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By Land & Sea - San Francisco - Dawn Princess - Seattle Pt. 1

Author: donnaw (More Trip Reviews by donnaw)
Date of Trip: May 2006



What do you do when you are down to the last of your vacation days, spent or committed the vacation budget and need to get away?

A Little Background
Almost mid 50's couple (I have been told that the almost is quite important) who have spent a good deal of the last five years vacations on cruises. April comes along and we realize that we need a break. Personnel changes at work have increased the number of hours that I am working each week and I am burning out rapidly. Next scheduled cruise is March of 2007, and we are looking at one in May of 2007 so realize that whatever we do cannot wipe out the budget moving forward. Last cruise was in January and DH loudly announced that he really needed a land vacation yet again! This has been the refrain after the last couple of cruises, so I am beginning to think that he really is serious!

Sitting at my desk one evening in April and taking a break from the work I brought home, I started looking to see if there were any cruise deals out there. No matter his insistence on a land vacation, I know that if I find a good enough deal, he will buy off on it. As I wander through the Internet travel sites, Dawn Princess jumps out at me. We have been on this ship several times and it is DH is all time favorite. She is moving from the Mexican Riviera in May to Alaska and has a three-day repositioning from San Francisco to Vancouver then a one-day to Seattle where she will start the Alaska season. Now bells really start ringing! The only time we have been in San Francisco was a layover to Hawaii and we never made it out of the airport due to a late arriving flight. We have always meant to go back but have never found the time. Add that we have always wanted to go to Seattle and there is a potential vacation plan here. This can work so time to hand it over to DH and see what he can do with it. I have planned the last six vacations so it had already been determined that it is his turn to plan.

Let's Get the Snags Out of the Way
First snag that we hit was the fact that the Jones Act/PSA would not allow us to take the three-day cruise followed by the one-day cruise even if we disembarked and then re-embarked to a different cabin. We thought that it only affected us as U.S. citizens but later found that the Princess computer would not allow the Canadians to do it either. We had already spent four days in Vancouver after an Alaskan cruise on Dawn so we were really committed to spending time in Seattle this time so decided on taking a shuttle from the port to SEATAC on disembarkation.

Air
The proverbial second snag was the airlines yet again. Hundreds of thousands of Frequent Flyer miles on multiple airlines did no good for the dates that we were looking for. Hours of playing with itineraries failed to make it look any better. The cruise was in the middle of the whole trip so any moves in the start, end date affected how long we spent in either of our destinations, and we were unwilling to give up time in either San Francisco to Seattle. We live mid-way between O'Hare and Milwaukee airports but could not find a reasonable direct flight out of either. It was time to pull out our Southwest reward ticket. Midway (Southwest territory) is 80 miles each way and is definitely our third choice but it was worth a try. We hit paydirt. Southwest had great times for direct flights to OAK and from SEA at $99 each way. If flying out of MKE, we stay at a park and fly hotel the night before, if flying out of ORD, we do an inexpensive one-way car rental each way, if flying out of MDW, we need a new game plan. When we fly MDW in the winter, it is limo all the way. However, that is a very expensive option and not necessary on a Saturday afternoon in the summer. Internet research came up with the solution. We booked Midway "Park, Ride, Fly" for $8.50 a day online and took our older and more gas efficient vehicle. This company has concessions at many airports throughout the country. Parking is in a fenced lot, and shuttle to the airport is included in the cost. They pick you up at your car (in their lot) and drop you off right behind your car. The service was fantastic with the shuttle bus being there before we were ready for them both times.

Southwest Airlines
This is the "budget" airline. As times have changed with the "premium" lines, we find that Southwest is actually a little better than most of our "premium" flights of late. Trick: Southwest is open seating using A - B - C codes for who gets to board first. The first 45 who check in are "A." We checked in online the night before each flight and were "A" on both flights. This open seating arrangement does mean that passengers line up early to board the plane to get the best seats. We were at the back of the A line on both flights and still got great seats and managed to get a row of three for the two of us on both flights. With the extra legroom on Southwest planes and the quite comfortable leather seats, we were quite happy with our choice. The snack provided was a cute little box with a pack of Ritz cheese and crackers, a pack of Oreo 100's, a pack of dried fruit and a pack of peanuts. Definitely not premium but better than what we received on our last three flights on other airlines. Eat first if you are going on a long flight or bring food onboard with you!

SAN FRANCISCO

To San Francisco
There are many transportation choices from either SFO or OAK to the San Francisco downtown area. We arranged a town car pick up prior to leaving and were quite happy with the results. Our driver, John, was at the airport waiting for us and was full of helpful information even though part of the conversation was sidetracked to Boston (his original hometown). He was even nice enough to drop DH off at Powell and Market to pick up our three-day transportation pass and circle to pick him before dropping us at our hotel.

