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1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: December 2012
Christmas is supposed to be magical and so is a cruise! Our 16 member family boarded the Celebrity Infinity in Valparaiso, Chile on December 2012 and it was magical! The ship is beautiful and was awesomely decorated for the holidays! It ... Read More
Christmas is supposed to be magical and so is a cruise! Our 16 member family boarded the Celebrity Infinity in Valparaiso, Chile on December 2012 and it was magical! The ship is beautiful and was awesomely decorated for the holidays! It had Christmas written all over it from gingerbread towns, Christmas flowers (red Poinsettias), the holiday music everywhere, to the best Social Host that kept the ship alive (I believe he was Argentinean, funny and fun!), showing up at all unexpected places, keeping people happy and entertained at all times. The ports of call were incredible: from Chile to Buenos Aires, what can you not love about it? Everything from sea life to nature to glaciers. The meals were excellent, as was the service. The cabins are beautiful (we had verandas and some preferred the Ocean Views because of the smaller children). They have a great feature on this ship: connecting rooms for bigger families with children. The kids Club and Teen’s Club as stated by the kids themselves, were great!). The Dining Room staff was so accommodating for such a big group and treated our ‘younglings ‘with so much care! Would definitely recommend and return on a Celebrity cruise! Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: December 2011
Day 1 Check in was supposed to be between 12 and 3 with sail away being at 4pm. We arrived at about 12:45. There was a hold up loading onto the boat, something about customs and coast guard where doing inspections. We didn't get ... Read More
Day 1 Check in was supposed to be between 12 and 3 with sail away being at 4pm. We arrived at about 12:45. There was a hold up loading onto the boat, something about customs and coast guard where doing inspections. We didn't get to check in till about 2pm. Check in was typically slow but smooth. Finally, we are onboard. The ship is quaint and lovely with a lot of dark wood and antiques. The perfect atmosphere for an adventure like the Amazon. Cabin is typical ship close quarters. We have been upgraded to a balcony, which I am really glad about. I am reminded of the reasons that I really should always book a balcony. The extra space and view is such an asset. Also, I really like the ability to leave the balcony door open and get fresh air. We are on the late dinner at 8:15. By this time we are a bit bushed, having to get up at 4:00 in the morning. Dinner selection was varied and it was quiet a decision making process. I settled on spring rolls for an app and Fettuccini Alfrado, which I requested a chicken breast be added to. They had no problem with my request. Love good food and good service. Sean had a seafood pate that he loved for an app and a crawfish dinner that ended up looking like a potpie. He also liked that but Sean is the least picky eater there is and would never complain. I figured that a table for six would give us a great opportunity to meet some people. The one couple was from Southern California and they are great. They engaged everyone else and really kept the conversation going. Enjoyed dinner very much. After dinner we were just too tired and skipped the show. Which was too bad it was a comedian and we wanted to catch it.... always next time. Day 2 This is a day at sea. There is quite a swell and the boat is swaying. Slept in ...yeah! Missed breakfast but headed to the buffet for coffee. Sat outside on the stern of the ship. Ended up sitting with the nicest lady. She was so interesting, on the ship by herself. She lives in a golf community in Orlando and has traveled everywhere. She was like a one woman travel show, mention a well know destination and get a first hand play by play. Everywhere from a safari in Tanzania, Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, Egypt, Europe and a less than inspiring trip to China. She spoke of visiting Tuscany in September and the wild animals of Africa with such passion that I wanted to start booking trips. That is one thing I have noticed about this cruise, the people on board are avid travelers and there is constant talk and comparison of cruise lines and destinations. Lunch was amazing. They had a Chinese buffet, complete with dragon ice sculpture. The food was excellent and I though Sean was going to OD on sushi. After lunch the sway of the ship got the better of me. I headed to the room for a little time out. Ended up having to put a seasickness patch on, kind of feel like I gave in but I don't want to be unable to enjoy the cruise. We did make it down to the art auction. They are always so interesting to watch but I think a lot where thinking like us. There were many people watching but no one buying. Formal night tonight but we have decided to opt out of the formal dinner. The dinning room is at the stern of the ship and I was worried the motion of the boat would be bad. Not to mention that Sean really didn't want to dress up. Day 3 St Maarten St. Maarten is a lovely island, from what we saw a little more forward and Americanized than some islands. There was a very nice shopping area right where the ship docked. The town of Philipsburg was a short 10 min walk or a very reasonable water taxi ride ($4 one-way, $6 return). We walked to Philipsburg and took the water taxi back. Philipsburg was very nice, with a boardwalk along the beach. The next street into town was Front St. Both areas are chock full of shopping. They had everything from typical island wear, upscale brand shops, jewelry and more jewelry. There was even a very cute candy store owned by a former Canadian. We bought a mask to add to our mask collecting, just a little cute on but our wall is getting full. I think a lot of future masks will have to be on the small size. We stopped at one of the many beachside bars. The one we stopped at had a pirate theme and old guns hung on the wall...which just seemed appropriate. I had my usual Heineken and Sean had a mango margarita. After a good rest in the bar we got a couple of beach chairs and longed on the beach. The beach chairs appeared to be owned by various bars. You paid for the chairs, an umbrella and drinks all in a package. It was a very busy beach with each chair right next to the chair beside. We spent a few hours there relaxing and reading. Back on the ship we grabbed a snack and bided our time until dinner. Our dinner was very good and the company was great. After dinner we took in the show. It was a comedian; he was okay, got a few laughs. Day 4 St. Lucia In planning for St Lucia we really didn't think there was much for us to do. We had just been to St Lucia a year ago and had rented a car, so we saw lots of the island. However, once in port we started talking to a taxi driver and decided to tour some of the areas we missed. First stop was Diamond Falls, with included a botanical rainforest. It was