Friday, March 22, 2019

Gators galore as we track this crafty creature in the Everglades

This alligator gave our tour boat the eye on a recent trip into the beautiful Everglades of Florida.

Everglades caper: on the gator trail with gorgeous scenery, critters, beauty   

The swampy marshes of the Everglades hide and protect alligators and more.

Nature lovers enjoy the outdoors at
Florida's Everglades Holiday Park. 


THE UNUSUAL merging of salt and freshwater makes Florida's Everglades the only location in America where both alligators and crocodiles live together! You can see the wonder yourself by taking an airboat trip in the Everglades.  We did this recently, taking to the waters in search of gators.
Visitors tour the small animal displays, with the opportunity
to get up close and personal with friendly gators and snakes.
We saw several in the wild, and an entertaining alligator  demonstration as "dessert." You can jet out into one of the world's most gorgeous attractions and get close-up later with more gators. We did just that at Everglades Holiday Park, outside of Fort Lauderdale. A great day!
Everyone has heard of the Everglades, a unique treasure of South Florida. But not all people venture into the largest remaining subtropical wilderness in the United States. We took a day to sample a small part of the park's 1.5 million acres of saw grass marshes, mangrove forests, and hardwood hammocks and wetlands. 
After your boat tour, Holiday Park
naturalists offer a fun gator show.

THE EVERGLADES is home to endangered, rare, and exotic wildlife. Fellow travel writers recommended the Everglades boat ride and we were not disappointed. Our amiable captain promised he'd find alligators in the swamps.  He revved up the boat and we held on to our hats as we sped around the wetlands to several spots with terrific viewing. As we zipped across the "River of Grass" between viewing sites, we bounced in our fast boat to the thunderous sound of the motor. Those little journeys were brief and we were safe and comfortable with our 30 fellow tourists from around the globe.
Alligators roam the Everglades; if you're lucky, you'll see one.
As we moved through the swamps, we noticed several small boats of fishermen -- "local folks," our guide said proudly -- bringing in the largemouth bass for which the park is famous, in fact revered. Fishermen cast off from the park's dock, or take a boat as part of a guided tour. The park offers boat and gear rentals, bait, licenses and everything else one needs to lure large mouth bass, peacock bass and catfish.
Swamp land of a unique habitat offers a happy place for the alligator.

The beauty of the wetlands make it a photographer's paradise.
WE WERE pleased to see two school groups visiting -- fishing, taking notes, listening carefully to guides.  Others were hosting guests on the boats, enjoying a celebration, spending an afternoon in a natural classroom for all ages. The park stages birthday parties and corporate events, with chartered excursions and packages. It also offers pick-up and drop-off options to take you from your hotel in Fort Lauderdale or Miami to this beautiful wildlife habitat.
WE APPRECIATE that the park is a family operation dating back nearly 40 years to 1982 when George Bridges left his tobacco farm to try his hand at the park.  He mortgaged his house and built his first airboat in the backyard, and the idea took off.  Everglades Holiday Park serves as South Florida's premier gateway to the Everglades, one of Florida's most interesting attractions.
The place is a half hour from Fort Lauderdale, on Griffin Road, and attracts tourists from Miami, too, for the marsh expedition, live alligator presentations, a small animal "zoo" with petting options, meal service, fun souvenir shop and fresh water fishing. 
WE HAD A magical day at the park, exploring the wonders of Florida's most enchanting natural resource: the pristine Everglades.
The magnificent ecosystem is an international treasure. The greenery alone satisfied our naturalists' appetites. The gators were frosting on the cake!

Practitioner Nathan Bruce-Black helps Bruce Keller learn how to fine tune
his hearing aids with a handy app. Keller's active life is enhanced greatly.
Bruce-Black is with AccuQuest in both La Jolla and Rancho Bernardo.
UP NEXT: Hooray for hearing, loud and clear. After years of struggling with hearing loss, our hero takes matters into his own hands. Read about Bruce Keller's long search to improve hearing compromised by years of deep-sea diving and on-site construction racket. We explore his struggle and his decision to go with AccuQuest, after months of research. We also explore the myriad ways in which his wonderful hearing aids have improved life for both of us!  Remember to explore, learn and live, and catch us weekends for a fresh take on travel, nature, the arts, family, health and adventure.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Finding fun in fantastic Fort Lauderdale, from fine digs to water taxi

Fort Lauderdale's beautifully renovated Hilton Double Tree Gallery One offers all-suite accommodations, gorgeous
views of the city's famous waterways, a handsomely designed patio for relaxing and dining, fine contemporary artwork and easy access to the city's famed Water Taxi service which makes a regular stop here. Here's the view from our suite. 

