6 Rio de Janeiro Holiday Cruise Reviews

The follow is actually our mid-cruise evaluation. We have both constructive suggestions and criticisms as well as what we especially like. We are enjoying this cruise immensely and hope to return. Restaurant: Compass Rose -Very ... Read More
The follow is actually our mid-cruise evaluation. We have both constructive suggestions and criticisms as well as what we especially like. We are enjoying this cruise immensely and hope to return. Restaurant: Compass Rose -Very good wine selections -There appears to be no enforcement of the dress code in the dining rooms. We have seen people wearing jeans with holes in them and T-shirts. We feel this is disrespectful when the dress code is Casual Elegant after 6:00. -Attentive bar service and wait staff -The waiters (mainly Filipinos) call us "Ma'am/Sir" to both my husband and me, which is becoming offensive. In other words, my name is "Ma'am-Sir". If I could be addressed as "ma'am" that would be good! Other people are noticing this also. -Most all soup has a lot of cream which for us makes it very rich tasting and fattening! -Breakfast time the food has arrived cold and items like pancakes, waffles and toast are hard and dry with the French Toast being the exception, which is delicious. -We love the different sorbets daily. Wonderful! And we have become addicted to the French bread! The food aboard is generally very good. Signatures Restaurant -Great ambiance and excellent service -My lamb chops were too pink, I sent them back and came back too tough to eat -Keon in Signatures is excellent. Called us by name the entire evening and was very professional and attentive. Prime 7 Restaurant -Wonderful atmosphere and service. -Food selections were very good and tasted good! La Veranda: -Very informal and a grazing buffet daily for breakfast and lunch. Food always the same with a few variations in salads and desserts. It's nice to sit on the veranda in the back of the ship when the weather is calm -Different pasta selections daily and made instantly to your request -In room service is on time, friendly pleasant service and is usually warm -Kirti, waitress, is excellent. Did not call us Ma'am/Sir. Friendly, efficient, darling. Head Somelier-Daniella is excellent. General: -On embarkation day it was an easy check-in, BUT no one to escort us to our room and show us where everything was and how it works. On Day 12 of the cruise we found out there is a navy blue Regent bag for us to have? use? If it had been left on the bed with a note the day we arrived we would have known. -Team Trivia--Disappointing because the same team wins daily. Evidently (but not certain) they have been aboard since Europe and have had heard some of the questions before. -We can tell the staff is willing to please and learn what can be improved -We came back from a muddy jungle trek and our shoes were dirty and muddy. It would have been good to have had someone with a hose or bucket of water and a brush outside at entry for all shoes to be cleaned before entering the ship. A lot of mud was brought into the ship. -Waiting for shuttle buses and tenders for tours is not a good system. We waited over a half hour one day for our number to be called. Generally the tours were quite good. -We have been happy with the evenings' entertainment. A nice way to end the day. -It would be helpful if each night's dining menu were published in the Passages. Overall, we enjoyed this cruise and recommend the cruise line. This sailing had a lot of cruise days which we like. The ports were nothing to speak of except in Manaus in the Amazon and into the Caribbean. Sometimes the port calls were not long enough. Read Less
Sail Date December 2012
Sailed a for the Christmas cruise from Rio to Buenos Aires and for the first time on Azamara. This was our first "upscale" cruise (or luxe-light as I've heard it called). We had a great time. Keep in mind this is before ... Read More
Sailed a for the Christmas cruise from Rio to Buenos Aires and for the first time on Azamara. This was our first "upscale" cruise (or luxe-light as I've heard it called). We had a great time. Keep in mind this is before this line went "all-inclusive." PRE-CRUISE: We checked into the Sheraton in the extreme western part of Leblon (Leblon is the very west part of Rio beach area) after an overnight flight. Had already met some people through our Roll Call who were staying in that hotel and met up with them and became good friends and spent a lot of time with them over the next 4 days having dinners and doing the activities. The hotel was good, reasonably priced, but a bit out of the way. Not bad if you are going to do guided tours as they pick you up (we did a 2 day private tour with Manu Picalat - highly recommended and book early as he's busy), but getting back into town on your own will require a taxi or a long walk (and I wouldn't do that walk at night though I personally didn't feel worried at all - but I have lived in very large cities most of my life). We did it a few times by foot, but it's a good 20 minute walk to the beginning of the action. Forget about driving yourself. It's certifiably insane! Overall, LOVED Rio and never felt all the danger people talk of. Very nice place and comes recommended. One tip is to see the Redeemer statue AS SOON AS IT OPENS. No crowds, and great views. I think that was about 7:30am. Also, they had a beach which was nice, but keep in mind it's not private as locals use it too. Not a problem, and never crowded, but the surf was pretty intense so I wouldn't go swimming unless you are a VERY good swimmer! Best part was leaving the sliding door to our balcony open and hearing the crashing surf every night as we drifted off to sleep. LOVED THAT! THE SHIP: Embarkation was super easy and fast (maybe 15 mins?). We REALLY loved the smaller format R-Class ships. We had about 520 people out of the possible 680-ish capacity on board so it was incredibly UN-crowded. This was very appreciated as the big ships drive us bonkers with the lines and crowds. Living in a crowded metro area, we like to get away from crowds. The ship didn't disappoint and we enjoyed the size. It was quite nicely appointed (it had just come out of dry dock and you could tell). Can't fault anything and was quite impressed at the level of detail and refinement. It was much like being in a 4 or 5 star NYC hotel. The public spaces were well laid out and never crowded. I didn't use the casino except to have a cocktail but on sea days or early port departures it got pretty busy in the evenings (it's also tiny so that's why I suspect it felt so busy). The lounges were very nice, and the MDR was fantastic and we appreciated the open seating. We ate many dinners with different friends we met or sometimes just the two of us. The fitness center was surprisingly good, as was the Library. We didn't use the spa. FOOD/DRINKS: VERY good. I wouldn't say the best I've ever had, but clearly they put a lot of effort into the food and it is more or less fired as you order which helps (take the galley tour - fun stuff and makes you feel good about where your food is coming from). Presentations were appealing and the variety was very good for a ship this size. We enjoyed each meal onboard. We ate at both speciality restaurants (twice at Prime C). Both were VERY VERY good. Very accommodating (when in Aqualina we wanted the lobster salad we had had from Prime C as it was really that good - no problem whatsoever). Also, the unlimited wine was free flowing with lunch and dinner and honestly, very good and varied... (and I mean this was truly a "please stop filling my glass after every 3 sips or I'm going to pass out" unlimited). The Lido buffets were really good and had a really great selection including sushi, several hot stations, etc. Left absolutely nothing to be desired! I will add that we had purchased the top-shelf beverage package which used to be $39.95 pp per day as we like our top shelf spirits and it was super convenient to be able to order whatever, whenever from wherever. For us this was worth it, however now that they have gone all-inclusive, this probably is a moot point. Also, the Mosaic coffee bar was tops - and included (even without the beverage package). Delish coffee-house drinks and nice littler finger sandwiches, etc. You won't go hungry or be disappointed, this I can promise. We used room service one morning and it was nice, but we get up early so we just headed to the lido for the most part... STAFF/SERVICE: Here's where I think you can REALLY see the difference between the mass-market ships an a more boutique line. Everyone who worked on that ship was engaged, friendly, and basically three steps ahead of any need/desire you had. I'd walk into the MDR bar before dinner, and of course our "pack of new friends" would be there and the amazing bartender (who I sadly cannot remember his name) would have the drinks poured and ready to go. Everyone was super engaging and would just chat, chat, chat with you. Some were quite busy (such as the cabin stewards) but they still made time to talk to you and make sure everything was just how you wanted it. We had brought on some spirits we bought in Rio before embarking and our steward saw this and made sure we had fresh glasses, mixers in the mini fridge, and ice at least 3 times per day. Nice touch! The CD was fun and engaged, and there were some fun activities. They also had a very good DJ for the Looking Glass lounge at night and he would go until pretty late, even though not many were there.... We ate it up being night owls. Honestly, can't say enough good things about the staff on this ship!!! CABINS: We were in the lowest class of Verandah room pretty mid ship on the 6th deck. It was fine, but not very large at around 170 sq ft. We expected this so we weren't disappointed per se, but you will want to maintain organization! The bathroom, on most any cruise ship, is insanely small, but it works. Plenty of storage. The entertainment system was fine with the typical... a few channels of TV, some movies, the bridge cam and room service ordering/folio review. What was pretty nice is each day they put the various menus for the restaurants on there so you could start your salivating early. :) The balcony was fine and as expected with two chairs and a table big enough to eat on. Also, it was quiet. No noise at all and we slept like babies on the very comfortable beds. One thing to note that we loved is announcements (which are rare anyways) are NOT piped into the rooms. Such a nice change. Several times we'd have to crack the door open to hear what the Captain was saying. Overall, my advice is don't overpack (and keep in mind they have free laundry facilities... more on that in a bit). ACTIVITIES: Each day we received our "Pursuits" guide, and it was pretty typical of your daily guide. Not a whole heck of a lot going on like a 3000 person ship, but again expected. Slots tournaments, enrichment lectures, some tours (do the tours of the bridge and the galley if you can) and the like. We really didn't participate as we had a fairly intensive port schedule and were quite worn out from many late nights in Rio. I will say it was perfectly acceptable for the size of the ship, however. EXCURSIONS: We used all ship sponsored excursions, though some ports we just struck out on our own. This is where your research will help you out. The prices were high, but not extreme, and for the most part we enjoyed each. Some were just "OK" but nothing was bad and everything went smoothly. PASSENGERS: Almost exclusively older, well traveled (mid 40's to ....?). A handful of maybe 10 kids with their parents. Very few 20 and 30 somethings. Most were from the US or Canada and a few from Brazil. Very well heeled group and there was little to know "drama" or anything of the kind. The ship goes to bed fairly early (11pm) and rises early (7am). We are a gay couple and never had any trouble fitting in, and in fact met 6 other gay couples on board... Everyone was very gracious and we made some great friends straight or gay! MISC STUFF: The free Laundry on deck 7 was great - EXCEPT it gets incredibly busy. The facility consists of three washers and three dryers. The detergent is automatically added to the machine (marine friendly) so you only need to bring dryer sheets if you are so inclined. There is also two ironing boards. My advice is do laundry on off hours like dinner or while in port. Embarkation day I made a bee-line to the facility even before really unpacking since we had already been in Rio for 4 days and we packed light (and changed 2x a day due to the heat/humidity). I lucked out. When I went back 40 mins later to move my clothes from the washer to the dryer, there was a line of about 7 people. And it mostly stayed that way for the duration of the cruise... Also, I'd like to suggest you set a reminder on your phone/watch so you know when the clothes are ready to be moved or removed, mostly as a courtesy to others... Trust me, when it gets busy people will do this for you and then you have wrinkles or wet clothes sitting on a dryer. Smoking (which I thankfully kicked) is allowed ONLY in one small section of the pool deck, but this should be a consideration if you smoke. Finally, if the weather is inclement (or in our case, our boat took on a bunch of weird non-biting mosquitos overnight one day in the middle of the ocean - which was promptly taken care of) the lido can be hard to find a seat in for breakfast. My advice here is head to the MDR. They have plenty of capacity and breakfast service is rather quick. OVERALL: YES I would said with Azamara again, in a heartbeat. I'm curious of the new all-inclusive offerings. I am still in the "exploring the lines" phase, so it will have to wait a few years as I have sailings on other luxe lines and a river cruise set up, but I think when the dust settles, you'll see me back on an Azamara ship! Read Less
Sail Date December 2012
As an introduction we are on our first cruise aboard the Holland America Veendam. We have cruised on several other Holland American ships however decided a couple of years ago to switch away from Holland America. However this year we ... Read More
As an introduction we are on our first cruise aboard the Holland America Veendam. We have cruised on several other Holland American ships however decided a couple of years ago to switch away from Holland America. However this year we wanted a cruise that would include the holidays and a non-European cruise thus we opted for the South American cruise and included the return cruise making this a back to back adventure. The views and opinions expressed in this review are those solely of the author who is in no way connected with Holland America. We know and respect your views and opinions which may be totally different from ours. You had a different cabin, perhaps different waiters, different restaurants, etc. throughout the cruise(s) and thus saw the same cruise from a different perspective. The ship reflects recent refurbishing throughout. The ship was launched in 1996. We don't know exactly what the theme was supposed to be thus we will call it 1920's Supper Club Modern. Many areas look as though we have reentered the supper club era of the 1920s.In any event the ship is being well maintained for the guest. By today's standards the Veendam has to fit into the small ship category, after all there are large and mega ships with over 4000 passengers and small ships with around 750 passengers. With a passenger compliment of around 1350 passengers the Veendam is definitely not considered a large cruise ship by today's standards. From our view that is very good as we don't really care for the rock climbing, the boisterous swimming pool antics and adventurer land aboard a cruise ship. Upon closer inspection you will notice several broken or cracked glasses and windows throughout the ship. Some of the metal especially around the outside windows is pitted and rough indicating it was not recently replaced. The first cruise left from Rio de Janerio and thus there were more passengers from the United States. On the second leg of the cruise starting in Santiago, there were even less from the United States. The Neptune Club on our deck was only occasionally visited by a person from the United States. We are taking back to back cruises on this ship thus we have one segment from Rio to Valparaiso followed by a segment from Valparaiso, Chile to Buenos Aires. Several of the ports will be the same thus we have an opportunity to see more at each port. We have previously visited some of these ports, just a couple of years ago, and this trip will give us an opportunity to see things we missed in the past. Seating throughout the ship contains both comfortable and uncomfortable seats. Funny you say that we would start the review about seating. We were so fascinated that we even took dozens of pictures. Some seating appears to be for "munchkins" as they have extremely high back with very small seats. In the Showroom At Sea almost all seats have low backs, thus providing little comfort for a lengthy show. On top of all of this, unless you select a chair to sit in you will find nothing but bench h style seating, all of which we found uncomfortable. What were they thinking? Dining room seating is much better however some chairs have arms while other are open chairs. There seems to be no consistency at any of the tables---just whatever is available at the time. Get to your table a few minutes early and select your own chair even if that means borrowing from another table. In our cabin we had a leather couch however I challenge anyone to try to sit for any length of time when the ship is moving and tossing as you will most certainly be tossed to the deck because of the slickness. The ship as a whole is nice and clean and one will get used to décor. RESERVATIONS Just a note about making reservations. Not all published cruise prices will be the same, however most cruise agents can match the lowest price you may locate on another cruise site. Just ask! We waited almost too late to purchase a suite cabin and we had to move to a different cabin at the end of the first cruise as the first