Howard Hian

“Mile High” Idyllwild (altitude 1.6 km) and Tahquitz Rock, often called Lily Rock, have received world-wide recognition from rock climbers since the 1930s.  In 1947, a “difficulty of climb” scale, based on Tahquitz Rock, was established.  After the ascent of Half Dome in 1957, the Sierra Club tweaked the values and the ratings became known as the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS).  Note: Tahquitz Rock is rated 5.9 and Half Dome is 5.12.

History

Idyllwild was once the summer home for migrating bands of the desert-dwelling Cahuilla Indians. The area was originally named Strawberry Valley by shepherds who regularly brought their flocks to graze. By the 1880s – early 1900s, there was an arts academy, as well as a sawmill, toll road, post office, and TB sanatorium.  Tourists from southern California started showing up.  From the 1930s – 1950s, Idyllwild was further settled by buyers of second homes and became famous for the production of hand crafted “knotty pine” furniture. In the 1960s and 1970s, hippies (including LSD guru Timothy Leary) discovered Idyllwild, much to the consternation of the locals.  The arts community continues to flourish, and in 1998, Idyllwild was named one of100 Best Small Art Towns in America. Today, there are approximately 4,000 year-round residents.  An additional 2,000 people live there part-time.

What To Do

Idyllwild is a mecca for outdoor sports, including rock climbing, hiking, trail running, and walking.  There are almost 500 routes around Tahquitz Rock and its neighbor, Suicide Rock.

Additionally, there is horseback riding, camping, fishing, bouldering, and mountain biking.  In the village, pick up an Explore Idyllwild Map and Explore Idyllwild Directory.  In town you will find restaurants, bars, boutiques, a bakery, gift shops, antique stores, and art galleries galore.  You will hear live music everywhere.  A worthwhile stop is the award winning Historical Society Museum.  Make certain to follow the trail of the “Idyllwild Deer Sightings,” a public art project sponsored by the Art Alliance of Idyllwild. There are 21 deer sculptures, made from recycled aluminum and painted by 12 local artists.

Dinner at IDYology was lots of fun.  It’s a classic honky-tonk complete with happy hour, daily specials, down-home cooking, generous portions, live music, and of course, a pool table.

Where to Stay

A recommendation from a friend brought me to The Grand Idyllwild Lodge, a luxury boutique inn.  Designed and built by the owners, its architecture is classic California Craftsman. It delivers a wonderful B & B experience, with hands-on service and an excellent full breakfast on weekends.

Coffee and tea are available all day in the lobby. The rooms feature Wi-Fi, flat screen Smart TVs, Keurig coffee, and plush bedding. There’s free parking and it’s a short stroll into town. There are trails on the property, a small sauna, a gym, and spa services can be arranged.

 

Only five years old, it’s already earned a 94% “Excellent” rating on TripAdvisor and received AAA’s coveted Four Diamond award. Kudos to Innkeepers Brad & Jacki Rechfertig.  For reservations and information call 951-659-2383 or logon to www.GrandIdyllwildLodge.com.

Websites

www.IdyllwildVisitorsCenter.com

www.IdyllwildHistory.org

www.ArtInIdyllwild.org

www.IDYologyIdyllwild.wordpress.com

www.GrandIdyllwildLodge.com

Thanks to various websites for information and photos.

Nevada’s nickname is “The Silver State,” and is home to a casino resort on my list of favorite places to stay and play…The Silver Legacy Resort Casino in Reno.

Ambling

Hotels have their own personality so, after my speedy check-in, I wandered around to catch the vibe. I discovered restaurants, shops, entertainment venues, bars/nightclubs, the casino, race/sports book, and the poker room.  I stopped by the Player’s Booth and signed up for ONE Club.  Think of it as a frequent flyer program for the resort, providing benefits for slot play, dining, accommodations, special offers, etc.  One of my discoveries was walking from the Silver Legacy’s lobby to its Mezzanine (can’t miss it, there is a three story high mining rig!); if you turn left you can amble over to Circus, Circus, and heading right leads you to the Eldorado.  They are connected indoors, tripling your opportunities for fun. Pick up a Resort Passport which contains $125 in discounts for entertainment, drinks, shows, massages, food, and gaming for all three properties (they are owned by the same company).

