Star Princess San Francisco to Buenos Aires 12/05/12 We were able to get on the ship fairly early, we arrived at 11:15 and made it onto the ship by noon. Muster was early, at 3:20, and we had daylight as we sailed away under the Golden Gate Bridge! This ship was filled with some nice folks and good energy, I expected the cruise would be fantastic
Embarkation was easy and quick. We found our friends in line before we got on the ship. We had a strange lunch, the dining room was open but there were only 2 choices on the menu--fish and beef. We asked for extra veggies and a salad, which was not on the menu.
The staff was very nice and friendly. Our captain was Edward Perrin, JJ Ullrich was our Cruise director, and Rui Pereira was the Maitre 'd. We met Rui the day we embarked and he was generous with our cruise critic group helping us plan several luncheons for this and the next cruise. He also helped us get an assigned table with our friends Gloria and Lew.
There were a lot of activities going on all day long; we had lectures on ports with Joe May, and a lecture on Lewis & Clark in the afternoon with Lenard Davis. Mama Mia and many other movies and concerts played on Muts, as well as NFL football (Denver vs Raiders), and nature movies such as the Beasts of the Southern Wild. My husband Ken was thrilled to find Bridge daily, while I preferred playing Pictonary, shopping, and roaming the decks for quiet places to read and write. Trivia was held at least 3 times a day, and some nights we had TV themed trivia, as well as music themed "name that tune" trivias. I'd been training my whole like for the music trivias! There were only a few trivia fights which was very contained compared to other cruises I have been on
The Internet was screwy and slow much of the time, it took me up to 25 minutes to copy and paste my live posts. I mostly wrote off line to save minutes. It was always time for a few laps around the Promenade deck, lunch was usually yummy and It seemed like I always needed to make room for dinner. ;)
We spotted a pod of whales off our port side balcony and hoped we would see more. It was not quite whale season here, since it began Dec 15. We continued to spot huge pods of dolphins; sometimes it looked like there was hundreds out there. They were huge dolphins, and half the ship came out on decks to watch their acrobatics because the staff and captain always announced their presence. It was very nice that the captain was so comfortable narrating these moments.
I started to order a big bowl of berries for breakfast on the first day and got them every morning of the cruise, which surprised me because they don't usually do that. The staff on this ship was outstanding, kind, friendly, and generous. There was a new kid named Brandon and although this was his first contract, he was fantastic, a true pro. I see big possibilities in the future for him on Princess. He ran a great trivia game, he was understandable, funny, and from someplace in the southern US. Hopefully he will still be on when some of you join us or take a later SA cruise, I am sure you will all enjoy him.
I met Joe May for the first time. He lectured on Central America and he offered very good information. I can see why many cruise critic friends were so impressed. The theater was jam packed for his lectures, Ken and I had to stand in the isles but he was worth it. However I was not able to talk to him about how long his contract was, but he stayed on the ship for both cruises we were on.
We had a big get together with our dear cruise critic friends, we all ate lunch together at a table for 10, and met again at 5PM in Skywalkers. They alternated the foods they served in Skywalkers nightly and always had veggies, olives, cheeses and more. It was yummy. Sometimes we talked for so long during our impromptu get togethers that we missed our assigned seating. Then we would just head up to the Horizon court to eat.
I have to say that our room steward was incredible. We were in room b732 and his name is Reynaldo C. I throw my shoes into the bottom of the closet and never arrange them but Reynaldo did it every day until I felt obligated to keep them neat. It's a good thing! He was very attentive but never imposing, and he never forgot to bring us anything we asked for. He was a keeper!
One night we played Beatles "name that tune" and got 19 out of 20 but we did not win. It was great fun to sing the songs anyway. After we played Majority rules. This is a hilarious game, I laughed until I cried. We enjoyed both games and missed the shows because they were so fun.
12/8/12 Cabo San Lucas
It's warm and sunny outside, a perfect day to visit Cabo San Lucas. We saw many whales off our balcony this morning, as well as dolphins and sea lions.. As we are parked in the bay, we are surrounded by people on paddle boards, wave riders, and many tender boats. We have 6 Princess tenders and 6 local tenders, it looks like everybody will get off quickly.
We walked everywhere with our friends, shopped a little and went to a bar and had chips, dip, and buckets of beer for almost nothing ($10). All in all it was a very nice day. There were so many tenders available that there was no lines going or coming.
We had a code Alpha announcement early in the morning and A minute after the code alpha, there was another announcement about a school of dolphins on the port side. I am so glad we are on the port side of the ship; we are seeing a lot of dolphins, whales, and jumping fish! If you are booking this cruise, try to get the port side!
We had an informal get together with our gang of 10 at the Elite lounge, we had such a good time many of us missed our assigned seating for dinner so we went to the buffet instead. I really like the new configuration with the desserts separated from the other food because it is easier to avoid it and stay on my diet! Still, I looked and then grabbed a dessert for Ken and then got to taste it and it was good. Chocolate pecan pie was yummy.
We visited Guatemala as our second port stop, it was hot and sticky at the port but having chosen to go to Antigua was an excellent choice because it is above 550 thousand feet and was perfect weather, cool without the sticky air.
We made a mistake and took a Princess tour to the Filadelfia Coffee Plantation and hotel, mostly hotel! We also visited Antigua to learn of its history, and do a little shopping. This cost $99 each and included a basic lunch of baked potato, a quarter of a piece of corn on the Cobb, beans, guacamole and chips, and a iffy piece of meat which was too underdone for lots of people.
The plantation was nice but seemed fictional, more of a mock up to demo the process they use making their coffee rather then a real processing plant. It was interesting to learn how they grow, pick, husk the seed, dry and ferment them, and finally roast and package them for consumption. They make three grades of coffee there, and we did get to taste the coffee at lunch. Unfortunately they did not give us enough warning and time to go buy any. We were told that the coffee could be bought cheaper in Antigua, but in fact it was 25% more expensive. I did not get any!
Although there was no indication that we would be taken to any factories--we took this tour to avoid the ones we were taken to on our last visit here several years ago-- we were immediately taken to the "jade" museum which we had visited before. Museum is code for huge boring store where the guide gets a commission if you buy stuff! They even put a string necklace on each of us to identify which guide was due the commission! Our guide was going to make us stay there a half hour but I incited a mutiny when I told him I told him I did not want to stay since I had been there before! Many of the people on out tour agreed and he left the few people at the store and walked us around the corner to a crafts market where we were at least able to walk around and look, and of course buy stuff too.
We should have either gone on our own or taken the Princess "on your own" tour instead. We should have known when the day started off with the chaos of humanity all trying to get off the ship at the same time. We had a tough time finding our tour, even our husbands who are gentlemen and let others go ahead making it easier for them to get lost. It did not seem organized at all.
Guatemala is a nice place, we love the colorful fabrics and people too. Beware of the children who hound you to shine their shoes, they should be in school but instead are pounding people for anything they an get! I made the mistake of giving one child a few bucks and before I knew it many kids were asking me for the same. The most disturbing thing was that the original kid I gave money to came back to me many times asking me if he could shine my shoes. I told him if he went to school he would remember that he had already asked me!
Several days before on the ship I met a teacher who was trying to gather stuff to bring to a school near the port, she needed pens for all of the students and I managed to secure her pens, water bottles, and a few other trivia gifts to bring them. Last night I she found me at trivia and told me the school was not open. She said Captain Ed Perrin offered to take her to an orphanage where she was able distribute the pens and other goodies to some needy children. What a nice guy!
12/12/12 San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua
We had a problem today, some passengers saw a small boat of fisherman and called the Captain to tell him that they were in trouble. So we had to go back and find them to make sure they were okay, it took an hour to double back and when we found them, they were waving fish at us because nothing was wrong. Unfortunately this caused a tremendous delay and we did not arrive until an hour later.
