A cruise in the Mexican sun

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By Rebecca Antioco

A cruise to Mexico will typically take you to the “big three” of the Mexican Riviera: Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas.

All are fine destinations, offering plenty of fun, recreation and cultural activities to keep your days exciting and busy.

The additional appeal is that these itineraries are usually relatively inexpensive and short in duration – perfect for a quick and easy getaway. But having been there, done that, I decided to try a Western Caribbean vacation departing from Galveston, Texas, on the Carnival Ecstasy, which would take us to the alternate Mexican destinations of Cozumel and Progreso.

The duration of the trip was five days – one in Galveston, two at sea and one at each port. Carnival calls itself “The Fun Ship” for good reason. The days and nights are filled with contests by the pool, trivia games, live shows, entertainment in the bars and lounges and plenty of time to relax at the spa or try your luck in the casino.

My sister and I found the days at sea to be just as enjoyable as those in port. But when the opportunity to hit the shores presented itself, we took full advantage.

Cozumel is one of my favorite stops in Mexico. It’s not as overrun with tourists and spring breakers as Cancún or Cabo, but has just as much to do. Popular for scuba diving and snorkeling, it’s home to the famous Palancar Reef and clear blue waters suitable for water sports or relaxation.

Carnival offers excursions ranging from ATV adventures to snorkeling, Jeep touring or just lounging on the beach. If you’re not looking for adventure, this is a good port to explore on your own, with shopping and the world-famous Carlos ‘n’ Charlie’s restaurant and bar mere steps from the ship.

Our second stop, Progreso, is a small colonial city in Yucatan, Mexico, that is a jumping off point to visit many of the region’s Mayan ruins, the most famous of which is Chichen Itza. It is considered to be one of the most important archaeological sites in the Americas, covering more than six square miles and comprised of hundreds of ancient structures.

Another popular ruins site is Uxmal, also about a 2-hour bus ride from Progreso. Both of these tours involve a lot of walking and stair climbing, and it is advisable to wear a hat, sunscreen, light clothing and comfortable shoes.

Those who don’t want to wander so far but would still like to explore the ruins, should opt for the excursion to Dzibilchaltun (dzeeble-chal-toon), often referred to as “the other ruins” by those of us on our trip not wanting or too lazy to attempt the multi-consonant name. This trip is a 30-minute drive from the ship, allowing you more time to spend in town or onboard the ship before departing – and also less time on a motor coach.

The main agenda, to me, for any cruise is relaxation and enjoyment. This is especially true for trips to Mexico. And on Carnival, there’s never any want for either. That the trip itself is affordable, and that there are itineraries that showcase the unique and intriguing history of the Mayan culture is an exciting bonus.

Based in Phoenix, Rebecca Antioco is editor in chief of HighRoads, the official magazine of the American Automobile Association. This article was originally published in HighRoads.

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