I know I said this cruise report would be more thematic and less chronological, but it still feels disorganized to show all of the cruise food then go back and detail, more or less chronologically, the night before we sailed. Luckily, this is not for a grade. I think.
As with last time, we wanted to drive in the night before so there'd be no stress on the day we set sail. The problem with driving to Long Beach, though, is that the most efficient routes go right through Compton and - Nervous White Lady Alert! - I'm scared of Compton. Perhaps quite unfairly - after all, crime is with us in even the most posh places - but I've had enough students from Compton to think, yeah, I think I'd prefer to drive around that.
(And despite my glib aside above, it's not a Race Thing. It's a Hardcore Gangland Thing. I'm not going to apologize for wanting to avoid that. That doesn't get the issue noticed and fixed.)
Wow, a soapbox so early in the post! I really must buy a house, if only to yell at kids to get off my lawn.
There was always the "Usual Disneyland Route + 22 West + Exit to Pacific Coast Highway + Find Way to Ocean Boulevard" method that we used on our last trip to LB. But, wanting to be a little more daring, this time, instead of taking 15 all the way to 91, we exited early (on 210?) and headed for... Pasadena!
Edgy, right? But then, before we could get to the blessed land of suburbs and roses, we took 57 south to 22. On Google Maps this seemed like an interesting plan, taking us through some of the allegedly nicest 'burbs in Cali (La Brea?), and it was certainly a pretty route. But, it was also more trafficky, which means more bad driving, which means that we took the same old Riverside Freeway (91) home a week later. Wimpyness isn't just for hamburgers.
Our destination for Saturday night (June 27) was the Long Beach Hilton. The Queen Mary was booked up, as was the hotel next to it, and every nice chain on Ocean Boulevard was running around $175. Ow. We'd be commuting from a Priceline room in Anaheim before doing that.
But, it seems this summer I was to be rewarded for all the AAA-clustermuckery of last summer, and just like with the last cruise, we got a great AAA rate at the Long Beach Hilton - about half of the usual cost.
Parking underground at the Hilton was a little spooky. The garage is shared with a World Trade Center, and of course it was impossible not to make associations. I felt a little vulnerable, as if all WTCs are in someone's crosshairs.
The view from our room on the 8th floor was immediately pleasing:
Do you see the Queen Mary, perfectly centered between the office buildings? And this was our view of the World Trade Center, directly across from us:
The room was nice, despite having that slightly damp feel to the carpet that almost all hotel rooms seem to have these days. The large flat screen television was impressive.
The bag on the bathroom door contained a hair dryer. Cute. After taking this picture, I quietly picked up all of our luggage (such that it was) and put it on raised surfaces. Apparently this will cut down your chances of bringing home bedbugs. I didn't mention this to Mike, since he already finds some of my "rules" to be better filed under Obsessive-Compulsive than Common Sense. (My student teacher actually called me a germaphobe, because I don't like to give high-fives to the students without some sanitizer or, better yet, a hand-washing opportunity nearby. Instead, I give personalized "air fives," which she just shook her head at. Yeah, I'm pretty sure I'll be getting the last laugh on that one... and, oops, there I go sounding ninety again!)
It doesn't help my "I can't be OCD; I don't do housework!" case that I can look at the photo below and notice an anti-bedbug precaution taken by the Hilton:
Do you see it? Do you see it? It's the headboard. Notice how it is attached to the wall instead of to the bed? That's another trend in the hotel industry to prevent bedbugs. Interesting, no?
I should apologize for saying "Hilton" and "Long Beach" and "bedbugs" so many times together, potentially creating a misleading Google mess, but then again, the Hilton had a notice in the room guide saying that if I declined the option to receive a newspaper in the morning, I would get 75 cents taken off the bill. I did call down to decline (more out of novelty than frugality), but they didn't take the 75 cents off. Bedbugs.
Spacious bathrooms, though. Almost cruel to visit before going on a cruise ship.
After a briefer than expected rest, we hopped into the car and drove a few blocks to The Pike to find some dinner.
I think I already went over The Pike at length when we visited the Queen Mary last year. Once upon a time a thriving boardwalk and seaside destination, now a generic but pleasant collection of chain restaurants and stores alongside a marina. Ah, here's that post.
On the way, we passed the top of the old carousel.
The latest news I can find is from 2007, saying it would be demolished that year, except for the very top, which would become an information kiosk. I don't know what's behind the stay of execution, but I whooped to see it still there. I love a good architectural testimony.
(The rollercoaster-style walkway is located near where the pier and rollercoasters used to be. Sad, I know. But hey - there's the Queen Mary again!)
We parked in the garage ($6 hour, validation available for first two hours) and walked around, deciding on Boston's.
This was a new chain for us, and it was pretty decent, even with all the sports bar decor. I particularly liked the Southwest Ravioli, a cross between jalapeno poppers and fried mozzarella in the form of toasted ravioli.
Afterward we walked over to Borders because, you know, poor Mike doesn't have a Kindle. He's been dutifully dragging around his secondhand copy of Love and War for a year now, but so far he hasn't been able to get back into Mr. Jakes' Civil War epic.
Before the trip, I downloaded the first hour of some audio books from the library (great service!) and burned them to CDs to listen to in the car. (Only the first hour, because I wasn't going to use 17 CDs on a book we might not like.) One of these was I am Legend, which Mike was enjoying well enough to want to continue reading on his own.
We found it, along with Gaiman's American Gods, and a couple of young adults who decided to set up camp in the Sci-Fi aisles, making any browsing really difficult and unpleasant. Being kicked out of the shelves by their social selfishness was ameliorated by the fact that Mike had just enough in two leftover Visa gift cards to get the books for free. Hooray! Books! (Although using two cards for the purchase meant an awkward pause and shared look, remembering Confessions of a Shopaholic.)
