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Home > Member Reviews > cboyle's Port Reviews of San Francisco, San Diego, Ensenada, Los Angeles

cboyle's Port Reviews of San Francisco, San Diego, Ensenada, Los Angeles
Grand Princess cruise in March 2014
Member Name: cboyle
Cruise Date: March 2014
Embarkation: San Francisco
Destination: U.S.A.
Member Review: cboyle's Grand Princess Review
San Francisco
Port Rating: 5.0 out of 5+

15 MAR (SAT) SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA (Departure 4pm)
Tourist Information: www.sanfrancisco.travel
Waterfront Map: wikitravel.org/upload/shared/f/fe/Sanfrancisco_fishermanswharf_printmap.png

After escorting our DS, DDIL and two toddler DGDs to the parking garage and helping them load up for the drive home, John and I returned to the waterfront to enjoy some sightseeing before reboarding the Grand Princess.

Instead of walking along the Embarcadero, we walked along the piers right next to the water. Along the way we found the location of the sea lions that inhabit San Francisco Bay. They seemed pleased with their perch and the visitors looking on.

Our destination was the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park (www.nps.gov/safr/). There is a small museum, which we had toured on a previous visit to San Francisco. Today we were more interested in the historic vessels and exhibits located on the Hyde Street Pier. Visitors may walk along the pier at no charge but there is an admission fee to tour the vessels. Because I have an America the Beautiful Senior Pass (www.nps.gov/findapark/passes.htm), John and I could receive free entry stickers at the ticket booth.

Not all of the vessels were open for touring today. We visited the two that were open: the Balclutha, a square-rigged ship built in 1886, and the C. A. Thayer, a three-masted schooner built in 1895 and currently being restored. We would have liked to tour more of the vessels but it still was a beautiful, sunny, warm day to be out walking along the Bay.

On the way back to the ship, we stopped at Pier 45 to tour the SS Jeremiah O'Brien, a WWII Liberty ship built in 1943 (www.ssjeremiahobrien.org). This vessel is not part of the SFMNHP and has a $8 pp admission fee. This was definitely a bargain as the ship was fascinating. The tour is self-guided and takes the visitor to many parts of the ship, including down into the engine room. One of the enthusiastic volunteers explained to us how the ship's engine room was used to film the engine room scenes in the movie “Titanic.”



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San Diego
Port Rating: 5.0 out of 5+

17 MAR (MON) SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA (8:00am – 6:00pm)

Tourist Information: www.sandiego.org
Waterfront Map (B Street Cruise Ship Terminal is north of the USS Midway): www.portofsandiego.org/environment/clean-water/doc_download/4714-public-parks-brochure-2012.html

This was the only port that would not have a wine-themed activity. We planned to go to the San Diego Zoo and had hoped to be there when the zoo opened at 9:00 a.m. However, the ship was late docking and obtaining clearance from the local authorities. Thus we were not off the ship until 8:40 a.m. and took off for the SDMTS route 7 bus stop on Broadway and Front Street; this is about a 15-20 minute walk from the B Street Cruise Ship Terminal and the bus ride to the zoo takes 16 minutes. Unfortunately, the route and timetable information at the SDMTS web site (www.sdmts.com/mtscr/route.aspx?r=7) is incorrect; the #7 bus stops further east at Broadway and Third Street. Even though we missed the first possible bus because of this incorrect information, we finally managed to reach the zoo at 10:00 a.m. The adult fare for this bus is $2.50 and the senior (age 62 and up) fare is $1.10 (show your driver's license or other proof of age; exact fare, cash only).

The San Diego Zoo (zoo.sandiegozoo.org) is not only renowned for its animal collection but also for its conservation activities. On this beautiful spring St. Patrick's Day, it was a pleasure to stroll the beautifully landscaped grounds. The Panda exhibit is one of the most popular and crowded, so we headed there first. John's research had found that taking the Fern Canyon stairs was the quickest route there. When we arrived, there were only about a dozen people there listening to the staff member discussing Panda life and habitat. We had plenty of opportunity to view and photograph the zoo's two Giant Pandas.

We worked our way back and forth through the zoo and were fortunate to see most of the animals, although some were hiding. There are about 3 or 4 miles of trails in the zoo, with lots of hills; we took the Skyfari (included in the day pass) twice from near the Polar Bears back to the entrance to save time.

