Last updateWed, 16 Aug 2017 5pm

Food & Wine

Cruising with a Mexican touch

Time-pressed travelers who are looking for a quick getaway with a Miexican touch may find a mini-cruise on Royal Caribbean Cruise Line's Viking Serencade in ideal solution. The 1,512-passenger vessel sails from Los Angeles every Monday and Friday year-around to the Mexican Baja. Three-night cruises call at Ensenada, while four-night cruises add a full day in Catalina.

The Mexican border town of Ensenada offers passengers a close-up look at the country's colorful history, people and culture. While it lacks the luster and appeal of the more popular Mexican resorts of Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan or Acapulco, Ensenada does offer a certain amount of Mexico's old provincial charm without having to venture too far from the border.

Recently, my husband and I boarded the Viking Serenade on Friday for a long weekend of rest and relaxation. Planning the cruise was quick, convenient and stress-free.

After an hourlong flight from San Francisco, we hopped aboard RCCL's shuttlebus and headed to the port of San Pedro where the Viking Serenade was berthed. Once on board, we settled in quickly and enjoyed a leisurely buffet lunch in the Windjammer Cafe. At 6 p.m., we joined the poolside sail away party as the Viking Serenade pulled away from the pier and headed out to sea.

Early the next morning, the Viking Serenade anchored in Ensenada. Some folks opted for the luxury and quiet of just staying on the ship, while others either took the shuttle bus to town or joined one of the optional shore excursions. Tours included a sightseeing and winery tour; a scenic coastal drive; a visit to "La Bufadora," a natural sea geyser on the coast of Punta Banda, and shopping excursion; a horseback trail ride into the hills of San Miguel, and golf at the Baja Country Club.

Following our winery tour the bus deposited us in the downtown district for some time to browse on our own. The most interesting sights in town were on the Avenida Macheros, a busy street jammed with small hotels, cafes, restaurants, and open-air taco stands. Vendors selling fruits, grilled meats, tacos and other snacks crowd every corner.

Ensenada is know for its duty-free shops stocked with leather items and Mexican artifacts, and numerous sidewalk stalls teeming with colorful serapes, silver jewelry, and other Mexican handicrafts. While there were a few serious shoppers in our group, most of us were content to just stroll about enjoying the colorful street scenery.

Before very long, however, nearly everyone ended up in Hussong's Cantina, Ensenada's century-old landmark from the gold rush days. This rowdy saloon is a popular hangout for locals, tourists, and mariachi bands, and serves the best margaritas in town. Across the street is Papa's & Bears, another popular drinking spot filled with blaring music and crowds of college kids.

Sunday, a day at sea, provided ample time to enjoy the numerous on-board facilities. A full roster of activities throughout the day included exercise programs, a bridge tour, deck games, pool volley ball, bingo, and more. In addition, there is an extensive supervised program for children and teens.

For most folks on our cruise, relaxing by the pool with a book or a cool drink seemed to be the most popular pastime of all. That evening there was a singles mixer, an elaborate Broadway-style revue, a nightclub comedy show, dancing, and a late night disco.

This interior of this elegant ship is lavishly decorated with polished brass, chrome, glass and mirrors. Walls of windows in public areas, lunges and two enclosed stairwells on either side of the ship, give this spacious vessel an open, airy feeling throughout. Original artwork and attractive tapestries adorn the walls, and magnificent fresh floral arrangements are everywhere you look.

Facilities include a fitness center, a casino, a conference center, beauty salon, a shopping arcade, a teen club and disco, and children's playroom.

Accommodations come in a variety of categories including suites and deluxe cabins with balconies. Our compact but comfortable standard stateroom was attractively furnished with an adequate-sized bathroom and ample storage space.

There are several lunges, including the circular Viking Crown Lounge perched 12 decks above the sea. This serves as a daytime observation lounge and a nightclub and disco after dark. A retractable dome over the pool and glass siding encircling the deck ensures temperate poolside climate regardless of the weather.

Passengers dine in either the Magic Flute Dining Room or the Aida Dining Room. Food and service is excellent with each night's menu designed around a theme complete with decorations, costumed waiters and strolling muscians. Menus, featuring an extensive array of tasty, well-prepared dishes, include new vegetarian meals and special low fat, low cholesterol items. In addition to dining room service, there are casual breakfast and lunch buffets in the indoor/outdoor Windjammer Cafe, midnight buffets and 24-hour room service.

Royal Caribbean Cruise Line has consistently earned top honors from cruise professionals and passengers alike, for providing luxurious surroundings, fine food, congenial staff, attentive service and enjoyable entertainment and actives. Viking Serenade offers a reasonably priced, casual cruise with all the RCCL trimmings. It provides a quick and convenient "get-away" for passengers of all ages.

Rates, including airfare, for cruises to Baja Mexico start at $599 per person for three-day cruises, and $629 for four-day cruises. Substantial cruise-only discounts are available.

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