After a disastrous cruise on Royal Caribbean 30 years ago, we swore off cruising - came back after discovering smaller ships - Renaissance, Regent and Oceania. This itinerary - around Cape Horn from Chile to Argentina appealed, so we took a chance on Princess - knowing we would enjoy our preselected table mates. We had a wonderful time - but next time we'll be back on a smaller ship.
The trip began in Valparaiso, so we came down early and spent a couple of lovely days in Santiago, riding the on-off bus and taking the subway to an Artisans Village at the end of the line. Then we arranged - thanks to a Cruise Critic recommendation - for a van to pick up all ten of us, at 4 different hotels, take us on a tour of Vina del Mar and Valparaiso with a wine tasting stop and a lunch stop, and drop us off at the ship. That worked very well - and we got to ask the guide questions we couldn't ask the recording on the on-off bus. Embarkation was not a problem despite the crowds and out lack of status - we were on our first Princess cruise. We booked a mini-suite with balcony on the Dolphin deck that was as roomy and comfortable as the Regent Suites, including a bathtub. Plenty of drawers and hangar space, and two televisions. Room Steward was excellent, but it took two days to get the bed table lamp fixed. The balcony (port) was fabulous for the glaciers, Cape Horn and even pulling into Buenos Aires.
The ship was much bigger than the last five ships we've sailed, and the endless hallways lined with cabins on both sides was somewhat depressing. It was a ten minute walk to the laundromat, with the laundry in a suitcase on wheels The public spaces were more numerous and confusing - what was the difference between the seven lounges on board - was there one that would appeal to me? Finding our assigned dining room was tricky, as only two of the ships fourteen elevators served it, and they weren't well marked. Even approaching on stairways required scheming.
We had a table for ten for the late seating, with a delightful wait staff who quickly learned our idiosyncrasies and replaced my Diet Coke with a new one the minute it emptied. The food was better than I expected - but still not up to Oceania standards. We certainly never went hungry or suffered from lack of choice. Some items were great. The same can not be said for the Horizon Court - the buffet where most people eat breakfast and lunch. It was, at best, mediocre, and at worst, bad. Service was rushed and impersonal, and it often took half the meal to get the Diet Coke after it was ordered. We ended up eating most breakfasts and lunches at the only Dining Hall open for those meals, and it was only open on at-sea days.
On board activities that did not generate additional income for Princess were lacking - the Steam Room was a one time charge of $189, but the gym was free. There were no talks about South American history, geology, the issue of the Malvinas/Falklands or anything else of intellectual interest. There were two cooking demos - one in English and one in Spanish with the same food. The after dinner entertainment that I assumed would be better on a big ship was dismal - 30 minute shows with mediocre singing, mediocre choreography, and lots of pyrotechnics, or a ventriloquist. Fortunately, we got MSNBC on the television in the room.
We took only Princess excursions, which were big buses with bored guides - but the penguins in Puerto Madryn were great. We missed the ones in the Falklands due to weather.
About half the passengers were South Americans - Argentines, Brazilians and Chileans - it is summer vacation. The other half included many Brits, Canadians and Australians. We met many interesting people.