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8 best Mexico cruises for every type of traveler

The Points Guy 9/28/2022 Melinda Crow
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Editor’s note: This guide has been updated with the latest information.

Cruises to Mexico have an appeal that’s hard to match.

Pacific Coast itineraries cover both Baja California (with stops in Ensenada) and the area farther south considered the Mexican Riviera (featuring the ports of Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta). Where else can you spend the morning whale watching from a small boat, followed by an afternoon of shopping or enjoying authentic Mexican cuisine?

The ports on Mexico’s eastern coast are often lumped together with other Central American ports or island destinations on Western Caribbean cruises. Do a bit of digging and you can find three- to five-night cruises from Galveston, Texas; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Mobile, Alabama that visit only Mexican ports, including Cozumel, Costa Maya and Progresso.

Beaches and watersports, as well as eating and drinking, are the primary attraction of cruises to Mexico. Both coasts of Mexico offer ample opportunity to play in the sun and sand. The best Mexico cruises have lengthy port stops that provide plenty of time to explore, plus time on board the ship to relax and decompress.

You may even be able to cruise to Mexico without a passport if your cruise begins and ends in the same U.S. port.

What are your best options for sailing to our southern neighbor? Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Line run year-round cruises from Los Angeles-area ports, while Princess Cruises, Holland America, Norwegian Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises and Disney Cruise Line offer seasonal cruises to Mexico from the West Coast.

Occasionally, you can find luxury cruises to the Mexican Riviera on lines like Silversea and Regent Seven Seas. American Queen Voyages and UnCruise Adventures offer unique small-ship opportunities to cruise Mexican ports on both coasts.

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We scoured all the options and came up with the best Mexico cruises to help narrow your choices. Here’s what we found.

In This Post

3-night Baja cruise on Carnival Radiance

Carnival Radiance. CARNIVAL CRUISE LINE © The Points Guy Carnival Radiance. CARNIVAL CRUISE LINE

Carnival Radiance gets the nod for having a year-round schedule of short escapes to Mexico.

Carnival Cruise Line’s west coast Mexico cruises sail from the port of Long Beach, which is a fun destination in its own right, with beaches, water sports and the Aquarium of the Pacific.

Radiance (formerly Carnival Victory) underwent a complete refit in 2021, adding a dedicated comedy club, top-deck water attractions and the first ever chicken joint from Shaquille O’Neil, aptly named Big Chicken.

The ship goes to Ensenada and back with one fun day at sea. Water sports and whale watching in winter are among the top activities in Ensenada for Carnival cruisers. For a local lunch in port, order fish tacos; Ensenada claims to have invented the dish. Some also claim Ensenada is the original home of the margarita. Drink enough of those and it won’t matter if it’s true or not. If margaritas aren’t your thing, there are popular wineries in port worth checking out.

Who should go: It’s no secret that Carnival’s Fun Ships are known as party ships. This short hop to Mexico is ideal for residents of the Western states looking for an escape any time of year. The ship’s atmosphere is enthusiastic and fun, which spills into Ensenada on the single port day of the cruise.

Related: A beginner’s guide to picking a cruise line

4-night Baja cruise with Catalina Island on Disney Wonder

Catalina Island. MATTHEW MICAH WRIGHT/GETTY IMAGES © The Points Guy Catalina Island. MATTHEW MICAH WRIGHT/GETTY IMAGES

Disney Wonder may be one of Disney Cruise Line‘s oldest and smallest ships, carrying only 2,700 passengers. However, it’s packed with Disney adventures, including a musical stage production of “Frozen,” character meet-ups and the most family-friendly staterooms at sea. Wonder sails to Mexico from San Diego during the fall and winter.

Not every four-night cruise on Wonder includes Catalina Island, but if you can snag one that does, it’s a huge bonus of family fun. Activities in the port of Avalon on Catalina include an amazing zip-line course of five lines. Soaring along the island’s hillsides 600 feet above the beaches below, the adventure course takes over two hours to complete.

