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Redirected: My First Cruise To ... South America

Jana Jones
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Editor's note: Celebrity Millennium is no longer sailing in South America, but Celebrity has other ships on the around-the-horn route.

Christmas came a few days early for me. I must have been very, very good indeed, because what Santa handed me was the fulfillment of a lifetime dream: A South America cruise. Not just any cruise, but a full-blown, 14-night, around-the-horn sojourn from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Santiago, Chile, aboard




I clutched my cruise documents as though they were a favorite teddy bear, I reread them so often that they became dog-eared and grimy, I dreamed of penguins and gauchos and glaciers. I pictured mornings spent with room service coffee and croissants, evenings with Michel Roux-inspired cuisine, sea days soaking in the thalassotherapy pool in Millennium's beautiful AquaSpa.

The closer I got to departure, the dizzier I became. How to plan for all of the different climates I would experience? It would be hot and steamy in Buenos Aires and Santiago, but it might snow in Ushuaia. Should I overpack just in case? Take boots and hats and scarves?

I read every bit of material I could find on the destinations I would visit, practiced my Spanish and planned my shore excursions. And finally, I was on my way.

Going Upside-Down

My cruise started in Buenos Aires, which I had always heard referred to as "the Paris of South America." Anyone who is cruising this route, who starts or ends in Buenos Aires, is doing themselves a huge disservice if they don't take a couple of days in this magical city. With a stable economy and low inflation, it's worth it to spend the time once you arrive ... because the biggest expense is in getting to Buenos Aires to begin with.

January, of course, is the height of summer there, equivalent to North America's July. But, just as in France and other European cities in July, "Portenos" (Buenos Aires locals) tend to take the month off to vacation with their families. This leaves some businesses closed, but it also means much less traffic, smog and congestion, and the closed businesses are primarily internal and don't impact the tourism industry.

This is a city filled with parks, fountains, outdoor cafes and pedestrian streets. Turn a corner and a couple is dancing the tango to a tune on a portable radio. Turn another and find a street market of artisans and craftsmen. People in this city actually smile at you, welcome you and want to help you.

Since I was definitely in the Southern Hemisphere, several thousand miles closer to the South Pole than to New York, the first thing I did when I checked into my hotel was turn on the water in the bathroom. Yep, the swirl in the sink definitely went in the opposite direction than it does at home. I was officially upside-down.

Make no Mistake...

I couldn't have been more delighted when I boarded Millennium, my first cruise on this class of ship and only my second time on


. I had a concierge-level cabin near the aft of Deck Nine. My only concern (and it was borne out as the two weeks passed) was that it was under a deep overhang; so deep that it requires angled stanchions for architectural stability. There were three major drawbacks to this as far as I was concerned: it limited visibility (I never saw the tops of the mountains from my balcony, for instance), it got less sun and light, and it required major readjustment to take photos from the balcony without getting the overhang or the stanchions in the shot.

Other than that, my room was lovely, with a nice sofa, a great desk area, a large bathroom and plenty of closet space to store my belongings. This was home for the next two weeks.

That night, when I met the rest of my group for supper, I saw that we were seated in the center of the dining room just opposite the stairway featured in Celebrity's newest commercial: the one where the lady thanks her travel agent for getting her this far. I had thought that my kid-like excitement might abate with the jetlag, but it didn't. I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming...

Our first port stop was in Montevideo, Uruguay -- a small country (half the size of Italy) across the Rio de la Plata estuary from Argentina's northeast border. Most of the people on my cruise (myself included) considered it a "utility stop" until we got to the more "fun" places. Big mistake. Uruguay is probably the most stable democracy in South America, modern and contemporary. The eastern side of the country, along the Atlantic Ocean, is a tourist mecca of white sand beaches; inland, 97 percent of the land is arable, perfect for growing fruits, vegetables, wine grapes and for pasturing beef and sheep.

Two of the most highly lauded and talked-about shore excursions took place on this stop -- the "Estancia (Ranch) Tour with Lunch" and the wine tasting tour. I learned a valuable lesson about prejudging a destination from this experience, both in anticipation of something great (Punta Arenas) and in dismissing a port because it didn't seem "sexy" enough.

Updated October 10, 2019

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