WOW what a wonderful experience. We were 49 days on The Carnival Splendor from Fort Lauderdale to San Francisco around Cape Horn. I would turn around and do it all again today if I could. Carnival truly out did herself. If Carnival ever offers it again, I will be at the front of the line to book my ticket.
* PRE-CRUISE HOTEL *
We flew to Fort Lauderdale the day before sailing and stayed at a Comfort Inn near the air port. We found it by chatting with follow cruisers on Cruise Critic. It was the lowest cost we could find.
The hotel was really set up for cruisers. They had a cookout with hamburgers and hot dogs at dinner time. There was a continental breakfast in the morning. It was clean, had free WiFi and served our purpose well.
The hotel was full of cruisers. On Saturday morning it looked like chaos but everyone got to the ship on time. About 200 people were waiting for a ride to the cruise port to board a ship. We met some people from Cruise Critic. We recognized them from their pictures posted on the roll call.
* EMBARKATION: *
Embarkation was a fairly long process and should not have taken so long. It took us two hours in line to get to our room. We arrived at The Carnival Splendor at noon and were in our room at 2:00. We are Platinum so we avoided the lines inside the terminal but waited about an hour and a half outside. Those who were not Platinum took closer to three hours to get to their rooms. The ones who arrived earlier went right in.
About a thousand passengers and crew were delayed from boarding from about 2:30 pm until 8:00 pm because of a security alert. The port was closed and those 1000 waited in Terminal 21 until the Port Authorities reopened the port and allowed boarding to continue. It was after 10:00 pm before the last one was on board.
They finally started to board the ship at about 8:00. They had spent 5 hours in an open terminal building with almost no food and limited water. Room service from the Carnival Freedom did deliver sandwiches, fruit and drinks to the terminal but passengers rushed the food taking much more than a share for one. Some people got none.
It turns out that there was a package of paper tied together with wire that set it all off. We were glad we had made it on board to enjoy a pleasant evening.
* THE SHIP: *
So much has been written about the decor of the ship and all of it is true. It is pink. I found the decor entertaining and beautiful. It does take a little exploration to find the easiest ways from one place to the other but after a week or so we could find our way around easily.
The ship is big. To walk from one end to the other is a real walk. We are in better shape now than before the cruise and my knee does not hurt as bad as it did before. Exercise is a good thing.
I have never been a fan of the design placement of the dining rooms when there is no way through the ship but to go through the dinning room. We had our table changed from the Gold Pearl to the Black Pearl and found it much more convenient.
The cover over the pool was wonderful. People were in the pool as we traveled through sleet and rain. We were able to sit out and watch movies under the stars even when it was cold and very windy outside.
The water in the pool was sea water but heated to a very comfortable temperature and the hot tubs not much warmer. This is the only cruise out of 37 that I have been on with heated water in the pool!
We could have used a larger library. This one was very small. It was crowded with 10 people.
The ship would also benefit from another large area that opened to the sea. The Lido was the only place with lots of windows and light. It got crowded on the sea day afternoons with people reading and playing games and it was hard to find a table at which to eat.
* THE CABIN: *
We were in a starboard balcony cabin. 185 sq ft. There was more than ample room. For some reason we were in a handicapped room on the first leg. The bathroom was HUGE but the room a little smaller.
We changed cabins each leg of the three cruises. It was cheaper for us that way. The move was easy. We just packed bags, left them in our room, went ashore and the cabin steward moved it all for us. Each cabin was the same and perfect. There was plenty of room for us and all our "stuff."
* THE FOOD: *
We ate dinner in the Black Pearl on all but a few nights. The lobster, fillet, lamb and pork chops were delicious. I had shrimp cocktail about half the nights. I liked everything I ate! Well maybe not the lobster bisque.... but then I didn't eat it. Our table mate had a special order of peas and carrots each night. That looked good too. What I found myself wanting was "just plain" food. So one night I just had plain baked potato and t-bone steak. Ahhh for one now.
We ate breakfast and lunch mostly on Lido. We especially liked the omelet station in the morning. We only ate breakfast in the Gold Pearl twice. My husband preferred the Lido. The egg Benedict I had in the Gold Pearl one morning was like rubber. I liked to see my eggs cooked at the omelet station. They were always perfect and because I ordered them over easy.... I knew they were "real" eggs.
At lunch we rotated between the Mongolian BBQ stir fry, sandwich station, Indian, hamburger and salad bars. They were all delicious. I didn't really care for the pizza and am not a big fan of most of the desserts. I could eat the Ruben everyday.... and almost did. Perfect with a cold beer after a hot day of sight seeing. I didn't care for a lot of the offerings on the Lido buffet. The great thing about the buffet is that if you don't like it don't eat it. Get something else. Sometimes I did.
* OUR FELLOW PASSENGERS: *
We were the average aged passenger. I am 62 and my husband 65. We may have been on the younger side of average. Most had cruised many times before. There were only a handful of children.
For the most part everyone was a delight to travel with. We met wonderful people we will always remember. Some though were very grumpy and miserable. They complained about everything. They started complaining even before they got to the terminal. It was like they were embarrassed to be sailing Carnival. Several conversations started, "I have never been on Carnival before..... I know it can't meet up to the standards of (insert cruise line). The complaining continued through out the cruise. Any little glitch was another reason to complain. They really got upset when their needs were not put before everyone else.
There were 3000 passengers on board. Those who had an open mind left as Carnival converts.
* THE VIRUS: *
Someone brought the cold virus on The Carnival Splendor and almost everyone I met was affected with the cough. We lined up at the drug stores in port and shopped in broken Spanish and by hand signals for antihistamines and cough syrup.
The virus spread quickly as people would cough without covering their mouth or cough in their hands and then touch serving pieces. When in the public rooms someone was always coughing. I was sick for five weeks. Some managed to escape the virus altogether.
* THE SERVICE: *
We received the best table service I have ever had in my 37 cruises. We had the same waitress all three legs. I gave her my email before I left the ship and now we are friends on Facebook.
We had different cabin stewards each leg. Each was good. While I found the one on the middle a little less friendly than the other two, she was just as efficient as the others. She may have even kept the cabin cleaner than the others but she refused to enter the cabin if we were in it or on the balcony.... not even to fill the ice bucket. The other two rank right up there on the top of my list as best ever.