cabin we purchased had already been sold. You should try to get the same cabin throughout all your segments as you don't want to have to move after a few days at sea. We deliberately chose the starboard side on our first segment as that gave us a shore view from our veranda and on the returned segment we chose the port side so we could again have the shore side view from our verandah. That worked really well. Now a word about location of the cabin. Our first cabin was 035 about midway on the Navigation Deck. The second cabin was 006 which was at the front of the ship. This made a really great difference on the open seas however not a concern in the inland passages. The ship's movement was almost never felt when we were in cabin 035. Don't be eager to take the first suggestion from your travel agent if you are not pleased with the location on the ship. There are also cruise web sites where you can check available cabin locations on each of the decks. Changing cabins should be an easy process (in our judgment), however Holland America apparently does not have a firm policy on this thus a separate letter has been generated back to corporate. On the next to last day of our first segment we still had not received anything from the front desk about our move to another cabin. I inquired three times and each time got different information. Finely on the last evening of the cruise we received a letter with partial information about the move to cabin 6. We still had no key to our cabin though thus another visit to the front desk where we advised to come back the following day. Our new cabin was made available to us around 0930 on the last day of the cruise and we received a new cabin key card upon visit once again to the front desk. We had not received any statement of charges for the cruise so we asked and was told we could have an interim copy. We also did not receive a survey questionnaire and were advised we would get that at the end of the second segment. We moved most of our personal belongings with a crew member helping us with a rack of clothes. BOARDING THE SHIP----We flew to Rio de Janerio and boarded the ship at the terminal in downtown Rio. It was a total disaster as the terminal is under renovation for the forthcoming Olympics. The main area was completely closed and HA had all passengers' crowded into spaces just inside the entrance. Once checked in, you had to go to a backroom and wait to be called by group number for boarding. I can understand the need for the renovations as the terminal is in bad need of repair. If you arrive during this renovation period, just be patient. Once inside this portion of the terminal space there is nothing to do other than sit or stand and wait for your boarding number to be called. Listen carefully for that number as there was no PA system. We provided the computer generated boarding pass at the check in counter. I could not believe how many ahead of us did not have that pass with them Your passport will be confiscated and you will be given a receipt. If you need to update your credit card or change to a different credit card from the one you originally gave HA, you cannot do it at check in and will have to proceed to the Purser's Office once aboard. A word about your passport. Holland America apparently has the feeling that we as guest are not capable or responsible enough to carry our own passports. You will be told that the retention of passports is necessary for customer officials to quickly check the ship's roster. In any event you may find, as we did, a reluctance at some ports to even exchange currencies. In Buenos Aires we were refused twice because we could not produce the original passport. To complicate the matter, Holland America does not exchange monies aboard ship and even the casino refused our Brazilian money. TIP--make a couple copies of your passport before you leave home. Do this in color as the black and white copies may not look all that official. We found that by producing a color copy and discussing with a clerk what Holland American had done concerning retention of our passports, the on shore transactions went smoothly. Our passports were returned two days before the end of the cruise. Once our group number was called the process went rather quickly however there will be those that try to jump the line by not following the called number. The staff sent all we saw to the back of the line and that was the way it should be. ABOARD SHIP----You will soon learn that sanitation is of primary concern for HA as you will be asked to wash your hands as you enter the ship and there are hand sanitizers located all over the ship. We personally think it is a good ideal. You will be asked to stop at the end of the gangplank for a picture to be taken. We just try to accommodate the photographer as he/she is doing their job and we normally have no intention of purchasing that photo. These are just snapshots and remember you don't have to purchase any of them. The Holland American staff, almost without exception, provides a genuine excellent level of service. Everyone greeted us with a warm greeting and their service was impeccable. There were some guest though on the second segment of the cruise that apparently felt they deserved more that friendly service. They displayed an arrogance with DEMANDS. Frankly I think they need to find another mode of travel. One passenger got very upset with the waiter because there wasn't a certain kind of tea available for him. Give me a break!! Travel on cruise ships has definitely changed for the worse in the past two decades. Some passengers want to dress as "slobs" and expect to sit next to you on formal night while wearing a pair of sandals and a gross t-shirt. On smart casual nights one can see flip flops, ragged t-shirts and shorts. We even saw one 80 year old woman wearing what appeared to be gym shorts on smart casual night. These are some of the same passengers that demand their food be served immediately, reject their entrée and send that glass of wine back as they state it is not suitable. They was also the person at the purser's desk arguing about the $5.95 drink charge which they swear is not theirs. We don't personally have a problem with these type passengers however we do believe they would be better off traveling on a container ship or oil barge in the future. OUR CABIN----We have been traveling on cruises since 1980 thus we have been on board a number of different ships. This time we decided to give up one of our cruises of the year so we could have a suite. Best decision we ever made. We selected cabin 035 on the first segment. However because we waited too late to decide on this cruise we had to change to cabin 006 (which was just a stone's throw away from 007) on the second segment. Not a big deal as the staff will move us at the end of the first segment. Cabin 035 was on the starboard side which gave us the shoreline on the travel both south and north. Cabin 006 will give us the same shore side verandah view on the return trip back. Our suite was fabulous. More space than we usually have in a hotel room and a patio that was unbelievable. Two lounge chairs and four sit down chairs, a table and still a lot of room left. We had our beds configured for a king size and the industry still does not have this down. There is that split in the middle that is most uncomfortable. Our living room area was very large with a coffee table, two club chairs and a sectional couch. There was a closet with a large bar with lots of glasses, and a mini bar filled with drinks. The bathroom was very large with three closets, the most we have ever had on a cruise. There was a dressing area just outside the shower area that was really outstanding. Mirrors all over the place along with lots of counter space. The cabin was very tastefully decorated. Carpet almost new as were the covers on the verandah chairs. Lighting throughout the cabin was excellent. There is small desk working space juts opposite the bar. There are more drawers and closets in this cabin than one will have clothes to fill. If don't mind gambling a little and waiting until the last minute for your cruise, you may find a suite at a greatly discounted price. If you do, reserve it immediately and make your travel accordingly. Please be aware that some cruise destination, including embarkations, may require that you have a visa in addition to your passport and depending on the number of such visas needed for a particular cruise, it may take some time to get those. NEPTUNE CLUB ROOM----Since we are in a suite we have access to the club room on the Navigation Deck where we have a full time concierge. Coffee, water, teas, small desserts and sandwiches throughout the day. Television and internet hook up (don't get excited--please review my section on the Internet). The concierge staff was excellent and most accommodating. This is just a nice place to relax away from the crowds in some parts of the ship. You can save the long lines at the tour desk by letting the concierge make the tour reservations and obtain your tour tickets. On the first segment of the cruise we noticed just guest from the suite section, however on the second segment we were surprised to see some in the lounge that were not suite guest. At least one of them appeared to have been brought to the lounge by one of the suite guest. It is our opinion that if guest did not pay for this level of cabins they should not be using the Neptune Lounge. We also witnessed some passengers who kept the concierge busy for lengthy times as they asked trivial questions. One woman insisted that the concierge go over her entire dining room times and options day by day for the entire cruise. By the way those times and options were clearly listed in the daily bulletin. In the suite category you are given several amenities complimentary and one of those is the free laundry and dry cleaning. We sent a bag everyday and many times the laundry came back to us on the same day we sent it. The service was excellent. Another perk one has with the breakfast served just for suite guest in the Pinnacle Dining Room. Once again the service was outstanding. You can also have a continental breakfast in the Neptune Lounge. Anyone contemplating an upgrade to the suite level should check the HA bulletin to see a list of everything that is offered in the suite class. If you are a frequent HA guest and have reached the three or four star level, a combination of those rewards along with the suite amenities could weigh heavily upon one's decision on where to travel and what cruise line to take. We received priority boarding on tender departures and once the passports were returned they were available in the Neptune Lounge thus we did not have to stand in long lines to get our passports. ENTERTAINMENT-----I inevitably hear some passenger state that they don't care that much about the cruising and destinations, as they come on board for the entertainment. Look friend, I feel sorry for you if your number one objective in cruising is for the entertainment. Some shows are not all that good and if you stayed at home you could probably find some really good high school productions that would suit your taste. On our next to last night aboard we had a male and female singer that were very good. The dancers need to work on their portion of the act. I felt so sorry for one entertainer I had to leave the auditorium 10 minutes after he started. I was actually praying that some could get though their act without totally screwing it up or forgetting their lines. One magic act had little professionalism in it and the children at the local library club will provide you a better magic/comedy act. All in all the evening shows were acceptable with some actually being good. Pick your entertainment nights and if the act does not live up to expectations then just politely leave. INTERNET---Let me get this "negative" out of the way first. I paid for the 250 minutes internet service as soon as I boarded in Rio and then being the sucker I am paid again on the second segment for another 250 minutes. Looks like I would have learned my lesson. I used up my first 150 minutes just trying to log on and was successful a couple of times. I figure my emails are costing me about $20 an email. This is by far the worst internet service aboard any ship in the world. Don't expect any sympathy or assistance from the "clerk" on board as he would just as soon you left him alone. After three days I swore off the internet and decided I would never again pay Holland America even as much as dime for their internet service. A walk though this morning (our 6th day) revealed only one person using the internet in the internet café. In our cabin the service is even worse. At the concierge desk there are two computers and wireless however it is not good. Yesterday I was ashore in Montevideo and took my iPad with me. Found a Wi-Fi hookup at the California Burrito Company restaurant. It was free. The hook up was amazing. Just as good as my cable service back home. I learned from other passengers that had also enjoyed such success at other internet cafes in the town. We even used Facetime and SKYPE, which by the way is "can't be used" aboard ship. Save money and most of all save frustration by waiting until you are docked and then look for an internet café or Wi-Fi spot. We are now two days away from our final destination and the internet has some reliability. We noticed almost all terminals are in use today. We were able to hook up to the internet with only two tries and sending e-mails took less than 20 minutes. What a deal!! Before I receive numerous e-mails. I am aware that the satellite transmission of communications in some parts of the world are rather limited and this may be the case with the South American cruise. However, in all fairness to the customers, HA should not be selling services it cannot deliver. CROWS NEST------On deck 12 at the front of the ship is the Crown's Nest, a place that we frequently have gone for quite time to read. This location is actually large and quite during non-sea days. More passengers use on sea days with some talking so loud they disturb others. One corner is for smokers so if you don't like second hand smoke better stay away from that section. The seats are not all that comfortable as they as low backs and small seats. Lots of bench seating if that is your thing. Occasionally there is a group or travel club meeting on one side to the area. The bar opens later in the day as there is dancing and music in the evening hours. Lots of fog on our trip thus seeing much from the 12th deck was rather limited. I will not list the name, however there was a large travel group from one US company and if that is the way they conduct their tours I will most certainly not be using that company in the future. The "hostess" was actually quite rude. In one waiting area she insisted on getting her group up front and ahead of others that had been waiting. Please remember these are not HA employees but rather independent tour operators. If you are invited to attend a Captain's cocktail, you will more than likely find it located in the Crowe's Nest. There will be no "hand shaking" from either the Captain or his crew. All for health reasons. THE CAPTAIN-----The Captain came to the Neptune Lounge (where the suites are) on the very first evening and brought key personnel with him. This was excellent and another benefit when purchasing a suite. He returned on a later date and chatted with the passengers. There was a special Indonesian luncheon for the suite guest held at the Pinnacle Restaurant with both the hotel manager and the Captain attending. We had to miss the stop at Port Stanley, however the Captain explained more than once it was a safety issue due to the weather. He was sincere and his explanation was acceptable. He seemed to always be truly concerned about the guest aboard. He left us after the first cruise segment and a new captain came aboard. He was present at the first night reception held in the Neptune Lounge for the suite guest. We had an unusual experience as we had two Captain's with the first segment Captain going on leave at the end of the first segment and a new Captain coming aboard. THE FLORIST--You can purchase from HA, through a pre-board internet program, flowers for your room. We paid a premium price and the flowers did not look that good the day we boarded. Within three days they really looked bad as the roses had swiveled up and dropped their petals. We had to toss them on day 5. HA puts a small bouquet in your cabin if you are on the suite deck. They too withered to nothing after day 4 and were taken out of the cabin by the room steward. On our second segment of the cruise we received a very nice bouquet in our suite. We were never sure who sent them as there was no note. They lasted for several days. In fact the flowers at our dining room table were changed several times as they did not hold up all that well. FOOD---There are six main food locations on the ship. The ROTTERDAM is the main dining room located on decks 7 & 8. Breakfast, lunch and dinner is available. You may be assigned (for dinner) early, late or open seating. The LIDO is the deck 11 cafeteria type dining open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You will find the cafeteria line to be broken down into various food sections designed to make the lines shorter and service faster. Does not always happen as some passengers just can't make up their minds on what they wanted. There are the two specialty restaurants, the Pinnacle, where one can get steaks and sea food and the Canaletto Restaurant where Italian food is available. Both of two restaurants require an extra charge. The TERRACE GRILL is located on deck 11 at the end of the swimming pool. You can get hamburgers, hot dogs and fish and chips for lunch or late afternoon snacks. The SLICE Pizza is located on the aft of deck 11 and is weather dependant. We dined all over the ship and we are convinced the quality of the food is the same wherever you go except for the specialty restaurants where you pay an extra fee. If you are being served you will swear the portions are much smaller