During the 1970s and 1980s, a fun, indulgent cruise from Los Angeles meant one thing: “The Love Boat,” the original ABC Television show. (Let’s just say I’m among the baby boomers who fondly recall those original episodes.) Aired in living rooms across North America, the show put “cruising” on the map as a vacation choice.
This year, more than 30 million travelers are expected to cruise, up 6% from last year. And for travelers who have long found Florida departures inconvenient, many lines are bolstering their California line-up at both the Port of Los Angeles (San Pedro) and nearby Port of Long Beach.
From the Golden State, travelers can sail north to the glacier-filled waters surrounding Alaska, or navigate the Pacific to the Hawaiian Islands. There are also cruises leaving the Los Angeles area that will carry you south, to Mexico, and beyond — including those that squeeze through the Panama Canal.
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Mexican Riviera Cruises
Seeking sun, tequila tasting and great Mexican food south of the border? Who better to take guests to the Mexican Riviera than Princess Cruises, which in 1965 became the first major cruise line to operate those voyages from Los Angeles at San Pedro? I’d opt for a week-long round-trip Mexican Riviera sailing on Royal Princess, available this spring and again this fall. Ports of call include Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta. Princess operates multiple ships at Los Angeles, but let’s just say it’s all about that “new car feel” here, as this 3,560-passenger ship is currently undergoing a $16 million revitalization. So, when Royal Princess resumes cruising in March from Los Angeles, travelers onboard will be some of the first to experience the refreshed vessel. All staterooms and suites will have new Princess Luxury Beds, and Royal Princess will also offer the stand-out production show, “The Secret Silk,” developed in partnership with Stephen Schwartz (composer of “Wicked,” “Godspell” and “Pippin”).
Norwegian Cruise Line’s new amenity-laden, 4,004-passenger Norwegian Bliss was an instant star when it recently began cruising from Los Angeles (San Pedro) to the Mexican Riviera. Based on consumer demand, Norwegian also will bring a nearly new sister, the 3,802-passenger Norwegian Joy, back from China. After a $50 million revitalization, the ship will sail seven-night “Jewels of the Mexican Riviera” itineraries roundtrip from Los Angeles to Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta. What’s special about Norwegian Joy? Tech fans undoubtedly will flock to the ship’s innovative Galaxy Pavilion, a virtual reality world with simulators (just imagine riding a roller coaster in the dark), interactive video walls and more. In addition, the Lotus Spa & Fitness Center will receive new equipment and fitness machines.
As Carnival Cruise Line’s first new ship dedicated to West Coast cruising in two decades, the new, 4,008-passenger Carnival Panorama will begin seven-night Mexican Riviera cruises from the Port of Long Beach in December. This Vista–class ship will sail to Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta, with plenty of shore time. Back onboard, guests can happily chow down at the aptly named (considering the ship’s itinerary) BlueIguana Cantina for burritos and tacos — just one of multiple dining options. Fun features for guests include a WaterWorks aqua park with corkscrew slides and a tipping bucket, a bicycle-in-the-sky SkyRide for bird’s eye views from atop the ship, and the new Sky Zone, the cruise industry’s first trampoline park at sea. For those seeking serious pampering, opt for a spa stateroom with exclusive privileges at the Cloud 9 Spa; an extra-roomy stateroom in Family Harbor; or a tropically-inspired Havana stateroom or suite with exclusive daytime access to a Cuban-themed bar and aft outdoor pool.
Panama Canal Cruises
Some voyages along Mexico’s Pacific coastline continue southward on an iconic Panama Canal transit. For guests with an active bent and sense of adventure, one appealing option is Royal Caribbean International’s 15-night voyage on the 2,050-passenger Vision of the Seas, departing Dec. 1, 2019 from Los Angeles (San Pedro) to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Port calls include Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala; and Puntarenas, Costa Rica on the Pacific Coast, as well as Cartagena, Colombia and Oranjestad, Aruba in the Caribbean. Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy rainforest hiking, kayaking and snorkeling. Back on the ship, there’s a 40-foot-high rock climbing wall. Vision of the Seas, which also offers roundtrip Mexican Riviera cruises from San Pedro, has robust children’s and teen clubs; Centrum aerial performances; plus, specialty dining at Chops Grille, Izumi, Giovanni’s Table and other eateries.
