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Travel Diary: Mexican Riviera Salsa Cruise
w/ Dance Fun on the Norwegian Star Jan 2005


By Vivian, Return to SalsaCrazy.Com Features

Mexican Riviera Salsa Dance Cruise, 1/18/2004 – 1/25/2004


By Vivian


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Mexican Riviera Cruise with NCL by Vivian

I can’t believe it has been a year since I went on the last salsa cruise to the Caribbean with DanceFun? It was such an amazingly unforgettable trip that I couldn’t resist, and joined this year’s salsa cruise to the Mexican Riviera again. This time, we boarded the Norwegian Star. It was overall a better quality ship with a larger bathroom and a more seemingly comfortable bed. Several extra specialty restaurants with minimal coverage charge were available on top of their “freestyle” dining options. The “freestyle” dining is what distinguished this ship from the others by not having a designated dinner hour at a specific table with the same people during the course of the cruise. The cruise started out with 2 days at Sea, followed by 4 ports of call and ending with one day at Sea. John Riddle with DanceFun managed to set up more than 15 classes plus social dance time for our salsa group of 150 people on this trip. We were fortunate to have a group of outstanding dance teachers including Ron & Karla Montez, Francisco & Stacy Martinez, Salomon & Sandra Rivera, Tony Nardolillo, Barbie Novoryta, Glen & Patti Braunstein, and Victor with us on board. I also recognize DJ Tony and his significant other from last year’s cruise with us. I have to say, this cruise went by so quickly I couldn’t believe I am already back. One would say that time flies when you are having too much fun!

Here goes the recount of my day to day starting from my flight out of SFO:

Jan 8th, 2005 (SFO to Port of LA)

Our flight out of SFO was delayed for half an hour arriving in LAX. We regret not having booked the Norwegian Shuttle Service ($20pp) with DanceFun because we ended up taking a SuperShuttle ($27+ $9 additional person) that took us around the entire Los Angeles (it didn’t but felt like it did) via the scenic route for an hour and a half before dropping us off at the Port of LA. We would have almost missed the ship because we got there late at 3:30pm, but luckily or not, the embarkation process was behind. We quickly glued ourselves to the line in fear that the ship would sail without us. The ship actually departed an hour late because the boarding process was not very efficient or organized. It is best to pre-register online 2 weeks before your departure to save time and avoid headaches. Regardless, the lines we went through to get our room key was extensively long. It took us about an hour and a half to check-in.


Once we got into our room, we threw our luggage aside crashed onto the bed for about 30 minutes of beauty rest and got ready to meet with our DanceFun group at the Spinnaker Lounge. John and Anita greeted us and we met a few new faces. John generously offered us an hour of open bar to get our free drinks while he made announcements, getting our salsa group organized, and introducing our dance instructors of the cruise to us. Soon after DJ Tony began to play salsa, the dance floor became filled with the not-so-shy dancers to break the ice with each other. With the training I got from last year, I have managed to balance quite well dancing on a rocking ship…except for a few moments…but who cares, the guys always seem to catch me. After about an hour of dancing, we ventured into Aqua (one of the two main dining room) for dinner. The dining room is lovely and romantic with the blinking stars on the ceiling but the food that night wasn’t the greatest for me. The French Onion soup was extremely salty and that’s one of my favorite soups. Luckily I had a much better luck a few days later at Le bistro. After a few courses of dinner, we walked around the cruise ship and headed back to the cabin for a good night sleep so I get up early for dance classes.

Jan 9th, 2005 (At sea)

We woke up early for breakfast at Versailles. I ate a lot before rushing over to my first salsa class with the famous Ron Montez. We had a huge turn out and the class was held on the Stardust theater stage (which was quite high to fall off and luckily no one did). I also took the next class with Victor. Since we have a majority of women, some became leaders and it worked out quite well. I had the opportunity to be led by Patti Braunstein the instructor and didn’t even know she was an instructor. She was an excellent leader even though I was a head taller than her. After class, we received our name tag and a colorful complimentary canvas bag from DanceFun that I used throughout the trip. That was a great way to identify your salsa people among the other one thousand plus people on the cruise without the name tag. Hungry again after class, we rushed to the Market Café and ate not-so-great food with Marla (from AZ) and David (from MI). We ate a lot regardless because it was tempting.