Gambling

There’s something for everyone: over 1,200 slots, 85 table games, including Pai Gow, a new race/sports book, and keno. The real reason for my visit was to check out Silver Legacy’s new $1.8 poker room, which is part of an overall $50 million dollar resort renovation plan.  Newly located in the main casino, it is open 24 hours, is non-smoking, and features daily Hold ‘em tournaments, as well as limit and no-limit cash games. Note: they serve great free donuts and coffee in the morning.

The legendary Margie Heinz runs the poker room. Margie started dealing when Montana first legalized gambling.  She is a link to the golden days in Las Vegas, where she was the first woman invited to deal at the World Series of Poker in 1977 by gaming icon Benny Binion.  Margie knew the early legends: Bill Boyd, Jack Strauss, Puggy Pearson, Johnny Moss, Amarillo Slim, and Texas Dolly – Doyle Brunson.  In 2011, she was deservedly elected to the Women’s Poker Hall of Fame.

 Where to Eat

Canter’s, an LA iconic classic deli, is located next to the poker room and is new to Reno. It showcases an extensive menu, but stick to the award-winning pastrami, house-made pickles, and freshly baked breads and pastries.

 

Eating at the Pearl Oyster Bar and Grill is a must. Their seafood specialties include crab cakes, cioppino, and pan roasts. You can’t go wrong with the daily lunch specials or soup/sandwich combinations. At dinner, its location on the Mezzanine makes it a perfect spot to sip a glass of wine and people watch.

The early dinner menu at the classy, award winning Sterling’s Seafood Steakhouse lived up to my expectations. My dining experience started with a house salad served with freshly baked bread, followed by a perfectly prepared beef tenderloin stroganoff, finishing with homemade praline pecan cheesecake.  It’s quite a bargain for $27. They also have special pricing for wine by the glass.

Other food outlets include Flavors Buffet, Cafe Central, Starbucks, and Sips Coffee and Tea.

Show Time

Between Silver Legacy, Circus Circus, and Eldorado, the entertainment choices are endless; midway acts, the Laugh Factory, music, and best of all, the Eldorado Theater.  The 580 seat, state-of-the-art showroom features top entertainers, as well as Broadway style extravaganzas.

For more information and reservations, including discounts and specials, logon to www.SilverLegacyReno.com or call 1-800-687-8733.

Thanks to various websites for information, photos, etc.

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After Labor Day, the tourists have headed home, the weather is ideal, and there’s plenty of parking. What a perfect time to visit San Diego’s favorite “village,” La Jolla.  Vacationing in my hometown was very appealing.

 

Where To Stay

I jumped at the chance to stay at the Pantai Inn. It has earned a prestigious #1 ranking for La Jolla hotels at TripAdvisor. Perched fittingly on the corner of Coast and Ocean Streets, this small gem sits amid beautifully landscaped gardens and patios, overlooking the Pacific.

The Pantai Inn pays homage to Balinese art with its furnishings and design. Included in the rate is free parking, complimentary buffet breakfast, and high speed Internet. Coffee, tea, bottled water, plus freshly baked cookies are available throughout the day. Turndown service includes chocolates at night.  It’s easy to understand how the Pantai Inn received such high rankings with its little touches and attention to detail.

Footloose

Stroll north from the Pantai Inn along the bluff to The Cove, then double back to the Children’s Pool. Both have been populated by seals and sea lions, which have become a bitter issue with residents, business owners, and environmentalists.  Wander through the shops and art galleries on Prospect and Girard.  Grab your swim gear and drive to the Shores Beach. Go at low tide and take a long walk north past Scripps Pier to Black’s Beach (bathing suit optional).

