Carnival Cruise Live Blog (Day 2): The Most Beautiful Port I’ve Visited?

For my first time, I’m sailing from Long Beach aboard Carnival Radiance. While I’ve sailed ships up and down the Carnival fleet, I’ve never sailed this ship, from this port, or this itinerary. That’s why I’m sharing each day with you so you can follow along and get an idea of what it’s like.

You can read other days here:

View of Avalon on Catalina Island
The city of Avalon is a beautiful town that’s a tiny dot on the larger Catalina Island. It’s straight out of a postcard, and I’m hard-pressed to name a prettier port of call.

I’ll be honest. After dozens of cruises everywhere in North America, many ports of call… well they can seem to all run together. You hop off, there’s a beach, some souvenirs, and then you head back to the ship.

Our Day 2 stop is the one that I was most excited about and it absolutely lived up to my expectations.

Catalina Island is only about 30 miles away from the mainland and the millions that live in Los Angeles. However, it may as well be 3,000 miles away. It has a completely different atmosphere and vibe, and it made for one of my favorite ports I’ve visited in my years of cruising.

Carnival Radiance arrived at the island around 8:00 a.m. Since my body’s clock is still in a later time zone, I was up well before then and watched as we approached. With low clouds hanging over the island, the mountains sticking up — only to be shrouded in cloud cover — looked ominous. I half expected Godzilla or King Kong to make an appearance.

Approaching Catalina in the morning, low clouds made it look ominous. Thankfully, they lifted and just an hour after this photo was taken, it was bright and sunny.

However, as the sun rose up just a little more, all that early morning fog lifted and revealed Catalina. What surprised me is just how mountainous (or hilly, if that’s your preference) the island is. Mountains rise up nearly 2,000 feet over the ocean, and in a small protected valley on the coast sits the main city, Avalon.

To get to shore you have to take a tender, giving you a great view as you approach. The town wraps around the harbor and tons of small boats sit docked. While the center of town is relatively flat, the edges quickly go up with the terrain. It really looks right out of a postcard.

Since this was my first time on the island and it’s fairly compact, I gave myself a walking tour. Walking from one end to the other is only about 15 minutes and it’s all along easy sidewalks that circle around the water.

Avalon is relatively flat, but mountains/hills quickly rise up and hem in the city. The effect is a cozy feel.

It’s hard to describe just how cute Avalon is, especially in the morning when most tourists haven’t arrived yet. It’s compact with relatively small houses. Most people get around via golf carts. And it being spring, there are flowers everywhere.

Think of a classic beach town, and this is it. And while it’s touristy, it also feels genuine. It’s a real town that thrives on tourism versus a town built solely for tourists like you often find in the Caribbean. Add the natural beauty, and it’s hard not to enjoy visiting.

Selfie in Catalina
It only took about 15 minutes to walk from the cruise port on one end to the casino building on the other. It’s an easy walk and picturesque.

After circling around the town and taking it all in, I knew I wanted to get a different vantage point. Remember, there are mountains all around Avalon, and that can give some great views. Most people rent golf carts to get around, but sailing solo, I knew that would be way too expensive for just me. Meanwhile, I had planned to rent an electric bike but when I showed up, I found the place didn’t open for another half hour.

Looking on Google, I saw the viewpoint I wanted to visit was only about a 20-minute walk from the middle of town. Twenty minutes? That’s not bad! I’ll just hoof it.

Big mistake.

I took to walking and at first things were easy. Then the hill started… and kept going… and kept going. Google was absolutely right that it was only about 20 minutes to the viewpoint. But it was also a consistent incline to get there. By the time I reached it, my calves were on fire. If I had caught a cramp, I’m not sure what I would have done.

That said, I could have had to walk on my hands to get there and it would have been worth it. Most people in golf carts seemed to just stop on the side of the road and snap a picture. But there is a trail that heads from the road to a point above the city, and it’s worth the extra two-minute walk.

Atop the viewpoint, you can see Avalon down below on your left. Turn to your right you get a great view of the ship anchored offshore.

On one side is the ship, docked just off the coast. It’s a fantastic photo opportunity you can’t get from anywhere else. On the other side is an overlook of Avalon, which now looks quaint down below with the landscape towering above it.

