I just returned from the latest Crafty Chica Art Cruise and one of the biggest questions is always what to do once you get off the ship at the ports? When you take a cruise, you stop at ports along the journey. I always choose the Mexican cruises because I want to soak up as much of the culture as I can! But there are little tricks and tips to know ahead of time to make the experience easier.
IMPORTANT TIPS: You have to be REALLY careful no matter what. Mexico is not America. There will be language barriers, a lot of people will want to sell you lots of really cool thigns anything and everything from every angle. One of our cruisers had her cell phone stolen in Mazatlan, so you have to keep your valuables close.
Scout the area before you flash your money or take a picture with a fancy phone or camera.
Make sure to bring cash in small bills for tips and shopping. They take american dollars, but sometimes they will only have change in pesos.
Make sure to let your bank know that you are traveling so they won’t stop your card if you try to make a purchase.
Educate yourself on the peso-to-dollar ratio.
If you feel comfortable to use your smartphone, ask for the wifi password! Some places will give it to you if you buy something, but they type it in your phone (you hold your phone and they press it in) so you can’t share it with your friend, lol!
Tip #1: First and easiest? Sign up for an excursion through the cruise line. There are so many choices – glass bottom boats, ziplining, jeep rides, whale watching, kayaking, golfing, and more. These packages can be a bit pricey but you have everything covered as far as reliable transportation, meals, places to see, a guide. Be on time! And another plus – they take care of you. One of our cruisers left her camera at the ziplining site and Norwegian Fed Exd her camera to her home. Nice!
Tip #2: Use the locals. I’ve yet to take an official cruise ship excursion and this is why…I want to go to the Mexican craft store, see handmade art, and non-touristy places. They usually don’t offer that to the masses on the ship. So this is how we do it. Before we leave, a few of us will research the area and where we want to go, we figure out the miles from the ship, give room to get back in time and stops along the way. I’ll gather up some friends on the cruise who want to go. We choose one designated Spanish-speaking person to negotiate the deal. We ask for air-conditioned vans, a ride to downtown’s shopping area, a place to eat and the Mexican fabric and craft store. Bring cash!
For Cabo, Lizzy negotiated for us. When you get off the ship, OMG, the tourist guys will come at you like glitter on glue. It can be overwhelming. You kind of have to go with your gut instinct and choose someone who looks legit. Look for a uniform type of shirt with a company logo, then you know they are from a tour company as opposed to a random guy luring you on his boat! Then you want to see what they have to offer, a lot of time they will have packages for a set price. The guy Lizzy chose asked for $40 a person, and Lizzy was able to talk him down to $25 each because there were 30 people in the group.
Also – the tour guides closest to the port will be most reliable. Chances are the cruise line is familiar with them. Plus there are police and cruise attendees nearby if you need help. I do not suggest walking far outside of the busy port area, down the street to find a guide or taxi. Sure you’ll get cheaper prices, but at what cost?
Tip #3: Taxi drivers. Another option if you are with several people – ask a taxi driver to drive you around. They have package prices too, or even charge by the hour, like $20. We had a couple on our cruise who did this and their driver took them around shopping, then left them at a restaurant, went home to take a nap, then picked them up in an hour to continue the tour. The husband works in the baseball industry, so the taxi driver took him to one of the baseball stadiums in town as part of the agenda. They really got a custom tour!
That day I decided to stay by the port and relax, I’m glad I did because the next day in Mazatlan was crazy! I did a little shopping in Cabo, kept it breezy and relaxing. Keep in mind that while each port has a shopping area, these prices will be a little higher than if you went further into town. But you know what? The prices at all of the main ports were actually pretty good. Very reasonable. AND they have $5-20 massages. BEST $5 I spent, lol!
Let’s talk Mazatlan. There were six of us – me, Patrick, Maya, Jeshua, Patrick’s mom (who has a hurt knee) and her cousin, Dusty. Using Lizzy’s tried and true method, I negotiated a day excursion to the beach that included lunch, all-you-can-drink, and transportation. $25 a person, everyone gave me a high five of success. We handed over $150 cash and the super friendlu guy led us down the block to a flatbed truck. We climbed in the back and were driven across town to a boat. We crossed a wood bridge to climb into the boat, we were the only ones and the driver took our food order.
Uh, yah, a little strange, but we took it step-by-step.
