October 1, 2009
SARAH'S CALIFORNIA CRUISE VACATION
We took Sarah down to Canada Place shortly after noon on September 21 and thanks to her being in the stroller we were able to cut the long security line and in no time at all we were on board the Coral Princess. We had last traveled aboard this ship in 2004 when we spent 15 days sailing from San Francisco to Fort Lauderdale to transit through the Panama Canal. The silly thing about booking a cruise with an infant is that they must be: a) at least six months old (fair enough, for liability reasons); b) staying in a room with an actual bed for them (even if they use a crib!); and worst of all, c) charged the FULL ADULT FARE! We are used to paying $300 for a room on these short coastal cruises but all the flash sale promotions exclude triple or quad rooms, so a room for two adults and one infant (with three beds, even though Sarah doesn’t used a bed) would cost almost triple what two people would ordinarily pay! It was actually cheaper to book two rooms and leave one empty than to book three to a room! So what we ended up doing was booking the two rooms and offering the extra room to Doug’s Mom, who traveled with us for part of the trip.
Before we could sail off into the sunset we of course had to attend the muster (emergency) drill. Sarah was peacefully taking her usual afternoon nap when she was awoken by the announcement of the commencement of the muster drill, followed by blasts on the ship’s horn. Fortunately, she had already slept for over an hour so she was not very grumpy. Thankfully our stateroom attendant was efficient and handed us an infant crib life jacket prior to the drill. This infant life jacket was something that we both have never seen before and it looked more like a big orange floating blanket! After reading the brief instructions we practiced by putting Sarah into it, and she looked so adorable. Of note, it says that the strap is supposed to be attached to a guardian which we guess makes good sense!
Except for our first two cruises, we have never bothered to attend the sailaway party on deck but since it was her first (of many, hopefully) cruise out of Vancouver, we decided to bring Sarah up to the Lido Deck to watch the ship sail under the Lion’s Gate Bridge. Apparently they have three rounds of a “Treasure Hunt” draw to keep you interested up on deck so we put all four of our names into the draw just for fun. As it was approaching dinner time, we were about ready to leave when Gloria heard Sarah’s name announced as a winner! She rushed up to the front to discover that Sarah had won the best prize of all – one of two $50 gift certificates to the boutiques on board! Sarah is indeed one lucky girl – her first prize!
There have been some notable changes since we last cruised a year ago. We were pleasantly surprised to see that, after 15 cruises of eating the same “Sailaway Dinner” menu, it has now changed somewhat. They still offer the prime rib meal, but the menu now includes new tasty items such as Hawaiian Kailua pork, pan-seared barramundi, Texas homestyle chili, and a baked seafood crockpot. The Horizon Court buffet, however, still serves the usual sailaway menu of spring rolls, seafood turnover, and Virginia ham. Also to our glee, all public areas on the ship with the exception of the casino are now designated non-smoking! No more ashtrays everywhere! Smokers now have the option of using the enclosed Churchill Lounge, smoking outside (in designated areas), or using their own stateroom (which is discouraged for fire prevention reasons). Unfortunately, the casino is open to the entire floor and smoke still permeates everywhere, but at least not as badly as before. There are also some new eating options such as a traditional English pub-style luncheon daily that includes favourites such as bangers and mash, fish and chips, ploughman’s lunch, and traditional cottage pie (we didn’t get to try any of these). For Elite Captain’s Circle members, there is now a new Elite Lounge which serves special hors d’oeuvres (which change daily) before dinner. The lounge is reserved for passengers staying in suites or those with Elite past passenger status.
Also something (unfortunately) new for Gloria is on this, her 21st cruise, she actually got seasick for half a day (and it wasn’t even that rocky)! After complaining that she didn’t sleep well the previous night and saying that she did not feeling hungry for breakfast, on the way back to the room she suddenly turned ashen, looked faint, and proceeded to vomit all over the atrium carpet in front of the Internet Cafe! This brought out the hazmat team and the area was sprayed with Virox and quarantined for half the day! Luckily, Gloria took a nap and then was completely fine for the rest of the cruise. It’s odd that bouncing around the Tasman Sea, rounding the notoriously rough Cape Horn, and even pregnancy never caused her to be even nauseous, yet she vomited this cruise! The only other times in over 12 years I’ve seen her vomit was once when she had gastroenteritis and once while bobbing up and down on the Great Barrier Reef.
