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Even on a chilly evening, when the wind has a bite and the sky wears a veil of gray, sailing from the Port of San Francisco on Grand Princess is a wondrous experience. You can see the broad sweep of the bay, the island of Alcatraz in the midst, the bridges to the south and the north, the low stretch of the land in the east and the headlands in their rough descent to the Pacific. As day drifts into night, the city on the hill shimmers in the dusk as the ship sails through the Golden Gate strait and beneath the bridge. This is the start of Princess Cruises’ 10-day Mexican Riviera Cruise on Grand Princess.
For travel agents in the Western states, the San Francisco port is one of the itinerary’s strongest selling points. According to Bill Knight, president of All Cruise Travel in San Jose, Calif., the San Francisco homeport is the key to regional sales.
“When people come in who don’t want to fly, this is the cruise we go to,” Knight said.
Mike Estill, chief operating officer of the Western Association of Travel Agencies in Portland, Ore., echoes this sentiment.
“I don’t think anybody voluntarily gets on an airplane anymore,” he said. “It’s like jury duty; sometimes you just have to do it. And if you aren’t spending a lot of money on an air ticket, you can buy a better cabin, so you are making that vacation experience even better rather than making it worse.”
Beyond the logistics, the cruise experience itself offers a strong allure.
“People pay a fortune to come to San Francisco from all over the world just to see the Golden Gate Bridge; it’s an icon,” said Gary Pollard, president and CEO of Ambassador Tours in San Francisco and a Princess Cruises sales expert. “Sailing under the bridge is just spectacular. That’s an experience most people never get to have, including plenty who live in the Bay Area.”
Princess’ 10-day Mexican Riviera itinerary from San Francisco starts off with four days at sea, followed by four consecutive days in Puerto Vallarta, Manzanillo, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas before finishing up with two days at sea to dock in San Francisco. That’s a lot of time at sea, and a strong selling point.
“The itinerary isn’t the biggest draw; it’s the ship itself,” Knight said. “We have clients who do this cruise every year, and some of them never get off the ship in the ports. They are just in it for the cruise experience. With everything you get on this cruise, it’s almost more expensive to stay home.”
The immersive onboard experience Princess has developed can leave passengers wishing the cruise had even more days at sea. There are art auctions, lectures and seminars, as well as evening entertainment featuring Broadway-style musical revues and comedians. There is dancing or relaxing in one of the ship’s 12 bars and lounges and a late-night stargazing session as part of the Discovery at Sea program. Guests can spend time in the casino, sing in a chorus, learn to cha cha and merengue, do tai chi or work out in the gym. Or, they can laze to their heart’s content.
“You can be very busy from sunup to sundown on the ship, or you can do nothing but sleep all day on a deck chair,” said Rich Skinner, co-owner of Cruise Holidays in Woodinville, Wash. “Some of my techie clients want that down time.”
And even passengers who prefer not to explore the ports of call can return home feeling as though they experienced Mexico.
“Princess brings the Mexican Riviera ambiance onboard from the first moment,” said K-K Afre, manager of Expedia CruiseShipCenters North Bay in Petaluma, Calif. “It really incorporates the destination into so many aspects of the cruise, from dining options and themed menus to enrichment and entertainment.”
Afre and other Princess sales specialists say Grand Princess maintains its appeal, particularly for an older demographic.
“Some guests are all about the hardware, so the newest ship and latest technology is important to them,” Afre said. “You need to put them on a new ship, and it won’t be out of San Francisco — the West Coast rarely sees new tonnage for a variety of reasons. Guests on this itinerary are far more are interested in the experience of getting away, relaxing, and being spoiled and attended to. These guests are looking for the software — the service, the entertainment, enrichment and the camaraderie of other fun-seeking vacationers. For them, Grand Princess is amazing.”