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1 Puntarenas (Puerto Caldera) to Antarctica Cruise Reviews

We just returned from the Hurtigruten Midnatsol Chilean Fjords and Antarctica cruise, February 3 to 17, 2017. We had a fantastic time and were completely glad that, after a lot of research and planning, we chose this ship and itinerary. ... Read More
We just returned from the Hurtigruten Midnatsol Chilean Fjords and Antarctica cruise, February 3 to 17, 2017. We had a fantastic time and were completely glad that, after a lot of research and planning, we chose this ship and itinerary. Hurtigruten does an outstanding job with the excursions, cruisings, landings, destination information and safety. Some other specifics could use more organization. But it was Antarctica that we came for and we got it beyond expectations. We flew to Santiago and were given one night at the Sheraton by the cruise line as well as transfers and charter flight to and from Punta Arenas, Chile. The hotel, while adequate, was not one we would choose again as it needs updating and the air conditioning does not work well. However, it sufficed before the journey. There were 384 passengers onboard, a mix of Americans, Germans, French, Japanese and a few Australians and Canadians. We each were assigned into groups and busses for the two charter flights to Punta Arenas. We were advised that, because the ship had arrived late, boarding would be delayed by 4 hours. The flight was uneventful and we had beautiful views of the snow capped mountains in Patagonia. One point though, seat assignments were not negotiable and couples were not seated together. Due to the ship’s delay, the cruiseline hired a company that took us all on a 4 hour tour of the city and provided a box lunch. This was unfortunate as we spent almost two hours walking in a cemetery and two hours on the bus waiting to board. Boarding was chaotic and time consuming, but once aboard, it was obvious that things would get under control. We had been extremely fortunate to be notified of a 24-hour sale Hurtigruten was holding which offered 50% off cabins for this sailing. We were able to get one of the two Owners Suites on the ship for an outstanding price which included the flights in Chile and the hotel night. We checked in on the 8th deck for our suite while sipping a glass of complementary champagne. We then handed in our mandatory doctor’s certification and health survey to the medics and soon were enjoying the beautiful facilities. The suite had a living room, dining area, separate bedroom, one full bath and one half bath, walk in closet, and walls of windows and a door out to the 40 foot balcony across half the back of the ship. It was magnificent and we were thrilled. Our room stewards, Rodney and Cyrus were first class and kept the suite spotless and made us feel extremely welcome. We also were pleased to find out that, with the suite, we had privileges for a separate breakfast venue in Pampas restaurant with cooked to order breakfast. We received free WIFI for the entire trip, a bottle of wine with dinner each evening, wine, beer, soft drinks and water with lunch, free laundry, binoculars, a bathrobe and slippers, a fruit basket, and a full mini-bar. There was a coffeemaker and tea making amenities. These suite perks definitely came in handy. The one odd thing was that we had to pay for bottled water at $2 per bottle. Hurtigruten also provided a great waterproof jacket for us to keep, and boots to use for the entire cruise. Each excursion on Antarctica required that the boots be cleaned and disinfected when reboarding the ship. The boots were warm and comfortable and easy to walk in. Temperatures were routinely in the mid 30s, although it was windy at times. But we never were cold. We were assigned to groups for all the landings and the cruisings. Since only 100 people can land on Antarctica at a time, the 384 passengers were divided up into groupings. While some groups were landing, others went cruising and then vice versa. It was a great use of our time and gave us different perspectives of each site. We were able to do 13 zodiac excursions, which we thought was great. The expedition crew was extremely professional, zodiac drivers informative and keeping safety in mind while showing us the beautiful landscape and wildlife. We had a briefing before each site to help us understand the history and geography as well as logistics. Our program included cruising Garibaldi Fjord and Glacier with condor sightings, and the rest of the Chilean Fjord glaciers which are simply breathtaking. We did a landing on Cape Horn and climbed the 176 steps up to the top on the way to the lighthouse and memorial. We met the lighthouse family and saw the albatross memorial to lost sailors. Then it was on to the Drake Passage, which was smooth as could be. We were amazed at the calm and beautiful weather conditions. We then arrived at Half Moon Island and did landings with many chinstrap penguins and fur seals. In the afternoon, we cruised the area and its icebergs and mountains. The next day was Damoy Point with landings, cruising and a snowshoe hike for those who wished. Gentoo penguins and icebergs abounded. Next day Neko Harbor provided humpback whale sightings, minke whales, leopard seals, crabeater seals, and gentoos. Later we cruised the beautiful Lemaire Channel and reached 65 degrees 5 South. Next day we arrived at Gonzalez Videla Chilean Navy site and were welcomed by officers and many Gentoo penguins. We were able to tour the buildings and have our passports stamped “Antarctica.” In the afternoon, we arrived in Port Lockroy and members of the research team there came aboard and sold some souvenirs and spoke about their station. Next day was Orne Harbour where a beautiful rainbow welcomed us to the foggy and snowy landscape. The terrain was steep but held chinstrap penguins and a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains. We were met by the Seabourn Quest and the captain, a friend of our captain, requested some special Norwegian sweet goat cheese, which was delivered by tender to him. We sailed to Wilhemina Bay in the afternoon but, since the wind and waves were too high, we cruised in the ship and not the zodiacs. The 6th and last day in