beautiful, species of flowers and trees that I had never seen before. The falls make a great photo op. Sean even found a giant caterpillar! On our way to our next stop we chatted with Anthony our driver. We told him we had stayed at Ti Kaye Resort last year and he told us about the snakes in that area. According to Anthony the area is well known for snakes...boa constrictors and 3 poisonous varieties. Pretty scary; I might have to Google this when we get back and I have better Internet. Next stop was the sulphur springs and volcano in Soufriere. It is the only collapsed volcano in the world that you can drive up to. It was super cool. Steam was coming up through crevasses and the water was boiling. It did have a very strong sulphur smell. We decided not to go into the sulphur baths but I was so glad we saw the volcano. Our last stop was Marigot Bay, which is totally beautiful. We stopped at a little restaurant overlooking the bay and had a beer. Then took a trip right down by the bay and walked around. It was more modern that a lot of areas in St Lucia and by the looks of the huge yachts it is frequented by the wealthy. There was a beautiful resort there called Discovery at Marigot Bay, I think I might look into that resort if we return to St. Lucia. Which is quite possible as St Lucia is probably my favorite Caribbean island. I learnt something very interesting from our tour guide Anthony. Rasta is a type of religion. The religion involves a pureness of heart. Typically a true Rasta will be a very kind person. They do not believe in the use of combs and mirrors, hence the long dreads. They are also vegans and do not eat any meat or fish. Also a true Rasta will not have any piercings, which is a way to tell a true Rasta from an imposter. They do however frequently take part in the wacky tabacky (as Anthony called it) but do not drink. We got back to the ship at 5pm and we were hungry so we decided to skip the dinning room at 8:15 and eat at the buffet. Sean thought it was great, I thought it was okay. Then back to our cabin for movie watching and relaxation. Day 5 Tobago We arrived in Tobago with no plans. Thought we would go on shore and then get an idea of what to do. Sean really wanted to go SCUBA diving but I had forgotten my PADI card at home. Also, the short notice seemed to be an issue with getting a diving excursion arranged. Our second option was a rainforest tour. So we asked about that. We were directed to tour director Harris McDonald. We met up with Harris and he told us we needed a change of clothes (for the rain) and that my flip-flops weren't really appropriate. So back to our cabin to get better equipped. I wore running shoes but ended up renting a pair of Wellingtons. I am really glad I did. Harris passed us over to his colleague Curtis. Curtis was a great tour guide, very knowledgeable. Curtis was also a policeman, so we felt very safe. The rainforest is gorgeous. The trees huge, some of the biggest bamboo I have ever seen. Curtis told us that particular type of bamboo grew 6 inches every day. When it reached 60ft it stopped growing and then it would flower. Once it finished flowering it would die. We saw many types of birds. There were parrots flying over the canopy and we could hear them but only catch glimpses. We also saw these amazing little ants. These leaf cutter ants could be seen wandering along carrying pieces of leaves that were 4 times their size back to their nest. There wasn't a lot of wildlife but the scenery was amazing. As we came out of the rainforest there was a man selling ice cream. We decided to indulge. I am still wondering if that was a good idea. The man couldn't speak well, so we aren't sure what flavors he had. He did give us a spoon of each to try. The first was vanilla; the second was a mystery fruit, but quite good. We both choose the mystery fruit. When we asked how much it was he could tell us. So Sean held out the money he has in his hand, a $5 bill and four $1 bills (USD). The man took all the money! And wouldn't give us any back. So our little one-scoop ice creams in cups cost $5 each! That was more expensive than the gelato we got in St. Maarten from the trendy ice cream shop on the boardwalk. I guess that is the price you pay for rainforest side service. The town of Scarborough was our ship docked wasn't the nicest for tourist shopping. It was a typical busy Caribbean town center more suited to the locals than to tourists. This town like so many in the Caribbean involves all the senses, beautiful bright colors, the warmth of the sun, the constant sound of music and even the smells. There is a hustle and bustle but everyone is happy. It always make me think.... many people assume that money will make them happy, what really makes people happy is a simple, easy life. The locals might not have a lot but they are very friendly and happy. Not only to the tourists but even to their friends and acquaintances that they see along to way. This was our last Caribbean island of the trip. It will now be very interesting to see how South America compares. Day 6 Day at Sea Waters are a bit rough and wind is up. It feels as if our ship is traveling on a slant, with an added in wobble now and again for good measure. The staff reassured us that this is unusual for this ship; that the weather is the culprit. Walking around the ship takes a bit of balance and the sparse areas of the ship would indicate more than a few people are spending time hiding out in their cabins. We spent our morning sitting with the very interesting, world traveling women from a few days ago. It was a wonderful chat, and she is so full of knowledge and insight. We ended up chatting for quite a few hours and she was no end of insight. She even taught me something about Disney that I didn't know (and I really thought I was somewhat of an expert there). It is possible to go diving in the aquarium in Epcot. I think that would be amazing fun and will have to look it up when I get home. Being on this ship is a lot like speed dating. We keep meeting new great people; yet only spend a short time with each. We decided to take in some wine tasting...not for the faint of heart when it is on the 10th floor in weather like this. It was tremendous fun. Every Princess cruise I have been on has had two wine tastings. An initial tasting of some basic wine and general information for a nominal fee, in this case $9.00. Then a more elaborate tasting for those interested in some better wines and more detailed information for a slightly higher charge, in this case $25.00. This particular tasting was the later. The tasting occurred in the Italian Specialty restaurant Sabatinis. We were seated at a table for 4. The other couple were from Ohio, and very nice. Their preference was towards reds, Sean is more into whites and I waffle back and forth depending (not sure what it exactly depends on...maybe my mood). I am a wine pairings nightmare. I like both red and white, however never pair them with food, more with my mood and the weather. The wines we got to taste were a champagne from Reims, France, Heidsick Monopole Blue. I don't particularly like champagne or