We flew into Santiago on 1/3/10 and were sorry we had only a couple of days to spend there. It was our first visit and we were very impressed with this beautiful city and its wonderful people. We met a couple at breakfast in our hotel who were fellow Bay Area residents and also going on the cruise. They had reserved a private tour of the city and since their traveling companions had been delayed by bad weather and hadn't yet arrived, they invited us to join them. We accepted and spent a very rewarding day visiting Cerro Santa Lucia and Cerro San Cristobal, both with great views of the city and lovely park surroundings. Visited a really fun Mercado and most barrios of the city, as well as the highlights, Plaza de Armas, etc. We had an excellent lunch and then continued our drive, with stops for picture taking or shopping. It was a wonderful way to spend our first day in Santiago and to make friends with a terrific couple (we had dinner with them on the ship and hope to stay in touch.
I was able to arrange, on the Cruise Critic Boards, a transfer/tour with fellow cruises from Santiago to Valparaiso to board the ship. Once again, we were fortunate to meet a wonderful group of people, again whom we hope to stay in touch with, and enjoyed another interesting day. After a short tour of Santiago we continued to Valparaiso, stopping at the beautiful Amalia Winery, where we purchsed wine, walked around the grounds and enjoyed visiting with some of our travel companions. Next stop was Vina del Mar where we had a delicious seafood lunch and tour of this resort city.
Arrival at the pier was pretty chaotic, but we managed to get checked in and on our way to the bus for transport to the ship. There was a lot of pushing and shoving and general bad manners displayed, but we finally boarded a bus and got to the ship. Incidentally somehow out of all this confusion our bags arrived at our room shortly after we boarded.
We had sailed on the star in April 2009 so were familiar with the ship and although she's larger than we would prefer, I'm sure her size was an asset in the rough seas we encountered.
Because of the delays (late arrival of the ship because of bad weather on the previous cruise and late boarding) our tour in Puerto Montt was cancelled. Tendering at this port was an absolute mess, but since all tours had been cancelled no passengers had left the ship for their respective tours and, therefore, all passengers were clamoring to get into port at the same time. Perhaps this could have been handled better, but I certainly understand the reason for the problem.
I wasn't feeling well so we missed our tour in Punta Arenas. A particular disappointment for me, since I missed not only seeing penguins but a beautiful lighthouse.
We loved Ushuaia and our catamaran tour of the Beagle Channel and were disappointed it rained all day, because we would have liked to see more of the city. We did visit the Feria de Artesenias and bought some hand-knitted hats, a tiny penguin (it will be put on our Christmas tree), a small watercolor. We also got postcards stamped at the Visitor Center, designating "el fin del mundo" (end of the earth). Once again tendering back to the ship was far from ideal, since there was a long line waiting in the rain and it was quite wet underfoot as well. We had an umbrella, but it was rather unpleasant.
Cruising the Amalia Glacier and The Horn were both memorable. We were fortunate that the heavy fog lifted so we could finally get good views of the glacier, and we awoke early to see a beautiful rainbow on The Horn. The Chilean Fjords were eerily beautiful and I can't imagine that any fjords anywhere else in the world could be any more incredible.
My hope of seeing penguins faded when we were told we would not be able to visit The Falklands because of bad weather and high seas. Since this was what I most wanted to do on this cruise I was reduced to tears. We were so happy when we found out that arrangements had been made for us to visit Puerto Madryn, and those of us who had reserved penguin tours in The Falklands through Princess would be automatically ticketed to go to Punta Tombo, the largest penguin colony in South America. This tour was the highlight of our trip. We had a wonderful guide and driver, and walking among these incredible creatures is something we'll never forget.
We found the new and old of Montevideo interesting and we were again fortunate to have a good guide and driver. We made several interesting stops for picture taking and shopping, and we're now inspired to hopefully return one day to visit both Santiago and Montevideo.
We had been to Buenos Aires four years ago and were so happy to be able to stay there again for a few days. I had become acquainted with a gentleman who lives there on an online travel site and he and his wife were kind enough to pick us up at our hotel on Sunday, drive us around the city and then to San Telmo, where the huge flea market is held. We had a nice lunch and really enjoyed walking through all the things for sale on both sides of the streets, then the stalls and the antique shops. We also had a get together Monday evening for dinner, with a group of people from the same travel forum. In spite of a heavy rainstorm, we enjoyed excellent food and wine, and good company and conversation. We once again hated to leave Buenos Aires.
As noted above, we considered this one of our best cruises ever. We met wonderful people, had great tablemates and waiters at dinner, saw incredible cities and nature, walked among penguins, enjoyed delicious food and wine, and the inconveniences and weather were far surpassed by the joys we experienced. As I said, it was mostly Mother Nature's fault and there's not much anyone can do about her.