We met friends in Miami and flew LAN overnight to Santiago. Some confusion at the gate, but after boarding it was really a nice flight and great service from LAN. Immigration and customs were no problem. Had time in Santiago for a very much needed visit to a coffee shop for coffee/tea and snacks. Our cruise line bus to Valpo was right on time and the 1 1/2 hour ride was itself an interesting excursion, having never done this route before.
Boarding in Valpo was the first glitch. No D/D+ check in lines were visible. Everyone in a big crowd. Walking to a restroom I spotted a nearly empty line, kinda hidden, with a red carpet and flowers, but no signage. Ran back, grabbed our friends and got in this line. It was D/D+, but not advertised. We were very soon at the check in and something seemed wrong, as the clerk was confused and asking many questions behind the counter to a supervisor.
"Something wrong?", we asked.
"Yes, we have no sea passes for you. I will have to give you a handwritten boarding pass and when you board take it to guest relations and they will give you a sea pass."
As everyone left the terminal with their sea passes in hand, we were carrying a little handwritten boarding pass on a 3x5 piece of cardboard.
In Valpo there is a shuttle bus that takes you from the terminal to the ship. It was about a two mile ride around the dock area to Mariner. We were there for two days and had to ride the shuttle a few times for excursions, etc.
Arriving pier side at Mariner we joined the line to board. Everyone's sea pass was "ding, ding, ding . . ." as we boarded, except us. As I gave the RCL person our little card board pass he, of course, was puzzled and called for a supervisor. A phone call to the terminal soon got us aboard and up to Guest Relations.
We were now ready to sail to the "End of the World"!
Mariner around the Horn, Part 2
Well, not quite ready to sail. We were to spend two days in Valparaiso, leaving at 5p.m. on Wednesday 2/2.
After finally boarding on Tuesday, we grabbed lunch in the WJ, went to our cabin, JS 9628, which is our favorite Voyager class cabin. It's on the port side on the hump, right near the CL. Very convenient. Our cabin attendant, Carlos Brown, was exceptional. He couldn't do enough to help us throughout the whole 14 day adventure. He informed us that our luggage could be several hours away. We decided to meet our friends and take a walk into town.
Mariner was docked just a short walk from the entrance to the pier from the town. As we walked down the pier, there was a woman advertising a free ride to "the shopping district", than a free ride back. Several people were taking the offer, we joined them. We rode in a van for about 3 or 4 miles before we reached a retail area and the store that she worked for. It was a gift/clothing/souvenir shop. As the others walked inside, I walked a block or two in each direction and saw no signs of anymore shopping. Several businesses and stores, but nothing a tourist would enjoy. We bought a few trinkets there and than asked to be transported back to the pier. No problem.
After being dropped off at the pier we walked about the area for an hour or so, just looking around. There is a small park nearby, a Western Union that all the crew uses for phone calls, money changing, sodas and chips, etc. We used the restrooms.
We decided we needed to take a break and look for the Valpo "Irish Pub", which was recommended by someone on board and was said to be close by. We stopped at a Chilean Tourist office nearby and I, in my broken Espanol, asked "where is the Irish Pub?" He replied, "BRB", and disappeared, returning in a few minutes with a huge pile of tourist posters! He insisted I take them. Talk about something lost in the translation! They were extremely nice posters, but they couldn't help us find the pub. We eventually distributed the posters to the Mariner staff and crew and they all said they would hang them in their cabins.
By this time, the heat, the redeye flight, the time change, all were catching up to us. Even though the LAN flight was very nice, none of us got much sleep. And we were up almost 36 straight hours. It was time to go back to the ship and take a break.
Arriving back to 9628, we found our luggage had arrived and also a bottle of champagne from C&A. We opened the champagne and enjoyed it while unpacking. That's the only way to unpack.
Dinner the first night was, of course, casual. We had a table for four and enjoyed our first dinner on Mariner with our good friends from Miami. Drinks in the CL before dinner, as usual, and a couple after dinner bevvies. It's been two long days travelling (Mon.-Tues.) and we were ready for an early bedtime.