This port only allows one tender at a time, it takes a long time to disembark passengers under the best of circumstances and we have a full ship! So we were all called to report to the Princess Theater 45 minutes later than our tour tickets indicated, and the theater was full, jammed with people. We waited, as they announced that we would still get our full tour, but I was beginning to doubt this as it approached 2:30! It is an hour and a half each way to Granada, and we were also visiting the Tobacco plantation and Park central. Anyway, Gloria and Lew were on a different excursion, which included lunch, but as it approached 3pm it seemed unlikely that they would be eating lunch and swimming in lake Nicaragua in the dark is not fun! I see my friend marching to the excursion people and I know she is speaking for us all; we want our money back! She announced to me and I announced to my side of the theater that if you turn your tickets in you will get a full refund. Thank you Princess.
It's 3:30 now and the last tender will be by 6:30, but they just announced that no more tender tickets are required, so that means most people are off and it took hours to get them off. By my reckoning, people will need to stars coming back now if they expect to get everybody by 6:30's all aboard. We decided to stay on the ship since it is so hot and muggy and standing in a tender line on shore for hours didn't sound like fun.
Please be aware of the tender limitations of this port when you are planning your excursions. In fact, this was not even the worst news of the day. We all got notices that we may not be allowed to get into any Argentinean ports, including Buenos Aires, if we go to the Falklands. So far they are just warning us of this potential problem and obviously we would rather miss one port than many in Argentina.
Today's problems could clearly delay us in a domino effect on all the upcoming ports, and we prepaid for a gourmet tour to Lima, if we arrive late we might lose our money. C'est la vie!
In retrospect the whole experience in SJDS was very interesting, I had never experienced a day like that on a ship. We arrived late to Nicaragua (SJDS), a tender port that allows only one tender to dock at a time. The captain announced that we should add 45 min. To our tours so we went to the Princess Theater at 12:15 rather than 11.30. We sat and waited and watched the theater become more and more packed. By 1:30 we knew something was up but when I asked about how we could do the full tour at that point, the staff told us not to be concerned.
One tour at a time was called to the tenders, they each took so long that by 3 pm we knew it was going to be a strange day. Gloria asked about her lunch tour and was finally told that if she wanted to cancel and turn in her tickets, she could do that. That info quickly spread through the entire theater and once again we encountered a mass of people flooding out to turn in their tickets! We did just that.
Ken figured that they were running about 6 drop offs per hour, with 5 tenders in the bay making the run, one at a time to the dock! We had all been to SJDS several times before and decided to stay on the ship. We had Wine time with Gloria and Lew on their huge forward balcony and enjoyed ourselves despite missing our tours.
We were supposed to leave by 6, then 6:30, and the tenders kept coming back to the ship. We watched the sunset then went to eat; the dining room was almost completely empty. At 7:30 we ran to "name that tune trivia" and the room was empty. Easy win for us!
Long story short, by 8 pm there were still 700 people waiting to tender back to the ship in the dark. We were all glad we didn't go ashore, and many said that tendering in the dark was not so fun! This day was quite memorable, and I think even if we were not late, we would have had problems tendering all the people in a timely manner. Moral of this story is when you come to SJDS get off the ship as quick as you can and come back early, unless you like chaos.
All night the ship jammed to Puntarenas, Costa Rica much faster than normal, but still it was steady and the seas were smooth. By 5 in the morning it was already getting light and I could see we were approaching our destination.
12/13/12 Puntarenas, Costa Rica: Monteverde Cloud Forest
We made it on time to Puntarenas, the ship hauled ass gliding through the seas like a bullet. Good job Captain Perrin! The seas have been so smooth, and the weather has been perfect so far. Last night was the first night we've had any clouds at all, of course the Geminid meteor shower peaked last night and we could not see a thing. We are stargazers and being in the middle of the ocean is a perfect place to find dark skies and few lights but only when there are no clouds. Oh well, we cruise every December and eventually we will catch some shooting stars.
We all ignored the excursion instructions to bring warm clothing and rain gear to Monteverde, naturally it was pouring; driving cold rain that kept us wet the whole day. If you go to a cloud forest be smart and know there will be clouds and probably some rain. At 6,000 ft above the sea it's not as warm. This is what makes the cloud forest so unique In the middle of the tropics.
In spite of not being prepared, we had a wonderful time! This is such a special place; it is one of very few places that has been preserved for the last 80 or so years because of a group of people who protected it from us. It was more than I imagined, the beauty of the forest covered in fog, with weather that changes from one minute to the next.
Our tour included a ride on a train through this magical forest, nothing about it was concocted and though the train was a bit hokey, it truly brought us a better appreciation of the flora and fauna of this area. We visited a platform in the middle of this place to rest and warm up with some coffee, the brave (and better prepared) had a walk through the forest while we stayed put under the protection of cover. On our way back to the starting point, the train pooped out and did not want to make that final run back up to the starting point. We backed up and tried to race up it and this failed several times. By then I was thinking " I think I can, I think I can" in my head and finally our little Choo Choo train made it!
We had a typical Costa Rican meal of rice, beans, meat, and veggies with Guava juice and more coffee. Then we headed back down the mountain, slowly meandering down the gravel bumpy road and trying to not look out at the close ledge on my side of the bus. Once we hit the paved road it was much smoother, thankfully there was a bathroom on the bus!
We visited a dumb market filled with the typical crap that is touted as genuine Costa Rican made, but it sure looked like stuff made on the other side of the Pacific in China. Our guide told us that Costa Ricans find bargaining insulting. This made me laugh, and I did not spend any money there at all, preferring to frequent places that bargain. It's all the same stuff anyway.
We did spot A lot of Monkeys along the road from Monteverde, as well as dogs, cattle, and lots of termite nests, which a grossly large. Our guide stopped us at what looked like a regular river but after our driver ran down, collected water, and passed it around we got to feel that it was very warm spring water. We also learned a out the different trees and flowers along the road. I got some scrapbook samples of leaves and flowers. My friend freaked me out when she told me the leaves had cucaracha's on it, I threw it down and as she laughed at me I realized she was making a funny! I hate cockroaches. We laughed a lot!
Got back to the ship with several minutes to spare, and it was time to say goodbye to Costa Rica. We visited the elite lounge for sushi, cleaned up, and made it to dinner by 6. Sunset was exquisite, as they usually are, and we watched it from our lovely window table. It was an excellent day, and our last stop in Central America. South America here we come.
12/15/12 Sea Day (formal)
Today was a perfect rest day after several ports. We had a lazy breakfast with our friends and looked at the new "south American" stuff in the shops. The day before the boutiques were closed as they changed out all the Hawaiian and Panama Canal clothing and other do-dads. I figure all the other stuff will be in the next 3 hour sale, we've already had one.
Although we crossed the equator late last night, we had the crossing of the equator ceremony during the day and it was fun. The Staff captain was deeply involved in this ceremony and he emerged covered with all sorts of nasty looking stuff. It did not last nearly as long as the ceremony I witnessed on the Pacific Princess. The chair hogs were ever present as people dumped piles of towels on loungers and came to claim then much later!
Manta, Ecuador 12/16/12
We arrived early in Manta, maybe 6am. There is an all day excursion to Quito which involves a long drive and a plane ride, it costs about a $1,000 per person. We did not choose that option!
Instead we opted for a private full day tour and our guide Juan Carlos promptly picked us up at the port by 8:30. Juan Carlos, a young man with a pleasant personality, was a little shy but really took good care of us. We also had a driver who followed us around, driving to the bottom of hills and helping us avoid long uphill walks.
Our first stop was a house made of poop! There was a Princess bus already there and we opted for our guide to tell us about it while we stayed in the car! Anyway, the poop house kind of grossed us out, we did learn about it from afar and we did not not have to mix with the large tour group. Our guide smiled and we continued on.
