My family and I are big fans of cruises. My parents have been only more than a dozen of cruises within the last 10 years. My wife and I have both been on 4 or 5 in the same time. Even our kids are fans of cruises, so much so that our youngest requested this last cruise as part of his high school graduation back when he was only 12 years old. My brother and his family have also enjoyed their fair share of cruises. In addition, my in-laws have joined us for a few and found that they like sailing the deep blue too.
In fulfilling our son's graduation wishes, our group of 20 people set sail in early June for a simple 5-day cruise that included stops in Cozumel and Progresso. The cruise itself was pretty standard. We all boarded at different times because in a group that large it was impossible to coordinate to have everyone get the same boarding time. All of the rooms were ready at the same time so nobody got to a room before the others but our rooms, as it turned out, were not equal. Some of us had issues with the mini-fridge in our rooms. Some of us had issues with the television in our rooms. Some of us had issues with our room keys that had to be dealt with by Guest Services. Nothing too unusual for a boat that carries 4,000+ people around practically non-stop for months at a time but it goes to show that not everyone's experience was the same. None of the issues were tragic or horrible either. Everything was resolved in one manner or another so that we all could enjoy the trip well enough despite those minor inconveniences.
The on-board entertainment was typical. Trivia, karaoke, bingo, comedy acts, nightclubs, and all the usual cruise ship stock was available for our enjoyment and we all spread out across the ship and took in a variety of what was offered. I will say, however, that the song and dance shows are never good. They try but it lacks the polish and smooth sounds like most professional musical performances but hey, what can one expect on a cruise ship.
When we pulled into Cozumel, we had an excursion booked that took up most of our time there. Many of our group had visited Cozumel at least once on previous cruises in the past so we all knew what to expect and where to go. We usually eat at Three Amigos or Margaritaville and shop in the area around port before and after our excursions but beyond that we don't do much else there. There are other things people can do but we've always been told not to wander around the city too much unless you speak Spanish and not to do excursions offered outside of the cruise line for security purposes and because otherwise the boat will leave your ass there if you're not back when they said to be back on the boat.
Now, Progresso was new for all of us. None of us had ever visited Progresso on any of our other cruises. How after so many cruises had none of us been to Progresso was something of a shock to me but it was what it was. And Progresso was nothing like any of the other ports we had visited before.
Firstly, the port was 4 miles long. Other than a few shops and a bar near the pier where our boat docked there was nothing else in the port area. If you wanted to do anything in Progresso you had to take a shuttle ride down the length of the port and be dropped off in the middle of town. Where the shuttle dropped us was a little shopping area with a few stalls for vendors to sell knickknacks to tourists but nothing that we couldn't find at the shops in port really.
We had been told that there were some nice beaches in Progresso and number of places to shop. One of my nephews that had gone with us had wanted a luchador mask but had been told not to buy one in Cozumel and to wait to get it in Progresso where it would be cheaper by someone who had been to both before. We roamed around the city, nervous to get too far from the shuttle drop point in case we got lost, in search of a luchador mask and food.
Almost immediately the trouble with Progresso became unavoidable obvious.
Once we stepped outside of the building where the shuttle had dropped us off we could barely go 3 steps without being accosted by vendors trying to sell us everything under the sun. "Massage! Familia, massage for $20?" "Cold margaritas. 2 for $5!" "Sir, cold Corona? 2 for $5!" "A table by the beach? I can get you an umbrella!" "A shirt for the girl? Maybe a hat?" "Spare some dinero?"
You name it, they tried to sell it to you or beg for it from you. And it wasn't just one person barking these things. I don't know how many women offered us massages. I had multiple guys shoving flyers into my hand for their beer specials and restaurant menus. It was somebody every 5 feet trying to sell us something, sometimes the exact same thing the last person tried and failed to sell.
We looked in a few of the shops for my nephew's luchador mask but what few we found were flimsy and cheap looking. We continued our walk and continued to say "no thank you" endlessly. We couldn't have a conversation because we were constantly having to fend off the salespeople trying to sell us everything under the hot Mexican sun. Eventually, we found a restaurant that didn't look too shady and ducked in for a bite to eat. We ordered a little food and a few drinks. The service was nice but the food was meh. We didn't go into it thinking it was a 5-star place or that we would get a Michelin quality meal so don't get me wrong but it wasn't anything to get surprised or excited at either. The prices weren't too bad. The only thing was that it was a cash only place, as was most of the places we found there. From a credit security perspective that wasn't a bad thing but it meant we had to carry cash around which was not an ideal prospect given the immense level of poverty there.
After our meal, we tried to shop around for the luchador mask my nephew wanted but gave up after just a few minutes. We had become tired and irritated by the constant barrage of people getting in our faces trying to sell us something. Our entire party of about 12 people decided it was time to head back to the port. We had been in Progresso maybe an hour by this time and were already fed up with it.
We all got back to port and hung out in the shops there with more success. My nephew found his luchador mask. Another found a chess set. The bar was nice and offered a full compliment of drinks to choose from. The people were less "in your face" about their wares which made for a more relaxed shopping experience. We were all glad to be back at port. None of us had enjoyed our time in Progresso proper. While things could be found there cheaper than in Cozumel, it would take someone with a lot more patience than me to wade through the endless supply of barkers to find those diamond in the rough deals. I'm the type who would rather spend more money for an easier experience than wade through a pool of shit just for a deal that might save me a few bucks.
At the end of the day, we all made it back to the boat and enjoyed the rest of our cruise but Progresso will go down as the worst port of call we've visited to date.
Sure, you can say that the abject level of poverty there has driven the people to a point of desperation which is evident in their actions but there has to be a better way to go about enticing tourists to spend their money at your shop than accosting them at every step. And I don't blame Carnival for the conditions at their choice of port of call but as a cruise line looking to create pleasurable experiences for their customers, Carnival may want to reconsider stopping in Progresso. The lose of tourist dollars would only worsen the poverty there but at the same time, if that port of call is viewed unfavorably then those cruises will see fewer guests and those guests are less likely to spend vast quantities of cash in that port which won't help the locals either. It is a lose/lose condition for Progresso but I don't see how in its current state that the port can remain popular. I was surprised at how few other people from the boat we saw walking around the area when we were there but not entirely surprised by the steadily growing line for the shuttle back to port. We were only there for a short time but the line was long enough that we had to wait for a second bus and there was still at least 2 buses worth of people standing in line after we pulled away. it seemed we were not the only ones who did not want to stay in the town of Progresso.