Princess Cruise Ships: Why They Sparkle

We recently took a Princess cruise to the Mexican Riviera on the Grand Princess. This was our third sailing on the Grand since she was commissioned in 1998. You might wonder, after 20 years of service and tens of thousands of passengers, how does Princess keep her looking fresh and appealing to prospective guests.

We interviewed the Captain and Hotel General Manager, and along with inquiring about their work we asked some questions about the age of the Grand Princess.

Meet the Captain

The present Master of the Grand Princess is Captain John Harry Smith. Captain Smith started his career at sea as a deck hand on an oil tanker. He worked his way up the ranks and has been with the Princess Cruise Line since 2007.

In our years as travel photojournalists we have interviewed many ship’s Masters. Captain Smith manifests the same professionalism and confidence that we have learned to expect from all the members of his highly trained and respected vocation.

On the subject of maintaining older ships in the Princess fleet, Captain Smith commented, “Having an inspired crew, and paying attention to details when it comes to cleanliness and appearance gives any ship vitality. Constant and vigilant maintenance allows older ships to remain seaworthy and popular among new and repeat guests.” To that end, each Princess ship is removed from service every three years, and the Grand Princess is next in line.

In March 2019, the Grand Princess will enter dry dock in Portland, Oregon for repairs, maintenance, improvements, and inspections. She will be worked over from stem to stern, top to bottom, inside and out, by 1000 contractors from around the world. The work will be performed 24-hours per day, and the workers will live aboard the ship. Service will be provided by the ship’s regular hospitality crew during the entire process. All the work and numerous inspections will take just 13 days. Now that’s precision planning!

We asked the Hotel General Manager

While the Captain is responsible for literally everything, his primary areas of concentration are guest and ship safety, navigation, operations, and the environment. The Captain puts great trust in the person who is directly charged with keeping the passengers happy, i.e., the Hotel General Manager. The HGM is responsible for all guest services, including dining, entertainment, and housekeeping. Helmut Leikauf is the Hotel General Manager aboard the Grand Princess.

There’s a ratio of about 2 guests to 1 crewmember on board a Princess ship. Approximately 900 of the 1100 hundred crew aboard the Grand Princess are guest-centric and report to the hotel organization. The HGM is an important officer indeed.

Mr. Leikauf fits the profile of his job, perfectly. He hails from Austria, a country noted for its prestigious hotel schools. Helmut is the epitome of what one expects at the top echelon of a first class hotel – on land or sea.  He is gracious, gregarious, and exacting, and his leadership by example is evident throughout the ship. He offered, “A happy crew makes for happy guests.”

We asked Mr. Leikauf about how long a ship might expect to be part of the Princess fleet. His answer was that such decisions are way above his pay grade, but he did offer that the Princess’ head office is highly focused on an excellent guest cruise experience. In his opinion, “There will be a place for any ship that continues to uphold and perform to Princess high standards, and remains popular with the guests.”

We recommend this cruise 

Our ten day cruise to Mexico exceeded our expectations. The Grand Princess performed like the great ship she is, and the attentive officers and crew made it an exceptional vacation.

We will write about other aspects of our Princess cruise to the Mexican Riviera in future articles.

Our next cruise will be to Hawaii or Alaska, and since it will depart from San Francisco, it will be on the renovated Grand Princess. We look forward to being aboard one of our favorite ships once again, and seeing her new “sparkle.”

For more information

Contact your favorite travel agent or Princess Cruises directly.

Happy travels.

*************************************

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by AllianzTravel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

Copyright © 2019 Visit great vacation destinations with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos Copyright © 2019 Judy Bayliff

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Best Places to Stay Along the Northern California Coast: Scopa at the Sea

Preface

Lodging preferences are so personal. With the advent of the internet, travel magazine advertisements have given way to lodging websites and individual reviews on TripAdvisor and Yelp. Of course, lodging websites are no more objective than print ads – which leaves us to depend on personal reviews to help us decide on the best places to stay. Unfortunately, personal reviews run the gamut of “wonderful,” to “horrible” for the same property. So what’s a traveler to do? One suggestion is to single out reviews written by dependable travel writers.

Luxury travel writers’ goal 

As travel journalists specializing in luxury travel, our mission is always to find, photograph, and write about a unique lodging where discriminating travelers would enjoy a stay. In addition to cleanliness, we look for something unusual, historic, or really special. If we happen to pick a place that turns out not to meet those standards, we don’t write about it. We may have wasted our time, but we won’t waste yours.

