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South America: Around Cape Horn on Regal Princess
About the Virtual Cruise
South America: Around Cape Horn on Regal Princess Editor's note: Regal Princess left the fleet in the fall of 2007 and now sails as Pacific Dawn under the P&O Australia banner. Even though the ship has moved on to start its new life in a new place, the following Virtual Cruise still gives a good sense of what an around the horn itinerary is like.

Here at Cruise Critic, we're fond of comparing parts of South America to Europe. For instance, your first impression of Buenos Aires may be that it reminds you of Paris. Ushuaia, on Argentina's southernmost coast, is home to fabulous snow-capped mountains and colorful chalets emitting a Swiss vibe. We've even found ourselves describing the experience of sailing round Cape Horn (the traditional South American itinerary) as a bit like a trip to Alaska. But dig deeper and you'll see that this continent -- from the rain forests of its equatorial tropics to the volcanoes that tower above its icy fjords -- is exotic in a way that defies comparison.

Join us as we explore South America onboard Regal Princess -- virtually, of course -- with Cruise Critic's Managing Editor Melissa Baldwin. Melissa sailed around Cape Horn visiting ports in Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and even the Falkland Islands with her fiance Mike, who's been seafaring and sightseeing with her for almost four years (though he'd never traveled outside North America). And seeing as they'd never spent a full two weeks traveling together, never mind in a cabin measuring no more than 210 square ft., the two-week trip promised to be full of surprises. Now, over to Melissa... -- Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor

Mike and I epitomize the DINK (dual income, no kids) couple. We're in our late 20's, happy to put off life's expensive nuisances -- a wedding, a house -- to be able to afford life's guilty pleasures: good wine, meals out with friends and close-to-our-backyard travel. So we're alike in all the ways that I think really matter.

But where more exotic travel is concerned, Mike and I couldn't be more different. I love the rush of taking off in a plane and waking up hours later in a new city, country or, in this case, hemisphere. Meanwhile, "cautious" could be Mike's middle name (which may explain why he took two-thirds of his closet on a 13-night cruise). He is more of a "let's stay at a B&B we can drive to" kind of guy.

So when I suggested a cruise to South America, he looked at me as if I'd suggested a flight to Jupiter. I started leaving guidebooks that I pilfered, ahem, borrowed from Cruise Critic's library around the house, and eventually he jumped on the bandwagon and began pawing through them, going online to Google the various ports, and finally applying for his passport. Unfortunately, sometimes too much information is a bad thing, and after way too much research, he began spewing fears of being kidnapped and having his kidneys sold on the black market in a third-world country.

"Calm down!" was all I could muster ... but in all honesty, I, too, wasn't sure what to expect. Aside from the usual common-sense precautions, was crime something I should be more worried about? Mike studied French for eight years and I took Italian -- would we be able to communicate in Argentina and Chile with the little Spanish we knew from channel surfing upon the occasional telenovela (those soap operas I wish I could understand with scheming vixens and striking Latin men)? And will 13 long nights in a cramped cruise cabin -- not to mention pre- and post-cruise stays in Buenos Aires and Santiago -- be the true test of our relationship?

Despite our concerns and distinctive approaches to exotic travel, something drew both of us to the itinerary, though it took some time to put a finger on it. On the simplest level, it was time for something different. Alaska? Check. Caribbean? Yep. And we certainly wouldn't cry if we never went to the Bahamas again. But more importantly, the appeal of a cruise to South America cruise was a chance for us to step outside our own comfort zones (boy, was it ever) -- whether marching with penguins in Argentina, driving up a Chilean volcano, or simply sampling regional dishes and drinks.