A Day At the University of California San Diego

Stop first at the Birch Aquarium now celebrating its 25th anniversary. It’s part of the internationally famous Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

On campus, don’t miss the Geisel Library (thanks, Dr. Seuss) and the outdoor Stuart Collection, especially Fallen Star, Sun God, and The Wind Garden.

The Theater District features the Mandell Weiss Center for Performing Arts and the historic La Jolla Playhouse. The latter was founded in 1947 by Hollywood stars Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire, and Mel Ferrer. Over the years, it has won 35 Tony Awards for productions that have moved from there to Broadway.

Get Physical

Take a hike through Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve (only one of 14 California State Parks so designated). Six trails loop through the park and there are free public guided tours on weekends and holidays at 10 AM and 2 PM. Golfers, take note: the world famous Torrey Pines golf course is open to the public.

Where To Eat

Duke’s is a short walk from the Pantai Inn. It’s named in honor of Duke Kahanamoku, Olympic swimming and water polo medalist, the father of modern surfing, and a royal Hawaiian family member.  This casual oceanfront restaurant serves contemporary twists on traditional island favorites. We arrived in time for “Pau Hana” (Happy Hour).  Request a table upstairs on the terrace. When we couldn’t decide between a couple of wines, the server brought out tasters (no charge); classy touch.  We opted to split the crab cake appetizer.  Our two entrees were the Hawaiian style baby back ribs, served with amazing grilled cornbread, and a perfectly prepared Kaffir crusted ahi steak. The decadent Hula Pie ended the dining experience in time for a sunset stroll back to the Pantai Inn.

Cusp Dining & Drinks is where fresh coastal cuisine rules. The menu features locally sourced, seasonal ingredients. At happy hour, along with discounted drinks and “bites,” champagne starts at $4 per glass and the price goes up $1 on the hour ($5 at 5 PM, etc.). Chef Ingrid Funes, from El Salvador, not only oversees the kitchen, she is the pastry chef.  While enjoying unique cocktails, we split a rock shrimp, chorizo and Manchego cheese flatbread.  Our dinner choices were lamb loin with roasted beets and carrots and the uniquely prepared seafood special of the day.  Dessert was a decadent chocolate crunch bar. A Cusp bonus is the dramatic 11th. floor ocean view. Look for the elusive “green flash,” an optical phenomenon that sometimes occurs as the sun sets.

Information

Birch Aquarium – There’s free parking and lots of kids’ activities. For schedules, etc., go to www.aquarium.ucsd.edu.

UCSD – Logon to www.ucsd.edu for maps, campus tours, and parking info.

Stuart Collection – Find background and an art location map by logging on to

stuartcollection.ucsd.edu.

LJ Playhouse – Information for the schedule, to purchase tickets, directions, and parking can be found at www.LaJollaPlayhouse.org.

Torrey Pines State National Reserve – Discover hiking and walking options at www.TorreyPines.org.

Duke’s – Their menu can be found at www.DukesLaJolla.com. Eight Duke’s Restaurants can be found in Hawaii and three on the mainland: La Jolla, Malibu, and Huntington Beach.

Cusp Dining & Drinks – It’s located atop the Hotel La Jolla, Curio Collection by Hilton. There is complimentary valet parking and a $30 price fix menu on Thursday nights. Check it out at www.CuspRestaurant.com.

Pantai Inn – More about this special place can be found at www.PantaiInn.com or call 858-224-7600 for reservations.

 

On a recent travel writing assignment along California’s Coastal Highway 1 Discovery Route, I was amazed to uncover a piece of little known history relating to California’s role in WW II and, perhaps, a partial answer to a stain on FDR’s presidential legacy.

