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Riviera Maya’s El Cid — Especial!

PUERTO MORELOS, Mexico — It has been a long time since we’d been cruising on land…

Cruising on land?

The closest thing you’ll find to a cruise without the water under the room in which you’re sleeping is at an all-inclusive resort, and there are likely more of them than there are Resort-5cruise ships. We hadn’t been at one for almost 30 years, not for any particular reason, but when Family Reunion Time came along this year the decision-makers settled on an all-inclusive.

That was to become El Cid.

There are six El Cid resorts in Mexico — four in Mazatlan, one in Cozumel and this one, in a sleepy little town called Puerto Morelos, which is halfway between Cancun and Playa del Carmen along the Maya Riviera. The name comes not from a movie now 44 years old, but from the legendary Spanish hero of the 11th century, El Cid, who is still revered today.

JulioIt was founded by the late Julio Berdegue Aznar, who grew up in Madrid and became a political refugee in Mexico during the Spanish Civil War, Highly educated, he developed the business that his two sons operate. At this El Cid, the operations manager is Ricardo Bustamante Altamirano (Ricardo for short), a bundle of energy who is as proud of the company’s heritage as he is of the Puerto Morelos resort.

Ricardo-1“It is one hundred per cent Mexican,” he says. “What distinguishes us is the service, also the quality of food and drinks. We don’t buy the cheapest food and we don’t buy the cheapest liquor. The company always treats employees with a lot of respect. When you do, the Riviera Maya is like a gold mine.”

Ricardo spent a year in the cruise business, as a bar waiter on Royal Caribbean’s old Sovereign of the Seas. His resort reflects a cruise ship in its cleanliness, its service and its “mass-market” food.

One employee we encountered said the reason he worked at El Cid is that it’s booked “90 per cent of the year” while others in this area are more seasonal.

Booked means filling 428 rooms, a number that will grow to 700 in two years, and there will be another main building.

It’s easy to see why.

In a week at El Cid, the two seniors only left twice, walking 30 minutes on country roads to Puerto Morelos. That wasn’t the plan. It was the reality. This all-inclusive — perhaps like others — has a large pool bubbling with activity most of the time, sit-down restaurants, programs for kids who need to be supervised by non-parents, a beach with more water things-to-do and food 24/7. What impressed us was that after a week, we wanted to stay.

There are 12 in our family and we pretty much covered the gamut of things to do. Kayaking (included) was over at the beach. Snorkeling ($20 each, from a Puerto Morelos vendor) meant going out to the world’s second-biggest coral reef. Maya ruins (also not included) was more than an hour’s drive to Coba, and well-worth the trip. The zoo — CrocodileCrococun — was a short cab ride and in-zoo guides are mandatory, if for no other reason than for protection from crocodiles, 33 of them, that are just off the path you’re walking.

This was spring break, so the place was buzzing with families, but it didn’t feel crowded. Not unlike being on a cruise ship like Oasis of the Seas and feeling there was plenty of room for its 6,000 passengers. Just like on cruise ships, somebody is cleaning all the time, and not just in the front rooms, where you could eat off the floors. Ricardo took us on a behind-the-scenes tour that was revealing in the degree to which employees go in the clean department. 

The main pool (there is also an infinity pool) was exceptional. This is not a lap pool, it’s a fun pool. With small children and at least a couple of non-swimming adults in our family, it Infinity Pool 2was perfect. There is plenty of space and, yes, loungers draped with “reserve” towels that nobody ever seems to use.

The rooms are spacious, too, and all easily accessible from the pool. Room service is unbeatable. There are four restaurants to go with the buffet, all of them good but in hindsight we found the Mediterranean one, El Alcazar, the tastiest…perhaps in part because Luis and friendsof a delightful server named Luis. Presentation was exceptional. The buffet is…well, buffet food. When you’re dealing with hundreds of people and perhaps dozens of dietary restraints, there’s only so much you can do with the flavor of buffet servings — the “chefs” El Alcazarin charge of the ready-made hot dishes always seemed to be trying to do the work of two people.

And just like cruise ships, hot toast is a problem on shore, too.

The Riviera Maya El Cid is nine years old. Its opening was delayed by category 4 Hurricane Wilma. There was water in the rooms and the kitchen doors were blown off. Ricardo, a lifer in the hospitality business, spent three months working in Mazatlan until the new El Cid was ready. Another deadly storm — the tsunami that swept through the waters of Asia — was critical in El Cid’s growth.

“Ever since then,” says Ricardo, “all year long people come to the Riviera Maya instead of crossing the Pacific.”

Capacity is about 1,400 people, which happens at Christmas, and 80 per cent of the Resort-7customers are either Canadian or American. While the prices vary like cruises do, they’re generally in the same ballpark, per person.

We’ve been telling people how much this family enjoyed El Cid…and now we’ve just told thousands more.

Today at portsandbows.com: Godmother tunes up Anthem's christening

Diamond Princess
8 nights
June 6, 2015
Kobe (return): OkinawaHualienKaohsiungTaipei
Inside: $799
Cost per day: $99

Princess a Diamond Experience in Japan

The Diamond Princess is going back to Japan. Again. Maybe it's just time to make this a permanent posting, or as permanent as anything can be in the world of cruise ships.

Consider the history.

A decade ago last month, the Diamond Princess emerged from a shipyard for her maiden voyage. A fire would have delayed hear arrival but a sister ship, the Sapphire Princess, was under construction so, out-fitted with her sister's hull, the Diamond floated out on time.

The shipyard was in Nagaski and it was the first ship built in Japan by Princess Cruises.

The cruise line just announced that the Diamond Princess is returning in 2015 to sail Japanese bathsfrom two home ports, Tokyo and Kobe, the third season Princess has had ships cruising to Korea, Taiwan, Russia and other Japanese ports.

