The best Mexico cruises for every type of traveler

Sep 4, 2020

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Talk to just about anyone you know and ask them if they’ve vacationed in Mexico. Chances are they have. It’s an incredibly popular spot for land-based resort vacations. And while Mexican ports have been mainstays on cruise itineraries for years, these sailings are getting more and more popular. Cruising to Mexico has increased steadily each year from 2013 through 2019, according to Cruise Lines International Association data. Last year nearly 9 million travelers boarded cruise ships bound for Mexico, a 13.5 percent increase over 2018.

Mexico’s growing popularity with cruisers is likely tied to its variety. While more than half of cruisers sailing to Mexico in 2019 called at Cozumel, off the eastern coast of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, several cruise lines also offer Mexico itineraries visiting Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlán on the Pacific coast.

Other Mexico itineraries feature Cabo San Lucas on the southern tip of the Baja California Peninsula, and Mexican ports including Costa Maya, Ensenada, Huatulco and Loreto are now staples on numerous itineraries.

In fact, when it comes to Mexico cruises there may be too much of a good thing, as an internet search of “cruise lines sailing to Mexico” generates thousands of results. There are hundreds of Mexico itinerary options, so it’s easy to understand how potential travelers would find the selection process confusing and complicated.

So, which cruise line is the best for travel to Mexico? Invariably, the answer lies within the heart of the traveler. Simply put, what are you seeking in a shipboard vacation?

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In This Post

Is your style casual and comfortable or elegant and exclusive? Does the idea of a large, feature-filled resort vacation excite you or does your ideal environment offer gourmet cuisine and white-glove service in an intimate, luxurious atmosphere? Are you traveling on a budget or with extended family? Or, are you a couple in search of an ideal romantic getaway?

Mexico’s diverse ports add another element to the equation. Ports of call are the beginning and end of the voyage for many cruisers, whose access to beautiful beaches, historic and cultural attractions, water sports, shopping and fun nightlife are frequently linked to which Mexico ports their itinerary includes.

The key to finding the right Mexico cruise for you comes down to determining what kind of vacationer you are and then exploring and narrowing down the options. Travel advisors are trained to “qualify” their clients in the same way: by determining their clients’ individual vacation tastes and preferences to ensure the advisor selects the perfect (or as close as possible) vacation choice.

Related: The best Caribbean cruise for every type of traveler

We help you below with everything you need to successfully duplicate the same process. The Mexico cruises detailed here are segmented into categories for virtually every type of seagoing vacationer, meaning you can use the information to choose the voyage ideally suited to your tastes.

Use this guide to conjure an idea of the type of cruise you’re interested in learning more about, and then follow up (on your own or with the help of a cruise-selling travel agent) to explore specific ships, itineraries, home ports and rates. You’ll discover there is a Mexico ship, itinerary and cruise for nearly every vacationer.

Related: 4 scenarios when you should use a travel agent

Best Mexico cruises for mega-resort fans

Perfect Day at CoCo Cay - Royal Caribbean
Perfect Day at CoCo Cay (Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean)

Vacationers come in all types, and while some holiday travelers prefer tranquil surroundings and serene atmospheres, millions of others dream of spending their precious days off fully engaged in non-stop activity and diverse attractions. Today’s mega-scale cruise ships were created for just these sorts of folks.

The largest cruise vessels replicate the land-based mega-resort experience, with the added element of a seagoing voyage highlighted by exotic warm-weather ports. While the ships of MSC Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean are at the forefront, it’s the latter that is the heavyweight champ of this category.

Related: These are the best times to visit Mexico

Royal’s Oasis-class ships are ultimate megaships, each 20 percent larger than every other ship afloat and offer big lovers the ultimate way to cruise to Mexico. The vessels each measure 1,181 feet long and 198 feet wide and carry a staggering 6,296 guests with each berth filled.

With passenger decks and seven “neighborhoods,” each filled with imaginative onboard experiences, these vessels set the standard for megaship scale, amenities, facilities and services.

Indoors, guests will encounter the Royal Promenade, a shipboard pedestrian plaza lined with shops, restaurants, bars and a Latin dance club. Central Park is a lush indoor hideaway open to the sky and filled with flowering gardens and exotic trees. Restaurants like Chops Grille, one of 20 aboard Oasis ships, feature upscale dining.

