Cruise and Beach Destinations
in the Caribbean, Mexico & Beyond
Mexican Riviera

Best Mexican Riviera Cruises

Cabo San Lucas beach; credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license
Cabo San Lucas beach; credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license

The best Mexican Riviera cruises aren’t hard to find because so many of them offer similar experiences.

Anyone who is going on a Mexican Riviera cruise for the first time will face some easy choices with ports. It’s really more of a budget and time decision.

What and where Is the Mexican Riviera? The name Mexican Riviera was supposedly invented by Princess Cruise Lines some years ago. Depending on the source, it stretches 1,700 miles on the west coast of Mexico from Ensenada in the north to Salina Cruz in the south. It consists of about 20 cities known for their resorts and cruise ports. But only a small number of these cities matter for cruise lovers.

Ports are Easy Choices

Many Mexican Riviera cruises visit three major ports: Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta. It’s not a stretch to call them The Big Three. Cruises that last seven days and six nights usually visit them.

Longer cruises visit some combination of 10 different ports of call. One of them is in California at Catalina Island, which is southwest of Los Angeles. The others are in Mexico. Besides Cabo, Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta, the other ports of call are Ensenada, Manzanillo, La Paz, Loreto, Guaymas and Topolobampo. Ensenada and Manzanillo are more common while the other four are less common.

Even Panama Canal cruises visit some ports along the Mexican Riviera. Some leave from California, travel down the Mexican and Central America coasts, go through the Panama Canal and travel north through the Caribbean to Florida. Others go in the opposite direction. They often visit one other port in the southern part of the Mexican Riviera at Acapulco.

Cruise lines that visit the Mexican Riviera include Carnival, Celebrity, Disney, Holland America, Norwegian, Oceania, Princess and Regent Seven Seas. Although these cruise lines offer some different onboard experiences, they don’t offer much variety in the Mexican Riviera ports they visit.

Unlike the Caribbean with nearly a dozen embarkation ports, the cruises usually begin at one of four cruise ports on the California coast. Most of them begin at Los Angeles or the nearby Long Beach. A smaller number start from San Diego and an even smaller number embark from San Francisco. So choosing a port for embarkation is easy.

3 Common Cruise Lengths

Mazatlán cathedral
Historic churches like this one in Mazatlán are popular attractions. Source: Wikimedia Creative Commons license
Another easy starting point is the length of the cruise. They break down into three main groups:
  1. Three to five nights
  2. Six to nine nights
  3. 10 to 12 nights

Which length cruise planners choose depends on whether they live on or near the west coast of the United States or farther away.

3 to 5 Nights

A three- to five-night cruise is most common for west coast residents or people who are visiting the west coast already for other reasons and don’t have too much extra time.

A three-night cruise often goes only to Ensenada on the northern coast of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula. Cruise ships out of Long Beach on a four-night trip usually visit just Catalina Island and Ensenada. Ships from the more southern California port of San Diego will go to Cabo San Lucas on the southern point of the Baja peninsula and nowhere else.

A five-night cruise to Cabo San Lucas may stay there for two days. But five-night cruises almost never go farther south than Cabo to major ports such as Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta.

6 to 9 Nights

A six- to nine-night cruise is the most popular choice for cruise visitors to the Mexican Riviera. They have appeal to people who live beyond the west coast because of the length of time it may take to reach the California ports via air or car.

By far, the most common ports of call for these cruises are Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta. It doesn’t matter if the cruise begins in San Diego, Los Angeles or Long Beach. The majority visit these three ports, even though six more are available.

But some of the ports of call on the longer cruises are smaller than The Big Three and offer fewer tourist attractions and shore excursions.

10 to 12 Nights

Ten- to 12-night cruises are far less common than the others. A review of available cruises on two major travel booking sites over a 12-month period found only 12 of them. Only three cruise lines offered them.

These longer cruises may embark from San Francisco in addition to San Diego, Los Angeles and Long Beach. The 10-night cruises have a little more variety with their ports of call. For example, they may visit the above three ports of Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta in addition to Manzanillo.

Some of the 10-night cruises may skip one or two of these ports and instead visit smaller ports such as La Paz and Loreto. They are on the Baja California Peninsula but face the Sea of Cortez (also known as the Gulf of California) between the peninsula and the Mexico mainland. The 12-night cruises may add two more smaller ports at Guaymas and Topolobampo.