I didn’t take any pictures because I was scared to bring my phone out in public, it was a very run down area. We left the boat…and we ended up in a somewhat desolate neighborhood with a bunch of kids selling candy, pan dulce, elote, and so on. Finally our ride arrived – a CATTLE WAGON (our driver called it a Mexican limousine) with benches, attached to a giant TRACTOR. And the first step to climb onto the cattle wagon must have measured about 24″ high. There was no way Patrick’s mom at 5’1″ could get up there with her hurt knee. Or me! So I went all snobby American on this guy and kindly begged for a solution. I know it’s Mexico and for $25, what did I expect? But I had no choice but to at least try. About a half hour later, he found a sturdy wood stepstool and we used it to hoist our bodies into the cattle wagon.
Just when I really began to bite my nails, I understood why we had the tractor. We traveled through heavy, rocky terrain to the beach. And we saw pretty scenery along the way! Yes, focus on the scenery. Finally we made it to the beach and restaurant area where there were scores of other people, even a few some from our ship! It felt great to let out a deep sigh of relief!
Our free meal. nothing fancy, but it did the job! A perfect setting for a perfect afternoon.
This was the best part – the beach!
I hadn’t been at the beach with my feet in the sand in about five years. Way too long! I put my phone away and walked closer and closer to the water and just enjoyed the feeling of peace. Two hours! The time flew. It really helped me clear my mind and savor the moment. I learned a big lesson during this time, I’ll save it for a Sparkle Saturday video soon!
The time came when we had to leave. After such a lovely day and exciting adventure, we thought we had the routine down. Nope. We climbed in the wrong cattle wagon…err, Mexican limousine, and had to climb off and wait for our assigned chariot. We climbed on without incident, made it back to the boat to that would take us to the truck that would take us to the Norwegian cruise ship.
The wind picked up and by the time we reached the dock to exit, the driver couldn’t get the boat to line up to the bridge – which was actually a plank! I called it the Plank of Fear, but everyone was like, “No, it’s the Adventure Bridge!” to calm my nerves. We had about a 18″ gap between the moving boat and the skinny bridge that we had to cross. That’s a lot when you are not used to doing Indiana Jones feats! One-by-one we succeeded.
Then it was Patrick’s mom’s turn. She hates water, had a hurt knee, and last time I checked, wasn’t all that much into leaping from a swaying ship onto a lifesize popsicle stick. The equation did not match up.
I felt a panic attack coming on, I couldn’t watch. People gathered around to coach her across, and two people held her hand on one side of the boat and two more extended their hands from the bridge. She kept shaking her head, “No. No. I can’t do this.”
I didn’t know whether to cover my eyes or scream for them to stop – or to watch. It was the first time in a very long time that I felt FEAR. The totally helpless kind of fear. If anything happened it would be all my fault. And then… in a blink of an eye – for reals – one blink. She made it on the bridge. Talk about divine intervention! Everyone cheered and clapped. I’m talking about 50-60 people. We made back onto the flatbed truck, which seemed like a cinch to hop onto after what we’d been through. Sitting next to her, I didn’t know if she was mad at me or what.
“Are you OK?” I asked. “I’m so sorry about all of this.”
She smiled and shrugged, “It’s OK, I liked it. It made me feel like I had an adventure.”
Of course, fat juicy tears flooded down my face.
So that was Mazatlan!
TIP #4: Whether your excursion is through the cruise line or not, make sure to ask what is involved if you are squeamish or have a hurt knee or back, etc. Are there stairs, hills, rocky terrain? Is the drive in a covered vehicle, air-conditioning, etc. Is anything wheelchair accessible? There may not be ramps or cushy rides. So ask ahead of time. Assume nothing!
We decided to take it easy for Puerto Vallarta. We took a shuttle taxi ride to El Malecon boardwalk for $4 a person. If you are ever in PV, you must check it out! Adorable artisan shops, a flea market, church. It reminded me a lot of San Miguel.
Tip #5: Watch where you are walking. Pay attention to names of street signs, crossing the streets, as well as the ground in front of you. Look for steep step, potholes, even slippery floors in stores. It’s easy to be in awe at the beauty and cool things you’ll find and you might forget to pay attention, lol!
Tip #6: Leave a big cushion of time to get back to the cruise ship. I’d say build in 90-minutes to make your way back, shop a little more, wait in line, and all of that. You don’t want to be left behind!
Tip #7: Tip your driver or tour guide! They will appreciate it so much!
Overall – Travel smart and safe. Research your options, never go off on your on, stay with a group. I’ll keep adding to this as I think of tips!