Heading for the Mexican Riviera – Consider the Comforts of Cruising

It’s been a rainy winter at our home on the Oregon coast, so we decided to hunt for some sun and sand on the western coast of Mexico.

There’s a lot of ways to get to the famous Mexican Riviera. We decided on a Princess Cruise, and we are so glad we did.

Our cruise featured a total of ten wonderful days of relaxation – first aboard the Grand Princess and then in the warm sun of four exciting south of the border ports – Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlán, Manzanillo, and Cabo San Lucas.

Our ship was the Grand Princess, and our cruise departed from San Francisco, always a nostalgic bonus for two ex-San Franciscans.

It didn’t take long

We pointed our car south on scenic Hwy 101, and within a few days, we were standing atop the uppermost deck of the Grand Princess as she glided under the Golden Gate Bridge. Click here to watch and listen to the excitement.

The ship’s horn was blaring, the automobiles on the bridge were honking, and hundreds of excited passengers were waving their arms and cheering. What a thrilling exit from everyone’s favorite City by the Bay.

What to write about

We knew we wanted to write about this vacation, but what aspects would our readers enjoy most. Hmmm.

There are thousands of travel articles written about each of the ports-of-call we would visit on our cruise. Type the word “Mazatlán” in Google Search, and you will get over 130 million results in .62 seconds – how do they do that!

So, rather than add to the mountain of available information about the ports of the Mexican Riviera, we will instead share our views on why we think cruising is the best way to get there.

Here are some reasons to take a cruise

“Unpack once to see the world.” A favorite reason – it’s easy. No packing and unpacking as you move from place to place on vacation.

A cruise ship can be a vacation destination.  You might be surprised at how many seasoned cruisers never get off the ship for the entire cruise. To these devoted folks, the cruise itinerary is far less important than being on a favorite ship or cruise line. Everything they look for in a great vacation is right there on board.

Cruising is a great way to visit places you have never been before. Port stops are usually just long enough to get a flavor for a locale. Think of it as Visit 101. If you find a place you like, you can fly back when you have more time to explore it in-depth.

Binge or budget

Cruise lines cater to every wallet and expectation. Like an airplane, everyone on a cruise ship gets to the destination at the same time. However, the cost of a ticket on either mode of travel depends greatly on where you are on board. On a cruise ship you have four options, inside cabin with no window, outside cabin with window, outside cabin with a balcony, or an outside suite with extra room and a balcony.

Something to think about

It is possible that a budget cruise vacation with all the food you can eat – plus entertainment and other bennies, might very well be less expensive than just the cost of daily meals in a nice hotel restaurant on land.

Free stuff

Of course, everyone knows there is a lot of free stuff on a cruise – well, not really, but it feels that way after you have paid for your ticket. Food is free and available all over the ship. Yes, it is very easy to overindulge. Think of the temptation as a good test of your inner strength.

Entertainment is also free, and has improved dramatically over the years. Shipboard theaters are comfortable, and live musical productions are first-rate and on a par with the finest Vegas hotels.

The swimming pools are a great place to lounge, the library to read and relax, seminars at sea to learn – all for free.

High seas internet

It wasn’t long ago that it was expensive and an ordeal to get internet service on board a cruise ship. We are happy to report that things have improved greatly – at least on Princess.

There were three internet plans to choose from on our voyage. None were overly expensive, and the connections were commendable throughout the trip. We had a choice of guest computers in the Internet Lounge, or we could use our own devices from just about anywhere on the ship.

Cruising with electronics

There is one improvement we would ask of cruise ship designers. Please add more electrical outlets for guest use. The balcony staterooms on the Grand Princess have a total of 3 easily accessible outlets – but not all are usable at the same time if your devices have large plugs.

Here’s a little secret. If you look closely behind the TV in most cabins, you will find an open outlet. Not easy to access, but it’s there.

Tip: We always travel with a small travel surge protector/extension cord. Ours is a GE #14015 available from Amazon for about $15. It has three outlets and 2 USB rapid charging ports. There’s even a handy cord-wrap feature. Ideal, and problem solved.