sparkling wine, even to the point of giving away bottles I acquire. I have to say this was the best champagne I have ever tried. Not that I would go out of my way to buy it, but definitely the best. The next wine we tasted was Poully-Fuisse from Burgundy. France. This chardonnay was excellent; it was very light and very clean tasting. It had hints of fruits but nothing too over powering. It fit well with my pairing of weather and would be an excellent chilled wine on a hot summer day. This is a wine I would buy. The next wine was Cuvaison Chardonnay from Napa Valley. It is unbelievable how two chardonnays from two different parts of the world could taste so different. This chardonnay was a much heavier wine; the aroma and taste reminded me of fruit, in particular bananas. With its legs and texture it almost reminded me of a light red. On to the reds. First up was a Meritage from Murietas Well in Livermore Valley, California. I am a big fan of Meritages, done right the wine make can perfect a great balance of grape varieties and make a very easy to drink wine. If unsure on a menu, I will often go to a meritage. The one was good, not the best meritage I have ever tasted but more than drinkable. I find whenever traveling that Canadian wines are completely overlooked. They could replace this meritage with the meritage from Vineland Estates Winery in Vineland, Ontario and then they would have a wine to showcase. The next two reds where excellent and exuded quality, however, even just sniffing these wines they screamed to be decanted. The staff putting on the wine tasting new that both these wines would taste their best decanted so I have no idea why they didn't for the tasting. The first was a Tuscan wine, Luce Della Vite, a mixture of merlot and sangiovese grapes. It was a full-bodied wine just full of potential. However, you could smell the tannins coming off it and all the swirling I could do wasn't going to change that. This is a good wine, which would be a great wine decanted. I would drink it any time and I usually stay away from Sangiovese, but as I experienced in the Chardonnay, one particular grape can give you such different experiences. The last was from the tried and true Robert Mondavi in Napa Valley. Anyone who likes wine knows that this is a winery that will always be sure to please. We have the pleasure of trying the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, again a full-bodied easy to drink wine. Loved the texture and taste, would of given anything to try this wine after a bit of decanting. Another great dinner tonight. I am really enjoying our tablemates, there always seems to be no end of good conversation. I look forward to getting together over dinner and sharing ours day's adventures. Tonight the meal was excellent. It was an Italian themed dinner, complete with Procuitto from San Danielle, this holds special meaning for me as my father is from San Danielle and my parents have an apartment there. We are hoping to make it there this summer, but that is for another blog. I had spaghetti and meatballs for my main course and I think it might have been the best spaghetti I have ever had. It was the roughest night so far. All through dinner the boat was leaning from one side to the other. I have never been on a ship with such large movements. There was supposed to be a Broadway (singing and dancing) type show tonight but because of the movements of the ship they changed it to a comedian. We thought about going to the show, but would of had to wait around for a while, so we opted out. One thing I have noticed on this cruise is that the entertainment doesn't seem as good as other cruises. Maybe being a smaller ship with fewer passengers affects the talent they can book. Day 7 Well, that sucks! We were supposed to go to Devil's Island today but because for the winds and swells it is too dangerous for the tenders. So, it is another day at sea. Which will make 4 days at sea in a row before we hit our first port in Brazil. I had read about this happening in some of the reviews. Makes me wonder if it happens often. Many of the passengers are doing the round trip and will head back this way. I hope they get a chance to visit the island. We did take some pictures from the ship. I thought it looked beautiful, lusher and tree filled then I expected. The sea around the island was very interesting. It had very obvious changes in color from brown, to blue, to black. We tried to take some pictures, so I hope they work out. It must be a change in depth along with sandy bottom that makes the color changes. Sean and I did play some trivia this morning. We were supposed to work in teams of 6, and everyone already had preset teams from previous trivia games. So, Sean and I played as our own team. We were not as good as I thought we would be. All I am going to say is the knowledge obviously does come with age! Day 8 At Sea.... again! We are starting to get into a routine. Each morning we have coffee and a bit of breakfast on the back deck. This deck of the rear of the buffet and at the back of the ship is becoming one of our favorite places. We really enjoy sitting out here to enjoy our breakfast and also meet up with people we know. Today we sat with the same lady from a few days ago. She has traveled extensively and is so interesting. We ended up spending hours chatting with her and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Off to trivia again this morning. We teamed up with a couple from the UK. Thank goodness we did, all the questions seamed to be from very old British history and our new team was very good at coming up with the answers. We ended up winning! No thanks to Sean and I, what a bit of fun. Much of the rest of the day we spent in our stateroom. Sitting on the balcony reading...we really are an exciting couple! For dinner, instead of the regular dinning room, we thought we might try the Bistro. The Bistro is in the buffet area but instead of the buffet they seat you and you order off a menu. The menu had a lot to choose from, Sean had a roasted garlic soup and seafood pasta, I had a chicken Caesar and lasagna. The chicken Caesar was excellent and I think I would choose it as a main course. We were both amused by a lady sitting next to us. She ordered the lasagna but with no cheese! When the waiter came back and said that the lasagna could not be done without cheese...duh! She proceeded to tell him there was nothing else on the menu that interested her. There is no pleasing some people. I had not known about the bistro till today. It is an excellent dinner option if you don't want to have to dress up or eat a certain time. I am very happy we found out about this option. Day 9 At Sea (or river, as the case may be) Much more of the same thing. Except today it Christmas day, so the say thing with lots of Merry Christmases mixed in. Breakfast was again in the same area, just of the back of the boat. Today because it was Christmas we splurged on the expensive coffee. Which is pretty much the same as the regular coffee just comes out of the pot and you have to pay for it. We entered the Amazon today and then had to