Star Princess Cruise Review by Carl from Pahrump: 21-Day Cruise to Buenos Aires Bird Watchig Trip Report
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21-Day Cruise to Buenos Aires Bird Watchig Trip Report
In December 2007 and January 2008 we spent 37-days on the Star Princess with back-to-back cruises. We sailed across the Caribbean, down the East coast of South America, stopped in the Falkland Islands, sailed around Antarctica for 4 days, backtracked to the southern tip of South America, and ended in Buenos Aires. We then spent 4 nights at Iguazu Falls before returning to Miami.
We got a better rate by purchasing the 2 cruises as a package, plus we got the same cabin throughout the trip. It was cheaper for us to cruise to Buenos Aires where the Antarctic cruise officially started than to stay in Florida for 21 days and then fly to Buenos Aires (we travel all the time, so if we were not on the ship we would be staying somewhere else).
We are keen bird watchers. We selected this trip as a way of getting to Antarctica at a reasonable price and to visit other remote places we had not gone bird watching before.
At 2600 passengers, the Star Princess is More the largest ship we have sailed on. We had a room with an "obstructed view" which wasn't very obstructed at all. We decided we didn't need a balcony since it would probably be too cold to use it much of the time in Antarctica - which it was.
Our overall itinerary:
20-Dec Ft. Lauderdale, Florida 21-Dec At Sea 22-Dec At Sea 23-Dec Dominica 24-Dec Barbados 25-Dec Grenada 26-Dec Trinidad 27-Dec At Sea 28-Dec Devil's Island, French Guiana 29-Dec At Sea 30-Dec At Sea 31-Dec Fortaleza, Brazil 1-Jan At Sea 2-Jan Recife (Reef), Brazil 3-Jan At Sea 4-Jan Salvador, Brazil 5-Jan At Sea 6-Jan Rio de Janeiro, Brazil 7-Jan At Sea 8-Jan At Sea 9-Jan Montevideo, Uruguay 10-Jan Buenos Aires, Argentina 11-Jan At Sea 12-Jan At Sea 13-Jan Stanley, Falkland Islands 14-Jan At Sea 15-Jan Antarctica Peninsula (Great Britain Territory) 16-Jan Antarctica Peninsula (Great Britain Territory) 17-Jan Antarctica Peninsula (Great Britain Territory) 18-Jan Antarctica Peninsula (Great Britain Territory) 19-Jan Cape Horn (Scenic Cruising) 20-Jan Ushuaia, Argentina 21-Jan Punta Arena, Chile 22-Jan At Sea 23-Jan At Sea 24-Jan At Sea 25-Jan Montevideo, Uruguay 26-Jan Buenos Aires, Argentina 27-Jan Iguazu Falls, Argentina 28-Jan Iguazu Falls, Argentina 29-Jan Iguazu Falls, Argentina 30-Jan Iguazu Falls, Argentina 31-Jan Fly to Miami, Florida
This trip report covers the 21-day cruise from Ft Lauderdale to Buenos Aires. The trip report for the 16-day cruise to Antarctica is on www.CruiseCritic.com. The post trip to Iguazu Falls is on www.IndependentTraveler.com.
On December 20, 2007, the Star Princess was finally loaded and we were off at 7:30pm for the Antarctic - 2 hours late.
We went on a tour of the Health Spa and signed up for the Ultimate Spa Package in the Thermal Sanctuary, which has a 360-degree shower, 3 steam rooms (each at a different temp), and 5 heated stone lounge chairs.
On Dec 21 we were out early for walking 2 miles on deck. It was pretty windy. Once when we tried to walk around the front of the ship, we got pelted with ocean spray. At 8am we went to the Spa for 2 hours. The steam rooms were great! We had lunch in the dining room since they have better coffee than the buffet on the 14th floor.
Tonight was the first of 3 formal nights on the cruise. We opted out - the buffet was fine. People who brought formal clothes must have more than the 100 lbs of luggage we brought!
On Dec 22 we continued cruising SE at 25mph in the Atlantic Ocean. Later we passed thru the Virgins Passage and into the Caribbean. The weather was beautiful with a clear sky and 75F.
We walked 1.5 hrs today. We saw our first ocean birds of the trip around 3:30pm - 2 Pomarine Jaegers and a Magnificent Frigatebird, both as we passed by Puerto Rico.
On Dec 23 we arrived in Roseau, Dominica (15.301S 61.381W) at 9am. We saw Sperm Whales spouting and rounding-out as the ship approached the Dominica Harbor.
We met our bird guide, Stephen Durand (email@example.com) who is a plant specialist for the Forestry Division, at the harbor and headed out to the rainforest. Along the road we stopped to see some Green-throated Carib Hummingbirds, Antillean Crested Hummingbirds, and Lesser Antillean Bananaquits buzzing around in blossoming trees. Some Zenaida Doves were resting on the electric lines.
As we drove up the narrow road to the forest, we stopped in the road to see Purple-throated Carib Hummingbirds, Blue-headed Hummingbirds, and a Gray Kingbird. Later we sampled some eatable Hibiscus blossoms. We hiked around the Syndicate Nature Trail (15.473N 61.355W) and found a Red-necked Amazon Parrot. They were very visible and audible as two pairs were fighting over the same nut tree. We searched for the Imperial Parrot, but only managed to hear two. The best time to see Imperial Parrots is during Feb thru June when breeding seasons is in full swing.
The Rain Forest was full of birds including the Plumbeous Warblers, Black-faced Grassquits, Brown Tremblers, Forest Thrushes, Bullfinches, Pearly-eyed Thrashers, Mountain Whistlers, and Scaly-breasted Thrashers.
Stephen was a great guide. He knew all the birds, flowers, and trees - and most of the people seemed to know him. This was definitely the way to get some insight into the island.
NOTE: If you put the above Lat. Long. into Google Earth you can see the location I am describing. Usually, there are many pictures of the area.
We arrived at Bridgetown, Barbados at 8am on Dec 24, just in time for a short morning shower. The ocean temp was 82F (same as the air temp).
We took the Eco tour to Graeme Hall (pronounced Graham Hall (13.072N 59.578W)) - the last natural wetland in Barbados. We got to see the Golden Warblers that are endemic here. There were several Aviaries of rare birds and parrots. We saw the endangered Scarlet Ibis.
We arrived in Grenada (12.046N 61.747W) early on Christmas Day. We met Mandoo (firstname.lastname@example.org), our guide for the day, at the Visitor Center.
Our first stop was the Douglaston Spice Estate. Mandoo showed us how they make Coco, Nutmeg, and Cinnamon etc. from seedpods and tree cuttings. We bought some dark chocolate squares and nutmeg seeds to grate, along with a bottle of spices marinated in Rum.
In the higher elevations we found some Grenada Bananaquits, and Grenada Flycatchers. Their numbers are still down due to the 2004 Hurricane.
Mandoo found one of his many friends along side the road (fresh from a Rum party). The friend said: "What is the use of getting sober - you just get drunk again".
At the Annandale Falls we found heaps of male Grenada Bullfinches (small black birds with a rufous throat) and several new colorful Butterflies.
Back at the ship we used the Internet Cafe in the Visitors Center. The ship charges 75 cents per minute vs. $10 for an hour ashore. Some people were using the computers to make Internet phone calls home.
We got to Trinidad (10.667N 61.516W) at 8am on Dec 26. We are now in South America - 8 miles off Venezuela. We spent the day at the Asa Wright Nature Center (10.684N 61.283W) (www.asawright.org www.caligo.com) in the mountains west of Port of Spain. The Asa Wright Nature Center is a legendary place for bird watching. The road is a little questionable, especially if you should be unlucky enough to meet someone, but the birding was worth the anxiety.
From the porch we saw a Copper-rumped Hummingbirds, Rufous-rumped Hummingbirds, White-throated Hummingbirds, a Little Hermit, Tufted Coquette, and White-necked Jacobin - a hummingbird by any other name still looks and flies like a hummingbird. There were spectacular Green and Purple Honeycreepers and a Violaceous Euphonia at the feeders. We ID'ed Palm, White-lined, and Silver-beaked Tanagers with the help of our camera and bird book.
Around the property we found a Bearded Bellbird and a Crested Oropendola with beautiful yellow tail when it flies. We heard the anvil clanging of a White Bellbird and finally spotted it in a tree. Male White-bearded Manakins were practicing their courting calls in hopes of attracting a female later today.
