Cruising to Mexico Where Much of the Fun is Getting There

It’s been a rainy winter at our home on the Oregon coast, so we decided to hunt for some sun and sand on the western coast of Mexico.

There’s a lot of ways to get to the famous Mexican Riviera. We decided on a Princess Cruise, and we are so glad we did.

Our cruise featured a total of ten wonderful days of relaxation – first aboard the Grand Princess and then in the warm sun of four exciting south of the border ports – Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlán, Manzanillo, and Cabo San Lucas.

Our ship was the Grand Princess, and our cruise departed from San Francisco, always a nostalgic bonus for two ex-San Franciscans.

It didn’t take long

We pointed our car south on scenic Hwy 101, and within a few days, we were standing atop the uppermost deck of the Grand Princess as she glided under the Golden Gate Bridge. Click here to watch and listen to the excitement.

The ship’s horn was blaring, the automobiles on the bridge were honking, and hundreds of excited passengers were waving their arms and cheering. What a thrilling exit from everyone’s favorite City by the Bay.

What to write about

We knew we wanted to write about this vacation, but what aspects would our readers enjoy most. Hmmm.

There are thousands of travel articles written about each of the ports-of-call we would visit on our cruise. Type the word “Mazatlán” in Google Search, and you will get over 130 million results in .62 seconds – how do they do that!

So, rather than add to the mountain of available information about the ports of the Mexican Riviera, we will instead share our views on why we think cruising is the best way to get there.

Here are some reasons to take a cruise

“Unpack once to see the world.” A favorite reason – it’s easy. No packing and unpacking as you move from place to place on vacation.

A cruise ship can be a vacation destination.  You might be surprised at how many seasoned cruisers never get off the ship for the entire cruise. To these devoted folks, the cruise itinerary is far less important than being on a favorite ship or cruise line. Everything they look for in a great vacation is right there on board.

Cruising is a great way to visit places you have never been before. Port stops are usually just long enough to get a flavor for a locale. Think of it as Visit 101. If you find a place you like, you can fly back when you have more time to explore it in-depth.

Binge or budget

Cruise lines cater to every wallet and expectation. Like an airplane, everyone on a cruise ship gets to the destination at the same time. However, the cost of a ticket on either mode of travel depends greatly on where you are on board. On a cruise ship you have four options, inside cabin with no window, outside cabin with window, outside cabin with a balcony, or an outside suite with extra room and a balcony.

Something to think about

It is possible that a budget cruise vacation with all the food you can eat – plus entertainment and other bennies, might very well be less expensive than just the cost of daily meals in a nice hotel restaurant on land.

Free stuff

Of course, everyone knows there is a lot of free stuff on a cruise – well, not really, but it feels that way after you have paid for your ticket. Food is free and available all over the ship. Yes, it is very easy to overindulge. Think of the temptation as a good test of your inner strength.

Entertainment is also free, and has improved dramatically over the years. Shipboard theaters are comfortable, and live musical productions are first-rate and on a par with the finest Vegas hotels.

The swimming pools are a great place to lounge, the library to read and relax, seminars at sea to learn – all for free.

High seas internet

It wasn’t long ago that it was expensive and an ordeal to get internet service on board a cruise ship. We are happy to report that things have improved greatly – at least on Princess.

There were three internet plans to choose from on our voyage. None were overly expensive, and the connections were commendable throughout the trip. We had a choice of guest computers in the Internet Lounge, or we could use our own devices from just about anywhere on the ship.

Cruising with electronics

There is one improvement we would ask of cruise ship designers. Please add more electrical outlets for guest use. The balcony staterooms on the Grand Princess have a total of 3 easily accessible outlets – but not all are usable at the same time if your devices have large plugs.

Here’s a little secret. If you look closely behind the TV in most cabins, you will find an open outlet. Not easy to access, but it’s there.

Tip: We always travel with a small travel surge protector/extension cord. Ours is a GE #14015 available from Amazon for about $15. It has three outlets and 2 USB rapid charging ports. There’s even a handy cord-wrap feature. Ideal, and problem solved.

Dining options

Princess has anytime dining or fixed reservation dining in the main dining rooms. We chose the fixed reservation early sitting because we like to eat early, and have ample time to get to the theater for the first show of the live productions.

We got to sit at the same table every night. Luckily, it was a window table and we could watch the waves go by as we waited for our 4-course dinners to begin.

At a fixed reservation table, you are served by the same team every night. In our case it was Sandra and Sarai, both from Mexico – so in addition to excellent service, we had the best tourist tips for all the ports of call.

Our wait team was backed up by our Head Waiter who hailed from Turkey. Everyone says that, “Our dining room team is the best,” but ours really was! They knew the menu, and their recommendations were always spot on. Never an empty water-glass or a crumb on the table. Three great personalities that after 10 days felt like part of our family. Can’t offer a better compliment than that.

