Cruising the Mexican Riviera Aboard Norwegian
Surfing through cruise deals online one day in March, we stumbled across an amazing early bird offer from Norwegian Cruise Line – four tickets for the price of two, for a week-long Christmas cruise to the Mexican Riviera, making port in Mazatlán, Cabo San Lucas, and Puerto Vallarta. What a steal! And completely worth the nine month wait. More time to find the perfect swimsuit, right?
But who would we take with us? Who could really use a week away from work, kids, and responsibilities to refresh in the warm Mexican sun? And who would be willing to party as hard as we planned to (aka eat as much as physically possible)? Two powerful mothers and business women came to mind immediately – these cruise queens:
My mom Linda (right), and Brandon’s sister Phoebe (center), the best cruise buddies ever! Here we are, groovin’ on the pool deck to “Fireball” by Pitbull at the midnight White Hot Party, wearing our best black and white frocks. These girls know how to dance!
The four of us began our Christmastime cruise with a road trip from Silicon Valley to the port in Los Angeles, stopping for Bath and Body Works deals along the way. After flashing our passports at check in, we admired the giant ship that would be our holiday home for seven days at sea, plus a few stops in Mexico – the Norwegian Star.
Surveying the steaming hot tubs and top-deck pool, we immediately understood the appeal of holiday cruise getaways. California doesn’t reach anywhere near zero in the winter, but a relaxing swim onboard or in the Pacific Ocean will always warm up the darkest of winter spirits.
Inside, we perused the main Atrium; a three-story community gathering place to sip a hot cup of coffee or a cold glass of Christmas cheer while listening to live music or playing Uno with friends. The chummy barista became our best friend on the ship, remembering our names and latte orders, adding to the special feeling that everything on board was catering to our relaxation.
For a quick bite to eat and a great view of the Atrium below, we enjoyed burgers and fries at O’Sheehan’s, the 24 hour Irish pub on the second level. Get it? “O’Sheehan’s” sounds like “oceans” – so clever!
Elevators leading to and from all the guest cabin floors to the atrium level and restaurants below.
Iced gingerbread villages proudly twinkled in the communal areas, adorned with gumdrops and candy canes that mysteriously disappeared over the course of the week. Elegantly decorated Christmas trees kindly reminded us that it was indeed the holiday season, something we might have easily forgotten while sipping margaritas from a sun chair.
If you can believe it, FOUR people fit into this tiny cabin! That white box on the left folded down into a suspended bunk bed, and a fourth sleeper was wheeled in to fit between the two floor-level beds. A tight squeeze, sure, but we didn’t spend much time in the cabin with all the activities to participate in and delicious food to eat. Every hour of the day and night was scheduled tight with Merengue dance lessons, piña coladas, magic shows, towel folding seminars, gallery shopping, musical productions, paint parties, and spa treatments.
It may look small, but our cabin actually had plenty of storage room for everyone to fully unpack, hang up sundresses, and stow away hats and accessories.
As you can imagine, with nine months to prepare for this cruise, we learned a few tricks to improve tiny cabin living. This plastic over-the-door shoe holder was a LIFESAVER. It held bathroom essentials for four people, with room to spare, leaving our counter tops clutter free. Highly recommend. The toilet compartment is hidden just behind it, and the shower is left of the sink, with a convenient retractable swimsuit hanging line, much like this one, attached to the wall for our dripping bikinis.
Day by day, we were pleasantly surprised by all the thoughtful little accommodations like this that the cruise line offered to keep us comfortable.
Let the entertainment begin! Follow the crystal chandeliers into the three-story Stardust Theatre.
Nightly entertainment ranged from elaborate musical numbers and impressive choreography to illusionists, comedians, and aerial acrobats that far surpassed what we thought was possible on a moving stage.
One evening, the ship hit some highly turbulent waves just as a pair of very athletic tap dancers took the floor. Their endurance despite the rocking room left them sweating in puddles by the end of the song.
Our first night onboard, we treated ourselves to one of the ship’s specialty restaurants, Moderno Churrascaria, an authentic Brazilian steakhouse experience involving skewered meat and giant knives close to our faces. It was here, overlooking the pool deck lit up with neon lights, that we learned the true meaning of Christmas: all-you-can-eat food.
If you’ve never been to a Brazilian steakhouse, here is the process. The menu isn’t used for ordering; it simply informs you of the delicacies to come. Various meats are introduced, and our enthusiastic servers encouraged us to try every single one. Each person receives this handy card; leave it green side up when you’re ready to eat, then flip to the red side when you’re done, stopping the procession of food.
Sweet Phoebe, who had never cruised before, tried to hold back at first, thinking she was only welcome to select a few of the options before us, but we quickly reminded her, you’re on a cruise now, baby! Try anything you want, in any quantity; it’s all fair game. Don’t like something? Don’t feel obligated to finish it, just pick something new and repeat. Everything is prepaid before you even get on the boat, so you don’t have to worry about menu prices or tipping or getting an extra serving. The portions are generally small enough that little goes to waste, so enjoy the opportunity to try many more delicious things than at a standard restaurant.
Soon, we relaxed and sampled every slab of beef, pork, chicken, linguica, chorizo, lamb, ribs, shrimp, and bacon-wrapped versions of everything above that came our way. The bigger question became, would we still have room for dessert?
This fellow said yes, while slicing off a chunk of caramelized pineapple for each of us. Jokingly, we asked for one of every dessert on the menu to share, eight total. Without hesitation, these tantalizing sweets were placed before us, forming a perfect intersection of sublime flavors, like lavender crème brûlée, toasted coconut apple strudel, mango rice pudding, and dulce de leche cheesecake.
And just like that, we were cruise dining pros. The self serve Market Café (aka cafeteria) would satisfy our daily breakfast needs, but lunch and dinner were moments to explore cuisines from around the world, like Italian and Thai, French and Japanese.
Seating inside La Cucina Italian restaurant, where we ate a life-changing mushroom risotto.
Surf n’ Turf from Cagney’s American seafood and steakhouse.
Two happy cruise-goers.
Perfectly roasted Duo De Canard duck from Le Bistro French restaurant, and Les Quatre Cornets below, which are savory waffle cones filled with things like pear, smoked chicken salad, and a blue cheese/walnut medley.
Winding down in the evenings, we made our way to the open deck for warm, fresh air under the stars and nightcap piña coladas in the Spice H2O Lounge, located at the very back of the ship. The subdued lighting, sound of rushing waves, and comfy over-sized furniture helped put us right to sleep.
These adorable creatures magically appeared on our freshly made beds each evening, except the monkey; he hung from the ceiling. Can you tell what they are? Our guesses are elephant, monkey, rabbit, dog, and dinosaur.
Thanks for joining us on our Christmas cruise!
Ready to take a cruise of your own to the Mexican Riviera? Any time is a good time! Before you go, make sure to read our excursion ideas for Mazatlán, Cabo San Lucas, and Puerto Vallarta. We enjoyed snorkeling in the warm coastal waters of Yelapa, dancing the salsa while making fresh salsa, and riding electric bikes along a secluded beach in the Mexican outback.
And if that’s STILL not enough cruise talk for you, feel free to read about our maiden voyage as baby cruisers – a weekend boat ride from Los Angles to Ensenada, Mexico on Carnival Cruise Line.