All in all, the (too) short 3-day cruise was a nice getaway for us (no cooking and cleaning!) and other than the fact that they charge you full fare for an infant, we would recommend it as a convenient way to vacation with a child. Everything is readily available and you can control your own schedule to adjust for napping schedules. Sarah fared very well and didn’t seem to mind sitting in the dining room for meals up to an hour long (it got boring for even the adults after an hour), taking her bath in an inflatable tub in the tiny shower, and sleeping through the night in the portable crib. It was odd to us that for the first time we weren’t able to “maximize” our cruise vacation as we never watched a single show or movie nor participated in any of the ship’s activities! It’s a good thing we’ve done so many of these that we didn’t feel we were missing out! For sure we’ll be keeping an eye out for a cheap Alaska cruise departing from Vancouver (no flight)!
On September 24, the Captain went on the P/A at 6:45am and this woke Sarah up. After breakfast, we disembarked the ship as late as we could and were surprised to see that there was no taxi queue (one year ago we waited over half an hour in the scorching sun for a taxi). We took the taxi to the Hertz in Lomita and were surprised to find that this location no longer reimbursed $10 of the $20 taxi ride from the cruise ship terminal. San Pedro has got to be one of the worst connected ports we’ve ever visited from a transportation standpoint. It’s basically a commercial and military port and is only served by one car rental agency (Enterprise) that provides shuttle service to and from the pier. However, Enterprise charges exorbitant drop fees to return a vehicle to Los Angeles International Airport – up to $75! So the next best option, even with the $20 cab fare, is the Hertz in Lomita (farther options are in Long Beach). When we got there, we were pretty irked that the reservation confirmation for an intermediate size car said “Mazda6 or similar” but the manager at the Hertz location was only able to produce a Mazda3, stating that the new 2010 Mazda6 is now a full-size vehicle available for $8 more per day! After threatening to call the corporate office, the manager was able to produce a Chevrolet HHR. Though it looked like a hearse, was terrible to drive, and was not thrifty on gas (we got the same awful vehicle last year), it importantly held all of our luggage plus the stroller without needing to pay for the bogus upgrade.
We proceeded to Torrance where we ate at our favourite Korean tofu soup restaurant – Cho Dang. We arrived at around 10:30am and we found the restaurant surprisingly empty, even when we left. We enjoyed the delicious soon dobu and galbee and then headed off to our hotel, the Westin Pasadena. Sarah surprisingly didn’t complain too much on the long drive to Pasadena. When we got to the hotel our room was not quite ready so we had to feed her in the deserted fitness center and in the hotel lobby. We finally got settled then walked a few blocks to Paseo Colorado, a gorgeous outdoor shopping center, where we bought some groceries at Gelson’s Market. For dinner, we ate at Sea Harbour Seafood Restaurant in Rosemead, which is a group of Chinese restaurants with original locations in Hong Kong and Vancouver. While the quality was on par with the location we have in Richmond, the prices definitely were not! Live shrimp sell for US$29.80/lb at this location which is more than even the most expensive live seafood (Alaskan King Crab) at home! We were shocked as people in Vancouver complain when the shrimp is over $8.88/lb. The wedding banquets at Rosemead top out at US$1,498/table(!) serving food that would normally go for no more than $988/table at home, even at the nicest restaurant! A lot of things cost less in the States even after the exchange rate but I guess higher-end Chinese food is truly significantly cheaper in Vancouver – all the more reason to return home and enjoy more!
For the next three mornings, Sarah woke up between 6:00-6:20am (an hour earlier than her normal wake up time) crying and was difficult to console. She had slept extremely well on the cruise so we were a bit surprised and perhaps she woke up scared in the hotel crib? On Friday we drove to the Desert Hills Premium Outlets and Cabazon Outlets and the temperature was a searing 35.6°C (96°F) in the early afternoon! We did manage to buy a lot of clothes for Sarah but nothing for ourselves. We enjoyed lunch at Ruby’s Diner where we were allowed to get two free milkshakes and a $5 discount using multiple Internet coupons. For dinner, we made it back into the city for the afternoon tea specials at Har Lam Kee in Monterey Park. The food was decent (except for the wonton noodles) yet not Vancouver quality, but still better than the previous California Chinese meals we’ve had in the past. On Saturday, we had a relaxing day grabbing macaroons and pain au chocolat at Euro Pane Bakery (one of food critic Jonathan Gold’s Top 99 of Los Angeles), buying fruit at the Saturday Pasadena Farmer’s Market (sweet, cheap, and delicious Oxnard strawberries and local raspberries, blackberries, and goldenberries), and eating delicious hakata/tonkotsu (pork bone-based soup) ramen at Shin-Sen-Gumi Hakata Ramen. Everybody in Los Angeles loves Daikokuya for ramen (we tried it in May 2008) but we actually preferred Shin-Sen-Gumi, a chain of Japanese restaurants that also has an original ramen location in Gardena (they also operate shabu shabu and yakitori restaurants). Hakata ramen originated in Hakata city near Kyushu (where Lexus vehicles are built) and the soup base at Shin-Sen-Gumi is made from Berkshire pork bones cooked for 15 hours instead of soy and the noodles are thinner than regular ramen noodles. You can even select the strength of the soup base, the firmness of the noodles, and the amount of oil added to the soup.
