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December 2016
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Taking CABIN the Overnight Sleeper Bus Service between San Francisco and Los Angeles

Port Of San Francisco Ferry Building

What does a CABIN bus look like?  I understand it isn't a normal bus, but an overnight sleeper bus full of beds that runs between San Francisco and Los Angeles.  The route is pretty simple.   Two overnight CABIN buses depart at 11pm; one is heading South from San Francisco and another heading North out of Los Angeles.  Both arrive at 7am at their destinations.
The CABIN overnight sleeper bus waiting for passengers.

When I arrived at 10:45pm the CABIN coach was right were it should be in an empty parking lot just below the Oakland Bay Bridge.  An attendant confirmed my reservation and showed me around the lower level of the bus.  It included a restroom and some booths for those who can't or do not want to sleep.  Upstairs are the sleeping berths.  If I had luggage, it would have been stored by the attendant and not accessible during the trip. 

A basic overnight sleeper berth on a CABIN bus.

Up a narrow stairway you find each side of the bus has lower and upper beds.  With the lower ones you get on your knees and easily slide in.  The uppers are at about waist height, and you just roll in and out.  Either way the space is tight.  I'm 5ft 11 inches and 185lbs.  I would suspect a person 6ft 2 inches and 220 lbs would easily max out the space.  Each berth had an air vent, an AC power outlet, and two USB outlets.  They provided a USB powered reading light.  Other than that, no internal lighting was available during the night.  Opening your curtain would allow some light to enter from the hall.  The bus has WiFi.

Bus converted to sleeping berths waiting for passengers in San Francisco.

As the 11pm departure time neared, I headed downstairs to change in the washroom.  It would be almost impossible for a person my size to do it in the small berth.  I returned to my bed wearing some light weight bottoms and a t-shirt and pulled closed my curtain.   CABIN provides: Pillow, comforter, large bottle of water, ear plugs, a small bag for shoes and personal items.  They also provide a 2.5 ounce bottle of "Dream Water" which is a mixture of Melatonin and other sleep aid ingredients. (You can buy Dream Water on Amazon)  11pm, departure time, but we didn't move...then we heard a voice in the hallway; it was our attendant for the trip.  She welcomed us aboard and encouraged us to relax, get a good night rest, and assured us that she would be available if we needed anything.  We would be leaving in 20 minutes.  At 11:20 the bus began to move.

Screenshot showing our route from Geo Tracker App

And move we did.  When you are alone in a small darkened space, your senses have only one thing to focus on, and that is the movement.  The sway of the big bus was expected as we made wide turns on the first few city streets, then onto the highway.  The signature feeling of bridge decking was obvious as we crossed the Oakland Bay Bridge just minutes after departure.  But the bumpy roads that continued for the first 30 minutes or so made it difficult to fall asleep.  A GPS app, Geo Tracker, tracked the route and speed on my cell phone. 

Route Screenshot from Geo Tracker AppAfter getting used to the movement, I was dreaming sweet dreams, waking only occasionally and falling immediately  back to sleep.  Then the bus slowed dramatically and began making turns.  Is this Santa Monica?  No, we were moving to the other side of the 5 Freeway so that our Southbound CABIN bus could meet the Northbound CABIN bus and swap crews.  This stop makes sense - it allows the crews to return to their respective homes.  Even before we came to a complete stop at the Coalinga/Arenal Rest Area, I was fast asleep.

 Screenshot from Geo Tracker App  Screenshot from Geo Tracker App
You could call it Mother Nature, or maybe physics that caused the next short sleep interruptions.  The images above are the stats from the Geo Tracker cell phone app covering the ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles.  See the spike on one of the graphs?  Yes, a large elevation bump happens when you approach LA from the North on the 5 Freeway because you pass through a mountainous area known as the Grapevine.  This section of freeway shouldn't be a problem, but the elevation made my ears pop on the way up and on the way down, something I wasn't expecting to interrupt my sleep. 

The Cabin overnight sleeper bus arrives in Santa Monica at 7am.

The last few turns and stops on the streets of Santa Monica, a city on the coastal side of Los Angeles, woke me up and signaled the end of the ride.  The bus pauses here for a few minutes while passengers disembark.  One passenger was still fast asleep and had to be awakened by the attendant.  

View of the Pacific Ocean from the steps of the CABIN overnight sleeper bus.

A million dollar view awaits you as you step off the bus in Santa Monica.  Now that we have some light, I can give you some better photos of the inside spaces of the CABIN bus.

Interior passageway in the CABIN overnight bus.

The 2nd story passageway has an upper and lower berths on both side.  The area has a low ceiling, so watch your head.  At night there is just enough light to see your way to the steps down if you need to visit the washroom or see the attendant.

Upper level berth on CABIN bus.

This is a very small area, but you don't need much space to sleep.  Note that several of the cabins have unblocked windows for safety reasons.  Those passengers are given an eye/sleeping mask to block the light.  My berth had an insert covering the window.  I suggest you bring into your space only what you will need overnight.  I slipped several loose items like my wallet and iPad between the bed and the wall, and piled up my street clothes beside my feet.  The mattress was very comfortable, as was the pillow and bedding.  A single adjustable air conditioning vent kept the temperature just right while I was under the soft comforter. 

Lower level berth on CABIN bus.

TIPS: Bring only what you need into your sleeping space.  If you have too much stuff, ask the attendant if she can store it in a nearby empty berth or downstairs.  Don't expect this to silky smooth ride.  Even on the smoothest road, you will feel some bumps.  I couldn't sleep on my side.  Any slight motion was amplified and I rolled around.  I was much more comfortable on my back or stomach.

