Cabo San Lucas and points south, Mexico.
October 24 last year marked our 51st anniversary. After missing out on the scheduled 50th Anniversary cruise in 2020 due to Covid, we rescheduled to sail on one of the first cruises from Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) for 2021. Cruise lines were slow to come back online, in fact, as of May 2022, NCL finally put the last of their cruise ships back in service.
We’d reserved a week on the Norwegian Bliss and headed to Los Angeles to sail away. We were traveling with my niece and her husband and we spent one night in an L.A. hotel before we took an airport shuttle to the cruise pier.
The Mexican Riviera is a term given to the ports on the western coast of Mexico. Different cruise lines have different itineraries varying from 3 to 7 days or even longer. Cruisers who opt for a full Panama Canal crossing often get several stops along the Mexican Riviera as a bonus. I prefer a 7-day cruise with a few sea days rather than stopping at a different port every day. On this cruise, there were three sea days to relax and enjoy the amenities on the ship.
The Bliss is one of the largest cruise ships I’ve ever sailed on, and it towers over the landscape at Mazatlan. We enjoyed our first cruise back and scheduled a pair of back-to-back cruises out of Puerto Rico in January. Omicron put the kibosh on that adventure, so we decided to wait until July. By then, the Bliss would be sailing out of Seattle for Alaska. If all goes well, we would be on a land-sea tour of Alaska when this post is published. Fingers crossed. (Note: all didn’t go well, as I write this, it’s July 24, one day before we were to leave, and last Thursday I tested positive for Covid. Looks like my second Alaska cruise will have to wait for another time.)
Cabo is a tender port, the harbor is too shallow to support large ships docking at a pier. Cruisers are shuttled to shore via small tender boats that hold 50-100 people at a time. On the day of our visit, there were two other cruise ships in the harbor. The Celebrity Millenium (on the right in the background), was just beginning a 15-night Panama Canal cruise, and their first stop was at Cabo. The Disney Wonder (on the left in the background), was on a 4-day Mexican excursion on a”Halloween on the High Seas” cruise out of San Diego. Even allowing for the fact that from my vantage point for this photo, the Bliss was closer, it’s easy to see how large it is by comparing the number of decks compared to the other ships.
At Puerto Vallarta, Holland America’s Westerdam was waiting in port to return to service having been stored there during the cruise shutdown. As of this writing, the Westerdam is scheduled for Alaska itineraries during the summer of 2022.
One of our favorite places to hang out on the Bliss is the Observation Lounge, deck 15 forward. The view out of the front windows is from the deck just above the ship’s bridge.
From the upper decks of the Bliss, you can look over the pier area at Puerto Vallarta. Watching the cliff divers is a must-see attraction, but since we’d seen them on our last stop there in 2019, we decided to do a Puerto Vallarta tour that included a stop at the Malacon on the beach and a historic downtown church. The rest of the time on the tour was spent while the guides led us through various shops. Let’s just say that we won’t be taking that excursion again. I will cut the tour operators some slack. Every one of the places we stopped was surely happy to see cruising restart after over 18 months of few to no customers.
From our balcony, we enjoyed the sunset views that are so magical after a day at sea. After missing so many sunsets at sea, we are happy to see cruising restart in earnest. As of this writing, most cruise lines are back to full operating capacity though they are still sailing with generally lower capacity to decrease Covid risk.
There are those who think that cruise ships are not yet safe from the pandemic given the long association times and closer contact quarters. Cruiselines, however, are still asking for pre-cruise testing as of this writing as I prep this post for publication in a couple of days. Most lines insist on a highly vaccinated customer base, 90-100%. NCL is still sailing with 100 percent vaccinated crew and passengers, however some cruise lines have adopted 95 or 90 percent vaccinated.
Even with the precautions, cruise lines are experiencing small covid outbreaks on some sailings. There have been no real issues with the highly vaccinated passengers, the symptoms have been mild to completely asymptomatic in the vast majority of cases. Generally, the worst of it is being confined to an isolated cabin for at least part of the cruise and potentially a quarantine stay in a hotel and rescheduled flight home. It’s important that, unless you wish to self-insure the potential expenses, you carry travel insurance that has a covid inclusion.
