We flew into Santiago via Buenos Aires from Washington DC and stayed at the Hotel Orly. A really good way to start the trip. Nice accommodations, good area, sidewalk cafe. The next day, we took a tour of Santiago, Vina Del Mar and Valparaiso (using AboutChile) which was excellent, and were dropped at our hotel (Grand Gervasoni Valparaiso). The hotel was not the best choice (no elevator, steep 15 steps up to the room, but comfortable accommodations with a view.
Embarkation was quick and easy. Quickly we found the service attitude of the ship personnel and settled into our lanai cabin (which opened onto the promenade walking track on the 6th deck -- what a great idea!! Really nice to have the access to the outside to see the scenery (and the daylight in the room was really wonderful).
Our tour was breathtaking, and we were particularly impressed with the Captain who went out of his way to explain his decisions and to interact with the passengers. It is clear his personal style influences the entire culture of the ship and truly adds to the experience.
If you haven't previously sailed with Holland America, one amenity that is particularly helpful is their 'all you can launder' option which for a flat fee ($129 on our 17 day trip) any cabin can get their laundry done as often as they want. How nice to come home with few dirty clothes, and how simple it is to have those extra choices to wear things more than once. The service was usually in less than 24 hours, and was always perfect. Shirts ironed and on hangers; sweaters and pants done well. Didn't even lose a sock!!!
Our port tours were typical cruise tours -- overpriced and acceptable. One group learned the "insurance" value of a ship tour when their bus had a flat tire and was an hour late back to the ship (and of course we waited). Yes you can get bargains privately, but that one time when you have a problem sure does make a difference if you're on a ship tour, particularly whenever the time might be tight.
We were fortunate to be able to book the Volunteer Point tour in the Falklands; this is well worth the cost, and the guide was superb. A highlight of a trip with many highlights.
We were able to use the 'anytime' seating initially, but when we were assigned a table for 2 at the window, we quickly locked it in for the duration of the cruise and truly appreciated the dining manager's willingness to be accommodating. The food was above average cruise food, and we never had a night that disappointed us.
As with ANY cruise, there is always some little thing that irritates you. The satisfaction level for me is always how well they respond to it. Mine, this time was confusion from contradictory information (in writing) from the tour desk and the front desk regarding where my bags would be on debarkation. One said to pick them up in the terminal; the other in the Sheraton Hotel after my ship tour. Both were verbally adamant they were correct, so I used the form I got daily saying basically 'tell us if you have a problem'....within 3 hours, I had a phone call with the correct information, a new letter with the correct procedure, and then, a bit later, a plate of chocolates to soothe any bad feelings -- I must admit chocolate is a great way to be soothed, even if you're on a diet!! In short, even when I was not totally happy, they went out of their way to make me happy -- and obviously it wasn't a major issue.
We seldom have experienced a level of service that was this good; perhaps Oceania was the only other time I can remember such a near-perfect experience. I certainly will look forward to a return to Holland America.
Our trip ended in Buenos Aires with a stay at the Urban Suites Recoleta, a truly 4-5 star experience. Located across from the Recoleta cemetary where Evita is interred, it is easy to find, and in a great area.