This area is very dry, the dry tropics, although it was pleasantly cloudy and not nearly as warm as we had expected. We headed up to the Pacoche rain forest (actually semi humid forest) where we set out for our walk in the forest. Beware that this walk is somewhat challenging in that we descended into the deep forest along a somewhat slippery path that included rickety stairs, bridges made of logs, and lots of slippery rocks. I am not trying to dissuade anybody from doing this, it was incredible, but I am warning you to wear tennis shoes or hiking boots. Anyway, we had a guide and an interpreter along with us as well as another small group of 5 from the ship that was lucky because one of them also spoke Spanish so we actually had two interpreters and that was fabulous. Our guide was quite engaging as he described the flora a fauna of the area. We were all concerned a out how we would climb out of this place but our guide assured us that we would not have to climb back up. By the time we reached the floor of the forest we could hear howling and all sorts of bird songs. We were following a small river that was quite challenging but at this point we banded together in what became a fantastic team building opportunity.
All the men helped the woman and each other as we forged up the river and nobody got hurt! It was a wonderful experience, one that we might not have chosen if it was described to us any other way than a "walk". Anyway we quietly made our way up the stream when suddenly trees full of Howler Monkeys surrounded us. Our guide pointed out the alpha male, and his family that included many young monkeys. Alpha male made his way down towards us, he needed to check us out and make sure we were not going to hurt his family. All became quiet until he decided we were ok and the he climbed back up to the treetops and off he and his family went. We were blown away to see these creatures in their natural habitat, a much different experience than the Costa Rican tours where the Monkeys are encouraged to visit us because we have food for them! We continued though the forest when I began to hear what I thought was cars on a road. Suddenly we approached final bridge, which leads to the road, and there was our driver and our guide! We all felt like we really accomplished something great and at the very least we had our workouts!
Back in the van, several hours had passed since we started our walk/hike and it was time for lunch. Our full day tour, which cost $90 pp, included a nice lunch in a restaurant in Manta. We had an option to pre-order chicken with apples, chicken and filet mignon, or fish. We put in our orders a few days before we got to Manta. The restaurant was lovely, the owner quite friendly, and we all sat together on a long table, maybe there were 20 people, all from our CC group. We laughed as we were all served chicken wrapped around veggies with an apple sauce, Filet mignon with a mushroom sauce, vegetables, garlic bread, coke and water, and a creamy dessert which I did not eat because I a. Trying to diet. LOL. None of us got what we pre- ordered but we liked it enough to not bother asking for something else. We laughed about it instead of complaining, my group of affable folks all easy going and gracious because we are well traveled and appreciate the mistakes which turn into benefits!
After lunch, we headed to the Archeological museum in Manta. A lovely girl took us on an abbreviated tour, shortened because we were running late and all the girls wanted to have time to shop! Last stop was the museum gift store where we all bought incredibly inexpensive small statues and ivory nut carvings. Don't miss this gift shop!
Next we headed to Montechristi, a quaint town in the hills above Manta. Along the way we saw ships that were stuck in the mud flats caused by a low tide, and many fishermen cleaning fish with a line of birds behind them for their cast offs! It was funny to see that bird line.
In Montechristi we saw the church but did not go in because time was running short. We ran into a large mob of bus people (those on Princess tours) and many street vendors. We stopped at the Panama hat factory. Had our pictures taken with a woman weaving hats, and Juan Carlos taught us how to pick the real deals from the fakes that apparently disintegrate with time! The real hats are rolled up and stored in lovely boxes, the weave is tight, and the color is uniform. There was plenty of "shops, booths, and street vendors and we all bought things as a mementos of our visit to Manta. We all agreed that this day was spectacular and filled with much fun and joy. I highly recommend taking this tour and if you need specifics I will report them when I get home.
Metropolitan Touring Manta
Full day tour of Manta, Montecrisiti and Pacoche
Calle 13 N' 1235 y Av. Cuarta
Manta - ManabÃ - Ecuador
Telefono: (593-5) 2-620095
MÃ³vil: (593-9) 999053927 / 0993883856
12/17/12 & 12/18/12 Lima. Peru
We arrived in Lima and before we docked, there were problems! Another ship was in our berth and we were delayed by an hour or so, the international cafe was jammed with People waiting to go on tours. Getting off the ship for us was a huge bummer, mass chaos and nobody knowing where to go for the various shuttles. Princess offered a free shuttle to the Marriott hotel, which is close to a shopping mall on the side of a cliff over the ocean. We had a private tour planned, and there was another shuttle that took us to the gate of the busy commercial port. They would not allow anybody to simply walk off so aside from the Princess tours, these two options were the only options. I got the impression that nobody actually knew how this worked but by the grace of the universe we found a "gate shuttle" and found our tour guide waiting. This was the beginning of an incredible day!
Lucas (our guide and owner) and driver Jaime were standing waiting for us, they scurried the 6 of us onto their van and off we went on a culinary adventure. We used Capital Culinaria (Lima Gourmet Tours) owned by Lucas and Samantha Montes de Oca. Their website is www.limaculinarytour.com. This was one of the best tours I have ever been on and I am happy to share my experiences with all of you. From the second we got on the bus until late at night when we were dropped at the port gate, Lucas guided (an protected) us through the various districts of this large and crowded city.
The port area of Callao is very bad, you can see the area is dangerous and most of the establishments are covered in barbed wire as if they were prisons. As we got closer to Lima, the area got nicer and we saw every fast food restaurant you could imagine including a two story McDonalds which offered delivery!
Our first stop was at the Larco Museum in the district of Pueblo Libre, a beautiful museum with lush gardens. We headed to their restaurant for lunch. The menu was designed by Peru's most famous chef, Gaston Acurio, dining was outside in the terrace gardens. This was one of the best meals I've had on this trip, and maybe in my life! We started with a Pisco Sour that was yummy and quite strong-- I only took a sip but I could tell this was a happy making drink. The first course was a yellow potato dish that melted in our mouths; my husband got a different first course, a delicious salad. Before I go on I must tell you about the humongous corn they have here which they serve as corn nuts, as well as in many dishes. We had a bowl of huge corn nuts on the table that were delicious and plentiful. Next course was a delightful fusion of Asian and Peruvian food, a stir fry with beef and veggies that was very yummy, although weal old have ordered anything off the menu, Lucas advises us to try it and we were all grad we did. Finally we were served dessert, a pudding/Mousse made from a local fruit that tasted like butterscotch.
Next we were taken on a guided tour of the museum, we had an English-speaking museum guide who showed us all the wonderful artifacts and explained their meanings. One of our last museum stops was the sex room, filled with all imaginable symbols of sexual acts and phallic symbols. Of course this was our favorite room and the 6 of us took many pictures. ;) The last room we visited was an archive of all the items this museum owned, from pottery to jewelry, there were rows and rows of items and we were all suitably impressed. At the end of the tour our guide took pictures of us at all the best places, and we were off to our next sight!
As we headed to the Church of San Francisco with its legendary catacombs, we got a glimpse of the traffic in Lima as well as the vast population of government workers who crowd the streets and the roads. Lucas pointed out a colorful shantytown on a hill above the city where many of these workers live, their average monthly salaries equaled about $600 US dollars.
The Church was beautiful, located down town in a square filled with pigeons and people. We entered the church and had a tour of the church above ground. Then we descended down to the catacombs, which were interesting but not for the claustrophobic. The smell of earth was pleasing to me, and the plots of bones, sorted by type, were very interesting if not a little macabre. We all enjoyed this,
Next we had a visual tour of the center of Lima including la plaza Mayor, Plaza San Martin, the president's residence, and more. We toured during rush hour, giving a new meaning to the feeling of being in a giant traffic jam! We saw all this as we headed for the upscale colonial district of Barranco. We saw a beautiful Starbucks in an ancient building, a nice crafts market, and finally we saw the "bridge of sighs" where lovers go. Lucas explained that if you cross the bridge holding your lovers hand while you hold your breath, you will be guaranteed eternal happiness. Of course we all crossed it successfully!
