Antarctica--Destination of a Lifetime!!
Arrival/Hotel/Excursions Before Departure: We traveled by self-arranged air to Buenos Aires about a week early, and went on a side excursion to Iguazu Falls (Argentina/Brazil)prior to the cruise. Iguazu Falls is amazing and a "must do" if you have the time and ability to add that to your itinerary. In Buenos Aires we stayed at the Lola House Hotel, a small boutique style hotel in the Boedo area of Buenos Aires (outside the normal tourist area). It turned out to be a great choice for us, as the staff (especially Clara) of Lola House truly made our stay in Buenos Aires. Another highlight of Buenos Aires was a 7-hour walking tour.
Embarkation/Public Rooms/Stateroom: We took a taxi to the cruise port from our hotel and were met curbside by an enthusiastic Holland America rep. She noted our Holland America luggage tags, got the luggage loaded on a cart, and hustled us to the check-in station in less than five minutes. There was no line (about 1:00 p.m.), so five minutes later More
we were walking aboard ship. We stowed bags and did a tour of the ship to get oriented, finishing in Lido, where lunch was in full swing. Our impression of the ship was that it was well maintained...but showing its age. Still, everything was clean, serviceable, and cozy. There was a small hiccup after the three days in Anarctica (when waste could not be dumped from the ship). Nearly every public restroom became "out of order". The Lido was in the "no self-service mode" for the first two days...which caused lines and frustration. That was mostly mitigated when that policy was rescinded about Day 3. Our stateroom was spacious with plenty of storage. The closets easily held all our clothing. The bath had recently been remodeled and was very pleasant and it was nice sized, with a bath tub. Our stewards came by to introduce themselves and give us a card. They were very competent and very low key...we rarely saw them.
Dining: We enjoyed the food service in most of the venues on board. The food in the Lido was only serviceable. The hamburger bar was very good, and the pizza place was convenient. We really enjoyed the food and service in the main dining room (we were "as you wish dining") and though few meals were "memorable", the food was continually excellent. We went to the Pinnacle Grill twice, once for a Le Cirque evening and the second time for a Cellarmaster's Dinner--both specialty events, even for the Pinnacle. The food and service seemed to be at a lower standard than we have experienced previously in Pinnacle Grills or equivalent. The Cellarmaster's Dinner was particularly disappointing. As wine lovers, we expected the cellarmaster to do a better job picking/pairing wines. The wines selected were terrible with the pairings made. With one or two notable exceptions, all the dining room and bar service crew was friendly and helpful. We especially enjoyed the wine steward Noel in the main dining room.
Entertainment: We attended many of the entertainment events in the showroom and found them to be just that--entertaining. There was a "lecture team" on board to provide lectures on wildlife, culture, geology, geography and detailed information on South America and Antarctica. The information they provided was good...but their presentations were routinely dry and boring. They had excellent knowledge without the comparable presentation skills. We also took part in many ship activities...which were abundant and varied. We particularly like the library on board, and made significant use of it.
Tendering Ashore/On Board Information: There was one major glitch by Holland America in their procedures for distributing "tender tickets" to those not on Holland America excursions. They published a "distribution start time" and many people lined up early (in an organized queue)...only to see the typical rude late-comers show up at exactly the distribution time and barge to the head of the line. Holland America had insufficient personnel on hand to keep order...nor did they politely as the line busters to go to the end of the line...but instead issued them tickets. This caused lots of hard feelings. Also, there was a dearth of informational announcements from the captain and crew...especially concerning navigational details (specifically when we would arrive at scenic locales), weather, and sea conditions. This is the least amount of information we have received on any cruise, which detracted from the otherwise excellent experience.
Disembarkation: A further example of this poor communication was disembarkation, which was congested and delayed. The ship docked at the cargo port and passengers were bussed to the cruise port terminal. This caused long lines and massive pile ups in all the hallways and stairs. If Holland America had provided specific information in advance on the necessity to bus everyone and the procedures...AND had enough folks in the hallways to keep them clear...the process could have been significantly expedited.
Summary: This was a GREAT cruise because of the destinations (The Falkland Islands and Antarctica) and the weather we had while visiting them. Like every cruise, this one had its hiccups and missteps...but overall the ship-board experience was very good to excellent...and when you include the absolute awesomeness of The Falkland Islands and Antarctica...I had to rate the overall cruise experience excellent.
NOTE: First time cruisers should think seriously before signing up for this cruise, as the large number of sea days (due to the long distances to traverse) and the potential for bad weather and rough seas (we had our share in the Drake Passage with 65 knot winds and 35 foot seas)make this a little different than your "typical" cruise. Less
Read more Veendam cruise reviews >>
Read Cruise Critic's Veendam Review >>
Port and Shore Excursions
We had already done an excursion to Colonia, Uruguay from Buenos Aires prior to cruise embarkation...so we decided to just "walk the streets" of Montevideo. It is mix of classic colonial architecture and modern urban development. We were able to see the highlights in about 2-3 hours of walking. We did get to try the locally brewed beer and visited a nice wine shop to purchase a local(from the Tannat grape) wine. Many of our ship board friends went on the winery excursion in Montevideo and really enjoyed it.
