Overall review My husband and I wanted to do a trip to Napa, sadly none of our friends were able to make it, so I introduced the idea of adding on a cruise and going by ourselves. The Mexican Riviera was the destination of choice as we have no real interest in Alaska. Geography was not a factor in this decision - as San Francisco (Napa) is pretty far from LA. But, we made it work and got too fit two vacations in one.
We flew into LAX and took the Super Shuttle to our hotel, the Crowne Plaza in San Pedro. The shuttle was fine, but the van we were in was so dirty. DH knew I was not impressed. Happily, unlike the other couple in the van (who were pretty frustrated), we did not have to wait for additional passengers, so it was convenient and pretty fast. The Crowne Plaza was nice and well located - we won a $70 bid on Priceline. We took advantage of their self serve laundry and did one load - saved a bit on packing considering it was a long trip! Dinner that night was at Nico's Pizzeria - excellent food.
We left on the first free shuttle to the pier. Got in line, checked in and then waited for our boarding number (#1) to be called. Not more than 30 minutes. We got on, had our picture taken, and headed to the Windjammer for lunch. We were early, so we found a table and enjoyed our first cruise meal. After we were done we went to the solarium, found chairs in the shade to read for a while, we also jumped in the hot tub and pool before heading to our room. We waited for the rush to die down and made our way to deck #7, room 7644.
I booked a balcony cabin and got a great rate. The room was what we expected - more than enough room, adequate storage, well kept up (though we barely saw our steward for the week), love the shower door - no curtain to rub up against you! This was the first cruise I have felt we did not use our balcony enough. Yes, we sat there, but our sea days were so cool (I had read about it, but was somehow still surprised at how uncomfortable the wind made the last two sea days) and our port days so humid, that I barely wanted to be out there. I may have to rethink my stance on balconies for future cruises.
It is nice to get rid of any carryon bags and then go explore the ship. This is the first ship that had the Royal Promenade. It is beautiful, but I often wondered about the location of certain bars and the lack of windows. Most were blocked by lifeboats (I know, they are a necessity) and it took away from the experience to have no view - specifically the champagne bar, which was my favorite place on the Brilliance. We did enjoy Vintages on a couple of occasions. The cheese and fruit plate is great to pair with the wine. I was also not impressed by the cafe. I had read wonderful reviews of the food, but I found it so-so. The pizza was fine, the cookies were great when they were fresh - but were often stale, and they put condiments on the sandwiches which made them basically inedible to me. Our favorite bar was Ellington's - spectacular view over the pool area and the ocean. Great for a sail-a-way or pre-dinner drink.
We did enjoy a couple of the production shows - DH was amazed that we made it to more than one show. Plus, a few games of trivia. We also enjoyed the art auctions - I know feelings are very mixed on these, but we like them and usually purchase some pieces. This trip was not an exception and I expect a very large package in a few weeks. We also spent some time in the casino and probably broke even at the craps table.
I made it to the gym a time or two, certainly not enough! It was fine, but small, especially the free weight area. I did not use the spa. I have aestheticians at home that are exceptional, so I just scheduled appointments at home for my return! I did try to go to a few seminars, but found that the times in the compass and the actual times were not the same. No big loss, but how hard is it to get the compass accurate?
We choose My Time Dining - much prefer this option to a set time. While I miss meeting other passengers at meals (a highlight on our first cruise), I want to eat when I am hungry, not when I am told to. We only waited for a table the last night and that was because we had the same waiter and assistant waiter all week and were willing to wait for a table in their section. They were exceptional - they brought us more food than we could ever eat and we felt very pampered. The head waiter was also the best we have seen - not just stopping by on the last night for a tip, but a visible presence every night. Overall, I enjoyed the food. One night I was not thrilled, but so be it, I did not starve!
