Thursday 2 December 2010:
On our arrival at Rome airport, Stefano, from Rome Cabs www.romecabs.com had arranged for us to be met at the airport and transferred to our hotel, (price for all 7 of us in large van with luggage was € 70). We stayed at the Marriott Grand Hotel Flora. Due to the fact that we had our elderly parents with us, we had booked their room for the night of the 1st as well, in order to ensure that they could at least get in and rest before official check-in time, as we were arriving early in the morning and did not want them to have to sit around for 5 hours. On arrival at the hotel, our bookings and rooms had all been mixed up, despite numerous confirmations. After sorting things out, we ended up staying in Room 608 which was wonderful, with a separate lounge. The hotel is situated on the Via Venitia and is close to lots of little restaurants etc. and is highly recommended. We had lost luggage problems and the hotel's PRO, Yolande stepped in and assisted us as best she could. (Our luggage saga sadly continued until the end of our first cruise where we were finally reunited with the lost luggage in Rio)
Friday 3 December 2010:
Had pre-arranged tour with Rome Cabs - (our guide was Maurizio who was absolutely wonderful). They had arranged wheelchairs for my parents as they struggle to walk long distances, (cost for 1 wheelchair was
€ 45-00, the other one was free) - they were an extremely professional company, who could not do enough for us. Due to our luggage saga, my husband and I had to miss out on some of the sights, but Stefano (Rome Cabs owner) arranged separate transport and a guide to take us to the airport to sort out the luggage, take us shopping to buy replacement clothing etc., to ensure that it did not impact on the rest of our family's tour. We were taken by Maurizio to the pyramid built for Caius Cestio, the ancient Roman Wall built by Emperor Aureliano, Circus Maximus, (the large ancient stadium for chariot races), Palatine Hill where the villas and the domus of the emperors were built, arch of Constantine, the Coloseum, the Roman Forum, the Piazza Venezia, Vittorio Emanuele Monument, Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel and St.Peter's Basilica, the Pantheon, the famous piazzas and fountains that are famous in Rome, Trevi fountain and the Spanish Steps. The tour price for all 7 of us in air-conditioned van was € 400-00, excluding entrance tickets which we booked on line ahead of time at Stefano's recommendation (Colloseum € 13-50 each, Vatican ticket combined with Sistine chapel € 19 each) but we also booked a Vatican guide for € 150, again at Stefano's recommendation, all very worthwhile. Lunch was at a very reasonable and delightful local restaurant recommended by Maurizio where the kids ate pizza and we enjoyed ragu (the authentic version of spaghetti bolognaise).
Saturday 4 December 2010
Sadly our luggage (which belonged to my elderly father) was still missing so once again we had to change our tour plans and Stefano again looked after us by sending us a separate van and guide to assist us with our final shopping needed due to lack of luggage.
Late Saturday morning Maurizio transferred us to Civitavecchia port to join the Star Princess. This trip from Rome to Civitavecchia port took us approximately 1 ½ hours, (depends on traffic usually) the cost for all 7 of us including luggage was € 200.
When we arrived at the port to check in for our cruise aboard Star Princess, both my mother and I (who have South African passports) were told we did not have our Moroccan visa's and therefore would not be allowed to board the ship, (we knew that we had definitely applied for and received them!) but after my husband took the passports back from the clerks involved, he found them in both passports quite easily! Once we had clarified the visa issue, we proceeded with our check-in and when we were handed our embarkation documents, we noticed for the first time that our cabin (E729) had been reassigned without explanation!
When my husband originally booked this cabin a year before, it was confirmed that our cabins would not be changed due to us paying and booking so far ahead. We had booked these back to back cruises amounting to 36 days total and my husband had chosen this cabin specifically so that we could have a large enough balcony for all 7 of us in the family to be together in the evenings (E729 has a wonderful huge covered balcony fully aft so its also nice and private!)While upset that our cabin had been changed, we were delighted to find that the two cabins we had booked for our children had been upgraded from obstructed view to full balcony. And so it was with mixed feelings that we retired to our incorrect cabin grateful for the kids and disappointed for ourselves!