Dress

Dress codes for the main dining rooms are much more lenient than a decade ago, but still a little stricter than for the truly casual dining venues on board. On land we would call it “Smart-Casual.”

Depending on the length of the cruise, there will be one or more formal nights in the main dining rooms. These dress-up dinners are opportunities for the ladies and gents to strut their finer stuff. One of these nights is usually when that savory lobster entrée is on the menu.

If you prefer to eat in shorts and flip-flops the entire trip, you will always be welcome for any meal at the Horizon Buffet, or at any of the poolside food stations serving delicious pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers, ice cream cones, etc.

The Horizon Buffet is a casual restaurant with everything from American comfort food to exotic international dishes. At times it can be difficult to find an unoccupied table, but just ask anyone that has empty chairs if you can join them. We have never heard “no” for an answer.

On two of our nights, we ventured into one of the two specialty restaurants aboard the Grand Princess. There is an extra charge to eat at a specialty restaurant, but to celebrate an occasion, or pamper your palate, they are well worth the extra expense.

The specialty restaurants aboard Princess are the Sabatini Italian Restaurant and the Crown Grill Steakhouse. We have some great pics of our gourmet experiences aboard the Grand Princess, but we’ll save them for another story.

More to come

There is so much to write about a fantastic cruise. So we will end here with a promise of future articles describing our delightful spa treatments, luck in the casino, movies under the stars, beverage packages, bar services, room services, and our experience at the specialty restaurants.

We also look forward to telling you about the fun and nostalgic Princess welcome aboard program, our thoughts on the virtual end to sea-sickness, and the updated changes to the safety procedures on board Princess Cruises.

Ready to cruise?

For more information check out Princess.com

Happy travels!

*************************************

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by AllianzTravel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

Copyright © 2019 Visit great vacation destinations with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos Copyright © 2019 Judy Bayliff

Advertisements

Uncompromising Service Aboard the Celebrity Silhouette

In our first article about Celebrity Cruise’s Silhouette, we intentionally did not write about the extraordinary level of crew service we experienced – because we wanted to give it special attention.

The service aboard the Silhouette was so exceptional that we decided to do a little research into the reasons.

Service quality starts at the top

Nicholas PagonisMaster of the Silhouette on our cruise and now Captain of the new Reflection

We have interviewed many ship’s captains. The master of the Silhouette was one of those that immediately makes you feel comfortable and leaves you with the certainty that you are in the hands of an extremely professional and capable veteran of the sea.

Like many of his peers, Captain Pagonis has a maritime family history, which led to his interest in applying for the Marine Academy in Athens in 1981. After graduating in 1984, he spent two years in the Greek Special Forces before returning to the sea. He received his Master’s License in 1998 and his first command in 2003. Married with three children, the captain resides in Belgium and Greece. He has intellectual interests in European and Roman history, and gardening – especially gardening!

What Cruise Ship Captains like most about their job

We always ask each Captain what is his favorite aspect of being a Master of a cruise ship. The answers are often similar. In addition to their primary duty to provide a safe and enjoyable vacation to all passengers, most Captains relish the hands on stimulation of maneuvering and docking these colossal leviathans. These are obviously congenial men of vision with a keen appreciation for the enormous.

Captain Pagonis is an individual you would enjoy having as a neighbor. His enthusiasm for his work and the sea is contagious. We could have listened to him talk all day, but he is indeed a busy man.

Our next interview was with another important ship’s officer.

Sue Richardson – Hotel Director of the Silhouette

Sue Richardson

On Celebrity cruise ships, the Hotel Director is the ranking officer directly responsible for passenger comfort and satisfaction. On our Silhouette journey, the job was well fitted to Sue Richardson a veteran of 23-years of remarkable service to very discriminating guests.

During her career, Sue has been responsible for managing hotels, the hospitality function of several ships, and even a private island in the Bahamas.

Onboard the Silhouette, Sue has ten department heads reporting to her. Her departments make up the majority of the crew and all the folks responsible for making your sea voyage a vacation to remember.

Among her duties, Sue is responsible for the food, beverage, dining, entertainment, and cabin services – need we say more?

Cruise crew contracts

It is not obvious to passengers, but all members of a cruise ship’s company work under a time-definite contract of employment. For example, restaurant servers or room stewards might contract to work for six or eight months at sea with two months off.

Due to the nature of these maritime contracts, ship employees are coming and going all the time. We asked Sue how it was possible to keep the high team spirit that was so evident aboard the Silhouette.

She explained, “We start with an initial core of highly motivated people on every new ship. Our global recruiters are charged with finding individuals who understand and appreciate what excellent service is all about – and are eager to provide it. We then train them in the Celebrity culture.”

