there are so many messages asking how, and it is a bit hard to locate. Go off the gangway, walk to the right around the circular building, then across the square in front of the flea market, then head for the large white wall with a yellow wall behind it, go through the gate at the left end of the white wall, and go down this street to the end, where you will see the "Welcome cruisers to the Krystal resort". You can see this route from an upper deck on the dock side of the ship.
The Krystal was lovely, several pools, no umbrellas but didn't need one, loungers scarce at peak time after lunch but we found 2, more of them on the beach under thatched papillas umbrellas. Drinks were $4.50, rather weak. Beach flags show the danger level of the waves, second highest on our day, too much for kids under 12, it would knock them all over, steep dropoff too. Had a lovely afternoon, lots of ship towels all over, walked back to the ship for dinner.
After dinner we took a yellow cab back into town so see the nightlife. The Malecon boardwalk is hopping at night, music from all the party bars, stores open till 10, tons of people. Down at the end of the boardwalk there was a live band playing soft music in the pretty treed square. Across the street beside Hooters there is a small amphitheatre where a comedy troupe was putting on a free show, where you can see several large Greek style arches. The show was very cute, good fun, at times pulling tourists in to be straight men, unicycles, fire batons, gags, lots of gestures, no language barrier. Donations requested, and just about everyone tipped. With a bit of polish they could easily be one of the ship entertainment groups. The show may have started around 7:30 ship time, they were rolling when we got there before 8. After 8 there were fireworks above the beach.
The party bars have staff out front trying to get you in, open air fronts so you can see inside and customers can look out at the street scene, sometimes no cover charge, sometimes a large cover of $30-40 incl free booze all night, some signs offering 10 beer for $11, all had 2 for 1 drinks, quite a scene. Don't go back on Morelos or Juarez at night.
Tons of yellow cabs, just like NYC, no prob getting one back whenever you need one. Sailaway pool b'b'cue at 11. The ship map in their shopping guide is good, rip it out, and here's a link to one: www.allaboutpuertovallarta.com/images/PVdntw1.gif
The first sea day heading home began sunny with a calm sea, but windy and chilly. This wind that other reviewers have mentioned must be a permanent trade wind or something, because it was always blowing, even on this perfect day. It was borderline warm by the pool, lots of people with tops on or towels wrapped around them. Too windy and cold to sit on the loungers above the pool, no one there. We strolled all over and actually found 2 sunny places without the wind . see note #2 below. The bow location is busier, more people walking past on the track. Other location is more secluded.
The last sea day, Saturday, started beautifully, ocean almost glassy calm, blue sky. Even so there was still that stiff chilly breeze on deck. Only a few die-hard tanners were in the loungers, bundled up. We got a few rays in our sheltered bow spot, and then the clouds rolled in about 9:30, so we went to breakfast. Overcast and cold the rest of the morning, and at noon the captain made his daily announcements, saying that the weather would get cloudier and windier in the afternoon, with higher seas. He turned out to be a better seaman than a weatherman, because after 12 the sea got a bit choppy, but it turned mainly sunny all afternoon. No one could sit above the pool on deck 10, all those loungers were empty, it would blow your sunglasses and hat right off. Somewhat better at the pool, loungers all taken, maybe half the people with tops on. Just lovely in our protected spot at the bow. We hit lunch just before the buffet closed at 2:30, then back in the sun till dinner time. Our friends in a mini-suite on deck 8 couldn't tan on their balcony, the overhang went too far out.
Luggage out in the hall by 11pm.. In the morning cruisers are asked to be out of their cabins by 8. Dining room closes at 8, buffet closes at 8:30. Final ship accounts are delivered to cabins early Sunday morning for checking. Debarking is by color code as usual, and the first was called at 7:50. After leaving the ship and entering the terminal there was a 45 minute wait in line for customs. Then you get your luggage, each color tag in a separate room, and leave the terminal, total time for us was 1 hour 20 minutes. The sidewalk in front of the terminal is for private pickups, and if you want a cab or shuttle you cross over to the island where a taxi coordinator radios for them. Another ship was debarking beside us, but there were tons of cabs, and we had one in 5 minutes, and were off to LAX for $43. Super Shuttle and Prime Time Shuttle are about $30/couple to LAX, need to pre-book.
TIPS & NOTES
1. Internet: Need to check your email? The ship is expensive as usual, 50 cents a minute, sometimes pretty fast, more often slow. Crown and Anchor booklet has coupon for 10 minutes free. Have to submit coupon same day used. Great internet ashore, often $1/hour! In Cabo a good one about halfway down Marina Blvd, just 1 block off the Blvd on the left in a plaza, ask any of the tourist kiosks, they're very helpful. In Maz there's one a block from the cathedral, rec'd as cheap, but didn't get there. In PV the one off the gangway is expensive, $3 for 15 minutes. In town it's $1/hour at a place at Juarez and Aldama, fast connection, about 5 pesos (50 cents) for about half an hour. Another place on Ordaz, the beach strip, 2 doors east of McDonalds, don't know the rates.
2. Protected tanning locations: On our strolls we only found 2 sunny places protected from the winds. One was on deck 10 (jogging track) up at the bow in front of the 5 foot glass panels. The other was also on deck 10, behind the Solarium. There are no loungers there, you have to drag them in from the side of the ship.
3. Menus: We had to look around to find the daily menus, they aren't displayed at the doors to the dining room, but back about 20 feet in the wine display cases.
4. Tipping: RCI has 2 nice tipping features. The ship gives people the choice of putting tips on your Sea Pass card or handling it yourself, a nice choice the other cruise lines don't do, with others you have to cancel them off the ship card if you want to do it yourself. Also another nice feature, if you put the tips on your ship card, you get vouchers to put in the tip envelopes to give the staff which shows you tipped through the ship.
5. Money. Don't bother bringing large bills like 20's, they're just a nuisance, only good for large purchases like private shore tours. No one can or wants to change them, cabs, bar waiters, food waiters, and if they do you often get a bunch of pesos to try and get rid of. Plus wasted time waiting for change. It's best to pay close to the exact amount and be gone. It's good to have about $50-70 in ones, about 20-25 fives, and 5 or 10 tens for generally getting around. Don't use the ones until you need to.
6. Comfy. If you like a terry robe in the cabin, but your cabin category doesn't include one, you can ask (or tip) the steward to get you one, and RCI's policy is to fill your request.
Lovely cruise, hi to our new shipmates Gary and Betty, lots of fun together, hope your hangovers don't last too long :-) Here's the link to our cruise photos, should be posted by April: http://community.webshots.com/user/rob42ca Email us if you have questions.
Bob & Wendy Bob7@canoemail.com