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15 Santiago (Valparaiso) to Antarctica Cruise Reviews

We chose this cruise to visit Antarctica and to travel on the latest hybrid ship. This was a very special experience. The ship, the whole crew, the expeditions and activities, the food all met and surpassed our expectations. I was ... Read More
We chose this cruise to visit Antarctica and to travel on the latest hybrid ship. This was a very special experience. The ship, the whole crew, the expeditions and activities, the food all met and surpassed our expectations. I was travelling with my sister, both of us of pensionable age and we had a wonderful time. We learned a great deal from the lectures and enjoyed the shore excursions enormously. We were very impressed by the ship's hybrid technology, desalination of water supply and waste disposable. We believe that this should be the future of cruise ships. Antarctica is a very beautiful and precious place and we were given every opportunity to experience this part of the world in as eco-friendly way as possible. Our outer clothes were vacuumed, special boots were provided and washed after each expedition. The expedition team were very careful to protect the animals and to abide by all the regulations which govern Antarctica. I fully recommend both M V Roald Amundsen and Hurtigruten for people wanting to experience luxurious, informative and eco-friendly cruising, without "entertainment" and dressing up, in beautiful and special parts of the world. Read Less
Sail Date October 2019
With 24 cruises under my belt, across the spectrum of markets, it’s fair to call me discerning and, when it comes to luxury cruising, picky. So, having read some of the reviews on Cruise Critic, I was concerned about sailing on Seabourn ... Read More
With 24 cruises under my belt, across the spectrum of markets, it’s fair to call me discerning and, when it comes to luxury cruising, picky. So, having read some of the reviews on Cruise Critic, I was concerned about sailing on Seabourn Quest. Reports of a product that had fallen in recent years, that had become “Carnivalized”, were alarming, especially since my wife and I were spending a small fortune for a Penthouse suite on a 24-day cruise to Antarctica, Patagonia, and South Georgia Island. We kept reading about a staff that no longer went out of its way, a “never say no” ethos that had been abandoned, and food that had become mediocre. Bottom line: we needn’t have worried — this cruise, especially the service, exceeded almost every legitimate expectation we could have had, and satisfied most of the others — but because nothing is perfect, the details are worth reading. Antarctica was at the head of my bucket list, and with climate change affecting this part of the world so rapidly and unalterably, my wife and I decided not to wait any longer. We chose this itinerary/ship combination, because it was the only one that ticked all of our boxes: • The itinerary included South Georgia Island, easily the most dramatic, wildlife-rich destination in Antarctic waters. For me, there was no point in taking this cruise and spending this money if we didn’t go to South Georgia. • Seabourn Quest is the largest and most stable ship with landings in Antarctica, which was vital for my seasickness-prone spouse. • A cabin with both a balcony and a bathtub was nonnegotiable. • Seabourn Quest is, at least until Scenic Eclipse comes online, the most luxurious ship sailing in Antarctica, and who doesn’t like a different dessert soufflé every night and unlimited caviar anytime? • Seabourn's Antarctica Excursion Team abounds with researchers and experts who have honest credentials in varied sciences, some with decades of experience on the White Continent. • The first week of the itinerary, which sailed the Chilean Fjords and offered a day-long excursion flying to and driving through the majesty of Torres del Paine National Park, allowed two more dreams to come true. Unfortunately, Seabourn’s reputation is not aided by the ground game at its Seattle-based, Holland-America-run headquarters. Cruise reservation, spa reservation, and excursion reservation agents who don’t understand their product and make vague reassurances without knowing facts don’t inspire confidence; they undermine it. Simple things, like knowing whether there are differences in layouts between Penthouse Suites and Penthouse Spa Suites, or what the charges will be for using a cell phone while on board, should by definition be part of a well-trained agents’ knowledge base. Accurate details of a shore excursion should be easily available to them. Understanding what the elements of the multi-day Andrew Weill wellness program actually entail (as opposed to reading from an opaque list of classes that explains nothing) — especially when it’s by far the priciest thing on the spa menu — ought to be a given. Most importantly of all, being certain that my wife’s severe gluten allergy really can be accommodated shouldn’t require multiple phone calls on my part. It didn’t help that requests to discuss my concerns with people in management were promised and never happened, until my wonderful travel agent at Tully/Cruise Professionals intervened. When I finally had the discussion I’d wanted with a “higher-up” who had actual experience with her company’s product, I felt somewhat mollified, but not at all certain that the quality of the ship and service would be what I wanted/expected or was promised it would be. Fortunately, the ship’s operations are far better than the home office’s. Though we didn’t use the line’s air program, we did use their private car transfer service in Santiago, Chile, and it was flawless. When we arrived at the ship, boarding procedures were warm and efficient, leaving us feeling cared-for, from moment one. Seabourn Quest’s exterior is graceful and pleasing, but a sliding glass roof over the central pool/patio area would have added better balance, and more utility on a weather-intensive cruise like this. Regardless, the main pool and hot tubs are heated, and the equally warm hot tub at the bow is the best, most decadent spot on any ship from which to watch 14-story icebergs float by. Our suite was, by and large, terrific. Standard balcony “suites" would be adequate for most cruises, but for this long and involved voyage, with its constantly changing wardrobe needs (like switching from thermal underwear and a parka to a tuxedo on formal nights) we appreciated having the extra space and accoutrements. Pluses, at least in in the Penthouse category, include good water pressure in the stand-alone showers and unlimited hot water for the deep and welcome tubs; three sinks…including one in the separate WCs, superb toiletries; hefty towels and lots of hooks to hang them on; fluffy bath mats; cozy, high-count bed linens; attractive etched glass doors separating bedrooms from living rooms, with separate heating-a/c zones for both spaces; lighted three-mirror vanities; solid furniture; subdued but smart fabrics; mostly good lighting; and tons of storage throughout, especially in the walk-in closets, which are stocked with enough hangars for an average Kardashain. Soundproofing is surprisingly good, whether to hallways, adjacent cabins, or balconies. Likewise, thick-glassed balcony doors keep out chilly polar drafts, but don’t require herculean efforts to open or lock. Finally, one of the most welcome perks of sailing on an all-inclusive ship is that the deluge of paper found on other cruises — most of which is selling one thing or another — is slowed to a trickle. The same holds true for p. a. announcements. Minuses can be found in unadjustable shower heads aimed to flood bathrooms when shower doors open; not nearly enough outlets and no usb ports (which is a surprise in a ship that entered service in 2011, and which could easily be remedied with power strips) long closets that aren’t lit on one end; bedroom and living room TVs that work on the same remote frequency, so that when one turns on, the other one does too; live TV channels devoted almost exclusively to news; an eclectic but confounding set of movies and TV shows on demand; and flimsy do not disturb/please make up room signs that keep falling off the door handles (yes, it’s a small thing, but you’d be amazed how annoying it can become day after day after day.) Internet is slow and expensive, but at least all rooms have wifi. Confusingly, while the day’s activities list can be accessed on the TVs, the restaurant menus are only found online...it would be better if both were in one place. Finally, it would be nice if there were a way to lock balcony doors open to let in fresh air. I cannot say enough about our stewardess, Caroline, whose charm was seemingly endless, and whose dedication to our having a clean, nurturing living space couldn’t have been made easy by how messy we became (ok, I became) as the cruise wore on. Along those lines, cleanliness is taken very seriously on this ship, a necessity so as to not contaminate the pristine environment we’re sailing in, and to prevent passenger and crew sickness. In example: a tour of the galley required thoroughly washed hands, and was off limits to anyone who had come in contact with anyone who had a respiratory or digestive illness within the previous 24 hours. By the way, contrary to other posts I’ve read on Cruise Critic, Seabourn Quest does have guest laundry facilities: four washers, four dryers, and unlimited detergent pods, on Deck 5. I won’t go into all of the public spaces — they are generally understated and pleasant and I’m sure they have been covered in detail elsewhere — but there are a few standouts, both good and bad. The single-seating dining room is almost monochromatically white, with black and highlights and a few gold touches. Though I thought this mix could be jarring and cold, it wound up being elegant and bright. Happily, there are lots of tables for two and four, with many situated along the large windows and their often dramatic Antarctic views. Seabourn Square is the restful hub of the ship, offering computers for passenger use; recliners to take in the aft sea views; a little café serving pastries, sandwiches, and the best hot chocolate on the planet; and the guest relations area, peopled with the most service-oriented team I’ve encountered on any ship. More about them, later. My favorite public spot on board is the Observation Lounge, set high on Deck 10, forward. Saturating panoramic views, easy access to the outdoors, high-tea with delectable scones, and a lively bar open til the wee hours made it the go-to spot for many passengers. One room that doesn’t work is the Grand Salon. View-obstructing columns and a way-too-shallow rake make it needlessly difficult to enjoy the nightly shows or see the Power Point presentations on Antarctica landings and wildlife. It’s a little crazy that such an old fashioned show lounge was put into such a new ship. Artwork is mostly unobtrusive, but also disjointed and/or without character…except for a few interesting sculptures of astronauts and a SCUBA diver. Food can make or break a cruise, and while Seabourn Quest’s may not rise to the level of a Michelin star, it was pretty damn good, especially considering the circumstances. Forget the usual challenges a cruise ship faces; this itinerary had a 16 day stretch between ports! 