In 1940, the Navy had already established a presence in Morro Bay, CA with its amphibious training base. On December 7, 1941, “A Day That Will Live In Infamy,” Pearl Harbor was attacked. On December 8, the USA declared war on Japan and, interestingly, the same day Japan declared war on America and the British Empire.  What is less well known is, by mid-December, nine Japanese submarines were active, plying the Pacific Ocean and sea lanes off the coast of California near Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Mendocino, Monterrey, and San Luis Obispo in search of tankers.  Eleven US vessels carrying oil and lumber were attacked, but only one was sunk. In the early morning of December 23, 1941, Union Oil’s 8,000 ton Montebello left Port San Luis, CA heading for Vancouver, Canada. It was intercepted by a Japanese submarine in the early morning about four miles offshore and, although defensive steps were taken, it was struck by a torpedo and sunk in 20 minutes. Four lifeboats heading for shore were shelled and shot at, but luckily there were no casualties among the 36 sailors. The tugboat, Alma, was one of the rescue vessels which picked up crew members in two of the lifeboats. The Alma is now part of the Morro Bay Maritime Association and displayed in town on the Embarcadero.  Post Pearl Harbor and the sub attacks, Morro Bay and Rock was used by military recruits for ship boarding practice, beach landings, and assaults.

Can it be a coincidence that, after this enemy activity in US waters off the coast of California, FDR issued an executive order on February 19,1942 leading to the unfortunate internment of Japanese-Americans?

Morro Bay lies in the middle of California’s Highway 1 Discovery Route’s “101 miles of adventure.” Stroll the Embarcadero and take in the museums, art galleries, curio shops, boutiques, charter/fishing boats, etc.  Stop by the MCV tasting room, www.MCVwines.com, to sample their excellent wines.   Follow the Embarcadero path out to Morro Rock, one of California’s most photographed spots, a designated State Historical Landmark. An easy walk is the .6 mile Marina Peninsula Trail which loops by the Morro Bay Estuary; keep your camera handy.

The area is an agricultural cornucopia; farm to table dining, the freshest seafood imaginable, plus local vineyards and wineries galore. My restaurant recommendations are all conveniently clustered along the Embarcadero overlooking Morro Bay and the Rock.

Blue Sky Cafe – locals flock here for breakfast (served all day), lunch, and dinner…don’t miss their daily desserts. www.BlueSkyCafe.com

Dorn’s Original Breaker’s Cafe – first opened in 1942, the third generation of the family now runs the place. www.DornsCafe.com

Tognazznini’s Dockside – three casual choices: restaurant, fish market/patio or Smokehouse & Pub. www.MorroBayDockside.com

Dutchman’s Seafood House – Norwegian roots, plus owning and operating their own dock provides the backdrop for this family run establishment, www.DutchmansSeafoodHouse.com

The Galley Seafood Grill & Bar – serving produce and vegetables direct from their chef’s family farm gives a clue to their food commitment, www.GalleyMorroBay.com

Windows on the Water – award winning dining and an extensive wine list…its tagline, “fine California cuisine on the water,” is apt. www.WindowsMB.com

Pappagallo II – for something special, check the event calendar for Morro Bay’s luxury cruise yacht and enjoy the hospitality of Chef and author (Chasing the Heat) Len Gentieu and his wife, Midge. www.OnboardNauticalEvents.com

Overlooking Morro Bay and Rock, the Blue Sail Inn is TripAdvisor four-star rated and perfectly located two blocks from the Embarcadero. They feature free parking, wi-fi, continental breakfast, and in-room microwave. www.BlueSailInn.com

www.MorroBay.org

www.Highway1DiscoveryRoute.com

www.MorroBayMaritime.org

Thanks to Jerry Praver for his interview time and for providing a copy of his well documented manuscript, The Sinking of the Montebello. Also to the Historical Society of Morro Bay for Images of Morro Bay written by Roger Castle and Gary Ream (Arcadia Publishing). Kudos to SGM Daniel Sebby, State Military Museums Curator, for his insights and personal tour of Camp San Luis. Finally, thanks to various websites, etc., for information and photos.

My latest visit to Las Vegas was an eye opener to the ongoing evolution of Sin City. Harrah’s Hotel & Casino, located at the center of the world famous Strip, recently spent over $30 million renovating their Valley Tower rooms and suites. Harrah’s Casino has it all: 80+ tables including craps, blackjack, roulette, and baccarat. There’s a keno lounge and a new state-of-the-art race and sports book, plus over 1,200 slots and video poker machines.  There are five daily, low buy-in tournaments in the Poker Room. There is also a nice mix of cash games.  Locals make up about 50% of the players; always the sign of a well-run poker room.