Our final activity at the zoo was the 40-minute guided bus tour (included in the day pass). We were extremely fortunate to draw Chris “Zooman” Clobber as our driver/guide. Chris is a stand up comedian and a grandson of Laurence Klauber, whose personal collection was the foundation for the Klauber-Shaw Reptile House at the zoo. Chris was raised in the zoo and provides a fascinating and enthusiastic commentary. He also knows the best time to pause at various exhibits. For example, he stopped at the Polar Bear exhibit right at the time the bears were being fed and we got to see them jump in the water and swim to catch their food. From the top of the double-decker bus, we were even able to see some of the animals that had been hiding from us earlier.

The adult day pass for the zoo costs $46 pp and there is a 10% discount for seniors ($41.40 pp, age 65 and up). With the round-trip bus fare of $2.20 pp, our DIY excursion cost $43.60 pp vs $99 pp for the equivalent Princess tour. Of course, that does not include the $40 I had to spend to replace the sun hat that I somehow managed to lose on the way to the zoo.

We left the zoo at about 3:00 p.m. and caught the #7 bus back to the stop at Broadway and First Street. We sauntered back to the ship and made it back aboard about 4:00 p.m.


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Ensenada
Winery Tour Rating: 3.0 out of 5+

18 MAR (TUES) ENSENADA, MEXICO (8:00am – 5:00pm)
Tourist Information: www.enjoyensenada.com/
Town Map: www.lonelyplanet.com/maps/north-america/mexico/ensenada/
Valle de Guadalupe Information: www.bajabound.com/destinations/bajawinecountry/

John and I had visited Ensenada on a previous cruise but that was a short, perfunctory stop merely to satisfy the Passenger Services Act. There is a small shopping area at the port, a car rental booth and a tourist information booth. Taxis are not allowed to pick up passengers at the port but there is a shuttle ($2 pp) into the main shopping area downtown. Both the shuttle and taxis charge $1 pp to return to the ship.

John investigated possibilities for a private winery tour to the Valle de Guadelupe but decided that the ship's excursion was the best option for this port. John, I and 45 of our closest friends were bused to two wineries: one very large and one very small. While we were waiting in line for the tour to proceed to the bus, an agricultural inspector with a dog checked all of us. As we continued to wait, the dog reacted to a group going ashore with a baby stroller. They had to open all their bags and quite a bit of unsealed food (mostly apples) was confiscated; packaged, sealed food (like their carton of yogurt) was allowed. There were a lot of new cruisers on this voyage who may have been unaware of the restrictions on taking agricultural products off the ship. The Princess Patter had only mentioned bringing contraband back on board and an announcement about not taking food ashore was not made until well after passengers had started to disembark.

As we left the port, our guide (Gloria) strongly hinted that we should be tipping her and the driver (Jesus) at the end of the tour. During the 40-minute drive, Gloria gave us some information on the history and economic conditions in this part of Mexico but admitted that she did not know much about wine (she prefers whiskey) or the wineries we would be visiting. As we approached the first winery, Gloria informed us that she would handle the tips there but we should tip at the second winery. John and I have toured and tasted at over 100 wineries all over the world and this is the first time there has been any suggestion that the wine pourers were expecting us to tip them.

The first winery we visited was L. A. Cetto, which is one of the largest wine producers in Mexico. The tour was led by Ruben, a winery employee, who described the production process and showed us the processing machinery, fermentation tanks and barrel room. Next we were led to a tasting room that was barely big enough to cram in our large group. Gloria had brought along some slices of bread, cheese cubes, olives and olive oil, which she placed on the two long bars so we would have something to cleanse our palates between wines. Ruben gave generous pours of four Cetto wines but did not know much about them beyond his memorized spiel. Then he pulled out a tip jar, which we ignored. There was a little time allowed for those who wanted to buy some wine to take home. By now Gloria was anxious to herd us back to the bus. As we re-boarded, we were each handed a bottle of Cetto wine that was a blend especially produced to give to tour groups.

The Cetto winery produces wine from far too many varieties and knows this. They are trying to determine the grapes will produce the best wines for this area. The wines we tasted were on the whole pleasing and showed good varietal characteristics but were not outstanding. We would be interested in returning to try wines from some of the smaller wineries in the area.

In contrast, the Casa de Dona Lupe (www.lacasadonalupe.com), is an extremely small wine operation. In addition to wine, it produces liquors, herbs, jams, spreads, filled breads and pizzas. We were encouraged to taste the jams and spreads on our own; Gloria had a couple of the stuffed breads and pizzas cut up so that we could each have a small taste of those. Each of us received a card that entitled us to four small pours of wine. No descriptions of the wines were offered by the pourers; in fact, they never spoke at all and Gloria was naturally of no help. I did not see a tip jar but no one there was doing anything that deserved a tip anyway. The wines were non-vintage and of uncertain variety. They were at best drinkable but only marginally. The food was better. At one point, we had a brief glimpse of Dona Lupe herself and there was a costumed dancer doing native dances and selling jewelry. At least there were clean bathrooms.