Doug’s Mom returned to Vancouver on Saturday night and we got a great reminder of how much to hate L.A. traffic! There was a sporting event at the Coliseum and it took nearly two hours to get to LAX and back to Pasadena in absolute bumper to bumper gridlock. In all our previous travels to L.A. we never really had problems with traffic as we would make sure not to travel during rush hour. However, on this trip with Sarah, we would often be traveling during rush hour to accommodate her napping, eating, and sleeping schedule, so we had to make many decisions about where and when to go places all week because of traffic issues (and we got stuck in traffic nevertheless).
On Sunday it got a bit cooler as we travelled westward to the Camarillo Premium Outlets. Since our last visit a year ago, there has been an entirely new wing completed called The Promenade with many additional stores. The relocated Saks Off 5th store is particularly large and now has a children’s section. We enjoyed our fresh and tasty lunch at the adjacent In-N-Out Burger but while eating, we were shocked to see other parents feeding their infants (younger than Sarah) fries and Coca-Cola! For dinner we fought the traffic into Koreatown where we ate at Park’s BBQ. Park's BBQ is actually a branch of a Seoul restaurant known for its clientele of pop stars and movie directors. Though we really enjoy the carnal, smoky charcoal flavour at nearby Korean BBQ restaurant Soot Bull Jeep, we didn’t think it would be so good for Sarah’s young lungs to be inhaling so much smoke! Park’s BBQ, which is much cleaner, brighter, and a bit more pricey, also uses charcoal but it seems like it’s there more to impart a bit of flavour (it's covered by a dense steel grate) rather than as the primary fuel as at Soot Bull Jeep (where it's covered by a wire mesh!). Of note, there are no pitchers of ice at Park’s BBQ to put out the accidental fires (because there were none)! However, the meat at Park’s is delivered fresh daily and is unbeatable. We tried the unseasoned Kobe Beef which didn’t seem that Korean but was so deliciously marbled it just melted in our mouths. We also ordered the seasoned (marinated) premium beef ribs which were large, tender, and tasty. There’s no question that Park’s BBQ wins hands down for meat quality but we would still prefer to eat at Soot Bull Jeep after which you can smell charcoal in your hair and clothes for days.
On Monday, Sarah had us up at 1:15am and she wouldn’t get back to sleep for the next 2 hours! We were pretty tired in the morning so decided to have breakfast at the nearby King Taco location in Pasadena. This location is clean and spacious and while it does not have the charisma of the East L.A. locations, it feels much safer! We were surprised to see a sign indicating that only one container of sauce is given for each burrito or three tacos and beyond that they now charge $0.69 for each additional container! After our delicious carne asada, carnitas, and al pastor tacos we strolled back to the hotel and put Sarah down for her nap. When she woke up, we headed into Hollywood. We were going to eat yogurt at Pinkberry but we were disappointed to see that the location in Hollywood did not open until noon. Therefore, we headed to Pink’s Hot Dogs for lunch. We’ve driven past Pink’s many times in the past but never bothered to stop for a hot dog. The iconic hot dog stand was started by Paul and Betty Pink in 1939 when wieners were selling for 10¢. Today, they are $3.00 and the line up is always long (over 2,000 are sold each day). We enjoyed chili dogs (the chili is made from Betty Pink’s secret recipe) and we found that the wieners did indeed have a great snap to them. After lunch, we visited the La Brea Tar Pits. This smelly attraction of bubbling asphalt in the middle of the booming metropolis has been releasing methane gas for more than 40,000 years! There are over 400 species of animals who accidentally became permanently entombed residents and now this is one of the world’s richest excavation sites for Ice Age fossils. After a quick stroll, we headed back to Pasadena before rush hour and settled Sarah down for her afternoon nap. For dinner, we ate Lebanese roast chicken and tarna wraps at locally-famous Zankou Chicken. The roast chicken was moist and tasty although a bit pricey, and probably quite heavy in sodium (we were really thirsty all night). We finished the day by picking up an apple pie at Marie Callender’s, where all pies to go were only $6.99 for their semi-annual pie sale.
