16 day roundtrip Buenos Aires to the Falklands, Antarctic Peninsula (Elephant Island-Admiralty Bay-Gerlach Strait-Deception Island), Cape Horn (Beagle Channel), Ushuaia, Punta Arenas (Magellan Straits), Montevideo (River Platt) and back to BA.
The sites, sounds, scenery, wildlife, people and places in this part of the world are simply indescribable. Think Alaska x100. Icebergs larger than the ship. (Icebergs 3x the size of the one that sunk the Titanic!) 80-100mph wind gusts that can heel a Grand Class ship over in a 10 degree list. Blues so blue, and white so white it hurts the eyes, even without the sun out. Beaches of sheer rock and ice cliffs. Islands completely domed and covered by snow and ice. Breaching whales, penguins, seals, birds of all types.
We were hundreds of miles from the middle of freakin nowhere!!! A place that only 100 years ago, was completely unexplored.
If you liked Alaska, or Norway or Greenland, this place you simply have to see.
For the most part the cruise itself was well worth it to see the Falklands, Antarctica, Cape Horn and South America. The destinations made the cruise. The lecturers and naturalists were really good. I enjoyed Dr Stonehouse the most. His British humor and the fact that he was one of the 2nd wave Antarctic pioneers (1940's on) makes it even more interesting. He was friends with Shakelton's cook - Tom Green!
We loved the aft balcony. The motion was a bit more than midships, but the infamous "beam" did not take away from the large balcony area. The most important thing was that it was relatively wind free. No strange smells, noises, but it was cold most of the time.
Our cabin steward, Chip, was first rate. Every request was met and he was extremely efficient. Arnold, the bar steward in Explorer's was also a real gem, as was Sam (from Nottingham), one of the cruise staff. ZaZa in the main dining room was one of our favorite waiters and Chef's table was excellent, as usual. The Groove Babies were the best of the three rock and roll bands we have danced to in the last 3 cruises.
Chef's table, lamb dishes, burgers and pizza, the mexican buffet, were all pretty darn good. Overall the food was good. Even the HC dinners were not too bad and the salads for lunch and dinner were great.
The international cafe, the Piazza and Vines were also our favorite for breakfast, coffee, and afternoon wine, sushi and tapas. A really great idea.
However, compared to the Golden last September, the Grand last April and the Dawn in 2008, the food was simply not as good. Subdued is the way I described the food. Not seasoned as much as the prior cruises. Not bad, just not as good. Considering the Grand in April, reviewed in the CC members section, was one of our top 3 cruises, it was a tough milestone to meet.
Drink and food service in the HC was spotty, especially compared to the Grand last April. I think after the second day all the deck bar servers gave up on sales as cold weather really caused drink orders to plummet. When was the last time you actually had dishes pile up on your HC table while you had dinner? Not in my recent memory. When was the last time you went days eating lunch and dinner in the HC and not one person asks if you would like a drink?
As far as activities go, on a couple of sea days, we were actually very bored, unusual for us on a ship, while on the last sea day, things were so overlapped in the schedule we had to split up. On days when "scenic cruising" was curtailed, no additional activities were added to the patter. Quite frankly it was as if JJ, the CD, counted on the fact that the destination was enough for entertainment.
The best comparison I can give is with the Golden to Hawaii and David Cole's packed schedule. David packed the schedule with typical cruise stuff, Trivia, classes, @sea, auctions, etc., then packed a whole bunch of naturalist and native culture stuff on top of it and then packed specialty classes on top of that schedule. His staff was run ragged, but the passengers were never bored, that's for sure.
On this cruise the normal shipboard activities were curtailed and yes, it was colder weather, but there is a covered pool. The schedule was filled in with lecturers, but that was it. Again, not bad, but really suffered in comparison to the Golden in September 2009.
In the evenings the lack of a good dance band in the Wheelhouse really restricted dancing, and the use of canned dance music, while better than nothing, was very inconsistent. Why 1 hour gaps when changing CDs? (Rhetorical question.) How did a CD get stuck on 5 songs for 2 hours? Where are the ballroom dance bands for the wheelhouse? The last one for us was several cruises ago, a trio. A single guitar player is not a good substitute. Nice listening music, but not dance music.
Again, not a bad cruise, but simply lacking in comparison to the previous 3. We are glad we did it. We got to see sites very few people will ever see and they were awesome. We highly recommend it for people who want to travel to this part of the world relatively inexpensively and in comfort.
CRUISE TRAVEL LOG
We arrived a couple of day early in BA to get our bearings. Good thing we did as United lost our duffel bag with all of our "stuff" in it. Shoes, toiletries and incidentals.
My "brilliant" plan to arrange travel with loooong layovers worked quite well as far as snow goes. However, it ran afoul of the black hole of luggage, otherwise known as Dulles International Airport. Have a 20 minute connection, your bag will probably make it. Have a connection with enough time for the gravitational mass of the black hole to engage your luggage and it will go missing, transported through the event horizon into a different plane of existence.
Not much to report, other than that. The 10 hour flight, with 2 hours on the ground pre-flight really hung us out to dry, that plus the dread feeling of totally helplessness as, in your 25th hour of sleeplessness, the luggage belt stops, the luggage attendent says " no mass" and you are standing there, completely stuffless.
We are staying at the Hilton in Puerto Madera. Love those HH points. It is a very, very nice hotel. Big, airy, modern, not stuffed into a small older downtown building. The concierge, Victor, very nice, very helpful. A real pleasure to stay there and within walking distance of many shops and restaurants.
We walked about 200 yards and had dinner at an Italian Resturant. Very good pasta. Homemade. Los Lilas, a famous steak house, is within walking distance as well, but we were saving ourselves for the dinner at El Mirasol on Monday night.
Our stuff arrived around 2pm. We had already walked over to Florida Street to pick up some essential toiletries. (I really regret not learning more Spanish.) Only the very basic was I able to understand and speak. Not enough.
We cabbed over to the Marriot to do pre-registration and to meet the CC group for dinner at El Mirasol. Pre-registration was quick, painless and hopefully will save some time and effort at the port - and took about 15 minutes, which left us plenty of time for drinks before meeting up with the walking group to El Mirasol.