The servers in the Lido were even friendly. The ones we frequented began to anticipate our needs.
The few times we went to Guest Services they were quick, friendly and efficient. At least after they realized we weren't going to bless they out. Some of the things I heard other passengers say amazed me. Where the pursers got the patience to deal with them I don't know.
Anytime anyone saw us about the ship they always spoke.
* THE PORTS: *
We took a lot of Carnival Shore Excursions. The were well planned and offered a variety of choices. I always felt safe, learned a lot and had a wonderful time. We never worried about getting back to the ship on time.
We also went with a couple of Cruise Critic groups on private tours. The private tours that our Cruise Critic friends planned were cheaper and just as good as those arranged by Carnival. I liked them because we were with friends.
We arrived at Dominica about noon. The place we docked was in a container dock and not the cruise dock in town. Having been to Dominica many times before, we decided to just walk around the little market the locals had set up. Jack bought some local HOT sauce and I, a carved fish. It was really hot and started to rain as we walked back to the ship. There was a beautiful rainbow.
I guess we sound like real homebodies but I really did intend to go to the beach on Barbados. Instead, after getting up at noon and having lunch on Lido, we made a quick trip to shore to use the Internet. The Internet Cafe has been replaced by a machine that disperses cards with a login ID and password. You can use those codes in either a laptop or one of the PCs in a kiosk. The cost was $5.00 for 30 minutes compared to .75 a minute on the ship. So we paid our five bucks and spent 30 minutes checking email, banking and looking at facebook. We were soooooo hot by then that instead of walking a mile or so to the beach, we went back to the air conditioning in the ship.
We spent our day in Barbados in the beautiful sunshine in the pool on the ship. The wonderful thing about staying on board was that most people were ashore and we had the ship to ourselves.
Think any Mexican industrial town and put an oil refinery and a container port beside it and you have pretty much got Fortaleza. They do have some beaches, but they have rusty looking sand and silty green water - not exactly five star. The highlight of the day was the drink of cashew pod juice we had at the H Stern jewelry store during a shopping stop on the bus tour. The temperature in town was probably in the low 90s with a nice breeze from the east.
Fortaleza is located just 3° 35' below the Equator. The word fortaleza is Portuguese for fortress. The city is one of Brazil's largest cities and is the state capitol of the state of Ceara. There are about 2,400,000 people.
We visited the Metropolitan Cathedral in downtown, the Dragao do Mar Cultural Center, the beach, Central Market, the English Bridge and H Stern jewelry store located in a high end hotel. It was a nice ride around town on a Sunday morning on the ship's excursion. Almost everything was closed and the traffic was light.
The main cathedral does not have candles because the poor people took them home to use as light, so they quit doing candles. The building was started in 1938 and it wasn't finished in the 1970s. The Pope announced that he was going to visit Fortaleza, so the city put a surcharge on the public water bills to pay for finishing the cathedral before the Pope arrived. I think they put it on the water bill because that is a bill everybody has to pay, like it or not. They can use candles for light and charcoal for cooking, but they do have to have the water.
At the central market I bought a mango slushie. It took a while for me to get it. One of the tour guides was passing orders for the folks on her bus to the guy on the machine and bypassing those of us in line. I told her I was in line, so she had me move in front of her, but then she was shouting her orders over my shoulder. She was going to be sure to take care of her bus passengers and to heck with the rest of us. Working for tips, I think. Fortunately I had a 5 Rial bill with me, so when he put down a mango slushie that the guide had ordered, I handed him the money and grabbed the drink. Now I have the 1 rial coin that I got in change. The mango slushie was very good and much needed at that moment.
The price for a beer on the English Bridge beach pier was 2.50 rials which is about 1 dollar. The mango slushie at 4 rials was about $1.75. These are real prices because this is not really a tourist town.
In Portugese, they do not pronounce the R like we do; it is more of a strong harsh H sound. The money is the Rial, which is pronounced "Hey Oh" with maybe just a little L sound on the end. We are now going to our next port stop in Recife, which they pronounce as "hesif" with maybe a little bit of an "ay" sound on the end.
Recife is a big city. We didn't see it except from a distance. The skyscrapers lined up along the shoreline make it look, from a distance, like Miami. We didn't want to see another city just like all the others, so we took the ship's tour to Itamarca Island to see manatees and mangroves and do a beach break.
Both of us were exhausted and sun burned after our day on Itamaraca Island near Recife Brazil.
It took us about an hour on the bus to get there from the ship and we had six hours to enjoy a very short catamaran ride, a quick glance at the mangroves, a long time on the beach, then walk through Fort Orange and the Manatee Center. On our ride home we drove through a smaller city to see some Colonial buildings.
The beach was fun and the water relaxing. At the beach we sat at a beach bar with tables in the sand, each one with its own palapa for shade, and enjoyed drinks of Caipirinha and beer. In Mexico, palapas are thatched with leaves from the fan palm. Here they use a long stemmed beach grass that may be related to sea oats.
At first we thought we would order lunch, but $20.00 a plate was astonishingly overpriced for what it was. I had packed some croissants and cheese from the breakfast bar on the ship so we decided to have those instead. One of the many vendors at the beach was walking around with a gallon can full of burning charcoal hanging from a wire so he would swing like a censure to get the coals red hot, and a Tupperware container of cheese. He would cook big thick slices of a hard white cheese over the charcoal until it was brown and leathery on the outside looking like the second side of a well done pancake. He would then skewer the cheese like a popsicle and hand it to you hot and ready to eat. We both had one of those for about $2.00 each. The cheese, about the consistency and color of very firm tofu, was absolutely delicious, and the slightly salty taste was perfect with the croissant and beer.
My husband stayed under the protection of the palapa at the bar while I spent a lot of time in the water. It was sooooooo relaxing. The water temperature would change from warm to cold depending on where I was. I had on a hat so my face did not burn from the sun. My shoulders and back were not shaded so they are still sore. I do not know how DH got so sunburned on his face???? He was in the shade all the time while on the beach but his face got as red as my back. He says it was from the reflection off the sand and water.
