My sweetie came home one day and suggested a cruise to Antarctica. I had never cruised before. But Antarctica as a destination: Shackleton and "March of the Penguins" suddenly came to mind. How could I object?
The weather was particularly bad at the time in most of the Northern United States. Flights were delayed and luggage was lost. Taking into account pre boarding and waiting between flights, our commute to Rio took 25 hours. Upon arrival on the Amsterdam, all I could think was that I needed a bed. Desperately. If you've never cruised before, the size of the room will take you by surprise. This is where I'd spend the next three weeks! in retrospect, the room was not that bad and I became quite comfortable in it. Rio in the rain and yours truly somewhat jet lagged. Skipped Rio on the first day, got acquainted with the ship. Good thing to remember, divide your clothes between suitcases. A gentleman we met packed his and hers suitcases; his didn't quite make it to Rio, so the poor chap was wearing t-shirts until his luggage met him in Buenos Aires, on the next port.
Two sea days to Buenos Aires. Breakfast in the LaFontaine, followed by 2 hours with my book. There was a lecture at 10 am. I was getting comfortable in my home away from home. Not knowing what to expect, I opted for open seating dinning. I now prefer fixed, but all that is a matter of preference. A cruise will allow one to do as much or as little as one desires. Some people love everything, others find fault with everything. It is not unusual to read contradictory reviews from the same cruise.
I was unprepared for Buenos Aires, but was impressed with their Fine Arts Museum. I felt quite at home in Montevideo and was sad to leave the city. Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands was a tender destination. This is a different world. Imagine a rock in the middle of nowhere, where 18 years ago a war was waged between the UK and Argentina. The place looks British. Cars drive on the wrong side of the road, British currency is used, there are red telephone booths. Best way to describe it: Victoria, BC meets Newfoundland. Several options to see penguins.
Two days later, we lost satellite transmission and woke up by Shackleton's famous Elephant Island. No TV. From here onward, everything in sight was picture worthy. Only 100 people at the time can disembark on the continent. Due to the size of our ship, no landings were made. Only much smaller and much more expensive Exploration ships have that privilege. They are usually not as smug when they have to cross the Drake Passage.
Antarctica has some strict conservation rules. Everything entering must exit, nothing is to remain. No cigarette butts thrown overboard, no littering of any kind. The Amsterdam ensured shift rotation on Palmer Station. New and old members were exchanged on the ship, and we were privileged to a lecture on the Queen's Lounge. Best way to describe Antarctica: powerful, bold, beautiful and desolate. Even with 1300 other passengers on board the experience is not lessened.
Crossing the Drake to reach Ushuaia, we rounded Cape Horn on a rainy day. It was windy and grey, but the passage was mild. It isn't always the case. After Ushuaia, we explored the beautiful Chilean Fjords, some Glaciers. All impressive in their own right, but everything pales after Antarctica and this beautiful country is no exception. I skipped Punta Arenas. This destination is mostly used as a launching pad to other destinations, i.e. excursions.
By Puerto Montt, Antarctica was but a sweet memory captured in 2 rolls of Fuji NPS 160. Valparaiso was the end of the line. We took an excursion to Concha y Toro winery which included an incredible lunch and the biggest barbecue any of us have ever seen. A visit to the top of Santiago, the artists district and a 19th century church, followed by a drive to the airport. Highly recommended.
The Amsterdam is 780 feet long. Not a big ship by modern standards, but bigger than anything else we encountered. I had filet mignon in the Pinnacle Grill with a Pommard. Well worth the extra $20 per person. All my meals in the dinning room were outstanding. Several times not fancying the day's menu, I'd opt for a New York steak. There are three extra menu options in case the day's menu doesn't speak to you.
There was a different movie every day. We enjoyed the comedians and the piano trio at dinner. The room was comfortable. I slept with the curtains open and spent most of my time in the room gazing out the window. It was the most relaxing vacation I've ever had. New to cruising? Pick your destination, do your research, put your feet up and enjoy the ride.