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Sail Date: March 2009
South America & Mexico - Carnival Splendor - March 3 - 21, 2009 Overall, this was a wonderful 18-day cruise on the Splendor. This was my sixth cruise, and the third time on a Carnival ship. I was travelling "solo", ... Read More
South America & Mexico - Carnival Splendor - March 3 - 21, 2009 Overall, this was a wonderful 18-day cruise on the Splendor. This was my sixth cruise, and the third time on a Carnival ship. I was travelling "solo", however, it was nice to meet many wonderful people (a number of whom were Cruise Critic members). THE SHIP: The Splendor was a huge ship. It was fairly new (less than a year old). My balcony stateroom (Category 8A) was on the Upper Deck, cabin 6226. It was close to the bow and on the 6th deck. The room was quite large (approx. 220 sq. ft.), very bright with a wall of glass overlooking the balcony, and could easily sleep 4 people. It had a very comfortable king-sized bed (two twin beds pushed together) with lovely linens, etc. There was a sofa that converted into a single bed and also a "Pullman" bed secreted in the ceiling. There was plenty of closet and storage space. The bathroom was a decent size (shower only; no tub) with lots of room to put away toiletries, etc. The towels were plush and the bathrobe was very comfortable. There was a desk/vanity and chair, a flat screen tv and a refrigerator. There was only one electrical outlet in the room (above the desk) and one outlet in the bathroom (up high near the ceiling). There was a hairdryer in the top drawer of the desk/vanity that worked quite well. All in all, it was a very comfortable room. My only concern with the cabin was the noise from the Spectacular Lounge located directly below it. The sound-proofing was mostly non-existent, and so I heard all the rehearsals during the daytime, and also the late show at 10:30 pm each evening. It was very loud; so if you book this cabin, be prepared to live with the noise level. The balcony was smallish, but with enough room for 2 chairs and a small side table. It was quite private and it was a real treat to be able to sit outside and admire the view whenever I chose (usually I book an inside cabin). A few feet down the hall from my cabin was a door that led out to a small deck overlooking the bow of the ship. For those passengers staying in an inside cabin, it was a place to get outside without going up to the Lido deck to check the weather, get some fresh air, etc. There was a small laundry area on three of the decks with coin operated washers and dryers and on Upper Deck there was a "pressing room" with irons/ironing boards. The dEcor of the ship was very pink and the theme was circles (think large polka dots). At first it seemed quite garish, but I got used to it very quickly and never gave it another thought. There was a large atrium in the center of the ship that went all the way from 3rd deck to 11th deck. At the very top of the ship (Sky Deck) was the mini golf area and the entrance to the water slide. Below that was the Sun Deck with the "Serenity" area (an adult only area outside with deck chairs, lounges, etc.). Below that was the Spa Deck that contained the Gym and the Spa. The gym was located at the very front of the ship and had walls of glass. The gym had lots of modern equipment and it was normally quite busy. I never used the spa facilities nor the hair salon, however, it always seemed busy (especially on "formal night" days). Also on this level was a small pool and hot tub, at mid-ship was a water park for the children, and at the back of the ship was a small sports area (basketball/volleyball) and a jogging track. The track was 10 laps to a mile long and always busy with runners and walkers out getting their exercise. There was a large pool on the Lido Deck (Deck 9) with a retractable roof overhead. And at the very back of the ship was an adults only pool and hot tub. All the pools seemed to be very popular. The surrounding decks were always full of people relaxing on deck chairs, etc. Above the main pool area on the Lido Deck was a large theatre screen. There were movies and concerts playing on the screen throughout the day and evening. Because the outdoor area was so large, it never felt overly crowded. There were lots of deck chairs and tables/chairs surrounding the pools and also on Deck 11 and at the back of Deck 10 (where the smokers hung out). Near the back of the ship was the Rotisserie Restaurant which served chicken, roasted potatoes, salads, macaroni and cheese, etc.. It was upstairs from the buffet area and was a great place to have lunch away from the crowds. Inside the Lido Deck was the Grand Buffet which served a great variety of foods. There were stations on each side of the ship including a deli/sandwich area beside the aft pool, and at mid-ship a pizzeria on the port side and a grille area on the starboard side. Although it was always busy, I never had a problem finding a place to sit. There was soft serve ice cream and yogurt stations with toppings, etc. located throughout the Lido area. I found the best place to have lunch was in the Rotisserie, because it was the least crowded. As well, there were tables and chairs on Deck 10 overlooking the main pool...another good place to sit away from the crowds. The Veranda, Empress and Upper Decks all contain only passenger cabins. On the Promenade Deck (Deck 5) was where to find the upper level of the Spectacular Show Lounge, the shops, the Casino, sushi bar, video arcade and various bars/lounges. At the back of the ship was the El Morocco, a smaller show lounge. The shops were typical and, for the most part, fairly expensive. The Casino was a decent size and not too busy. There were a number of different bars and lounges, including a piano bar and a disco and karaoke area, etc. On the Atlantic Deck (Deck 4) was the mezzanine level of the Spectacular Lounge and a small library and the photo gallery area. There was a very small Internet area with a dozen computers. The internet area was an afterthought and located in a cramped area off of the Robusto Bar (a cigar bar). Also on this deck was the upper level of the Black Pearl Restaurant (mid-ship) and the upper level of the Gold Pearl Restaurant (at the back of the ship). The last deck with public rooms was the Lobby Deck (Deck 3). The main level of the Spectacular Lounge (were the lectures and