We traveled to and from the beach island on a catamaran. It took us alongside the mangroves and past local fishermen. The catamaran was loud with people and music so we didn't see many birds or wildlife as I had hoped.
There was a small Dutch fort called Fort Orange there on Itamarca Island across from the beach island so we got off the catamaran we walked over to see it. The small 17th century fortress was originally build by the Dutch - that is why it is called Fort Orange for William of Orange - and later taken by the Portuguese when they ran the Dutch out (the Dutch then went to buy Manhattan from the Indians says the tour guide). We saw the cannons, Dutch maps and archaeological pieces. This was NOT my favorite part of the day........ and it was 40° C (104° F) in the shade while we were out walking through the sand with the sun beating down on us. Brutal. Could have been a "survivors in the desert" movie. I was really worried about some of the older members of the group getting heat stroke. (Older, ah yes, we are back in the younger demographic on this cruise. I am 62 and DH 65)
Well, we walked from the fort across the island to the IBAMA Center for the Protection of the West Indian Manatee which is Peixe-boi in Portugese, pronounced "pehshee boy". The research center rescues injured and orphaned manatees and then reintroduces them back into the wild. We saw only three manatee in residence but it was a fun stop with big shade trees. A small pack of tiny monkeys was running all around. The looked sorta like teddy bears and were like big squirrels in size and the way they ran up the trees.
Some of the trees growing there that have a purple fruit that looks like a big ripe olive. I think it is related to the mango because the tree looks just like a mango tree and the fruit has this huge seed in it. The taste of the fruit was pleasant, but much too acid. It felt like the juice was taking the enamel off your teeth. The guide said they are really good when ripe. Maybe the one I ate wasn't ripe? It looked ripe.
We took the ship's "Easy Salvador" tour in Salvador. Get on the bus and ride around, take pictures out the window. That was all we wanted to do because we were still tired from the last port. We saw some churches and a fort and some buildings and favelas.
The favelas, or slums, are not what I expected. They are multi-story buildings made of the same clay tile bricks that most small buildings are made of. They have electricity and running water but NO streets. They hand carry everything (I mean everything - no streets) in narrow lanes with lots and lots of stair steps. They sort of remind me of the pueblos of the Navajos or Hopi in Arizona.
After the tour I needed to get some Rials ("Hay eyes" you remember the Portugese pronunciation) so I went to the bank. Since I don't speak Portugese and Brazilians don't speak anything but Portugese, not Spanish, not English, it took a while to figure out that the banks don't do currency exchange or deal with credit cards. I tried the ATMs but these wouldn't take either of my cards. After trying 4 banks and a half dozen ATMs, I found an informal change operation that was operated by a local tour guide. I only got 2 Rials for a dollar, but I had to have the Rials for the tours in Rio on our next stop. 2.30 is the official rate, but the informal ones use 2.00 for selling and 2.75 for buying.
After was looking for Rials, we waited in line for an hour to use the cheap dockside internet at $4 per hour, as opposed to 75 cents a minute on the ship. In Recife, one internet cafe was 1 Rial per hour.
.....Rio De Janeiro:
The best I can do on the Portugese pronunciation is "He owe dezhan eye".
Back in Recife, they told us that the rainy season in Rio ends just in time for Carnival. It was cloudy and raining all day. It wasn't too bad, but the views from the top of Sugarloaf and Corcovado were mostly of clouds. We were wearing plastic ponchos and looked sopping wet all day.
We got up at 5 AM to watch while the ship was coming into the harbor. It was a fairly scenic arrival in the morning twilight with the big rocks sticking up and the lights along the beaches. We were excited about our private tour with a group from Cruise Critic.
That it was a little wet and rainy all day didn't stop the preparations for Carnival. The street pre-parade that we saw was reported on CNN. It was a large college party with lots of beer, moving down the street with some in costume. Rio is a pretty city and interesting. The mountain ridges and bay cuts it up into much smaller zones with lots of green space in between. The zones we saw were clean, modern, and well maintained, with parks and lakes and public areas. I am sure that there are other parts we didn't see. They say that the crime problem is "much better now". They do not say there is little or no crime. The warnings about wearing jewelry and carrying valuables were restated frequently.
The tour went first to Sugarloaf. It takes two cable cars to get to the top. You get a great view of the whole area.
Then we went to the Sambadrome, the judging area for the carnival parade entrants. It seems to work like the Crewes of Mardi Gras in New Orleans: there are groups, called samba schools, that run different parts of it. Joining a samba school is neither cheap nor easy and there are about 1,200 members in each group. If I understood correctly, there are 174 samba schools. There is a theme and a story to each presentation. They are judged and there is a big money prize to the winning samba school. Next was the modern cathedral. It is a fascinating structure that looks like a big flat topped octagonal pyramid. One person accurately described it as looking like an "upside down ice cream cone". It is really not that impressive from the outside, but when you go inside, it is an "oh, wow" moment. To continue with the ice cream cone analogy, the pyramid is a huge hollow shell with four sides being louvered to allow ventilation and the other four sides are immense stained glass windows from floor to the horizontal clear glass ceiling. They are maybe 150 feet tall and 30 feet wide each. It is hard for pictures to do it justice.
We walked through the colonial district, looking at old buildings and statues. We saw Carmen Miranda's childhood home, where the family ran a restaurant, living on the third floor, the cooking area in the second floor, and customer tables on the first floor. After that there was a picturesque area with an old house like Neuschanstein castle in miniature and some really old street trolley cars still running on overhead electric wires. Quaint.
Corcovado mountain was next. We drove up to the parking lot, rode a park van up to the elevator level, rode the elevator up to the escalators that didn't work. From there it was 80 stair steps up to the overlook around the base of the huge statue of Christ. More rain and fog cutting the visibility. If you waited a few minutes, you could get a picture as a gap in the cloud came by. While waiting for our group to assemble, we had an abacaixe smoothie for R 4.50. Abacaixe is pineapple and is pronounced "Abba caizhee." They are using a very white type of pineapple that is not very sweet.
At supper, I ordered abacaixe sherbet from our Brazilian waitress. Apparently I got it right.