She went on, “We select people from forty different countries (always being careful to keep a balance on each ship), and we hand pick individuals who have a positive work attitude.”

Sue said that when nurtured, the ship’s company gels and things start to hum. Over time, each new employee enters the crew and senses the already existing can-do attitude of his or her peer group. They blend in quickly and service remains excellent.

“Celebrity does everything in its power to keep its employees happy, and they in turn keep our customers happy.”

It is obviously a winning formula, Sue!

Toward a happy crew

We wondered what was involved in keeping sea-going employees “happy.” We were invited to tour the crew’s quarters on the Silhouette, and came away most impressed.

We were not able to photograph individual living spaces, but can report that they are quite comfortable. The old days of crowded and impersonal sleeping rooms are gone. One or two people to a cabin is the norm, not the exception.

We were delighted to learn that the crew eats the same food as the passengers and in their own private dining room. They relax in comfortable staff lounges, and exercise in well-equipped gyms.

Being a member of the crew of a contemporary cruise ship is still hard work, but the living conditions are more than adequate – and very different from the stories of old.

More about crew changes

We have found many cruise vacationers to be under the impression that the Captain responsible for their specific cruise and safety is like Captain Merrill Stubing of the Love Boat. They expect to find him at the helm the next time they decide to sail on the same ship.

The reality is that Masters move from ship to ship on a routine basis. A captain’s contract is likely to include three or four months at sea, with equal time-off. By default, that requires an ongoing change of Captains.

Contract times vary, but this practice of rotation is also true of the other ship’s officers and crew. In order to make such an inherently mobile system work effectively, standards, practices, rules, and protocols, must be stringently adhered to throughout the industry.

Be sure to read our opening article about the Silhouette at http://is.gd/wgvfVi and see our photo gallery of the ship *here*.

If you go

It is easy to book a cruise on the Silhouette or any one of the other Celebrity Cruise ships. Call your travel agent, or book directly with Celebrity by calling toll-free in the US: 1-800-647-2251 or by visiting their website at http://www.celebritycruises.com/

The Silhouette will be sailing the Eastern Caribbean from December 2013 until April 2014 out of Ft. Lauderdale.

Happy travels.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff – Photo of Sue Richardson compliments of the Silhouette

You can see the world with Google Maps. www.maps.google.com

Vacationing Aboard the Celebrity Silhouette

The Celebrity Shiloutte
The Celebrity Silhouette

Celebrity Cruise Line continues to forge its reputation in the mass appeal luxury cruise category as a ‘notch above’ with the Silhouette.

Design and layout

“Inspired by a balance of light and shadows and the fluid lines of modern art and design.”

The Silhouette has the feel of modern luxury and sophistication, but she is not stuffy or pretentious. She sports contemporary color schemes and inviting tones throughout her interior – yet the overall sentiment is warm and relaxing.

As you can see from the photo gallery, this is elegant space designed with the most discerning cruise customer in mind.

There is much to discover on this ship that is not immediately obvious. There is attention to detail even in the most unlikely places. It was too hard to contain all the new and exciting features in a single article of reasonable length. There will be a Part II, so stay tuned.

Pedigree of the Silhouette

The Silhouette is the fourth of Celebrity’s Solstice Class fleet. The newest ship in this class is the Reflection which is getting rave reviews.

Captain Nicholas Pagonis
Captain Nicholas Pagonis

The Silhouette is a big ship, but not the biggest. She is 122,210 tons with 15 decks above the waterline. She has 1,443 staterooms with a capacity of 2,886 passengers. She sails with a crew of 1250.

Big ship, but not crowded

Many prospective cruisers fear crowding on these very large ships, but they are so well designed for traffic-flow that there is rarely a jam-up or uncomfortable cluster of guests.

Even 2,000+ passengers tend to disappear when you spread them among seven decks of corridors with 1,443 staterooms, ten restaurants, a huge theatre, a casino, a library, art studio, photo gallery, a computer center, video arcade, fitness center, jogging track, spa, beauty salon, 14 lounges and bars, multiple swimming pools, sundry whirlpools, several sun decks, a dozen or so “quiet hideaways,” a vast real-grass lawn club, and a huge gallery of fine boutique shops. Whew! They should issue walkie-talkies to stay in touch with friends.

Even during port visits, the disembarkations are orderly and the process moves along quickly.

Nice “touches” in the staterooms

The stateroom designs on the Silhouette are sleek, open, and comfortable. Each standard stateroom has sizable modular closets and useful under-bed storage. The beds are luxurious with rounded bed corners. The bathrooms are roomy with sliding doors on a bigger than expected shower. There is a convenient footrest in the shower – sometimes it is the smallest things that make us smile.