After numerous calls late into the night, one of the senior pursers, Petra finally called me back to find out what my "problem" was. I explained my situation re our cabin and she said that she could not move us as there were no cabins available. When I explained to her that I could see plenty of available cabins on our original deck, including the one we had booked. She promised to phone me at 8am the next morning with a solution.
Sunday 5 December
Arrived in Florence for the day. Needless to say at 8am Petra did not phone me, luckily I managed to get hold of an incredibly sweet assistant purser, Carrie-Anne who was calm and professional and said that she would find out what was going on with our cabin and let me know. Petra finally phoned me just before 9am (when we were due to leave the ship for a pre-arranged tour) to tell me that they would move us to our original cabin booked, but she could not guarantee that we would be able to stay in this cabin for the duration of our cruises. (I still have not worked out why!)However after contacting our T/A Susan at Cruise Village who then emailed the ship we were able to remain in the same cabin for both cruises as originally booked!
As we were now already late for our pre-booked tour, we told Petra that we would contact the front desk on our return to the ship that afternoon to move to our correct cabin.
On returning to the ship late afternoon, we were at last able to move into our correct cabin, E729, where we finally unpacked and settled in!
Monday 6 December
Arrived in Cannes, France. Had great day touring with Michel of Revelation tours www.revelation-tours.com (pre-booked and recommended), who took us to Monaco where we enjoyed walking around the main shopping centre, but were disappointed to not be allowed into the casino as we were too early (it only opens at 2pm).After Monaco we visited Nice and had a brief look at the old town.Finally we also managed a brief tour of Cannes where we strolled along the La Croisette boulevard and visited the Palais de Festival site of the Cannes film festival where we had a chance to see all the stars handprints on the surrounding pavement and Nice. Tour cost for all 7 of us was € 490
Tuesday 7 December
We arrived in Barcelona, where we had not pre-booked anything, as we were not sure whether our parents would be up to so many day tours in a row. We were incredibly lucky to come across a wonderful guide by the name of Richard Naylor who had an air-conditioned van big enough for all 7 of us. His price was incredibly reasonable (although I cannot recall the amount now) and he was wonderfully attentive to my parents who struggled a bit. He took us to Las Ramblas, the Gaudi Cathedral, Picasso museum and recommended a wonderful Tapas restaurant very close to the museum, where we had a great lunch. When my parents were clearly tired, Richard took them back to the ship at no extra charge, leaving us to do some shopping. He then returned to fetch us. Our youngest son had always wanted to skateboard in Barcelona and he even managed to find a skate park for him to skate at! He looked after us from start to finish, went above all of our expectations, added in extra sights we hadn't thought of and was just overall an incredibly rare find. Unfortunately we have lost a record of what he charged, but recall that it was an incredibly reasonable amount. His contact details for anyone heading that way are + (34) 647806583 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday 8 December
A most welcome day at sea for rest and relaxation. Managed to tour around the ship which is really lovely
Thursday 9 December
Casablanca, Morocco and a great tour with Jamal Jamali from Jamal Tours email@example.com Once again we had found recommendations for him on the internet. It was extremely hot, windy and dusty and quite honestly we couldn't wait to get back to the ship however Ricks Cafe was really worth visiting. Cost for this tour was € 45 per person and aside from Ricks Cafe, we were taken to the regular attractions such as the March Central Souks, Habbous Quarter, Royal Palace and the Hassan Mosque.
Friday 10 December
Agadir, Morocco. The port was disgusting, it was extremely hot, windy, dusty and piles and piles of charcoal were on the dockside blowing directly onto our ships balconies due to the wind. My father was now really struggling with his chest and was taking huge strain. Once again, we had pre-booked a tour with Josie of Erlebnis Tours. We were obliged to pay upfront via paypal in pounds (£ 180). We were met at the port by 2 of their guides and a driver, the seats in the van were falling apart, extremely uncomfortable, no air-conditioning here! We were taken to the souk and to the medina and then to do camel riding. The cost of the camel riding was supposed to be included in the payment we had made however we were "nudged" into paying an extra $ 100 by our guide after only 4 of us actually rode on the camels. One of the guides also continuously took photos of our 20 year old daughter riding a camel (especially when her dress blew up in the wind) and made her feel extremely uncomfortable. We actually cut our tour short by a number of hours to get back to the comfort of the ship, as we were now no longer felt comfortable with these guides. I must complement Josie however as I contacted her on our return and they have agreed to refund us the $100 dollars (which was not the point, but appreciated) and also asked us for a report to enable them to take the necessary disciplinary steps.