Then we headed for Ipanema to see the "Girl From Ipanema" who is now about 100. Ipanema is not just the beach, but is the most expensive residential district in Rio. The tour guide said he would live in the Ipanema-Copacabana-Leblon area if he could afford it. Me too.
This was the area where we stopped to watch the pre-parade party and found several streets blocked off. These parties were breaking out all over town. There were streets officially blocked and others blocked by people and others blocked by traffic confused by the other blockages. Trying to get from A to B was getting really tricky.
It was now getting late. We stopped to buy souvenirs and were supposed to continue on to the beach. Some of the group were worried about getting trapped in the parade traffic problems and missing the boat. That would have been a very big and expensive problem. Despite the risk, the other half were absolutely determined to go to the beach and get a caipirinha - just so they could say "been there, done that." Fortunately there were two vans, so the group split. We went with the Go Back bunch. We got on the ship just 15 minutes before final boarding time. The others got back 15 minutes later. They did actually get a drink on the beach.
Other tours did get trapped. One with about 80 passengers from Legendary Journeys - who have about one third of the passengers on the boat - got back 2 hours late. Normally, if you are not back on time, you get left behind. I think they might have held the boat for Legendary, but not for a small private group like ours.
However, a crew tour also got trapped. They also got back 2 hours late. Rumor has it that the captain was on that tour, so we couldn't leave without him.
.....Buenos Aires, Argentina:
We took a private tour of the city the morning we arrived. Went to the Tango Show that night with a group from Cruise Critic and wandered around on our own the next day.
There are 3 million in the city and ten million more in the suburbs. It seems to have all the good parts of European cities. They didn't really show us the bad parts. Except for one slum. It was built out of the same tile blocks as the favelas in Brazil. These were built under a highway overpass and were not as extensive as the hilltop ones in Rio. I liked likes Buenos Aires better than Rio. My husband liked Rio better.
BA is on the world's biggest estuary at the outlet of the Rio de la Plata, which is an extensive river system. The water is a mottled mix of river and ocean water. The color of the water is coffee and cream, but it has an interesting pinkish tinge. It is not repulsive, but it does not invite swimming.
The current government is a modern Peronist variety. The president is Christina Fernandez de Kirchner. Our tour guide was an anti-Peronist, so he thinks the whole Evita thing is vastly overblown: "She would be completely forgotten, except for Lloyd-Webber." Of course, we heard "Don't cry for me, Argentina" about three times during the day. It was the big finale at the tango show.
We went to a tango show and dinner at La Ventana, Barra de Tango, in downtown. The show started at 8:00 and dinner was at 10:00. The show has a lot of tango, but the parts we liked best were the Bandoneon player (It is not an accordion, it is a bandoneon. They are different.) and the 12 string ukelele that makes "Andean" music. I like Andean music and the ukelele player was very good.
Wine was served with dinner. It was a Malbec. The day tour guide said Malbec is the best of Argentine wine, even though the name means "made bad." The table next to us didn't drink theirs, so they gave it to me. I got a cork from the waiter and recorked it to take back to the boat. I thought somebody in security would not allow it, but I went right through with nobody batting an eye.
The tango started in the bars and back rooms in La Boca, the old port district. The port has been moved twice since then. The first old port, La Boca, has been turned into a Disney style tourist attraction. The other abandoned port, Puerto Madero, was turned over to real estate developers who have made a very upscale commercial and residential district out of it.
La Boca was interesting. The buildings are mostly made out of corrugated metal painted garish colors. The windows are covered with louvered shutters. Another of the pictures of the day is the Boca Babe (my name for her. The locals probably use another name). She was sitting on a second floor balcony just watching the world go by.
This place is expensive. Prices seem to be on a par with New York, but the minimum wage is about $15 per day, if I understood it right. Unemployment is severe. The tour guide said there are lots of poor people and they come out at night hunting for ….......anything of value. Maybe that is why there are so many dogs here - big dogs.
To hire a dog walker costs $90 per month per dog. The dog walkers seem to get up a pack of about ten and walk them for 5 hours a day through the extensive park system in town. They look like Cesar Milan on his TV show leading a pack around. Small dogs, like you see in Miami, were rarely seen. All these Porteños (that is what they call residents of Buenos Aires) living in small apartments with big dogs really do need dog walkers. Two days in Buenos Aires was not enough.
The name, so said the tour guide, came from a notation on a nautical chart back in the 1500s: Monte VI de O(este), the sixth hill from the west.
The temperature was 82, but it seemed like 102 or more. It feels like Arizona in the middle of August. We came into the port fairly early. Looming out of the twilight was a big building that looks like the sail shaped hotel in Dubai. The captain did a pretty good job of parallel parking into a very tight spot. The people on deck were holding their breath. He had only about a foot left on each end of his parking place.
After breakfast, we got our tour assignments: we are on bus #5, a 12 passenger Mercedes van. This was a private tour arranged by our Cruise Critic friends. It was to be an all day tour with a stop at a local place for lunch.
Our first stop was one of the city squares. There was a McDonalds and a Burger King and a money exchange shop. For $2, I got 45 pesos. Effectively a peso is a nickel. Gas costs about $5 a gallon, and the minimum wage is about $2.50 an hour. There were a couple of cops in the square with automatic weapons. They were guarding a bank shipment unloading at the bank on the square. Jack asked them what kind of guns they were. They are an American design made locally. He did not get the name. These people talk really fast, person to person. They seem to talk more clearly and slowly on the cellphones. I could understand most of what the guide said into her phone, but when she was talking to the driver, almost nothing.
We drove down to the beach at 10:30 AM on a Thursday. The beach was fairly busy and was very nice. We like this town best of all so far as a place to live in. We went through the high priced condo district to the higher priced house district and then to the mansion district. The driver said the mansions cost up to a million. We saw the presidents house and Rev. Sun Myung Moon's house. Our guide said that she did not like Rev. Moon. We said that we don't either.
Uruguay has one of the best standard of living in all South America. Most of the way, if I had closed my eyes and opened them, I could have been in the States. We stopped at parks and churches and took lots of pictures. One of the longest stops was at the Holocaust Memorial. It was at a beautiful spot on the beach.
