My husband and I are in our 60s….typical HAL cruisers on our 19th cruise, but WOW, this 21 day holiday cruise broke the sedate HAL mold, with an exciting international mix of passengers from young to old! We enjoyed this vibrant group.
We flew to Rio de Janeiro and back from Santiago on Delta with the expected winter weather delays, always tense, so make sure you have plenty of time before connecting to your international flight.
We had sailed twice previously on the Zaandam, and she came out of the latest dry dock looking like a new lady! She was immaculate throughout. There were noticeable improvements around the ship in many venues, much more open and flowing, with new upholstery, carpeting and drapes. Beautiful flower arrangements and holiday decorations graced the ship. The crew appeared very upbeat and proud to be serving on the Zaandam.
With the usual compliment of activities listed each day in a nicely designed daily program, one could do as much or as little as you wished. There were many quiet places to escape from the lively Lido crowd. A great addition was and Antarctic Exploration Team, who gave talks on sea days, covering everything you ever wanted to know about Antarctica, and maybe some things you never thought about! These talks continued after we left Antarctica, too.
We prebooked all our shore excursions through the ship, and were very happy with our choices. I want to add that bringing local currency was not necessary, and vendors everywhere kept their calculators busy converting pesos to dollars. The front office had local currency if necessary.
Rio: Corcovado& Rio Highlights. It was rainy/ foggy so the legendary beaches were deserted and Christ the Redeemer drifted eerily in and out of the mist. The train ride up was fascinating. Good overview.
Buenos Aires: two day Showcase of Buenos Aires. We had a great guide who didn't mince words about political opinions and life in her city. We saw it all from the Recoleta Cemetery to the Tango Show. It was hot and sunny. Lunch was on our own with a variety of dining choices, and I was amazed to see tour members head for TGIFriday's! This was the time to break out the credit card and enjoy Argentine cuisine.
Montevideo: Montevideo and the Wine Trail. Time at the city square, then out of town along the condo studded coast to the Bouza Winery for tasting and a sumptuous lunch. Most enjoyable!
The Falkland Islands: North Pond Penguin Colony. A longer tour in 4X4s across the island to see penguins on a white sand beach, and then a huge Gentoo colony on the top of the hill….thousands of penguins and chicks literally standing wing to wing. Got a history lesson with this tour, too!
Ushuaia: Drive to Tierra del Fuego National Park. In spite of rainy day, the park held its own quiet beauty.
Punta Arenas: Off the Beaten Track: Magdalena Island Penguin Reserve. A must! A long (but comfortable) ferry ride for the E-Ticket experience of a lifetime! Thousands of inquisitive penguins and chicks just feet away, looking at you, walking in front of you, posing for you! Fantastic!
Puerto Montt: Petrohue Falls, lake cruise and Chilean countryside. Off and on rain, but relaxing. Beautiful countryside, great lunch, shopping and the volcano made a spectacular appearance for us.
Valparaiso: Coastal cities and Chilean valley traditions with airport transfer. Perfect way to end the cruise. We loved the horse ranch demonstration, Pisco Sours and delicious lunch. We had an excellent guide. We were dropped off at the airport at 5 PM.
The main event on this cruise was our time in Antarctica. We were blessed with two stunning, sunny days. The vistas were surreal and ethereal as the ship glided silently across water as smooth as glass! The abundant shades of blue took your breath away. Wildlife was everywhere. It was "another world" experience we will never forget! There is always much talk on roll calls about proper clothing. Temperatures were around 30 degrees and quite tolerable. We are from the desert in southern California and just layered our clothes, topped off with jackets spayed with a water repellant. Sunglasses and sunscreen are a must, too! I wore non thermal tights under slacks with nylon gym pants over that to break the wind. Most important gear were hats to cover ears, a scarf and gloves. The shop on the ship sold jackets, scarves hats and gloves. We were very comfortable. Hot chocolate, gluhwein and pea soup were served during scenic cruising.
Our Vista cabin 6110 was spacious and very comfortable, and looked completely new, including the built in furniture, carpet drapes and bedding. We had plenty of storage. It was located over the showroom and you could hear noise, but we didn't consider it a problem. It was a short walk to the outside deck at the bow of the ship, which we used frequently. Our steward, Asep, took good care of us, making sure we had everything we needed. He amazed us with his towel animals! The water was hot and the toilet flushed…life was good in 6110!
We requested a table for 2 at 5:30 open seating. We had #114, which was perfect, not close to other tables, yet offered a great view from the back windows. Apri and Ary were our personable, competent stewards. Ary impressed us with his magic tricks! Dinner offerings were overall good and consistent. Iggy was the As You Wish Dining Host and circulated the dining room making sure all was well. There was always an alternative menu. The Coho Salmon was very good. A favorite are always the chilled soups. On the last night there was an International Dinner, which offered lots of choices.
We used room service for breakfast most mornings, and did dine in the Pinnacle Grill one night. Dinner and the service were excellent. On sea days there was always an international buffet on the Lido poolside featuring cuisine of different country each time. The Chilean and Peruvian meal was the best! There were several teas as well.
Entertainment was varied. I had seen both shows before, and this show cast did not seem to have the charisma of past shows. The onboard enrichment lectures were informative. I appreciated the onboard Catholic Priest and daily Mass. Non denominational services were also available.
Disembarkation went smoothly. Passengers were bused to the main terminal. Because we were on a HAL tour, our luggage was sent directly to the airport. Internet on the ship was the usual slow and frustrating. We were not able to check in for our flight the evening before (network overload), but did so the morning of disembarkation on our ipad with a different network. At the airport you must insert your passport in the machine to print out your boarding pass. The airline counters don't open until a few hours before departure, so we waited in line for 1 ½ hours. The Santiago Airport was chaotic, with no place to sit except in restaurants, which were filled to capacity. We surrendered our Chilean Landing Card (which was inserted in the passport when we entered Chilean waters) at passport control and went through security. At the airline gate we were given a table number and an agent looked through our bags once more before we boarded the plane.
This was a near perfect cruise with a fantastic itinerary that I would heartily recommend, and we would love to repeat in the future.