Ecstasy At Sea – Carnival Cruise to Ensenada, Mexico

Ecstasy At Sea – Carnival Cruise to Ensenada, Mexico

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"Carnival has the fun" reads the exterior banner stretching across the side of Carnival's cruise ship Ecstasy. It's the first week-end in December, when one would think most folks are home preparing for the holidays, but this half-a-cruise down the Mexican Riviera from Long Beach, California to Ensenada, Mexico, is sold out.

At the Queen Mary pier in Long Beach, we board the ship on a crisp, foggy Friday afternoon. Carnival handles all the formalities of boarding inside the huge dome previously housing the Spruce Goose. On a colorful Mexican set we pause for boarding souvenir photos. Soon settled into a cabin on the Riviera deck, we check out the activity sheet for things to do.

For the first-time cruiser, Carnival's Ecstasy provides a full-scale introduction to the cruise vacation lifestyle so popular with travelers. From quizzes, game shows, bingo, casino gambling, musical dance shows, art auctions, ship tours, slot tournaments, spa services, fitness classes, disco dancing, karaoke, pub crawl and other events, there's non-stop entertainment. I decide I want a massage on Sunday, our day at sea. Good thing I checked it out before the ship sailed; Sunday massage time is nearly sold out, so I book for 8 a.m. Sunday morning.

Ecstasy sails promptly at 5:30 p.m., after which all passengers gather in blocky orange life vests at our respective "muster stations" for mandatory life boat drill. This is a serious, U.S. Coast Guard-managed event, at the conclusion of which Cruise Director Dana Hodson announces, "You are now officially on vacation."

Midship two glass elevators carry guests from the Empress deck skyward, where this beautiful open area is capped by an enormous glass dome. (Opening photo.) Exploring the deck levels, we check out the spa and gymnasium, so we'll know where to go to when we're ready to work out. Meanwhile we miss the shore excursion talk but not to worry—it's broadcast later in our cabin on ship TV. Our shore excursion choices are horseback riding, a visit to La Bufadora (one of three blow-holes in the world), or a visit to Mexico's oldest winery, founded by the Dominicans in 1888.

At our late seating in the Wind Star Dining Room, we meet our tablemates, a combination of couples and singles from Southern California. After dinner we check out Casino Royale, where there is plenty of action at slot machines, video poker machines, and live table games.

The last thing we do Friday night is put out the menu hang-tag on our cabin door with our selections for room-service breakfast. Saturday morning, not wanting to be among the first crowd surging to get into Ensenada, we sleep until 8 a.m. Our in-cabin breakfast, including a pot of coffee arrives. Around ten we head into Ensenada for a day of exploring and shopping. Two men in what appears to be Mayan Indian garb are available at the foot of the gangway on the waterfront promenade for souvenir photo ops.

A shuttle bus operates every five minutes between the Ecstasy and Ensenada's fashionable shops and busy restaurants of Avenida Primera. Besides the driver, a young guitar player boards, does two songs, collects a few tips and departs. A guide boards, and uses the short travel time to sell us his company's tour to La Bufadora. We discover his tour includes an hour to shop the flea market there and a free lunch and is fifteen dollars cheaper than the one officially offered aboard Ecstasy, so we sign up.

The air-conditioned bus ride to the blowhole takes about forty-five minutes, through barren Baja countryside. The stalls at La Bufadora offer silver jewelry, clothing, leather goods, rubber snakes and bugs, pottery, hats, fish tacos, and churros, the long, deep-fried Mexican version of the doughnut. There are also plenty of opportunities to buy Coronas with lime. We don't recommend churros and Coronas together. . .

Ensenada in winter is not balmy and hot. Though the sun is out, the official high for the day is 65 degrees Fahrenheit. We are comfortable in tee shirts and shorts, but not the locals. On our way back to the ship we stop for an espresso and the pretty girl operating the machine wears a down jacket and, entwined around her neck, a wool scarf.

We're too tired from shopping to stay in Ensenada until the ship sails, so we're on the shuttle back to the waterfront promenade where there's yet one more colorful Mexican shopping opportunity. Good thing our little cabin has ample storage for our luggage and our shopping purchases, too.

At dinner we hear from our tablemates all about what we missed. Seems a lot of young people gathered at Tapas and Beer, the restaurant/bar that's replaced Husong's Cantina (still the same as it was in the sixties) as the most popular watering hole in Ensenada. One thing led to another, and later in the afternoon there were girls dancing on tables in various stages of drunkenness and undress. Making cruise memories?

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Carolyn Proctor, Jetsetters Magazine Correspondent – Read Jetsetters Magazine at To book travel visit at and for Beach Resorts visit Beach Booker at

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Carolyn Proctor, Jetsetters Magazine Correspondent. Join the Travel Writers Network in the logo at Leave your email next to the logo for FREE e travel newsletter.

Carolyn Proctor