About 10 of us walked and the rest cabbed with a total of about 26 at the dinner tables. This meat was incredible, but the prices are not that cheap - very reasonable but not inexpensive. We had a cheaper cut of meat, the cheapest actually, for 50 pesos (12-15 $USD) each, 300 grams, sirloin tip, I believe, and it cut like butter. This beef was tender, tasty and plentiful. Order salads to share, not one each and even the steaks can really be cut down for two. The menu is ala carte, the service impeccable. We really enjoyed it and highly recommend at least one steak outing in BA.
Embarkation was a zoo in BA. But, actually not as bad as I was expecting. With very few embarks here in a year, it's not like a regular port with trained personnel. It was hot and humid in the terminal and you had the choice between power for the computers or power for the fans. It took about 1.5 hours to go from drop off to the ship. The entrance was probably the worst with little or no organization from the local port police. Once inside the main doors we dropped our bags in this huge stack and go into one of many lines.
We were told, via email, that Princess would turn away anyone prior to 1pm. That was not true as some of our group arrived at 11 and got right on.
We did pre-register at the Marriot the night before and that saved at least 30 minutes in the other lines. We did have to leave our passports with Princess. That was a surprise, but not a total shock since we've heard of this practice before. After going through security we sat in the terminal (warehouse) and waited for a shuttle (bus) to take us to the ship. We left the hotel at 12:30 and got onboard just before 2pm.
Dropped our CC M&G invites at the purser's desk. Due to the information from Princess, I had pre-printed names on the invites, but apparently cruise critic knows more than Princess as Captain Kent has left and Capt Perrin has joined. Being forewarned here on the boards I had a Capt Perrin invite all filled out. (I also had a blank "dear captain" invite just to make sure.)
Our exit from the port was delayed until 9pm because of river traffic - apparently it's a very narrow channel. So there was no sailaway party, or at least any that we heard of. Being the first night of the cruise, we always hit the burger bar and pizza along with several libations as a cruise starter. But wouldn't you know it, the bag that shows up late at the cabin (around 6pm) is the "stuff" bag that got lost in Dulles. After that bag arrived, I completely decompressed and we went in search of some serious dancing.
So we had the Cruise Babies in the Explorers Lounge and David & the Orchestra in the wheelhouse. The Cruise Babies were more rock and roll, which means freestyle, cha-cha and hustle. We did actually get a foxtrot in with David and group, but then they quit for the night. Alex Karpenko, a solo with a keyboard, alternates in the wheelhouse, but we didn't get a chance to try him yet - it turned out it was very difficult to dance to his music. David and the Orchestra would only show up every now and then, not on a regular basis. The Cruise Babies are 2 lead female singers, the lead has great range of voice, keyboard/piano, base guitar and drums. David's group is piano/keyboard, base guitar, lead guitar, drums and sax.
We did the welcome on board show. There was only one show and the theatre was not full at all. Met JJ Ulrich, the CD, for the first time. We have not sailed with him before. I've heard good and bad on the boards, so let's hope it's all good. (It turned out to be so-so.)
We did not get to the dining room for dinner. Once again, too much to do, not enough time to do it. We hit the buffet late and had a snack before turning in to our wonderful aft cabin.
Yep, it's D735 with "beam", and it is one great cabin. No vent smell that I can detect and I hope it stays that way. [It did, no smells the entire trip.] The balcony is about 25% bigger than a normal Caribe balcony. Very deep. And very private. To our right is a walkway for crew only and to our left is the balcony for the adjacent suite. We have 4 chairs and a table and will have minimal wind for sure. The beam protrudes 12-16 inches into the balcony, but creates a little nook that will further serve to protect from any wind. There is a large PA speaker just over our balcony, so I hope that we get a good feed from the naturalist when we are sailing through the Antarctic. [It was never used.]
The "gem class" upgrade that the Star received was incomplete compared to the Golden. As I later found out, due to Visa issues, the Star only got the Piazza and MUTS. That's about it. No Crown Grill, so 6th deck suites, no 15 deck suites, no casino move.
2-3-10 (River Platte - At Sea)
Woke to find we are still on the river this morning. It turns out the River Platt is huge.
This morning is line dance at 10:15, a whole bunch of lectures in the Princess theatre, ballroom at 2:15. Cinematastic is on tonight and we will definitely be sitting in the front rows for that one. (If you read my 9-09 Hawaii travelog, you'll know why.) And of course dancing. It is formal night and like the Golden, they have moved the champagne waterfall to earlier in the evening - makes it great for people who turn in early.
Our CC meet and greet was a great success with almost all of us showing up in Skywalker's. The matre de showed up, then JJ and his deputy, then the captain and the director of hotel services. The captain stayed for at least 45 minutes. As it turns out, written invitations do indeed help. So make sure you put out invites if you want them to show up.
The naturalists on board seem to be a great group. We have Dr. Bernard Stonehouse, Dr. Tony Walker, Chris Gunn and our Ice Captains Bob Parsons and Waldo Arrdondo. Dr. Stonehouse has a good sense of humor. I guess you would have to be if you spent three years in Antartica with various groups of female grad students - that's a story you have to hear for yourself. The lectures got us excited, although we didn't make any live they replay them on the TV, to see the sites. We all hope the weather holds.
After a quick lunch, we headed down to the Piazza to see the first of three Argentine Tango demonstrations. The perfect couple - Fernando and Cecilia. Very energetic, very polished, much fun to watch. We really, really like Argentine Tango. It's not stiff, or "proper", it's simply dancing to dance - from the heart.
So after the Tango demo it was time for the obligatory watch the TV lectures and take the power nap time. Then it was up and get dressed for dinner.
We had reservations for 2 on Deck 5 at 530. Dinner was the Captain's Welcome. I had the Caesar salad, smoked duck appetizer, cream of asparagus soup and the halibut. For dessert I had the cheesecake along with the Nutella and Rasberry ice cream. Judy had the smoked duck, the salad, the fetticune alfredo, the pork roast homestyle item, the cookies and cream parfait and the grapefruit sorbet.
My Caesar salad with the little salty anchovy goodness was great. We love having duck and lamb on cruises because a) it's way too expensive at home and b) we don't know how to cook it. As usual, the asparagus soup was different than that on the Golden. It was less creamy and more of an asparagus puree. Different ships, different cooks. Judy did not care for her fetticune alfredo. Not enough sauce and the sauce wasn't alfredoey enough. She's spoiled from the stuff on the Golden. [Turns out that with some salt, pepper and extra parmesan, it's not too bad.]
