We booked with RCL through a travel agent. We booked air through RCL and stayed at their designated hotel, The Grand Hyatt, is Santiago. We flew on American Airlines, flying from Dulles Airport near our Fairfax County home in the late afternoon of Friday, Jan. 30 to Dallas-Ft. Worth to connect to Santiago, Chile. We had good economy seats on both flights. We took Benadryl and slept much of the night to Santiago. Entering the country for the first time, Chile charges a reciprocity tax (which means they charge us because the U.S. government charges them when they come to the U.S. The tax was $131 for U.S. citizens, $132 for Canadians. They make an entry in your passport, so you can reenter with no new charge as long as you have that passport. Entry into Chile went smoothly and there was no problem finding our bus to the hotel, although we were not met by anyone associated with RCL until we reached the bus. Santiago is a beautiful city with many modern areas and numerous parked. Even in high summer, snow capped Andes peaks are clearly visible from the city. The city has small, muddy, rushing rivers lined by parkland and mountain parks with great views. Like most of the World, the recession had hit Chile, and over-extended real estate building and speculation is a big problem. Nevertheless, the shopping malls and impressive and full of shoppers. We went from winter to summer from cold to hot and from the middle of a school year to back to school sales getting underway in Santiago.
The parallels to California are striking. Traveling around, I sometimes thought I was approaching Livermore or Santa Rosa. However, we went up to Portillo near the Argentine border, up above 9000 feet. The mountain valleys have lush farmland along the rivers, but there is no region of pine forest on that trip. This area is more barren than the Sierras or Cascades of California. I'm sure that further south in Chile that is not the case.
The Grand Hyatt is a true 5 star hotel. We knew from trip advisor reviews that we'd wait for a room, since we arrived in the morning. Our wait was unusually long, but we got in around 3:30. They need to set up a smoother process and guide people into city tours or mini-tours in this time period. Our room was beautiful, and the hotel service was great. I enjoyed the fitness center and the pool, but we ate out except for the included breakfasts. We did not ride their excellent subway system, but, because of summer vacation, many local residents were away, and traffic was lighter than normal, so touring the city went well.
On Tuesday morning, Feb. 3, they transported us to Valparaiso. It is not a particularly attractive port city, but Viña del Mar, the wealthier town next door, is quite lovely.
Getting processed for boarding in the terminal was a snap, and there were concession booths there. We were able to buy 2 bottles of vodka (Stoli) and 2 bottles of Chilean wine and take them on board with us. One couple we knew from the hotel, came back to the terminal from the ship to do it again, after taking a taxi tour with some other friends, so they ended up with 4 bottles each.
Our balcony room on level 6 was fine. A few design flaws. Shelf access in the closet could have been designed better. We had some minor plumbing odor backup in the bathroom at times - minor. The shower was adequate. I weigh 210 pounds and could move around okay, stout as I am. I could even pick up something from the shower floor, like a razor, if I dropped it. In one of the ship's couples games, one couple confessed to having tried to have sex in the shower and admitted that did not work out well.
The Mariner of the Seas was transpositioning from Port Canaveral to Los Angeles. About 850 passengers did the entire 46 day transpositioning trip. The major leg was from Rio in Brazil around the horn to Valparaiso. A lot of Brazilians joined for that segment. People told us that even around the horn the trip was mainly smooth water sailing. A lot of the time if was hard to know you were at sea when inside. The Mariner was the largest cruise ship to ever visit many of this trip's ports. In Buenos Aires, reporters were out in boats and helicopters to cover the visit. Nothing like that happened in Valparaiso. This final 16 day leg of the transpositioning carried only about 2200 passengers, including only 20 children. I can report on this cruise, but it is unique and cannot be used to talk about the 7 day Mexican Riviera cruises the Mariner of the Seas will be running out of Los Angeles to Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo.
Having previously cruised with my older daughter and two of her kids on the Explorer of the Seas, I happen to love these huge ships. We were all in a mini-suite on that trip, but I was quite happy on this trip in a regular balcony room. I don't need a tub, but I did use the big walk-in closet in the mini-suite as a dressing room, sharing a cabin with three women. (I showered and shaved up in the Fitness Center on that previous trip.)
My wife, Lynn, was not happy with the food. I, otoh, found the food to be fair to good. I don't have any complaints. Lots of the wait staff is Indian. Our waiter, Yoghit (Yogi) was Indian, as was our head waiter. There were always decent Indian dishes available and they pushed some of their favorites on us, even when we ordered other main dishes. Our dinner companions were excellent. We were at a table for eight right by a starboard window. Yogi was the best waiter I've ever had on a ship. His lovely assistant, Adriana, Brazilian, was terrific. Three of our table mates were born in Brazil and spoke Portuguese and Spanish, as well as English. Lynn and I just speak Spanish and English.
We had two seas going from Valparaiso to Arica up by the border with Peru. We took the Altiplano tour. Our entourage consisted of 3 passenger busses, a back-up bus, an ambulance, and a police escort. We saw a long irrigated valley, some of the World's driest desert, fox, an animal like a rabbit that isn't a rabbit nor a hare, some people saw a condor. We saw guanacos, alpacas, llamas and vicuñas, villages and churches. We saw perfect cone volcanoes, lakes and streams and went to an elevation of over 4500 meters, 15,000 feet. Some people had trouble breathing and some needed supplementary oxygen. Near Arica, we saw giant petroglyphs. It was quite a day.
We had one sea day to Callao/Lima. We hired a taxi with a Canadian couple and toured and did some Indian market shopping. We saw a lot, but skipped museums, except the gold museum. All their exhibits were awesome. Their armaments, swords, and guns exhibits were incredible. The NRA should run tour groups to Lima just to see that museum.
Three wonderful sea days. They had a film festival on board. After "Young Frankenstein," Cloris Leachman discussed making the film. Another day, she did a one women show on her career and life. It was fabulous. They also showed "Dirty Dancing" and "Gotta Dance" and the producers discussed it. I give the ice show a ten.
In Punta Arenas, Costa Rica, we toured the town and went on an eco river cruise, seeing crocodiles and at least 35 species of birds. They fed chicken to the biggest croc. He was named Tyson, and was over 16 feet long.
Two sea days to Acapulco, where Lynn and I revisited sites from our honeymoom (luna de miel) from decades ago. Then a sea day to Cabo, being entertained by Marty Allen and his wife. She is one great singer. The film festival showed "Thoroughly Modern Millie," and Carol Channing discussed the filming of that movie.
Cabo delighted us with Grey whales, pelicans beyond counting, barking sea lions and wonderful weather. From our balcony along the way (many days) we had lots of dolphins, sea turtles and flying fish. Leaving Arica, the dolphins were performing, jumping high out the water. The grey whales of Cabo would breach, lifting close to a third of their bodies out of the water.
On our final sea day, Carol Channing did a show covering career highlights. She even sang for us both times she was on stage. We got t-shirts and a visor for our fitness activities.
Disembarkation was flawless - except for passport clearance on board, and our flight back to Washington was fine.