On a recent sunny day, Fort Lauderdale's popular Water Taxis were enjoyed
by an international group of tourists happy for this leisurely way to get around.
FORT LAUDERDALE is a city of pleasant surprises.  It has invented itself through the years to become an internationally popular destination for relaxing and enjoying water life.  It has also developed into a world-class shopping paradise, with fine theater, galleries and museums. And just down the road, the Everglades beckon!
Variety is the spice of Fort Lauderdale's allure. We saw the "Hamilton" touring show one night, and listened to a country band the next. Cuban food for one tasty dinner and fine grilled fish at our hotel another evening.
The Bonnet House is near Gallery One, a unique historic home
named after a lily with a fascinating history and manatees. 

It's fun to watch the bridges go up and down in Fort Lauderdale.
Broward County boasts a series of unusual bridges. 
THE HOTELS and eateries are as unique and varied as are the millionaires' homes dotting the canals and waterways.
We based at DoubleTree by Hilton's attractive  Gallery One hotel. The newly renovated property is beautifully designed with pretty public spaces and roomy suites.  It boasts attentive, cordial service from check-in to farewell, and its inviting digs include a cozy bar, top restaurant and happy hour specials.  An eye-popping collection of jazzy contemporary art hangs in both the suites and the public areas.  The welcoming Vue restaurant offers delicious seafood, excellent room service and a platform to showcase  regional artists.  (Bravo for this inventive idea, Gallery One. Let's hope it catches on worldwide.)
No matter how often we fly in to Lauderdale to set sail, we sing the praises of this  exciting yet relaxing town.Where else can you gaze at the water from the 20th floor of a top hotel and in five minutes be on the very water taxi you admired from your balcony?
FORT LAUDERDALE is ever changing. We saw cranes and new construction all along the canals, except in the most exclusive areas where old money and strict zoning laws have kept things much as they were when the sleepy little town's population numbered around 25,000.  Now nearly
Enjoy a leisurely ride on the water past homes where
stars once lived. You might find your dream house.  
200,000 people live here.  Named for a war fortification built in the 1880s, Fort Lauderdale is only a half-hour from bustling Miami, but we prefer a few calming days here in Fort Lauderdale, as we explore the Caribbean, Panama Canal and Central America. We feel "low key" here, yet with "big city" amenities.
Light and water are two of the draws of Fort Lauderdale, where millions
are spent on yachts and mansions yet the city remains pleasantly accessible.
Because we spend a lot of time in our room -- taking photographs, reading, planning our day, writing on deadline -- we insist on a room with a view.  Gallery One delivered in spades.  Because of its unique structure, with many corners and angles facing the waterways, there are beautiful views from many vantage points.
You can contemplate the city's history as you watch the water life below.  Many stars and sports figures keep yachts here.  Stephen Speilberg's was anchored near our hotel. If you're flush, you can rent it for $1 million a month.  But in ages past, the simple kayak was the mode of transportation.
THREE THOUSAND years ago, the Tequesta Indians fished the winding intracoastal waterways of Fort Lauderdale, enjoying the beauty of the waterlilies and living off the bounty of the agricultural land the waters nourished. They glided on kayaks past flamingos and peacocks, tangling with and harvesting the crocodile for their meals.
New construction is everywhere in Fort Lauderdale,
and you can take it all in from the Water Taxi.

They likely enjoyed the friendly presence of the manatee, who still gives birth in the waters that are now part of Fort Lauderdale. We saw two in the waters at the historic Bonnet House.
Famous people have come and gone from the city.  Dozens of movies and TV shows have been filmed here, including many of the episodes of "Miami Vice" and "The Golden Girls." Mayberry's Andy Griffith loved Fort Lauderdale and lived here many years.  Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz had a home here and liked to take their small boat out on the canals, enjoying a cocktail or two at sunset.