Antarctica took us to haunting Whalers Bay, Deception Island. This caldera holds the remains of the whaling and fur seal trade, as well a past Chilean research facilities, destroyed by volcanic eruptions. The rusting buildings are a stark reminder of nature’s hold on this continent. We were met in the Bay by the Fram, our sister ship and exchanged ship’s horn greetings. Our trip back up the Drake Passage was an adventure like no other. We had been warned that the seas would be high, but we had 36 straight hours of high wind and seas. When we awoke following the Passage, we found a Storm Certificate at our door stating that we had been on board during a hurricane with gusts of over 73.8 mph and waves of 12-15 meters (36-45 feet). We did not leave the cabin during the storm except to find apples and crackers, and taking a shower was a real feat! But, we were fine and have to admit, relieved, when the seas calmed down. It was part of our Antarctic experience! We resumed sailing up the Beagle Channel and stopped for a few hours to walk the small quaint town of Puerto Williams, Chile. On our last day, we cruised Isla Tucker in the zodiacs and saw many cormorants, Gentoo penguins, flightless steamer ducks, Kelp gulls, skuas, The fjords and mountains are breathtaking along the route. We arrived in Punta Arenas and were bussed to the airport for our flight to Santiago. Once again, things were chaotic and we all were sent to the wrong gate and had to scramble to board our charter plane. One really bothersome point was the young man Hurtigruten sent to accompany the first flight, which we were on. Shortly after takeoff, he grabbed the microphone and basically spoke gibberish for 15 minutes. He kept saying, “who am I” “what am I doing here” and giggling. Extremely unprofessional. He gave no relevant information and frankly was a bit disturbing. We think it would be wise to check out who is sent to accompany passengers. The Midnatsol itself is a beautiful vessel with lots of lovely contemporary artwork. There are soaring two-story windows in the forward observation lounge. The theater is comfortable and accommodates lectures and movies well. The ship only felt crowded when passengers were lining up for the buffet meals. There is a small café which sells snacks like candy and chips, a store, a number of bars, a sauna and hot tubs on the 9th deck. Breakfast and lunch were always buffet in the main dining room. Dinner was buffet except for 6 set meals that were scattered throughout the cruise. For that we were assigned tables. There was a set menu with the choice of a substitute entrée if one preferred and told the dining room manager before 2:30 on the day. We found the food good to excellent and the variety was large. The first evening was impressive with beef tenderloin and king crab legs among the buffet offerings. Overall, the soups were outstanding, fresh bread plentiful and a variety of desserts to suit everyone. There always were vegetables and some fruit, although fresh fruit was the one thing we wished more of. We tried reindeer carpaccio which was great, fantastic arctic char, lamb and pork in many varieties. There were always smoked fish, salmon, cheese and cold cuts. We did not go hungry. Our breakfast was usually taken in Pampas Restaurant, and we ordered off the menu for a la minute cooked food. Breakfast was complimentary to suite guests and the fruit boards, meat and cheese boards and eggs cooked to order were always good. The highlight of eating in Pampas was to be served by Gracie, “Amazing Gracie” we called her. She provided the best service of any employee on any cruiseline we have taken (70 cruises). She was always cheerful, anticipated our orders, gave us a hand made Valentine bouquet, and watched over us in the dining room as well. Gracie basically ran Pampas restaurant single handedly. This specialty restaurant also served a three course dinner for $20 pp. We had dinner there three evenings and it was amazing. The restaurant has one entrée called “Asado” which is a large board which consists of a thick, beautifully grilled Porterhouse, chorizo, grilled vegetables and potatoes. Along with an appetizer and dessert, it was a very satisfying meal. We went with friends two nights and by ourselves one night. Gracie kept the entire restaurant going and everything came out perfectly. She always had the bottle of our complementary wine waiting on our table for us. We wish we could say the same for the service in the main dining room. On most every occasion with the set meals, we were ignored by the wait staff for upwards of 30 minutes, without offer of water or other service. On one occasion where we ate with friends at the set dinner, three of the people at our table were served and the fourth was left with an empty plate and no food for three courses. One night one dessert was brought for the whole table. We consistently had to go to the restaurant manager to get service while tables next to us were served by the staff. We thought it was a fluke the first night, but after 6 nights of the same service, we were quite upset. The staff always apologized, but then ignored us the next night. We still do not know what happened. Our table was in the middle of the dining room by a window and not easy to miss. We have never had such bad restaurant service. But we took the ship for the itinerary, not the restaurant and it did deliver on Antarctica. Overall, we loved our Hurtigruten Midnatsol cruise and the wonders of Antarctica and the Chilean Fjords. We would highly recommend this ship if you are considering an expedition ship. The officers and expedition staff were friendly, outgoing, approachable and knowledgeable. We also really felt that safety was a top priority and, despite the high seas, never once had an inkling of concern. We loved the zodiac cruising and will treasure the photos and memories. Antarctica is a dream destination with unbelievable wildlife, landscapes, sunsets, rainbows, glaciers mountain peaks and icebergs. We spent a great deal of our time just amazed by our surroundings and the beauty and harshness rolled into one spectacular place. We are fortunate to have experienced it. Read Less
Sail Date February 2017

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