If your crew isn’t into highspeed zipping, try a backcountry bison expedition or a relaxing day at the beach. Catalina is a charming island with a European feel, memorable food and fascinating history. The second port on the itinerary is Ensenada, where the wildlife-watching or beach fun can continue.

Who should go: Disney Wonder is an ideal ship for family cruise travel from the West Coast. Features include the Marvel Superhero Academy inside the Disney Oceaneer Club, the activity space for kids. You’ll have family-friendly accommodations on board, most with split bathrooms (one with toilet and sink, the other with bath-shower combo and sink). Parents have plenty of opportunities to enjoy a night out without the kids, dining at the adults-only Palo specialty restaurant or sampling an adult beverage at the After Hours entertainment district.

5-night Mexico cruise with Cabo overnight on Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas

Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas. ROYAL CARIBBEAN © The Points Guy Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas. ROYAL CARIBBEAN

Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas is the largest cruise ship sailing year-round to Mexico from the West Coast port of San Pedro (Los Angeles). It’s a ship designed for thrills for all ages with top deck attractions like water slides, the line’s famous FlowRider surf simulator and a rock-climbing wall. Inside fun includes laser tag and escape rooms, and onboard food options like the line’s newer dining spots Hooked Seafood and Johnny Rockets Express.

Not every five-night sailing includes the overnight stay in Cabo San Lucas, but it’s our favorite choice among all the short cruises to Mexico from the West Coast.

After all those other cruise ships say adios to Cabo, cruisers onboard Navigator can explore the city’s nightlife. Street taco tour anyone? Tequila flights? How else can you enjoy late-night freshly fried churros on a street corner? Other than Cabo, this itinerary has two sea days to enjoy the ship.

Who should go: This cruise is for adrenaline junkies and foodies. Daytime activities in Cabo include sport fishing, wildlife watching, boat rides, camel rides, kayaking, parasailing and snorkeling. Add in evening tasting tours and you’re set.

Related: Ship-sponsored vs. independent shore excursions on cruises: Which should you book?

7-night Mexican cruise plus Roatan on Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas

Allure of the Seas. ROYAL CARIBBEAN © The Points Guy Allure of the Seas. ROYAL CARIBBEAN

Allure of the Seas is the largest cruise ship ever to sail from Galveston, and there’s a shiny new terminal designed to handle the behemoth.

Part of Royal Caribbean’s Oasis class, which includes the world’s largest cruise ships, Allure carries 5,492 passengers at double occupancy. The ship features an open-air AquaTheater at the rear of the ship for high-diving and acrobatic shows, an ice skating rink, some of the most extravagant Royal Caribbean suites across the fleet, and a park with live plants in the center of the ship.

The seven-night sailings offer ample beach time at Cozumel and Costa Maya, plus a third stop in Roatan, Honduras. The rest of the trip is all about fun on the ship as you cruise the Gulf waters for three sea days.

Who should go: A Mexico cruise on Allure is ideal for big-ship lovers. Inexpensive flights into Houston’s two airports make it accessible to at least a dozen central U.S. states. And for Texans who can drive to the port in less than a day, the fun of a beach day on Galveston Island before or after the cruise makes this sailing an easy choice.

7-night Mexican Riviera cruise on Carnival Panorama

Playa Los Muertos in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. WESTEND61/GETTY IMAGES © The Points Guy Playa Los Muertos in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. WESTEND61/GETTY IMAGES

Carnival Panorama is the second largest ship sailing to Mexico from the West Coast and it is loaded with Carnival-style fun.

From a jaw-dropping, nail-biting ropes course high above the decks to water slides and an indoor trampoline park, this ship is a crash course in playtime. The seven-night itineraries sail from Long Beach and include all the main western Mexico ports of Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta, where it stays into the evening hours.

With three sea days, cruisers have plenty of time to enjoy the ship. The best part is that this floating thrill ride cruises this itinerary year-round.

Who should go: It’s a great choice for families with tweens and teens because so many of the onboard activities are geared for them. Couples sailing without kiddos can enjoy adults-only areas like the Serenity sun deck retreat, a plush Cloud 9 Spa and Havana staterooms with their exclusive pool deck.

