Sustainable Bliss

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Cruising Suggestions

I did a bunch of research on what to pack, and how to get the best cruise experience... and some ideas were very useful while others we tossed overboard :) Here's my advice:

Some things to pack (in addition to clothes, toiletries, etc - check out the comprehensive packing list):

  • over-the-door organizer - with limited counter space, this was an easy way to keep everything organized and in reach
  • comfy slip on shoes - I got a pair of Sketchers GOWalk and they were perfect
  • team/school/town clothing - a great conversation starter
  • binoculars
  • games, if you want to play them with your group. We brought cribbage and Dixit (without the box)
  • sunscreen, after-sun aloe, bug spray, anti-itch med
  • Emergen-C and/or Electromix packets - really help if you start feeling under the weather, or dehydrated
  • lanyard - you can get the desk to punch a hole in your card and then wear it around your neck. Much more convenient, and harder to lose than if you keep it in your pocket. Majority of people do this.
  • rash guard - if you are going snorkeling or kayaking, you should get one of these.
  • decent map of the whole area you are cruising, plus more detailed ones of your ports. We didn't do this, and were wishing we did!

Take advantage of:

  • stretch class in the morning - it was a great way to start the day, though it's hard to do any yoga on one foot with the gentle rocking of the boat!
  • progressive trivia - fun and you get to feel more of a community since you see people consistently
  • art auctions - educational and fun
  • cruisecritic.com - you can get on a message board for your specific boat/trip and meet up with them and some of the crew one of the first days of the trip. They also have lots of tips.
  • wine packages - makes it easier (and cheaper) to choose wine at dinner
  • excursions sponsored by the boat - sign up early if there is anything you really want to do, or that might last until you need to board at the end of the day. The boat will wait if you are on an excursion sponsored by them but not if you made private arrangements. But if you just want to wander around town, or something short go ahead and do it on your own. Best to do some research on providers and preferably book it beforehand instead of relying on picking one of the many vendors hawking experiences on the dock.
  • laundry specials - on our ship, every 4 or 5 days, we could fill a (provided) large bag with laundry for $25, versus paying per piece, as at a hotel. Tip: roll up your clothes to make more fit!
  • the game room - it was pretty full each night. If you have a group, and like to play games, this is great. Our games were cribbage and Dixit!

Don't fret about:

  • coffee - you can make it in your cabin
  • hair dryer - also supplied
  • internet - take a break! If you need to check email (or if you want to do quick blog posts on the road!), you can use a kindle with 3G to do so while docked at most ports, for free though it is slow and klunky. They do also have internet on board for a price.
  • portable clothes line - there's one in the shower to hang swimsuits, etc.
  • "today only" on-board shop/jewelry sales - they will be going on for the whole cruise

Utah Tips

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  • Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park are unique, surreal and spectacular, if you have some time to take the SR9->SR89 by St George north instead of I-15.
  • Salt Lake City - wandering through the Mormon Temple Square is quite an experience, especially if you stumble on the choir practicing. I do remember being frustrated by lots of one-way streets...

Wyoming Tips

  • Jackson
    • Million Dollar Cowboy Bar- has saddle bar stools and great Western decor :) I once saw Jeff Gordon there!
    • Great art shops and very cool antler arch in the main square
National Elk Refuge
National Elk Refuge
  • just outside of town, before you get to the Grand Tetons, look for National Elk Refuge. Lots of bison and elk, and mountain goats.
  • I remember Jenny Lake in the Grand Teton National Park being just gorgeous, but really anywhere in the park is breathtaking.
Bison in Yellowstone
Bison in Yellowstone
  • Yellowstone National Park
    • you gotta go see Old Faithful in the center of the park
    • and a must-see is the Mammoth Hot Springs by the north entrance - walk around the colorful hot springs (hold your nose!) and there are some nice short hikes up into the hills
    • as mentioned above, pop out into West Yellowstone to see the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center.
    • the drive along the north end of the park is usually less crowded (Mammoth Hot Springs toward Tower-Roosevelt and beyond). This is where we saw bison fighting on the road
    • Check out the Roosevelt arch at the north entrance (just outside Gardiner, MT)
    • Devil's Tower National Monument - close to South Dakota, about 30 minutes off I-90 at Sundance. I just love it there.

Catalina Island Research

We are heading to Catalina for our anniversary, specifically Avalon. I've been there before, and here are my tips! I have not been to Two Harbors, though, so that side of the island is not included. Transport

There are 2 options for the ferry:

  1. the Catalina Flyer which has a single Avalon trip each way each day from (9:00am) / to (4:30pm) Newport Beach, currently $70 per person, round trip
  2. the Catalina Express which runs from (north to south) San Pedro, Queen Mary, Long Beach and Dana Point to Avalon as well as Two Harbors (only from San Pedro), up to 8 times a day. Currently between $73 and $75 per person, round trip.

