Playa del Carmen, Yucatan

The new Mexican Riviera. Port of call for those who would have gone to Cozumel or Cancun. Both of which were wiped out in last season's hurricanes. Even at that, Playa del Carmen was battered with 125 mph winds for 36 hours, as the storm progressed by only inches an hour. In December of '05, there were still wide-spread signs of the disaster.

P del C is relatively undiscovered. Not as sexy as the jet-setting double C's, it's a favorite with the Nationals, not as many gringo turistas. This was my first cruise, a curious affair, interesting experience, most especially for the international crew, working to make money to send home to Romania, Lithuania, Thailand, enduring the demands of sometimes surly travelers with superhuman aplomb, one service person for every two travelers. Many of the younger crew were homesick, not having seen their family for eight to twelve months.

Could have stood more time in country, it took a couple of hours for the Spanish to begin to flow automatically again to the point that I could banter with the shop keepers and ensure they knew I was on their side, just a poor traveler who happened to luck into a free trip courtesy the kindness of a friend. Watched a bullfight on TV from the Distrito, had some great shrimp tacos and learned about the real estate boom going on now that C and C were swept away. Can still buy beach-front lots for a song.