Whether you take a golf cart, an electric bike, or you walk, just make sure you get to see this view.

Heading back down into town, I set out to find a spot for lunch. By now the quiet island I explored this morning had given way to a much busier town with lots of people and everything completely bathed in sunshine. The main strip features all sorts of little boutiques, shops, ice cream stores, and restaurants.

Avalon boardwalk
The afternoon saw the boardwalk get much busier so I ventured off the path just a little to find something tasty for lunch.

I wanted to get off the beaten path a little, so I just explored back from the waterfront until I came across a small “hole in the wall” spot serving Asian dishes. I saw locals there with styrofoam containers, three guys behind the counter that seemed like the type to be annoyed by tourists and large signs saying “Cash Only.” This had to be good.

Now typically I feel like these hidden spots are great finds and quickly ordered the chicken teriyaki as it was the first thing listed on the menu. Ten minutes later, I was opening my own container that seemed like it weighed about three pounds.

Chicken teriyaki lunch
Unfortunately, the “hole in the wall” restaurant was just ok. However, you couldn’t beat the beautiful courtyard where I got to eat.

I had high hopes, but I’ve got to admit that it didn’t live up to what I was hoping. The food wasn’t bad, but definitely nothing memorable. What was nice, however, was sitting at a table just outside the door in a nice little courtyard that made a perfect lunch spot after working up an appetite from walking all morning.

Following lunch, I stopped off for some souvenir shopping and there is no shortage of spots to visit. There are some of those stores that sell all sorts of cheap plastic things with “Catalina” written on it, but I appreciated that many of the spots were a step above. I ended up spending way more than I planned but definitely got some unique pieces for the family back home that aren’t just going to end up being thrown out in a few months.

Bird of Paradise
Spring is in full bloom in Catalina with lots of flowers all around the city. This Bird of Paradise was right beside the spot where you catch a tender back to the ship.

Heading back to the ship in the mid-afternoon, I still had enough time to work on my California tan. I found a spot with a perfect view of Catalina, put some music on the headphones, and started to think about how soon I could arrange a trip to come visit Catalina another time. I’ll definitely be back.

Back onboard, it was formal night on the ship and while there were quite a few folks that dressed up, it definitely felt like fewer than usual. That may be because it’s a short cruise so everything is more casual. I will say that while I’m not a big fan of getting dressed up (and usually don’t), it does add to the atmosphere around the ship in the evening. I might have to reconsider my stance and join in… or maybe put on a tuxedo t-shirt.

The highlight of the evening, however, was the evening show. It was officially titled “Rock Revolution: Summer of ’69.” As you might guess, it was a show dedicated to the music of the ’60s with lots of classic hits being performed. If you love The Beatles and Janis and The Doors, then this is for you.

Evening show on Carnival with lasers
The classic rock show in the evening incorporated a lot more technology with lasers and drones compared to other Carnival shows I’ve seen.

Maybe it’s because the ship is sailing from Los Angeles. Or maybe Carnival is trying to up their game. Either way, I felt this show — while still being the classic performance with lots of singing and dancing — felt like a step above the typical Carnival performance on an older ship. There was a lot more technology involved, including lasers, smoke, LCD background sets, and even drones flying in formation with lights.

In my opinion it’s still not at the level of what Royal Caribbean does with many of their shows. It was definitely closer than it has been in the past. however. Overall, it was a good performance, but I’m also biased in that I love the ’60s classics.

Day 3 sees the ship dock in Ensenada, Mexico.

Interesting Observations

  • Avalon (the main city on Catalina) is just a small part of the island. I loved exploring it, but when I visit again, I’ll opt to head out and explore the wilderness of the rest of Catalina. There are supposed to be some gorgeous spots around and lots of wildlife.
  • If you visit Catalina, try to make it outside of summer. I talked to a store owner who told me that the summer months get insanely busy to the point where you can’t find an open spot on the beach. Today was bustling, but not jam-packed.
  • One piece of mail delivered to the cabin door was something I’ve never seen before. It was a note from the captain telling us that when we dock in Mexico, we “may encounter restaurants/attractions in the port of Ensenada that allow you to touch or otherwise interact with tiger cubs.” It went on to suggest that passengers not participate in these encounters. Good on Carnival.

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