My husband and I booked this trip last year when we head about the new rules about big ships heading to Antarctica. Neither of us are overly adventurous, so the thought of taking a Zodiac to do landings didn't appeal to us. This cruise looked perfect for what we wanted, and it turned out better than we could have ever imagined!
We took the most "direct" flight available and flew Toronto-Santiago-BA with Air Canada. Santiago is a quick stop where everyone deplanes. Pretty straight forward. Upgraded to Executive First and had a great sleep in an (almost) bed. Arrived in Buenos Aires the afternoon of Saturday the 29th at approximately 5pm. The airport in Buenos Aires was a little chaotic but straight forward and easy to navigate. We paid $150US for an entry visa for the two of us.
We stayed at HOJO Recoleta Saturday night and arranged to see a Tango Show, Querandi. The show was alright, there was more singing and instrumental numbers than I expected but the Tango dancing was amazing. The meal was the worst I had in the entire two weeks, not worth the $100USpp. Sunday morning before embarkation we tour a tour with Pedro Werberg. We visited an almost empty Recoleta Cemetery which was amazing, and then spent some time in Caminito and shopping.
Upon arrival at the port we checked our luggage and got a number from the Celebrity counter. Sort of like at the deli counter. We waited about an hour for our number to be called and boarded the ship. The port was clean, air conditioned, and had snacks and washrooms so we were not uncomfortable at any time while we waited. We proceeded through the check-in process. Celebrity collected our passports and we did not see these again for about a week.
The ship is nice, clean, and has nice public areas. Our 2A Cat. Balcony stateroom was fine, though the washroom is looking a little rundown with the shower being the worst area. The white grout was streaked with black stains and the "chrome" finish on the shower head was peeling off. I am sure they will get to this when the ship is in dry dock, and by no means did this impact on our overall cruise experience!
Celebrity had some terrific guest speakers and we attended many of the talks. Very informative series that enriched the whole experience for us.
We decided to purchase the non-alcoholic drink packages and in the end this turned out to be good value for us. I hope that Celebrity continues to offer this.
The first three nights we visited the MDR. We were very disappointed with the service from the Waiter and Assistant Waiter. My husband and I were at a table for two, and our Waiter had two other large tables to serve. It seemed he was not very interested in our little table and spent more of his time with the large tables. On the third night we waited nearly 30min for bread and our menus and that was the last time we ate in the MDR. The rest of the meals were spread across the Buffet, AquaSpa Cafe, Room Service, and USS United States. All were fabulous with delicious food and great service.
Falkland Islands was our first port. We were so happy to make it into this port and were blessed with great weather throughout the trip. We did the ship's tour "Ride to the Rockhoppers". We were on the first tender boat out and started the tour ahead of schedule. The trip to the Rockhopper colony is a bumpy one to say the least. You get tossed around the 4X4 pretty good, and I would not recommend this for people with back problems. When we arrived about and hour+ later, it was SO worth the drive. The Rockhoppers were amazing to watch, and it was such an intimate experience as there were only 12ppl on the tour. We were definitely outnumbered by at least 15:1! After the tour, we grabbed a quick bite to eat and explored the town. LOTS of penguin themed merchandise for sure. It started to rain a little so we decided to head back to the ship. We were very pleased with this port. Although it was busy (3 ships visiting the Falkland that day), everyone in town was friendly and warm.
Heading to Antarctica via the dreaded Drake Passage was lovely. The seas were pretty calm and it was nice and sunny. I remember doing my walk around the track on Deck 11 and thinking that we were pretty lucky with the weather as I had heard some scary tales of 60 foot waves and a lot of motion-sickness bags.