16 days without being able to replenish the supply of fresh fruits and vegetables, 16 days without going ashore to get the catch of the day from local fishermen, 16 days of running ever lower on salad and eggs and meat. That the quality remained as high as it did is stunning. I’m not saying there wasn’t a decline over that time, but it was much less dramatic than I could have ever expected. Beef onboard was among the best anywhere, not just on a cruise ship. My wife had filet mignon one night that could literally be cut with a fork, and was as as flavorful as — no, check that, more flavorful than — any ribeye I’ve ever had, stateside. Likewise, poultry (other than the bland “classic” chicken breast) had more taste than is usually found in the U.S., and almost commensurate with that of Europe and South America. Seafood was remarkably good, especially at the beginning of the cruise when fresh, local fish was alternately delicate and savory, and the accompanying sauces were distinct, but rarely overpowering. The caviar surprised me with its quality. Veggies tended to be overcooked and salads were still a bit behind the times — small and anchored by romaine and other less tasty lettuces — but they managed to be available all the way through the end of the cruise. Breads and pastries were a high point, with some of the most involuntary-yummy-noise-making, eye-rolling-up-into-my head desserts I’ve ever had (Kaiserschmarrn, anyone?) Wines were only ok — and the champagne was pretty poor — but they were included in the cruise price and the sommelier tried awfully hard, so I can’t complain too much. Most importantly, beginning the second day of the cruise, there was almost always at least one person (usually many more) on the wait staff at each venue who knew our names, understood the severity of my wife’s food allergy, and went out of their way to find or create items that she could have and that would be as satisfying as the food I was eating. Our gratitude was constant, and by the end of the cruise, we’d come to think of several of them as our friends. Of course, each dining space had its own ambience: The main restaurant offered consistently refined, yet somehow unpretentious, cuisine. Off-menu requests were accommodated with kindness, anytime I asked. We were so well taken care of at The Patio — an open-air grill by the pool — that we regularly ate there, even when it was below freezing and we had to dine wearing parkas, hats, and gloves. The Thomas Keller Grill, a set-menu, no-cost but reservation-required spot on Deck 8 was superb. The flavors were so good, and the food felt so nourishing in our bodies, that we couldn’t help overeating (how the heck did they make gluten-free bread that satisfying?!?) The Collonade — offering buffets for breakfast and lunch, and themed sit-down dinners — was our least favorite. Omelets were cooked in oil, instead of butter, and the range of gluten-free options were more limited than elsewhere…though they did have gluten-free pancakes. 
Room service ran 24-hours, and we could order pretty much anything that was available in the restaurants. We marveled at the servers, many of whom worked in multiple restaurants on the same day (did they ever sleep?) They seemed to be everywhere, moving with practiced, comfortable speed, and apparently sincere smiles. This is clearly hard, hard work, but it didn’t look like a soul-sucking chore, the way it often does on other ships. They made us feel welcome. Still, as extraordinary as the wait staff was, there was nothing that could have prepared me for the Expedition Team. I’m not sure how many of them there were — perhaps two dozen — but the most telling thing I can tell you is that they received a standing ovation of unending gratitude from the passengers at our last evening recap in the lounge. These men and women worked so hard to make sure we had the best possible experience, that we were left speechless, some of us crying. When I first decided on Seabourn, I was concerned that a luxury ship’s Expedition Team wouldn’t be as well-credentialed or passionate as, say, National Geographic’s or Quark’s. Those worries were unfounded. Many of this team had worked for National Geographic and other well-known scientific organizations, and/or spent seasons on the ice doing legitimate research. Experts in penguins and whales and albatrosses and sea ice and geology and plant life and Shackleton and history and climate science and sociology and photography and other disciplines I’m sure I’m forgetting, shared their enthusiasm with us and put themselves on the line for us every day. Each passenger got either a landing or a Zodiac tour each day. (Smaller ships do have an advantage over Seabourn Quest, here, usually affording guests two landings or tours/day. So, my wife and I opted to pay for optional kayaking tours, giving us a second daily exposure to the continent and its wildlife. We weren’t sorry. Paddling around and through curious, swirling fur seals & breaching penguins, and floating by rolling, crackling-from-the-inside, azure-colored icebergs are memories that will never leave us.) The Expedition Team, and a deeply committed ship’s crew — many of whom I’m guessing we wouldn’t see on a “normal” cruise — loaded us into our Zodiacs efficiently and with great consciousness for our safety. When we arrived on shore, an even larger team was there, to make sure we landed safely, while others were stationed throughout the day's site to answer questions, offer commentary, help us with our cameras, or simply to stand there with us, silently taking in the awe. They waited in advantageous spots, pointing our eyes toward the unbearable cuteness of day-old gentoo penguin chicks ducking under their parents’ bellies for warmth, and preventing the more careless of us from venturing too close to wildlife that doesn’t need to be stressed by giant bipeds in bright orange parkas. Onboard, the crew and staff didn’t merely go through the motions of environmental protection, but took pride in going as “dark” as possible at night to prevent bird strikes, and made damn sure that we brought no organic material on our clothes from the rest of the world to Antarctica, or even form one part of the continent to the other. Yes, it's law, but they took it seriously. Perhaps most heartening to me, people with mobility issues were treated like human beings, and if there was any way possible for them to get into the Zodiacs and onto the beaches, it happened. That dedication to our having the best experience possible extended throughout the ship’s complement, right up to the captain. Midway through one day, when the seas became too rough for more than half of the ship’s guests to get their landings, the captain and expedition leader — an earnest, heartful, committed man named Iggy — found an alternate site so that everyone could at least have some experience that day. On other ships, the answer could easily have been, “I’m sorry, sir, we tried. There’s nothing we can do.” That’s not the way things are done on the Quest. Similarly, when ice flows prevented us from getting to the bay where we were supposed to have our last landing on Antarctica, the captain and Iggy decided to hightail it to South Georgia, where instead of having just two days of landings and tours, we had an unprecedented four. Another day, when a pod of humpback whales were spotted breaching and diving in the distance, Seabourn Quest steamed to meet them and stayed in their company for, I think, 30 minutes or more (time kinda stood still, just then) giving us passengers thrill after thrill after thrill as the humpbacks leapt into the air, over and again, apparently showing off for a most appreciative audience’s pleasure. Seabourn even employs an ice captain (perhaps this is normal, but it seemed pretty cool to me) who navigated us through the indescribably dramatic Lemaire Channel, serpentining around potentially dangerous icebergs, that kept changing their position with the wind and current, just to give us passengers awe-filled views it had never occurred to me to imagine. It's an incredibly tricky needle to thread, requiring extraordinary anticipation, considering currents, winds, and that cruise ships take a long time to turn. And if that commitment seems unusual, or like it would be relegated just to the higher-ups, I have to say that there was an energy on Seabourn Quest that was different from any other ship I have been on, and permeated virtually the entire crew. If I had to define it, I think it would be, “self-respect.” From the moment we boarded, my wife and I sensed it. There was almost none of the usual, resentment-filled, “I’m here to serve you because I desperately need the money but