We continued driving along the seaside road and saw many styles of homes from Japanese to British, all side by side in this beautiful neighborhood of Miraflores. This is the nicest neighborhood in Lima. We finally came to some beautiful pre-Incan ruins that were lit up as it was nighttime. We ate tapas appetizers, Peruvian dishes, and desserts in this beautiful restaurant called la Huaca Pucillana (the name of the ruins as well) and had another incredible food experience as we ate outside viewing the ruins bathed in light. I am a picky eater and was grateful that Lucas did not tell me what I was eating until after I finished it but suffice it to say it was delicious. I'll let you all discover what it was when you visit Lima and take this tour!
After our meal, we visited a supermarket and bought wine, spices, coffee, and a delicious drink called "Che Che" made from blue corn that I loved. It is always cool to see supermarkets in foreign countries and this was fantastic. Our final experience was driving through the center of Lima and seeing all the buildings lit up at night, a perfect topper to a perfect day. We were dropped off at the port, Lucas made sure we got on the port shuttle and our day was over. We got back to the cabin by 11 pm, exhausted and happy.
Samantha Lewis (and husband Lucas)
Capital Culinaria Lima Gourmet Tours
T:+(51) 1 4466829
12/21/12 Coquimbo /La Serena, Chile
We just finished dinner after a day in Coquimbo and La Serena where we had a private tour. The tour was supposed to include a visit to a winery and a fancy lunch at a solar restaurant, but the winery was closed for the holidays so we didn't go. We expected to be a tour of 10 and the guide was supposed to pick us up at 8:15am but he wasn't there when we walked out and he finally found us at 9am. We ended up doing all our stops with a large Princess bus and another private tour bus and it was a zoo everywhere we went, eliminating the whole purpose of a private tour! Needless to say, I would not recommend the tour company, I did not arrange the tour and I would be reticent to recommend it, below is the info, plan it out carefully!
Al Ramirez Boutique Wine Tours
5 Norte 209 (Esq. 5 Poniente) Office NÂ° 05
Vi'a Del Mar, Chile | Chile Office: (+56 32) 251-7714
Chile Mobile: +(56 09) 5 413 4345 | USA Office: (+1 561) 705-0107
Al Ramirez Boutique Wine Tours
http://www.southexcursions.cl/ | MDT & Co. LTDA |
Notes on ports, weather, and other stuff
I got an emergency notice from my TA, our arrival to Ushuaia had been delayed, instead of arriving at noon, we would be arriving at 2:3pm, due to tides. I thought the tide info is known years in advance and it doesn't seem logical that this would cause us to port later. In any event, we will have to adjust or cancel our private tour there. It should stay light late there so maybe an afternoon/evening tour would be OK. Later, I find out this delay had to do with the weight of our sizable ship and dependant on a certain tide level!
The weather had been surprising to us, we would have thought it would be warm at the equator and south of it because its summer here. Instead it's quite cool, Manta was in the 70's and cloudy, Lima was in the low 70's and it has been downright cold on the ship. We have had cloudy days since Costa Rica and its too windy and cold to watch MUTS at night. It never rains in Lima except the night we spent there, it poured! I guess we should expect the unexpected. I am glad I brought rainwear, a down coat, and sweaters. Apparently there was a cold water current (the Humboldt Current) that keeps the west coast of South America cool. Be prepared for this.
Many people are still pissed off about the port of San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua, nobody who took Princess shore excursions got decent tours because it took so long to tender the tour groups and many arrived at their destinations in the dark. This is a bad port for organized excursions, especially if you are here only for a half-day. Instead of taking an excursion, get off the ship as quick as you can and enjoy the quaint city of SJDS. Some people got off the ship, found some bars on the beach that offered two chairs, two beers, and an umbrella for $5 and were very happy with that!
Lima was also very problematic; it seemed like nobody knew how to deal with the particulars of this port. It's a commercial port and private tour buses/vans are allowed In so there is a shuttle that takes you to the front gate, however it's not labeled and very hard to find. A lot of poor behavior came out as people were scrambling to get to their private tours, or begin their overland tours to MP. The vans that shuttle you to the gate are not labeled and it was difficult to know where to go so there was a lot of scrambling and confusion. The free shuttle to the Marriott hotel in Mira Flores was free but people were complaining that it took an hour to get there because of the massive traffic and the buses waited at the Marriott until they were completely full, even if it meant waiting on the bus for an hour or more. I have never seen so many people, cars, and traffic in my life and I grew up in Los Angeles! At least on our private tour we were in a small van that could take side streets and avoid the massive crowds at rush hours, and even with that advantage we were stuck for an hour or more In downtown traffic. Avoid the rush hours!
It looks like the Sun is trying to break out from the clouds, hopefully the weather will be more summer like soon. Meanwhile, there were plenty of activities here and the ship and all of the entertainers are new! Time for my bowl of mixed berries which I have been ordering since I got on this ship, I get more of them through room service than in the dining room. Go figure.
12/22/12--Valparaiso & Santiago, Chile
We pulled in Valparaiso very early in the morning, around 4am. We had hired Christian, the van man over a year ago and were looking to get an early start. Our agenda included Santiago, a nice sit down lunch, a visit to a winery with tasting, and a tour of Valparaiso. We had arranged for a 7am pickup, so our group of 6 met on board at vines, we disembarked together and took the shuttle to the port immigration and made it to the arranged meeting spot at exactly 7 am. We scoured the private guides and buses looking for our sign and couldn't find Christian. We waited and waited and finally at 8am we found somebody with our sign and followed this person out of the guide and bus area and finally found Christian. He loaded us into a nice van, the excused himself to take cafe of a problem. By 8:30 we were still waiting in the van, we were not happy campers! A other large bus of folks also using the van man were loaded and off long before us. Not our favorite way to start the day!
Finally Christian joined us, apologizing for the lateness and blablabla and off we went, speeding towards Santiago like lighting. We learned along the way about the weather, politics, flora and fauna, and all the particulars of Chile and Santiago specifically. We made it to Santiago and got off the bus at a main square which was filled with all sorts of military officers and their military dogs, which were so cute but don't touch them!
We visited the large church and saw all the damage caused by the earthquake a few years ago. It was very interesting. Inside there was a confessional where the priest was face to face with the confessor, who was kneeling on an outer kneeler in a somewhat public confessional. We had never seen that. The church was beautiful and massive, with many chapels, a main transept, and lots of Christmas decorations, mangers, and other scenes of religious significance. We all enjoyed seeing it.
Next we visited the public bathrooms, which were not free and nobody would accept US dollars and thankfully Christian paid for us to us it. We walked to a statue where we were able to stand exactly in middle of Chile, kind of a neat place to take a picture. We continued to walk around the city, visiting a fish market and opting to not visit a crowded flea market. At this point we are into avoiding crowds, so we loaded back into the van and off to see more areas of Santiago. We climbed a hill to see where the wealthy lived, saw many skyscrapers and even found ashore where we bought wine, olive oil, and other necessities. In the distance the Andes loomed above the city covered in snow framing the city in beauty, I really liked the vibe of this city, it's worth a more in depth visit and hope to come back soon.
As we headed back to Valparaiso and along the way stopped at a restaurant that Christian recommended called Los Hornitos de Curacavi. This was typical Chilean food and we ordered a salad and main course that were very delicious. It was not cheap, our two items cost us about $30 but it was delicious and worth trying, I bought some Marzipan there as well and that was also yummy.
Next we headed for the winery, Emeliana Winery that is an organic winery using all organic farming and also produces olive oils, vinegars, and honey! I bought a beautiful dark honey there and waited as our group had their private wine tasting, which cost$17 each for 4 different kinds. Everybody seemed to enjoy this. We left when they were finished and headed to Valparaiso. We had little time to see or visit Valparaiso but we did go up to a lookout and snap photos of our ship in port. The day was over by3:45 and we got on the ship with time to spare, since we did not have to go to muster we hung out I. The room and read all our info.
