Back to the Beach

After Hurricane Wilma, cruises return to Cancun and Cozumel

By: Beverly Burmeier

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 docking capacity.

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 repair.

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 Cozumel)
Royal Caribbean’s Splendor of the Seas: Four- to six-day cruises
Royal Caribbean’s Rhapsody of the Seas: Seven-day cruises

Princess and Celebrity include Mayan Riviera ports in their itineraries when sailing out of Galveston from November through April:

Grand Princess: Seven-day cruises
Celebrity Galaxy: Eleven- to 12-day cruises