First Time On a Cruise: The Good, the Bad and Mexico

Cruise

Way back in January, my boyfriend surprised me with a lovely present: a cruise vacation.

Richard loves cruises.  Whenever I get my new issue of Travel & Leisure in the mail, he skips all of the articles and looks at the cruise ads.  He’s already sailed on dozens of cruises from countless lines on various continents.

So it was no surprise that this cruise fiend was hellbent on taking me on a cruise.

Between his 100 hour work weeks and my limited vacation time, we were only able to go on a three day cruise to Ensenada, Mexico.  It wasn’t my dream destination, but I was happy to get out of the house, go somewhere new and finally get some nice R&R time with my lovely boyfriend.

The Good

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Food and Dining

Ok, it’s not Michelin fine dining, but I have to say the cruise food impressed me.

Restaurants in cruises are built to resemble fine dining establishments.  Some restaurants even require formal suit and gown wear to enter the premises, but thanks to us casual Americans, I think this rule is being phased out.  Richard and I dressed to impress, but we were surprised to see a couple in shorts and flip flops next to us.

In addition to the nice sit-down dinners with the four course menu, there were buffets, pizza parlors and coffee shops.

Basically, shit tons of food.

While it was great to grab a piece of hot, piping pizza at any time of the day and evening, it was terrible for my waist line.  I think I gained 5 pounds in just 3 days from being on a cruise.  It’s pure gluttony.

Stuff to Do

Everyday the cruise gives you a schedule detailing all of the activities available for the day.  Foot acupuncture, cooking lessons, ice sculpting, or a broadway-esque show–you name it, the cruise probably has it.

After becoming horrifically seasick running on the treadmill, we gave up the gym and opted for the library.  Richard and I spent most of our free time reading there.  Yes, we’re that lame couple.

We also watched The Martian (woo!) on the gigantic movie theater outside (aptly named movie under the stars), saw a comedy, magic and musical show and attended happy hour almost everyday.

The Service

Our room was tidied up three times per day.  There were dozens upon dozens of servers waiting on our every need.  It was simply excellent service and all without the need to tip (since it’s included in the initial fee).

The Bad

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Seasickness

I never, ever, ever get seasick.

But oh man.   I really felt it on this cruise.

The ship is 15 floors and houses 4,000 people. I always imagined being on a vessel that huge must feel like being on land.

But oh, how wrong I was.

I felt every lurch.  Every plummet.  Every wave.

The worst was when I actually got off the ship.  My body had become so accustomed to the constant swaying of the boat that when I came onto stable land my brain went out of balance.  I had extreme dizziness and vertigo for three days post-cruise.  Not fun.

Booze Charge

On a cruise, water and iced tea are provided free of charge.  Booze, however, costs extra money.  Mary spent a good chunk of money on buying alcohol, and she was not proud.  Oh no.

She also spent way too much on her drug of choice: coffee.

And Finally, Mexico

Are we really in Mexico?

Are we really in Mexico?

When I arrived in Ensenda riding the bus to go to the famous natural geyser, La Bufadora, I could only think:

Holy shit, this looks just like Southern California!

Flat, clay houses in faded orange and yellow. Arid, desert terrain.  Shopping centers with Office Max, 7-11, McDonalds and Costco.  There was even a dude selling flowers near the freeway ramp.  Juice stands on the corner.

I didn’t feel like I was in another country.  At.  All.

As expected, La Bufadora was a tourist trap nightmare (so many shops and hawkers!)  where you could buy fake bags, fake jewelry, and even drugs (like painkillers without a prescription).  Almost everybody spoke extremely fluent English.

I know Ensenada isn’t very far from Southern California, but damn, this was ‘culture’ shock in itself.

“Oh look, smoked clams!  May we have two smoked clams please?” I wandered over to the vendor and eyed two beautiful smoked clams stuffed with salsa, garlic and cliantro.

“That will be 7 dollars miss.”

“7 DOLLARS!?  For two smoked clams?  Jesus Christ.  Fine.  I want the two roasting on the grill right there and I’d like to sit at this plastic table here.”

“Oh no miss,” he inched up to me.  “I can hook you up.  With better clams.  A better table.  Let me take you upstairs.”

“No, really, I just want the two clams I’m staring at.  Right now.  Look,” I pointed. “Just give me those and we’re good.”