Last week, the ship began its 2014 season following an extensive refurbishment ($30 million) to make it more…well, Japanese. More sushi, more sake, culturally appointed furnishings and classic Japanese bathing experiences similar to "the popular on-sen experience for which Japan is well-known."

In other words, the ship has been tailored to attract its demographic and, at the same time, is making a commitment to Japanese cruisers.

All it needs now is a name change:

"Daiyamondo Purinsesu"

Go ahead, take a guess at the translation.

Today at Phil Reimer's portsandbows.com: The latest in cruise news

Carnival Ecstasy
4 nights
May 12, 2014
Miami (return): Key WestCozumel
Inside: $149
Cost per day: $37

Walk For A Wish a Good Start


Every time we go on a Royal Caribbean cruise, we make a point of participating in the ship's fund raiser for the Make A Wish Foundation. It just seems like the right thing to do and while clearly we are not alone, you have to wonder why more people don't do it.

Three days before the Explorer of the Seas returned to New York, it was "Walk For A Wish" Day on the top deck. Passengers pay $10, get a quality tee-shirt, follow the captain and senior officers on five tours of the deck and feel like they've made a small contribution to making somebody's life a little better. All monies raised go to the cause.

Now, don't get us wrong. The fact that Royal Caribbean raised over $6,000 on this cruise is admirable. The millions the cruise line must have raised — Royal Caribbean doesn't advertise this, it just quietly goes about fulfilling wishes — since this all started about four years ago has enabled untold numbers of kids suffering from disease to dream, if only for a day or two.

If you estimate 21 company ships each do 50 cruises a year, that's 1,000-plus cruises. At the Explorer's rate, that's $6 million a year. None of this could be confirmed by Royal, and maybe our math's a bit on the high side, but the first time we participated was three and a half years ago. So, we're talking millions.

Passengers line up to register for the walk. On this day, more than 500 passengers participated, either by walking or with their wallets, or both. Explorer of the Seas, when full, carries 3,800 passengers. The ship felt full, so let's say there were 3,700 passengers. 

That's 15%.

This is not a taxing walk. For most people, it's a 20-minute stroll in the sunshine. It's not a "run for a cause." We saw several people who have great difficulty putting one foot in front of the other make it through at least one lap. One man walked five laps with the help of a crutch, with the ship's hotel director, Dean Bailey, anonymously by his side. Another did it in a wheelchair.

Anybody can participate.

You know how quickly you can spend ten bucks on a cruise ship. One semi-exotic drink. Great service from a room steward. Two minutes at a slot machine.

Don't you think 15% is…just a good start?

Diamond Princess
7 nights
May 25, 2013
Vancouver, Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, College Fjord, Anchorage  
Inside: $599
Cost per day: $85


New Evacuation System on Breakaway

Let's start with a couple of acronyms that will help in this story, most of which will be told by pictures:

MES — Marine Evacuation Systems
SOLAS — Safety Of Life At Sea

LSA — Life Saving Appliance

There is a new MES on the market — called the RFD Marin Ark2 — and it will surface (no pun intended) on the Norwegian Breakaway when it arrives in New York three weeks from now. It is capable of evacuating up to 862 passengers in 30 minutes.

Assume that the average cruise ship now carries 3,000 passengers. That means an entire ship can be evacuated in just under two hours.

For us, the logical question is why not four MES units, which would cut the evacuation time to 30 minutes. That's where SOLAS and LSA come into the picture. We're told that SOLAS regulations strictly state that "for a cruise vessel, MES cannot exceed 25% of the primary LSA requirement; 75% of the primary requirement to be satisfied by lifeboats."

So, if a ship is to have two Marin Ark2s, as the Breakaway does, capable of evacuating 1,600 people in 30 minutes, then it must also have enough lifeboats to evacuate 4,800 more people in 30 minutes. In the Breakaway's case, that should be everybody on board, passengers and crew alike.

Safety is always the No. 1 priority on ships. The Marin Ark2 is the only system capable of evacuating that many people that quickly and it is designed to reduce lifeboats needed, not replace them. Maybe in time that will change.

The photos, courtesy of the Marin Ark2 designer's (Survitec Group), show its exterior. The link between this large floating LSA and the ship is two fully-enclosed "slide paths" that allow for "safe, rapid and controlled" descent without being exposed to the elements.

It goes without saying that nobody ever wants to try it out for real. Whether it would have saved more people on the Costa Concordia last year is always going to be debatable, but improved escapes from a ship in trouble are always a step in the right direction.

Diamond Princess
7 nights
June 1, 2013
Anchorage, Hubbard Glacier, Glacier Bay National Park, Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan, Vancouver
Inside: $599
Cost per day: $85

Quick disembarkation billion-dollar answer?


In June, two Royal Caribbean ships will be the first to dock at a $1 billion terminal (that's right, one BILLION) in Hong Kong.

The new structure is called the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal, and the ships will be Mariner of the Seas (June 12) and Voyager of the Seas (October 15). One hour after the Voyager leaves, the Diamond Princess will arrive and by the end of the year Celebrity's Millennium will also have visited Kai Tak.

But here's what is most interesting about the state-of-the-art terminal:

It can process 3,000 passengers an hour!

That means every passenger could leave most of today's cruise ships an hour after the gangplank goes down. Having recently move 25 feet in 60 minutes at the terminal in Galveston after leaving the Crown Princess, we think this is exciting news that hopefully will spread throughout the cruise terminal world.

There is one problem.

How many people an hour will be processed at customs?

Norwegian Pride of America
7 nights
May 18, 2013
Honolulu (return): Kahului, Hilo, Kona, Nawilili
Inside: $1,549
Cost per day: $221

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