Why do we say San Diego in California is an ideal cruise port? Let's start at the beginning: Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo led the first foreign expedition to explore what is now the west coast of the United States. Cabrillo departed from the Port of Navidad, Mexico on June 27, 1542 arriving three months later at "a very good enclosed port" known today as San Diego Bay.
San Diego was known as a Navy town when we lived there many years ago. Now we call it a cruise town due to the rapid expansion of the cruise industry's ships sailing into San Diego Bay. More and more passengers are choosing to embark or disembark in San Diego. Its rich historical sites, world class cultural and recreational activities, beautiful beaches, and a mean high temperature of 72 degrees, accompanied by gentle ocean breezes, ensure cruise passengers a pleasant before or after cruise stay. This cruise port enjoys the added convenience of nearby San Diego International Airport.
Prior to our cruise from San Diego, we were happy to leave the triple digit heat of our desert home. We chose the well-located Holiday Inn on Harbor Blvd., across the street from the cruise port on the "B" Street Pier. Royal Caribbean's Legend of the Seas cruise ship was anchored close enough for us to wave to passengers from our balcony. Among the numerous cruise lines visiting the Unified Port of San Diego are Carnival, Celebrity Cruise Line, Crystal Cruises, Holland America, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Silversea, Norwegian, Radisson Seven Seas Cruises, and The World of ResidenSea. The port is well located for routes to Hawaii, Baja Mexico, the Mexican Riviera and Panama Canal voyages. In the past two years San Diego has seen a 60 percent increase in cruise ship traffic. Nearly 200 ships will dock at this attractive port in 2004. San Diegans complain that the cruise terminal is too small for the proliferation of cruise ships and passengers using the port. Tents have been added behind the main building. The city's fervent hope is to expand the cruise center.
Our hotel was an excellent base of operations for touring, much of which was on foot. A new Visitors Center, located nearby at the corner of Harbor Boulevard and Broadway, is a good source of sightseeing information. We strolled along Harbor Boulevard admiring the unique Urban Trees, sculptures created by 29 artists, displayed along the shoreline; Mimi the Mermaid and the Tree of Gold were our favorites. Eventually, all will be sold to collectors.
We walked to an impressive fleet of historic ships berthed in San Diego Bay near the downtown area. All can be boarded for viewing. The San Diego Maritime Museum is home to the Star of India, a beautiful tall ship, built in 1863. Also featured is the Berkely, an 1898 steam ferryboat registered as a national historic landmark. The newest and by far the largest maritime attraction is the U.S.S. Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum. She was known as the "Midway Magic" throughout the Navy for her 47-year naval career of service to country, and home to a crew of 4500. We were astounded by the many planes parked on deck, imagining the skill necessary to land them. We toured a replica of the H.M.S. Surprise, an 18th century British warship used in the film "Master and Commander." Senior discounts are available to tour the ships. We boarded the Hornblower for a delightful short cruise tour of the bay.
The new Padres Ballpark located in the trendy Gaslamp district may be reached by pedicab from the port. It's cool that the Omni Hotel features an escalator in the lobby that goes directly to the ballpark. For those who don't wish a ballpark hot dog, an upscale McCormick and Schmick restaurant is right there. Since the waterfront is known for fresh, delicious seafood, we ate lunch at Anthony's Grotto where almost every diner enjoys a sea view. The clam chowder served in a bread bowl is a favorite. In the late '60s we always waited at this popular restaurant. We still had a short wait even on a weekday, since reservations aren't accepted. Anthony's nearby Star of the Sea is gourmet, pricey and does accept reservations.
To work off lunch we jogged to quaint Seaport Village. Weary, we slowly ambled through charming shops. Then we added calories back with expensive Ben and Jerry's ice cream cones. A pedicab ride back to the hotel cost $5.00, as rates are about $1.00 a minute. Ask for a price.
The crown of San Diego Bay is Coronado Island. It may be reached by the Coronado Bridge, ferry, and water taxis. The ferry charges $2.50 per person per trip, while water taxis are $6.00 per person per trip. The gem of Coronado for over 100 years has been the stately seaside Hotel Del Coronado. Guests step out onto Silver Sands Beach, one of the finest anywhere, frequented by handsome, jogging Navy Seals. If you remember the classic film "Some Like it Hot," you are familiar with the Del Coronado. Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis hid out from gangsters in a fictional hotel, actually the Hotel Del. This historic hotel has a separate, high-rise, modern addition, but guests often prefer the ambiance of the original building.
Another tourist mecca is the man-made Shelter Island. Seaside hotels and restaurants, such as the Island Palms Hotel & Marina, offer guests comfortable accommodations and food at reasonable rates. We enjoyed breakfast there, but the most notable restaurant on Shelter Island is the exotic Bali Hai. Try a tropical drink with a sample appetizer platter that includes luscious coconut shrimp, while enjoying a panoramic view from Shelter Island. If you are planning a romantic wedding, consider Shelter Island.
The San Diego Zoo, home to three adorable giant pandas, and Sea World are the first places many tourists visit. Those with more time take advantage of the Old Town Trolley Tours, pier fishing, sportfishing, sailing, windsurfing, golfing, tennis, bicycling, wheel fun rentals, bird and whale watching, shopping and visits to historic sites. There are nearby RV parks too. San Diego suits every taste.
Since cuisine is important for a great vacation, San Diego friends took us to dinner at stunning Prado in Balboa Park. We marveled at the exquisite glass art pieces, but more importantly, interesting cuisine is served efficiently. House Margaritas are served in individual carafes that are prone to spilling if not handled carefully. Our favorite entrée was the encrusted salmon on a potato pillow with artichokes and sauce. A $5.00 charge for splitting each item discourages that popular practice. Patio dining and valet parking are available. This restaurant is very popular for lunch, especially, with visitors to Balboa Park's excellent museums and planetarium. Reservations are recommended.
For dessert we chose the Sheraton Airport Hotel's restaurant, Alfieri, a tranquil, comfortable place for conversation. An artistic presentation of delectable desserts with colored stained glass walls of spun sugar produced ooohs and aaahs from our group. Service was very attentive. We checked out the dinner menu created by Alfieri's talented chef, and we want to return for a meal.
For an inexpensive day tourists can sunbathe at Imperial Beach, and grab a fish lunch at the Tin Fish on the Pier. This is a good place for families with kids, not fancy, but recommended by the locals.
Lyrics of an old song went, "By the sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea/
* "By The Beautiful Sea": Music by Harry Carroll, Lyrics by Harold R. Atteridge. Published by Shapiro, Bernstein & Company © 1914.
(Photos by Jack White)
Jack and Toni White of Rancho Mirage, California have, for many years, been freelance travel writers specializing in cruise travel. Their articles have appeared in newspapers throughout the United States and Canada, including the Chicago Tribune, Dallas Morning News, and Vancouver Sun. Prestigious Palm Springs Life magazine published their article on filming the movie "Out to Sea" on the Holland America Line Westerdam. They also write regularly for Mature Living and Plus, formerly Senior Life.
Jack graduated from USC as an architect. His background in architecture allows him to review, write, and produce photographs from a unique perspective. Toni attended UCLA after graduating from Hollywood High School where she had been the Feature Editor of the Hollywood High School News, where one of the writers was comedienne Carole Burnett. Toni lived abroad for many years in South America and in the UK and has a familiarity with different cultures that influences her writing. The Whites love to travel and especially want to share their passion for cruising with you.
Toni & Jack White may be reached at: JACNTONI@aol.com.
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