Restroom on the CABIN overnight bus.The washroom on the lower level was very, very small.  It was OK for use as a toilet, but as a changing area it wasn't very workable. 

Lounge area on lower level of CABIN bus.

The attendant informed me that if I didn't want to go to sleep right away or if I awoke early, I was welcome to come downstairs and use this seating area.  During my trip, I don't think anyone used this space.  I would suggest CABIN remove one of the tables and create a changing room. 

View of the Santa Monica Pier.

Was the overnight CABIN sleeper bus worth it?  That depends on a variety of factors.  If I lived in LA and needed to be in SFO for a 9am meeting, I would consider it.  Much nicer than getting up at 4am and heading to LAX, or flying in the night before and paying for a hotel.  Or if I dislike flying and didn't want to take the train or regular bus.  For current pricing, check the website.

NOTE: On this ride I was a guest of the CABIN service and didn't pay for my transportation.  I was not compensated in any other way.  If circumstances were right I would use this service again and pay for it out of my own pocket.

I enjoyed my trip and see the value in an overnight sleeper bus on this route.  Like many things in life, the staff told me the second trip is much more comfortable.

Christmas On A Cruise Ship - Aboard the Westerdam, Holland America Line

The Westerdam sitting off of the Mexican Coast during a Christmas cruise.

Many think that boarding a Christmas cruise takes them away from long held traditions and customs.  But on a recent Holland America Line cruise to Mexico, I discovered that isn't always the case.  Sure, cruising an ocean can't duplicate years of holiday memories, but it can create new ones and might be the start of a new tradition.

The Atrium of the Westerdam with Christmas decorations.

At Christmastime on a cruise ship you will definitely see some decorations.  On the Westerdam several of the public spaces were very festive and most of the ship had some kind of holiday adornments.  The central lobby of the ship, known as The Atrium, had a nice tree and poinsettias.  It was often surrounded by groups having photos taken by the ship's photographer.

Stairway leading to the Atrium of Westerdam decorated for Christmas.

The stairs between decks were decorated, as were the railings on the balconies on each level of the atrium.  Since The Atrium of the Westerdam was a central traffic area, it gave plenty of opportunities for viewing these ornaments. 

Decorations around the Lido Market buffet on deck 9.

Holiday flowers, plants, and small Christmas trees were located around the ship, like these in the Lido Restaurant/Buffet.  You can read more about the Westerdam HERE.

A gingerbread village.

On the Westerdam, a portion of one of the lounges was converted into a beautiful gingerbread town depicting landmarks from around the world.  The Holland American Line kitchen staff outdid themselves on this yummy display!

A gingerbread London Bridge with train and lighthouse.

During this Mexico cruise, departing Long Beach California, Christmas Eve was the first evening at sea.  It featured a Vigil Mass, Hanukkah Service, Midnight Mass, and Midnight Interdenominational Services.  In the lounges, the entertainers offered up holiday favorites.  The entertainment staff also spent the evening singing carols in various locations around the ship.  The crew of the Westerdam presented a Christmas Concert featuring traditional songs from their home countries.

Christmas morning in the Atrium of the HAL Westerdam.

December 25th was a day at sea as we headed toward Mexico's Cabo San Lucas.  It had snowed confetti overnight in The Atrium, and everyone was waiting for the arrival of Santa Claus.  The ship's Daily Navigator newsletter said we should expect the arrival of a special visitor that morning in the main theater, the Vista Lounge.

Entertainment staff entertains in the main Vista Lounge stage.

On Christmas Morning, the ship's entertainers took to the Vista Lounge stage and sang carols as passengers awaited the arrival of Santa.  The Captain then made a ship-wide announcement that something unusual was spotted in the water off the port side of the ship.  A boat crew was dispatched to investigate.  Sure enough, they returned with Santa Claus and a few of his helpers.  A video screen in the lounge showed Santa as he moved through the ship, being distracted at every turn.  First it was the buffet, then the casino, then the salon and spa.  His helpers would constantly remind him he had children waiting.  

Santa has arrived at The Main Stage on the Westerdam.

Santa found his way to the Vista Lounge stage and was greeted by shouts of glee from children of all ages.  He took to the stage as the ship's staff passed out cookies to the watching audience.

Santa has gifts for all the children.

A line of excited children quickly formed, and the jolly old man began passing out wrapped packages.  In traditional fashion, most of the kids were excited to meet Santa on Christmas, but others were a bit confused and shy.

Westerdam Atrium lobby after Christmas party.

It was a busy morning on the Westerdam, and someone had a lot of cleaning up to do in The Atrium.  Over the next few days the decorations slowly disappeared, and the ship took on the normal, everyday appearance.  A few other observations of this holiday cruise: As would be expected, lots of families were on-board, and the ship was full.  Wikipedia says the capacity is 1848 passengers; we had 2065.  I'm sure most of this was extra kids staying with parents.  At times the ship felt crowded, but you could almost always find a quiet spot to sit and read or have a drink. 

Mexico as seen from the promenade deck on the Holland America Westerdam.

Mexico is a beautiful country, and the Western coast is a great cruise destination.  During this seven day cruise, we visited Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan.  We traveled 2169 NM with an average speed of appx. 16 knots.  You can listen to a podcast about this Christmas Cruise HERE.


(NOTE: Four months after this cruise, the Westerdam entered dry-dock for routine maintenance and some upgrades.  It was nice to see that Holland America Line is keeping this already beautiful ship in tip-top shape.)