I must say that we could not wait to get out of Agadir (and Morocco for that matter) and have no intention of ever willingly returning there.
Saturday 11 - Wednesday 15 December 2010
Although the luggage issue was continuing in the background, we managed to unwind and thoroughly enjoyed these 5 days at sea, which included a hilarious crossing the line ceremony.
Thursday 16 December 2010
We were meant to visit Recife, Brazil however whilst crossing the Atlantic we were informed that due to problems with the emigration authorities we would be rather docking at Salvador,Brazil luckily we had not made plans for Recife so the change in plans did not affect us at all and we ended up having a great time visiting the local market and then the beach which was insanely crowded so we ended up drinking squeezed sugar cane(an acquired taste I would think) and people watching whilst our kids went for a dip in the ocean, interesting and fun.
Friday 17 - Saturday 18 December 2010
2 more relaxing days at sea
Sunday 19 December - Tuesday 21 December 2010
Aside from the luggage saga that boiled over here in Rio De Janeiro, where the ship docked for 3 days,
the tour company that we had pre-booked to look after our family of 7, (including our elderly parents) whilst in Rio were truly amazing. We have travelled on many cruise ships on numerous occasions, but have never come across a more professional, well run, caring and wonderful company, Rio Plus www.rioplus.net / www.rioplustours.com Valeria Radesca (co-owner) was our guide for the 3 days we were there. Valeria looked after us completely from start to finish, took us to all the sights, went out of her way to accommodate the children's interests (which we had not pre-arranged), arranged wheelchairs for my parents (cost for both wheelchairs for 3 days $ 90 total), booked and took us to Porcao restaurant for supper- best seats in the house! (cost approx $ 95 per person including our drinks, an absolute MUST in Rio, wonderful, wonderful experience all round!) Valeria also took us to the Samba show at Plataforma, again best seats (show a bit over-rated in our opinion, cost $ 78 per person but very full and clearly enjoyed by other tourists). Valeria looked after us like a true professional and nothing was too much for her. Total amount we paid Valeria for the 3 days was $ 1 120, ie approx $ 370 per day in an air-conditioned van. She structured wonderful tours for us, which included all the must see sights, (La Boca, Pink palace, Christ Redeemer statue, Sugar Loaf, Tijuca forest), took our kids hang-gliding, took us to Copacabana beach and Ipanema market & beach. Valeria did this in such a way that it was not too much for my parents in that we had plenty of "time out" without rushing. Additionally she ran around to sort out and ensure we finally received my fathers luggage (that had been lost by the airline in Rome on 2 December and finally caught up with us here!) and did not charge extra for any of this, not even her loads of phone calls that she had made on our behalf for the luggage saga! This company truly deserves all the rave reviews and recommendations that they have on the internet
On Tuesday 21 December, we departed for our cruise to Antarctica with missing luggage now in tow and with my fathers health improving.Our next great adventure was begining!
As there were only a few port days that now followed, I have combined this part of our cruise into a general summary:
Tuesday 21 December 2010 - Sunday 9 January 2011
From Rio we stopped in Montevideo, Uruguay to enable Star Princess to stock up before heading for Antarctica. Montevideo is incredibly tourist friendly, even painting a walkway on their sidewalks all the way from the port into town to enable tourists to know exactly where to go! Lovely little shops, lovely restaurants with wonderful meat and of course, you really have to eat at their large market, the Mercado del Puerto which is a bit on the expensive side, but with large delicious portions and a truly wonderful experience (the meat is all around you cooking barbecue style). We also stopped at Stanley for a day which was rather fun, although very cold. Unfortunately, it was Sunday and even although our passengers tripled their population a large portion of their town (including restaurants) were closed!
