10 Night Mexican Riviera Cruise
Packing Essentials List
The ship itself was built in 1998 and can accommodate up to 3,100 passengers as well as 1,100 crewmembers. It was renovated in 2011 to add an atrium, more suites, new restaurants, and a wedding chapel. Although it was renovated, it definitely has the feel of an older ship. The majority of the spaces had dark woods and browns. It also wasn’t the most kid-friendly vessel we’ve been on. The kid attractions included an outdoor movie theater, the swimming pool, and the kids club. The rest of the ship was geared more towards an adult audience with the casino, art shows, live music, piano bars, etc.
We took a trip on the Grand Princess ship during Christmastime, 2016. The boat left out of San Francisco, California. To get to San Francisco you can either drive and park in a long term parking structure near the port or fly into the San Francisco airport and take a shuttle, Uber, or taxi to the San Francisco cruise port, which is approximately 45 minutes away. The airport is south of the city itself. This was a perfect departure location because we were living in California at the time so we simply drove to the port and parked in the long term parking structure.
The (initial) cruise itinerary was:
Day 1: Departure Day from San Francisco
Day 2: At Sea
Day 3: At Sea
Day 4: At Sea
Day 5 Manzanillo, Mexico
Day 6: Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Day 7: Mazatlan, Mexico
Day 8: Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Day 9: At Sea
Day 10: At Sea
Day 11: Return to San Francisco
However, something happened to the ship on the previous cruise and repairs had to be made. We were told at the last minute that the cruise was going to depart two days later than previously scheduled, some of the port stops were going to be changed, and that the cruise would now only be 8 nights instead of 10. As an apology to the passengers, we were refunded for the two days that we wouldn’t be cruising, we were given a 30% off voucher for another cruise if we booked it within the next year, and we were given onboard credits. I’m not sure what they did for the guests who flew in to San Francisco from another location. My guess is that they put them up in a hotel for two days. For us it wasn’t too big of a deal as we just left our house two days later and drove to the port.
Our new itinerary was:
Day 1: Departure Day from San Francisco
Day 2: At Sea
Day 3: At Sea
Day 4: Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Day 5: Mazatlan, Mexico
Day 6: At Sea
Day 7: Ensenada, Mexico
Day 8: At Sea
Day 9: Return to San Francisco
I believe the reason the cruise cut our trip short instead of simply delaying it for two days and then giving us our full itinerary is that the cruise ships have back-to-back-to-back trips booked for sometimes years in advance. If they had moved our cruise back but still gave us the full 10 day trip it would have pushed back potentially dozens of future cruises where people may have already purchased their plan tickets to get to San Francisco. It’s better to inconvenience one ship full of people than potentially tens of thousands more in the future. Additionally, the passengers of our boat only had to adjust their travel itineraries on the way to the cruise but could still keep the same plane tickets home at the end. Clearly, Princess Cruises has dealt with something like this before.
To add a further level of frustration for the passengers, whatever repairs to the ship that were being made were not resolved by the time the cruise was supposed to leave port. We didn’t end up leaving San Francisco until the middle of the night and the next day we were told that they would need to drive the ship at a much faster speed than normal to make up time. For the rest of the trip the ship was rockin’ and rollin’. I felt so bad for any passengers that may get seasick. I’m not normally affected by motion, but on this trip even I felt it a little. This was especially true when I tried to exercise in the gym facility. The treadmill was a concussion waiting to happen and I even felt queasy on the elliptical. My solution to that problem was to spend my “exercise time” (aka when the kids and my husband nap) at the penny slots instead. Life is all about compromise… amiright?
This was frustrating for us because at the time of our trip our son was 2 years and 11 months old. The ship has a strict policy of only allowing 3 year olds in the kids club so he was our little companion for the majority of the trip. We quickly learned that, although it was convenient to leave out of San Francisco, it wasn’t exactly warm until we had cruised pretty far south and therefore there wasn’t a lot for our son to do on the ship during the days at sea because it was too cold to go into the pool most of the time. Also the ship was moving at a very rapid pace so even when it was warm enough to go in the pool, it didn’t feel very safe as the ship was rocking back and forth. I guess it wasn’t such a bad thing, for us, to have the cruise cut short by 2 nights as we were ready to go home after a week on the boat with not a lot to do with my son. *Our daughter on the other hand was happy as a clam in the kids club. She could do arts and crafts all day long.
