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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 5: Thursday, Two Sea Days and Santos, Brazil
Two Sea Days and Santos, Brazil

Most times when people talk about being followed by storm clouds, it's a metaphor for having a seemingly unending spate of bad luck. With me, I'm really talking about the weather. So far on my cruise, I had one day of clouds, but no rain. From the moment we left Punta del Este, however, the rains came back with a vengeance. On the first of our two sea days, it was just crummy weather, but that night, the wind started to blow. By the morning of the second sea day, I woke to noticeable rocking and rolling. I turned on the stateroom TV and tuned to the channel that gets you the ship's GPS and navigation stats -- I was shocked to see the wind pegged at 113 miles per hour!

(As it turned out, the anemometer had broken, and the reading was totally erroneous, although ironically, I had sailed on this very ship 10 years ago through a winter storm in the Mediterranean with legitimate 100 knot winds.)

I was hoping fervently that the weather would change by the time I was scheduled to go to the outdoor Sambadrome for Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro!

Despite the inclement weather, however, everyone onboard was thoroughly entertained. Azamara put up an extensive number of entertainment and enrichment activities, especially on sea days, for a ship of only 700 passengers. This is made possible by the inclusion of multiple outside expert lecturers and a large and enthusiastic cruise staff. A large number of trivia games were augmented by off-the-shelf board games modified for use as shipboard competitions. Of course, there were bingo games, enrichment lectures and art auctions. All offerings were well-attended, though it might not have seemed so at first. I was one of eight players that showed up for a game of trivia -- but it's important to keep in mind that that number is proportional to a group of 60 on a mega-liner!

One thing I remember from this ship in the R series days was the intimate show lounge, dubbed the Celebrity Cabaret under the Azamara flag. It is more like the secondary lounges on larger ships, with armchair and pedestal table seating placed in a semicircle around a floor-level combination dance floor and stage. The elevated platform stage behind this performance area is given over to the show band, or to instrumental headliner soloists, such as concert pianists. Other headliners perform from the dance floor. But the quandary is how to perform a production show in such a venue. Wisely, what Azamara does is switch the influence from dancing to singing. And the first production show did just that. Titled “That's Hollywood,” it was a paean to the movies performed by an unnamed quintet of singers who sang in perfect close harmony, and nimbly chatted their way through transitional patter between the songs. It's the type of show I remember from the early days of cruising when 30,000-ton ships were considered giants.

Santos, I was surprised to find out, is the largest seaport in South America and stretches 14 kilometers (nearly nine miles). The port was originally created to service the sugar and slave trades, and contributed to the creation of Sao Paolo, Brazil's largest city and its major commercial and industrial center. Later, Santos became ground zero for the marketing and shipping of Brazil's burgeoning coffee industry. Santos' second claim to fame is as the home of the soccer star, Pele, and of the team he played for.

To get to know more, I took a half-day ship-sponsored tour of the city. Our guide, Flavio, was entertaining, knowledgeable and multi-lingual; his languages included virtually unaccented English. Our bus driver, on the other hand, needed to go to traffic school with special emphasis on remedial navigation. (The driver's favorite gear was reverse, and he used it at every opportunity.)

It took us a full 30 minutes to clear the last pier and gantry from our position midway down the quay, partly due to the large numbers of crawling container-towing semis. Of six lanes of traffic (three in each direction), four were taken up by this truck traffic. In addition, running diagonally through the port area were railroad tracks to accommodate cargo containers delivered by train. As we neared the end of the port, the roadway narrowed down to one lane, which crossed the train tracks to exit the port.

Have you ever been on a multilane highway where two lanes going your direction narrow to one, and you're next to someone who absolutely insists on speeding up to get ahead of you before the two lanes have become one? Well, that was our driver, and it earned us loud honking from behind and to our right. Unfortunately, the honking came not from a car or truck, but from an overtaking freight train, which caused Flavio to yell at our driver in Portuguese to stop and pull over. Of course, neither we nor the train was going more than about 10 m.p.h., but it still earned some internationally comprehensible gestures from the engineer as he passed. Ah, just like home.

Anyone who lives in a dense urban area can relate to traffic issues, but isn't that one of the things we go on vacation to escape? ("Yes," I replied, answering my own rhetorical question. "Especially road rage. But isn't it unusual to have road rage toward the driver at the helm of the vehicle you're riding in?")