than on past cruises and we think you will be correct. They seem to count the exact number of green beans or asparagus spears and they will be much less than in the past. In the Rotterdam the asparagus spears were wilted and about the diameter of a pencil. In the Pinnacle the asparagus spears were three or four times the diameter, were green and crisp and served with an excellent hollandaise sauce. They were top quality. However in all fairness, you can ask for more. One evening when crab legs were being served the waiter told us the crab legs were small and not that many and if we wanted to have that entrée he could bring more to start with. We accepted the offer and the crab legs were indeed small and there were only two on the original plate. Food in my judgment, is about what you are going to get back home in a nice restaurant location. It will be served with a little more fanfare though. At the LIDO food is similar to any cafeteria back home. You can always order seconds and the wait staff will accommodate your request.. This reduction in the quantity is certainly being done by the "pencil pushers" as they try to figure out ways to increase the profit margin. The suite guest can have breakfast in the Pinnacle Restaurant with no additional charges. Lunch and Dinner in the same location comes with an extra charge ($10 & $25). Sometimes a quiet evening is worth the price. Not all the suite guest knew about the "no charge" Pinnacle dining for breakfast. Ask the concierge what days breakfast is served for suite guest.. The dinner meal is actually very good with the steaks being great quality and grilled exactly as you order. The bone in rib eye that I ordered was excellent and would challenge any steakhouse in Dallas. The food and service was so good, we are going back for a second evening. There are always a few that think they the staff in the dining rooms are servants and thus they make unreasonable demands. We saw one male that did not like the selection of teas available and he actually threw a fit. Another passenger ordered eggs Benedict and she did not like the way they were served while just a couple of tables away the woman insisted the meat was not prepared correctly and thus sent it back. For those in suites the Neptune Lounge is open for breakfast snacks such as coffee and Danish, however not a full breakfast. You can also get snacks and coffees at the Explorations Cafe. When we first arrived on the ship, there was no self service of food items. This was relaxed a little after the first 48 hours and you could serve yourself on certain items on the Lido Deck. There were some food items that continued to be served by the wait staff. This no self service policy applied to all food areas throughout the ship, including the Neptune Lounge for the suite guest. You should certainly not go away from the ship hungry and the wait staff that we met tries hard to make your dining experience a good one. MOVIES---There are several choices depending upon the days. On deck 11 there is the large outdoor screen which had excellent picture quality and however the sound system is very poor. A lot of the passengers left the area after only a few minutes due to the poor sound quality. You just flatly could not hear the sound. Once the weather turned cold no one seemed to attend these movies. Look for the free popcorn. Movies on certain days may be shown in the Showroom At Sea. The screen is small--small--small. Not much more than your large TV screen at home. Sound is acceptable though. No popcorn. There is the movie theater on deck , the Wijang Theater. The screen is large however don't expect high quality on the screen nor expect high quality sound. The seats in the center section are comfortable. Popcorn is free and you get about 1/3 of a bag. The number of bags is limited and if you get there at the beginning of the show don't expect pop corn as the bags will all be gone. Movies we saw were just DVDs, some of which reflected a lot or use or improper mishandling. EXPLORE TECHNOLOGY----This is a series of "classes" that Microsoft and HA provided free of charge. There is minimal seating, so get thee early. I think HA must go out of their was to obtain the most impersonal people anywhere when it comes to the technology and internet. I would have to give this person a very low rating when it comes to a friendly personality. She has an almost scripted program format , so don't expect to interrupt her and ask a question. Her voice presentation was without much volume thus if you are sitting close to the back of the room you may find hearing difficult. One good aspect is that we were told the "lessons" could be downloaded from the internet when you returned home. As a note, this is supported by Microsoft so expect to get a sales presentation pertaining to Microsoft products. You can learn a little about some of the subjects however if you are already an advanced used of software and the internet you may find these presentations rather boring. Some subjects included cameras and photography however once again don't expect in-depth technical assistance. FOOD PREPERATION & ENTERTAINING---If you have very many sea days you will most likely be looking for something to occupy your time. Perhaps a culinary workshop or food preparation would be to your choosing. Some of these classes have a fee associated with it, thus you have to sign up and be preregistered before going. We just attended the free ones as we are not professional chefs and have no desire to become one. Cake decorating drew about a dozen guest and lasted about 20 minutes. The presentations are made in the Culinary Arts Center (that is the Wajang Theater on Deck 7) BEVERAGES----There are eight locations throughout the ship where you can obtain beverages with the MIX being in the center of the ship on Deck 8. It's a sports bar thus if the satellite transmission is working you can pick up a football game from the US. You can purchase a drink card for 50% of the retail cost and alcoholic drink cards are also available for a discount. Check at the Wine Cellar on deck 7.There is no refund at the end of the cruise. We just paid by the day for whatever we ordered. There is a wine special where you can purchase three bottles of wine for a fixed price. This will actually save you some money if you expect to consume three bottles of wine during your cruise. There is a wine cellar on Deck 7 where a selection can be made. Taking your own non-Holland America wine will incur a corkage fee in the dining room. EXPLORE OUR WORLD----These presentations cover a wide range of subjects, some of which are interesting and other which will give you an opportunity to sleep for an hour. We noticed guest attending were involved in a lot of activities, such as reading the Kindle, crocheting, talking and reading a book. You might want to drop by one of two sessions to see if anything interests you. Don't expect to earn your PHD from the subjects being discussed. Some classes there are discussions on ports where the ship docks. The speaker/presenter was very good. CASINO-----I am usually negative when it comes to cruise ship casino, however this time I make an exception. This is a very small casino, with one roulette table and no crap table. Not all that many slot machines. There are one and two cent slot machines, however I never did figure out a way to play only a penny. The staff is friendly, accommodating and patient. I write patient as there were several novice gamblers that did not know the games or rules, however the staff took their time and made the people feel good and want to gamble. They still lost, however had a good time in doing so. There are Texas Hold'em Tournaments, Slot and Blackjack Tournaments. Texas Hold'em tournaments had buy ins on the first segment which was $30 however it went to $60 on the second segment. The slot tournament had a grand price of $500. The casino is closed while in Chilean waters and at all ports. Video cameras are not allowed however still pictures are permitted in the casino. THE SIGNATURE SHOPS----Sales of merchandise seems to pop up just about anywhere. Could not believe all the people pushing to get those t-shirts at pool side (2 for $25).Most of the "stuff" in the stores one just does not need. The watches and jewelry can be purchased stateside or on the internet at about the same prices or lower. Perfume available on this ship was rather limited and when my wife asked the prices it was more than state side sales prices. The store close to the MIX Lounger was clean and very well lighted. There is a liquor store on the same deck that carries a few drug items and snacks. If you think you will want snacks or drug items, bring them with you. The cost aboard is way out of line. There are several "sales days" aboard, some around the pool or on the deck where the shops are located. Just what you needed more "stuff" to put into that suitcase and take home for the next garage sale. PHOTO GALLERY------The ship offered all the photos taken of you aboard the cruise for a one time price of $299.00. Throughout the cruise we never saw very many passengers making purchases at the photo shop, however on the last day at sea of the first segment, we witnessed several making package as well as individual purchases. Many of the photos taken on shore and in the dining room were actually not all that great. They were just poorly concrafted snap shots and I know you can do much better. Even the formal night photos were out of focus, poorly posed and just enlarged snap shots. We noticed very few guest stopped by the photo locations on formal nights. The ship also has a special section called "Black & White". We talked with the graduate photographer, a young girl from England, who studied design, etc. and went into the photo portion after graduating. She has limited settings for her work and she tells me that generally the work is done on 8 X 10. There is no charge for the settings, however she advises there is a limit of 18 clients per cruise. You have to be into this type of photography to enjoy it and many are not all that keen about the rather off the wall concept for portraits. You will find though some of these type approaches to photography being highly acclaimed especially in the photo magazine contest. THE OUTSIDE WALKING TRACK--DECK 6---This is a walking track with several signs posted that advise "No Jogging Allowed"---In spite of that, you are going to encounter the person who thinks they are still a high school jock and can run down all those who walk on this deck. This is really a nice area to enjoy and four trips around the deck will give you your daily mile. Walk in the direction indicted by the arrows, not opposite like those "jocks" who apparently could not read. TOURS The ship's staff will offer a presentation on the various tours that are available. This will more than likely take place on the first morning after sailing. You can also go on line after registering and pre reserve your tours via the internet. We found this easy to do and on top of that your tour tickets will be delivered to your stateroom on your first day at sea. If you happen to be staying in a suite the concierge has the ability to reserve your tour at his/her desk and print your tour tickets immediately. Under the "ports" section I have discussed some tours. Benjamin along with another crew person made presentations on tours each morning. While they never misrepresent the tours, you may find the actual tours a little different than the presentations. For example the City of Rose and the German settlement tour was listed as 3 ½ to 4 hours. This was a tender location. We waited on the ship from 8:05 until 8:30 when we boarded the tender. After arriving at shore we had to wait until a second tender arrived which took us to around 9:15AM. The moved through the city to a stopping point above the city where we stopped for 5 minutes before proceeding o Puerto Arenas where we arrived at 10:15AM and advised we had approximately 30 minutes to visit the town. We reboaded at 10:50 and proceeded to the town of Fruitillar where we were again given 30 minutes to visit the German Settlement. Leaving at 11:45AM we arrived back at the dock around 1PM, boarded the tender and was back on the ship at 1:40PM. If you count all the waiting time then it is possible to get 3 ½ to 4 hours posted in the tour brochure. Actual time at the two site---one hour with all the rest being travel and waiting time. If you had done this on your own you could have seen a lot more and spent additional time at both locations. LAUNDRY & PRESSING & DRY CLEANING The laundry and dry cleaning with a suite cabin is complimentary. Otherwise there is a charge. Before you go cheering about this a word of caution. Don't send any really good, especially designer, clothing to be washed or cleaned. After 5 laundries your under clothes will no longer be a bright white, but rather a dingy gray. Those shirts you had laundered and starched will look a little dingy after just a few washings and your trousers will not hold a crease even a few hours after wearing. The bottom line is that the free service is a fantastic idea however the wear and tear on your clothes may end up costing you in the long run. My colorful polo shirts have lost their brightness and now look like dollar store shirts. Perhaps I can pass them off as designer polo shirts that were designed with dingy colors and by cutting a couple of holes in the blue jeans I now have designer blue jeans. As for the under shorts---they did not cost that much so I will toss them upon return home. PUERTO MONTT, CHILE This is an anchor port with about a 15 minute tender ride to shore. The landing port is a little over one mile from city center. There is very little around the actual port other than some local shops. The walk to town center will take about 30 minutes over concrete walkways and some gravel intersections. We found little to do in the town center other than browse through some of the local shops and stores. Tired of ship food---there is a McDonalds in the middle of town. We would suggest taking one of the ship's tours thus on our return trip we decided to take the tour that goes to Puerto Varas and Frutillar, the "city of roses" and the "little black forest". USHUAIA, ARGENTINA----- This is a neat little town of about 60000 population and is the most southern city in the world. The day we were there the weather was spectacular with the temperature around 50 degrees. A short walk from the cruise ship to downtown and St. Martin Street where one finds all the shopping, including internet cafes and restaurants. If you want to use the internet there are several locations on St. MARTIN'S Street and at a very nice hotel the Wi-Fi is free plus the coffee is rather good too and at a reasonable price with no charge for the internet. You will though need your own laptop. There are several museums plus the train to the end of the world. People are friendly and the US Dollar was accepted everywhere we went and credit cards could be used with your passport. One day we were there many of the shops were closed all day on Wednesday. By the way---tour guides at the end of the pier will tell you that just about everything you go to see will be "at the end of the world". According to the ship's personnel this is basically true as it is the mostly southern large city in the world. As we leave Argentine and return to our cabin we have a notice from Guest relations (still puzzled by guest relations title) that as we head for Chile we need to complete an entry form for each person. The form has been partially completed thus all we have to do is check a few blocks and sign. No doubt the cruise line feels as though many or some of us don't have the ability to complete such forms so they do it for us. A letter attached states that we need to have a copy of our passport which the cruise line has previously given us. When you make your last stop in Chile an immigration office usually aboard ship will ask you for that form before you leave the ship, so hang onto it. PUNTA ARENAS, CHILE-----This is a neat town with a very clean downtown area. The port though for our ship was in the industrial cargo container section and if you are going to the city center you should get a taxi ($10 per cabin or ride one of the vans ($3 per person) as going to town. It is too far to walk. There is a very nice port downtown and the days we were there a Seaborn ship was berthed. The area around that port is very clean with lots of new construction including a large casino. You can easily walk to the downtown from this port. There is some small amount of shopping about a mile from the pier. If you are not on a pre-paid tour there are dozens of taxis available in downtown and for a flat price they will take you most anyplace you desire to visit. We hired a taxi to take us an hour's drive away to a penguin colony. The price for three hours was $100 which included a return to our ship. In downtown we found a neat coffee shop, candy store/deli all rolled into one. Decorated in Christmas colors and trim, the place offered free internet (need your own PC or iPad). This was a friendly very clean stop located just a block off the main square on the main shopping street. At the park square there are dozens of local vendors selling trinkets as well as locally made crafts. Prices are most reasonable. A very nice tourist bureau office is in the park. You may have taken just those tours offered by the cruise ships or you may be an independent traveled and contract for your own tours. Around the square are lots of taxis and tour operators.Let's compare one of the tours offered at this port. The ship tour programs calls this the Patagonia Experience Otway Sound & Penguin Reserve -4 hours for $94.You travel to Otway Sound mostly over gravel roads. You will walk to the penguins area and from beginning to end is about 1 ½ miles over dirt, gravel, tundra and wooden walkways. The walk is not difficult however the walkways re uneven. Your guide will speak English. There are no stops and you are kept to a rigid time schedule. Most likely some guest will not be aboard on time to return from the tour. You