Cruising to Mexico
Mexican cruises offer families warm temperatures, native art and culture, and plenty of adventure.
Cruises to Mexico don’t have to be like The Love Boat. Plenty of choices are available for the entire family to take a voyage south of the border. Cruise lines sail out of San Diego and Los Angeles for the west coast of Mexico throughout the year. Expect to pay between $150 and $300 per day, per person for three- to nine-day itineraries, with significant discounts for third and fourth individuals traveling in the same stateroom.
Best Cruise Itineraries for Families
- Carnival: Family-friendly Carnival lacks the luxury and personalized service for which most mainstream cruise lines are known, but it compensates with creative itineraries. Carnival sails out of San Diego and Los Angeles all year long, and in addition to the standard weeklong cruises through the Mexican Riviera (Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta), there are also six-day cruises with stops in La Paz and Ensenada; and nine-day cruises to Acapulco, Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa, and Manzanillo.
- Disney: Although the two Disney ships sail out of Cape Canaveral for the Bahamas and Caribbean most of the year, the line now offers seven-day Mexican Riviera cruises out of Los Angeles from late May through early August. Although this is among the priciest of large-market cruise lines, it is a favorite with my family because of the exquisitely appointed ships and the exceptional family entertainment.
- Princess: Princess has the reputation for attracting fewer families, although traditional school holidays pull larger numbers of children. This line sails for seven-day cruises through the Mexican Riviera from San Francisco and Los Angeles September through May.
- Royal Caribbean: The Royal Caribbean line, which sails to Mexico March through October (with special holiday cruises in late December), offers the chance to sample Mexico for a few days, with three- and four-day cruises that stop in Ensenada, Mexico and Catalina Island (one of the Channel Islands off the coast of Long Beach, California). Royal Caribbean also offers seven-day cruises through the Mexican Riviera.
- Cabo San Lucas is the most family-friendly of the heavily trafficked Mexican ports. Visitors will find inviting white-sand beaches, accessible and clean downtown zones, and numerous recreational options. Within a few minutes of the port there’s parasailing, deep-sea fishing, pristine snorkeling and diving, extensive downtown shopping, and myriad top-quality restaurants. Cabo can get rowdy (and even raunchy) at night, but most cruise ships sail off to their next destination at sunset, well before the craziness ensues.
- Visited infrequently by cruise lines, Zihuatanejo is a quaint and friendly small town that is easily accessible. This little fishing village has a charming town square within steps of the dock, a pretty beach, a handful of exceptional seafood restaurants and quaint boutiques. Zihuatanejo also has easy access (by bus or taxi) to the nearby beach resort of Ixtapa and (by ferry) the secluded beaches of Ixtapa Island as well.
- Cruisers will stop in Acapulco only on itineraries of eight days and longer. The Hollywood glitterati made this the place to holiday half a century ago. Although the city has lost some of its glamour since these glory days, it is still an exciting, versatile destination, with exceptionally friendly people and no shortage of activities, restaurants, and beaches. The approach into the famous harbor offers breathtaking views; be sure to wake up early enough to watch your ship pull in. On a recent cruise my family and I spotted several hundred small dolphins gleefully jumping over our ship’s wake as it slowly pulled into Acapulco Bay. And when the ship pulls out for the evening, look out toward the little park adjacent to the dock, where dozens of locals come to wave adiós to the cruise ships.
Cruise lines coordinate with local vendors to provide excursions that will conveniently shuttle guests to and from the ship to activities near its ports of call. Many cruise lines contract with the same vendors and end up offering similar excursions. The notable exception is Disney, which has several creative options designed just for their guests.
All excursions should be booked in advance (popular activities are sold out weeks before the ship even sails) and range wildly in price (from $20 to $400 per person). Following are a few of the best options for families traveling through western Mexico with children. (Unless otherwise specified, prices shown are per person for adults; children’s excursion rates are usually 25 to 50 percent less; note that Disney charges “adult” prices for kids 10 and older.)
For children 8 and younger:
- Royal Caribbean’s Dolphin Kids (Puerto Vallarta): Children learn about bottlenose dolphins in a land-based educational program, and can afterward climb into the water to pet and kiss the beloved marine mammals. Parents cannot accompany kids into the water, but must chaperone them through the land portion of the tour. For ages 4-8, $84; accompanying adult(s), $33.
- Disney’s Salsa and Salsa (Mazatlan): Adults and children learn to make a variety of salsas in this hands-on cooking demonstration. Guests get to eat the fruits of their labor before moving on to an ocean-front venue for a one-hour salsa-dancing lesson. For ages 5-9, $55; children 10 and older, $87.
- Royal Caribbean’s Whale Watching (Puerto Vallarta): Humpback whales migrate south in the winter along the Mexican coastline. This seasonal excursion onboard a 70-foot sailboat takes guests into Banderas Bay to look for the behemoth creatures; it’s a fun sail, even if you don’t spot whales. For ages 4 and older, $50-$67.
For children 9 and older:
- Carnival’s Palma Sola (Acapulco): One of the newest excursions offered in Acapulco is a tour through Palma Sola, a hillside archeological site with spectacular views overlooking the bay. Guests hike up more than 500 uneven, steep stone steps to view ancient petroglyphs. Even though this might not appeal to all children—our 12-year-old daughter was the only child to take this excursion on a recent cruise—it is a worthwhile educational experience to see the 3,000-year-old rock carvings. For ages 12 and older, $79.
- Princess’ Horseback Riding on the Beach (Cabo San Lucas): For horse lovers, there is no more idyllic ride than one on the beach. This excursion allows guests to meander on the sand and into the shallows on gentle animals that are appropriate for kids and for equestrian novices. For ages 12 and older, $72-$82.
- Disney’s Sea Kayak and Snorkel (Cabo San Lucas): Athletic families will enjoy kayaking through the choppy waves to Los Arcos, the iconic rock formations just off the coast of Cabo San Lucas. Kayakers stop at Playa del Amante (Lovers’ Beach), which is accessible only by boat, and snorkel in the clearest waters off the west coast of Mexico. (During the hottest summer months, be careful of jellyfish in the warm ocean; their stings generally aren’t serious but they can be extremely painful, especially to children.) For ages 10 and older, $49.
For teenagers only:
- Disney’s Teen Cruise (Puerto Vallarta): This sunset party cruise through Banderas Bay is only for teenagers (no parents allowed—but cruise line staffers go along as chaperones). Kids enjoy dancing, boisterous games and age-appropriate beverages. For ages 13-17, $45.
- Disney’s Surfin’ Safari (Cabo San Lucas): Small groups are taken to calm-water beaches within an hour of the port and learn to hang ten with a certified surfing instructor. This excursion is also chaperoned by cruise line staff, and parents may not tag along. For ages 13-17, $89.
Los Angeles, Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, San Diego, Riviera Maya
Family Travel, Cruises
Kayaking, Sightseeing, Snorkeling, Swimming, Boating