An alligator takes a leisurely swim across the waters of the Everglades.
UP NEXT: Look in front of the  greenery, a bit left of center. What do you see? Might it be an alligator? Yes, it is, so climb aboard a jet boat with us and venture into the heart of the "river of grass" for an exciting Everglades airboat ride. We'll depart from Fort Lauderdale to the famous  Everglades to show you some of Florida’s exotic wildlife with its miles of gorgeous wetlands. We'll get close up with an alligator while we learn about the beautiful habitat. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekends for a fresh look at travel, nature and the arts.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Norwegian traveler tries Norwegian Cruise Line with happy results

Norwegian Cruise Line's colorful design carries through inside, with lively contemporary art and many other enticements.
NCL's Spirit, anchored off Santorini, brought cruisers to land in comfy,
 efficient tenders, offering great photo opportunities of ship and shore. 


NCL's colorful ships make mid-priced cruising attractive
to sailors such as this column's photographer, Bruce Keller. 

A balcony aboard NCL's Spirit offers
a lovely view of passing sights and cozy
reading corner for Christene Meyers. 

SUN. JOY. Bliss, Sky, Jade, Pearl, Star. Those are NCL ship handles, and they lured us their way for a cruise aboard the Spirit.
Aboard NCL's Spirit, seasoned travelers
"Cookie and Keller" enjoyed dining, a table
 for two, top shows and terrific land tours. 
AFTER MORE than 100 cruises on ships large and small, top-drawer to modest, this Norwegian-Irishman and my Greek-Scandinavian sailor hybrid set our compass heading for Norwegian Cruise Line. We'd cruised NCL in the Caribbean decades ago, on the smaller Sunward, then on the much larger Norway, the former SS France. When NCL acquired her in 1979, the line spent $100 million on a glorious renovation, paving the way for a new era of cruising.
A tour up the famed Amalfi coast, was part of the Spirit's attractive options.
We loved those long-ago trips, and yearned for a return to the relaxation and pampering we remembered on NCL. This latest two-month trip included three cruises and three weeks on land. It was our 25th foray to Europe and the Greek Isles.
We chose NCL's Spirit because we liked its "active relaxation" pitch, mid-size and fair-price ranking. (Our trip included three cruises, so we didn't want to break the bank.)
AS TRAVEL and arts writers, musicians, and romantics celebrating an anniversary, we also wanted lively shows, a table for two and interesting artwork. We liked the itinerary, an important consideration.  We were delighted that NCL captured our hearts again.
NCL was the first cruise line to offer "freestyle" dining,
a concept now used by many other cruise lines. 
Founded in 1966 with a sound reputation and 16 ships in her ever-expanding fleet, NCL's Spirit pleased us both, satisfying my need for R&R in pleasant surroundings, a lively casino, good gym and myriad dining options.  It charmed my partner, feeding his lust for all things nautical with friendly officers who talked sailing with him and a balcony to view dock life below.
This dessert was delivered to our room.
Lively artwork is one of NCL's
distinctions. The line has set
trends in many areas of cruising.
NCL tour groups  are kept small so each
person enjoys the history, here viewing viewing
Our Lady of the Castle in Rhodes. 
NCL's Spirit took us on an 11-day journey with stops in Mykonos, Piraeus--Athens, Rhodes, Santorini, Chania, Valletta, Messina and Naples.  We'd experienced all these ports but looked forward to returning, especially to Malta and Sicily, which many cruise lines don't offer as regular ports of call. As seasoned cruisers, we look for places we love -- but also like new ports and locales we've not visited in a while.  Those were deciding factors on our choice of NCL's Spirit.
WE LOVE the "freestyle" concept pioneered by NCL.
Now copied by many other lines, it allows for deciding when, where and with whom to dine in the evening, the one meal most of us truly enjoy and kick back for on a cruise. Spirit also offered late-night dining options, another plus, and fun eateries including a delightful late-hours pub that breaks from set schedules.  That flexibility includes casual dress options, ability to schedule entertainment and avoiding crowds.
As arts writers, we enjoyed several on-board auctions, chatting with knowledgeable auctioneers.  he auctions feature work by famed artists such as Peter Max and Guy Harvey, who were also commissioned for the eye-catching artwork on the Breakaway and Escape.We even ventured from our comfy patio to the lovely pool area, a playful modern extension of the ancient architecture we viewed in Greece and Italy.
We enjoyed an evening sail-out of Valletta, Malta, a port which  isn't
regularly visited.  
ALTHOUGH WE are elite status on five other lines, through many  cruises, we haven't yet reached that level on NCL.  Still, we were invited to parties, and to tour of the bridge -- always a must. So taken were we with the trip's variety and professional, friendly service that we booked another NCL cruise, on Pride of America, the only mainstream ship sailing Hawaii itineraries with no foreign ports. We'll soon reprise the loop we took decades ago: stops in Maui, Kauai and both sides Kona and Hilo on the Big Island.
Recalling our 13 blissful Atlantic crossings in Queen's Class aboard the QE2, we're also interested in sampling the "all suite" section of NCL's newere vessels.  The "Haven" concept on the newer larger NCL ships offers a special all-suite section accessible only by keycard holders booked there, in the style of Cunard's famous first-class/tourist-class ship design. The Haven has a private bar and lounge, a custom restaurant, secluded sun deck, and private courtyard so guests have little need to leave the complex.

