Mexico has enough sunny coastline for three vacation nations--6,000 miles of it undulating past secluded beaches where gentle waves lap long golden stretches of sand. It goes around rocky outcroppings where pelicans flap their wings to dry and sea lions loll in the sun, and along resort-studded shores shaded by coconut palms and thatch-roofed palapas.
For cruise passengers, three distinctly different Mexicos offer three itineraries--the glamorous Mexican Riviera of Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta, the lush Caribbean coast with its incomparable archeological sites and diving reefs dotted with colorful shipwrecks, and the stark, dramatic terrain of Baja California.
This winter, for the first time, two small expedition ships will be based in La Paz on the Sea of Cortez, where the air is clear and dry and the sea meets cactus-studded desert against a sharp blue sky.
Exploration's North Star has permission from the Mexican government to cruise entirely within Mexican waters without beginning or ending an itinerary in a U.S. port.
The 156-passenger ship sails between La Paz and Acapulco from October through April on seven-night itineraries that include a port of call every day. Fares of $1,199 to $2,499 per person double include some shore excursions and free air passage from California gateways.
For Whale Watchers
Whale watching in the Sea of Cortez is the main attraction when Special Expeditions' 80-passenger Polaris sails between San Diego and La Paz on four 10-day cruises, but rubber boat landings on remote islands may also include visits to breeding grounds for elephant seals and rare Guadalupe fur seals, nesting ospreys and sea lions.
Departure dates are Dec. 28 and Jan. 7, 17 and 27. Fares range from $2,500 to $3,900, including one-way air fare between La Paz and Los Angeles. For additional information call (800) 762-0003.
Admiral's Azure Seas continues its successful, fun-filled three- and four-day, year-round sailings from Los Angeles to Ensenada on Baja's northwest coast. Fares range from $295 to $680 per person double.
Mexican Riviera cruises usually include a stop or cruise-by at Baja's Cabo San Lucas, as well as Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta.
New in these waters this winter is Bermuda Star Line's Bermuda Star, based in San Diego for seven-day, round-trip sailings between Jan. 23 and April 16, at per diems averaging $163 per person double for a standard outside cabin with two lower beds.
Carnival's big bright Tropicale continues year-round, seven-day, round-trip sailings from Los Angeles on Sundays; fares average $185 a day with air.
You can add on a two-night land package in Acapulco for $119 per person double at the beginning or end of a cruise aboard Princess' luxurious 626-passenger Island Princess. The ship sails on weekly seven-day itineraries between Los Angeles and Acapulco this winter, with average per diems of $240, including air.
Sitmar's Fairsea, which offers discounts for booking three months ahead, includes Acapulco on nine- and 10-day round-trip cruises from Los Angeles through Jan. 6, after which the schedule changes to seven-day round trips through May 21. Average per diems: $255 with air.
If you wish, you can take your car or RV along (for $10 a linear foot) on Admiral's Stardancer and split your cruise into two segments with a driving vacation in between. The Stardancer sails round trip from Los Angeles every Saturday for $945 to $1,995 per person double, including air.
Mexico's Caribbean has drawn people to the Yucatan Peninsula and the islands of Cozumel and Cancun from the days of the Maya, who built elaborate temples, towns and palaces, to these days of megabytes and computers.
You can celebrate the Maya with Sun Line's Stella Solaris on three special sailings from Fort Lauderdale--Jan. 16, March 16 and 26, with calls in Guatemala and Honduras as well as Mexico's Caribbean. Average per diems are $262, with air included. A 10-day version of the 14-day January cruise can be booked round trip out of New Orleans.
Also sailing from New Orleans this season is Bermuda Star's beautiful Canada Star, scheduled for seven-day itineraries between Nov. 14 and May 7 for an average per diem of $163. The same line's budget-priced Veracruz offers five- and seven-day cruises from Tampa for $299 to $799, plus air add-ons.
Regency's Regent Sea will sail out of Tampa this winter for Mexico's Caribbean; air is included in the $985 to $2,315 seven-day fares; 95% of the cabins are outside, many with double beds and bathtubs.
Winter Home Port
Tampa is winter home port for Holland America's Nieuw Amsterdam, which sails every Saturday through late April; average per diems are $247, including air. For a longer cruise a couple can combine this with the Noordam's seven-day eastern Caribbean itinerary and save $900 off published fares.
From Fort Lauderdale, Sitmar's Fairsky offers 10-day itineraries that also include the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Bahamas at an average $255 a day with air.
The busiest sea lanes are between Miami and the Western Caribbean, with Carnival's splashy Holiday sailing on Saturdays ($185 per diem, including air) and Chandris Fantasy's Galileo setting out Sundays on five-day itineraries that include Key West Oct. 25 through April 24, from $395 to $1,190, including air, depending on season and air gateway.
You can get eight days for the price of seven on Norwegian Caribbean's Southward beginning Nov. 7. The same line's Skyward sails year-round on Sundays and, beginning next June, NCL's new Seaward will also sail to the Western Caribbean every Sunday. Average per diems will be $215, including air.
Royal Caribbean's Song of Norway sails to the Western Caribbean every Saturday through Jan. 2, then is replaced by the Song of America sailing Sundays year-round beginning Jan. 10.
The Sun Viking will offer eight- and 10-day sailings in 1988. Average per diems are $215, air included.