Travel Weekly's Mexico E-Letter: Aug. 13, 2003 August 13, 2003 Share 1 -- THE RIVIERA MAYA welcomed nearly 1 million tourists during the first six months of the year, and Americans accounted for the lion's share of visitors, according to the Tourism Promotion Board of the Riviera Maya. From Jan. 1 to June 30, more than 990,000 tourists from around the world stayed in the Riviera Maya, up 10% from the same period a year ago. The U.S. accounted for the greatest number of arrivals, with more than 418,000 visitors arriving from the U.S., representing 42.23% of all tourists. Arrivals from North America, which includes the U.S., Canada and Mexico, accounted for more than 714,000, or 72%, of all tourists. Europe, the Riviera Maya's second largest market, accounted for 26.57% of arrivals. In June, hotel occupancy was 71.06%, up 2.22% from June 2002. Hotel occupancy for the first six months of 2003 was 78.37%, a 1.42% increase over the year-ago period. APPLE VACATIONS is offering customers staying in the Nuevo Vallarta area of Puerto Vallarta a number of "two-for-one" deals as part if its Fun For Free promotion through Sept. 30. In addition, the Apple promotion includes discounts on golf, shopping, spa treatments and sightseeing tours. Under the "two-for-one" promotion, popular restaurants like Felipe's, Los Milagros, La Cave, Blue Shrimp and Mikado are offering two entrees for the price of one. Discounts include 30% off greens fees at El Tigre Golf Course; a choice of spa packages at the Krystal Vallarta Spa, including two 75-minute massages for $65; and a free cruise for two kids 5 to12 years old with the purchase of two adult tickets with Vallarta Adventure. For details, call Apple Vacations at (800) 365-2775 or visit the Web at www.applevacations.com.THE 65-ROOM MAROMA RESORT AND SPA in the Riviera Maya announced holiday rates. From Dec. 20 to Jan. 3 rates, will start at $510 a night, double. The resort created a program of activities designed to acquaint guests with a traditional Mexican holiday, including making pi -- atas. On Christmas Eve, chef Stephanie Rowe and her staff will invite guests into the kitchen to help prepare traditional Mexican dishes and cocktails, which will be served as a communal meal. Guests will awake on Christmas morning to find the piñatas they created filled with a gift from the resort. The week will also feature afternoon teas served with traditional Mexican sweets. For information or reservations, call (866) 454-9351 or visit www.maromahotel.com.VIVA RESORTS designated September as "Travel Agent Month" at its properties in Mexico, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas. In Mexico, agents will be able to stay for $40 a night per person, double, at the Viva Vallarta, and for $52 a night at the Viva Maya and $56 a night at the Viva Azteca, both in the Riviera Maya. The all-inclusive rates are valid from Sept. 1 to 30. To qualify, agents must present a valid IATAN or ARC number at the time of booking. To book, call (800) 898-9968 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.EACH YEAR IN EARLY AUTUMN, one of nature's most dramatic signs of seasonal change takes place: the migration of hundreds of gray whales from the frigid waters of the Arctic to the warm waters surrounding the Baja Peninsula. And from December to March, one of the best places to view this phenomenon is in the waters surrounding Los Cabos. The whales complete the 12,000-mile journey by late December and stay until late March. Observing the mammals' migration can be reason enough to visit Los Cabos during this period. The whales often are close enough to the shore to see from beaches and overlooks. Or clients can sign on for one of Baja Expeditions' whale-watching plans. The San Diego-based operator offers packages that combine hotel stays with whale-watching expeditions and other ecofriendly activities. Prices start at $1,250 per person, double, for a six-night Magdalena Bay Whales & Kayaking itinerary. For details or reservations, call Baja Expeditions at (800) 843-6967 or visit www.bajaex.com. In addition, many local tour companies offer whale-watching trips that can be booked through clients' hotels. These two-and-a-half-hour boat tours take place in the bays around Los Cabos by catamaran or power boat.AVALON RESORTS, which operates four properties in Cancun, Isla Mujeres and Acapulco, extended its fifth-night-free promotion through Dec. 23. Guests earn a fifth night free when they book four nights. Avalon's Mexico properties are the Avalon Excalibur in Acapulco, the Avalon Grand in Cancun and the Avalon Reef Club on Isla Mujeres. To book, call (800) 261-5014 or visit www.avalonvacations.com.