Santiago and Valparaiso, Chile
Christian Montenegro, aka The Van Man
Sea day 12/23/12
This is the second day of the second segment of our cruise, the whole vibe of the ship has changed! Yes there are a lot of kids on board, many people complaining about kids running through the halls, removing stuff they shouldn't (like my formal night order of chocolate dipped strawberries) and pressing every elevator button constantly. Typical Xmas behavior, I've been on too many of these!
I've had a lot of problems today. They did not transfer the obc that I didn't spend on the first segment although they told me they did, I had to go around working hard to get my on board credit back, I lost my Internet minutes-- the not so brainy internet mgr informed my that I didn't exist in the system. I told him I must have disappeared with the last day of the Mayan calendar! He didn't laugh, he has the personality of a doorknob, a mean one at that!
I am trying to find out if I have a chance to make it to the most traveled lunch, it would be my first. The circle hostess is still calculating, so who knows. I finally cleared up the problems and with little time to spare to make it go trivia, and then the CC meet and greet.
The M&G was nice, we had good turnout and the CD JJ tried again to take over the meeting even though we had to pay for the mike. JJ is strange, I've never seen a CD do this at a CC M&G. The Maitre d Rui also came and he was a gem, very friendly and accommodating the luncheons I am organizing. We had a gift exchange and the stealing was scandalous but fun. Our luncheon is New Year's Eve day, should be fun with over 40 people signing up.
We have lots of trivia including Beatles trivia and other music trivia, which is so fun, and today we won fans! There is an accumulative speed trivia daily on sea days, and always a morning and Afternoon trivia game, only sometime do we have trivia at night. Majority rules is always funny, hopefully we will get that the segment, along with the various liars club games.
Finally, Bobby Brooks Wilson was on the ship and everybody enjoyed him a lot. We bumped into him with our friends and chatted about what he is doing, he has a new record coming out soon. He is a really nice guy.
Regarding clothing there was a mix of styles in the dining room, although everybody dressed nicely. Lots of nice jeans were worn, especially after an excursion where people were in a hurry to get to their tables, or just lazy to change pants and shoes. I did not see anybody wearing jeans with holes; they are not exactly in style anymore anyway! I have a lot of "not your daughters jean" in black, green corduroy, and dark jean material and wore them all the time in the dining room. I'd laugh if anybody thought I was dressed in appropriately, the again I call most pants jeans! I did see one man turned away from the dining room wearing shorts at dinner. So they certainly maintain a level of dress that does not include shorts. In any event, I would it worry about wearing jeans as long as they are not the out of fashion kind with holes in them!
12/24/12--Christmas Eve in Puerto Montt, Chile
Puerto Montt is a tender port situated in an inlet that is not on the Pacific Ocean, rather it is in a calmer inside passage surrounded by mountains. It is a beautiful place, the town itself is very walkable from the tender dock, there are restaurants and shopping close by but don't miss taking an excursion here. This is the southern end of Chile's Lake District and surrounded by mountains, lakes, forests, and rivers.
Our guide Manuel was promptly waiting for us at the dock at 7:15 am and off we went on a great Adventure. We toured Puerto Montt first and learned that this town was built primarily by German immigrants who were brought here by the president of Chile (Manuel Montt) to populate the town and bring their culture and customs to it. The town has the feel of a typical Bavarian town with wooden facades and lots of parks and gardens. We stopped at the main square where we saw a beautiful church built with the wood of the Alerce tree, a relative of the Redwood that had red wood and can grow to be 4,000 years old. We saw a lot of wild dogs but these animals are cared for, fed, and are friendly and cute! Then we drove to one of the four hills that over look the city and from there we could see the Star Princess as well as the two other ships in port, the Celebrity Infinity and one of the Oceania ships. We got some great pictures of the city and the ships, this being one of the must haves on our tours.
Next we headed for Llanquihue Lake at the base of the Osorno Volcano. Locals claim Mt. Fuji looks exactly like Osorno, I have to take their word for it because it was clouded over for the most part, with brief moments of clearing that revealed parts of the lower snow cover. Although the day started out In rain, we had only a few moments of hard rain which passed quickly. We stopped at a resort on the lake for a bathroom run for me and got to see lots of Llamas, cows, and deers. Later, on the way back we stopped again and got to get up close and personal with the Llamas. There was one with a French name that escapes me now but he let us pet him and we took a lot of pictures. Very cool.
Next we headed for Petrohue rapids (falls) and met up with a slew of tour buses from all the ships. These falls are in the magnificent Vincente Perez Rosales NP, the oldest park here. We headed on an easy hike, crossing several bridges over beautiful green/blue rivers with the runoff from the Volcano. Along the path were several places to get coffee and snacks, as well as several shops that were very reasonably priced. If you see something you like here, buy it because the prices allowed this area are the best I've seen in Chile. Anyway at the end of the path are the falls, it's very windy here so dress appropriately because you can't miss this. The falls come from another lake called Todos Los Santos, which is a glacial lake at the base of the Volcano. As we headed back to the van we bumped into pals Gloria and Lew and all laughed about bumping into each other on our small group tours! When there are 3 ships in port it's impossible to avoid the crowds no matter where you go. I suggest getting your shopping done early since most ship tours save that for last as our guide did and it was a zoo. Anyway we continued up a road covered in black volcanic earth to the end where we found another slew of buses all on a catamaran trip so no people here at all. The end of the road was so windy we didn't want to get out of the van but our guide ran out and collected pumice stones, the remains of a pyroclastic flow from eruptions past. We all got rocks but I suggested we not carry them home since I know it's bad luck to carry volcanic rocks away from their origins. Everybody quickly threw the rocks back! What the heck, who needs bad luck.
Next we headed to a beautiful green lagoon that was also in the National Park. We hiked a handicapped accessible path to an incredible place and got pictures of the volcano's reflection in the lagoon. We went off the path to see some flora including the "cold tree" named by the indigenous people because if you hug it you get very cold. I guess that means it gets warm here, although not today. It was another interesting and easy hike with only a few people on it.
Next we went to a restaurant on the shores of one of the lakes, it was a German buffet with lots of goopy salads, fried breads, lots of Salmon salads, and a meat roasting section serving beef, chicken, port ribs, fish, and more. There was also a bunch of desserts. It cost an additional $20 pp and didn't look good for me since I am somewhat picky so I passed on it but the rest of my group ate and enjoyed it. I can't remember the name but if I find it ill pass it on. For me we spent way too much time here and I would have preferred a quick light lunch.
After lunch we headed to Puerto Varas, another cute German town that was so crowded with buses and people it was truly a bummer. It took so long to make our way through town, we only had a half hour to walk and shop on own. Still, I managed to find a pretty, soft Baby Alpaca sweater for $25. This would have cost me over $200 in the states. This is definitely the place to buy these sorts of items, as I said they had the best prices we have seen. We missed a nice artesian market that I heard was very nice.
We headed back to the port trying to find a supermarket, our guide said this was an unusual request. Really? He managed to find us a place to buy some fine Chilean wine at the fish market, and we had a few more minutes to shop. We bought these cute kitchen witches, something unique to this German/Spanish town.
We made it to the port with minutes to spare, missed the cheese market because of the loooooong tender lines that ultimately ran pretty fast. There were some classic fights at the line up as people lost their manners and their patience, which was totally uncalled for because everybody eventually got back to their respective ships. We did leave an hour late because of course the captain waited for all passengers to come aboard. We took off at 6 pm, slowly making our way through the inside passage. Sunset was at 10:30 and the sunset was great. In fact earlier in the morning the sunrise was just spectacular, I got some great pictures.
