When we sailed away from Antarctica in January 2010, aboard a Princess ship, it was with sadness that we would not be returning. However, while searching for a Canaries cruise in 2015, we came across a South America cruise, which sparked ... Read More
When we sailed away from Antarctica in January 2010, aboard a Princess ship, it was with sadness that we would not be returning. However, while searching for a Canaries cruise in 2015, we came across a South America cruise, which sparked the idea of visiting Antarctica once more. HAL provided the perfect itinerary for 2018, but just before we booked, offers too good to miss saw us join the 2017 sailing instead.
This was our first cruise with HAL and we were very pleasantly impressed with the whole cruise. The only criticism would be the rather confusing and chaotic Life Boat drill, which involves a three-stage warning and then assembly at your designated life boat on deck, rather then the more comfortable gathering in a theatre or similar space. Luckily the weather was kind!
After that, everything ran smoothly on board. We had chosen a port-side Vista "suite" on deck 6 at the stern, because this allowed easy access to the sheltered stern decks for better viewing of the scenery and which also provided a quick way up to deck 8 for the open deck and the Lido area. Port also was the best side for the views on this cruise from Valparaiso to Buenos Aires. The outer door leading to this rear deck was extremely difficult to open, worryingly as it was an emergency exit. We did ask for it to be made easier, but nothing was done.
We had selected Freedom dining but we always, with one exception, ate in the casual dining room in the Lido because of the relaxed atmosphere and the excellent views. I liked the Market style service, which was served rather than self-service and therefore more hygienic, plus the fact that much of the food was cooked to order. At the end of the cruise was a BBQ night in the Lido area, which was too busy for us and we did visit the Rotterdam dining room on that occasion, which was peaceful and which also offered large windows so no spectacle would be missed!
On board were experts on Antarctica, including a Naturalist, who was out on deck 3 early on the mornings of sea days. We joined her and many passengers on several occasions and a list of birds and animals sighted was written up regularly. There were lectures from the experts and from Wallis, the lively Location Guide. We prefer to watch these on TV in the evenings because there is too much to see outside to be seated in the theatre in daylight. Unfortunately, the lectures were not given a scheduled slot and it was pot-luck to catch one you wanted to see. Lectures on ports gone by were also repeated unnecessarily.
During scenic cruising, the experts gave a commentary over the outside speakers and the room TVs. These could not be heard in the Lido dining room, which was a disadvantage. We missed a pod of Orcas early on in the cruise because the announcement could not be heard during breakfast - annoyingly, we had only just left deck 3 when they were seen.
More annoyingly, announcements on tender operations in the many tendered ports were made very loudly in the accommodation corridors, so sleeping in was not an option even if you did not need to be up early!
Embarkation was very smooth, other than no signing to the luggage drop-off. The terminal at Valparaiso is large and modern, with some shopping opportunities, including a wine stall with free tasting. We bought the two bottles we were allowed to take on board. Later, we saw bottles of wine being spotted by the scanners at ports; they are either stored until disembarkation or a corkage fee is payable.
We chose not to join any tours, partly because we had visited some ports before and partly because we prefer to walk in the towns instead. Previously we had sailed from Buenos Aires as far as the Chilean Glaciers and then back to Buenos Aires, so most of the Chilean side was new to us. We were not particularly interested in the ports for this cruise - the scenic cruising is everything.
The first port was Puerto Montt. The terminal offered free Wifi which worked! (We did have 200 free minutes of Wifi on board, but eeked it out with internet access on shore where possible.) We walked to the craft market first and then back towards the town, where there are stray dogs lazing around everywhere, but made the mistake of giving in to fatigue to soon, so we missed the town, which would have been the better option for us.
Casto was the next stop and we visited the town first, stopping at the Cathedral before walking down towards the stilted houses which are about a mile out of town. We missed the access to the raised footpath and followed a well-trodden path on the other side of the road. Walking a few steps behind my OH, with my head down to watch my steps, I noticed a shadow behind me and looked round to find a dog close at my heels. We looked at each other for a moment before it bit my lower leg through my jeans; my shout of protest brought assistance and it ran back to the shack set back from the road it was "guarding".
