Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Repositioning Cruise

Waiting topside for fireworks to begin

 We loved our Disney cruise to Alaska so much, last August, that we signed up for a second cruise before even leaving the ship. Of course, they made it very tempting, offering a 10% discount, plus $100 on-board credit. We were an easy sale. But I did insist on staying in the same stateroom, which they were happy to do as soon as Tim pulled out his credit card.

So here we are back on the Disney Wonder, this time going from San Diego to Vancouver. Ours is a repositioning cruise—that is, the ship is changing routes from Mexico to Alaska—so there’s lots of down-time (to eat, rest, and then eat again!) and only one stop in San Francisco. We left on Wednesday.

We thought we were clever taking the train from L.A. to San Diego. But as soon as we reached the SD train station, half the passengers followed behind as we walked the three long blocks to the boat. There she was, docked and waiting.

“I’m starting to get excited,” Tim whispered as the ship came into view. 

Disney Wonder docked in San Diego
We checked our luggage and then queued up to go aboard. Although we were still very much on U.S. soil, we had to show our passports, because we’ll be debarking in Canada. Next stop: collecting our “Key to the World” cards (room key and credit card all in one) and taking a digital photo of us. All on-board identification is done through face recognition. So even when the staff photographer takes anonymous pictures of us at dinner or on deck, the photos always mysteriously show-up in our digital file for future purchase. Very efficient, but a tad creepy, too.

Since this is our second cruise, we are now “silver members” of the Castaway Club. As a reward, we were given a silver-and-black daypack and white lanyards to carry our “Key to the World” cards. We thought we were pretty special, until we noticed multiple-cruise passengers wearing gold- and even platinum-colored lanyards and correspondingly colored daypacks. Something for us to aspire toward!

As soon as we got on board, we ran up to the ninth floor and the Beach Blanket Buffet for lunch. I, of course, remembered exactly where everything was—especially the food. We stuffed ourselves as if we hadn’t eaten since August! We then did it all over again, four hours later, at dinner. Although dinner rotates among the ship’s three main restaurants, we’re assigned the same group of tablemates every night: three couples our age--all of whom have grown children and varying degrees of fascination with all things Disney. At least we have one thing in common. 

Breakfast buffet

As we learned on our first Disney cruise, dinner often has a theme, which informs how you should dress. Thursday’s theme was “pirates”—no big deal for families whose kids dress-up like pirates everyday, but quite the challenge for a middle-aged couple who hasn’t gone to a costume party in decades! We made a special trip to Disneyland to buy appropriate headgear and consulted several creative friends. You be the judge, but I think we ended up looking pretty damn good. Tim, especially, was a hit in eyeliner, earring and fake black hair. He held his own well against Disney’s faux Jack Sparrow

Captain Tim Sparrow and his first mate at dinner

With Jack Sparrow

We set the alarm early on Friday, so we could see the boat pull into San Francisco bay. Several hundred people were topside when we passed under the Golden Gate Bridge around 6:30AM—breathtaking! 

 Approaching the Golden Gate Bridge

Almost there . . .

Getting closer . . .

Passing under the bridge

 On deck

 Pulling into San Francisco

After breakfast, we hopped aboard a tour bus that took us over the bridge to Sausalito and then back again, so we could take a ferry to Alcatraz, which was just amazing (see my blog entry below).

 On the way to Sausalito

Blooming in Sausalito

So what else is there to do on a cruise with only one stop? We’ve watched several recent Disney movies--including McFarland, USA (terrific movie—bring Kleenex!), the new Avengers: Age of Ultron and Tomorrowland--in the two excellent theaters on board. We’ve won a couple of trivia contests: one on general information and one on 50s/60s music (Tim’s big specialty). We walk as much as possible around the ship. And, of course, we’ve learned to always carry a camera, because you never know when you’re going to run into a Disney character roaming the halls.

Walking around deck 4: 3 laps = 1 mile

 With Daisy Duck

And Goofy
But mostly we’re just relaxing. Tim can take a nap whenever he wants and I don’t have to cook or cleanup our stateroom. It’s Disney heaven on earth!

Relaxed and happy

 Docked in San Francisco

Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island

Tim and I have been to San Francisco countless times, but never to Alcatraz Island. Known as "The Rock," Alcatraz served as a military base during the Civil War and then, more infamously, as a federal prison for the most notorious criminals, including Al Capone. The prison closed in 1963. Today the island is a national park, accessible only by ferry—a very hard ticket to get, by the way. Luckily we were on a Disney tour, otherwise we would have had to return the following Thursday!

The prison was fascinating to see. But even better were the gardens, left over from the prison employee families who lived on the island. The contrast between the stark concrete prison and the beautiful spring blooms was spectacular.

Prison entry


 Staircase up to cells

 Gardens on east side

Remnants from American Indian occupation in the 
late 1960s/early 70s


 Cells (exterior)

Cells (interior)

Cells side-by-side

Inside a cell, including escape hole in wall

 Looking from inside out

Spiral staircase

Ruins of the warden's home


Beauty vs despair

Gardens: home to wild egrets

 The view from the island: San Francisco and the Disney Wonder
(on left)

Friday, May 01, 2015

Pacific Ocean Park

While Tim was watching the Clippers playoff game at home, earlier this week, Karen and I attended a Venice Historical Society lecture/slide show about the old POP amusement park in Santa Monica. Opened in 1958, the Pacific Ocean Park Space Age Nautical Pleasure Pier—POP, for short—was an extremely popular teen destination in the early '60s, before it closed and eventually burned down. 

I remember going to POP only once, but my sister and I weren't allowed to ride any of the attractions because, according my mother, several people had died there. As it turns out, this was just urban legend. Nonetheless, POP was cheesy—especially when compared to, say, Disneyland, the gold standard of SoCal amusement parks—and was nothing more than another kitschy pier attraction, so prevalent on the beach side of L.A. county in the early-to-mid-20th century. Still, this didn't seem to matter to the folks at the lecture. The small room was packed with people our age and older. 

The lecture was great. Domenic Priore, co-author of a new book on POP, narrated the slides, while well-known local historian Marc Wanamaker, who had actually worked at the park, provided "color" commentary. Clips of numerous movies and TV shows filmed at POP were also sprinkled throughout—perhaps the most famous being the final episode of The Fugitive, where the one-armed-man is (spoiler alert!) shot atop one of the rides. (I guess Mom was right: people did die at POP!) Our favorite clip, though, was this one (below) of Nancy Sinatra singing "Who Will Buy This Wonderful Feeling?" Not only does it reek of late-1960s TV musical specials (gotta love the Broadway-style choreography), it also provides one last fabulous peak inside POP before it was completely destroyed. Enjoy!