Entertainment choices abound at Harrah’s: bars, musical venues, and stage shows. There is a small spa with a salon and fitness center. A workout followed by a whirlpool and spa treatment is a perfect way to unwind.  I frequented the Zagat-rated Fulton Street Food Hall every morning for a breakfast that included freshly baked pastries. There are interesting food stations serving lunch and dinner.

Toby Keith’s, I Love This Bar & Grill, is a must for fans of country music and down-home food lovers. Live music begins at 9 PM with no cover charge.

Right outside Harrah’s door is the #1 attraction in Las Vegas, the LINQ Promenade. It was also voted the best family destination in town. It’s as if a stage set were ripped from Disneyland and plopped in the middle of The Strip. Restaurants, bars, and specialty shops line the street of this entertainment district. The centerpiece is the High Roller, the world’s largest observation wheel at 550 feet tall. Ride it at sunset for spectacular views of the Strip, all of Las Vegas, the Spring Mountains in the distance, and to experience the 2,000+ flashing, colored LED light show. The project cost $550 million to build.   (www.TheLinq.com).

Plan a couple of meals at the LINQ Promenade. Stop by Gordon Ramsay’s version of take-out fish and chips. I tried the shrimp…they were plump and perfectly fried, enhanced by a choice of dipping sauces, (www.GordonRamsayRestaurants.com). Virgil’s BBQ serves up first-rate sandwiches, plates, and burgers influenced by the regional flavors of Carolina, Texas, and Memphis.  There are 14 beers on draft to go with starters like homemade potato chips and fried pickles. (www.VirgilsBBQ.com).

Harrah’s is part of Caesar’s Entertainment’s casino brands. Go to the benefits program and sign up for discounts, specials, and upgrades (www.TotalRewards.com). You earn credits whenever you play, eat, or shop at any of their properties worldwide. Harrah’s Las Vegas’ resort fee includes: premium Wi-Fi access for, local calls, and daily fitness center access. Logon to www.Harrahs.com for reservations and information.

Thanks to the various websites for information, photos, etc.

 

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Sitting on my balcony at the RIU Palace in Cabo San Lucas, I’m overlooking the Sea of Cortez, watching a parade of one (sometimes two) cruise ships glide past El Arches into port. This is Baja’s version of a traffic jam.

My junior suite is strategically situated for straight-line views of the pool and restaurant terrace as well. It is a perfect spot to watch people; what they drink, what they eat, how they dress, and how sunburned they are.  I feel like a drone hovering above the crowd.  It’s a guilty pleasure.  A recent list of obscure words pop into my mind. One is “fudgel,” from the 18th century, meaning “pretending to work but not really doing anything.” Remember The Office and the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company?  I feel like a full-fledged fudgeler.  However, I remind myself I’m actually here to write a travel story about the RIU Palace $23 million upgrade.  My intention is to let the changes sink in slowly while enjoying the all-inclusive aspects of the resort.

First Impressions: Upon arrival, I notice the striking pyramid in the lobby, along with the new front desk design. Bold colors and shapes are artistically juxtaposed onto the classic colonial style architecture. A new palate of hues throughout the resort is obvious.

The completely redesigned bathroom and shower are worthy of a 5-star rating. There’s a mellow ambient sound outside. The mingling of surf, soft breezes, people chatting, music and children laughing blend into a pleasing buzz, occasionally punctuated by the vigilant staff’s “Hola” or “Would you like a drink?”

