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Hawaii 2013 - Cruise and 3 days in San Diego pre-cruise/land excursions included

Author: Jan Nugent
Date of Trip: April 2013

Trip Report

We are three women from Boston, who traveled on a 15 day cruise from San Diego to Hawaii on the Celebrity Century in early April, 2013. We booked the cruise a year ago at an unbelievable price and we are delighted to say we had a blast!!! Below is our detailed trip report which includes a 3-day visit in San Diego pre-cruise:

Two of us traveled on United (uneventful flight, thankfully) to San Diego, as we had never visited the area before. We arrived mid-day and went directly to our hotel, The Keating, conveniently located in the heart of the Gaslamp Quarter where there are lots of shops (Horton Plaza is just up the street -- you can also hop on the trolley here too), restaurants and bars close by (although the night revelers can cause a bit of noise to filter into your room). The hotel is housed in an older building, yet the rooms are modern and lush (note: there are no rugs on the floors -- concrete and painted gray which we got used to and actually liked it that way). Our room had a large flat-screen, entertainment center, espresso machine, etc. The shower is glass enclosed yet open to the bedroom -- something you should be warned about. The staff was the highlight of our stay. Everyone was so friendly and helpful -- even with our complaints -- which I will explain now in more detail. We "won" this 3 night stay (as in cheaper than the normally charged rate, but still we were charged a hefty price) from Luxury Link, which was supposed to include the following for two: Welcoming drinks (we never got), a bottle of wine and select cheeses (did not receive upon arrival, but did finally get on our last night after requesting it several times), breakfast daily (never got) and $100 towards dinner at their affiliated restaurant (presently the Brick & Mortar -- which we did receive and will post a positive review of same). When we complained, we were told various stories with the most often one being the restaurant affiliated with the hotel at the time of our winning the stay had changed hands and they no longer served breakfast. After several attempts to resolve the situation, they finally gave us a $21 gift certificate to the 21 Cafe down the street. $21 did NOT get us much at this place (although the food and atmosphere was wonderful -- try it if you ever get the chance!). We're still communicating with both the hotel and Luxury Link to get what we agreed to, but we fear we will not be compensated for their breach of our contract -- an unfortunate situation.

Back to the trip report: After checking in, we grabbed a cab to Balboa Park. It was Easter Sunday and the park was quite crowded. It had many activities for families and children planned for the day i.e., egg hunt, bunnies and performers on the lawn areas of the park, etc. We went directly to guest information (who were so very kind and helpful) and planned our day in the park. This Hospitality Building also housed Prado, a full-service restaurant that came highly recommended to us, which we unfortunately did not eat at, but we did take a peek and it looked lovely -- filled with families enjoying their Easter brunch. We visited in the park for several hours which included:

The Botanical Gardens: this building and its lily pond are a must-see in the park! The plantings were incredible, nicely including traditional Easter lilies, tulips and daffies along with the regularly housed orchids, ferns, and other tropical plants and palms from around the world.

Exposition Cottages: representing countries around the world in an effort to promote understanding and good will. Each had wonderful displays of their country, including food and drink. On this particular Sunday, the host country was India so they had a lawn program which featured music, dance, traditional costumes, arts, crafts, and ethnic foods -- it was a delight to watch!

Spanish Village: Spanish-styled buildings around a colorful, checkered patio which also houses an art center featuring all kinds of juried local crafters, including painters, sculptures, jewelers, glass blowers, and so many more unique craft persons -- all busily creating and selling their wares.

Spreckles Organ: we were fortunate enough to attend a free concert here as Mr. Speckles, who donated this unique organ containing over 4,000 pipes housed within an ornate vaulted structure, did so with the one requirement that these concerts were to be performed for free on every Sunday and they have been going on since 1917.

Time was running short and our tired old feet got the best of us. We cabbed it back to the hotel and decided to use our $100 certificate to Brick and Mortar for dinner. We chose to eat outside and do our "people watching" from there. Let us say the staff was outstanding and very, very friendly. One server, who was off duty, heard another say there were a couple of ladies from Boston and she came directly over to visit, as she was a native to MA as well. We enjoyed several Cosmos and a delicious dinner here. The food was fresh, tasty and uniquely prepared. We were also serenaded by a Mexican trio which was delightful! We do recommend this restaurant to anyone who is in the area. Early to bed and early to rise...