Our guide was 'Manuel' and we hired him through Denis Purtov whose email is firstname.lastname@example.org his cell phone is 0056 (9) 76665557 and the cost was $93 for six people. One couple in our group was ill and could not take the tour so he sent us with his payment but we negotiated a better price of $120 per person and saved our friends some money. All in all it was a fantastic day, certainly a place not to miss! Today's tour in Puerto Montt was one of the best so far, we all agreed it was pleasant because we were touring with a small group, all great people I met on our Cruise Critic roll call. This is the best way to go. We are never squished in a van and we can slip in and out of places easier, so we are never waiting for "that person" who didn't pay attention to our meeting time because they had to go shopping!
Merry Christmas to all! Today my friend Gloria and I had a productive morning. We were invited to attend the most traveled luncheon, my first time ever, and that will happen tomorrow. We were so excited about this.
Santa was on the ship after a long night of deliveries; many kids lined up for their presents, water bottles or teddy bears with the Princess logos on them. We decided we wanted to sit on Santa's lap together and got a big laugh about that, especially when we blocked his face on the Santa! LOL, we moved so Santa's face was visible and they took our picture and filmed us for the video! We hope Santa's legs recover!
We had a special scholarship@sea lecture entitled "Magellan Circumcises the World with a good cutter" and we couldn't stop laughing about that one. JJ says he did that on purpose but who knows for sure, he makes a lot of mistakes! Back to the merrymaking!
I woke early to beautiful scenery as we glide through the straits of Magellan on our way to the Amalia Glacier. Wow, wow,wow. The water is so blue and I can almost reach out and touch the canyon walls. The weather is cloudy but clearing as I type, it looks like we will have good views of the Glacier. I turned to the morning show, which has been such a disappointment because JJ lacks panache and the show is basically a boring sales pitch, and once again he is talking about the 3 hour sale today. Nothing about the glacier. Yuck.
Anyway it's time to go outside! Joe May begins to narrate, as we turn starboard into the Amalia sound. We are surrounded by Chilean Fjords, and the snow level is low. It's 42 degrees Fahrenheit as the ship begins to wake up and people are bundled up and out on their balconies. It's show time!
The glacier is amazing, its glacial blue colors are visible because it's cloudy out. The sun is peaking out from the clouds occasionally with the promise of better weather as we sail out of the Amalia sound and back through the straits of Magellan to the Pacific Ocean again. I am reminded that as we look at the Glacier, we are only seeing approximately 10% of it with the remaining 90% not visible, as it is deep under water.
This glacier is in the straits of Magellan right now and tomorrow morning at 8am to 10 am we will be passing 5 glaciers and the one the captain likes the best, we will stop and do a 360 so all sides of the ship can see, otherwise all the glaciers will be visible only from the Port side, which we have. I will keep you all posted on the situation; I know how you all feel about us making the ports! Sounds promising, I hope I can give you all good news
12/27/12--Punta Arenas, Chile
We pulled into Punta Arenas early and by 6:30 the tenders were up and running. It was a magnificent day, sunshine with few clouds in the sky and the water was as smooth as glass. This area of South America has a thinner Ozone layer and it's very important to use a strong sunscreen, especially in the sunshine. It was very chilly; we dressed in layers and never peeled off anything so dress warmly.
We met at 8:45 in Vines to tender off, we had to get to Soloexpeditions by 10 and wanted time to walk and scope out the shopping for later. The tender took about 30 minutes, I don't know why but it might have been because we were sharing the dock with Celebrity. We got to the dock, took the requisite pictures of us with the city sign, and off we went to walk the 5 short blocks to the meeting place. It was an easy walk and we used the map on the port guide. Once we got there we paid, used the bathrooms, and everybody used their free Internet to download and make Skype calls. Don't forget to bring your phones and bring some plastic ziplocks to store them in one the boat just in case.
We stayed at the office for a long time, waiting for a bus to take us to the dock they use. Next store I found a organic bulk food store and bought 100 grams each of almonds, walnuts, dried Kiwi, golden raisins, dried strawberries, and dried coconuts in case I didn't like the lunch we were supposed to get. That turned out to be fortunate because we never got lunch, only coffee and a cookie. I fed my pals.
We finally got to the dock, waited way too long, and boarded one of two boats by 11:30 so be prepared to wait! Off we went, the seas were not as calm by this time and it was a bumpy ride but we spotted dolphins and they rode with us for a while. We were all delighted. We went to Magdalena island first and disembarked to Natural Monument Los Pinguinos where hundreds of thousands of Magellanic Penguins made their summer home. There were only 50 of us and plenty of room to roam. The penguins were incredible, while there was a roped off path for us to follow up to the lighthouse and bathroom, the penguins were free to cross the path and interact with us. We were warned not to talk loud and scare them, and of course not to approach them and most of us followed that rule (but not all) honoring their habitat. I cannot stress how awesome this experience was. My friends took a princess tour to the Otway sound where hundreds of people pushed and shoved to see penguins and their experience was not nearly as magnificent as ours!
We had an hour to wander and take pictures at this magnificent place. Park rangers roamed to make sure we did not disturb the animals. There were also a lot of Terns on the island; we found several nests with eggs in them as well. After an hour we gathered and boarded the boats to go to Isla Marta, another fabulous ecosystem filled with Sea Lions, Cormorants, Skuas, Austral seagulls, Antartic pigeons, and Sea Elephants.
We did not disembark here, instead we circumnavigated the island while viewing the wildlife. If we wanted to go to the outside of the boat, we had to put life preservers. This was a magnificent opportunity to photograph and admire all the wildlife without disturbing their ecosystem. After a half an hour we headed back to the mainland and the waiting buses that brought us back to the office in Punta Arenas. We got back at 4 pm, which left some time to shop and see the town since the last tender was at 6pm. We made our way to the main square that was close by, it was lined with crafts vendors. The prices were much better here than at the shops in the port, however the vendors did not bargain here at all. The prices we still very reasonable and I got another Alpaca sweater with no pulls for $20.
Back at the port, there was a wine store, and more shopping up the prices were so high and we were all shopped out. It was raining now and we noticed that Celebrity's tender line was covered while ours was not. That was fine, the rain stopped and the line was fast and we stayed on the top part of the tender because there was a wonderfully brilliant rainbow. There were rainbows everywhere until the sun set by 10:30, actually it hardly got dark all through the night because I get up several times looking for the southern lights! The sky was beautiful, not sure if I saw the lights but its my thing, it's on my bucket list!
We used soloexpediciones, email email@example.com. Cell +56 0982393545 Carmen Gloria Pacheco.
12/28/12--Glacier Alley in the Straits of Magellan
Wow! We are cruising down glacier alley, past a series of glaciers including Espana, Romanche, Aleminea, Francia, Italia, and Holanda glaciers. There are visable from the port side and spectacular to see. Joe May and the Captain are narrating this unbelievable strait where you can see the glaciers melting and a mix of fresh and salt water.
As we pass the Romanche glacier we are treated to a spectacular sight, this glacier is huge and it is melting fast, there is a giant waterfall baring witness to the melting and it is one of the largest waterfalls I've seen. As we pass, a giant rumbling occurs and we witness a calving so tremendous it thunders. I've never seen a calving like this, as it breaks off the glacier it tumbles down the waterfall and there are gasps all over the ship. Make sure you get a port side balcony to witness this spectacle at its best.
One by one we pass glacier after glacier, this is more incredible than anything I've see in Alaska. As we arrive at Italia glacier captain Perrin continues narrating and Joe May is translating. We will stop here and turn around so the Starboard side of the ship can see it too. After this a pilot will join us to navigate through the rest of the straits all the way to Ushuaia, where I have a halfday excursion to the national park. Talk about swooning! Off to finish the viewing and grab lunch before we get to Ushuaia.
12/28/12--Ushuaia (Tierra Del Fuego), Argentina
We got to Ushuaia late and got off the ship at 2:45pm, after being trampled by unruly passengers who felt entitled to push, shove, and cut into the line which was kept so well by staff members Theo and Veronica. I felt sorry for them, every time they turned their back a slew of people took the non manned stairs down to deck 4 where disembarkation took place. They could not manage the large crowd alone, Princess should have provided more staff to man each elevator and staircase like they do in muster. Getting off a ship mid day is always chaos. I heard horror stories about people in princess tours as well as private tours. Be prepared for this!
