Pros: lots to do, major nature area, not many cars (if any at all!)
Cons: quite pricey; MAJOR tourist trap
This is an extension of the review I wrote about Dionne and my adventure on the Carnival Ecstasy. Please read my review on the cruise before reading this one!
26 miles off of the coast of Los Angeles is an island called Catalina. Catalina used to be owned by the gum tycoon, Wrigley. However, he sold 86% of Catalina to conservationists, who have since preserved the island as much as they possibly can.
Since this was a shore excursion from our Carnival Cruise, Dionne and I didn't have very long to spend in Catalina. Like Dionne did with her review, I will try my best to provide you with as much information as I possibly can based on the short time we spent in Catalina. Thank goodness the tourguide, Heidi, for our Eco Rafting Adventure was so knowledgeable about Catalina! That way, I can provide you with the various facts that we learned.
Our tender pulled into the docks in Avalon, the largest town on Catalina Island, at around 8:45. The docks are filled with different things for you to do: scuba diving, snorkeling, island tours, glass-bottom boat tours, and so many other things to choose from. Most of the tours are patronized by the different cruise lines that come into port, specifically Carnival and Royal Caribbean. Dionne and I had already paid for the Eco Rafting Adventure, so all we had to do was wait for our tour guide and the other guests.
Before we departed, Heidi recommended that we all go to the bathroom. After all, we were going to be in a raft for 3 hours! Since Dionne already visited the ladies room, I left my things with her and went to find it for myself. It certainly was a chore. I was told that the restrooms were located at the end of the pier. However, when I got to the end of the pier, it wasn't clearly marked. I finally turned around and looked up in disgust, and found an arrow pointing to the restrooms.
To be frank, the restrooms on the pier weren't nice at all. They smelled. There was water everywhere. They weren't maintained all that well. Some of the door stalls were broken. You would think that they would take care of the restrooms with so many tourists coming to visit!
I ran back to the gathering area to find everyone getting ready to depart. We walked down a small dock and climbed into our raft, called Carina. It is a jet-propelled raft that could go extremely fast, so it wasn't like we were white-water rafting. We were going to see the wildlife of Catalina Island.
Catalina Island is one of the few places in the country where bald eagles live. This is a habitat for the bald eagles, and there are currently 32 living on the island. All of the eagles are tagged and tracked in an effort to get them off the endangered species list.We were fortunate enough to spot two of these majestic creatures.
Catalina Island is also home to the blue heron. These are pretty common in the Southeastern United States. I had seen plenty while living in Calabash, NC during my summers as a teenager. When we spotted one atop a cliff, no one was all that impressed. We had paid $59 per person for this tour and all we had seen were three birds. Sure, we were learning a lot about the island, but we were on the raft for nearly two hours and all we had to brag about were some birds that, to tell you the truth, looked like they weren't even real!
We were taken to the tip of this part of the island, which is called Long Point. Catalina Island is actually the top of an underwater mountain range. While they don't have major earthquakes there, they do have a lot of movement with the tectonic plates. One side of the island (the side we are on) has steep, jagged cliffs and deep drops into the ocean. For this reason, the ocean on this side of Catalina Island is sometimes home to great white sharks. (When I found this out, I moved to the center of the raft. I watched Jaws 2 only a week before!) The other side of the island has sandy beaches and really good surf, from what Heidi told us. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to go all the way around the island. At the very end of Long Point, there is a cave with a space out to the other side that has an opening the exact shape of Catalina Island. WAY cool-- especially if you can get a photo of it.
On the way back to the docks in Avalon, we had the experience of a lifetime. Dionne and I spotted something jump out of the water. Our guide brought us to the spot and we found a pod of dolphins. It was absolutely breathtaking. About thirty dolphins were swimming around our raft: surfing in the wake, jumping out of the water, zig-zagging in front of the raft. It was awesome. Fortunately, we had a videographer from Carnival on the boat with us, and she filmed the entire thing! At one point, I threw caution to the wind (and the great whites...), hung off the boat, plunged my disposable underwater camera in the ocean and snapped 3 photos. We were delighted when we got them back from Wal*Mart-- I caught 3 dolphins on film in one photo!!!
We pulled into the docks of Avalon a little later than expected, so Dionne and I didn't have very much time to walk around. We hit the area directly off of the pier, known as the town of Avalon, where shops line the street. Pedestrians have free reign over the walkways and streets, as there aren't many cars on the island. As a matter of fact, there is a 17-YEAR waiting list to get a car!! Might as well sign your baby up when he or she is born...
There are plenty of shops and restaurants on this street. Buoys and Gulls is a nice little store for beachwear. However, expect to pay an arm and a leg for merchandise. I purchased a few things here and there, then Dionne and I headed back to the boat.
Now for some more facts...
There are 4,000 full-time residents on Catalina Island. The main place to live is in Avalon, but there are some houses in other areas.
There are many children's camps on the island. Kids usually go out for a week to learn about the various wildlife there.
There is no hospital on the island, so don't get hurt. For example, a kid broke his arm over the summer and had to be flown to a hospital on the mainland via helicopter. Women can't have their babies there, either. It's off to the mainland for that as well. There is, however, a health clinic of some sort.
People aren't buried on Catalina Island. Pets are, though, which explains the crosses you see on the mountains. Personally, if I lived there, I'd want to be cremeated and have my ashes sprinkled into the ocean. After all, the ocean is such a big part of the lives of the people that live there.
There is one school on the island, for grades K - 12. Yes, all in the same school.
Building on Catalina isn't allowed anymore. What you see is what you get, so the housing costs are way high. I'd imagine hotels are pretty pricey, but I don't know for sure.
The Casino in Avalon isn't really a casino where you gamble. It's called a casino because "casino" in Italian meant "gathering place." It's the big, round structure you see as you approach the island.
The island itself moves an inch every year. It is also turning at the same time. This is due to plate tectonics. Apparently, the island has already rotated a full 180 degrees.
The island is also moving north due to plate tectonics. Supposedly, Catalina will be in the San Francisco area in about 1000 years.
Overall, Catalina Island was rather nice. There were WAY too many tourists there for my liking, though. Then again, I was a tourist myself. The shops and restaurants were flooded with people. You couldn't really move through without bumping in to someone.
If you get the opportunity to go to Catalina while on a cruise, definitely make it to the shore. If you're going for the day from California, go on a day that a cruise won't be in port!