Carnival Spirit: Zihuatanejo


We grabbed breakfast on the Lido - bagel, eggs, adventurous blends of juices - and looked out across the water. Is that Zihua? Where's Ixtapa?

Everything I knew about Zihuatanejo came from message boards and Andy Dufresne in Shawshank Redemption. According to the internet at large, Zihuatanejo was one of everyone's favourite ports: fishing village, no hard sells, pleasant place to hang out, and beaches with all the cruise-like amenities were just a water taxi away. Or, you could cross a bridge (somewhere) to its sister city, Ixtapa, a modern resort community.

(We never saw Ixtapa. And, now that Carnival has pretty much discontinued the southern Mexican Riviera itinerary, I wonder if we ever will?)

Right away, we could tell that Toto had left the building and Elvis wasn't on Acapulco Street in Kansas anymore.

Zihuatanejo - Two Rocks

Zihuatanejo - Hillside House

Zihuatanejo looked nice.

We had tendered to two ports before: Catalina and Cabo. At Catalina, we arrived very early, so even though we left the ship in the morning, many of the keener passengers had already departed. At Cabo, we slept in and lazily wandered out around noon.

So, this was our first experience with "tender stickers," and our first experience with waiting to be allowed to board a tender.

Carnival Spirit - Tender Sticker

When we joined the sticker queue on deck 2, just forward of the casino and wrapping around the fountain to the nightclub, they were calling group 6. After we'd made it up to Jill for the sticking, we went to hang out in the Artist's Lobby, passing the groups wound around the atrium lobby staircase, eager to get on the lifeboats that had been put into tendering service.

The wait wasn't bad - maybe 20 minutes, maybe 30, maybe a bit longer. We chatted. Beatles songs played over a PA in the distance. After the 19s were called and we headed to midship, we passed people with 24s, 25s, 26s... it could have been worse.

This was our first time on one of the lifeboats. Things certainly have changed since the days of inflatable yellow rafts. They're kind of adorable from the front, really. Like little wind-up rodents.

The ride was short. On the pier, at the end where the tenders docked, we passed a man with a clipboard. He was dressed like the other Carnival employees who were helping us disembark. I only noticed him because I happened to see the page on his clipboard, which read "Spa Policies" across the top. He seemed to be distributing papers to and dealing with what looked like local women who were seated on a bench with their children.

I wish now that I'd paid more attention. Does Carnival run any kind of day spa/buffet deal for locals when in ports? Surely that would be a hass to wrangle, if only for security and immigration reasons. And yet... what was the clipboard all about? Maybe the clipboard was for some resort excursion... but then what was with his official-seeming interaction wit the women? Plus, all of the tours had already gathered and departed, which was why we non-tour people had to wait for the tenders.


Zihuatanejo - Statue

Even before we were off the pier and onto land, I loved the look of this place. If Acapulco was Detroit, then this was Avalon.

Zihuatanejo - El Pescador (with Mike)

We could step into shops, walk along the beach, settle down at a cafe... very peaceful. No come-ons from the shops unless you stepped inside, and even then the sellers only showed the polite amount of interest.

(Okay, things were a bit more aggressive inside the small market just to the right of the pier, but just barely. I went to Fry's this past weekend and was offered "help" eleven times in ten minutes, with the eleventh person parking himself a few feet away to wait to see if we had any questions, so my loathing of Pushy Salespeople Who Don't Get It is pretty global now... with Zihuatanejo being in the exclusion zone. Never once did we move on, just to get away from someone. Fry's wishes we could say that: despite being ready to buy, we ended up taking our $380 purchase elsewhere.)

Zihuatanejo - Mike on the Streets

This truly is a fishing village; we hung around for awhile after the catch came in.

Zihuatanejo - Laying out the Haul

As fish were sold, the fishermen began to combine their displays. We kept waiting for someone to buy the big guy.

Zihuatanejo - The Fish Concatenation

No luck, so let's take a photo of an unlicensed "Frapuchino":

Zihuatanejo - Frapuchinos

(This has become a pastime for me lately, really. I'm looking at you "Big Burger" over at the Riviera.)

Zihuatanejo - Dog Approaching

If the architectural charms, laid-back attitude, and inoffensive people weren't enough, there's this:

Zihuatanejo - Adoptame

While it's no air-conditioned Petco on a Sunday, I had to hand it to the Zihuatanejo for having the smarts to so prominently try to raise funds for animals when the big American(ish) ship comes in.

Zihuatanejo - Animals Need Your Help

We wanted to buy t-shirts, but the shelter's merchandise doesn't cater to the fluffier end of the cruising crowd. Oh well. I'm still a sucker for the critter cause.

(Or maybe this is just an ingenious racket. Stick a couple of cats in a cage and prey upon sentimental tourists... Nope, gotta hang onto that "people are basically good" mantra and hope for the best. This time.)

