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Carmel by the Sea, California
via the Amtrak Coast Starlight
12/29/95
http://www.trainweb.com/cities/sg_car.htm

Why did this trip happen? After I had taken a few trips on Amtrak, I realized that this was a potential solution to a problem my parents were having in trying to vacation anywhere. My Dad has a bid of difficulty getting around, but manages with a cane. He doesn't like flying and would rather avoid it if possible. He's perfectly comfortable in a hotel room, but doesn't like the transit time or experience between home and his hotel room at all. The train seemed like a perfect solution to this! He could travel and be in his hotel room at the same time!

There is no other mode of transportation that solves this problem. You can't travel by plane, bus, or even your own car and have the amenities, privacy, and comforts of a hotel room while you travel. You can when traveling by train!

Despite my own logical thinking on this mater, I was still very surprised when both my Mom and my Dad responded enthusiastically to traveling by train! I just assumed that I was going to have to convince them to give it a try and just hope for the best. Instead, they both responded positively to my first mention of the idea!

To enhance the experience, I decided to just ask my Mom if there is anywhere that she would like to take a vacation. Her immediate selection was Mount Carmel because her friends and relatives told her that it was a beautiful place that they had really enjoyed. I picked up an encyclopedia to determine the location of Mount Carmel. I became disappointed at first because I found that Mount Carmel was in Israel and was pretty sure that Amtrak didn't go there (knowing that trains don't float very well). However, a bit of double checking revealed that Carmel-by-the-Sea was the place these people were talking about, and not Mount Carmel!

As I started to make my travel plans, I began to realize that getting to Carmel-by-the-Sea was going to be almost as difficult as getting to Mount Carmel by Amtrak! First, Carmel is not an Amtrak stop. Salinas is about as close as you can get, which is only about a 40 minute drive from Carmel-by-the-Sea. If you decide to visit Carmel-by-the-Sea, Amtrak does provide connecting bus service at Salinas over to Monterey. You can then take a taxi from there to your hotel or rent a car at the Monterey airport. For our trip, I felt that getting onto and off of a bus and then transfering to a taxi or rented car after a long train trip would be too much for my Dad. Thus, I really needed to rent a car right where we got off the train in Salinas.

However, my attempt to reserve a car rental at Salinas proved futile. I check with every national car rental company and found that Enterprise was the only one with an office in Salinas. Unfortunately, that office closed at 6pm which was too early to guarantee that they would still be open if a train scheduled to arrive at 5:40pm arrived late (which it did). I also could not locate any small local car rental companies in Salinas that would be open.

Without a rented car, my first concern was to figure out how we were going to get from the Salinas Amtrak station to Carmel-by-the-Sea. Since there were 6 of us traveling, we would not be able to fit into most taxis, especially with all our luggage. I could just see the meter running on two taxis round-trip for 40 minutes between Salinas and Carmel each way! I decided on an alternate route and started contacting Limosine companies in Salinas. I knew I'd at least be able to get a flat rate quote for the trip and have transportation reserved and guaranteed. I also figured that adding the limo would enhance the overall experience of this train trip for my parents.

All was not solved yet. We were arriving on a Friday evening. Limo drivers like to get a 2 to 4 hour booking for Friday nights. Most did not want to risk losing that for a quick 40 minute drive. However, I was able to find one place that figured they could get us to our hotel and still be available for a longer booking at 7:30pm. This worked out for us, but because the train did arrive late, the driver was not able to make that other 7:30pm booking on time. I hope whoever was expecting their limo at 7:30 took the situation as calmly as our limo driver did! The trip from the Salinas station to Carmel cost me $100 plus a $15 tip. If that seems like a bit, do consider that the same distance and time by 2 taxis would have been more. I also booked the return trip to the train for 8:30am for New Years morning. This was also a little bit of a hurdle since most limo drivers would be sleeping at that hour considering they either would have been working till late or partying themselves on New Year's Eve! The owner of the limo service consented to do this trip himself. Taking a limo round trip from Salinas to Carmel-by-the-Sea is not a bad enhancement to your trip if you don't want to take the bus to Monterey, but figure about $200 round trip plus a $15 tip each way. Call Garret Quickett of Apollo Limousine service in Salinas at 408-449-5466. You might be able to work out a better deal if you are not arriving on a peak evening like the Friday before New Year's Day!

Next item to solve was to find a hotel room. First thing I always do is to go to the Automobile Club (AAA) and get the Tour Book and map for the area. I found that the big thing to Carmel-by-the-Sea was the downtown area and all the artist galleries and other shops. I also found that there is a severe shortage of parking downtown. It is hard to find a parking spot and there is a 90 minute limit on parking, extended to 3 hours during the holiday season. I decided to just book a room in one of the downtown hotels which would both give me a place to park a car and eliminate any need to even use the car when exploring the town.