wait for the authorities to clear us so we could continue up the Amazon. Well, this ended up taking until 4 o'clock in the afternoon. So we basically spent all day anchored in the middle of the river. The Amazon River, for anyone who doesn't know is chocolate brown! I got a great book from the onboard library the other day. The library is excellent. I wasn't sure really what to expect but it has a lot of recent books and best sellers. Now, I just need to read every chance I get, so that I can get the book back before we leave. There was a holiday brunch today. We had a look at the menu, which looked really good but maybe too much this early in the day for us. It turns out that the rest of our tablemates at dinner had taken advantage of the brunch and they say it was excellent. We had another wonderful dinner. Being Christmas it was formal night. I love seeing everyone dressed up; I think how people dress for formal night says a lot about a person. Some people are quite flamboyant and so interesting. I must say our table was very middle of the road, everyone dressed nicely but no one was over the top. I saw one young girl in a full-length gown. She was absolutely stunning. Day 10 Santarem I think by this point everyone was quite anxious to get off the ship and the fact that we were finally in Brazil and on the Amazon made it even more exciting. There weren't a lot of tours offered, so Sean and I decided we would just get off the ship and see what we could find. As soon as we were on the dock there were taxis available. They spoke English and had a large sign with the tours available. Sean and I decided on the zoo and then to be dropped off in town. This would cost us $35 USD. We also hired an English-speaking tour guide for $15. The highway we started off on was a regular paved road but when we turned off for the zoo we were on dirt roads, which looked to be made of a red clay. The zoo is quite small and run by the local university. They take in local species and try to rehabilitate them. I most consisted of birds, small reptiles and small monkeys. Although small, we did find it very interesting. However, I am not sure it would be for everyone. The English-speaking guide really helped because we could ask a lot of questions and have them translated. The monkeys were the best. The spider monkeys were very tame and would put their arms and tails through the cage to touch us. I was held on to by one monkey the whole time we were there. There tail is quite strong and they do definitely us it as another appendage. He did try to steal my necklace and sunglasses when he got a chance and did once hold onto me by my hair. Not in a mean way and he didn't pull, he just held on. I loved him and Lesley (our amazing pet sitter) and Kirsten (our vet) should be very glad that I couldn't bring him home to add to our menagerie. After the zoo, we headed into the main part of the city. It was very interesting; different than any of the Caribbean cities we had been too. I also found it very dirty. The gutters were full of garbage and not very pleasant looking water. Also, Brazil is very hot. The city was a bustle of activity and we saw stores that sold everything, even a tack store! ` Day 11 Boca De Valeria I really wasn't sure of what to expect from Boca De Valeria. I had read mixed revues on the various boards. Many people felt that there wasn't much to see and I even had heard it called "bucket of Malaria". In the elevator we even ran into a man who's wife wasn't going to Boca de Valeria because she was afraid of the mosquitoes!! Seriously, who spend a tremendous amount of money to book a trip to the AMAZON, then not want to go outside because of mosquitoes!?! Well, we loved Boca de Valeria. When we got on the tender there were boys with little sloths, they passed them to us to hold and take pics. Then we gave them a dollar.... we went through a lot of dollars in Boca de Valeria. There was pretty much a dollar price tag on everything. The houses were basically wooden shacks up on stilts; even their gardens were up on stilts. There were lots of animals to get your picture taken with, sloths, monkeys, caymen, capybara, iguanas and other various bugs. At first I was enthralled by these interesting animals that I got to interact with. Then I met the dogs, they were skinny and flea infested. I felt really sorry for them, especially because they were extremely fearful. If you tried to approach them, they gave you this come any closer and I will bite you look. There is something about a place were you can hold and pet all the wild animals but the pet dogs are afraid of people. We took a short boat ride, which was very cool except for the fact that the canoe was very wobbly. I kept think about the fact that the brown murky water underneath me contained both piranha and caymen. I had to keep reminding myself that I was on a river in the Amazon and this was, really, really cool. So, we didn't fall out of the canoe and it was excellent. After the trip up the river, Sean and I wandered along a path that went up a hill and by the last of the houses. Then it got much smaller and went off in to rainforest. We just kept walking along this path that leads into the rainforest, with no idea what was in there and were it would leave. It was amazing! To actually be walking somewhere in the middle of the Amazon rainforest. The thing that you notice the most is the noises. The forest is so incredibly filled with life and you might not be able to see it but you can hear it. It was truly an amazing feeling. So, I really have no idea why people who would choose a trip to the Amazon would not like Boca de Valeria. Sean and I both thought that this is what it is all about and wished every stop were more like this. Day 12 Parintins We were only in Parintins for a few hours. Sean and I hadn't booked a tour, but we were finding that we liked the option of organizing something when we got to the island. It was much more relaxed to not have to stick to a timeline and decide once we got to the destination and could have an idea of what it was like. There wasn't much when we got off the boat in Parintins, a few booths set up selling local wears but not much else. They do have tricycle taxis, so Sean and I decided to take a tour of the city by tricycle. The tour lasted about an hour and a half and gave us a great overview of the city. Our driver/rider/guide didn't speak much English, so it was more a case of Sean and I watching as the city went by. It was like a smaller version of Santarem. There were not many cars and people got around either by bicycle or motorcycle. Every year in June, Parintins hosts the Festival do Boi-Bumba. This huge festival is the second largest in Brazil each year, only Carnival in Rio is bigger. The festival celebrates a local legend about a resurrected ox. It is a flamboyant show that consists of signing and dancing in a competition between two teams. One team is red and the other is blue. Supporters of each side dress in the appropriate color and everything in the town seems to support either red or blue. They hold a smaller version of the show for tourist