will wait along with all the others. Let's look at the same trip "on your own". The cost for the driver to and from the ship was $100. You have to pay to enter the park and that is $4 each for you and your traveling companion. At the sound there is a $11 per person entrance charge. Total paid for the trip is $130. No tip to the driver. Total paid for the cruise ship tour is $188 plus $5 guide tip for $193. Savings for independent travel for this trip is $63.00 How do the trips compare? On the ship's tour you have English speaking guide, large bus type seating and service from ship back to ship with no corners about being late as the ship will wait. On the independent travel you save $63.00. The driver speaks very little English. You get service from and back to ship. The driver stops for you to take pictures along the way of the jack rabbit, sheep and wild birds. Not going to be the case on the large bus. The seating is car level with small seats however there is air-condition. Almost to your ship and you spot a souvenir stand so the driver stops. Not the case on the bus. Will the ship wait if your are late returning----NOT in a million years. You weigh the difference and see which is best for you. Time was not a factor as both the taxi and the bus returned some 4 hours before departure time.. MONTEVIDEO, URUGUAY-----The ships docks right downtown thus walking into the city center is easy. Once off the ship, look for the "green walk way"---that being the sidewalk that is painted green and one that will lead you away from the pier and into the city. Although we were there this last time on a Sunday there were still some stores open and lots of locals on the streets. Travel a few blocks up the street from the pier and make a left toward the city park area which is a few blocks up a slight incline. There is a church on one corner across from the park so look for that church steeple so you can track your way. Want to use the internet (must have your own PC)---well there is a small California Burrito Company store on your right as you go toward the park. Free and fast internet hookup so you can send everyone an e-mail. It's free however at least purchase a drink from the friendly operator. He will appreciate your business. The burritos are hugh so don't order more than one. Traveling on toward the park and then past the park, you will leave the old town and enter the newer financial and hotel district. Worth your time to see all the locals busy shooing and hustling from office to office. If the city center is not your thing, we suggest going to the COLONIA DEL SACRAMENTO which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is a 2 ' hour drive each way. You can opt for a tour from the ship or hire a driver at the pier. A personal driver will not take quite as long to get to the town. There are tolls along the way thus check to see if the driver is willing to pay those tolls. We had lunch at one of the local restaurants in the town. It was a long day with cobblestone streets inside the old city. Walking may be a little difficult however it can be done. Wheelchairs are a little more difficult to navigate. There is also a steam train ride available however we were advised this is primarily a tourist attraction like one might find at a large amusement park. Just across the street from the ship terminal entrance is a large pavilion filled with shops and many restaurants. Fresh meats are being bar b q'ed and grill over open pit fires. This is definitely a place to visit and to have lunch or dinner. FALKLANDS ISLANDS No doubt our most interesting and adventurous port stop. First the tenders have to travel quite a way to get to Port Stanley. The water was rough and the winds very strong. We went ashore without any tour reservations and found a local person that took us on a fantastic penguin tour about an hour away from the docks. He had a 4 wheel drive Range Rover that was needed as we crossed private ranch land to reach the nesting and beach area. We were the first to arrive at the area where we spent about 30 minutes observing and photographing at least 200 penguins. We can say this was a fantastic opportunity. As we left several other 4 wheel drive vehicles arrived and all in all at least a dozen by the time we got back to the gravel highway. We were paying $40 each for our trip will some of these other people had paid as much as $259 per person to see the penguins. Oh they did get a box lunch thrown in. We could not have been more pleased with this experience. It was fantastic and we saved a large bundle of money. Upon return to the docks we spent the next hour touring the small port town of Port Stanley. By the way that would have been another tour charge had we purchased on the ship. The time on shore was short, however by 1:30PM we were ready to return to the ship and we caught the last tender back to the ship before tender service was suspended. Those still on tours and on shore found long lines and long waiting time for their return trip to the ship. We were about two hours later leaving the area due to these long waits caused by large waves and high winds. The ride back consisted of repeated tossing's by the waves and getting along side of the ship became a real challenge for the skipper of the tender as we tried several times before being able to get along side. Even then many of us got thourghly soaked by the splashing waves that hit the tender. You can walk all over Port Stanley in a short period of time. We don't think a paid tour for walking is necessary. There is a war memorial that you need to see. Also a large general store right on the waterside street(The West Store), where you can get groceries, a cup of coffee, books and souvenirs, wines, toiletries plus there is an electrical store where cameras and supplies are available.. The place is clean and prices are reasonable. Across the street is the Capstan Gift Shop where some nice gifts c an be found. Numerous gift shops are in the downtown area. There are some small coffee and bakery shops that are worthy of your stooping by. Look for them on the side street away from the water. Pass up the "trinkets" shop as many of these souvenirs may not be of such great quality. There are two churches downtown just opposite the water and a restaurant across from the newspaper office. (Christ Church Cathedral , St. Mary's Catholic Church and The Tabernacle, United Free Church).Close by is the Post Office. The Whalebone Arch is in this part of town as is the 1982 Liberation Memorial. A school is also located downtown. The houses are quaint and most have a brightly painted roof that can be seen from a long distance. The wind blows very hard so bundle up for your walking tour. We were told that the Falklands get 40% of all their electrical power from wind turbines and that the percentage is increasing on a steady basis. If you are interested in the history of the Falkland Islands, including the 1982 war with Argentina, may I suggest that you research back at home before you come as books are rather expensive in the Falklands and I have yet to find that really good one about the 1982 war. Most in the bookstores are written from the perspective of a daily journal by one of more of the residents of those days. You can drop more than $300 per person on ship purchased tours for the Falklands or you can have an equally great time for less than $50 each by becoming your own travel agent. Just get to the dock early as the number of guides is limited. There is a close by penguin area where one can actually walk (about 1 ½ hours each way) and that is 100% free. What a fantastic job to have just meeting the 50 or 60 cruise ships per year and providing tour guides around the island! This in my opinion would be a great fun job, very limited workdays and a fairly good income. Now one would have to bear the cold and winds which never seem to die down. If you are a cruiser and have never been your own travel agent, there is no better time especially with the internet, to save yourself a bundle of money, get away from the crowds and take some fun and adventurous tours on your own. If you are tired of waiting on that constant straggler missing from the bus after every stop, if you are tired of the pushing and discourtesies at each stop, may I suggest trying a tour on your own. Start several months ahead of your trip and gather up tons of information and don't forget to check reviews on what has been the experience of others. CAUTION---There are live mines located in numerous places of the area. They are marked with signs, thus observe those signs and don't enter the marked off areas. Our guide says that mines are still being removed however the process is very costly and progress is slow. EXPLORATIONS CAF'---This is place along the port side on deck 8--just past the casino where you can get a book, coffee drink or use the internet (good luck on the internet). In fact this is one of the most frequently used areas we noticed on the ship. Large windows let you look out on the port side. You are close to the Rotterdam Dining room, thus a good place to meet friends before dinner. On the opposite side of the ship is another good place to meet friends at the Explorer's Lounge. Coffee is sold at about the same price you would pay at Starbucks. In the Neptune Lounge (suite guest) there is no charge for coffee including cappuccino. OCEANS BAR---Has some good seating with large windows on the starboard side. Music and entertainment in the evenings. Check the daily bulletin for drinks specials (usually the second one for $1) each day. TIPPING ABOARD SHIP I have read numerous posting on web sites in which questions have been ask about cruise ship tipping. There is no simple answer in spite of the fact that cruise ship experts , especially those working for the industry, will attempt to give you a "concrete and simple" answer to your question. On board this two segment trip Holland America added $11 per day per couple on the first segment and $12 per person per day on the second segment. total charges. Thus we paid for a 28 day , two segment trip $640.00. This means we paid $640.00 in tips for this limited number of employees, such as cabin stewards, their assistants, the waiter, his/her assistant and "others". In addition we paid 15% in tips for those drinks we purchased. Now if there was someone that was really outstanding, such as your waiter, to whom you have already committed $96.00 in tips, you may want to give him or her some additional cash. While Holland America used to provide envelopes for this at the end of the cruise, there were no visible envelopes around, however the front desk would be most happy to provide as many as you desire. Just remember that your waiter who was serving three tables of six has already received $864 from the mandatory tips for those past 16 days. On top of all of this you most likely were not served every meal by that waiter as you may have dined in the Lido or had service in your room. The point is that the cruise industry really screwed the tipping situation up when they started their "mandatory" program. You now give the same tips whether your service is good, poor or outstanding. On the other hand there are those passengers that without the "mandatory tipping" would most likely leave the ship without having left any tip. Now there are the "good guys" who will leave that waiter an extra $20, $50 or $100 bill as they leave the table on that last day. The real answer to that question is to "absorb" the Holland America "tip policy" and give something extra to that person what you think about his/her service. If there was nothing really outstanding then you have already tipped enough. By the way, these employees aboard the cruise ship are not paid great wages and their livelihood likely depends heavily upon your tips. Did you know Holland America makes that same wait staff pay for their inte3net usage? It is no wonder we see so many staff at the internet cafes on show where they make telephone calls back home or send e-mails to their families. SHIP'S CRUISE SURVEY OR EVALUATION At the end of the cruise expect your service to get about as good as it can get as every crew member is aware that a survey form is about to land in every cabin. However that was not our case as we did not receive a survey form. When we inquired at the front desk we were advised that if you are on a back to back or multiple cruise segments you will receive a survey from only at the end of the cruise. We don't think this is fare to either the staff or the customer. For example we changed Captains, Cruise Directors and many wait staffers at the end of the first segment. One of these was outstanding when another was just satisfactory. There is no way, unless I write a narrative on each employee, that those reviewing the survey will know who I am evaluating. I will probably not turn in my survey form and send a letter AND the survey form to Corporate instead. BACK TO BACK CRUISES----We have done this in the past and without a problem as we have always stayed in the same cabin for the entire cruise. This time it was a little different as the cabin we reserved on the first segment was not available for the second portion of the cruise. I was assured by a representative at corporate that we would have no problem. Not exactly true. Our first segment cabin was 035 and the second segment cabin was 006. One of the port side and the other on the starboard side. On the last evening of the first segment we still had no guidance on the move so I went to the front desk and was told I would get a letter later that day. I did receive a letter in a couple of hours and I suspect it was generated as a result of my visit to the front office. I noticed there was no new cabin key thus back o the front desk. I was informed that a new key could not be issued UNTIL THE actual cruise date which would be the following day. I once again asked about the actual move and was assured that a cabin attendant would assist. I even verified this with the concierge. We wanted to get off the ship as it was docked at Valparaiso however this was not going to be possible as we still had no new cabin at 10AM. Finally shortly after 10AM a cabin attendant came to the area where we were waiting and advised the new cabin had been cleaned. We moved out personal belongings with only one load of hang up clothes being moved by the cabin attendant. It just seemed as though no one knew what to do. We returned to the front desk where we were issued a new cabin key for the new cabin. At 11AM we ask a about leaving the ship and learned that the new boarding passengers would start boarding at 11:45AM. We did not want to get involved in any additional waiting lines thus we left the ship, went to the terminal and shortly after that reboarded so we would not have to wait with new boarding passengers. Holland American did not assist us in any way and I to assume they thought we could just work "it" out. Well we did, as we retuned back to the ship before noon time. So much for touring any of Valparaiso. One certainly needs to work out as many details on such a change before the final day. You can eliminate this problem completely by reserving the same cabin for your entire cruise. SHOULD I RESERVE MY NEXT CRUISE WHILE ABOARD SHIP? If you want my short answer it is "NO". I know it may be tempting to only have to pay a deposit of $100 for a cruise nearly two years away. You will also be advised that "credit" will go back to your home town (or wherever) travel agent. It may also be tempting from a standpoint that you may be able to select exactly the cabin you always wanted. Do you have any idea what world conditions will be some 18 months from now? Will those cruise destinations you desire now still be the ones you want to cruise to in 18 months? The economic stability of business and countries throughout the worlds are such that I just tend to say, let's wait until a closer time when I actually want to cruise. I look for destinations we want to visit, fro great fares and super accommodations aboard the ship. Sometimes it takes a little waiting to get just the right combination. There are new ships being added by the cruise industry every year plus there are new ports being opened up throughout the world. I have come to the point where we are looking for quality service, quality food, quality cabins, etc without breaking the bank. Rather than four cruises in two years we are opting for two or three where we can enjoy cruising at our expectations. Holland America has a 212 page Cruise Atlas 2012-2013. The booklet is very good and was planned well. You can browse through all the Holland American cruises for the two year period. Fining a copy locally may be difficult thus requesting a copy form HA may be the best way to get a copy. There were limited copies available on this cruise however there was a notice asking that the brochures be returned after reviewing. EXPLORE WELLBEING & Salon This is where you can go for a fitness class, acupuncture or across the hallway for a hair makeover or touch up on your fingernails. The Greenhouse and Explore Wellbeing will set you back a few dollars regardless of what you desire. While my wife used the hair dresser I stayed away from all of this section. If it is your thing --then go for it! YOUR TRAVEL GUIDE BENJAMIN Some good information with lectures throughout the cruise. Held in the Showroom at Sea. RELIGIOUS SERVICES Mass was celebrated in the Wajang Theater at 8AM ART AUCTIONS There were none---hurray!!! LATE NIGHT DANCING Available at several of the lounges throughout the evening LIBRARY There is a large library on deck 8 at the Explorations Cafe. Books can be checked in and out at the desk. A few paper backs are available for exchanges. You do not have to check these paperbacks out, just leave one as you take one. You will find a few books in the Neptune Lounge if you are a suite guest. Read Less
Sail Date November 2011
Sunday December 19, 2010: The day started with a call from Duncan at 5:00 AM stating that their flights had been cancelled since Europe was under snow. They tried to rebook a flight that would get them to Rio on Tuesday prior to ... Read More