The extensive outer decks offer waterslides and rides, multiple pools and lounge areas plus giant water slides, surfing simulators, rock climbing walls and zip lines.

Oasis of the Seas visits Cozumel as part of seven-night western Caribbean voyages from Fort Lauderdale and Miami, and Puerto Costa Maya on seven-night “Western Caribbean & Perfect Day” itineraries that also call at Roatan, Honduras and Perfect Day at CoCo Cay, Royal Caribbean’s private Bahamian island experience.

MSC Cruises’ MSC Meraviglia, which will visit Cozumel, Mexico in 2021 as part of the line’s 14-night Caribbean and Bahamas itineraries, is among the 10 largest cruise ships in the world and qualifies as a mega-vessel in just about every aspect.

MSC Meraviglia
Fast-growing MSC Cruises has added several new activity-packed megaships in recent years, including MSC Meraviglia. (Photo courtesy of MSC Cruises)

There’s a 315-foot central promenade, an atrium-like space lined with boutiques, restaurants and public spaces for shopping, eating and relaxing. The promenade also hosts evening music, parties and entertainment.

There’s also a two-deck “inside” promenade with an LED dome, an exclusive upper-deck Yacht club and an amusement area connected to an outdoor water park. Meraviglia guests geared up for hands-on fun can test their motor skills in Formula 1 race car simulators or knock over a few pins in the ship’s full-sized bowling alley.

Meraviglia is one of several cruise vessels deployed on extended Mexico routes that include Caribbean ports. Although MSC offers a fraction of the Mexico sailings available from Norwegian and Royal Caribbean, Meraviglia is the second-largest class of megaship sailing regularly to Mexico.

The other contender in Mexico’s mega-ship skirmish is Norwegian Cruise Line, whose largest ship, Norwegian Bliss, will offer five- and seven-day Mexican Riviera cruises departing round-trip from Los Angeles in 2021 and 2022. The Bliss Itineraries will feature calls at Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlán and Cabo San Lucas.

After multiple sailings aboard Norwegian ships, I’ve personally found the vessels deliver a mega-cruise experience that skillfully blends big-ship largesse with cutting-edge contemporary touches.

For example, Norwegian Bliss offers cruisers a go-kart course on Deck 19 (“the largest race track at sea”), a Star Wars-inspired laser tag battleground on Deck 20 and Deck 16’s Aqua Park, where guests can take on the Aqua Racer, tandem waterslide. Guests in search of a more relaxing experience can sit it out poolside in a lounge chair or hot tub while enjoying a tropical drink.

The top deck of Norwegian Encore includes a sprawling go-kart track and a outdoor laser tag area. (Photo courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line).
The top deck of Norwegian Encore includes a sprawling go-kart track and a outdoor laser tag area. (Photo courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line)

Another Norwegian mega-ship, 3,998-guest Norwegian Encore, will offer Mexico calls in 2021 via a 17-day Panama Canal itinerary that features visits to Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta.

Related: 11 things to know before visiting Mexico

Best Mexico cruises for families

Disney Cruise Line Bucaneer Blast fireworks
Disney Cruise Line’s “Bucaneer Blast” fireworks show. (Photo by Todd Anderson/Disney Cruise Line)

There’s an appreciable degree of crossover between the mega-ship and family cruise categories, pushing Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean into this grouping. However “Fun Ships” operator Carnival Cruise Line is also at the head of the family-cruise class, both in terms of its clientele (Carnival carries more children than any other cruise line) and the number of Mexico itineraries the company will offer in 2021 and 2022. Disney Cruise Line is another natural family-market player in Mexico.

As a means of selecting among the major players, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean offer the destination’s largest ships, with the aforementioned widest array of activities for guests of all ages. Of course, for some families, there’s no substitute for a Disney resort experience, whether on land or (in this case) at sea, and Mickey does not fail to excite the brand’s loyal followers.

Disney’s largest vessels, 4,000-passenger Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, visit Cozumel on five- and seven-night voyages from Port Canaveral, Florida, while 2,700-passenger Disney Wonder features Cozumel and Progreso on its five-night western Caribbean itineraries sailing from New Orleans, plus Costa Maya on five-night western Caribbean cruises from Galveston, Texas.

