We expected to spend 5 days on the dock in Mazatlán before setting sail again, but on our 5th day, the papier-mâché monigotes marking the beginning of Carnaval went up. It’s said to be the third biggest in the world (Rio, New Orleans, then Mazatlán), so we decided to stick around for the big event.
The theme for Mazatlán Carnaval 2023 was Dejavu, Dreams of a Carnival (Dejavú, Sueños de un Carnaval). Which… I did not strongly respond to, and did not seem to be a central part of the events, art, or floats. This was the 125th anniversary of Carnaval in Mazatlán.


The monigotes were huge, and really impressive! The best ones were those that lit up at night with lights incorporated into the monigote itself, instead of just lit from afar by lights (although the distance lighting always lit up the surf pinks, blues, and greens that were fantastic).

Stadium Event

We had hoped to catch a show at the famous Angela Peralta Theater, but none were scheduled there this year. There were events scheduled for the baseball stadium nearly every night, so we decided to go to one of those. The “Queen of Floral Games” coronation had Gloria Gaynor as the headliner, so we grabbed tickets for the cheap seats and got ready for a weird Friday night.

Good thing we were prepared – it was a really odd event! The show opened with fireworks shooting from the crowd towards the stage. Local history was shown through ballet-adjacent choreographed dances, especially focusing on the cultural history of the last 100 years. The Reina from 50 years ago spent time on stage. The Reina for 2023 was crowned, and led up steps to a throne overlooking the rest of the stage. This all took about an hour. She did not move from her perch until the show ended, nearly 3 hours later.

The musical opening act came next, Rock Sinfonico. I wanted desperately to love them – and they opened with the Hawaii 5-0 theme song which they did very well – but it went downhill quickly. They had three different singers, two of which were good and one of which was charismatic. Their lead guitarist seemed to regularly give up in the middle of recognizable riffs. They played for 2 and a half hours. About 2 hours into their set, the crowd was yelling for Gloria Gaynor. The lead singer made a tactical error, and came out to amp up the crowd, saying “Mazatlán! Estás cansado?” (“Mazatlán, are you tired?”) – to which the crowd bellowed “YES” and then chanted “GLORIA. GLORIA. GLORIA.”

Rock Sinfonico relinquished the stage, and Gloria Gaynor did finally come out – starting at 11:30 p.m. at 79 years old – and she delivered exactly what we expected. A brief set, with two of her other originals, one disco song, “Killing Me Softly,” and then…

When I was a kid, I had a “best of disco” CD and would play that song on repeat, so when she launched into 20 straight minutes of “I Will Survive,” I was in heaven. She sang the full original song, re-sang it in Spanish, re-sang it in English with the mic to the crowd for 90% of it, then re-sang the second half by herself to close.

Combate Naval & Street Party

Saturday of Carnaval is the big street party and fireworks display. Partying happens all up and down the Malecon, but the concentration is in the Olas Altas neighborhood. Getting in required a $3 ticket, but that pays for the street cleaning afterwards which seems like a bargain! We got there at about 9 p.m., got into a line to get through the gates (apparently the men’s line, but I got laughed through). We passed at least 6 music stages with different bands and found a spot for Combate Naval.

Combate Naval is a reenactment of a naval battle that took place in Mazatlan in 1864, during the French intervention in Mexico in 1864. During the reenactment, “French sailors” and “Mexican forces” shoot fireworks and other pyrotechnics at each other, culminating in the defeat of the French forces and the triumph of the Mexican defenders.

It was one of the coolest shows I have ever seen! There were three boats and three stations on land, plus a high crane (I believe) representing a building that got destroyed. We were right under one of the land stations and had a perfect view. There were sets of attacks, ramping up in intensity. The boats fired back, but also lit off other pyrotechnics that bubbled and glittered in the water underneath them, appearing to take damage under the waterline.

Hundreds of thousands of people watched the fireworks, and when the show wrapped up, the crowd bumped and wound over to the stages to dance. We visited all the stages and danced until 4 a.m. It was a really friendly crowd and an absolute blast.

Premier Desfile (First Parade)

The parade, which happens on Sunday (there is a scaled-down version again on Tuesday), is one of the biggest events. Local people start staking out their spot days ahead of time. We got there a few hours early and posted up on a concrete structure on the Malecon median.

It was chaos! Delightful, wonderful, musical chaos. The parade runs the entire length of the Malecon, starting around sunset at the south end and finishing 5 hours later on the north end. In the hours before the event, the streets were full (no parade routes blocked off) of bands, dancing, and food (fresh cotton candy kept catching the breeze and flying away, to the delight of children who ran after it).

The parade is proceeded by people lighting off fireworks, and then the dancers and the floats appear. Nearly every float had an associated dance troop in full costume with coordinated dances. The floats were enormous, so colorful and well lit! And each had their own music, about half live music.

Even through the parade, the streets were open – spectators joining the parade dancers to dance, families picking kids up and putting them on the floats for a moment, and everyone throwing confetti at everything. After the final float passed by, the crowd moved to fill the vacuum, and street-level bands picked up where they left off. We walked and danced around the Malecon until we were completely exhausted.

Anxiety & Decisions

It can be complicated, deciding where to be, when to be there, and how long to stay when cruising. What big city events are not to be missed? But then how many quiet island or tiny town moments do you miss by staying for big events? I experience anxiety and depression, and had to go off long-term medication when we started cruising and I left full-time work – the access to those medications was going to be too challenging, inconsistent, and expensive. So unfortunately, depression and anxiety have been part of my life, even as I live the dream of cruising.

In Mazatlán, I found myself anxious about decisions big and small – if we should go out for dinner, whether to stay for Carnaval, when to go to the beach vs the pool, etc.

It manifests mainly as indecision and the inability to express desires, which is exhausting and limiting. Tremendous guilt follows. I am so lucky. My life is so wonderful. My travel buddy (husband) is there for the fun days and the hard days. How can I excuse being sad? Even as I travel further and further, on the days I am depressed, my world feels very small.

I had many moments where anxiety got in the way of what I wanted – more dancing, more music, more fun, and more time being “present.” But I am so glad we stayed for Carnaval, and had countless moments of joy, wonder, and excitement throughout the week of events and parties. I doubt this is the last time anxiety or depression will impact cruising, but the good days are worth the hard days, and we will keep working to make the hard days fewer and farther between.