The ocean was rough on Dec 27. We had 33 mph head winds. There was too much sea spray to walk on the Promenade Deck (Deck7). We took Dramamine pills (we have patches if it gets really bad).
We arrived at Ile Royal (a.k.a. Devil's Island) (5.283N 52.583W) off French Guiana at 7am on Dec 28. Fifteen minutes later we were steaming out! The Captain said the water was too rough for the tender boats to takes us to shore. Plus, the tide was low and they were afraid the ship would bottom-out. Additionally, it had been raining a lot and the walking trails were very muddy.
About half the time they can't come ashore here.
On Dec 29 we spent the morning sailing past the "Mouth" of the Amazon River. The "Mouth" is so big it is hard to tell where it really is - especially from 200 miles out.
At 3:43am on Dec 30 we crossed the Equator at 43 degrees and 15.5 minutes West Longitude.
We have never had to experience as many smokers as we have on this cruise.
On Dec 31 we arrived at Fortaleza (Pronounced For-ta-leza), Brazil. There were no eco tours offered here. I couldn't find a birding guide on the Internet. I don't know why they even bother to stop.
This morning they came to clean the carpet because my wife complained about the room smelling smoky. We also got a new bedspread, pillows and linens.
For New Years Eve Dinner we schedule the special Steak House on board. We started with Brie Quesadilla with Papaya salsa and Artichoke and Spanish dip. Wilma had a Fillet Mignon. I had a Rib eye. They were Beautiful (better than what you get in the dining room). For dessert we both had Raspberry Cream Burlee.
The sun came up at 5am on New Years Day 2008. We were out walking at 6am when we came eyeball to eyeball with a Masked Booby riding the up current on the bow of the ship. Soon we noticed there were 5 Boobys circling the ship dive-bombing fish in the water - later there were 9 Boobys.
On the way back to the room we saw a young woman passed-out on the floor by the elevators. I guess her year got off to a bad start!
At 2:30pm we reached the eastern extreme of South America (5.317S 34.883W). We made a 130-degree turn and headed South toward Antarctica.
We arrived in Recife (a.k.a. Reef) Brazil at 7am. Another day with beautiful weather and a big city with no eco tours or birding guides.
In the morning we watched the Vegan Dancers perform dockside. This is a local version of the Sumba done with small umbrellas (because it rains a lot here) - Beautiful!
We were out walking at 5:30am on Jan 4 when we pulled into port at Salvador (13S 38W). Again, no eco tours or birding guides!
Late morning we walked a couple of blocks to the big market by the dock. The sidewalk stunk since it also serves as the public latrine. We got some carved wooden hands from a couple of older gypsy women.
So far, Brazil has been a big disappointment. And to think, we had to pay all that money for VISAs and shorts for what?? Nothing!!!
We slept in till 8:30am on Jan 5. We passed several offshore oil drilling platforms. We are sailing just outside the continental shelf to avoid the platforms and associated ships.
We overheard a crewmember say that in March 2006 a smoker started a fire in his room with a cigarette. About 150 cabins were damaged before crewmembers extinguished the flames. There was one reported death and 11 injuries! The ship was in dry dock 2 months for repairs. You would think they would be more concerned about smoking!!! (see ww.cruisebruise.com/princess_cruise_star_princess_fire_march_23_2006.html) and http://cbs4.com/local/Florida.News.Star.2.396686.html for pictures.
We arrived in Rio (22.895S 43.182W) at 6am on Jan 6. We are now 3 hours ahead of the Eastern Time Zone.
Interestingly, there is no river in Rio, only a large bay like San Francisco or Sydney. Instead of Rio, they might call it Raino - it had been raining here for days - today was no exception. They average 3 meters of rain annually here, more than enough to make it a Rainforest.
We were on the upper deck for the early morning entrance to the Rio Bay. There were mobs of Magnificent Frigitbirds - thousands of them, along with waves of Neotropic Cormorant. We spotted a Cocoi Heron. After we docked we spotted some Social Flycatchers, Tropical Kingbirds, and a White-throated Kingbird.
We couldn't find a birding guide on the Internet, so we took the Tojuca Rainforest (22.783S 43.491W) 4WD tour. The 30,000-acre rainforest was within Rio city limits. It was planted 140 years ago to assure water for Rio. We had one good bird sighting - a Swallow-tailed Mankin - a Beautiful bird with a red cap on a black face and light blue neck and body.