Sunday December 19, 2010: The day started with a call from Duncan at 5:00 AM stating that their flights had been cancelled since Europe was under snow. They tried to rebook a flight that would get them to Rio on Tuesday prior to sailing, however, I don't have my hopes up too high. Mary and I got to O'Hare airport at 3:30 PM for a 6:15 U.S Airways flight to Charlotte, NC, which left on time, arrived in Charlotte on time, and had us walking a half mile between terminals to catch the connecting flight to Rio. The flight was delayed as we waited on 11 passengers on an inbound flight from San Francisco. We were also told that the plane would be making a stop in San Juan, Puerto Rico, since they needed to refuel, due to the weight load on the plane from cargo. The planned 20 minute stop at 2:30 AM lasted almost two hours. Monday December 20, 2010 We were one hour late arriving in Rio De Jenairo. Princess had the transfer folks waiting for us. This was nice. We had a pleasant ride to the docks, check-in was smooth, and we were on the ship by 3:30 PM. We immediately signed up for a $175 internet package, and had a terrible time connecting, just to look if we had email from Duncan and Jenny. After much frustration, we got the bad news that they couldn't get out of the UK, and we were on our own for this adventure of a lifetime. Mary and I ate at the Horizon Court buffet for a quick meal. We then went to our cabin and rested a while, I notified the family that we arrived okay, and then went upstairs and made a cup of Starbucks via...the first good cup of coffee we had in 48 hrs. We met a nice couple from Jacksonville, MaryLou and Bill, both used to work for Eastern Airlines. It was a pleasant conversation, but didn't have quite the wit and humor I was anticipating.....it should have been Duncan and Jenny. We had our muster drill at 7:30 PM, and then Mary and I went back to the cabin and prepared for dinner. I ran up on Deck 14 to do some night time photography, and Mary met me. A wonderful full moon on the port side of the ship reflecting off the harbor. There's supposed to be a full lunar eclipse tonight, but I don't think we'll be up to enjoy it. We ate dinner at the Crowne Grille restaurant on the ship. $20 cover per person, but a wonderful combination of gourmet appetizers (Crab Cakes and Asparagus for Mary, Sea Scallops, Apples, and Faux Gras for me), followed by Filet Mignon for Mary and Rib eye for me. Mary had some excellent sautEed mushrooms with her entree, and I had a loaded baked potato. Both of us were pleasantly surprised by the flavor of the beef. Mary went back to the room, and I roamed the deck, dealing with my depression over Duncan and Jenny. I went back to the room, dropped off the camera, and went back out to claim a double Jim Beam on the rocks as a night cap. The alarm is set for 6:15 AM since we have the morning excursion to Christ the Redeemer statue, the symbol of Rio. They recommend we bring our own water. The temperatures are in the 90's here, as summer gets into full swing. Tuesday December 21, 2010 Woke up early. The Internet was much better. I bet that everyone was still sleeping. Since I am an early riser, if the connection is this good early in the morning, I will have no problems keeping in touch with friends and family. Reading work email has been ruled out as a precautionary measure to maintain sanity on this well deserved three week holiday. We ordered room service for breakfast. We met our tour group in theater for the trip to Christ the Redeemer statue. We had a wonderful tour guide, Patricia, a local native, and a very proud native. The view from top of Corcovado Mountain is spectacular. Bonus: We had 1 hr left of tour time, so Patricia took us for a drive through the Copacabana and Impenema beach neighborhoods and along the beachfronts . Several topless women, and lots of butt floss filled the sand. We ate a light burger lunch, and went back to room for a mid-afternoon rest. The boat set sail from Rio at around 5:50, a little late, since we had to wait for a busload of passengers from the Sugar Loaf Mountain tour that were stuck in traffic. The sail-out from Rio was beautiful, as the sun was starting to set, the city was silhouetted on several sides. The two notable points were seeing Corcovado Mountain and the statue in silhouette against a backdrop of puffy clouds. The second gorgeous vista was the close sail by of Sugarloaf Mountain. Mary and I ate a light dinner at the Horizon Court buffet, then a quick stop at a horrible ONE NIGHT ONLY show in the theater, which was Frank the cruise director selling you everything about Princess. We stopped at the casino and I won $60, and Mary won $5. Wednesday December 22, 2010 Out in the south Atlantic all day, calm seas, and no land. Mary commented that it was amazing how the horizon is circular around you, as if you were the stake in the ground holding a measuring rope to draw the circle. Dinner was the first formal night, and the Captain's Champagne Waterfall event in the Atrium. We ate by ourselves this night. I had an appetizer of Kiwi, Grapefruit and a Raspberry sauce, a bowl of chicken won ton soup, and medallions of tenderloin with mixed vegetables and a potato Almond croquette. Mary had a Crab Cake, a Cesar Salad, and a very nice piece of Halibut. Desert was decadent chocolate pudding cake with flaked dark chocolate and fresh sweet whipped cream. Can you say sugar coma? The rest of the evening was spent going to the various venues and sampling some of the entertainment. We stopped at the casino again, and Mary started with $20, and ended up with $56. Way to go Mary, as I returned the $60 won the previous night. Thursday December 23, 2010 At sea all day, as we steamed towards Montevideo, Uruguay to pick up fuel and supplies. I got a good early morning internet connection and sent mail to Duncan and Jenny to see what their status was. We were hoping, since the captain announced that over 60 passengers from the UK would be joining us in Montevideo, that Duncan and Jenny would be amongst them. I received a return mail from Duncan stating that they couldn't get out of the UK, and to enjoy ourselves. I am heartbroken. We finally came out of open seas near San Carlos, passed a lighthouse and took some hazy photos of the shore. About two hours later, we entered the Rio De La Plata and into Montevideo harbor, the busiest sea port in South America. The key for the ship was so narrow, and it's amazing how the pilot can use the thrusters to slowly manipulate the ship into port. Dinner: I had a shrimp cocktail, a salad and Duck L'Orange. I forget what Mary had. We retired to our room which is on the starboard side of the ship facing the dock. We watched, as workers unloaded 7 full shipping containers, and 2 semi-trucks worth of produce and non-perishables, stage them on the dock, have them inspected for explosives, then fork lifted on to the ship. All was completed by around 12:30 AM, and at 1:00 AM the pilot fired up the thrusters and inched us out of port. Right below my balcony, a huge tugboat came and pushed us around our axis to turn the ship 180 degrees so we could head out back to the Rio De La Plata and out into the Atlantic again for our 1500 mile journey to the Falkland islands. I didn't get to bed until after 2 AM since this sail away from Montevideo was too awesome to miss and I just had to watch. Friday December 24, 2010 We watched a presentation by Captain Edward Perrin, Joe May, and an Ice Captain, detailing the navigational charts of where we will be sailing to in Antarctica. We were prepared by the captain, that the weather is totally unpredictable, and can change within minutes, and the only thing certain was uncertainty. They also spoke about how they double man the bridge to navigate through the ice in the channels of the South Shetland Islands. I went up on deck around 10:30 AM to join Mary. We both ate brunch, and read our books until about 1 PM. At 3:30 PM, Mary and I attended the Maitre D's Sommelier's wine club tasting. The tasting features 6 wines, 1 champagne, 2 chardonnays, Jack London Cab Sav, Opus 1, and another Cab. All 6 wines were fantastic, and paired with a platter of CanapEs...after all, a sommelier's job is to know the wine and how to pair it with food. A new wine trick we learned....if it has oak, bring out the smoke. Basically, a California Chardonnay has lower acidity than its French counter parts, is more complex, and pairs well with smoked fish, or lightly smoked barbecued meats. We stopped at Vines, the wine bar, and purchased a bottle of the Jack London Cab Sav, and a bottle of the Cuvaison chardonnay. Dinner: I had a duck pâtE appetizer, a dry Caesar salad, and a roasted shrimp kabob. Mary had baked calamari, which was tender and perfect, a Caesar salad and the shrimp kabobs. For desert, I had a Pineapple sorbet and some pistachio ice cream. Mary had an apple strudel with vanilla ice cream on a bed of vanilla sauce. It was 9 PM when we finished dinner, and we went to the casino to try our luck. We were both playing a 10X 3 coin quarter machine. Mary was up and down, and I hit two 10X single bars, which was 300 coins or $75 each. By the end of the night, I was up $200. As we headed back to the cabin, we noticed the sunset on the starboard side. It was about 9:45 PM and the colors were fantastic. We quickly went back to the room and grabbed the cameras. The sun had just settled below the horizon, and the colors were changing by the minute. I stood on the balcony and fired off about 100 pictures over the next 15-20 minutes, until the color was gone from the sky. I now understand why the photographers consider the 30 minutes after sunset "The Sweet Spot." We went up to the buffet to pick up "Denny's" late night snack and two coffee cups for our morning Starbucks Via. What a wonderful invention, and we're probably the envy of all American coffee drinkers on board, since the coffee on the boat borders between bad and horrible. Our little Proctor Silex electric kettle is a wonderful accessory to travel with for making hot water very fast. We returned to the room and opened the wine, had a couple of glasses, and settled down for the night. Saturday December 25, 2010. Merry Christmas. Overnight we cruised to the southwest, so we went back a time zone. Supposedly, that gets you an extra hour of sleep, however, you really just wake up an hour earlier. I awoke at 5 AM to the sounds of the ship's foghorn, and as the sun came up, it quickly burned off the fog. The temperature outside is a cool 56 degrees, a big contrast to the 80's and 90's experienced in Rio and Montevideo. The seas are still relatively calm, with waves 1-4 feet, however, there is a low pressure system moving in. I am trying to figure out this time zone thing. I think that Brazil sticks out so far to the east on the South American Continent, that it pushed those folks two hours ahead of NY, and being in summer, and observing daylight savings time, they are 3 hrs ahead of NY, 4 ahead of Chicago. As you head down the east coast of South America, you are actually heading southwest, so you move back into another time zone. Port Stanley is 3 hrs ahead of Chicago. Sunday December 26, 2010 Sunday was spent in Stanly, Falkland Islands. With a population of just over 3000 inhabitants total throughout the Falklands, when a cruise boat docks, the population doubles for a day. The local folks were wonderful, and Stanly has a rich history savored by the people. It was about 45 degrees, and very windy, however, Mary and I were dressed for it, in layers. and didn't mind the wind at all. After tendering to shore, we explored the town, and of course, in the Falklands, you can get all four seasons in one day. The sky covered itself with clouds, and we had a light rain, followed by even stronger winds. It's funny to watch the tourists battle the elements, all bundled up, and the locals walking around in nothing but hooded sweatshirts. Mary spend the early afternoon shopping, and I went on my Gentoo Penguin tour, which consisted of a 10 mile drive in a mini-bus past the extensive mine fields that are marked for your safety. According to our guide, both the British and Argentinean governments are still actively clearing mines from the 1982 conflict, but lack funding to complete the job. While there have been no human casualties due to land mines since 1982, it has taken a big toll on the cattle and sheep that graze those fields. We then met our 4x4 driver and had the most awesome time going off road in the rocky and muddy fields for about 7-8 miles down to Bluff Cove to walk amongst the colony of about 2000 penguins. This was one of the greatest thrills of my life. The chicks were already hatched and about 2 months old, so they were about 2/3 the size of the adults. The Gentoo are the species that builds their nests of little pebbles and sticks, but constantly steal pebbles from neighboring nests until the victimized male starts chasing the thief. It's hilarious to watch. The sun hid behind a big black cloud, making photography a bit difficult, but there were several times the sun shone brightly, and I took hundreds of shots. Another bonus was that a small colony of King Penguins was starting to inch their way into the Bluff Cove area, as well as some Rock Hoppers. The wandering albatross, with a wingspan of about 11 feet was the predominant avian species in the sky, and I did spot several arctic terns, as well as other various sea birds. Mary and I have also spotted several pods of dolphins off the starboard side of the boat, and one whale so far. We left Stanley about 6:15 PM, and are now headed southwest to the Antarctic Peninsula. We should be crossing the Antarctic Convergence, the area of the ocean where the colder Antarctic water goes beneath the warmer ocean waters of the south Atlantic. This churns up the food supply for the cetaceans and we should be seeing many whales during the day today. I don't need to say anything more about the food on board, since 99% of it is yummy. Monday, December 27, 2010 We entered the Drake Passage between South America and Antarctica around 7 AM in the morning. The Drake Passage has the world's roughest navigable waters, and thousands of ships have been lost during the glory of the whaling era, however, our entry into the passage was met with sunshine and calm seas. Around Noon we passed across the Antarctic Convergence. That is where the colder waters from below the 60th parallel undercut the warmer waters from the south Atlantic. This churns up the food that many sea birds and cetacean (whales and dolphins for you non-biologist) thrive on. The first signs of Antarctic wild life made their presence known. They are Snowy Albatross, Wandering Albatross, Petrels, and Prions. All were photographed in flight and I have quite a few good shots. I do have a birds and mammals guide for Antarctica that I picked up in Stanley, so this came in handy to identify the exact species by their markings. Mary and I had lunch in one of the main dining rooms today, she had a tuna melt and I had a Beef London Broil in a mushroom gravy topped with shitake mushrooms, with a side of fresh peas and carrots....yum! I topped off my meal with some chocolate bread pudding. I thought I wasn't going to talk about the food any more. I guess I slipped. Well, the Drake Passage is starting to live up to its reputation, for after lunch the seas went from slight, to moderate, with about 10 foot swells. The barometer is falling, so a low pressure system is moving in, which means wind, wind, and more wind....they are expecting about 25 foot swells come mid-evening. I find the rocking of the boat very soothing. We were informed several times today by the ship's crew, that there are special rules we have to observe for our 4 days sailing the Antarctic continent, like no food or smoking on the balconies or open decks, not to wear ball caps, don't expect clean towels, etc. The loose clothing and smoking & eating ban on the open decks is because they want nothing to blow into the water so the Antarctic Peninsula can remain a pristine environment. The clean towel, no laundry rules are because the ship can only carry so much "gray water" (toilet flushes, waste water from showers, cooking, etc) and we can only dump this gray water in certain locations in the ocean. Antarctica restricts this dumping, so we have to hold on to it for the four days. So to conserve our capacity to hold this water, the rules are enforced by international treaty. I am a firm believer in "leave nothing but your footprints, take nothing but your memories" and about a 1000 pictures. We are expected to arrive at Elephant Island by 6 AM. The sun is setting here around 10:30 PM and rising around 4 AM, so there's not much full darkness. Elephant Island is where Ernest Shackleton left the crew of the Endeavor and made his way 800 miles north to South Georgia Island and came back to rescue them a year later. The crew survived on penguin, and anything else they could catch and lived beneath a wooden life boat for a year. Tuesday, December 28, 2010 Traveling across the Drake Passage is like a never ending ride at Disney World. Compounding the problem was 90 knot winds. 