Ahoy Matey! Taking A Pirate Ship Cruise in Puerto Vallarta

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When you’re traveling with kids, you have to find ways to make travel fun for them. We often enjoy taking the kids to museums and cultural activities, or doing active exploration with them. But sometimes a day of entertainment can be nice to balance out all the learning. That’s why, during our recent trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, we knew we needed to do the pirate ship cruise.

The Marigalante Pirate Ship is one of the most popular of the Puerto Vallarta attractions offered to tourists. Walk through the streets of Centro, or along the malecon, and you’ll see plenty of advertisements for the Puerto Vallarta pirate ship, and the tours and shows that go along with the pirate ship. You can take your pick from a day cruise, a night tour, or a Mexico-themed night tour.

Although the prices for these tours are a bit hefty ($113 with the special online discount for adults, and $57 with the discount for kids), it’s nice to give our family a splurge from time to time. We chose the day tour, as it seemed to have more kid-friendly activities. Fortunately, the pirate ship cruise did not disappoint. Our family had a great time all throughout the cruise.

Walking to the pirate ship cruise (April 2019)

The real history behind the Puerto Vallarta pirates

Although the pirate ship cruise in Puerto Vallarta exists purely for entertainment, there is some truth to the area’s fascination with pirates. Before the arrival of the Spanish in the 1500’s, the area was inhabited by the Aztatlan people.

When the Spanish came, they somehow convinced the Aztatlan people that they were strong and powerful, despite being outnumbered 100 to 20,000. One story I read described how a large image of the Virgin of Guadalupe was illuminated by rays of sunlight during the skirmish. The Aztatlan believed it to be a miracle, so they succumbed to the Spanish. The Spanish named the area Banderas Bay, after the flags they flew during the conquest.

After Spanish conquest, Banderas Bay became a stopping point for Spanish ships involved in trade between Mexico and the Philippines. The Manila Galleon, a Spanish trade ship, plied the route between Acapulco and Manila (with a stop in Banderas Bay) from the late 1500’s to the early 1800’s. The ships carried silver from the nearby area, as well as tobacco and chocolate, and brought back spices, jade, and other things from Asia.

As a result of Banderas Bay’s popularity among the trade routes, the area also became a popular spot for pirates. They often attacked incoming ships, plundering the goods, and hiding out in the nearby area. Pirates also smuggled goods in an out of the bay.

Fortunately, these days, the only pirates you’ll find in Banderas Bay are the ones performing on the Puerto Vallarta pirate ship. They’re much friendlier than actual ruthless and dangerous pirates.

Touring Banderas Bay on a pirate ship cruise
The view of Banderas Bay from Yelapa (April 2019)

Riding the Puerto Vallarta pirate ship

The Puerto Vallarta pirate ship, itself, has a pretty interesting story. The Marigalante was built in 1980 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Spain coming to the Americas. It was modeled after Christopher Columbus’ Spanish galleon, the Santa Maria.

Before becoming a staple in Puerto Vallarta attractions, the Marigalante sailed around the world. It retraced the trade routes that Spain used to have with the Americas. Overall, it visited over 87 ports, including ones in Spain, Japan, and Ecuador.

These days, the ship ports in Puerto Vallarta, and no longer does long ocean routes. Instead, it takes Puerto Vallarta visitors on tours around the bay. The exterior of the ship is remarkable to see. The ship itself is made of wood, and you can really see the details that they did to make it look like a pirate ship. You feel like you’re stepping back in time.

The interior, on the other hand, has been arranged specifically for the pirate ship cruise. The bow (front) holds the main stage for the pirate show, while the audience sits on the deck or above the stern (back) of the ship. Also in the stern is the gift shop and restrooms. Down below, in the berth, is where the kitchen and dining area is. I’m sure this Puerto Vallarta pirate ship looks much different now than it did during its around the world sailing days!    

The Marigalante pirate ship, hosting a pirate ship cruise in Puerto Vallarta
The Marigalante pirate ship (April 2019)

What to expect on your pirate ship cruise

As far as Puerto Vallarta attractions go, the pirate ship cruise is a must for families wanting something entertaining and fun. Think of it like Puerto Vallarta’s version of Universal Studios. It’s definitely not meant to be a culturally accurate experience. But we still enjoyed spending time out on the cruise.

On-ship entertainment

The on-ship entertainment on the Puerto Vallarta pirate ship makes the experience fun and enjoyable for the family. The show is completely bilingual, so even kids can follow along. The show has dancing, singing, and plenty of action and fighting. And the content is completely family-friendly.

Watching the pirate show during our cruise (April 2019)

Attentive service

During the tour, guests are assigned their own personal pirate. Ours was Pirate Angel. The personal pirate serves drinks and meals while on board, and also serves drinks during the stop on the beach. I like how the cruise does that, because we really felt like we were receiving attentive and personalized service!

Hanging out with Pirate Angel (April 2019)

Plenty of beach fun

The best part of the pirate ship cruise is of course the beach play! You won’t get this perk on the evening cruises, only on the day cruises. The Puerto Vallarta pirate ship takes visitors to Majahuitas beach, where activities like kayaking, beach volleyball, snorkeling, and banana boat riding are all set up for you. There’s even a bar on the beach, so while the kids are off doing their treasure hunt, led by one of the pirates, the grown-ups can enjoy a cold drink on the beach!

Riding the banana boat in Puerto Vallarta (April 2019)

Enjoying Puerto Vallarta attractions

Out of all the Puerto Vallarta attractions, the pirate ship cruise is definitely one of my favorites! Even though the cruise is about 6 hours long, we didn’t feel bored one single minute of the cruise. There is so much entertainment, the hours just flew by!

If you’re planning on visiting Puerto Vallarta, consider booking a cruise on the Puerto Vallarta pirate ship. And if you’re planning to spend a bit longer in the city, take some time to explore all of the other Puerto Vallarta attractions too!

Have you done a pirate ship cruise with your family? Share you experience with me in the comments below!

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The Wandering Daughter

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I'm a travel-loving mom of three from Seattle. Join our adventures as we explore the Pacific Northwest and the world!

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