during other times of the year. This show was an option from our cruise. Many people chose to go to the show and had a great time. They said it was very entertaining and the costumes where awesome. Day 13 Manaus We are very sad to be at our last port. I would love to come back and explore more of the Amazon. I feel like we have come all this way and just barely scratched the surface. Our Brazilian Visas are good for 5 years, so who knows, maybe we will get a chance to come back. Still trying to stay away from the ship organized tours we went onshore to look for our own tour. The first tour company we found was already booked up for the day by our ship. However, they were able to direct to someone else that could help. We ended up booking a boat tour for 3 hours. The boat was a large motorized canoe type boat. It would hold about 20 passengers. We had a captain who manned the boat and an English speaking, tour guide. Our first stop was a floating gas station, which I found very interesting, if not very environmentally friendly. I have been thinking that a lot of the 'save the Amazon' efforts could possibly start a little closer to home. The water around the floating gas station went from the usual chocolate milk color of the Amazon to a strong tea. I just figured that couldn't be a good sign. From there we went through the meeting of the waters. Right at this point we saw a few freshwater dolphins popping out of the water. We never got a really clear view of the dolphins and it was next to impossible to get a good picture. Our guide had us put our hands in the water as he drove from the darker water to the lighter. I couldn't believe the temperature difference. There had to be a 10-degree difference between the two waters. From here we went on to park the boat at a floating restaurant. There was a wooden walkway that ran along side the restaurant and off into the jungle. The elevated walkway was a little precarious. That along with our guide saying "Watch out for Anacondas here" made for the whole brave, Amazon explorer experience. The walkway ended at lake January and a beautiful view of the giant lily pads. Next stop was a little house on the water. Inside were three children, one with a Caymen, and one with a sloth and a little girl with a huge Anaconda. For a few dollars you could take your picture with the animals. There were no parents in sight only the children, I wondered if this was the Amazon equivalent of a lemon aid stand. Another stop, another walkway to Lake January. This time we saw a couple of Caymen in the water. Our guide also took us to see a huge tree, a Kapok tree (Cieba pentandra). He said that natives would use these huge trees to send messages. The noise from banging on the tree could be heard for long distances. After returning from our tour we wandered around town. Manaus was definitely the biggest city we have visited, with a population of about 2 million. It is the eighth largest city in Brazil. Downtown, close to the port was crazy. Vendors lined both sides of the sidewalk and both sides of the street as far as we could see. We wandered up and down streets and there was everything you can imagine for sale. From food, to hardware to underwear, it was like being in the world's largest dollar store. Close to our ship, there were two jewelry stores that offered free shuttles to their stores. Both located in the Tropical Manaus hotel. We took the shuttle out to the hotel, they told us about 20 min, but it was more like 40 min. The hotel was a beautiful change from what we so far had experienced in Manaus. We did enjoy a slightly overpriced, yet very good coffee in one of their restaurant areas. They had a great shopping area, which included a really good selection of stores. Probably the highlight of this hotel is that it contains it's own zoo. The number and quality of animals in the zoo pleasantly surprised us. Not what you would really expect from a hotel. Day 14 Manaus This is our last day in Brazil. Actually, since we are leaving at 6 am, it isn't much of a day. It has been a wonderful trip. We have learnt so much and I am so glad to have seen the Amazon River and rainforest in person. I do hope to make it back to Brazil in the future; there is still so much I want to explore. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2011
As an introduction, I am hardly a novice cruiser. My husband started up and staffed ship's hospitals for about a decade, so I served as a hybrid between pax and crew on about 6 or 8 cruise lines and have been a passenger on several ... Read More
As an introduction, I am hardly a novice cruiser. My husband started up and staffed ship's hospitals for about a decade, so I served as a hybrid between pax and crew on about 6 or 8 cruise lines and have been a passenger on several others, perhaps 12 or 15 in all. Several of these stints were truly maiden voyages where the entire ship was newly built with completely inexperienced staff. I mention this because many of the inadequacies and equipment failures were chalked up to the Infinity's "upgrade" to Millennium class, after which we were the second voyage. I must say, there were more "glitches" in the first three days of the "new and improved" Celebrity Infinity 's second voyage around S.A. than in a week or two on other cruise lines. Now, hopefully many of these refit issues have been resolved. But it was the attitude of onboard staff and subsequently management, that brings me to post this now. And the realization that they didn't even correct the billing mistakes I pointed out on the invoice while on board. Also, the client-specific issues may not change from year to year. I booked in August. The first problem was failure to receive an invoice for the cruise from either the cruise line or the travel agent by deadline. Celebrity canceled our reservation and planned to keep the deposit. I was able to get this reversed by the agent, and indeed got a lower fare in September for a higher class of service (Aqua class). We never received boarding instructions, direction to the cruise terminal, or anything like boarding passes despite many phone calls to Celebrity and Continental. Embarkation was inefficient, luggage long delayed and for half of the ship, access to suites was impossible for many hours due to repeatedly faulty key cards. The drill was conducted in 3 languages, took 45 minutes in a stifling, SRO lounge, and we never were directed to lifeboats. The minibar was barely functioning, bathroom fixtures leaked repeatedly, and the room heating was defective. The spa, which was the only alternative for a shower to a lake in our bathroom, had poor lighting, no place to hang dry clothes, extremely slippery floors and very poorly maintained thermal rooms with nonfunctioning door handles or no doors at all. The outdoor spas were consistently intolerable with extremely hot water in the torrid places and cool water closer to Antarctica. The gym equipment was not functioning properly because of the extreme heat in the room, and spa staff were focused on sales rather than the comfort or safety of passengers using non-revenue features. Guest