Sarah’s poor sleeping habits continued on Tuesday when she woke us up at 5:20am. She did manage to eventually get back to sleep and when she woke up for good we went to the smaller (and more expensive) Tuesday Farmers Market at Villa Park in Pasadena where we picked up some more Oxnard strawberries. Sarah took a long morning nap and then we headed into Koreatown to eat at Gam-Ja-Gol, whose specialty is gamjatang (pork bone stew). Hands down this was the best tasting and most meaty gamjatang we have ever eaten! After lunch, we went to the nearby Citadel Outlets to walk around and Sarah took her afternoon nap.
Wednesday was our last full day on vacation and Sarah had another imperfect night by waking up at 1:15am. Fortunately, she settled fairly quickly and then slept until 7:45am. We headed out in the morning to eat at Pho Hien on Garvey Street in El Monte. This street is known as Little Saigon as it has over a dozen pho restaurants. We then headed into the Inland Empire to shop at Ontario Mills where we bought way too many things for Sarah and as usual didn’t have enough time to stroll the entire mall. After shopping we headed to West Covina where we ate dinner at Krua Thai. This Thai restaurant, with an original location in Hollywood, is noted by food critic Jonathan Gold to have Los Angeles’ “Best Pad Thai”. We ordered the Angel Wings, Pad Thai Krua Thai, and Panang Curry and found all dishes to be delicious.
October came and Sarah greeted it by waking us up at midnight and again at 5:00am! Luckily both times she went back to sleep fairly quickly but we knew we had a lot of work to do getting her sleep trained again once we got home! We packed our bags and they were a total of 15lbs overweight! This is despite having sent home at least 10lbs of stuff home with Doug’s Mom on Saturday! Flying with Alaska Airlines, we had to pay for each bag ($15/bag for the first two and $25/bag for additional) and so we piled our dirty laundry and Sarah’s loot into our carry-on bags (in the end, our checked luggage was still overweight by a few pounds but the check-in agent asked us to remove a few heavier books and just let us pass). We got our last taco fix at King Taco in Pasadena (they put so much red sauce on Gloria’s tacos that her eyes were watering and she downed half a litre of water), then drove through the tail end of rush hour traffic to LAX. Sarah napped on the way to the airport and again as we were boarding, but after only about 20 minutes asleep, she woke up on takeoff. We were fortunate to be sitting in the bulkhead row with an extra seat, with Premier Gordon Campbell in the row in front of us (though tempted, we didn’t take the opportunity to tell him what we really felt about the HST). Sarah managed to nap for most of the remainder of the flight and got home to Vancouver in a good mood. Just like in Hawaii, neither ascent or descent seemed to bother her.
All in all, we had a great vacation but probably spent a bit too long away from home such that Sarah learned some bad habits which will need to be undone. Despite our long stay in Los Angeles, we still did not find time to visit the Getty Center Los Angeles or Getty Villa Malibu and we still have yet to eat Korean bossam (pork belly wrapped in radish) at Kobawoo, Korean fried chicken at Kyochon or Bonchon, or Korean wraps at Shik Do Rak! I guess this leaves a lot of things to do for our next trip! We will definitely try to cruise again soon as Sarah seemed to enjoy and tolerate it quite well, although next time we'll probably splurge on a larger room!
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October 11, 2009
Wow, how time flies when you're having fun! Sarah turned nine months old so she has now been out in the world as long as she was in the womb. She weighed in at 8.41kg (18lb 8oz) which is only slightly more than last month. However, she has really grown quite a bit longer and is now 74cm. When she grows another 2cm we will have to retire her infant car seat and change her to the Britax convertible car seat. Sarah has two teeth now and loves to roll around the floor although she doesn't know how to crawl yet. She likes to eat green beans and brown rice (we have no idea why because it's not tasty), avocado, chicken, and cantaloupe.
In other exciting news, we have booked another vacation for later this year! We will be taking Sarah on a Mexican Riviera cruise! This time we made sure to book a larger 318 sq ft stateroom so that we would have more flexibility and freedom.
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