90 knots is about 120 MPH. Air temperature was 33 degrees F, and with the wind chill, it was 18 below zero. Mary and I dressed in several layers: Silk long johns, shirt, fleece sweatshirt, wind proof jacket, and an over jacked with fleece. We were perfectly warm throughout, and when we got to Elephant Island, the first island in the South Shetland islands of Antarctica, it was snowing, and foggy, and 20 foot swells. The captain parked the boat to ride out the wind and snow. He said Elephant Island was 1/2 mile to starboard, but we couldn't see a thing. He turned the boat and started heading back the way we came to see if we could escape the weather. While he was turning, we had a 95 MPH gust and associated squall. The boat listed about 10 degrees to port. It was a weird feeling, but only lasted about 2 minutes and we were stable again. Mary and I ventured up on deck just to see what it was like to stand in a 90 MPH wind. It was almost impossible to stand, and we sought shelter with the rest of the 2500 passengers. Around 11 AM, the fog started to lift a bit and we had a hazy view of Elephant Island. It was then I realized the true mystery of Antarctica, and the lure it has on adventurers. You see, the ship can get you there, however the continent only reveals itself to you when it wants to, and then, only enough to make you want more. The ship then proceeded to the south portion of the island, where the Endurance Glacier is. This glacier is about 2 miles across, and about 100 feet high at its calving edge. It was so overcast, that photography was near impossible, however, the sun did shine through and I have some fantastic pictures. The ship stayed by this glacier for about 2 hours. The sun came out full as we headed out to sea. We are currently heading for Antarctic Sound, which is also known as Iceberg Alley. This should be interesting. The sun sets at 11:30 PM or so, and then sunrise is as 2:30 AM. It doesn't really set, as the sky is fairly light for being night time, sort of like a dusk to dawn with no dark in between. Wednesday, December 29, 2010 I awoke at 6:45 AM and we were smack dab in the middle of "Iceberg Alley" in Antarctic Sound. The weather was mostly foggy with visibility of about 1 mile. The Captain slowed to boat down to 2 knots, as the ice pilot navigated his way through aircraft carrier sized pieces of ice. We were making our way to Esperonza Station, an Argentine observation post, one of the first in Antarctica. The fog got so bad, the Captain had to use only the thrusters to move the ship. After about 1.5 hrs of waiting, the decision was made to abandon our attempts for the trip to Esperonza Station, turn the ship around and head back to the Bransfield Strait, just south west of the South Shetlands, to make our way to our second destination, Admiralty Bay. On the way out, the weather cleared just enough to behold some of the biggest pieces of floating ice in the Antarctic Sound. Many of the icebergs had chinstrap penguins and Adelie Penguins hitching rides across the Sound. There was even a single Adelie Penguin on a small iceberg that became a meal for a lone Leopard Seal. The sun broke through the fog at around 10:30 AM, and the Bransfield Strait was full of marine wildlife. Mary and I watched a pair of humpback whales spout and breach on the Starboard side of the ship. I believe I caught a few of the blows with the camera, and maybe the head of one of the humpbacks. Of course, the weather changes quicker than a blink of the eye here, and within 30 minutes or so, we were back in fog, and had some more snow on deck. We made the entrance to Admiralty Bay as the sun dramatically broke through the clouds. The ship made a nice pass of Pieter J. Lenie, a U.S. summer scientific station, and north to Shag Point, home of the Polish Arctowski station, which a year round scientific station. There, the ship stopped to disembark 4 Polish scientists that we picked up during our service call in Montevideo. They will be there for 6 months. Two zodiac rafts launched from the Arctowski station came along starboard, picked up the scientists, and they quickly made their short trip back to the station. Between the American and Polish stations were two huge colonies of penguins, one Adelie, one Chinstrap. I would estimate about 10,000 individuals in the colony. To the left of the Arctowski station, were a pair of humpback whales hanging out at the surface, fin slapping the water for at least an hour. Another humpback was spotted starboard aft, and was spouting the breaching. I caught a great, although slightly out of focus shot of the fluke. The naturalist answered some questions about the wild life and the actual area we are in. The water depth in Admiralty Bay is 16Km (10 mile) deep, as it is part of a deep Antarctic trench. During the slow sail out of Admiralty Bay we were only 1/2 mile from the coast of the islands, and we gazed upon fantastic vistas of glacier upon glacier, upon glacier. I thought I was in heaven when I saw my first glacier in Alaska . All Alaska was in reality, was an appetizer to the main course. We are below parallel 63 now, and by international treaty, we cannot sail below 65, so tomorrow, we will be spending the day in the Neumayer Channel, going to about 64.8 degrees south, then finally, on 12/31/2010, head out of Antarctic waters with a quick stop at Deception Island, a caldera (sunken volcano), before crossing the Drake Passage north to Cape Horn. Sunset tonight is at 12:45 AM, and sunrise is a 2:15 PM. I have a nice suntan already, even though the sun is only out for about 5 hrs a day and hides behind those pale gray clouds the rest of the time. Thursday, December 30, 2010 I woke up around 6:45 AM to nothing but fog. Mary popped her head up and inquired as to what was outside the window, to which I said, "Nothing but fog," but as soon as the words left my lips, the fog lifted and we were in the Gerlache Strait, with tremendous 6000 foot spiked snow covered peaks all around the ship. I made some coffee, but couldn't really finish it, and grabbed the camera, bundled up and ran up on deck 16 to see. I thought it would be cold, since the air temperature was only 32 degrees, however it was quite comfortable. I didn't know where to look, it was sensory overload. The incessant recurring clouds and fog make it difficult to photograph the scenery in the distance, however, when we made the turn into the Nuemayer Channel, the sun came out to reveal a wonderful blue sky and the mountains of the Antarctic Peninsula....stupendous. We sailed all the way into Neumayer Channel, seeing Crabeater Seals and Gentoo Penguins, all hitching rides on the ice flows. We also saw numerous Humpback whales, however, they were too far off to photograph. We officially made it to the 64.8 degrees south, as far south as we are allowed to travel in a heavy fuel vessel. It is sad that the big ships will not be able to travel to this wonderful land anymore, but I fully embrace the necessity to ban the travel due to the risk of damaging the fragile ecosystem down here. Small ships carrying less than 250 passengers that consume diesel fuel will still be allowed south of the 60th parallel. My soul tells me that I will return here one day on one of those vessels. One of the day's highlights, was how the captain and his bridge crew navigated through a brash ice field. Brash ice is little tiny pieces of ice that are the last remnants of an iceberg. They are not so little. This was like navigating a mine field, or passing through the meteor belts that surround earth. We watched as the ship made its way through this ice....crunching around the sheer weight of the ship. They used their thrusters to push the ice away when it got too thick. This is the kind of ice that the old whaling vessels dreaded, since it can gather around your ship quickly and refreeze, trapping your ship. One of the most spectacular things of the day was when one pickup truck sized chunk of ice completely came out of the water and flipped over on itself with a thunderous crash....right in front of our balcony. Mary was filming video of the brash ice, when I heard her say, "OH MY GOD!!! Look at that," and you think she would have turned the camera towards it, but no. The ship pivoted on its axis and sailed out of the Nuemayer Channel, and the captain made a quick stop in Paradise Harbor. This place was pristine. Calm, glassy deep water, and towering mountains with the edge of the Antarctic ice shelf in the near distance. It was here where a humpback whale decided to breach in front of our balcony. Of course, I didn't have camera in hand, and missed a golden opportunity. We stayed in Paradise Harbor for about two hours, then headed back out to sea, on our way to Deception Island for an early morning arrival tomorrow. This will be the last views of Antarctica before we set out to re-cross the Drake Passage and steam towards Cape Horn. Right before leaving for dinner, a pod of three humpback whales breached in front of the balcony. This created the perfect ending for the perfect day....at least that is what I thought. At dinner, the ship's sommelier gave Mary and I personalized service for about 45 minutes. We had attended his wine tasting on the 3rd day of the cruise, and he was wonderful....now we had him at our table, expertly pairing a wine with our selected dinner choice. The marvelous thing about having the sommelier tend to you, is that you get to find out what he has hidden in the wine cellar that is not on the wine list. Mary and I has a superb 2000 Robert Mondovi Merlot. The sommelier decanted the wine so slowly, with a high intensity halogen pen light to make sure no sediment entered the decanter. What an experience. The sun will not set until 1:20 AM, and will rise again at 2:30 AM....so this is coming close to no true dark hours. Friday, December 31, 2010 As the old year comes to an end today, so does our Antarctic adventure. I rose at 7:15 AM, looked out the window to our balcony, and saw hundreds of Chinstrap Penguins breaching through the calm waters. We were only about 5 miles from Deception Island, a caldera in the South Shetland islands. The last eruption of this volcano was in 1972, and destroyed a British and an Brazilian research base inside the perimeter of the caldera. It was extremely foggy, but the fog lifted enough to make out the outline of Deception Island and its volcanic ash beaches. The air smelled from Penguin and from sulfur. Deception Island is home to the world's largest Chinstrap Penguin colonies, with over 300,000 nesting pairs. I think most of these pairs were in the water this morning. The ship stopped for a bit so we could view the sites, then circumnavigated the island, turned around and headed back out to sea to begin our 1.5 day crossing of the western Drake passage. A low pressure system is moving into the area, indicating an infamous South Atlantic summer storm, and it's expected to be a rough crossing. The captain came on the PA and informed us to store all valuables in a drawer, or to leave them on the deck (the nautical term for the floor), since if they are on the deck, they can't fall any further. Tonight is New Years eve on the Star Princess. They have hung a huge net from the ceiling of the atrium, and are beginning to fill it up with balloons for a midnight drop to ring in the new year. It is also the second of our formal dinners. The naturalist on board tried to make a joke that we needed to sail away from Deception Island, since with everyone dressed in tuxedos tonight, the Chinstraps would think that we were a big floating penguin colony. The New Year's Eve party was fantastic. If you can imagine about 2600 people gathered on three decks around the atrium, a great band playing good old time rock and roll and then the balloon drop at midnight...it was AWESOME! Overnight, we had to secure everything, as we made our way back across the Drake Passage. We have 20 foot swells and 60 MPH winds....the ship is doing its own version of Rock and Roll. Tomorrow around 4 PM, we will circle Cape Horn, the most southern tip of South America, and then make our way into the Beagle Channel on our way for a very early morning docking in Ushuaia, Argentina on Sunday, 1/2/2011. Mary and I have a full day of shore excursions there. The following day, 1/3/2011 we will dock in Punta Arenas, Chile, and have some fun things to do there after we tender to shore. Saturday January 1, 2011 The Drake Passage crossing was extremely rough with 25-30 foot swells. We awoke around 8:15 AM to the boat listing back and forth. Mary wasn't doing so well and looked a little green around the gills. We went for a 10 AM presentation by Joe May, a port lecturer in the Princess theater at the front of the ship. The boat was bouncing pretty good. Mary was too sea sick to eat breakfast, and after the lecture we returned to our cabin and Mary slept most of the early afternoon. The captain announced that the seas and winds were too harsh to embark our Chilean pilot to circumnavigate Cape Horn, however, we'd still do a sail by about 3 PM. The view was spectacular, as we were met with the cliffs of Cape Horn, as well as many albatross and petrels. Cape Horn was shrouded in cloud, but as soon as we sailed past it on the Atlantic ocean side, the seas calmed, and Mary started to feel better. About two hours later, as the sun burned off the clouds and we were presented with blue skies as we entered the Beagle Channel, so named for the vessel that was captained by Fitzroy, and carried a young twenty six year old naturalist named Charles Darwin. Mary and I ate dinner in the main dining room, which was unusually empty. I think too many people were nursing hangovers from the night before, or recovering from sea sickness from the morning's rock and roll revival. After dinner, we watched as our Argentine pilot come on board, from an Argentine Navy vessel with huge 50 caliber machine gun mounted on the bow. The sun began to set on the port side of the boat, and I grabbed the camera and went to the Sports Deck on level 16 of the ship, however, the ship went into a hard left hand turn in the channel that put the sunset over the Argentine hills on the starboard side of the ship. I ran back to the cabin, and waited patiently to capture the sunset in the southern most part of South America. As soon as the sun dips below the horizon, or in this case, behind the mountains, the sky becomes ablaze. It is hard to describe, and even though the camera can accurately capture the colors, it's just a narrow view of the sky, not what you take in 360 degrees around you. Sunday, January 2, 2011 We arrived in Ushuaia, Argentina around 5:30 AM, about 1.5 hours ahead of schedule. Due to only 1/2 hour between tours that we had booked, we were able to cancel our mountain drive in the morning, and Mary and I were free to roam the streets of this town at "Fin Del Mundo" the "End of The World." We started by stopping at the post office and mailing 20 postcards to everyone we love. We did a little gift shopping, then strolled the streets. We went back to the ship around 11:30 AM, ate a quick lunch, and got ready to disembark for our Beagle Channel Catamaran tour. The catamaran took us to several small islands inhabited by sea lions and King Cormorants. I was pretty exciting since the boat got us to within about 20 yards from the animals. We also saw a colony of Rock Cormorants that just had their brood. There is advantages to photographing the wild life up close, but there are disadvantages too, number one on the list is the stench. Since I have been around sea lions before, I knew they had an odor, however the Cormorant smell was almost overwhelming, where the sheer concentration of ammonia in their droppings goes through your nostrils and enters the back of your throat where you just can't get rid of it. There were several times I had to enter the ship's main cabin to rid myself of that smell. Mary didn't fair too well with the stench either. We got back to the Star Princess around 3:30 PM, and we sailed away from Ushuaia around 5 PM going back into the Beagle Channel....Argentina on the starboard side, and Chile on the left. The channel widens a bit, and then you have Chile on both sides. We disembarked our Argentine pilot, picked up two Chilean pilots and proceeded to navigate the fjords of the channel. There were six glaciers, small compared to what we saw on the white continent, but still quite impressive. They were named after countries during the charting of the channel from 1882-1883. They were Holloandia (Holland), Italia (Italy), Francia Nuevo (France, new glacial arm), Francia (France Originally charted glacier) Alamania (Germany), and Romantia (Romania). The last glacier for Romania, was a sad site. The glacier is melting at an incredibly fast rate, and the tallest glacial waterfall I have ever seen was cascading down from the cliffs into the channel, as if it were fed by a river. Climate change is real. It's not a made up thing. The history of this planet shows that it has happened time and time again throughout the ages, only never during the time of man. The changes are drastic, and regardless of what we do, we cannot control it, alter it, or reverse it. The glaciers will disappear, and they may be gone for generations to come, then the climate will change again and recreate what it has taken back. Monday, January 3, 2011 We pulled into Punta Arenas at 6:00 AM, ahead of schedule and anchored in the harbor. That morning we saw three dolphins off the starboard side just playing in the water. I have a nasty cold, and was not feeling well, but disembarked on the ship's tender to go ashore for our 11:30 City tour. Of course, it was raining, and the bus was 45 minutes late. I realized that if Punta Arenas is representative of Chile, and is the Capital of Patagonia, then Chile is a very poor nation, however, their downtown area is very pretty with architectural elements of England, Spain, and Croatia, the 3 primary European groups that settled the area. The other thing I learned, is that Ferdinand Magellan is as popular as Jesus is in Rome. Everything in this city is dedicated to Magellan. We toured the Public Cemetery which was very interesting, the Patagonian Institute's collection of items from the Industrial Revolution, as well as a Natural History museum dedicated to the Native peoples, whom the Spanish nearly wiped out along with all traces of their culture. We then went to the town square, to touch the Indian's foot on the Statue of Magellan. It is said that if you touch the foot, you would return to Patagonia. I touched and held the foot. Someday, I will be back here. Mary and I walked back to the dock, purchased a bottle of wine for Mary at 10,000 pesos ($22), gave the woman $25 U.S. and received $1600 Pesos back. We then re-boarded the Star Princess and rested in our stateroom. In the evening, we saw a few Sea Lions, and extremely playful Magellanic Penguins in the straits as we sailed out for our 2.5 day journey to Puerto Madryn, Argentina. Tuesday, January 4, Wednesday January 5, and Thursday January 6, 2011 The sail out from Punta Arenas was uneventful. I was feeling quite under the