Mexico the Easy Way: CRUISING THE RIVIERA

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Physician's Money Digest, April 2006, Volume 13, Issue 4

The Mexican Riviera stretchesfrom the tip of southernCalifornia past Cabo SanLucas down to Mazatlán,Puerto Vallarta, and beyond. This newdarling of cruisers is now easily reachedfrom the improved Port of San Diego(www.portofsandiego.org/sandiego_maritime/cruise). The cruise ship scheduleboasts about a dozen cruises eachmonth from Carnival (www.carnival.com), Celebrity (www.celebrity.com),Crystal (www.crystalcruises.com), RoyalCaribbean (www.royalcarribean.com), and Silversea (www.silversea.com)that head down the coast of Mexico.

Oosterdam

A good choice for both value andquality is the award-winning HollandAmerica, with more than 130 years ofmaritime experience (877-932-4259;www.hollandamerica.com). ,Holland America's newest ship, offersa 7-day cruise to the most interestingports on the Mexican Riviera.

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Experienced cruisers say all ports ofcall are the same; it's really the ship thatmakes the difference, as if the fun is inthe travel and not the destination. To adegree, this is true. As is common withmany new ships today, 85% of 'saccommodations offer an oceanview and two thirds of its suites andstaterooms have private verandahs.Holland America excels at providingthe best guides and excursions in thecoastal towns because of its formidablebargaining power and its early presenceon this coastline.

Oosterdam

Now that the Mexican Riviera hasbecome accessible by cruise ships, it hasbecome the playground of the Pacific.passengers can wander

Cabo San Lucas'harbor, shop at themarketplace, or explore the coastal villagevia taxi—all inexpensive options,especially if you negotiate the cab fare inadvance. Newcomers should take advantageof organized shore excursionsto experience more than they would ontheir own. Second-time visitors mightwant to arrange their own activities.Cabo activities include all-terrainvehicles, carriage rides, scuba, snorkeling,kayaking, pirate and fishing trips,and horseback riding on the beach.Take a boat tour past Land's End andLos Arcos, with its fabled vaultedarches. Activity information is availablethrough the destination guide on HollandAmerica's Web site.

Whereas Cabo has become a ratherslick tourist attraction, Mazatlán is ahistoric port, and not contrived likeCancún. The people are genuine, too,and not worn out by decades ofdemanding tourists. They are more thanready to help you enjoy your vacation.This old former industrial port has, ofcourse, all the possible water sportactivities you would expect, includinga highly recommended cruise to StoneIsland, where you can laze on thebeach of an old world fishing village.Birdwatchers will enjoy trips throughthe Mangrove Wetlands. Mazatlán alsooffers the daredevil Totonac IndianPapantla Flyers show and guided toursinto the Sierra Madre mountain villagesof Concordia and Copala.

If you think this is busy, wait untilyou get to Puerto Vallarta. Once thehaunt of Richard Burton and ElizabethTaylor, it has two dozen shore excursionchoices. You can sail, snorkel, scuba,swim with dolphins, ride horses, hike,or bike. You can fly to San Sebastian,4000 feet up in the Sierra MadreMountains, and walk the cobbles of thisold silver mining village.

In the heart of the Sierra MadreMountains is the Canopy Adventure(www.vallarta-adventures.com/canopytour).Harnessed to cables, you canglide through the rain forest to variousobservation platforms that rise90 feet above the tropical rain forestfloor—a truly thrilling ecological experience.If you have Adobe Photoshop,you may be able to remove theterrified look from your family's otherwisehappy faces.