Anyway, we managed to walk around the ship to visit the store and the gym before returning to the cabin and slept unconsciously for 3 hours just like that. The group met again at the Spinnaker lounge for some salsa dancing and announcements of more classes for the next day. It was an optional Formal Night and a lot of people did dress up. We attempted to wait in line for the portrait but it was not moving at all for a very long time and we gave up. Instead, we went to the Stardust Theater to see the Music of the Night with the Jean Ann Ryan Company until 8:30pm. We made it to Versailles to have the very popular Lobster Tail for dinner. The portions were generous and the food on the cruise finally began to taste better. I enjoyed my escargot. The service at the dining room was always excellent. We were so impressed by the efficiency and attention they gave us. After devouring plates and plates of food, we went to the Spinnaker lounge to join the cruise’s New Year’s Eve celebration (re-do from last week). They did not play any serious salsa music, so we walked out to the hallway and found out that some of the salseros were hanging out at the cinema room with a little stage. Salomon provided hot salsa music and everyone passed by would poke their heads in and see what’s going on. Some of us decided to just dance on carpet in the spacious hallway with better ventilation. You know how hot salsa gets! By midnight, we headed back into the Spinnaker Lounge to scream Happy New Year with everyone there. It was indeed quite packed with people of all ages…some probably passed their bedtimes. Afterwards, we checked out the casino and I made my donations before going to bed.

Jan 10th, 2005 (Day 2 at Sea – a day of serious eating for me)

I managed to wake up at an inhuman hour (9am) just to attend Sandra & Salomon’s cha-cha class at the Spinnaker after having a quick bite to eat in our room. The class was exceptional and fun as usual…a little difficult…but styling! I made my way back to the Market Café for more breakfast (I am addicted to the little round hash browns they have). Feeling quite satiated from the fatty meal, I was sleepy again and had to go back to my cabin for a few hours of napping. We suddenly woke up at 1:50pm and rushed over to Versailles for lunch. We had to rush because they stop seating at 2pm…and so we made it to the dining room for our several course again. It became sunny on the upper deck as our ship cruise past Cabo, a lot of our salsa new friends were hanging out to get some sun.


We intended to return to our cabin to change into swimwear but we got extremely lazy with all the food we ate we ended up sleeping again (yes! For the 3rd time today!) After an hour, I woke up in time for the Rueda class by Francisco & Stacey. It was so much fun because Stacey has the most beautiful and welcoming smile while Francisco was being hilarious. There were so many of us in class that we had to be separated into an inner circle and an outer circle. I was in the inner circle and Francisco called us the “innie’s”. He was great in keeping the mob in order and entertaining everyone at the same time. After class, it was time for all the DanceFun participants to show up for a couple of hours of social dancing. During which, we had to play a game with stuffed gorilla and stuffed teddy bears. The game involved being separated from your original dance partner and it was hysterical because it was such a mess with people violating the rules of the game. In the end, the last 3 couples won some trinket prizes. Tonight we had dinner at Versailles with Shannon & Liz (SF) and several new friends from Spokane. It was nice getting to know more new friends from DanceFun while dining a 10-course meal. Most of us had multiple appetizers (one with grapes & chardonnay was my favorite! I wish I could remember the name). It was another great evening.

Jan 11th, 2005 (Acapulco)

