Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Review: San Diego's Hornblower harbor cruise and Goldstar offer

The two-hour San Diego harbor cruise offered by Hornblower is a decent, though unspectacular, way to view the bay in this Southern California city.  Before you pay up to $28 for a ticket, be sure to look for online deals. And consider whether the tour is really worth your time and money in the first place.

I bought tickets for this tour recently for my family through Goldstar, but be careful if you go this route. Goldstar listed the tickets at $13, yet it is actually impossible to buy them for that price. Goldstar tacks on a $4.50 surcharge for each ticket, pushing the actual price up by 35% to $17.50.
A view of San Diego from the Hornblower harbor cruise

Still, $17.50 does seem like a good deal compared to the walk-up price of $26 or Hornblower's online price of $28.  But remember that those are prices for adults. Tickets for children are only $12 for walk-up customers, so the smart way to go is to buy adult tickets through Goldstar but buy kids' tickets at the window.

(Don't worry that the tour will be sold out when you get there. We went on the very busy Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, and all the tours had space available.)

There's no free parking in the area, so be prepared to pay at least $12 at a lot.

The tour itself is moderately interesting. You'll get to see A LOT of Navy ships;  very likely including some aircraft carriers. You're almost certain to see sea lions, too. We were somewhat fortunate to see two or three dolphins.

Our narrator was fairly knowledgeable, especially about the Navy ships, but he had an odd habit of describing things that were behind us. We spent a lot of time looking backward.

You should also note that you can't hear the narration in some parts of the boat. It just depends on how loud the speakers are and how much other noise there is; be prepared to move if you want to hear the narration.

The cruise is billed as "two hours" but it's actually two cruises one of the north part of the bay and one on the south part. Annoyingly, the boat returns to the dock halfway through to discharge and take on passengers.  We spent almost half an hour just sitting at the dock.  So in the end, the "cruise" part is really only about 90 minutes.


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