Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Catalina Island, The Birthday Island

By Laura Medina


Have you reached that point in life where you're way too old for Chuck E. Cheese yet you're burnt out on the popularity of the nightclub and seriously questioning where are your "friends?"

Catalina Island is here to the rescue.

Going strong for 4 years, Catalina Island is the only place that honors and truly celebrates your birthday as the "Birthday Island." As far as this scribe and most travel writers know, Catalina Island and it's main town, Avalon, are the only places that does this.  An elderly lady, from Chicago, flew just for this.


Get a "Free Ride on Your Birthday" on Catalina Express.  For the fourth consecutive year Catalina Express passengers can travel to Catalina for free on their birthdays, effective now through December 31, 2015. The offer is good for travel from all of Catalina Express’ mainland or island ports saving adult passengers up to $76.50 round trip.   Registration is now open for 2015 birthdays.  

This scribe enjoyed an airplane-quality lounge in the Commodore's Lounge but with way more leg room and a plushier, cleaner environment, free of being cramped and rushed.
Travel must begin on the passenger’s actual birthday, subject to availability, and return must be completed within 30 days. Interested passengers need to pre-register online at www.CatalinaExpress.com, make a reservation and then present their printed Free Pass at time of check-in, with valid ID. Visit www.CatalinaExpress.com for more details.   

Once you check in and show your driver's license or ID or passport, you'll be rewarded with the free round-trip tickets, a pair of free beverage vouchers, and an adorable "birthday" badge that entitles you to discounts and freebies on the island.

On the ride to Catalina, this scribe used the first beverage voucher for free champagne with a bag of Ruffles Potato Chips for breakfast.  Aaahhh, this birthday scribe soon discovered champagne goes well with crispy fried chips and fries, down-t0-earth decadence.  Very relaxing.

Greg Bombard, president of Catalina Express, notes, “Catalina Express is proud to have transported 25 million passengers since our inception more than 33 years ago, and this is just one way to thank the many who have supported us over the years. An average of 60,000 passengers annually travel on their birthday to the island; not only will passengers get to ride free on their birthday again this year, but we have expanded our birthday island offerings and savings.”  

Birthday Island has sprung up around the Free Ride offer. Catalina restaurants, attractions and hotels have joined in to celebrate the birthday with discounts and freebies. Passengers can download Birthday Island from the Catalina Express website while registering and are given updated information at their ticket window.


Like any airliner, the Catalina Express ferry crew do give a prompt safety instruction, just in case an accident happens, which is very, very rare.

While boarding for the luxurious, wide Catalina Express Ferry,  this scribe noticed the passengers ranged from hard-core nature photographers with high-end photo/video equipments and scuba tanks and gear to the casual day-trippers bringing their bikes with them.

This is one thing that this scribe has noticed.  Catalina Island is classy, not snotty.  They treat you very well but they wouldn't look down on you if you want to board with your bike.


This scribe stayed at the Italian Islands-themed Hotel Villa Portofino, at the western end of Avalon, Catalina Island's one and only town/village, directly across from Island Spa, Catalina Island Casino, and Descanso Beach, the western border before you venture into the preserved wilderness of Catalina Island.
Descanco Beach Club Restaurant,
Descanso Beach Club

Built and styled like a Italian Island inn, Hotel Portofino has two levels of hidden courtyards, the second floor where you can dine outside, enjoying the island breeze and sunshine within the privacy of the hotel or go downstairs to the main inner courtyard where the main fire pit makes this scribe wished she brought a bag of marshmallows, a box of graham crackers and a bar of chocolate to roast some s'mores.

The cozy and warm ambiance continues into The Villa Portofino's hotel room where, again, a blazing fireplace greets you.

Thank god everything in Avalon, Catalina Island's one and only town/village, is within walking distance.

As soon as you walk out of your hotel, there's the Casino, Island Spa, and Descanso Beach and the beach and the restaurant to the west. 


Ambling around, this scribe stumble across the island's hidden gem, the Lobster Trap.

Surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, Catalina Island can't help but have the best seafood around.

The Lobster Trap, http://www.catalinalobstertrap.com/, must be one of the best because this laid-back, down-home restaurant is booked crazy on weekend nights.  45 minutes wait just for one person.  Best to book a reservation for dinner!

The best time is daytime where the vibe is casual and well-paced yet the seafood remains fresh.

How fresh?  One of the servers, Omar, told this scribe the owner goes out every morning collecting lobster traps out of the water, along with fresh catches of the day then serves them all day (when it's calmer) then all night (where both native Catalina Islanders compete against visitors, such as this scribe, for seats at the tables and bar!).

