Celebrity Infinity Antarctica Cruise and Buenos Aires Walking Tour February 17 to March 2, 2013
Personal Background Information
I am retired and have been cruising single for many years. This was my first cruise on Celebrity, however. I took it, because I wanted to see Antarctica. I had already been to Ushuaia, Stanley, Puerto Madryn, Montevideo and Buenos Aires on a 2009 cruise on Norwegian Sun from Buenos Aires to Valparaiso, which I also reviewed. This time, I also arranged for a private walking tour of Buenos Aires with Baires a la Gorra upon disembarking.
Travel To Port of Embarkation
There was no problem with the cruise-line’s air arrangements from Boston. All of the arrangements Enid Hey, Celebrity’s agent, made for me were wonderful. As always, there is that very long walk between gates at JFK. I didn’t overnight in Buenos Aires, but went right from the airport to the cruise terminal. I do believe I was overcharged for the taxi-fare and wish I had also arranged that transfer with Celebrity.
Embarkation was a nightmare. Including Infinity, three ships were embarking that day and there was chaos in the terminal. It took over two-and-a-half hours from arrival at the terminal at approximately 12:00 to get aboard Infinity. So, door-to-door from Boston took 22 hours. I think Celebrity should work on their embarkation logistics, because I experienced a similar, though not identical, problem embarking on a Celebrity cruise from Barcelona in April.
I was upgraded to cabin 8177 Concierge Class and it was wonderful, except the evening treats delivered to the stateroom were the same everyday until, after about a week, the steward realized I wasn’t eating them, and changed them to something else for the rest of the cruise. But sitting out on my balcony, cruising south, watching the waves break, breathing the splendid air, I really have no cause for complaint.
Infinity is a smaller ship, which I much prefer. I liked it a lot and would cruise on her again, should opportunity present.
As do other Celebrity ships, Infinity has a terrific, large and airy solarium with warm saltwater pool, hot tubs, healthy food bar, comfortable padded deck chairs, etc. Inside, the large sauna with large port looks out at the water. Great pleasures.
The food and service in both the Trellis dining room and Oceanview cafe were excellent. I had Celebrity Select (open) seating in the Trellis, so enjoyed excellent conversations with other guests, with many of whom I found shared interests and life experiences. These dinners were a great pleasure. On formal/lobster night however, I was very much looking forward to some company at dinner and, in spite of my request, they sat me at a small table by myself. After about five minutes, I got up, went up to the stern deck for a half-hour, then back down to the Trellis, got in line again, asked to be seated with a group, and was placed at a large table with one couple. We began a very pleasant conversation and were joined by another couple. We had a lot in common. So regardless of a dismal start, it turned out to be the best dinner of the trip.
I used the fine gym everyday, and took advantage of the excellent Spa services for a shave and haircut by Agnes and massage by Claudia.
The base-rate for Internet on Celebrity is $0.75/minute, more expensive than on other lines. I bought a $50.00 package, which works fine, as long as you compose your emails, etc., before signing on.
Staff & Service
I banged my legs on the bed frames sticking out from under the mattresses and drew blood. So I stuffed a towel over them for padding. I thought the steward would see it and do something. But he just left the towel there for the entire cruise. I didn’t have this problem on the next cruise, on Equinox, so guess it’s unique to Infinity. The rest of the staff were wonderful. I could name names, but it would be a long list.
I didn’t go to any shows. After a while, they blend, and I didn’t have anyone to go with, anyway. I neither drink nor gamble. Mostly I read, write, work out, swim, sauna and watch the scenery, so guess I’m pretty boring.
