Port Perceptions: Overcoming a Negative First Impression

May 19, 2014 | By | 15 Comments

Medano Beach in Cabo San Lucas
Not every port makes a stellar first impression. Misunderstandings happen, plans fall through, expectations are dashed. And nowhere in recent memory did I find that truer than in Cabo San Lucas.
I had high hopes before I arrived in this happening resort town, long a centerpiece of Mexican Riviera cruises. As a celebrity magazine addict, I knew that Cabo was considered the perfect spot for A-listers to blow off steam: Justin Timberlake plays golf there, George Clooney celebrates birthdays, the Kardashians do what Kardashians do. Jennifer Aniston comes so often that she might as well be on the tourist brochure.
But I forgot that they don’t go where I go, which, unfortunately, was straight to Medano Beach. I knew from the moment I arrived at a popular beachfront restaurant there that I had chosen … poorly.
I ordered a margarita, singular. Little did I know this was an impossible request in Cabo. A waiter arrived bearing two aquarium-sized glasses. “No, no, just one,” I told him nicely. “No lady. Two is better!” he replied. We went back and forth over my request for a while, until he finally took the unsolicited beverage away. (At that point, I was so irritated by his persistent upselling that I almost needed the second drink.)
That wasn’t the end to the Medano madness. Within a few hours, I was hassled by timeshare salesmen, encouraged to smile by water taxi drivers and offered illegal drugs. I saw more ugly tattoos than on an episode of “Jersey Shore,” and it wasn’t even Spring Break. The last straw came when I slipped on one of Cabo’s steeper streets, landing firmly on my rear.
“I hate Cabo,” I texted to my husband.
Camel Excursion in Cabo San Lucas
Luckily, I had time for a do-over; subsequent days there exposed me to the port’s first-class adventure opportunities, including kayaking and snorkeling with Baja Outback, parasailing with Cabo Expeditions and a camel safari with Cabo Adventures  (yes, camels! It’s become the company’s number one excursion). I even found some great places to go on Medano to escape the nuttiness free-for-all, including Nikki Beach (for those who like Miami style) and Tabasco Beach (for those who like feet-in-the-sand style). I have a list of things to do if and when I come back, including visits to San Jose del Cabo and Todos Santos and a deep-water fishing excursion.
But the experience made me think about the best ways to handle a port stop if your excursion isn’t exactly what you expected:
Switch gears. Had I been on a cruise, the best thing I could have done after the margarita skirmish was hightail it out of Medano on a water taxi to the Marina, a less pushy part of the city. It’s harder to leave an organized tour or shore excursion, of course, but if you aren’t happy with how things are going, speak up. Often there’s someone on hand to get you out of there, and most excursion operators would rather handle your complaints right away than read about them on Cruise Critic or TripAdvisor later.
Blow off steam. Zip-lining wasn’t what you expected? Don’t stomp back to the ship angrily. If time allows, walk around, do some shopping or enjoy a snack at an establishment that looks more your speed. Being able to calm down and look at the situation with some distance will usually turn it into an amusing memory more than a trip-wrecking horror.
Aerial View of El Arco in Cabo San Lucas
Conduct a post-mortem, part I – onboard. As much as it pains you, make the effort to talk to some of those people who are coming back onboard with big smiles. What did they do that you didn’t? Swapping stories means you can unearth valuable intel that may allow you to have a better day at the next port.
Conduct a post-mortem, part II – at home. We know you read the Cruise Critic message boards as avidly as we do. Once you’re home, go into the port forums and share your experience with others. Did they have the same issues you did? Or did you just happen to catch that activity on a bad day? Keep in mind that, while shore excursion operators strive to have each tour as consistent as possible, factors like weather, local strikes and the makeup of the group can vary the experience significantly.
Maybe it’s you. We all have bad days. Maybe you’re not feeling well, or maybe your travel companions are working your last nerve. If you debarked the ship with a monster chip on your shoulder, don’t be surprised if the slightest thing knocks it off — and really, who is to blame for that but yourself?
Tell us! How have you salvaged a poor port experience?
*Wondering what food to order in port? Check out our feature on best local dishes to eat when you’re off the ship.
*Get more tips from Cruise Critic editors.
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    15 Responses to “Port Perceptions: Overcoming a Negative First Impression”

    1. Ray W
      May 20th, 2014 @ 1:58 pm

      It’s interesting that you listed Cabo San Lucas, because that is the only port I will NEVER return to. When we got off the tender and started walking toward town, we were accosted by several vendors who would not leave us alone. One grabbed my wife’s arm and put a bracelet on it and wanted her to pay for it. After removing the bracelet and throwing it at him, and listening to catcalls from other vendors and various idiots, we just returned to the ship and skipped the Cabo visit.

    2. steve
      May 20th, 2014 @ 2:30 pm

      I agree, nothing really to do in Cabo, its really just Southern, Southern California now.