Zihuatanejo - Cat with Brown Nose

Zihuatanejo - Cat in Half-Sun

"Hey, every other Mexican town is full of dogs, but this one is full of cats. I wonder... oh yeah. Fishing village. Hehe."

Zihuatanejo - Mike on the Streets (again)

Zihuatanejo - Passing a Church

Every side street to be an interesting mix of restaurants, shops, and other peekaboos, but it was hot. we don't do well with heat. "Let's remember not walk any further than we're willing to walk back." Which meant the ship was starting to look pretty good.

Zihuatanejo - Carnival Spirit

I did notice some girls getting their hair braided. All I could think about was a story John Heald told on his blog, where a passenger was angry because his daughter got her hair braided in a port... and got a case of head lice to go with it. Before that story, I never would have thought to see if they were cleaning the comb between customers. So, I pass along the PSA: beware of the unwashed comb.

Zihuatanejo - Things That Remind Me of Lice

We still had a mission before returning to Spirit, though: a domino set.

The market had yielded no desirable chess sets, which has been the case ever since we failed to buy one of the several we liked in Ensenada. Dominos were another story, though. We often liked what we saw, but we always felt too harassed by the hovering/barking shopkeeper to actually buy anything. Placid Zihuatanejo was our best chance.

Alas, this seemed to be the one port that didn't have a shallow rose-coloured models we'd been admiring. Hmm. We walked, we looked. We walked, we looked. We sort of liked one set, but the woman was firm in her price, which we didn't like. We decided to check the other side of stalls one more time.

Ooo. We spied a tall black set, palm trees and sunset carved on the side, and "Ixtapa Zihuatanejo" scrawled across the top. That'll do.

Now, I absolutely failed to bargain in Ensenada. I may as well have offered to pay double. (Despite my cold black robot heart, I'm a pretty bubbly individual when excited about something.) But here in Zihuatanejo, I shone. (Zihuatanejo is just that wonderful.) I expressed the interest, but when Mike started doing the negotiating, I started gently crabbing about how we weren't supposed to spend more than $10 on souvenirs, and I made as if to leave. They negotiated some more, down from her $20, $19, absolutely no less than $16, while I looked tolerant but disinterested.

When it got down to $12, Mike turned to me for wifely approval of the purchase. Feigning impatience, I said it was coming out of his budget, whatever.


We walked away, feeling victorious in our performance. Of course, after the initial wash of success, two things can only come to mind:

"Wow, everyone knows that people who sell tourist trinkets are poor. You're on a cruise. You can't skip your next Tropical Smoothie and throw a few more bucks her way?"


"She would've sold it for eight. Sucker."

Both of those paths require complicated and ultimately unresolved ruminations, so let's skip them both. Yay!

Dominos, at Last

Our ugly beige carpet doesn't really show off the shiny metal balls in the center of each domino, but they're lovely, truly.

We almost had the tender to ourselves coming back, as it was still early afternoon. We're just wussy that way. In fact, it was just us and a gaggle of ship photographers, presumably returning from nearby excursions.

A nip of now-forgotten food at the buffet (was this Southwestern day?), and we were back to our rooms. I took photos from the balcony.

Zihuatanejo - Balcony View

Even playing spy a little.

Zihuatanejo - Mother and Child Reunion

Hey! You know what's probably deserted right now? The hot tub in the spa!

Mike was down for his nap, so suited up and left a note on a band-aid (the post-its always disappearing at moments like this): "SPA - 3:00."

Carnival Spirit - Gym and Hot Tub

I was hoping for something like the above (taken on deck through the glass later in the cruise). Or, hey, empty. Empty would also be good.

Nonchalantly, I walked past the tub. Four people. Okay. I could... no... I would wait. Hey, why not try the steam room? I loved the steam room on Splendor, but we hadn't tried it on Spirit since it wasn't co-ed. Or "aromatherapeutic," but here I was on my own, why not?

Well, Splendor certainly spoiled me, but this was okay. A white-tiled room with a bench on each side, long enough for a short person to lie down. Plenty of steam. This should be good for my skin.

So, I was wearing swim shorts and a swim tank, my matching button-down shirt in my lap, for lack of a better place. It was water-resistant, marketed for fatties who are kind enough to spare everyone a glimpse of their upper-arm fat, so I didn't care if it got moist, but when the blonde in the bikini came in, I probably couldn't feel dorkier.

By the time she had her top off, I decided to check the hot tub again. Some days I am really the worst feminist. Actually, it wasn't so much body awkwardness, as me perching there, in this tiny room, feeling like I had to make small talk. I actually even made an excuse as I left. I am a dork. Sigh.

Four people were still in the hot tub, but having forgotten to marry into Greek shipping royalty and always have a private cruise ship at my disposal, I decided four was the best I could do. Besides, one of them was just sitting on the edge. Plenty of room to sort of just wander down the middle and sit near the end, contemplating the thrum of hot jets and ignoring the world.

