My wife and I decided to take a 4-day Pre-Cruise to the Iguazu Falls before cruising to South America and Antarctica on January 4, 2009 through Holland America. It was an uneventful flight to Rio de Janeiro. HAL put us up at the Rio Intercontinental Hotel for an overnight stay. The day of our arrival happened on December 31, 2008. The hotel was busy getting ready for the New Years Eve celebrations. On the bus ride from the airport we were offered tickets to purchase for the hotel's celebrations or for an evening tour of the Copacabana and Impanema beach areas. I do not recall anyone buying any. We were all too tired (some traveling over 20 hours to get here) and now we needed some rest. We were awakened at midnight by massive fireworks going off across the street from our hotel. After breakfast, 38 of us met with our two tour escorts for the excursion to the Iguazu Falls. Arriving at Foz de Iguazu, we boarded our bus and headed to the Brazilian side of the Falls and did a leisurely walking tour. We got a panoramic view of many of the 275 plus cascading falls. It was awesome and very refreshing. We were told that it would rain anytime now. The locals were predicting rain for the last few days. Our walk was perfect and the weather held out - sunny and dry - which meant the volume of water over the falls would be smaller. We boarded our bus at the end of the Brazilian trail and were taken to Hotel Cataratas, located in the National Park on the Brazilian side of the Fall, for the next two nights. The hotel was built in 1935 and is now being renovated. The rooms were very rustic but efficient. We stayed for the hotel's buffet dinner, which was excellent. Next morning, after eating a large breakfast, we headed to the Argentine side of the Falls. After a 35 minute ride to the park entrance, we boarded a Narrow Gauge train that took us to the Catwalks that led to the dramatic "Devil's Gorge". From here our senses were stretched. The roar of the falls made me realize this was nature at work and I was in awe. The heavy mist got us very wet and we knew we were very close to the Gorge. The Catwalks also took us to many smaller falls which in itself were spectacular. The excursion was truly awesome.
That evening we signed up for an "Iguazu By Night Three Country Dinner Show" at the Rafael Restaurant. The specialty at this buffet was their barbecued meats. The food was great and the show was a variety of singing and dancing from Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay - a very nice ending to a spectacular two-day Iguazu Falls Excursion. That evening it did rain. In the morning, my wife and I got up very early before breakfast and went to hike the same trail we did on our first day. The water run-off was much heavier from the overnight rain and the roar of the water was louder. It also created alot more misting, covering many of the falls. Definitely not good for picture taking.
Our afternoon flight back to Rio was delayed for two hours. Our escorts knew we were going to miss dinner so they made arrangements at our Hotel Intercontinental for a complimentary late buffet dinner. Early the next morning, we put out our large check-in luggages for pickup to be delivered to the Amsterdam. We headed off on a half-day tour of Rio before boarding our ship. The tour included the world famous beaches, downtown, Sugar Loaf Mountain, Flamingo Park, financial districts, St. Sebastian Cathedral, Lapa Arches, National Library, Fine Arts Museum, and the Sambadrome, site of Rio's famous Carnival parades. In a far distance, Christ the Redeemer Statue was shrouded in fog.
By noon we arrived at Rio's Cruise Terminal. Check-in was a breeze taking no more than 15 minutes. Our stateroom was not ready so we headed up to the Lido Buffet. Lunch was good - great variety of pasta, salads, meats, vegetables, sandwiches, pizzas, hamburgers and hot dogs. The Lido was very clean and the staff was "Johnny-on-the-Spot" helpful and very polite. This made Lido dining very pleasant. After lunch we headed to our stateroom on the Main Deck, forward, port-side. Our stateroom showed no wear or tear. It was dust-free and immaculate. We got to meet Abdul, our stateroom attendant and his sidekick assistant, Din. They were very friendly and helpful and spoke English well. My preference was to have only a sheet on my side of the bed and my wife likes her sheet with blanket combination. They made the change right away and it was like that throughout the cruise. Abdul left my blanket in the closet thinking I may need it while cruising the Antarctic Seas. We always had a full bucket of ice and extra bath towels as well as the handmade towel animals every night. Can't get better service than that.
We had early dining in the open-seating La Fontaine Dining Room. The quality and variety of food were good and so was the presentation. Dining staff was only okay. I felt our waiter and his assistant were sometimes distracted. I like to start my dinner with ice tea. Some days it was already on the table when I arrived and other days it came midway through my dinner. One evening I ordered soup; it never came. Our dinner usually took two hours. Some evening we would skip dessert in order to catch the early show. We would then get our dessert during the 11 o'clock late buffet in the Lido. The production stage shows were very good. Performers sang and danced with a lot of energy and passion. The ship's travel guide, Chris Fisher, is very informative and has all the answers you would need. At first I was bored by his monotone voice, but I got use to it because of all the pertinent information he was giving. He did a great job. The Exploration Speaker Series was also a perfect way of getting us ready for the three days of cruising the Antarctic Seas. First speaker was Robert Hofman, a Marine Mammal Scientist. Second speaker was John Splettstoesser, an Antarctica Geologist and finally Captain Patrick Toomey, who was an Ice Pilot for the Canadian Coast Guard. The three speakers spent many years in the Antarctic and gave a total of ll lectures covering their own specialty. John Splettstoesser has two mountain ranges named after him. One is located in the Ellsworth Mountains and the other at the Victoria Mountains. Each time the lectures were given, the Queen's Lounge was packed with attendees.