Tuesday we had the ship's excursion, "Valpo, Vina del Mar and the Beaches". It was four hours and very well done. City tour, shopping stops, photo ops, and a ride outside of town to Vina del Mar. VdM is the local seaside resort with stunning beaches, resorts and related attractions. Extremely nice. On the way back we stopped at a resort hotel for snacks and bevvies, all included in the tour.
We headed for the CL prior to dinner. The concierge was Diego. What an excellent host he was and a terrific help when you needed his assistance. What a pleasure to see him most evenings. Our dinner was late, at 8:30. It again was casual tonight and our servers were as great as they were the first evening. They maintained the same level of service throughout the entire cruise and we tipped them appropriately. They were really an excellent team.
We never went to any of the nightly shows. Usually Bolero's, Viking Crown and/or Casino after dinner. We seldom stayed up late. We got up early and kept busy all day, and after a late dinner and some small after dinner recreation, it was usually lights out by midnight.
Tomorrow is Day 3, and a day at sea. The Cruise Critic/RCL Meet and Mingle is at 10:30 a.m., and a very special dinner tonight.
DAY 3, At Sea
The M&M was in the Viking Crown lounge and hosted by Leo (cruise director) and Rod (activities director). It drew a very nice crowd, maybe 100 or so. There was an excellent spread of appetizers and N/A bevvies. Leo and Rod were entertaining and informative and gave away the usual prizes. We managed to meet some new faces to tie in with their names here on CC. That was fun.
Leo and Rod also hosted the daily "Morning Show" on the on board RCCL TV. They talked
about the day's activities, etc., and were a hoot with their added comedy. We watched
it every morning with our tea, except for one morning. That show never made the air
because the guys had too much fun the night before. Good for them!
We had to sneak out of the M&M a few minutes early because of an appointment with the LA, Sandra. We already had the Voyager TA booked for October, but wanted to add the 8 day from Venice to make a B2B on Voyager. While at it, we added a four day pre-cruise tour in the Italian Alps at Stresa. Sandra was very efficient and a pleasure to work with. We would sea her a few more times during the cruise.
Dinner was special tonight. We were invited to dinner at the Captain's Table. Mariner's Captain is Per Kristoffersen and we met him for the first time on Mariner last year when she sailed from San Pedro. We spoke with him several times back then, and it was great fun to sea him again. He has his lovely family, wife and two children, on board until they reach Europe after the TA. Needless to say, the dinner event was outstanding.
DAY 4, Chilean Fjords
Today we soaked in the splendor of the Chilean fjords. What wonderful views, kinda like an Alaskan cruise, but at the other end of the world. Water was very smooth and temp in the low 50's.
We attempted to use the computers on board today. Neither one of our sea passes worked. A message said, "No account info available. Go to Guest Relations". Arriving at GR, with both cards, I was told, "You've failed to put a credit card on file".
"Excuse me? We've been charging on board four days now, and you tell me you don't have our card?"
Somehow, I learned later, that Mariner accounting deleted a huge amount of credit cards from their system, causing tremendous confusion. We would have felt better if they would have come clean originally, instead of trying to shift the blame. There were other IT issues on board, but not worth mentioning here.
Other than the IT issue, the Chilean fjords made for an outstanding Day 4!
DAY 5, Strait of Magellan
Captain Per warned us last night of high seas and winds when we sail the Magellan Strait. Seas reached 30 feet high and winds approached 70mph! The outside decks were closed for a few hours. Mariner rocked and rolled a bit, but really nothing to worry about. It was actually a lot of fun. Everyone who signed up for this trip expected it. Never saw anyone sea sick. Not that there probably were a few, just never saw them. It is difficult how this passage was made in the old wooden sailing ships of years ago. And, here we are, near the end of the world with the sun setting tonight at 9:42p.m.
Tomorrow, we tender in to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world!
We've reached the End of the World!
