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Friday File: Día de Los Muertos

If you’ve ever disembarked from a cruise ship in Mexico at this time of year, then you know what that means. Maybe you know even if you’ve never been in Mexico on “Day of the Dead” weekend, which oddly enough coincides with Halloween. To the Mexican people, this is a far more serious time — a time to remember and pray for friends and family members who have died. It’s a five-day celebration with Maya roots, as we discovered on a visit to Merida, near Progreso on the Yucatan Peninsula…

Day of the Dead-2

Sometimes the people remembered are famous friends who belonged to the human family.

Day of the Dead-3

This is a typical ‘Day of the Dead’ display found in any Mexican town or city at the end of October.

Day of the Dead-7

More than a century old (does she look her age?), Catrina is a popular symbol and is known as “elegant skull.”

In the news…

• Montreal's cruise visitors increase by 30% over 2014 and 93% since 2011
• Windstar to have James Beard chefs on three themed cruises in 2016
• Holland America partners with BBC Earth with extensive 2016 program
• Giant spider decorates Carnival's Splendor for Halloween arrival in Sydney

Today at portsandbows.com: The latest in cruise news

Norwegian Getaway
7 nights
December 6, 2015
Miami (return): Great Stirrup Cay, Ocho Rios, George Town, Cozumel
Inside: $599
Cost per day: $85

Friday File: Beaches With A Difference

So many places visited by cruise ships have beaches, or beaches nearby, because — let’s face it — everybody’s thinking about finding somewhere warm with the coming months of winter. But beaches are more than just silk sand and warm water, as you will see from a few that we’ve discovered from cruising…

St. Maarten

Perhaps the only beach in the world where you get this close to an airplane in flight, and a regular tourist attraction when cruisers visit Philipsburg, St. Martin​.


This beach is often empty, like this, but 70 years ago on the northern coast of France Juno Beach was populated with thousands of soldiers in World War II.


When Carnival sends its Fantasy to sail out of Mobile next year, one of its three ports of call will be a pretty place called Progeso on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

Grand Turk

At Grand Turk, there’s an uncommon shady spot close to the water for cruisers who like going to the beach without being obsessed with getting a suntan..


Cruisers going to Alaska from Vancouver, like the ones this Holland America ship, always pass Ambleside Beach after crossing under the Lions Gate Bridge.

Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen heads the growing popularity of Riviera Maya's beach properties on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, a short ferry ride from Cozumel.

In the news…

• Cunard offering free balcony upgrade on Transatlantic crossings starting October 29
• P&O's first alcholic beverage package on Pacific Pearl may extend to fleet of five ships

Today at portsandbows.com: The return of Carnival to Mobile, Alabama

Caribbean Princess
7 nights
January 17, 2016
Houston (return): Cozumel, Roatan, Belize
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $71

One of Those 'Dias' in the Yucatan

PROGRESO, Mexico — What would you say if we told you we would go to a city we never heard of…meet a history teacher whose name we didn’t know…and find out how Mayans celebrate the “day of the dead” or as the locals say Dia De Los Muertos?

You could never plan that. And then it happened.

On the way to Progreso, a port built so that cruise ships would come, we got on a bus to Merida. Come again…Merida? We’d never heard of it, either, which just goes to show you there are cities of almost a million people that live in anonymity out there in our world.

Why would somebody take a bus — the local bus, Auto Progreso — from the pier to Merida? Because it was there. Because it cost $5 per person, each way. Because from all we’d read about Progreso, it was a map dot disguised as a port (not true).

After the Carnival Ecstasy slipped into place on a pier that is either 4 or 6.5 miles long (we read both), the bus option was available from one of the local vendors selling tours on shore. Since we’d already decided Merida was our destination of the day and since we’d read on the Internet that two other cruisers spent $48 taking cabs each way, the $20 investment seemed like a bargain.

Besides, we like meeting locals.

Enter Alphonso Peña.

“English?” he asked, as we stood in front of an ancient church in Merida “Centro” pondering our next move.

“Si,” we replied.

The next 45 minutes was fascinating. As eager students, one of our lessons was learning that today is the last of five days devoted to Dia De Los Muertos. There’s another word for it in English.


In the Mayan world, and this is the heart of where that all began, the holiday starts on Friday for school children, then there’s the weekend, Monday is a day off for adults and Tuesday is off for everyone. Since this was Tuesday, Alphonso wasn’t teaching history in high school, but he was educating visitors who spoke a language he is still learning.

In a way, he was teaching history on his day off…

At the heart of the festival is a meal, and isn’t that always the case? This meal is called “Comida de Muertos” and the main dish is “Muc-bipollo” or, when anglicized, a three-inch thick tamale big enough to feed three or four people. Think humongous pizza. It’s all tied together with banana leaves and cooked in them on hot limestone for two and a half hours.

It’s accompanied by candles, incense, flowers and drinks. Traditionally, the drinks are Maya wine (xtabentun) and alcohol (bacalche).

“It makes you happy,” explains Alphonso.

On a day devoted to the dead, that’s probably a good idea.

Bonus for Carnival's Late Passengers

PROGRESO, Mexico — Passengers who were late returning to the Carnival Ecstasy from an eight-hour stopover in this Yucatan Peninsula port lucked out. If necessary, they could probably catch a lift on the Carnival Triumph.

The two “fun ships” happened to be in Progreso at the same time. What made it more ironic than that is that both were leaving, an hour apart, for Cozumel.

As it happened, we were on the bridge of the Ecstasy — you can read more about that experience on Friday — when it left and, with minutes to go, 30 of the ship’s 2,226 passengers were still missing.

“Sometimes, the Triumph will take them,” quipped Capt. Andrea Viacava, master of the Ecstasy.

The possibility of that happening was, in itself, a rarity. As everybody who cruises knows, or should know, the ship leaves on time whether all the passengers make it back from a port stop or not. The only exception is if they are delayed as part of a shore excursion organized by the cruise line.

The Ecstasy’s departure time was 3 p.m. sharp. The Triumph was to leave an hour later, which means the Ecstasy would arrive in Cozumel an hour earlier than its big sister, on Wednesday. With a seven-hour stopover on the island sitting off the east coast of the Yucatan, there would be ample time for any delinquent passengers to get on the right ship.

The Ecstasy left Galveston on Saturday. The same day, the Triumph left New Orleans. It happens that they have twin itineraries: Progreso, then Cozumel, then back to their respective home ports.

What about the 30 passengers who were late? We never bothered to check because, whether they made it on time or not, tomorrow they’ll be in Cozumel.

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