evening shows took place) was large and was very comfortable. The sight lines, sound system, lighting, etc. were all fine, with just a few seats blocked by pillars. The Black Pearl and Gold Pearl Restaurants were large, well lit, well laid out, etc. I was sitting at a table for 8 on the top level of the Gold Pearl Restaurant at the back of the ship (5:45 pm; main seating). The table was always beautifully set with nice linens, crystal, china, silver, etc. The Black Pearl Restaurant was similar, except it was at mid-ship. I never ate in the Pinnacle Restaurant, but everyone I spoke with who ate there really enjoyed themselves. I gather the food and service were very good. The Purser's desk, shore excursions desk, front office, etc. were also found on the Lobby Deck. There was an outside promenade area on each side of the ship for walking, etc., but the two sides were not connected, so that meant you couldn't walk a circuit under a bit of cover. The atrium area on the Lobby Deck was always very busy. There was musical entertainment throughout the day and evening and a large dance floor. As well, there was a nice bar area for drinks before dinner. The Main and Riviera Decks were cabins only. The infirmary was on the "0" deck and was very well equipped and prepared for pretty much any type of emergency. Because many passengers and crew were suffering from an upper respiratory illness, it was one of busiest areas on the ship! There was continual cleaning and disinfecting being done by the ship's staff in the cabins as well as all the public areas. Unfortunately, that didn't seem to be good enough to keep everyone from catching the "Carnival Cough". Personally, I put the blame on the passengers with no common sense and with a generous lack of personal hygiene for continuing to spread the germs. I lost count of the number of times I saw someone use the washroom and not thoroughly wash their hands afterwards, or cough into the air or maybe into their hands and without cleaning them, handle the serving tongs, etc. in the Lido buffet. Or the people who would put their fork into a dish, taste it, like it, and put their fork right back in for another bite! I consider myself lucky that I only caught a chest cold and nothing more serious. Overall, the ship was easy to navigate and there were lots of elevators and staircases and wide hallways, etc. Therefore, it never felt overly crowded. For the able-bodied, the ship was great. For those with mobility issues, there seemed to be good access to all the public spaces, with room for wheelchairs, walkers, etc. There were some bottleneck areas near the elevators in the atrium, and also near the entrance to the dining rooms. Similar to other ships with a dining room at mid-ship and at the back of the ship and the galley between the two dining rooms, you cannot walk through decks 3 and 4 from front to back. You need to use either deck 2 or 5 and then use the stairs or elevator to access the dining room. THE PASSENGERS: Not so typical of Carnival, the majority of passengers were older. I believe the average age was about 67. About three-quarters of the passengers were from the United States and about one-quarter from Canada and elsewhere. I think there were about 3,000 passengers on board. Overall, I found the majority of people on board to be friendly and kind. This was a 49-day cruise that started in Ft. Lauderdale and sailed down the east coast of South America, around Cape Horn and then up the west coast of South America. Many of the passengers were on board for the full cruise (lucky them!) and so those of us who embarked for the last 18 days of the cruise were "outsiders", but we were welcomed and fit in easily. Like any cruise there were people on board who were bored, cranky, rude and just plain miserable. Because of the length of this cruise the number of these unhappy passengers was exaggerated. The behavior of many was just inexcusable. A number of passengers had the automatic gratuity of $10 per day taken off their account (they felt that $490 was just too much to spend) and then at the end of the cruise they stiffed their cabin stewards and dining room staff. I witnessed a few people (who had eliminated the automatic gratuity) handing their waiter a $20 bill on the last night and thinking that was appropriate! The crew worked so hard for those (automatic and extra) tips throughout the entire cruise and to be denied them was beyond insulting and cruel. CREW and CUISINE and ENTERTAINMENT: I found all the crew members I dealt with to be friendly and professional. My cabin steward (Joselito) was amazing. The front office/Purser's desk staff were always very helpful. As were the Shore Excursion desk staff. The dining room staff were terrific (Nikola and Ivan) and overall my dining experience was great. Our maitre d' was Ken Byrne, who sang every second evening and the waiters got up to dance with him. It was entertaining and lots of fun. However, entertainment in the dining room is not eveyone's cup of tea and there were some complaints. Personally, I really enjoyed it. The cruise director (Goose) was pretty much non-existent, but his staff (Jamie, Adele, Lauren, Owen, Brad) were fun and energetic. Carnival makes a point of hiring staff from around the world and I expect that there were at least 30 countries represented. I thought the food on board the ship was very good. Every evening I got to try new things. The presentation was good and the food was usually hot when it arrived at the table. The food in the Lido was also very good. I enjoyed all the variety of foods... a much larger selection than what I was expecting. I ate most of my breakfasts in the Gold Pearl Restaurant and most of my lunches in the Lido Buffet or Rotisserie. I went to about half of the shows in the Spectacular Lounge. The staff singers and dancers were the best I've seen on a cruise ship and the 3 "production" shows that they put on were excellent. The rest of the shows were typical...comedians, jugglers, singers, etc. The orchestra was comprised of a very good group of musicians and they were excellent. As well, the Elite Show Band (who usually preformed in the El Morocco Lounge) were very good. There were good musicians performing in the various lounges. All in all, the entertainment was above par. For the passengers who were on the cruise for the full 49 days, some of the entertainment became repetitive and if Carnival