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Home > Virtual Cruises > South America on Azamara Journey
South America on Azamara Journey
Day 1: Pre-Trip Thoughts
Day 2: Arrival in Buenos Aires
Day 3: Setting Sail
Day 4: Punta del Este, Uruguay
Day 5: Two Sea Days and Santos, Brazil
Day 6: Arrival and First Day in Rio
Day 7: Carnaval in Rio!
Day 8: From Rio to Montevideo
Day 9: Disembarkation in Buenos Aires
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Day 3: Tuesday, Setting Sail
Setting Sail

To make the most of my last pre-cruise day in Buenos Aires (I board the ship this afternoon), I packed my bags, checked out and met my guide, Marila -- all by 8 a.m. It's not necessary to book a separate guide when touring by private car; and for those wanting to do the homework: at $20 per hour, sightseeing with a driver alone is an affordable and efficient way to put together a tour customized to cover only the points of greatest personal interest.

I chose to add an English-speaking guide, booked for me by the Hilton's concierge, which added $55 to the tab: pricey, but not out of whack if one or two couples share the car.

When Journey returns to Buenos Aires the morning of February 9, I will be taking a full-day tour to fill the time between disembarkation and the 8:45 p.m. departure of my return flight. That tour will be covering Plaza de Mayo and the government buildings there, as well as the neighborhoods of La Boca, San Telmo and La Recoleta, the latter famous for its cemetery housing the mausoleum of Evita Peron. Therefore, I decided to avoid those areas today and concentrate on other parts of Buenos Aires.

However, don't bypass these areas and attractions if you have only a short amount of time to explore the city. In Plaza de Mayo, for example, one stop I recommend is Cafe Tortoni, the oldest bar/confectionary in Buenos Aires, opened in 1858. This was a gathering place for intellectuals, celebrities, writers, artists and musicians, most notably, Carlos Gardel, a tango singer of the 1930's who brought the tango from a dance of the brothels to one of upper class respectability.

The walls of this atmospheric cafe are adorned with caricatures and portraits of its famous habitues, as well as loads of other memorabilia. Though it was too early to pause for a meal (I had finished breakfast no more than 15 minutes previously), soaking up the atmosphere of the room was fascinating.

In the upscale, elegant Recoleta neighborhood, one of the don't-miss landmarks -- aside, of course, from the famous Recoleta cemetery that forever houses Eva Peron -- is "Floralis Generica," a giant flower fashioned out of steel and aluminum by architect Eduardo Catalano, who donated this piece to the city of Buenos Aires.

The 65-foot high solar-powered flower begins the day with its petals closed. At dawn, they begin to open, and the sculpture rotates to follow the sun; as the day ends, the petals once again close, starting the cycle all over again.

My tour today, however, took me first into the region known as Palermo Woods -- and its fronting residential neighborhood, Palermo Chico, also known as Barrio Parque. Interspersed along these beautiful, gently curving streets, under the shade of tall, mature trees, are various foreign embassies and homes of Buenos Aires' wealthiest residents. As we drove through Palermo Chico, I saw the incongruity of maids in traditional black and white French maid uniforms, standing in front of the houses and hosing down the driveways.

By now I was developing a much better impression of Buenos Aires, a city of contrasts. The ornate government and cultural edifices, liberally accented with broad traffic circles, plazas, fountains and monuments, are what make up what I came to think of as the city's "European look." Then there was what I saw as Buenos Aires' working class roots: narrow, crowded, often cobblestone streets, with little open space. Lastly, I saw the city's ample green space: parks and public gardens, the refuge from the stress and intensity of life in one of Latin America's most bustling cities.

The guide and I attempted to visit several of these horticultural oases but found that they were all -- every single one of them -- closed on Mondays. (This is a good thing to remember if a walk through a formal Japanese garden or a paddle-boat ride across the Palermo Lakes is on your to-do list). We were able to get to various vantage points around the perimeters of these areas, so at least I could snap some great pictures.

There was better luck to be had along Calle Florida (pronounced flor-EE-da), a pedestrians-only shopping mecca that stretches several blocks. Today was a good day to visit Florida (most locals drop the "Calle") as the shops are closed on Sunday. We started at Plaza San Martin, near the Marriott Hotel (another popular hotel among pre-cruise visitors) and worked our way up the street. In some ways, it's like the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul; shopkeepers approach you and hawk their wares as you pass, but in this country, a simple, "No, gracias" causes them to retreat almost immediately. This is a great destination for leather shops, traditional souvenirs (such as the mate cups I encountered yesterday for drinking an Argentine herbal tea), silver and jewelry. The prices aren't bargain barrel, but the selection is incredible. At the midpoint of Florida is Galerias Pacifico, Florida's major mall, which includes an art gallery covering the entire upper floor festooned with many notable murals and frescos by major Argentinean artists.

