South America & Antarctica
We arrived at the pier in Long Beach at 12.00 pm. The private shuttle driver was told to unload our luggage in an area in the back where the only person in charge asked for a tip to take care of it. At 12.10 pm we stood in line, 2 hours in the full sun, 1 hour and 20 minutes in the shade. There was nobody in sight to give an explanation, no water was offered and no seats were available for some of the older passengers. Approaching the desks we could see that about one third were not staffed. We are foreigners so we had a long discussion with the person at the desk about our visas and US immigration rules. It took 4 supervisors to answer our question. Consequently it took about 20 minutes to check in.
The safety briefing was not taken seriously by the staff. On the upper decks was nobody to guide us to the correct deck and during the briefing staff was not paying attention to the announcements made over the speakers. In order to set my mind at rest I want the safety briefing to be More
an exercise in case of an emergency.
After only a few days we called the Splendor the 'ship-of-the-long-lines'. We didn't like the ship because it seems kitschy. The ornaments are overbearing and take away from the narrow space there is in the first place. This was the first ship that always felt crowded. It had pillars in the way that were real obstacles and many seats in the theater didn't allow a full view of the stage. We were not impressed with our cabin staff on the first leg of the journey. They gave the impression that they did not care too much. The staff on the second leg was very good though. Many seats in the dining room (Black Pearl) were so close together that the serving staff had to balance their trays over people's heads. The majority of the staff did not have proper training. They reached across one person to serve another, served a cold starter before a hot starter, forgot to bring an order or got it mixed up. We missed overall the service with a smile. The serving staff in the Lido was often invisible. The choice of food was very restricted and it was almost always cold. The Lido was not clean. When I looked at the air vents along the windows I saw that they were filthy. The window sills and the floor were often dirty.
The cruise director Malcolm was a pain, just loud and not funny. The 'fun' on the 'fun' ships can't be forced on. They have to work for it.
Some staff of the guest service was arrogant. A senior member who was supposed to look into our passport issues let us down three times. Although he had promised to keep us informed he did not get back to us once. We had to line up at the guest service desk every time and ask for him.
There were too many issues in the organization of the cruise to list them all. The information policy was disastrous. It seemed that they would only make announcements after failures became too obvious to be ignored instead of letting the passengers know in advance when something did not go according to plan. Waiting in line to get back on the ship at some of the ports took up to 1 hour.
The only pleasant experiences were the ports along the way.
We had sent a complaint to Carnival from Huatulco about the embarkation chaos. It took them 4 weeks to answer with a letter full of platitudes and an apology that wasn't worth the words. Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
Cabo is a tender port. It only takes a few minutes by boat to get right into center of the town with the marina, restaurants and shops. There are people offering boat and taxi tours at the pier. We took a glass bottom boat to the arch. The prices are negotiable and it cost us $ 36 for 4 for about 1 hour. To get to the boats you have to pay some kind of tax of $ 1 per person. That tour is interesting as you get a good picture of the beaches and the spectacular rock formations. We also enjoyed the sea lions, pelicans and fish. Don't take the cruise ships excursion because it is really easy to get around on your own.
The port is a huge commercial hub. However, opposite the pier where the cruise ships dock is a 'Peruvian Market'. All kinds of crafts and clothes are offered. A shuttle takes everybody to the gate where the taxis are waiting. They charge $ 20 for a trip to town or per hour if you book them for a city sightseeing tour. With a bit of luck you can barter and get a ride to Plaza Mayor for $ 15. The area around the port is definitely not good for walking in fact it looks quite rough. The drive to Plaza Mayor takes - depending on traffic - 25 to 45 minutes. It is nice to see the changing of the guard in front of the Palacio del Gobierno at 12 pm. One block north of the plaza is the old Puente Piedra, a Roman style bridge. On the way about half a block from the Plaza are the beautiful Santa Domingo Arcades. It's nice to stroll through them. There are many stalls selling maps, stamps, bills and some crafts. There are also internet shops, a couple of little restaurants and a post office. It's no problem to pay with dollars.
From the bridge one can see the colorful cube shaped shacks where the poorer population of Lima lives. Don't go into the Rimac district on the other side of the bridge even though it looks quite inviting. We were wandering around there when locals warned us to leave the area and return to the busy streets close to Plaza Mayor. They considered it to be too dangerous for tourists. Police was everywhere around Plaza Mayor and the adjacent streets some even in riot gear and in armored vehicles.
It took a while to get a taxi back to Callao because the Plaza was closed due to a government event and not all taxis are licensed to go to Callao. Right down the name of the port entrance otherwise the taxi drivers don't know where to drop you off.
US Dollars were accepted everywhere.
