After a few years of using Cruise Critic to plan our family trips, cruises and even non-cruise trips, this will be our first review. We hope this trip report will help others that may be planning their trips so that we can contribute to the community that has helped to bring many fun and happy travels to our family. This report is for our 17-day South America trip, which included 14-night Celebrity Infinity holiday cruise from Valparaiso to Buenos Aires. We (2 adults and 2 older teens) traveled on this trip with another family of 4, and the trip was a blast.
Our flight arrived in Santiago at about 530am on Saturday. We went through immigration and paid our reciprocity fee easily using credit card (but we had USD to cover it in case the credit card didn’t work as we wanted to avoid being slowed down). We had arranged for our hotel to pick us up, and the driver was there on time with our name on the sign to meet us (just right outside the door after the agriculture portion of the immigration process). Our hotel was nice enough to let us check in early so we got to clean up and rest for a couple of hours before hitting the town.
We headed on foot to the funky Bellavista neighborhood for brunch/lunch, visited to La Chascona, rode the Bellavista Funicular to Cerro San Cristobal. We took a taxi to have a look and a drink in Mercado Central and walked back to our hotel to clean up. We took a taxi to Las Condes, dined on a nice seafood dinner at Osaka, took a taxi back to the hotel, and called it a day. It has been long and tiring but fun day.
The next day, we arranged ahead of time with South Excursions for a day tour of Santiago environs. The driver and the guide arrived on time to pick us up at our hotel that morning in a nice comfortable van. We had fun wine tasting at the Veramonte Winery in Casablanca, ate a fabulous seafood lunch at Donde Willy in Vina del Mar (and our tour guide introduced us to the young restaurant owner), and toured the colorful Valparaiso (loved the colorful graffiti arts and took so many photos of them).
Then all aboard and off we started on our cruise. It probably was about 4pm by the time we made it on board. The check-in process was not too painful slow. Like the location of our balcony stateroom (Concierge Class 3) on deck 7 mid-ship (actually, more towards aft). This room category comes with a bottle of champagne on ice and Celebrity zipper tote bag (delivered on the first day), fresh flower and fruits daily, and afternoon hors d’oeuvres also daily. It was nice to walk into the room with all these little touches to welcome us. Our stewards were great. Our kids’ inside stateroom also on deck 7 and mid-ship was also nice for an inside stateroom and spacious. Being on deck 7, we only have to go down 2-3 flights of stairs to the coffee shop and the martini bar and up 3 flights to the exercise room and the cafeteria. We hardly used the elevators.
We wanted the late seating but it was not available when we booked our cruise. We ended up with select dining (which also meant we had to pay our gratuity ahead of time and could not use our shipboard credit to pay for our gratuity since the credit isn’t available until you get on the ship) and had to remember to make reservation every the night before if we would like to dine as close to our desired time as possible. That was annoying but eventually we got a hang of it. We enjoyed the food in the main dining room. The only time we ate in the cafeteria was for breakfast on port days (because these mornings were a little rushed for us, especially on tendered ports) and for lunch one sea day when we really felt like we needed a hamburger-and-fries fix (but they were just ok, nothing to write home about). We ate at two specialty restaurants: Qsine and SS United States. Both were enjoyable, and if we compare the price to something similar back in our hometown, $49 per person is a good deal. But we would have also been fine with eating in the main dining room every night as well.
Our first stop was in Puerto Montt, and we whitewater rafted the Petrohue Rapids in Puerto Varas, visited the Saltos del Rio Petrohue, Lago Todos los Santos, and Puerto Varas town itself (sadly we ran out of time to go to Frutillar). This excursion was also arranged ahead of time with KoKayak Chile. The backdrop of the volcano was beautiful, and we have many photos to remember this wonderful day.
In Punta Arenas, we were supposed to sea kayak the Strait of Magellan, but it was very windy and our Kayak Aqua Fresca guides kept us close to shore for safety since we have little sea kayaking experience (but it was still a neat experience). Afterward, we asked to be dropped off in town instead of at cruise terminal so that we could visit Cementerio Municipal. We also went to Plaza Munoz Gamero and had a delicious baked parmesan centolla and abalone at Sotito’s Bar near the cruise terminal.
In Ushuaia, it snowed on us and it was windy and bone chilling cold even with gloves, ear warmers, and the many layers we wore under our North Face jackets. We drove ourselves to Tierra del Fuego National Park, and it became sunny later on but still very cold, so we did not hike any of the trails as planned. Instead we drove to different highlighted spots in the park and still fell in love with the natural beauty of this park. We never made it to hike Martial Glacier like we had planned. Instead, we came back to town, escaped the wind to have a cold beer (on a very cold day!) and use the free internet, returned the rental car, walked around the main touristy part where buildings somewhat shielded the cold wind, and called it a day.