I didn’t know how hard they would work me, and I can’t stand being here, but I’ll smile anyway” undertone with this crew. Some of it, I assume, has something to do with shorter, more humane contracts, and better pay that takes away the pressure of having having to perform for and solicit tips. But there's an ineffable quality that goes beyond the material. These people didn’t behave like they were “one down” from us. They know they are human beings, our equals and they are apparently treated that way. Yes, they were working and we were on vacation, but they shared themselves openly with us, reveled in the scenes passing by as much as we did (and got at least some chances to experience it for themselves) and seemed to appreciate that we were all having such a unique and precious experience, together. The feeling of caring and camaraderie is especially alive in the Guest Services team: Hannah, Janice, Banita, Lauren, and William (who while on tour with my wife and me, unobtrusively took a photo of us while we were marveling at the majesty before us, printed it, and had it delivered to our cabin). It lives in people like Ylena and Chris on the shore excursion team, and Sebastien, Lindsay, Jean Paul, Francisco, Darko, Marcos, Liliya, Chloé, Lloyd, Shay, Stefan, and dozens more on the wait staff whose names are eluding me at the moment. It lives in Michelle, a Stewardess who told me that she has been on Seabourn Quest for nine years, and that she wouldn’t take a transfer to another ship, even though she yearns to sail in warmer climes. She knows there is something unique about this vessel, a way the captain and hotel manager, treat their crew and staff that sets the tone for the way most everyone treats each other in their floating home. And perhaps there is something to the idea suggested to me by Jan, the cruise director, that passengers who take this cruise add to the unique energy of Seabourn Quest, because we are by definition a little different, a little more adventurous, curious, and flexible than usual cruisers, and that this unique itinerary, in which we all — crew, staff, and guest — were sharing a singular experience, linked everyone in a way that might not have happened on an average sailing. There are a few areas where that aura is a little strained: spa and gift shop employees while just as kind and warm as anyone else on the Quest, tend to hard sell, which is a discomfiting contrast to the rest of the ship — I’m guessing they’re on commission; and the room service staff — though again nice — seems more put-upon in the way I’m used to experiencing on cruises. Perhaps they are overworked? One last critique/thought: I would love it if Seabourn would break the inexplicable luxury line rule, that passé, lowest-common-denominator, pablum production shows and headliners are good enough for a captive audience, and trust that their passengers — a generally well-off, sophisticated, independent-minded bunch of humans — want and can handle entertainment that is as current, inspiring, artistic and multi-dimensional as the destinations and expeditions that attract us to their ships in the first place. But these are anomalies on an otherwise wonderful cruise. As Michelle, the Stewardess, succinctly put it when describing what makes this ship different from the others, “Quest is best.” Read Less
Sail Date December 2017
When we sailed away from Antarctica in January 2010, aboard a Princess ship, it was with sadness that we would not be returning. However, while searching for a Canaries cruise in 2015, we came across a South America cruise, which sparked ... Read More
When we sailed away from Antarctica in January 2010, aboard a Princess ship, it was with sadness that we would not be returning. However, while searching for a Canaries cruise in 2015, we came across a South America cruise, which sparked the idea of visiting Antarctica once more. HAL provided the perfect itinerary for 2018, but just before we booked, offers too good to miss saw us join the 2017 sailing instead. This was our first cruise with HAL and we were very pleasantly impressed with the whole cruise. The only criticism would be the rather confusing and chaotic Life Boat drill, which involves a three-stage warning and then assembly at your designated life boat on deck, rather then the more comfortable gathering in a theatre or similar space. Luckily the weather was kind! After that, everything ran smoothly on board. We had chosen a port-side Vista "suite" on deck 6 at the stern, because this allowed easy access to the sheltered stern decks for better viewing of the scenery and which also provided a quick way up to deck 8 for the open deck and the Lido area. Port also was the best side for the views on this cruise from Valparaiso to Buenos Aires. The outer door leading to this rear deck was extremely difficult to open, worryingly as it was an emergency exit. We did ask for it to be made easier, but nothing was done. We had selected Freedom dining but we always, with one exception, ate in the casual dining room in the Lido because of the relaxed atmosphere and the excellent views. I liked the Market style service, which was served rather than self-service and therefore more hygienic, plus the fact that much of the food was cooked to order. At the end of the cruise was a BBQ night in the Lido area, which was too busy for us and we did visit the Rotterdam dining room on that occasion, which was peaceful and which also offered large windows so no spectacle would be missed! On board were experts on Antarctica, including a Naturalist, who was out on deck 3 early on the mornings of sea days. We joined her and many passengers on several occasions and a list of birds and animals sighted was written up regularly. There were lectures from the experts and from Wallis, the lively Location Guide. We prefer to watch these on TV in the evenings because there is too much to see outside to be seated in the theatre in daylight. Unfortunately, the lectures were not given a scheduled slot and it was pot-luck to catch one you wanted to see. Lectures on ports gone by were also repeated unnecessarily. During scenic cruising, the experts gave a commentary over the outside speakers and the room TVs. These could not be heard in the Lido dining room, which was a disadvantage. We missed a pod of Orcas early on in the cruise because the announcement could not be heard during breakfast - annoyingly, we had only just left deck 3 when they were seen. More annoyingly, announcements on tender operations in the many tendered ports were made very loudly in the accommodation corridors, so sleeping in was not an option even if you did not need to be up early! Embarkation was very smooth, other than no signing to the luggage drop-off. The terminal at Valparaiso is large and modern, with some shopping opportunities, including a wine stall with free tasting. We bought the two bottles we were allowed to take on board. Later, we saw bottles of wine being spotted by the scanners at ports; they are either stored until disembarkation or a corkage fee is payable. We chose not to join any tours, partly because we had visited some ports before and partly because we prefer to walk in the towns instead. Previously we had sailed from Buenos Aires as far as the Chilean Glaciers and then back to Buenos Aires, so most of the Chilean side was new to us. We were not particularly interested in the ports for this cruise - the scenic cruising is everything. The first port was Puerto Montt. The terminal offered free Wifi which worked! (We did have 200 free minutes of Wifi on board, but eeked it out with internet access on shore where possible.) We walked to the craft market first and then back towards the town, where there are stray dogs lazing around everywhere, but made the mistake of giving in to fatigue to soon, so we missed the town, which would have been the better option for us. Casto was the next stop and we visited the town first, stopping at the Cathedral before walking down towards the stilted houses which are about a mile out of town. We missed the access to the raised footpath and followed a well-trodden path on the other side of the road. Walking a few steps behind my OH, with my head down to watch my steps, I noticed a shadow behind me and looked round to find a dog close at my heels. We looked at each other for a moment before it bit my lower leg through my jeans; my shout of protest brought assistance and it ran back to the shack set back from the road it was "guarding". The injury was not severe but started bleeding. We continued shakily towards the village where a tour bus from the ship gave us a lift back to the port. (To cut a long story short, Chile is a low-risk Rabies area; the ship's nurse cleaned and dressed the injury that day and on the next, I had an anti-Rabies vaccination but the remaining four did not fit in with port days and I am now continuing the course at home.) Disappointingly, the Wifi did not work easily enough to bother with in Castro. We had not intended to leave the ship at the next port of Chacabuco because there is nothing to see apart from guard dogs unless you take a tour! However, a taxi took us and an interpreter to the hospital for the vaccination, which was fine; the promised extra doses for administration on the ship did not happen. The taxi ride was quite scenic but again there was no Wifi working in the port - unless you were prepared to sit and sit just in case. All the scenic cruising was wonderful and worth getting up early for on some occasions! The ship moved very slowly through the calm waters and the atmosphere was wonderful. Needless to say, many photos were taken throughout the cruise, including spectacular sunsets on many occasions. The bow deck was opened on some occasions, but we mainly used the stern or deck 9, although the front area of that deck was enclosed by glass. Punta Arenas did offer working Wifi! We walked to the Cathedral, the rather strange cemetery and a high viewing point, following a walking tour route independently. That