My husband and I booked this cruise with a friend over a year ago when we heard that large cruise ships to Antarctica would be banned as of June 2011. Given the expense of the smaller ships, $10,000 to $30,000, we knew we had to go now if at all. All three of us had also traveled extensively and visited 6 continents so far. Antarctica would be the completion of all 7 continents even though you do not get to stand on land on this cruise.
We left from JFK on TAM on January 26th during a snow storm and learned New York got 19 inches that night. We had a layover in Sao Paulo before arriving in Buenos Aires. We took a taxi to our hotel which cost $38. We stayed at the Howard Johnson's Hotel Boutique Recoleta. Excellent hotel in an nice safe area and within walking distance of many area sites. Hotel staff were very friendly and helpful. Our room was very large, comparable to American size hotel room. very tastefully decorated.
Buenos Aires is a city to experience vs. one to tour. Walking around the different neighborhoods lets you experience the life of the city. We did go to Ricoleta Cemetery to see Evita's tomb. Surprised it is not more prominent or larger. In hindsight, we would have asked locals what their impression was of Evita. We did go to see the Eva Peron Museum which was actually very interesting. We were amazed by the number of Italian restaurants and laughed at how much pizza we ended up eating.
We took a taxi to the port and arrived at 11:30am. At the port you drop of your luggage and for the first time in 6 cruises the people working there basically demanded that you put tip money in a box. It was very uncomfortable as you are handed over your luggage and basically it felt like if you didn't put a tip in the box something might happen to your luggage. We then proceeded to check in which went smoothly and quickly. We were given a number to wait for a bus to the ship but only waited about 3 minutes. The bus ride to the ship is about 5 to 8 minutes.
We boarded the Infinity and were greeted with a welcome glass of champagne, which was a nice touch. Right away we were impressed by how friendly the staff were. This is one cruise where we can't remember a time that a staff member didn't greet us with a smile and a hello sir.
We went to the Oceanview Cafe for a light snack until our cabin was ready. Our cabin was an oceanview on deck 3. We had heard that the Infinity is due for an overhaul in November so were expecting dated dEcor. We were actually surprised and found the dEcor fine so we look forward to the changes coming to the Infinity. We found the bathroom a plus as it had a shower along one wall with a curtain vs. the enclosed circular showers that make you feel like you are in a tube on most ships. The only negative we found about the cabin was the lack of storage space. Having sailed numerous times on Royal Caribbean we have gotten used to all the amazing ways they find to create storage space.
The ship itself is very well designed and easy to navigate. Very nice public areas. Very nice casino although it was nicer to our friend than to us.
We gave up on eating in the Main Dining room several cruises ago. We just found it more convenient to eat in the Buffet dining room after several sailing on Royal Caribbean. We ate breakfast and lunch most days at the Aqua-Spa Cafe which serves a lighter fare. We found this had a good selection and the staff were very friendly. Dinner we ate the OceanView Cafe. We were not impressed with choices here. Basically you had a choice of pasta, sushi, stirfry, & the meat station with a carved meat changed every night. Otherwise it was chicken, steak, fish, pork every single night as a choice. Would was more interesting was that they made the meat basically the same way every single night. On a 14 night cruise you would think you could come up with different ways to prepare chicken. The side dishes were exactly the same every single night also. We ended up ordering room service just to get a better selection.
Port Stanely: We did not take a tour in this port. We walked around this little town and visited some shops. Not a lot to do in this port so you may want to take a excursion.
We then started to head toward Antarctica via the dreaded Drake Passage. We had read the reviews of last years cruise and were concerned about what to expect. Somehow we luck as we had smooth sailing through this area of rough seas.
We cruised by Elephant Island next and the scenery was unbelievable. It is utterly breathtaking to see the complexity of nature. Throughout the day we saw penguins jumping in and out of the water. There were numerous sightings of whales also. You would hear of a whale sighting over the PA system and see everyone run to one side of the ship. It was cold with the wind but not as cold as we thought it would be.
We awoke February 5th to a find the ship begging to cruise the Gerlache Straight as we headed towards Paradise Bay and the Antarctica mainland. We had beautiful weather with picture perfect blue skies and the seas were as smooth as a bathtub. As we got closer to Paradise Bay we were just spellbound with the scene displayed before us. Never before had we seen nature at such a majestic state. You are in pure awe at what your eyes are witnessing. Before you are one glacier after another each winding their way down to the sea where they end as mighty cliffs. We witnessed and avalanche and heard the sound of a loud boom first before this cloud of massive snow and ice cascaded down a mountain. Antarctica is a place we will never forget.
In Ushuaia we did the Tierra del Fuego Tour. We took a bus ride to the National Park and visited several lake areas. We also saw the end of the Pan American Highway. Mixed reviews in our group for this tour. After being on ship some didn't see the point in going to see a bunch of lakes. Others liked going to see the end of the Pan American Highway.
In Puerto Madryn we did the Punta Tombo tour opting to pay an extra $20 for the van. This was an amazing tour. We saw hundreds and hundreds of Magellenic Penguins. You walk along a path and they are either side as far as the eyes can see. In some spots they have little highways leading down to the beach where there are masses of them gathered. We only wish Argentina could afford to improve this natural area to protect the penguins from tourists who don't listen and insist on trying to touch them or block there path. A raised high boardwalk throughout the site would solve the problem and still allow people to see the penguins in their natural habitat.
Montevideo was a port we decided to just walk around the town. Most places were closed when we got off the ship but we were probably early. It is an interesting mixed of old architecture and what we would describe as Stalinist design. It is easy to walk and there were police everywhere.
We had no problem with disembarkation. Our luggage was easy to find in the terminal after a short bus ride. We found a taxi right outside the port for $60 US to the airport for 3 persons vs. Celebrity's price of $27 a person for transport on a bus.
We arrived at the airport early but were able to check in soon after arriving so we didn't have to drag our bags around too long. We were in terminal A and I have to say their security is much different than in US. Not a bad airport though.
Our first time on Celebrity and we appreciated the Captains Club recognition from our numerous sailings on Royal Caribbean. The many events they hosted were greatly appreciated.
The guest speakers on Board were excellent and informative. One of the highlights of our cruise besides Antarctica of course was the entertainment group "TOP SHELF"!!! These four young men were simply amazing vocally and professionally. Why Celebrity had them performing in the venue they did we will never understand since they deserve a larger venue and billing? We all thought they were each vocally gifted and probably don't realize themselves how talented they are.
Overall, this was an amazing trip. We would recommend it but unfortunately the cruise lines will no longer be able to go to Antarctica as of June 2011. If you can afford it look in to one of the smaller expedition cruises. Antarctica is a must see for anyone who loves to travel. Celebrity did an amazing job with this cruise no thanks in large part to the amazing weather we had throughout this sailing. The Crew were some of the friendliest we have encountered.