The locals drink a tea called Mate. Everyone carries their tea with them from home. It isn't sold in the cafe..... you bring your tea cup filled with mate leaves from home with a thermos of hot water. You keep adding hot water all day. We took pictures of cups and "sipper straws" especially for the tea. I took a picture of the cups. They also had boxes of tea for sale with the cups. We had had Mate before so we passed on the tea. You can buy it in a 5 lb. Bag at Bi-Lo.
Finally lunch... Lunch was not included in the price. The guide took us to a Winery. It was a beautiful place surrounded by fields of sheep grazing and vineyards. It was very pricey though and we had only about 60.00 in cash with us. We ordered one appetizer and a steak entrée to share and passed up the bottled water and wine. We were surprised when the check came to see a charge of $9.00 for use of the cutlery and another $5.00 for two bottled waters. The guide said that the charge for using the knives and forks was usual... but we disputed the water and $5.00 was deducted from the bill. I think they confused us with someone else who did have bottled water.
The excitement for the day was when we tried to leave the Winery. We were way out from town and our ship and it was getting close to time to be back on board. All 12 of us climbed back in the van and were ready to go. It wouldn't start........ the battery was dead. The driver messed with it for awhile as we all got a little anxious ..... The guide called for back up...... we got out of the van and waited in a small patch of shade in the 100 degree sun. We entertained ourselves by taking pictures of each other and the group. The driver recruited some winery workers to give him a push start. It worked and we all piled back in the van at about the same time the back up van arrived. We got out of the first van and into the backup van and back to the ship just on time. The ship sailed 3 hours late.
Whatever I expected, this wasn't it. I didn't expect Puerto Madryn to be a modern boom town a lot like Gillette Wyoming. I didn't expect Patagonia to be a flat, dusty, treeless, sagebrush desert like parts of Wyoming or Colorado or Arizona. I didn't expect llamas to be like antelope without horns. I didn't expect penguins to be prairie dogs in disguise. But that's how it is. I felt right at home.
We took a ship's excursion. We rode in a 50 person bus 2.5 hours to reach the Protected National Area Punta Tomba. We were in the first class section of the bus which is 3 across rather than 4. It was VERY comfortable and we slept most of the way there. Once we arrived we were surrounded by 400000 Magellan penguins. It is the largest penguin rookery of its kind in the world. We walked among the birds for about 2 hours.
The chicks and one parent were home. The other parent out getting fish or down by the ocean. Some of the chicks were still completely covered with down. Others had started to get their feathers. They were beautiful.
Tierra del Fuego is an island. Originally, Tierra del Fuego was used as a prison like Devil's Island. Escape was considered impossible because of the cold and remoteness and the wind. The winds are fierce from the west, so most of the trees are bent to the east. They are called "flag trees."
The water was like glass in the morning when we arrived, no wind at all and nicely cool. We took a ships tour by bus through the Lapatia National Park and then got on a catamaran for a ride down the Beagle Channel to see islands covered with sea lions and cormorants. The boats got right up next to the islands. There were too many sealions and birds to even start to count. The scenery was spectacular - alpine forest and sharp mountains with treeline about halfway up at 1800 feet elevation. There was no snow, but you could see lots of small glaciers.
They imported some Canadian beavers about 50 years ago. They were going to raise them for fur, but the weather here is not cold enough for the beavers to develop good fur pelts, so they turned them loose. They have no natural enemies here. Now there are 200,000 of them that are doing major damage to the forest. Some of our best pictures were of the beaver ponds.
Either the birds or the Sea lions stink. I mean really stink. Every time the catamaran got downwind of a sea lion/bird island, the stench would knock you over. The early inhabitants here, dated to 4,600 years ago, went naked except for a greasy coating of sea lion fat and a cape made of sea lion leather. It made them waterproof for collecting mussels growing in the shallows and it blocked the wind chill effect.
Our real Cape Horn experience continued. The winds came up in the afternoon. They delayed our departure by 8 hours because of high winds.
Our latitude at 52° 48' South. It was 9 pm and it still light enough to read outside.
I bought a black t-shirt that says "Ushuaia, Fin del Mundo." It seems appropriate somehow.
As compensation for missing Punta Arena, they took us to see a couple of glaciers, the Skua and the Pio XI.
Here is what happened back in Ushuaia: The ship was supposed to leave at 3:00pm, but it did not. As we were watching over the rail in very pleasant conditions, an announcement was made that the winds in the channel were too high for safe passage, so they were going to wait for the winds to slow. At 9:00 pm they announced that the stop in Punta Arenas was canceled because we would arrive too late and the weather forecast was very bad.
At 9:20, I stepped out on the balcony and saw an ambulance and some cars at the gangway. Some passengers got into the cars with their luggage and the whole group of ambulance and cars drove back toward town at slow speed with flashing lights. Immediately, we cast off and went down the channel at 14 knots, which is much slower than the regular cruising speed of 21 knots.
The ship did go to Punta Arenas and arrived about noon in lovely weather. That was "too late" to allow passengers ashore. It was a tender port and we were scheduled to leave at 3:30 pm. It would have taken until 2:00 to get everyone off the ship and another two hours to get everyone back on.. Some ships business was conducted - entry permission, exchange of performers, and the return of a ship's photographer who went cross country from Buenos Aires taking video, perhaps for future commercials. Then we headed down the Strait of Magellan toward our next stop. We were compensated $20.00 each for the lost port call.
Instead of Punta Arenas we cruised the fjords and looked at glaciers and stunning scenery. We had planned another tour to see penguins in Punta Arenas, but we already saw LOTS of penguins at Puerto Madryn. We probably enjoyed the sightseeing more than if we had made our port stop. The weather was perfect at the Skua Glacier but so foggy at the Pius the 11 that no pictures turned out very well.
At supper the ship suddenly began to list quite sharply. I think about 10 degrees, maybe more. Ten degrees is a lot. Things were falling everywhere. We had been hit by a sudden 70 knot wind coming at us sideways down one of the glacial valleys. It was exciting, but it as over very soon.
During the night a solid sheet of white spray came blasting by the balcony. We were on the 9th deck and the bow splash reached all the way up. Wow. The winds were 90 MPH that night.