evening and the next day were taken up by wonderful scenic cruising. Glacier Alley is NOT to be missed! (Princess Cruises went by in the evening and some passengers thought dinner was more important!) Again, the ship cruised by very slowly with hardly a ripple on the calm water. In the afternoon of that day, we visited Ushuaia, docking this time rather than tendering. Anyone with mobility issues would struggle with the many tendered ports on this cruise. I don't think free Wifi I was available in this port. We walked round the small town, enjoying the mountain scenery behind it. Cape Horn and the Drake Passage followed the next day. Although the seas were completely calm (as in our first visit) we did not circumnavigate the Cape as previously, which seemed a missed opportunity. Good weather meant we reached Antarctic waters earlier than scheduled and we had an extra afternoon there as well as the scheduled three days. Throughout, the skies were overcast but fog-free and the experience of Antarctica is one to treasure. It was a different experience from our first time there too, with different conditions and different areas visited. An approaching storm had us racing away from Antarctica eventually but the Captain made time to sail past Elephant Island at a distance before we continued on towards Stanley. The next day, at sea, was foggy with the fog horn sounding - by evening the sun broke through. It is not uncommon for ships to be unable to drop anchor at Stanley because of adverse weather, but once again we were lucky. Wifi is good but costs £5 for 50 minutes because it is so expensive to have on the Island. We walked down to the Church and the War Memorial before buying the required fluffy penguins and sea lions for our Grandchildren, taking advantage of sterling prices! We returned to the ship for lunch and experienced a much rougher sea as waves crashed over the top of the tender and found their way inside, dramatically through a poor seal in an opening window and uncomfortably into the hood of a poor passenger seated underneath a hatch! Puerto Madryn is a little bit of Wales in South America and was settled by intrepid travellers in 1865, who made their first homes in sandstone caves on the shore. We walked along the sea front, but did not go as far as the original settlement, though the walk is possible. Free Wifi is to be found in the Shopping Mall next to the Tourist Office and was slow but functional. Montevideo on a Sunday morning was very hot and humid and rather quiet. Armed police stand on street corners and are helpful for directions. We found Independence Square and also visited the Cathedral. On the way back to the ship, which was in dock, we found a wonderful, air-conditioned Tourist Office with excellent free Wifi and we enjoyed a happy catch-up time there, returning after lunch for more! Finally we reached Buenos Aires for an overnight stop. We have been on tours there before and we consider the city unsafe for independent visitors, so we went no further than the terminal for very slow Wifi. In the evening, we enjoyed watching three other cruise ships sail away. Among the many shipping containers, one had appeared to be hiding while it was docked! Disembarkation was as smooth as embarkation. We were allowed to use our room until departure at 9.30 am and our cases did not need to be put out until midnight the night before. We were at the airport earlier than necessary and could not check in our cases for a couple of hours, but the time passed quickly enough with the free Wifi! If you can, go on this cruise. It is an un-missable experience. Read Less
Sail Date January 2017
My wife and I flew from Sydney to Santiago. Our flights aboard Latam were excellent. We have travelled with them during our past two visits to South America. This is a good airline with a fixed menu per destination for economy ... Read More
My wife and I flew from Sydney to Santiago. Our flights aboard Latam were excellent. We have travelled with them during our past two visits to South America. This is a good airline with a fixed menu per destination for economy passengers. The food was tasty and satisfactory and the service was excellent. They served very good Chilean wines and Whisky ( indispensable for me to cope with turbulence!!)  generously, when requested. Maria and I had the quietest and turbulent free flights ever on the way to Auckland, to Santiago and then from Buenos Aires to Santiago over the Andes (even though the Captain warned us of a bumpy ride as we approached the mountain ranges) and back via Auckland to Sydney. So Whisky was an excuse and I admit, I am not comfortable flying). The only discomfort was the rather heavy landing at Kingsford Smith. The space between rows was good but when the passenger seated in front decided to recline, getting out was rather tricky and difficult. That is, however, the problem with economy seating aboard all airlines.The Flight Attendants were very nice courteous and spoke English. I always spoke to them in my broken Spanish which was much appreciated. We availed ourselves of public transport from Arturo Benetez Merino Airport to Pajaritos (a twenty minute drive from the Airport and then another TUR bus to Valparaiso (two and a half hour drive). It was so easy. The TUR bus is on the opposite side of Salida 6 on exiting the Airport. The trip from the airport to Valparaiso by taxi was $130. We spent about $15 for the entire journey. The bus was very comfortable with semi cama seats. We took a taxi from the Valparaiso Bus Station to the Hotel. We asked the same driver to meet us at the Hotel on the following day at 11 o'clock, which he did very punctually. The taxi was metered. The Ibis Hotel is in the Port Area. It was very sparse and if minimalism was ever a descriptive term, the Ibis was it. They provided one plastic cup per room, two small towels and two tiny bars of soap but the room was about 90% clean. That was important for us. Ibis Valparaiso was a far cry from Ibis Seoul and Bangkok. Nearby is a Supermarket where we bought a few food items and on the following day we had breakfast at the Melbourne Café, one block from the Hotel at the Plaza Sotomayor.We enjoyed our second visit to Valparaiso, concentrating mainly on the Piazza Sotomayor, the Port and the environs. We did not feel threatened at any moment and our whole experience was safe despite warnings from the Hotel, which we appreciated, to the contrary. We were unable to have a meal at Restoran Capri nearby as it was closed that Monday afternoon. It consistently receives good comments on tripadvisor We were driven to the Ship Terminal, just a short ride from the Hotel. The embarkation was smooth and very soon we found ourselves aboard the Zaandam. We had a beautiful lunch, offered to HAL Mariner members. The first day at sea was rough. The Chilean fjords were very beautiful and glaciers, as in Alaska and Antarctica, breathtaking. We had read many comments about the Zaandam. Sure it is a 17 year old ship but, to our eyes, it did not have any of the faults mentioned by some previous passengers. The ship was very well maintained and full of glitter but not kitsch,  spick and span without any rust. The carpets were tasteful and I did not notice any wear and tear (and believe me, I am a good sleuth especially when influenced by the Beverage Package which I took advantage of and thoroughly enjoyed on a daily basis). I searched for faults unsuccessfully. We lived in fantasyland for 21 days. The crew was excellent and the service was impeccable. Our Cabin-Small, functional clean and well presented. We did hear the noise of the stabilisers and whenever the anchor was dropped but they were not oppressive and did not prevent us from sleeping peacefully. We never felt cooped. The only negative was the infirmary two doors away from our Cabin but on the opposite side of the corridor. Most of the passengers succumbed to a viral infection (including myself), more than normal, we were told by the ship's medical practitioner. The infection did not prevent me from enjoying the cruise.The area near our Cabin was congested with patients coughing and sneezing most of the time. On another cruise, if it had not been to the cold regions of Antarctica, we would have definitely missed the balcony of a Stateroom. The food in the Lido was the same every day and perhaps monotonous. It was a good spread but lacked variety on a daily basis. The bacon was too crisp as it was prepared for American palates. As for the rest, we were not disappointed with the food but the service made the difference. It was just excellent and offered with courtesy and with a smile. The Rotterdam Dining Room-We used the fourth floor as we took advantage of Open Seating which is an excellent arrangement. We sat with Australians which is always a great pleasure as we are a friendly lot. We met many Americans. They were all anti Trump and on one occasion, I blurted my surprise to them about Trump's win when all the Americans we met had voted against Trump! Almost all the Americans we met were nice and capable of holding an interesting conversation which involved everyone at table bar one instance when two American couples talked of their military service experiences and deliberately excluded the other guests seated with them. We also sat with Germans and Dutch. They were always very gracious and our conversations with them were always pleasant. There were a few Italians and Spanish speaking people and a very small contingent of Indians and Chinese. The daily dinner menu was ample and varied. The dessert menu, however, was repetitious and  certain items like the Souffle just to mention one, uninteresting. The Crème Brule kept on appearing daily. The ice cream menu, much to my regret, lacked my favourite Rum and Raisin and Pistacchio. "tant pis pour moi"!  