And so I did, conversation (in Spanish, which made me think of the pier earlier, but quite a few Spanish-speakers, including Mexicans, take cruises to Mexico, interestingly) only lulled for a moment, and I was situated at my end of the pond. Success.

The woman on the edge got up to leave. "Move here," she said, gesturing to where her feet had just been. "It's more powerful."

Where I'd ended up was kind of weak, so I gratefully scooched. Ah yes, this was nice.

Very nice.

Beautiful view of the waters beyond, too. Lovely.

Have to hang on a bit to the edge, though.

Yes, you really do. I wish my legs would stop trying to float up. These people don't need a coffee table.

Okay. Uh. That's my ass.

Where are my shorts?

Thankfully, they'd only made it just past the cheeks. So far. POWERFUL JETS. POWERFUL. If I hadn't mindlessly adjusted my shorts out of habit, I don't think I would've noticed until they floated to the surface!

So now I had an interesting problem. Wet swim gear is difficult to pull on in the best of times. Add in that these were swim shorts (more fabric = more fighting), and that I really needed both or maybe three hands to hold on as it was, and that any movements away from this churn would bring me closer to the other three parties while into a higher visibility zone of stiller water, and I now had naughty front bits as well as back bits showing, which means MUST NOT THINK OF UPPER FLOOR OF GYM THAT LOOKS OVER HOT TUB, and things were pretty interesting.

I knew I should have majored in physics.

With gritted teeth behind vague smile, I pretended to stretch a bit under the jets, slowly pinching and praying the spandex into a more successful, less celebutantey position, and moving to the side as soon as possible.

This was still nice, albeit a little cramped in the corner, away from the early Michael Richards moment.

Surely these people will leave soon, I thought. I've never had anyone outlast me in a hot tub. I am the Marion Davies of hot tubs. (I would explain that, but it's such an obscure allusion that I'm going to regard it as bait for the right person to someday Google past, know what I'm talking about, and feel really excellent when they leave a comment explaining why. Or maybe someone will come up with an explanation that's even better than the truth. Why do I still talk in parentheses so much?)

The people didn't leave. In fact, they were letting their legs float up and footsie each other. As these other parties looked old enough to have been around during the redwood hot tub white wine heyday of the 1970s, I bowed to their greater experience and left, my slightly damp sandals heralding my every step back to the room. Beautiful.

A little room-based R&R later, and it was time for Know It and Show It at five p.m. in the Fountain Cafe, this time with Joey.

We knew it. We showed it. And Mike was so embarrassed by it that he started to give our SHIP ON A STICK #4(!!!) away to the runner-up, but luckily his graciousness wasn't heard in the post-game commotion, because I hate to have to give one of those meaningful pinches. (Guys, this is what they actually teach women on that special day at school when the boys and girls go into separate rooms. Meaningful pinches, incomprehensible glares, and how to say "Nothing" like it's something. You didn't fall for that ovary/fallopian tube coverup scheme, did you?)

Ship number four! Ship number four! This is fun!

We took our little prize back to the room, ready to sit on the shady balcony and watch the boats go by, when there's a knock at the door.

Hmmm. Who could it be? I open the door, and it's Joey, who we'd just left in the Fountain Cafe. And he's holding a ship on a stick. And a bottle of champagne.

Oh god. My first thought? They're asking us not to play any more. They're giving us some sort of lifetime achievement Oscar and throwing in a bottle of champagne and asking us to please keep our accelerated knowledge of crap to ourselves so other people might have some fun, too.

I was ready to fight. We hadn't won every game! It was just luck! And tomorrow we'd be gone all day on an excursion, so come on, please? Let us keep playing?

Joey said, "Oh, it's you!" and before I could finally have just cause to parody a Pantene commercial, he thrust the champagne, the stick, a folder, and a piece of paper into my arms.

I looked at the paper.

I looked at Joey.

I looked confused.

"Um. Why?"

He grinned. "Look at who it's from."

I just stared. "I know, but why?"

He just shrugged and smiled, and then I started smiling, and then my face hurt a lot from the smiling, and somehow I said bye to Joey and turned around to show Mike.

This is Mike smiling:

Carnival Sprit - Mike with Surprise Goodies from John Heald

Apparently John Heald, senior cruise director and Carnival brand ambassador extraordinaire, had seen our table request and was the reason we had our lovely table for two. He had also seen fit to send us something a little extra, too, thus turning the very sweet moment of his kindness into "if I laugh any longer, there's going to be a change of underwear involved," SHIP ON A STICK NUMBER FIVE!

Carnival Sprit - Now Even I Am Getting Embarrassed

Now even I was getting a little embarrassed. Thank you, again, John Heald. No matter how much John says he enjoys helping people in this way, I hope no one takes it for granted. This really meant so much to us.