A bird's eye view of the Water Taxi is yours from Double Tree Suites
Gallery One, Fort Lauderdale, where we next explore. 
UP NEXT: Come cavort with us as we head to Fort Lauderdale for a frolic with the alligators and the beautiful canals and grand hotels. We ride our favorite Water Taxis and check out the newly renovated digs at the Gallery One Double Tree. Then, an homage to celebrities at sea, including composer-pianist Andre Previn, and a host of others interviewed on the QE2 by Christene Meyers. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays for a fresh look at travel, the arts, nature, family and off-beat fun.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Theater in spring spells glorious goodies on the San Diego boards

Hershey Felder channels Beethoven via a father and son who knew him in Vienna in a glorious production at San Diego Repertory Theatre's Lyceum Theatre. The staging is glorious, the story moving and Felder plays many Beethoven pieces.  

From left, Jessica John, Richard Baird and Catalina Zelles in "Gabriel," a 
riveting North Coast Rep drama set on the island of Guernsey in World War II.
Sold out houses and rave reviews have extended the run to March 24!
                                                              - photo courtesy production director Christopher Williams


and theater marketing/media departments

IF YOU LOVE theater and warm temperatures, that should be enough of a hook to draw you to San Diego for a week or even a few days. Feed the artistic soul, warm the heart and hands, chill out and maybe catch a whale watch tour.
Cygnet Theatre in Old Town undertakes Tony Kushner's
two-part epic, "Angels in America" opening March 6.
In our dozen years of frequenting San Diego's many fine playhouses, this season offers one of the most varied and satisfying dockets we've experienced. Fabulous theater in a fabulous part of the world. Here are favorites from the region's bountiful playhouses. (Alphabetical order.):
CYGNET THEATRE. "Angels in America." Old Town. Ambitious two-part multi-award winner by the brilliant playwright Tony Kushner "a gay fantasia on national themes" focuses on two troubled couples, one gay, one straight -- and much more.  Redemption, forgiveness, salvation, politics, morality are all explored. March 6-April 20. Seven hours, two parts, running in repertory. "Pride and Prejudice" caps the always inventive Cygnet season.
Add Jeremy Wilson and Cashae Monya
star in the intriguing "Hedwig and the  Angry Inch."

DIVERSIONARY THEATER. "Hedwig and the Angry Inch." 4545 Park Blvd. Outcast turned rock underdog, "Hedwig'' took Off-Broadway by storm and Diversionary's inventive production promises "to catapult the audience into the outrageous original story." A sex-change operation goes wrong with both hilarious and horrifying results and a theme with both personal and universal breadth. March 15-April 15.
Intrepid Theatre's plays unfold at
the Lyceum downtown in Horton Plaza.

INTREPID THEATRE COMPANY. At the Lyceum Theater downtown, Horton Plaza.  This top calibre organization pushes the envelope, explores a range of work both new and classic.  Intrepid plans an intriguing "lab" this spring to workshop and modernize its upcoming production of Shakespeare's "Titus Andronicus." Keep your eye on Intrepid, for its ambitious, eye-opening work such as a brilliantly acted "Art." After "Titus Andronicus," "Joe Turner’s Come and Gone" by August Wilson concludes the eighth season season.

Actress Jeanna de Waal, right, portrays
Princess Diana in a new LJPH musical.
La JOLLA PLAYHOUSE. "Diana." Mandell Weiss Theatre. A new beautifully staged musical in the state-of-the-art LJPH features Jeanna de Waal takes the title role in this world premiere musical with the Tony Award-winning Memphis team of Joe DiPietro writing book and lyrics and David Bryan collaborating with music and lyrics. Playhouse artistic director and 2017 Tony winner Christopher Ashley directs. Through April 14.

