Carnival Elation Cruise: Santa Catalina Island
Like Christmas Morning! is such a cliche, but some part of my brain always seemed to remain vigilant at night, listening for the slowing of the ship or a change in whatever light defeated the heavy curtains across our windows. Within moments of cocking open an eye, I made this video:

Santa Catalina excitement! Let me play the song again:

Mike was quickly up as well. We headed down to the Imagination dining room around quarter to eight for eggs and orange juice. (Mine scrambled with English muffin, Mike's in an omelet with bacon and wheat toast.)

We got a little confused on the way to the disembarkation point, missing the sign to the steps down, and instead wandering the long hallways of cabins, hitting dead ends, and eventually going all the way back up and through the art gallery on deck 7 to start over. Of course, by the time we figured it out, there was someone manned at the top of the stairs to prevent exactly this kind of confusion. (Did you know that when Mike was doing his journalism degree, he was prohibited from using "manned" as I just did? Not "gender-neutral language," they said. Yes, really.)

Catalina is a tendered port of call, meaning that you take a little boat to the dock, instead of the cruise ship nuzzling right up to the dock for you. Getting on the tender wasn't quite as bad as walking down a short flight of steps directly over the Pacific Ocean, but those with a fear of drowning would be grateful for the hands that help you on to the smaller boat. (I'm thinking here of my mother who, after a few bad experiences, has never since been comfortable around any water over her head. It's only a few steps, and there is a little dock that is large enough for four or so people that comes out of the ship - you don't just step right out of a hatch, but I know she would have required a deep breath.)

Carnival Elation - Mike on the Tender to Catalina

I had a sober Australian husband on my left and a drunk Australian lad on my right. The stranger spat into the ocean more than once, even into the wind despite the good advice of Jim Croce. Nice. The young man was part of a large tour group going to a golf course. Of course, they all boarded last, so the rest of the tender's population had to climb over and around them to disembark at Catalina's Green Pier. This is the middle pier, right into the heart of Avalon's shore, although the bay is so small that any dock is within quick walking distance to another.

I took this pic of Mike on the pier. That's a bit of building on the upper left corner, but I like how it makes it look like I've posed him in front of a photo, trying to fake a story about visiting Catalina.

Catalina - Mike on the Green Pier

Avalon sets up an instantly charming view. Especially at 8:38 in the morning, before the majority of the cruise ship passengers and Catalina Express tourists start arriving. (I checked the timestamp on the photos. Less than an hour from breakfast to the Island of Romance, Romance, Romance.)

Catalina - Hotel Mac Rae

Catalina - Hotel Vista del Mar

Everywhere were examples of the famous Catalina tiles. One of my few objectives on the island was to stop by the museum and get a copy of Jewels of Avalon. (Eight bucks on Catalina, often several times that on the web.)

Catalina - Sally's Waffles

Catalina - Joe's Place

Catalina - Beach Stuff

We quickly decided that renting a golf cart to see Avalon on our own terms would suit us well. I felt a little warned off from this, what with reports online about how the city is so small and you can't take the golf cart beyond its limits, but once we got there, the carts just looked like fun.

The first place we stopped quoted a $40/hour rate, two hours max. Mike suggested we walk just a little further and see what the next place down was offering.

The second place was also $40/hour, for two hours, with a third hour for free if you wanted it. Also, if you returned the cart before the two hours was up, you received a refund. (Pro-rated in 15 minute installments.) This was the better deal, for sure.

So, for you visual learners, this is where we did not go:

Catalina - Where We Didn't Get a Golf Cart

And this is where we did (next to the pier where the Catalina Express docks):

Catalina - Island Rentals

We were given a map, showing our allowed routes.

Catalina - Golf Cart Map

And so with Mike in the driver's seat, driving for the first time in America, we took off toward the Wrigley Botanical Gardens.

But, everything along the way was... I can't say charming again. (Checking thesaurus.) Everything we saw along the way was so inviting, delightful, and winsome. I don't know if I could ever visit Catalina again; one trip was manageable, but it might break my heart not to be able to stay forever next time. Avalon is well-named.

Catalina - Bison House

Catalina - House at Catalina Avenue

We saw a few pick-up trucks, but most homes seemed to have a golf cart parked outside. Few people were about, perhaps because it was Friday morning and everyone was working or, if they could afford a home here, retired and relaxing. Other than one Barbie-blonde in a hot pink cart, most of the other carts we passed were tourists.

Now, the next photo is to prove that we did go to the Botanical Gardens:

Catalina - Proof That We Went to the Gardens

Granted, we didn't actually stop, or even really slow down, but we did - quite literally - swing by. [Here I had to take a break from writing this. Michael Jackson... I had always looked forward to the day when he mellowed out, sorted out his life, and wrote the real tell-all, and then died happy. Sad.]

We didn't go to the Gardens because we were having too much fun on the cart. Those people who claim that the carts aren't much fun because you can't leave the city? I don't think they've actually been on the carts. The roads go into the beautiful hills around the city, and we stopped often to take pictures.

Catalina - Trying the Pisa Thing

(In case we never get to Pisa.)

