After a year marked by the worst public health crisis the world has experienced in over 100 years, the cruise industry is on a path to renewal and recovery in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and elsewhere in 2021.
Pre-pandemic data confirms that the cruise industry plays an important role in the creation of jobs and economic opportunity for millions of people around the world.
As a major Mexican cruise port city, it should come as no surprise the cruise industry is vital to the economic health of Puerto Vallarta. Destinations such as Puerto Vallarta become an extension of a ship as part of its itinerary offering cruisers a seamless on-shore experience featuring additional entertainment, dining options and a mix of relaxing and thrilling excursions.
Unless you are of the baby boom generation you may not be aware Puerto Vallarta and the western resort towns along the Mexican Riviera were instrumental in the increased interest in cruising as one of the best ways to experience the world.
Puerto Vallarta gained international fame for almost a decade as the backdrop for ABC's, “The Love Boat” television series, which aired from 1977 to 1986. For an entire generation, the world of cruising first came into their lives and living rooms via an ABC TV network show, broadcast on Saturday nights. “The Love Boat" quickly became one of the most watched — and most identifiable — TV series of its time.
The Pacific Princess (pictured above) spent 37 years in service (1971-2008)
“The Love Boat” centered around the adventures of a luxury cruise ship that traveled regularly between Los Angeles (Long Beach), California and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico along with other exotic ports-of-call. The hour-long show told humorous, romantic and occasionally dramatic adventures of fictional passengers and crew aboard what would become one of the most famous cruise ships of the modern era, the former Pacific Princess.
The ship was featured in nearly every episode of the series and became a household name. The term “Love Boat” was used extensively by Princess Cruises in their marketing. It became synonymous with romance and reconnection while bringing cruising to a new generation of people. Anyone who has worked in the cruise industry will tell you that The Love Boat’s commercial success was a turning point in the modern cruise industry
Prior to reality TV, filming aboard an actual ship wasn’t the norm. Like many sitcoms of the era, The Love Boat was mostly shot on sound stages in Southern California that could create the interior scenes of the cabins, dining areas, and the ship’s hallways.
However some scenes were filmed on location aboard the Princess during actual cruises. Real passengers and crew were often used as extras. The Love Boat was able to deftly mix fiction and reality. The Captain and his crew were fictional characters portrayed by actors, and they interacted with celebrity guest stars, but the extras on the ship, the hundreds of people having the time of their lives on the high seas paid thousands of dollars to blur reality with TV.
According to Walter Capelli, the cruises known to double as shooting locales would always sell out. The passengers were real people enjoying a real cruise vacation even if it involved activities being canceled or rescheduled to accommodate shooting. It was their brief chance to slip into the spotlight by appearing as Love Boat extras.
Walter was a young man from Rimini, an Italian seaside resort town on the Adriatic Sea prior to leaving for a lifetime of adventure. Walter spent 27 years at sea as a Head Waiter and Food and Beverage Manager. Many of those years were aboard the Pacific Princess.
He has fond memories and humorous stories of life aboard the most romantic ocean liner in the world. However, one of his most memorable and lasting is how he found love in Puerto Vallarta.
During the height of the Love Boat’s popularity, Walter, along with passengers and crew would make scheduled stops in Puerto Vallarta. The staff and crew of the Princess would often relax and unwind while in port. Trips to El Centro’s old town, its beach front and tourist markets as well as the Malecon’s restaurants and night clubs were often frequented while on leave from the ship.
Puerto Vallarta’s dining and entertainment options in the late 70’s and early 80’s were not as numerous as they are today. However, there was one particular night club that was extremely popular at the time. Despite it’s name, the City Dump was the place to be and be seen. It was there that Walter first met Coco.
Coco was young and beautiful. It was difficult not to notice her. She stood out literally and figuratively at the club’s main entrance as its energetic hostess.
Coco Gil Garcia was born and raised in the historic mining town of San Sebastián del Oeste nestled in the hills of the Sierra Madre Mountains. In its glorious past, it was a prosperous and self-sustaining silver mining town with over four times the population it has now. Ironically, it was the mines of the towns in the Sierras that established Puerto Vallarta as a port city.
Despite San Sebastian’s natural beauty, cultural heritage and historical relevance Coco knew she wanted to explore more of the world. She found Walter handsome and his elegant mannerisms charming. His irresistible Italian accent and passion for travel was her passport to the world.
Walter and Coco, Italy 1981
Walter and Coco set out on their own course for adventure and were married on Valentine’s Day in 1981. After 40 years of marriage and three children, their passion for each other, travel and food has produced a lifetime of romantic memories, moments and milestones.
Walter stepped away from the cruise industry in 2005 and moved with Coco and their children back to her childhood home. With them they brought a taste of Italy to the mountains of Mexico. Today, San Sebastián, a sleepy relic of its past has one of the best Italian restaurants in Mexico. Walter and Coco established Montebello Restaurante Italiano where they have been serving up home made family recipes from Rimini for over 15 years. The cuisine is simple and is characterized by intense flavors which are related to the traditions of Italian rural culture and influenced by Rimini’s location—between the sea and the hills. If there are two things Italians are famous for, it’s passion and creativity – two essential ingredients for romance. Montebello has both
As the world awaits the cruise industries return to service, it’s difficult to deny the impact The Love Boat has had on travel, romance and the Pacific Coast paradise of Puerto Vallarta.
The Love Boat aired its last regular installment in February 1987, but the show had such a positive impact on cruising as a vacation option and on its corporate partner in Princess Cruises that its presence looms large even today. The success of the romantic comedy/drama television series is largely credited by industry executives for the increase in popularity of cruise ship travel in North America.