Our ship was scheduled to port at 12pm. DanceFun organized multiple selections of classes. I attended Barbie’s lady styling class. It was a workout but I enjoyed it very much. The girls were all doing a great job following the footwork and had a great time. After having an omelette breakfast at the Market Café, we went out to the Port Terminal to use the internet. It costs about 75cents per minute plus activation fee to use the internet on the ship. It cost me $4 usd to use the internet at the Terminal for 1 hour. I shopped around the small terminal and barely step outside and was quickly harassed by multiple local taxi drivers and tour guides for business. This port was the one I read about being difficult to walk on the streets on my own (especially as a girl)…it could be quite dangerous because the local people there are so aggressive with the tourists. Luckily, we joined an Acapulco city sight-seeing tour with cliff diver show. We rode on the tour bus with a majority of the people 40 years older than us. The bus took us to see the old part of Acapulco, Acapulco Golden, and Acapulco Diamonte where the famous movie stars stay. We enjoyed a series of 4 cliff divers in action at La Quebrada. I was informed that the divers leap from 130 feet above the water into 11feet of inlet…and no one has ever died of an accident there (that we know of). It was amazing. There was a group of Mexican dance performers in bright costumes singing, dancing and taking photos with us. Their guacamole was delicious! After the show, we shopped at the jewelry store at Plaza Taxco (which I now realize was actually not expensive compared to the next few ports). The bus took about 45 minutes to get from Acapulco Diamonte back to the Port. We went back to the ship to have our dinner date at Aqua with Liz & Shannon (our friends from last year’s Caribbean cruise). The meal that night was one of the best I had on the cruise.


DanceFun arranged a night of dancing at Salon Q (the biggest dance club in Acapulco). We managed to get a discount coupon from Armando the bartender inside the Terminal that allows us to pay only $8 usd per person for admission (without drinks) to Salon Q. The club was basically filled with our salsa group from the ship with a few amount of local dancers. There was a live band and a DJ we couldn’t see where he was hiding. They did play a bit too many meringues and the floor was made of stone or tile? It was an interesting experience because there was no rocking from the ship! The taxi fare was around $10 usd to and from the club.

Jan 12th, 2005 (Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa)

Today we had breakfast (always have to eat) before taking the tender boat ashore. We decided to get our exercise walking around town in Zihuatanejo which turned out to be a very quaint little village. The locals were much more relaxed and did not bother to bargain with the tourists. I enjoy bargaining and they did not even bother to play my game! Since their price was fair, I bought a hammock for $25, t-shirts, trinkets and stuff. We loitered through the streets of El Centro where most of the stores and food joints were located. It only cost us $1 usd to serve on the internet for an hour! I tried the smoothie at Bing’s…it was okay…nothing like the ones I get in the States. We strolled along the sandy/rocky beach near the Pier. It was so hot that I actually dipped my feet into the water…but that was my one and only close up experience with the Mexican water…it was nice and cold (just muggy looking). If we had more time, we would have visited Playa La Ropa where the locals hangout. The line to take the tender boat back to the ship was long under the baking sun. We rushed back to shower just in time to take Victor’s West Coast Swing class – my very first. It was challenging to attempt a new dance but I managed to follow (with fear…it was like learning salsa at the beginning). I was so proud of myself making through the class I turned hysterical with watery eyes. It was a smaller class so everyone was getting a fair amount of attention from the instructor (who was like a comedian). I was starved to death and had to rush to the Market Café for a quick bite since I wanted to save my appetite for a real meal after watching The Cirque Pacific show at the Stardust theatre. It was a pure Asian theme show with lots of kung-fu actions with and flexible bodies on stage. Right after the show, we rushed over to Versailles to be seated before the door close. After dinner, we went back to the Spinnaker to watch the Latin character costume contest with DanceFun. We had a fair amount of dedicated participants this year. More salsa dancing followed.

Jan 13th, 2005 (Puerto Vallarta)