The views of the bay and our ship beyond were spectacular.

Catalina - Mike Overlooking Avalon Bay

Look, you can see the golf cart rental place from here:

Catalina - View to the Rental Place

We were traveling with the new Crumpler bag today. Here's a gratuitous shot:

The Crumpler Bag Drives for a Bit

See all those little dividers inside? You can pluck them out and rearrange them however you like, to best secure lenses, iPods, Kindle, whatever. (Although it is marketed as a camera bag, and the factory configuration is perfect for managing lenses, flash, etc. I love this bag.)

Around every other bend was another great view. This is one of the Wrigley homes:

Catalina - (Phillip) Wrigley Home

I tried to upload some on-the-spot photos to Facebook, but they didn't go through. Mike did get a rare picture of me... which I promptly edited to block out some of the chins.

Catalina - Me, Taking Cell Pic

Subtle, huh? (And now my hair is all one colour again - "Truffle.")

Catalina - Mike with Golf Cart

Eventually passed the gate to the island's interior. No golf carts may pass, and everyone else needs a permit. Sure, I would've liked to have gone on the tour to see the bison, the airport, even the other harbour with the Civil War fort (although that would all take more than one day), but with day trips, there is only so much time. We liked what we were doing.

Catalina - No Golf Carts Here

As we careened (at very low speed) down the mountains, we passed the former site of the Hotel St. Catherine. Here is a postcard from 1925 of the once-famous hotel:

Hotel St. Catherine - Santa Catalina

And here is some footage shot at the hotel in 1935:

And this is what it looks like today:

Catalina - No Hotel Here

Just a few low buildings by the beach, collectively called a "Beach Club."

We drove on. Here's a shot of the back of the Chimes Tower as we zipped past:

Catalina - Back of Chimes Tower

There was too much cuteness everywhere to snap it all. The individually crafted tiles, the ornaments, the unique look of each property, this pelican I pretended to be really interested in while Mike had a road-sharing face-off with a tour bus driver:

Catalina - Pelican House

Back down at sea level, we motored toward the island museum, which is inside the iconic Casino. (It's in the Italian sense of casino, not a place of gambling.)

Catalina - Ristorante Villa Portofino

Oops, no, look the other way.

Catalina - Marina Pumps

Keep looking.

Catalina - Front of Casino

There it is!

Did we go into the Museum? No! Of course not, we were scenic joyriders! Next time. After we win the progressive slots and relocate properly.

We did go to the gift shop, though. I got my book and a reproduction tile magnet, and for free they threw in a copy of Old Ben. Ben was a notorious seal who lived in Catalina for at least thirty-something years. (No one knows how/if/when he died. Sounds like the beginning of a great West Coast selkie story to me!) Ben was amiable and would even wander the streets of Catalina, looking for friendship. I learned all of this later, when we were back on the ship and basking in bed by our balcony view, and Mike read select parts of the book to me. I'm sorry, but is no help. COULD CATALINA GET ANY MORE CHARMING?!

(See a photo and short blurb about Old Ben from Google Books. Google Books is impressing me more and more lately. Yes, they decided to get in bed with Sony e-Reader instead of Kindle for providing public domain books in an optimized format, but the books are public domain, so I can still mail them to my Kindle, although they might not be as pretty. Meanwhile, the previews of non-public domain titles are great. I even read a big chunk of the original Love Boats novel before the cruise. Cruise nerds, unite!)

Catalina - Casino Murals

Unfortunately, you can only go into the Casino as part of a tour (1:45 p.m. - too far away for us) or to see a movie in the evening. That would've been fun. They were screening Land of the Lost! Strike one for the afternoon sail away.

Catalina - The Casino

We also got a few postcards at the gift shop, so we kept an eye out for a mailbox. Even better, we found a post office. And even better than that, across the street was a little Vons supermarket. Awww.

Catalina - Vons

Alas, it was also incredibly crowded, so our sudden plans to bring Vitamin Water back to the ship were thwarted by our dislike of crowds. (Not that the lemonade on board wasn't delicious, but, you know, vitamins.)

Look, a house for sale. Sigh!

Catalina - Fairweather For Sale

I bet it's only a jillion dollars, too. (Here's where I go AFK to check

Hey, it's only $849k. Actually, for California prices, that's not so bad. And it says you can rent it out for $2100/week during the summer.

(And people wonder how it was cheaper for us to cruise to Catalina than to ferry out and spend a couple of nights...)

We dropped off the cart after almost exactly two hours. So, we didn't need that free third hour, but it would have been far more stressful if we hadn't had it. (Especially if we'd stopped more often, gone to the Gardens, etc.)

As we walked back to the Green Pier, we stopped inside House of Wood for another souvenir.

Catalina - House of Wood

I had admired these starfish ornaments when we'd walked past in the morning:

Catalina - Ornament

Mike finds it creepy and refuses to touch it, so I like to run the back of the thing all over his chest when he doesn't expect it. But that's another story.

Tenders ran nonstop between ship and shore. Back onboard (up the ocean-stairs, pop Sign & Sail card into reader, bumble through X-ray, and you're free again), we took a few photos as we wandered our way back to the cabin.