Disney’s ships feature clubs for tots to teens, adults-only areas and pools for all ages. Onboard entertainment features the brand’s legendary shows, from the live music comedy “Disney’s Aladdin – A Musical Spectacular” to live-action engagement with more than a dozen Star Wars characters during a “Star Wars Day at Sea.”

As Disney aficionados likely know, the privilege of sailing aboard the S.S. Mickey isn’t cheap. Travelers are almost certain to pay substantially more for Disney family cruise than for one with Royal Caribbean, Carnival or Norwegian.

Related: Cruise line showdown — Comparing Carnival, Disney and Royal Caribbean for families

Best Mexico cruises for travelers on a budget

Carnival Cruise Line in Cozumel
Carnival passengers headed into Cozumel for a day in port. (Photo by Katarina Hostovecka/Shutterstock.com)

Carnival Cruise Line is the price leader in virtually every region the operator sails, and the same is true for Mexico. Carnival’s Mexico sailings are available at rates below most of its contemporary class competition, and the line offers cruises calling at Mexican ports from Long Beach, San Diego and San Francisco and from several U.S. cities including Mobile, Alabama, New Orleans and Tampa, Florida, as part of Caribbean itineraries.

The multi-city strategy also plays into Carnival’s pricing scheme as the deployment in multiple U.S. “home ports,” i.e., major cities that place Carnival’s Mexico departures within driving distance of millions of potential vacationers, also reduces the overall cost to travel aboard Carnival’s Mexico sailings.

Once aboard, travelers will find Carnival’s ships don’t match the sheer scale of the largest vessels from Royal Caribbean or Norwegian, or offer some of the cutting-edge guest innovations found aboard those lines’ newest ships.

Yet Carnival ships are nevertheless filled with plenty of guest-pleasing amenities, facilities and services. Travelers on the line’s newest ships will find expansive pools, hot tubs, water parks and on-deck “Seaside Theater” big-screen movies. There are also top-deck SportSquare areas featuring ropes courses, basketball courts and miniature golf courses.

Even with cruise fleets reduced somewhat following the COVID-19 crisis, Carnival deploys the largest number of cruise ships and carries the most guests among cruise brands. The line’s most consistent attribute is “fun,” and that aspect is certainly evident aboard most Carnival voyages. If you enjoy loud partying, all-night dance clubs and “hairy chest” contests around the pool deck, a Carnival cruise is definitely for you.

Related: 13 cruise ships to be scrapped or sold as Carnival Corp. manages COVID fallout

Cost-conscious vacationers can also work with experienced travel advisors to ferret out discounted rates for Norwegian or Royal Caribbean itineraries featuring most of the same Mexico ports offered by Carnival. Guests should know Carnival’s ships are generally more populous in comparison with its contemporary competitors as its “space ratio” — the amount of interior space available per guest – is measurably lower than the ship operated by Norwegian and Royal Caribbean.

Best Mexico cruises for solo travelers

(Photo courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line)
One of the Norwegian Epic’s Studio lounges you get access to with their Studio accommodations. (Photo courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line)

Norwegian Cruise Line and solo cruise travel go hand in hand. Norwegian’s “Studio” accommodations are standard aboard several of the line’s ships.

The staterooms feature full-size beds and separate bath areas plus access to a private Studio Lounge. Unlike travelers sailing alone in double-occupancy accommodations, Norwegian does not charge a single supplement as Studio cabins are specifically designed and priced for solo travelers.

Guests access Norwegian Breakaway’s Studio stateroom complex on decks 10 and 11 via private keycard access. Each stateroom additionally features a one-way window to the ship’s corridor and average between 97 and 131 square feet. A handful of the Studios connect so travelers who wish to stay closer can do so while still maintaining privacy.

I’ve yet to sail in one of these cabins but multiple colleagues report they are small but comfortable, with pleasing mood lighting adding to the experience. Guests in these staterooms should be comfortable with “inside” staterooms that provide no sea view, but as some travel agents point out, most travelers in these accommodations often don’t spend much time their rooms.

Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Joy’s seven-night Western Caribbean cruises departing round-trip from Miami offer calls at Costa Maya and Cozumel. Norwegian Sun‘s five-night sailings departing round-trip from Orlando also visit Costa Maya and Cozumel.