We reached Antarctica on Tuesday 28 December and we were blown away. Words cannot describe the amazing scenery, the beauty of life, the stillness and incredible mass of "nothingness". We could not get enough of it and although extremely cold, we could not be torn away from our balcony. We were extremely lucky with the weather and although the weather in Antarctica changes within minutes from hurricane force winds(100mph) to complete calm, or from snow storms to sun (we experienced all of these changes), we really did not mind, we just absorbed all of it's sheer beauty. Captain Ed Perin, together with the "Ice Captain", Bob and lecturers, Esther & Chris, went out of their way to ensure that each and every passenger had an enlightening, knowledge filled, interesting and truly amazing experience.
Some of the amazing wildlife we saw included various species of albatross, (including the wandering and sooty), giant kelp gulls, gentoo, magellanic and chinstrap penguins, crab eating seals, minke, hump back and blue whale (my husband and I were sitting late one night on our balcony when we spotted this enourmous blue whale in the distance, truly an amazing moment, as they are so rare!). We also saw 3-4 pods of orca's,
We sadly left Antarctica on Friday 31 December, but the staff on Princess really cheered us up with an amazing New Years Eve party. Everyone on the ship was in party mode, from youngest to oldest and no matter where we were on the ship there was a wonderful vibe right into the early hours of the morning! The staff really did themselves proud.
We docked at Ushuai, Argentina and Punta Arenas, Chile for a day each on our way back to Brazil and although both places were pleasant enough and fun to see, no real highlights here except we saw a wonderful museum in Punta Arenas, which highlighted the indigenous Indians culture and had some amazing shrunken human heads with fossil remains of a giant sloth - great fun.
The Chilean Fjords and Beagle Channel were exquisite and surreal, comparing in their own way with the Norwegian Fjords. It is here that one truly sees how we, as human beings are destroying the little we have left in natural beauty with glaciers melting before our eyes!The most exciting wildlife we saw in the channel happened one night when we returned from dinner and were looking over the balcony when suddenly we saw schools of what looked to us like giant 80 pound black and white fish swimming towards the lights of the ship and which we later found out were extremly rare commersons dolphins
On Thursday 6 January, (our daughter's 21st birthday!) we arrived in Puerto Madryn, Argentina. From what information we had gleened, we knew that this was the place to see huge penguin colonies, elephant seals, etc, but we had not pre-booked any tours ahead of time as, due to my daughters 21st, we wanted her to make the decisions of what to do on that day. Our day was truly hysterical - read on!!! We got off the ship and lined up on the dock were a number of tour companies, with tables and mini-vans, selling their tour packages. We approached an interesting looking table where a representative of Mabyrob Tours was recruiting passengers to her company and who spoke good english. We indicated that there were 5 of us (my parents wanted to stay on the ship) who wanted to go to the palaentology museum (which has 12 dinosaur skeletons), go to the nearby Welsh village for tea (where Princess Diana apparently had been) and go and see Elephant seals at Punta Loma. She told us that this would be no problem and that we could fit all 3 of these options in without a problem and be back at the ship in 4 ½ hours, plenty of time! She informed us that she already had 4 ship passengers waiting in the van and that if we joined this tour, we could leave immediately and she would charge us a discounted rate of $60 per person, which would include our entrance fees, as well as tea at the Welsh Village. Off we went (we had now met our fellow tourists, 2 American woman and a Dutch couple) with a tour guide, driver and a third person, who we discovered within the first 5 minutes was a translator, as our guide could not speak English.
