Greg Alexander

Cruising the Pacific

Baltimore Sun, February 2005

When people think of cruising, flying south to Miami or Fort Lauderdale to catch a boat comes to mind. Cruisers traditionally have flown south to Florida for trips to the Caribbean, Key West, New Orleans and west toward the Panama Canal. However, the “left” coast also presents opportunities for cruising. The ports of San Diego, Los Angeles and Vancouver allow West Coast residents to enjoy cruising; however, East Coast residents, too, can combine a California vacation with a cruise to such exciting southern destinations as the Mexican Riviera, Costa Rica and Chile, as well as short cruises along the U.S. coastline.

California/Pacific Northwest

“The California ports are wonderful, especially San Diego,” says Molly Hurwitz, a travel agent with Burton Travel in Owings Mills. “Clients of mine have combined a family vacation to the San Diego Zoo or Disneyland with a short cruise to Catalina, for example.” Or, how about combining a trip to San Francisco with a seven-night cruise along the California coast? Celebrity Cruises has a cruise from San Francisco that visits Monterey, Los Angeles, Catalina Island, Ensenada, Mexico and San Diego before returning to San Francisco. If luxury is your goal, Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2 – usually reserved for long vacations with prices beginning around $2,500 per person – offers a taste of luxury with its three-night roundtrip “West Coast Escape” cruise from Los Angeles to Ensenada – a perfect way to round out a California vacation. If the Pacific Northwest is calling, check out Celebrity’s three-night roundtrip cruise from Seattle to British Columbia.

Hurwitz also touts “repositioning cruises,” which start and end in different ports. “These are great because they offer great value. You can sail out of Vancouver and down the Pacific Northwest – Victoria, Washington state and Oregon – and end up in San Francisco. These coastal cruises can be used as a different means to get from Point A to Point B.” Of course, flying into one city and out of another usually is more expensive, Hurwitz warns, but usually cruise lines will work with you to find special one-way fares. Celebrity offers a six-night cruise from Vancouver to San Francisco, as well as a 14-night one from San Diego to Vancouver that includes Alaska, while Royal Caribbean has a six-night cruise from San Diego to Vancouver and a five-night one from Los Angeles to Vancouver. Radisson also has a 12-night voyage from Los Angeles to Vancouver.


The always-popular Mexican cruises remain hot, says Hurwitz. Three- and four-night “Baja Mexico” cruises from San Diego or Los Angeles are “great for adding onto the end of a California vacation,” she says. These cruises operate year round and go to Ensenada and Catalina Island. Most seven-night cruises, she says, operate from January to May and again in September. Hurwitz says that seven-night cruises usually include Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Radisson’s Seven Seas Mariner, which touts an all-balcony design, has an eight- or 10-night roundtrip voyage from Los Angeles to Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, Cabo San Lucas and San Diego. Crystal Cruises also has a seven-night Mexican cruise from Los Angeles, as well as a six-night “Pacific Coast Passage” cruise that originates in Caldera, Costa Rica, and makes its way up the Mexican coastline to Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, Holland America has expanded its Mexican cruises to a total of 46 sailings, including 25 seven-day itineraries to the Mexican Riviera and the Sea of Cortez from San Diego via its Oosterdam, which features staterooms that are on average 25 percent larger than standard with 85 percent of them having ocean views. All feature stops at Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan, renowned for its golden beaches. Port stops offer the opportunity to try sport-fishing for tuna, marlin and billfish; petting dolphins; and snorkeling among sea lions. The cruise line also has 10-day trips that include Acapulco. Celebrity offers three- and six-night Mexican cruises from San Diego and eight-, 10- and 11-night trips from San Francisco, while Royal Caribbean offers varied Mexican cruises from Los Angeles.

For the first time ever, the popular Disney cruises are being offered from the West Coast in conjunction with Disneyland’s 50th anniversary with seven-night cruises to the Mexican Riviera. Families can combine a cruise with a two-night pre- or post-cruise stay in one of Disney’s three Anaheim resort hotels. Disney’s on-board entertainment is legendary, as well as its dining experience where guests are rotated through three different themed restaurants throughout the cruise.

Central America

Cruises through the Panama Canal continue to be popular. In addition to cruises through the Caribbean from Florida, many offer cruises from the West Coast. For example, Princess has a 21-day roundtrip cruise from San Diego that includes port calls in San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua and Puerto Quetzal in Guatemala, as well as an overnight stay in the Panama Canal. Princess also offers a 21-day cruise that includes additional stops in Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco, Costa Rica and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, as well as “repositioning cruises” through the Canal from Vancouver, San Francisco and Los Angeles to Fort Lauderdale. Other lines – including Radisson, Celebrity and Royal Caribbean – offer cruises through the Canal from California to Florida. Royal Caribbean also offers a 12-night cruise from San Diego to San Juan, while Celebrity has one from Ensenada to Fort Lauderdale. Hurwitz says that for cruises from Ensenada, you will fly into San Diego and then travel to Ensenada via the cruise line’s van or bus.

Costa Rica is the perfect destination for nature-lovers, and Cruise West, which is known for its smaller boats that offer up-close looks at wildlife, is now offering a seven-day “Costa Rica Family Vacation,” especially designed for families. Cruise West offers substantial discounts for children sharing a cabin with their parents, and the cruises feature onboard naturalists and special children’s activities directors that tailor the educational experiences to specific age levels – from beginner’s Spanish lessons to searching for exotic birds and monkeys.

South America and beyond

In case a cruise to Mexico or Central America is too close to home, how about a cruise to South America? Most lines have you fly into a South American port such as Valparaiso, Chile, where you can pick up Silversea’s cruise to Buenos Aires, or Punta Arenas, Chile, where Swan Hellenic, which focuses on discovery travel, begins its “Andean Epic” cruise to Chile and Peru. Silversea also has a cruise from Callao/Lima, Peru to Valparaiso.

Got a couple of months for a cruise? Then check out the luxurious Seabourn cruise line, which sails roundtrip from Fort Lauderdale all the way around South America during a 72-day cruise. For a shorter duration without sacrificing luxury, the Queen Mary 2 has a two-week cruise to Peru, Ecuador, Costa Rica and Acapulco. Or, try Crystal’s 16-day “Antarctic Adventure” cruise that begins in Chile and travels to Antarctica, as well as through the Drake Passage, around Cape Horn and to the Falkland Islands.

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