"Chaps" promises a foot-stomping, energetic time at the
theater in an adventuresome musical comedy at Lamb's.
LAMB'S PLAYERS THEATRE. "Chaps." Coronado. Prepare for another lively presentation laced with plenty of country tunes. The new Lamb's musical is described as "Monty Python meets the Wild West." It's set in WWII during a live BBC Broadcast from London. The storyline: a studio crew must act fast to fill in when Tex Riley's Singing Cowboys are late. March 5- April 14.
Mar. 15 – Mar. 24. Fresh. Imaginative. Irreverent. That describes Moxie's quality work. "Hookman" features a homesick college freshman girl with a weird roommate while a hook-handed serial killer is about. Billed as "an existential slasher comedy" it promises bloody humor.
"Smokey Joe's Cafe" offers a spirited
revue of blues and rock 'n' roll hits.

NEW VILLAGE ARTS. "Smokey Joe's Cafe." Through March 10.Carlsbad. High-energy tune-filled musical revue with 39 block-busting rock 'n roll and blues songs, ably acted by a winning cast of nine singers-dancers-actors and a terrific five-piece band. in favorites from the '50s and '60s.. "Servant of Two Masters" and "Little Shop of Horrors" follow."
North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach offers
an enticing mix of quality work in a small, welcoming venue.
NORTH COAST Repertory Theater. "Gabriel." Solana Beach.  Through March 24. Intriguing, beautifully acted story set in World War II, directed by Christopher Williams. A stranger appears, changing the dynamic in the Nazi occupied island of Guernsey in the Channel Islands. "All in the Timing," a lively satire directed by David Ellenstein and the Tony winning "A Walk in the Woods" follow.
SAN DIEGO REPERTORY THEATER. "Hershey Felder's Beethoven." Downtown. Lyceum Theatre in Horton Plaza. Brilliant production by pianist-actor-writer Felder, whose Chopin, Liszt and Bernstein are stunning, too. Through March 24.

Jeffrey Scott Parsons is the lead in "Crazy for You" ending
a successful run this weekend, here with the tapping ensemble. 
SAN DIEGO MUSICAL THEATER.  "Crazy for You." Horton Grand Theatre. High energy Gershwin musical stylishly directed by Kirsten Chandler with engaging tunes, bravura vocals, a crack orchestra, snappy dancing and splendid costumes. Followed by "Freaky Friday March 22-31 and "Sister Act" April 26-May 26. Final weekend for "Crazy...." Through March 3.
WELK RESORT Theater: "Menopause the Musical" follows a smashing "Mamma Mia" run. Features four sassy women at a lingerie sale, singing their way through hot flashes, night sweats, sex problems, memory loss and more. Hit parody set to classics from the '60s to '80s.March 15-June 2.

Norwegian Cruise Line's Spirit took our veteran travelers around
southern Europe and into the Greek Isles and, here, Valletta, Malta. 

UP NEXT: Come with us to as we rediscover the pleasures of Norwegian Cruise Line, which we chose for our 115th cruise recently, touring the Greek Isles, with stops in Malta and Italy. What makes NCL special for veteran cruisers?  We'll give you reasons to try the line if you're new to cruising or have many happy cruises under your belt. We'll look at the dining options (including abundant tables for two and flexible times) and we'll consider the ports of call and well organized tours as part of the lure. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekends for a fresh look at travel, the arts, nature, family and off-beat fun.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Madrid: stately boulevards, baroque palaces, history, mystery and more

A fine place to start your tour of Madrid is at the Royal Palace,where nearby is an 8th Century Arab wall.

Madrid is an interesting blend of the practical and fanciful.
Here luncheon diners enjoy a snack in the presence of an artful bull.

