This being our ninth cruise, and our first time in the South Atlantic, Southern, and South Pacific oceans, we were a little worried when we embarked, and our cabin steward told us the previous couple of voyages were unable to make calls at the Falkland Islands or around Cape Horn because of weather. Also, they were implementing high sanitation protocols because there were some cases of Norovirus reported on the previous voyage. Reading some cruise reviews, I can see how lucky we were, because we didn't have any problems they spoke about.
Our embarkation in Buenos Aires was a very straightforward, the facilities were excellent, which surprised us since we'd witnessed the decline of the city since our last visit there twenty-three years ago. It took us about an hour and a half from taxi cab drop off to ships gangway.
My wife and I usually travel by ourselves, and our voyage, Buenos Aires to Valparaiso (2/25 - 3/10/13) was about as perfect you could ever expect in this part of the world. We had a port side balcony cabin on deck 11, (we usually just go inside stateroom, but hey it was on-sale and this was our 25th anniversary.) The ship was sold out, and half the passengers continued on for another 16 nights to LA. We're still working so we had to get back, but most of the passengers were couples (50-70yrs) from the UK, Canada, Australia, Argentina, and Chile. There were few children or young adults. I would guess there were only 20% from the US. It appeared to be that most passengers were not traveling in/with big groups, or with big families (as often seen on Caribbean cruises), hence it seemed like everyone was noticeably more open to just sit with and strike up conversation with other passengers. On one sea day we sat in the lounges and Horizon Court, and enjoyed meeting and talking with four different couples for an hour or so at a time. We had arranged late seating in Amalfi dinning room. We were assigned to a table for eight, and almost every night all couples showed up, something we haven't seen in the Caribbean in some time.
Our first Port-O-Call Montevideo, Uruguay turned out to be a surprise for everyone. The country seems to avoiding all the mistakes of its neighbors, and it shows in this beautiful city with a great shoreline. We went on city tour excursion that ended at the Santa Rosa Winery. The owner, Daniel personally gave us the tour, and had a nice party for us after a luncheon.
At our next stop in Puerto Madryn we took a private tour down to Punto Tombo Penquin reserve. As a harbinger of the weirdly weather we were to get, that day it rained on us. This is the Patagonian desert, so this is the one day in two hundred they get rain. We'd see this reserve twenty-three years ago in dry sunshine, and it was still a delight, even in the rain.
Steaming down the "roaring forties" and "furious fifties" to Port Stanley, Falkland Islands was an unexpectedly smooth ride. We saw whales (not sure if they were Southern Right or Sperm) from our balcony in the morning.
The Falkland Islands were interesting. We took a 4x4 vehicle to Volunteer Point to see the King Penguins, only to have the smaller but joyous Gentoo penguins steal our hearts. We got to see a large sea-lion patrolling up and down the beach as the penguins ran for lives out to the surf. The hour and half ride over hill and dale each way was brutal though, (it would make a good commercial for Land Rover, Jeep or any stalwart 4X4 maker.) It was good to see, but there's a desolation there, not one bloody tree, I couldn't live there.
Next we sailed on to Cape Horn, and what wonderful weather we had! The seas were calm and the sun was out, even though there was plenty of wind. The captain circumnavigated ship around the island, Cabo de Hornos, in a counter-clockwise so we could see it from our balcony. As an avid fan of sea stories this was the high point for me, as Volunteer point was for my wife.
Then we went on to Ushuaia. We went on a historic rail ride. The ride was not well organized, in that there was a lot of lining up and waiting for unknown reasons, and then the narration system didn't work.
Next up was glacier alley on the Beagle channel which was spectacular, then on to Punta Arenas. Here we took ride up the ski hill just north of the port and trekked down to some hot chocolate, while overlooking the Straights of Magellan.
Next we sailed on to Puerto Montt. This is gateway to the lakes region. We went on a tour of Puerto Varas, and then up to the Orsono Volcano, but the weather didn't cooperate this day and we were in the clouds. Think the Olympic peninsula region in Washington state, and you'll understand the weather here.
On to Valparaiso, we disembarked at 7am and everything was orderly and we were at the Santiago International airport in about two hours.
The food was the best we've had on Princess, (still not as tasty as Celebrity) and the entertainment was hit or miss. The bar staff was excellent. The wait service was competent, but not as good as Celebrity. The room steward was good and unobtrusive. The ship seemed like a very happy ship, and it ran really smooth, i.e. no chugging along or vibrations from the propulsion systems. The beds were a little hard, but everything was very clean and well maintained. We did note some sewage smells that appeared around deck 6 on the starboard side just before entering the photo galleries at time, but only there.
The Captain seemed like he was enjoying our itinerary as much as everyone on board. This was a great cruise, but I can imagine how disappointing it would be if we didn't get the great weather and calm seas we did. Sometimes you just draw the lucky cards, and we did.