The Windjammer food was always good and plentiful. We ate most breakfast and lunch meals there - one breakfast in the MDR - the only rude service of the whole trip - and we saw no need to go back. The sushi at Jade in the evenings was great, I wish it had opened earlier than 6:30, as it would have made a great late afternoon snack with a cocktail, but the hours tended to conflict with dinner. We did not eat in any of the specialty restaurants. The food in the MDR more than met our needs.
Sadly, they always do make you leave. We had an LA excursion booked, so we met in the theater and simply followed the directions to leave the boat. Overall, we were very happy with our cruise (my very favorite type of vacation) and the itinerary. I am not sure I would ever choose to sail the west coast again, the weather on sea days is a big deterrent and it is a much longer flight than to Florida. I liked the ship and would happily sail this class again.
Excursion reviews: Cabo San Lucas (tender port) - Chileno Bay Snorkeling Adventure
We love to snorkel and knew it would be a part of this vacation, after some research we choose to stick with RCI, as Cabo is a tender port and we wanted to be "taken care of" and not worry. We still got off the ship as quickly as possible to walk to the Hard Rock Cafe for DH's souvenir glass (we choose margarita as it seemed so appropriate to the destination). It was a good 15 minute walk both ways and it was hot.
The bad part - both ways we were constantly harassed by vendors. We kept walking with a polite no, but wow! Even after we met up with the tour and were walking (as a group, clearly part of a tour) to the catamaran, we were being harassed by vendors.
We got on the catamaran and it became perfect. There were lots of fish to see at the snorkeling site. The crew on the boat was super friendly and accommodating. After getting out of the water they offer snacks and drinks (alcoholic and non alcoholic), they tasted great and the margaritas pack a punch!
Mazatlan - Mazatlan Frank - All Day City Tour
This was a great tour. We were the only people he had booked that day (another couple cancelled). Great personalized attention and he is so informative. First we went to the cathedral - pretty outside, great story about the Star of David in the stained glass windows to honor the Jewish family that donated money to build the cathedral. It was stunning inside, definitely worth a stop to walk through. Saw a cliff diver - awesome sight, but clearly those who do it are braver (crazier) than I am! He drove us around old town and then gave us a walking tour. We bought a mask at a leather shop and an ice cream bar from the artist (his new business) and we toured the restored theater.
We then drove to the Golden Zone and did some shopping. Then off to lunch at Tony's on the Beach - great food at a great location! Best shrimp I have ever eaten. After lunch we drove the El Cid residential area and them on to the newer resorts being built. A great tour overall. Frank is so pleasant and knowledgeable.
Puerto Vallarta - Sierra Madre Hiking Exploration
We wanted to do some type of active excursion and this one seemed to be interesting and left us with much of the day to do other things if we choose to. It took about 4 hours, only about 10 other passengers, with an informative drive on the way there. It was fun and HOT! It includes bottled water and a snack (small quesadilla, chips w/salsa & guacamole) which was very welcome when we were done - plus a menu you could order from for extra. There is a zip line there. I have NO interest in that, DH considered it, but decided not to do it. I think for those taking the tour it cost $60. They end with a tequila tasting. Informative and good, but I prefer my tequila in a margarita, not straight!
Los Angeles - Sunseeker Hollywood Tour
We had a red eye flight home that night which left us with way too many hours in port! We booked this tour to see part of the city, take up some time, and get us to the airport. The tour part was nice - we saw Olvera Street (great churro), the guide pointed out may sights along the way to Hollywood where we walked around for about 45 minutes. Cool to see! Sadly our camera battery had died so no photos! Then back in the bus to the Farmer's Market for lunch and shopping for about an hour. We then were driven to the airport and dropped off based on airline.
The only complaint: no communication. The buses were late, so we are standing around in a group not entirely sure what to do. When the buses arrived there are no instructions, but if you move they yell at you to go back where you were. Thankfully we were not on the bus with the guide who kept barking orders, as I was far from pleased with his customer service and annoyed that RCI was not doing a better job with their end of this excursion. And I had two other excursions with them on this cruise that met and exceeded my expectations.