We're active independent travelers who have done a handful of cruises, most recently in the Mediterranean with Oceania, which we loved, but the Zaandam fit our schedule out of Buenos Aires.
The boat: you get nice privileges for a suite, including preferred boarding, tendering and disembarkation, free overnight laundry service, a private lounge, personalized service and meet/greets with the captain, not to mention plenty of space. The ship was recently refurbished but still felt aged, with wear and tear throughout. The food was unremarkable, including the desserts and the specialty restaurants--which is just as well--though the fish was surprisingly, consistently good. The exercise room was good but the two fitness guys need customer service training--and maybe new personalities. The spa was underwhelming--you get a key to a locker in which is bundled a frayed robe--not exactly setting a soothing tone. The casino was often deserted--a small group of us bonded during the twice-day-day Texas Hold 'Em tourneys on sea days. There were 1407 guests, 615 crew; it felt like fewer.
The cruise: There are a lot of sea days, which is soothing, but kind of boring and occasionally very rough. The views are good but the glaciers and mountains are similar to Alaska or the Canadian Rockies while the fjords are like Puget Sound. We imagine this is much more exciting during whale season. We saw dolphins and flying fish but not much else. The ports were good but fairly similar in their offerings. Tracking the early journeys through the Magellan Straits and going around the horn, hitting the point where the Atlantic meets the Pacific, was very cool--just to say you did. We did one ship excursion which was well run if not overwhelming.
A few port details that may be of use:
Puerto Madryn: it's a long long way to the Valdes Peninsula and you only get to see penguins and sea lions from a distance. This would be much cooler if whales were about as this is a feeding area!
Punta Arenas: We had invested in the $1000+ each for the ship excursion to Torres del Paine, which includes getting going at 6:15 a.m. to the airport, an hour-long flight to Puerto Natales, then a two-hour bus ride into the park for lunch--after which you come right back. Nice views of mountains and glaciers; we were thrilled to see the full distinctive Torres del Paine salmon pink granite towers. A few added touches could have easily made this more memorable, like telling us they would provide coffee and rolls, and providing a bottle of water.
Ushuaia: Spend your day here, going up the town ski lift to the foot of Glaciar Martial (it's very cold so be prepared!). Because Tierra del Fuego park had nothing to offer after previous stops. (Our independent group booed down a guide’s plan to walk to see a beaver dam as a highlight!) if you go to the post office so you can send it from the furthest south city in the world, get your card ready as it's a mob and the cards there are costly. I bought and mailed two postcards for about $8.
Puerto Montt: We had a great time with GV tours, which happily customizes for you. We asked to get as close to the volcanoes as possible so they drove us up to the ski lifts at Osorno volcano. Unfortunately, it’s too misty and would take too long to go up and back—darn. We did get some nice views of the peak. A quick jaunt into the Vicente Perez Rosales national park to see the picturesque Petrohue Falls and rapids, with Osorno in the background. We never saw the peak of the Calbuco volcano, which last erupted in 1972, but got great views from the ship. Had a nice lunch, then stopped by Puerto Varas for a quick stroll, then back to the boat. Towns are built by Germans who had been enticed here and the area feels like Europe.
Valparaiso: Surprisingly picturesque town! If you're wondering whether to stay here or Santiago before flying out, we recommend Valparaiso. It's got coastline, funiculars, colorful communities scattered across 23 hills, and one of the few Easter Island statues not on the island. Thomas Poussard was a wonderful tour guide.
We stayed overnight in Santiago and flew home the next morning. Enjoy!