By Paul Motter
Mariner of the Seas arrived in Los Angeles in February of 2009, with Carnival Splendor arriving just two months later. Both ships are so big they had to sail around South America to get here. It was quite a feat to relocate both of these ships and it demonstrated a commitment to West Coast cruising in hopes that California and other western states would support two Mega-ships making regular runs to the Mexico Riviera.
Well, we didn't. Mariner, the largest cruise ship ever to schedule regular cruise out of Los Angeles, is leaving for good with its last cruise sailing January 9th. This ship, at 138,000-tons, is the of the popular Royal Caribbean Voyager-class, and it is one of the most unique ship to ever sail from California.
I have been suggesting to all West Coast cruisers that they try this ship before it leaves, because once it is gone you will have to fly all the way to Galveston to get sail a ship of this size - in fact, it will be the same ship, Mariner, because that is where it is eventually headed.
I have to say that it makes me a bit sad that Los Angeles can't support a ship of this size when much smaller cities, like Galveston and New Orleans, seem to have no problem supporting multiple mega-ships at the same time.
Yes, Mariner of the Seas is moving to Galveston, which incredibly enough, is also scheduled to be the homeport for Carnivals newest and biggest cruise ship, Carnival Magic (bigger than Carnival Splendor). How is it that Galveston can do what Los Angeles cannot?
Why are California cruises foundering? It is true that tourism to Mexico is down due to violence in the country, but that is largely confined to the border cities of Tijuana, Nogales and El Paso. The remote coastal cities where these ships sail have not had significant local crimes against cruise passengers reported. In fact, every cruise port is more dangerous now, look at the recent Caribbean incidents.
But crime isn't the main reason cruise numbers are down. The real reason is stigma. It was one year ago last April that we heard all of the cruise lines would be cancelling stops at all Mexican ports due to the outbreak of Mexican Flu. The virus did not even have its proper name, H1N1, yet, and to say there was a bit a sensationalism involved is an understatement.
That same morning the three largest cruise lines had each stated they had no intentions of changing their itineraries to avoid Mexico - because there were no outbreaks anywhere near where the ships landed. Then that afternoon the Department of Homeland Security recommended cancelling all "non-essential" travel to Mexico.
Within an hour every cruise ship scheduled to stop in Mexico tugged hard on the reins and came to a screeching halt. One ship with Cabo san Lucas in its sight spent seven days at sea without touching land again until the end of the cruise in Los Angeles. In retrospect, that seems pretty ridiculous, but at the time the fear meter was glowing bright red.
Demand plunged immediately as ships like Mariner were re-routed to northerly itineraries for the next two months, even calling in Vancouver, Canada in early April - not exactly the first choice of people looking to escape the cold winter weather.
Prices on seven-day Mexico cruises dropped as low as $199 per person and remained dirt cheap throughout the rest of the year. The faltering economy, especially in California, did not help any. Ironically, the outbreaks of the virus within Mexico never did escalate, or occur anywhere near any cruise ship ports of call. And to the best of my memory not a single confirmed case of H1N1 was ever reported on a cruise ship that had been to Mexico.
Still, the stigma against Mexico cruises remains and unfortunately for California the region still has not regained the popularity it was just beginning to see.
So Mariner of the Seas is leaving for good as of January 2011. This is a huge loss for California - Mariner is the biggest and most exciting cruise ship on the West Coast. Yes, we still have Sapphire Princess and Carnival Splendor, but Mariner is almost 20% larger than each of those and has a ton of onboard features not found on any other West Coast ship - such as an ice rink, rock climbing walls, a huge indoor promenade and just plenty of great space for cruising fun.
Mariner sails every Sunday from Los Angeles to Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas. You can see a deal for a seven-day Mexican Riviera cruise to the left. Prices are going up as these final cruises fill up, so book now. September through November have crept up to the $550+ range, but there are December cruises at $493 per person, double occupancy for an inside cabin, or $722 for a balcony cabin. Fares are much higher during the summer months.
West Coasters, please try this ship before it leaves. It is the most exciting ship west of Texas and no vessel of its caliber is scheduled to replace it. Mariner is great for active families of all ages. Onboard attractions include an ice rink, rollerblading, mini-golf, kids' and teens' centers, spa services, a gym, pools, hot tubs, great entertainment, and a huge indoor promenade area.
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