When you stop "seeing" and start "doing," you truly make the leap from being tourist to being traveler. It was high time we started doing....
Day 1: Pre-Cruise Stay in Buenos Aires
Day 2: Embarkation, Cruising the Rio de la Plata to Montevideo
Day 3: At Sea
Day 4: Valentine's Day in Puerto Madryn
Day 5: Port Stanley
Day 6: Rounding Cape Horn
Day 7: Ushuaia
Day 8: Punta Arenas
Day 9: At Sea/Amalia Glacier
Day 10: Puerto Montt
Day 11: Disembarkation in Valparaiso, Post-Cruise Stay in Santiago
Related Links
Pacific Dawn ship review
Pacific Dawn Member reviews
South America & Antarctica Cruises
South America & Antarctica Messages
P&O Australia Messages
Day 1: Tuesday, Pre-Cruise Stay in Buenos Aires
Pre-Cruise Stay in Buenos AiresThe night before flying to Buenos Aires, I peered warily at Mike's overstuffed Samsonite, leaning on my own bag in fear of passing out from sheer exhaustion. I'm not a betting woman, but if I'd put money on the fact that his would be over the weight limit ... well, I'd be a few bucks richer. And if I'd known that I'd have to unzip his suitcase at the check-in counter, and hastily shove his heavy jeans and shoes into one of my bags (yet not quite fast enough for the travelers waiting behind us on line "tsk"-ing audibly and rolling their eyes), I wouldn't have stayed up past midnight folding everything so neatly.

How do you pack for a South America cruise? Well, I'll say this much: It isn't easy. Because the continent is so huge -- and this around-the-horn itinerary is so in-depth, heading first south along the Atlantic coast and then north along the Pacific coast -- we needed to plan for different weather scenarios. Sure, it's summertime in South America now, but what qualifies as "summer" in Buenos Aires and Santiago, which are closer to the equator, is a far cry from more southerly outposts. We expected whipping winds and temperatures as low as 45 degrees in Ushuaia and up on deck for scenic fjord cruising. So everything from tank tops to turtlenecks got packed, alongside skimpy sandals and clunky boots, sunscreen and scarves.

Aside from our little debacle at the check-in counter, our overnight flight (with a stopover in Houston) was uneventful but long -- we were in the air for a total of 13 hours. When we stepped out into the Buenos Aires airport (which is bright and modern with shiny glass surfaces -- a bit like a shopping mall) we almost felt as if we had flown all the way to Europe, but with less jet lag thanks to a time difference of only three hours. But even without jet lag, our eyelids were drooping; the sleep we did manage to get in the air was not sound, thanks to a screaming child, and the woman behind me who kept clicking her reading lamp on and off -- for some reason pointed directly at me rather than on her book -- as if she were sending Morse code to somebody all the way up in first class.

I watched Mike's face very carefully for expressions of terror as we drove through some of Buenos Aires' poorer neighborhoods en route to our hotel (luckily, he was too tired to notice much of anything). Ironically, Recoleta, where we were staying, is located in one of the most expensive areas of the city. The area is named after a community of Recoleto friars who settled here in the early 1700's; it came to be a playground for the wealthy much later, in 1871, when a yellow fever outbreak in the southern part of the city caused the elite to migrate north. As we entered the Recoleta of today, we were greeted by an elegant residential and shopping district with outdoor cafes and boutiques; the area's Alvear Avenue is where the most expensive shops are, like Louis Vuitton -- it is very much akin to Manhattan's 5th Avenue.

The Art Hotel is a charming boutique property with only 36 rooms, and an art gallery in the lobby that features new work each month from local artists. From the outside it looks more like an apartment building than a hotel, blending in with the other concrete structures. But once we pushed through the wrought iron door into the lobby, we knew we were in the right place -- and our initial reaction made sense, as it is a converted historic townhouse. We were greeted warmly by the folks manning the front desk; though our room wasn't ready yet, they took our bags so we could get out and explore. We decided to grab some lunch, and walked about five blocks before spotting a cafe/trendy tea shop that looked as good a place to eat as any -- there were plenty of places to sit, and I was starving. I couldn't understand why I was struggling with the Spanish menu while Mike deciphered and dictated the menu offerings to me with glee. Turns out he was holding the English version -- he found this whole situation rather amusing. We had iced passion tea and toasty ham and cheese sandwiches, and sat lazily in the cafe with goofy smiles on our faces. It was exhilarating to be sitting in Buenos Aires -- finally -- after months of preparation, feeling the warm breeze coming through the open windows.