Discoveries: The proverbial fork in the road leads to the two main pools. The Entertainment Pool features hourly activities to keep me busy: games, water aerobics, volleyball, music, and an engaging social director. The Relaxation Pool is much quieter and conducive to lounging, reading, snoozing, and unwinding. Being a RIU beach bum is another option; chaises under palm trees dot the sand. Stretched out, I can watch people para-sailing, watercraft buzzing by, and locals selling everything from sombreros and jewelry to horseback rides. My mode for the entire week is languid and lazy. That circles me back to the word “fudgeler.” How do I write about unhurried mornings at the pool reading, followed by lazy afternoons settled in by the sea and watching the procession of people and boats as they sail or motor by?  I’m floating in time on my own land-locked cruise to nowhere; food, drinks, entertainment, beach, and a great “cabin” in an all-inclusive setting. No one will believe I’m actually working!

Culinary: Three new outlets have been added: Bombay, an Indian restaurant, Lounge 24, a self-service snack, drink and coffee bar, and Capuchino, a patisserie featuring coffee and ice cream treats.  I’m kept well fed at six other restaurants featuring Mexican, Japanese, Italian, fusion cuisine, steaks, plus expansive buffets for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I try them all and don’t go hungry.  Does that count as work?

RIU Style: RIU’s 692 room types range from standard to suites (there are eight with Jacuzzis on their balcony). They also added 44 junior suites with their own splash pools.  There is free Wi-Fi throughout the resort, mini-bar, alcohol dispensers, and flat screen TVs in the comfortable rooms. There are seven bars including two expanded swim-ups, 24-hour room service, six pools and a beachfront fitness center. RIULand is a camp for children.  Nighttime activities for kids and adults feature live shows and music.  Scuba Caribe offers whale watching, fishing, water sports and tours. The Renova Spa features a full range of massages, facials, plus salon and beauty care treatments.

The RIU chain was founded in Mallorca in 1953. Today, it spans the globe with over 100 hotels and resorts in 18 countries.  Logon to www.riu.com for information and reservations.

Settling In: California Highway 1 is your “discovery route” to adventure.  This historic road features scenic beaches, state parks, wildlife habitats, wine regions and quaint towns throughout San Luis Obispo County.  Our destination was the hamlet of Cambria and the Cambria Pines Lodge. 

The full-service 152 room resort was built in 1927 and features 25 acres of themed gardens, meandering paths, a heated pool, plus a nature trail leading to the charming village of Cambria. A breakfast buffet is included in the price and parking and Wi-Fi are free. The rustic Fireside Lounge features a full bar, extensive wine list, appetizers, late night snacks and evening entertainment.  At the resort, the Sojourn Healing Arts Spa (www.SojournSpa.com) offers a full menu of massages, facial and body treatments. Their retail nursery is nearby and the short walk is worth it.  The Lodge’s motto, “Your Place to Dream,” is spot on. For more, go to www.CambriaPinesLodge.com.

What to Do: Walk the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve forest loop or bluff trails. Download the map at www.CambriaRanchWalks.com. Wander Cambria’s East and West Villages and prowl the art galleries, garden shops, antique stores and boutiques. Drop into the Cambria Historical Society (www.CambriaHistoricalsociety.com). It spotlights 150 years of growth. While there, pick up the self-guided walking tour.

Take time to visit the Veterans Memorial in the center of town, dedicated on Memorial Day in 2011. The flag monument and encircling engraved bricks honor the service and sacrifice of veterans, with emphasis on home town military.

Where to eat: Lots of excellent farm-to-table restaurants in Cambria. Here’s my quick guide…bon appetite! Robin’s Restaurant, www.RobinsRestaurant.com, is located in a restored adobe home in the East Village. It features charming gardens and a cozy setting. Menu picks: lamb skewers appetizer and cioppino for an entrée.

Linn’s Restaurant and Gift Shop on Main Street, www.LinnsFruitBin.com, is famous for its olallieberry pie, jams and baked goods. You can’t miss with their chicken pot pie or sandwiches on house-made bread for your meal. The full page dessert menu awaits your final decision. Wash your meal down with olallieberry lemonade.

The intimate Black Cat Bistro, www.BlackCatBistro.com, has won the Wine Spectators Award of Excellence nine years in a row. Begin with the seared romaine salad, move on to the sea scallops with corn pudding and finish up with salted chocolate caramel pot de crème.