Well, our translator could not either, so we were left with incomplete translations and innuendo's and no way of knowing what was happening, where we were, where we were going, etc. The van's audio system did not work, so the guide would tell our translator in loud Spanish what she wanted to say, he would in turn give us some non-sensical explanation, we would all laugh hysterically and the pattern would repeat itself. After driving for 2 hours, but having been told that the trip to the Welsh village was 1 hours away, we managed to extract from our translator that we were about to arrive at the Welsh village and he wanted to know whether we wanted to eat lunch before we went to this village or afterwards. We were confused as lunch was never given to us as an option on this tour, we were supposed to be having high tea at the same place that Princess Di had done. All 9 of us on tour now indicated to him that this trip was taking a lot longer than we had been told and that we therefore were not concerned with lunch, we would be quite happy with tea, as promised. About 15 minutes later, (after our main non-english speaking guide had sung us 4 Welsh songs in a row, extremely badly I may add!) we drove into this absolute hell hole and our van suddenly stopped on the side of a road next to a swing bridge with litter all around the streets and on the swing bridge itself. We all looked at each other in amazement as we were probably in the dirtiest, ugliest, poorest looking place we certainly had ever seen, but our translator informed us that we were here to take pictures of the swing bridge. We were now all starting to feel somewhat uncomfortable, but got out and took the mandatory photos to humour our guide. When we got back into the van, we continued driving and after about 5 minutes we realised we were now heading out the same way as we had come. After speaking amongst ourselves, we then confronted our translator who informed us that we were unable to have tea in the Welsh village, as it was closed! (This was at 1.30pm, closed??) and unfortunately we could also now not go to the paleantology museum as it would take us 2 hours to go through it and we would run out of time! One of the American woman then took control (which was wonderful, I had had enough fighting for one holiday!) and demanded that we be taken to the museum. We then drove for at least another hour before our van suddenly came to a shuddering halt at the side of the road, we had broken down! Fortunately the musuem was a block away so we walked there whilst our driver tried to fix the van accompanied by our translator and guide. At the entrance office we were informed that the entrance fee was $ 15 each, we waited for our guide to pay (as this was included in our tour price), but we were told by our translator that we had to pay if we wanted to go in. Considering that we had been told what a wonderful museum this was (confirmed by our translator who said it took 2 hours to see properly), we decided to pay regardless and went in. (the Americans also did, the Dutch couple refused and waited outside). We walked through this museum and after approximately 10 minutes we realised we were back at the entrance. Back inside we went, thinking that we had clearly missed some turns or doors somewhere, but we discovered that what we had seen was the entire museum! This was confirmed by the Americans who had taken only 5 minutes to finish! We were now all really feeling conned.
Our van was outside waiting for us when we got out and off on our journey we went. We now were to be taken to Punta Loma where we could supposedly see Elephant seals. This turned out to be at least another hours drive on a dirt road and we really thought that we were going to die, considering the speed our driver was doing. Our American friend was now completely fed up and had demanded her money back, so our translator was busy trying to speak to someone on the phone, whilst our spanish guide had now decided that she was no longer going to speak to us at all and sulked for the rest of the trip! We finally arrived at the seal colony, only to have to pay another entrance fee of $7 each. Although we saw a colony of fur seals quite a distance away, the fur seals at the harbour next to the ship were much closer. There were certainly no Elephant seals!
We finally left to return to our ship, once again on the dirt roads at great speed. Our van broke down twice, fortunately the 2nd time was in town and we could see our ship, so our family (5 of us) jumped out and walked the remaining 2 km's back to the ship. The other 4 arrived back on the ship just in time for departing! We will never forget our daughters 21st!
9 January 2011, disembarkation day
We arrived in Buenos Aires where we had been given a disembarkation time slot of 9am. I am an early riser, but my family are not. I do however enjoy the peace and quiet of the morning with my usual cup or 2 of morning coffee. So, what a shock when I phoned room service for my regular coffee order only to be told that there was no room service on disembarkation days! No warning, nothing mentioned in the daily Princess Patter, really got the feeling that we were now no longer wanted by Star Princess. What is the reason for stopping morning coffee for those of us who wake up early? I totally understand a cut-off time, but we have paid to enjoy our cruise to the very end - This is really a policy that Princess should be reviewing!
We duly went off for breakfast and were ready and waiting at our disembarkation area by 8.45 am. We were called just after 9am and this was most definately the worst disembarkation we have ever experienced A bus was waiting to take our group to the terminal, we could not see any Princess staff anywhere to assist my elderly parents, we felt a bit like cattle being squashed into a wagon with only standing room left for my parents! On arrival at the terminal there were no trolleys, no Princess staff (that we could see), it was pure chaos as we all hunted down our luggage!
We sent our children off to find trolleys for our family of 7, which they finally managed to do outside the terminal building and we loaded our 5 trolleys that we needed. We then had to proceed through an x-ray machine which once again was not been controlled and the staff working the x-ray machine did not stop the machine at all, (as would be appropriate to assist us to grab our luggage flying through on the other side) - the luggage was literally flying off the machine! Items from hand luggage were falling out, people were grabbing items on, next to and under the machine, but it still was not stopped, even for a second! I have never seen such chaos in my life!