Travel insurance is important for other reasons than Covid. If you or someone in your party becomes ill or injured while at sea, and the ship’s medical bay can’t support the level of treatment you need, you can expect a very expensive helicopter ride to the nearest medical facility at home, and maybe a very expensive plane flight back home on top of it. There is currently a horror story of cruisers on a Mexican holiday similar to our cruise. Apparently, they did not purchase travel insurance and had an accident during an excursion that required hospitalization. They ran out of cash in their accounts at about $50,000 USD and still had to hire a private plane to fly them back to the U.S.
Medical facilities on a cruise ship are not included in the price of a cruise. Any charges for use of the facilities are typically added to the onboard expense account that is due and payable on the last day of the cruise. In this case, however, the injuries were too severe to be treated on the ship. A stay in a Mexican hospital was required. Travel insurance, if you have it, will reimburse you for those medical expenses up to the policy limits upon your return home.
We arrived at Cabo in the early morning hours. Once the port authorities cleared passengers for departure, they would board one of these tenders to be shuttled to shore. Our tour included a trip to the end of the Baja Peninsula to view El Arco (The Arch) close up, a visit to a glass-blowing factory, and a bus ride to a viewpoint that looks over the bay.
The Arch is normally shown in images from an angle that shows only blue sky and ocean behind it. We discovered on our boat trip that from the southwestern side of the arch, it lines up with a cave/tunnel that connects the Pacific Ocean on the west side to the Gulf of California on the east side.
El Arco is often shown from the east side looking west. In our previous excursion to Cabo in 2013, we didn’t get nearly this close to the arch.
As we sailed into the port at Puerto Vallarta, the sun rose over the mountains east of the city. The morning sun bathed the highrise condos in the tones of the morning golden hour.
All along the Malacon, street vendors and entertainers plied for those tourist dollars. These musicians were performing in wardrobes that depict warriors from central Mexico rather than from the western coastline of Mexico.
Since we are skipping the Alaska cruise, by the end of 2022, we hope that Covid is held in bay enough for use to complete two cruises, one on Carnival, and one on NCL. On Carnival, we are planning a fall journey from New York to Canada and hope to capture many fall colors at the ports along the way. On the NCL Dawn, we’re trying again for that 50th-anniversary European cruise that didn’t happen in 2020.
For a 2K HD look at any of the images, click the photo to visit my Flickr site, or click here to view the entire album of images that accompany this post. As I conclude this retrospective of our first cruise after the industry’s covid pause, I hope there will be no further editing to note that the Alaska land-sea cruise was also interrupted by covid restrictions. Well, I guess my hopes were dashed for us making the cruise anyway. We were to travel with my niece and her husband, so they will have to take lots of pictures and tell us about the trip. I am glad I have travel insurance and yesterday, I started the process of documenting my illness and applying for the insurance reimbursement of the cancelation charges which, this close to sailing, are extensive.
By the way, I am writing this postscript on Sunday, July 24. My wife tested positive on Saturday so I gave up trying to isolate myself in the spare bedroom. From the beginning, my symptoms were mild, a sore, scratchy throat, and some chills on the first full day. I started a course of Paxlovid, and After one day’s treatment, I feel almost normal. I’m assuming the Paxlovid is working.
Lynn started showing symptoms last night, so we will stop by the County Health Covid Test Center today (Sunday) to confirm what the home test and her symptoms have already shown us. We are hoping she will be able to get a Paxlovid prescription when her doctor’s office opens on Monday morning so she can start her own treatment. It was Monday that we were supposed to drive to Minneapolis to get on an airplane to fly to Fairbanks to start our Alaskan adventure. On the bright side, by the time we are ready for our next cruises, we will have our doctor’s certificates of Covid recovery that in most cases will allow us to skip any required testing.