Note: I am currently sailing on my first Princess cruise ever aboard Discovery Princess on a 4-day trip from Los Angeles to Mexico. During these daily updates I’ll provide details on the experience and share what it’s like.
You can read other days here:
- Live Blog (Day 1): Sailing the “Love Boat” for the First Time Ever
- Live Blog (Day 2): A Busy Day in One of America’s Prettiest Cities
- Live Blog (Day 3): Sailing, Swimming, and Singing at Sea
Some of the most memorable days on a cruise are those that take you in a completely different direction than you expected. The final day of my first cruise aboard Princess did exactly that… and it’s something that I won’t forget any time soon.
Ensenada, Mexico was the final stop on this four-day cruise, and to be honest, I wasn’t expecting that much. I had never visited the port before so I wasn’t too sure on what we would do for the day. The shore excursions offered on the ship didn’t sound like they were up my alley, so I figured that we would just spend the day exploring on our own.
Arriving in port under sunny and clear skies, I got my first look at the area from the ship. The city seems relatively compact, and is backed by mountains, giving a nice backdrop — especially with everything lit up under the morning sun.
After breakfast, we headed off the ship. There’s a shuttle into town for $4 round trip, but we elected to just walk since we didn’t really know what we wanted to see or do. Heading into town, there’s actually a boardwalk right by the port that gives you a great view of the ships. There you’ll find some restaurants, vendors selling all sorts of souvenirs, and an enormous flagpole with the largest flag I think I’ve ever seen. (Our captain later came on the intercom in the evening and mentioned it’s the second-largest flag in Mexico, behind the one in Mexico City.)
Walking into town, you start to get a feel for Ensenada. For one, despite being not far from our previous port, San Diego, it feels a world away. There’s an open-air fish market selling all sorts of fresh catch. Downtown features a main drag that’s teeming with vendors and restaurants catering to tourists. In general, it feels a bit rustic — especially if you’re used to cruise ports that cater solely to tourism like Cozumel. And while it’s on the water, this port doesn’t offer up beach and surf activities like you get on the Caribbean side of Mexico.
So for the morning we simply explored, checked out some shops for souvenirs and just generally took in the sights and sounds. While it was interesting, it wasn’t exactly memorable, to be honest.
But that was about to change.
First, we found a small restaurant — Sabina — tucked away from the main street for a little lunch. With photos of the founder with Anthony Bourdain on the wall, it seemed like a safe choice for something good. We ordered tacos, including trying El Gobenador — a taco made with fresh marlin. I don’t know if marlin is exactly my favorite thing to eat, but as something I just can’t get back home, I’m glad I tried it.
Following lunch, we stepped back outside and notice that it’s raining, and people are huddled under a nearby archway to stay dry. Only then, I realize that people aren’t just huddled here to get out of the rain. People are now everywhere alongside both sides of the street, police have taped off side streets, and they are also driving by on motorcycles to clear the way. Just 45 minutes earlier, it wasn’t like this at all.
That’s when I put it together. I had seen all sorts of confetti on the ground and some Mardi Gras style decorations here and there earlier. These folks were lining up for a parade for Carnival. It just so happened that our ship was in port with perfect timing to catch it, and we had no idea.
After about 15 minutes of waiting, the parade starts with some classic cars and trucks that have been restored, including a number with some hydraulics to make them bounce up and down. Then come the dance troupes. Then the women in headdresses and skimpy outfits advertising the local Internet provider. And then things get even bigger. Eighteen wheelers and trucks carrying trailers make their way down the street with music blaring, people dancing, and throwing candy and beads.
What’s best is that many of the floats are themed, but some are just a wild mish-mash. Spider-Man seemed to make an appearance randomly on floats, as did a giant Gene Simmons KISS statue surrounded by costumed dancers, and a man wearing a gorilla costume. And then that’s followed by horses “dancing” as they make their way down the parade route. It was loud, colorful, and high energy… and just a little off-the-wall.
And while I’ve had a lot of fun throughout this trip, there’s no doubt it’s the most memorable moment… despite not being planned at all.
Final Thoughts on What It’s Like to Sail Princess
So now that this trip has wrapped up, what’s the big takeaway from sailing my first cruise on Princess?
First and foremost, I had a great time. I liked the more relaxed feel, smaller crowds, and the ports of call were a great time.
In total, I’ve traveled on more than 20 cruises, across just about every major cruise line. One thing that I’ve noticed is that while they each have their own personalities, so much of the experience is similar. I like to say that no matter which line you cruise, 80% of the experience will be the same. But it’s that 20% that’s a little different that can make you love one cruise line over another.
That seems to hold true with Princess.
In many ways, the experience is similar to what you find on other lines. Cabins are similar, there’s big focus on pools, food, drinks, and entertainment. You can gamble in the casino, relax in a hot tub, eat at a fancy restaurant, and watch a show in a theater. So taking a cruise on Princess overall feels familiar to other lines.
But there are some differences that may make you love the line if it fits your style. The biggest difference is that Princess definitely puts the focus on adults. It’s not adults-only by any means, and yes, kids are welcomed. But compared to more family-oriented lines like Carnival or Royal Caribbean, it’s just not the same.
For many people, that’s ideal. In fact, I heard one passenger talking about how this was his second cruise ever, and he loved that there weren’t as many children running around as his last trip on another line. I mentioned in a previous post that Princess is more “date night” than “theme park,” and I think that’s still accurate.
It’s also just a more “mature” line in general. For instance, there’s a cruise director, but they aren’t coming over the intercom seemingly every hour to tell you about what’s going on around the ship in a wacky voice or always telling you about some new sale in the shops. And there aren’t conga lines or a wild sail away party blaring dance music way too loud when you depart your port.
That’s not to say it is stuffy. Despite being more upscale, I’ve never once felt out of place, despite being a pretty casual guy. There are also still plenty of moments to let loose and have fun (e.g. karaoke, enjoying drinks, etc.).
If you have a honeymoon, an anniversary, or just want a cruise that’s a bit more subdued and focused on adults without being stodgy then Princess seems perfect for you. If you have a couple of kids who want to eat finger foods and ride waterslides all day, there are other lines that are a better fit.
- One final note about the wi-fi: It has simply not been good this trip. Speeds seem to be around 1 Mbps (home Internet often runs between 30-100 Mbps). I went to the Internet desk the second day and was told it’s just slow and likely would not improve.
Oddly enough I was able to stream Netflix, though it was blurry. But uploading these daily blog posts has taken a long time. If you want to disconnect while on a cruise, maybe that’s no big deal. If you need to be in touch back home, it can be frustrating.
- The medallion definitely has some advantages, as long as you’re comfortable being tracked around the ship. Unlike a keycard, the medallion provides your location automatically. So when you go to a bar, for example, your account and image comes up for the bartender. There’s no card to scan. It can be a little strange when you visit a spot and the staff already knows your name!