The island's specialty, the stuffed Catalina Local Lobster wasn't just creamy in the shrimp cream sauce encrusted in bread crumbs (forget stuffed turkey, hello stuffed lobster for Thanksgiving) but the lobster meat itself was creamy because it was caught this morning for lunch.  

No wonder, again, native Islanders battle it out against birthday visitors for gourmet, fresh seafood in a down-to-earth setting.  This is fresh seafood free from attitude.  

This scribe has agenda, next time, for trying their fish (pick any type of fish: salmon - $19,  mahi mahi - $21, ahi tuna - $25,   swordfish - $25, white sea bass - $25, and halibut - $26) then having it prepared and encrusted any way you want: crisp macadamia nut breading, blackened, fresh tropical mango salsa, lemon caper sauce, garlic mushroom, rosie’s special marinade, or sautéed in a tomato basil cream sauce.  Catalina Dreaming.

So glad this scribe enjoyed the Lobster Trap's stuffed Catalina Local Lobster for a decedent birthday lunch because this scribe had to walk a few mere steps to Steve's Steakhouse for a birthday dinner.  It's located on prime Catalina real estate, right on the Avalon's main drag, Crescent Avenue, right on the beach, overlooking the harbor, a beautiful nighttime view.

Steve's Steakhouse, http://www.stevessteakhouse.com/, has its own take on the classic Oyster Rockefeller.  Instead of creamed spinach, it's Bearnaise sauce with paprika dashed on top.  

Steve's Steakhouse is also where the island's wheelers and dealers dine for dinner.   Muriel of the island's best breakfast stop, The Pancake Cottage, wished this scribe "Happy Birthday" then gave her business card.  Prime networking spot.

Pinning your Catalina Express Birthday Badge helps out a lot in immediate service and discount on your birthday.

Both The Lobster Trap and Steve's Steakhouse offer free birthday cakes and sundaes on your birthday.  The Lobster Trap gives you a molten chocolate lava cake then Steve's Steakhouse gives you a birthday sundae.

Left, http://www.threepalmsavalonarcade.com/ & right, http://www.ccgallagher.com/

As an Avalon/Catalina Island newbie,  this scribe used the various birthday discounts among shops and restaurants as excuse to explore the island.

In between shopping for cute cocktail jewelry, ranging from 10% to 15% discounts to a free gift with a $10 minimum purchase.  This is only good on your birthday!  This scribe discovered you can bowl for free at the brand new Three Palms Avalon Arcade.

For the gourmand birthday babies, there's CC Gallagher.  A chic art gallery/wine, tapas & sushi bar/gourmet bakery/high-end gift & beauty shop, all under one roof, http://www.ccgallagher.com/

Once you're acquainted with Catalina Island, you'll discover there's more to it than just Avalon, the chic but quaint village with some really great seafood and cool cocktail jewelry at reasonable prices.

The majority of the island is dependent on environmental tourism which it has built a great reputation for camping and adventure and ecology tours.

This scribe wished she had another day to explore the interior wildlife, the Western End,  and the aquatic wildlife under the sea.  The majority of the land safari tours can be booked and boarded at Avalon's central Tour Plaza, http://www.visitcatalinaisland.com/island-info/tour-plaza, ...across from The Lobster Trap.  How convenient! Doing tours does work up an appetite! 

If touring the island wears you out, Catalina the Birthday Island has a multitude of massage specials on your birthday.

When planning for a trip, you usually freak out wondering if the destination doesn't have the facial products that you need.

Don't fret!  The island's premiere and brand new spa, Island Spa, has curated the best of the best skincare from the California mainland.  They carry both the full-sized versions of Coola Suncare and Osea Skincare and also the travel-sized pumps, sprays, and bottles at reasonable prices.  You can just stock them as souvenirs while you replenish your supply, as soon as you literally step off the boat then check right into the hotel.  No sweat.  http://www.visitcatalinaisland.com/activities-adventures/island-spa-catalina

For such a tiny island, "The Birthday Island," Catalina and it's main town, Avalon, sure pack in a lot of activities without the push and pull of the mainland's rat race.  

With the Birthday specials and Catalina Express' "Free Ride on Your Birthday," you'll have plenty of free and discounted birthday specials and opportunities to fully enjoy the island on multiple trips on your upcoming birthdays for years to come.  Your "Catalina Birthday" is your own get-away.


No comments: