November 1 & 2, 2009
We stayed at the Radisson at Fisherman's Wharf. Small rooms but clean and strategically placed near the Wharf and only ½ mile from Pier 35 where the Norwegian Sun docks. An IHOP next door for inexpensive food. Had a great night dinner on Columbus Avenue at an Italian Restaurant offering a red long stemmed rose for every woman and a complimentary glass of wine for each person. Starbucks is about 4 blocks away from the Hotel.
November 3 - Embarkation at Noon
We arrived at 11 am and with bags on rollers took our luggage in with us. Mostly older retirees handling all the check in and they didn't know any more about what was going on than what they had been told. All passports collected and we would never receive them back until the end of the cruise..something about customs in Chile. Be aware that if you miss the boat at one of the ports (and the Captain left early several times) you are not only stranded in a foreign country but you have NO PASSPORT..double trouble! They do not hold the boat if you are late on a tour that is not booked through the ship.
76 Degrees and a beautiful sunset into the Ocean as we sailed out of port under the Golden Gate bridge to start the Cruise.
This cruise was 100% full (due to low price). Some travel agencies had special deals on Staterooms if you booked airfare and shore accommodations as well. Otherwise, no upgrades available.
WEATHER: You will get everything on this trip. Hot north of the Equator and cooler with clouds south due mainly to the cold Humbolt Current that runs up the West Coast of Chile and Peru.
FOOD: The Garden Cafe buffet is a zoo full of people. Lots of rather tasteless food that appeals to people who prefer bulk to taste. Due to its extended hours, it ends up being the default dining room for those who are late for breakfast. A number of people eating in this restaurant are rude and pushy. The main dining rooms are not a problem and the food (and certainly the service) is a little better than the Garden Buffet but still seemed rather tasteless to me. The Italian Restaurant is OK but food not very good and the rib eye steak others have raved about was thin and stringy when our group ate there. The Bistro is excellent. Appetizers in Las Ramblas are good as is lunch. Pacific Heights is a little known free specialty restaurant for dinner and lunch (lunch specials of fresh cooked to order pasta) and is fine. No surcharge here. Coffee at speciality coffee bar is sour and bad. Need better quality and fresher coffee beans.
Entertainment: It varies. The Mexican Band in Acapulco was awful. Violins sounded like a rusty gate echoing through a drainpipe! On the other hand the Ventriloquist and Magician were funny and excellent. Jean Ann Ryan Co. Not bad but have seen much better on other cruises.
Service: As usual, some room stewards are excellent, others don't seem to care. Only a few on the boat fell into the later category but if you have a bad one, it can ruin your trip so make sure the management knows if you have trouble. The $12 per person per day service fee is mandatory.
You don't have much time in this port. We declined the Ship Tours and took a taxi into the main town. Ask the price first. The taxi drivers at the ports are very pushy and demand a tip at the end of the journey. The taxis outside the cruise terminal are less expensive than inside but near the terminal all are priced in US Dollars. You can walk around the old town easily in a short while, then have a beer and lunch in the square and catch a cab to the Zona Dorado (Hotel Zone) for some shopping and swimming on the beach (the water is warmer here than around the equator). Cost was 50 pesos a cab + tip. Better prices using pesos but have to get away from the pier. We were a party of six and found out your best deal is to hail a Red Truck taxi which has facing bench seats under a canopy in the truck bed at back and can take 8 for the price about the same as renting one taxi..very good bargain! We hailed one and had it wait while we shopped (that costs extra for a taxi) and then back to the ship (2 hours total) for 80 pesos +tip. Driver cranked up the stereo with a CD of the old 70s songs (CCR, etc.) and we sang all the way back to the boat.
Fort/Museum is just opposite the Cruise Ship dock. Walking out past the throng of tour hustlers outside he terminal we were adopted by an Official Tourist Guide (showed us his plastic credentials hanging around his neck). His name was Juan Antonio..about 65 years old, very pleasant, said the City hires people like him to provide free walking guide services and he expected no payment. Showed us all around the Fort Museum (very nice). We walked through the centre of town, saw Cathedral and shopping area and then walked 5 blocks up over the hill to see the cliff divers at 1 pm. Had lunch and a beer at El Mirador ($16 US each) that included a great view of the 6 divers (which our guide arranged). Have the fish in butter and garlic or breaded..great if you like white fish. While the rest of our group went shopping the guide took us on the Yellow Bus (better quality and has a/c) for 7 pesos each to the beach south of town past the large flag for swimming and all he asked was that we paid his bus fare. Tipped him $15 for our share (of the group) and he was most appreciative. $5 to rent an umbrella, table and chairs on the beach and for that the waiter looks after your stuff for you. You need an umbrella because at that time of year it is 89 degrees in Acapulco and quite humid.
Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala:
We had arranged in advance for Elizabeth Bell's Antigua Tours LLC. www.antiguatours.net to give us a walking tour of Antigua and arrange a shuttle Van to pick us up at the port and return us to the ship afterwards. $70 per person paid in advance by credit card. What a wonderful experience! Alex gave us a great tour (not much walking). Told us all about his country, people, politics and history of the town. We learned about the Mayan culture, climate, UNESCO administration of Antigua, etc. Saw the cathedral and museum and he explained the architectural challenges of building in an earthquake zone all in a very comfortable United States accent obtained from his University education in the U.S.. Shopped at the Jade Factory. After we went to his restaurant "Fusion" just three blocks from the main square..FANTASTIC FOOD of organic salads (caesar salad is to die for), cold beer, wine for some of us and the special Risotto with Frutti del mare (fresh shrimp, calamari and local white fish). Lots of other items on the menu and at that time of years we had the restaurant all to ourselves. All salads are safe to eat (all washed in purified water) and he uses the same supplier as the ship for his produce. Can't recommend this restaurant enough! Shopping for textiles just around the corner too.