decides to so more long cruises, they will have to re-evaluate the entertainment being offered on board. PRE-CRUISE AND EMBARKATION: This cruise left from Valparaiso, Chile. I was on Leg 3 of the cruise (Ft. Lauderdale to Buenos Aires, Brazil - Leg 1; Buenos Aires to Valparaiso, Chile - Leg 2). I flew to Santiago, Chile on the day before the cruise and spent the night at the InterContinental Hotel in the Las Condes district. It was a typical InterContinental Hotel... clean, comfortable, well situated, etc. It was in the banking district and surrounded by a residential area - so it was safe for walking around, etc. As I had been to Santiago 3 years ago, I was o.k. with not staying downtown and touring around the city. I had arranged my hotel stay through Carnival and the transfers from the airport to the hotel and then from the hotel to the ship were included in the very reasonable cost. I was met by a Carnival representative at the entrance to the airport and we travelled in a van for 20 minutes to the hotel. Check-in at the hotel was fast and simple. There were restaurants in the hotel for dinner, as well as some very good fish restaurants in the district surrounding the hotel. A complimentary continental breakfast was served before we checked-out and boarded the bus for the transfer to the ship. The bus ride to Valparaiso was about 2 hours driving through beautiful valleys with vineyards, farms, etc. Embarkation was similar to what I've experienced in the past at other ports. I had entered all my information online before hand, and it took about 5 minutes to check in. One note for passengers flying into Santiago. The Chilean government charges an "reciprocity (entrance) fee" that was US$132 for Canadian passengers (US$131 for US passengers). This fee was paid at the airport before clearing customs and if paying in cash had to new bills only. They do accept Visa and MasterCard, but the machines are not always operational. The fee was valid for the period until expiration of the passport. Of course, I had renewed my passport since the last time I was in Chile, so I had to pay again. Note that you need to turn left as soon as you come down the escalators from the arrivals area to get in line to pay the entry fee. Then you get in another line to pass through customs. Once through customs you pass into the baggage area. You will need to put your luggage through a screening machine before leaving the baggage area. Once past security, you enter a very noisy, busy area full of people meeting passengers, etc. Keep a close watch on your luggage in this area. It is a mad crush of people and, twice, I had someone try to grab my luggage and steer me towards his "taxi". PORTS and SHORE EXCURSIONS: For this cruise I decided to book shore excursions through Carnival. Because I was travelling solo, I found it easier (and safer) to book through the cruise line. If I had been travelling with others, then researching and booking private excursions would have been appropriate. Arica, Chile I had originally booked a full day tour, but it was cancelled because we were delayed (searching for a man overboard) and only arrived in Arica in the afternoon. Arica is a busy, working port and so it was necessary to take a shuttle bus from the ship to the port entrance. It only took a few minutes and the buses ran constantly. It was a very safe, small city...easy to walk around and take in the sights and with a large handicraft market in the main square. I really enjoyed my time just walking about and the people I spoke with who did tours outside of the city (up towards the Atacama Desert) really enjoyed themselves. Lima, Peru "Grant Tour In Lima" Again, the port in Lima was a working port and so it was necessary to take a shuttle bus to the main entrance of the port where you could arrange for taxis, etc. Our 8 hour tour by bus left from the ship and we drove through Callao and on into Lima. We spent time in the main square, the Santo Domingo Convent and the San Francisco Monastery. All very old and very beautiful. We drove to the Indian Market and could have spent the whole day there....so much to see and buy. We had lunch in a restaurant in the Miraflores district (a wealthy area) that was very good and then drove to the Parque del Amor (Park of Love) overlooking the ocean. Finally, we stopped at the Gold Museum, which was very interesting. This was a good excursion that gave us a basic overview of Lima. Manta, Ecuador "Manta, Panama Hats & Montecristi" Once again, we were in a working port where shuttle buses were available to travel to the entrance for taxis, etc. This excursion was 4 hours by bus. We first stopped at the open air fish market which was fascinating. The stench was overpowering, but it was great fun to speak with the locals about the fish they had caught, etc. Tuna fish is the major industry in Manta. We then drove along the coast to Monticristi, which is a small town renowned as the home of "panama hats". It was interesting to watch how the hats are made by hand. There was a beautiful church to visit and a main square with a small handicraft market. We then drove inland a bit to the village of El Aromo and visited a small farmhouse where the family makes panama hats and sells them and locally grown coffee beans, etc. The owners were very gracious and welcoming. Finally we drove back to Manta and visited the Archaeological Museum which was very interesting. As Manta is very small, it was nice to get out of town and see some of the countryside, etc. on this tour. Acapulco, Mexico "Birds, Turtles & City Overview" Acapulco is beautiful from afar, but I found the city to be very "Americanized". I was anxious to get out of the city and this excursion was about 5 hours long. We drove through Acapulco (very heavy traffic) and then down the coast for about an hour to Tres Palos Lagoon. We boarded small wooden boats and toured through the lagoon. After that we backtracked for 20 minutes to the Sea Turtle Rescue Centre. We learned a lot about the turtles and the work being done at the centre and then had the opportunity to release a hatchling into the ocean. A very special moment for all involved. The drive back through Acapulco was scenic and took 2 hours (again because of the heavy traffic). I had no desire to wander about in the city, but many people did and enjoyed the shopping, etc. If you wanted to shop at Wal-Mart and then grab a meal at Hooters, then this was the port of call for you. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico "Colonial San Sebastian" Similar to Acapulco, I was anxious to get out of the city and instead see some of the countryside. This excursion was about 7 hours and I was in a van with 11 other passengers (so much better than a large tour bus). We drove through PV and then east up into the Sierra Madre Mountains. It was about a 90 minute drive to San Sebastian along winding mountain roads...very picturesque. The town itself has not changed much in 200 years and it was very interesting. All the streets are cobblestone and very uneven, so it is not a tour for people with mobility issues. After wandering about, we had a very good Mexican lunch at a local dining establishment. We then had more time to look about (the local cathedral was very interesting) and then drove to a local Hacienda where we spent about an hour touring inside and through the gardens. We arrived back at the ship in the late afternoon, with enough time to walk into town to do some souvenir shopping, etc. There is a large handicraft market right beside where the ship docks, and a large shopping centre across the road. I spoke with a few people who did whale watching tours in PV, and they all raved about how wonderful it was. Next time in PV, that will be at the top of my "to do" list. Los Angeles (Long Beach), California "Getty Museum" As Los Angeles was the first US port of call since Ft. Lauderdale, all passengers and crew had to pass through customs and immigration that morning. For US citizens, the line-ups were negligible. For the rest of us, we stood for 2 hours in the cold wind (very foggy and damp that morning) and finally cleared customs at 11:45 am. This left very little time for touring. Long Beach is very accessible and there is a free shuttle bus for use throughout the day. I opted for an excursion by bus to the Getty Museum. The bus ride took about 1 hour and we had about 2.5 hours to tour the museum. The Getty collection is amazing and really you need a full day to appreciate everything there was to see. In the afternoon the air cleared a bit and so we were able to see a bit of the city. The drive back to the ship took 2 hours through horrific rush hour traffic. The last (Carnival) tour bus didn't arrive back at the ship until 20 minutes after sailing time. Fortunately, the captain was in no hurry to leave, so everyone made it back safely on board. We had 11 "sea days", which was quite different from most cruises. I found the sea days to be very relaxing. The weather was hot and sunny, so I was able to be out on deck quite a bit walking or just sitting and reading a book, etc. There were lots of activities planned throughout the day, so there was never any chance to become bored. Some favorite activities were the arts & crafts classes in the early morning, bridge instruction and games, ballroom dancing classes, and the trivia contests held throughout the day. There was a naturalist on board (Dirk) who gave talks on sea days. He was very interesting and his talks on whales were the best. San Francisco, California I decided to book a transfer to the airport through Carnival once I was on board the ship. I figured it would be less stressful and less expensive than trying to get a taxi by myself, etc. after disembarking. I boarded the bus at 9:30 am. and the trip to the airport took about 30 minutes (we had to wait until the bus was full). The International Airport was very busy (Saturday of Spring Break). However, it only took 25 minutes to check in, drop off my luggage and get through security. DISEMBARKATION: Disembarkation was very smooth. Because my flight was not until 12:30 pm I was in Zone 4. We were called to leave the ship around 9:30 am. The first people off the ship (self-assist) left around 7:45 am. Once off the ship, we had to pick-up our luggage which was set out by zone number and then walk a short distance to the bus to the airport. It was so hard to say good-bye to the ship...I certainly wasn't prepared to leave. FINAL COMMENT: As stated at the beginning, I had a wonderful cruise vacation. The 18 days I was on board certainly lived up to all my expectations. Carnival is known for their 7-day "fun ship" cruises and so this whole experience of a long cruise to mostly new ports was probably a bit difficult for them. I think the crew and staff did an excellent job during some very trying situations. With the down-turn in the economy, I can't see Carnival doing another long repositioning cruise like this one, but you never know. I will certainly cruise Carnival again (long or short cruise, I don't care). Read Less
Sail Date: March 2007
This is not only a review of our cruise but also a warning to anyone anticipating taking the 23 day cruise on the Star Princess for the spring of 2008 on a similar itinerary stopping in Acapulco, Mexico. This cruise though booked for 23 ... Read More
This is not only a review of our cruise but also a warning to anyone anticipating taking the 23 day cruise on the Star Princess for the spring of 2008 on a similar itinerary stopping in Acapulco, Mexico. This cruise though booked for 23 days was treated by Princess as a 16 day cruise from Santiago, Chile to Acapulco then a 7 day cruise to San Francisco. Some passengers started their cruise in Buenos Aires 12 days earlier. The first 16 days were enjoyable. Even though we had "Any Time Seating" we identified a waiter and his assistant that were excellent and requested a reservation at their table for 6 PM each evening. The food was as usual for Princess, nothing extraordinarily scrumptious. The norovirus raised it's ugly head causing the suspension of bread baskets, salt and pepper shakers and sugar packets being placed on the dining tables toward the end of the 23 days. Self service at the buffet was also eliminated to the point of not being able to fill your own coffee cup or tea glass. We found that there was always entertainment available from the main acts and production shows in the Princess theater to other live music and first run movies in the evenings on the promenade deck at different venues. More constant entertainment than found on most cruise ships but with the usual singers that stepped on each other's acts with their own renditions of Neil Diamond, Tom Jones and Bobby Darin. The main band was exceptional in setting up with musicians and vocalists that only came on board for short 1 to 2 day performances then flying back to Australia and the UK. The production dancers and singers were not exceptional. Always look for the one singer or dancer with that extra energy or vocal ability. No one was found, no one out shown any one else which results in average. Tours were as usual overpriced but in some instances required to make the most use of time and the absence of alternatives. Shuttle service was provided at South American ports at $10 round trip per person. The port of San Martin's purpose is only as a jumping off point for Machu Picchu tours. Three charter planes were brought in to the local Peruvian military air field to take 300 guests to Cusco. No matter how attractive the city of Pisco is described it is not worth your visit from this port. As we did, you may not want to get off of the shuttle bus. A walk from the port area along the bay is better. The trip to Machu Picchu is expensive and can be done for less if you plan to return to Peru. The contractor that Princess uses (Condor Travel) is excellent. The first day is spent being accustomed to the altitude in Cusco. A little cocoa tea at your hotel and a little rest prior to your city tour which ends with the always shopping stop, which should not be mandatory for everyone. More rest at the hotel would please some. The early morning trip to Machu Picchu and the return in the evening arriving back in Cusco at 9 PM is tedious (dinner after). 3.5 hours train ride to the ruins, bus ride to the site, lunch, tour of the site (3 hours), bus ride back to the train, a mandatory hour plus shopping at the train station and 3.5 hours back to Cusco. Our group which left from Lima and reboarded the ship at Manta, Ecuador was ideal at 33 with guides and a nurse from the ship. We could each claim a window seat on our flight from Lima to Manta on our charter aircraft. Arriving in Manta it took inexperienced immigration officers 45 minutes to process 33 people. The cruise continued on as previously enjoyed until Acapulco. A rumor had spread through the ship during the first 16 days, with no confirmation from ship's personnel, that spring breakers would join the ship in Acapulco. We also were made aware by our UK friends that they had not been allowed to book the onward cruise to San Francisco but were required to disembark in Acapulco. As we got closer to our 16th day our excellent waiter provided us with more up to date rumor information that we could expect 500 family members (parents and children) boarding in Acapulco. It was an onerous statement uttered by a street vendor in Acapulco when I objected to his continued sales harassment of my wife "this is Mexico" that foretold our future. Golden Princess became a Carnival ship sailing the Caribbean at spring break. If this is your idea of a pleasurable experience stop reading now. We started off with what would be considered Princess's usual mature clientele and ended with uncontrolled/unsupervised minors and irresponsible parents condoning their actions through their absence. Running in the passageways at all hours of the day and night, hide and seek in the buffet area, pranks, jumping down the stairways, cart wheels and tumbling in the atrium. Never a parent in control. The ship had been turned into a child friendly play area with no controls, no security watches evident for passenger's safety on a ship at sea. Our excellent cabin steward's schedule was destroyed because he never knew whether the key slot requests for "make up my room" or "privacy please" were correct. After walking in on couple asleep he was required to wait until later in the morning to be sure he would not intrude on passengers. On a cruise have you ever seen a child sitting on a sink in a public restroom with his feet in the bowl pumping soap as fast as he could go, down the drain? The crew of the Golden Princess were placed in a terrible situation. They had no authorization of control. Even though the buffet area was under the highest food safety controls children bypassed clean hand protocol and use of utensils to help themselves to food items. Dining room ambiance was destroyed with parents who would not sit with their own children. The Purser's office could only empathize with guests listening to their complaints, expressing their own concerns. To my knowledge no one was injured by impact sending an elderly passenger to the hospital. Luckily we had a nice cabin with balcony and spent the major part of our last seven days, when not ashore, holed up there out of the main stream of traffic. Visits to the entertainment venues in the evening, strolling along the promenade deck and dinner dining with our excellent waiter were halted until our last evening onboard. We substituted room service and quick visits to the buffet for dinner and quick walks to the Vista Lounge for entertainment, avoiding high traffic areas. Both of these areas were at the aft of the ship and could be accessed by the rear stairs and elevators. So this is our last cruise. Between oversold airliners which delay flights in an effort to get passengers to default to next day flights or circuitous itineraries. By the way did you know if you book your air with Princess and have a problem you are on your own? If you miss a flight it is up to you to pay any additional flight charges to get to the ship. The help line, forget it, they have no authority. If you cannot depend on Princess's brochure statements as to their concern for your cruise enjoyment it's time to stop. Read Less
Sail Date: March 2007
Golden Princess Part Two - Valparaiso to Acapulco Having missed the Cruise Critic get together that I had arranged, due to the chaos at the embarkation, we settled in with our reduced table of 8 for the remainder of the cruises, moving ... Read More