Day 6, Super Bowl Sunday, Ushuaia, Argentina, "The End of the World". Ushuaia makes the claim that it is the southernmost city in the world. More on this later, when we stop at the challenging jurisdiction in Chile.
We have to tender in to town because Mariner is too big to dock there. The Ushuaia docks are big enough to handle the daily flow of shipping there, Mariner is just the odd exception.
Today we are on an excursion to "Penguin Island", about an hour's sail down the Beagle Channel in to Chile. The enclosed catamaran picked us up right at Mariner's gangway, no need for us to tender in to town. The tour guide made that hour or so pass quickly as we stopped for many photo opps on the way for sea wolves at "Sea Wolves Island" and the large colony of cormorants at "Bird Island".
Finally, we reached the penguins after many twists and turns thru the Argentine/Chilean waters. There had to be 1000's of them in view. Our boat got right up next to the beach where they were all congregating and taking turns diving into the sea. Truly amazing. The government allows only one load of tourists to set foot on the island daily, and you have to book that trip way far out. That excursion involves a bus ride from Ushuaia and a ride in a small boat to the island.
We were very satisfied with our catamaran adventure. They served, at a price, snacks and drinks, and a collection of souvenirs, hats, shirts and postcards, etc. for sale. We bought and sent several postcards. The original stamp on the cards was some kind of DHL/Argentina postage. The cards arrived yesterday! That stamp was partially covered with some type of "Mexico" stamp imprint. Who knows what kind of trip those postcards had?
Arriving back in Ushuaia, we were dropped off at the pier in town. Shopped a bit, had a very nice Argentine pizza and some bevvies. Now it was time to head back to Mariner via the tenders. Arriving at the pier, the tender line stretched way, way down the street. It took about an hour and a half in line before boarding a tender, and then another 15 minutes idling next to Mariner before boarding. What an experience that was. Capt. Per later later said he was sorry for the "challenge encountered on the tenders". We rarely complain on the ships comment cards, but between this and the IT problems, we ran out of space to write.
An hour or so after sailaway, Mariner had to stop in the channel at Port Williams, Chile, for customs to board. Port Williams also claims to be the southernmost city in the world. Chile and Argentina have been challenging each other for this honor for years. A conference many years ago between the two countries gave the title to Port Williams and that was to settle the dispute. However, Ushuaia ignored the whole thing and still claims to be the southern most city in the world because they say a "city most have a population of 5000 or more". Port Williams has 2500 residents. Doesn't matter to us, as we've been to both!
We took many pictures on Mariner, but for whatever reason, can't seem to post them here. But can e-mail them. pumbaamd AT MSN dot com.
DAY 7, The Legendary Cape Horn
Quoting from Mariner's Cruise Compass, "If standing between two continents and two oceans was on your list of lifetime must-do adventures, you're about to do it today".
We were where the Pacific meets the Atlantic, at the far southern reach of the Andes and the next stop south, if we were headed that way, would be Antarctica.
The weather wasn't bad, 49 degrees and mostly cloudy, light winds and minimal waves. Much smoother weather than we had sailing thru the strait of Magellan. There is a very small weather/radio station on the island at Cape Horn. Captain Per had Mariner circle the island so we could sea it all. Not a whole lot to view, just a small, rocky island. Saw very little wildlife. No other vessels. It's a lonely place. But the history of this place and all that has happened here, combined with just where you are, is awesome enough. It took maybe an hour and 1/2 or so to circle the island. We then set course for Montevideo, Uruguay.
There were several lectures on board. They dealt with "Darwin and South America", "Ushuaia, Land of Rugged Beauty and Political Darkness", "Chilean Fjords, History and Economic Value", and many more about local cultures and history. This cruise was not just another fun cruise, but extremely educational as well.
Sunset tonight 9:11p.m.
