Friday, November 20, 2009

7- night Mexican Riviera Cruise

I just returned a couple of weeks ago from the 7-night Mexican Riviera sailing aboard the Sapphire Princess.  This cruise departs out of San Pedro and it sails to Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, and Cabo San Lucas. I left the baby at home and took my sister and my friend Paige for a girls vacation which was very much needed after 19 months of being a full-time agent and mommy!  I did miss her terribly though and there were a lot of little ones on this cruise to remind me of her all the time. 

I live in Long Beach so we were able to take a $20 taxi ride to the port which was convenient and saved is the $15 per day for terminal parking.  Our boarding process was very short and went smoothly.  I was very surprised considering the ship was as large as a floating skyscraper and the 2700 passenger vessel was completely sold out.  We were in our rooms within an hour and we quickly headed up to the pool area where we overlooked the Los Angeles coast and toasted with champange.  Bon voyage!

We spent the rest of the evening roaming around the ship, trying to figure out where everything is.  For any big-ship cruisers, you can probably relate that the first few days are spent lost most of the time. The publilc areas are all still quite nice even though the ship is about to be refurbished again( it will begin sailing in Tahiti). I especially liked the Churchill Lounge (nice for a pre-dinner aperitif), the Sports Bar, and Club Fusion.  The decor was very tasteful in all the main areas and you could not tell that the ship is a little older.  The rooms however are a little bit of a different story.

They were a nice size and although I was very worried about three girls sharing one room and one closet, it all worked out well.  There was plenty of space.  On the other hand, I wasn't thrilled with the appearance of the rooms and you could tell they had already had several occupants in the last few years. The TV, the bathroom, the carpet, and the bedspreads were quite outdated but this is all supposed to be replaced with new linens, flatscreens, and more. We shared an inside cabin which is not my preference but it was a completely sold out sailing and that is all that was left. I grabbed the top berth and it was comfortable enough (not as nice as their competitors however that will hopefully change with the refurbishment as well). And although most people would probably complain about not having a window, I loved the darkness.We slept like babies!  If it wasn't for our daily wake-up call and room service bringing us coffee in the mornings, we would have slept all day! 

We enjoyed some other room amenities which accompanied Elite members that sail with Princess frequently.  My perks included complimentary mini-bar, laundry service, internet, evening canapes, priority embarkation and disembarkation, and more.  Although the mini-bar was nice, we also opted to buy a soft drink and juice card that allowed us unlimited non-alcoholic drinks. I think the card was about $60 but we used it all the time. You can buy a soft drink card, a juice card, a coffee card (for cappuccinos and espressos), an ice cream card, a wine package, and more.  The nickel and diming was a little annoying at first but it thankfully died down after a couple of days.  I guess you can't expect much more with the bigger cruise lines. If you want a more all-inclusive deal with high end service, you need to pay more and go with go all the way with Seabourn or Regent.  River cruises are also well-known for being all-inclusive. (I think I'm just spoiled).

We opted for the personal choice dining that Princess offers, which means we were able to dine whenever and wherever we wanted.  We knew we didn't necessarily want to eat at the same time every day and this especially worked out well with three girls all getting ready in the same cabin.  When we were in port, we were also able to take our time getting back to the ship and lounging around the pool before getting dressed up.  We made dinner reservations before 5pm every evening through the cabin steward and our tables were always ready after a very short wait.  I can't say much for the outside grills or the buffet on the Lido deck but the regular dining restaurants were very good, especially Sabitini's. This Italian Restaurant has a $15 per person surcharge but everyone has to do this at least once on their cruise if they sail on Princess. It was delightful. We ate for two hours straight. I couldn't count the courses. They gave us a taste of every dish imaginable in Italian cuisine. As soon as you thought you couldn't eat one more bite, they brought you coffee and and a plethora of decadent desserts.  I highly recommend it!

Our first couple of cruise days were spent at sea and we unfortunately were cursed with bad weather. We unfortunately were not able to enjoy too much of the pool and sun deck but we enjoyed other things like Bingo, the gym, a ceramins class, etc. On our third day, we were very ready to get off the ship and enjoy the warm, beautiful weather in Puerto Vallarta.  When we got off the ship, we befriended a taxi driver that took us wherever we wanted to go and stayed with us all day for only a tip (we gave him a good one)!  He was SOOO nice and knowledgeable and spoke perfect English. We all decided to go zip-lining in Puerto Vallarta's tropical jungle.  He took us to Canopy Tours Puerto Vallarta after driving us down the breathtaking coast. The canopy tour took about 2 hours and cost $81.  It was well worth the climb up the millions of steps to go flying through the trees.  The views were amazing. 

