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South America: Around Cape Horn on Regal Princess
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
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Day 6: Tuesday, Rounding Cape Horn
Rounding Cape HornRainy gray skies and a high of 55 degrees greeted us for the day we've been waiting for -- rounding Cape Horn, South America's southernmost landmass. I am by no means a morning person, but for some reason woke up refreshed and raring to go before 7 a.m., way before my wake-up call. I left Mike to get some more shut-eye, and headed down to the Palm Court to start my day with eggs benedict (the day's special), melon and coffee (the everyday menu also features scrambled eggs, pancakes and various compotes; waiters circle the room with trays of breads, pastries, muffins, etc.). It was actually really nice to start my morning earlier than usual, rather than laze away the hours and wake up feeling like I'd been missing the fun. After breakfast, I enjoyed some alone time, strolling the decks and poking my head into various public areas.

Production shows rehearse late morning in the International Show Lounge. I also discovered that this is one of the best times of day to visit the Internet cafe, which is located just beyond the entrance for the main theater. Though large heavy doors block the entrance and therefore access to the cafe during rehearsals, those who venture beyond them will find plenty of open computers and seemingly faster connections since fewer surfers are in there soaking up the bandwidth. Granted, there was a printout on said heavy doors that read "Internet Cafe is Closed" (actually it said "Internet Cafe is Open," but the last word had been crossed out lightly in pen and "Closed" scrawled above it), but Princess personnel gave me and a few other passengers the green light to enter. Lesson of the day: Never hurts to ask!

Earlier in the cruise, I'd attended one of Princess' Ceramics@Sea sessions and began painting a small dish. It's a unique little program, and it is really fun and relaxing -- on most days at sea, a big cart of paints and supplies is wheeled into Characters Bar for a few hours (advertised in the ship's newsletter, the Patter). All you're required to purchase is your piece (prices start from $15 for a flat tile). Paints and supplies are free to use, and you can return to as many sessions as you like or need to finish; sessions are held almost every day the ship is at sea. Princess fires your homemade souvenir for you before the end of your cruise.

I'd traced a penguin into my dish using carbon paper, and today finished brushing a pretty brown called Java Bean up the sides. Some of the ladies -- and men! -- I've seen at the sessions are actually quite talented, sketching freehand with bubble paints. One woman made a coffee mug with penguins dancing around the sides, and another a cool serving plate with artistic swirls of gold and blue. After ceramics, Mike and I met up for a bite to eat at the special themed Antarctic lunch buffet in the Cafe del Sol. I was afraid I'd find something appalling like fried penguin or sea lion stew, but thankfully most of the choices were tame, including a mixed seafood salad and delicious fried queen white fish. We ate quickly, wanting to get a good spot on deck for Cape Horn.

So many people were lined up shoulder to shoulder on the starboard side of the Lido Deck it was a wonder the ship didn't tip over. I was in heels, having planned to go straight for my pre-dinner drink after the scenery had passed, but it wasn't my smartest move to date -- as the swells increased, my balance decreased, and I lost my footing more than once, gripping onto the handrail for support. Still, it was nowhere near as bad as I expected (and half hoped -- yes, I'm masochistic) it would be. Crewmembers and officers, including Captain Hamish, kept going on and on incredulously about the fair weather we've been experiencing, and how calm the seas were for this particular part of the world. I never felt sick once, though Elaine went back to the doctor today for more of the same remedy he'd prescribed; she was running low, and getting worried!

I'd envisioned it differently: Being geographically challenged (before this trip, the only difference between Paraguay and Uruguay in my mind was a few letters), I thought Cape Horn was actually connected to South American mainland, on the tip of the continent. I admit to having grandiose visions of viewing the expansive continent from the bottom up. But Cape Horn is really just an archipelago south of the Magellenas region of Chile and Tierra del Fuego in Argentina. The cape is very rocky -- and very brown -- with cliffs of granite covered with dense thickets of trees ... and not much else.

I can see how it could be anticlimactic for some, particularly with our unusually compliant weather (one cruiser questioned why sailors were afraid of sailing down here -- but it is important to keep in mind that the waters surrounding Cape Horn are indeed notorious for treacherous "williwaw" winds, which can strike a vessel with little or no warning). Yes, I'm a bit of a geek about this stuff -- I was the only top-20 student in my high school that took "rocks for jocks" instead of AP Biology, simply because I was interested in earth and space science. To me, it's not just a slow boat to a pile of rocks. The attraction of a passage around Cape Horn is certainly not based on the scenery it provides, but on a chance to chart the same waters daring seafarers did years ago. Here, we are only 800 kilometers (about 500 statute miles) from Antarctica and at the point where the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean meet.

What intrigued Mike most was that for hundreds of years, these rocks have remained untouched, at least by human hands. Sure, Mother Nature may have done a thing or two, but all in all we viewed exactly what Sir Francis Drake saw in 1578 on a circumnavigation of the world. (Interesting tidbit: Drake actually found Cape Horn by accident, after being blown off course from the Strait of Magellan. A Dutch navigator named Willem Corneliszoon Schouten rounded the cape purposely in 1616 looking for a new trade route to the East, and named it "Hoorn" after his birthplace in the Netherlands.)

After Regal Princess completed its 360-degree turn around Cape Horn, we retreated to the Bacchus Wine Bar on Deck 7, surrounding the atrium below. It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop, as more than half of the ship instead went straight to dinner (the early seating is in high demand on this sailing, perhaps because the average age skews older). Comfy armchairs are set at glass tables with a wine menu, of course, and the regular list of cocktails. A vineyard mural graces the walls and grapes are etched into panels of glass setting the bar apart from the walkway leading to the shops. You can also get caviar here, from $35 for one ounce (there's also a $90 "Franco-Russian" package -- a half bottle of French Champagne and Sevruga caviar). I decided to try the martini of the day, which Princess offers in addition to the coffee of the day and the regular drink of the day. At $5.25, it really is a deal -- especially since the drinks are usually the designer type made with creative concoctions of top-shelf liquor. Today's is Very Berry, with Bombay Sapphire gin and raspberry-flavored Chambord.

Our waiter was exceptionally attentive and pleasant, though it reminded me that service has been inconsistent onboard. Crewmembers run the gamut -- from the smiling gentleman who served us our very first night in Bengal Bar and knew our names when he saw us at again at the Captain's cocktail party to the grumpy frowner manning the hamburger bar who looked as if he'd rather be just about anywhere else in the world. We always use lemon in our water at our dinner table; sometimes the wedges are waiting for us, while other times we have to ask for them once or twice.

One thing I have to say about our dining room waiter Paulo, though, is that he has a good sense of humor. Early in the cruise, Diane had been served sauteed mushrooms with one of her entrees -- and she enjoyed them so much, she asked if she could have them every night. Sure, no problem, but apparently they got less and less tasty as the nights passed. So this evening -- after dessert was cleared and we were just finishing up our tea, coffee and chitchat -- she finally pulled Paulo aside to tell him to 86 the mushrooms. "But why?" he wanted to know, and asked how he could make it better. "They used to be shiitake. Can we have shiitake? Sauteed but not too rich ... and no salt," Diane rattled off, and the rest of us laughed hysterically as Paulo jotted it all down on his notepad, raising his eyebrows jokingly. "Oh, and a splash of wine would be nice, too," she added, to which he replied, "Would you like to see the wine list, madam?" Well that was it -- I thought I might fall off my chair I was laughing so hard.

It remains to be seen, though, how her mushrooms will turn out.
Day 5: Port Stanley red arrow Day 7: Ushuaia

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