In Puerto Madryn, we arranged with Cultura Cercana also ahead of time to take us to Punta Tombo to see the little Magellan penguins and their fluffy chicks. It was just unreal the countless cute pinguinos we saw (and photographed) and how they didn’t seem to be bothered by us and the thousands of tourists that arrived at the end of our visit.
During our rainy day in Punta del Este, our traveling companions had organized a 24-person city tour on a big tour bus with a local tour guide with EcoUruguay. It certainly was a fun bus – the guide was totally hilarious and told us a lot about Uruguay than we should know and how much fun living in his country is. We cannot see ourselves hanging out in one of those expensive celebrities-filled beachfront condos, but we probably would be comfortable in the Roosevelt area. We saw Carlos Paez Vilaro at his Casapueblo Art Museum giving autographs to a mob of tourists (and his son that had survived the plane crash in the 70’s was at the signing to assist him) and went to Alto del la Ballena Vineyards for wine tasting, which was hosted by Paula Pivel, the vineyard owner herself. The Tannat was the one several of us enjoyed most (actually, Paula said she blends her Tannat with another grape called Viognier). The day was a down pour, so consequently we could not walk around to tour the vineyards. Of course, we went on the crazy bridge and the 5-finger sculpture on the sand.
During our California-weather day in Montevideo, we toured the Old City ourselves on foot per our family friends who grew up there (and visit often) and enjoyed it tremendously. The city is beautiful and looks as if we were in Europe. We visited Plaza Independencia and its guarded underground mausoleum of Jose Artigas and other Uruguayan heroes and toured Palacio Estevez (museum of mementos of the Uruguayan presidency). We also toured Teatro Solis (excellent tour given by a college student on his summer internship there) and Palacio Taranco and visited Catedral Martiz (and, along the way, the tourist stalls of craft work on pedestrian-only Calle Sarandi), the market at Plaza Constitucion, and Mercado del Puerto. We didn’t get to eat at the famous El Palenque as it was packed, and after 10 minutes or so of waiting to be seated and noticing people already seated with menus still on tables prior to our arrival but hadn’t been served, we decided we didn’t want to spend our precious vacation time on such a wait. We also ran out of time and didn’t make it to the Rambla de Montevideo to see locals enjoy riding their bikes and strolling the waterfront while drinking their mate like we’ve read. After our visit, our oldest child (who will be required to study abroad at least one semester for her college major of International Relations & Global Studies with minor in Latin American Study) said she would like to study abroad there (with Buenos Aires right behind her 2nd choice after our BA days).
In Buenos Aires, we biked in the hot heat of BA summer day, starting from Plaza San Martin, touring the south part of BA first (modern Puerto Madero, peaceful Reserva Ecologica, colorful La Boca, funky San Telmo), but giving up on touring the rest of the north part of BA after just getting to visit La Recoleta Cemetery. We were just exhausted from the heat and our bums were by then sore! During the bike tour, our guide (from Bike Tours Buenos Aires) took us to an oasis of a lunch spot in the shady and breezy courtyard of Santa Catalina Monastery on San Martin near Av. Cordoba. The food was good and doesn’t seem like a touristy place. We enjoy bike tours and had done one in several cities we visited in the past. It’s a quicker way, than walking, to see a lot in a short time but more engaging than riding around in a tour bus or a taxi. That night, we went to a wine flight pescatore dinner at a puerta cerrada called Casa Felix in Chacarita. It was full of Americans who also read a recent write-up on Casa Felix in the NY Times, but we had wonderful food and Argentina wine pairing. The server and Chef Diego were wonderful at explaining the food and the wine being served.
The next day, with all of our 4 carry-ons in our possession, we disembarked the ship by 9am and went through immigration fairy quickly.
We took a taxi at the port terminal to our hotel in Microcenter and were lucky enough to be able to check-in early, but we didn’t stay long. We walked to the Obelisk and toured the opulent Teatro Colon nearby. We then took a taxi out to Puerto de Frutos to hangout like the locals do on a weekend and to enjoy a parrilla. We picked Parrilla Los Islenos, which appeared that day to be locals’ favorite. No English speaking servers or menu … our young waitress was patient and kind, attempting to explain to us. Our kids’ Spanish study couldn’t help to translate the variety of meats (or actually animal parts) listed in the menu, so we blindly ordered a parrillada and were not sure the meat that was on our hot charcoaled grill the waitress set on our table! Having been to Spain we figured out the blood sausage, which we didn’t like and avoided (and one of us having lived in Bangkok, identified what looked to be intestine and tipped off the family). The rest on the little grill was delicious and we particularly enjoyed it with the freshly-made chimichurri condiment. The green salad and the remolacha y zanahoria salad (beets & shredded carrots) were both wonderful. Then our work friend, who lives in Tigre and whose office is in Puerto Madero, picked us up from Puerto de Frutos, took us to ride part of the Tren de la Costa, and gave us a tour of the rest of Tigre, ending the night with us at his home for a delicious pasta dinner made by his mother (who was visiting from Venezuela but originally from Italy) and our kids were introduced to Campari Orange!
