Ahoy Matey! Riding A Puerto Vallarta Pirate Ship

May 8, 2019

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 we knew we had to ride the Puerto Vallarta pirate ship with our kids.

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.

This post was updated on September 5, 2021.

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A family walking onto a Puerto Vallarta pirate ship
Walking to the pirate ship cruise (April 2019)

Puerto Vallarta before the Spanish

Although the Puerto Vallarta pirate ship 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.

The pirate history of Puerto Vallarta

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.

Read here for tips on how to bring more learning into your family's travel experiences.

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

History of 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.

Riding the Puerto Vallarta pirate ship

These days, the Puerto Vallarta pirate ship 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 Puerto Vallarta pirate ship cruise
The Marigalante pirate ship (April 2019)

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What to expect on your Puerto Vallarta pirate ship cruise

As far as Puerto Vallarta attractions go, the Marigalante 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.

Book your Puerto Vallarta pirate ship cruise here: Banderas Bay Pirate Day Cruise

1. 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.

2. 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!

These personal pirates work hard, and truly care about providing good service. So don't forget to tip them at the end of your cruise.

Hanging out with Pirate Angel (April 2019)

3. Filling meals

We were pleasantly surprised at how much we were fed during the pirate ship cruise! During our cruise, we received breakfast when we first arrived, and then had lunch before we returned. The meals were well cooked, and while it wasn't exceptionally unique, it was certainly tasty.

4. Seamless flow of activities

You would think that operating a cruise with so many activities and people would get chaotic. But in actuality, everything was smooth and seamless. You can tell that the crew of the Marigalante operates like a well-oiled machine. At no point during our cruise did we feel lost or uncertain about what was going on.

Watching the pirate show during our cruise (April 2019)

5. 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 cruise takes visitors to Majahuitas beach, where activities like kayaking, beach volleyball, snorkeling, and banana boat riding are all set up for you. We love all the choices available to keep us healthy and active while we travel.

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! Be sure to wear some environmentally sunscreen when you're out in the sun.

Read more about exploring the state of Jalisco with kids here.

Riding the banana boat in Puerto Vallarta (April 2019)

Enjoying Puerto Vallarta attractions

Out of all the attractions in the city, the Puerto Vallarta 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 Marigalante. And if you’re slow traveling and 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 the pirate cruise in Puerto Vallarta with your family? Share you experience with me in the comments below!

Is Puerto Vallarta part of a bigger family travel adventure for you? Use my ebook, Hey Kids, Let’s Go Travel! as a resource for tools, advice, and action steps for planning your trip.

Ahoy Matey! Riding The Puerto Vallarta Pirate Ship | The Wandering Daughter

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