Fun and Fiesta in Puerto Vallarta

Strolling Puerto Vallarta’s scenic Malecon on a sunny December morning. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

“There are only two religions in Puerto Vallarta,” said our guide as we bounced along in our motorcoach towards our tequila tasting. “Catholics and alcoholics!”

Holland America Line’s Westerdam pulled into our last port of call this morning, coming alongside the pier in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico just after 7:00 am.The line offers a total of 18 different shore excursions in Puerto Vallarta, from easy highlights tours to tequila tasting excursions, zipline adventures, off-road explorations, and tours to areas further afar, like Las Caletas and the colonial town of San Sebastian.

Westerdam at her Puerto Vallarta berth. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

To make the most of my time in Puerto Vallarta, I took the Mexican Fiesta and Puerto Vallarta excursion. At five hours in duration, this tour costs $89.95 per person and includes a tour of Puerto Vallarta’s main sights, followed by a trip to the Hacienda Dona Engracia tequila factory that’s situated about 40 minutes north of the city, where lunch is provided.

I’ll admit: my expectations for this tour were rather low. I took it because I wanted to write about a decent, entry-level tour that would be good for the first-time visitor to Puerto Vallarta that’s looking for a food-oriented excursion. In the end, I was blown away by how comprehensive it was.

As guests disembark Westerdam…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

…a local Mariachi band kicks into gear. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Our tour began with a guided walk through Puerto Vallarta’s historic old town, along the picturesque waterfront stroll known as the Malecon. We walked at a decent pace and stopped frequently to hear about sites of historical importance. Bathroom breaks were provided, followed by a visit to Puerto Vallarta’s old Cathedral.

Afterwards, we drove through Nuevo Vallarta – the new part of Puerto Vallarta, which I’d never been to before in four previous visits. Then, it was off to the Hacienda Dona Engracia, located out in the countryside.

Our guide led us on a fantastic tour…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

…along Puerto Vallarta’s Malecon…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

…with its unique sculptures. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

The Our Lady of Guadalupe Church looms large over Puerto Vallarta’s Old Town. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

The tour description says that the Hacienda produces tequila, but doesn’t say we’ll be able to enjoy it – yet that’s exactly what happened. We were able to learn about how tequila is made, and the differences between various tequilas. Of course, nothing beats actually tasting those differences, so we sampled six different kinds of tequila made on-site, along with some very hot sauce that can be bought for $5 per bottle. You can, of course, bring back some tequila too.

Then, it was on to lunch: a true Mexican feast with all the expected goodies. If you don’t like Mexican food, this may not be the tour for you, although a small salad bar was available.

Throughout all of this, our guides were fun, festive, and encouraged us to do the same. The Pacifico’s were free-flowing at lunch, as was the food – all of which was complimentary. Do keep some small bills on you though for tips for the local servers; they’re much appreciated.

At the Hacienda Dona Engracia…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

…guests learn about how tequila is made…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

…before sampling it for themselves! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Afterwards, we enjoyed a Mexican buffet lunch outdoors…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

…along with traditional folkloric performances. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Overall, I was extremely impressed: the tour description doesn’t really make any mention of a walking tour, or a tequila tasting. Essentially, our tour is the Town, Country & Tequila tour that is offered for $44.95 per person, but with lunch, entertainment, and more time to enjoy both Puerto Vallarta and the Hacienda Dona Engracia.

Our superb tour even ran slightly over, dropping us back off at the ship just before 3:00 pm. I thought I’d find a tour designed for first-time guests, but this is one tour I’d actually be keen to repeat.

Incidentally, I have done the less-expensive Town, Country & Tequila tour on a past cruise and found it to be very worthwhile if you’re into tequila and its production. Or, just sampling it. According to our guide, the best kind of tequila is the free kind.

The Verdict: Mexican Fiesta & Puerto Vallarta – $89.95 pp

  • Good for: First-time cruisers to the Mexican Rivera; experienced cruisers who have never done this particular excursion.
  • Not suited for: Those who don’t like tequila or Mexican food. This tour is the full Mexican immersion experience.
  • Rating: Excellent

Coming back aboard Westerdam, I watched our departure from Puerto Vallarta from my balcony. It’s days like this that remind me of the value of balcony cabins, particularly on a large ship like Westerdam.

Back at the pier, it’s time to leave Puerto Vallarta and Mexico. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Some balcony champagne is in order… Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

…as our lines are let go. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Instead of having to elbow my way in at the railing down on Deck 3 or up on Deck 10, I simply poured myself a glass of bubbly, went out onto my balcony, and waited for the show to start. I never get tired of watching sailaway, from the sounds of the ship’s whistles as it begs the last few stragglers to return so we can sail on time; to the moment the lines are let go and the ship slowly begins to drift away from the pier.

Sunset on the Pacific. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

And this is where I leave you tonight as Westerdam slowly carries us north through the Pacific Ocean, back towards San Diego.I always designate one night on my cruises as the “no writing, no working” night – and this evening is it. I hear Martini’s are just $4 down in the cozy Atrium Bar on Deck 1 – but only until 7:00pm. If you need me, that’s where I’ll be.

Enjoying one of three “sampler” Martini’s in the Atrium Bar, Deck 1. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Our Live Voyage Report aboard Holland America Line’s Westerdam continues tomorrow with a day at sea! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog.

Westerdam - Mexican Riviera

Saturday, December 3, 2016San Diego, CaliforniaEmbark Westerdam1600
Sunday, December 4At Sea
Monday, December 5Cabo San Lucas, Mexico11001900
Tuesday, December 6Mazatlan, Mexico08001800
Wednesday, December 7Puerto Vallarta, Mexico08001700
Thursday, December 8At Sea
Friday, December 9At Sea
Saturday, December 10San Diego, California0700Disembark

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