San Francisco Hotel
As stated in the beginning, this was a budget trip. We have had good luck using Priceline in the past and decided to use it for both hotels on this trip. An important part of using Priceline is doing your research and knowing what you are bidding for. We used both biddingfortravel.com and betterbidding.com to determine what zone we would bid and what price. We decided to bid the three-star in the financial district of SFO since we felt the three-star in Union Square had a property that we would not like. We got the Courtyard by Marriott in the Financial District and were more than happy with the results (more later).

Before we got to San Francisco, we both had concerns that this property might be too far out of the mainstream. Those concerns were put to rest as soon as we got there. A short three-block walk put us on Market and in the mainstream. The #15 bus brought us back to the hotel and stopped at the opposite corner on Folsom and 2nd Street. To take the #15 down to the pier area was a one block walk to Folsom and 3rd Street. A Starbucks with limited hours was located in the lobby and the rooms were very nice with the most comfortable (pillow top) bed to date. The only negatives were the lack of a room safe (we took our documentation down to the desk and used a safety deposit box there. Note: there is a $250 charge if the box key is lost.) and the limited Starbuck's hours but they appeared to be every other block so easily made up for.

Seeing San Francisco
One of the first things we realized was that the core of this city is much tighter than it appears on maps. This is a walking/public transportation city. It would totally be a walking city except for the hills (think mountains at times). Our three-day passport ($18) gave us access to unlimited use of above ground transportation for the time we were there. For us this meant numerous trips on cable cars (main station at Powell and Market), trolleys and buses. A one-way trip on the cable car is $5; a one-day pass for the cable cars is $10. The three-day pass quickly becomes a deal since we traveled extensively around the city.

Weather
Overall, beautiful! The rainy season appears to have ended before we arrived. First night found us having dinner at Pier 39. We had made advance reservations at Swiss Louis, where we had an excellent dinner and wonderful views. Recommended by friends, this was our splurge dinner in SFO and it lived up to expectations. However, now for the weather part, I was wearing a light jacket and DH was in a long sleeve shirt. We walked out of the restaurant just as it was getting dark and it was cold. We walked into a shop a couple of doors down and bought SFO jackets for less than $20 each. This was the best deal of the trip. They are reversible with one side furry and the other waterproof. They also got a lot of use until we reached Seattle. Someone said that SFO has six microclimates and I have to believe them. Depending on where we were, we want from hot to cold in a matter of seconds. During our stay, we went back to the hotel so I could change jackets several times.

Must Do's

  • Cable Car Museum -- We took the Powell/Hyde line up Nob Hill then walked down to the Ferry Building at the port. First stop on our walk was the Cable Car Museum. Yes, this is a museum with a lot of the history of the cable cars in San Francisco posted in very nice displays; however, this is also the heart of the current cable car system with full view of the working system that provides power and keeps the cars moving. This is free and fascinating even for those of us who are not mechanically inclined. Also has a nice little gift shop with very helpful employees.

  • Chinatown -- Continuing our wandering down to port and we were in Chinatown. This is a working Chinatown. Yes, there are many tourist shops but there are also markets and stores that support the local Chinese population and they are there en-mass. This is the second largest Chinatown outside of Asia and is a definite must see.

  • Fisherman's Wharf -- we somehow managed to wind up at this definitely touristy location at least once a day. This is not a surprise since we both love being on or near the water and automatically gravitate towards it. The wharf area is filled with restaurants, shops and small stands selling food including whole Dungeness crabs cooked when you order it. Must see at this location is Boudin's Bakery and CafĂ© (reputed by a good friend to have the best clam chowder in SFO but take the bowl with the roll on the side since you get more soup). We went in after stopping at Ghirardelli's for chocolate sundaes and just the smell made us hungry again.

  • Pier 39 is a short walk from Fisherman's Wharf. Stop and see the sea lions who have taken over a good portion of the boat docking area. They put on a show continuously. San Francisco was not too happy when they decided to make the slippage their home, but have resigned themselves to live with it and have posted the history of this group and pertinent information about them. Live entertainment, restaurants, shops and bars are the order of the day here. Great spot for people watch with lots of locals enjoying the sights along with the tourists on weekends.

  • Alcatraz -- "The Rock" is in view of the port area but deserves a trip. Blue and Gold holds the concession to the prison tours until the end of May, 2006 so by the time this is read; it may be handled by another vendor. We ordered our tickets for the Sunday evening tour prior to our trip and went to one of the computer stations at their dock to print our tickets early on the day of the tour. All that the computer needed was the charge card that we used to place the order and it printed the tickets without having to wait in any lines. The ferry ride over is rather chilly so dress accordingly. The climb up to Alcatraz once on the island is somewhat steep but it appears that they do have transportation for handicapped. An audio presentation allows you to take the tour inside Alcatraz at your own pace. The only disappointment was that we hoped to return as the lights of the city were going on for some great pictures but it was still too light out for that to work.



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