How we found Scopa at the Sea Bed and Breakfast

We were heading down the picturesque Oregon and California coasts along highways 1 and 101 to the port of San Francisco. We were scheduled to write about a Princess Cruise to the popular Mexican Riviera.

We thought the drive would be an excellent opportunity to point out some genuinely special places to stay along the route.

The northern Pacific coastal drive is a breathtaking adventure, and we wanted to find lodgings that would complement the excitement of the trip. We found three properties to write about. The first is Scopa at the Sea.

Scopa at the Sea’s location in Crescent City, California fit perfectly into our self-imposed daily drive limits. It turned out to be a stellar choice! We rate it as one of the top boutique B&Bs of the hundreds we have reviewed.

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The weather was not cooperating and it had been blustery and raining all day. In spite of the bad driving weather, we felt fortunate to see some super-exciting ocean scenes along the way.

The Scopa is in a residential neighborhood, and on an oceanside street with amazing panoramic views. We arrived at the 3 p.m. check-in hour.

The house has been recently remodeled and redesigned for the purpose of becoming a B&B for discerning guests seeking a special haven apart from the ordinary.

The public rooms include a cozy living room with a creative mantel made from parts of a vintage organ that had been played in that same room years ago.

Following on, there is a spacious gathering room, dining room, and kitchen. A perfect layout for socializing or finding a private corner to enjoy the exclusive company of your roommate.

Deborah, the gracious innkeeper is a delight and an excellent baker and cook. Waiting for us was a home-baked banana cake with banana walnut frosting – all made from scratch. Yummy! Other guests arrived at approximately the same time, and dove into the cake before we could tempt you with a fresh close-up photo.

Around seven, Deborah laid out a selection of local cheeses and we did a little wine and cheesing along with a bit of friendly conversation before retiring.

The ambiance

It’s difficult to explain why this house has the aura of a lighthouse keeper’s cottage. Certainly, the tasteful nautical décor and paintings are part of the reason, as is the restless and magnificent ocean view from so many windows, but there’s something more.  If you stay at the Scopa, we invite your input.

Views

Our second level sleeping room is named the Whale Horizon Spa Suite. It is a nicely appointed, spacious room with an inviting bath.

Its stunning views entice you to gaze at the marvelous ocean and rugged outcroppings that make up the rocky northern California coastline. The beach below our window, and just across the street is known for agates and is appropriately named Pebble Beach.

Our fellow guests were a congenial and interesting couple from Miami, Florida. We had planned a quick getaway after breakfast, but ended up staying right up to the 11 o’clock check-out time.

Our new friends were pleased to have stayed in the suite next to our own. It’s named the Seal Song Suite, aka the Hugh Jackman Suite. It’s probably unusual to have a celebrity stay in the little town of Crescent City, so we applaud the Scopa folks for unofficially promoting it. A photo of Hugh Jackman in the living room is available in the guest photo gallery on the Scopa website.

Call to breakfast

We woke from a sound sleep in a luxurious king-sized bed to the wafting aroma of freshly ground brewed coffee and sizzling bacon. We thought this was a great way to entice all guests to the communal morning table.

Breakfast consisted of apple waffles with homemade apple syrup, pecan topping, eggs, bacon, and baked sausage.

After the morning feast, we bid farewell to Deborah, who by now felt more like family than an innkeeper.

For more details about the finer points and reservations look at the website www.Scopaproperties.com. Scopa at the Sea prices are very competitive considering what you get in indelible vistas, luxurious furnishings, conveniences, an exquisite breakfast – and other foodie treats. There are only three guestrooms on property, so it’s best to reserve early to avoid disappointment.

By the way, don’t be confused by the Scopa properties website. There are actually two buildings on one property, and one more at a different location. Scopa at the Sea is the three guestroom bed and breakfast inn where we stayed (above right), while the building to the left is called the Seaview Beach House and has three spotless and lovely housing units, Agate – Fern – and Pebble.

Two units have mini-kitchens, and one has a full-size kitchen. These are fitting homes for any duration.

The local lighthouse

On the short drive back to Hwy 101 to continue our trek south, we passed the picturesque Battery Point Lighthouse in Crescent City. It was a windy day with sweeping punctuated rain. Fortunately, the stormy weather added to the kaleidoscopic colors that showcased this remarkable landmark.

Next stop, the Inn at Newport Ranch in Fort Bragg, but that’s a story for another time.

Happy travels!