Ice Cream was also served at fixed times on a daily basis at the Lido. The wine, on the Beverage Package, permitted us to enjoy the excellent Chilean wines per glass. The after Theatre spread or midnight snack in the Lido was not as lavish as on the Dawn Princess but on the whole the Zaandam was far superior to the Dawn Princess which, regrettably, was a rust bucket. The Ports of call were mostly uninteresting except for Ushuia, the Falkland Islands and Montevideo but Maria and I always made it a point to disembark and enjoy the new experience. We were able to buy souvenirs, mostly  decorations for our Christmas Tree. We visited all the Ports of Call and missed none for inclement weather. That is how lucky we were. The postcards we sent from the Falkland Islands have already reached their destination. We were happily surprised. Apparently relations with Argentina have improved but Argentina is still claiming the Malvinas. We never entered the political debate but in our hearts we know that at least the British were not genocidal the way the Argentines were in 1982 during their demoniacal military dictatorship. We were told by a Falkland Islander that had Argentina waited patiently, they would have received the islands because most of the children in the Islands were sent to Argentina for their higher education. Today Britain supplies the islands with all their needs except for meat. Britan also provide higher education and health Services, if there is need, in Britain. All expenses are met by the Falkland Island authorities.   The Drake Strait was a Drake Lake for us to Antarctica and on the return journey, the Captain outran a very bad storm which yet managed to bite at our heel. We, unfortunately, were unable to sight Elephant Island because we were making a speedy retreat. We gained an extra half day thanks to the Drake Lake and thus enjoyed three and a half days of tranquil sailing through a Continent of exhilarating wonder, beauty, sacredness, pristineness, conducive to  contemplation and rapture. Australia administers 42% of Antarctica. We hope that Australia will strive to protect it and leave it the way it is for posterity. We wished to leave Antarctica  in its innocence and never felt the need to have to place our imprints upon it the way some people actually wish to set foot in some part of Antarctica. There was not need for that.Occasionally the ship came very close to mountains which we felt we could almost touch. We were mesmerized by snow capped mountains, majestic domes and spires of nature and myriads of glaciers. We witnessed chunks of ice crumble to a deafening cannonade and collapse into the waters. These caused large ripples which reached the ship. We saw dark patches in the snow, rookeries, where the male penguins held the egg tightly between their feet thus allowing it to hatch during the long, bleak wintry months.  I wore two  top and bottom thermals, trousers, a  shirt, a sweater, an Alaskan Jacket, thermal socks, boots and yet experienced the infernal cold, pardon the oxymoron. We saw towering ice bergs floating past us and were awe struck by their grandeur. We saw whales, seals and of course lots and lots of penguins. Maria and I were thoroughly prepared for our trip to Antarctica. We watched many videos on Utube. We read a lot including Douglas Mawson's "The Home of the Blizzard". However, we also attended the lectures aboard which were very informative. The ship provided a running commentary during the three and a half day cruise through Antarctica. The entertainment aboard the Zaandam was good and thoroughly enjoyable. It is with great pleasure that I wish to inform you that I leaned to dance the Tango! Even Maria was surprised. I wrote to the Hotel Director informing him of our late flights on arrival at Buenos Aires and requested that we be allowed to stay aboard until 1 pm. We were generously allowed to do so. We took a free shuttle to the Cruise Terminal in BA and then took an airport shuttle from the Cruise Terminal to the International Airport at a fraction of the price we would have paid for a taxi. Just 150 Argentine Pesos pp. This experience of ours can only be described in superlative terms. . Read Less
Sail Date January 2017
From Santiago Chile to Cape Horn, then across to Antarctica for a cruise of the coastal waters for 4 days, then the Falkland Islands, Madryn Argentina, Montevideo Uruguay and then finally Buenos Aires Argentina. Was in Antarctica for New ... Read More
From Santiago Chile to Cape Horn, then across to Antarctica for a cruise of the coastal waters for 4 days, then the Falkland Islands, Madryn Argentina, Montevideo Uruguay and then finally Buenos Aires Argentina. Was in Antarctica for New Years. Have to say this was the most spectacular cruise we've ever been on. It was perfect in every way. The most friendly crew we'd ever experienced. They were having as much fun as we were, which made the whole thing just that much more fun. Nice room, great food and excellent excursions. The views from the ship were just breathtaking. So many good photos, some of them almost surreal. We signed up for the departure day waterways tour with transfer to the airport at the end, and departure went unbelievably smooth. The last day was almost a full day of adventure, and it was easily as good as any other excursion day. The night before departure, we had dinner at "a closed door restaurant" in Buenos Aires, and THAT was really special too. The perfect last meal for a perfect cruise. Like our title says ... this trip was ... S P E C T A C U L A R. really. Read Less
Sail Date December 2016
Having done the same cruise last January and finding it excellent and Antarctica amazing we decided to treat ourselves again but in the reverse direction. This was the Zaandam's first Antarctic cruise of the season so we three ... Read More
Having done the same cruise last January and finding it excellent and Antarctica amazing we decided to treat ourselves again but in the reverse direction. This was the Zaandam's first Antarctic cruise of the season so we three weeks later then previous and not sure what would be different. At embarkation in Valparaiso we saw Scott D. one of the Antarctic specialist from last cruise and he said that this time we could expect less whales and more penguins and maybe less icebergs. He was right on all counts. Embarkation went smoothly and we were on board and having lunch in the Lido by 1pm. At the end disembarkation was just as smooth and on time. The ship felt a bit like coming home as we new where everything was and what and when things operated. Last year we had a verandah cabin which while it gave us a bit more space we hardly used the verandah at all and with all things on a boat there is a 50/50 chance that what you want to see will be on the other side of the ship. This year we went for a ocean view room on the lower promenade which was near perfect for sightseeing as the other side of the deck was only a few steps through the ship and not up or down a few floors. Apart from being slightly smaller the room facilities are basically the same. Only draw back was the 10pm tying up of the deck chairs and the 5am washing down of the deck outside our window. For dining we opted most days for the Lido and only dined in the main restaurant twice plus treat ourselves twice to the Canaletto. There was always a great variety of food and desserts available and one new thing was the salad station. As for entertainment we on ly went to the two very funny comedian shows but reports from fellow passengers said that the other shows where excellent. There are enough daily activities on board to fill out the few sea days that we had. Trivia every night with Alexis was popular. Wallis gave very informative and funny port talks and the Antarctic specialist team were the same team as previous and excellent. Jorge the cruise director plus the Daily Navigator flyer kept guests informed on what was happening each day. All the crew are friendly cheerful and the ship impresses as one big happy family. Captain PJ was our skipper again and kept us informed on navigational and nautical to use his own words and we got to go to all the itinerary places in the Antarctic Peninsular as planned. We were also blessed with near perfect sea condition throughout the entire cruise and sunshine and blue skies for the 4 days we were in the Peninsular. We undertook three excursions and found two of them excellent one less so but more on that later. The ship reached all the ports on schedule with exception of Punta Arenas where the port was closed for a brief time due to high winds. In fact due to the very favourable conditions crossing Drakes Passage we actually had an extra half day in the Antarctic. Which gave us more time to enjoy the experience that is the Antarctic. Penguins, seals, whales, sea lions, glaciers icebergs and just the serenity and majesty and scale of the place. Having done this trip twice in less then a year, would we do it again? Yes!. The only caveats being the long flights from Australia and this one being so near perfect it would be hard to better. If you get the chance GO! Read Less
Sail Date December 2016
The ms Zaandam is a wonderful ship for this route. It is comfortable with all the elements of what we had hoped for from Holland America, with outstanding food and service, elegant architecture, a true wrap around teak promenade deck, a ... Read More