Golden Princess Part Two - Valparaiso to Acapulco Having missed the Cruise Critic get together that I had arranged, due to the chaos at the embarkation, we settled in with our reduced table of 8 for the remainder of the cruises, moving from the Donatello down to the Bernini with our waiters Antonio and Placido. They were a real treat, and we were almost nightly provided with some special surprise not on the regular menu. The next day was Coquimbo for La Serena. There was a shuttle from the pier to La Serena, which is a pretty, compact town with a very well done Archaeological Museum and a large open air market. There are a few buildings of the colonial era and a university. The university freshmen were undergoing some sort of initiation ritual which required them to paint their faces and clothing and ask for money from everyone in town which added a little spice to an otherwise unremarkable stop. We did view the museum which has one of several moai, or heads, from Easter Island. Each one (there was one in front of the archeology museum on the Valparaiso stop as well) purports to be the only head available to be seen off the island, but the one in La Serena looked to be authentic and there were photographs of the removal from Easter Island. My only issue with this very good set of ethnographic displays was the lack of any English translation materials. My high school Spanish wasn't really up to doing justice to the narrative, but I was able to at least puzzle out some of the information. The market was a bit of a mixed bag, with some very nice jewelry places and a lot of the usual 'made for tourists' stuff that we saw everywhere. There were a couple of ships tours offered here, and we did explore the possibility of a private tour as well, but on the advice we read in the South America ports forum, we decided to just do the shuttle, and wander on our own. This turned out to be a fine decision, and we also hit the grocery story to stock up on some of the excellent and inexpensive Chilean wines. Ship's tours took you into the countryside to view the petroglyphs or to the Tololo Observatory, some included winery visits, or the Pisco distillery as well. Some folks also left from here to do - I believe privately arranged - tours of Machu Picchu. I should take a moment here, too, to mention some of the on-board activities that I neglected to address in part one of this review. During the first two legs of this cruise - Buenos Aires to Valparaiso and Valparaiso to Acapulco, we were fortunate to have Port Lecturer Joe May - a truly wonderful and knowledgeable gentleman. He provided very interesting and entertaining port lectures, and, with his signature red shirt, was on hand during the day at the shore excursions desk to address questions, and on shore to assist with anything that came up. He didn't object to being approached even when he wasn't officially on duty, either. Other 'Scholarship@Sea' lecturers were, in my opinion, not as gifted as Joe - we had Elvira Schwartz as the historical lecturer dealing with the history of the various areas we were visiting. I was a history major in college and was quite looking forward to these talks, but found them both difficult to follow and not particularly enlightening and only attended two. Another speaker was Dr. Zimmerman, a 'celebrity biographer' and others who were in our dinner group did attend some of his talks and enjoyed them. I'm not much on celebrity gossip so can't say personally. The remaining S.@S. programs were the usual complement of computers and digital photography, bridge, ceramics, etc. that are part of the program on pretty much every Princess cruise. Following Coquimbo, we had a sea day, and then arrived in Arica, in the northernmost corner of Chile. Here we had arranged a tour with AndeanDuncan Tours, recommended highly on the Cruise Critic South America ports of call forum by Edinburgher. Contact information is as follows: Yungay 343 D-13, Arica, Chile. Fono 56.58-232716 Cel: 09-5258095 E-mail: andean_duncantours@vtr.net www.andeanduncantour.blogspot.com The tour was led by Joanne Duncan and her daughter Carolina and was one of the highlights of our whole trip. Arica is an amazing place, with such stark contrasts between the very dry and desolate hills and the verdant valley and Joanne is a wonderful guide and charming personality who knows the area exceptionally well. Our itinerary included the town of Arica which was preparing for a visit from the President who was there to officially create a new district - the equivalent of statehood - for the Arica area. (we seemed to be on the trail of politicians - Bush in Montevideo, the President of Chile in Arica!) Our original itinerary was tweaked a bit to deal with the security concerns, but Joanne got us into every place we wanted to see. In Arica proper, we did a brief walking tour, saw the San Marcos Cathedral designed by Gustave Eiffel, the railroad museum, and the town square. We had to skip the Morro view point as the security folks had that roped off. We then piled into the van (which was a pretty tight fit with 9 of us, Joanne, Carolina, and Carolina's boyfriend who joined us at this point to help out with the tour - I would suggest no more than 8, and preferably 6 people for everyone's comfort) After a drive along the coast line and beaches, we headed inland to view the mysterious petroglyphs found on the hillside above the river valley throughout the region. These huge carvings of llamas, people, and geometric symbols are thought to have been the equivalent of road signs indicating areas where supplies were stored or where villages were found along the trading routes from the Andes to the sea. We visited one such storage area that had been partially excavated and made several stops to view and take pictures. Moving into the countryside along the riverbed, we stopped at the farm of a friend of Joanne's for a rest stop, a walk around the farm which featured ostriches and dairy goats and a variety of crops, and then had a wonderful surprise snack of cured olives, fruit, juices, goat cheese from the farm that was about the best I've ever tasted, and the ubiquitous Pisco Sour. Then we returned to the van for a drive up and over the ridges to the town of Ponconchile and its church with a small market in front. Following this stop was our lunch stop in a small local restaurant where we were offered the specialty of the region - Pastel de Choclo - a one dish meal, although there were also other items available on the menu. Most of us ordered one portion between two people to share, as we'd already filled up on our snacks at the farm stop, and it was more than enough. This was another unique element of this wonderful tour as it was clear that no tour bus had ever been to this small family run restaurant. It was very clean, and the food was quite tasty. We were each provided with a copy of the recipe for the Pastel de Choclo, as well. One of our group had seen the write ups of the 'grass free' golf course, so we rearranged our