Car­ni­val packs plenty of fun into its trips to Catalina Is­land and Ense­nada, Mex­ico

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - TRAVEL - AARON SAUN­DERS

Back in the sum­mer, I was look­ing for a quick lit­tle va­ca­tion cruise.

A cruise where I could just re­lax, take it easy and not have to run around with a huge cam­era and a notepad and pen for a change. But I had a cou­ple of qualifications: it had to be un­der a week in du­ra­tion, and it had to be some­where that I could reach eas­ily by air.

I de­cided on a run that I’d never done be­fore, to ports of call that would be brand-new to me. It’s a cruise I’d de­bated about tak­ing for more than a decade but had never got around to, usu­ally be­cause a longer cruise ended up sway­ing me in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion.

That’s how I ended up aboard Car­ni­val Cruise Line’s 2,054-guest Car­ni­val In­spi­ra­tion, sail­ing from Long Beach, Calif., on a four-night cruise to Catalina Is­land and Ense­nada, Mex­ico.

Tak­ing Car­ni­val In­spi­ra­tion was no hard­ship. The sixth ship in Car­ni­val’s trend­set­ting Fan­tasy Class, Car­ni­val In­spi­ra­tion de­buted back in the spring of 1996. Since then, Car­ni­val has spent mil­lions of dollars on up­grades and im­prove­ments, with Car­ni­val In­spi­ra­tion of­fer­ing most of the line’s most pop­u­lar new venues, in­clud­ing Guy’s Burger Joint; the RedFrog Rum Bar; the BlueIguana Cantina; and the al­ways-de­light­ful Alchemy Bar, where drinks are mixed to­order.

So while it’s no spring chicken, Car­ni­val In­spi­ra­tion proved to be a com­fort­able and charm­ing home for four nights. State­rooms and cor­ri­dors have all been re­freshed in the past, and an­other ex­ten­sive dry dock is sched­uled for later this year. Most of the state­rooms on­board are ocean­view or in­te­rior; only a hand­ful of bal­cony suites are avail­able. I didn’t find this to be an is­sue: my ocean­view room on Riviera Deck was com­fort­able and quiet, with a pic­ture win­dow that let in a great amount of nat­u­ral light. This is an ac­tive, port-heavy cruise; a bal­cony re­ally isn’t es­sen­tial on this voy­age. Most non-port time will be spent up on deck en­joy­ing the sunshine, or tak­ing in the mul­ti­tude of fun ac­tiv­i­ties that Car­ni­val of­fers through­out the day.

The first port of call on this run is Catalina Is­land, sit­u­ated just off the coast of Los An­ge­les. In fact, the is­land is so nearby that it can be seen on a clear day. But while it might be close to the City of An­gels, Catalina — and its main town, Avalon — give off an al­most Hawai­ian vibe. Things move at a slower pace here, with lo­cals and vis­i­tors alike con­tent to take in the strik­ing scenery or am­ble around Avalon’s plen­ti­ful shops.

Catalina Is­land served as the set­ting for the fi­nal episode of the Net­flix se­ries Love, and it is just as impressive in real life. Car­ni­val In­spi­ra­tion calls here for a full day, though you should be pre­pared to ten­der ashore.

The fi­nal port of call is Ense­nada, Mex­ico. The third-largest city in Baja Cal­i­for­nia, Ense­nada is just 176 kilo­me­tres south of San Diego and is rather pic­turesque ow­ing to its tucked-away lo­ca­tion inset within a cres­centshaped bay.

Ense­nada also just hap­pens to be lo­cated in the heart of Baja Mex­ico’s bur­geon­ing wine coun­try. Car­ni­val of­fers a great tour and tast­ing at a lo­cal win­ery out in the coun­try that had the ship abuzz on my sail­ing. I missed it; I was tak­ing part in one of the best craft brew­ing tours I’ve ever been on, which vis­ited the Wend­landt Cerve­ce­ria and the ridicu­lously charm­ing El Chivo Gruñón. Nes­tled in the coun­try­side, its tast­ing room — the Cava — is a stone hut dec­o­rated with clas­sic vinyl records, high­backed arm­chairs and a fan­tas­tic se­lec­tion of brews on tap. I could have spent the af­ter­noon.

Af­ter de­part­ing Ense­nada, an en­tire day at sea awaits en-route back to Long Beach. This run may be shorter than most, but Car­ni­val packs a lot into these value-added cruises. I dis­cov­ered, too, that two ports I’d over­looked for years of­fered plenty of com­pelling rea­sons to re­turn.

You can catch Car­ni­val In­spi­ra­tion sail­ing from Long Beach on a three-day itin­er­ary to Ense­nada on Fri­days, while the four-day cruise to Catalina Is­land and Ense­nada de­parts on Mon­days. Sis­ter-ship Car­ni­val Imag­i­na­tion op­er­ates the same itin­er­ary, with de­par­tures on Thurs­days and Sun­days, re­spec­tively.

Happy cruis­ing.

Visit port­sand­, spon­sored by Ex­pe­dia CruiseShipCen­ters, 1-800-707-7327, www.cruiseshipcen­, for daily up­dates on the lat­est cruise news, best deals and be­hind-the-scenes sto­ries from the in­dus­try. You can also sign up for an email newsletter on the site for even more cruise in­for­ma­tion. Aaron Saun­ders may be con­tacted di­rectly at port­sand­


Car­ni­val In­spi­ra­tion and sis­ter ship Car­ni­val Imag­i­na­tion of­fer weekly cruises to Catalina Is­land and Ense­nada, Mex­ico.

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