Colorful serapes, rows of shops, gentle turquoise waves,
white-sand beaches and mariachi music escaping from restaurants and
bars are a few things my husband, Larry, and I hoped to find during
a recent cruise from Galveston on the Grand Princess and we weren’t
disappointed. Our itinerary called in Cozumel, Costa Maya and Playa
del Carmen, among other ports. Though Hurricane Wilma wreaked havoc
on parts of the Mayan Riviera last October, we actually found
little to worry about.
Wilma pounded the Caribbean coast of Mexico, shattering windows,
destroying buildings and filling streets with debris. But within a
month after the Category 4 storm blew through Cozumel, damaging
virtually everything, cleanup efforts had progressed enough to
welcome back tourists.
Most cruise-ship itineraries to Cozumel have resumed, although
passengers must be tendered a short distance to shore. From the
tender, we could see what remained of one of the cruiseship piers.
It’s now a heap of twisted metal, with huge chunks of concrete
sticking out of the water like icebergs. Tourism officials reported
that work is in progress to repair Cozumel’s three cruise-ship
piers making them stronger, more modern and possibly doubling
While construction work continues in Cozumel and nearby Cancun,
both locations are now operational for tourists, although not
completely back to pre-hurricane status. Cosmetic improvements are
everywhere, with bountiful flowers, new pathways and rebuilt tiki
huts adorning the commercial district where tenders disembark.
Beaches on the east coast of the island are in excellent
condition, with some even extended because of the storm. Snorkeling
tours have resumed normal operations, although some small reefs
were damaged. Large reefs like Palancar, that attract experienced
snorkelers and scuba divers, remain in an ongoing state of
Almost all of the island excursions are currently available,
including horseback riding tours, jeep excursions, all-terrain
vehicle tours, fishing and bicycling. The Atlantis Submarine has
resumed its 100-foot descent to view corals, sponges and tropical
fish. Ruins at Tulum, the ancient Mayan city overlooking the
Caribbean Sea, and other ruins easily accessed from any of these
ports, were virtually untouched and are worth a visit. We toured
Xel-Ha, a national park built around a protected lagoon, where we
enjoyed an excellent afternoon of snorkeling.
The hurricane’s eye missed southern ports like Costa Maya
(sometimes substituted for Cozumel) and Playa del Carmen, so they
suffered very little damage and have actually benefited from the
increase in cruise-ship traffic.
This was our first visit to Playa del Carmen, so the upscale
port pleasantly surprised us. Located on the mainland directly
across the water from Cozumel, Playa del Carmen sports a
proliferation of new resorts along the coast and downtown region.
Tourism has become a major industry for this port because of its
white beaches, coral reefs and relaxed lifestyle. Unharmed by the
hurricane, the city remains immaculate and welcoming.
Further south is Costa Maya, the fastest-growing port in Mexico,
and the first port designed exclusively for the cruise-ship
industry. After tendering at the other Mexican ports, we were happy
to arrive at such an impressive, serviceable dock.
Costa Maya offers a variety of shore excursions. We chose a
kayak journey in a unique clear craft designed for reef and fish
viewing. There is also plenty for visitors to do on their own.
Lovely soft-sand beaches with ample lounge chairs and umbrellas are
available for public use. Near the dock, the shopping district
offers traditional arts and crafts, as well as several restaurants,
a huge pool and tourist information stations.
Just a short golf cart ride away is the small fishing village of
Majahual, where our kayaking tour ended.
After lunch, Larry and I walked along the beach and stopped to
admire local crafts displayed in open-air huts just a few yards
from the water. Soaking in the tranquil atmosphere of this quiet,
undisturbed village, we agreed that Mexico is definitely remains a
great cruise destination.
Ships sailing year round from Galveston and calling at Mayan
Riviera (Yucatan) ports include:
Carnival Ecstasy: Four- to five-day cruises
Carnival Conquest: Seven-day cruises (only to
Royal Caribbean’s Splendor of the Seas: Four- to
Royal Caribbean’s Rhapsody of the Seas: Seven-day
Princess and Celebrity include Mayan Riviera ports in their
itineraries when sailing out of Galveston from November through
Grand Princess: Seven-day cruises
Celebrity Galaxy: Eleven- to 12-day cruises