This review is for the Star Princess 2009 Holiday Cruise from Rio to Valparaiso. I would say overall, this was a great cruise on a beautiful ship, where we met lots of wonderful people. We definitely now have a greater appreciation and understanding for South America and know which parts we would like to go back to. (And which parts we wouldn't bother with!) We are in our late 30s and have done 4 cruises together (3 being holiday cruises).
YOU WILL NEED A VISA IF YOU'RE FROM USA/CANADA Let me start out by saying up front in case you are pondering this cruise that if you are from the USA or Canada, you will need a visa for Brazil. This is not made very obvious when you book this cruise. The visa is $130 per person and you either have to go to your local Brazilian embassy twice in person within 90 days of arriving in Brazil (Once to drop off paperwork and passports and once to pick up your passports containing the visa) OR you can use a visa service which will cost you approx another $120 EACH on top of the $130 mentioned above. We decided to not use the service and drove 2 hours there and back (twice) to our local embassy.
MONEY We used US dollars in every port except Rio where we exchanged money into the local currency. Take low bills -- lots of $1s so you can pay for things without needing change.
PASSENGER DIVERSITY There were many different nationalities on board including North Americans, Brits, Russians, Argentines and Brazilians. (Amongst others). Be aware that most everything is announced in 3 languages, which takes time and some movies are played in Portuguese. Predominantly though, this is an English speaking cruise, so if you don't speak English, it may be frustrating as all the games, the bingo, etc. are in English. It was also apparent that the North Americans and Brits ate early whilst the South Americans ate late, which worked out quite well when it came to Anytime Dining!
ALLOW EXTRA TIME AT THE EMBARKATION DESTINATION (RIO) Unfortunately our baggage didn't catch up with us in Rio until our 3rd day there, which was an added stress, but we managed. We talked to a lot of people who either had baggage delays (or never received it at all) or almost didn't make the cruise due to bad weather on the East Coast.(Or boarded several days later). If you're planning this cruise in our (northern hemisphere) winter, definitely allow extra time and add at least 2-3 days on at the beginning in Rio. Many passengers also added extra time in Santiago or went to Machu Pichu after the cruise.
CONSIDER IGUAZU FALLS We would have liked to have done Iguazu Falls, but the Princess cruise tour was too expensive. We did talk to someone who did it independently for $800 ea, so it can be done a lot cheaper. I wish we would have done the Falls, having flown so far.
A BRIEF ENCOUNTER If you really want to see South America, this is not an ideal way to do it. The ports are very brief and the excursions do not allow much time at each stop. If this itinerary could be altered, I would suggest 2 nights in Buenos Aires and skip Montevideo. If I went back to S.A., I would do a land tour and see more of Brazil, Argentina and Chile. We felt this vacation was more about the cruise and the ship and less about the destinations.
THE SHIP EXPERIENCE The ship was the largest we'd been on and really was fabulous, however for us, it made us realize we like the slightly smaller ships better as you see the same people more often and there are less lines at the purser and excursion offices. (This ship didn't have enough staff to cope with the number of passengers at the purser and excursion desks and we waited in line anywhere from 15 mins to and hour and 10mins).
We mostly enjoyed activities like the pool, trivia, games, dance lessons, afternoon tea, Wii, walking the promenade, watching shows and bands/pianist.
We tried 'Anytime Dining' for the first time and enjoyed the varied amount of people we met and the flexibility of timing our dining.
What was disappointing is a lot of the shows were repeated twice (two shows a night on 2 different nights of the cruise, so a total of 4 repeats) to allow all the passengers to see the performances. We think the shows were ok/good, but we weren't **wowed** by most. Some of the dance shows are cheesy/old fashioned. I did feel sorry for the entertainers however, because most of the audience was pretty dead -- some people just don't have the energy to clap their hands!!!
The food was good, but I was not **wowed** by it as I have been on other cruises and spoke to others that felt the same.
The public areas were excellent. There's a nice coffee cafe on the bottom floor of the atrium where the coffees are well priced and the pastries/sandwiches are included. They also did British pub lunches once a week which made for some variety. We watched one movie in the lounge, but it seemed too cold for the 'Movies Under the Stars' (they did provide blankets). My one suggestion would be to make the entire ship smoke free.
PETTY CRIME DOES HAPPEN We learned of about half a dozen attempts at theft/muggings that happened to people on our ship, all in different ports. We read about it a lot before we went, and yes it does happen. One man had a gold chain ripped from his neck in Rio and was left bleeding, another couple had an attempted mugging in Beunos Aires by having 'bird poop' paint sprayed at them. Another woman was brought to the ground by 2 youths in Montevideo and wore a sling for the remainder of the trip for an injury. Be very careful. We did not wear any jewelry except for fake plain wedding rings and plastic digital watches. We wore money belts and took small amounts of cash. I wore a bag across my body.
AROUND THE HORN One aspect of this cruise that is exciting is that you go around the horn. For this, we went on deck and took lots of photos and video. They also give you a certificate to say you've gone around the horn. Later during the fjords, we were at dinner during the time we passed the glaciers, so we missed them unfortunately. The captain also had to skip one glacier entirely as we were running behind due to bad weather. The weather around the horn for our cruise was very smooth, although we encountered one *very rough* day a few days later during a storm which delayed our ship arriving at our final destination.