Star Princess Cruise Review by ewlj: An Excellent 'Taster' of South America
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An Excellent 'Taster' of South America
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 More 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. Less
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We opted for an interior cabin as we don't spend much time in there. It was on par with rooms from other ships...it's small and the bathroom is even smaller, but it works for the two of us. It had a nice modern flat-screen TV and a hair dryer that wasn't one of those weird 'too hot to touch' cruise hair dryers. It was on the 14th floor, which we discovered we didn't like as much as being on much lower floors as it was so far to walk to the main goings on (we never take the elevator so we can get as much exercise as we can!) We probably would have benefitted from a window or balcony to see the fjords and glaciers, but we just went up on deck instead.
Port and Shore Excursions
We definitely could have spent another day in B.A. We did an excursion where we made brief stops at La Boca, the Recoleta Cemetery, drove city streets and a lengthy lunch/tango show. It was pouring with rain in La Boca and it was so early that it hadn't gotten going yet which was a shame, but the lunch/tango show was *excellent*. The food was great and there was plenty of wine!
There are some shops at the cruise terminal, but a lot of passengers went to Florida St. and did some serious shopping.
Some passengers ended their cruise in B.A. and some boarded for the first time.
It's hard to give Montevideo a fair shake as were were there Christmas day and it was pretty dead, but if Princess took this off the itinerary, nobody would miss much.
We did a city highlights tour which included the soccer stadium, a few statues, a government building and a drive around city streets. It was pretty dull and the city is pretty run down. Others that visited a winery in a nearby town seemed to have a better time. Some shops did open up and we bought a souvenir spoon.
There was a great internet/phone establishment on the dock which we used to call the USA and UK.
We then toured the Maggiorino Borgatello museum which was quite large and took probably an hour and a half. A tour group came in while we were there and probably spent 15 minutes tops. It wasn't the most exciting museum in the world, but it gave us a greater appreciation for the region and passed the time.
We also walked around the Punta Arenas cemetery which had huge mausoleums and beautiful trees.
We walked the streets and up to a cross on a hill which overlooked the entire port and city. There were vendors there and my husband purchased an alpaca sweater for US$20. We then walked by the waterfront where there was a huge modern hotel/casino and back to the ship via shops at the terminal.
Note: This port is tendered.
Rio is a pretty fabulous city!
We stayed in Ipanema at the 'Best Western Sol Ipanema'. I was very pleased with our hotel selection as it had a *fabulous* view of the beach and was very close to shops and restaurants. The staff was also very helpful when we were dealing with lost luggage. I had read that it's slightly safer in Ipanema vs. Copacabana as it's more of a locals beach. Indeed, all the crime we heard about from other passengers was in Copacabana. Of course we may have just been lucky, but we did wander around the streets and beach without any problems.
We took a day tour on Grayline of Corcovado, Sugarloaf and city streets which included an excellent lunch in Ipanema.
I recommend a visit to the hippi fair/market on Sunday.
The beaches get packed and are lined with bright umbrellas and juice bars along the boardwalk. We expected everyone to be 'perfect', but this definitely was not the case!
Make sure to try the Brazilian drink Caprihina!
The weather was warm enough to go on the beach and we wore shorts, T-shirts and flip flops.
Embarkation in Rio took a long time (we were there 3.5 hours), but this was mostly due to the fact the ship was late arriving that day due to weather. I wasn't bothered by it, but many passengers were.
In Stanley, we did an independent tour which took us to Volunteer point by 4x4 vehicle to see penguins. The journey was 2 hours each way over bumpy terrain. By doing such a long tour, we didn't have much time to see the town. (Barely and hour). If you want to see penguins here, I recommend a shorter tour to perhaps Bluff Cove that allows more time to also see the town. We did see a lot of penguins and we got very close to them, however there wasn't a guided tour or lecture about them. On the journey, we were able to ask our driver lots of questions about the Falklands. We had quite a bit of rain on the journey, but fortunately it was bright weather when we got to Volunteer Point. The lunch included was adequate, but far from gourmet and I noticed some people throwing it away.
The town is quaint and very British. The souvenirs are good quality. I would have liked to have more time to go in the pub and to see the war memorial and museum.
We wore gloves and a parka here and encountered rain.
Note: This port is tendered.
We wore gloves and a parka here.