*************************************

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Travel  insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

Copyright © 2019 Visit great vacation destinations with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos Copyright © 2019 Judy Bayliff

A Pleasant Drive: View the Annual Monarch Butterfly Visit to Pismo Beach

Thousands of radiant winged orange and black Monarch Butterflies will soon be en route to California from as far away as southern Canada.  Lucky are those individuals who get a glimpse of these winged beauties as they make their way down and across the Golden State.

Escaping from the coming northern winter, the butterflies’ planned destination is the Monarch Butterfly Grove in Pismo Beach, California.  This is the state’s largest populated monarch butterfly grove, and the annual fly in visitors will begin to congregate in the grove in late October, and remain there until early spring.

These beautiful velvet-winged tourists will cluster like leaves on the branches of sweet-smelling Eucalyptus trees.  Others will clump together like bananas, each butterfly’s wings covering the one below. The clumping helps keep the colony warm and holds it together during the central California coast’s chilly bouts of rain and wind.

Once comfortably settled into their winter haven, the butterflies will wait for daylight temperatures to approach sixty degrees before they will venture away from the group to search for nourishment from flower nectar and water.

As evening approaches and the temperature begins to drop, the butterflies will once again return to the grove and form their protective masses.

Increasing life span

The monarch butterfly has a summer lifespan of little more than six weeks, but at the Pismo Beach Monarch Grove in winter, they can live for several months.

Great time to visit

Pismo Beach is a popular family destination in the summer months, but in October, the hotels, streets, and restaurants are pleasantly uncrowded.  Everything becomes easily accessible to the curious ‘butterfly peepers’ who come from far and wide to see the monarchs.

If you plan to be in California in late October and beyond, consider a side-trip to Pismo Beach.  Everyone we talk to that visited the butterfly grove enjoyed the fascinating antics and beauty of these amazing little creatures. We certainly did.

If you go

The Monarch Butterfly Grove is on State Highway 1, and on the south side of Pismo Beach, near the city limits.  During the Monarch season, the Grove is staffed daily between 10am and 4pm.  There are docent walks and talks, weather permitting.  If you want to overnight, there are plenty of comfortable accommodations offering off-season rates, just minutes from the Grove.

Where we stayed 

We made our reservations at the Sea Venture Resort (www.SeaVenture.com) because it is located right on the beach, and close to the Pismo Beach Pier, and the Butterfly Grove.

Enjoy your autumn, and happy travels!

*************************************

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by AllianzTravel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

Copyright © 2018 Visit great vacation destinations with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos Copyright © 2018 Judy Bayliff

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Notes to Self: On Becoming Lighthouse Innkeepers

There are certain jobs that people dream about. A frequent fancy in a troubled world is being a lighthouse innkeeper where one can enjoy the peace and serenity of the ocean and abundant sea life. 

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We wanted to see if the lifestyle of a lighthouse innkeeper might be in our future. We arranged for a visit to East Brother Island and its popular light-station located just a 30 minute drive from San Francisco. Join us, this just might be your cup of tea.

Where are we

East Brother Island is in San Pablo Bay, which connects to San Francisco Bay.

East Brother Light Station is managed by a Richmond nonprofit preservationist group, which in 1980 obtained permission from the Coast Guard to renovate and maintain the active light station.

The organization has many volunteers to help with the constant maintenance, and pays most of the bills by renting out the island’s five bedrooms, four days per week.

Getting to the island

After a series of email communications, we arranged to meet and interview the lighthouse innkeeper couple on East Brother Island.

On Monday morning, we were waiting at the less than luxurious Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor when our Captain/innkeeper pulled up to the dock in the island’s aluminum tender. There is plenty of free parking at the Yacht Harbor.

Before we could board the boat, the Captain first assisted the guests that were leaving the island. The visitors must have enjoyed their island experience because they were all laughing and carrying on as if they were old friends.

After introductions, our host started the engines and headed out of the harbor for a short 10-minute ride to the island.

He immediately gave us a briefing about what to expect when we arrived dockside. He described how we would be required to climb a very vertical stainless steel pool type ladder that extends from the boat deck to the landing pier that is joined to the island.  Depending on the tide, the climb can be as much as 12 feet. Think about that before you make reservations if you are not physically able to climb a ladder. Also, the island is unfortunately not able to be ADA compliant.

Buildings and facilities on the island

 

The one-acre island has two vintage buildings in addition to an 1874 Victorian Lighthouse. The old work shed has been converted into a cozy innkeepers’ cottage, and the other out-building houses the machinery necessary to power the working foghorns.

