Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Hola, Ensenada!

While looking online at the different shore excursions Carnival offers for Ensenada, I kept bypassing the City & Shopping Tour because, quite frankly, the name didn’t sound very interesting at all. I am glad that I pressed further and read the description because once I did I found we would be traveling by bus to three different stops in three hours. The first stop was the Riviera Del Pacifico, “a glamorous resort and casino during the roaring 20s.” Our second stop would find us visiting Bodegas de Santo Tomas, “the oldest winery in Mexico and taste its famous wines.” And finally, our tour would leave us some time for “browsing around the city’s main shopping district” before returning to the ship. Now, that sounds way more interesting than the name of this excursion implies. So, the day we embarked the ship, we purchased tickets for the City & Shopping Tour in Ensenada.

The ship docked in Ensenada sometime before 9 a.m., though I am not really sure about that, I didn’t hear nor feel anything ... and if it wasn’t for room service, we probably would have slept through our excursion!

We got off the ship and easily found our excursion group. The shore excursion met right on the pier at the base of the ship. It doesn’t get much more convenient than that. We checked in and waited for everyone on the tour to arrive.

And before we knew it we were boarding our lovely air-conditioned bus and settling in for the ride ... which lasted about 5 minutes.

A short block across the street and we arrived at our first destination -- the Riviera Del Pacifico.

From the front lawn, can you spot the Whale Tail? Yes, we were that close!

Riviera Del Pacifico - Scandal, Intrigue and a Great Drink
The Riviera Del Pacifico was built in the late 1920s and is another one of those great Art Deco era buildings we had the opportunity to visit during this cruise. Are you beginning to notice a theme here?

The hotel and casino was opened during Prohibition times and had names like Al Capone and Jack Dempsey associated with it. Unlike the Casino in Catalina, this one did have gambling back then and offered a playground for the wealthy and Hollywood set. Starlets such as Lana Turner, Rita Hayworth and Lucille Ball visited often.

It was really beautiful and the outside was decorated with hand-painted tiles.

We toured a number of rooms inside, including the Grand Ballroom.

The hand-painted murals were interesting as well including this one of the California Missions inside the entryway.

In the center was a courtyard filled with vendors selling plenty of souvenirs.

Margarita Story
There are many claims to how the famous Margarita drink came to be and the Riviera Del Pacifico holds one of them. According to the history of the hotel, the Margarita is said to be named after a young woman, Marjorie (Margarita) K. Plant.

In 1948, Jerome Utley (one of the original shareholders, an American and a very old man) fell in love with a young woman, Marjorie K. Plant (another American) and transferred all of his interests in the hotel to her. She soon married a lawyer from Mexico, Alfonso Rocha, under the guise that she needed Mexican citizenship to run the hotel. Later, it would be found out the marriage was real which angered old man Jerome into pursuing criminal charges against the couple. Enter scandal, intrigue and mayhem. Sometime in there, the Margarita drink supposedly was concocted and named after Marjorie.

I don’t know if this Margarita claim is really true - nor, for me, do I think it really matters all that much. But, what I do know is that at 10 a.m. the kind folks at the Riviera Del Pacifico served complimentary Margaritas to everyone on the tour to commemorate the story.

Let the party begin!

Bodegas de Santo Tomas
Back on the bus and off to the oldest winery in Mexico, Bodegas de Santo Tomas. Although it’s a non-working winery now, it seemed to be pretty active. I think they have moved their wine-making facility elsewhere in Ensenada.

We went into a large warehouse sized room ... more like a museum of really cool old wine-making stuff!

I loved the barrels. And there is nothing that says wine more than a bunch of oak barrels lining the place. Hey, where is he going with that barrel?

You know, just one of those in the garage would be kind of cool, don’t you think?

Next, we paraded into the wine tasting room. The decor was cool with the black & white tiled floors and all of the wines organized so neatly.

Wine tasting time! We were able to taste six different types of wine ... which will maybe explain what comes next.

In the end, we left with five bottles of reasonably priced wine ... a white, a rose, a cabernet and two dessert wines!

Debarking and Customs
Having never bought alcohol in a foreign port before, we were a bit naive about customs and what could be brought back. While we did know we may have to pay Duty on a few of these bottles, we were assured it wouldn’t be that much. As we disembarked in Long Beach the Custom’s Agent made the comment, “You have three bottles of wine there.” It was really more of a statement.

I spilled the beans with, “No, we have five.” He looked at me a moment and then said, “That’s fine” and sent us on our way into the United States.

See, the truth will set you free.

Shopping and Bargaining

Our Tour Guide, Sara, was awesome. She was very engaging as she told us about the sights in and around Ensenada as we made our way to Downtown Ensenada.

The main shopping street was lined with plenty of shops and restaurants and seemed pretty safe, though I will admit ... deviate from this one street and it gets pretty sketchy really quick.

While there are Pharmacy’s all over Ensenada, we were warned not to bring any medications back on board the ship. I know a lot of people buy over-the-counter antibiotics, heart medicine and well ... other types of medicinal perks.

I would have to say Ensenada is one of the more colorful cities I have visited.


There were plenty of transportation options, too, if you wanted a quick ride back to the ship.

There were vendors in store fronts and set out on the sidewalk. Be prepared to be asked to visit their shop and inspect their goods.

The area is depressed and the people rely on tourism to make it. I bargained with this woman at her cart for a mask for my son at home. I really don’t bargain well ... especially when the item seemed cheap enough to begin with. Hubby had to whisk me away pretty quickly before I started giving this woman even more money than she was asking for.

Before we knew it, it was time to head back to the ship. The tour was over.

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