Cruising the Antarctic: Day 1 - Cruising the South Coast of Elephant Island. Into the Antarctic Sound, high winds prevented the stopping at Esperanza Argentine Station. Passed m/v Corinthian II. At 1700 hours, while circumnavigating Paulet Island,the Amsterdam encountered "Katabatic Winds" gusting to 80 knots. We were told later by Capt. Toomey that the ship listed 12 degree. That was exciting! Passed Rosamel Island and reentered the Antarctic Sound from the Weddell Sea and headed west to Bransfield Straits to overnight to Dallmann Bay.
Day 2 - Entered Dallmann Bay from the north and passed Cuverville Island. m/v Corinthian II was anchored there. We transited southbound to Errera Channel. Cruising Andvort Bay, we passed m/v Akademik Shokalskiy southbound. Southbound in Neumayer Channel. m/v Andre entered Port Lockroy as m/v National Geographic Endeavor came out. Eastbound in Bismarck Straits, then northbound in Gerlache Straits. m/v Akademik Shokalskiy headed westbound. In Paradise Harbor, m/v Marco Polo at Chilean Station Gonzalez Videla. We cruised to Almirante Brown Station Argentine. Dallmann Bay northbound while m/v National Geographic Endeavor also northbound. Amsterdam overnight cruising off west coast of Anvers Island.
Day 3 - 0830 at U.S. Palmer Station to embark 14 scientists and staff. Headed southbound to Lemaire Channel. The Palmer crew gave a slide show briefing in the Queen's Lounge. To accommodate Amsterdam's large number of cruisers, they gave two briefings. Afterwards they lunched in the Lido and answered more questions from the passengers. Petermann Island was the farthest south we went (80.4 nm from the Antarctic Circle and 1,460 nm from the South Pole). We headed northbound to Cape Horn. This ended the three days cruising the Antarctica.
I have been on 15 cruises. This Antarctic Itinerary was the BEST AND MOST INTERESTING, SPECTACULAR, AND SATISFYING one. The bonus was having the U.S. Palmer Station personnel coming onboard to brief us on their mission. Outstanding event. Kudos to HAL for serving hot soup on the outside decks during those three freezing days. Luckily, the weather was perfect. Another highlight was the port call to Port Stanley, Falkland Islands. We signed up with HAL to do the Bluff Cove Penguin Rookery. What a KICK! There were 8 passengers to a van and we were taken for a 45 minutes ride and transferred to a 4-wheel Drive Land Rover and rode another 25 minutes to get to the Gentoo Rookery. Dead center of this Gentoo Rookery were 6 Male King Penguins. I could distinctly see one of the Kings holding his egg on top of his feet with his tummy covering it. What a sight! Another HAL excursion was at Punta Arenas Patagonia Experience and Otway Bay. Here we saw the Magellanic penguins: five to six of them playing follow-the-leader, babies waiting to be fed and others jumping into the surf and swimming off. Awesome sight, not to be missed.
Other ports-of-call on this cruise were Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Ushuaia (Tierra del Fuego) and Puerto Montt. Each city had its own highlights, which were enjoyable. Final destination was Valparaiso, Chile. Our flight home was scheduled at 2200 hours. That left us with over 14 hours before our flight time. We booked with HAL for an 8 hour Santiago City Tour. Our luggage was put out the evening before and we were to claim them later at the airport. The bus ride from Valparaiso to Santiago took 1 and 1/2 hour. We stopped at a jewelry store, rode a funicular, had a delicious salmon lunch and went to a Dominican Craft Village for some final shopping.
Around 1630 we headed to the Santiago Airport. Arriving outside of the airport check-in building, we saw hundreds of our luggage sorted on carts and lined up for us to claim. We wheeled them inside to the Delta Airline check-in line and waited two hours for the counters to open. Kudos again to HAL for having our luggage ready. This made it a very smooth transition for the end of a wonderful cruise holiday. Our flights home were uneventful.
I need to mention that on the Pre-Cruise Iguazu Falls, there were 12 of us who already knew each other through CruiseCritic.com on the South America "Roll Call" Board for the Amsterdam. Shark410 (Sharon) made arrangements with the Seattle Office for a Cruise Critic's "Meet & Greet" get-together at the Crow's Nest on January 10, a sea day. The ship provided coffee, tea and two kinds of cookies. 30 people attended this Meet and Greet. Attending from the ship were Hotel Manager Hans Dernson, Cruse Director Michelle Worthley, Chief Housekeeper Ali Mushochib, Environment Officer Ronald Bloeme, and Crew Purser Julie Brnsey. Thanks to the above for attending and making this an outstanding Meet & Greet. This was so successful Sharon scheduled another Meet & Greet, this time in the Sports/Piano Bar. Of the 30 attendees, 15 were interested in joining CruiseCritic.com. Thanks to Beverage Manager Guido Kollmann for making this happen.
One last event to mention. The original group of 38 that did the Pre-Cruise Iguazu Falls also wanted a get-together. Sheri V. from the group asked and set up a HAL ms Amsterdam Iguazu Falls Reunion". Guido and Michelle hosted this event at the Sports/Piano Bar on January 13, 1600 hours and served hot hors d'oeuvres. Definitely a "Class Act" from the Amsterdam, and thanks to its officers and crew. In a nut shell, the Holland America Line January 4, 2009 South American Explorer and Antarctic Experience 20 Days Cruise was a wonderful and a "Great Valued" package. This cruise had it all - itinerary, food, entertainment, speaker series, ports-of-call, service and professionalism. It is "5 STAR+". Gimer.