But all in all a very good meal.
After dinner it was time to change. Yeah, I know, we are supposed to stay in formal gear all night, but I can't dance in formal wear. So I changed back to smart casual and we went dancing to the Groove Babies until about 9:45. Again mainly rock and roll, cha-chas, hustles, a few rhumbas, swing and freestyle, but lots of fun.
We went to the second show of Cinematastic, and sat in the second row, and we brought some of our CC friends to the front rows. It's just a whole different show from up front. The facial expressions and interactions with the cast are just great. Those that hadn't sat up front before thoroughly enjoyed this new perspective. The show was great fun and one of our favorites - lots of dance, lots of good music. Unfortunately they won't be showing Caliente on this cruise. That's our favorite show.
After the show we went back to Explorer's, which was full already. Apparently everyone got enough sleep the night before and was now partying hard. We danced for another hour and hit the bed after midnight. Took about 30 minutes to come down and we noticed a much cooler temperature on our balcony. We were definitely getting into cooler waters.
2-4-10 (At Sea)
A little bit of rock and roll this morning. We are trying the zapper watch for Judy on this trip. It's supposedly the "only" FDA approved motion sickness device. Today will be a real test since the motion is much more noticeable. [Turned out to be a waste of money. Judy's generic Dramamine and sea bands were a better combo.]
It appears the Golden now has the more modern layout of the original grand classes. I'm sure hoping the Grand gets the whole treatment at her next drydock.
Well she's starting to really rock and roll now. This will be a good test of Judy's new gadget. I knew this would be a rough cruise for Judy, but she is actually fine as long as she stays horizontal. Dramamine, sea bands, ginger, ginger ale and bitters, zap watch, nothing worked today and we are only in 10-12 foot seas.
But being an engineer, we're on plan B - stay in bed. So I'm wandering around the ship, had a really good spiced duck dinner, oyster bisque, a fantastic salad with vinigarette, and the smoked duck appetizer. My downfall is the bread. It is just sooo goood and fresh and warm and it talks to me, beckons to me, taunts me until I just have to get rid of it.
Today of course I skipped both since Judy was flat on her back. Just isn't the same without her around, but I can amuse myself up on the open deck with the binocs.
The rough seas are slowing our progress into Port Stanley and the captain is hopeful that this patch of rough water will improve over the next couple of hours. He thinks about 10:30 tomorrow morning, maybe later. Judging our current speed, I would guess later. We didn't have anything scheduled anyway.
Had a nice talk with JJ at lunch. Yes, it was worker Visa problems with the Star Drydock. A real shame. I doubt princess will do the work in the US ever again considering what a good job they got out of Victoria. I haven't seen the CP yet and the results of her drydock in the Bahamas. As I understand it, it's the same company, just different locations around the globe.
Instead of the dance classes today, I wanted to go the lectures, so I attended the "Guide to the Falklands" (Chris Gunn and Tony Walker) and "My Friends the Penguins" (Dr. Bernard Stonehouse). Both lectures were great. Enjoyed both of them as they gave a lot of personal perspective of their experiences. Makes me even more excited to see all of this stuff up close and personal.
So tonight we'll see. Not much is up. Ryan Ahern, a pianist, and a comedy mental show, Alan Chomo. If the seas calm down, I'll let Judy drag me down to the dance floor, but otherwise we might just have an early night and I can start wildlife watching early in the morning. As we get closer to the Falklands I suspect we'll see more and more sea life.
2-5-10 (Port Stanley)
Seas stayed rough during the night. It is a little better this morning. The chill in the air definitely is there. The balcony door gets closed from now on. It was great and refreshing for the first few hours, but got downright chilly after midnight.
We were able to dance for the first hour last night, but then a large gap in the dance music from 830 to 1015 left us with not much else to do. It was a good opportunity to get to bed a bit early. We have no plans for Stanley this morning. It's a tender port and if you think Judy gets motion sick on a big ship in slight seas, you ought to see her in a small enclosed tender boat. We will wait until the crowds thin a bit and then maybe go ashore for a little walk around town. Depends on the weather and the wind.
Tonight we have another one of those gaps in the dance schedule. Rumor has it that another dance band is coming aboard today. (Princess is flying them in to Port Stanley. - But it never happened.) We will see. We are scheduled into Stanley at 10:30 and then leaving around 7pm. So we're going to switch up on dinner and do a couple of different things, then hit dinner late during the break, and then go back to dancing. Weather and sea state permitting.
It was a gorgeous day in Stanley. We got in about 1030 and tendering began around 1130. The NCL Sun was already at anchor. Hit a patch of snow/hail/puffballs on the way in. Now that was a first for me at sea, and the wind was a bitterly cold 30 knot breeze.
After yesterday's bought with motion sickness I really didn't want to subject Judy to a tender ride, or the people in the tender to her motion sickness, so we chilled on the ship. Turns out the wind died down after a while and it got quite pleasant. (Oh well, sometime you guess right and sometime you guess wrong.) But we had a really good day anyway. Went up to an empty gym and worked out for about an hour, which made for a really good power nap later.
But the island itself and the town are pretty stark. This island is not only in the middle of nowhere, it's a loooonnnnnnggggg way from the middle of nowhere. With two ships in port, the tourists easily outnumbered the residents. We talked to several people who took the various penguin tours. (One of the main reasons we didn't was that we heard the land rover part of the tour was long, bumpy and, sure to kick Judy's motion sickness in high gear.) One couple on the Princess tour remarked about how rough the 4x4 part of the tour was, although it was short. I think Patrick Watts' tour is like 2 hours in a 4x4. Judy would end up walking back instead of riding that long off-road.
A lot of people must have had a great time because they all came back and disappeared, probably exhausted.
We changed up our routine a bit. Because of the 1+ hour gap in dance bands we went to Skywalkers for drinks and a snack at 5, and since we were parked at the time, motion was not an issue that high up. The guacamole was great as was the selection of cheeses and the view was pretty incredible.
The Groove Babies did not start until 730PM, so we hung out at Skywalkers chatting with some of our fellow CC members, swapped rumors, talked about cruising, just great conversation.
The Groove Babies are in Explorer's. Arnold is now our favorite waiter in Explorer's. He sees us show up and then goes and gets two large plastic glasses of water for us. We always make sure that when we order drinks in Explorer's he gets the order.
