August 8, 2012

Carnival Cruise Trip Report, Pt. 2: Port Days

Coming into Cabo, Day 1
 With over 550 photos to sort through, it was hard for me to winnow down the ones that best represent the two ports and our experiences.  Let's get on with it.  As y'all know, I can be pretty verbose, but I'm gonna (try) to let the images do most of the talking.

Port 1: Cabo San Lucas
The cruise ship spent two days in Cabo. I think this is a fairly new development; as recently as a year ago, the itinerary included three different ports along the Pacific coast -- the other was Mazatlan.  Unfortunately because of the drug violence in Mexico and safety issues, every cruise line has pulled that port. So, we had two days in Cabo.  (The ship leaves the harbor and returns to international waters overnight, so that the casinos and duty-free shops can remain open.)  Cabo is also a "tender" port, meaning that the ship doesn't actually dock in stays just off the coast, and passengers need to take a smaller boat to "tender" onto shore. 

On our first Cabo day, we arrived onshore sometime before noon and walked around exploring some nearby streets and the touristy little shops. 

After about an hour of looking like the sweaty, clueless tourists that we were, we rode a water taxi across the bay to popular Medano Beach.  There are literally dozens of water taxis vying (loudly, and mostly in English) for tourist dollars; we paid about $20 roundtrip.  The water taxi dropped us off in the water, and we asked him to return in a couple of hours.  (We were slightly leery of this, but he did in fact return on time.)  From my research, I asked the operator to drop us off by The Office, one of the many cantina/bars right on the sand.  For the price of lunch and/or drinks, you can sit and enjoy the beach as long as you'd like. 

On the water taxi

Cruise ship in the background
For day 2 in Cabo, we had an snorkeling excursion booked with Pez Gato, a private tour operator that gets great reviews on both the Cruise Critic boards and Trip Advisor. 
It's another Tequila Sunrise.
First time snorkel...we brought the kids own equipment.
Yes, this happened.  (Post-snorkeling) When in Cabo...
The iconic Cabo Arc, at Land's End: tip of the Baja peninsula
They say that if you don't go out and see the arc, you don't see Cabo.  We did view it from the Pez Gato boat, but I've had to crop the shots down to edit out the noggins of other folks. (And those were the ones taken by my tall husband.)  Regret: not paying one of the smaller water taxis to speed us over there for some better, close-up shots of the area.  

Port 2: Puerto Vallarta
After leaving Cabo in the late afternoon on Wednesday, we powered south and arrived in Puerto Vallarta on Thursday morning.  Right away, I liked the feeling that we were finally someplace far from home.  Cabo was okay, but the arid desert landscape and distant dry hills looked an awful lot like Southern California. Which it sorta is, still.  PV felt foreign, and in a good way. It felt lush and tropical, with the hills carpeted in green trees, rather than dry grass.  As we watched the boat dock from our starboard balcony, we spotted colorful butterflies hovering in the air.

Today we had another excursion booked, this time through Carnival. We stepped off the cruise ship and hovered around the marina area for about an hour, until it was time to get on another boat.  This time we were being taken by the Vallarta Adventures company an hour down the coastline, to their privately owned beach hideaway,  Las Caletas.

Las Caletas gets rave reviews on many sites, and it's beautiful and remote. It would look and feel even more beautiful and remote if it wasn't crowded and teeming with a large boatload of cruise passengers.  But here's a few shots without people.

If you look closely at the above shot, you can spy some hammocks between the trees, snagged by some lucky folks. (There were quite a few hammocks around the property, if you acted fast.)  Nobody in our family was chillin' in a hammock, though. Instead, after the buffet lunch, we climbed into the lush hills to the Kids Adventure area.  Here, the kids got suited up for a quick, kid-friendly set of zip lines, and were startled after getting clambered upon by some little capuchin monkeys.
And we, the assorted parent and grandparents, got to pull a rope and lead the kids up toward the zip-line on some little donkeys.
Tucker on Lupe. 
This was a lot of fun for the kids.  And though I don't have many of our own shots, I previewed an album's worth of zip line, monkey, and donkey photos that we later ordered on CD from the company. (It should arrive in a few days.)  This was a lot of fun for the kids, but was not quite the relaxing beach day I'd envisioned.  After the Kid Adventure, it was time to hit the beach and cool off in the water.  The kids had fun (again), while the Husband and I searched in vain for any remaining chairs in the shade.  Not happenin.'
Lots of people, on land and in the water
Oh well.  It was lovely, the staff were unfailingly polite and helpful and we had fun swimming in the ocean, getting in some (rather poor) snorkeling, and soaking up the views. The boat trip back was entertaining, as members of the staff put on a rockin' show for us, featuring a pretty fair Mexican Freddie Mercury.  (You had to be there.)

Regrets: Both the Husband and I wished that we'd had 2 days in Puerto Vallarta rather than Cabo.  I really wish we'd gotten to explore more of the authentic flavor of this port, rather than spend all of our time on a canned (and not inexpensive) ship excursion.  On the other hand, figuring out the taxis and layout of a foreign city with two talkative kids would've been a whole different set of stresses, too.

But I don't want to wrap up the trip reports with regrets.  Every vacation has its own unique set of roads not taken, or choices curtailed by the clock.  Overall, we had a most excellent time, one that all of us will be talking about and remembering for a long time to come. 
And if you happened to notice the total lack of photos including the Husband in either of these Trip Reports, let's just say that it's my little favor to him, after the afternoon here in the ship's Spectacular theater, during a "Newlywed Game" type of marriage show:
I'm not going to say for sure that he danced on this stage in nothing but his skivvies in front of the audience, or that it was re-broadcast on the ship's TV station for the next 24 hours, or that strangers (and our room steward) kept coming up to him to uh, compliment his wicked dance moves.  I'm not going to say that did happen, but it might have. And after all that possible exposure on a ship with 3,000 passengers, I'm doing him the courtesy of keeping his face (and other parts) off the interwebs here.  And you're welcome, honey!

Questions, comments, inquiries about our family's first cruise experience?  I'll be happy to answer whatever I can about the two ports, or the Carnival Splendor itself, in the comments section below.  Thanks for reading through and coming aboard on our journey.

Read Part 1 of my Trip Report, about our experience on the ship itself, here.

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