Overall we are very pleased with the way things went. We were apprehensive about what we'd face upon arriving in Lima. All went very well. The Delta flights from home and connection for ATL-LIM went well. We delighted in seeing the ... Read More
Overall we are very pleased with the way things went. We were apprehensive about what we'd face upon arriving in Lima. All went very well. The Delta flights from home and connection for ATL-LIM went well. We delighted in seeing the lights of the canal across the Panamanian isthmus. In Lima, as we exited the bureaucratic entry containment area into the public reception area, there at 1:15am was a man with a Princess Cruises sign; he worked for Lima Tours. He expected 2 other couples who were no-shows which kept us waiting for an hour before being driven in a comfortable car to the hotel. For the cost of the extra night at the Swissotel, it was an excellent value for the comfortable room with a comfortable sitting area and a bathroom with separate tub and walk-in shower. It's location in a neighborhood with embassies and international businesses gave us a sample of Lima's cosmopolitan atmosphere for the walks we took, once we woke up in the late morning.
Lima Tours had two agents stationed most of the day-before-departure in the hotel's lobby. They accompanied us throughout the excursion until we reached the cruise boarding terminal in Valparaiso, Chile. Our group of 72 divided into 4 once we arrived in Cuzco; each group had it's own local guide for the days in the mountains; ours had 16. We were in comfortable medium sized buses. The two Lima Tours guides from Lima continually handled logistics and problems (most folks had no idea of the extent of their work, especially that of Juan Carlos Nina, who when we left him in Valparaiso well disguised his exhaustion.) The mountain excursion had us bouncing Cusco's 11,150 ft., Chincheros 12,343ft and Aguas Calientes comfortable 6,693ft. Machu Picchu above Aguas Calientes is only 8,040 ft. I believe that the sites visited gave us an excellent sample of the Sacred Valley of the Inca. All accommodations and meals were excellent! Our local guide was good; I won't rate him excellent because of some language difficulties which I can understand. We were surprised at how easily we began speaking in Spanish comfortably. But, we would hit mental blocks for the right words in speaking and listening. We talked with folks on the ship, mostly Europeans and Australians/New Zealanders and Latin Americans who did other Machu Picchu excursions. None could praise their experience as we did. Another kudo to Juan Carlos Nina, every day he provided a an updated itinerary for the next day that included instructions for handling luggage and contact information.
Weeks before departure we asked Princess about what we would do in limbo-land between our early am flight from Cuzco to Lima and 5:50 pm departure for Santiago. I rate Princess response a "0" on a scale of "0 - 10". Fortunately Lima Tours had a most acceptable solution. They provided a tour of Lima's major sights followed by a meal before returning to the airport for the Santiago flight. Lima Tours had originally planned for us to have a 12:15pm flight to Santiago, not the 5:50pm flight.
The Marriott Renaissance Hotel in Santiago was a disaster. Our group arrived at 1:30am. There was no extra staff to handle our luggage. So, spouse & I hauled it ALL to our room over the vociferous objections of hotel staff. - We wanted to go to bed ASAP. (Others in the group followed our lead.) The room was comfortable, but several fixtures didn't work. Then, in the morning, we placed our luggage (as usual) for pick up and transport. Only this time the Marriott decided that clients and baggage had to share the same elevators. We waited for 4 elevators before there was space for customers. Getting out of the elevator meant stumbling over randomly scattered luggage. Then, when we were to leave, Marriott's valet service had parked cars that blocked the access for the luggage truck and for our bus.
Ah, finally aboard a Princess ship in Valparaiso -- only to find what looked like vomit stains on the drawer faces on one side of the bed - quickly cleaned by the steward. Who know what else he hadn't cleaned; but, that's why we carry hydrogen peroxide wipes to go through our cabin before unpacking. - We do another wipe down on any cruise longer than 10 days.
We chose not to tour Puerto Montt in case we needed time to recover from the Andean excursion. A good choice, no one we talked with felt that the tours were worth the cost. We walked the waterfront from the dock to downtown, a well designed area that is decidedly neglected in maintenance.
The Amalia Glacier and Chilean fjords were enjoyable but nothing special in the context of Alaskan cruises. Navigation through the Straits of Magellan, the Beagle Channel, and all twists and turns in between there and Cape Horn are amazing. The estancia guide (Ursula) at Punta Arenas was among the best on all prior 19 Princess cruises - enthusiastic, very knowledgeable, great supportive artifacts that she shared trustfully; the Fitz Roy estancia was pure tourist show - sheep shearing on a working cattle ranch. The guide at Ushuaia ranks with the worst - totally no enthusiasm. And, the tour was like visiting a remote lake in the state of Maine.
The sail around Cape Horn can't be described. We had excellent weather, wind, wind, wind, and sun (if you count dressing for heavy winter winds and cold weather as normal). Did I mention the cold wind?
Wow!! How could sailors 500 years ago, let alone 200 years ago navigate and survive those waters?
OK -- we reached the Falkland Islands. We decided that "walking the town" would be our excursion, rather than the originally planned penguin tour. Meandering around Port Stanley was worth it. A very interesting outpost of the UK - loyal Brits to the end. They readily accepted our UK pounds left over from last year's visit to London.
Uruguay: Surprised at the depressing lack of modernity in Montevideo, albeit the vibrant activity on the streets. The Princess excursion to an estancia/farm/ranch was well done. En-route, however, suburban and exurban conditions along the expressway disappointed our previously optimistic expectations of Uruguay.
Argentina: Puerto Madryn, prior day to arrival in Montevideo - a good Princess tour to a working sheep estancia - greatly enjoyed by spouse who was drafted to help haul a ewe to its sheering. A guanaco wandered into our luncheon dining room to nudge, in hope for a handout, the tourists. And, we saw some interesting play among sea lions in their protected habitat at a preserve en route back to our ship.
Between 5 days in Uruguay and Argentina we had the best beef ever. All is range fed, no feedlot stuffing for fat. Since returning to the US, we haven't had any beef as good.
Buenos Aires: Fantastically modern central city - replete with traffic congestion. Beautiful parks throughout and expansive park-like highway exchanges in the suburbs; very cosmopolitan feel. Once you get into the countryside, the roads (mostly private toll expressways) are "rough and tumble" - to be polite. The Princess excursions are very good. On our last day, we took a city tour that didn't hide the rough spots, but included a fantastic 1 hr+ tango show, preceded by an excellent meal, more Argentine steak and lamb.
Unlike what we have experienced with Princess promoted excursions in the Caribbean, Hawaii, Alaska and Europe, all of the excursion luncheons on this cruise were very good. There were ALWAYS options other than chicken. (Princess, take the hint.) We had excellent lamb and beef.
On-board the Crown Princess, service was typically Princess, usually very good to excellent. The food was better than usual in that the chef knew that there are seasonings other than salt. The Chef Curtis Stone option, of Food Network fame, are promoted on each menu; however, he knows only salt. One taste, no more. Promoting him is a waste of our money.
We had one problem that we feel Princess treated badly. Dining room staff could not find an unfinished bottle of wine from a previous evening. Staff claimed that the only wine record was for a prior finished bottle. The attitude was that I was trying to cheat Princess out of a bottle of (inexpensive) wine. I told the head waiter that I wouldn't let him insult me further and would present my daily folio with the wine order to Passenger Services - Princess does not routinely provided receipts for carry over on wine bottles. The next day we were welcomed with open arms and apologies when they found the bottle after my complaint at passenger services. I don't fault the waiter who handled the order. I fault the ATTITUDE OF SENIOR DINING STAFF in failed problem solving and failed customer service.
As far as the sailing, it was a smooth cruise overall. The only challenging, but not uncomfortable part had a few hours of 65-70 knot winds T-boning the starboard side of the ship. This was much better than many prior cruisers on this route have experienced.
Delta's "Economy Comfort +" is an oxymoron. The bloke on the return flight next to me thought that I'd sleep better with his elbow in my ribs. Had spouse been in my seat she could have complained with an assault charge. Also, my hand arthritis kicked in. I couldn't open a beverage. The Delta flight attendant's attitude was totally gratuitous and demeaning, not only with that request, but with service in general. Delta needs to learn that its paying customers are their first priority, not their stock investors. Fortunately, Atlanta arrival immigration, and transfer to the domestic flight went smoothly. Based on prior experiences with luggage handling, and TSA passenger management experiences, Atlanta has been our least favorite eastern US entro portal. This time, however, all went well.
To conclude, Princess needs to do a better job of informing clients about pre-cruise arrangements. The excellent handling by Lima Tours doesn't make up for Princess Cruises' faults. The Andean land tour is excellent, and well worth the premium price, except for the buffoons at the Marriott hotel in Santiago. For the cruise, passengers should not expect a tranquil Caribbean experience. The itinerary goes through some of the world's roughest waters. We were exceptionally lucky weatherwise. All of the ports were interesting and gave us a perspective that most North of the Equator travellers don't have. As far as flights, we avoided a couple of US airlines because of the horrible customer reputation, only to experience on the Buenos Aires Aires to Atlanta leg of the trip a Delta cattle car treatment.
Would we do the cruisetour again? Yes. For air travel it may be worth going business class. Read Less