DAYS 8, 9, 10, At Sea
Mariner had plenty going on to keep us busy thru three days at sea. They showed four movies each day. Morning, afternoon, evening and later at night. Public ice skating was available several times a day. Lectures, cooking demonstrations, classes, games, casino tournaments, dancing and music, and of course the usual nightly entertainment. The activites calendar was extensive and we were never bored. Kudos to activities director Rod and his fine staff. Leisurely dining also helped to fill the day. We mostly had breakfast and lunch in the MDR with a relaxing dining atmosphere and no hustle and bustle as in the WJ.
Next stop, Montevideo.
DAYS 10 and 11, Montevideo, Uruguay
We would be in Montevideo for two days. We had two excursions here. The first one was the "Juanico Winery & Tasting". We bussed to a beautiful, 500 acre winery about 20 miles outside of town. Gorgeous, well-maintained vineyards as far as we could see.
It appeared that there was a small rose bush planted about every other row of grape vines. Why? The roses are like the 'canary in the coal mine'. If a disease develops, the roses will get sick long before the grape vines and there will be time to treat the vines. Pretty clever.
We had an excellent tour guide explaining the wine making process from planting the crop to bottling the wine, followed by an outstanding tasting experience with tasty local breads, meats and cheeses. We purchased two bottles of their white wine for having on the ship later. And RCCL allowed us to bring it on board!
Our other tour was the next day. It was "Montevideo Highlights" and was a fun city tour. In 3 1/2 hours we saw the many highlights: beaches, parks, government buildings, monuments and more of this beautiful capital city of Uruguay.
Sunsets are getting more reasonable now. Tonight, 8:42p.m.
Days 13 and 14, At Sea
We really enjoyed our Mariner days at sea. In addition to our previous sea day reports, we did a few other activities.
All of us have seen the vast array of art on RCCL ships. Mariner has some of the best. We took walks around most of the stateroom decks on our sea days (especially in bad weather) and enjoyed the different displays. On our deck 9 on Mariner there was 'motor vehicle' art. Race cars, old classic cars, odd and unusual models, all in paintings, photos or actual scale models. Up on deck 10, there were 'mechanical' type offerings. A few that you could actually turn a crank and a little man or a contraption of some kind would move or rotate. Kind of like the old penny machines in arcades on the boardwalk. Other decks were just as interesting and entertaining. And, we certainly got some needed exercise viewing all this art!
Friends of ours were staying in the Royal Suite on deck 10. We spent time up there with them on several sea days. Their huge balcony was the best spot on board for the fjords and the Magellan straits passage.
On one of these last two days, one person per family had to report to the dining room to pick up our passports. Mariner did the best they could to handle this, but at times it got a bit heated as some grew aggravated waiting in long lines. We waited until later in the day when the lines gradually became much shorter.
Also on our last sea day we had the customary bridge tour and galley tour, and, of course, the Captain's talk in the theatre. One guest actually cornered Capt. Per after his talk and proceeded to tell him several things he was doing wrong. There's one in every crowd!
Mariner seemed a bit slow in giving out needed disembarking/end of cruise documents. Luggage tags, tip envelopes and coupons, customs info, airport transfer info, etc., all seemed to come at the last minute.
Also coming the last day was our Mariner "Around the Horn" certificate. A nice touch for our Mariner collection. We also received a Mariner crystal block from C&A for another RCCL milestone. That gives us an extra Mariner block. Anyone care to make a trade for any extra blocks you may have?
And of course on the last day, the dreaded packing.
Tomorrow, disembarkation and goodbye to Mariner.
Mariner around Cape Horn, final episode
We awoke very early on the last morning. We were to meet at 7a.m. in Studio B to meet our group for the 8 hour excursion to the aiport in Sao Paulo. We had some provisions in our cabin for breakfast. We wanted to save some time and not go to breakfast and munch while getting ready. Cereal and milk, rolls and butter, fruits and juices made for an adequate in-cabin morning meal.
