We booked our own air and traveled from New York to Buenos Aires on Mexicana. The first flight was on a smaller plane and was a bit tight (lasted about 7 hours). We switched to a larger (more comfortable) plane in Mexico city with a two hour lay over. The flight from Mexico to Buenos Aires was another 7 hours or so. Mexicana was a pleasant surprise. They offered free drinks, a comfort gift, food and movies on both flights. Basically we left New York at 12:30 am and arrived the following night at 9:30. The cost of air fare was about $1,200 each - return (we were on a serious budget). Our friend who traveled separately, but traveled alone and booked 5 days before the trip got a much faster, more direct flight RETURN for about $1000 on AA (her flight home stopped in Florida, but the flight to Buenos Aires was direct out of NY).
We arrived three days before the cruise and stayed at the Don Telmo Hotel in the (up and coming) San Telmo area. We had made arrangements for the hotel to pick us up at the airport. (They were a little late, we waited about 30 minutes). Husband tried to do banking at airport, but card was rejected (despite making travel arrangements with bank before we left - his card did not work for entire trip, making finances a bit tricky).
Decided on The Don Telmo Hotel because: It was cheap, in a real part of the city (Not a touristy spot), and Don Telmo is the patron saint of navigation. We wanted a taste of the real Buenos Aires. The hotel was a small, restored, art nouveau/deco place with a lovely roof garden (but no pool). Our friend arrived earlier in the day and we arrived to find a note informing us that she had made a friend and gone to the Madonna concert.
We enjoyed Buenos Aires enormously. Food was good, shopping and museums were great, subway and cabs very efficient!. We stayed out with old friends (who live in the city) until 5:30 in the morning at a real Tango place (not the tourist show). Buenos Aires really is the city that does not sleep at night (New York does sleep). When we left the Tango place the streets were still alive with people coming and going (mind you, it was a Saturday night).
We had about 4 hours sleep before we had to check out on Sunday. After fond farewells (the hotel held our bags until needed), we did the famous street market in San Telmo (a short walk from our hotel). Then took a cab to the pier and the Sun. We arrived at the pier about 3. It was hot and the lines were long. We got on board around 5. There was no bubbly welcome (I think they ran out) and no escort to cabin). But our friend, who had never cruised before was still impressed.
We were in an aft balcony, our friend was on 6. Our pre arranged Bar Setup was waiting. Room 8278 was adequate in size and had the perfect view, unfortunately it did have some noise issues. We were above the Stardust Theater and next door to a suite (both could be noisy). Despite the poor acoustics, I would book this room again, the theatre closed by 11:00 and the view was too spectacular. Our stewards were not intrusive, and did a great job of keeping the room spick and span. I did have to remind them twice to return used beach towels (NCL charges if you loose them), and they were unable to come up with brandy sniffers for our bar set up, but other than that, they were perfect.
As expected, the Sun is smaller, with few bells and whistles. I thought she was in great shape, sailed well and had a good design. We spent alot of time in the aft out door area, in the Sports Bar (loved the chairs and great windows) and usually breakfasted in the waffle room (this room is a no charge, healthy food joint at dinner). I have cruised 4 other times and have never thought cruise directors were any big deal, but Andrea on the Sun was an exception to this rule - He was amazing! At night we partied a fare amount in several of the lounges.
Food: We almost always ordered room service coffee and fruit for a wake up call and then proceeded to the Waffle room or Aft outside garden cafe for breakfast. Hardly ever had lunch on board, but managed to eat when hungry. Dinner was usually in the free dinning rooms. We went to three speciality restaurants. The Steak House — was okay. Teppanyaki — was fun, food okay. Le Bistro — was good, but compared to Le Bistro on other NCL ships, not up to par. In general, I was disappointed in the specialty restaurants, they simply were not that great. But I would still choose to try them, just for a change of pace.
Excursions: We took two NCL excursions, The one to see penguins at Puerta Madryn was great. I convinced my friend to choose the cheaper option and travel with us. The expensive trip offered a van of no more than 6. Our bus only had 6 and it was great. The other NCL excursion, the catamaran ride on Lake Esmerelda and Falls at Puerto Mott was recommended by a review on CC, but for us, it was disappointing, way over priced and too crowded. Friends we met on board, took a cab, saw way more on a way more personal level and paid a third less than what we did. (Also we got into trouble for being late for the bus when returning to the ship-they almost left without us. I don't blame them for that, just giving you a heads up, not to be late).
Ports: Buenos Aires: We loved it, but two couples we met on board had been robbed there. Montevideo: We took a free van to a leather store and walked a couple of blocks to main downtown from there. Enjoyed market, art galleries and architecture. Puerto Madryn: Saw penguins (very close and personal), also enjoyed long bus ride over wild west terrain. Stanley, Falkland Islands: This city was a lovely surprise with loads of (summer) flowers, penguins and quaint buildings. The weather was perfect, even warm and we felt lucky to see it. Ushuaia: Was incredibly gorgeous and everyone wanted more time in this port. The mountains reflect on clear lakes and the people were lovely. Would definitely go back again and think NCL should make this a two day stop. Punta Arenas: We hooked up with some CC members for a tour here. More penguins (getting tired at this point). Had a good lunch at a place called Luna and did the market. ALERT! I totally regret not buying some gorgeous wool items at this port, thinking there would be more to come - NOT, The quality of goods does not improve after this port. Rounding the Horn was amazing! Enjoyed the Glaciers of the Beagle Channel. Puerto Chacabuco: We missed this port because we had to go to the aid of a ship in distress in the Strait of Magellan and an emergency medical lift. Puerto Montt: Nothing too special (See above excursion note). Valparaiso: We rented a car and drove to an organic winery called Matetic. It was awesome, beautiful and spiritual. Then we dropped our friend at airport (only got a little lost) and proceeded to the International Hotel in Santiago. Excellent hotel (with pool), but we only slept there before catching a flight at 7 in the morning.
Overview: It was a super trip, and we marvel at the fact that we got to see the tip of South America. Highlights: The Falklands, Ushuaia, Rounding The Horn, meeting lots of great people and star gazing!