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Mexico: Why Tourists Matter

If you’ve been reading our meanderings these last almost-six years (and of course you have, right?), then you know that we have a soft spot for Mexico. You know that when things goes sour south of the border, we feel badly and sometimes even defensive. You know when things go well, we raise a glass of…tequila!

So where is Jose Cuervo, anyway?

Tourism has made a comeback in Mexico — again. By the end of this year, there will have Puerto Vallartabeen 5.7 million tourists in Mexico, and 6.1 million next year. While that’s only about a third the population of the capital city, what’s staggering is the impact those six million visitors have. At a trade show in Cozumel, the country’s new secretary of tourism — Enrique de la Madrid Cordero — told Travel Weekly (among others) that tourism represents nine per cent of Mexico’s GDP.

It employs eight million people.

With more comfort about Mexico’s security improvements, four cruise lines will make port calls along the Mexican Riviera during the next two winters — Carnival, Norwegian, Holland America and Princess. If our memory is accurate, there was a time when only Carnival was there.

American Airlines is adding flights to Mazatlan. New hotels are being built. Shore excursions for cruise passengers are better than ever.

Everybody knows what the attractions are in Mexico, starting with the weather. Besides that, there’s something else that (to us) never changes;

The people.

Said de la Madrid Cordero: ““We are aware that we are in a world of constant competition. Our secret weapon [is] the Mexican people, a population that likes to treat people well.”

And why not? Treating people well is clearly Mexico’s bread and butter.

In the news…

• Carnival, Chinese shipbuilder to develop domestic cruise line in China
• Silversea flagship Silver Muse to raise bar on luxury suites in 2017
• Anthem of the Seas two weeks away from permanent New York home

Today at portsandbows.com: All the latest cruise news

Norwegian Jade
7 nights
January 2, 2016
Houston (return): Cozumel, Belize, Roatan
Inside: $459
Cost per day: $65

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

The Ongoing Evolution of Mexico and Cruising

If you've been reading this blog for almost any part of the last four and a half years, then chances are you will know how we feel about Mexico.

We love it.

That goes for places all over the country…Huatulco in the south, Mexicali in the north, Merida and Cozumel in the east, Irapuato and Leon in the middle, Mexico City in the Beach in Mexicoheart and any number of places in the west — Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, Loreto. You get the idea?

Ironically, the one Mexican resort haven we were cool about was Acapulco, arguably its most famous. In another era, we'd probably have liked it more.

All of this is a round-about way of saying count us among the cruise passengers who celebrate what appears to be a gradual return to the Mexican Riviera, as it's called. In 2008, there began an exodus of cruise ships from the "other" Riviera, leaving behind storm clouds and empty beaches. Puerto Vallarta dropped from 180 ship stops to 82 last year….Cabo San Lucas from 400 to 112…Mazatlan dropped to zero port calls.

It may be a coincidence, but that shocking downturn was aligned with the recessionary times felt not just in Mexico but around the world, and parlayed with a series of criminal acts in the ports.

Times are changing. Tomorrow, we'll tell you how.

Today at Phil Reimer's portsandbows.com: The people of the Viking Kvasir

Carnival Freedom
8 nights
July 5, 2014
Fort Lauderdale (return): St. MaartenSt. KittsSan JuanGrand Turk
Inside: $459
Cost per day: $57

Cruise Lines say 'Si' to Mexico Again

We just have one question about cruises to the Mexican Riviera:

Why is everybody going back?

Holland America…Princess…Carnival…Disney…all of them pulled their ships or modified their itineraries on Mexico cruises leaving Southern California, at the height of the reports of theft and violence in Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta. They all said they were abandoning one or both of the long-time Mexican ports because of (real or imagined) concerns about safety and security.

But they were leaving because their customers lost interest, perhaps part of a domino effect that started with the fear of being mugged, or worse.

As the Chief Operating Officer of the Mexico Tourism Board told cruise writer Fran Golden this week, it was a business decision.

In 2012, Princess is going back to Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan. Disney has its Wonder sailing weekly cruises now and is committed to 2012. Holland America goes back next month, through 2013. Carnival has quickie cruises to Ensenada and back, ramping it up to ports like Manzanillo and Cabo San Lucas next month, but hasn’t committed to returning to Mazatlan.

So, if avoiding Mexico was all about business, wouldn’t it stand to reason that returning is all about business, too. It’s possible that customers have been influenced by a $30 million advertising campaign from the tourism people.

Or maybe they just missed Mexico.

Carnival Glory
7 nights
November 27, 2011
Caribbean (Miami return)
Inside $399

Puerto Vallarta No Fit for Princess

During the weekend, a close friend who regularly keeps track of Cruising Done Right alerted us to more never-ending tourism fears about Mexico. In digging a little further, we found what we always seem to find — the fear factor is being blown out of proportion.

It started with Mazatlan, a year or so ago, and now the fears — real or imagined — have spread to Puerto Vallarta. It was inevitable. What was not as inevitable is that Princess would drop Puerto Vallarta through the end of the year because of safety concerns.

Here’s why it’s blown out of proportion:

1. Canceling means three 7-night sailings over six months, by one ship, the Sapphire Princess.
2. The move is in reaction to the robbery and murder of a Canadian man who was living in Puerto Vallarta, nowhere near where cruise ships dock.
3. Resort areas and tourist destinations don’t experience the same level of crime as the “Mexico crime reports” that emanate from border towns and drug-trafficking routes.
4. These fears are never put in context by comparing them to similar statistics in other cities of the same size.
Princess has to respond to what the customers say, and clearly the customers are worried about visiting the once-popular Mexican ports. This time, the local government is responding, by hiring an independent international security company to do a safety assessment.

Even if the results are positive, it’ll never get the same play the fear did, because  that’s just the way it is. But maybe it will at least help to, if nothing else, give the situation a more legitimate perspective.

And you think they’re not worrying that the third amigo down the coast, Cabo San Lucas, might be next?

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