Dining options

Princess has anytime dining or fixed reservation dining in the main dining rooms. We chose the fixed reservation early sitting because we like to eat early, and have ample time to get to the theater for the first show of the live productions.

We got to sit at the same table every night. Luckily, it was a window table and we could watch the waves go by as we waited for our 4-course dinners to begin.

At a fixed reservation table, you are served by the same team every night. In our case it was Sandra and Sarai, both from Mexico – so in addition to excellent service, we had the best tourist tips for all the ports of call.

Our wait team was backed up by our Head Waiter who hailed from Turkey. Everyone says that, “Our dining room team is the best,” but ours really was! They knew the menu, and their recommendations were always spot on. Never an empty water-glass or a crumb on the table. Three great personalities that after 10 days felt like part of our family. Can’t offer a better compliment than that.

Dress

Dress codes for the main dining rooms are much more lenient than a decade ago, but still a little stricter than for the truly casual dining venues on board. On land we would call it “Smart-Casual.”

Depending on the length of the cruise, there will be one or more formal nights in the main dining rooms. These dress-up dinners are opportunities for the ladies and gents to strut their finer stuff. One of these nights is usually when that savory lobster entrée is on the menu.

If you prefer to eat in shorts and flip-flops the entire trip, you will always be welcome for any meal at the Horizon Buffet, or at any of the poolside food stations serving delicious pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers, ice cream cones, etc.

The Horizon Buffet is a casual restaurant with everything from American comfort food to exotic international dishes. At times it can be difficult to find an unoccupied table, but just ask anyone that has empty chairs if you can join them. We have never heard “no” for an answer.

On two of our nights, we ventured into one of the two specialty restaurants aboard the Grand Princess. There is an extra charge to eat at a specialty restaurant, but to celebrate an occasion, or pamper your palate, they are well worth the extra expense.

The specialty restaurants aboard Princess are the Sabatini Italian Restaurant and the Crown Grill Steakhouse. We have some great pics of our gourmet experiences aboard the Grand Princess, but we’ll save them for another story.

More to come

There is so much to write about a fantastic cruise. So we will end here with a promise of future articles describing our delightful spa treatments, luck in the casino, movies under the stars, beverage packages, bar services, room services, and our experience at the specialty restaurants.

We also look forward to telling you about the fun and nostalgic Princess welcome aboard program, our thoughts on the virtual end to sea-sickness, and the updated changes to the safety procedures on board Princess Cruises.

Ready to cruise?

For more information check out Princess.com

Happy travels!

*************************************

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by AllianzTravel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

Copyright © 2019 Visit great vacation destinations with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos Copyright © 2019 Judy Bayliff

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Princess Cruise Ships: What Makes Them Sparkle

We recently took a Princess cruise to the Mexican Riviera on the Grand Princess. This was our third sailing on the Grand since she was commissioned in 1998. You might wonder, after 20 years of service and tens of thousands of passengers, how does Princess keep her looking fresh and appealing to prospective guests.

We interviewed the Captain and Hotel General Manager, and along with inquiring about their work we asked some questions about the age of the Grand Princess.

Meet the Captain

The present Master of the Grand Princess is Captain John Harry Smith. Captain Smith started his career at sea as a deck hand on an oil tanker. He worked his way up the ranks and has been with the Princess Cruise Line since 2007.

In our years as travel photojournalists we have interviewed many ship’s Masters. Captain Smith manifests the same professionalism and confidence that we have learned to expect from all the members of his highly trained and respected vocation.

On the subject of maintaining older ships in the Princess fleet, Captain Smith commented, “Having an inspired crew, and paying attention to details when it comes to cleanliness and appearance gives any ship vitality. Constant and vigilant maintenance allows older ships to remain seaworthy and popular among new and repeat guests.” To that end, each Princess ship is removed from service every three years, and the Grand Princess is next in line.

In March 2019, the Grand Princess will enter dry dock in Portland, Oregon for repairs, maintenance, improvements, and inspections. She will be worked over from stem to stern, top to bottom, inside and out, by 1000 contractors from around the world. The work will be performed 24-hours per day, and the workers will live aboard the ship. Service will be provided by the ship’s regular hospitality crew during the entire process. All the work and numerous inspections will take just 13 days. Now that’s precision planning!