“Senorita,” he repeated.  “Really, let me sit you down, get you in on the clam hook up”

Finally I lost my patience and went to the vendor across the street.  Although he also charged 7 bucks, at least he just took my money and gave me the damn clams.

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Is this worth 7 bucks? You decide.

This is why I hate tourist infested travel zones.

Despite the local onslaught of hawkers and sellers, the ocean view was actually quite nice. Gazing at the jagged cliffs and the churning waves was way more entrancing than the blowhole itself.

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La Bufadora…. it’s ok. Seriously. Nothing too great.

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La Bufadora Cliffside

Stunning!

Mexico was extremely stressful and, quite frankly, I don’t know if I could go again.  I know that Mexico City and other tourist destinations (such as the Riveria) might offer a more authentic experience, but good god.  Going to Mexico and paying Los Angeles prices for drinks, food and accommodations felt extremely wrong.

Tacos in ensenada

See that big helping of spicy sauce? Oh god. Couldn’t feel my face for a week. Firerrhea, my friends.

Tacos and beer there?  They cost more than they do in Los Angeles.  Rip.  Off.

Cruising?  Yes or No?

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I hate to say it, but I’m a landlubber.  I like to travel on land, and that’s final.

I do, however, think cruising is an EXCELLENT way to travel on a budget.  Food, hotel and transportation are fully provided for–I mean, it’s just a crazy good deal considering all the perks and amenities you get.

I do believe that some destinations are also better suited for cruising, such as Alaska, Fiji and the Caribbean.  When you need to island hop or explore by boat, you might as well just take a cruise and get comfort, food, and great service all bundled into one package.

So while I wasn’t as cruise crazy as my boyfriend by the end of the trip, I’m definitely up to try a cruise again.  Someday.

Have you ever been on a cruise?  What did you think?

13 thoughts on “First Time On a Cruise: The Good, the Bad and Mexico

  1. autumnashbough says:

    I did one cruise to the Bahamas with 2 of my sisters once. They both got seasick. I was like you — I got land sick! Felt sure the ground was rolling. Like being in a permanent, gentle earthquake.

    I’d love to do it again, with Andy, to Alaska. Because tons of food and dancing every night, of course. Though I hear it’s the worst vacation you can take environmentally. 🙁

    • rubymary says:

      I usually don’t get seasick (I’ve been on rickety boats in Thailand for hours at a time!), but I think just being on a boat so long, and in some pretty rocky waters, brought out the worst in me. Next time I go I’m definitely wearing the patch.

      I also would love to do Alaska, or even the Antarctic! I saw some couples dancing (like, actual ballroom dancing) in some of the lounges and it was very cute. It made me think of you and Andy!

      One reason I wasn’t a huge fan of the cruise was the obscene amount of excess. I’m not one for excess (maybe one reason I find it hard to adapt to the American life of buffets and Costco), and I kept imagining all of the water used for linens, pools etc.. and food that was wasted just to give 4,000 privileged, first world guests a good tie on a boat. I felt very wasteful indeed.

  2. Marta says:

    My parents took me with them to 3 cruises when I was a teenager. One was in the western Mediterranean Sea, the other in the North Sea and the last in Turkey and the Greek islands. I liked them, but you cannot see many things when they only stop in a city for one day! However you get to see a bit of many places in a short time. And yes, there are so many things to do in the ship! I didn’t get seasick, in fact the movement of the ship was hardly noticeable, except for one day that the sea was very rough.

    I’m not sure if I would spend my money on a cruise now as an adult. I prefer going to a place and staying for several days!

    • rubymary says:

      Oooo European cruises sound so fun! I’m sure there’s more beautiful views from the deck when you’re sailing down a sea or across a river.

      I agree, we were only in Ensenada for a few hours (and it was so bad, I couldn’t wait to get back to the boat).

      Maybe the days we were out at sea were rough, because Richard (who is Mr. Cruise) also got pretty seasick. Too much lurching!

      I’m like you, I like traveling on land. I like feeling grounded somewhere, if only a little bit…. My boyfriend was pretty disappointed, he was hoping we could do 100+ day cruises around the world! Now that’s just too much for me…

  3. Lani says:

    I’m a cruise virgin. I’d like to go one day. Alaska always sounded appealing, just to see all the coastline animals. Plus, I’d love to go to Alaska. Especially now as Cambodia and Thailand are blazing infernos.