Relations was a nightmare, with long lines daily throughout the cruise and no acknowledgment or apologies for the many deficiencies all were experiencing. The concierge spoke minimal English. The most difficult problems involved unruly children and teens, coupled with parents who ignored prohibitions, and security staff who were unwilling to confront them. So for example, children ran and jumped in the pool area and cafeteria at all hours of the night (over guest suites), teens jumped in and played handball off a wall with small hard balls in the adult only "relaxation" Thalassotherapy pool, and babies were brought, in diapers and pool toys, into this area which is not sanitized except with salt. Teens played (prohibited) boomboxes in the open pool/deck areas right under the eyes of security, and were present on deck with drug paraphernalia in the mornings after obviously partying all night. The only time ships staff did intervene was when I reported unsupervised children hanging from the ropes/yardarms on an upper deck! Entertainment was extremely variable in quality, some superb, much mediocre. The library offered no videos or other diversions, there was no guide to what was available on TV, and books apparently were of the "found" variety rather than selected for quality or relevance to the voyage. The onboard enrichment programs were so-so, but the only practical port information had to be obtained by repeated trips to shore excursions, because all of the ship sponsored port talks were sales pitches for tours. The food in the Aqua class restaurant, BLU, was superb as was the service. The main dining room, however, served fish and steak that were inedible, and even the highly popular sushi bar got less and less attractive later in the voyage because all food is brought in from the states, despite some of the best and freshest fish and meat in the world in the regions we were cruising. I was very sorry for people experiencing all of the other disappointments and not even able to eat well. Disembarkation instructions were extremely limited and VERY late in coming (the last newsletter on the last night). We were not warned of the cutoff time for Internet, and coupled with the many times during the voyage that internet was unexpectedly not available or interminably slow, quite a few purchased minutes (at typically exorbitant cruise rates) were foregone. We were not given information about tipping or alterations from the "automatic" tipping scheme, were not even given our invoices in order to correct mistakes (supposedly they were available on TV, but this system never worked), and when mistakes were pointed out, had no way to check whether they were corrected (and incidentally, I now realize that they weren't) because I NEVER received a final accounting even after the cruise by mail, as was promised. People had apparently been allowed to give their folio #s orally in the lounges and restaurants (instead of supplying a card), so there may have been quite a bit of freeloading if our invoice was at all typical. I expressed all of my health and safety concerns to staff while on the ship, with only the most serious being addressed. Reportedly, the onboard Guest Relations staff was still reeling from the complaints from the prior voyage, when even more accommodations were "not ready for prime time" or not ready at all---the whole upper deck still held containers by one report. After the voyage I wrote a lengthy letter to the President (because the disembarkation survey was extremely limited compared to other cruise lines) and received a brush-off written by apparently quite a junior staffer---after 6 weeks, and two or three follow up calls to land based guest relations. The bottom line is, beware of post "refit" cruises, though they will be advertised as elevating your cruise experience immeasurably; it might take multiple voyages before they are even functioning normally! Beware of Christmas cruises, unless you are on a line that does a better job of enforcing security and protecting adult spaces. And I would have to add, beware of Celebrity which is one of the least responsive cruise lines I have every experienced when there are problems. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: November 2011
As an introduction we are on our first cruise aboard the Holland America Veendam. We have cruised on several other Holland American ships however decided a couple of years ago to switch away from Holland America. However this year we ... Read More
As an introduction we are on our first cruise aboard the Holland America Veendam. We have cruised on several other Holland American ships however decided a couple of years ago to switch away from Holland America. However this year we wanted a cruise that would include the holidays and a non-European cruise thus we opted for the South American cruise and included the return cruise making this a back to back adventure. The views and opinions expressed in this review are those solely of the author who is in no way connected with Holland America. We know and respect your views and opinions which may be totally different from ours. You had a different cabin, perhaps different waiters, different restaurants, etc. throughout the cruise(s) and thus saw the same cruise from a different perspective. The ship reflects recent refurbishing throughout. The ship was launched in 1996. We don't know exactly what the theme was supposed to be thus we will call it 1920's Supper Club Modern. Many areas look as though we have reentered the supper club era of the 1920s.In any event the ship is being well maintained for the guest. By today's standards the Veendam has to fit into the small ship category, after all there are large and mega ships with over 4000 passengers and small ships with around 750 passengers. With a passenger compliment of around 1350 passengers the Veendam is definitely not considered a large cruise ship by today's standards. From our view that is very good as we don't really care for the rock climbing, the boisterous swimming pool antics and adventurer land aboard a cruise ship. Upon closer inspection you will notice several broken or cracked glasses and windows throughout the ship. Some of the metal especially around the outside windows is pitted and rough indicating it was not recently replaced. The first cruise left from Rio de Janerio and thus there were more passengers from the United States. On the second leg of the cruise starting in Santiago, there were even less from the United States. The Neptune Club on our deck was only occasionally visited by a person from the United States. We are taking back to back cruises on this ship thus we have one segment from Rio to Valparaiso followed by a segment from Valparaiso, Chile to Buenos Aires. Several of the ports will be the same thus we have an opportunity to see more at each port. We have previously visited some of these ports, just a couple of years ago, and this trip will give us an opportunity to see things we missed in the past. Seating throughout the ship contains both comfortable and uncomfortable seats. Funny you say that we would start the