We asked the Hotel General Manager

While the Captain is responsible for literally everything, his primary areas of concentration are guest and ship safety, navigation, operations, and the environment. The Captain puts great trust in the person who is directly charged with keeping the passengers happy, i.e., the Hotel General Manager. The HGM is responsible for all guest services, including dining, entertainment, and housekeeping. Helmut Leikauf is the Hotel General Manager aboard the Grand Princess.

There’s a ratio of about 2 guests to 1 crewmember on board a Princess ship. Approximately 900 of the 1100 hundred crew aboard the Grand Princess are guest-centric and report to the hotel organization. The HGM is an important officer indeed.

Mr. Leikauf fits the profile of his job, perfectly. He hails from Austria, a country noted for its prestigious hotel schools. Helmut is the epitome of what one expects at the top echelon of a first class hotel – on land or sea.  He is gracious, gregarious, and exacting, and his leadership by example is evident throughout the ship. He offered, “A happy crew makes for happy guests.”

We asked Mr. Leikauf about how long a ship might expect to be part of the Princess fleet. His answer was that such decisions are way above his pay grade, but he did offer that the Princess’ head office is highly focused on an excellent guest cruise experience. In his opinion, “There will be a place for any ship that continues to uphold and perform to Princess high standards, and remains popular with the guests.”

We recommend this cruise 

Our ten day cruise to Mexico exceeded our expectations. The Grand Princess performed like the great ship she is, and the attentive officers and crew made it an exceptional vacation.

We will write about other aspects of our Princess cruise to the Mexican Riviera in future articles.

Our next cruise will be to Hawaii or Alaska, and since it will depart from San Francisco, it will be on the renovated Grand Princess. We look forward to being aboard one of our favorite ships once again, and seeing her new “sparkle.”

For more information

Contact your favorite travel agent or Princess Cruises directly.

Happy travels.

*************************************

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by AllianzTravel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

Copyright © 2019 Visit great vacation destinations with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos Copyright © 2019 Judy Bayliff

Luxury Cruising From San Francisco to Hawaii on Princess Cruise Lines

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The Grand Princess cruises round-trip to Hawaii from San Francisco

In a recent article entitled Three Reasons to Book Your Next Cruise out of San Francisco, we wrote about the fun of spending part of a vacation in the famous City by the Bay, and part of it cruising to exciting destinations like HawaiiAlaska, and the South Pacific. This story is about the cruise we selected to follow our own tour of San Francisco.

Selecting  a cruise

As Mark Twain often noted, it can be a bit chilly in San Francisco regardless of the time of year, so we thought a cruise to some place warm would be the perfect other-bookend for a vacation.

We did an internet search and explored all the cruise line itineraries sailing out of San Francisco on our travel dates, and Princess Cruise Lines had exactly what we wanted – a roundtrip sailing from San Francisco to the Hawaiian Islands. We made the right choice, and here’s what you can expect if you decide to take the same plunge.

The day before the cruise

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Atrium lobby of the SF Hyatt Regency

We arrived in San Francisco the day before our cruise departure to Hawaii. We toured our favorite sites in the city, had a nice dinner at Scoma’s on Pier 47, and checked into our favorite and always fashionable San Francisco Hyatt Regency.

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View of the Ferry Building from our veranda at the SF Hyatt Regency

The hotel is directly across from the iconic Ferry Building on the Embarcadero, and a very short distance from the cruise terminal at Pier 35. 

Sailing out of the Golden Gate

We settled into our port side stateroom, popped open a bottle of bubbly, and when the ship pulled away from the dock, we proceeded to our patio to watch the San Francisco skyline on slow parade. There was Ghirardelli Square lit up in its entire splendor, and the famous Transamerica Pyramid Building – outstanding among its traditional “square” neighbors.

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We could see the Golden Gate Bridge coming up above the bow, and we bid a fond farewell to old Fort Point as we made our way out of San Francisco Bay and into the vast blue Pacific. All we could think at the time was, “What a spectacular way to start a cruise!