      Pretty much done with Jamaica too, tired of all the drug offers and the Mahagony carving scam, “oh look at my carvings” yeah cool, “i am marvin” “whats your name” and then he carves you name in the wood, here you go. Grrr

    3. Jean
      May 20th, 2014 @ 3:08 pm

      Mine is Ochos Rios. One of the girls in our group was drugged & nearly kidnapped! She & her Mom had gone on an excursion without any of the rest of us so I couldn’t tell you the details but she was so terrified that she stayed in her stateroom for 2 days. The rest of us had a bit of a scary experience there also. Pushy vendors trapped my step-daughter in a building and the taxi driver had to go in and get her. My son-in-law was offered any kind of drug he wanted or women. Also, the armed guards walking the beach and trying to shake us down to “keep and eye on” our stuff while we swam was intimidating. I will never set foot in Jamaica again.

    4. Karen
      May 20th, 2014 @ 4:17 pm

      I’m so glad I read this. We will stay on the ship when we visit Cabo in September!

    5. MJ
      May 20th, 2014 @ 4:27 pm

      I have had this experience in an number of ports – Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, several places in Mexico. Generally I try to not judge an individual port by one negative experience, and in most cases, when i return i’m a bit wiser and seem to have more success. Jamaica is still my least favorite port for some of the reasons listed above, but one on occasion, my husband and I did a horseback ride up in the mountains, away from the beaches and the crowds. It was cool, the guides were lovely, the horses were well cared for and we got to visit a school along the trail. When we returned and switched stories with another couple who opted for a field and beach horseback ride, they said it was too hot, and did not enjoy. So you never know.

    6. Pat Startek
      May 20th, 2014 @ 5:27 pm

      We loved Cabo. Bought silver bracelets from the vendors, went for lunch, walked around the shops, bought tee shirts, took a whale-watching cruise. Lots to do.
      However, my brother and his family had two really bad experiences in Jamaica that have kept us away. We never book cruises that go there. Robbers tried to steal his money and jewellery, attack his teen girls, assault them on the beach – They escaped and ran back to the ship.

    7. evelyn plater
      May 20th, 2014 @ 6:08 pm

      stopped at cabo san lucas overnight, loved it, was not accosted by vendors, or drug dealers, had a pleasant day touring the area, and enjoyed the margaritas

    8. Jonny
      May 20th, 2014 @ 7:32 pm

      In San Juan, we couldn’t get back to our ship while other ship was docking. We sat in a small ferry dock near the entrance to wait and a man approached to asked me if I was looking for narcotics. I politely said no and quietly told my wife and kids to get out of there. If you want to sit and wait, go to a busy place.

    9. Matt
      May 20th, 2014 @ 7:41 pm

      Several times to Jamaica and several times disappointed ! Never again, but I also had a bad time in San Juan and was able to turn it around and do not mind going back.

    10. Scott Bachmann
      May 20th, 2014 @ 9:10 pm

      Our first impression of Grand Turk left us referring to the island as “Grand Turd” for the duration of the 8-night cruise.

    11. Ronald Moyer
      May 21st, 2014 @ 2:06 am

      My bad experience was at Dunn’s River Falls in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. After climbing the falls, I was hanging with tour operator when a vendor asked if I would like to look at his wares. I said No, I wasn’t interested. He proceeded to sit on other side of tour operator and Said “F—ing Americans, if you aren’t going to buy, then get the F— out of our country.” I guess that was supposed to change my mind and want to buy then. LOL

    12. Sam Redford
      May 21st, 2014 @ 1:29 pm

      We’ve had miserable experiences in Ocho Rios and Montego Bay and have no interest in ever visiting those areas again … so we were very pleasantly surprised to find Falmouth to be interesting and safe. There isn’t a lot to see in the immediate area, but we found none of the overly aggressive vendors, and we had some nice conversations with locals. Our overall impressions of Jamaica are still pretty sour, but we were glad that we gave Falmouth a chance. We would go back.

    13. Amy T
      May 21st, 2014 @ 3:52 pm

      We stopped at Cozumel on a 5 night cruise last year. We were the last ship in the port for the season. The only other ship scheduled to be there when we were, was the Carnival ship that got stranded due to a fire on board, so it was out of service. Everywhere we went people hounded us to buy their items, take a picture of us, etc…We went back towards the ship and stopped at Senor Frogs for a drink and something to eat. We couldn’t get anyone to wait on us, even though there were several severs standing around talking right behind us. IF we ever go to Cozumel again, we will opt for the excursion to Isla de la Pasion and get out of town ASAP.

    14. Geno
      May 21st, 2014 @ 4:45 pm

      As others have posted, I too will never go to Jamaica again. Because of bad weather we had to skip Cozumel and went to Ocho Rios instead. Pushy vendors, drug dealers and generally rude people. There were gunshots going off at Margaritaville. Wish Cruise lines would drop these ports that are so dangerous and unwelcoming. Bet the attitude would improve.

    15. paul campbell
      May 21st, 2014 @ 7:09 pm

      We have been to Cabo San Lucas on 5 or 6 cruises plus 3 years ago we bought a timeshare. We have spent the last 3 years in our time share. So now a lot about Cabo. Get away from the marina area. Try to get up the coast to San Jose del Cabo. this is a beautiful little town. It reminds me of OLD Mexico, coble stone streets. Nice shops and great restaurants.

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