We danced for about an hour, then headed for dinner - and it was French/Med dinner. So I did the only thing one can do on that night - order two snail appetizers and a duck a 'orange. Almost did a French onion soup, but decided the two snails would make up for it. As usual, the snails were great, the garlic butter even better to dip the bread into. Judy had the cold cucumber soup and the fetticine alfredo. She did order extra sauce, and our waitress brought a whole gravy bowl of it. Still not as good as the one on the Golden in September. Needed salt, pepper and a bit more parmesan. Too much cream in the mix I think. We hit the dining room at the right time just between rushes (8:45) so we got to spend a lot of time chatting with the waitress who was superb. For dessert I just had the maple walnut ice cream and Judy had the raspberrry creme brule, which was all very good.
On the way out, Bepe Castillo, the matre de, was at the front desk so we got to talk to him for a while. He's kind of a temp matre de, subbing for other matre de's that are on holiday. Nice man, as they all are.
So after chatting with Bepe, we headed for the Vista to see Alan Chomo, an Argentinean mentalist. Interesting show. I think his playing with numbers and his memory manipulations were much better than his "tricks". Although I have to admit, his getting the duck tape off his eyebrows without losing all his eyebrows was a pretty good trick as well. Needless to say it was interesting but not that great.
After dinner we hit the dance floor again with the Groove Babies and danced till after midnight upon which my dancing feet turned into two left ones and we went to bed before I permanently injured someone.
Even though we didn't get off the ship and probably should have given that the weather turned actually quite nice, we had a very good day on board.
2-6-10 (At Sea - Drake Passage)
So this morning, we are rocking and rolling somewhat, Judy has yet to make an appearance down in the Piazza, but we are headed to Elephant Island. I'm going to change things up a bit and go to the lectures today. We will skip ballroom class. There is a Shackelton lecture by Chris Gunn and then Part II of Tony Walker's Bird Island lecture.
We might make the Tango lesson after lunch. Tonight is a lot of movies and an Argentinean comedian. It is 50's and 60's night at 930 in Explorer's. Lots of things to do on the way across the drake passage. Keeping my fingers crossed for calm seas.
The Drake passage was in sea state slight. That was a welcome surprise. I seem to remember a few bumps and jolts last night, but nothing really bad. Because of Judy's motion sickness, we've been spending a lot of time in the Piazza. Not a lot of motion there. Coffee from the bar and breakfast from the international cafe. We didn't do that on the Golden's cruise in September, so its a nice change of pace.
The lectures on Bird Island and Shakelton's ill fated Endurance expedition were very interesting. I read Shakelton's "Valiant Voyage" when I was in 4th or 5th grade. Always fascinated me. The bird island lecture about 2.5 years on the island with a research team was equally good. It's amazing how dedicated some people can be to their work in staying so isolated for so long.
We tried the dining rooom for lunch yesterday. Again, low and centered keeps the motion to a minimum and enjoyed a nice light lunch. We attended Fernado's and Cecilia's standing room only Argentine tango lesson. Talk about packed and crowded.
Then we decided to do something totally different. Vines on the Golden had a Stammtisch (tasting), Vines on the Star has those and select "flights". Purchase 3 -2oz pours of selected wines for $8 or $9. Not being wine people, we wanted to try it. Along with sushi, sashimi, tapas and cheeses, it was a great little snack. We tried a Pinot Noir, a Reisling and something else I can't spell or pronounce. I ended up liking the Reisling the best, Judy preferred the unspellable one.
After that it was ballroom dancing in Explorer's (canned music), then the Groove Babies came on. After which Judy and I looked at each other and mutually agreed to head off to bed, stopping to get some fruit in the Horizon court on the way, and skipping dinner entirely. After all you don't have to eat everything on a cruise.
2-7-10 (Elephant Island)
The next few days will simply necessitate a drastic change in schedules. We are due to arrive at Elephant Island in about 3 hours. That combined with a rather ambitious late night schedule over the past few nights led to our early demise last night, but finally a really good night's sleep. Daylight hours are now really extended. Light before 5am and after 9pm. Should give a plenty of sight seeing light and we are really looking forward to seeing this in person.
So this morning is Elephant Island and the start of 5 days tooling around the Antarctic peninsula. The binocs are ready, the cameras are charged, the layers of coats and jackets are laid out. Time to find some coffee and some wildlife...
It was the perfect viewing day. No fog, a high marine layer giving way to breaks of sunshine, incredible ice bergs. We were able to see almost all of Elephant Island, Camp Wild (the Endurance expedition's survival camp), ice bergs that make the Star Princess look like a toy, whales, seals, penguins, huge albatrosses and a glacier that makes glacier bay seem like a bathtub.
I can't get over these ice bergs. I know they are pieces of freshwater glaciers, hundreds, if not thousands of years old, deep, deep blue styrations, hundreds of feet high, thousands of feet long and I've seen video of them, even blue ray dvd of them, but nothing prepares you for the real deal. Sheer awesomeness, if there is such a thing. It's something you can only see in person. No photograph, no video, no artwork can capture the scale, the absolute sheer grandeur of the view.
Then we have the islands themselves. Sheer and jagged rock outlined with blindingly white snow, punctuated by glacial flows and the ubiquitous dark chocolate of a penguin colony.
Distances are deceiving in this clear air. (I learned that in Thule Greenland. What looked like a 1/2 mile walk was actually 3 miles. What looked like a 10 foot ice berg was actually 100 feet tall and a half a mile wide.) Same here. With no good scales of reference it's hard to judge. If we are 2 miles from the shore, that glacier had to be 150-200 feet high or higher.
We stayed up on deck most of the day. We went to bed early the night before and it did wonders for us, well that, plus a power nap while the ship left Elephant Island and headed to Gibbs Island.
Our aft balcony is great for viewing. Very little wind, but it is cold for sure. I spent a lot of time in the morning up at the Sports Deck behind the stack. A great viewing platform with the ability to get from one side to the other quickly and easily - although it was very windy on the Port side, there was some wind break on the starboard side on the stairs. But after getting chilled in the wind, it takes a while to warm back up.