The island has electric power supplied by an underwater cable from the mainland, and a self-contained water system that holds about 90,000 gallons of rainwater stored in a white-clad underground cistern and an above-ground redwood water tank.

Because of the ever-present danger of water shortages in the Bay Area, there are no showers available for guests staying only one night. No one seemed to mind the inconvenience.

After gathering our photo equipment and walking up the steep ramp between the pier and the island, the Captain gave us a tour of the first building we encountered, which houses the machinery to operate the foghorns. For our benefit, he cranked up the diesel generator and gave us a live performance of the horns. Give a listen.. EBLS Foghorn

Becoming an Island Innkeeper

We soon found that our hosts had only been lighthouse keepers for ten weeks, and as of this writing they have already moved on to their next adventure. Lighthouse keeping is fun, but demanding work, and the turnover is quite high, but that’s apparently not a big problem for the stakeholders.

How many folks would love to run a Victorian Bed and Breakfast on a small island in California complete with a good salary, room and board, seals, pelicans, and a five-star view of the San Francisco skyline? Lots, that’s how many.

We are told that the number of applicants for the job is usually large, but there are serious knockout factors in the innkeeper application.

One of the applicants must be an excellent cook and capable of preparing and presenting food for a table of ten.

Another qualification is that one of the applicants must have a Coast Guard commercial boat operator’s license.

Lastly, both of the prospective innkeepers must be charming. Now we are getting somewhere.

About the work

In the case of East Brother Light Station, the island is open for business four nights per week starting on Thursday.

Prepping for the guests

On Wednesday morning, the innkeepers are on land shopping for provisions for up to 40 guests (5 rooms x 2 guests x 4 nights). They select the food for the menu, pick up the mail, laundry, fuel, and anything else they will need for the coming week on the island.

On Thursday morning, they boat back to the island with the supplies, unload their cargo into a large wire cart waiting on the pier, and winch the cart up a steep ramp that connects the pier with the island. They unload and store the supplies, and get the island ready for visitors.

A day with guests

On Thursday afternoon promptly at 4pm, the designated Captain/innkeeper returns to the marina dock at Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor to board the guests for Thursday night.

Upon arrival back at the island, the hosts provide a tour, hors d’oeuvres with champagne, and show the guests to their rooms.

The visitors then have ample time to explore the small island and enjoy the sea birds, animals, and fabulous views before dinner.

At dinner, the visitors are served an exquisitely prepared multi-course meal of the finest fresh ingredients.

All the guests are seated at one large table, which makes for a convivial atmosphere and an opportunity to socialize.

Friday morning would come all too soon, but a sumptuous gourmet breakfast would await all guests. Pity those one-night guests who must now head back to the mainland to resume their everyday lives.

After transferring the guests and their baggage to the mainland dock, the captain returns to the island to help his partner clean and prepare for new guests on Friday afternoon.

Saturday and Sunday are a repeat of Thursday and Friday.

After bidding farewell to the last guests for the week on Monday morning, the innkeeper heads back to the island and the chores that couldn’t be completed during the workweek.

Later in the day, the innkeepers load the laundry along with the empty bottles and trash into the island wire cart. The cart is pulled to the opposite end of the island and hooked and lowered by winch down to the island’s waiting boat. The innkeepers depart for the harbor, unload the cargo, and start a well-deserved Tuesday day of rest.

It’s not for everybody  

East Brother Light Station innkeepers live a romantic life full of guest kudos, fresh air, sunshine, seabirds, and seals. There are probably several of our readers that would trade places if they could. Life is short, you might want to give it a try! However, we decided not.

If you would like to be a guest at East Brother Light Station click here. Safety is important so there are several unique restrictions, be sure to check them out before making reservations.

Happy travels!

***************************

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

Copyright © Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos Copyright © Judy Bayliff – unauthorized use strictly prohibited.

Drive California Route 1 and Visit the Elephant Seals at Año Nuevo State Park

If you fancy yourself a nature lover, there’s a habitat for elephant seals along the California coast that you won’t want to miss.

Visit between December and March

During the December to March mating season, there are docent led nature walks at Año Nuevo State Park where you can learn all about the habits and habitats of one of nature’s most enormous creatures, the elephant seal.

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The main attraction is always the great northern elephant seals that can weigh 2 ½ tons each, but other visible species include sea lions, otters, and harbor seals.


