2009 California Cruise Season

| August 10, 2009

Affordable to Fanciful - the upcoming California Fall and Winter 2009/10 West Coast cruise season offers bigger and better selections than ever.

San Diego has come a long way since the Azure Seas was the only resident passenger vessel of significant size. Today, San Diego is on par with Los Angeles as cruise port, especially during the fall through spring seasons when many ships return to the city from the Alaska cruises summer season.

While the port of Los Angeles has bigger cruise ships departing to the Mexico Riviera all year round, San Diego has an impressive diversity of smaller ships sailing to Mexico and other destinations. San Diego is also a more efficient port city with its the pier, airport and wonderful downtown hotels all within very close proximity. Add in San Diego's tourist attractions and the city becomes one of the most compelling port cities in America.

West Coast cruise offerings from San Diego, Long Beach and Los Angeles have improved by leaps and bounds in the last two years and the approaching fall and winter season will offer the most variety ever. Granted, swine flu is still a concern, but isn't there always an upside? Los Angeles has a seven-day Mexico cruise starting at just $349 and balcony cabins selling for under $600 per person - details below.

San Diego has the tidy Holland America Veendam sailing to the Mexican Riviera ports of Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan for as low as $399 per person.

What's New in 2009? The most significant change to California cruise options is the introduction of newer and bigger ships sailing out of Los Angeles. With the introduction of Carnival Splendor, Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas and Princess Cruises' Sapphire Princess there are now three mega-ships of greater than 100,000-tons offering more onboard options to California cruisers than ever before. This will be the first full winter season where Californians have cruise ships comparable to the size and style long available to the Florida market.

Short Cruises; three to five day cruises from San Diego Shorter cruises, from three-day weekend getaways to five-day mini-cruises are for people looking for a quick escape at very affordable prices. Carnival Elation out of San Diego sails to Ensenada Friday nights, arriving on Sunday and returning on Monday. Elation sells for as low as $149 pp. Four-day cruises on Elation also to Ensenada leave on Monday, arrive in Ensenada on Wednesday and return on Friday. These cruises start at $159 per person. You can often find four-day cruise prices comparable to three-day cruises because weekend cruises are more popular.

Elation has been recently redecorated with a new water park, restaurants, pool deck enhancements and new food options like sushi and Mongolian Barbecue. Still, Carnival Elation is an older ship with few balcony cabins. Unless you really want a three-day weekend cruise, only offered by Carnival, we would opt for the newer Royal Caribbean's Radiance of the Seas sailing from San Diego on four- and five-day cruises, and even a few nine and eleven day itineraries added.

Radiance of the Seas is one of the highest rated classes of Royal Caribbean ships by online cruise enthusiasts. We call these the "right-sized" ships from Royal Caribbean because they are newer but smaller than the mega-ships. They have all the modern amenities of newer ships but with more personal space and shorter lines. Radiance's four-day cruise sails from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas, and the five-day cruise adds Ensenada. Five-day cruises have balcony cabins as low as $359 pp in October, a real steal.

Seven Day Cruises from Los Angeles

The serious Mexican Riviera cruises are seven-day cruises on larger ships. Once again, the spotlight is on the three mega-ships mentioned above. These state-of-the-art cruise ships, each offering plenty of onboard activities to keep you amused for a week have prices that are extremely competitive. They all offer seven-day cruises to Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas, known as the Mexican Riviera. Here is rundown on these ships:

Mariner of the Seas is in the Voyager-class and is the largest ship running regular cruises from California. Coming in at 138,000-tons and 3114 passengers she is the Queen of California cruising. She leaves Los Angeles on Sunday nights. This ship has offers rock-climbing, ice-skating, ice shows, Johnny Rockets, a Royal Promenade, production shows, inline skating, mini-golf, great children's programs, internet access, alternative dining, a sports bar, casino, nightclubs, karaoake, a spa and more. Prices this fall start at $477 pp, $748 balcony. Royal Caribbean gets the top rating in onboard activities.

Carnival Splendor is the competition. Not as big as Mariner but much newer, Splendor is as fun as a Carnival "Fun ShipTM" can get. At 113,000-tons and 3000 passengers, she was introduced just last summer making her the newest Carnival ship sailing. She makes Long Beach Harbor her home - right next to the permanently moored original Queen Mary. Splendor has everything Carnival offers; 22 bars and lounges including a sing along piano bar, the White Hot Disco, great production shows, great comedians, an outdoor movie screen by the pool, water slides, alternative dining, a multitude of surprisingly delectable food options, a spa, hot tubs, karaoake, Internet access, and more. Prices start at $439 pp, balconies for $729. Carnival gets the top rating in entertainment.

