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More ships will sail from Southern California to Mexico starting in fall

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Carnival Panorama ship on a sea trial. The vessel is expected to arrive in Southern California in December.
(Fiippo Vinardi / Carnival Cruise Line)

Some of the biggest cruise ships in the world will descend on Southern California later this year. And all of them want to take you to Mexico.

Thanks to new ships and new interest in the SoCal cruise market, the region is seeing a seagoing traffic spike, according to the 2019 Cruise Industry News Annual Report. Beginning in fall, three giant ships, including two Norwegian Cruise Line vessels and a Princess Cruises ship, will roll into the Port of Los Angeles, where they’ll begin sailing Mexican Riviera — that is, the western coast of Mexico — itineraries.

In December, another significant event will take place when Carnival Panorama leaves the Fincantieri shipyard in Italy and arrives at the Port of Long Beach.

Panorama will be the first new ship to homeport in Southern California in more than two decades. It will be a full-time resident, said Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line.

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“What I think is unique is that the ship will become a fixture at the port, which 60% of California’s residents can drive to within five hours or less,” she said.

“It will be the only ship sailing seven-day cruises to the Mexican Riviera year-round out of California.”

Panorama, which cost $780 million and can carry 4,000 passengers, successfully completed its sea trials in mid-July in the Adriatic. Its inaugural cruise — now sold out — will leave Dec. 11 from Long Beach for a three-day trip to Ensenada, Mexico.

The 1,055-foot ship will then sail weeklong voyages to Mexico beginning Dec. 14, visiting Puerto Vallarta, Cabo San Lucas and Mazatlán. Rates begin at $515 per person, double occupancy, for an interior room.).

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“This is huge news not only for Long Beach, but for West Coast travelers as a whole,” said Colleen McDaniel, senior executive editor of Cruise Critic website.

“Port cities constantly vie to be the home of brand new ships, and cruise lines pour in a ton of research and strategizing when deciding on ship deployment. Carnival’s move to base Carnival Panorama in Southern California shows an enormous dedication to both the cruise market in California and West Coast travelers.”

The ship joins Long Beach-based Carnival Imagination and Carnival Inspiration, carrying more than 600,000 passengers annually from the West Coast. The trips are mostly short— three days to a week — visiting Santa Catalina Island, Ensenada and other Mexican destinations.

Panorama will be full of fun bells and whistles, including the first-ever Sky Zone trampoline park at sea, and the Sky Ride, a recumbent-bike ride that soars over the open ocean.

But Panorama will face fun-and-games challenges from two relatively new NCL ships that will begin sailing this fall to Mexico from the Port of Los Angeles.

Norwegian Joy and Norwegian Bliss, sister ships built within the last two years, each are more than 1,000 feet long, can hold nearly 4,000 passengers and have top decks bristling with monster-sized toys and games.

Bliss, at 168,028 tons, is Norwegian’s largest ship ever, and ranks among the 10 largest cruise vessels of all time. It was launched last year and is the largest cruise ship ever based in Los Angeles. Joy, built in 2017, is a bit smaller at 167,725 tons.

The two ships will sail dozens of weeklong cruises to the Mexican Riviera, visiting Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta. Bliss will be in Los Angeles waters from October to April; Joy will sail out of L.A. from November to March.

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Both ships have two-level racetracks, a tech-driven virtual world in the Galaxy Pavilion and a VIP ship-within-a-ship area called the Haven, with its own accommodations, pool, lounge areas, restaurant, bar and concierge.

Bliss first visited Los Angeles in the fall, sailing a few voyages to Mexico.

“It was so popular that we decided to bring Joy to the West Coast too,” said Andy Stuart, Norwegian president and chief executive.

Weeklong cruises start at $549 per person, double occupancy, for an inside cabin on Joy and $599 on Bliss. Some five-day cruises are also available, starting at $449.

Princess Cruises, which is headquartered in the L.A. area, isn’t giving in to its competitors in the battle to win the hearts and wallets of local residents. It is bringing the Royal Princess, one of its most popular ships, to the port of Los Angeles this fall for cruises to the Mexican Riviera and a variety of other destinations. Weeklong Mexico cruises start at $779 per person, double occupancy.

Princess has the longest history of any cruise line to sail from the Port of Los Angeles and became an oceangoing costar to celebrities featured on the long-running TV series “The Love Boat.” Staff members call Royal “L.A.’s hometown ship.”

At 142,000 tons and 1,083 feet, Royal is the largest ship in the Princess fleet, with an overwater SeaWalk, a 60-foot-long glass walkway standing 128 feet above the ocean, and an adults-only Retreat Pool and Sanctuary.

But the line’s favorite thing to promote aboard the ship is its OceanMedallion technology, which utilizes a wearable device meant to streamline your cruise experience.

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Among the perks: Better Wi-Fi connections, no more long waits to board, personalized maps to help you find restaurants or other locations on the ship and an app that lets you order drinks and snacks from your smartphone.


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