I was already planning to be in South America as a friend had asked me to visit the Atacama Desert with her. It's a long way to go for a week's visit so I decided that I should like to have a look at Patagonia as well.
I had a few hours to wait before embarkation so I explored Punta Arenas, picking up some wet weather gear that I needed and was fascinated to see and hear an impromptu drumming band of schoolchildren. Afterwards I took refuge in a very obliging internet cafe until boarding time. Excellent vibes from Punta! The dock staff and shop keepeers were kind and helpful.
The embarkation process went smoothly and I was delighted with my comfortable and well appointed cabin.
I have a gluten allergy which was very kindly catered for. The dining staff looked after me very well indeed. Despite some restrictions for me the food was delicious and varied. Funnily enough having an open bar led me to drink rather less than usual!
The information sessions held by the crew were very good. It was great to be on the bridge when a pod of Minke whales showed up. The account of Shackleton's expedition was amazing and very well presented.
The excursions to explore the wildlife, flora and glaciers were great.
I was on my own and the Cruise Director, Mauricio, joined me up with a group with whom I got on very well. The activity level of the groups was graded which is sensible.
We saw some beautiful plants including two varieties of wild orchid. We saw a condor!
We heard the Pia glacier creaking and even saw a few lumps falling off it.
Altogether the highlight was landing on Cape Horn. It was calm as a millpond and sunny, which allowed us to land, I felt slightly cheated it wasn't blowing a gale. I have Cape Horners in my background.
The scenery of Patagonia as we cruised the Magellan Strait and Beagle Channel was absolutely spectacular, some of the best holiday photographs of my life.
The crew were highly professional in their attention to our safety at all times and particularly so when we embarked on the Zodiacs for the shore excursions. Not only that but they were cheerful and friendly as well. Mauricio Alvarez is an excellent leader.
I should love to travel on Stella Australis again but there is a lot of world still to see on my bucket list. If she went to Antarctica I'd be there like a shot. She is an awesome, beautiful little ship.
I'm sure there may have been more luxurious cabins than mine but you only sleep there.
The bed was superbly comfortable and having a window is much nicer than a porthole.
Decent shower, nice hot water, efficient cabin staff, I was very pleased with it.
I mentioned punta arenas in my review of the trip. Enjoyed my short time there, fun place.
Usuaia seemed run down, the hotel needed a 'do up' food uninspiring. Ushuaia is good for excercise if your hotel is on the hill as there are glacial morrains to be negotiated before you get to the port, where everything happens. It is a beautiful place but the backstreets are pretty grubby. The supermarket was extremely unhelpful. The taxi drivers are cheerful and helpful. As jumping off point for Antarctica - which is expensive - I think this city could present itself better.