7-Night Expedition to Baja on Safari Voyager

Pelican and kayakers in Baja with Safari Endeavour in the background. UNCRUISE ADVENTURES © The Points Guy Pelican and kayakers in Baja with Safari Endeavour in the background. UNCRUISE ADVENTURES

UnCruise Adventures does Mexico with an entirely different approach to cruising.

Leave the party ships and the thrill rides behind for an expedition adventure aboard the 66-passenger Safari Voyager. The ship sails from La Paz, Mexico, between January and June, taking passengers in search of gray whales, whale sharks, rays and an amazing variety of sea life, as well as wildlife on dry land.

Activities include mule rides, kayaking, Zodiac boat rides, snorkeling, hiking and of course, downtime at the beach. Safari Explorer is somewhat basic in its amenities. You can expect cabins that are quite cozy, but ample public space on deck to watch for sealife and meet your fellow passengers.

UnCruise fares include all meals, excursions, equipment, beverages (including alcoholic drinks) and airport transfers, leaving you free to enjoy the adventure.

Who should go: This cruise is for physically fit adults and families with kids ages 8-17 seeking adventure in the wilds and waters of Baja, California.

Related: Big vs. small cruise ships: Which will I like better? 

7-night Mexican Riviera cruise on Discovery Princess

Discovery Princess in the Mexican Riviera. PRINCESS CRUISES © The Points Guy Discovery Princess in the Mexican Riviera. PRINCESS CRUISES

When Princess Cruises’ newest ship isn’t in Alaskan waters, it can be found cruising to the Mexican Riviera from the Los Angeles port at San Pedro.

The seven-night itinerary includes Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta, plus three sea days to enjoy the ship, which carries 3,660 guests. Discovery Princess brings a bit of elegance to the Riviera, with afternoon tea and the ability to order the Ultimate Balcony Breakfast to your cabin’s private veranda (for an additional charge).

While Discovery Princess is similar to most Princess ships in design and decor, it has something no other ship in the fleet has — two Sky Suites. Each suite has two bedrooms and a luxurious 1,000-square-foot balcony for unrivaled views.

Who should go: This is the best Mexico cruise for those seeking Princess’ relaxed upscale mode of cruising. Children are always welcome on Princess, and there are plenty of connecting rooms and cabin options with third and fourth bunks. Though the ship offers a youth program, don’t expect water slides and thrill rides. The vibe on board is low-key, and the average age is a bit older when compared to Royal Caribbean or Carnival. 

9-night Mexico land and cruise tour from Cozumel to Cancun on Ocean Navigator

Cozumel, Mexico. VISIONSBYATLEE/GETTY IMAGES © The Points Guy Cozumel, Mexico. VISIONSBYATLEE/GETTY IMAGES

American Queen Voyages’ Ocean Navigator is designed to cruise the coastline of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, carrying only 202 passengers as it visits little-known ports like Valladolid, Campeche and Huatulco.

The ship has the feel of a river cruise ship — smaller than most ocean-going vessels, but elegant and comfortable with ample public spaces, both inside and out. Most staterooms are slightly smaller than those found on larger ships, sized between 140 and 185 square feet.

The cruise tour includes hotel stays at the beginning and end, with plenty of adventure and downtime in between. On a line known for its river cruises on U.S. waterways, this itinerary falls somewhere between a traditional cruise and an expedition sailing, with plenty of onboard enrichment and shore excursions centered around history, archeology and culture.

Who should go: American Queen Voyages caters to singles and couples with a program that leans more toward enrichment than outright adventure. You may hike Mayan pyramids, but it will be easy to moderate hikes. Don’t expect strenuous excursions.  

Bottom line

The best Mexico cruises are the ones that suit your travel personality. Whether you are looking for a party atmosphere or adventure, there’s a ship waiting to take you to Mexico any time of year.

Focus your search on round-trip itineraries from major ports in Los Angeles, San Diego and Galveston, but you’ll also find options for cruises to Mexico from San Francisco, New Orleans and even Mobile, Alabama.

Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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