We were lucky to have some of the best weather of the season with only one rough sea-night that unfortunately prevented us from going to the Falklands. The rest of the time, we had some strong winds, etc. but no rain and relatively calm seas so the scenery was spectacular. One ship pilot in the Beagle Channel said we had the nicest day he could remember since 1975!
We spent 3 nights in Buenos Aires - A large dirty, grafitti and run-down city but the service, food and wines were great. The American dollar rules here. Do not buy Argentinian pesos in advance. The pesos were approx. 4 per $1 Canadian here in Canada and we were offered 7 per $1 US while there. Definitely a good bargaining point. I even had a leather jacket made to measure over-night! It is gorgeous.
The cruise was fine. A smaller, older version of the Eurodam. The bathrooms are in need of a 'spruce up' but otherwise, it was up to HAL standards. The food was, as expected, quite good, the service was very good and there, was, as always, lots to do.
My only complaint is HAL's tendering process for those "independents" not taking their tours. Fortunately this only occurred in Puerto Montt. It was a madhouse to get tendering tickets. (If you were taking one of THEIR tours, the tender boats were reserved only for them for an entire hour.) One poor little woman given the task of handing out the tender tickets was mobbed by hundreds of people, without any order or sensibility. We were tender group number six but got off on the second boat because most of the people fighting for tickets didn't even want them. One woman asked for and got 25 tickets but we didn't see her on the tenders or in the port. We wanted the tickets to meet our tour, which was leaving 45 minutes after our arrival in Puerto Montt. Some people missed the beginning of the tour as a result but GV Tours was very helpful. Apparently, this is NOT how other cruise lines handle the situation. I found it extremely unsafe and, given the average age of those on the cruise, it is a wonder no-one has been seriously injured. I did complain, and HAL sent me a bottle of wine but I still think they need to revisit their system.)
But now for the good stuff.
We really enjoyed the Lanai rooms and being able to get out on the deck with ease. We had old-fashioned deck chairs assigned to us, complete with plaid blankets and cushions. While there were a lot of people walking by, we didn't feel 'invaded' (although sometimes people assumed they could cut through via our rooms, not realizing they were private rooms, as the glass is mirrored - so good for a laugh). I enjoyed the ability to be in and out with my cameras and tripod. And, we met some other really nice people next door.
I must also mention HAL's Travel Guide Benjamin. His information sessions were EXCELLENT. Very informative. His knowledge of birds and wildlife was OUTSTANDING.
Packing was a challenge as we needed 3 seasons: Summer, Winter and Formal. You definitely need a warm jacket to be outside and enjoy the scenery. A hat and gloves are also welcome.
As for the tours:
We walked Montivideo. Definitely easy to do.
In Puerto Madryn, we took the Shore Excursions tour to Punta Tombo. We were met on the pier by a driver, (cannot remember his name but it was French and he was charming), who drove the four of us to the penguin colony. He was very informative and very knowledgeable. The drive is long, almost two hours each way, but I love penguins, sooooo..... (Photos to follow).
In Punta Arenas, we booked again with Shore Excursions and went to Otway Sound Penguin Reserve. Not that many penguins were still there but I got some good photos and the scenery was beautiful. I think it was worth it. A small bus of approximately 18 or so, and they willingly dropped us off in the middle of town at the end to do some shopping. Wanna see my penguin hat? LOL Our friends went sea-kayaking. I don't know who they booked with but it was literally half of what the HAL people were paying on the same tour. I think they had hoped it would be a bit more scenic but they paddled with a lot of porpoises.
In Ushuaia, we had our third and final tour with Shore Excursions. There was some confusion about our pick-up time because the ship arrived early. Nevertheless, Macarena, the guide, and the driver showed up. Unfortunately, about half an hour into the trip, the bus broke down and they had to call for another, which arrived in about an hour. As a result, the guide was determined to show us every last bit of the 'End of the World' and it was too long. We really didn't need to visit the beaver dam and peat bog. Most people wanted some time back in town to shop but we, and all tours, like HAL, had to stop at the park's 'information centre', and their prices were outrageous. Normal stuff.....
Would I recommend Shore Excursions again? Yes. Definitely vs. HAL. Especially when their prices are better. The smaller groups are so much nicer!
We greeted Cape Horn just before sunrise one morning. Most people were out on deck to mark the passing and the Captain sounded the ship's horn. We all received personalized 'Certificates' and we are now entitled to wear a huge gold earring in our left ear and put one foot on a table anywhere. LOL
In our last stop, in Puerto Montt, we used a company called GV Tours and they were very efficient, with a nice small bus. The tour included all the well known stops and lunch was also included. Gail, the owner, was very pleasant and helpful. Puerto Montt is the best place to buy local sweaters for $20 to $25. There is an avenue about a block from the port that is lined with vendors (about 4 blocks long).
In Valparaiso, we used a company called South Excursions to get us from Valpo to Santiago, via a vineyard, which included tours of both towns. It was very good too. We stayed at a very small hotel, Manoir Atkinson, in the 'hip' part of Valpo. Great location (except I spent the entire time sick in bed. Fortunately, really nice linens!)
We found a great handicraft market in Santiago, called Los Dominicos, an artisan craft market where we did lots of shopping. A MUST for different items, mostly made there by the artisans, and pretty reasonable. We used the subway system to get around. Not too hard.
Our hotel was called Hotel Orly and we had apartment efficiencies, which was great so we could reorganize our luggage.
It was a great adventure and I will always treasure the opportunity to travel around Cape Horn and see my beloved penguins.