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Home > Member Reviews > tlmoose's Port Reviews of Santiago (Valparaiso), Punta Arenas, Ushuaia, Stanley, Buenos Aires, Montevideo

tlmoose's Port Reviews of Santiago (Valparaiso), Punta Arenas, Ushuaia, Stanley, Buenos Aires, Montevideo
Star Princess cruise in February 2012
Member Name: tlmoose
Cruise Date: February 2012
Embarkation: other
Destination: South America & Antarctica
Member Review: tlmoose's Star Princess Review
Santiago (Valparaiso)
Port Rating: 4.0 out of 5+
Santiago is easy to get around. We stayed in Providencia and were able to walk everywhere. After being in Peru where almost everyone spoke some English it was surprising how few spoke any English. My Spanish is rusty, but we managed. Best meal we had was at Le Flaubert - their daily-changing menu is written on a blackboard, which the waiter will explain to you, dish by dish.

Transportation to the port of Valparaiso is readily available. (Bus, taxi, van hire, or tours.) We opted for a Casablanca Valley wine tour, since this wine region is located along the main highway to Valpo. We visited Casas del Bosque and Morande wineries, tasting award winning sauvignon blancs and chardonnays. I researched wine tours online -- all were about the same price. From www.TourGuidesChile.com I was put in contact with Al Ramirez Wine Boutique Tours. I chose them because of their focus and their service - he asks what you are interested in and tailors the tour to you. We had a van and driver for the three of us, and door-to-door service, finishing the tour at our B&B in Valparaiso. Our tour guide was a former history teacher who spoke excellent English. (Most of Al's guides are sommeliers.) Al grew up in Brooklyn, and returned to Chile to work in tourism -- he can do all kinds of tours, from walking tours to multi-day adventures.

Valparaiso is described as the "San Francisco" of South America, due to its many hills. We had picked a B&B overlooking the port, near the Naval Museum. In looking at a map, it seemed only a short distance to get to the central area. When we got there, we knew it wouldn't be easy. There is public transportation - bus, taxi and "collectivo" taxis (which have regular routes and lower prices). Al Ramirez came to our rescue! He led us via collectivo and the ciry's oldest acensor (funicular) to one of the historic neighborhoods of the city, even helping us find a good restaurant. Talk about great service!

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Punta Arenas
City Tour Rating: 3.0 out of 5+
The City Drive Tour was OK - not much to see, and the guide was hard to understand. The Mansion is under rennovation, and the simultaneous arrival of two busloads of tourists and a group of soldiers was overwhelming. Guide did not provide much detail inside the mansion, and few of the displays had English translations. The stop at the Magellan monument/City Plaza was too long -- small numbers of vendors selling mostly the same stuff.


Penguin Reserve Rating: 4.0 out of 5+
The Otaway Penguin tour was more interesting... the guide provided more of the area history and identified wildlife, including rheas and upland geese. There were only a small number of penguins, but we were able to observe them on the beach, in the water and in their burrows.


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Ushuaia
Port Rating: 4.0 out of 5+
We took the "Drive to the End of the Road" tour to reach the southern end of the Pan-American Highway. (Our goal is also to hit the northern end this year.) The guide was very good -- blending in the history, details about life in Tierra del Fuego, and wildlife sightings. We spotted beaver, black-necked swans, condors, caracaras, and geese. The stop at the Park Visitor Center was way too short, though.

Two other ships were in Ushuaia -- small ships leaving on Antarctic cruises. This is one of the few places from which you can now make the trip. The city is growing... our guide pointed out two new luxury hotels being built.

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Stanley
Port Rating: 5+ out of 5+
This was the most incredible stop on the cruise. Dolphins followed the ship into port and we could see penguins on the rocks as we came up the channel. We'd signed up for the Volunteer Point Tour through Patrick Watts. (This is the same tour the ship offers, but for $100 less and we got a photo CD featuring the island wildlife.) Our guide Derek owns his own tour company as well as working for Patrick. (The CD they give out are photos Derek shot, beginning during the two years he and his wife were the wardens at Volunteer Point.) The tour is half an hour on roads, then a bouncy 4X4 trek across a sheep ranch to get to the rookery. But it is worth it. The three penguin species - King, Gentoo and Magellanic - exist side by side on a long white beach. The sight is unbelievable. We had about two hours on-scene with the penguins...

Derek was "captured" by the Argentinians in the Falklands war while working for the phone company. His knowledge of the battlefields is incredible. On the way back from the penguin colony he showed us debris from the war, pointed out where battles occurred and described the whole politico-military situation. It was like getting two tours for the price of one.

He also threw in a quick tour of town...and got us back to the marina well before the last tender left for the ship. It was one incredible day!!!

When Patrick retires Derek will be the go-to guy for tours. Derek's Tours e-mail address is drp@horizon.co.fk

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Buenos Aires
Port Rating: 3.0 out of 5+
There were four ships in port and the passenger terminal was pure chaos. Trying to find our way through the building to get to our tour was a challenge.