Back at the hotel, showers really perked us back up, especially Mike, who soon after got his second (or would it be his third) wind and ran back outside with his new digital camera. Or maybe it was claustrophobia: Our room was small (once our busting-at-the-seams suitcases were wheeled in, we could barely maneuver around the bed) but functional for our one-night stay. A high ceiling made the room feel larger than it was, thankfully, and flowing linen curtains dressed an impossibly tall window. Guest rooms are accessible through equally tall doors using old-fashioned skeleton keys, which along with stone sinks in the bathrooms add to the place's Old World character. We read about the hotel on, and couldn't believe what a bargain it was -- less than $100 for the night. In fact, for budget watchers, the biggest expense is actually getting to South America; once you are here, meals and accommodations are reasonable if not seriously cheap by North American standards (we saw plenty of low- to mid-end hotels listed for $50 or even less per night).

Alberto, a driver we hired in advance on the recommendation of Jana Jones, one of Cruise Critic's longtime cruise reviewers, picked us up at our hotel at 3 p.m. (Here's another instance where we were shocked how much we got for our money -- and precisely why Jana recommended him: Our private tour cost us just 35 pesos an hour, or about $11.) We scooted into the back of his Fiat and headed first to the nearby Recoleta Cemetery. We parked in a spot that seemed highly illegal after driving over sidewalk alongside a restaurant (but hey, I wasn't driving), and took a walk among the dead, quite literally. The cemetery was completely different from what I expected -- which was elaborate but otherwise normal headstones. What we saw here were gorgeous monumental tombs, some towering to twice my height, in smooth marble, aging stone and glass. This is a place for the rich and famous, with plots costing more than most of the houses in the city. The cemetery is a little like a city of its own, laid out in a grid with walkways between aisles of tombs.

Alberto pointed out the tombs belonging to figures of historical importance to Buenos Aires (such as Alvear, who has, as I mentioned earlier, a street named after him featuring some of the city's finest hotels and luxe shops). However, the one we were most interested in was that of the Duarte family, where the body of Eva Peron rests. The famed Evita rose from poverty to become the powerful First Lady of Argentina alongside Juan Peron. Of course this was what most of the other tourists were interested in too, as we made our way through a huge crowd of people whispering in different languages, running their fingers along the marble and snapping digital photographs. I had to stifle a laugh -- I couldn't help but feel bad for her dearly deceased neighbors trying to get either some rest or attention of their own!

After leaving the cemetery, we asked Alberto to help us get our bearings on a whirlwind tour of Buenos Aires' many neighborhoods, or "barrios." We visited Plaza de Mayo, in the heart of the city, and Palermo, where there are about 150 parks for biking, jogging and relaxing. At Parque 3 de Febrero Park, also known as Palermo Woods, you can rent a small boat and float around the lake. All (or at least most) of Mike's fears of losing a kidney had by now vanquished -- he couldn't get over how much the area reminded him of Boston. He was right: A couple of swan boats, and I'd have sworn we were in Boston Common! In fact, much of Buenos Aires reminded us of cosmopolitan cities we've visited and loved across the globe. We caught glimmers of Milan, Barcelona and even Washington, D.C. in the mix of new and old buildings, shiny and tall places of business coexisting with examples of Belle Epoque architecture.

La Boca is one of the most colorful and authentic of the 49 barrios, with narrow squat houses lining and brightening the streets in primary colors. La Boca, or "the mouth" (it is the "mouth" of a little river that opens into the wider River Plate) was once a shipping port but is better known as the birthplace of tango. We passed the tango hall connected with Carlos Gardel, who's famous for inventing "tango cancion," or sung tango, but what really caught my eye was a crafts market at the waterfront. Alberto pulled over and we hopped out of the Fiat to check it out. I'm holding out for the perfect leather handbag, which I'm hoping to find before I board Regal Princess tomorrow (leather goods are plentiful and cheap in Buenos Aires), but what's best to purchase here is beautiful handmade jewelry or knitwear in bright colors that really tie in the flavor of the neighborhood. I'd certainly recommend a stop to anyone planning to visit the area.