Again, we decided to go on our own in Puerto Montt...though many of our shipmates took excursions to Lake Llanquihue and the Volcano Osorno. Having gotten great views of the volcanoes while sailing into Puerto Montt, we were content to explore the city. We walked a very nice (maybe the best of the entire cruise) artisan market district on our way to Angelmo...the historic fishing village on the edge of Puerto Montt. As we approached, our noses told us we were, in fact, nearing the daily fish market. In the fish market area, there are many, many very small seafood restaurants...each with its own private shill on the street trying to steer business to their specific restaurant. We seemed to click with one particular lady (who spoke not a word of English), and allowed her go guide us on a serpentine route through the market, up the stairs, and down the hallway to reach a small family restaurant that could seat 10-12 people max on bench seating. Our lunch at "La Picaita" turned out to be another highlight of the cruise. We had what both my wife and I agreed was perhaps the best seafood meal of our life (at least one of the top two!!) We had "congrio frittata" (fried conger eel) and fresh abalone. Let's just say, both dishes were awesome...and the ambiance of eating in this tiny family restaurant where not one person spoke a word of English added to the experience. We walked the town for about two hours after the meal...and we needed it!
We took the "Hiking The Andean Club" excursion...which is a day hike in a local ski resort named appropriately enough...The Andean Club. This excursion consisted of a 30 minute bus ride to the ski resort, a 20 minute ride to the top of the mountain on the local chairlift, and a walk back down the mountain on really small trails through the woods. Our tour guide warned us we might see three seasons of weather during the tour, and she was right. By the time we got to the top of the mountain the wind was howling and it was raining pretty hard. All part of the tour...she says! After all the group had arrived via the chair, we headed off into the woods on a very narrow trail. Soon after entering the woods, the effects of the wind were diminished and it became very comfortable. The rain had made the trail slippery and somewhat dangerous. The trail was not strenuous, but did require constant attention to avoid taking a tumble. The woods were formed of very short trees that were wildly twisted and deformed by the high winds at the top of the mountain. This gave the woods a very eerie feeling...like and enchanted woods from Lord of the Rings. Made the walk very enjoyable. Took us about an hour and a half to walk back to the ski lodge...where very welcome hot chocolate and cake was waiting for us. After a quick rest, we re-boarded the bus for the trip back. As we boarded the bus, the weather had cleared completely and we were treated to a great panoramic view of the Veendam in the harbor far below us. A fitting end to a great excursion.
We docked in Valparaiso and were met by Christian Roy "The Van Man". He took us on a guided driving tour of Valparaiso...which soon became one of our all time favorite cities to visit. We stayed at Latitude 33 Sur...a B and B in the Cerro Concepcion district of Valparaiso. A spare but pleasant B and B, again...with no one speaking English. We spent most of the afternoon walking the hills of Valparaiso and enjoying the plethora of street art. The winding streets make a great venue for the artistic murals. These are a must see, if you have the chance. There are small bistros, bars, and restaurants scattered throughout the neighborhood, making it a really tourist-friendly place (if you are a little bit adventuresome). The next morning, Christian picked us up and we headed to Santiago. Enroute we stopped at Emiliana winery and at the Los Hornitos de Curacavi restaurant where we sampled several local dishes, including pastel de choclo. We finished the day with a driving tour of Santiago, and a final visit to an artisan market for last minute souvenirs. Christian handled all the touring details and did a fabulous job. If at all possible, plan an extra day at the end (or beginning) of your cruise to explore Valparaiso.
Truly one of the highlights of the entire cruise (in our mind equal with the touring of the Antarctic Peninsula). See the main review for a discussion of how (poorly) Holland America distributed tender tickets. The tender ride was very comfortable (it CAN be really rough, and there are many times when tender landings cannot be attempted. We took an excursion to Volunteer Point to view three varieties of penguins. We took our tour with Patrick Watts Tours, and he and his crew did a fantastic job from start to finish. The 2.5 hour 4x4 ride over unimproved trails was a little rough--but my wife thought it was as much fun as being among the penguins. We saw king, magellanic, and gentoo penguins up close and personal. The weather was fantastic, which only added to the experience. We have tons of photos and will relish these memories for a long time to come.
A really beautiful location nestled at the base of snow capped mountains on the scenic Beagle Channel. Since we had seen thousands of penguins and just sailed in on the Beagle Channel, we once again elected to do our typical "walking tour" of the city. It turned out to be a good choice for us, as we saw some really typical neighborhoods, got to get an idea of what everyday life is like at the end of the world, and even stumbled across a Barrio and Monument dedicated to General Belgrano...and the the navy cruiser named after him that was sunk during the Falklands/Malvinas conflict. We even got to meet a few local people, which is always a highlight of any visit for us.