Record-breaking numbers find San Diego
Second of two parts
News travels fast over water, but it’s not always accurate. I learned that in World War II when a Nazi propagandist told his short-wave radio listeners that Maurice Chevalier had been stoned to death by French partisans, the report turned out to be more than an exaggeration; it was a bald-faced lie.
A more precise and certainly far more gratifying report greeted us when our ship, the Silver Shadow, docked at San Diego’s picturesque downtown waterfront. The message: the 382 guests aboard the Shadow were part of a half-million people from 197 cruise ships that will have berthed there this year. Both are records projected to be broken in 2005.
The Silver Shadow is one of four ships operated by Silversea Cruises. The line has a crew-to-passenger ratio of 1 to 1.34. According to the prestigious Robb Report, this “provides a level of attentive but unobtrusive service” that is unmatched.
The Shadow arrived in San Diego four days and three port calls after leaving San Francisco. Many aboard were repeat guests, veterans of multiple Silversea cruises. All were members of the line’s Venetian Society, which opens the hatches to discounts on future sailings and provides advance information on new itineraries. The program, obviously working for the Society, has 40,000 members.
San Diego got a jump start in 1941 shortly after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. It became the home port of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet. Along with it came a population explosion, mainly attributable to an influx of military personnel. Many liked the area and its ideal climate so much they never left. As a result, today San Diego, with a population approaching 1.3 million, is the nation’s seventh largest city.
As we left the Cruise Terminal, our thoughts were not of places or people; they were of pandas. A short trolley ride took us to the world-famous San Diego Zoo and three giant pandas. The zoo is one of only four in the U.S. that house endangered species. It’s also the nation’s only facility to successfully breed, birth and rear healthy cubs.
Today there are some 1,600 pandas, mostly in China. Don Lindberg, head of the zoo’s Conservation Office, credits increased survival rates to ongoing research at San Diego and other zoos.
The zoo is but one stop on a trolley tour that will take you to such other attractions as 1,200-acre Balboa Park, the city’s cultural centerpiece; Gaslamp Quarter and its Horton Plaza complex of major department stores, specialty shops, bistros and two performing arts theaters; and Old Town. Boarding and re-boarding opportunities are offered at each stop.
San Diego Scenic Tours offer half- and full-day narrated excursions to the same locations plus Coronado, the Embarcadero, Seaport Village and La Jolla Cove. Reservations must be made in advance.
The city is named for a Spanish monk, San Diego de Alcala de Henares. Another Spaniard, Sebastian Vizcaino, charted local coastal waters in 1602. A year later Gaspar de Portola created a military base in what is now Mission Valley. He was accompanied by Junipero Serra, a Franciscan priest who founded California’s first mission. It provided a safe refuge for travelers between San Francisco and Mexico.
In 1825, four years after Mexico took control of what was then called Upper California, San Diego became the territorial capital. When the city was incorporated in 1850, Old Town was the center.
Seventeen years later, in 1867, Alonzo Horton, a San Francisco merchant, purchased 1,000 acres of San Diego’s waterfront property. Perhaps stealing a page from New York’s Peter Stuyvesant some two centuries earlier, Horton paid a paltry 27 cents an acre, then sold the property for the same price to anyone who would build on it. Today Horton’s largesse likely would evoke a “you’re fired” from Donald Trump.
Real estate values have increased somewhat in San Diego. During our stay a builder acquired a 25,650 sq. ft. parcel in the Gaslamp District for $800 a square foot.
Gold was discovered in the hills east of San Diego in 1873. This quickly led to a number of Victorian-style buildings sprouting up on 4th and 5th avenues between Broadway and Market Street, not far from the waterfront. The resurgence lasted but two years when a disastrous fire destroyed many of the structures.
The city rebounded in 1888 with the arrival of the Santa Fe Railroad and a bevy of tourists. Still, but the turn of the 20th century, the population was only 18,000.
San Diego State University was founded in 1897. Six years later, the Marine Biological Association, forerunner to Scripps Institute of Oceanography, was a small laboratory in a boathouse at the Hotel de Coronado. The Panama-California International Exposition was held here in 1915. This was followed 20 years later by the California Pacific International Exposition.
Sportswise, San Diego has had its moments of glory. Baseball’s Padres made it to the World Series in 1984 and 1998. The football Chargers got to the Super Bowl in 1995, losing to the San Francisco 49ers. Baseball Hall of Famers Tony Gwynn, a career Padre, and the late Ted Williams, a native, are enshrined in the Hall of Champions Museum here. Among the many other museums here is the Dental Museum in Old Town.
The Republican National Convention was held here in 1996. That was during Pete Wilson’s eight-year reign as governor of California. Prior to that he had been mayor of San Diego for 12 years (1971-1983) followed by eight years as a U.S. senator.
Of course others have made their mark here. Charles Lindbergh tested his Spirit of St. Louis here before his epic trans-Atlantic flight in 1927. San Diego’s busy international airport is named for him.
Regis Philbin is in the Guinness Book of Records for logging the most time on TV (more than 15,200 hours). Now 73, he began his career as a San Diego news anchor in 1958.
Thomas W. Sefton, retired CEO of a San Diego bank, spent 40 years collecting toy trains and accessories. Now 86, he has given his entire 7,000-piece collection to the California State Museum in Sacramento. He served for many years on the board of the museum’s nonprofit foundation.
The world saw Stefano Baldini win the marathon at the recent Summer Olympics in Athens. He did much of his pre-event training in San Diego.
Famous movie and TV personalities who were born here include Robert Duvall, Margaret O’Brien and Ted Danson. Others who lived here include Racquel Welch, the late Dr. Seuss, author of children’s books, and Gregory Peck.
Between shore excursions, how did Shadow guests pass the time at sea? The Shadow knows! Some exercised, others hit the gambling casino, read, played bridge, swam, took in a late issue movie or purposely did nothing. Many enjoyed afternoon tea in the Panorama Lounge.
Everyone dined in style. In typical understated elegance, Silversea offers four options. Most popular is ‘The Restaurant,’ offering superb cuisine and open seating. We took 2 1/2 hours for dinner, then arrived at the Athenian Lounge just before curtain time for an entertaining musical production that differed nightly.
An alternative to The Restaurant was the Terrace Café, serving theme dinners by reservation. For a truly special dining experience, Le Champagne offers the gastronomic creations of Joachim Koerper, owner and chef of Girasol Restaurant in Moraira, Spain. And of course, there’s always room service.
Within one week we saw the world’s only great white shark in captivity, Barry Bonds’ 701st career home run, assorted pandas, koalas, seals, otters and even a whale. We also had some illustrious neighbors. In Long Beach, we docked alongside the original Queen Mary, now a hotel. In San Diego, we berthed near two aircraft carriers, the newly commissioned USS Ronald Reagan and the recently decommissioned Midway.
All this with complimentary drinks and spirits and no gratuities. No wonder Silversea has so many repeat passengers.
Bob Richelson lives in Lake Wildwood and is a frequent contributor to the travel pages in The Union.
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