After the days sight seeing we retreated indoors to the Ballroom Dance Music hour in Explorer's (canned music), then danced to the Groove Babies before heading to dinner. Cosmopolitan was the menu and lamb shanks were on it - and I love shipboard lamb. I was not disappointed.
For those of you who read my Hawaii thread, you know we ran into Mario, a head waiter who made it his goal for the cruise to give us a wonderful dining experience, and succeeded greatly. On this cruise, Mario is not here, so we are taking this opportunity to change things up a bit. With a standing reservation, we feel obligated to show up at 530 promptly every night. This cruise we're kind of wandering in to the dining room around 830PM during the 830 to 1000 dance break. Or we call and make reservations at 530, or we go to the Horizon Court, or we skip dinner altogether.
We saw Ports of Call last night, a show we'd never seen before. It was ok. It got much better later in the show as more and more energetic dancing was associated with other ports such as Russia, Argentina, Mexico and Brazil. The superbowl followed - we went dancing instead, then dinner, then dancing, then bed.
Latin night in Explorer's was a bit of a downer, as is the canned ballroom music. The canned ballroom music is 4-5 Waltzes followed by 4-5 cha-cha's, followed by 4-5 swings, 4-5 salsa's, 4-5 foxtrots, and on and on. Latin music was merengue, salsa, merengue, salsa, salsa, merengue, cha-cha, merengue, salsa - pretty darn one note. Someone needed to put the CD, or the IPOD, on random play. It would have livened things up a bit. (Although I have to admit, seeing electric slide performed during a salsa was a new one on me.)
2-8-10 (Admiralty Bay)
Pretty darn cool. Never thought in a million years we'd ever see Antarctica, or even get within thousands of miles of it. Yet here we are, on a comfortable multi-million dollar ship, looking out over landscapes that very few people have even seen and only a handful have walked upon.
Today it looks like we will pay for our good weather yesterday. Fog, low clouds, a bit of a chop, we are just now entering ice berg alley. One just went by the window. The ship is crawling along. Dead slow and manuvering. The wind is howling on deck right now, so there will not be a lot of people out and about for sure.
I have to say I am enjoying the naturalists a lot on this cruise. (Our last Alaska cruise was a bit of a downer.) We have three naturalists, an ice pilot, a couple of other pilots. The three naturalists are really, really good. Dr. Stonehouse is our favorite and...
30-50 knots wind. Captain Perrin is on the horn right now. Hmmm, we had to abort going into iceberg alley. The wind made it difficult to avoid the icebergs. Headed into Admiralty Bay, instead, to drop off a couple of research scientists and pick up a few. Then we will see from there. Oh and its snowing. This is so cool!
...actually was a pioneer in this area in the 40's. Pre-internet, pre-satellite, pre-anything. His descriptions and narrations are interesting, full of information and amusing. All of them are doing a great job and provide a great perspective on the sights we are seeing. And the neat thing is we're getting perspectives from a biological, historical, geological and oceanographic point of view all at the same time.
Iceberg alley was cancelled. Darn. But when a ship is blown sideways faster than forward motion, its time to reconsider dodging icebergs. When we awoke this morning I noticed the drastic rudder changes the Captain was making from the wake behind us.
So we tried one approach to Admiralty Bay and the wind speed went up to 50-60 knots. Approach aborted, but we tried around 3pm local and made it in. We've picked up a few researchers and are dropping off a few more, along with some supplies. The researchers are currently ensconced in Vines having pastries and double espressos from the international cafe. I imagine the Captain is picking up the tab.
Not much else happening today. We spent most of the day keeping station out in the strait, away from any ice while it snowed and blowed. Snow is falling on our balcony right now. Snow. Go figure. As you can imagine most of the public areas are full to capacity as people get in from the cold, so we just kept to ourselves in the cabin, watching some TV and taking occasional photos of icebergs as they blew by.
At 4pm we tried the Italian flight of wines. Since we missed lunch, we were ready for some sashimi, sushi, tapas and cheeses. A nice snack. The plan for the night is a little dancing, then dinner, then more dancing. We'll see what the captain has in mind for the ship around 5pm as we leave Admiralty Bay. I suspect we'll head south to the Glacier and completely skip the Antarctic sound.
At least we don't have to shovel snow...
Our invite to Chef's table tomorrow night came in. Really looking forward to it.
2-9-10 (Gerlache Strait)
The 2011 cruises will be the last for princess for the forseeable future as the treaty that takes effect in March 2011 prohibits ships that use heavy fuel oil, as does all the princess ships. They need new ships basically.
Yesterday was a bust as far as weather goes. Fog, snow, wind. After Admiralty bay we basically set course for the Neumayer Channel and its 3 glaciers.
Today, we made it to the 65th parallel today via the Gerlache Strait. One incredible ride with sunshine, blue skies and the brightest white snow and deepest blue ice you will ever see. Whales, penguins, seals, icebergs, you name it. The cold foggy air flowing down off the plateau of the Antarctic peninsula was an incredible sight. After freezing up on deck, we hotfooted to our aft, and relatively wind free, balcony with sunshine to keep up warm. From there we spotted the whales, the penguins, the seals, the huge icebergs, really, really neat.
However, we got to the end of Anvers island, turned to go into the Bismark Strait and then into the Neumayer Channel and hit 80 knot wind gusts coming down off the plateau - catiabatic I think its called. Never felt a Grand Class ship get blown around like that. rudder was hard over, the propeller wake going off to one side, and we were headed sideways, blown by the wind. About a 5-10 degree list.
So the Captain called off trying to manuver into the Channel with that kind of wind. So he did a 180 and we headed back up the Gerlache Strait, dodging icebergs as we went. We're now about 60 nm back north up the strait and not having to dodge nearly as many icebergs as further south in the narrower part of the channel.
We're headed to Deception Island for a 0700 look see tomorrow morning. then its off to the Drake Passage. The Capt just came on the PA and said the weather doesn't look too good for the passage, but not as bad as a couple of days ago or a couple of days from now. Oh well, it will be what it will be.
They have an ice captain, an additional pilot and a regular captain who is not going to as much get a scratch on the paint of this ship. In fact we just sailed past an iceberg as big as a house about 150-200 feet away. These guys know their business.
The biggest danger, IMHO, is a loss of power while in gale force winds. The Grands are not known for a loss of power, the Sun class has known a power failure or two. But it would be catastrophic to have lost engine power while in the winds. We would have been driven onto the rocks in a matter of minutes.
