The first cruise has sailed from Mexico's Puerto Peñasco. Will it attract more companies?
For almost a decade, hope for a cruise from Puerto Peñasco has mirrored the rise and fall of the waves lapping the beach city on Mexico's Sea of Cortez.
Steve Schwab, who owns the vacation rental company Casago with more than 700 properties in the area, was among those skeptical that the Jan. 9 departure of Cruise and Maritime Voyages' Astoria ship would actually happen.
"It's been a start and stop process where it looks like it's going to happen. Then maybe not. Then again it was going to happen. To see it finally come to fruition is really satisfying," said Schwab, who has owned the company for 19 years.
Schwab splits his time between Scottsdale and Puerto Peñasco, also known as Rocky Point. He has weathered the city's ups and downs and is hopeful the new cruise will broaden its appeal it as a tourist destination.
His optimism is shared by government leaders who see this as the first step toward making the city a hub for cruises of the Sea of Cortez.
"We felt very happy and proud of this expected moment. We had been anticipating it for quite a while and it finally happened so it was history in the making," said Kiko Munro, the mayor of Puerto Peñasco.
Will more cruise lines come?
Now that the first ship has sailed, Munro is turning his attention toward the horizon.
"Our plan is to make Rocky Point the natural home port for the Sea of Cortez," he said.
Cruise and Maritime Voyages has scheduled just three departures of its "Treasures of the Sea of Cortez" cruise this season. Munro said representatives of the company have told him they are confident they will return in December for a second season.
He also said the company is exploring bringing a larger ship, the 1,200-passenger Magellan, and developing different itineraries and cruise lengths to cater to younger guests and families unable to take a cruise that visits seven ports over 11 days.
In addition, Munro said the city is in talks with several other cruise lines to make Puerto Peñasco the embarkation or port stop for their cruises.
For instance, when Vidanta luxury resorts launches its first cruise ship, the Vidanta Elegant, from Puerto Vallarta this summer, Munro said the itinerary will include a stop in Puerto Peñasco.
"If we're able to keep promoting this industry with other cruise lines, I think cruise ships are here to stay long term," Munro said.
And that could benefit Arizona as well.
"A lot of the supplies and the people who are coming to Puerto Peñasco will have to come through Arizona so I actually think there will be an economic gain. Especially the Phoenix area, with everybody flying in, staying and then coming down to Peñasco will be a good economic turn for Arizona as well," Schwab said.
A cruise terminal is in progress
One of the biggest obstacles in bringing cruise ships here is the fact that there is no cruise terminal or dock. Cruise and Maritime Voyages is navigating that challenge by parking the ship offshore and tendering passengers to the ship in smaller vessels.
Puerto Peñasco and the state of Sonora have invested money toward construction of a dock and made efforts to get Mexico's federal government involved. Munro is hopeful that recent moves by his city and the Sonora government to open the project up to receiving private investment will help speed the process.
"We feel pretty confident in 2020 we're going to be able to make some progress," Munro said.
Arizona Republic Consumer Travel Reporter Melissa Yeager will join the inaugural cruise when it docks at Cabo San Lucas on Jan. 14 and sail with it to Puerto Peñasco. She'll be filing multiple stories about the ship and experience. Some of those stories will only be for our subscribers whose financial support is helping pay for this reporting. If you'd like to support local journalism like this, subscribe here.