The ms Zaandam is a wonderful ship for this route. It is comfortable with all the elements of what we had hoped for from Holland America, with outstanding food and service, elegant architecture, a true wrap around teak promenade deck, a double height dining experience, and a well-stocked Lido. The itinerary is second to none in the world I am sure. Holland America has had a relationship with the US Antarctic Program for 13 years and brings on board an experienced expedition team. The captain is not afraid of ice bergs and takes the ship carefully but boldly into what seem impassable channels, and even bring on board a full Antarctic team from Palmer Station (weather permitting). The antarctic experience is quite unlike any other area of the planet, and is unspoiled due to a highly co-operative global treaty. While there are options on smaller vessels to make zodiac landings, we surprisingly didnt really miss this at all in part due to the dramatic scenery of the Antarctic Peninsula, Deception Island and Shetlands. We saw more penguins, whales, seals etc. than we could ever dream of, and we didnt have to disinfect, get kitted up, and wait for small landing parties, but could use many of the uncrowded areas of the ship to be up close and personal to a large berg. The bow thrusters move the bergs away from the ship in a very efficient manner for safety, and HAL takes the treaty to the letter in disallowing any form of food or beverage consumption outside whilst in Antarctic waters, and switches the entire ship over to more expensive diesel for this part of the trip to reduce carbon footprint. We weren't sure what it would be like not to get off, or just seeing the Peninsula, but if you have any hesitation and this is on your bucket list, just do it. No one on board was disappointed, everyone was breathless at some point, and some had returned for the exact same itinerary and ship. The kids Club HAL was well organized and executed. Our other two preferred brands are Princess and Cunard, and HAL met or exceed expectations in many regards. The coffee on board is not great, even at the premium cafe, the shore excursions still a bit overpriced for what they are, and the non-expedition entertainment was below average compared to other cruise lines, but overall we would highly recommend the Zaandam for the South America and Antarctic itineraries, and we can attest that HAL is maintaining its standard of excellence in dining and service. For Alaska you have more choices so this may not be the best ship for that region. Read Less
Sail Date December 2016
Started in Valparaiso. This is my second HAL-cruise. First on Eurodam, over Greenland. Was surprised liking the much older Zaandam better. Not only because the cabin and balcony, was a bit larger here. Most public rooms were more ... Read More
Started in Valparaiso. This is my second HAL-cruise. First on Eurodam, over Greenland. Was surprised liking the much older Zaandam better. Not only because the cabin and balcony, was a bit larger here. Most public rooms were more attractive to me. (Gym, Crows nest, dining room, theatre etc.) The theatre suffered from not so good sound. Breakfast and lunch in main restaurant (Rotterdam) was perfect for those who wanted to kill time. (And not very funny dinners, when we shared table with americans who ordered 3-4 starters. We had to choose between leaving hungry or miss the show.) Food was mostly ok. Steaks not. Fish sometimes uneatable. Other times perfect. We had the best meals in the buffét (Lido.) Service all over the ship top-class. Nice sailing in the Antarctic peninsula. Embarkation and disembarkation among the best we have had. (Disembark in Buenos Aires was heaven, compared to the hell we had in New York, sept. 2011.) 4 of our 5 excursions were a terrible waste of time and money. Penguin-safari on Falklands was funny. Though I liked cruising in Antarctica a couple of days, I would say that the 2-week-cruise just around Cape Horn is a clever money-saver. If I knew what I know now, I would have choosen that. (And seen the animals nearer on my TV.) PS. Jim in the piano-bar was a hit. Not only for us. Crowded. Spent 10 evenings there. Read Less
Sail Date January 2016
For a number of years I've wanted to travel to Antarctica and have heard the warnings that access to this part of the world would be reduced if not eliminated to cruise ships of the HAL size. So I booked us on the Zaandam sailing out ... Read More
For a number of years I've wanted to travel to Antarctica and have heard the warnings that access to this part of the world would be reduced if not eliminated to cruise ships of the HAL size. So I booked us on the Zaandam sailing out of Valparaiso to Buenos Aires. I will note that we are experience 4 star Mariners on HAL. We departed the US from Atlanta on Delta on a direct flight to Santiago which is located inland from the port city of Valparaiso about 60 miles. After the overnight flight we arrived in the mid morning in Santiago but couldn't check in to our hotel until 3pm. While waiting in a local cafe, my backpack was cleverly stolen from right next to me. It contained my meds, cameras, other electronic items, some cash, and personal effects. It was a bummer of a way to start the trip. Fortunately it's just "stuff". Surprisingly, I was able to replace my meds at a local pharmacy with no prescription! Replacing a camera was a bit more difficult and took several days in another city near Valparaiso. The takeaway from the theft was to always put one's foot through the arm straps of a backpack to reduce the chances of it being stolen. In Santiago, we rented an apartment for two days located on the top floor of a high rise. We took two walking tours of the city with Tours by Locals and met a few people who were also going to be on the cruise and that was pretty cool. Santiago is a very modern city with lots of hustle and bustle. To get to Valparaiso, we hired a car, driver, and a guide who met us promptly and delivered us to our destination in Santiago via a couple vineyard stops and a lovely seaside restaurant. In Valparaiso, we rented a room in a hostel near what I thought would be the departure point for the ship. While it was cheap, the music and crowd noise at night blared from the street below until 5am and was beyond annoying. If I were to stay in the area next time, I'd go to the IBIS which has a nice quiet location nearby. In Valparaiso, we also did a couple walking tours with the same company as in Santiago and they were very interesting. We were located right at Plaza Sotomajor which is a main monument location and the local light rail station was there which took us directly to the cruise terminal at a very inexpensive fare. There's a nice food court on the second level of the train station. For this cruise we were assigned an ocean view cabin located low and mid ship on the starboard side which we really liked. Normally we sail using inside cabins, but waking up to daylight is nice. As 4 star Mariners it was nice to be able to board early and without a line. After having sailed on a number of HAL ships, it felt so comfortable boarding the Zaandam. We really liked the look and feel of the ship and everything seemed so familiar even though we'd never been on the ship. It appeared to be in good repair and had all of the typical HAL decor and accompaniments. Captain PJ was a delight to listen to and Bruce, the Cruise Director, was wonderful in that role. He didn't make too many announcements, and was very easy to understand over the PA system. The evening entertainment was very good and consistent with other HAL ships. We really appreciated the new cast shows (we'd seen them on previous cruises) and the audio levels were dialed in perfectly. There was a wide range of outside entertainers. Also, we were able to get some replacement American dollars for the money that was stolen before we boarded the trip. This was the first time I used Cruise Critic to book shore excursions, and we found it a total delight to meet other CC passengers at the Meet & Greet on the first sea day and then share various shore excursions with them. For several of the ports, we had to use HAL Shore Excursions (Ushuaia and Punta Arenas particularly) and those were fine. At Ushuaia my goal was to get a picture at the end of the road sign in the National Park, and the shore excursion met that objective. The best of the CC member arranged shore excursions was going to the penguin reserve at Punta Tombo out of Puerto Madryn. It's a colony of 1,000,000 Magellan penguins and the small bus got us out there before the large tour buses. It's a must do stop in my opinion. In the Falkland Islands, we elected to walk the city visiting the museum, finding some British Fish & Chips, and just taking in some of the local culture. The scenic cruising was simply off the chart excellent. Pictures of the glaciers and other scenic natural wonders don't do it justice. While traveling through the Fjords and bays of Chile, Argentina, and then Antarctica, our location guide, Ryan, was simply excellent. These sights fulfilled my every expectation about Antarctica and the related sights. I've got thousands of pictures of glaciers, shipwrecks, icebergs, penguins, seals, sea lions, birds. Additionally there was an Antarctica expedition team on board composed of men and women who had worked and lived in Antarctica for years. Their experience and tips were invaluable (Scott particularly) in providing details about the local flora and fauna. Capt PJ would also interject nautical and navigational commentary as appropriate throughout the voyage. We always at breakfast in the LIDO before attending the Good Morning Zaandam taping session with the CD Bruce and the Culinary Arts Hostess who was from near where we live in the Puget Sound region of the US. Lunch on the ship was also always at the LIDO, and we found the meals to be good. We're careful eaters (we don't gain weight on cruises!), and the selection was good. I tended to eat the Asian fare as that's a strong preference for my palette, while my wife leans to the salad side of the menu. Most dinners were taken in the Main Dining Room (MDR). We always choose open seating and eat dinner as early as the dining room opens. On days when we are returning from a long day ashore, we would choose to eat in the LIDO so we could be more casual. We also took the opportunity to eat in the Pinnacle Grill and the Canaletto. Both of those were very good and we are now tending to eat in them at least once on all of our cruises. At Buenos Aires, we had an overnight stay on the ship. For the first day, we used a Tours by Locals guide to do a fully city tour. Alex was terrific. The second day, after a very smooth but delayed disembarkation), we used another tour through Tours by Locals to take us to an Estancia (ranch) directly from the