Sapphire Princess is the last mega-ship coming in at 115,875-tons and only 2670 passengers. This is the more premium option of the three mega-ships. Sapphire, sailing from Los Angeles, is a large ship with a smaller ship feel. The decor is less whimsical and more classic. The cabins are roomy with generous bathrooms and the pool deck offers hot tubs and a swim against the current pool. There is mini-golf, Internet access, karaoake, a piano bar, sports bar, an outdoor movie screen, plenty of live music, a wine bar and an extensive wine collection. Princess gets the top ratings in personalized service.

San Diego Mexico Cruises: Unusual Itineraries Aside from the three mega-ships, which are really ship-oriented cruises full of onboard activities, there are slightly smaller ships of 90,000 tons and less doing more destination-oriented Mexico cruises. If you want a Mexico cruise with better onshore experiences these are for you.

San Diego is especially lucky to have Carnival Spirit as a resident cruiser. A smaller but newer Carnival ship, Spirit is the other "right-sized" ship sailing from San Diego. At 88,500-tons and 2124 passengers the eight-night cruise from San Diego offers one super advantage - Acapulco. Yes, it requires an extra day to get that far south. Spirit also features different ports from the du jour mega-ships; Zihuatanejo and Manzanillo. There are four seas days, two out and two back. The ship is smaller but the cabins are top-notch; roomy, lots of storage, pleasing wood accents. With prices starting at $449 pp and balconies at $649 pp this eight-day cruise to Acapulco is not only an unusual itinerary on one of the best West Coast ships, it is a steal.

Holland America Veendam, also sailing from San Diego, will finish out this winter to be replaced by the newer and larger Zaandam next year. Veendam may be the best value cruise in San Diego at just 55,000-tons for 1258 passengers. You get the most personalized service possible and a quiet, elegant ship. The food selection may be a bit limited and they roll up the sidewalks pretty early, but you can book the seven-night cruises to the Mexican Riviera starting at just $391 pp (from San Diego) and suites at $779.

But it is the eight-night cruises on Veendam to Toplobampo, Loreto and Cabo San Lucas where you are now lucky to find a berth at all. This Sea of Cortes itinerary is the most unusual and popular cruise to Mexico from any departure point. Abounding with wildlife like dolphin and whales, and unspoiled Mexican ports with desert scenery and quiet zocalos, these cruises only have a few cabins left. Next year this itinerary will be taken over by the newer Zaandam, book it early.

We have already mentioned Radiance of the Seas sailing from San Diego. The more exotic nine and 11-day cruises offer unusual itineraries and excellent prices for the state of the art Royal Caribbean favorite.

Cities in Mexico

Unusual Mexico Itineraries from Los Angeles and other California Ports

For great value on slightly smaller but still ultra-modern 21st Century ships look to the two Norwegian Cruise Lines ships sailing from Los Angeles. Norwegian Sun (2001, 79,000-tons, 2002 passengers) and Norwegian Star (2004, 91,000-tons, 2240 passengers) both feature NCL's signature "free-style" cruising with an abundance of alternative dining spots onboard in addition to the "included in the cruise fare" dining room. Best of all are the prices.

A seven-day cruise on Norwegian Star from Los Angeles to Cabo, Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan starts at $349 per person, with balconies at $569 per person and suites for $699. This is one of the best values out there. NCL is a different cruise line with appeal for younger couples and families. They have excellent entertainment and onboard activities, but you will probably spend extra money onboard eating in the larger selection of specialty restaurants. Free-style means you dine when and where you please. They also feature a more relaxed dress code.

Holland America Oosterdam: offers seven-day cruises from Los Angeles to the same ports as above, the difference is a smaller, classier ship with fewer passengers and a quieter and statelier atmosphere. Starting as low as $391 pp inside, and $634 balcony, this is a steal for people who want a more refined getaway with fewer children onboard. Oosterdam is a larger Holland America ship at 82,000-tons and 1848 passengers. Built in 2003, it features spacious cabins, fine wine, cigar and cognac bars, string quartets, high tea service and dance bands doing big band standards. There are computer classes and a great library.

And our top value pick for all West Coast cruises is the Norwegian Sun 11-night cruise leaving from San Francisco to ports in the Seas of Cortes Topolobampo and La Paz (Pichilingue); and the Mexican Riviera; Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas. This cruise starts at just $599 inside and $949 for a balcony cabin.

Finding Cruises from San Diego For cruises everywhere leaving from San Diego why not try an Escondido family business that has emerged as one of the top award-winning cruise sellers in the entire nation, America's Vacation Center? To find cruises sailing out of San Diego online try this link: Cruises From San Diego.

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