Direct flights were expensive so we flew via Madrid. We booked with BA through tripadvisor/lastminute.com. However, the long flights were code share with Iberia. Iberia charged us £25 pp per flight but it meant we had 2 seats together in a block of two next to the window on both long flights - well worth avoiding the risk of not getting good seats.
We booked a one night pre-cruise stay at the hotel Esplendor on San Martin in Buenos Aires with last minute.com (£57 c.f. £200 with the travel agent). They were undergoing road repairs outside – did not affect us in any way. It is a good value 4* hotel near to the port ($3 taxi ride), Florida Street and other attractions such as the national monument. Breakfast was at least adequate. When we booked the cruise, a few weeks before, the official rate was 6 pesos to a dollar. By the time we arrived it was 8. Touts on Florida Street offered 11 but to avoid risk we changed in a shop and got 10.
Taxi from the airport to our hotel with Ezeiza taxis worked a treat as others have described. Go through arrivals and you cannot miss their stand. Paid US$38 and 2 minutes later a taxi driver escorted us to his car. 40 minutes later we were in the hotel. No need to tip although we gave a few dollars which were gratefully received.
Embarkation was poor. There were long queues due to poor organisation by the port authorities. Celebrity say it is out of their control and it does not happen elsewhere. We waited about an hour but a couple who arrived just after us waited over 2 hours – not too bad after a night in a hotel but not good if you arrive straight from the airport after a long flight.
We were given late dining but requested a change and got this after the first night. The buffet meal that first night was excellent. We did not dine there again due to the good company on our fixed table. The food varied between good and excellent every meal.
I had a soda card and my wife had the upgrade to include bottled water and premium coffees. I would say that both proved good value.
Ushuaia (6 Feb): Weather was excellent. Amazing photos as the sun rose. We booked an 8 hour tour for 6 with toursbylocals for $800 (just under £500). We could go where we wanted, within reason, but were led by the guide. We did the mountains, lakes and ski resorts first and then returned for a brief walk around town and a snack (the guide gave good advice). We then did the national park and train ride if wanted. By the time we visited the end of the world post office the queues had long since gone (they were a problem for the ship’s excursions in the morning. We then returned to town for a good look around before leaving. I would recommend the tour – but the catamaran to e penguins also seemed good. If I had the time again, I might do the penguins in the morning, hire a taxi to the park in the afternoon and skip the mountains and lakes. Hard choice as you cannot do everything in a day!
Cape Horn (7th): Sea was calm. The captain did a complete circuit of the Horn. Brilliant experience. Good photos of the lighthouse and albatross monument. Lots of wildlife such as albatrosses, giant petrels, imperial shags/cormorants etc.
Paradise Bay (8th): The cruise into Antarctica was full of anticipation and it did not disappoint. On the way in it was misty/foggy as the first land was sighted. I was concerned about the cold and so we went inside on deck 11 at the front (Constellation Lounge). Get there early (7 am fine) for window seats. Nice and comfortable but the photos through glass are not the same as from outside. We went out in the afternoon. Every iceberg and whale was a wow to start with. After a couple of days, whales in the distance were so commonplace that they barely got a reaction. Only when they were very close or performing did they get attention. Paradise Bay was amazing. We stayed there several hours. Description or even photographs do not do it justice.
Disappointingly, Elephant Island was cancelled on the 9th due bad weather being predicted. However, we went to Deception Island instead and it did not disappoint. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of chinstrap penguins porpoising – so many they seemed to make the sea boil. Lots of whales. We left via Snow Island which was beautiful.
Port Stanley/Falkland Islands (11th): You go ashore by tender. We had an afternoon tour and I made the mistake of listening to the ship’s advice. They said if you wait until after 10:00 the queues will have gone. They had not. We had to wait an hour to board and did not get ashore until 11:30. Get a ticket and get ashore. We visited Bluff Cove on a ship's excursion (Celebrity Infinity). We rarely use cruise line excursions as they are limited and overpriced. However, as we booked late, there was no opportunity of booking with locals and booking on the pier seemed unlikely. The trip was amazing and worth every penny. A mini-bus trip over hard roads for about 30 minutes and then off road and bumpy (an experience itself but don't do it if you have back problems) for 30 minutes. We were lucky with the weather - sunny. The hour that you get there was great: A small but beautiful colony of king penguins; a very large and hilarious colony of Gentoo penguins (their antics still have us howling with laughter - make sure you video - stills do not do them justice, you are close and they wander outside the "controlled" area); magallanic penguins are often on the beach but were not there for our visit (not a problem for us as we saw hundreds at Peninsular Valdes/Puerto Madryn); lots of skuas, geese and other birds (I had a beautiful 2 banded plover a yard from me with no fear). We did not see dolphins but I was that enthralled by the penguins that I did not look out to sea. We did see dolphins near the memorial in Stanley. It was one of those trips when you cannot believe what you are doing even when you are doing it. We finished off the day with a couple of drinks at a pub in Stanley. Do not penny pinch and miss this. The only trip that might have been better is Volunteer Point (fully booked when I tried - it is a long trip and leaves little time for anything else) - but I am very satisfied.
The free cake and tea at the hut was nice although I spent little time there as I enjoyed the penguins so much.
Puerto Madryn (13th): We booked a 6 hour trip with tours by locals to Peninsular Valdes at US$470 for 4 people (about £80 each). It was excellent value but also a lot of travelling, about 400 km. We travelled 200 km north to Punta Norte and saw a large colony of sea lions (males – a bit of rivalry, females and young). It was fine without being a real “wow”. We did not see any orcas. They come in later to take the young sea lions when they are ready to leave. The guide said you sometimes see them hunting females but we did not – not sure that we would want to see any killing! The café/shop here was closed! Not a problem for us as we had brought plenty of water but a real issue if you had not. There is nowhere else. On the way back we stopped at a megellanic penguin colony. Beautiful scenery and lots of gentle penguins close up – good but they cannot compete with the antics of the gentoos in the Falklands. We then went to Puerto Pyramides, looked around the shops and had a drink. We were dropped at Puerto Madryn for more shops and the shuttle back to the ship. From June to December, you can go out on small boats very close to Right Whales – we were too late! We saw lots of wildlife along the way e.g. guanacos, rheas and a very tame armadillo. I would recommend this.
Montevideo (15th): No trip booked and we expected to find “Hop on, hop off buses” – none there. Not a problem as locals were waiting to offer trips. We joined a 3 hour mini-bus group with driver and guide for US$25 each. We saw the city sights, got the history, went to a market (good drinks), saw the excellent parks (one stop), the football stadium from the first world cup and had a ride along the front. Brilliant experience and value – much better than we were expecting. We were dropped at a market near the ship.
Buenos Aires (16th): I booked a late evening flight so that we could have an all day tour. We did the ship’s city tour and estancia visit. It was another brilliant day. The free beer and wine probably helped.