View of Catalina Island from the ocean

Catalina Island Cruise Port, The Ultimate Guide

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Catalina Island is a popular stop on several west coast cruises. It is a popular stop on 4-day cruises on cruise lines such as Carnival and Disney, which make for the perfect cruise getaway on the West Coast, and longer cruises such as the 11-day Pacific Coast cruises by Royal Caribbean and the 21-day Circle Hawaii and Pacific Coastal cruise by Holland America. Whichever cruise you arrive on, you will discover that Catalina Island is the perfect stop. Catalina Island is beautiful and has been compared to European coastal towns. If Catalina is a port stop on your cruise itinerary, you will have the perfect opportunity to explore and enjoy visiting this little island paradise. Keep reading to learn more about the Catalina Island Cruise Port and the many wonderful excursions that await!

Where is Catalina Island?

Catalina is located 29 miles off the coast of California and yes, it is part of the State of California. Catalina Island is part of the Channel Island Archipelago. While it may seem funny to mention that Catalina Island is part of California we have been asked several times if we are still in the United States when arriving on Catalina Island.  Prior to arriving at the Catalina Island cruise port, cruise ships sail in the area for about 16 hours. It might seem as though the cruise ship has traveled far away. It really hasn’t since the Cataline Island cruise port is only 29 miles from mainland California.

The Beautiful Town of Avalon 

Avalon is the town you will visit when your cruise stops on Catalina Island. While there are other areas to visit on Catalina Island, Avalon is the largest and most visited town on the island and is right by the Catalina Island cruise port or, better said, the area where your tender will arrive from the cruise ship. Avalon is a relatively small, beach front, walkable town that is very easy to explore. You will have the opportunity to do several excursions throughout the day during your stop in Avalon or nothing at all. A port day in Avalon can be very laid back and relaxing.

View of the town of Avalon on Catalina Island
View of Avalon

Disembarking on Catalina Island

When cruise ships arrive in Catalina Island, they do not dock in town. Instead, the ship anchors just offshore. When disembarking, passengers will take a tender boat from the ship to get to the Catalina Island cruise port on shore. When the tendering process begins, you will be led to the gangway to get on the tender boats. There are typically two gangways used for the process. You will make your way down to the gangway per your cruise ship’s directions. Once you are on the tender boat and it is full, you will make your way to shore. 

Typically, passengers not booked on an excursion through the cruise line will need to have a tender ticket in order to get off the ship. If you booked an excursion through the cruise line, your ticket for the excursion is your tender ticket, so make sure you have your tickets with you when you leave the ship. Your excursion tickets will have information on the meeting time and location on the island.

Each cruise line will have its own process for tendering passengers to shore so your experience could differ from this information. The ride on the tender boat to the dock at the Catalina Island cruise port is very short and lasts about 5 or so minutes.

Finding Your Cruise Excursion

After getting off the tender boat, there will be several representatives from the cruise ship. They are there to assist you and will help you find the meeting places for your excursions. You will see signs for the different excursions making it easy for you to find your excursion. Once you find where you need to be, you will check in and provide the tour operator with your ticket. After everyone checks in, you will be led to where your excursion will officially begin.

Getting to Avalon from the Dock

If you go towards the right after getting off the tender boat, you will walk towards the town of Avalon. If you would like to get a great picture of the cruise ship, we recommend going towards the left. Going in this direction will take you towards lockers which are available to rent and public restrooms. This area is also where the Catalina Express docks. The Catalina Express has daily routes from various cities on the California mainland. From this part of the pier, you will have the perfect spot to get a great picture of your cruise ship. You can also feed the fish from the pier for 25 cents. If you feed the fish, you will more than likely see an abundance of orange colored fish. The orange fish are found in abundance around Catalina Island. They are Garibaldi which is California’s state fish.

View of Garibaldi swimming around kelp at Lover's Cove on Catalina Island
Garibaldi fish swimming around kelp

Exploring Avalon on Your Own

Since Avalon is a small town and very walkable, it is easy to explore on your own. Most of the shops you will find in Avalon are along the boardwalk and down some of the streets. There are also several restaurants and bars along the boardwalk. A popular option is to rent a golf cart during your visit and drive around the town. You will notice that the main vehicles used for transportation on Catalina Island are golf carts. You can drive up the hill to get a beautiful scenic photo of Avalon overlooking the ocean.