After we managed to get all our luggage back together and repack the trolleys, we felt like we had run a marathon!
Not good enough Star Princess, treat your passengers properly to the end!
To be fair, I feel that at this point I need to add in the positives about Star Princess:
The ship itself is amazing , beautifully appointed, we loved the overall decor and look of the ship itself with a stunning atrium, excellent shops and lovely wine bar, cafe on deck 5. We loved our cabin (E729) which is covered and has an extra large balcony. We dined at the Amalfi dining room, second sitting and received the best service we have ever had at on any cruise ship. Our head waiter, Andreas; our waiter, Juro; and wine steward, Israel could not do enough for us. As a result of their wonderful attention we only ended up eating "away" once at a speciality restaurant and enjoyed 3 special birthday celebrations with our three musketeers (Andreas was so exceptional that we noticed everynight how he would make himself available to escort an elderly single lady traveller from the entrance of the dining room to her table, a great level of extra attention!)
The food overall was great, but got a little tedious after 36 days, but again our breakfasts were enhanced by the friendly staff at the Horizon Buffett, expecially Kevin who met us with a smile and our toast every morning.
Apart from our dining experience, we found all of the staff on board friendly and attentive, special mention deserved here for Chris & Mike at Facets shop; James & Nicole in the photo department, as well as waitrons Charles, Olga and Tatiana.
The cruise director, Frank was doing his best but came across a little "camp counsellerish" which could be annoying. The Captain, Ed Perrin, was fantastic - we really enjoyed hearing from him and felt very comfortable in his hands during a 100mph hurricane wind which crept up in Antarctica. He also tried his best to ensure that everyone on both sides of the ship got to see as much as possible.
Carrie-Anne at the front desk was always incredibly professional and calm and was actually the only staff member at the front desk that seemed to know exactly what to do, when and how. If we wanted correct information or expected action and an answer, we would make sure we only dealt with her.
Would we travel on Star Princess again? Yes, absolutely, although would now like to try their smaller ships and have booked Ocean Princess for a 48 day cruise from Rome to Sydney in October 2011.
On our arrival in Buenos Aires, we had pre-arranged with Madi Lang from BA Cultural Concierge www.SendLoveBA.com / www.BACulturalConcierge.com to collect us from the ship and transfer us to our hotel ($ 72), The Alvear Palace which was truly amazing - we were upgraded from a mini-suite to a suite at no extra cost and will always remember languishing in our magnificent Jacuzzi with gold fittings whilst watching the flat screen tv in the bathroom. The service at the hotel was courteous and friendly and the porters even assisted us in weighing all our luggage (a lot!). The only slight negative was that the butler service was totally over-rated and I have certainly had better breakfasts. Overall however, I would most definitely recommend this hotel and would most certainly return.
We had also arranged for Madi (BA Cultural Concierge) to look after us and take us on tour for the 3 days we were in Buenos Aires and she was really attentive and also looked after us extremely well, specifically my elderly parents. We were taken to all the tourist hot spots and sights, we had a great time with her (she is actually a young American who now lives in Buenos Aires and who started this tour company). I would thoroughly recommend her. Her rate for the 2 days was $ 468 and it was worth it. La Boca is a must and if possible and you are there on a Sunday, do not miss the San Telmo market. We also went to the Esquina
Carlos Gardel for a tango show with dinner and chose the VIP tickets, which included transport to and from our hotel. These tickets were rather pricey at $ 215-00 each for show and dinner, but the alternative was way too cramped. The meal was great, the show was good, not brilliant, but be warned that you are expected to tip 15% of the total bill when paying which is a bit of a tourist trap, as the meal portion of your ticket should be the amount your tip is worked out on!
On our last evening, we had a wonderful dinner at Cabana Las Lilas steakhouse, where the men in our party tried their lunck at the 800gram steak - good value for money at $64 each including our drinks. A wonderful way to end our holiday!
Tuesday 11 January 2011
· We were collected from our hotel by Madi and taken to Pistarini airport in Buenos Aires for check in for our Lan airlines flight (which is operated by Tam Air) to Sao Paulo, where we then connected with our SAA flight back to Johannesburg.