Each stateroom has digital entertainment. That means a reasonable selection of free movies, and crystal-clear reception on a flat screen TV. Network TV channels are conveniently available at sea.

The staterooms are quiet – no rattles, squeaks, or passageway noise.

Eat your heart out

The pictured penthouse suite in the slideshow photo gallery is 1,291 square feet of floating luxury. All the suites aboard the Silhouette elegantly avoid being trendy and thematic. Each suite is lavishly decorated to be a fitting home for any duration. We wanted to stay after we took the photographs, but the lucky vacationing key-holders had arrived.

Speaking of eating

Food plays a role of cardinal importance on any cruise vacation and Celebrity prides itself in culinary leadership and innovation.

Plenty of dining choices and venues

With ten restaurants, and multiple dining-time choices, only those who favor open dining without a reservation face any delay in seating in the main dining room.

On Celebrity, passengers can enjoy the traditional early or late seating at the same table and with the same companions at every dinner. Conversely, they can reserve a different time for dinner every night – In which case they can dine alone or with others – a chance to make new friends. In either situation, seating comes quickly in the main Grand Cuvee’ restaurant.

For breakfast and lunch there is open seating in the main dining restaurant for the published hours that the room is open.

For those who don’t wish to ever shed their shorts and T-shirts

The Silhouette has one of the finest casual buffet dining rooms at sea. The Oceanview Café on Deck 14 has both indoor and outdoor seating. It serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner from a series of small food islands in the center of a circle of ocean view tables.

Each island features a cornucopia of different tasty selections at every meal, and the culinary offerings are reassuringly diverse. Care for Indian, Asian, Italian, Vegan – it’s all there to enjoy. It would be a rare guest indeed that could not find an interesting and delicious meal at the Oceanview Café.

The kitchen

Executive Chef Steve Van der Merwe

A very important personage on any cruise ship is the Executive Chef. In the case of the Silhouette, and on our cruise, his name is Steve Van der Merwe from South Africa. Chef Steve is a true master of balance and expediency as he orchestrates 13,000 meals per day among several dining venues. His staff also prepares between 100 and 700 room service trays per day.

An example of the complexity and enormity of a cruise ship kitchen: A favorite dinner on any cruise is one that offers broiled lobster. Typically, passengers on a ship the size of the Silhouette will consume about one ton of lobsters at that single meal. Serving thousands of lobsters at just the right temperature, texture, and consistency is just short of a culinary miracle. Somehow, they get the steaks just right as well.

Kudos to Chef Steve and the other great Chefs of the Seas.

The specialty dining rooms

If you want more intimacy while dining, or wish to celebrate a special occasion, for an additional charge the Silhouette offers the answer. The specialty dining rooms offer food to inspire even the most discerning palates in a most enchanting dinner setting.

We sampled the cuisine at the “Murano,” one of the five specialty restaurants on board the Silhouette. Each of these restaurants has its own kitchen, and each table is replete with exquisite china and gorgeous crystal. Mr.Tudor Soacat, Maitre D’ Hotel of the Murano spares no effort to make certain his guest’s continental dinner is delicious and memorable.

Entertainment

The 1113 seat Silhouette Theatre is the first Theatre on a cruise ship designed to accommodate aerial acrobatics – this is an exciting addition to the traditional Broadway style reviews usually found at sea.

Like other progressive lines, Celebrity Cruises does not require their professional entertainers to do double duty as Bingo hosts or passenger group moderators. Consequently, they can attract a better class of performer. The quality of the “star attractions” on the Silhouette was quite good.

However, we were disappointed in the choreography, costumes, and the set designs of the revues on this Celebrity cruise. In our view, this was the only aspect of the entire cruise that failed to meet the high Celebrity standard.

Notwithstanding our disappointment with the production shows, we heartily recommend Celebrity Cruises and the Silhouette for a vacation at sea. In our fast-paced modern world, the chance to get away from it all can do wonders to recharge our batteries and re-energize our lives. There is nothing like a top-notch cruise to do the trick.

Be sure to see our complete photo gallery of the beautiful Silhouette by clicking *here*.

If you go

Passing the Eclipse in port

It is easy to book a cruise on the Silhouette or any one of the other Celebrity Cruise ships. Call your travel agent, or book directly with Celebrity by calling toll-free in the US: 1-800-647-2251 or by visiting their website at http://www.celebritycruises.com/

The Silhouette will be sailing an Eastern Caribbean itinerary out of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida from December 2013 through April 2014.

On this trip, we also discovered a great private-car service in GroundLink.com. They offer private car service throughout the United States (and many foreign countries) and all airports and cruise ports. More on them in the next article as well. You can check them out now at http://groundlink.com, or call toll free in the US: 1-877-227-7260.

Happy travels.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff

You can see the world with Google Maps. www.maps.google.com