weather, having picked up a cold from someone on the ship. I wasn't in the mood to do much but sleep, which I did nicely for the next two days, getting a total of about 20 hours between the two sea days. There was not much happening on the ship these two days either. The seas were smooth, and the only wildlife we saw was a pair of sooty albatrosses and a couple of petrels that were following the ship's wake for 2 straight days. On Wednesday night, there was an incredible sunset. I don't think I have ever seen sunsets as beautiful as I have seen in South America. Another highlight of our two days at sea was Wednesday night in the casino. Somehow, Mary managed to win $80 and I won $700. I call that a very good night. Princess told us that they would provide shuttles from the dock to the downtown area of Puerto Madryn. When we pulled into port, the sea lions were all around the dock, and all we had to do was look over the balcony. I spent some time photographing them from the balcony, and then again when we disembarked for our day in the city. I thought that this city was going to be a bust, but found it very delightful. We took the shuttle to the downtown area, and then walked with the son of a woman we met on board, and another couple about 2 miles into the residential area of the city. We were met with quite a few stares from the locals. No one speaks English in Puerto Madryn, and reading a menu was also a challenge, however we managed. The 5 of us had a ton of food and several local beers, and the bill came out to $10 per person. Mary and I shopped for a few items, found a couple of beautiful scarves which were unbelievably cheap, and then headed back to the ship. It was the Chef's Dinner tonight. I had a braised rack of lamb, and Mary had some pan seared sea scallops. Both were accompanied by a wonderful bottle of wine, and an awesome desert. We both headed back to the Casino. I put a $50 bill into the same machine I had played the night before and in less than 15 minutes, had won another $300 and cashed out. The casino is only open for one more night....maybe I can pay for this cruise with the winnings? Well, at least the bar bill. On Saturday, we will be in Montevideo, Uruguay, our 5th and final country. Princess cancelled my tour of the Synagogue...DUH! It's Saturday! In any case, Mary and I will have the day to roam the city on our own, then we have to get back to the ship and pack, since Sunday 5 AM is disembarkation in Buenos Aires on Sunday. I can't believe three weeks have passed already. All I can say is what a ride. Friday, January 7, 2011 Well, I think Mary has my cold now. It's good we have a day at sea on our way to Montevideo, because she can spend it resting. After dinner we went and gave a little money back to the Casino, after all it was their money. The long and the short of it, we ended up with $1000 winnings....and ownership of the cash has been transferred from Princess to Denny and Mary. We went to the Princess Theater to see the new production show, "Brittish Invasion" a tribute to all the bands from the 1950's through the present day that have had a profound influence on our music. The show was well staged, the dancing and costuming were fantastic, however, technical sound difficulties detracted from the show. I am sure when they work out the glitches, this show will be enjoyed by thousands. Saturday, January 8, 2011 Mary and I slept until about 8 AM as the ship thrustered its way into the slip at Montevideo. How do they do that with such accuracy? We ate a light breakfast, then disembarked, made our way down the long pier and tried to figure out how to get into the heart of the city. Very little English is spoken in Montevideo. Even the "Tourist Police" which were out in great numbers do not speak English and directions are given with hand gestures. Although a little on the dirty side, I found Montevideo to be a wonderful city. The neighborhoods are a mix of 18th and 19th century Spanish and other European influenced architecture. I was amazed at the 12 foot tall hand chiseled doors on most of the buildings. Using a few crude maps, Mary and I made our way to Independence Square, meeting up with a nice couple from England who old us of the tomb below the statue of Artiga in the middle of the square. Mary and I checked it out and were quite moved. We visited the Montevideo Leather Works, and we amazed at the craftsmanship in the garments, and the relative inexpensive price tags. Although we were very tempted to purchase high quality items at dirt cheap prices, we knew our suitcases would be packed to the gills and we wouldn't have the room. We strolled down 18th D'Julio avenue, the heart of the Montevideo shopping district for about a mile, saw trash being collected by horse drawn carts, looked in several shops, then headed back towards the square. By the time we got there, all the sidewalk vendors had their local crafts for display. Mary and I saw some nice artwork, and fancied one of tango dancers which we purchased, as we listened to the artist describe how to pack and get the art home without damage...all in Spanish....all in great detail, without understanding a single word, but for the "mucho gracias" that was said as we paid in American dollars. Mary and I stopped for lunch at one of the local establishments, with a sidewalk cafe, that actually had a menu with fine print English for the items. Mary had a steak sandwich, and I had what was probably the best sirloin steak in a creamed mushroom sauce that I have ever tasted. Mary had a bottle of Orange Fanta, and I had a Coca-Cola in a real Coca-Cola bottle. Getting the check for $610 was not an episode in sticker shock...it was an exercise in mathematics as I quickly applied the 19.2 Pesos to the dollar conversion, and realized that this fantastic lunch was only $15 per person. We took a leisurely stroll back to the ship, stopping at the old railroad station for a couple of last minute t-shirt deals, then back up the gangway to our stateroom, where we proceeded to start the arduous task of packing our suitcases. They needed to be placed outside our room prior to leaving for dinner. After dinner, we had a nightcap, and retired early, since the ship arrives at our disembarkation port of Buenos Aires, Argentina at 5 AM, and we have a 7:15 AM departure for our all day city tour and Estancia Visit. Sunday, January 9, 2011 Ok, so we get up, get dressed, make sure we're packed, do a room check, and head to the Wheelhouse Bar to meet our tour group. One thing I can say about Princess, is they treat you like royalty when they are taking your money during the cruise, but their haste to get you off their ship leaves a bit to be desired. Disembarkation was disorganized to say the least. It took us so long to get down the gangway, that Mary and I missed our bus for our tour. The tour operator was very understanding, and although we were supposed to be on bus 2, they allowed us on bus 4. I guess there was a lot of shifting around since people were missing the buses. We had a nice drive through Buenos Aries proper, then off to the cemetery to see the grave of Eva Peron, then a drive to the Pampas and the working Estancia. We were greeted at the bus by the gauchos, serving empanadas and wine. A few folks on the tour group did not like these yummy empanadas, and just took a small bite and tossed them into the wicker baskets set around the main house as trash cans. A few of the young gauchos and their lady friends did several folk dances for the crowd, then randomly selected folks from the audience to participate. After the crowd cleared to go horseback riding and explore the estancia, one of the huge hound dogs on the ranch quickly ran to the wicker baskets and found all the uneaten empanadas and filled his belly. The funny thing was that the empanadas were wrapped in paper napkins, and the dog was able to get the treat out, but the paper napkin was left hanging in his mouth. Several people went horseback riding, took hay rides and sat in the shade. Mary and I wondered the grounds, looked at the rooms in the main house, enjoyed listening to and watching the peacocks crow and display their feathers, and took a gander at the barbeque that was being prepared for the large tour group. The gauchos put on a display of horsemanship where a small ring was placed on a ribbon in an arch in the middle of a field. A small stick, the size of a common chop stick was used to try and snag the ring as the gauchos rode full gallop through the arch. If the gaucho caught the ring, he'd give it to a lady in the audience in exchange for a kiss. Rumor had it that if the gaucho gave the ring to a man, the man would have to kiss the horse. We were then mustered to the main dining hall. In a smaller ante room to the dining hall, was a craft store, with hand woven items made from alpaca fur. Mary bought a very pretty poncho and three scarves. Lunch was more than any one person could possibly eat, and we all felt obligated to get into the Guinness Book of Records, at least sampling everything that was served to us. Sirloin steak, Chicken, Lamb, Beef Ribs, Potato Salad, regular salad, all the wine you could drink, desert. I think the gauchos were fattening us all with intentions of serving us to the next tour group. We then boarded the bus for the trip back to Buenos Aries to pick up our Airport Transfer bus. Everyone peacefully snoozed on a full bellies. I did not nap. I was watching out the window of the bus as we passed from the Pampas back to the city. At one point, close to their main soccer stadium was a neighborhood that was a scene out of Slum Dog Millionaire. Row upon row of 2 and 3 story buildings, most missing the walls or with huge gaping holes in the brickwork, street after street...all filled with the poorest of the poor of Buenos Aries. I was shocked at the level of poverty in this affluent city, and for the first time in 3 weeks, I felt that I was in the middle of a third world country. The bus let us off at the downtown Radisson Hotel, and we were directed to the hospitality room, which was nothing more than their ballroom, crowded with people, waiting for the airport bus. The transfer process was totally disorganized. I was shocked at how well things run, like clockwork, when you are on the ship, but as soon as Princess is done with you, you are pretty much treated like cattle, being herded from place to place. Our bus was supposed to leave for the airport at 5:30 PM for our 9:30 PM flight to Atlanta on Delta airlines. Due to some other tour group arriving at the Radisson, and no parking area for the busses, we were told that it would be safer to just stay where we were. One German speaking fellow, in broken English became irate and started laying into the poor woman who was trying to coordinate people's departures. I felt bad for her, since the situation was way out of her control. We were finally called at 6:15 PM, boarded the bus, and took the 45 minute ride to the airport. We quickly found our luggage, entered the terminal and were greeted by a line that went a quarter of a mile to check in for the flight. Give me a break people!!! It's a 767 that only seat 241 people. It took us two hours to check in. Then we had to get through security, which was the biggest joke. Put your stuff on the belt, walk through the metal detector. No taking off of shoes, no showing your liquids in a baggy, no removal of laptops or electronics from your bag. Just when we thought we were off the hook, we see the immigration clearance line, snaking like the line for Magic Mountain at Disney. We had 30 minutes until our flight, the message boards showed the flight as "boarding" and there we were in a line that had several hundred people in it. Someone suggested we speak up and let folks know that we had a flight in 20 minutes. I felt that it would be hopeless, until this wonderful Argentine woman spoke up in Spanish, explained the situation to the folks in line, and like Moses parting the Red Sea, the line opened up and let Mary and I to the front. If you would have tried that move at a U.S. airport, you would have been trampled, stripped of your clothes and valuable, and people would be stepping over your naked body to take their shoes off and place them in the plastic bins. We got to the gate area where they searched our hand luggage, cleared us, and we got on the plane. Delta is a good airline, much better than the inbound flight on US Airways. At least on Delta, the flight attendants smile at you. The plane took off 1 hour late. We ate dinner, and fell off to sleep for the rest of the flight. Monday, January 10, 2011 We only had a 1 Hour and 22 minute layover in Atlanta to get through immigration, claim our bags, clear customs, recheck our bags and catch our connecting flight back to Chicago. Lesson number 2: Never let Princess book your air travel. I found out from other passengers who booked their own air from the Chicago area, that we paid almost triple through Princess, and had no flexibility in our flights, and they book the connections too close together. Well, we got to Atlanta in the middle of the worst snowstorm that Atlanta has ever seen. We waited in line, cleared immigration, however, they put a little stamp on my declarations form, and when we got to customs, Mary was sent on her merry way, and I was singled out and asked to go into this holding room, and they took my passport. When I was finally called twenty minutes later, the customs agent told me I declared the two cartons of duty free cigarettes, one for me, one for Mary, and that you were only allowed one carton each, and to "not do that again." He then told me "Have a nice day." GROWL!!!! We rechecked our bags, looked at the boards and saw our flight was boarding. Thanks to the snow, everything was delayed, since our flight was supposed to leave at 7:20 AM, and it was now 8:15 AM. Of course, we're in Terminal E, and our flight is leaving from Terminal A. We go down to the train station, where the trains are supposed to run every 3 minutes, and we just missed the train. The timer that counts down until the next train goes down to zero, then a message comes up that says, due to technical issues, the next train will be here in 6 minutes. Mr. Murphy, your laws were in full action. The train finally comes, and we go through all the other train stops...Terminal D, Terminal C, Terminal B, and finally, A. We hoof it through the terminal, down to gate 5, where I see our Delta plane pushing back from the gate and disappeared around the corner. The gate agent saw the disappointment in our eyes, and looked for the other flights going to Chicago.....everything was cancelled due to the weather. Just when we thought all hope was lost for getting home on Monday, the desk agent's phone rang and we heard her distinctly say, "You are kidding? You just made two people's Christmas list for next year." She hangs up the phone, looks at us and says, "You're not going to believe this, but they are pulling the plane back to the gate because there is a big delay for de-icing. You're going home." I then realized that there is a God, although he has to mess with you a little before you believe in Him. We got on the plane, sat for two hours, but eventually took off and made it back to Chicago. God wasn't done messing with us. We made the plane and made it back to Chicago, but our bags didn't. Okay, one more line, file the claim, get the case number and wait a few days until they are delivered. If an airline is going to have lost or delayed luggage, it's always better to have them lose things on your way home. One problem. In Argentina, the temperatures were in the 90's. In Chicago, the temperature was in the single digits. Over my back was nothing more than a wind breaker, in the bags were my wool winter coat. The wait for our town car wasn't that long, and the car was warm and toasty. We got home, opened the door, and God had just one more trick to play on us. Somewhere, over the course of the three weeks we were gone, one of our house sitters must have accidentally started the dishwasher cycle, which leaked, on our new hardwood floors that we had just installed in October, and the floor in the kitchen was totally buckled. Although upset, and although I knew the insurance would cover most of the damages, it just felt so good to be back home. There is nothing like Antarctica on the planet. Not Alaska, not the North Polar regions, nothing. The adventure of getting there, being there, and returning home safely is one that will be emblazoned in my mind for all of my days. I give Princess a 7 out of 10 for this cruise. They would have had a 10, but I took back 3 points for how they handled disembarkation and airport transfers. Read Less
Sail Date December 2010
This review is for the Star Princess 2009 Holiday Cruise from Rio to Valparaiso. I would say overall, this was a great cruise on a beautiful ship, where we met lots of wonderful people. We definitely now have a greater appreciation and ... Read More