The purpose of this voyage was to see Antarctica. The only excursion I took was a bus from Ushuaia to Terra del Fuego National Park. It was a cloudy, drizzling, chilly day, unlike the last time I was there, when it was brilliantly sunny and warm. The PA system on the bus was broken and we had a half hour wait for a replacement bus. Being at the park in the fog and rain was disappointing, because I kept remembering how splendid it was in the brilliant sun. It seemed just ordinary on this visit. I took the same walks along the river and lake shore as before. But the driver kept the engine running at the latter; exceedingly annoying. In describing the park's fauna, the tour guide said there are red and grey foxes, both very elusive and rarely seen. Well, five minutes later, a red fox crossed in front of the bus; the driver stopped and the fox slowly ambled alongside, passengers rushing to take pictures of this supposedly 'rarely seen' creature. Upon returning about a half-hour later, cars and busses were lined up along the road as the fox wandered amongst them, mingling with people taking pictures of this very plump 'wild' fox.
From Ushuaia, we proceeded south to Cape Horn, where we lingered off-shore for a couple of hours while Peter Croyle, the very knowledgeable Excursion Expert, pointed out various features over the PA system and, for part of the time, a Chilean Navy patrol boat matched way just below me while the young lady on the boat and I waved to each other.
At about 08:00hrs, we left the American continent behind, heading south into the Drake Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula. It's awesome, when you think that the continent begins at the Northwest Passage in the Arctic and ends right here, at Cape Horn. The Drake was as flat as a pancake. Drake Lake.
This is from my diary:
February 23, 2013 18:55: Schollaert Channel and Paradise Bay.
From about 11:00 this morning, the world has truly turned upside down. It's hard to believe this is the same planet. We have passed spouting whales, diving penguins and basking sea lions, but it is the overwhelming magnitude of this unparalleled grandeur which infuses every moment, overwhelming the senses, the mind, the emotions and, in essence, the spirit and soul. Everyone has been trying to capture it in pictures, and everyone says it is impossible; only the soul can truly perceive the essence of this majestic mystery. Now I think I understand why Shackleton, Amundsen, Scott and so many others were and are driven to this place no words can describe, no photos capture, no matter the cost. I feel the thunder of ice braking into the sea.
February 24, 2013 12:00. Thick fog since about 06:00 is just beginning to lift, so making perhaps 10kts. at present toward Elephant Island. Could see the Shetland Islands off to port before the fog set in, and I think it Deception or Clark that has just now appeared directly off about a mile from my balcony. The fog is rapidly burning off, every second revealing a fresh view.
Elephant Island is now ahead to port. We are about to enter the fog again, temperature dropping, the wind picking up and I am trying to imagine what it must have been like out here camped on ice flows and in small wooden boats in April. Now we are again in the fog and visibility is zero, everything has vanished into glaring white and I have put on another shirt, and now need gloves, too.
Shackleton writes of pods of killer whales in here, but I don't see any. At 12:39 we are directly south of Elephant Island with a heading of 35 deg. at 18kts. Wind is 14kts. NW and temperature 35 deg.
12:55hrs. Some blue sky can be seen; the barest shadowy form of the top peaks of Elephant Island appear and disappear and now are becoming startling clear directly ahead. I am re-reading Shackleton's account of their landing as we approach from the same direction, the forbidding cliffs and coast he describes directly off our port bow. They did this in small wooden boats through sea ice in April, after endless months wintering on ice flows! And here am I sitting on my porch, with all the comforts of home a step away. It just doesn't seem right.
The fog is gone, the sun out, and no need for gloves. I am looking for Shackleton's "rocky beach". I see another vessel, National Geographic Explorer it turns out, in the distance under the cliffs.
15:23hrs. We've been in the same place off Endurance Glacier for about three hrs, and it's loosing its charm. Peter Croyle said something about circumnavigating the island so we'd see where Shackleton landed, but it doesn't look like that's in the works. There's quite a bit of activity in the water: minkes, penguins, seals, and the ship has just launched a tender, so a few lucky crew-members are getting a treat. The folks on the balcony next door are complaining about just sitting here for hours, and wondering why we aren't going around the island. Shackleton's first landing site was on the other side of Point Valentine. They stayed there for one day and night, before proceeding further up the coast to Point Wild, from which he and six of his party departed on their famous rescue mission to South Georgia, leaving 18 of his party on Elephant. Unfortunately, we did not follow their route, so have not actually seen either of these historic landing sites.
February 26: Stanley, the Malvinas (Falkland Islands). This was my second visit. Around 06:00 we entered the inlet and anchored out in the bay, a 20 min. tender ride to town. I went to the cemetery and tore grass away from George Llano's headstone so the inscription was visible, at least for a while. His is a very interesting story and I suggest a Google search. When I told the security officer at the tender dock about his grave, she said her husband is buried in the same section. From the cemetery, I walked back through town in the other direction, past the market and gift shops, the bank and war memorial, on the breakwater to the wreck of the Jhelum, came upon some albatross feeding along the shore, sat cross-legged on a manhole cover and politely asked them to take flight so I could get a picture. They obliged for a few seconds, before alighting in about the same spot again.
I do truly love the Falklands (Malvinas), they are gorgeous and well worth visiting. But I have been here before and mostly just wanted to visit George Llano's grave again. Other than that, the heavy exhaust emissions from all the SUVs, trucks, busses, etc. is very unpleasant. No catalytic converters required. Wonder what Stanley will be like when they start drilling for the oil. Horrors!
On the way back to Buenos Aires, we stopped in Puerto Madryn and Montevideo. Been to both before and have nothing to report.
Disembarkation and Baires a la Gorra Tour
Disembarkation was no problem. Everything was well organized and went quickly.
With a 21:00hrs. flight scheduled, I had arranged with Naty Novoa of Baires a la Gorra (https://www.facebook..com/balagorra?fref=ts ) to take their free walking tour of Buenos Aires’ historical sites and local neighborhoods, and to sample Argentina’s delectable cuisine, a most stimulating, enjoyable experience. Naty met me at the cruise terminal at 10:00 and I was able to leave my one suitcase securely there for the day. I had absolutely no security concerns during the tour, since I took reasonable precautions, using a money belt and, at Naty’s suggestion, keeping my small backpack in front when in crowds. I found Buenos Aires to be a charming, dynamic, clean and friendly city. Though we took taxicabs for two short rides, we mostly comfortably walked and chatted and I learned about Argentina’s people, culture and history while having fun. The tour format was a very pleasant, informative conversation with Naty, while visiting historic sites and markets, partaking of the cuisine with Buenos Aires residents at a favorite restaurant and cafe, and casually talking with people about their lives, jobs, and feelings. There was none of the hustle, constraint and sense of isolation of profit-driven tours. It was a great pleasure to walk the city at ease with friends. The tour provided both a broad scope and depth of knowledge, familiarizing me with the major historical sites, government and business districts and inner-city neighborhoods. It left me eager to return for a longer stay. Though the day was well-organized, I did not get the sense of rushing from place to place. We had time for a leisurely breakfast, and incredible lunch of the best steak I have ever had followed by Dulce’ de Leche’ with caramel and whipped cream for desert. I enjoyed strolling through key areas, visiting the major historical sites, including La Recoleta Cemetery (Cementerio de la Recoleta) with the impressive mausoleums of Eva Peron, Argentina presidents, Nobel Prize winners, the founder of the Argentine Navy, a granddaughter of Napoleon and many other notable people. We also visited the Obelisco de Buenos Aires, where we saw ‘the most tattooed man in the world’, shopped in the elegant Galerias Pacifico, where I bought Alfajores dulce’ de leche’ pastries to take home, and went to a busy street fair.
Baires a la Gorra gave me a unique and delightful experience that I will always treasure. Though it is a free service, with no financial obligation, I covered the modest expenses and tipped generously. They also arranged my transportation to the airport. I felt as invigorated at the end of the day as at the beginning. and had no problem with my flight home.
This cruise to Antarctica on Celebrity Infinity and Baires a la Gorra’s walking tour of Buenos Aires afterward were truly remarkable experiences and I strongly recommend them without hesitation. Naty Novoa of Baires a la Gorra and Enid Hey of Celebrity provided unparalleled services in making sure I would have these precious treasures to remember for the rest of my life. Thank you.