STEP INTO history in Madrid, where the narrow alleys and streets of this stately medieval city wind back into a rich history, originally as an Arab fortress.
Madrid is known worldwide for its elegant boulevards and expansive, manicured parks such as the Buen Retiro. It’s renowned for its rich repositories of European art, including the Prado Museum’s works by Goya, Velázquez and other Spanish masters. The heart of old Hapsburg Madrid is the portico-lined Plaza Mayor, a delightful place to while away an hour or two with a wonderful variety of shops and eateries.
THE ARAB influence permeates old Madrid. The city was founded on Calle Cuesta de la Vega, where a wall protected a fortress built in the 8th century by Emir Mohammed I.
Madrid is famous for ham and here at a corner kiosk
it is possible to buy a quick ham sandwich, fruit and drink.
The city's name comes from the Arabic word, "mayrit," which means "water source".
You'll want to take in the Royal Palace, at the Arab Wall, a stunning design with baroque touches and a gorgeous square.  It is now used mainly for ceremonial and public functions, and is open to the public as a museum of the building’s and the country’s history.
The reigning King Felipe VI and the Royal Family do not reside in the palace, choosing instead the more modest Palacio de la Zarzuela on the outskirts of Madrid.
Madrid's plazas and squares flow seamlessly from one
street to another. Madreinos love to stroll.
The Palace is fairly new by European standards, built in the 18th century by Philip V on the site of the old Alcázar fortress, another Moorish castle.
The palace has 135,000 square meters (1,450,000 square feet) of floorspace and contains a whopping 3,418 rooms. It is the largest royal palace in Europe.
Madrid is one of Europe's most elegant and lively cities.  Dinner is usually taken after 10 p.m., and Madrilenos love to linger.  A meal typically takes two or three hours.  Impressively, the native folks don't seem to need much sleep. They don't seem to mind partying at night and still arising in time for work at 9 a.m. No problema.
THE CITY'S cultural offerings are vast and varied and there are cafes and bars for every budget. We based at the lovely Villa Real, in the Plaza de las Cortes, an upscale Derby hotel decorated with ancient art pieces and modern paintings. Throughout the city are art galleries with world class fare.
The Circle of Fine Arts at Alcala Street is known for its graceful design.
The stately Prado Museum, one of Europe's most famous cultural treasures, was putting the finishing touches on a major renovation during our recent visit.
Museo del Prado was founded in 1819 as a public showcase for Spain’s royal art collection. Since then, the national institution has far surpassed, in both world renown and collection size, the walls of its exquisite 17th-century home. Like many old Madrid buildings, it was built as a palace 200 years before it became a museum.
 In an effort to preserve its authentic architecture and modernize its gallery spaces, the Pardo undertook a major renovation. The Hall of Realms was just finishing its "redo" when we were there a few weeks ago. A huge competition four years ago determined the architectural firm.
This ice cream and dessert cafe has an easy view of lines
for lotto tickets. The crowds near the back are in line too.
But the Prado is not the only arts museum worthy of your time.  There are several dozen, and many have free admission on certain days.
Remember to make your dinner reservations early if you're dining after 9 p.m. We remember the time we booked an "early" dinner-dance show -- for 11 p.m. (The late show seating began at 12:45 a.m!)
MADRID is lively, vibrant, changing.  Ladies dress smartly, with tight jeans and form fitting blouses and plenty of decolletage.  The men dress more stylishly than many other Europeans. Especially in an early cool spring, and throughout winter and autumn, you'll rarely see a woman without a nattily tied scarf.

A fine production of "Smokey Joe's Cafe features three dozen rock 'n' roll,
 blues and other classic pop tunes, at New Village Arts in Carlsbad.
UP NEXT: Curtain going up on an exciting spring arts season in southern California.  From Hershey Felder's masterpiece, on the life of Beethoven, to a snappy rock-n-rollin' "Smokey Joe's Cafe" and other engaging musical and dramatic picks, we'll explore  the best of our lively arts scene. San Diego Musical Theater offers a fine "Crazy for You" with Gershwin's magic, and ambitious Cygnet tackles "Angels in America."  Theatrical treasures await.  Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each Friday for a fresh approach to travel, nature, family and the arts.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Whale bonanza as great grays head south to give birth, play in Baja

A misty blast of water from the whale's blow hole helps us see him, as our Hornblower boat moves closer.

For sailors worldwide, the San Diego skyline is one of the prettiest.