For a different vibe, try a refined Panama Canal voyage that goes coast-to-coast with touches reflecting the “Golden Age of Cruising.” On July 5, Cunard Line’s 2,092-passenger Queen Elizabeth departs on a 19-night voyage south from Los Angeles (San Pedro) to New York; the route is along the Mexican coastline, through the Panama Canal and the Caribbean to Port Everglades, Florida, and then to New York. On this ship, the entertainment is far more traditional: ballroom dancing to live orchestra music in the elegant Queens Room. But Cunard’s ships can be “down home,” too. For a sea day lunch, one of our favorite spots is the Golden Lion Pub for fish and chips or bangers and mash.
If travelers seek ultra-luxury (and we do mean ultra), Regent Seven Seas Cruises offers a 15-night Panama Canal sailing from Los Angeles to Miami on Sept. 30; it’s operated by the 700-passenger Seven Seas Mariner, revitalized bow-to-stern in 2018. Or, for a longer Panama Canal and Caribbean cruise, Seabourn’s 450-passenger Seabourn Sojourn cruises for 31 nights from Los Angeles to Miami on Oct. 16. A highlight of this sailing is that the ship calls at three different Cuban ports, including two days in Havana, where you can take a ride in a colorful, 1950s automobile.
Of course, one of the best itineraries you can take from Los Angeles is a coastal California voyage. Check out upscale Oceania Cruises’ seven-night “Stars of the Vine” voyage on the 684-passenger Sirena. This lovely, boutique-style ship will emerge in May from a $100 million “re-inspiration” and every surface of every stateroom and suite will be updated (think: gleaming marble bathrooms). Public spaces will get a makeover, too, with a new, brighter color palette and more contemporary furniture. Sirena’s coastal voyage departs roundtrip from Los Angeles on Dec. 7, 2019 and Dec. 14, 2019. First up is a day at Catalina Island, followed by a day in Ensenada, Mexico, where guests can taste wines from Baja California’s Guadalupe Valley. Guests can then relax for a sea day before venturing ashore at San Francisco, Monterey and Santa Barbara, all offering prolific vino-tasting opportunities. Back onboard Sirena, cruisers can enjoy such creature comforts as wine-and-culinary activities and the full-service Canyon Ranch Spa.
For those seeking a vacation to “America’s Last Frontier,” it’s possible to sail roundtrip from Los Angeles at San Pedro to Alaska. I’d check out Princess Cruises’ 2020 departures on multiple dates with four different ships. Port calls include Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan, in Alaska, plus Victoria, British Columbia. Depending on the itinerary, your sailing will also stop at either Icy Point Strait and the Hubbard Glacier, or the ultimate Alaska “bucket list” destination: Glacier Bay. It’s a two-week voyage typically (12 to 14 nights) with many days at sea, so expect to spend a lot of time onboard.
Hawaii and Tahiti Cruises
Given that Honolulu, Hawaii is 3,000 or so nautical miles from Los Angeles, it’s hardly a quick jaunt. But travelers who don’t mind a leisurely, longer voyage (typically nine sea days and four back-to-back days exploring Hawaii) have several good choices. On Oct. 27, premium Celebrity Cruises’ offers a pampering, 15-night voyage roundtrip from Los Angeles at San Pedro on the 2,850-passenger Celebrity Eclipse, one of its popular Solstice-class vessels. During four days in Hawaii, Celebrity’s guests might visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, attend a luau or cultural presentation, visit Pearl Harbor, or take a coffee-and-chocolate or helicopter tour. Cruisers can also book a zip lining experience in Hilo that soars over waterfalls and through a rainforest. This cruise also spends a day at Ensenada, Mexico.
Next year, on Jan. 5, 2020, Azamara Club Cruises’ 694-passenger Azamara Journey, will sail an 18-night “Hawaii and Tahiti” cruise from Los Angeles to Papeete, Tahiti. Cruisers have five relaxing days at sea before reaching Hawaii and plenty of time to enjoy this boutique-style luxury ship’s Sun Deck, multiple dining venues, spa, enrichment lectures and entertainment. Calls will include Hilo, Hawaii; Lahaina, Maui; Honolulu, Oahu; and Nawiliwili, Kauai. After many more days at sea, the ship reaches French Polynesia for time ashore at Bora Bora, Moorea and finally Papeete, where the ship overnights. Guests might go snorkeling or hike through a tropical valley, and then in the evening, sample culinary specialties from the city’s famous “roulettes” (food trucks called caravans).
Feature image by Daniel Piraino / EyeEm / Getty Images.