I’ve just scratched the surface of the California Highway 1 Discovery Route. There are 101 miles of adventure including 10 towns, beaches galore, water sports, hiking, museums, farms, vineyards, Hearst Castle, golf, bike paths and a dizzying array of annual events. For more information, logon to www.Highway1DiscoveryRoute.com.

Thanks to various websites for information, photos, etc.

There is nothing easier than cruising roundtrip from your hometown; no TSA lines or airline delays and, once onboard, you immediately begin your vacation. That’s what it was like sailing from San Diego on Holland America Line (HAL for short). The Mexican Riviera was our destination for a seven day cruise on the MS Westerdam. Now, 10 HAL ships make 37 visits, positioning it as San Diego’s #1 cruise line.

Aboard Ship: Although days at sea can be leisurely, there is plenty to do. There are two pools, Jacuzzis, digital workshops, duty-free shopping, the Greenhouse Spa & Salon, dance classes and Club HAL for kids, plus an ocean view state-of-the art fitness center.  A newsletter is delivered to your cabin each evening outlining the next day’s activities.  You can always choose a spot on the deck, in quiet nooks or at the well-stocked library to read and relax. The Westerdam boasts a daily buffet for breakfast, lunch and dinner on deck. The main dining room is also open for all three meals.  There are several snack, coffee and dessert outlets.  Live music venues, bars and the Main Stage Show Lounge are scattered throughout the ship.

Top Picks Onboard: In addition to the restaurants mentioned previously, the Pinnacle Grill, “An Evening at Le Cirque” and the family-style Italian bistro, Caneletto are worth a try.   Note: there is a dining surcharge at each. Don’t miss Martini Madness or the classical music duo. The All-Star Band at BB King’s Blues Club literally rocked the boat.

Guadalupe

Ports of Call: The ship offers a wide range of tours. Here are a few suggestions if you prefer to explore on your own.

Cabo San Lucas: This is the only port that requires a tender. Wander around town to sightsee and shop. At the marina, there are bars, restaurants, clothing and curio kiosks plus a large mall. Take a water taxi to Los Arcos for an up-close view of the rock formations at the tip of Baja.

Mazatlan: Follow the painted blue line from the dock to the Old City. Along the way, English speaking volunteers explain the city’s history and answer questions. After a 15 minute stroll, there is the Symphony Hall, Central Plaza, the Central Market with over 250 vendors and Our Lady of Guadalupe Church.

HAL1

Puerto Vallarta: Take a taxi into town and stroll the Malecon. Enjoy outdoor art and shops. Stop for a margarita and grilled shrimp on a skewer (a specialty of the area). There is an upscale mall directly across the street from the cruise terminal.

Travel Tips: Don’t take taxis parked at the ship.  Go outside the terminal area; they are less expensive, but negotiate with the driver. Stop by an OXXO store (in all ports) if you need bottled water, soda or other convenience items. The US dollar is accepted everywhere. Take small bills for purchases or you will end up with pesos for change.  One peso is worth about a nickel. Wear good walking shoes. Don’t forget to pack your passport.

Los Arcos - Cabo San Lucas

Passenger Friendly Policies: Efficient process for embarkation and disembarkation; the option of open seating allows passengers to dine at their leisure; one bottle of wine can be brought aboard without charge; tips are automatically added to drinks; a daily hotel service charge covers gratuities, eliminating decisions at the end of the trip.

About the Ship: The Westerdam is approximately three football fields in length (935 feet). There are 958 cabins, including 162 suites and 477 with balconies.  The roundtrip cruise covers 2,162 nautical miles.  The five diesel generators and single gas turbine produce 84,000 HP.  Daily, 550 pounds of potatoes, 280 pounds of butter and 2,200 eggs are consumed.  On formal night, Chef Owen serves up 500 pounds of beef tenderloin and 700 pounds of lobster.