Puntarenas, Costa Rica:
Once again arranged our own tour by taking a tour bus of 20 people just past the port gates. $25 per person for 8 hours. Saw Puntarenas (not a very nice city..dirty and full of shanty buildings). Then on to the south through the Carara rain forest, saw the white faced monkeys and fed the lemurs, stopped to see the crocodiles, stopped for a roadside Sugar Cane drink freshly crushed for us, up to a large hilltop Hotel with a fantastic view of the "Swiss" countryside and the Pacific. Had time for a drink in a rainforest hotel, some shopping and a fresh seafood lunch at a roadside restaurant while the fishermen brought in buckets of fish right next to us. A very full day. 89 degrees and 95% humidity. Thank goodness the bus had air conditioning.
For the first time on the trip the weather turned cloudy and cool after leaving Puntarenas with Thundershowers on the coast and huge lightening strikes in the distance. Manta unloading was a disaster mismanaged very badly by the ship personnel. They decided that due to fact we only had one gangway off the ship that day, they would only let the people on tours off the ship and held everyone else in line for upwards of 45 minutes while the tour people went first. Problem is they told no one about this plan until the crowd started becoming angry and in an ugly mood and a number of yelling matches ensued. Someone's job should be lost for this disaster not helped by the heavy handed way the staff treated the people who had patiently waited in line ("PEOPLE WOULD YOU JUST STAND BACK RIGHT NOW..I MEAN RIGHT NOW..BACK!").
We bargained for a two taxies just outside the port gates. Started at $25 per hour per cab and ended up with two older taxis with torn seat fabric but comfortable for $10 per hour each taxi. The drivers spoke only Spanish and it helped if you had a phrase book and dictionary but we managed to identify all the sights we wanted to see and see virtually everything that was on the ship's tour itineraries for $20 per person for a 6 hour tour. One of the best moments of serendipity occurred when we visited San Lorenzo past the dry forest and the Pacoche Rain Forest hill top down to the dry dusty town of San Lorenzo on a sandy beach. After three dead end streets, our drivers found a little restaurant they recommended called LA CUEVA run by Jorge and his wife right on the beach. Jorge was has a degree in Aquatics from an Ecuador University and speaks English very well. He has run a shrimp farm so he knows his fish. For $35 US he produced a large platter of breaded fried fresh popcorn fish, shrimp, calamari and large fresh garlic shrimp in the shell. Rice, french fires and fresh salad (safe to eat) and other menu items (hamburgers, chicken, etc.) are also available. Great Meal. All the while he gave us information about his country, the customs, people and geography. Superb! Highly recommended but hard to find. Only 30 minutes out of Manta down E-15. Too rough to swim that day but beach looks wonderful.
Very busy port and interesting city. We arranged a guide: Omar Amayar (email@example.com) $40 each for a 3.5 hour tour with pick up and drop off at the Ship. We were impressed by the vibrancy of the city. Even the slums were not as bad as those we saw in Mexico. Pollution is bad however. Wish we had more time to look around.
We were late coming in as there had been a death on board the ship and the Captain had to turn back to Lima. Arica is a delightful city (it helped that the sun was shining). They call it the city of perpetual spring. We were greeted at the dock by singers and the port workers cheered us into dock. Good shopping just outside the port gates with drum and violin entertainment and fair prices that were the same as further on in the City. Some people did their own tours by taxi or bus helped on by guidance from the tourist centre just beside the shopping plaza outside the port gates. 21 of May Street is where all the bars and action is located.
COQUIMBO/ LA SERENA, CHILE
We negotiated with a Van Operator just off the docks and for $30 each had a tour of the Elqui Valley, a Pisco Distillery, La Serena and Coquimbo. La Serena has a pretty White Marble shopping street and nice upscale shops. Many beggars some quite well dressed. We even were accosted by a young couple of teenagers at one stop who were nicely dressed and obviously not poor but thought that we should be giving them money. Young woman flipped us the bird as we departed after saying no to her request for money.
VALPARAISO/ VINA DEL MARE, CHILE
Our final port. Arranged a tour with Hector Medina's tour company http://www.private-guides.com/guide-in-chile/hector-chile-1239/ . His associate took us to Valparaiso, Vina del Mar and then we stopped at a winery in the Casablanca Valley on our way to our hotel in Santiago. He dropped us at our Hotel (Rio Bidasoa) and took the rest of the group on a brief tour of Santiago and then on to the Airport for the flight home. Our Hotel was very nice and in the excellent residential area of Providencia. One of the largest shopping malls in the Americas is nearby and we were able to see the Chileans doing what they love to do best...window shop. At that time of year it is spring in Chile and all the flowers are out. Lovely!
The next day we had a full tour of Santiago for $100 each and were dropped at the airport for the flight home.
Summary: Good way to see a number of countries in a short time and compressed schedule.
The Good: Ship is comfortable and good choice of dining and entertainment. Leaves port on time and arrives early. Rooms clean and comfortable. No worries about bugs or tropical diseases in any of the ports or tours.
The Bad: The "Pig Trough" all you can eat buffet filled with rude pushy people. Food at non-specialty restaurants looked attractive but had little taste (except for some of the soups). Ship sometimes leaves earlier so you are constantly worried your non-official tour will be late and the captain won't hold the ship up for you. Watch out for allergies because it is spring when you cross the equator. Both my wife and I developed bad cases of hay fever.