The sky that had been spitting all day began to rain in earnest as my driver dropped me off at the pier; this was another benefit of taking a customized tour with a private car -- I could have the driver drop me off anywhere. Entering the terminal, which Azamara was sharing this day with Costa, I quickly moved through the line. Regrettably, it was the Costa line; boy, that lack of sleep was really catching up with me! I'd offer some tips on navigating the terminal, but it wasn't confusing -- simply carelessness on my part. Moving into the correct queue, I efficiently progressed through check-in and security, then walked through the door labeled "To Ships," only to find that it more accurately should have said "To Buses," as our next step was to board a bus -- a la many European airports -- which would then transport us to the gangways. The first bus in the line was full, so I made my way to the second, squeezed in as the doors closed, and we were on our way. As we crawled to the embarkation area, I was struck by how few of my fellow passengers spoke English.

When I got off the bus, I found myself squarely in front of Costa's gangway. No wonder most of the passengers were speaking Italian! The bus driver had to loop around anyway, so I had a private ride from Costa to Azamara Journey. Within a few minutes, I was aboard, sipping a glass of Champagne and seeking out a snack at the Pool Grill on Deck 9.

Having sailed on this ship when it was Renaissance's R6, I was surprised to see how few changes were immediately apparent. Of course, the ship's livery had been changed from black to white, but in terms of overall style, my first impressions were of primary architecture and details that I recalled from its earlier incarnation.

Stylistically, it still had an ornate, French baroque ambience. The more I looked, the more details of its prior existence caught my attention: the functional, brass banisters sided with black filigree-painted glass panels, ornate ceiling frescos, and cabinets through whose glass doors are visible shelf upon shelf of painted trompe l'oeil book spines and antique bric-a-brac. The one area I could see Celebrity's strong sense of design was in the wall hangings, which included interesting contemporary art and art photography. Though I registered this conflict in style with the ship's hard architecture, I got the feeling that this ship was still a work in progress. (And, in point of fact, while we were sailing, major carpet replacement activities were in progress.)

The Pool Grill was almost empty as it afforded very little shelter from the now driving rain, which was fine with me as I only wanted a quick bite before repairing to my stateroom to unpack. At the grill, I met Marlon, the loquacious, Filipino grill chef, who modestly informed me that he made the best French fries on the high seas. I politely informed him that we were at a low pier, not high seas, but he told me it still held true, and he was right! Look out, McDonalds. Marlon also whipped up a couple of Argentinean kabobs for me, which were also very tasty.

My accommodations were a nice splurge -- I was fortunate to snag a Sky Suite, one of the new staterooms added by Celebrity. It measured a copious 266 square ft. with a 60-square-ft. balcony. The bathroom was particularly spacious, though the lighting could have been brighter. Cherry-toned wood doors with frosted glass panels opened to reveal a substantial amount of storage space, divided between two hanging closets, numerous shelves and drawers.

While I was unpacking, there was a knock on my door, and Godwin, my butler, entered. (Every stateroom on Journey has a butler, or perhaps more accurately, every butler has several staterooms). Butler services are extensive on this ship; in addition to the usual list of services, on request, your butler will even pack or unpack your bags! That was a service I couldn't see myself using, but looking down at my rain-drenched loafers, I could see I was in desperate need of someone with a Ph.D. in shoe care. Godwin swept up my shoes, promising to return them good as new tomorrow.

I had reservations at Prime C, Journey's alternative restaurant specializing in prime meats and fish. I had made early reservations -- 7 p.m. -- so that I could get to bed early. While the service at Prime C was excellent, my first experience (as a whole) here was good but not great. I ordered the New York strip steak, with an appetizer of shrimp and stone crab. For those who have never had the delicious pleasure, stone crab claws are found only in warm Caribbean and South Atlantic waters, and most frequently served in South Florida. Fresh stone crab claws are preferred by many gourmets -- even over Maine lobster.

When frozen, the claws lose so much quality that one famous Miami Beach restaurant (Joe's Stone Crabs) actually closes its doors for the five months the tasty crustaceans are out of season, rather than serve frozen claws. So I had no one to blame but myself for my appetizer selection, but curiosity got the best of me. My shrimp were quite good; the so-called stone crab claw wasn't even stone crab -- it was from another species called Jonah crab, and it doesn't freeze well either. However, as far as the steak goes, I ordered it rare, but it came out medium, and compared to the quality of the steaks I had experienced ashore in Buenos Aires, it suffered by comparison. Since I never make food and service judgments based on turnaround day (there is too much chaos trying to get the ship ready to sail), I will withhold criticism, but I will return for a repeat engagement long before the cruise is over.

But when it comes to the upgraded bedding in my stateroom, no delay of praise is necessary. Bed never felt so good.
Day 2: Arrival in Buenos Aires red arrow Day 4: Punta del Este, Uruguay

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