We flew down to Rio 3 days prior to the cruise. We stayed at the Atlantis Copacabana Hotel. It was a great location between Copacabana and Ipanema - we could walk to either beach in 5 minutes. Rio is a beautiful city - don't miss Sugarloaf (Pao de Acucar) and Corcovado - the views from both are amazing. Corcovado was great in the late afternoon because the viewing area is in the shade of the statue by then and the lighting is perfect for looking down at the city and the bay.
Embarkation was a breeze. We took a taxi down to the pier just before noon, and we were on the ship in less than 20 minutes. We were in an inside cabin on the Baja deck between the fore and the midships stairways. It was a great location since it was very quick to get to the buffet or the pool areas. Our room steward, Nancy, was the best I've ever had in 10 cruises.
One thing I like about a more "exotic" itinerary like this is the greater mix of nationalities among the passengers. There were lots of South Americans, as well as Americans, Canadians, Europeans, and others. It's nice to meet and talk to people from all over the world in the relaxed atmosphere of the cruise ship.
I'm quite susceptible to seasickness, so I was a bit concerned about this cruise with its many sea days - including two crossings of the Drake Passage. We were very lucky though, and most days were very smooth including our time down in Antarctica. It was a bit rougher when we crossed the Drake Passage, but even that wasn't as bad as I had expected.
Antarctica was amazing. We lucked out and had very good weather for most of our 4 days down there. It didn't start out that way, however. When we first approached Elephant Island, there were 70-90 knot winds and the snow was coming down horizontally. We couldn't even see the island. It was very cold on deck, but a fitting introduction to Antarctica! After about an hour, it began to clear a little bit and we could start to see Elephant Island through the snow. Then the wind suddenly died right down and the visibility improved even more. In the afternoon, we sailed by the huge Endurance Glacier, on the south coast of Elephant Island. The clouds had lifted by this point and we got our first clear views of the snow-capped mountains. By late afternoon, the sun was out as we sailed past Gibbs Island and three other small islands - a beautiful sight!
The next day we were in Antarctic Sound (iceberg alley). At first it was quite foggy, but then the fog lifted and we could lots of huge icebergs. We could see penguins on some of them. Unfortunately, we had to turn back due to the conditions, so we didn't make it to Esperenza station. In the afternoon, we sailed into Admiralty Bay. The conditions in Antarctica change quickly: at first it was cold and windy, then the wind died right down, the sun came out and it felt quite warm. The water became very calm - perfect for spotting whales and porpoising penguins. We also saw the Artowsky Station and some amazing views of the glaciers on the other side of the bay.
Our third day in Antarctica was my favorite. We reached our southernmost point, just shy of 65 degrees south, and it was also our longest day: sunrise at 2:29 am and sunset at 12:01 am! We sailed along the Gerlache Strait, with amazing mountains and glaciers on both sides. Then we went through the narrow Neumayer Channel. I was surprised at how thick the chunks of ice were that we passed through. We saw several seals on the ice flows, as well as penguins and whales. It was another beautiful calm day, and when the sun began to peak out, it felt downright warm! Later in the afternoon we went into Paradise Harbor - beautiful still water surrounded by mountains and glaciers - stunning!
On our fourth day, our last stop in Antarctica was Deception Island. There was quite a bit of fog and low cloud, so the island itself was partly obscured. However, the water was once again very calm - perfect for watching the penguins porpoising in the water - which is one of the main reasons to visit Deception Island. We'd seen the penguins elsewhere in Antarctica, but never so many so close as at Deception Island - there were hundreds of them all around the boat.
Antarctica really was an amazing experience - it was the best cruise I've been on. Hopefully, they will sort out the fuel issue so that the big ships can return to Antarctica at some point in the future.
The other ports on this cruise included the Falkland Islands, Ushuaia, Punta Arenas, Puerto Madryn, Montevideo, and ending in Buenos Aires. I'd been to all but Montevideo before on a previous South America cruise, but they were all very enjoyable to visit again.
In the Falklands, we went to see the penguins at Gypsy cove. They had a shuttle bus, but we walked. It takes about an hour and twenty minutes each way, and there is a shortcut across the bog near the end of the harbor (where the Lady Elisabeth wreck is). The walk is great - lots of interesting things to see along the way and it gives you a real feel for the area.
We had a beautiful sunny day in Ushuaia, with great views of the surrounding mountains. The ship left at 4 pm, and we had an amazing evening cruise down the Beagle Channel past the 7 glaciers. The weather was perfect and the incredible views just kept coming - we ate dinner in the buffet so as not to miss a moment of it. Along with Antarctica, it was one of the highlights of the cruise - just perfect!
We stayed in Buenos Aires for 6 days after the cruise. If you have a cruise that begins or ends here, definitely plan to spend some time in this beautiful and amazing city. The delta area around Tigre is a great day trip (you can take the commuter train and commuter boats to get there). There are many vacation homes and small resorts in this area and it's got a great relaxed atmosphere only an hour away from the city. Also, don't miss the helados (gelato/ice cream) - it's even better than Italy! Out stay in Buenos Aries was a great way to end a fabulous cruise.