It’s fun to watch the big bulls fight for dominance on the beach and strut their stuff to attract the bevy of ladies in-waiting. At the end of the party, many of the females — pregnant from the year before — give birth in the sand. Then it’s off to the ocean until next year’s call to revelry.

Interesting history

Hunted to near extinction in the nineteenth century, the elephant seal population dwindled to about 100 animals. Protected by the American and Mexican governments in the early twentieth century, the population has rebounded to some 150,000.

The first elephant seal sightings at Año Nuevo began in the 1950s. The first pups were born on the mainland in the 70s, and by the mid-90s, the number of local births was in the thousands.


This is successful conservation in action!

Other seasons

In March, and after the main group has departed for parts unknown, the pups and several hundred elephant seals remain to rest and recuperate along the beach and molt – not as lively as mating, but still worth seeing.


Be forewarned, on warm sunny days, there is nothing quite like the aroma of a molting elephant seal.

The island


Just off the mainland sits Año Nuevo Island. The barren and wind-swept island is home to the remains of a 19th century lighthouse.  The historic keeper’s house shown above was constructed in 1872, and now provides shelter to an assortment of Cormorants and Sea Lions.

Prepare for a mini-workout


You will walk approximately 3-miles during a tour at Año Nuevo. Wear comfortable clothes, especially shoes, because your guided walk will take you over varied terrain…


including sand dunes, and you know what it’s like to trudge in sand.

Also, wear appropriate headgear because the tours go, rain or shine ­­­-­­ and umbrellas are not permitted.

NOTE: There is an accessible boardwalk via van for those needing mobility assistance. Ask for details when purchasing tickets for the tour.

For more information about visiting with the fascinating elephant seals, check out the park’s website here.

There’s also a worthwhile Marine Education Center located within the park boundaries with interesting animal, plant, and geological exhibits, along with information about the colorful history of the area.

If you go

Año Nuevo State Park is on California Route 1, approximately 20 miles north of Santa Cruz, 35 miles south of Half Moon Bay, and about 60 miles south of San Francisco.

Treat yourself and your family to a visit with the magnificent elephant seals. We recommend it. The scenic ride along iconic Highway 1 is icing on the cake.

Happy travels!

“Get out there, but be prepared.” 

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

On Your Next Drive to Yosemite Park the Ahwahnee Hotel Signs May Be Gone

The grand Ahwahnee Hotel

The Ahwahnee Hotel photos by Judy Bayliff

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Because of a legal dispute over trademarks, some of the best-known places in Yosemite National Park may soon change their names. If something is not done, the historic and world-famous Ahwahnee Hotel will become the Majestic Yosemite Hotel.

This is not simply a name change, it is another gross humiliation for the people of America. A case where an ineffectual federal government squanders 100 years of American history and heritage through incompetence and maladroit negotiating.  The people who love our national parks are rightfully angry.

An extraordinary feat and justifiably celebrated name

Stephen T. Mather was the first Director of National Parks in the United States. He accepted the position in 1915 when there were only 16 national parks – today there are 58. Mr. Mather used the iconic Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite Valley to propel the success of the entire National Park System. Here’s how it all happened.

The Ahwahnee History

Mather built the Ahwahnee Hotel in his favorite park in Yosemite, California in 1927. It was to be the Crown Jewel of National Park Hotels, and for a very good reason.

Interest the rich and benefit the masses

Stephen Mather wanted his Yosemite hotel to be a wilderness destination for the rich. Not because he wanted to cater only to the wealthy, but because he knew that if he could interest influential people in the National Park System, he could build better parks for everyone. His plan worked beautifully.

The Ahwahnee was built with the best of everything, from newly invented electricity to bathrooms in each guestroom, and an elaborate kitchen that would provide extraordinary dining to the hotel’s privileged guests.

Two electric elevators were installed and manned by staff operators.

Noise reducing plaster was applied to interior walls to assure that guests were not disturbed by the roar of nearby Yosemite falls.

The siding and beams appear to be wood but are actually cement

The Ahwahnee Hotel structure looks to be made of rock and timber, but in reality the primitive looking exterior siding, balconies, and beams that appear to be timber are actually constructed from cement castings superbly stained to match the surrounding redwoods and pines. We have visited the Ahwahnee Hotel many times over the years, but until we did the research for this article, we had no idea the exterior walls were indeed made of cement.

Building the Ahwahnee Hotel was a monumental undertaking

It was the largest such task for the burgeoning young American trucking industry of the 1920s. Trucks ran on dusty roads day and night, seven days a week for over a year to bring materials to the Ahwahnee worksite.