Once clear of the port, we found ourselves on what qualifies as the "Gold Coast" in Santos: high-rise apartment buildings and hotels across a broad boulevard from seemingly endless beaches. From there, we passed into Independence Square, which commemorates Brazil's independence from Portugal in 1822. Unfortunately, our driver missed the turn, and we had to make a second pass at the square after getting caught in a snarl of one-way streets. During that diversion, we passed a huge Brazilian pharmacy chain store, which had obviously secured the endorsement of Pele, as his gigantic visage beamed down from every available inch of roofline. Given the current state of professional sports, I found the idea of an athlete endorsing a pharmacy a bit ironic.
The Municipal Orquidaria (Municipal Orchid Gardens) is one of the stops on the half-day tour. We got two very good looks at the outside of the park as our driver failed to capitalize on an available parking spot, and we were forced to circle the park twice to choruses of "Deja vu all over again!" from the passengers. Inside, I found it to be like a thousand other botanical gardens: a lovely and soothing respite, but nothing special. Almost all of the animals -- with the exception of peacocks and agoutis (Chihuahua-sized rodents) -- were kept in wire mesh cages along the walkways. Even the monkeys and tropical birds, often allowed to freely inhabit the treetops of similar reserves, were caged.

More memorable was the Coffee Museum. In many ways, this was the most interesting stop of the tour. The ornate building was the hub of the coffee trade in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Here, growers would bring their crops, along with small containers of raw beans for the presiding board to roast and taste prior to putting each grower's crop up for auction. Coffee is no longer traded in this manner. Crops are mixed together, and prices are set by international commodity markets. The building has been turned into a museum commemorating Brazil's coffee industry.

The style of the building is a bit pretentious, owing to the somber importance early Brazilians placed on the commodity. The central room is the Auction Hall, with a vast, open inlaid marble floor, 30-foot ceiling capped by a stained glass skylight illustrating the history of Brazil, and dark rosewood permanent seats for the growers and throne-like chairs behind a table on a raised dais for the administrators and auctioneer. Other interesting parts of the museum included the roasting/tasting room and historical photos of the labor force required to harvest the beans, both during the days of slavery and later, during the era that Japanese and Italian immigrants were brought into the country for that purpose once slavery had been abolished.

One curious display is of an annual competition held among stevedores to determine who could carry the most bags of coffee beans. The legendary winner was a stevedore remembered only by the name, Jacinto, who won the competition carrying a stack of five bags of coffee stacked vertically on his shoulders which is commemorated in a lifelike statue -- sacks of coffee and all. At 60 kilograms per bag, his burden translates into about 660 pounds. It wasn't clear how far he had to carry that prodigious load.

After several wrong turns and more fun driving in reverse down Santos' narrow streets, we arrived at Tertulia Churrascaria, our lunch stop. Even though lunch is one meal where I try to stick with the lighter, lower calorie choices, I was delighted -- churrascarias were the second item on my to-do list on my South American Carnivore's Quest. These Brazilian all-you-can-eat palaces dedicated to barbecued meat have become the hottest trend in dining in the U.S.A. over the past few years. A typical churrascaria has a huge central salad and appetizer bar surrounded by tables and, in some cases, a glassed-in wood-burning grill covering one entire wall. Waiters parade around the room with sword-like skewers on which large hunks of meat are impaled. In some of the better, larger churrascarias, the number of different types and cuts of meat can amount to as many as 40. When you see something you want, you ask the waiter, and he slices it right onto your plate.

I enjoyed our lunch at Tertulia, but it wasn't top-of-the-line -- I didn't expect it to be; restaurants that do a trade in serving large bus tours generally aren't -- but as always, it was fun and very filling. And my churrascaria experience had only just begun. I have a reservation for tomorrow night at Porcao, one of Rio's top churrascarias, located on Ipanema Beach.

It would have been a shocking surprise if our driver got us back to the ship after lunch without demonstrating, again, his virtuosity in reverse gear, and he had saved the most spectacular example for last. Somehow he managed to drive down a one-way street that dead-ended at a construction barricade where the street had been totally torn up, which required him to drive in reverse the wrong way for two blocks before being able to get in the proper lane. Our 3.5 hour tour had run close to 7 hours! From there, it was only one more wrong turn just outside the port, and we were at the cruise terminal.

Once aboard, I was faced with an interesting decision. Having finished a humongous lunch at 3 in the afternoon, I hardly felt hungry for dinner. I even considered skipping it altogether but decided, instead, to try Breeza, which is what the ship renames the Windows Buffet Restaurant when it transforms into the alternative light buffet dinner venue. It was a perfect choice. First off, there were two stations -- sushi and stir-fry -- either an excellent choice for the diner who wants to feel virtuous for eating a truly light meal. And the sushi was not typical cruise ship sushi, which is usually limited to California and tuna rolls and ahi sushi. Offerings included hamachi (yellowtail), tuna and tilapia -- all of which tasted crisp and fresh. For those wanting to have a bit of a different ethnic slant on their dinner, there was what I thought of as "Little Italy," where pizza, calzones and cooked-to-order pasta were the stars of the show. Other choices included salad and antipasti bars, a carving station, and a variety of buffet trays featuring something for every type of "vore" (carni-, omni- and herbi-).

Sliding past warehouses, gantries and shanties, we exited Santos harbor -- bound for Rio! And though it had started to drizzle again, there were plenty of breaks in the clouds, and the sun was poking through....
Day 4: Punta del Este, Uruguay red arrow Day 6: Arrival and First Day in Rio

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