Last week, Carnival Cruise Lines became the latest cruise line to announce that they too were dropping scheduled port calls in the troubled city of Mazatlan, Mexico.  A beautiful resort town on Mexico’s Pacific Coast, Mazatlan has been a staple of the Mexican Riviera run for decades, thanks to its friendly citizens, historic old town district, and its Zona Dorada shopping mecca.

Mazatlan's El Centro Church in the Centro Historico district. Photo © Aaron Saunders

But a recent flare-up in drug crime has spilled over into tourists areas, prompting fears about security both near the port and in Mazatlan itself.  In one case, a Canadian tourist was shot in the leg by a stray bullet after a gunfight went awry.

Disney Cruise Line, which is sailing the region for the first time in two years, was the first to pull out – permanently.  And you can’t blame them for doing so: the line caters specifically to families with children, and no doubts the fear of a happy-go-luck family getting caught in the crossfire was too much for the line’s insurers.

Holland America and Princess both took a “wait-and-see” approach that has seen calls scrapped on some sailings, and in place on others.  But Norwegian Cruise Line decided they’d had enough, and removed the port from their itineraries for the remainder of the season.  Now, Carnival has done likewise, intending for Carnival Splendor to instead spend a second day at anchor off the trendy resort town of Cabo San Lucas.

That decision has been common with other cruise lines, and no doubt the good people of Cabo love it.  But rather than being an overnight call, the ship must weigh anchor, spend the night in the Pacific, and sail back the next morning.  Tender operations have to be conducted twice.  And as any mainstream cruise passenger can attest, tendering ashore can be less than fun at times thanks to long queues and ineffective ticketing systems.

One of the streets in Mazatlan's "old town." Photo © Aaron Saunders

As a cruise destination, the Mexican Rivera has been in trouble long before this latest flare-up.  Over the past five years, cruise lines have been slowly pulling out of the region, citing unsustainable price-point performance and an unhealthy amount of competition.  Gone are Celebrity, Royal Caribbean and, at the end of this year, NCL.  Other lines have reduced sailings, shortened their seasons, or both.

At the heart of the problem?  There’s just nowhere else to go on a weeklong itinerary.  Unlike the Caribbean, which boasts multiple Eastern and Western ports all within easy sailing distance, the Mexican Riviera has just three major ports within reach on a weeklong itinerary from Los Angeles or San Diego.  As a result, most of the itineraries are exactly the same, leaving passengers who don’t care about their line or ship to go with whoever can offer up the cheapest initial price.

One of the many beaches surrounding Mazatlan. Photo © Aaron Saunders

And that was causing lines to undercut themselves, offering unsustainable low fares in the hopes that onboard spending would make up the difference.

In Royal Caribbean’s case, it didn’t, even despite the cachet of having Mariner of the Seas sailing on the run – marking the first time a Voyager-class ship had ever been to the Pacific Ocean, let alone homeported there.  While the ship was sailing near-capacity, it just wasn’t making any money.  In January, Mariner of the Seas left Los Angeles for the last time, bound for the more lucrative waters of the Mediterranean.

Which begs the question: with already limited itinerary selections and a brutal marketplace, is the Mexican Riviera sunk without Mazatlan?

The resulting itineraries are less than appealing, featuring three days at sea, two days in Cabo San Lucas, and one day in Puerto Vallarta.  For those who haven’t done this particular run, it may be enjoyable.  For those who have, there is little reason to return.

If lines were able to negotiate an overnight stay in Cabo, running tender service through the evening, that might give the itineraries a little more edge and allow passengers to experience the nightlife the popular resort town is known for.

As it is though, a two-port Mexican Rivera itinerary might not be enough to keep the financial wolves at bay.



2 Responses to Is Mexico Sunk without Mazatlan?

  1. […] The Avid Cruiser Is Mexico Sunk without Mazatlan? […]

  2. Roberto Prinselaar says:

    I believe that a 7 day cruise with only the two ports will be a loser. I sure would not spend the money for that. My wife and I love Mazatlan and have never felt fear going to town, the gold zone, or Stone Island. In town there is a store which sells only guayabera shirts. Just try to find that in the other ports, or for that matter the fun visiting the market. Without Mazatlan there is no reason to go to the mexican riviera for 7 days.

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