Our guide Gaston was there as we walked off the ship and saw the beauty of this port, our first stop in Argentina. Surrounded with snow capped Andes mountains and the Beagle channel, this town touts itself as the southern most city in the world. It is the starting point for ships like the National Geographic Expedition's journey to Antarctica. The ship was in port in front of our ship and across the dock was Celebrity which has followed us everywhere. Ushuaia (pronounced oo-swy-ah, not oo-shwy-ah like I had been saying) is considered the end of the South American world; interestingly it is not as south as Fairbanks, Alaska is north.
We headed out of town to visit the National Park of Tierra del Fuego, a beautiful wilderness of forests, rivers, and green meadows typical of the steppes. We stopped at several scenic points for hikes and lakes, including the end of the Panamerican highway where the famous sign indicates the distance between here and Alaska. This was a pretty impressive place, with a boardwalk that takes you out to beautiful lake. As we headed through the park Gaston suddenly stopped the van, he spotted some woodpeckers and we slowly crept toward then with cameras in hand. We encountered several, males with their red heads and females all in black, and I was able to video them in action pecking at the trees. We started to leave when Gaston spied a red fox up the road. The red fox was not afraid of us, in fact it was clear it was waiting for food and sure enough, another car filled with visitors started throwing food out to get it to come closer. This is a terrible thing to do, these animals should not be so close to humans and Gaston ran up to them and told then just this. They quickly picked up all the food and were off, thankfully. This was an awesome animal encounter marred only by the stupidity of those people!
Next we headed to the park headquarters that housed a nice museum, lookout point, restaurant, and gift shop that was way overpriced. We used the facilities and took off for the "end of the world" post office where I got a passport with several stamps for 3 dollars. This was a great photograph spot, the post office was on a small pier in a wonderful glacial lake.
As we drove through the park, we spotted a lot of hawk like birds, especially in the campgrounds. We even found several RVs, giving birth to an idea of driving our Winnebago down here! We probably would never want to drive through Colombia, and that leg of the Panamerican highway is accessed by a ferry, which probably doesn't take 30 foot RVs! As we headed back to Ushuaia, we saw the most southern Golf course in the world, and there were people playing on it. One of our last stops was a spot near the airport where we had great views of our ship in the port, this always being an important photo opportunity for us! Finally we arrived in Ushuaia, we drove down the main shopping street and Gaston showed us where the best Rhodocrosite shop was as well as the wine shop, and market. This was the end of a nice half-day tour.
We paid $65pp for the tour plus $20 each for the park entrance fee. We used firstname.lastname@example.org to book this tour and enjoyed it very much. Gaston was our tour guide and he was very good.
Shopping in Ushuaia is expensive, especially for stuff you can get in North America. The Rhodochrosite here is very nice, it's the national rock and unique to Argentina. I found a good shop called Inca Rose which is on the main shopping street, go left when heading up from the port, it's on the far side of the street (right side) after you turn left. I also found some good semi-sweet Chocolate that was made here and a decent price, there are many places to buy that.
I Woke up early to a very cloudy sky although the seas were gentle. After writing for awhile, I looked up and saw the sky's had cleared and the seas remained calm and we were approaching Cape Horn, passing Celebrity going the other way as they don't go to the Falklands like us.
We are currently rounding Cape Horn, the seas are calm and the sky's are only partly cloudy with a temperature of 43 degrees F. Time to go gawk at the beautiful islands and try to find whales, dolphins, and birds!
Captain Perrin began narrating as we circled the islands going from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and back to the Atlantic in a grand circle. Captain Perrin said he had never seen the seas so calm around here, not to mention the incredible blue sky's mixed with high fluffy clouds, and we were able to get so much closer than normal because of the favorable weather and seas! For an hour we circled Cape Horn as the captain narrated points of interest like the Albatross statue and lighthouse. Joe May translated his narration, adding his own perspective to this incredible experience. The day was another Wow day, filled with Ohs and Ahs from the people in the port side balconies. What a spectacular morning we had once again.
Later I saw the Captain talking to my friends Chris and Pat, he told them that he had no doubt that we would certainly make it to the Falklands tomorrow. He said the weather changes frequently but according to his reports, we would not encounter weather of seas that would prevent us from going. He warned us about the long tender ride, two miles, that might be bumpy but nothing terrible. We are looking forward to getting there and hope all goes well!
1/1/13--Happy New Year
We celebrated the New Year in grand style on the Star last night. The ship was filled with balloons and party decorations and everybody was in good moods. We ate a nice meal in the Portofino dining room where we have been eating since we embarked in San Francisco. Our waiters Harold and Mark were busy taking good care of us, something they have done since the beginning.
The headwaiter in Portofino, Pietro, is outstanding and really deserves some big kudos. He goes above and beyond the call of duty nightly, always with a big smile filled with kindness. I met a woman who was on the ship with her very ill husband. He was recovering from multiple maladies, one of which would fell any person, he was very grumpy and refusing to eat. I asked Rue (the incredible Maitre d) to get this man and his wife an assigned table in Portofino because of Pietro. Rue and Pietro handled this with such kindness and grace it made me proud to be a Princess cruiser. Every night Pietro would prepare this mans meals making sure the cuts of meat were the best, he went above and beyond the call of duty nightly and helped this man begin to eat and recover. Pietro is truly an angel, and one of the best headwaiters I've ever met. He really made a difference for me!
We celebrated early because we had to be up and out by 7:30 am for Puerto Madryn, no doubt we would make this port. We played Beatles "name that tune" trivia and the whole room was singing and celebrating, nobody caring about wining at all. I suggested a sing-a-long in the future (tonight?) because we had done many of these on the Pacific Princess last December with David Crathorne. Anyway, it was fun and we won!
It's early New Year's Day and we are in Puerto Madryn. I have a private tour today and need to go get ready soon, but I wanted to share a little about the people on this ship who have made this cruise so special. I will write more tonight or tomorrow morning, I know this is a new port and many are interested in it. Hope everybody had a grand celebration last night!
1/1/13 Puerto Madryn, Argentina
We have lost 5 hours so far and tonight we lose the last one! It has not been a big deal since we are on for 30 days, but going home next Sunday will be yucky for DH who has to go back to work Monday. By the way FaceTime and Skype work excellent on the ship, I have been using them to call throughout the cruise. Lots of people think it does not work but it does. The lovely Internet (not) mgr says it does not work however he is clueless. Make sure your families and friends know how to use them and check them or leave them open. It's a wonderful way to connect.
Excursion to Valdes Peninsula (a UNESCO World Heritage Natural Reserve)
We walked off the ship at 7:45am and found the two bus drivers and guides waiting for us. Several people canceled without telling us and several had joined at the last minute too. It all evened out in the end, just like Jerry Seinfeld said! Off we went.
Puerto Madryn is a newish town with nothing remarkable about it except it is the entrance to many natural sights; we are in the midst of Patagonia. Our guide Mimi was funny and personable as she told us briefly about the town while we drove out of it. The most distinguishing thing we noticed was a giant open dump on the outskirts of the town!
We drove on a nice highway, stopping for bird and animal sightings that were plentiful. We saw a hawk like bird, and lots of sheep grazing in what seemed to be terrain similar to California's low desert. We also spied a Guanaco, a funny camel like animal with a big white stripe going across the behind. Easy to spot that.
We got to the entrance to the park in Caleta Valdes which designates the beginning of the peninsula, a unique environment that has sea access to both sides of a strip of land with its giant cliffs of sandstone that promise an abundance of wildlife including penguins, elephant seals, sea lions, Orcas, and lots of birds. This peninsula has a beautiful bay on one side and the other is on the Atlantic Ocean. At the entrance is a nice park headquarters with bathrooms, a small museum with a right whale skeleton of a young male, a gift shop with food and some nice woven scarfs and purses and more, and best of all free wifi!
