Friday, July 09, 2004

Catalina Island

My sister and I spent a couple of days on Catalina Island. Catalina has one of the lousiest tourist websites I've ever seen, (caution: takes forever to load)so here's my supplement.

Catalina Island has no bridges leading to it, very limited handicap access, no easy access to cars, and most hotels are not smoker-friendly. For all of that, we had a pretty good time.

It may be pet-friendly.

The only way to get there is by boat. If you don't have a boat of your own, you can take the Catalina Flyer for $44 per person round trip, or the Catalina Express, rates unpublished on the web. The Flyer leaves once a day, the Express leaves several times a day. There are probably a few other boats, as well.

We took the Express, as the trip was included in our hotel package. It took about an hour on the water; add 1/2 hour to load and unload. The boat has a little snack bar with coffee and potato chips, etc. The inside is pretty comfortable, sort of airplane-ish. The boat has TV screens inside. On the trip out they showed the GPS heading/speed etc, and it was quite interesting. On the trip back they had Entertainment Tonight or some such similar trash on and I nearly got seasick for the 1st time in my life. There ought to be a law against inflicting Michael Moore's lying face on people entrapped on a boat. Smoking is permitted on the main deck, outside in the back. At least one woman on a different trip than ours took her dog on the boat with her. I have no details; it may have been a guide dog. This is only to say don't automatically exclude your dog if you don't want to, but call the boat and see what they say. Apparently it can be done, at least under certain circumstances.

I had to call about 7 hotels before I could find one with smoking rooms. We finally settled on Cloud 7, which turned out to be a very good choice indeed. Clean, quiet, and comfy. Nice, helpful people. Like much of Catalina, it's on a steep incline and if it had wheelchair access, it was cleverly hidden.

There are very few cars on Catalina. You can't bring one or rent one. The official websites and tourist literature pump up golf cart rental, but that's crap. Yeah, you can rent a golf cart - for two hours, which is hardly enough time to go anywhere and see anything, and it certainly won't take you back to your hotel at night. Catalina's best kept secret seems to be the tram. Get yourself an all-day $5 tram ticket and you'll be able to get a ride every 35 minutes to just about anyplace you'll want to go. You can buy tickets right from the driver.

My sister's theory was that the tourist industry doesn't like to discuss the tram because the golf carts rake in so much money. She's probably right.

Those stupid golf carts!! $30 an hour, and all you do is drive around the mountain. That's more than it costs to rent a car, for pete's sake.

We rented one anyway, and drove it dutifully around the mountain. It was kind of like a drive-your-own roller coaster. Exhilarating, and some killer views, but it is not transportation.

Anyway, if you go, wear comfortable walking shoes, bring some aspercreme, and take the tram.

Lessee, what else? We took the tram to the botanical gardens and Wrigley memorial - well worth it if you like either gardens or artchitecture or views. The hills are very, very, very steep.

We took the Casino tour and were blessed with a super guide full of history and human-interest tidbits, like a 'time-out' room where they put gentlemen who were dancing too close to the ladies. Apparently the sexes had to be an arm's length apart while dancing.

We also took the glass bottom boat, which was neat.

Antonio's has a wonderful cheeseburger. The Country Club makes some mighty powerful drinks. No watered-down whiskey there, lemme tell ya! Normally I don't get quite that sloshed on my second.

Avoid the steak at Cafe Prego.

Lots and lots of shops, most of which seem overpriced. However, it is an island and everything has to be brought in by boat, so it's not actually a rip-off, except for those damn golf carts.

The Chicago Cubs did their spring training on the island until 1951, so we'd hoped for more Cubs history than we actually got. However, there was more info on WWII than we'd expected, as apparently it was used for training. The army and special ops would practice taking over the Coast Guard at Catalina for WWII training.

All in all, a good time, if somewhat exhausting due to the terrain.

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