ship and then take us to our BA hotel the NH Buenos Aires Latino. It was a fun day out in the countryside which a chance see totally different scenery than the glaciers and fjords we had just experienced. The horseback ride was cool and the barbeque lunch was good. A few days later we used another Tours by Locals guide to give us a tour themed around Evita and it was quite good also. We also did a lot of self-guided walking tours from our hotel as well as riding the Hop On Hop Off bus. We felt totally safe doing that, but we didn't venture out at night. I highly recommend the NH Buenos Aires Latino hotel for lodging in BA. It's located centrally near the main Obelisk monument. While the rooms are plain, they are spacious and there's a safe in the room. We ate all of our meals outside the hotel at local cafes, and they were good. ATM's abound at the many banks. The hotel arranged for a car and driver to take us to the international airport which is located quite a distance out of town and there is no support service infrastructure out there. While our flight was delayed for 3 hours, DELTA provided food for the waiting passengers and all too soon our flight headed us off to Atlanta . In summary, the trip met all of our expectations. It was so wonderful that I'd like to do it again. For the second trip, however, I would travel in the reverse direction in order to change up the fjord cruising in Argentina and Chile. I highly recommend that travellers who have any desire to see Antarctica, book a cruise on this route. The Zaandam would be my strong recommendation. Read Less
Sail Date January 2016
This was our first cruise with Holland America, selected for its incredible itinerary to Antarctica. Little emphasis was placed on ports of call, as our primary purpose for this journey was to be captivated by the scenic cruising of the ... Read More
This was our first cruise with Holland America, selected for its incredible itinerary to Antarctica. Little emphasis was placed on ports of call, as our primary purpose for this journey was to be captivated by the scenic cruising of the Chilean Fiords, Glacier Alley and the White Continent. The picturesque Chilean fiords were spectacular with clear blue skies, still waters and surreal reflections. Glacial melt resulted in blue-green shades of water in the areas of the glaciers. Our crossing of the Drake Passage was interrupted at Cape Horn with gale force storm winds that delayed our crossing to Antarctica, but Captain Pieter Jan “PJ” Van Maurik made up for lost time with our second attempt at crossing the next day. We awoke to snow-covered decks, as when I peeked out of our stateroom window at 4AM there was literally a horizontal blizzard outside! Our expedition team consisted of three retired gentlemen on board who were previously affiliated with, or retired from, the U.S. Antarctic Research Program and/or the National Science Foundation. David Bresnahan, our expedition team leader, presented his expertise in operations & logistics with lectures on U.S. Antarctic bases, facilities, shipping & supplies, ski planes, helicopters, ski-ways, camping, gear, intermodal surface transport with heavy equipment, snow/ice vehicles and ice road train. Guy Guthridge was a retired editor for the Antarctic Journal of the United States. He delivered lectures providing insight as to some of the technical aspects of the sciences, including topics on the ozone hole, geology, mapping of rivers and streams beneath the ice, environmental issues and the Antarctic Treaty. Scott Dreischman was our wildlife expedition team member and lectured on whales, seals, seabirds, penguins, and underwater sea life. The programming and power-point presentations delivered by these gentlemen was outstanding, informative and very educational providing depth and meaning to the Antarctic experience. We first arrived in Antarctica in close proximity to the U.S. Palmer Base Station from which several experts greeted us by zodiac, came aboard the Zaandam, and related their experiences of spending extended periods of time on the White Continent. Much information was conveyed about research being done, the presence of extensive on-site laboratories for many of the sciences, and improvements occurring over time. With the expert navigation of Captain PJ and our ice pilot, Richard Taylor, our vessel, successfully, navigated the complete Lemaire Channel, a unique experience for a commercial ship such as the Zaandam. Icebergs were numerous of all shapes, sizes and shades of white and blue. Some were tabular icebergs. Others captured the imagination and looked like model ships, bells, open books, archways, etc. Crabeater seals were plentiful and often seen taking an afternoon siesta on an iceberg. Glacial caves at the water’s edge were evident. We proceeded to navigate Bismarck Strait, Neumayer Channel alongside Port Lockroy, Gerlache Strait, Paradise Harbor, Cuverville Island, and the Danco Coast with outstanding scenic cruising and wildlife (crabeater seals, the occasional whale, seabirds & penguins), taking note of Chilean and Argentine bases, before proceeding to Deception Island to witness the presence of fur seals and Gentoo penguins. We even had a glance of Machu Picchu! In this case it was the Machu Picchu Peruvian polar scientific research facility in Antarctica on Kind George Island. We sailed along the Antarctic Sound as we made our way north to the Falkland Islands where we made our introduction to the Magellan Penguins at Gypsy Cove. The foregoing, in our opinion, were the highlights of this incredible journey. While we visited numerous South American ports, this voyage will best be remembered for our expedition to Antarctica. Many thanks are extended to the Expedition Team! This particular cruise did make all of its scheduled ports of call and Ryan communicated well as to what to expect at each port. Captain PJ is to be commended for his communication with passengers on board and Bruce was a great cruise director. Service on the ship was very good, entertainment was exceptional, and public areas also very nice in layout. It is acknowledged that keeping a ship in good condition is an ongoing task. Holland America is doing well with maintenance, given the age of the Zaandam; but there is room for improvement with plumbing and refurbishment of upholstered furnishings in public areas. We did not experience dining in the Rotterdam Dining Room nor any of the specialty restaurants. Food was plentiful, but the repeated offerings at the Lido Buffet were mundane. Desserts, while appearing delectable, were not as palatable as they appeared. We don’t necessarily cruise for the food, but make our voyage selections based on itinerary. In this case, however, the food did not impress. It was not so much the quantity, but rather the quality of the offerings. Every day, you could plan on bread pudding for a lunchtime dessert offering as they were using up their bread from the day before. Every morning you could count on diced breakfast potatoes that were the cut up roasted potato wedges from the previous day’s lunch. The omelet station and pasta bar were always popular as those are two items that would take real effort to get wrong. The meat was hit or miss as far as being dry and chicken was served too many times. Vegetables were good…potato salad bad. The “Dive-In” was a great hamburger/hotdog stand…and the ice cream at the Lido Buffet was always a good substitute for those desserts you couldn’t count on. I will say that food service did a great job with their Super Bowl spread! We realize the culinary experience is all a matter of taste. If it means anything, neither of us gained an ounce on this 21 day cruise. Overall, we were pleased with this cruise and itinerary, rating it a 4 out of 5. We would, again, sail Holland America if our cruise was itinerary specific; but would probably opt for another cruise line, otherwise. Read Less
Sail Date January 2016
I am just beginning to put together the scrapbook for our holiday trip aboard HAL’s ms Zaandam around the tip of South American and on to the Antarctic Peninsula, and it dawned on me that I never got around to writing my review of this ... Read More
I am just beginning to put together the scrapbook for our holiday trip aboard HAL’s ms Zaandam around the tip of South American and on to the Antarctic Peninsula, and it dawned on me that I never got around to writing my review of this amazing journey. This was a bucket trip for my husband, and I frankly wasn’t that wild about the idea due to the specter of crossing the notoriously rough Drake Passage. As luck would have it (and now facing a life time of “I told you so”) our Drake experience was more lake than shake and we were blessed with spectacular weather throughout most of our travels. We’re frequent cruisers on HAL, and have enjoyed all of our experiences with them. The in-processing has had occasional blips here and there, but nothing to fuss about. This go ‘round, we arrived at the port in Valparaiso a bit early and they weren’t quite ready. That said, they did have hot chocolate and Christmas cookies waiting for us in the staging area and there are certainly worse ways to while away a ½ hour or so. Our shore excursions in the various ports were excellent. Some guides better than others, of course, but such is life. No really bad ones, and a couple who were extraordinary – like Cesar in Chaccabuco. Our cabin stewards were wonderful – always cheerful and keeping everything tidy and well supplied. Our experience with the dining room and bar staff was also excellent. We don’t do the assigned seating thing, so we had different servers and wine stewards just about every night, but all did a commendable job. Spending the holidays shipboard was an experience in itself. We’ve celebrated a number of New Year’s Eves afloat, but this was our first Christmas at sea, and HAL did a bang-up job of it, with caroling, tree lighting, a visit from Santa, worship services and fabulous food. They also did their usual terrific NYE celebration