Today, after finding out our promised breakfast was not going to happen, we went down the street to Cafe 21 which is a great, funky place featuring unusual fare including homemade bread sandwiches, fresh organic salads, hearty breakfasts, and wide selection of organic coffees, and so much more. Seriously, they create the most satisfying dishes from the finest ingredients--straight from the earth. We then were directed to Horton Plaza where we purchased our Hop On-Off Shuttle tickets and began our day's adventure by riding the shuttle completely though its route the first time around to hear the history and take in all the sights before deciding what was a must-see for us - the tickets were good all day! We were able to take lots of pictures and see lots of sights from the trolley (Convention Center, Pride of India, USS Medway, Little Italy, etc.).

Our preference of stops included:

Coronado Island --wonderful. We were in awe of the vista before us as we crossed the soaring bridge from San Diego onto this relaxed beach town island. The views from the bridge back onto San Diego's skyline were breathtaking. From this lovely little island we enjoyed a day of endless sunshine visiting the Del with its flat-sand, family-friendly beach and iconic red roof. This Victorian beach-front masterpiece is truly a treasure. We enjoyed strolling around checking out the entire property, making a few modest purchases, and then settled back on their outside deck overlooking the ocean for a few well-enjoyed cocktails. Later we strolled along Coronado's shop-lined main street back to the trolley stop and continued on.

Old Town: this uniquely Californian town offers it all - historic sites, authentic cuisine, and unique shopping. Although while planning our day we were not really interested in this area, we were surprised at what a great spot it turned out to be. If you are looking for unique gifts or souvenirs, a wide variety of shops are ready to tempt you: historic reproductions, books, leather goods, Indian art, jewelry, trinkets and bobbles, clothing, etc. It has a festival atmosphere with local artists and street entertainers. We had dinner and margaritas at Cafe Coyote and you'll hear nothing but positives from us on their food, drink and presentation...it was another outstanding dinner in Southern California...Mexican style all the way!

After dinner we wandered around a little and then taxied back to the hotel and a good night sleep.

Today we grabbed a quick cup of Jo and a muffin from Starbucks which was located across the street from the Keating. We were directed to a bus stop (Bus 30) for our trip to La Jolla. After several people from back home suggested we check out this upscale area of San Diego, we ventured there, and we must say it was definitely well worth it! Located just 15 mi. north of San Diego, it was about an hour's ride by bus (on 1-5 for a mere $1.10 each way -- senior discount included -- such a deal!). La Jolla has wonderful beaches (many taken over by the sea lions -- which were amazing to watch), fine restaurants, art galleries and exclusive designer shops along Prospect Street (did quite a bit of shopping here and were delighted with each and every purchase). We also went to George's for a late lunch out on their upper, outside deck with a view to die for. All was delish! Oh, the bartenders were friendly and a bit of eye candy for the ole ladies! Although an affluent community, La Jolla has a down-to-earth feel about it and we enjoyed our visit immensely.

After checking out of the Keating, we grabbed a cab to the waterfront to check in for our cruise. Only mishap was I had packed my passport and sent it through w/out realizing I needed it to check-in. We were told it wouldn't be a too much of a problem for them to find my bag and retrieve it but it could take a few hours. They also told us it was perfectly alright for us to visit the aircraft carrier USS Midway first and then return and all should be good (which it was). So, we ventured over to the Midway and took a tour -- outstanding! We took the audio guide which guided us through it all -- from the ship's bridge, to the jail, to massive galleys, to sailors' bunks, the laundry rooms, it's all aboard the Midway, now a museum, and we saw it all. Very, very impressive!

Time to board the cruise -- effortlessly once they found my passport and we immediately checked out our cabins -- which were lovely -- and then made it to the Mast Bar to meet up with our third traveler and the entire cruise critic crew directly after Muster.

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