Carnival Elation - Casablanca Casino

(I wasn't adverse to trying the casino, when we were out at sea and it was open, even though we live in Las Vegas and see better machines and better odds all the time. However, the casino was always so smoky that, despite several attempts to go in, we never lasted a full minute.)

Carnival Elation - Staircase

Carnival Elation - Top of the Atrium

I was awed when we returned to good ole V14. The Catalina view was just stunning.

Carnival Elation - Our Own Catalina View

After some lingering, I cast an eye over the day's Capers...

Carnival Elation - Capers (At a Glance) - 12 June 2009

Oops, I mean a part of the Capers not pictured above, the part advertising a chocolate buffet until 2:30. Chocolate Buffet!

There was so much to choose from, and as it was busy I couldn't stop or stand back for photos. Mike and I both tried the Lemon Bacardi Mousse:

Chocolate Buffet - Lemon Bacardi Mousse

I know that's not chocolate, but it was still good. (Although neither one of us cared much for the gelatin top.)

Chocolate Buffet - Chocolate Fruitcake

Mike really liked his chocolate fruitcake; I was frightened by its density (and anything with the word "fruitcake"), but it was pretty tasty and not dry at all. I had the Almond Lemon Chocolate cake. (The cakey bits are almond, the filling is lemon.)

Chocolate Buffet - Almond Lemon Chocolate Cake

We sat at the tables near the large aft windows, sometimes peeking down at the adults-only "Serenity" area.

Carnival Elation - Serenity Hot Tub and Catalina

And then it was back to the lovely room with the lovely view for reading and naps. Sometime later we woke up, having slept past any highlighted plans in the Capers, and - because this was a cruise - ate at the buffet:

Carnival Elation - Lido Buffet - Lunch

Mike was not impressed with the buffet options and ended up trying the Mongolian grill, which he liked enough for seconds. My buffet options were better; the stuffed mushrooms were quite tasty. I picked at the rest before deciding to grab a sandwich. The deli workers remembered me from the day before, and my meatless Reuben was perfect.

(We didn't eat in the dining room this night because it was "Elegant" night. Neither one of us is much for dressing up, and since we don't eat seafood, it wasn't a huge loss.)

I remember that Mike also had pizza, because he used it to "interact" with the seagulls. I know this is a contentious issue, so here is Mike hiding his face in shame:

Carnival Elation - Mike on the Deck

(Not.) The next part of the afternoon/evening is a blur of just wandering around.

Carnival Elation - The Bow

We stepped into the "Vegas-style" show for awhile, but were already antsy by the time we walked out on a re-wording of "Centerfold." (I can't remember what the new lyrics were, other than insipid.)

On one of the trips to our room (where no movie of interest was playing tonight), we found this bit of unpleasantness:

Carnival Elation - Unpleasant Surprise

Although the wording here is wrong, which led to two separate discussions at the Purser's Desk, the gist is that on the day of debarkation, Mike - being a green card holder - would have to report to the Cole Porter Lounge at 6:30 a.m. for special Customs processing.

Six-thirty in the morning! Talk about a buzzkill for the end of the trip.

Apparently, foreign passengers must be processed before the ship can be cleared and everyone can be released. If you don't show up, you will be fined.

So, there went our plans to pack the night before, wake up at the last minute, get off the ship right away with VIP debarkation (oo la la), and not let any of our cruise memories be of sitting around on deck chairs, waiting, waiting.

Oh well! That green card is what allows Mike and I to be together, so it's a small hassle to pay. (Says the person who didn't have to get up at six a.m.)

Now, with that sort of love in my heart, I'd like to show you what happened next, for it was wonderful and entertaining. We decided to go see where the Cole Porter Lounge was, so Mike would know when the time came. And what did we find in there? KARAOKE.

At first we just giggled at the drunks, but soon it was down to just a few people and Mike... he couldn't resist the pull... although he claimed loudly to have been bullied by me... and...

And this is where his kick-ass montage of "Cold as Ice," "The Wanderer," "Jessie's Girl," and "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" should be.

But somebody was all, "YOU'RE NOT PUTTING THAT ON THE INTERNET!" Bold type and capital letters and everything. And I wrestled with it, Internet, I really did. Respect my marriage or finally be able to share some searin' fantastic blog fodder? I mean, we could always get counseling later...

In the end I wussed out and that is why you just have to imagine all of the four to six people in the audience yelling "woo hoo!" and clapping along to Mike's smokin' vocals. (Be sure to also imagine Mike wearing a jumper plus swim shorts, because I have a feeling - however much it made sense on a cruise ship - that his fashion regrets are another reason for all of this censorship. I, of course, thought he was cute. Like, Catalina-cute.)

And so ends our day, aboard the real Love Boat.

Carnival Elation -  Towel Creations - Swans

26 June 2009 |






Carnival Elation (2009)
Carnival Splendor (2009)
Carnival Spirit (2010)
Carnival Spirit (2011)
Carnival Splendor (2011)
Norwegian Pearl to Alaska (2012)