After a brief stop, we continue on and soon drive off the paved road and onto a bumpy dirt road that is not too bad, only loud. At our first stop we see a small colony of Magellanic Penguins that were easy to see and not smelly or dirty like some of the penguin colonies we saw before. We spot a couple celebrating New Year making penguin love (aka penguin porn) and of course we all take pictures. I make a movie of it! The funniest thing was when they were finished; the female just dropped in exhaustion, and didn't move for a while. I found this so funny, but I am sure there is some biological reason this happens.
Onto our next stop, along the way we spot many types of wildlife including the Quanacos, snakes, ostrich like birds, a fox, and an armadillo! We get to Punta Norte which is a beautiful spot along a cliff of sandstone, below are many sea lions and elephant seals, all molting (losing their skin fur) and playing with their babies. We see several alpha male fights that are loud and violent as the alpha gets the female haram! This spot is where Orcas are often spotted attacking the smaller seals and sea lions that swim in the bay. We do not see any of this, but that is how it goes when you are out on a safari. We ate our box lunch, which was not bad at all, only a little tasteless because there was no mustard or mayo on it. None of us were hungry any how, we've all been on the ship almost 30 days by now! You know how that goes. Anyway we all had a great day and made it back to the ship with time to spare. Because it was New Year's Day, no shops were open so we went back to the ship. This is a great tour and we all thought it was a wonderful way to start the New Year. The company we used charged us half the price Princess was charging for the same tour. A great deal at $140 pp. Below is the contact info.
e-mail: email@example.com o firstname.lastname@example.org
I will briefly tell you about Montevideo. We took a specialized tour visiting synagogues and a museum, plus some holocaust museum that was sobering and sad. It was a princess tour, ok but not great. I'd do this privately, with a group or on your own and combine it with other sights in Montevideo. I thought Montevideo was a lovely city. It's quite small and completely walkable, from the ship (which is on a canal) you can see the sea, maybe 20 blocks across the city to the other side. I didn't like the ship tour we took, that was not very informative and the guide was unclear and gave in a inaccurate information. However Montevideo was a nice smallish city, some parts clean and others grimy and filled with homeless. Anyway the shopping and food market were very close to the port and easy to walk to. We were glad we had taken a half-day tour so we could pack up and enjoy the last night on the ship playing trivia (what else) and saying goodbye to new and old friends.
The half-day tour gave us plenty to time to walk on our own. The market was interesting although we did not eat there, having hit the wall of too much food on the ship! The shopping was okay, but we were spoiled in some of the great shopping ports like Punta Arenas, Puerto Montt, Guatemala, and Lima's Indian markets. Next time I visit Montevideo, I would take a private full city tour instead of a half-day tour, and I favor private tours over ship tours although Gloria enjoyed her ship tours a lot. It's a matter of how you like to travel!
1/4/13--Buenos Aires, Argentina--Disembarkation and Half-day city tour
This is my first time here, it is a beautiful city and seems like it deserves a week or two of discovery. Sadly I only have a few days here, but I will make the best of it following my favorite theme; go go,go!
After a bit of a stressful disembarkation from the star princess, we are taken off the ship as a group and have a private transfer and half day tour of the city all lined up. After finding lost luggage, and figuring out how to deal with four extra people and their luggage, we realize it was fairly impossible. The tour organizer had indicated there would be enough room for all and there was not. They had to call for another car to pick up the extra luggage and that was taken to the hotel ahead of us, I was glad my luggage was in the van with me! This tour operator was horribly inaccurate and our initial impressions were not so good. My husband, Mr. Safety said it was dangerously full, and one person got hit in the head by flying luggage. Lots of people were pissed off by the time we got to the hotel.
In any event, after settling down into the over crowded bus, we began our tour which was really just a drive by overview and not my favorite kind of thing, we asked to be taken into Recoleta cemetery to see Evita's mausoleum. We practically had to force the tour guide to stop, but we did. We walked through the interesting cemetery and after got some ice cream, a bathroom, and a quick leg stretch before we went back into the bus for the rest of our driving tour. Finally after 4 hours we were taken to our hotel, the Savoy. We were glad to get rid of the sourpuss tour guide whose name escapes me.
The Savoy in downtown Buenos Aires is a beautiful hotel built in the 1920's; it's Art Deco style evident everywhere. Recently renovated, this hotel is a trip advisor winner and comes highly recommended. I asked if they had any upgrades and I was given a slightly bigger room at no extra cost. The room was lovely, high ceilings with beautiful crown molding, and all the necessities including a safe, refrigerator, desk, king sized bed, and flat screen TV. Another bonus was that the free Internet that can be accessed from the lobby worked in my first floor room!
We met up with our group and walked a few blocks to a market for snacks and water, it was Friday afternoon and busy. We lingered at the hotel and decided to go to a recommended Argentinean restaurant close by called Chiquilin, a four-block walk which was easy and quick. We ate a meal of caprice salad and filet mignon, the meat was the best I have ever had anywhere in the word. OMG. If you stay here you should visit this restaurant! The cost for the meal for two, including tip, tablecloth, and bread was $64 dollars, quite a good deal.
1/5/2013 --Buenos Aires, Argentina--La Tigre River tour
The tour operator we used for the transfer and half day tour, plus the following day tour to La Tigre, and finally the transfer today to the airport was horrible. He changed the la Tigre tour from 6-7 hours to 4 and the person who organized it had to "pout" to get the train ride we were promised. However our guide Petra was an angel and when we showed her what we were promised by the idiot Javier, she gave us the full tour as promised. We thoroughly enjoyed her tour, we took a bus to the river, then had a nice boat ride. After we shopped a little, went to a train station where we had a half hour to shop, or eat. Then we drove to another station, waited for the train and boarded it for a quick ride illuminated by Petra. After, we walked and she pointed out some interesting elements of the environment including trees and places and even flowers indigenous to the area. She did her best to make us happy and we all appreciated her efforts. It was a nice day.
1/6/2013 --Transfer to Airport, COPA Airlines, and Panama
The next day for the transfer he also sent a tiny car to pick up 4 of us and all of our luggage, which did not fit, and had to be tied to the roof. It was awful. I have to get the name of the tour operator; I did not make the arrangements and the person who made the arrangements was uncomfortable sharing the tour operators info. Suffuce it to say, be careful and mindful of the amount of people and luggage on buses and always keep it small rather than large! I would follow this advice regardless of whom you use. While I don't like to recommend or bash tour operators, this operator sucked so bad, he used bait and switch tactics, increased the prices and changed the tours without notifying the person who organized these tours and transfers. Be careful of these tactics
We flew COPA air, the airline of Panama. We flew business class and it was fantastic, fully reclining chairs and all the trimmings of first class including unlimited drinks, toiletry kit, blankets and pillows, nice meals with real silverware and table cloths, snacks, desserts, and bottles of water. I had not heard of them, and had read a few negative comments on tripadvisor about coach, but in business (their first class) it was completely different. I paid a few hundred more for this and it was completely worth it. In addition, we were able to use the VIP lounges in both Buenos Aires and Panama and they were fantastic, with food, drinks, and free wifi. Panama's airport is really nice with tons of shopping, they even had a Helly Hanson store. Helly is a great place to get all the goretex pants and sports wear for Penguin poop and cold weather jaunts!
The transfers and excursions were organized using South Excursions and Javier was the contact. The person who organized these tours and transfers had great experiences with this same company in several different ports, these experiences were positive and timely and there was no complaints regarding them. Our disembark transfers were problematic as stated earlier, and there were a few issues with the tours but all of those issues were settled and we were all happy with them. My best advice here is to make sure your transfer tours will accommodate all people and all of there luggage so that nobody has to share seating space with luggage. Also, several pieces of luggage had to be sent directly to the hotel we were all staying at. There were no problems with the luggage sent ahead, the hotel Savoy had them stored securely and safe