We had booked our own flights and had not received anything from Princess with regard to the pre-cruise tour – no transfer tickets, no hotel vouchers, nothing. However, we needn’t have worried. We were met at the airport and given a private transfer to the hotel. When I told reception at the hotel that we were with Princess, they said the rest of the group was checking in later but they would check us in now. As soon as we got to our room, our guide called and asked to meet us to go over the itinerary for the next few days. We were in good hands. There were 54 people (2 buses) on the pre-cruise tour.
The hotel in Rio was fine, with an OK but not spectacular buffet breakfast. Dinner was expensive but if you ordered a sandwich at the cafe by the pool and said two people were splitting it, they put it on two plates with two batches of French fries. Unlike some people on other websites, we had no issues with the hotel or the staff. Some people would consider the waves on the beach unsafe for swimming, and don’t plan on walking downtown from this hotel.
On our full day tour in Rio, we took the train up Corcovado, the cable car up Sugarloaf Mountain, went to the modernist cathedral, and drove past Ipanema and Copacabana beaches. There was a very nice lunch at a churrascuria.
The next day we flew to the Brazilian side of Iguassu falls (try to sit on the left to see the falls as the plane lands) and went straight from the airport to a walking tour along the falls. There are catwalks out over the water to the edge and bottom of the falls – you will get wet and it is a blast! Tons of butterflies and lots of coatis. Then we checked in at the hotel (a beautiful colonial style place right at the falls) then went on a pretty lame ride through the jungle to a fun zodiac ride under the falls. Then a wonderful buffet dinner with caipirinhas at the hotel. Breakfast buffet at the hotel was excellent.
The next day we drove to the Argentinean side of the falls for a long walk over catwalks to the Devil’s Throat – it’s terrific and you’ll get pretty wet at the end. There was also a nice train ride and a very good lunch at a restaurant in the park. In the afternoon there are optional trips to a bird park (which we didn’t do) and a helicopter ride. The helicopter ride was short but wonderful and it was great to be able to see everywhere we had already been and put everything in perspective. Dinner at the hotel is very expensive unless you get a sandwich from room service. At the a la carte dining room, the food was very good but the prices are very high, the portions are small, and service was only so-so.
There are often strict weight limits for luggage on the flights to/from Iguassu. Princess should have warned us, but as it turned out we didn’t end up paying the fees for being overweight, thanks to the negotiating skills of our guides.
The next day we flew to Buenos Aires – the Aerolineas computers were down and our flight left almost 3 hours late. We checked in at the hotel before going to a tango show, which was wonderful. The hotel was nice but many people ended up in line in the lobby because their key cards didn’t work and our room must have been 90 degrees when we got there and never cooled down much. The location of the hotel was excellent, although we had almost no time on our own and there were a lot of homeless on the street out front. Breakfast buffet was not very good.
The next day included a morning city tour in Buenos Aires before going to the port.
Embarkation was a nightmare – one of the worst we have ever experienced. There was a seemingly endless line of people with luggage that wound around the building in the rain. We later heard that Princess is not allowed to put anyone outside the building to tell people which line to get in, but something needs to be done about the situation and at minimum the guides should be given the information to pass on to the passengers. Since we didn’t have luggage we could go straight into the building, but it took awhile to figure that out. Once inside the building, there was a big mass of irritated people pushing and shoving and waiting to be allowed through a small doorway into another room where the check-in lines were. The crowd was repeatedly pushed to the side to allow hundreds of people with special embarkation cards pass. Apparently many people were able to check in ahead of time at their hotels – it made no sense to us that the people on the pre-cruise tour were not offered that option. There were enormous piles of luggage, with the occasional bag rolling down off the pile and threatening to flatten some passenger. Luggage handling was not automated, with porters hauling a few bags at a time on dollies across the building and hand loading them on small trucks. After checking in, there was a long wait for an overcrowded shuttle bus to the ship, even if your card color gives you priority boarding. We were platinum and it took us close to 3 hours to get on the ship. Our luggage beat us to our cabin.
Life on board the ship was wonderful. We had a minisuite which was just fine, with a great steward. The food was excellent. There were several special buffets out by the pool with some themed ethnic cuisine – the menu is not repeated at the indoor buffet, so you might want to hit both to catch all your favorites. The hamburger grill and the pizzeria were great. We had fixed seating dinner, where the service and food were excellent. There were 4 lecturers, lots of movies, and wi fi in the cabins. Entertainment in the atrium included tango dancers and some really good live music. About half the ship was from US and UK. Announcements were made in English and Spanish. Groove Babies band and Los Gauchos were very good, but most of the entertainment in the theater was another story. The production shows were fine (don’t miss Destinations), although some of them were crammed into the Vista lounge, where dancers hit the ceiling lights on the throws and the music was much too loud. The comedians and magician and juggler were awful. One of the lecturers held early morning wildlife viewing sessions on the back of the ship. Our only real complaint was that there wasn’t enough seating in the buffet, a problem that was made worse by the fact that several tables on each end were “temporarily” blocked off every day. I never saw anyone at those tables, and they were opened up at one meal after passengers complained. Also, the automatic doors from the buffet dining area to the pool should have been turned off in Antarctica. The doors were on motion sensors and came open so often that you needed to wear your coat to eat indoors.
We got into Stanley late because of the weather and had to pick between our 2 scheduled tours, but the shorex folks could not have been nicer about giving a refund for the missed trip. Princess shorex office is always ace. The wind out at the penguins was strong and cold – dress warmly despite what the thermometer says.
Antarctica was wonderful. We had read so many superlative reviews that we were afraid our expectations were too high but it was terrific. Some passengers were taking window tables in the buffet first thing in the AM though and staying there all day. We had some itinerary changes due to high winds but the sights and the wildlife were great all the same. Be sure to look up at the cloud formations. 56 passengers took the excursion that flew to a research station on the continent. The ones I talked to said it was wonderful and they didn’t regret spending the money, but it was too rich for my blood.
The wildlife cruise on the Beagle Channel in Ushuaia was nice. I recommend going to the museums on your own. The maritime/prison museum is huge and very detailed, with everything translated into English, so allow sufficient time.
In Punta Arenas, be sure to go to the cemetery and the Borgatello Salesian museum if you can.
The tours to the estancias in Montevideo and Buenos Aires were very good and not so repetitive that you couldn’t do both. There are a lot of flies at the one in Montevideo, however, if you have a thing about bugs.
Disembarkation was easy. Passengers with late flights out of Buenos Aires were taken to a hotel to wait for buses to the airport. When we arrived at the hotel after our trip to the estancia, the room was hot and crowded, with not enough seats, but hotel personnel turned up the AC and brought in more chairs when someone asked them to.