We had another omelette breakfast before taking the tender boat ashore. DanceFun organized a salsa group excursion with the help of Bernie Lozano (used to be from the States but works in P.V. now). We had two buses full of salsa happy people (about 80 of us). There was a delay in departure from the terminal because some of us did not pay ahead of time and seats were limited. So, several people had to take an alternative transport to get to Chico’s Paradise. The bus drove us along the Malecon (by the water and lined with awesome sculptures and shops). We made our first stop to Chico’s paradise which is an opened air restaurant with a background setting of hills, rocks and waterfalls. It was very picturesque. There were horses further in the backside of the restaurant but everyone began to dance in the restaurant the moment salsa music began to play. Our group was filled with energetic salsa dancers in slippers or tennis shoe, it didn’t matter that we left our dance shoes on the ship. Some of us didn’t even bother ordering food until we had a few dances. The Pina Colada was great especially on a hot sunny day. There were two boys performing dives from a high rock into the shallow water in full speed. A Mexican couple performed for us and in return, we had Barbie & Tony showing off their styling techniques. Francisco and Stacey also graciously performed their stellar salsa dance routine with a few gymnastic moves. They were great and I got it on my camera video. I doubt I’ll be able to do the flipping over moves but it was definitely fun to watch them dance. We gathered for our first group photo at Chico’s before leaving for Le Kliff – our second destination. Le Kliff as named was built next to the cliff by the sea. The view was gorgeous and relaxing for one to look out while feeling the sea breeze. This was a major photo op location. I loved the architecture of the restaurant. It was pretty much all vertical. There were A LOT of steps to get down to the water but it was a great exercise for the gluts. Once we boarded the bus, we had to go straight to the pier because our ship will leave without us. Most of us really wanted to stop by the Malecon to shop but time was running out. The saddest thing was, when we got back to the pier, we had to wait like an hour in line to take the tender boat back onto the ship again. I was not very thrilled with the inconvenience that our ship was only able to dock at one out of four ports of call during this cruise. The time I spent in line, however, allowed me to socialize with other people on the cruise I’d never met (well, I had to make the best use of my time, right?)


Tonight, we had a DanceFun group dinner at the Aqua restaurant at 6pm. Most of us went back and dressed up a little for dinner. I loved having group dinner. We ate, we laughed and we took a lot of goofy and memorable photos. After a day filled with activity and a stomach full of food, we chose to see the movie I, Robot at the cinema which was great. The word was out that some salsa dancers were to meet at the gym with music provided by Salomon (again, thank you for the entertainment and means for me to lose those calories on I consumed) after 9pm. We came out from the cinema and went straight to the gym. The salseros took over the gym’s cycling room. There were at least 20 people dancing in that little under-ventilated room. The floor was great and everyone was dancing up a sweat. I managed to ask almost every guy to dance with me. It was unpretentious and I had a genuine good time…especially when I started to goof off and flying around as the ship went rocking. I was hysterical. Thanks to Salomon for providing us the music! At midnight, there was a “Ship N Males” all adult male revue at the Spinnaker. A couple of us boys and girls found a spot and joined the screaming crowd. Some of the more audacious females I recognized from DanceFun were making the guys work really hard for their dollars. It was scandalous and I am not going to elaborate on the details…

Jan 14th, 2005 (Cabo San Lucas)

This was our last port of call. We had no morning dance classes so after having breakfast, we took the tender boat ashore (again). It was quite a hassle but at least you could treat it as a 3 minutes short excursion to sight-see the area for free. The moment we landed, a lot of street merchants were carrying tons of stuff on their body and telling us to buy because it’s “almost free”…but when you ask how much…I was surprised and disappointed to find out that Cabo was indeed the most expensive port for the similar things you saw from the previous ports. Here, they were willing to bargain but with very little motivation. The local people there were very informed of the ship’s itinerary so they were more willing to bargain when the tourists were leaving. This was my second time in Cabo so we didn’t join any excursions but instead, took a leisure walk around town and shopped instead. This town is really small. I chose street shopping over mall shopping at Puerto Paraiso.


The closest beach recommended to us was the Medano Beach which was not far from the big mall or most of the tourists would choose to go to the Lover’s beach near the Arch via a water taxi. Internet access here was reasonable. We found a little place with the best Pina Colada we had on this trip but I forgot to get the name. (sorry!) There was a huge opened-air market with lots and lots of Mexican crafts and trinkets (not the best price but when it’s your last port and you’re desperate and running out of time….this is the place to check out before taking the tender boat back to the ship). Street musicians entertained us before we got on the tender boat. Back on the ship, we had to get ready for our salsa dancing at the Spinnaker Lounge for an hour. Tonight, we saw the show It’s Fame at the Stardust theater with Shannon and Liz. We sat right in the center of the theater and had the best view except the 3 year old in front of me made his dad miss the show. Feeling starved again, we had dinner at the Market Café. The lobster bisque was delicious! I had several bowls and still wanted to have more (but couldn’t). I had to save my appetite for the NCL’s signature Chocoholic Buffet at Versailles Restaurant tonight at 11:30pm. Why so late I don’t know…so everyone could gain a few more pounds for eating sweets at midnight! Regardless, I missed the movie Notebook that Shannon & Liz went to watch because they told me it would be sad and I might shed tears (No thanks!).