That was happening as we came out of the channel into the open ocean. The plan was to sail up to Puerto Montt by going on the outside through the ocean rather than through the fjords. The 90 mph wind changed their minds. We made an abrupt right turn and found a protected narrow channel that goes a fairly long way, but not all the way. There is a peninsula that blocks the route. We will still have to come out into the open ocean to get north to Puerto Montt.
We been rocked and rolled all night and day. There were a whole bunch of small low pressure systems lined up like a string of little hurricanes. Inside them, the wind and waves were terrible. In between, the weather was OK.
Puerto Montt was founded by the Germans in 1853 and is the capital of The Southern Lake District. The population is 155000 people. What a fun port for me. We spent the day at a horse ranch.
After tendering to shore we were met by our guide Orlando. He was excellent and had arranged a marvelous day for us. We were on a Carnival Shore excursion with about 30 others.
First we rode through Puerto Montt, Puerto Varas and Frutillar. We stopped at the Farmacia in Puerta Varas and stocked up on Aspirin, Sudafed and Dr Moms. Then we shopped in the local artisan market. The alpaca items were tempting.... but would have been "moth bait" in SC. I took pictures but made no purchases. The view of Lake Liaguihue was nice …. but we were under fog and clouds all day and never saw the whole of the volcanoes. It was just 60F but the 98% humidity made it feel more like 80.... or maybe I had a fever.... who knows??? The town of roses had a nice aroma.
When we arrived at Fundo Olguita we were treated as guests at the ranch. We toured the stables for the stallions. There were about 20 horses in the stud barn and about twice that many mares in the mare barn. We only saw a few out in the pastures, but with 750 hectares, the mares and colts were somewhere. The horses were all purebred Chilean horses. The were small and stocky. At only about 14 hands they had short legs and muscular bodies. They are bred for the rodeo and working on ranches.
They took us to an open room in the barn where we met the huasos and were shown the riders dress and tack for the horses. Then we were offered wine and empanadas and entertained by children in tradition dress doing traditional dances. The barn dogs were friendly and the retired "trainer bull" roamed free.
Next to the arena for riding skills demonstration and a taste of the Chilean Rodeo. We watched as the riders demonstrated circles and figure eights and walking sideways. Then they brought the bull in and the two riders rode along side of the bull around the ring. Near the end of the circle the bull was rammed up against the rail. In the old days this is how they would stop the cattle for branding. This is now an event in the rodeo. Then they ran a barrel race. A little different from what we see in the states in that there were four barrels not just three. During the rodeo we were served MORE wine and two types of appetizers.
Before dinner the children dancers came down to the arena and offered to teach us to do the dances. They were dances that mimic movements in the rodeo called the cueca. We needed to work off some of the wine and food before EATING MORE. Dinner was grilled steak and potatoes with sopapillas and vegetables and, you guessed it, more wine. Dessert was a delicious fruit plate, STRONG coffee and mint or chamomile liquor. If you get a chance to have some chamomile liquor, pass that up. Oh, yeah, there was a pisco sour in there somewhere, too. Even though Pisco is a town in Peru, Pisco sour is the national drink of both Peru and Chile.
As we were leaving the owner called us back for one last toast. He had just received word that his son had qualified for the National Finals Rodeo!!! He was very proud and excited. We had a wonderful day.
.....Viña Del Mar and Valparaiso:
We took a ships bus tour of both towns. I would do something different next time. I was a little bored on this one. We went to Viña first. We knew we were there when the flower clock told us so. It was 9 a.m. on a rainy Tuesday morning and not much was happening. After a driving tour to see the expensive real estate and the condos with their own "funiculars" we went to the Easter Island museum, and then on to Valpo.
Valpo is a navy town. I thought Valpo was more interesting than Viña. There is something interesting about unusual old places. Victorian houses, hillsides, ooooold funiculars, fire departments named after ethnic groups (Der Fueurwehr, for example), viewpoints and little cafes. I liked it.
We left the ship at 7:00 am and they had already started loading food and drinks. They finished at 8:00 pm then we departed. We must have been running low on groceries..... you guess??
We got there after all. The captain ran full speed all night and we arrived at noon, only eight hours late. All of the short tours ran on delay. Our long tour was canceled, so we bought a ship's city tour.
The tour went around the town where we saw a church and the customs house that were designed by Eiffel, the same Eiffel who did the Eiffel tower. The rest of the town was interesting too.
We were in the Atacama Desert where it didn't rain but once in 500 years. It was dry. There are no bushes on the hills. The only plants are in the dry river bottoms where there is some underground water. The population gets water from a pipe from a long way away. Water is expensive. Still, they plant a lot of plants and trees - Arizona kinds of things like oleanders, palms, and Palo Verde and even grass. Bougainvilla grows very well here and it is lovely.
Some water used to flow from a spring up the hill aways. They channeled the stream into a "water feature," ponds and waterfalls and such, about half a block wide running down the whole length of the town. It was probably lovely until the spring dried up. Now it is a public area with meeting spaces and walking paths. It is still pretty nice, considering. Another water feature still exists and is really cool.
The main crop seems to be olives, which they have been growing here since 1530, only 40 years after Columbus. They also grow tomatoes and other vegetables. At the museum there was an old olive grinder and press. The grinder was a single wheel "arrastre," a big vertical stone mill wheel turned in a basin by a mule. The olives were ground to a mush and then taken to the press. The beam on the press was about 40 feet long and 2 feet thick - an entire tree. The mush was pressed and the oil comes out. That it the "first cold press," then they add hot water and go at it again repeatedly, each batch getting poorer in quality. When the hot water quits working, they nowadays use solvent.
There is a big white spot on the hillside. Four tour guides gave four answers as to what it was: Diatomite, nitrate, salt, or lime. Take your pick or provide your own.
We saw the "geoglyphs." These are placements of stone on the east facing hillsides in the shape of men, llamas, snakes, etc. They think they are over 4,000 years old. We had our picture taken with a llama and his owner and got a cold drink at the stop to view the hillside.
The mummies are over 5,000 years old. That is older than the Egyptian mummies. There were a couple on display in the museum. Other sites here are dated at 15,000 years. That plays havoc with the previous single land bridge crossing theory of populating America.