The capitol of Uruguay with a population of about 1,320,000 is a charming city with many beautiful colonial buildings. The ships dock right in the city center. In the port area is a WiFi hotspot and Internet place and directly outside at the tourist information is another hotspot. There are several naval exhibitions, one about the German battle ship Graf Spee which sank off Montevideo in 1939. Around the old market hall are craft stalls with nice things but they are also pricy. The market hall is full of eateries. The waft of roasted meat was killing; the big grills were full of steaks, sausages, and all kinds of pieces of meat and some vegetables too. The atmosphere is great and worth the steep prices. The narrow streets are lined with 18th and 19th century buildings in different European building styles. The plazas were lovely (Zabala, Constitucion, Independencia ) with blooming trees, monuments and a fountain. The shops are interesting, so are the stalls with antiques and crafts. There is a hop-on-hop-off bus but it is easy to walk around and everything is close by. Dollars are accepted everywhere.
When we approached Puerto Montt on February 22nd it started raining. Supposedly it rains there most of the times and the climate supposedly is similar to the Pacific Northwest. Puerto Montt is the hub of the largest salmon aquaculture industry in the world, closely followed by Norway. There is no pier therefore the cruise ship used tenders which made it a drawn out procedure to get ashore. Inside the port building is a Wi-Fi hotspot. There is also a McDonalds in town and there are several Internet places. When you turn left coming out of the port you get to an art and crafts and a fish market and some restaurants. Turn to the right and you get to the city center which is about a mile to walk. Local busses run frequently and the fare is cheap. There are also taxis waiting to take you on sight-seeing tours. Their prices are negotiable.
The city was founded by Germans in 1852. We started our city tour with a visit of the German club where we had half a liter of 'Kunstmann' beer from the tap. There are no significant old buildings and many shops in the city were closed. That may be caused by a big shopping mall in the center. Close to the church in the town center is sculpture of German immigrants. There is another sculpture on the sea promenade. Walking back to the port we found more crafts stalls but all in all we didn't find the city very impressive.
This is a tender port and it depends on the anchoring position of the ship whether you are close to the city center or not. Our tenders got in close to the center. We went through a hall where our bags were scanned. There are craft shops and many interesting photos on the wall which give an indication of the area and the history of the city. Outside the port are an old clock and a big craft/souvenir shop. There are taxis waiting. They take US Dollars, so do most shops. It is easy to get around by foot. It took us about 30 minutes of slow walking to get to the cemetery. This is a must see for somebody not familiar with the burial culture. The cemetery is surrounded by a big wall which is --seen from the inside- filled with urns. The lanes are lined with big neatly pruned trees. Most of the monuments are beautiful work of art. The names on the headstones are Spanish, British, German and Croatian. It is an interesting mix of nationalities which shows in the city itself too. Some of the grand turn of the last century buildings could stand in Rome, Madrid or Berlin whereas the family homes remind of England. In the central plaza stands a monument of Magellan. It is surrounded by crafts stalls and swamped with tourists when a ship is in port. Close by is the Brown Menendez home which has been turned into a museum. Although some buildings in the city look a bit run down the overall impression is that of a place worth while visiting.
We arrived in Valparaiso before sunrise. It is a large port and naval base. Make sure to watch the sun rise over the city because it brings out the colour in all the houses on the hillsides. You have to take a shuttle to the port exit which unfortunately is about 1 1/2 miles from the city center. From there you can catch a train to Vina del Mar. We caught a local bus for 300 Pesos p. P. and got off at Plaza Mayor. From there you can walk the old town center which is UNESCO world heritage site and has a number of impressive buildings from the turn of the last century. Step into one of the old banks on Prat which look as if time has stopped 1930 with lots of marble, carved wood and stucco.
There are dogs everywhere (and their poop -- watch your step!). They look well fed though and people were petting them. Unique features of Valparaiso are the century old 'ascensors'. The wooden cabins move on rails up and down the steep hills and we took 'ascensor concepcion' for a short ride (300 Pesos). As you go up you look down on corrugated tin roofs. Around every corner waits another great view over the city and sea. The houses are painted in all colours of the rainbow and there are lots of murals. In the bright sunshine the whole city gives a very cheerful impression even though a closer look shows that many homes are in dire need of repair. It is a paradise for photographers. We also took a couple of local busses and as people did not speak much English we got to our destinations with 5 words of Spanish, grimaces and gestures and lots of laughter on all sides. We felt that it was easy to get around and that it was safe to do so.
Ushuaia is a good size modern city with a population of about 57 000. The wind was blowing freezing cold when we docked at the end of February but by late afternoon it was 56 F and the wind had dropped. Three cruise ships and two ships that looked like expedition outfitters were in port. Therefore our guess would be that around 6000 people flooded the town. On and near the pier were several stalls with crafts, wine, snacks, postcards and stamps. The tourist information by the pier entrance has several stamps "Ushuaia -- the southernmost city in the world". They are for free use.
Lots of money must be made because there is a casino, new shops with expensive clothes and souvenirs galore. New buildings are going up all over the city center; it feels like a boom town. It's pleasant to stroll along the seafront especially on a sunny day when the snow covered mountains make a fantastic backdrop. Several works of art are installed in a park by the casino. The little local cemetery looks neglected and is not really worth a visit. Drinks and snacks are very expensive, a small beer costs
6 USD. We saw a blue double decker bus offering a city sightseeing tour. One tip for cruisers: if time allows go to town later in the afternoon. That's when the locals go shopping and it is not crowded anymore.