The captains on Princess ships have been criticized in the past for not docking, or - wow, that berg is about 300 feet long and 75 feet high - it just floated past the internet cafe windows - being too careful. They are extra careful, but they haven't lost a ship yet. They simply won't put the ship or the passengers at risk. That's why the trip into iceberg alley and the trip into neumayer channel yesterday was cancelled.
Antarctica is special, its Alaska cubed. with a whole different ecosystem and relatively untouched. The only other experience similar is my trip to Thule Greenland. I've had the opportunity to climb ice bergs locked in pack ice. But that was a relatively small area compared to the area we covered over the past few days.
Everyone who says it is right, no photos, no pictures, no video does the sights justice. The scale is simply too large, the light changes minute by minute and so does the colors, the shadows. A picture one minute is simply out of date within the next 60 seconds. In a land of ice, snow and rock the color palette is simply incredible, but subdued with blues, browns and whites.
So we went to our favorite dining experience on the ship - Chef's Table. And we were not disappointed. Crab ceviche, steak tartare, faus gras and goat cheese tart appetizers in the kitchen with Champagne. Then to the table for a lobster, scallop and shrimp risotto. (The wine presentations by Jack, the onboard sommelier, were very nice and informative.)
The white wine perfect with the risotto. then our favorite, spicy Bloody Mary sorbet with grey goose vodka - oh, yum. Then the veal, and the red wine. Three different cuts of veal, all prepared wonderfully with an aus jus that was just incredible. Easily the best meat course of all of our chef's tables. And then the dessert wine, with the goat cheese tart with port wine reduction and pine nuts. Oh yeah! The sugar plate dessert was also a great presentation. Everything was edible, topped off by a few more glasses of the dessert wine and a cappicino. A three hour cannot miss experience on any ship. Highly recommended.
Several of the people at the table were newbies, including some of the CC members. They're now converts. Which does make for a very crowded chef's table list. Princess is going to have to think seriously about making it a permanent nightly fixture - something I think would be a great idea.
2-10-10 (Deception Island)
Right now the captain is tooling along deception island. We got right up to the entrance. This is one cool place. An ancient, yet still active, caldera. Think Oregon's crater lake with one entrance and a perfect natural harbor. If not for the big rock just under the water in the center of the channel, we could have just tooled right in and had a great time.
We're not sure about today. The prediction is for rough seas. If so, Judy will be down until we get across the Drake passage. Tonight is a formal night and three Captain's Circle parties. We will see what the weather is like.
Today was actually the first time I've been pretty bored on a cruise ship. Not much going on. Judy hung out in the Piazza and I dodged whale watchers on the promenade deck with my morning walk. Sleep after Chef's table was not easy, too much wine I think and a bit of a sulfate headache, so a long nap was definitely in order. Not much to see after noon with the Antarctic islands behind us and the drake passage in front of us. We are due to arrive at Cape Horn around 5 or 6 tonight, so we shall see how the weather treats us.
We passed on the cabin crawl, Judy wasn't doing so hot...but she felt better by evening to go try dancing in Explorer's. We also passed on Captain's Circle as well. The Groove Babies started a set at 530, then canned music from 630 to 730, then canned ballroom music from 730 to 830, Princess Pop Star, Ballroom Blitz and then the Groove Babies back at 1100. They need to update their CD music a bit, put it on random play and turn up the volume on the dance floor. Its more like elevator music and extremely hard to dance to.
Needless to say, we weren't dressed up so we didn't do ballroom blitz and we went to dinner in the Piazza. Had the artichoke soup and a couple of different salads. the cherry tomato and mozzarella salad was great. The tomatos were fresh and sweet. Tried the greek salad, which is always good, and the tuna/pasta salad which are good as well. Judy had a sushi plate from vines and that did it for dinner. Nice and light.
We also went to the production show Words and Music. A lot of singing, not much dancing, but we did sit up front and enjoyed it a lot.
2-11-10 (Cape Horn)
Well we have discovered the Piazza. In a good way. this low and this centered, Judy can enjoy the ship rather than the view on the TV's front of the ship channel. during the Hawaii run, we rarely came down here, now we here every morning since the motion is so much more pronounced in the Horizon Court.
We have a moderate swell this morning. A very long swell, not a lot of wind, so we're catching the Drake Passage at a good time.
Today's patter looks more promising. Not nearly what Dave Cole packs into the Hawaii run, but a lot more normal sea day looking activities. There are three lectures that look like fun on Shakelton, the frozen ocean and Antarctic Seabirds. The Matre De wine club is today, but after all the wine from Chef's table we will probably pass.
Tonight looks a lot more promising. Dancing starts at 530 with only an hour break, don't understand why an hour break, its canned music anyway, just keep it playing...then the groove babies.
I have to say something about Arnold, one of the bar staff in Explorer's. The first night of the cruise we had 2 of the bar staff go by and we asked for water and it didn't come. Arnold came by and promptly got us two glasses of water, and then we ordered drinks from him. The next night he brought us two big glasses water and he keeps them filled and we keep ordering drinks just from him. he checks on us constantly, bringing peanuts, pretzels, ginger ale and bitters for Judy, water for the both of us. really fantastic service.
The lectures were good. Dr Stonehouse's shakelton lecture was very interesting. More interesting was the reaction of the audience to one particular photograph showing the cook butchering a large emperor penguin. Several gasps and many 'awwwws'. Considering that the men at the time were starving and had no hope of rescue, they were truly on their own, and as the good doctor put it himself, when 100+ pounds of meat (editors note: read 'chicken') comes walking through your camp you don't exactly turn your nose up at it. But a good lecture nonetheless.
It was rough around the horn. Too rough to embark the pilots and allow us to go around the island of Cape Horn. Cape Horn itself is very impressive. Just as you would picture it in your mind, seas crashing against jagged rock, white caps frothing as far as the eye can see, a bitterly cold wind, a desolate sheer rock face with no vegetation, looking completely inhospitable and stark. Outlined in bright sunshine, it just looked like a place you would not want to visit, much less sail by.
Funny, in Antarctica you want to reach out and touch the glaciers and the ice cliffs, bring the ship closer and closer! Here you could just imagine the sheer terror of sailors as they looked up and suddenly saw the jagged rocks looming out of the storm, the wind pushing them to their doom. It made you want to stay as far away as possible, even the wind lifting the sea into rainbow cascades of salt spray did nothing to quell the primordial fear invoked by that wall of rock, roaring wind and crashing sea.