We took the ship's "Tigre River Delta Cruise" tour mostly because the other ship tours focused primarily on Recoleta cemetery and the tango, neither of which interested us. This went out to the suburbs, along tree-lined streets and stopped to visit one cathedral before heading to the ferry terminal. The tour boat took us along narrow canals and inlets. The covered boat protected us from the strong tropical sun, but it did make picture taking difficult when most of the things being pointed out were on the other side of the boat.

As we returned to the ship, the tour guide recommended avoiding the main plaza downtown because there were protests occurring and police activity. Nothing is located near the port...to get into town you have to take a taxi who we were told would not take US$. These two factors caused us to decide not to try to go into the main city.

We were more than an hour late leaving Buenos Aires because of the port congestion.

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Montevideo
Port Rating: 4.0 out of 5+
The port was crowded with three ships, but getting into town was a breeze compared to Buenos Aires. You come off the pier and walk across a plaza and you are on the main street. Across that street is the Port Market, where some of the best beef restaurants are located. The open flames of the wood-fires flavor the whole atmosphere in the Market.

We found some nice artisan scarves at one of the shops in the Market. In the blocks around the market there are a few additional shopping opportunities. We walked around a bit.

In the afternoon, we took a City Tour that covered the main plaza (new government buildings), the parliament building, the soccer stadium, some historic sculptures, the beach neighborhood and a drive along the embarcadero. The guide was a school teacher and was very knowledgeable. She made this a pretty good tour.

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Rio de Janeiro
Port Rating: 2.0 out of 5+
Some people go to Rio specifically for Carnaval. We are not those people. Our experience in Rio was definitely impacted by Carnaval, and not for the better.

To begin with, the immigration officials were an hour and half late getting to the ship due to "being delayed by Carnaval traffic." The ship had scheduled everyone to report to the Vista Lounge to clear immigration at specific times. Ours was 6:30 (the schedule started at 6), and, as we approached, the line wound from the lounge to the Atrium, more than 400 ft forward on the ship. After about 10 minutes in line, it was clear that the line was not moving at all. Finally, staff members started going down the line, providing info. They told all guests with transfers and tours to get out of line, get all our belongings and go to the Princess Theater (that we would clear immigration as we picked up our tour). Finally, about 7:15 they began to make announcements that immigration was not yet aboard.

After more than an hour in the theater, they finally announced they had begun clearing the ship. Our half-day tour, which was to have left before 8 am finally pulled out of the cruise terminal around 9:15.

After announcing that we were heading for Sugarloaf first, the bus wandered around the downtown area where we saw some of the Carnaval festivities. They subsequently announced we were headed instead for the cathedral, and we wandered some more. People onboard were beginning to make snide comments when we made two passes down the same street -- then on the third pass by the cathedral our guide said that we would not be going in because it was closed due to Carnaval. (Later in the day we heard from others on Princess Tours they had gone inside -- it wasn't closed; our tour guide was wrong.)

So it was off to Sugarloaf...again. Just as we got in line for the tram, they announced there was a problem -- that the officials had closed it down. After 20 min standing in 95° tropical heat, the guide and his coordinator, Noel, decided to put us back on the bus and go to Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. Right as we got aboard it looked like they got the tram operating again. We'd already lost our place at the front of the line, so they decided to go to the beach. We got back to Sugarloaf about 45 minutes later (about 11:30). We had made it clear to both our guide and his coordinator that we needed to keep to the original schedule to get to the airport. The coordinator had told us in the earlier discussions that there would be time to go to the first level and back, but probably not to go all the way to the top.

After waiting 20+ minutes in line, we made it to the first level. Then our guide started to go on up to the top. We argued that there was not time -- we explained again that we were supposed to be at the airport by 1. There were 8 of us with early flights... the remainder wanted to go on up. The guide told us we could go back down--that his coordinator would get us transportation to the airport. We went down and found Noel. He told us he would not arrange special transportation for us; that we would have to wait for the rest of the group. He told us to wait in the shade (in an area where the military guards told us we could not sit on the wall). We were prepared to get a cab to the airport ourselves, but some of our bags were on the bus. We asked him to bring the bus back to the lot so we could get our gear. He kept telling us that it was only 15 minutes to get to the airport... we'd get there in time... that we really didn't need to be there 3 hours ahead... that 2 hours was plenty of time. He walked away, saying he was getting the bus, then disappeared -- leaving us to stand in the sun for an additional 50 minutes while the rest of the group went to the top.

The bus arrived back to the parking lot about 1:15, the driver telling us he would not take us to the airport (that he had to wait for the others). The four onboard who had elected not to go on the tram told us they had seen the coordinator walking down the street. He never returned to the Sugarloaf parking area. The full group returned from the top, but because of parking restrictions there, it took two passes before we could get everyone on board.

We did not leave Sugarloaf until 1:45, and finally reached the airport at 2:15 -- only to go to first to the international terminal. (All of the people with early flights were at the other terminal.) We finally reached our terminal at 2:40.

We did make it to our TAM flight to Sao Paulo -- barely. The problem was that the tour delays meant we did not have time for lunch or time to complete our check-in for our international flight, and could only check our bags to Sao Paulo. That necessitated picking up our bags there and schlepping everything from the domestic terminal to the international terminal so we could check in with LAN.

The whole misadventure gave us a very negative impression of Rio.

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