I thought Carmel-by-the-Sea was just a summer resort area and would be empty in the middle of winter. I was very wrong. Not only does it attract crowds year-round, but it is especially booked for New Years! I could not find a vacancy for New Years weekend at any hotel downtown! What I did find out is that you should probably book a year in advance if you'd like to spend New Years day in Carmel-by-the-Sea. I then turned to another avenue. I called American Express Platinum Card Travel Services to see if they could find anything. They were able to find two hotel rooms at the Carmel Valley Ranch Resort. This place is about 10 miles outside of town and was pretty expensive, even at the special American Express discounted rate of $175 per night per room! I then arranged through the hotel for a rental car to be delievered to me at the hotel for $60 per day, unlimited milage.

What would I recommend for you if you plan to visit Carmel-by-the-Sea at a time that isn't this busy? I'd recommend that you book a hotel in the town. That will allow you to just walk out your front door any time of the day or night and stroll about the town without worrying about finding a parking place. Then, when you do decide to explore places further from town, your rented car is conveniently parked in your hotel parking lot.

However, for New Year's Weekend, the Carmel Valley Ranch Resort was the only place that had a vacancy. I made the reservations for two rooms for three nights. If you would rather stay at a mountain resort than in the town, the Carmel Valley Ranch Resort would be an excellent choice! Normal rates are between $175 and $225 per room depending on the season, but you will find the rooms are very spacious at about 1200 square feet and equiped with just about every amenity. You can reach them at 408-625-9500 to make reservations.

In the suite, you will find two rooms, a bedroom and a living room, each with a cathedral ceiling and decorative loft. There are skylights in the living room ceiling. The bedroom as a fireplace that has a gas starter, but burns real wood. You'll find a small supply of wood next to the fireplace and a larger supply outside should you run out. Someone comes by each day to clean out the fireplace. There are two queen size beds in the bedroom, one tall dresser, and storage chests at the foot of each bed. There is also a balcony with a patio table and several chairs off the bedroom. The TV features both free channels, pay movies, and even Super Nintendo that you can play for $5.95 per hour! You will also find that you can review the current status of your account on the TV.

The living room has a sofa with floor lamps at each end. The sofa can also convert to another bed. The living room also has two comfortable chairs seperated by a table lamp, a stool, coffee table, and a breakfast nook with two chairs. Two additional folding chairs for the table are in the closet. The living room also has a wall unit many shelves and drawers. Another television is located in the wall unit as well as a sink and coffee maker. There is a fully stocked bar in the drawers and several chilled drinks in the refrigerator. During house cleaning, the items that you used are counted and the bill is added to your account. Only take these items if you are really ready to splurge. With a can of soda costing $2.25, these items are highly overpriced! There is a Safeway grocery store just outside of the resort where you can purchase your own supplies at a much lower price.

The Carmel Valley Ranch Resort has its own golf course and its own tennis courts. There is also a heated swimming pool, four spas, and two restaurants. We did not eat in any of the restaurants, so I can't give you a review of them, but if the quailty and prices are the same as room service, then I'd have to rate them quite high for both! You will find that you don't have to tip anyone during your stay since they automatically add $15 per day to your bill for gratuities and an additional 18% plus $2 to all Room Service orders. The only place that tipping would be appropriate is in the restaurants.

If you like wildlife, the Carmel Valley Ranch Resort is definitely the place to stay! There are just 100 cottages scattered over several acres of land. One morning while eating breakfast, a herd (that isn't the right word, is it?) of wild turkeys ran by the window. There had to be at least 20 or 30 of them and they ran by in a long string. I've seen quail do that before through my backyard at home, but these birds were big! One night while driving out of the resort we had to stop and wait while four deer moved off the road! They didn't seem afraid of the cars at all. It seemed like I could have rolled down my window and just reached out and touched them if I wanted to. They remained that close to the road! If you like to walk or jog, there are plenty of pretty places to do that here and you a likely to see more wildlife on your jaunt.

The town of Carmel is about a 10 mile drive from the Carmel Valley Ranch Resort. Its a great place if you like to wander through artist galleries as well as lots of other interesting shops. There are blocks and blocks and blocks of shops! Be sure not to miss the back alleys. You'll find some of the most interesting shops, galleries and restaurants down the back alleys. One of the most famous spots down these alleys is the "Hog's Breath Inn" which is partially owned by Clint Eastwood. It's a favorite day and night spot for both locals and tourists, though Clint Eastwood seldom shows up during the busy season. In case you are wondering, Clint Eastwood used to be the mayor of Carmel but is no longer the mayor. Where he lives in Carmel is a local secret!

From now on, I'm going to try to write about my trips during or immediately after my trip is completed. My original idea was to wait until the photos were processed and then write from the photos. That caused me to write my reviews weeks or months after my trip had been completed. As you can tell by reading my previous reviews, a lot gets lost in that delay. So, for now on, I'm going to try and write my reviews while the trip is still fresh in my mind ... before the photos get back!

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