Altogether this was a decent way to spend a port day in Ensenada. However, we would not seek out any of the wines we tasted to purchase in the future.

After the bus returned to Ensenada, we were offered the option (which only one couple took) of remaining in town and returning to the ship on our own or of going directly back to the ship. There was a long line for the security checkpoint to re-enter the port.




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Los Angeles
Port Rating: 3.0 out of 5+

19 MAR (WED) LONG BEACH, CALIFORNIA (7:00am – 6:00pm)
Tourist Information: www.visitlongbeach.com
Waterfront Shuttle (free) Map: www.lbtransit.com/schedules/pdf/30.pdf

Today John had planned to rent a car, drive to the Temecula Valley and visit two or three wineries. However, our plans were drastically altered by a Customs and Border Protection inspection at the port and delays at the car rental agency.

Yesterday we were given a suggested schedule for the CBP inspection, which was supposed to start at 7:20 a.m. after the ship had been cleared by CBP. We lined up about 7:10 a.m. with about 30 people ahead of us. We waited for over an hour for the ship to be cleared; by then the line stretched around the atrium and into the casino. Posts on CruiseCritic.com reported that the delay was due to a thorough search of the ship for illegal substances and that several people were taken off the ship in handcuffs. Once the ship was finally cleared, we exited to the cruise terminal, where we had to present our passports and custom forms. Even passengers who did not want to go ashore in Long Beach had to go through this procedure and no one was allowed to return to the ship until everyone had been processed (reportedly about 1:30 p.m.). If your itinerary calls in Long Beach right after a stop in Ensenada, do not plan to be on your way sooner than two hours after the ship's scheduled arrival time.

Because we were near the front of the line to get off the ship, we went through the customs and immigration inspection quickly and headed off to the closest car rental agency (Enterprise). There was no sign of the free Passport shuttle, so we briskly walked the 1.5 miles to the Enterprise office in about 23 minutes. Although there were only two people with reservations ahead of us, it took 50 minutes to obtain our car. The office was seriously understaffed, with only one person behind the counter to process reservations and answer the telephone; three other staff members wandered in and out aimlessly. The telephone rang constantly with people calling from the cruise terminal to be picked up. There were so many reservations that only the drivers could be picked up (supposedly in a half-hour); after they got their vehicles, the drivers would have to return to the terminal to collect the rest of their groups. John and I were thankful that we could make our own way to the rental office and did not have to rely on Enterprise to pick us up.

We finally left the Enterprise parking lot at 10 o'clock. We had planned to visit three wineries in the Temecula Valley (www.temeculawines.org) but had already lost three hours of port time. There was no way that we could be on time for our first winery appointment; however, I was able to call and reschedule it for later in the morning. We did not have appointments at the other two wineries, so we could make a decision later about visiting them.

John reviewed many wineries in the Temecula area before selecting Leoness Cellars (www.leonesscellars.com) because they seemed the one most serious about their wines. Many other area wineries seemed to be more like holiday destinations. We took the VIP tour and tasting ($35 pp) and were really pleased. We toured the vineyards, viewed the facilities and talked wine philosophy with Dawn, the Host Department Manager. Leoness is serious enough about their wines to submit them to wine reviewers for evaluations and typically their wines do quite well. After sampling eleven different wines there, we can understand why. Temecula is still finding itself as a wine region and Leoness is still making wine from too many varietals (a fact they recognize), but they are becoming an outstanding winery. We highly recommend a visit to anyone interested in a serious winery and serious wines.

Because of our late start and the legendary LA traffic, we decided to enjoy a relaxed experience at Leoness and forgo visiting any other wineries in order to allow extra time for the return to the ship. If we visit this area again, we would like to taste and tour at Wiens Family Cellars (www.wienscellars.com) and Callaway Winery (www.callawaywinery.com). Dawn at Leoness said that she liked the Italian-style wines at Renzoni (www.robertrenzonivineyards.com), so we would probably add them to our list.‎

When we returned the car to to Enterprise, there were several people already waiting to be driven back to the cruise terminal. Given all the delays this morning, we chose to walk back to the ship at a leisurely pace (30 minutes this time). Even with stopping to take some photos of the Queen Mary, we probably beat those people back on board. BTW, we later read on CruiseCritic.com that, during port calls in Long Beach, cruise passengers can show their cruise cards for free admission to the Queen Mary; we might check that out if we ever call here again.

When we returned to our cabin, we found two free drink vouchers. Even though the long delay this morning in disembarkation was not Princess' fault, the company wanted to do something to mollify the passengers.



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