tour itinerary to include this quite unique attraction as well as some additional nearby geoglyphs. We also visited the San Miguel de Azapa Archeological Museum with its ancient mummies. There really was not a ship's tour that included all the things we did, but the Arica City Tour and Geoglyphs at $51/person, plus the Arica, Atacama Desert, and Chinchorro Culture at $99/person each had elements of our tour which was priced at $50/person, with lunch extra. Arica was followed by a sea day, with our next port being San Martin for Pisco. It was here that the ship's tours to Machu Picchu departed, to rejoin the ship on our second day in Callao/Lima. Also offered at this port were the overflights of the Nazca Lines. The terrain here is quite similar to Arica, and it is, in fact, an extension of the vast Atacama Desert which stretches up the coastline of South America through Chile and Peru. Again the desert dunes are split by fertile river valleys, and excursions were offered to Tambo Colorado and the Paracas Peninsula. The Princess tour provider for all the tours in Peru, including the Machu Picchu tour, and also for the shuttle in Ecuador, was Condor Travel, and they were universally excellent. Guides were easily identifiable, spoke excellent English, and were very knowledgeable. We selected a ship's tour here - the Islas Ballestas Wildlife Cruise. While this cruise is offered from the piers of a resort in Pisco, it appeared that for the morning tours, all the available seats and boats had been booked by the ship. Passengers not on ship's tours appeared to have to wait for space available after all the ship's tour folks were accommodated. We selected a morning tour, based on the good advice of Joe May, as well as Edinburgher and others on the port of call forums, as the afternoons were reported to be often choppy, and indeed, seas were building as we returned. The Islas Ballestas are called the mini-Galapagos, and have an abundance of wildlife that outstrips anything I have ever seen. Thousands of birds of various species, sea lions, penguins - all in a bewildering variety and with an unbelievable stench. These islands are also mined for guano - the accumulated manure of all these creatures that is used in making fertilizer. The small boats - each carries about 20 to 25 people - thread through the islands, under the sea arches, approaching quite close to the islands, as hundreds of birds wheel overhead. It is no wonder there is such a market for the safari type hats sold for $3 to $5 on the pier! Joe May recommended the purchase of these for all those heading out on this excursion. The profusion of birds, the coves and shores covered with baby sea lions and seals, the penguins clambering over the rocks above and the cacophony of bird calls, sea lion and seals barking - it is quite the sensory experience. On the way out to the Islas, the boat also pauses for a look at El Candelabro - another of the huge geoglyphs common in the region. We had calm seas and sunshine for the morning excursion, but noticed that the wind was picking up and the chop was increasing as we returned to the piers at the resort. The resort has a nice gift shop and lovely grounds as well as a restaurant and bar. This tour is probably easily done independently, by taxi from the ship's anchorage to the town, but if you are on a larger ship, be aware that all the available morning seats might be reserved by the ship's tours. Based on the write ups in the ports of call forum, passengers on smaller ships did not have this problem. From San Martin, and with a smaller compliment of passengers, we made our way to Callao for Lima, which was an overnight stop, to accommodate the Machu Picchu tours. We arrived bright and early in Callao, the port for Lima. Here our tour provider was Peru Gateway Travel. Contact information follows: Marcos Cuya mailto:marcos@perugatewaytravel.com marcos@perugatewaytravel.com Sales Department Peru Gateway Travel - Orquidea Tours Av. Pardo 601 Dpto 701 - 702 Lima 18 - PERU Phone : +51 1 - 4443027- 4443031 - 4443032 Fax : +51 1- 2421273 www.peruexplorer.com www.orquidea.net Our referral for this tour was BCHappyGirl and it was another highlight. We had an excellent guide, of mixed European and Indian heritage, who made a point throughout the day of sharing with us the conflicted feeling she had about various aspects of her country's history. We began, thankfully early and in the relative cool, with the Pachacamac Ruins - a huge complex of ruins of a religious site on the outskirts of Lima. We climbed the Pyramid of the Sun, saw the reconstructed House of the Women - the home of the priestesses, and were on our way into Lima for our tour of the city before the first of the big buses arrived. Lima has the most amazing and wildest traffic of any place we have ever visited, including Rome. There seem to be traffic suggestions rather than rules as people seem to drive pretty much wherever and however they want to. I was filled with awe and admiration of our van driver as he made his way through this madness, and always managed to find a parking place and get us all in and out of the various attractions in one piece! We visited the Cathedral with the tomb of Pizarro, the San Francisco Monastery where we were able, as a small group, to go to some areas not generally open to the public such as the second floor library. We then toured the catacombs - a rather claustrophobic experience - and then were off to lunch at a lovely restaurant called Mangos in a very upscale shopping center that overlooks the bay. The shuttle from the ship dropped and picked up across the street at the Marriott. Following lunch, we headed back into town for a stop at the Indian Market - there are several of these, and our guide selected the one she felt was the best. It stretched for several blocks and had everything imaginable from the usual weavings and llama skin rugs to CDs of the ubiquitous Peruvian flute music (our guide helped me find a wonderful one and negotiate a price) to lovely jewelry and decorative pieces such as trays and coasters made with a beautiful black and red seed from a tree in the Peruvian rain forest. After a brief orgy of shopping, we headed back to the van and off to the Gold Museum. This famous attraction houses the collections of one man - a doctor, with a passion for collecting. The main museum houses a remarkable collection of pre-Colombian gold