Blur aside, I like some of the art deco stylings of the area, as seen here on the parking garage facade. This was taken just as we started to encounter something I don't like, the People of the Pike. As with our last trip here, I was reminded that maybe Long Beach isn't far enough from Compton for my comfort level. Especially when you have a group of young men with a certain demeanor and look right on your heels.
(Yeah, I'm prissy. Don't bother with the hate comments, I'll just delete them. It's not a democracy here in Shari-land. Nor is it the 17th most dangerous city in the US.)
So now imagine how I felt about what happened next.
We exited the garage from a different direction, and I wasn't sure which one was the most direct route back to Ocean Boulevard. So I just winged it. Which led to us suddenly being on the Gerald Desmond Bridge to San Pedro/Los Angeles. Which I would link to a picture of, but all the photos make it look pretty. When it's night and you're suddenly - I cannot emphasize the adverb enough - making your way up a huge incline on a skinnyish bridge over water, with no exits in sight and nothing but fog and docks in the immediate distance, nothing is pretty.
Eventually, amongst the cargo containers and glints of the night sea, we exited and turned around, thus having to go over the bridge again, but now very sure of how to get to the Hilton (which sits right next to the endless incline) without mentally throwing up at all.
Back in the room, Mike at those extra hot Cheetos that are red and thus, if you are absent-minded about where you brush off the inevitable Cheeto residue, can make the sheets and towels look like the third laundry day after a bloodbath. We read. We set the alarm. We enjoyed the heavy curtains blocking out the world. We kept trying to see what kind of idiots let their children run and scream up and down the halls at 3 a.m.
Thank you, Hilton, for noon checkout. I think Mike finally got to sleep around six, resentful that, for once, I'd beaten him to slumber a few hours before. I made up for it by getting up early and sticking my head around the drapes. Could I see the Splendor yet? Could I?!
No, but it was a sight to behold as we drove up, giddy anticipation putting aside the drowsies. Oh yes, it is huge.
So, it's a pity I didn't take any photos. There will be some later, from when we were in port, but this time we didn't have the languid VIP boarding of San Diego. We were queued with the masses outside the big white dome (where, once upon a time 20 years ago, I saw the Spruce Goose), and then we were inside the dome, where photography isn't allowed. (Except for the professional photographers. I was going to cave in and do a boarding photo, risking having to acknowledge whatever it captured, but then they were so obnoxious that we ended up running through their maze without a photo just out of spite.) More queuing, then back outside of the dome, but things moved too quickly to get the camera out as we stepped from gangway to deck three...
One nice thing about the Long Beach Cruise Terminal is its covered parking garage. Fifteen dollars/day, right there, and - as much as I liked the convenient parking by the third party outfit in San Diego - no massive amounts of bird poop on your car when you get home.
That photo is actually from when we returned, taken from our balcony as we docked, but let's not think about that. Ignore all those yellow taxis, ready to take people away from Home to wherever they normally live.
After a stop at the maitre d' station, as detailed in the last post (table for two! yay!), we dropped off our bags, threw the keys and credit cards and cash and other useless things into the room safe, and snapped a photo of the dear QM from the balcony.
Then we went to lunch, again, as described in the last post, where we had a slightly different view of her:
That was to the left as we sat on the back of the ship. Looking forward, which is to say, looking back, was the adult-only hot tub/pool and a view of Long Beach.
(The squat blue cylinder of a building is the Aquarium, which sits at the north end of The Pike.)
Muster drill was around five, on deck four by the lifeboats. Now I know why people wish they could skip it. This was no easy, sit around the pool affair like we had on Elation. Instead, we formed rows, pressed together, and formed more rows.
And we stood and we stood and we stood, waiting for everyone to show up. Sure, there is less waiting and a better location if you arrive later, but if everyone waits until the last minute to show up, then it's a different kind of mess. Suffice to say that there is a special kind of glare for people who hold up the drill while the rest of us wait. Just go when summoned, people.
After the drill we sat in the library, waiting for the rush of people returning lifejackets to their cabins to fade. As mentioned in the last post, the Splendor library is small and unremarkable, although the selection of games and books is neater and nicer than on Elation. (Still, I'd rather bring my own books and have another beautiful lounging option. This library could only be described as "serviceable," and its sandy decor meant to evoke the geography of Alexandria didn't fit the circles and pinks of the rest of the ship. I took one picture, of Mike sitting in a chair, but it's just a blur of him against yellow walls.)
Then it was back to the balcony to watch the sail away. The Long Beach Police saw us off:
Our view on the starboard side was mostly water, but awhile later - 30 minutes? an hour? - we did make out a shape in the distance:
That's not how it looked to us at the time. We saw a grey mass in the white mist. But the telephoto lens sees more, and Photoshop sees even more than that. "Is it another cruise ship?" we asked, only able to see something large sitting in a cloud of endless white. "It must be!" "Could it be Mariner of the Seas?"
This was the ship we almost took when, desperate to cruise again this summer (but unwilling to fly anywhere) and seeing Carnival's balcony rooms all booked up, we looked at Royal Caribbean. Then that spa balcony popped up out of nowhere for Splendor and Mariner of the Seas, with its rock-climbing wall and costs-extra Johnny Rockets franchise, was forgotten.
She was off on the same Mexican Riviera itinerary as us, but doing the ports in reverse: Cabo then Mazatlan then Puerto Vallarta. Soon after taking the photo she disappeared, and although we must have passed her a few more times, we never saw her again. Maybe some day we'll step aboard an RCL ship, but I can't imagine giving up Carnival's spa. But, that's another post.
(Next post in this cruise report: The Undisputed Glory of a Spa Cabin.)