We booked this cruise nine months in advance because we were so excited to see Antarctica (and had heard it might be our last chance to do so) so it was disappointing for that part of the trip to be cut so short. However, I am getting ahead of myself. “We” consists of Mom, Dad and myself. This was the fourth cruise for Mom and me, and just the second cruise for Dad. It is also the largest cruise ship we have been on and I think we all enjoy the smaller ships a bit more.
We booked our air and hotel independently and flew to Buenos Aires two days early to have a chance to explore the city (and to make sure we didn’t miss the boat). We arrived at 9:00 am and after getting through customs took a taxi, which we probably paid too much for, to our hotel. We were to the Apart Hotel & Spa Congresso by around 11:30 and were in luck as a room was available for us. The staff at the hotel was unfailingly polite and helpful throughout our stay both before and after the trip. They also provided a very good breakfast. After checking in and a short nap we set off to explore the city. We got around mostly on foot making use of the Subte (BA subway system) for the longer trips.
On Sunday, the day of embarkation, we started with a little sightseeing while the hotel held our bags and in the early afternoon we had the hotel call a taxi to get us to the cruise terminal. We arrived around 1:00 pm and, although there were a lot of people there, the process went very smoothly. We had done our paperwork online and had only carry-on bags so we were basically given a number and directed to wait in the chairs there were plenty of chairs so no one had to stand around. When the number was called we were taken upstairs and waited in a very short line for the check-in process and another short line for Passport control then after the obligatory boarding photo we were taken by bus to the ship. Once on board we were able to proceed directly to our stateroom where we dropped our bags before heading up to the Lido deck for lunch.
We were in Stateroom 2011 a port side stateroom near the bow and on the lowest deck. This was a very small room it probably would have been all right for two people but was quite tight with three. I was on the fold out bed which is quite small, but I am fairly short so it worked out. There was plenty of closet and drawer space for us, but as I said we pack light so I don’t know if that would work for everyone.
After eating we explored the ship as is our usual tradition starting at the bottom and moving to the top. We were pleased that you could walk bow to stern on every deck without having to go up or down stairs to get around a crew only area. The ship seemed to us very nicely cared for and we liked the sometimes beautiful and always interesting art, particularly on the stairwells. We enjoyed the library it was one of my favorite places. We were disappointed that the promenade did not go all the way around. I know the ship was scheduled for a refit so I don’t know how much of what we experienced still remains.
The lifeboat drill was unusual in that you were not required to wear or bring your life vest, and only had to go to your muster station which in our case was the theater where we took a seat had a short demonstration and then were dismissed.
We ate all our breakfasts and most lunches on board on the Lido deck mixing and matching between the various buffet lines. The food was consistently of good quality and he service sufficiently fast that there was never a terribly long wait, except for one warm afternoon at the ice cream counter. Breakfast was fairly standard from day to day only the choices of meat at the carvings station and bread or pastries varied. Some servers at breakfast were a little overgenerous with portions and at busy times It could be tough to find a sear particularly when the outside decks were closed due to wind. Lunch offerings were widely varied in the main buffet lines but pizza and hamburgers were always available one didn’t care for anything else offered. My favorite food item from the cruise here was the lentil curry. We ate lunch here every day except when the offered the brunch buffet in the main restaurant because we could better squeeze it between other activities. The brunch buffet was beautifully presented but also crowded and at times chaotic. We went both times though because by then we were devoted to the shrimp cocktail. We had dinner every night in the main restaurant. We had the late seating which is not our favorite but the early seating was filled when we booked. I think it would be nicer if Celebrity set the early seating a little earlier so that late seating was not quite so late as we were not seated until 8:45 and sometimes later. The food here was also generally excellent as was the service. My only issue was that the portion size was at times unaccountably huge. I don’t like to see food wasted but it was impossible for me to finish the lamb shank or the pork chop. On our past cruises portion size in the main dining room has always been more reasonable.
Due to the long distances covered on this cruise there are a lot of at sea days required. We were lucky then to have three(!) guest speakers on board Graham, Rod and Jim, filled these days with entertaining and educational lectures on everything from the history of navigation to birds to rocks. Graham led a few bird watching sessions and Jim even took us on deck to see the southern cross and other features of the southern sky which was totally awesome. My mom and I attended every lecture. Dad enjoyed the gym and a little bit of bridge. We also saw a couple of movies, but did not become involved in the many of the other activities offered partly because they were often scheduled at the same time as the lectures and partly because we would often rather sit and read a good book from the library.