The people here are more of Peruvian and Bolivian ancestry, so they are shorter and darker than Chileans from further south. Actually this area was Peru and Bolivia until a war in 1880 that was won by Chile. The peace settlement in 1929 established the owner as Chile. Peru and Bolivia still are not happy about it, particularly Bolivia, which lost its access to the sea. Chile maintains 30,000 troops here in Arica just in case the Peruvians or Bolivians want to try to get it back.
Altogether I really liked this town.
Lima is another big city. Latest count is 10 million, ranging from super rich to super poor. We took a ship shore excursion. After a drive through Lima we visited the National Museum of Anthropology and Archeology. Now I enjoyed the museum, but how many pots and mummies can you really look at? The museum was in a lovely setting with lots of green all around. Lima, like Arica, is desert.
We had a little time when we were leaving and sat on a bench in the garden. One of the police came over and started a conversation with us. He was about 25 and saw a time to practice his English. Many in Peru are studying English as a way to get ahead. With only a years study this young man was on his way to fluency. He and everyone we met were warm and friendly.
The hour and ½ drive down the pacific coast was cool. We saw the beaches and several areas of Lima on our way to the Pachacamac Ruins. I decided that once you have been to Teotihuacan near Mexico City, all the rest are just ruins. Anyway, I made it all the way up to the top of the pyramid and enjoyed the view. You could see the sea, the desert and Lima from the top. The city is inching its way out more and more as the city grows. The desert is brown and dusty. The ruins, dating back to 700 A.D. consist of adobe buildings and temples. The highlight was seeing the Peruvian hairless dog outside the small snack shop and museum. I skipped the museum and visited with the dog instead.
Finally, we were on our way to the Tres Cañas ranch to see the Peruvian Paso. We were met at the hacienda with a Pisco Sour and some snacks of deep-fried yucca and dip. We wandered around the gardens and stables as we waited for lunch to be ready. The horses were pretty. They had big eyes and a dished face like the Arabian. I made friends with a gray mare and her month old filly. She was the souvenir I wanted to take home but my husband said, "No."
Lunch started with wine and bread. Then we were offered water, soda, beer and more wine. They had cooked potatoes, beans and tamales in a fire pit (earthen oven). DH thought his tamale was the best thing on the plate. There was also chicken, pork and beef. Dessert was some sort of jelly custard.
And then the horse show..... I don't know the difference between the Peruvian Paso we saw and the Paso Fino in the states. They looked the same and did the same four beat gait. There were four horses exhibited and the prettiest paso mule I've ever seen. After the show it was back to the ship.
Before going in the ship, we took time to visit with the vendors lined up in the port. Ah... shopping. My favorite day.
The museum in Manta was brand new and air conditioned. Lots of pre-Columbian artifacts but no mummies..... skulls and bones though. We only stayed about an hour!! The museum is in the former national bank building. Ecuador has converted to using the US Dollar as their national currency because inflation made theirs worthless. Somebody said they still use their coins though, probably for vending machines and small change. I don't know how they value them.
We drove all around Manta on our ship's tour and out from town to a small local house where we were shown how paja toquilla is transformed into Panama Hats. Hats were there for sale but we settled on a picture of the hats instead. Jack did buy a bag of organic local coffee. It is suppose to be "award winning". The coffee is called "El Aromo."
The next little town we visited was El Aromo. We saw the church and wandered around the square and found the pharmacy but it was closed for siesta.
There we were on the equator in high summer and the temperature got up to 90 today. Moderate humidity, so it was really quite comfortable. This was still due to the influence of the Humboldt Current of cold water from down at Cape Horn. Inland a little, it does get very hot and they grow bananas.
Manta has a huge Tuna industry. A Chinese freezer ship was parked right across from us at the pier. They off loaded fish all day from the ships freezer to trucks. The trucks then proceeded in convoy to the processing plants, accompanied by masked armed guards on every truck The tour guide said the guards are not allowed to shoot first. Before I saw how many fish were transported in one day, I had no idea how many fish we kill daily...... and this is just one port.
We surprised ourselves when we decided that of all the places we have visited, Acapulco is the one to which we will surely return. The last time we were here was fifteen years ago. We loved it just as much today as before. I would like to spend a month down here - or two. We could fly into Acapulco then drive up the coast and go back to Troncones Beach, visiting other towns along the way.
Acapulco's bay is beautiful. The colors are stunning. It is a lovely place. My eyes were sore from looking at the azure sea and sky. I guess that is why this has been a resort area since before the time of the Aztecs.
English is widely spoken and even though set up for tourists, there is a real Mexican community too. It is just a very nice place to be.
Our plan for the day was to get to Wal-Mart to stock up on cold medicines. We mentioned that plan at dinner and our tablemates decided to go with us. We met at 10 am in the lobby. After getting off the ship we stopped for pesos at the Casa de Cambio and walked to the local city bus. It was a direct ride to the end of the way to Wal-Mart. Our friends stocked up on Amoxicyllin and Cipro. The cost for the Amox was just $1 per box. At home it is at least $15. Why? We just got some Actifed and Dr Mom look-alikes.
The last time we were here, we stayed at the Hyatt across the street from Wall-Mart so we walked over there after we finished our shopping. It was just as I remembered. The place was full of young people arriving for Spring Break. You could feel PARTY in the air...... Oh to be 20 again!!! We walked out around the pool and to the beach. The hotel changed hands two months ago and is now called Five Star Grand Resort.
Our tablemates were ready for lunch and set out on a venture to find Red Snapper. We had just eaten so we split off from the group and set out on our own. We caught the bus back toward the ship. Got off in old town and walked awhile. We found an Internet Cafe with internet for 60 cents an hour. We went in for a while then continued our walk, stopping for a cervesa and soda along the way.
Back at the ship we sat by the pool for an hour or so before dinner. It was a nice relaxed day. It was HOT though and the cool pool water felt good.
We went on the ship's whale photo shoot in Puerto Vallarta. The season is from early December to March in Banderas Bay. Our trip was a little late in the season. The boat was a big hardshell inflatable, an Avon, which is like a big Zodiak. We spotted a mother and calf fairly quickly and followed them for a long time - lots of pictures of humped backs. The guide was an Aussie who called it an "oombaa-" That last is a glottal stop. There is a proper way to show it, but I don't remember now. The sound is almost like a soft cough. So "oombaa(cough)"
The calf breached and I was the only one that got the picture. Actually it was pure luck. A woman jumped up in front of me, so I had to put the camera out to the side and push the button and hope. As you see, I got the picture with every drop of water in focus. Wow.