review about seating. We were so fascinated that we even took dozens of pictures. Some seating appears to be for "munchkins" as they have extremely high back with very small seats. In the Showroom At Sea almost all seats have low backs, thus providing little comfort for a lengthy show. On top of all of this, unless you select a chair to sit in you will find nothing but bench h style seating, all of which we found uncomfortable. What were they thinking? Dining room seating is much better however some chairs have arms while other are open chairs. There seems to be no consistency at any of the tables---just whatever is available at the time. Get to your table a few minutes early and select your own chair even if that means borrowing from another table. In our cabin we had a leather couch however I challenge anyone to try to sit for any length of time when the ship is moving and tossing as you will most certainly be tossed to the deck because of the slickness. The ship as a whole is nice and clean and one will get used to décor. RESERVATIONS Just a note about making reservations. Not all published cruise prices will be the same, however most cruise agents can match the lowest price you may locate on another cruise site. Just ask! We waited almost too late to purchase a suite cabin and we had to move to a different cabin at the end of the first cruise as the first cabin we purchased had already been sold. You should try to get the same cabin throughout all your segments as you don't want to have to move after a few days at sea. We deliberately chose the starboard side on our first segment as that gave us a shore view from our veranda and on the returned segment we chose the port side so we could again have the shore side view from our verandah. That worked really well. Now a word about location of the cabin. Our first cabin was 035 about midway on the Navigation Deck. The second cabin was 006 which was at the front of the ship. This made a really great difference on the open seas however not a concern in the inland passages. The ship's movement was almost never felt when we were in cabin 035. Don't be eager to take the first suggestion from your travel agent if you are not pleased with the location on the ship. There are also cruise web sites where you can check available cabin locations on each of the decks. Changing cabins should be an easy process (in our judgment), however Holland America apparently does not have a firm policy on this thus a separate letter has been generated back to corporate. On the next to last day of our first segment we still had not received anything from the front desk about our move to another cabin. I inquired three times and each time got different information. Finely on the last evening of the cruise we received a letter with partial information about the move to cabin 6. We still had no key to our cabin though thus another visit to the front desk where we advised to come back the following day. Our new cabin was made available to us around 0930 on the last day of the cruise and we received a new cabin key card upon visit once again to the front desk. We had not received any statement of charges for the cruise so we asked and was told we could have an interim copy. We also did not receive a survey questionnaire and were advised we would get that at the end of the second segment. We moved most of our personal belongings with a crew member helping us with a rack of clothes. BOARDING THE SHIP----We flew to Rio de Janerio and boarded the ship at the terminal in downtown Rio. It was a total disaster as the terminal is under renovation for the forthcoming Olympics. The main area was completely closed and HA had all passengers' crowded into spaces just inside the entrance. Once checked in, you had to go to a backroom and wait to be called by group number for boarding. I can understand the need for the renovations as the terminal is in bad need of repair. If you arrive during this renovation period, just be patient. Once inside this portion of the terminal space there is nothing to do other than sit or stand and wait for your boarding number to be called. Listen carefully for that number as there was no PA system. We provided the computer generated boarding pass at the check in counter. I could not believe how many ahead of us did not have that pass with them Your passport will be confiscated and you will be given a receipt. If you need to update your credit card or change to a different credit card from the one you originally gave HA, you cannot do it at check in and will have to proceed to the Purser's Office once aboard. A word about your passport. Holland America apparently has the feeling that we as guest are not capable or responsible enough to carry our own passports. You will be told that the retention of passports is necessary for customer officials to quickly check the ship's roster. In any event you may find, as we did, a reluctance at some ports to even exchange currencies. In Buenos Aires we were refused twice because we could not produce the original passport. To complicate the matter, Holland America does not exchange monies aboard ship and even the casino refused our Brazilian money. TIP--make a couple copies of your passport before you leave home. Do this in color as the black and white copies may not look all that official. We found that by producing a color copy and discussing with a clerk what Holland American had done concerning retention of our passports, the on shore transactions went smoothly. Our passports were returned two days before the end of the cruise. Once our group number was called the process went rather quickly however there will be those that try to jump the line by not following the called number. The staff sent all we saw to the back of the line and that was the way it should be. ABOARD SHIP----You will soon learn that sanitation is of primary concern for HA as you will be asked to wash your hands as you enter the ship and there are hand sanitizers located all over the ship. We personally think it is a good ideal. You will be asked to stop at the end of the gangplank for a picture to be taken. We just try to accommodate the photographer as he/she is doing their job and we normally have no intention of purchasing that photo. These are just snapshots and remember you don't have to purchase any of them. The Holland American staff, almost without exception, provides a genuine excellent level of service. Everyone greeted us with a warm greeting and their service was impeccable. There were some guest though on the second segment of the cruise that apparently felt they deserved more that friendly service. They displayed an arrogance with DEMANDS. Frankly I think they need to find another mode of travel. One passenger got very upset with the waiter because there wasn't a certain kind of tea available for him. Give me a break!! Travel on cruise ships has definitely changed for the worse in the past two decades. Some passengers want to dress as "slobs" and expect to sit next to you on formal night while wearing a pair of sandals and a gross t-shirt. On smart casual nights one can see flip