Drive to San Francisco and Cruise to Mexico on Princess Cruises

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: Why They 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

Drive or Fly, But Don’t Miss the Whale Encounters in Baja, Mexico

©Travel Photo Interact – Place your cursor over any photo to enhance it – click to enlarge.

57-070-248-IMG_4516The next time you get tired of winter, plan a drive, or book a flight to La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico. During the months of January through April, the weather in La Paz is absolutely perfect, and it is a wonderful time to take the opportunity to get up close and personal with gray whales and their calves.

Getting there

La Paz has its own airport, but the bigger Cabo San Lucas airport to the south has more flights and services.

73-087-332-IMG_4615When we arrived in Cabo, we took a taxi for the almost three-hour scenic ride on Mexico Route 19 from Cabo to La Paz – the road was good and we zipped right along.

89-013-001-RIMG0017It does not take long to confirm that Baja California is indeed a desert, and we found ourselves imagining that the thousands of cacti along the highway were humorous stick “characters.”

Route 19 runs parallel to the pristine sandy beaches of the Pacific for about 50 miles north of Cabo and before cutting east across the peninsula to La Paz.

We stopped only once for a bite to eat in the small town of Todos Santos on the Pacific side of the peninsula. We ate at La Coronela restaurant in the Hotel California. We dined in the hotel’s comfortable courtyard, the food was excellent – and the beer was ice cold.

 The city of La Paz

La Paz is a city on the Sea of Cortez with some 200,000 residents, but much of the tourist activity is near the water where La Paz’s flavor takes on the vibe of a prosperous seaside village.

34-76-090-339-IMG_4635Traffic wasn’t bad coming into town along the shore and picturesque La Paz Malecón, so we reached our hotel in short order.

53-IMG_8285The Hyatt Place is a new hotel in the exclusive Costa Baja area of La Paz.  It’s right in front of a marina that is home to magnificent yachts from around the world. The hotel rooms are spacious and modern, and each booking comes with a tasty hot breakfast with eggs your way, pancakes, fruit, juice, coffee, etc.

Our videographer friend Richard Williams was on the trip, and put together a creative film clip about the Hyatt. See it *here*

Up in the morning

It was breakfast at sunrise and into a van for the 170-mile drive across the Peninsula, to the Pacific side and Puerto Lopez Mateo.

29-71-085-321-IMG_4589The journey took about 3.5 hours, with a brief stop for a delicious lunch (we had fresh fish) in the small town of Constitucion.

04-04-016-016-IMG_4284When we arrived at the whale watching dock in Puerto Lopez Mateo, we were anxious to don our life vests, board our boat, and be introduced to the mighty gray whales that were waiting for us in the inlet.

About the whales

Every year, traveling at speeds of about 5 miles per hour, 10 to 15 thousand gray whales make their way from the freezing waters of Alaska’s Bering Sea along the Pacific Coast of America to the warm waters of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula. It is here that the female grays bear their calves.

16-40-053-212-IMG_4480There are only three places in the world where gray whales give birth, and all of them are in Baja, Mexico. After birthing, the mothers and their offspring stay in the safety of the lagoons for several weeks in order for the mothers to teach their newborns to feed, swim, and socialize with other whales.

The male grays leave Baja first, and by April the majority of the whales are on their 5,000+ mile trek back to Alaska.

An organized adventure

State and federal licenses are necessary to go whale watching in Baja. Your tour company will instruct you on how to obtain them.

05-05-017-017-IMG_4285Only guides who have been tested and certified in the nuances of protecting the whales can lead a tour that intends to get close enough to touch the gentle giants.

Our tour boat, like all the others in the fleet, had to pass a passenger safety inspection.

06-11-024-055-IMG_4323There is a limit to the number of boats that can congregate in a given area, which assures that the whales are not threatened, and have ample room to maneuver.

About our tour boat

09-20-033-118-IMG_4386The whale encounter boats are called “pangas,” and are 22-feet long. They are specifically designed for the purpose of whale watching.

11-22-035-140-IMG_4408Jose, from the Cortez Club, led our tour and helped us into an uber-clean panga that easily and comfortably seated the eight people in our group. The quiet outboard motor moved us briskly along the placid water of the lagoon as we searched for whales.

The weather was a pleasant and dry 78 degrees, and when we stopped to visit with some grays, there was just a slight chop on the water.

Calling the whales

19-45-058-225-IMG_4493Jose advised that by slapping the water on the side of the boat we would attract whales, and sure enough it took just minutes of splashing before a 50 foot long, 70,000 pound gray whale, accompanied by her calf, decided to play.

08-19-032-114-IMG_4382The photo above shows a baby whale approaching a neighboring panga.

At first, it was a bit disconcerting to watch this shallowly submerged creature, the size of a school bus, bearing down on the center of what felt like our quickly shrinking panga.

15-37-050-198-IMG_4466However, in every case, the breathing bus slowed to a glide as it neared the boat. At that point, the whales cruised closely along-side, and we quickly comprehended they were encouraging a friendly pat on the head.

14-32-045-185-IMG_4453As they approach, the whales might do a shallow dive under the boat only to appear on the other side spouting plumes of water high into the air – what fun for them!

13-31-044-182-IMG_4450Be sure to keep your camera lens protected for the duration of these momentary monsoons.

20-55-068-246-IMG_4514Sometimes, mom will hang back and watch her calf interact with the excited guests, but most of the time she is right there in the thick of the action – getting her own strokes.

18-43-056-217-IMG_4485During these encounters, there is no doubt in any passengers mind that these are highly intelligent mammals that fully comprehend their enormous power and prowess.

What a thrill

22-60-073-252-IMG_4520It is all very exhilarating, and any concerns of personal safety are quickly dispelled as everyone lunges to get in a back slap, head pat, or a chin tickle on the gigantic mama whale or her frolicking 20-foot calf.

This is fun of the first order, time passes quickly, and it never gets boring. Some people laugh, some scream like they are on a roller coaster, and some cry with joy over the spiritual connection they feel with these magnificent animals.

17-42-055-214-IMG_4482Eventually, and probably when mom thinks that junior has had enough attention, she heads off towards open water.

Several whales gave us fluke or tail waves as they departed – maybe it was coincidental, but we choose not to think so.

12-IMG_4410It is safe to predict, that all the thousands of people that experience this annual celebration of life and nature become life-long advocates for the complete banning of whale hunting.

These gentle denizens of the deep, who are so much more powerful than we mere mortals, deserve our ultimate respect and protection.

24-63-077-279-IMG_4547We heartily recommend this adventure for anyone yearning to fully experience the beauty and grandeur of nature – on a very large scale.

For more information about whale encounters and the other wonders of La Paz, check out this website: www.en.golapaz.com/

Be sure to view our friend Richard’s film clip about our whale encounters. Click *here*.

For other exciting sea adventures, see our stories about:

Shark diving in the Bahamas

A night encounter with giant Manta Rays in Hawaii

Diving in a submarine in the Cayman Islands

Sailing the coast of Maine on a magnificent schooner

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff

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