BOB BONE'S TravelPieces  


 

The ornate atrium of the Star Princess serves as a centerpiece for the new cruise ship, which boasts more than 1,000 cabins and a variety of restaurants.

 

 

Voyage to idyllic
Mexican Riviera

Wine, dine, gamble or bask
in the sun on the  Star Princess


Text and photos by Robert W. Bone
 

 

AT SEA, OFF THE MEXICAN RIVIERA -- Ask the average Mexican where the Mexican Riviera is, and he may reply with a shrug of the shoulders.

The term is not used in Mexico. It was made up some years ago by cruise interests in California to wrap up ports visited by ships along the Pacific Coast of Mexico. It includes Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, and sometimes Acapulco.

The latest ship to begin a cruise to these places is this one, the brand-new Star Princess. It is not quite the largest such ship afloat. That title is claimed by a couple of vessels in the Royal Caribbean Line. But this particular Princess is the largest cruise ship in the Pacific. Its girth is so great that it won't fit through the Panama Canal.

Three years ago, my wife and I traveled the Mediterranean (including port calls on the real Riviera) on the Star Princess' sister ship, the Grand Princess. The Star is a virtual duplicate of the Grand, along with a third "twin," the Golden Princess. For loyal returnees, boarding the Star Princess is a case of dj vu, as even the names of the decks and of many facilities are the same. Being familiar with the layout on the Grand and the Golden means instant orientation on the Star.


 

Before moving to its Los Angeles home port, the Star Princess executed a 360-degree turn as it left Honolulu Harbor at dusk.

This summer, the Star Princess will join the fleet that runs seven-day cruises to Alaska out of Vancouver. Meanwhile, the ship has begun this series of weeklong south-of-the-border voyages round trip from Los Angeles. On three days, it calls at Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, and Cabo San Lucas.

The other four days -- two at the beginning and two at the end -- are spent at sea, generally out of sight of land. There is plenty to do, of course. All the standard goings-on are available, things like Bingo, swimming pool games, casino gambling and such. The advantage of large-ship cruising is the large choice of activities and entertainment.

There are Broadway-style revues in showrooms and lounges all over the giant vessel. A striking feature is the 748-seat Princess Theater tucked into the bow of the ship, which can mount spectacular song-and-dance shows on some nights, or just serve as a large movie house (with a rather noisy air conditioning system) at other times.

If your cabin is near the stern of the ship, as ours was, the Princess Theater and some other public facilities mean a long hike, especially if you forget your camera or something else and have to go back again.


 

The magnificent 748-seat Princess Theater, tucked into the bow of the ship, presents song-and-dance spectaculars.

"I'd like that theater a lot more if I could call a taxi to take me there," declared one wag. Stem to stern, the ship measures nearly one-fifth of a mile, although somehow it seems longer than that.

With more than 1,000 cabins, the ship's passenger list can stretch to more than 2,500. In contrast to some other runs, the Mexican cruise seems to appeal to a somewhat more youthful crowd, and there are extensive programs and facilities for youngsters available.

The trend in cruise ships now is to have more flexible restaurant arrangements, and the Star Princess subscribes to that philosophy. If you do want a traditional table with assigned first- or second-sitting in the main dining room, you can have it.

But under an arrangement Princess calls its "Personal Choice Dining," you can chow down pretty much any time you want, and in a variety of different restaurants. There's even a 24-hour buffet and bistro in case you get the hungries or the thirsties in the middle of the night.

Veteran cruisers know that once you get on a ship, your accommodations and all food and meals of any kind are included. Normally, only alcoholic beverages and tips are extra. This arrangement is not quite true on the Star Princess, however. If you want to make a reservation to dine in the two specialty restaurants, there are surcharges -- $15 per person in the Italian trattoria, or $8 in the Southwestern-style restaurant.

And especially controversial among some is the daytime Haagen-Dazs ice-cream bar, run by a concession, which charges extra for its fountain-style creations. (However, any ice-cream desserts you may order in the dining rooms are included.)


 

The Star Princess has begun weeklong south-of-the-border voyages, with Cabo San Lucas one of its ports of call.

Meals on our own recent Princess cruises have been tasty and more than adequate in every way, although some would not consider them gourmet. Some culinary offerings on past cruises such as those launched by Crystal and Celebrity often outclassed our recent Princess repasts. But then those are generally more expensive choices in the first place.

PRINCESS IS impressive in the operation of its shore excursions. Despite the need to put somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 people on buses in ports, it has come up with an almost foolproof number system for efficiently getting these folks on their way to fun on shore. The excursions we took from both the Grand and the Star were all well-designed and conducted.

Besides its showrooms, bars, etc., Princess is justly proud of several other passenger facilities, including a 24-hour Internet caf (having intermittent technical problems on our voyage), a spectacular spa facility, four swimming pools, an unusual wedding-at-sea program, and a dramatic night club and observation lounge, which seems to fly high above the stern of the vessel, and which is reached via a glass-enclosed moving sidewalk.

More than 700 cabins feature private balconies, but some passengers will want to choose these carefully. The verandas on some decks are not screened from those on the decks above, so you'd better not plan on sunbathing in your birthday suit. TVs in every cabin keep you in touch with the rest of the world via satellite. Unlike many other ships, no daily newspaper is available. Ship activities and the like are covered in a daily publication called the Princess Patter. It's required reading for those who want to get the most fun out of their cruise.


 

If you go

Per person fares for the one-week Mexican Riviera cruise on the Star Princess range from around $850 (for a windowless inside cabin) up to more than $3,000 for the best staterooms. Early booking discounts are available. Summertime weeklong cruises along the Inside Passage to Alaska begin at around $1,000 per person this year.

Information on these and other itineraries may be obtained from Princess Cruises, 24305 Town Center Drive, Santa Clarita, Calif., 91355, toll-free phone (800) PRINCESS (774-6237), or from its Web site, www.princess.com.