Next stop – Hilo, on the big island of Hawaii. A future article will describe the Hawaiian ports of call in HiloNawiliwiliLahainaHonolulu, and our final stop in Ensenada, Mexico, before returning to San Francisco. Why are cruise ships sailing to Hawaii from US ports required to stop in a foreign port like Ensenada? We will explain in the upcoming article. 

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Movies Under the Stars

This story features the many vacation pleasures aboard the Star Princess. Note: The Grand Princess has now replaced the Star Princess on the Hawaiian route out of San Francisco. They are sister ships, so the differences are minimal.

Sweet suites

The Star Princess has several luxury suites positioned throughout the ship. The Grand Suite is 1,314 square feet of pure indulgence, with a walk in closet, large bathrooms, and an over-sized balcony. These elegant digs are for the truly fortunate among us.

Welcome to the Grand Suite
Welcome to the Grand Suite
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Grand Suite living space
Grand Suite bath
Grand Suite bath
Grand Princess extended and exclusive balcony
Grand Suite extended and exclusive balcony

Sweet extras

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Sabatini’s specialty restaurant

Besides luxury accommodations, the suites come with supplementary amenities such as an exclusive Suite Breakfast at the Sabatini’s specialty restaurant – where you can start your day with a complimentary “Good Morning Mimosa,” and select other goodies from an extraordinary breakfast menu.

We expected the service to be impeccable, and it was.

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Did you know that the famous champagne and orange juice “Mimosa” drink was first created and named at the Paris Ritz in 1925? Its namesake is the mimosa plant, which has bright and frothy yellow flowers.

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There are also afternoon and pre-dinner cocktail and private nosh parties where suite passengers get to mingle and mix with the ship’s officers that drop by.

Care for a quiet dinner for two? Having a lavish room service meal served in a ship’s suite is the height of seagoing indulgence and sublime privacy.

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Suite passengers are also provided with priority boarding, and disembarkation via the Elite/Suite Disembarkation Lounge. While visiting ports that require taking a launch to shore, suite occupants are furnished Priority Tender Disembarkation Tickets – a nice time-saving touch.

Time for dinner

It was soon time for our initial dinner on board the Star Princess. The first night aboard a cruise ship is a casual affair, so after cleaning up a bit, we made our way down to the Portofino Dining Room on Deck 6.

The Maître d’hôtel was busy orchestrating the process of showing the first diners to their assigned tables. Remember when everyone ate at either an “early” or, “late” sitting? These days you can dine in traditional fashion or decide to eat at any time you choose during dining hours. There are advantages to both practices – it is clearly a matter of personal taste.

That’s entertainment

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After a sumptuous dinner, it was time for our opening night of entertainment in the Princess Theatre on Deck 6 and 7. The first show included the entire cast in an extravaganza review. The large two-story theatre was packed, but comfortable, and everyone enjoyed the lavish musical production.

We took a stroll around the Lido deck before returning to our stateroom after the show. Not quite ready for bed, we turned on the TV, and watched our first movie from the library of closed circuit films. It was an oldie,  An Affair to Remember, starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr – a quintessential tearjerker with the plot starting on a cruise ship. What could be more apropos for the setting?

Days at sea

It took four days to reach our first port of call in Hilo. We travelled 2,003 nautical miles (2,303 highway miles) from San Francisco. The time passed quickly.

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Days at sea can be quiet or exciting – it’s your choice. You can shop endlessly in the myriad Ship’s Boutiques or…

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Catch up on emails at the Internet Cafe
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Sit and listen to the String Quartet in the ship’s atrium lobby
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Preview the art auction
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Have a workout in the extensive health facility
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Learn to paint
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Pizza, hot dog, hamburger? May we help you?
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Try your luck at gaming – the Casino is open

Having your teeth whitened is another option, as is enjoying sundry Spa indulgences, snoozing by one of the Pools, and chatting it up while enjoying the entertainment at your choice of the many Bars and Lounges. There is also the opportunity to watch Movies outdoors or indoors, peruse the Library, read, and of course – eat.

The ship’s master

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Captain Edward Perrin

On one of our days at sea, we had an opportunity to interview the ship’s captain. At the time of our sailing, the master of the Star Princess was Edward Perrin who hails from DorsetEngland. As is usually the case, Captain Perrin was most congenial and very willing to share stories about his ship and experiences at sea.