A side street to the left of the craft market was alive with outdoor cafes and cozy bars advertising Quilmes, a locally made brew. Mike suddenly grabbed my arm, whispering, "Look, look..." I hadn't noticed that a young local couple outside one of the bars had broken out in a random act of tango to strains of music emitting from inside. I was mesmerized -- I'd only seen tango on TV (remember in "I Love Lucy," when Lucy practices her tango for the PTA dance with a blouse full of eggs just waiting to be smashed?). Immediately I could see there was nothing funny about this kind of tango -- it looked like it should have been hard work, with more than just a few simple steps, but what struck me was how freely it seemed to come to them, and close together they were, two people melded together as one being.

The sensual dance was born in the late 1800's here in Buenos Aires (though some claim it got its start across the River Plate in Uruguay's Montevideo). It began in the streets, a pastime of the lower class -- the original "Dirty Dancing" if you will -- until the upper crust began "dressing down" to furtively participate in this then-taboo ritual. Today, it is a dance for everyone, and this evidence right in front of us suddenly reminded that we hadn't made plans for the evening. Tango seemed to be in order. After seeing so many monuments and buildings my head was spinning, and so Alberto bade us a warm goodbye after dropping us off, giving me a kiss on the cheek.

At this point, I was drooping even more so than this morning after the plane ride. But this was Buenos Aires -- the city that never sleeps (or at least its denizens don't) -- and hitting the hay early was simply not an option. It was only a mere 7 p.m., literally mid-day in this frenetic city, and we realized we hadn't made any plans for dinner or beyond this evening. Here's where the folks at the front desk came in handy -- calling up one of the popular but smaller (not a bad seat in the place) tango houses and squeezing us onto their list of reservations.

La Ventana, like many other tango houses in BA, arranges transportation for hotel guests as part of a package price (in our case, we paid 210 pesos or $70 for dinner, a show, and the ride to and from the hotel on a van -- which I found very reasonable!). The space itself is a converted "conventillo" (old house with rooms for rent) in brick, in the heart of San Telmo, yet another barrio known for the sexy dance of tango.

Once again, the people that write for Cruise Critic have proven to be an incredible source of information. When I told Joyce Gleeson-Adamidis, who writes our behind-the-scenes column "Under the Captain's Table," about my trip, she made sure to impress upon me that tango was a mandatory activity. She also comes as close as you can possibly get to describing it in actual words: "The gauchos are a sight to behold and men, the girls leave you with a lust for life. Shows grip you hard with a heart-racing time to the gaucho beat. The serious sensuality witnessed in tango leaves you perspiring with awe ... when walking into a completely local, non-tourist nightclub, I was pleasantly surprised when shown to our table that I had a great view of a man dancing with incredibly smooth moves. When he turned around it was none other than actor Robert Duvall. That man can tango and the pleasure was all ours to view...."

Well, I might not have had Robert Duvall, but one couple did completely captivate me, the female component a brunette squeezed into a black dress cut so that she was on the verge of a wardrobe malfunction that would make Janet Jackson proud. Her legs were flailing everywhere -- in the air, straight toward the head of the poor fellow sitting front and center, around her companion's waist -- dressed up in pencil-thin, super-high heels. The beats were intense, and the pace frantic. Mike's eyes didn't leave the stage once, even when he was reaching for the camera. My heart was pounding just watching the speed and accuracy -- one false flick of the ankle and you could really inflict a lot of pain on your partner! At once I'd found the secret to achieving a slim Latin physique.

When the moveable prop balcony and shirtless muscle men carrying the Argentine flag appeared, I braced myself for schmaltz, but the woman singing "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" had such a lovely voice ... well, I'll admit, I cried. After that number the mood picked back up and there was more rousing accordion, cello, drum and piano playing, and tango. After 90 minutes of dancing and folk music, though, I was ready to eat the tablecloth. I probably would have enjoyed myself even more if part of the meal or at least some bread had appeared during the performance to soak up the complimentary red wine that was pouring copiously. I eventually enjoyed beef empanadas and pork loin; Mike had steak that was rare and juicy, but doubtfully as good as what can be found in some of the city's finer restaurants (Buenos Aires is one of Argentina's and South America's gastronomical centers, famous for its beef).

There are places throughout Buenos Aires where you can learn to tango, but after watching these dizzying moves, I think Mike, I and our four left feet made the right choice to enjoy tango from this side of the fence ... at least this time around.

Photo is copyright
  Day 2: Embarkation, Cruising the Rio de la Plata to Montevideo

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