A cruise on HAL is a perfect vacation for couples, kids and families; choices for everyone. For information on their worldwide itineraries, logon to www.HollandAmerica.com or call 1–877–932–4259.

OXXO

Thanks to various websites for information, photos, etc.

 

Background: The Virgin River Valley is 80 miles north of Las Vegas. Nestled there, in the Mojave Desert, is the small city of Mesquite, NV (population 17,000+).   First named Mesquite Flats by Mormon pioneers in 1880, its settlers farmed cash crops; cotton and grapes.

Today, it is a fast-growing destination for tourists, retirees and those seeking to live in a pleasant small town atmosphere (in a state with no income taxes).

Outdoor Activities: Plan to visit the Valley of Fire State Park when driving to or from Las Vegas. It is the oldest state park in Nevada covering over 42,000 acres and designated a National Natural Landmark in 1968. Pack a picnic lunch and schedule several hours to explore.

Close-by Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks also make easy day trips. In town, there are seven championship golf courses. The Mesquite Regional Park Trail System is made up of five connecting paths. The Virgin Valley Heritage Museum offers a walking tour of downtown Mesquite, as well as an interesting collection of photos, memoirs, etc., of early settlers stretching back 130 years.  The Camel Safari, located on 176 acres (the historic Spanish Trail cuts through the property) offers up-close encounters, educational presentations, camel rides and Segway tours through the desert and along the Virgin River riverbed.

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Sightseeing: The Mesquite Veterans Center has a small library and a collection of signed memorabilia from locals. Its motto is “Serving Those Who Served.” That includes Vietnam Veterans, American Legion members, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Veterans Service Office and Veterans of Modern Warfare.

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The Lost City Museum, in nearby Overton, showcases artifacts dating back thousands of years. The museum was built in 1935 by the Corp of Engineers and is next to the site which archeologists first excavated in 1926.  The Mesquite Fine Arts Gallery highlights local talent.  There are monthly exhibitions, lectures, classes and a gift shop featuring members’ art.

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Mesquite Sports & Event Complex: Public areas include five athletic fields, a seasonal splash pad play spot, a pavilion and picnic areas. Yearly soccer tournaments, flag football and long drive competitions are held at the facility.  Nearby, the Rising Star Sports Ranch Resort is perfect for everything from youth sports teams to family getaways. “The Backyard” at the resort includes a park-like area with basketball and pickle ball courts, a giant chess board, picnic tables, barbecue grills, pool and spa.

Where To Stay: The Eureka Casino Resort has a TripAdvisor 4.5 star rating. This family owned and operated full-service resort features four restaurants, a first-rate spa, casino with poker room, sports book, three lounges, heated pool, Wi-Fi, comfortable newly decorated rooms. And, there are no resort fees!  The casual Mason Street Courtyard was my go to spot for breakfast and lunch. It features a classic diner menu or, if you prefer, a buffet.  Reasonable prices, good food.  Gregory’s Mesquite Grill is a steakhouse also serving seafood and Italian dishes complemented by an extensive wine menu. They have an outstanding $30 early bird special for a three-course dinner for Gold Card members. Don’t miss it.  The casino has dozens of various promotions for slots, bingo, seniors, military, etc. The well run poker room was a bit of a hangout for me.  It features cash games and daily tournaments. Make sure to join Eureka’s Gold Club for specials and to earn perks.

If you’re looking for a getaway with spectacular sightseeing, hiking, cultural and historic components, plus a top-rated casino resort, visit surprising Mesquite. For more information logon to the following.

Eureka Casino Resort – www.eurekamesquite.com, Mesquite Regional Park Trail System – www.mesquitenv.gov, Virgin Valley Heritage Museum – www.mesquitenv.com, Valley of Fire State Park – www.parks.nv.gov, Camel Safari – www.camelsafari.com, Mesquite Fine Arts Center – www.mesquitefineartscenter.com, Lost City Museum – www.museums.nevadaculture.org, Rising Star Sports Ranch Resort – www.risingstarsportsranch.com.

Thanks to various websites for information.