22 October 2016

Lover's Beach: where the Pacific meets the Sea of Cortez
Strictly come cruising
A Mexican voyage waltzes away with maximum points from dance judge Alesha Dixon
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hilly old Britain. It’s that warm breeze on your face that makes you realise you’ve left it behind, at least for a while. I flew from freezing London to balmy Los Angeles to join the Sapphire Princess for my first cruise, a nine-day voyage along the Mexican coast. As we left port and I breathed in lungfuls of sea air, I couldn’t help asking myself: ‘What took you so long to try it?’ I had always thought cruises were strictly for grannies, mainly because own grandmother, Clem, loves them.

On this occasion I hadn’t taken my granny along but my cousin Emmaline. We shared a suite which was the perfect size: compact without being in the slightest bit cramped. Sailing on the Sapphire Princess I quickly became a card-carrying cruise convert. It’s a cliché to describe the ship as a floating village, but that’s exactly how it felt. It’s one of 17 ships operated by Princess Cruises and is one of the largest cruise liners in the world, carrying nearly 3,000 passengers. The extraordinary thing is that you would never know it. With five swimming pools and five restaurants, not to mention 13 bars, it never felt overcrowded and it wasn’t unusual to have the pool to yourself.

I hadn’t planned on joining any excursions, but it would have been a pity to miss exploring what’s known as the Mexican Riviera, the stretch of coast below California. The first stop was Puerto Vallarta, an old town overlooked by the Sierra Madre mountains. I had heard about the glorious beaches – the bay is 14 miles long. I also learned the area was discovered by tourists after Liz Taylor and Richard Burton were pictured there in 1964, but it’s still unspoilt.
Historic Puerto Vallarta
Relax on the Sapphire Princess
I had been recording my new album, The Entertainer, and of course there’s Strictly Come Dancing, which I joined as a judge last year. I won the competition in 2007 and that transformed my life. It is great to be part of something that the public loves, but the pace is exhausting, and for me it’s been like that since I started out singing with Mis-Teeq. So the break was very welcome. Later that week we visited Mazatlan, another old fishing port with plenty of culture We could have explored its cathedral and markets (do you know how many different types of chilli there are?), but we found a friendly bar and got chatting to locals, then listened to some of them playing music on the beach. It’s also perfectly possible to enjoy yourself without going ashore. There’s the gym and the spa, which I visited every day.

You could lose yourself on the running machine while gazing out at the horizon. We tried classes such as pump and stretch, yoga and Pilates, and then treated ourselves to a massage. Just as well that I’m keen on exercise, because I love food. I’m the kind of person who will plan what I’m having for dinner while eating breakfast. I particularly enjoyed the Italian restaurant Sabatini, which we ate in nearly every night.
Disembarking in the port, we found the perfect spot along the coast and then parked ourselves to soak up the sun. Listening to music on my iPod and sipping a cold fruit juice, it was my idea of heaven. We had lunch at a beachside cafe and stayed there most of the day. I love Mexican food: chilli chicken, guacamole and tortilla have a real kick. Finding time to get away hasn’t been easy.
"It never felt overcrowded and it wasn’t unusual to have the pool to yourself."
The food was exquisite. Considering how much of my career I’ve spent dancing, it was perhaps surprising I didn’t hit the dance floor. But I’m so used to entertaining that sitting back and watching others was a treat. We saw two shows, neither of which would have been out of place in the West End. And there was an X Factor-style talent competition. We packed a lot into every day, yet I felt refreshed by the whole experience of a cruise. Our final destination was Cabo San Lucas, which was my favourite excursion.

The ship moored and we took a tender to the marina and then a sea taxi to Lover’s Beach. This is where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific. The scenery is gorgeous, and you can spot seals and pelicans if you are lucky.
"Lover’s Beach is where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific. The scenery is gorgeous, and you can spot seals if you are lucky."
Enjoy entertainment every night on board
The food on board is exquisite: indulge in a variety of cuisines
Cabo San Lucas
The waves are perfect for surfing, but be careful where you swim on the Pacific side: dangerous currents can sweep you away. If I had seen only Cabo before going home, I would have been perfectly happy – but then I spotted the dolphins. We were sunbathing on our balcony and a pod of them swam so close I screamed with excitement. Another day, we were lucky enough to catch sight of a humpback whale.

I wasn’t the only one who didn’t want to get off the boat. Not just because it was back to bleaker weather, but because I had experienced so much in such a short time. I’m 32 and, though I don’t have children, I can appreciate that cruising is perfect for families. And it’s particularly good for different generations. Both my mum and grandmother would love it and I will definitely take them next time. My only problem? Breaking the news to Emmaline.

Original article published in Aug 2011. All info and prices correct at time of publication.
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