What a contrast!
We tried a bit of line dancing. The ship movement was sufficient to throw everyone off, including Melissa the instructor, and then the dreaded 'bing bong', this is the captain from the bridge and I've got some good news, bad news that we have all become accustomed to over the past few weeks. Not that the weather is his fault, that's for sure. But even just the sail by was impressive enough for me.
It was CD music hell in explorers for a while. Somewhere in the mix process, the playlist got stuck for 2 hours on 5 songs, so when Groove Babies showed up, we were ready to listen to some real music and do some serious dancing. We danced for an hour, then did dinner - Bay of Thailand menu? But it had LAMB ON IT!! Judy tried the seaweed salad that came with the spring roll and promptly lost her appetite completely. She couldn't find anything else that tasted right - even the standard filet. I had the tai seafood noodles, which were great, and then went straight to the lamb which was ummy. but we skipped dessert.
After dinner we went to see "This is It", the Michael Jackson movie. The show he was planning would have been one huge success. I'm glad they did the movie. It showed Michael at his best and as we of his generation would like to remember him as.
All in all, a good day.
2-12-10 ( Docked in Ushuaia)
After days of compensating for ship movement it is very interesting how the brain then takes on dry land. Sitting here feeling movement back and forth, but I know for a fact the ship is not moving.
We're docked and Judy and I are planning our walking around time today with some coffee to start.
It was a fun day. After exploring Ushuaia for a while, we relaxed back on board for the afternoon before doing Italian dinner. First we hunted up Jack, the on board sommelier, for a wine recommendation. (Needed to spend that certificate from the TA.) He recommended an Italian Chianti, reasonably priced, that went well with dinner. Judy's appetite had returned so she had spaghetti and meat balls, salad and the saltimbocca turbot - which she pronounced the best dish of the cruise so far. I had two eggplant parmesan's and the veal scaloppini, both of which were good. Now in the past we have noticed a difference between ships, same dish. It's the same here on the Star. The food is subdued compared to the Golden and Grand, the last two cruises. A little bit of red chili flake in the sauce for the eggplant parmesan would have been great. Several dishes have required salt and ground pepper. The fetticune alfredo requires salt, pepper and some extra cheese.
This is not to say they were bad, but they required a little bit more seasoning for our tastes compared to the previous two ships.
The ship was sailing through the Beagle Channel. Very similar to the Inland Passage with tree lined shores, glacier carved canyons and spectacular waterfalls. We danced with the Groove Babies for a while, talking to Stacy, the drummer, about his day in Ushuaia. He did confess that he stopped for a coffee on shore and his stomach was bothering him. Sure enough, by 930 he was down for the count. Don't drink the water is always a good rule of thumb.
So we did country night to CD music. (At least it didn't get stuck on 2 songs.) Did line dances, cotton eyed joe, the bang-bang game and in general had a good time, but without the Groove Babies playing, that was it for dancing. They went back to the CD collection and started playing mambos and sambas - one right after another. They really need a better song picker, or at least a playlist edited by someone who can put some variety in the dance music. I mean come on, its MP3 music not LPs you have to change out...
So we bagged it for the evening and hit the sack.
2-13-10 (Punta Arenas)
This morning we are off Punta Arenas and the mass exodus to the tenders has begun. Not sure what we're going to do yet, still watching the weather and it is a bit choppy as well as a long way to shore, so we'll see. But later in the morning and in the afternoon the wind picked up tremendously. 3-4 foot swells in a tender are not fun.
The tender trip is now legendary among the passengers. Many got sick, some got scared that the tender would roll over, not likely but I'm sure it was not pleasant. The tender guys were having a heck of a time getting the tenders docked and that meant loaded tenders had to sit out and wait. So it made for a very sparse early seating in the dining room, but a quick dinner, over in less than an hour.
The passengers on tour to Antarctica, forgot to mention that one, involved a 4 hour plane ride to the Antarctic continent, a visit to a Chilean outpost, complete with souvenir shop, a walk about in the mud and snow, visits to local penguins and then a 4 hour plane ride back to Punta Arenas. All for $3300 per person. (A little bit too pricey for me.) Anyway, they were two hours late coming back and since this was a princess excursion and with the ship in no hurry to leave, we waited until they were back on board and left between 9 and 10. A couple we dance with were on that excursion, so I'll find out more details today. [They loved every minute of the tour.]
Stacey, the Groove Babies drummer, was better from his ordeal with the local water from Ushauia. So after dinner we danced, then went to the Comedy/Magician show (Greg Moreland - probably the best comedy show on the entire cruise), and then danced at the 70's show.
Dinner was one of the Princess menus with Coq Au Vin. The one I had a fit over on the Hawaii cruise. As well as chips and salsa/guacumole. Judy had the beef stroganoff, but her taste buds were off again. She didn't like it, but I tried it and it was pretty good. Again, all of the spices were a bit understated, but not that bad. The guacamole was to die for - real guac, simple, tasty. Just bring me a bowl of chips, a bowl of guac and a bowl of that salsa stuff and I'll be happy.
2-14-10 (At Sea)
Ship is all decked out this morning for Valentine's Day. Judy is sleeping late, so I'll update the log while watching the Southern Atlantic roll by the internet cafe windows. Overcast day, still cool, slight swell pushing us along.
They have a renewal of vows ceremony today. I think I'll sign us up. We have signed up for a tango tour on disembarkation day in BA. We'll see how that goes. I've heard horror stories about check in at EZE, but the FF talk forums don't bear that out. Of course there will be a lot of people trying to get out at the same time Thursday night.
We did the line dance class in the morning, the mexican buffet wasn't all that bad and even had a spicy chile salsa, Judy went and learned a couple of really neat card tricks, a couple of magic tricks and I took her to the Group Renewal of Vows that she thoroughly enjoyed. Dinner was quite nice, another Princess menu with LAMB on it. Judy had the homestyle pulled pork with north carolina BBQ sauce. I had the lamb, of course. Both were very good.
They have a sommelier's wine club today. $25. Probably similar to the Matre De's club but with Jack, the on board sommelier. The Chianti he picked for the Italian dinner was great and even better after it breathed overnight for the Coq Au Vin last night. Not sure if I want to do the wine club or not, we'll see around 11.