All building materials for the six-story hotel were imported from outside the park. That meant hauling nearly 700 tons of steel I beams along with 5,000 tons of building stones, and 30,000 feet of lumber and logs with early model trucks along bumpy dirt roads. Add to that the many tons of hotel furnishings, and the kitchen and maintenance equipment necessary to run a luxury hotel. It was a huge undertaking for more than 250 drivers, workers, and artisans to create the timeless lodging masterpiece that we now so revere.

Stephen T. Mather did himself, and America proud.

The hotel had its grand opening on July 14, 1927.

The dining room

Dining was important to the wealthy, and in the Ahwahnee Hotel, the master architect Gilbert Underwood provided Mather with one of the most memorable grand dining rooms in the world.

The dining room stretches 130 feet from the elevator lobby toward Yosemite Falls and spans 51 feet from side to side. Its vaulted ceiling crowned with stripped pine rafters and trusses is 34 feet high.

Imagine the difficulty of trucking the dining room’s 11 plate glass windows that are 24 feet high on early California furrowed roads up to the building site of the Ahwahnee. One can only guess many windows were broken along the way. Consider also that once the windows arrived on site they had to be positioned without the aid of modern moving equipment – fascinating.

The great dining room timbers are huge bare pine columns that support a weighty truss ceiling. Unknown to the observer is that the pine columns are actually hollow concrete encased steel pillars. Once again, the genius of the architect is displayed. The rustic appearance of the dining room echoes the overall woodsy splendor of the plan. The immensity of this magnificent room dwarfs the 350 guests it can seat.

The dining room alcove – a magical place

 Located at the far end of the dining room, the alcove appears as an add-on to the vast main room before it. It has one of the 24-foot high glass windows, and in this instance, the window provides a showcase for the Upper Yosemite Falls and makes for an unforgettable setting.

The alcove has hosted many historic events including a round table dinner with Queen Elizabeth and Price Phillip during their visit in 1983. The Queen and Prince hosted a small dinner in the alcove after attending services in the park’s historic little wooden chapel.

When not arranged for special events, there are a number of tables for two set up in the alcove. The window center table is often reserved by newlyweds. Your authors had the distinction and privilege of having dinner at that special honeymoon table on their wedding night many years ago.

As we did on that night, we have often thought about the destinies of the hundreds – perhaps thousands of newly married couples that toasted and celebrated their future at that very spot over the last 90 years.

The beautiful Ahwahnee Hotel is host to about 200 weddings per year. If you are planning a wedding – it is an incredible venue.

The Ahwahnee Hotel design theme

The Ahwahnee has a Native American theme, and the chosen decorators did a superb job of blending the furnishings with the overall character of the property. Much of the furniture at the Ahwahnee is original with only subtle changes in fabric and design made to please contemporary tastes.

The Ansel Adam years 

When the stock market crashed in 1929, the number of visitors to the national parks dwindled, and the Ahwahnee fell on hard times.

The president of the Yosemite and Curry Company (YP&CC) decided that publicity would boost the Ahwahnee occupancy rate and he hired a young aspiring concert pianist, who was also a part-time photographer, to photograph and promote the hotel and the Yosemite experience. The young man’s name was Ansel Adams. The rest is history. His work, like that of John Muir will live as long as there is a Yosemite Valley.

Adams was in love with the beauty of Yosemite from an early age. He finally moved from San Francisco to Yosemite in 1937, and although he created visual masterpieces in other parts of the west, he remained intimately connected with the valley and the Ahwahnee Hotel for over 40 years. He retired in 1972 and died in 1982. He left behind a treasure trove of photographs of natural wonders.

The war years

The US Navy appropriated the Ahwahnee Hotel to be a convalescent hospital for sailors in June 1943. Before it was returned to the YP&CC in December of 1945, more than 6,700 patients had been treated at the Ahwahnee.

When the Navy vacated they left behind many buildings including a bowling alley, gymnasium, machine shop, pool hall, and foundry. The buildings were quickly dismantled and the salvage was put to good use in the valley.

Other changes through the years

The guest elevator was automated in 1963.

A small swimming pool was added in 1964 in a non-obtrusive space next to the bar.

Air conditioning was added, and all the windows in the guestrooms were replaced in 1976.

There was a golf course, but it was removed before 1980 in order to preserve the primordial nature of the surroundings.

TVs made their first appearance in the guestrooms in 1989.

The Ahwahnee Hotel was put on the National Register of Historic Landmarks in 1977.

