Mazatlan Working To Overcome Cruise Port Perception Problem
The cruise industry is carefully extricating itself from a West Coast problem it has struggled with for the past few years. For cruise ships repositioning for winter after the summer Alaska season, options have been limited to 7-day cruises.
The easiest choice is the Mexican Riviera, but crime, neglect and drug violence have taken a toll on ports of call. By many accounts, Acapulco may never come back.
Mazatlan, however, has hovered on the edge as a desirable destination. The location is scenic, with a bay ringed by a long stretch of white sand and views of a few volcanic islands, but the buildings don’t have the gleam of Puerto Vallarta or Cabo San Lucas—the destinations where most cruise lines have sought haven in the past few years.
When the state of Sinaloa, in which Mazatlan is located, started to feel the effects of El Chapo’s cartel in the Sierra Madre mountains, many of the cruise lines replaced Mazatlan with overnights in Puerto Vallarta or Cabo a few years ago. The Mexican government, feeling the pinch from loss of tourism, has tried to clean up its act.
Although Holland America never totally deserted Mazatlan, it is boosting its capacity on the Mexican Riviera this year by 65%, with 13 7-night sailings on the Vista-class Westerdam. Other cruise lines are returning to Mazatlan, with 93 visits in 2016, up from 35 in 2015.
Cruise Week had the opportunity to check out Mazatlan on Westerdam’s first sailing of the season. They report that upon arriving a day after Cabo San Lucas, the cruise terminal wasn’t particularly reassuring. Multiple signs warn visitors they must take the shuttle from the dock; but it’s not because of crime, it’s because the ship berths in the middle of a working cargo port.
On the way downtown, there’s a long stretch of small residences with barred windows and doors, and shops with corrugated iron shutters.
The big reason Mazatlan is not more glitzy is it’s a working town, supplying a significant percentage of Mexico’s food, so it’s not purpose-built for tourism like PVR. Rounding the cape from the cruise terminal into the bay area, the city becomes much more scenic with lots of people strolling or bicycling along the beach.
The locals say they always feel safe and the problems are up in the Sierra Madres miles away from town.
A woman who had moved from Mexico City to Mazatlan summed it up for Cruise Week: “I can walk with my gold, go to the discotheque late at night. People are very friendly, the food is fresh, things are cheap, and people are honest.”
The sentiment shared by onboard staff is that every city port is potentially dangerous if you get outside the tourist areas. Mazatlan is no worse than Nassau or Ocho Rios in that regard.
Of course, passengers already on a cruise to Mexico are a self-selected group comfortable with travelling to the country. All in all, it’s a work in progress, and hopefully with word of mouth, perception will converge with reality. Certainly the return of Mazatlan strengthens the itinerary for cruises departing Southern California.