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Cruising From San Diego

May 12, 2008 By: Susan Young Travel Agent

This West Coast city makes its mark as a major cruise port

If your cruise clients are seeking a West Coast cruise, San Diego, a vibrant, fair-weather city awaits. Jeffrey Anderson, vice president of marketing, America’s Vacation Center in San Diego, says the city is “not just a good place to go for a quick getaway, I really think it’s one of the best places in the world to vacation—rivaling London, Paris or other big cities.” For example, the city’s historic Gaslamp District offers eclectic dining, shopping and entertainment.

Carnival Spirit in San Diego

Carnival Spirit in San Diego.

More cruisers are now coupling a city visit with a cruise from the Port of San Diego. Over the past three years, cruise operations increased 125 percent and the port will host more than 260 sailings this year. Popular cruise itineraries include the Mexican Riviera, Hawaii, the Pacific Coast, Central America and the Panama Canal.

San Diego is a year-round home for Carnival Cruise Lines’ Elation, operating four- to six-day voyages to Ensenada, La Paz and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Carnival also operates seven- to nine-day, round-trip Mexican Riviera cruises onboard Carnival Spirit and Carnival Pride. Dawn Princess offers seven-day Mexican Riviera sailings.

Multiple Holland America Line ships, including Ryndam, Oosterdam and Zaandam, also operate voyages this year from San Diego. Royal Caribbean International’s Monarch of the Seas sails a series of cruises that feature San Diego as a port call.

Pre-Cruise Stays
We recently sailed from San Diego on a Panama Canal itinerary on Silversea Cruises’ Silver Shadow. For our one-night, pre-cruise stay, we stayed at the historic US Grant, a luxurious grande-dame property that’s only a five-minute cab ride from the cruise pier.

US grant hotel san diego

A Signature Suite at the US Grant Hotel.

A fixture in downtown San Diego for nearly a century, the US Grant reopened in 2006 with $56 million in upscale renovations. Now a Starwood Luxury Collection property, the hotel boasts elegant and comfortable public areas; a highly rated 95-seat restaurant, the Grant Grill; and rooms and suites with sumptuous style and amenities. A new high-end art gallery just opened off the lobby, and, later this year, the hotel will open a full-service spa.

“When I first walked into the US Grant, I looked at the grandeur of the structure and the appointments, and I realized this was not something traditional from the West Coast standpoint,” says Anderson. “It does carry a special ambiance.” Anderson says the US Grant recreates the aura of elegant, historic properties more commonly found in major East Coast cities.

A treasure trove of original art, the US Grant showcases everything from an original portrait of President Ulysses S. Grant to modern “drip” paintings by French artist Yves Clement. His paintings (no two are alike) grace the headboards in each room or suite.

Clients who want to splurge a bit might opt for a Signature Suite; ours—number 426—featured a six-jet rainforest shower; a living and dining parlor and separate bedroom area; minibar and coffee machine; two large flat-screen TVs with DVD players; and an Xbox player.

For spa enthusiasts, agents might consider booking a pre-cruise stay at the Hyatt Regency Mission Bay Spa & Marina. This property boasts $65 million in recent renovations, including a new conservation-focused Blue Marble Spa. Beyond savoring the eco-friendly treatments, clients may stroll in a new private earth garden and work out in a new waterfront fitness center.

San Diego is awash in major new properties. Here’s just a sampling:

* The newly opened $300 million Grand Del Mar is a magnet for golf buffs with its Tom Fazio-designed golf course.

* A new Hard Rock Hotel San Diego delivers 420 rooms and suites, high-octane nightlife and a signature Nobu restaurant.

* A new 129-room Sheraton Carlsbad Resort & Spa has opened and will expand to 250 rooms by early summer and to 350 rooms by 2010.

* A new luxury property, the Setai San Diego, is slated to open in late July/early August.

* Opening later this year is a new 32-story Hilton San Diego Convention Center Hotel with a 23,082-square-foot health club.


Attraction Action
Cruisers who are also cultural lovers might take in a performance at the rehabilitated 1920s vaudeville Balboa Theatre. Families visiting in May or beyond might check out the newest version of the Children’s Museum of San Diego, launching at its former site with art galleries, paint and design studios, a sit-down café and an adjacent museum park with outdoor art pieces and space for creating art.

SeaWorld San Diego just debuted Big Bird’s Beach Party, a musical production, as well as a new movie, Sesame Street presents Lights, Camera, Imagination! On May 24, the park will open three kid-friendly, Sesame Street-focused rides: Elmo's Flying Fish, Abby's Sea Star Spin and Oscar's Rocking Eel.

LEGOLAND California has opened its new Land of Adventures area with four new attractions and rides. Lost Kingdom Adventure transports families back to ancient Egypt, Beetle Bouncers boosts children nearly 15 feet into the air and the Pharaoh’s Revenge play area is filled with catapulting foam balls. At Cargo Ace, children pretend they’re airplane pilots.

Opening this summer (but with a separate admission from LEGOLAND California) is the $20 million Sea Life LEGOLAND California. Guests visiting this two-story, 36,000-square-foot aquarium will enjoy an interactive tide pool along with a 360-degree ring of stingrays and fish.

Construction is under way at the San Diego Zoo’s $44 million Harry and Grace Elephant Odyssey. Opening in spring 2009, this seven-acre exhibit will become the zoo‘s largest multi-species habitat with Asian elephants, lions, wild horses, California condors and sloths. Nine elephants will roam free in a 2.5-acre exhibit that will include a 120,000-gallon pool for the pachyderms.

Getting There
Most major U.S. airlines serve San Diego. One new market entrant is Virgin America, which began low-cost daily flights between San Diego and San Francisco in February. For airport information, visit For destination details, contact the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Insider Advice
Seeking a pre-cruise hotel package for your clients in San Diego? One helpful agent resource can be found on the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau’s website. This page lists area properties in all price ranges with cruise packages. Many packages field free airport and cruise pier transportation. Others include free parking, breakfast or other perks.

For more information about San Diego, check out the video below:

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