THE AIR was crisp and fresh, the sun shone bright and our group of 200 aboard Hornblower was in the mood for whale watching.
We were NOT disappointed!
The Hornblower bar did a brisk business as nature lovers from Europe, Asia and North America cast off from San Diego Bay in search of migrating grey whales.
A frisky dolphin dives near the boat to our delight.
 While we motored out, a lively commentary began with a capsule of the magnificent whale's life and travels, his breaching, "spyhopping" and mating habits. We followed the main channel past Harbor Island, Shelter Island, graceful yachts, sailboat races, our exotic submarine base, popular restaurants, the U.S. Coastguard Station, our Navy Base, and into the ocean, a scenic 40-minute journey.
For us, it's a pilgrimage we make several times a season, a lovely way to enjoy whale watching as well as to admire one of the prettiest skylines and harbors in the world.
San Diego's abundant pleasures include the opportunity to observe one of nature's grandest creatures close-up and we take full advantage as often as possible.
 When a whale spyhops, it pokes its head out of the water.
 Most oceanographers say spyhopping simply lets the animals
 get a better view of activity near the water's surface.
We found this great grey near Alaska,
where we also saw humpbacks.
THIS TRIP, we saw about 10 grey whales -- in peak migration season -- each one about the width of a basketball court. Two of our sightings were of mating pods, three whales each.  The greys often mate in a trio. We've seen babies with their mothers in April, heading north. But since the gestation period is 12 months, the ones we see mating these year will give birth next year.
We'll be looking again in April for the mothers and calves.
Keller took this photo last April, a thrill for both of us. 
Dolphins are also a delight on our whale watching expeditions. They frolic, jump and dive for us, enjoying their captive audience.
 The whales know we're nearby and don't seem to mind.  Some experts speculate that they are naturally curious and trusting, which could explain their near demise at the hands of the ruthless and greedy whalers of yore.
These beautiful creatures travel at about five knots (about six miles per hour), so when a boat captain or passenger spots one, we slow down -- usually from five or six miles out, although we've seen them at closer range. Someone hollers "thar she blows" and gauges the direction off the boat -- 2 o'clock, 11 o'clock, etc.
A mature gray whale heads into a deep dive.
Their spectacular journey is over 10,000 miles roundtrip, for us, the best opportunity to view. We've taken whale watching ventures in Hawaii, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Polynesia and Iceland - but have never had better whale watching than right here in our own back yard.
This year, we've been out only twice, not our usual half-dozen times, exploring the 70 miles of coastline in the migration path.
Another  grey whale "spyhop" off the coast of San Diego near La Jolla.
The gray whales start swimming south from Alaska in October,  passing the coast off San Diego from December through February, and again in March and into April, when they head north. But it's not unusual to see a northbound whale this time of year.  For as our captain said, "The whales don't have a time table. And it varies year to year, season to season."
SO WE TRY TO catch the mighty grey whales coming and going.  After spending time in warm Baja California waters so their young can grow strong and pregnant cows gain weight, they make the journey north again later in spring. This remarkable trip of 20,000 creatures represents the longest known distance any mammal migrates on an annual basis. Experts from San Diego's Natural History Museum enhance the trip with information and dialogue with curious passengers.
Wonders await aboard Hornblower's whale watch.
For this Montana girl and my San Diego born partner, it is an extraordinary spectacle.
In summer, the legendary blue whales -- the largest animals on Earth -- feed offshore the San Diego coast. Once on a summer cocktail cruise, we spotted a blue. We've also seen humpbacks, fin whales, pilot, minke and even killer whales off our gorgeous waters!
View the Whale & Dolphin Watching Brochure
Jeffrey Scott Parsons as Bobby Child is surrounded by a terrific tap-dancing
ensemble in a fine production of "Crazy for You" by San Diego Musical Theatre.
BEST BET: Magnificent tap dancing and winning Gershwin tunes grace Horton Grand Theatre, San Diego, in a satisfying production of "Crazy For You."  The thoroughly fun, old-fashioned musical features snappy numbers performed with panache by a terrific ensemble, a well tuned orchestra, colorful set and a series of show-stoppers ala Busby Berkeley. Impressive season opener for SDMT, the lovingly crafted endeavor of producers Erin and Gary Lewis. Through March 3. 
Madrid's stately boulevards are handsome and inviting even in winter.

 NEXT UP: Madrid.  Think elegant boulevards, baroque palaces and expansive, manicured parks. We take you to this exciting and historic central Spain city,  renowned for its rich repositories of European art, including the Prado Museum’s works by Goya, Velázquez and other Spanish masters. The heart of old Hapsburg Madrid is the portico-lined Plaza Mayor and we'll be there! Remember to explore, learn and live and visit us each Friday for a fresh take on travel, nature, the arts and family.