The injury was not severe but started bleeding. We continued shakily towards the village where a tour bus from the ship gave us a lift back to the port. (To cut a long story short, Chile is a low-risk Rabies area; the ship's nurse cleaned and dressed the injury that day and on the next, I had an anti-Rabies vaccination but the remaining four did not fit in with port days and I am now continuing the course at home.) Disappointingly, the Wifi did not work easily enough to bother with in Castro.
We had not intended to leave the ship at the next port of Chacabuco because there is nothing to see apart from guard dogs unless you take a tour! However, a taxi took us and an interpreter to the hospital for the vaccination, which was fine; the promised extra doses for administration on the ship did not happen. The taxi ride was quite scenic but again there was no Wifi working in the port - unless you were prepared to sit and sit just in case.
All the scenic cruising was wonderful and worth getting up early for on some occasions! The ship moved very slowly through the calm waters and the atmosphere was wonderful. Needless to say, many photos were taken throughout the cruise, including spectacular sunsets on many occasions. The bow deck was opened on some occasions, but we mainly used the stern or deck 9, although the front area of that deck was enclosed by glass.
Punta Arenas did offer working Wifi! We walked to the Cathedral, the rather strange cemetery and a high viewing point, following a walking tour route independently.
That evening and the next day were taken up by wonderful scenic cruising. Glacier Alley is NOT to be missed! (Princess Cruises went by in the evening and some passengers thought dinner was more important!) Again, the ship cruised by very slowly with hardly a ripple on the calm water.
In the afternoon of that day, we visited Ushuaia, docking this time rather than tendering. Anyone with mobility issues would struggle with the many tendered ports on this cruise.
I don't think free Wifi I was available in this port. We walked round the small town, enjoying the mountain scenery behind it.
Cape Horn and the Drake Passage followed the next day. Although the seas were completely calm (as in our first visit) we did not circumnavigate the Cape as previously, which seemed a missed opportunity.
Good weather meant we reached Antarctic waters earlier than scheduled and we had an extra afternoon there as well as the scheduled three days. Throughout, the skies were overcast but fog-free and the experience of Antarctica is one to treasure. It was a different experience from our first time there too, with different conditions and different areas visited.
An approaching storm had us racing away from Antarctica eventually but the Captain made time to sail past Elephant Island at a distance before we continued on towards Stanley.
The next day, at sea, was foggy with the fog horn sounding - by evening the sun broke through.
It is not uncommon for ships to be unable to drop anchor at Stanley because of adverse weather, but once again we were lucky. Wifi is good but costs £5 for 50 minutes because it is so expensive to have on the Island. We walked down to the Church and the War Memorial before buying the required fluffy penguins and sea lions for our Grandchildren, taking advantage of sterling prices!
We returned to the ship for lunch and experienced a much rougher sea as waves crashed over the top of the tender and found their way inside, dramatically through a poor seal in an opening window and uncomfortably into the hood of a poor passenger seated underneath a hatch!
Puerto Madryn is a little bit of Wales in South America and was settled by intrepid travellers in 1865, who made their first homes in sandstone caves on the shore. We walked along the sea front, but did not go as far as the original settlement, though the walk is possible. Free Wifi is to be found in the Shopping Mall next to the Tourist Office and was slow but functional.
Montevideo on a Sunday morning was very hot and humid and rather quiet. Armed police stand on street corners and are helpful for directions. We found Independence Square and also visited the Cathedral. On the way back to the ship, which was in dock, we found a wonderful, air-conditioned Tourist Office with excellent free Wifi and we enjoyed a happy catch-up time there, returning after lunch for more!
Finally we reached Buenos Aires for an overnight stop. We have been on tours there before and we consider the city unsafe for independent visitors, so we went no further than the terminal for very slow Wifi. In the evening, we enjoyed watching three other cruise ships sail away. Among the many shipping containers, one had appeared to be hiding while it was docked!
Disembarkation was as smooth as embarkation. We were allowed to use our room until departure at 9.30 am and our cases did not need to be put out until midnight the night before. We were at the airport earlier than necessary and could not check in our cases for a couple of hours, but the time passed quickly enough with the free Wifi!
If you can, go on this cruise. It is an un-missable experience. Read Less