(At the same time, I wish people would stop griping at John and saying that people who make table requests are all leeches and losers who don't care about him and who shouldn't be encouraged. I really enjoy John's blog - I don't think you even have to be a cruiser to get a kick out of his wit - and he takes pains to separate the Q&A section so those who are just there for a look at his daily life can easily skip the customer service bits. Yes, some people are rude and grabby, but isn't it obvious how well he is loved? Hopefully Carnival realizes how much he does for their cruising community.)

But, once you're at five ships, there's no point in stopping. 7:45, and we were in the Shanghai Bar once again for British Pub Quiz.

Once again, Sam was funny, the other players were agreeable, and the questions were interesting. Then things got even more interesting: a tie!

It was us and a group from Colorado. Well, then. Each team must send one rep to the bar for a tie-breaking question.

I sent Mike. He had the Commonwealth edge, plus he was less likely to spend the rest of his life beating himself up and taking to drink if he got the deciding question wrong.

The other team sent a young man, a good 15 years younger than us, surely. Okay, let's see if experience gets us anything in this world.

Well, Mr. Colorado must be a man of experience because he....

...tied with Mike. Okay, another question.

Another tie.

Another question.

Another eight or so ties.

Sam: "I've run through most of tomorrow night's questions!"

And then we came to a question that, frankly, I think you could be dubbed Sir Anglophile by Her Majesty Herself and still have not a clue.

One man made a logical guess. The other man played a hunch.

We gave the Boddingtons to Colorado, and took SHIP ON A STICK NUMBER SIX(+!) and the hunch back to the room.

Then it was dinner once more, and since the night before (I forgot to mention this in the last post), it was featuring Zoltan and Mile (Mee-lay). I don't know what happened to the other assistant waiter, but we came to appreciate Mile just as much as the amazing Zed.

I admit it: it was actually second dinner. After the Heald Surprise, we walked around the ship, including the buffet. I decided to nibble the fried mozzarella there, and then I'd have the Yukon Gold cream of potato soup at dinner.

So, time and again, on the different forums, you see people say, "What's the point of eating in the main dining room? They have the same food on the buffet?"

First off, it's a smaller selection on the buffet. Second off, as good as Spirit's buffet was compared to Splendor and Elation (not that they were bad, just not great), the same dish at buffet never tasted as good as in the dining room, regardless of what it was. Part of it is the loss of ambience, I'm sure, but part of it definitely how it's prepared. (We'll get back to that when I describe the second elegant night.)

I actually had some of the soup and the fried mozz of at the buffet. The soup was okay; I just wasn't in the mood for soup, after all. The fried mozzarella triangles? Bland. Bleh. I've had better at Sonic.

A few hours later, at the table, I decided that Chilled Cream of Peaches - my remaining appetizer option - didn't appeal, either. So I ordered the fried mozzarella after all.

Carnival Spirit - Fried Mozzarella

World of difference. Yummy-yummy. Instead of a dry, bland triangle, this was crispy all around, and the little sauce and vegetable spray elevated the experience.

Mike had the sliced beef tenderloin with noodle salad. "Really good."

Carnival Spirit - More Satay

He followed this with another steak, after having to inform Zoltan that there is at least one Australian in this world who doesn't like lamb.

Carnival Spirit - Another Steak

Carnival Spirit - Black Bean Enchiladas

The black bean enchiladas were for me, of course, and as spicy and deliciously complex as on Splendor.

Then we did a shocking thing: we skipped dessert. The keyboard just trembled as an echo sounded around the cruiseosphere: "They skipped dessert? On bitter and blanc night?!"

I know. In the end, I'm still a cruising amateur.

Carnival Spirit - Towel Animal - Elephant

Back in our room, the elephant awaited us. Aw! But we couldn't stay there too long, because The Quest was happening at 10:30.

This was a hoot and a half times two and multiplied by seven on Carnival Splendor, so we were both looking forward to it, even though this time we knew what was going to happen. Alas, the Code of the Quest is that I can reveal nothing more here. Someday you will be initiated, assuming you're over 18, or maybe you won't. Much as last time, this time we were just observers, but it was still pretty funny.

(In-joke for me to remember for later and for you to ignore: Sam telling about the girl on another cruise pointing at her mouth. Hahahaha. Oh my! I blush.)

Still juvenated by our excellent day, it was hard to get to sleep, especially knowing that we had to get up for a 9:00 a.m. tour....

Or so we thought.

(Next Post in This Cruise Report: Manzanillo.)

31 May 2010 |






Carnival Elation (2009)
Carnival Splendor (2009)
Carnival Spirit (2010)
Carnival Spirit (2011)
Carnival Splendor (2011)
Norwegian Pearl to Alaska (2012)