On our third and final day in BA, our return flight that night was just after midnight. So, we kept one of our hotel rooms to store our suitcases and to have a place to freshen up before heading to the airport, and we decided to take it easy. We ended up taking the Subte to Palermo for a look since we didn’t get to it during our bike tour. Then we checked out Florida Street to see what the hoopla was all about; we were approached by money exchange people every 5 seconds! Guess we looked like tourists! Since our BA hotel nearby gave us an exchange rate of 9 pesos per 1USD, we really don’t understand the excitement over the black market rate when it was just an additional 0.6 peso. Before heading to the airport, we went to La Posada de 1820, a restaurant recommended by our hotel at the corner of Tucuman and San Martin, for dinner. We used the same taxi driver that previously drove us a few times, so getting to the airport was thankfully uneventful.
With all 4 of our carry-ons checked through to our home city, our flight arrived in Panama City at the crack of dawn and we got through immigration pretty quick. We were met by our pre-arranged tour guide after immigration. We had an eventful flight due to our younger child having an allergic reaction to the pancakes served on the plane an hour before we landed; we think it must have contained nuts by-product or cross-contaminated with nuts, to which she is severely allergic. With 3 Benadryl in her system and Epipen ready in hand, we really thought it was still going to be an urgent medical emergency upon landing. But somehow she pulled through long enough to clear immigration. We figured she was safer in our own privately hired tour van because we felt we had more control over the situation than being stuck in the airport and not having already cleared immigration. We mentioned to our tour guide right away that we may need to go to the hospital, and he was ready telling us he knows where all the hospitals are and even pointed out the children’s hospital as we went by. Our younger child slept most of our tour as having such bad allergic reaction is very taxing on her body.
We visited Casco Viejo and Amador Causeway for the skyline of Panama City from a marina on one of the Amador Islands. We went up on Ancon Hill and our younger child woke up long enough to drink some water and see the vista of Panama City from a different viewpoint and went back to sleep. Of course, we went to Panama Canal Miraflores Locks, and the best part was that by this time, she had recovered a bunch and was able to be more engaged. However, unfortunately for us, there was no ship going through the locks at that time. So, the next best thing … we enjoyed the Captain’s View Simulator at the Miraflores Locks Visitor Center. It gives a captain’s view of entering the locks from the control deck of a ship going through the canal. Also, one of the exhibits shows really well how the locks work similarly to an elevator, using various water levels, to move something vertically and horizontally. So, the ship is like a person riding the elevator, moving vertically as the elevator raises and lowers to different floors of a building but also moving horizontally from one end of canal to finally out the other end of the canal. It is fascinating to think this was engineered during the low tech time of over 100 years ago and built without the benefit of today’s powerful machineries!
We were glad to get back on the plane to finally head home since that day was a super long day for us and given the incident with our younger child plus the little sleep we had.
All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed this family trip, and all 8 of us in our traveling group really enjoyed our time on the Celebrity Infinity. On the night before last, the head chef came to ask for input of our dining experience during the cruise, and the 4 kids piped up that the chocolate molten cakes were simply the best and should be listed on the left side of the menu, so that it would be available every night. The very next night, though the chocolate molten cake was not scheduled on the menu, the chef brought over chocolate molten cakes for our kids – what an attentive service! Unfortunately for us adults, we were away that night at the puerta cerrada ashore and didn’t get to enjoy the decadently delicious cake for one last time! The Celebrity’s drink package really brought joy to our mornings with the specialty coffees and took fun to the next level for the 4 us adults. The 2 older children, being 19 years old and in South America where minimum drinking age is 18, also ordered a couple of cocktails to try - of course, with parents’ approval! Traveling with 21” carry-on each for a holiday cruise with ports of call of wide temperature range was a big challenge, but we met it ok, judging by all the studio photos from the Celebrity photographers that we purchased.
If you would like details on any of the excursions we did, our review of most of the vendors used on this trip is already on TripAdvisor (or will hopefully soon be). We really enjoyed our trip and highly recommend this cruise.