We always ask sea captains what they like best about their jobs. Captain Perrin revealed that he most enjoyed the ability to have a positive impact on people’s lives – both crew, and passengers. He gave an example of an elderly couple who saved all their lives to take a cruise. They approached him with the problem that they had no more money to spend while on the cruise. Captain Perrin summarily wrote a list of “free” things the couple could do on their cruise vacation. They were elated, and the good Captain was equally gratified – it made his day, and he has never forgotten that wonderful feeling of satisfaction.

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Captain Perrin with Terri Lynn Cybuliak, the Star’s Hotel General Manager

Where passenger services are concerned, an important member of the crew is the Hotel General Manager. On the Star Princess, that was Terri Lynn Cybuliak, and she greatly contributed to our fun discussion.

As we have mentioned in previous cruise articles, ship’s captains are contracted to be masters for months, not years, and therefore transfer from ship to ship quite frequently. Keep an eye out – you may very well find Captain Perrin at the helm of your next Princess cruise.

Attention on the bridge

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After our meeting, Captain Perrin invited us to join him on the bridge. The ship’s bridge is always manned 24-hours a day by two officers working four-hour shifts in a three-watch system. It is interesting to witness the vast array of sophisticated systems that run these mega ships in a controlled and quiet atmosphere.

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No more ship’s steering wheel
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In my next life…

The control seats on this oceangoing Star Wars style bridge are very comfortable.

Dining in the specialty restaurants

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Typical main on Princess Cruises

All the food aboard the Star Princess, and most other cruise ships for that matter, is quite delicious. It is amazing that seagoing chefs can prepare thousands of assorted meals daily, and do it with such finesse.

People always ask, “If all the sit down meals are included in the price of the cruise, why would anyone pay extra to eat in a specialty dining room?” The answer is quite simple – intimacy – and a little something extra special for an important occasion.

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Extra special services highlight a romantic evening in a specialty restaurant
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Doesn’t that look scrumptious?

Each specialty restaurant has its own kitchen, so there is just a touch more attention to detail in the food preparation and presentation. The waiters have fewer tables to attend, and the overall experience is that of eating in a truly fine restaurant. The extra charge is never extravagant, and the experience is worthwhile.

Avoid disappointment, reserve your specialty restaurants early.

Our recommendations

Throughout the years, we have enjoyed many cruises, and Princess Cruises is one of our favorite lines. It provides first time cruisers with an enjoyable introduction to cruise vacationing, and it offers seasoned cruisers a nice selection of accommodations and amenities. Whatever your wallet dictates, a Princess Cruise will provide good value for your vacation dollars.

If you go

San Francisco International Airport is about 20 miles and a $65 taxi ride to the Cruise Terminal or Hyatt Regency. Your travel agent or Princess Cruises can also arrange transfers to and from the airport, but if there are two passengers involved, we recommend taking a cab, it’s a lot less hassle. 

To contact Princess Cruises click *here* the SF Hyatt Regency *here*

A final note

The San Francisco Cruise Terminal is presently located at Pier 35. That will change when the America’s Cup Headquarters pulls up stakes from Pier 27 sometime around September 2013 – after the US (hopefully) wins the Cup.

After a quick facelift and the addition of a new park at the site, the vastly improved cruise terminal at Pier 27 will be capable of handling larger ships, and will come with expansive views of the City including Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower, the Ferry Building, and the Bay Bridge.

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Before we go – chocolate anyone?

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

If you do spend additional time in the San Francisco area, you might like to read these other stories by Wayne and Judy. Click on the subjects below. 

Discover a luxurious hideaway in the California Gold Country

Enrich your San Francisco vacation with a stay at the Inn at the Presidio

How to have the most fun on a scenic coastal drive between San Francisco and Los Angeles

Napa Valley is a great getaway

Calistoga is not just another pretty town

A California boutique hotel in charming Half Moon Bay

Cavallo Point: San Francisco’s exciting and historic Golden Gate hideaway

The best whale watching tours out of San Francisco

Everybody loves the sea lions at Pier 39 in San Francisco

The Sausalito houseboat community