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California Coastal Cruise October 19-26, 2013.

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It was unusually easy to get a taxi to the pier – we were told to wait 15’, but after 3’ got a robo-call: the cab is waiting. Same on the way back – walked off into a line of waiting taxis. The mayhem we saw on Embarcadero two weeks before the cruise was of people waiting for private rides, transfers, shuttles. For boarding we were at the pier 35 shortly after 11, sort of walked through everything, waited in the assigned area till noon. Dropped off the carry-on in the stateroom, and went to lunch.

It seems, the employees of Grand Princess were instructed to guide everyone to the buffet. We asked 3 of them, all said to go to the buffet as the restaurant is closed. Ha! we knew better. The lunch at Da Vinci was nice, but the Mona Lisa on the wall was the ugliest of all copies I’ve ever seen. If Da Vinci was alive, he would turn in his grave (a photo will be posted).

This was our most relaxing cruise with only 4 stops: Santa Barbara, Long Beach, San Diego, and Ensenada. Many people are surprised when I tell them there is a law that a cruise ship must have at least one stop in a foreign country. This is why Ensenada, Mexico is added on. I didn’t think of the cruise as interesting, we just wanted to relax, and obviously so did many other people as the cruise was sold out, and mostly people from CA were on it.

Santa Barbara was clearly not ready for a large group of people. I wonder if this is a new port. There was a huge line for the shuttle running along the main street of the town. The line was as long when we came back. Do they have a schedule? When we were waiting for a return shuttle, we saw 5 of them going toward downtown, and none came back for 45’. After that, 3 or 4 of them arrived in a bunch. Of course they were packed to the rims, but the shuttles don’t have doors, only openings for boarding. Some day a cruise ship passenger “under the influence” will fall out of a moving shuttle, and the law suit will be expensive.

Ah, they probably don’t care. The town looks like they have money to waste. It’s beautiful, tiled roofs, pricy mansions, fancy shopping, nice weather, close to wineries – no wonder it’s an attractive tourists’ destination. Not only tourists, though, homeless too.

Long Beach is different. Free Passport shuttles run often, and we took them to and from George’s restaurant on Pine Street for lunch and GTG with several Fodorites. We are long-time friends with Paula1470 (using Fodor’s sign-in names here), her daughter was there, but the “star of the show” was of course Paula’s 19-month-old granddaughter. She will hold the title of the cutest toddler ever till I have my own grandchildren :) My friend Faye – together we attended a Road Scholar program, and met for the first time “hpeabody” and “mlgb”, nice ladies. Oh, and it was the 2nd GTG for my husband! He can now qualify to become an “honorary Fodorite”.

San Diego is easy to navigate; we took the trolley – not the tourist thing, but the one that the locals use. You know, all tourist booklets advise not to accept help from strangers? We knew this too, but were so grateful when a young man came over to show us how to punch those buttons for tickets. Here goes my experience of using public transport world-wide.

Ensenada was the only port that we practically missed as somebody went on this cruise “knowing” it’s always warm in the South, and a jacket is not needed. The day was cold and windy, so we had to go back. Not my fault, I had a jacket, so we only got some souvenirs, and walked back. This was the only port where they were making sure passengers don’t bring fruit ashore; sniffing dogs took care of this.

Our cabin E422 was the smallest ever: not even a love seat! We had just enough shelves for 2 people in the cabin that can accommodate 4. Shampoo, conditioner, lotion were “eucalyptus” brand with a strong smell that I couldn’t stand, so I was glad to have brought my own cosmetics. No more towel animals in rooms – good, they will save on laundry, chocolates on the pillows still there, much better than creepy towel creatures.

The cabin E422 is listed as “fully obstructed” – and this ship does not have much choice in window cabins, so we risked it, and I am glad we did. The boats were at the deck below, there was a metal pole partially blocking the view, but we could see through at least half of the window. That was nice. The cabin is for 4 people, we had a bed for 2 in the middle, and 2 folding-out beds on the walls on both sides. The beds were sort of “glued” to the walls making it impossible to walk on the side of the bed to lie down without craning not just your head, but the whole body. If 4 people were there, the 2 on the master bed would have to crawl into the sleeping space.

For dinner we had a table for 8 at first. That is, after we managed to find the restaurant. Not all elevators go top to bottom, and not all decks can be walked through. Our first attempt to find the restaurant on deck 6 did not work. We had to go back to deck 7, walk to the aft (see, I am picking up the sailing lingo!), take another elevator (or stairs) to deck 6 – took 2 or 3 evening to learn our way. We would have failed miserably as scouts.

The first night we were 4 at the table for 8, wondering if the other 4 are tired after a long flight. They appeared on the 2nd night saying they couldn’t find the restaurant. That I believe as one pair was dirt drunk, another seemed quiet and non-confrontational. When I asked where they ate the prior night, I was surprised to hear they went to “another restaurant with a long line” – I thought once you’re assigned to fixed seating the any time dining would not be allowed. Oh, well, after an evening of amusement the drunken couple provided, they got themselves reassigned, and we had lovely dinners with another couple from San Francisco at the window table for 4.

After dinner we went either to a show, or to the “piazza” – an open space in the middle of the ship with evening music. This is what I like about Princess – they have musicians playing wide variety, my favorite is easy classic. Of course somebody would immediately ask if we want a drink, but no pushing. Champagne comes in a small bottle instead of only one glass with chocolate-dipped strawberries as served on Royal Caribbean… not sure what I like more.

And finishing with the joke I’ve overheard while waiting for disembarkation. An old man sitting on a bench in Moscow reading a book in a foreign language. A KGB man walks over to him and asks what he’s reading. The old man replies: soon I will go to Heaven, so I am learning Hebrew to understand others. The KGB man asks: and what if you’ll go to Hell? Oh, that is covered, replies the old man, I speak Russian already!

Oh, and by the way, I am winning the war against caffeine addiction. Not a cup of coffee, not even decaf the whole cruise! I still drink black tea; the next step is to switch to herbal.

Usually I finish my reports with “our next trip is to…” but this time can’t make up my mind, have to look over some tours. My husband has just announced that he is getting ready to pack for the next one. Already??

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