We met our friends outside Studio B at 6:45. We arrived a bit early so as not be stuck in any kind of long lines. Someone from RCCL arrived at 7:10 or so to let us in and receive the customary sticky number for your shirt. We had #1. The numbers ran up to #12 for later arrivals. Seemed to be about 40 people for each #'d group. Maybe another 15 minutes went by before someone delivered coffee and pastries. Ten minutes later they came back with the coffee cups.
After close to an hour waiting, instead of first announcing only #1, they called for "Groups 1, 2 and 3, go to the gangway." About 120 people made a mad dash for the stairs and elevators. We thought announcing #1, wait two minutes announce #2, wait, etc., would have made for a more orderly process. We think they just wanted to get rid of us ASAP.
The Brazilian port of Santos operated similar to Valpo. The ship docks a few miles away from the terminal and you are bussed. After being dropped off at the terminal, we were in a large room with hundreds of bags. They were placed according to #'s and colors, as usual, but there were limited aisles and too many people for the size of the room. Not at all like RCCL terminals in Miami or Port Everglades for example. It was very chaotic. Older guests and the handicapped were having a lot of difficulty. We helped some of those folks when we could.
After eventually finding all our bags, we walked out the front door to a line of waiting busses. There were no custom or immigration people to be seen. After a short wait on board our bus, we were off to Sao Paulo on our last day of South American adventures. We left the port area, drove thru Santos leaving the coastal area and headed for the crossing of the Serra do Mar mountain pass. What a spectacular sight! Colors of green, red, white and pink everywhere on the mountainsides. Small waterfalls here and there. The hassles of the previous couple hours were soon forgotten as we gazed out the bus windows.
Our tour guide, Eduardo, was outstanding. We booked this tour after doing research in to other ways to get to the airport. Didn't really relish the idea of 8 hours on a tour bus but options were limited. Eduardo kept us interested and entertained the whole day. He has spent a lot of time in the U.S. and knew what we wanted to see and do.
We toured Sao Paulo until noon time, then stopped at a buffet style lunch restaurant right in downtown. The lunch was very good with a large array of foods available. The price was included in the tour. More touring continued after lunch. It was the usual deal, monuments, government buildings, etc. Before heading for the airport, we stopped at a very large shopping mall to stretch our legs and have a snack and beverage. Many places in this mall would not take our credit card or $US. We eventually found one that would take our CC, "McDonalds"!!! Not knowing any Portuguese, we tried to order a diet coke and an ice water. At this time cold drinks would be just fine. We pointed at pics on a menu of a diet coke and an ice water. When we got the McDonalds bag, we had a diet coke, a cold bottle of water, a double cheeseburger and fries! It was easier to accept the whole package than to try to renegotiate the whole deal, and we knew the food would not go to waste. The fries were gone before we re-boarded the bus, and the burger on the bus.
We reached the airport around 5p.m. Our flight did not leave until 11:30. And we could not check in or check bags until 7:30. So, we grabbed a luggage cart, piled our bags on board and headed for the nearest watering hole. We found one very quickly and spent time there with bevvies and some more snacks, waiting for check in time. Heading to the American Airline check in counters we saw a huge line. Probably waited in that line 45 minutes to check in. International flying is so much fun.
BACK IN THE USA:
The flight to MIA was OK. Immigration and baggage pick up was less than desirable. More hassle. They blamed it on construction (?). We had to go thru TSA again, to board our flight to DCA. And now it's still only 5:30a.m.!
Our AA flight to Washington National was called back to the gate twice for mechanical problems. They transferred us to another flight, leaving an hour later. We used up most of that hour on the first plane with the tarmac tour we had. We soon boarded the next flight and were in the air shortly. Arrival at DCA was fine and our bags were among the first to come out on the belt. Our neighbor/driver was waiting outside and off we went.
Would we do it again? Yes, we would. The glitches here and there are just a part of the whole deal. And when you travel for 16 days, you see a a lot more of them, but you also during that time see places, people and things that you will never see again.
That's why our next long trip will take us to the Italian Alps, Venice-Barcelona on Voyager and then B2B Barcelona-NOLA.
Thanks for reading,
Rick and Deirdra