It is important to remember that the holiday cruises tend to be more expensive than off-season cruises AND the larger rooms fill up very fast. So, if you want a suite or a particular location on the ship, make sure to book your trip well in advance, I’m talking a year or more in advance. We only booked our vacation a few weeks before the holidays so there were pretty limited options when it came to rooms. We chose a regular room with a balcony. The room was fine and the crewmember that was assigned to our section of the ship was really friendly. It did start to feel a little cramped after a few days and it made us think about booking a bigger room for our next trip.
Cabo San Lucas- My husband and I have been to Cabo many times. We were married there (check out my video about destination weddings: here) and our kids have even both been to Cabo a few times. We decided that we would just take the tender boat (they can’t dock at the port) into downtown Cabo and spend the day at the beach. There are a lot of beachside restaurants that, albeit are SUPER big tourist traps, have good food and fun music. It wasn’t exactly an immersion in Mexican culture, but it’s hard to take a history excursion when you have a 2 and 5 year old with you. We had a great time. We took a glass bottom boat that we paid for at the pier around to the Cabo Arch and our kids were enthralled by all of the fish that they could see. Afterwards we settled at the beach to hang out and have lunch. We ended up caving and buying some sand toys for the kids to play with as well as way too many souvenir trinkets from the beach vendors. The weather was gorgeous and it was about 80 degrees and the perfect way to spend Christmas Day.
Mazatlan- When I was a kid my parents had a timeshare at a resort in Mazatlan so we would come every spring break. It wasn’t anything fancy but it was definitely a nice break from the Oregon rain to head south of the border once a year. I hadn’t been back to Mazatlan since 1999 and my husband and kids had never been. I was so excited to see the place that I had such fond memories of from my childhood. We chose to book an excursion that took us on a quick bus tour of the city and surrounding sights and then brought us to a resort where they had a buffet lunch and we had access to the ocean and the resort pools for the day. The lunch was decent, nothing out of this world, and the kids had a wonderful time alternating between playing at the beach and swimming in the pool.
Ensenada- This port stop was not on our original itinerary but was added as a makeup stop because they had to cut Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo from our trip. There were very limited options for excursions and nothing that seemed to be particularly kid-friendly. We thought about just going souvenir shopping in town and departed the boat. We found a bus that was going to take us into town and as we drove around the area we made an executive decision to just take the van back to the boat. It may have been travel fatigue, or the fact that we really wanted to go to PV and Manzanillo and we were disappointed in our “makeup stop” but we just decided to go back to the boat and get the kids more ice cream. Solid parenting.
Christmas on a Cruise Ship:
Some people are homebodies over the holidays and can’t imagine not being home for Christmas. We are the exact opposite. We want warm weather and a change of scenery for the holidays. On our first Christmas cruise a few years before this one, we found out that we are definitely not alone in this sentiment. We met people who do not celebrate Christmas and were on the cruise with their families who also don’t celebrate because in their hometowns everything is closed down for a holiday that they don’t partake in. We met others who love Christmas and love that the boat has a massive Christmas tree in it and it’s covered in holiday decorations. We’ve met people who don’t have big families so it’s a perfect way to eat, drink, and be merry with a lot of people that they just happen to not be related to. There were others who were from cold weather northern states who were craving some fun in the sun.
Before we left for our port day in Cabo we celebrated Christmas morning as a family in the room. We had brought some presents in our suitcases that, thankfully, the kids never found. Additionally, the kids were each given tickets to redeem with Santa down in the theater. When we went down to meet Santa the kids were able to sit on his lap and talk to him. His “elves” gave each of our kids a wrapped present that turned out to be a stuffed Orca. The kids still have them in their rooms and speak of them fondly. They talk about how they “can’t believe that Santa found us in the middle of the ocean.”
Will We Sail Princess in the Future?
Although we loved celebrating the holidays on a cruise ship and we had a 30% off voucher for our next cruise on Princess, we decided to try out another cruise line for 2017. We wanted something that was more kid friendly and something that departed out of Galveston, Texas so that we could cruise through the Caribbean. We opted to book a suite on the Royal Caribbean Liberty of the Seas ship. You can find that review here .
I’m not sure if we will sail on Princess again in the future. If we do, I will definitely look for a boat that is newer and had more kid-centered activities.