This review is for the Star Princess 2009 Holiday Cruise from Rio to Valparaiso. I would say overall, this was a great cruise on a beautiful ship, where we met lots of wonderful people. We definitely now have a greater appreciation and understanding for South America and know which parts we would like to go back to. (And which parts we wouldn't bother with!) We are in our late 30s and have done 4 cruises together (3 being holiday cruises). YOU WILL NEED A VISA IF YOU'RE FROM USA/CANADA Let me start out by saying up front in case you are pondering this cruise that if you are from the USA or Canada, you will need a visa for Brazil. This is not made very obvious when you book this cruise. The visa is $130 per person and you either have to go to your local Brazilian embassy twice in person within 90 days of arriving in Brazil (Once to drop off paperwork and passports and once to pick up your passports containing the visa) OR you can use a visa service which will cost you approx another $120 EACH on top of the $130 mentioned above. We decided to not use the service and drove 2 hours there and back (twice) to our local embassy. MONEY We used US dollars in every port except Rio where we exchanged money into the local currency. Take low bills -- lots of $1s so you can pay for things without needing change. PASSENGER DIVERSITY There were many different nationalities on board including North Americans, Brits, Russians, Argentines and Brazilians. (Amongst others). Be aware that most everything is announced in 3 languages, which takes time and some movies are played in Portuguese. Predominantly though, this is an English speaking cruise, so if you don't speak English, it may be frustrating as all the games, the bingo, etc. are in English. It was also apparent that the North Americans and Brits ate early whilst the South Americans ate late, which worked out quite well when it came to Anytime Dining! ALLOW EXTRA TIME AT THE EMBARKATION DESTINATION (RIO) Unfortunately our baggage didn't catch up with us in Rio until our 3rd day there, which was an added stress, but we managed. We talked to a lot of people who either had baggage delays (or never received it at all) or almost didn't make the cruise due to bad weather on the East Coast.(Or boarded several days later). If you're planning this cruise in our (northern hemisphere) winter, definitely allow extra time and add at least 2-3 days on at the beginning in Rio. Many passengers also added extra time in Santiago or went to Machu Pichu after the cruise. CONSIDER IGUAZU FALLS We would have liked to have done Iguazu Falls, but the Princess cruise tour was too expensive. We did talk to someone who did it independently for $800 ea, so it can be done a lot cheaper. I wish we would have done the Falls, having flown so far. A BRIEF ENCOUNTER If you really want to see South America, this is not an ideal way to do it. The ports are very brief and the excursions do not allow much time at each stop. If this itinerary could be altered, I would suggest 2 nights in Buenos Aires and skip Montevideo. If I went back to S.A., I would do a land tour and see more of Brazil, Argentina and Chile. We felt this vacation was more about the cruise and the ship and less about the destinations. THE SHIP EXPERIENCE The ship was the largest we'd been on and really was fabulous, however for us, it made us realize we like the slightly smaller ships better as you see the same people more often and there are less lines at the purser and excursion offices. (This ship didn't have enough staff to cope with the number of passengers at the purser and excursion desks and we waited in line anywhere from 15 mins to and hour and 10mins). We mostly enjoyed activities like the pool, trivia, games, dance lessons, afternoon tea, Wii, walking the promenade, watching shows and bands/pianist. We tried 'Anytime Dining' for the first time and enjoyed the varied amount of people we met and the flexibility of timing our dining. What was disappointing is a lot of the shows were repeated twice (two shows a night on 2 different nights of the cruise, so a total of 4 repeats) to allow all the passengers to see the performances. We think the shows were ok/good, but we weren't **wowed** by most. Some of the dance shows are cheesy/old fashioned. I did feel sorry for the entertainers however, because most of the audience was pretty dead -- some people just don't have the energy to clap their hands!!! The food was good, but I was not **wowed** by it as I have been on other cruises and spoke to others that felt the same. The public areas were excellent. There's a nice coffee cafe on the bottom floor of the atrium where the coffees are well priced and the pastries/sandwiches are included. They also did British pub lunches once a week which made for some variety. We watched one movie in the lounge, but it seemed too cold for the 'Movies Under the Stars' (they did provide blankets). My one suggestion would be to make the entire ship smoke free. PETTY CRIME DOES HAPPEN We learned of about half a dozen attempts at theft/muggings that happened to people on our ship, all in different ports. We read about it a lot before we went, and yes it does happen. One man had a gold chain ripped from his neck in Rio and was left bleeding, another couple had an attempted mugging in Beunos Aires by having 'bird poop' paint sprayed at them. Another woman was brought to the ground by 2 youths in Montevideo and wore a sling for the remainder of the trip for an injury. Be very careful. We did not wear any jewelry except for fake plain wedding rings and plastic digital watches. We wore money belts and took small amounts of cash. I wore a bag across my body. AROUND THE HORN One aspect of this cruise that is exciting is that you go around the horn. For this, we went on deck and took lots of photos and video. They also give you a certificate to say you've gone around the horn. Later during the fjords, we were at dinner during the time we passed the glaciers, so we missed them unfortunately. The captain also had to skip one glacier entirely as we were running behind due to bad weather. The weather around the horn for our cruise was very smooth, although we encountered one *very rough* day a few days later during a storm which delayed our ship arriving at our final destination. Read Less
Sail Date December 2009
We are in our early 50's and have now completed 10 cruises: QEII Celebrity Summit, Millennium, Infinity, Constellation and Century RCL Explorer and Adventurer of the Seas Golden and Star Princess I am an American and my husband is ... Read More
We are in our early 50's and have now completed 10 cruises: QEII Celebrity Summit, Millennium, Infinity, Constellation and Century RCL Explorer and Adventurer of the Seas Golden and Star Princess I am an American and my husband is Bermudian and we cruise for the enjoyment and we visit ports to get a tiny sample of what the location has to offer. If we like it, we will come back to spend more time at a later date. While on board we heard numerous travel woes from missed connections to lost luggage from our many new friends and to our good fortune, we 'cruised through the stormy seas' without a problem. We traveled on Delta from our home in Bermuda on Friday, December 18, to Atlanta and onto Rio de Janeiro as planned although our flight was an hour late leaving due to bad weather in Atlanta, we had plenty of time to make our connection. The Captain and crew of the Delta flight to Rio were exceptional and it made the long flight good. Rio airport was nice, no immigration issues as I had my visa in place thanks to our TA who arranged getting it through a service. All bags arrived, loaded into a taxi, nice, clean, friendly and spacious... We booked 3 nights at the JW Marriott Hotel Rio de Janeiro and it is in an excellent hotel and location. When we arrived at the Marriott on Saturday morning around 11 AM and we were greeted with the old story 'sorry your room will not be available until 3 PM but for $60 you can upgrade and that room is available now'. We had read about this from others and we were ready to upgrade and that was an excellent move, highly recommended. We had a room overlooking the Copacabana Beach on the 5th floor. After we got settled, we checked our email and heard from friends that that most of the east cost and Bermuda were shut down because of bad weather. Flights were not travelling to or from the island due to stormy conditions so people scheduled to travel on Saturday were not getting seats out until Christmas day due to full flights. Again, we were lucky! Rio was absolutely beautiful, sunny and warm every day plus we also noticed how clean it was. We spent the afternoon at the pool on the roof and saw David Goldman who got his son, Sean, back from Brazil on Christmas Day. We took two tours while in Rio that we pre-arraigned online through Viator.com. We followed the instructions on our tickets, confirmed our tour and we were given times to be in front of our hotel. Just like clockwork, a Gray Line coach appeared and picked us up both times, no issues. The first tour was on Sunday to Sugarloaf Mountain and we got a surprise stop at the Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro enroute. On Monday morning we went to Corcovado Hill, to see the statue of "Christ the Redeemer" with hardly a cloud in the sky, even our guide was so excited for us. While in Rio, we walked the entire length of Copacabana and Ipanema beaches plus many back streets and alleys and we felt very safe. We took the advice and precautions that were all over the internet about how to look like a local, no jewels and being alert, we were fine. On Tuesday we got up early to watch the Star come over the horizon from our room but she was nowhere in sight. We checked the onboard camera and she was still at sea. We checked Cruise Critic and low and behold there was a posting from someone onboard saying the Star was running late and would not get to Rio until 11:00 a.m. No problem, Marriott let us have a late checkout so we went for a long walk on the beach before checking out and taking a taxi to the pier. We did experience a wait of a couple of hours in the terminal but we took a seat and people watched. It appeared well organized and when we got to our check in agent, it was quick and professional. The agent did keep our passports but that was okay with us, as it would mean no visits to the immigration line in each country. Our cabin was clean and spacious and our cabin steward, Edwin, welcomed us, quickly learned our routines and provided an excellent service, one of the best. We did a quick run around the ship and our bags were in our cabin when we returned. My husband setup his laptop in the room and got his wireless internet connected so we could keep family and friends updated. The lifeboat drill was well organized and probably the best we have done for our years of cruising. We had late sitting for dinner that was in the Amalfi Dining Room and were placed at a table of six next to a large window on the port side. The food was excellent and choices were good plus we were so surprised at how hot meals were served. We purchased wine and would normally have one bottle over two nights. The price for a nice bottle of Chilean or Argentinean wine was $24-$25 comparable to what I would have paid locally. We departed late due to the late arrival but no problems and we enjoyed the view from the window in the dining room. On the cruise, we had a good mix of world travelers from America, South American, UK, Australians, Canadians etc. and apparently about 270 children. I say apparently because this seems like a lot but they were well managed by shipboard activities and we saw very few. Montevideo (Christmas Day) Excellent We really enjoyed our Christmas day in Montevideo. We did a ship excursion that toured a number of places and to Santa Rosa vineyards where we had a fantastic lunch, plenty of wine and entertainment. We purchased a bottle and took it back onto the ship with no problems. My husband got to see parts of the German warship Admiral Graf Spee that were on display at the pier. Buenos Aries got an OK, it was nice to see. In Buenos Aries, it started with rain which is unfortunate and the afternoon was sunny and clear. Our Princess shore excursion took in the highlights of the city and we stopped at Recoleta Cemetery to see the burial crypt of Eva Peron "Evita". This evening, we had a romantic sunset 'Balcony Dinner' served as we slowly cruised away from Buenos Aries down Río de la Plata. This is not room service but a special experience for a fee. The food was exceptional and the service was attentive. We had a head waiter and assistant waiter at our beck and call for several hours. Whatever we wanted was provided. The 998 people looking over their respective balconies gave us the feeling that we were celebrities! We asked the waiter if the balcony dinner was popular and he said no, we were the first he had done. It was fun and the beautiful sunset cruise down the river was simply magnificent! This is highly recommended. On our way to the Falkland Islands, the seas are absolutely calm and the sun was out most of the time although we did have a few hours mid afternoon of fog before the temperature dropped. It was in the high 80's in Rio, 70's in Montevideo and Buenos Aries with low humidity and cool 50's in the Falklands. Falkland Islands - Excellent We arrived in the Falklands in bright sunshine right behind the Norwegian Sun. The Captain had forecast rain but thankfully, he was a little off the mark although we did have a shower mid afternoon as we headed back to the ship from our shopping run in Stanley. Our morning Princess shore excursion tour took us to see a small colony of Gentoo Penguins at Sparrow Cove and the journey was both by private boat directly from the ship and a 30 minute drive over the bogs in a Land Rover to a location where approximately 200 pairs of penguins and their chicks were located. The tour only took 12 at a time and there were 4 vehicles so we had our own vehicle and guide. The all female guides were excellent and provided wonderful information about the colonies and the country. In the afternoon, we went into Stanley and walked around and did some shopping. The stores were busy because of two ships being in but it was tolerable. Cape Horn was breathtaking cold with light winds. The captain cruised slowly counterclockwise around the horn and passed closer than he had ever been to that piece of land. Ushuaia, Argentina was a neat little port island, the most southern in the world. We did a Beagle Channel tour and saw lots of wildlife. In town, we found plenty of nice little shops plus a neat chocolate store called Turista and wow, it was good! We brought in the New Year in style with new friends with lots of drink and entertainment in the Piazza but we did not stay up much past midnight. Someone booked an early shore excursion - on New Years Day! Punta Arenas, Chile we did a shore excursion to see Magellanic Penguins. This was most interesting as these Penguins burrow versus having their eggs on their feet. Most of the shops were closed for New Years but that did not stop us from shopping and purchasing our local souvenirs from a craft market. Up to this point, the weather has been fantastic but it was starting to turn with rain and wind on the horizon. We were warned by the captain that a storm heading towards us and he is forecasting winds of 60 knots and 36 foot seas as we return to the Pacific Ocean. He is planning to stay inside the fjords as much as possible but we will be in and out of the heavy seas for the next two days of the three sea days. Apparently we entered the rough Pacific around 3 in the morning but we choose a cabin smack in the middle of the ship. My husband is a mariner and he was hoping for at least one rough day and he knew that the middle of the ship would be the place to be if his wish came true. I did not know it was rough until we opened the curtains around 7 AM to look out. Neither of us had any signs of seasickness at all and the Captain, although not the most sociable person we have met, did a great job keeping the ship and souls on board safe. The original schedule had us arriving in Valparaiso at 6 AM on Tuesday and our flight is not until 10:00 PM. The Captain is forecasting a late arrival but he would not commit to how late. We decided that all would be fine with our flights as long as we were not more than about 12 hours delayed but at any rate we decided to go with the flow. We are both experienced travelers and not the type to worry about missing connections. We built some flexibility in our schedule so we could stay in Santiago for a day or two if necessary. We did have a Princess shore excursion booked that would eventually drop us at the airport and we were notified that it had been cancelled with the charge removed from our account. As a result, on the morning or our last sea day, around 8 AM we went down to the shore excursion desk where there was a short line (15 people, 10 minute wait) and purchased Airport transfers and there was no problem. We had not booked flights with Princess so we knew we were on our own if changes were required. A similar 'weather' thing happened last year on this route and the ship was 24 hours late arriving and it was a few days before everyone was able to get out of Santiago. On the middle sea day, we did the Ultimate Ship Tour where we saw behind the scenes of the production shows, stage lighting and costumes along with the galley, bakery, laundry, printing, bridge, medical, morgue etc. The tour is somewhat pricey but interesting and is offset by the goodies that come with it. One of the most interesting talks was from the purchaser who told us about buying fresh produce in South America versus purchasing in North America. South America does not use pesticides or other chemicals on their crops making them organic. The fruit and vegetables are huge although they may not look as pretty as they do in North America. The taste quality is fantastic with everything being so fresh, delicious and juicy. The third sea day was calm and clear. We spotted several whales from our balcony and commented for all of the trips we have taken, this one had the most variety of wildlife. On the morning or our arrival and due to being late, we were allowed to stay in our cabin until noon. We watched the sail in, had a leisure breakfast and moved to the appointed lounge at the appointed hour for disembarkation. The groups were called in order and we were off the ship within an hour. We were transported via a coach to the immigration hall then on to the airport. Our luggage went directly to the airport and that was convenient. The coaches that took us to the airport were the same ones that would have done the shore excursions. We had a guide who gave us the history of the area and highlighted points of interest as we made out way towards Santiago Airport. We arrived at the airport around 4 PM and had plenty of time to get something to eat and shop before our departure. One suggestion would be to make the room bill available either online or on the TV so it would be more accessible. No problem, we got a bill every 2-3 days and reconciled it so that at the end of the cruise there were no surprises. Read Less
Sail Date December 2009

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