We arrived in Antarctica on Friday the 4th of February. It was an overcast day but stayed dry for us. The approach to Elephant Island was exciting, most people were outside admiring the approaching scenery. We alternated between our balcony and upper decks when we wanted a panoramic view. Dozens (if not hundreds) of Chinstrap Penguins could be seen jumping in and out of the water all around the ship, it was amazing. This kept up for the whole morning near Elephant Island and we saw them again as we sailed away from Antarctica the next day. Whales would swim right up to the ship as well, it was beautiful. The scenery was like nothing I have ever seen before, and we were provided with a comprehensive though not intrusive explanation over the PA system throughout the morning. This tied in nicely with what I had read about Sir Shackleton and his men. It was cold, but not the same kind of cold we experience in Canada. I think the temperatures hovered around the freezing mark but with the wind it certainly felt colder.
Saturday morning I awoke to an amazing sunrise as we headed into the Gerlache Straight towards Paradise Bay. The skies were a brilliant shade of blue and I spent most of the day outside taking pictures. The amount of wildlife visible at this point in the cruise was far less than near Elephant Island, but we were still lucky enough to see some sea lions and seals, as well as some Adelie Penguins on Antarctica mainland. Paradise Bay was beautiful and I cannot do it justice to try to describe it in words. I looked out at the beautiful scene before me and wondered if it was even real. It was breathtaking!
Cruising out of Antarctica was a little more interesting than cruising into Antarctica. We entered an area of loose pack ice so the ship came to a grinding halt and we proceeded verrrrry slooooowly. It was a beautiful sight but also reminded me who is in charge, and it's not the ship that's for sure. The Captain got through this with ease, however, and we were on our way. Part way through the Drake Passage on our way back to South America a strong wind picked up suddenly. The Captain announced that he had been "surprised" by some unexpected 80knot winds (about 150km/h I think). Again the Captain altered our course a little and got us through some bad weather.
Ushuaia was a nice town. We did the ships "Beagle Channel by Catamaran" tour. We arrived at 7am instead of the scheduled 10am, so we had some extra time in port however more shops didn't open until at least 9am. We had a delightful hot chocolate and looked around a little before meeting our tour. The Beagle Channel was very scenic and Sea Wolves Island is not to be missed. We visited the "Museum at the End of the World" on our own in the afternoon, it was small but interesting.
In Puerto Madryn we took another ship's tour, "Punta Tombo by Van". For an extra $20 the van option was worth it for us. The ride took about 2hrs with the last 20min being gravel roads. I cannot overstate how many penguins are at Punta Tombo, they are EVERYWHERE and they are not afraid of people. It was very warm and sunny in Punta Tombo and we got some great views of the Magellenic Penguins.
We decided to visit an Estancia in Montevideo, and did this via the "Day in the Countryside" tour offered by Celebrity. It was a full day tour and it was very fun. The Ranch we visited, La Rabida, is staffed by the family that lives there. They cook, entertain, and there is even a small handicraft stall there. We had a fabulous BBQ lunch and there was a show with music and dancing while we ate. This was a very nice change of pace from all of the wildlife and scenery we had been viewing. After lunch there were various activities life horseback riding and cow milking.
Disembarkation went very smooth and we were off the ship at about 730am. We had set to meet our pre-cruise guide Pedro Werberg at the port at 9am. There was a miscommunication and we didn't actually manage to track him down until 10am. We were a little frustrated at this point as we had sent a confirmation email agreeing to meet where he dropped us off, but instead he waited at the exit gate. If you are planning a private tour, I STRONGLY recommend you know where to meet as the port was very busy. Once we finally met up, we spent a nice afternoon in Tigre (just outside of BA) shopping a lovely market and having lunch.
The airport was chaotic and there were verrrry long lines to check in with all airlines. Once through the check-in process, there were more verrrrry long lines to get through customs. The departures area is small with limited shopping and dining, so don't expect to do much shopping in there it is not like the large airports back home. Again we flew with Air Canada with a stop in Santiago en route to Toronto.
Overall, a FANTASTIC trip. Celebrity was excellent as were most of the staff and crew. We were often ahead of schedule with better than anticipated weather. We don't normally book ship's excursions but did for this cruise and all of our expectations were exceeded tremendously. Although I understand why the large ships cannot continue to take this trip to Antarctica, it is a shame that many people will miss out on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.