Tonight is the Love and Marriage Game show. We're going to try and sign up. Before that it's dancing with the Groove Babies and we will probably just spend the evening in Explorer's dancing away.
We hit the dance floor in Explorer's with the Groove Babies around 730, then stayed through and played in the Marriage Game, which was a hoot - I think embarrassed the host, and then danced late.
2-15-10 (At Sea)
When we returned to our room last night there was the dreaded green card to spring forward, promptly making it after 1am in the morning. Time to crash. This morning was awfully hard to pull ourselves out of bed, but it's time to cowboy up since we are in the home stretch.
Tonight is the last formal night. Haven't decided to dress up yet. We shall see later.
We did get our disembarkation tickets today - we have to meet at 0645 (0645!!!!) on the morning of disembarkation for our tour. It is going to be one looonnnnggggg day, that is for sure.
Actually a pretty boring sea day. Not too much going on. The culinary cooking show was pretty good, but we've not seen a cooking show like the one on the Dawn several years ago - that was ROTFLMAO fun. No line dance class, a couple of lectures and that was pretty much it for interesting stuff to do. A lot of "unhosted" activities - but none we were interested in.
We decided not to dress up last night and do the HC for dinner. It was actually quite good. The Beef Wellington was very good and the pasta they were cooking in the dining area was quite good as well, once you put a touch more salt, a few chili flake sprinkles and a little parmesan on top. The bay shrimp salad was also very good.
Dancing music did not start until 730. Just cannot dance to the normal low volume elevator music they pipe into the Explorer's lounge. Since they have a lot of canned music anyway, I don't understand why they just don't let it run. It makes no sense to have an hour of elevator music, an hour of dance music, and hour of elevator music and then an hour of live music.
Then we did a production show "Destination Anywhere". We hadn't seen it before and we sat 2nd row center. It was a really good show. Lots of dancing, singing, very high energy and several WOW sequences. The London sequence was especially good with the costumes and dance. The integration of the walking canes into the men's routines was very effective.
After the show it was Ballroom Blitz and we showed up to cheer Abby and Glen on - from our CC group. (I still don't understand why they keep insisting on making this a competition. Vian had the same problem on the Golden. It's not dancing with the stars. They are putting people head to head with experience levels that vary from many of years to jut a few months. I agree with Vian that it should be a demonstration, not a competition.) Abby and Glen did very well with their tango and two step, getting runners up and a couple from CA, whom Abby and Glen know and have cruised with, won. Another couple who dances with us a lot in Explorer's lounge, and they are very good in a social setting, were so nervous, they just could not relax. Lily and Johnny, the couple that won, were not nervous and that made a big difference.
But after Ballroom Blitz was the farewell party in the Piazza and a balloon drop, but we hit the sack a bit early.
2-16-10 (At Sea)
Yesterday was the second of three sea days. Still cool, but not cold, a moderate sea but coming from behind, so the motion was pretty much a minimum.
Today looks much more promising in the Patter - but unfortunately the things we want to do are overlapped. At 1400 is the scrap boat building regatta, so we have to be there to cheer on Robert?, I hope I got the name right, a fellow CC member we've been seeing around the ship, with his boat.
Tonight looks even better. Lots of dance music, with only 15 minute breaks.
We did a HC dinner. With all the dance music going on, I really didn't want to spend an hour or two getting dinner, and it was not bad either. Had a very nice discussion with Jack, the on-board sommelier (a real one BTW). He's got some real innovative ideas on how to increase on board wine sales. We wish him the best of luck - the more Princess can make from alternative optional revenue streams, the easier it is for them to hold the line on the basic cruise price.
Did some canned music dancing in Explorer's, then to the Orchestra, then to the Groove Babies. Thought about going to the show's, but this will be our last opportunity for serious dancing for the next 10 months. Gotta make hay while the sun shines.
Overall the cruise has been suprisingly calm. Nothing worst than the 2nd day to Stanley at 15-18 foot seas. Not the 30-60's that I was expecting. Even though weather kept us from a couple of sights, it was mostly wind and/or fog, not high seas. Keeping Judy low, away from the top decks, and in the Piazza probably helped her on the moderate days.
Its packing, filling out questionnaire, looking at flight schedule and misc day.
Don't know if we will venture ashore today. I seem to have picked up my cruise cold later in the cruise than normal. Nyquil and a nap is sounding better and better to me right now...
We have the Tango tour tomorrow ending up at the Sheraton hotel, which I assume will be packed to the gills, prior to transfer to the airport, with the Taxi as Plan B.
We didn't go ashore and instead just concentrated on relaxing prior to the mess we expected at BA.
2-18-10 (BA - Disembarkation)
It was up early as we had to be in the Theater by 0645 for disembarkation. Instead of just a simple transfer, we selected the Tango and city tour, which worked out quite nicely.
Disembarkation was smooth. I carried all the electronics in the backpack, Judy carried the overnight clothes in her roll around which was left in the bus's luggage bay. We walked off the ship and onto a bus and then off to see BA. The bus stopped at the Ricoletta Cemetery, the downtown area and the Palermo area before taking us to La Ventana and the Tango show.
We had a great time. The tour guide was very good, the placed interesting, and the statuary around the cemetery and around town was pretty incredible. The Tango show, with lunch, was good. The food, not so good. The meat was tough, the wine pretty strong, but probably better than we could have done on our own. The show had some great Tango in it. Good music, enthusiastic dancing, a gaucho performance - basically 2 hours of really good entertainment.
After the show, they took us to the local hotel (around 330pm). Our flight wasn't until 10:05 that night and our bus wouldn't be leaving until 630. But our name wasn't on the list so they put us on the 4pm bus and off to the airport we went.
Our luggage was waiting curbside at the airport. We picked it up and then had to wait until 615 to check in. Two security lines and an immigration line later we were in the Red Carpet club visiting with Glenn and Abbey until our flight was called - upon which we had one more security line to go through.
I was asleep before we left the ground and didn't wake up until we had to divert to Jamaica for a medical emergency. We ended up in Dulles 4 hours late, with all our connections missed. United got us out on the 5:30pm flight and we ended up arriving at home almost exactly 48 hours from leaving the ship. A very long trip indeed...