If you have little ones, you can take them to the mini golf course that is a little inland from the boardwalk. There is also a playground, basketball courts, and a volleyball court near the dock where the tender boat drops you off. The beach in Avalon, while small, is a great place to hang out with kids. The waves on the beach are very calm and the water is very swimmable. If you are in town with teens, there is also an arcade in town where they can enjoy several games.

When walking around the boardwalk, stop by Lloyds of Avalon. Lloyds is a candy store that sells saltwater taffy and other sweet treats like ice cream and candy. You can also walk down to the iconic Catalina Casino. Avalon is a great town that you can easily walk around and explore on your own during your day at Catalina Island.

Catalina Island Tours On Your Own

While Avalon is a small town, there are lots of tours you can enjoy during your stay.  Catalina is an island with many opportunities to enjoy its surrounding landscape and history as well as the pacific ocean.

A popular tour on Catalina is the Semi-Submarine tour of the bay. This is a 45 minute tour of the marine life at Lover’s Cove. Lover’s Cove is a State Marine Conservation Area and a popular spot for snorkeling and scuba diving on Catalina Island. You will see beautiful Kelp forest which is commonly found around Catalina Island and the sea life is abundant in this area. 

Another popular tour is the Two-Hour Inside Tour of Catalina Island. This tour will take you to the inside of Catalina Island where you will see its wildlife such as deer, bald eagles, and bison, visit the nature center and also a Native American gathering site. 

An exciting way to explore the town of Avalon is to go on the Catalina Crusade Scavenger Hunt. On the scavenger hunt you will compete with other teams while walking to checkpoints to interpret clues and take challenges for points. This is a great way to get to know the town of Avalon.   

One of the most exciting tours is the Fantastic Catalina Race. This tour is similar to the television show The Amazing Race. Each team will receive clues and challenges that need to be solved in order to proceed to the next challenge. This is an exciting excursion that is tons of fun. We did this excursion when we last cruised to Catalina Island and it was absolutely incredible. 

Excursions Offered by the Catalina Island Company

The Catalina Island Company offers both land and ocean tours on Catalina Island. One of the benefits of booking a tour through the Catalina Island Company is the savings. You can look at the tours they have  available on the Catalina Island Company website. These are a couple of the popular tours offered by the Catalina Island Company.

Discover Avalon Tour

The Catalina Island Company offers many tours for visitors. One of the most popular tours is the Discover Avalon Tour. The tour is a narrated tour that takes you along the beachfront and up the hills of Catalina Island. This scenic tour is done in an open-air vehicle, so you can take pictures of the beautiful views as you drive around. You will learn about the history of Catalina Island and Avalon. You will also get the chance to see the views from the hillside near the Wrigley Estate. Yes, Wrigley, as in Wrigley Gum and Wrigley Field. Fun fact: the Wrigley family owned a large share of the island and, to this day, owns Catalina Island Company. In fact, Catalina Island was where the Chicago Cubs used to do their Spring Training until 1951.

Go on a Glass Bottom Boat Tour

Want a fun way to take your kids out on the water to see sea life at Catalina Island? Take your kids on a Glass Bottom Boat tour. The glass bottom boat tour has a section in the center of the boat with glass. As the boat goes around the bay and nearby Lover’s Cove, you can look through the glass to see the marine life beneath the boat. You will get a better view of the marine life that lives in some of the surrounding kelp forests on Catalina Island.

View of a Glass Bottom boat tour on Catalina Island
Glass Bottom Boat

Catalina Island Excursions by Local Tour Operators

There are several things to do on Catalina Island through local tour companies. You can book these tours ahead of time before your cruise. You can wait until you arrive on Catalina Island to book with a local tour operator. However, keep in mind that Catalina Island is a popular place to visit and vacation. It is very common for people to make day trips to Catalina Island via the Catalina Express since it is only about an hour away from Long Beach and San Pedro on the mainland. Your cruise line will more than likely book their excursions through some of the local vendors so there is a chance that some excursions will be sold out. It is best to plan ahead and book in advance. 

Catalina Island Cruise Excursions Offered by the Cruise Lines 

As with any port, cruise lines offer excursions in Catalina Island. Since Avalon is a small town, fewer cruise excursions are offered compared to other ports of call. However, there are several you can choose from. The majority of the excursions offered do not take up too much time, so you will still have plenty of time to walk around and enjoy Avalon.

Go for a Ride Along the Coast of Catalina Island

You can sail along the coast of Catalina on a sailboat. There will likely be two options to choose from. You can choose a sailing adventure along the coast or a luxury sailing adventure that will also see the same areas plus some additional spots. While sailing along the coast of Catalina Island, you will pass by the iconic Casino Theater. You will also see several coves along your coastal sail. 

As you sail, you will see a rock formation referred to as Frog Rock and Gallagher Cove. You will likely see sea lions in this area before continuing to see other parts of the coast of Catalina Island. While sailing out on the coast, you may even see dolphins. You will go by Toyon Bay and Willow Cove, where you will likely see Blue Herons and sea caves. As you sail, you will notice areas of underwater kelp forest. There are many kelp forests along the coast. Many fish, like Garibaldi, can be found swimming through the kelp.

Get a Birds Eye View of Catalina while Parasailing

A fun excursion to do on Catalina Island, if you are not afraid of heights, is parasailing. When parasailing, you will soar about 800 feet in the air around Avalon Bay out to the ocean. You will have breathtaking views of Avalon and an awesome view of the cruise ship. If you want, you can have the parasailing company dip your feet in the water. If you do not want to have your feet dipped in the ocean, you do not have to do this. You can go parasailing on your own or do a tandem (side-by-side) flight with someone in your group. If you do decide to go parasailing, the minimum age is 5 years old, and the minimum combined weight is 160 pounds, with a maximum combined weight of 450 pounds. Each harness has a 250-pound maximum weight.

View of someone parasailing on Catalina Island
Parasailing on Catalina Island

Race Around Catalina in the Fantastic Catalina Race

Are you up for a little competition? Then do the Fantastic Catalina Race. The Fantastic Catalina Race is a similar concept to the Amazing Race. In groups of at least two people, you will solve clues to get your next clue and ultimately get to the finish line. You will be given a map of key places around Avalon to help you along the race.

Along the way, you will see multiple points of interest in Avalon. You will play games while earning a clue and get a snack along the way. A key to the Fantastic Catalina Race is not overthinking some clues. You will lose time if you overthink some of the clues like we did. The fastest team to the finish line wins. At the end of the race, you can relax with a drink and a snack as you watch other teams complete the race.

If you do sign up to do the Fantastic Catalina Race, there will be a lot of walking. There may even be running, depending on how competitive you are. Doing this excursion and racing through Avalon is a lot of fun. 

Go Check Out Seals at Seal Rock on a Safari Cruise

While on Catalina Island, you can go on a cruise to Seal Rock. Seal Rock is where many seals on Catalina Island like to swim, relax in the sun, and play with each other. On the way to Seal Rock, you will cruise on the southeast coast of Catalina Island. Along the way, you may see various sea life and possibly some birds diving in the water. As you cruise, you will likely see dolphins; depending on the season, you may even see whales. Cruising along the coast of Catalina Island, you will see many kelp forests with abundant sea life. During this cruise, you will learn about the island and marine life that calls Catalina Island home.

Go looking for Dolphins and Wildlife off the Coast of Catalina Island

On this cruise excursion, you will cruise the Catalina Island coast. As you cruise along the coast, keep an eye out for the different sea life around the island. This cruise off the coast is about two hours long, giving you plenty of time to find a dolphin or other wildlife. If you do this tour during the winter months of December through March, you may get lucky enough to spot gray whales. If you go during the summer, you might spot a blue whale. During this cruise, your tour guides will provide you with fun facts about dolphins and Catalina Island.

Enjoy Your Port Day on Catalina Island!

Catalina Island is one of the best ports you can visit while on a cruise. You are still in the US but the island has a European feel to it. It’s a great place to spend a day while on your cruise vacation. A day in Avalon is very relaxing. Its laid-back vibe adds to the peacefulness you will experience while on the island. We know you will thoroughly enjoy your port day on Catalina Island.

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