We had previously cancelled 2 cruises to South America, and I am glad that we did, because we found this one going to S America and Antarctica. We gained much information and ideas from those who had previously done this trip so I hope we can also provide the same for others who are considering this cruise. I will TRY to be brief.
PRE-CRUISE: We flew to Santiago for a 3 day visit prior to embarkation. We booked our air tickets through Holland America's Flight Ease and were very satisfied with the price compared to booking on our own. If we travel this far, then we are going to see as much as possible. There had been much rioting in Santiago and some people actually cancelled the cruise out of fear for their safety. We had no problems at all. We stayed at the Doubletree by Hilton-Vitacura and HIGHLY RECOMMEND this hotel. It is in a very nice area and within 5 minute walk to much shopping and restaurants. We had the hotel arrange a private guide for a 4 hour tour of the city and also used UBER, on our own, to visit the Vina Cousino Macul for a wonderful winery tour. Easy to do on our own. We enjoyed our time in Santiago.
EMBARKATION: We had made arrangements with others on our roll call to use Stamp's Tours for a tour of Valparaiso and a winery visit during our transfer to San Antonio for embarkation. Although there was a little nervousness on our part since we were at several different hotels, it all worked out well and we reached the ship about 3 hours before scheduled departure. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND Stamp's Tours.
THE SHIP: I said "scheduled departure" because once we arrived, we were told there had been a problem with the refueling, and we would not leave until the next afternoon. We would be missing the port of Castro, which was the only port we had nothing planned. So, no loss of a scheduled tour. We had an inside cabin, 3352. Great service and good storage. Really enjoyed the cabin-very quiet. The Zaandam is an "older" smaller ship, but for this cruise was perfect size for us.
THE STAFF: Everyone we encountered was friendly and eager to please. The cruise director gave VERY good talks about our upcoming ports. There were 3 special speakers on the ship who gave daily talks about Antarctica while we were sailing to it, and then gave narrations from the bridge during the days we were there. Excellent presentations.
The only short coming is the lounge entertainment, which is basically 1 quartet, 2 string players, and a sing-along piano bar. It does get tiresome for 22 nights, but this cruise is not about entertainment. We were so busy each day running from one activity to another that we were usually asleep by 11:00. The main stage entertainment was fine. I do wish the quartet could have done a little "rock". Most of the people our age (70s) grew up with it. It is not all dancing to waltzes.
THE PORTS: This ship does Santiago to Buenos Aires and then the reverse of it. We questioned which way was best and decided to do the Santiago to BA. This is the best way because the "excitement" builds as you cruise fjords and glaciers until you reach Antarctica. From then on it is sea days and penguin stops. I think if you had the reverse itinerary, you would find the second part of the journey a let down.
Puerto Montt: We had arranged a private group tour with Patagonia Austral (Petrohue Falls, Lakes, City, and buffet lunch) It was a good tour and I HIGHLY RECOMMEND this company.
Castro: Port was cancelled
Puerto Chacabuco: We had booked a private tour with EnPatagonia Tours. This tour was somewhat boring, as we had already done similar tour in Puerto Montt, UNTIL we got to the lunch part-a BBQ in a farmhouse with music, wine, pisco sours, dancing, etc-One of the best days of the entire trip I VERY HIGHLY RECOMMEND this tour.
Punta Arenas: We did our own thing here. We got off and "negotiated" with a taxi driver-where we wanted to go and how long we would stay. Price was $25 USD. Reasonable to us and off we went to visit the replica sailing ships, then to the beautiful cemetery, and a drop off in town for lunch and drinks at the famous Shackleton Bar. We also did some shopping and took the free shuttle back to the ship. An enjoyable day.
Ushuaia: We had heard of a wonderful guide named Ruben. We booked him months ahead of the cruise for a tour of the town and Tierra del Fuego park. We shared his taxi with another couple. This tour was a big disappointment to us. He was fine and we got what we paid for, but after our previous tours, this was a let down. And the drizzly day did not help. However, this may be the best port for simple souveniers.
Antarctica: BEAUTIFUL. 4 days of amazing scenery, whale watching, bird watching, etc
Falkland Islands: We did a ship tour-Bluff Cove. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND this tour. Many people go to Volunteer Point, which is an amazing experience. We preferred a shorter transit time over more even ground. And we were with the penguins about the same amount of time as the Volunteer Point people. This tour also allowed us a good amount of time to explore the town and stop for lunch and drinks. One of our best days.
Puerto Madryn: We had joined others to arrange a private tour to El Pedral, and were really looking forward to seeing more penguins, but it was too windy to dock, so we missed this port. .Very disappointing. I did not understand the big deal about seeing penguins, up close, until I saw them in the Falklands.
Montevideo: We booked a private tour with ShoreExcursionsGroup. BIG mistake for us, as it was a large bus of maybe 40-50 people and we rode around hearing commentary for several hours with about 5 stops to take a picture. We do not like this kind of tour. Several of us left the tour before it finished and strolled the old town stopping at a nice pub for lunch. Found out, later, that some people had simply walked off the ship, stopped to pick up a free map and done a suggested walking our on their own. A better choice this would have been for us.
Dis-Embarkation: The ship was to overnight in Buenos Aires. We left on the day of arrival. Stayed that night at the A Q Tailored Suites. Enjoyed a little of the city and then left the next morning to fly to Iguazu Falls. The hotel kept our big luggage until we returned and we took small bags with us. I highly recommend this hotel.
Post Cruise: Some people told us that after this cruise, Iguazu would be the "icing on the cake". For us, that became true. We stayed at the Melia Iguazu inside the park. One of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. We strolled the pathways around the falls and had time to enjoy the HUGE infinity pool. We stayed 2 nights and I wish we would have arranged for a third. A wonderful "end" to an amazing journey. IF you can, visit Iguazu and stay at the Melia.
After 2 nights, we returned to BA and our hotel. We spent 2 more nights there enjoying BA, although it was about 94 degrees (F). We did a very enjoyable Free Walking Tour and on our last night, we went to the Argentine Experience, which had been recommended to us. We did not enjoy it as much as other people did. It just was not our type of thing.
FINAL THOUGHTS: I am a planner. I review as much information and recommendations as I can, and then plan what I want to do. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it does not. We booked this cruise almost 2 years before embarkation. Other people booked at the last minute. However, if you want to do certain tours, you had better book early. Many people were disappointed that they could not get a tour, although in most ports you can walk off the ship and find something to do. We were "lucky" to have good weather most of the time and only miss 2 ports. Some ships miss more than that.
It is my understanding that due to changes in the laws, the big ships can only do this Antarctica visit for one more year. As expensive as it is, the prices will probably be triple when only the small ships can visit such a beautiful place. But there is always Iguazu.