    $7 clams? I don’t know. I don’t like seafood, except in a fish tank or aquarium. 0.o But I am curious, what was upstairs, Mary??? Why didn’t you go find out?! What were the special clams!!! Now, we’ll never know! GAH!

    • rubymary says:

      After living in California for two years I definitely learned to appreciate the cold and snow. There’s something calm and peaceful about it (but still, maybe a little too much will make you go crazy). I imagine living in Thailand/Cambodia for all those years has also made you yearn for cold weather a little bit? But you diiiid grow up in Hawaii! Colorado must have been a shock for you a little bit?

      I know I should have gone in on the clam hookup. Dundun. Maybe next time in Mexico!

      • Lani says:

        I loved Colorado! and YES I’m sooo missing cool weather. I better retire in a cold weather place. Actually, it’s a tough call. I like seasons!

  4. Joelle says:

    I think going to Ensenada and expecting it to be real Mexico was probably not a good idea. I think because of how many tourists there are, they can just price-gouge the fuck out of you. It seems to me that cruises are able to funnel so many tourists to certain areas that the locals are able to capitalize on the cruise-trade by jacking up the prices.

    That said, I’ve never been on cruise and I want to do one. I’m actually hoping to do a re-positioning cruise when I go on the round-the-world trip I’m planning.

    I definitely want to do a Caribbean cruise too! I was hoping to do one with my sister last year, but it just didn’t work out.

    p.s. I’m so glad you didn’t go upstairs for the “better clams”. I bet you’ll go upstairs for exactly the same clams and then he’ll pull a chinese tea scam on you and make you pay $500 or more for the privilege.

    • rubymary says:

      Ahhh I wasn’t expecting real Mexico (I don’t even know what real Mexico is like), but it has been a looooooooooooooooooooooooooong time since I’ve been somewhere so blatantly touristy. I’m guessing most of baja Mexico is like Southern California, so maybe I should steer clear there. Usually when I travel to a new country I feel some kind of cultural difference, but in Ensenada I felt nothing–and that in itself was culture shock, haha. And yes, I learned my lesson about cruise tours. Never again.

      My boyfriend went on a Caribbean cruise and said it was amazing….!! I would like to go someday, too. If I ever get enough $$$$ I think a Fiji cruise would be quite heavenly too. Hope you get to make it next year!!!

  5. Buri-chan says:

    I’ve never been on a cruise (though if everything works out I’ll take a roundtrip two-nights-each-way ferry next month), but Sakaiminato (next to Matsue) is quickly becoming a major stop in the Sea of Japan! I’ve had a number of interpreting jobs with the cruise ships either giving information to tourists or interpreting for on-land workshops or welcoming the higher-ups who make the decisions about which ports to visit, but I have yet to see the inside of one of those enormous ships.

    • rubymary says:

      Oooo Where are you taking the ferry to!?!?

      I used to work for the Japanese government’s board of tourism and we were promoting cruises in Japan like crazy. I believe Princess cruise has a itinerary that basically circles all of Japan as a while for a month long trip… It looked pretty interesting, like visiting Kyushu and Hokkaido on a cruise boat would be cool! I’m guessing they make a lot of stops in Sakaiminato…!! I’m happy to hear that Japan is getting more tourism, especially in places that deserve it (like Matsue!).

      Still, if it came to Japan travel, I would skip the cruise. The trains in Japan are too nice to pass up 😉

      • Buri-chan says:

        Well, if you’ve got a JR Pass the trains are certainly enjoyable. I usually take highway buses to save money, so the few occasions when I take the shinkansen are a treat! And I’m only brought in occasionally on the cruise line stuff so I’m not as in the loop (I guess that could be a pun), but Princess is one of a few lines already doing a loop around Japan or planning ahead on it. Sakaiminato’s port authority is really swift with improvements and making a new facility and stuff. It’s important to all these companies to gather more Japanese guests, too.

        And so long as there’s no issues with getting a visa, I’ll be on my way to Vladivostok to visit a friend who used to work at the prefecture office. ^_^

  6. Ruth Silbermayr-Song says:

    I never went on a cruise, in Europe those are usually rather expensive compared to some destinations that offer cheap flights and cheap all-inclusive hotel deals. Never really wanted to go on one either. I prefer being able to go where I want to go, not to go where I need to go because this is where the ship stops.

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