My wife and I have been on numerous cruises throughout the globe on different cruise lines over the years. This is our fifth cruise with HAL. The 20-day South America and Antarctica Explorer Tour started in Valparaiso, Chile on January 10 2013.
We arranged our own flights and actually arrived a few days early to explore Santiago, Chile. We stayed at the Grand Hyatt. We toured the city using the Turistic hop on hop-off bus. This worked very nicely. We also used Turistic to travel from Santiago to the port in Valparaiso. We had no problems in Chile. You will need local currency ... available through ATMs at the airport. It would nice to know some Spanish.
Boarding the ship was no problem. We got on board quickly around 3 pm. Our room was 799 on A Deck. This is a lower level room but, actually, very nice in rough water.
The ship was older but very nice. The staff and food was great. The entertainment was some of the best we have seen on a ship. The Piano Bar was fantastic. This is a unique cruise to the Antarctic Continent and hence, the people on the cruise are well traveled and from all over the world. Open seating in the main dining room worked out the best for us as it allowed us to meet new and interesting people every night.
Interesting viewing areas on the Veendam:
1. On Deck 9, next to room 100 or 101, is a door. Walk through it, turn left or right (next to 101), go through the next doors and you are outside. You will be under the bridge, in the front of the ship. You can also walk up to another level from this level. This is great viewing when you arrive in Antarctica.
2. On Deck 6, in the front of the ship are glass enclosed doors that will lead you up to the bow level (level 7). Open it and walk up and out. You will be on the bow of the ship. You will also be able to walk up the stairs to the two higher levels including the Deck 9 level discussed above.
3. There are also viewing levels at the rear of the ship. This can be accessed from a stairway at the retreat on Deck 11 or from doors near rooms 072, 087, 215 and 218 on Decks 10 and 9. These are small corner viewing areas.
Ports and Excursions:
Puerto Montt, Chile -- When we arrived in Puerto Montt the wind picked up and it was not safe to tender to shore. We sailed on! We were in Puerto Montt previously. The most notable item about the city are the Puerto Montt Lovers .... and the story behind the statue.
Castro, Chile -- We did not plan a tour in Castro. We walked into town and viewed a local church and a museum. On the Square, across from the church we located an internet cafe and bar. We ordered a few drinks and used the free internet. Castro is a very nice, quiet town. Walking around resulted in a very nice day on shore. Castro is very hilly.
Puerto Chacabuco, Chile - We took the Natural Beauty of Patagonia tour. The tour included a short bus ride to a private park and a short walk in the jungle (forest) to a waterfall. We then walked to a restaurant over looking a lake. We stayed there for around an hour, enjoyed some wine and cookies. Some local dancers also performed. It was very nice. There really is nowhere to walk around near the port.
Punta Arenus, Chile -- In Punta Arenus, we took the Off the Beaten Track: Magdalena Penguin Reserve tour. This was GREAT. After a boat ride to the island, we walked among thousands of Penguins. If you want to see Penguins, take this tour.
Ushuaia, Argentina -- As in Puerto Montt, the winds came! Again, there was no way to safely get to shore. We sailed on!
ANTARCTICA -- This is why we came on this ship. If fact, Antarctica is the reason almost everyone came on the ship. Missing a few ports is unimportant in comparison to sailing to Antarctica safely. The Captain took the ship through the Strait of Magellan, the Beagle Channel and the Drake Passage around Cape Horn. Antarctica is a very long way to the south. We cruised along Glaciers, Research Stations, Supply Ships, Icebergs, Bergy Bits and Growlers. The Antarctic experts on board were great. We traveled down to almost 65 degrees South. What HAL needs to do is sell Antarctic caps and shirts, etc. There was nothing on board to buy with the word Antarctica on it.
Puerto Madryn, Argentina -- We took the Punto Tombo Penguin Adventure tour. This tour takes you by bus out to a "Penguin Park" almost 2 to 3 hours away through a desert like Patagonia. By this time on the cruise, we really didn't need to see more Penguins. The Sea Lion Reserve at Punta Loma might have have been a better choice. But, it was a nice drive into the countryside.
Montevideo, Uruguay -- In Montevideo, we took the Highlight tour. This was very nice and a good way to see the city. The driver dropped us off at the main Town Square and we walked back to the ship. We very much enjoyed the walk. On the way to the ship, we stopped at a restaurant with free internet. We had a BIG BEER (almost a liter) and a ham and cheese sandwich. The beer was great.
Buenos Aires, Argentina -- We took the Gaucho Life on the Pampas tour. We tour takes you out into the country to a horse ranch. The Gauchos put on a good show and served wine, pop and beer with food .... lots of food. This is a very relaxing day on a ranch.
On day two in Buenos Aires, we took the Highlights with airport transfer. The tour of the city was quick and included one stop at an "artsy area" of the city and a stop at the Recoleta cemetery to see the tomb of Eva Peron. Then, a very nice dinner/lunch with a Tango Show. The Tango Show was Fantastic. We got to the airport several hours prior to our 9:30 pm flight back to the USA.
The primary negative on the ship was a lack of an included spa! If you want to use the spa, you had to pay for it.
Leaving the ship on the last day was very easy/efficient.
We saw probably a million penguins, countless birds, almost 40 whales, a few dolphins plus many other wildlife. The people on the ship, the staff and the locals in Chile and Argentina were all very friendly and helpful. It was a good trip.