We went to the Brasileirissimo Folkloric Show on the ship tonight. My wife got in the act to help out the band and dancing girls. This was the only good thing we did in Brazil.
On Jan 9 we arrived in Montevideo (34.904S 56.211W). In the early morning there were lots of Brown-hooded Gulls, Snowy-crowned Terns and Neotropic Cormorant, circling the ship.
We met Agustin Carriquiry (email@example.com), a local birding guide, at 9am for a birding trip thru the Santiago Vasquez Wetlands. Agustin is an Electrical Engineer most of the time, but he cuts work as much as possible to go birding. He also works for Birdlife Magazine.
There were heaps of birds along the road out of town including a small Burrowing Owl sitting on a fence post. Every telephone and electric pole had the mud Igloo nest of the Rufous Hornero (Ovenbird, but not at all like the Ovenbird in NA). Every field had several Southern Lapwings.
In the wetlands we saw 3 types of hummingbirds; i.e., Gilded Sapphire, Glittering-bellied Emerald, and a White-throated Hummingbird eating from a Ceibo blossom (the national flower of Uruguay). While we were walking thru an orchard chasing some Blue-and-yellow Tanagers, we almost stepped on a Spotted Nothura, which exploded off the ground like a quail.
We saw 50 South America birds for the day including: a Whistling Heron, Campo Flicker, Bay-winged Cowbird, Bay-winged Hawk, Bran-colored Flycatcher, Brown-chested Martin, Cattle Tyrant, Chalk-browed Mockingbird, Chicli Spinetail, Chimango Caracara, Creamy-bellied Thrush, Double-collared Seedeater, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Freckle-breasted Thornbird, Grassland Yellow-Finch, Gray-breasted Martin, Great Pampa-Finch, Green Kingfisher, Guira Cuckoo, Long-tailed Reed-Finch, Masked Yellowthroat, Monk Parakeet Picazuro Pigeon, Picui Ground-Dove, Red-rumped Warbling-Finch, Roadside Hawk, Rufous-bellied Thrush, Rufous-capped Antshrike, Rufous-collared Sparrow Saffron Finch, Southern Caracara, Spectacled Tyrant, White-banded Mockingbird, White-bellied Tyrannulet, White-crested Tyrannulet, White-rumped Swallow, White-tailed Hawk, White-tailed Kite.
The moral of this story is that the trips you arrange yourself are so much better than the expensive shore trips offered by the cruise line.
We arrived in Buenos Aires (34.592S 58.366W) at 5am on Jan 10, having traveled 7150 miles from Ft Lauderdale at speeds ranging from 15 to 21 mph.
We went on a shore trip to the Tigre Rio with some of the 248 passengers going on to Antarctica. We thought we would see some wildlife, but there was way too many boats moving for any birds. We did see some nice Inca Rose jewelry, but waited till later to buy some.
37-Day Cruise Summary:
Things We Liked Best Things We Didn't Like Thermal Spa Smoking on Deck Gerlache Strait Glaciers, Antarctica Stale smoke in hallways Beagle Channel Chilean Fjords Smoke coming thru A/C system Stanley, Falkland Islands Smoke in Casino Uruguay Birding Smoke in Lounges Penguin Rookeries Fires caused by cigarette butts Dominique Birding Bad (instant) coffee Asa Wright Birding, Trinidad Bad (instant) Ice Tea Brazilian Dancers Dining Room food choices
During the 37-day Cruise and side trip to Iguazu Falls we saw:
277 bird species in 11 Countries on 3 Continents 217 on the 37-day Cruise 89 at Iguazu Falls
14 in Antarctica 64 in the Caribbean 215 in South America
Country Bird Species Argentina 103 Barbados 39 Brazil 17 Chile 11 Dominica 31 Falkland Islands 30 Grenada 16 Paraguay 2 Trinidad 35 Uruguay 73 Antarctic UK 14 Total 277
E-mail us if you would like a file on the birds we saw each day.
Carl & Wilma Ball
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Cabin review: FE227
At 2600 passengers, the Star Princess is the largest ship we have sailed on. We had a room with an "obstructed view" which wasn't very obstructed at all. We decided we didn't need a balcony since it would probably be too cold to use it much of the time in Antarctica - which it was.