The American Automobile Association (AAA) has designated the Ahwahnee a Four Diamond Hotel.

If you would like to read more detail about the Ahwahnee Hotel there are two short, but excellent books on the subject. . The Ahwahnee – Yosemite’s Grand Hotel, by Keith Walklet and The Ahwahnee – Yosemite’s Classic Hotel, by Shirley Sargent. Both books are available from Amazon.com.

If you go

Road to Glacier Point

There are several entrances to Yosemite Park and you can choose your route from the park website.

As you drive through the park, watch for signs to the Ahwahnee Hotel. A magnificent stone gatehouse at the entrance to the hotel gives the visitor an exhilarating sense of arrival. The leafy, tree-lined drive beyond the gateway increases the anticipation, and the Sequoia lined parking area provides a warm welcome to all visitors.

You are privileged to be about to enter one of the grandest rustic hotels in the world. Whatever it is eventually named, it will always be the “Ahwahnee,” to many generations of proud Americans.

Happy travels.

*************

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

Motoring on the California Coast and Mendocino’s Crab, Wine, and Beer Days

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We love off-season travel because of the reduced crowds and bargain accommodation rates. Last winter we drove from San Francisco to Mendocino to attend the annual Crab, Wine & Beer Days – a fun family experience – especially if you favor the taste of freshly cooked Dungeness crab.

Getting to Mendocino

Starting at San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge on highway 101, the drive to Mendocino takes about 3 hours. The last half of the trip from Cloverdale along highways 126 and 1 will take you back to a time when all rural California roads were scenic and fun to drive.

It was a beautiful day, and we zipped along 126 dashing between tree cover to sunshine, and constantly pointing out new exciting sightings in the ever changing panorama.

IMG_7596We arrived in Mendocino around 3pm and drove directly to the Brewery Gulch Inn just off picturesque highway 1. This highly recommended B&B would be our home for the coming event days.

Our welcome

IMG_7947The appearance of wild turkeys next to the gravel parking lot was a nice touch, and a precursor to the unusual rustic luxuries we would find during our stay at the this AAA Four Diamond inn.

IMG_7982When we plan to write about a place we stay, we look for the little details that will help us define the property. In the case of the Brewery Gulch Inn there was an old wheel barrow near the inn’s entrance, and a seen-better-days motor boat in the side of the parking lot. Both these unusual accoutrements got us wondering about the inn’s reputation for richness, but any misgivings on first appearances vanished upon entering the building and experiencing the homey reception and the elegant, designed for living, Great Room.

IMG_7700We were greeted at check-in by owner/innkeeper Guy Pacurar. Guy purchased the inn in 2007 to fill a “Bob Newhart” fantasy. Guy is a congenial host and the go-to-guy for information about Mendocino and the Brewery Gulch Inn.

The accommodations

IMG_7955The Great Room is the focal point of the Brewery Gulch Inn. At its center is a magnificent four-sided steel and glass fireplace enshrined in a room of towering wood and 13-foot high redwood French doors.

IMG_7655The doors open to a spacious deck with sweeping views overlooking the ever-changing Pacific and Smuggler’s Cove. This is an architectural design perfectly suited to its setting.

IMG_7628Add a measure of overstuffed leather chairs and 1930’s style oak dining tables, and you have the makings of the ideal gathering and dining room.

The Pelican Room

IMG_7617Climbing the stairs to our second floor guestroom, we noted the inn was much larger than we anticipated. You can choose from eleven sleeping rooms to suit your taste along with an unattached cottage.

IMG_7609All the rooms and suites elegantly avoid being trendy or too thematic. All are finely appointed with a warm touch of appropriate place and kind furnishings.

Time for dinner

We had heard rave reviews about the inn’s complimentary evening “light” buffet. Don’t believe the “light” description. We enjoyed two great dinner meals at the inn’s casual buffet. Additionally, this every-evening event is carefully calibrated by the management to assure a sense of comfort and informality.

Served with a variety of wines, beers, and soft drinks, the inn’s nightly all-you-can-eat spread was more than enough for any evening meal, and it was delicious.

First night menu

IMG_7644Tuscan Ragout of Beef in a Deep Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Tri-Color Marble Potatoes with Horseradish Sour Cream

Crab-Cocktails, with Meyer Lemon Slaw

Balsamic Glazed Grilled Endives

Grilled Japanese Eggplant with Sweet Chili Sauce

IMG_7987We finished off with a delectable Cinnamon Banana Brioche Bread Pudding

So who needs to eat elsewhere!