After that, we treated ourselves to a dip in the river and a few coronas.  We worked up a nice appetite and our driver took us to the most amazing restaurant in the old town.  PVR is filled with great little restaurants, bars, and beautiful homes with stained glass, Spanish tiles, and cobble stone streats. We toasted to a perfect day with some frozen mango margeritas followed by some of the best Mexican food I ever eaten. We were so sad to go and complained that we didn't have enough time there.  I will definitely go back for at least one week or even more.

Our next port was Mazatlan. The Golden Zone is the central place for hotels, beach, and shopping.  This is a good place to buy some souvenirs such as jewelry, pottery, purses, and more. I bought a beautiful set of Sterling earrings, a ring, and a bracelet for $25!  The beach was nice and we had lunch at one of the seaside hotels, overlooking the water and watching all of the jet skiiers and parasailers  We took a short dip in the ocean and the water was warm and perfect.  Although Mazatlan had beautiful warm water, great shopping, and very friendly people, we both agreed that it was more of a Spring Break hangout and we would probably would not go back in the future. 

And finally, Cabo San Lucas was our final stop before heading back to LA.  Unfortunately, we only had 1/2 day in port which was way too short to enjoy all of the beautiful scenery Cabo has to offer.  We tendered to the marina in Cabo and then took a $10 round trip taxi ride to the famous Los Arcos, stopping by to feed the fish and stare at all of the seals.  We then soaked in some sun on Lover's Beach with a good book and a Corona in hand.  You have to be a little careful in the water because the waves are really strong but it is a great place for snorkeling and enjoying the beach life.  Once again, the people in Cabo were extremely helpful and friendly.  Everyone always warns you about traveling to Mexico. Of course you have to be careful anywhere you travel, but everyone was so nice.  We even met some nice kitty cats!

The ports were definitely are favorite part of the cruise and I think cruising is a great way to see a lot of places.  You don't have too much time in each of the places, but you can find which places you like best.  They you can go back for an extended vacation in spots that you fell in love with.   I have already planned a trip back in December.  Viva La Mexico!

Monday, November 9, 2009

The fall of the Wall in Los Angeles

20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall it was time to celebrate the reunification of the 2 Germany's not only in Berlin, but also here in Los Angeles.
The Wende Museum in corporation with the Berlin Sister City Committee and the City of Berlin organized the 'Wall Project' on Wilshire Blvd. in Los Angeles. For this event real pieces of the Berlin Wall were shipped over and painted by local artists. They also installed a 40 ft. wide replication of the wall across Wilshire Blvd., which was closed for this unique event. Ute Lemper, the very well known Berlin born  singer performed a few songs just before the wall was torn down at midnight on November 9th.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Oberammergau Passion Play actors visit Nonstop Trave

Nonstop Travel Owners Chris Weike and Lisa Schmitt were excited to welcome Jesus and Mary-Magdalene to their office in Torrance, CA.
In real life named Frederik and Eva-Maria, the two young actors enjoyed a whistle stop tour through Southern California to promote the Passion Play in 2010. Of course a visit to Venice Beach and Hollywood was also on the itinerary.

Off stage Frederik is a press officer for the Passion Play and Eva is a Lufthansa flight attendant. Their lives are literally on hold from May 15 through October 3rd in 2010 and one must admire the dedication they and the inhabitants of Oberammergau bring to this historical play.

Here are some of the interesting facts about the Passion Play:

1633: The Plague has a firm grip on Bavaria. The deadly disease has spread to Oberammergau and is taking its toll of the villagers. The remaining inhabitants make a vow that every 10th year they will perform the story of the events of the last days, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

For 375 years with great pride, dignity, devotion and passion they have kept their word and performed their play.

Only people born in the village or who have lived there for at least 20 years are allowed to take part. Out of the 5200 or so inhabitants about 2500 will be involved in some way with the production, whether as front of house, as seamstresses, stage hands, musicians or performers on stage. It is a true community achievement. The year before the actual performance the villagers wishing to act gather outside the theatre and stand anxiously watching the names for the lead roles being chalked onto a board. Starting on Ash Wednesday of the previous year men and women grow their hair, and men their beards, as no wigs or false beards are allowed.

2010: Against the impressive backdrop of the Ammergau Alps in a special, purpose-built theatre, seating some 4,700 spectators, the 41st Oberammergau Passion Play will take place between 15 May and 3 October. The performance starts at 14.30 and including a three-hour break for dinner, finishes at 22.30.

Whilst the audience and symphony-size orchestra is undercover the actors perform on a stage open to the elements. For all participants it is an exhausting five months. The 41st production under the direction of Christian St├╝ckl will see a revised text, new stage designs and music along with new costumes (made in the village).

For more information about the 2010 play visit our website at