and other artifacts and an absolutely amazing hodgepodge of military weapons, uniforms, and gear - bridles and tack for cavalry horses, swords, pistols, and uniforms from all over the world, some of which purportedly belonged to various famous and infamous historical figures. It would have been easy to spend a full day in this amazing place. Surrounding the main museum there are a number of upscale shops and jewelry stores. In fact, the ship offers a half day tour, just to the Gold Museum. The nearest equivalent ship's tour to ours would be the Grand Lima City, Gold Museum and Indian Market at $129/person, but this did not include the Pachacamac ruins. Only one tour was offered to these, in combination with a hacienda and horse show at $139. Our tour was $83/person, prepaid by credit card, including lunch. The ship remains in Callao overnight, affording the option to do evening tours and/or dinner in Lima, but after a full day of touring, we opted to stay on board for the evening, nor did we venture beyond the pier during the morning stay. In the evening, a quite good local folkloric show was presented in the Princess Theater. The costumes were gorgeous and the dancing and music was very good. The folkloric shows were a very nice addition to the evening entertainment, which was otherwise pretty forgettable. The vendors set up very elaborate mini-shops right at the pier, and in addition to the ship's shuttle (for a fee) there is also a free shuttle that goes to Stern's Jewelry Store in Miraflores. The vendors remained at dockside until the gangways were pulled in, so you can get your shopping fix quite easily, and there were some lovely things being offered. We collected up our returning passengers from Machu Picchu, and cast off in the early afternoon, to head to Ecuador, where our stop was in Manta. A day trip to Quito was on offer for $695. We took the free shuttle from the ship to the shopping area set up for passengers. Other tours took in the Ivory Nut carving factory in the nearby town of Montecristi, which is famous for the cottage industry production of Panama hats. Both crafts were displayed at the marketplace, as well. Manta is clearly a very poor place and security was very tight around the market area. We didn't really feel comfortable wandering away from the compound, but did enjoy the market, and there were a lot of Panama hats in evidence for the rest of the cruise. Good buys here also included beautiful hand embroidery work on table linens and clothing items. Another sea day, during which we rather weirdly had the crossing the equator ceremony (since we'd crossed the equator in the middle of the previous night...) and the usual silliness prevailed. I'm not really fond of the crossing of the equator ceremonies as too often they seem unnecessarily humiliating, but lots of folks attended and from the ship souvenir video a good time was had by all - or at least by most... Early the next morning, we arrived at Panama, where we tendered into Fuerte Amador. We had arranged for a private tour here, with Easy Travel Panama, and our tour guide was the owner, Judith Tovar. Judith is a Panamanian of European descent who has recently started a tour business. Contact information follows: Judy Tovar Easy Travel Panama Cellular (507) 6-617-4122 www.easytravelpanama.net We visited the fort, the older parts of Panama City, the new developing waterfront area, including the site where Donald Trump is putting up a large and predictably expensive condo and retail complex, the old U.S. bases - on which Judy lives having bought one of the homes when the bases were turned over to the Panamanian government and the housing was auctioned off - up to the look out point which formerly housed fortifications and guns that protected the Canal. Judy took us by Noriega's home, now derelict, but in a lovely neighborhood, and finally to a local grocery - also on a former base - so we could stock up on wine. We had done the full transit of the canal so we passed on the visit to the locks, but we were able to get a bird's eye view of the canal from the top of the hill on the base. This was quite a nice tour and we enjoyed Judith enormously. She is quite personable, speaks exceptionally good English, and has a deep love of her country and enjoys sharing its history and sights with her guests. Cost per person was $50 for a half day tour. Another sea day and we arrived in Puntarenas Costa Rica. This was listed as a tender port but we docked. We had originally booked the Zipline tour here, but chickened out and cancelled, and ended up just walking around the port area, which housed a few blocks of stands, and enjoying a day on board. There are an abundance of tours offered here, but everything is an hour or more away from the port, and we were, by this time, just plain tired, and didn't feel like we wanted to do the long bus rides. One more sea day - the Captain's Farewell Cocktail Party and our 3rd formal night of THIS segment - fifth of the cruise, and then arrival in Huatulco. Huatulco is another of the Mexican government's made for tourism towns, in a picturesque setting, with lovely resorts and lots of upscale shops. We opted for the river rafting tour - another ship's tour. This was a not very good idea as it had been very dry and the river was very very low. We have never worked so hard on an excursion! There was very little current, a lot of paddling, almost no rapids, and over all, not a great excursion. This is probably fun if there has been rain and the river actually has some water in it. Otherwise, not great. And then this section of the cruise was over, with our arrival in Acapulco. The disembarkation and embarkation (and transiting passenger) process was better here than anywhere else on the whole trip. The cruise terminal seems well organized and the process was smooth start to finish as far as we could tell. Transiting passengers were handled efficiently and with minimal fuss and bother. We had cancelled our tour here because we feared it would be a repeat of the mess in Valparaiso and didn't want to take a chance. We walked across the street from the ship and toured the fort, which was very interesting, and then returned to the ship for the rest of the day and evening, but taking a more extensive tour here would be fine, as they seem to have the process quite well managed. Read Less

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