Monday 26 September 2011

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Disney Cruise Line - Port Adventures

Puerto Vallarta from the boat.  The perfect viewpoint.
You know what the problem is with having great entertainment and endless food?  Who wants to get off the boat?  I didn't, but I was feeling some sort of peer pressure as we pulled in to Puerto Vallarta.  I guess when they advertise these cruises people imagine themselves visiting exotic ports of call and having once in a lifetime experiences as they zipline through the jungle or scuba dive to the wreck of a 15th century Spanish Galleon.  The only once in a lifetime experience that I was interested in was having a cruise ship buffet all to myself while all the other suckers tried to find their way around Puerto Vallarta.  A quick check with the children revealed that everybody was pretty happy with the amount of Puerto Vallarta that we could see from the verandah of our cabin, and there was no need to actually leave the boat and venture in to town.  Only Lori wanted to go check out the city.

So the first thing we saw when the five of us disembarked the boat was a giant Walmart. This seemed like an easy way to ease in to the Mexican culture, so we headed over to the megastore, along with what seemed like an inordinate number of our fellow passengers.  I guess the visions of diving and ziplining would have to wait until after they'd stocked up on Twinkies and Fruit Loops.  Strangely, it was in Walmart that I found my calling for this port venture.  Prices in Mexican Walmarts are marked in pesos and the exchange rate when we were there was roughly 16 pesos per American dollar.  If you want to see people looking confused, tell them that they have to divide the marked price by 16.  Now math just happens to be my thing, so I spent my time wandering around the store, and every time I saw somebody looking puzzled by the price of something, I would convert it to US dollars and shout out the new total for them.  This entertained me for quite a while until I happened to wander a little too close to the women's lingerie department.  Apparently shouting out $50 US at women holding up negligees can be misconstrued in foreign countries, and it was decided that we should probably gather our purchases and make our way back out in to town.

The only real local store we could find.
Here's where you can learn from our mistakes.  When going ashore in a town you are unfamiliar with, have a plan.  We thought that we would just go in to town, take a look around at some local shops, and then come back on board.  Well in Puerto Vallarta, unless you want to call Walmart a local shop, that's not that easy.  The port is a couple of miles from the tourist areas, and it's not exactly a nice beachfront stroll down there.  We walked for a while, but quickly got tired of the heat and lack of places to see, so we turned around and headed back to the ship.  If you're planning on going ashore in Puerto Vallarta, I'd book a shore excursion of some sort, or at the very least find out where to catch a taxi in to town.

The Disney Cruise Line has plenty of options available for you at each port.  I counted 23 different outings being sold for Puerto Vallarta at the Port Adventures desk on the ship, some of which looked almost interesting enough to tempt me away from my buffet fantasy.  The advantage of buying your tour from Disney is that they will take care of everything for you, and you are guaranteed to be back in time for departure or they will make arrangements to get you back (most likely holding the ship for you).  The disadvantage, of course, is price.  You will pay more booking a port adventure through Disney than if you booked it yourself, but if you book it yourself and something goes wrong, you're on your own.  I leave these decisions up to each of you, but again I encourage you to plan something.

The second port of call for the Disney Wonder in Mexico is Cabo San Lucas.  This has to be one of the most beautiful ports in the world (and having only been to Los Angeles, Puerto Vallarta, and Cabo, I feel comfortable making that sweeping statement) and it's amazing vistas compel you to leave the ship and get a closer look, although I will point out that the buffet on the top deck has a complete wall of windows and the view from there would probably be pretty amazing too.  The cruise ships are too big to go right into the shore at Cabo, so they use a system called tendering, which means the ship drops anchor in the bay and little passenger boats come out and shuttle all the passengers over to the town.  It's a little chaotic, especially when the sea lions take it upon themselves to race you into shore, but it seems to get the job done and it means that the beautiful cityscape doesn't get blocked out by a massive terminal.