The ride was rough, wet, and in the open sun the whole day. I felt like I had lost 7 rounds with a mule by the time it was over. But I got the picture.
In Long Beach everybody had to get off the ship for about three hours for customs and immigration - nobody gets back on until everybody is cleared.
The ship was using the foghorn all night long as we were coming in to port. The Splendor docked right behind the Queen Mary. That was some comparison. The QM is quite a bit smaller than the Splendor, but the old style elegance of the interior was said to be better.
The day started cold and foggy. We were not too excited about trying to be tourists in a cold and foggy LA, but there was an aquarium fairly close by. After a late breakfast we walked over to the Queen Mary Hotel - that is what the ship is now - and caught the free shuttle to the aquarium. Long Beach has free shuttle service to many of the major tourist areas - very nice, if not all that frequent.
The aquarium is not all that large, but it is very well laid out and the volunteer staff was amazing in number and quality. We got there just in time for shark feeding. Then we went to the lorikeet cage. Lorikeets are colorful parrotlike birds. Libby bought a little cup of nectar and the lorikeets went crazy to get at it. At one time she had three of them on one arm. The greedy little critters drank up all the nectar right away. Then they weren't so interested in sitting on you, fickle little devils.
Walking through one of the underground viewing areas, I noticed a sea lion looking very closely through the glass at a kid's shoes. When the kid moved on, the sea lion took up looking at another kid's shoes. When that kid moved on, I stepped up and let it look at my "havaiianas" (that is the correct word for flip-flops). I took the shoe off to see if the sea lion wanted to see my foot. Not at all, it wanted the shoe, so I started moving the shoe around. The sea lion followed it like it was a magnet. I really started getting into it, moving the shoe around and round, up and down, and in circles. The sea lion was on it like it was the only thing in the world. I threw in every ballet move I could remember from Mrs. Hayden's after-school ballet class that I took way back in 3rd grade. We were covering the entire 8 ft tall and 12 ft wide window, just dancing and having a ball.
After a long time, I was getting tired and I figured I was hogging the window so I stopped. A crowd of about 50 had gathered to watch. They gave us a standing ovation. OK, they were already standing, but they did clap and cheer. That was as much fun as I have ever had playing with an animal. Really really cool. We finished at the aquarium and went back to the ship.
San Francisco was the end of the cruise. How depressing. At the beginning, we wondered if cabin fever from being cooped up in a ship for so long would be a problem. It wasn't. We are ready to turn around and do it all over again, right now, please.
We didn't do much in SF, just headed for the hotel and checked email. It is nice to have a free and fast internet again. After a long nap it was lunch time so we went next door to the Elephant Bay restaurant which was cheaper than it looked. I got the best Pad Thai I have ever had.
The entertainment on board was outstanding. The best we have experienced on any cruise. They were creative in order to keep us entertained. All sorts of activities in addition to the usual cruise activities like trivia, pool games, art auctions, Bingo (about once a week... not everyday.), games and of course the Casino. We enjoyed the entertainment in the Spectacular Spectacular Show room. The singers and dancers were superb and very energetic. The shows were repeated each of the three legs. We say them all twice.
My favorite entertainment on the ship was was the show band. Excellent. Comedians, jugglers, singers and ventriloquist were the normal average sort. They were "fly in". We watched all of some acts and only part of some others.
The entertainment in the bars and lounges was good too. Goose, the Cruise Director, was creative by bringing some of the house acts into the showroom for performances.
The piano player in the piano bar had carpel tunnel though and had to stop playing at times. I was glad they made the piano bar smoke free. I usually can't go there because of the smoke.
The naturalist Dirk was fun, approachable and interesting. The ports would never have been as much fun without having first listened to his talks. He was THE hit. He did all the shore talks for the ports too. What was so nice was that he talked about things other that the ships excursions. The talks were about the ports, not just about the excursions. * There were drawing lessons. DH went once and said it was fun.
* Picture taking and Photoshop seminars given by MickeyLive. These were very worth while.
* There were crafts classes. They even gave you all the materials for the crafts. Lots of people were working on needlepoint. Even the men. I wish I had gone to the classes.
* There were Spanish and Portuguese classes. They were entry level but we always learned something.
* The Writer's Workshop was fun. These were let by the ACD Brent. The writers or would be writers would share their writings and coach each other.
* The Bridge lessons and Duplicate Bridge sessions were been well attended.
* The Super Bowl party, lots of deck parties and two Ecuador crossing ceremonies were all great fun.
* There were on board movies shown on the big screen by the pool and in the cabins. While we enjoyed the ones we saw, I would like to have seen a better variety of movies. We watched the same moves several times. New movies started to be shown during the last leg but US TV was back on by then so it didn't make much difference.
* The Lido became a game area in the afternoon. Sometimes it was hard to find a table to sit at to eat. We usually just asked to join someone already seated.
* Our Cruise Critic group met each sea day at the back pool at 4:00 pm. We went to the gathering a few times but 4:00 pm turned out to be our nap time. The first two Cruise Critic meetings were held in the lobby during the chamber music. I'm glad that time and place was changed. The people trying to hear the music could hear nothing because we were talking so.
The longest we were between ports was three sea days. I really liked sitting on the balcony with my book. Sometimes concentrating on the pages was difficult. I liked sitting out there and just looking at the sea. You had to look closely but once your eyes adjust you can see all sorts of sea life: birds, whales, dolphins, sea lions and flying fish. The Sun rising and setting was another treat. I will never forget how brilliant the orange in the sky as the sun set as we were leaving Puerto Madryn and Arica. I have never before seen a sky completely orange.
I was glad we paid the extra to have a balcony.
* Debarkation: *
Debarkation in San Francisco was quick and easy. We had been through customs in Long Beach. We sat on Lido and waited for our number to be called. It came all too quickly. It had been the best 49 days it could be. We flew home the next morning.