We decided to go with Catalina Express since Dana Point is farthest south (we live in San Diego) and it gives us more options for times.

Lodging

Hotels are pretty expensive on the island, which is predictable. There are other options, though, which make it more affordable if you have a group or want to camp. A group of 5 girlfriends did a trip and we investigated home rentals on VRBO before settling on a great place in Hamilton Cove.

Hamilton Cove
Hamilton Cove

It's more than walking distance from town, but a golf cart was included in our rental. I did camp at Hermit Gulch, near Avalon, once which was good. But for an anniversary trip we wanted to get a place with some creature comforts. We settled on the Catalina Island Inn mostly by doing research on TripAdvisor. Pretty much every hotel is just blocks from the beach, so location is not really a consideration, except for Catalina Canyon which is inland a little ways out of town, which was a bit inconvenient after a night out. And the Inn on Mt Ada, which is a spectacular old Wrigley mansion on the bluff above the town.

Activities

There is lots to do on the island. And there is nothing to do. You can pretty much cover all the self-catered activities in a few hours as the town is small, so a day is fine. But to really relax into Catalina style you should stay overnight and let the island isolation sink in. The place really clears out by about 7pm when most of the ferries have taken day trippers back to the mainland.

Top 10 picks

Lover's Cove
Lover's Cove
  1. Underwater experiences:
    1. Snorkeling in Lover's Cove -  a few minute's walk east past the dock on Pebbly Beach Road. You can bring snorkel gear, or rent it nearby. There are tours, but that's really not necessary as there are lots of fish, especially bright garabaldi, and the cove is protected. You just have to watch out for the glass bottom boats that come by periodically!
    2. Scuba diving - supposed to be amazing, but I'm not certified
    3. Unique underwater experiences - snuba ($79) and Sea Trek ($109)
    4. Kayaking - rent one at Wet Spot close to the dock: half day $45 for single, $60 for double (currently they have a $5 off coupon on the website). The waters near Avalon are generally very calm so you can take off from Avalon and head west along the shore, stopping for snorkeling at secluded beaches.
    5. Hiking - you can hike around the east end of the island in an afternoon via the Garden to Sky loop hike (up through Wrigley Gardens and turn right at the top, 4 miles), or around the East Peak (up through Wrigley Gardens and turn left at the top, about 8 miles), There aren't very many trails, so you shouldn't get lost. If you want an adventure, you could do the Trans-Catalina Trail (37.2 mi)
    6. Zipline - we are fans of ziplining and might do it this time ($120 ea)
    7. Golf Gardens for miniature golf
    8. Food tours - Icons of Avalon (4pm, $30) and Taste of Catalina (11:15am, $79)
    9. Movie in the Avalon Theater in the Casino - nightly at 7:30, Thu and Sat at 4:30 ($15)
    10. Laugh Factory Comedy Club - Fri during the summer at 6:30pm and 9pm ($30)
    11. Scavenger hunt - three different options: walkingbikinggolf cart. Download the app onto a smart phone ($49, need internet access)
    12. Tours - there are tons of them, on boats, in the water, walking around town, hiking, up to the airport, driving through the backcountry, etc. I've done a few, but none really pop as must-do's.

Food

We are vegetarians, and there seem to be some options at most places (default=veggie burger), but the focus is more on meat-based cuisine. So Mexican and Italian places are usually the best options for us.

Mt Ada
Mt Ada
  1. Lunch at the Inn on Mt Ada - if staying there is too pricey, check out breakfast ($25) or lunch ($33). Best view on the island. Need reservations.
  2. El Galleon is right on the beach, so plenty of people watching. Good margaritas, interesting decor and near the pier so it's convenient if you are waiting for a tour.
  3. Mi Casita is a good Mexican place with the traditional fun decor. Also has good margaritas!
  4. Ristorante Villa Portofino - good Italian food
  5. Restaurant rankings on TripAdvisor

More info

Summer 2013 visitor's guide

Catalina Island Conservancy

Santa Catalina Island Company tours

Catalina Tours

Summer 2013 

coupons

 from the Catalina Express

South Dakota Tips

  • Crazy Horse Memorial (not part of the national park system) - just fantastic, and cool to see a work in progress
  • Mount Rushmore National Memorial - nice hiking trails
  • Sturgis - lots of biker-themed stuff, most significant town in the area before Rapid City
  • Wind Cave National Park - I haven't been there, but heard good things
  • Bear Country USA (Rapid City) - a park where you drive your car through pods of bears, elk, wolves, etc. Can get some great pics!
  • Wall Drug - kitschy town with old west theme - amusing stop on I-90 about an hour east of Rapid City, near the Badlands
  • Badlands National Park - incredibly surprising and dramatic, watch out for sudden windstorms