as well, although the main venue was almost too crowded to move (never been one for crowds, myself – others clearly enjoyed it.) The highlight of the trip, however, was the time we spent cruising around the Antarctic – the weather was far better than expected and I got some spectacular photographs. HAL does a great job of education on this trip, too – with a team that included a naturalist, research scientists and others aboard to give lectures on the wildlife and the projects that are underway on the continent. They were also out and about the ship to answer questions and were - as the rest of the crew – very personable. We also spent a lot of time just sitting on our verandah, soaking in the indescribable peace and beauty. The food on ms Zaandam was excellent. We enjoy the dining room for our evening meal and the food there was excellent – lots of choices, including the standard options of steak, chicken or salmon if the specials didn’t suit. The Lido buffet was excellent for breakfast and lunch, and we also found the Dive Bar “fast food” stand quite good. They also hosted an Argentine barbecue one night, poolside. One thing I do find challenging in our travels is the amount of whinging and complaining from other passengers…on everything and nothing. I guess some people get satisfaction from it, but it baffles (and annoys!) me. Usually seems to come from less experienced travelers – with clearly unrealistic expectations. Or maybe I’m just a glass-half-full kind of person. And HAL has always managed to fill my glass to near overflowing! Read Less
Sail Date December 2015
The Star Princess is a tired, worn ship that is in desperate need of an upgrade. We found the carpets were stained and torn, the lounge chairs old PVC chairs, the metal rusting... worn is the best way to describe the ship. Our biggest ... Read More
The Star Princess is a tired, worn ship that is in desperate need of an upgrade. We found the carpets were stained and torn, the lounge chairs old PVC chairs, the metal rusting... worn is the best way to describe the ship. Our biggest disappointment was the poor quality of the entertainment. The evening entertainment was typical old Vegas: a comedian one night, a mentalist or a gaucho who spent 45 minutes doing rope tricks. Rarely was the room filled. The daytime was even worse: one activity, repeated a few times, was to assemble guests near the elevator and have them guess which door would open next. I am not making this up. And the fitness center was inadequate with long line for a handful of machines; they had one spinning class a day and two two other classes all for an additional fee. Lastly, the ship needs to learn from other cruise lines about keeping passengers healthy. On other ships, passengers must purell their hands before getting on the ship and again at the entry of every public space. Here the only time it was mandatory was at the entrance to the buffet and only to part of the line; the purell stations were everywhere but no one watched and no one cared. By the end, there were an inordinate number of people with bad colds (3 out of our party of 4 were sick at the end). The staff was courteous, but not gracious (with a few exceptions) but I would not recommend this ship. The ports of call were fabulous but try a different cruise line. Read Less
Sail Date December 2015
This cruise on the MS Zaandam was a year in planning for us, and included arranging a long vacation window from work. We enjoy scenic cruising and knew this cruise would suit our tastes. We'd talked with other travelers who compared ... Read More
This cruise on the MS Zaandam was a year in planning for us, and included arranging a long vacation window from work. We enjoy scenic cruising and knew this cruise would suit our tastes. We'd talked with other travelers who compared Patagonia with the Southern Island of New Zealand and Alaska, so we knew we were in for a treat. We flew Boston-Panama-Santiago on COPA Airlines and were very pleased with them. We had a lot of conversation with Holland America regarding our hotel and transfer because we arrived after midnight and booking a room for the same day as check out didn't work with their system. Had to climb several layers of customer service to get it figured out. We arrived right on time, had a Holland America rep waiting for us and arrived at the Sheridan Santiago at 1:00AM the day of departure. Had a nice sleep and upon awakening and getting ready for the transfer to the ship realized we had missed the notice to put bags out for collection the night before. Finally found a representative to help us sort that out and get our bags to the loading point collection and were pleased nothing got lost along the way. Easy transfer to Valparaiso and boarding. Would have liked an extra day to explore Valparaiso, but no time available in vacation window. MS Zaandam. I had thought we'd sailed on her before, but had never seen the organ in the atrium before so this was the first time. We'd done our research and had booked early (calling in for fare adjustment anytime there was a sale) and had chosen a port side, verandah room, that happened to have handicapped access, but was located exactly where we wanted it. If there was a shortage of handicapped availability we'd have been moved down the hall. Stateroom 7088 was perfect for us, with a few minor flaws. You gain width and space around the bed and closets, but you lose space in the seating area to a wheelchair ramp to the verandah. Couch is terribly old and uncomfortable and the desk chair has limited areas where it can be placed flat for seating. The verandah is extra large and allows a partial view to the aft. Port side is where you want to be for Valparaiso to Buenos Aires. Everything happens to the port, aside from occasional spins and wildlife viewing. We opted in to the Thermal Spa membership, which is smaller on this ship than on the Zuiderdam, but still nice for warming up and relaxing in an exclusive area of the ship. We wanted to attend Pilates regularly, even though it was scheduled at an inconvenient time (45 minutes before our dinner seating) but the Gym Director cancelled the first class due to high seas and took it off the menu soon thereafter. I don't think he was much of a mat exercise guy. The only times we thought about the gym after that were on sea days with high seas and we weren't the only ones - the gym was too packed to work out. I had one massage and remembered to never waste my time or money again until they change contractors away from Elemis. I missed my hometown massage therapist who gives 20x better massages at 1/3rd the price. Also, just to note, I dislike the Elemis shampoo, and next time will pack my own shampoo. Glad to see an acupuncturist on board, but wasn't willing to open my purse strings to experiment with his services. I was initially excited to see the ship had a movie theater, but were totally disappointed by the layout of the room which has three televisions instead of one large screen. We hopped in to watch The Martian, and promptly left because we have a better viewing experience at home. Best shore excursions: 34020 Magdalena Island Penguin Reserve by Speedboat and 70014 King Penguins 4x4 Adventure. Anything penguin is worthwhile, but Magdalena Island shined for the ease of the commute and the relatively small groups of people you share the penguins with, since the park only allows 36 people on the island at a time. The 4x4 adventure, which is part of the World Wonders collection, was memorable, but it is really, really, really, a bouncy ride for 4 hours, like being inside a tumble dryer to get to penguins. Once there you share the penguin colonies with 100-200 people, but you get to photograph King and Gentoo penguins. You can instead opt for Rockhoppers in the Falklands and maybe get tumbled a bit less. Scenic Cruising: The Patagonia fjords were mostly socked in and rainy this trip. El Brujo glacier, Glacier Alley and ice floes are beautiful, but nothing compares to a clear day on the Antarctic Peninsula! Holy Moly, people! It is serenity on Earth! And seeing the research stations is like visiting moon outposts. Riveting! Holland America's Antarctic Expedition Team are incredibly linked to these stations and have lived the history of the Antarctic. Having them onboard was fantastic. Wildlife spotted at sea: Adelle, gentoo, chinstrap, and Magellan penguins (plus you can see King and Rockhoppers on shore excursions), Albatross, Sheathbill, Petrels, Fulmar, Skua, Shags (and Antarctic Terns ashore) for bird watchers, Fin, Humpback, Sperm, Killer and Minke whales (we were surrounded for an hour by 40 fin whales!) , and Crab eater, Weddell and Leopard Seals. But you have to get outside to see them and it's cold, so bundle up, bring a DSLR camera and binoculars to get the best views. Best Walking Ports: Castro, Ushuaia, Port Stanley, Montevideo. Best Ports to use as jumping off points for Scenic Areas: Puerto Arenas (Magdalena Island), Puerto Chacabuco (Patagonia), Ushuaia (Tierra del Fuego), Puerto Madryn (Valdes Peninsula) Early Seating Dining at a Table for Eight: Great group of people, good food, and we asked for Indian menus twice during the cruise and half the table ate family style, delicious ethnic food! Lots of good wines for the flights since South American wines are added to the list. Special Dining: le Cirque. Delicious. Entertainment onboard still isn't our cuppa tea, being a bit too tame and groomed for our liking. Stage production was solid. I was impressed with the musical skills of the HAL Cats, and we had a good acoustic guitarist on board. The Adagio classical players improved the general ambience. The tango show onboard was good, but touristy. Kill me before I sit down to any ventriloquist, flutist, or magician, okay? I seek out current, upcoming, experimental and edgy talent and that has never been what HA wants to provide, nor what their audience is generally seeking. Read Less
Sail Date December 2015

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