We actually got to spend two days in Cabo, so on the first day we went ashore just to take a look around.  You can get away with this here, as there is a line of shops and restaurants as soon as you step off the docks.  We spent the day wandering, sampling some authentic Mexican cuisine (Dairy Queen) and checking out some local stores (the leather whip store was my favorite) before heading back to the ship.  While making our way to the docks, we came upon a booth called Cub Paradise for Help, which advertises itself as a wildlife preservation agency.  Their deal is that for $25 you can get a picture taken holding their baby tigers.  Both of my girls are crazy about animals, so we decided to give it a go.  It occurred to me later that real animal preservation agencies probably wouldn't have live tigers in a baby crib on a sidewalk in Mexico, but it seemed reasonable to me at the time.  They set us on a bench and grabbed the two animals (I think it was one lion and one tiger) out of the crib and handed them to us.  I was hoping for just a quick picture and then put the animals back, but the people running the booth seemed to have a specific pose in mind, and were attempting to get the animals to look at the camera.  When the jingling of keys didn't accomplish this goal, they pulled out the heavy artillery, and started showing the animals the ice cream cones they had.  This seemed to appeal to the lion's basic instinct to stalk and prey upon waffle cones, and he became very focused on the soft serve treats that the people with the cameras had.  The tiger, however, had decided that he was all done, and started to growl in that "It's time to put me down" sort of tone.  My daughter, who was holding the tiger, didn't really know what to do, as dropping a tiger doesn't seem like one of those things you should do, even if you want to.  I could have helped her out, but I'd joined the lion in being fascinated with the ice cream that was being waved in front of me, and I was trying to work out if we had enough time to double back to the Dairy Queen before the last tender back to the cruise ship left.  Eventually my wife convinced the people running the booth that we would be fine with just one animal in the shot, and we got our picture taken, collected the print, and headed back to the ship.

The Final Shot
They gave us a copy of the two lion shot.  Can you tell I'm watching the ice cream?
On our second day in Cabo we finally wised up and booked an excursion.  We did the Dolphin Encounter at Cabo Adventures.  We did book it directly through Disney, but the marina where the program is held is less than a five minute walk from the drop off point for the ship, and you could very easily make your own reservations.  It's a very nice facility, with a beautiful view of the hills of Cabo San Lucas from the pool.  The dolphins seem very well treated, and the staff appeared very professional (and by professional I mean that at no time did anybody offer the dolphins ice cream).  The only drawbacks are that you are not allowed to bring cameras in to the facility (tell me you didn't see that one coming) and the fact that you have to wear a wetsuit to participate.  Let me advise you of something you may not know - Extra Large seems to mean something different in Mexico, possibly somewhere between petite and medium.  It took a while for me to get into the suit (possibly because I put it on backwards the first time) but once I squeezed in, the rest of the outing was fantastic.
Ours was the most basic package, so we got to sit on the edge of the pool and the dolphin would come over to us and let us pet him, then he would hop up on the edge with us for pictures.  The trainer teaches you all sorts of things that I'm sure were important, but they tend to get pushed out by the whole "I'm petting a dolphin!" thing.  There is a photographer assigned to each group to take pictures for you, and although there is no pressure to buy the pictures at the end of your tour, how do you spend time in the water with the dolphins and not want a souvenir.  Suffice to say your bill will run a lot higher than the $25 you paid to get your picture taken with the dairy infatuated lion.

Please understand that our family doesn't have a particularly strong sense of adventure when it comes to these kind of activities, and our choices should probably be viewed as the mildest of options.  There are plenty more things you can choose to do such as sport fishing, whale watching, horseback riding or regatta yacht racing.  You can make the story of your port visit as exciting or as relaxing as you like.  Of course if you really want something to tell the grandchildren about, tell them about that time you took on the buffet on the Disney Wonder all by yourself.


  1. Love your story Steve....we are so missing the cruise and can't wait to go again....I gotta have Eddie read this!!!

  2. I wasn't missing it too much until I started writing this series Sherry. Now I'm really wishing I had another cruise planned for the future. Hopefully soon.

  3. Those baby cats are adorable... but yeah, I would have freaked out if a tiger started growling while I was holding it. Yikes!!

  4. I'm sure you had the same experience everytime you had to pick up Chairman Miaow.
    I have to admit that I much preferred the noise the dolphins made to the ones the tiger did.

  5. That was the most entertaining cruise review I have ever read!

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