The cruise started with two days at sea one of which was Valentine’s day which the whole ship celebrated with special pink and or heart shaped deserts and a rose given to each woman young or old at dinner. It was naturally a formal night. It was pleasant to see most people dressed up so well for it. Our first port of call was Stanley Falkland Islands were we had our only formal shore excursion of the trip, and afterwards still had time to wander the town. This was followed by another day at sea crossing the feared drake’s passage which really was not bad at all (how were we to know this was not a good thing?) On the 18th we woke up to fog so thick that you could not clearly see the stern of the ship when standing near the bow. This was not auspicious as we were supposed to be enjoying scenic cruising at Elephant Island however Jim started giving us commentary anyway and 45 minutes later the fog broke somewhat and we were able to view a lovely iceberg some magnificent glaciers chinstrap and adelie penguins in the water and a bit later after passing Elephant Island a few whales, before the fog rolled back in again. Shortly after that the dread announcement was made. There were three major storms approaching Paradise Bay there was snow and no visibility and because there was concern about the continued safety of the Drakes passage the decision had been made to turn around and head to Ushuaia where we would spend two days instead of the one scheduled. This caused massive disappointment and soured the mood on board for much of the rest of the trip. The second crossing of Drakes passage lived up to reputation, but the weather was then incredibly beautiful for both days we spent in Ushuaia. This was followed by a trip down to Cape Horn where the weather was again very calm It was not perfectly clear but clear enough to enjoy the viewing with commentary by Graham. This was followed by another rough day at sea before arriving in Puerto Madryn to again very pleasant weather and where one of the highlights of the day could be seen right at boat side where the sea lions basked on the pier. We then had a final day at sea before our last port at Montevideo, Uruguay.
We enjoyed some of the evening entertainment more than others. The Flutist was amazing, and the female vocalist was very good both these acts left us in Ushuaia to be replaced by an instrumentalist who was entertaining but could occasionally be wearing because he played every piece on four or five different instruments, and a male vocalist who was not really our cup of tea except for his rendition of Don Quixote which was the best I have ever heard, we actually came back from dinner to hear it again at the second show because we liked it so much. Mom and I loved the string trio and would often seek them out to listen and we also enjoyed the acapella quartet but thought they were not quite as good as the strings. It would be nice if the entertainment director would tell each performer which numbers had been done the night before because some things were just overdone we were beginning to think that Besa Me was the Celebrity theme song I believe every performer covered it one way or another. One of the best things Celebrity did was bring on board a local group when we over-nighted in Ushuaia. They did folk dances, a little tango and danced with bolas it was delightful to watch. When the ship did the production shows instead of having the first show during the first dinner seating and the second show during the second they had the first show during the second dinner seating and the second show late at night; we were always so exhausted after dinner that we never made it to a production show.
Disembarkation was so smooth as to be a non event; they had given every stateroom a color and number designation; they called your number and you left the ship. We again carried our bags off so I don’t know how bag pickup was handled. We did not have prearranged pickup and were left to the mercy of the taxi line. Our taxi to the terminal cost about $5.00 the taxi back to our hotel, the same distance, could not be gotten for less than $25.00. I kind of wish we had been brave enough to walk to the nearest Subte stop instead.
Again our hotel held our bags both the morning of disembarkation and most of the next day as our flight was in the late evening. Monday before our flight left we took the opportunity to visit the UNESCO heritage site of Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay by ferry from BA. It is a quaint little town with lovely little museums. It is possible to visit there on a shore excursion from Montevideo, but actually quicker by ferry from BA, and we had wanted the chance to see Montevideo while we were there.
This cruise was a lovely vacation the Celebrity people were all very good to us and we had a nice time despite our disappointment. We did get to see a magnificent berg, five kinds of penguins, some humpback whales, dolphins, and sea lions as well as various birds. We also experienced different cultures and came very near to Antarctica even if we could not see it.
Puerto Madryn, Argentina: Most people at this port take an excursion either to UNESCO world heritage site of Peninsula Valdez or to the huge magellanic penguin colony; we chose instead to stay in town. Cruise passengers are bused from the pier to the center of town from there it is about a 45 minute walk, mostly along the beach (where we saw a wild flamingo), to the Eco-Centro an interpretive and cultural center. There is a multisensory whale experience, a tide pool aquarium, information about local wildlife, a native garden and a lookout tower with a beautiful 360 view. On the way back we stopped to look at the Welsh Monument and the remains of the cave homes the original welsh settlers carved into the cliff side.