Friday, October 2, 2020

A Trio of Quick Fall Trips...Number 2 - Catalina Island (Part 1)

(Please read our Covid 19 Statement first - Ed) I'm wondering what possessed me to commit to this...driving at 6 in the morning across the 605 and 405 to try to get to Newport Beach on this cloudy morning. I need a parking spot for 36 hours, the only lot around here that will let me stay this long is the lot next to Balboa Pier.

Navigating the Byzantine parking payment system is a true hassle. The sign says parking is limited to 7 days. No problem, I only need a day and a half, but the machine is limiting me to one day. That's a problem because in 24 hours, I'll be 30 miles across the ocean and unable to come back and renew it.

I go to add time by'll only let me add 10 hours which is cutting it 2 hours too short. I snap a pic of the sign on the machine which has a website for the parking company. Maybe I can extend it online later. It's my only hope at this point...

When I retired back in March, I realized I had more time on my hands but not as much money as I was used to. I started browsing for things I could do cheaply. One thing that popped up was a Groupon deal for a half-price cruise to Catalina. I snapped it up without even thinking twice. I should have thought a little harder.

The deal was only for the boat, the Catalina Flyer, that operates out of Newport Beach. It makes one trip a day, each way. 9:00am to Catalina and 4:30pm coming back.That only gives us 3-4 hours to enjoy the island. 

I'll have to add a hotel so we can stay the night.

This will probably blow the budget since lodging in Catalina can be expensive...very expensive. And that's before you factor in that we'll need a wheelchair accessible accommodation. Summer prices are even worse so we wait until fall to cash it in (it expired November 9th) so we can get just a little break in the hotel price.

Really...what was I thinking?

Back in Newport Beach, the day of reckoning has arrived. After doing our best to figure out the parking (and crossing our fingers that our van will still be there when we get back tomorrow), we head over the short block to Balboa Pavilion, located within the iconic Newport Beach Fun Zone mini amusement park and next to the even more iconic Balboa Island Auto Ferry.

Our online reservations told us we had to arrive at 8:00am for the 9 o'clock boat. This puts us third in line, waiting an hour for the boat to start boarding. At 9, the crew takes us and two other wheelchair passengers onboard first. It's a bit tricky on the ramps and the crew insists on us putting Tim's chair in neutral so they can push, pull, and manhandle him into the boat for safety reasons.

We find a nice table by a window while the other couple of hundred passengers board...many who think the 8:00 arrival time was a mere guideline and show up at the last possible moment.

9:05 has us shoving off. The boat is much faster than the boats of yesteryear. At least twice as fast. A short hour and twenty minute later has us tied up at the dock in Avalon, Catalina's lone municipality.

We spot two giant cruise ships offshore, a Carnival ship and a Regent Cruises vessel, so it's going to be a bit crowded today. The main effect for us is having ship's photographers setting up stands directly in middle of the little sidewalk to take pictures of their passengers for souvenirs, blocking our way.

Not to gently asking them to give us room, we finally get by. It's about six blocks of walking, towing two small rolling suitcases, along the waterfront until we find our hotel.

I had to call, email, text, at least a dozen hotels in the area. Most did not have accessible rooms at all, a few had accessible rooms limited to two people, two had rooms that would accommodate the three of us. One for over $600 a night, and the Catalina Island Inn.

Our chosen hotel has a fairly roomy fireplace room with a king size bed. An extra fee for the third person includes a twin size rollaway bed for Tim. 

There's a small but very nice private patio, refrigerator, coffee maker, and a large bathroom with a very nice roll-in shower. With tax and extra bed/person fee, the room costs us $288 for the night.

Luckily for us, the room is ready when we arrive at 10:45 in the morning. Normal check-in is 3:00pm but they'll watch your luggage for you if you want to drop it off early and go exploring the island.

Being that we don't have to rush to see everything before the afternoon boat leaves, we take a little time to unpack and unwind before heading across the street to Antonio's Pizza and Cabaret perched over the water on the edge of the harbor.

We have a giant beer, some pizza, soup, and salad as we start today's island pub crawl.

Well, so far it's turning out OK, if not on budget. Let's keep rolling and see how it works out.

This is to be continued on this week's Cocktail Hour on Sunday as we compare happy hour bargain margaritas in Avalon's many pubs.

See you then!

Darryl Musick
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