25 July 2008

Wharf Pass

Woke...sunny. I'm reminded of when a co-worker and his family were taking me on a safari in South Africa...we're driving across the savannah with the sun peeking above the horizon, springboks leaping on a far ridge, a gorgeous sunrise breaking and he turns to me with a big grin on his face and says, "Yep, it's just another crappy day in Africa."

Like that. It's just another crappy day in north California.

We had breakfast and hit the road to actually make the 10:10 ferry out of Larkspur this time. That odd traffic jam around San Rafael just wasn't there so we made it easily.

This time, upon docking we decided to take the MUNI to the wharf instead of walking. Once we got there, we bought Wharf Passes. They had all kinds of options for bundled packages. The Wharf Passes that we bought included a choice of bay cruises, choice of city tours on either double-decker bus or a "trolley," and then an additional choice of 3 (from 6) attractions. The attractions list included stuff we wanted to do anyway (the aquarium, ship museum, wax museum, etc.). Just the first two things would cost more than the Pass if you bought them individually...it seemed like a no-brainer. There were also a lot of coupons and discounts in the booklet, too, but those were mostly not worth much.

We decided the first thing we should do was get on a bay cruise because that had the least flexibility for scheduling. We had a choice of the Red & White fleet or the Blue & Gold fleet. We found the B&G first so that's what we picked. It's a 60-minute cruise along the wharf area, across the bay to the Golden Gate Bridge then back to port via a loop around Alcatraz. It was narrated the whole way, but we were standing outside along the railing and couldn't hear it for the most part.

When we got off the boat, we headed for the aquarium. I wasn't expecting much but it was really a very nice aquarium. The first part was a series of big tanks with various displays...a school of sardines, a coral reef with a big moray eel and colorful fish, a video from a "surf cam"... unmanned video camera attached to a surfboard that was attacked by a shark, etc. I was kind of thinking, "Well, that was nice." but then we walked through the door and instead of walking out of the aquarium, it was the beginning of the "undersea" tank.

You walk down this inclined tube with all the fish swimming and schooling around and over you. At first, it's the 'shallow sea' part...close to the surface with daylight filtering in. But as you continue down the tube, you also get deeper in the 'ocean' to see the different sorts of animals that live at that depth.

In places there would be little "waystations" that had various other displays. One that I thought was really cool was a series of skate egg packets where they had cut away a window in the side of the packet and replaced it with clear plastic so that the embryos could continue to develop but you could see inside.

They were really odd. Each egg packet was mostly rectangular, a dull darkish brown, about the size of my hand and sort of curled over on the shorter ends. If you didn't know what they were and just saw one lying on the seafloor, you might think they were a piece of kelp or old wood. I don't know how thick they were...they were fixed with the flat side to the window but my impression was that they probably weren't as thick as my hand.

Each egg packet could contain up to 7 little skates and there were half a dozen different packets on display in various stages of development. The egg packets are laid by the skates in the exhibit and they pretty much always have packets in all stages of development.

They also had a display of moon jellyfish. Those were cool too.

After the undersea display, there was a "petting pool" area that had several shallow pools where you could touch small skates/rays, leopard sharks, etc.

All in all, it was a much better display than I was expecting and worth the visit.

By then, our legs were really tired so we decided it was a good time for the stop-n-hop tour of the city. The stop-n-hops are designed to drive you by the main sights of the city with a narrated tour. They have a number of scheduled stops where you can get on/off. Your ticket is good for 48 hours so you can get on or off as much as you want in that time. We'd originally planned to use the stop-n-hop as a way to get around town. We ended up just riding the tour for the whole 90 minutes without getting off. There was another tour route that we could have taken also that went across the Golden Gate Bridge but we never got around to doing that one.

We walked back to Pier 39 and had supper at Neptune's Palace at the end of the pier with a wonderful view of the bay, Alcatraz and the sun going down.

We headed back up the Embarcadero to the Wax Museum and perused that. Again, I was expecting a rip-off tourist trap but it was pretty impressive. Every time we'd walk around one room and head toward a door, I'd think that was it but there'd be a whole other section of displays to view. I don't know how many rooms there were total.

The wax figures were kind of uneven. Some of them were really good and looked amazingly like the person depicted. Others were pretty bad. Some were obviously made from a painting or photo. Some were complete fabrications...who knows what Salome actually looked like?

We ended up spending a bit more time than we'd intended and had to rush a little to get to the ferry terminal in time to catch the ferry. We made it by about 5 minutes.