Some of the Ocean Institute's vessels do go out on the water. The calendar of cruises includes trips to see marine wildlife during the day or bioluminescence at night. (Visitors also can join Capt. Dave's Dolphin Safari; the popular Dana Point catamaran operation, not affiliated with the Ocean Institute, looks for dolphins and whales.)
We chose a three-hour tour on the Ocean Institute's other tall ship, the Spirit of Dana Point. Capt. Sully motored us out of the harbor. John, a crewman in a striped T-shirt and cloth cap, divided passengers into teams to raise the sails.
"When I say 'heave,' you say 'ho' and pull hard," John instructed.
Our ship soon was scudding along in a breeze. Capt. Sully gave each child a turn at the helm, and John played a ukulele and sang silly songs and sea chanteys. I leaned back to enjoy the sun on my face and the roll of the waves. Eventually we lost the wind, so the captain switched on the engine to return to harbor.
After soup for me and a kid's sandwich for Kyla at the Brig Restaurant, we shopped at Mariners Village and rounded out the evening with a girls' night in the hotel. We watched "The Princess Diaries" (brought from home) on the VCR and painted each other's fingernails.
Monday was a holiday, so we had the luxury of swimming in the hotel's small pool and relaxing in the spa before breakfast in the Doubletree restaurant. After checking out, we went to Doheny State Beach, a five-minute walk, across PCH.
Kyla enjoyed the visitor center, which features aquariums and an artificial tide pool full of real critters, such as sea stars and hermit crabs. I had brought a falcon-shaped kite, which we assembled but couldn't keep from divebombing into the sand. A passerby with two kids showed me how to tug on the kite's string to flap the falcon's wings every time it began to lose altitude. Kyla raced off to play with her new friends while I swooped the kite below gulls and pelicans.
Our last stop was for lunch at the nearby Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort's Regatta Grill. The view of lush lawns and azure ocean was spectacular, as was my crispy-skin salmon. Kyla was content with a grilled-cheese sandwich. We peeked into one of the guest rooms, refurbished in the resort's recent $10-million renovation. It was luxurious, but our suite at the Doubletree was bigger, and better for my budget.
I still think back to when, as we watched the sun sink past the yacht masts at Mariners Village, Kyla held up two dandelions and said, "Make a wish, Mom." I did. And with any luck, we'll be back in Dana Point soon.
Budget for two
Actual expenses for this trip:
Doubletree hotel, Two nights, parking, tax $162.74
Brunch, Harpoon Henry's $17.23
Tall-ship cruise, Spirit of Dana Point $55.00
Dinner, The Brig Restaurant $11.58
Lunch, Laguna Cliffs Marriott $26.07
Admission, Doheny State Beach $3.00
Other meals $43.27
Final tab $333.08
Doubletree Guest Suites Doheny Beach, 34402 Pacific Coast Highway, Dana Point, CA 92629; (949) 661-1100, reservations (800) 222-8733, fax (949) 489-0628, www.dohenybeach.doubletree.com.
Ocean Institute, 24200 Dana Point Harbor Drive, Dana Point, CA 92629; (949) 496-2274, www.ocean-institute.org.