So we made it to the buffet and we were very impressed with the severe amount of chocolate everything on everything. You name it and it was there. I admit I was very greedy and got a huge plateful and I tried to eat it all but I just couldn’t do it. A group of us from DanceFun were there and we decided to take the dessert to the Carousel where there will be latin music playing with this guy named DJ Brian from 11:30 until close. Well, he did play some meringue, salsa and even some bachatas initially but he switched to hip hop and refused to play more serious salsa music because there were other non-salsa cruise people around I suppose. Well, I liked most music and hip hop it is. I had the most fun dancing with Diane, Maureen, Marla, Pierre and Francisco tonight.

Jan 15th, 2005 (At Sea)

I dragged myself to Ron & Karla’s class early this morning at 8am and I also checked out Salomon & Sandra’s class. Unfortunately I couldn’t be at 2 places at once (actually I would prefer 3 so I can also stay in bed). Luckily, I had a video camera to record the moves so I could learn from it when I recover from sleep deprivation. The routine was excellent as always. We had breakfast at Versailles. Since it was our last day on this cruise, we finally decided to get some sun on the deck. We changed into our swimwear with sweats on the outside and headed up to the deck. It was peaceful with a live band still playing tropical music. It was unbelievably windy and we relocated 3 times to find a warmer spot with less wind. Impossible since the wind was just blowing from all sides. I didn’t take off any layers because it was too cold. Evan had to cover his upper body like all the guys were doing with a beach towel to keep warm. As we sat for about 15 minutes, we just couldn’t do it anymore. The sun wasn’t hot enough to keep us from getting a cold (in my opinion). And I couldn’t help but noticed that the crew staff was wearing thick jackets on the deck. So we headed back to our cabin and the balcony was much warmer alternative.


After a while, I ventured into the Barong Spa to use the Jacuzzi. I was surprised to find out that’s where everyone was hanging out. There were 3 indoor plus a swimming poor. There were beach chairs facing the large window to view the Ocean from the back side of the ship. It was beautifully decorated and I only wished that I had discovered this place on my first day of the cruise. I wasn’t about to leave until Evan came and got me to get ready for our dinner reservation at Le Bistro tonight. Got ready as quickly as possible, we headed to the Le Bistro for a French dinner since we heard many good things about this restaurant. I had the escargot, French onion soup and Surf & Turf as main entrée. After having tasted all of the above previously from the 2 main dining rooms before and I have to comment that the same food item tasted better in the paid restaurant. We had the Fire Star where the meat were hung on a metal rack and flamed for 20 seconds (I attempted to take a photo of that and didn’t turn out so the waiter flamed again…then the meat was over-cooked…just kidding). It was like a Benihana show.


Well, after all the heavy amount of proteins digested…it was time for Le desert! We had a chocolate cake and the chocolate fondue! It was the best and I can still savor the warm chocolate covering bananas, strawberries, and pineapples. It was DE-licious! Thanks Marla for the good suggestion. It was heavenly. After another heavy meal, we rushed over to the Spinnaker Lounge to work it all off (we had hoped but apparently it’s on my left and right side now). We had 3 hours of dance time tonight and outstanding exhibition by Sandra & Salomon, Ron Montez & his son, followed by 5 male instructors taking turns showing off their shines. At the end of the night, everyone said good-byes and exchanged contacts. It was difficult but the good time eventually has to end. That way, we can look forward to another trip again!

In my last few words, I would like to thank everyone I met on the salsa cruise. We had a really friendly group of people (mostly women but we managed to share the guys…I mean on the dance floor). I am so proud of the ladies on our salsa cruise because they were not intimidated to ask the guys for a dance or two. I am also very proud of a few lady friends I met (you know who you are) who came on board with little or no salsa dance experience and are now SALSA DANCERS! I hope to see you all again soon someday. Thank you, DanceFun for having organized another yet successful salsa cruise.  Yes, I'm already ready to go on the next one. 

Travel Diary: Mexican Riviera Salsa Cruise with Dance Fun on the Norwegian Star Jan 2005

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