Norwegian Bliss also features Studio accommodations and is offering seven-night Mexican Riviera cruises in 2021 and 2022 that include calls at Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlán and Ensenada.

Cruise newcomer Virgin Voyages is also weighing anchor in solo traveler waters. Virgin’s 2,770-passenger Scarlet Lady include 46 cabins specifically designed for solo travelers.

Virgin Voyages Solo Sea View
Solo Sea View cabin aboard Virgin’s Scarlet Lady. (Photo courtesy of Virgin Voyages)

A handful of small-ship and luxury cruise lines, including Silversea Cruises and Crystal Cruises, offer discounted rates and dedicated onboard programming for solo travelers.

Best Mexico cruises for luxury lovers

Today’s luxury cruise segment most mirrors the widespread perception of cruise vacations as sybaritic playgrounds for the wealthy. That caricature is in many ways accurate for this segment, as the deluxe cruise category is typified by cutting-edge ships distinguished by lavish accommodations, top-shelf amenities and services and gourmet cuisine.

Mexico is by no means mainstream luxury cruise territory, as vessels across this segment spend more time in Asia and Europe. But it is possible to track down luxury cruise ships that offer Mexico sailings.

Passengers who sign up for Crystal Cruises’ 116-night World Cruise departing round-trip from Miami in January 2022 aboard Crystal Serenity will experience three Mexican ports: Cabo San Lucas, Manzanillo and Zihuatenejo. Crystal also offers 18- and 28-day segments of the 2022 World Cruise that include the Mexico ports.

Crystal Serenity
The 980-passenger Crystal Serenity will visit the Maldives in 2022 as part of an around-the-world voyage from Miami. (Photo courtesy of Crystal Cruises)

As with other lines, some of the luxury operators’ Mexico calls are part of extended wintertime Caribbean itineraries. For example, Silversea Cruises’ Silver Shadow is offering a 24-day San Juan to Fort Lauderdale sailing in December 2020 that will visit Progreso and Cozumel. Silversea has canceled sailings through Oct. 31, 2020. That date could be extended, thus canceling the above-mentioned itinerary.

The same Silversea ship will visit the same ports in January and April 2021 as part of 10- and 11-day voyages departing round-trip from Fort Lauderdale. Meanwhile, Silver Cloud’s 15-day San Diego to Guayaquil will call at Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, and Acapulco in 2021.

Several luxury cruises calling at Mexican ports are linked to extended spring and wintertime “repositioning” voyages, via which operators move ships (and luxury-class vessels in particular) between the Americas and Europe. These sailings also frequently incorporate Panama Canal transits, as luxury ships continue on to the lucrative Alaska market for the summer.

In April 2021 Seabourn Cruise Line’s Seabourn Sojourn will visit Cabo San Lucas, Huatulco and Puerto Chiapas as part of a 21-day Panama Canal voyage scheduled for October 2020. Seabourn Odyssey will call at the same ports during a 35-day Caribbean and Panama Canal journey departing from Bridgetown, Barbados.

Best Mexico cruises for off-the-beaten-path travel

Baja Mexico is a highly popular itinerary among small-ship and expedition-style cruise operators. Sea of Cortez itineraries from Lindblad Expeditions aboard 100-passenger National Geographic Venture provide guests with opportunities to accompany marine biologists on up-close encounters with gray whales migrating to the Bahía Magdalena inlets.

UnCruise Adventures Mexico Magdalena Bay
UnCruise guests on a whale-watching excursions in Mexico’s Magdalena Bay. (Photo courtesy of UnCruise Adventures)

Another expedition cruise specialist, UnCruise Adventures, will offer seven-night “Baja’s Bounty” journeys sailing round-trip from Cabo San Lucas and visiting lesser-visited Baja California ports including Bahía Agua Verde, Isla San Francisco and Isla Espíritu Santo in 2021 and 2022. The operator’s 86-passenger ships offer “uncommon adventures” hosted by expert guides.

Traditional Mexico itineraries are available from Ponant, which advertises “five-star culture and relaxation,” and is offering seven-night western Caribbean and Yucatan voyages aboard 184-passenger Champlain departing round-trip from Cozumel and featuring calls at Progreso.

Featured image by Ovidiu Curic/Shutterstock.com

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