It’s been two years since cruise ships—any cruise ships—have called at Mazatlan, Mexico. So on February 1st when our ship, Azamara Club Cruises’ Azamara Quest, docked at this vibrant Pacific coast port, it ranked as one of only a handful of recent cruise arrivals. No wonder everyone I met in “Mexico’s colonial city on the beach” seemed genuinely glad (should I say relieved?) to see us.
Why cruise ships pulled out of Mazatlan is still controversial. Some blame a weak U.S. economy. Most claim safety issues troubled the cruise lines, whether or not Mexico’s drug-related crimes were local or distant incidents.
“If something happened here, it didn’t happen to a passenger,” sad Jose Birrueta, marketing director of the Mazatlan Tourism Board. Whatever the reason ships sailed on by, they began their slow return in November, 2013 with a call by Holland America’s Veendam.
Stepping off our ship, I immediately noticed the beefed up security. First, there was the mandatory tram to safely transport us the short, easily walkable distance between Azamara Quest and the cruise terminal.
Next, city officials spent big bucks installing security cameras and painting the town blue to welcome cruisers. A blue line painted on the streets earlier this year stretches from the modern cruise terminal to Plaza Machado in the heart of Mazatlan’s historic district, a 20-minute walk away. I spotted the helpful, you-can’t-get-lost line once I exited the terminal and made my way past the huddle of taxi drivers (by the way, they all accepted my first “no thanks” for an answer).
Before I even reached the line, half a dozen “blue shirts” handed me a blue line map and offered assistance. Dressed in blue T-shirts sporting a big question mark and the words “Mazatlan Tourist Aide Volunteer,” the group serves as semi-official greeters. Best of all, these volunteers speak fluent English.
Most are Americans and Canadians who make their home in the city either part or full time and who are aware of visitors’ safety concerns. They were quick to make passengers feel comfortable by pointing out the many Mexican families casually strolling around town day and night.
There’s more. Security guards and police watched out for passengers near popular tourist attractions. Their presence was particularly noticeable in the historic district where my travel partner and I visited the exquisitely restored Teatro Angela Peralta (opera house) and the Museo de Arte.
As one fellow cruiser noted, she had no worries poking around on her own with so many guards around. And we had no second thoughts about joining a tour to El Quelite, a traditional Mexican village a half-hour’s drive into the countryside.