Dreaming about tomorrow

After a restful night on luxurious bed linens, and a delicious breakfast (more about that later), we headed out for our first adventure.

100_4239It was a crisp morning and perfect for exploring the many sites of Mendocino. After walking around town and checking out the boutiques and shops, we headed for the Point Cabrillo Light Station.

IMG_7751Still working off our hearty breakfast, we were grateful for the opportunity to walk the half-mile from the parking lot to the Light Station.

IMG_7712The clean salt air was brisk and the walk invigorating.

IMG_7744We chatted with the light station attendant in the museum/gift shop, and spent a good part of our sunny afternoon walking along the headlands and gazing out over the vast Pacific. On our day, we saw hundreds of whale spout sightings far off in the distance.

IMG_7604Returning to the inn just in time for some complimentary wine — and an opportunity to rest our weary feet — we settled into two of the easy chairs on the inn’s deck overlooking Smuggler’s Cove.

IMG_7774Time passed quickly, and it was once again the hour for another of the inn’s extraordinary “light” buffets.

IMG_7989If it all looks good, it was! A perfect ending to a wonderful day.

The following morning

IMG_7681Light streamed through the tall glass windows illuminating the rich interior of the Great Room with its period oak tables and upholstered furniture.

The breakfast at the Brewery Gulch Inn is magnificent.

IMG_7672On this morning we had our choice of a crab and avocado omelet,

IMG_7664or cheesy eggs, and blueberry pancakes – both of which were mouth-watering delicious. They also served “Millionaire’s Bacon,” which is a thick slice of lean bacon seasoned with hot peppers. Actually, not our cup of tea, but other guests raved about it.

After breakfast we headed for the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens.

IMG_7938Even in winter, the Mendocino Gardens are worth a visit.

IMG_7924There are ample species of flowers to enjoy, and the trails to the ocean are a terrific way to pass a sunlit afternoon.

IMG_7819Be sure to take along your best buddies, because the gardens are pet friendly.

IMG_4233It took us several minutes to walk to the ocean where we sat and once again watched the distant whales frolicking on their way to the warm waters of Mexico.

Time for crab tasting

IMG_7760Because these were Crab, Wine, and Beer Days we were anxious to sample the best of what the local restaurants had to offer by way of crustacean delights. We decided to have dinner at a highly recommended establishment, the Little River Inn.

IMG_8036The Little River Inn is well known for excellent crab cakes, and we were in the mood. The Brewery Gulch inn and the Little River Inn are just a short distance apart.

IMG_8000Dining at The Little River Inn restaurant is comfortably elegant. The atmosphere and service were outstanding, and the menu was designed to reflect the location. We found the menu choices to be sophisticated, yet approachable.

We made our selections from the Crab Specials Menu prepared especially for the days of the event.

IMG_8005Our starter was a Dungeness Crab Cocktail with home-made cocktail sauce, celery, and crackers. There’s nothing quite like the delicate taste of chilled and fresh Dungeness crab to excite and delight the palate.

IMG_8002We next tried the inn’s award winning Crab Cakes. We can’t describe what makes these crab cakes best in class, but we can report that they were definitely some of the best crab cakes we have tasted anywhere in the world. If you go, do not miss this delicious delicacy!

IMG_8016Keeping with the symphony of flavors, our next foray into Crab Days was the Dungeness Crab Pot Pie baked under a flaky crust and teeming with leeks, celery, onions, potatoes, and sweet peas. Exquisite!

IMG_8025Everything crab was topped off with an Olallieberry Cobbler,

P1020005and a Hot Fudge Sundae.

Having feasted to fatigue, it was back to the Brewery Gulch Inn for another night of snuggly slumber.

All too soon

We found the Brewery Gulch Inn to be an idyllic place for discriminating travelers, and we wish we could have stayed longer, but before we could say “more crab, please,” it was time to head for home.

There are so many interesting things to see and do in Mendocino that we are already looking forward to our next visit. Guy and wife Sarah have some super site recommendations; look here for their description of a perfect getaway to Mendocino and the Brewery Gulch Inn.

100_4254One of the activities they recommend is the 2.25 mile hike to Russian Gulch Falls. We did it and it is spectacular. Be sure to put it on your list.

IMG_7627In 2016 the Mendocino Crab, Wine and Beer Days will be held on January 29 and 30.

For more information and reservations at the Brewery Gulch Inn click here. Book now, and avoid disappointment.

IMG_8040Happy travels!

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© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff