Carnival Spirit and West Coast 2001

The trip essentially began in Columbus, Ohio Thursday 5/17. We endured monsoon like rain coming through Parkersburg but Columbus was dry. It was closing in on 10pm by the time we settled at the Cross Country Inn. This place may claim to be the “cleanest place you’ve ever stayed” but, I don’t recommend it. Jill had us staying there as it was supposedly the only place not charging to park, but as we learned later, that’s not the case. This place did have a drive thru registration window though, so that was a first for us.

Friday morning we awoke to McDonalds breakfast and prepared to take to the road. Staying at this place alone put a slightly negative spin to the trip so far, but nothing like the next happening. Out of curiosity, and the fact that the fog outside the motel was as thick as pea soup, I called the airline to see if our flight was on time. It wasn’t. The recording told me it was to leave about 50minutes late. I don’t think that it amounted to that much time, but it was delayed nevertheless. The next problem came with the fact that our connecting flight in Detroit was only like an hour from the original arrival time. It was pretty funny when the guy checking us in in Columbus said “Now you’ll want to check the monitors to confirm the gate while you’re sprinting through the terminal.” Well, Steph and I are capable of hurrying, however our bags are not. Seems we made the flight, but they didn’t. This brought on our encounter in San Francisco with a modern day valley girl who was among those who don’t even know West Virginia is a state. Picture the eighties Valley Girl, with her own special lingo and dress her in a Northwest Airlines shirt and you’ll have the person responsible for making sure our bags get to us. She took our information and said the bags would be delivered to the hotel later that night whenever they arrived from Detroit. The cab ride to the Carlton was as wild as any New Yorker could do. Plenty of speeding, seemingly illegal moves and questionable red lights ensured that Steph would be thoroughly sick by the time we got there. We saw Candlestick (3com) Park and PacBell from the highway. The Carlton was ok, but a little too similar to the Edison in NYC for Steph’s taste. The location wasn’t great either as we were led to believe it was in Union Square (An area of several blocks reminding you of Times Square in NYC). However it was about 5 or 6 blks from the heart of it. Our first venture into Thai food was that evening. We obviously don’t know a whole lot about it because it seemed just like Chinese to us. Very good though. Spent the evening wandering Union Square and as with any west coast trip…home in bed by 8.

Saturday was one of the best days of the trip (of which there were many). We were up before 6am and found that our bags had been delivered overnight. So that was a relief. We walked to an IHOP for breakfast and then we hiked up to a desolate (everything was closed) Chinatown and decided to find a street car. The trolleys were as great as advertised. We bought two all day passes and rode down to Fisherman’s Wharf. Unlike the downtown area, this place was already hopping with tourists at this time of day. One very important thing we learned at this stage of the trip was that it was probably 20° cooler at the waterfront. Steph wasn’t dressed for it so we only did a short run through. We looked into going on a tour of Alcatraz, but they were sold out for the entire weekend already! By the time we trekked back to Sutter St and the Carlton, she was half dead from walking and took a nap. Upon my return from exploring a little more it was back to the trolley and back down to the Wharf. We found a great outdoor place that had chili or clam chowder in a fresh sourdough bread bowl. So that was lunch and then it was off to the bikes! We rented bikes and rode a path along the water about 4 miles past beaches and parks to the South end of the Golden Gate Bridge. It was beautiful and very exciting to see up close. After riding back we hit a stand at Pier 39 for crab cakes. Fantastic! After that we walked out to the end of the pier and took some pictures of the Carnival Spirit which was sitting in the water just off shore awaiting Sunday’s departure. The trolley back to Union Square and our temporary home was great because I got to stand on the front corner of the car. Up and down the hills we went. It was awesome!

We were up before 7am again on Sunday in anticipation of our voyage on the newest ship in the Carnival fleet, the Spirit. We walked to Denny’s for breakfast and then on to an event which I don’t really know how to describe. Its called the Bay to Breakers Race and its supposedly the largest 10k in the country maybe? Estimates were that around 70,000 people participated. And I believe it. We stood for 45 minutes 4 or 5 blocks from the starting line and watched as the biggest variety of actual runners, walkers and buffoons went by. This is just my personal estimate, but I would say that about 50% of the participants were actually runners, 10% walkers, 30% buffoons in outrageous costumes, and 10% buffoons in nothing at all. Nope, that’s not a typo. Only in San Francisco I suppose. The costumes were funny at times, but my favorite participants were the large groups who were found pushing or pulling these large makeshift bars. I mean large, sometimes even roofed, countertops complete with kegs of beer rolling down the street with guys pouring drinks inside. It was crazy to say the least. From there it was back to the hotel to pack and prepare for the cruise. We took a cab to the pier around 11:30 and boarded almost immediately. The ship was gorgeous and quite unlike any we have been on as it is a new design. So we had no idea how to get around, and 3 days just wasn’t really enough to learn. This first day we explored a lot, ate a lot, and went to a show…all the same old stuff you’ve heard about our cruises. Probably the coolest thing about the first day was the legendary San Francisco fog. It was a bright sunny day at the pier, but by the time we reached the Golden Gate Bridge the fog was so thick you could literally not see the bridge until we were under it! The fog combined with the wind from the sailing made it about 40° outside and also meant that we didn’t hang out outside much after crossing under the bridge. Our room on this ship was like none other we have ever had. Routine interior cabin dwellers, this time we had our own “large private balcony!” As I said though it was too cold the first two days to spend much time there. Don’t worry, we made up for it later. Being on the Pacific made the going pretty rough and bed time was very welcome this first night as neither of us felt the best.

Monday was a whole lot of lounging around. One nice thing about having those busy days prior to the cruise was that it made us REALLY ready for some cruise ship life! Probably the best ‘day at sea’ I’ve ever spent on a cruise, began, as any cruise day should, with our pre-breakfast meal. Room service brought fruit, coffee, croissants, and cookies. I guess having a great room like we had this time encouraged us to actually eat in a little. Of course that didn’t lessen our visits to the food on Lido deck, just added another meal to the day. Oddly enough, next was an arts and crafts class. Basically a guy just brought in band new legos for us to build ships with. Quite fun for me. Our little group consisted of Steph and I, a lady from LA and a lady from Colorado Springs. Now I don’t generally brag, but our little ship was great. It took us about 45 minutes to build and had windows, lifeboats, the trademark carnival funnel, pool and a bridge. The fellow in charge obviously liked ours the most, but felt compelled to invite these three passersby in to be judges. Well, suffice it to say that they didn’t have a clue what they were doing and essentially picked the first one they looked at. We all knew we should have won, but oh well, it was fun. We ate a lot, slept a lot, and played air hockey this day. It was also formal night and due to the length of our trip we left those clothes behind and therefore skipped dinner. While the well dressed had assumed control of the decks, Steph and I hit the game room for some air hockey and visited the now computer filled library to send a surprise email home to Mom. A few more snacks gave us the energy to make it up for the midnight comedian who was excellent. Finally growing comfortable with Pacific time, we hit the bed after 1am.

Tuesday we awoke in Victoria, British Columbia. A beautiful little city. Weather was wonderful, around 70° and sunny all day. After breakfast, or shall I say breakfasts, we took off for shore and got a cab to town. For the most part we just walked a lot admiring the nice, pretty, clean city. In other words, typically Canadian city. Walked through Eaton Centre which appeared to be about a tenth of the size of the one in Toronto. I had a nice laugh at Crystal Gardens, a small indoor zoo and garden. They had a room full of all different types of butterflies and displays showing their life cycles. You would have thought Steph was in a room full of venomous bats the way she ducked and dodged those poor little guys. Quite funny. From there we toured Beacon Hill Park, which was quite large and again full of lots of flowers and wildlife. Break time was spent sitting on a bench in the park watching turtles, ducks and other birds in a lake. Walking back to town we saw the very old Parliament buildings and the also very old Empress Hotel (But skipped tea time). The last stop was at Undersea Gardens which was essentially a big underwater aquarium. Victoria was very, very, nice and a great “couple hour visit” cruise port. A cab took us back to the ship where of course, we ate. Believe it or not the rest of the afternoon was pretty much spent on our balcony watching the mountains of Washington State and British Columbia pass by. We cruised through the San Juan Islands and actually saw a few Orca whales swimming along side the ship at different times. The combination of scenery and our first balcony made this afternoon fantastic. It was at this time we both decided that an Alaskan cruise is definitely in the future. As our busboy later said, the Caribbean islands all look the same, Alaska is full of different scenes. I’d have to agree with him. On this cruise alone we saw, big cities, endless oceans, snow capped mountains, and secluded islands. Definitely much different than a normal cruise. Anyway, we closed out the evening with dinner and some more air hockey. A wonderful day and quite exciting knowing that our biggest road trip ever was beginning the next day.

Wednesday morning we got up early and savored every last moment of our balcony as we sailed into the beautiful city of Vancouver. Another perfect weather day greeted us as we debarked the ship and boarded the Seattle bound bus. At first the thought of a three hour bus ride was disheartening, but it turned out fine. I got a lot of reading done and Steph talked with some women from San Francisco. The Seattle air, we both swear, smelled of Pine. Stepping off the bus it hit you like the smell of french fries in MacDonalds. Absolutely beautiful weather and scenery, Mt Rainier and other mountains tower in the background of the city, gave us quite a nice welcome. After getting our car, a 2001 Hyundai Sonata, we set out for the Holiday Inn Express. Our stay that night was free since we had collected enough Priority Club points over the last year or so. The hotel was near the Seattle Space Needle and Seattle Center. So after checking in we walked there and caught the monorail downtown (about a minute ride…kinda makes you wonder if its necessary, but I guess it is). Pike Place Market was really our only destination for Seattle because it was the only thing we really had heard of and considering the one evening visit, not much research was put into Seattle. Well the market was definitely worth visiting! It was all open air fruit stands and such with produce pretty enough for pictures. We bought almonds, some honey sticks, strawberries and juice. From there it was down to the Waterfront area where we dined on fish and chips at a place called Steamers. Well, its early evening now so we headed back for the monorail station and the hotel. Later that evening after a little rest we set out in the car to explore. With limited time that seemed best. The Mariners new place, SafeCo Field and the under construction new Seahawks stadium were our first stops. For some odd reason I neglected to take my camera on this car ride so we’ve really nothing to show for it other than memories of the fun we had. Which of course is the best thing to bring home anyway. So from there it was over to the other end of town and the University of Washington. The campus was really beautiful and we spent a fair amount of time roaming a really nice shopping center which, at least on this evening, seemed to be the center of student social activity. Which was bad for Steffie since the line at the Ben and Jerrys Ice Cream store was out the door by 20 people or more. In case I have forgotten to mention, I think Steph tried to set a new record for ice cream consumption on this trip. Both nights in San Francisco and of course on the ship we managed to find and put away large amounts of ice cream.

On to the actual first day of the road trip, Thursday. Following bfast we made it out of the hotel around 9:30 or so. It was about 100 miles south of Seattle to the road to Mt. St. Helens. Rt. 504 took us about 50 miles each way out of our way but it was very much worth it to see the volcano. Finally, a huge event in history that I was actually around for. I guess that means I’m getting old, but that’s ok. Anyway, it erupted in 1980 or so, killing 50 some people and devastating all the land surrounding it. They have since reforested a lot of it, but the left 100,000 acres or so of the land directly surrounding the mountain in the state it was in after the eruption. This area is now the National Volcanic Monument. As far as the eye could see was nothing but ash, dirt, rocks and dead fallen trees. We drove as close to the crater as we could which was about 4 miles. Trails led off from this visitors center which would be quite spooky I imagine. To think of the devastation of the communities and way of life around there was really sad. It seemed odd how most of the time when you go to a national park, you just marvel at the glorious natural beauty. But this time was a little more on the tragic side as it also showed the destructive forces of nature as well. All in all the venture ended up taking 3 hrs from our trip, but it was without a doubt worth it. After that we were back on the last little bit of Interstate we would see the entire trip. Less than 20 miles later we hit Longview, Washington where we got on US 30 to head for the coast. About an hour later we arrived in Astoria, Oregon and US101! For months prior to this trip I had been studying maps and reading about all the towns up and down the Oregon coast, and now we had finally gotten there. It was quite a feeling. We had another Fish and Chips meal at a little place on the water called the Ship Inn. It didn’t look like much, but the crowd inside proved it popular. The portions were huge, the quality excellent and Steph learned that she likes Halibut. Dinner looking out over the intersection of the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean was a huge highlight for me. From dinner we went to the Astoria Column which sits high on a hill above town. We didn’t count the steps, but believe me there were plenty of spiraling steps to the top of this monument and considering the meal we had just eaten, it looked to be a good idea to climb them. The view was fantastic and we were able to get a little history of the area from another visiting fellow. With sunset only a few hours away we headed for Seaside. Of all the places we visited along the trip, we agree that Seaside was among the nicest. After checking a couple of different hotels, we decided to stay a really nice and new Comfort Inn. I think she just picked it because they had chocolate chip cookies in the oven when she went in to check the rate. It was not on the ocean, but you could walk there. And that we did around 7pm or so. We walked on the beach for a while then through the streets of town before heading back to the hotel.

Another free bfast Friday morning and on the road we went. Cannon Beach and haystack rock were first. It was freezing cold on the beach and too early to be stopping for any length of time, so we simply took in some of the scenery and split. As luck would have it, we hit Tillamook around lunch time. The Tillamook cheese factory was an absolutely awesome place! A fully functioning factory, you can watch the workers making the cheese from windows up above the work area. So that was neat, but the best part was the food. There must have been samples of a half a dozen or more types of cheese available! In the store area you could choose from any size or variety of cheese or anything else they make. We read somewhere that the cows in Tillamook county outnumber the humans by a wide margin. So there were dairy products galore available here. And not at bad prices. So that we didn’t buy out the entire store, we ate lunch first. Out of this world macaroni and cheese! It was indescribably good. Following that we hit the ice cream stand where they of course peddled Tillamook ice Cream. Big cones were served up in waffle cones. We watched a lady making these cones of actual waffles. She had about 12 waffle irons and her batter and stood there cranking them out one after another. So needless to say our lunch was great, but that didn’t keep us from hitting the store area for a bunch of cheese, pepperoni and crackers for the road. Steph read that Oregon’s highest water fall was a mile or so off US 101. So we found it which was neat but also a little anticlimactic. I guess waterfalls don’t come in very tall sizes in Oregon. Once again a nice walk after a meal though. On the road again, Steph slept and I enjoyed the drive through rural Oregon to the next wide spot in the road, Lincoln City. Here we stopped and made a contribution to the local Indian Reservation Casino. Its right on the ocean and pretty nice. Free Pepsi products on tap throughout the place made me a happy boy. After this short stop we found a parking spot with a view of the ocean and feasted on some cheese and crackers. Lincoln City also has outlets, so we made our laps there and came away with nothing but a $0.99 frisbee. Last night in Seaside it would have been great to have one, but little did I know what awaited me in Newport. Which by the way was our stopping point for the night. Again we checked some places, and this time we chose the Elizabeth St. Inn. A beautiful room with a balcony, ocean view and a fireplace was our reward for staying here. At the time I claimed it was one of the nicest rooms I’d ever been in. So we unloaded and went to the old bayfront area of Newport on Yaquina bay to find some grub. Steph was in the mood for Crab Cakes so we searched until we found a place. Really just a diner kind of place, but great food nonetheless. Cakes were obviously hand made and of very good quality. After that, guess what…Steph had to have some ice cream. We found a place back close to the hotel where we had desert and headed back home to the hotel. Bundled in several sweatshirts we walked to the beach to enjoy another evening walk. The walking was great, but the wind was a little much for frisbee. We threw it one time and off it went. It must have rolled a half mile up that beach before getting bogged down finally. And thus ended our frisbee playing for that evening.

Saturday morning brought another free bfast at the hotel and a walk on the beach for me where I saw actual starfish for the first time. It was a very low tide I guess and they were just hanging out on the uncovered rocks. Not too far down the road we drove up a mountain to a really high overlook. Can’t really describe it much other than to say that the entire coast we traveled was just as rocky and rugged as they proclaim it to be. And every so often if an overlook opportunity looked good we would venture off 101 long enough to enjoy the view. This particular lookout was VERY high and provided some of my favorite pics of the trip. So back to the road we went for our longest driving day of the trip. The Oregon Dunes were large enough to ride dune buggies, but time did not allow for that treat. We were through Coos Bay and into Bandon at lunch. One of a million adorable little coastal towns, Bandon actually had another Cheese factory! This time we lunched first though on Fish and Chips at a place in town as the factory didn’t look to be quite the scale of Tillamook. That it wasn’t, however, the number and variety of samples available blew Tillamook away. Steph didn’t like their wacky flavored cheeses like I did, but she sure did like the Ice Cream! We left full of cheese samples, and toting the largest ice cream cones I’ve ever seen. The place was packed and the line for ice cream was quite deep as these things were only $1.40! On the road again we were, loaded again with plenty of cheese for snacks. Steph slept a lot while I drove us clear to the Oregon/California state line, stopping every so often along the way for some scenic breaks. Oh and at Brookings Oregon for crackers. By early evening we arrived at Crescent City California. A quite depressing little town due to the continually foggy atmosphere, which had little to offer other than it was the gateway to the Redwood National park from the north. We checked into another Holiday inn Express and set out to see the city. This consisted basically of a really old lighthouse and yet another Indian reservation casino. Boy whoever came up with that idea was a genius. Probably has a big statue on every reservation. This one, unlike others we had been in, was quite generic and consisted basically of a pole building full of video slot machines. Needless to say we didn’t stay long and just went back to the room for bed.

Sunday morning it was off to the Redwoods. I had stayed up late the night before studying the park maps and picking some places to visit. The first place was Yurok loop. A simple mile long foot path through the redwood trees just off 101. Well unfortunately while Steph was changing her shoes, I made the mistake of pointing out to her what the sign at the head of the trail said. “Bear and lion country” followed by a short list of what to do if you see these animals and more importantly if they see you. Well, what seemed to scare us off was that last step…”If an animal attacks, fight back aggressively.” This combined with the fact that it was first thing in the morning and we were the only ones there put Steph back in the car real quick. Oh well. We hit the Trees of Mystery next. This is a big tourist draw with a long path leading through the huge redwoods. Many of the trees were unusual in shape and all were quite large. Around 300ft. tall were most with some around 20ft. in diameter. From there we went for Coastal Drive. It was about 8 miles of unpaved road that wound around the cliffs of the coast and back to 101. All sorts of warnings told of the rough road and that nothing big was allowed so I was prepared for the worst. Fortunately, my being from West Virginia had me a little over prepared. It seems the road wasn’t any worse than a lot of rural roads around here. It turned out actually that you can get a very good feel for the redwoods simply by driving 101 through them. While the entire trip to this point had 101 following the coast, the many miles through the park were darkened by shade from the towering redwood trees. We reached Eureka shortly after lunchtime and stopped at Marie Callender’s Restaurant for an excellent Sunday brunch buffet. At this point 101 turns inland even more and is 4 lanes which enabled us to make some really good time. More hours of driving through surprisingly more redwood trees brought us to Leggett, where California Route 1 splits off from US 101 and heads back to the coast. It was here that we found the tree house, a living tree, hollowed out at the base with an actual room in it, and the drive through tree, which needs no explanation. The mountain between Leggett and the coast was a doozy. Up and down through switchbacks one after another prompted some motion sickness pills for Steph, I believe for the first time since we had been driving. It took an hour to go the 40 miles to Ft. Bragg. Now, for the first time, the fact that it was Memorial Day weekend took its toll. It was probably 4pm or so and anticipating the problem we stopped at nearly every somewhat respectable looking place in Ft. Bragg. A place called the Beachcomber had 1 room left and they wanted $145 for it. Walking through the room, I’m thinking, “oh man I hope she doesn’t want to stay here”. Of course she didn’t. So we hit the road again and found one place with vacancy. It was quite steep too, but had plenty of rooms left, so we trudged ahead. On to Mendocino we drove, thinking that perhaps something would be available there. Wrong! And once we saw the place neither of us were that interested in staying there anyway. This place is apparently where the upper crust of San Francisco come to play I guess, because the people and cars we saw there made for quite a rich atmosphere. Steph ran in to two places and was told essentially “you’ve got to be kidding!” So it was either keep trudging south towards, San Francisco, by this time we’re about 4 hrs away, or retreat 10 miles back to Ft. Bragg and the North Cliff. We chose the latter and for the first time all trip, had the ocean on the left side of the car. Well, as Mom will say is expected of our trips, everything worked out perfect! This place was fantastic! It was a huge room, with all the amenities, including another balcony and fireplace. I would rank this one as my favorite room of the trip and better than those of many if not all of our other trips as well. So after unloading we set out for one more evening stroll on the beach. Only this time, we could throw frisbee! It was a beautiful evening and we stayed at the beach for quite a while, for us that is. After going for a Sunday paper and some snacks we returned to the room for another ‘last’ of the trip…cheese and crackers in front of the fire place. All in all it was another wonderful evening.

Monday was “Destination San Francisco!” We maintained our usual relaxed schedule of hitting the road at around 10, following free bfast at the room of course. You talk about rural, the route through the rolling hills and across the steep cliffs over the ocean were definitely unspoiled by development. It was some of the prettiest scenery of the entire trip. We stopped a few times to take pictures but for the most part just enjoyed view from the road. California 1 wound clear through Sonoma and Marin counties before climbing the hills rising high above the north end of the Golden Gate. It was about 2:30 before we hit Stinson Beach, which was absolutely flooded with people enjoying their holiday. “We’re here” I felt. This big of a crowd meant we had to be pretty much on the outskirts of the city. Sure enough the road began climbing high above the surf and it was wonderful. Out of nowhere the entirety of the Golden Gate Bridge unfolded before us. Before crossing the bridge, and in my mind, bringing an end to this latest endeavor, we parked and admired the bridge for a while. Its two miles long, so we decided to walk half way and then return. Well by this time we were both getting hungry so we drove the bridge and all through San Francisco on our way back to Fisherman’s Wharf for a final Clam Chowder bread bowl. Things were starting to thin out a little by this time as the holiday weekend was coming to a close and the dreaded felling of going home was beginning to overtake me as well. We drove toward the airport, found our Doubletree and unloaded the car. You can imagine what that car was like after 1200+ miles of cheese and crackers, pepsi, almonds, fruit and juice. It was a mess. And of course it was at this time that we had to figure out how in the world that whole backseat full of junk we had collected was going to fit into the original bags. After some wrestling we got everything put away and set off for the airport to return the car. And as much as I hate to say it, other than flying home, there was not much more to report. Quite a trip it was, and I’ll say it again…probably the best trip we’ve ever done. A big city trip, a cruise, and a monster road trip all rolled into one. Thanks for listening.