flops, ragged t-shirts and shorts. We even saw one 80 year old woman wearing what appeared to be gym shorts on smart casual night. These are some of the same passengers that demand their food be served immediately, reject their entrée and send that glass of wine back as they state it is not suitable. They was also the person at the purser's desk arguing about the $5.95 drink charge which they swear is not theirs. We don't personally have a problem with these type passengers however we do believe they would be better off traveling on a container ship or oil barge in the future. OUR CABIN----We have been traveling on cruises since 1980 thus we have been on board a number of different ships. This time we decided to give up one of our cruises of the year so we could have a suite. Best decision we ever made. We selected cabin 035 on the first segment. However because we waited too late to decide on this cruise we had to change to cabin 006 (which was just a stone's throw away from 007) on the second segment. Not a big deal as the staff will move us at the end of the first segment. Cabin 035 was on the starboard side which gave us the shoreline on the travel both south and north. Cabin 006 will give us the same shore side verandah view on the return trip back. Our suite was fabulous. More space than we usually have in a hotel room and a patio that was unbelievable. Two lounge chairs and four sit down chairs, a table and still a lot of room left. We had our beds configured for a king size and the industry still does not have this down. There is that split in the middle that is most uncomfortable. Our living room area was very large with a coffee table, two club chairs and a sectional couch. There was a closet with a large bar with lots of glasses, and a mini bar filled with drinks. The bathroom was very large with three closets, the most we have ever had on a cruise. There was a dressing area just outside the shower area that was really outstanding. Mirrors all over the place along with lots of counter space. The cabin was very tastefully decorated. Carpet almost new as were the covers on the verandah chairs. Lighting throughout the cabin was excellent. There is small desk working space juts opposite the bar. There are more drawers and closets in this cabin than one will have clothes to fill. If don't mind gambling a little and waiting until the last minute for your cruise, you may find a suite at a greatly discounted price. If you do, reserve it immediately and make your travel accordingly. Please be aware that some cruise destination, including embarkations, may require that you have a visa in addition to your passport and depending on the number of such visas needed for a particular cruise, it may take some time to get those. NEPTUNE CLUB ROOM----Since we are in a suite we have access to the club room on the Navigation Deck where we have a full time concierge. Coffee, water, teas, small desserts and sandwiches throughout the day. Television and internet hook up (don't get excited--please review my section on the Internet). The concierge staff was excellent and most accommodating. This is just a nice place to relax away from the crowds in some parts of the ship. You can save the long lines at the tour desk by letting the concierge make the tour reservations and obtain your tour tickets. On the first segment of the cruise we noticed just guest from the suite section, however on the second segment we were surprised to see some in the lounge that were not suite guest. At least one of them appeared to have been brought to the lounge by one of the suite guest. It is our opinion that if guest did not pay for this level of cabins they should not be using the Neptune Lounge. We also witnessed some passengers who kept the concierge busy for lengthy times as they asked trivial questions. One woman insisted that the concierge go over her entire dining room times and options day by day for the entire cruise. By the way those times and options were clearly listed in the daily bulletin. In the suite category you are given several amenities complimentary and one of those is the free laundry and dry cleaning. We sent a bag everyday and many times the laundry came back to us on the same day we sent it. The service was excellent. Another perk one has with the breakfast served just for suite guest in the Pinnacle Dining Room. Once again the service was outstanding. You can also have a continental breakfast in the Neptune Lounge. Anyone contemplating an upgrade to the suite level should check the HA bulletin to see a list of everything that is offered in the suite class. If you are a frequent HA guest and have reached the three or four star level, a combination of those rewards along with the suite amenities could weigh heavily upon one's decision on where to travel and what cruise line to take. We received priority boarding on tender departures and once the passports were returned they were available in the Neptune Lounge thus we did not have to stand in long lines to get our passports. ENTERTAINMENT-----I inevitably hear some passenger state that they don't care that much about the cruising and destinations, as they come on board for the entertainment. Look friend, I feel sorry for you if your number one objective in cruising is for the entertainment. Some shows are not all that good and if you stayed at home you could probably find some really good high school productions that would suit your taste. On our next to last night aboard we had a male and female singer that were very good. The dancers need to work on their portion of the act. I felt so sorry for one entertainer I had to leave the auditorium 10 minutes after he started. I was actually praying that some could get though their act without totally screwing it up or forgetting their lines. One magic act had little professionalism in it and the children at the local library club will provide you a better magic/comedy act. All in all the evening shows were acceptable with some actually being good. Pick your entertainment nights and if the act does not live up to expectations then just politely leave. INTERNET---Let me get this "negative" out of the way first. I paid for the 250 minutes internet service as soon as I boarded in Rio and then being the sucker I am paid again on the second segment for another 250 minutes. Looks like I would have learned my lesson. I used up my first 150 minutes just trying to log on and was successful a couple of times. I figure my emails are costing me about $20 an email. This is by far the worst internet service aboard any ship in the world. Don't expect any sympathy or assistance from the "clerk" on board as he would just as soon you left him alone. After three days I swore off the internet and decided I would never again pay Holland America even as much as dime for their internet service. A walk though this morning (our 6th day) revealed only one person using the internet in the internet café. In our cabin the service is even worse. At the concierge desk there are two computers and wireless however it is not good. Yesterday I was ashore in Montevideo and took my iPad with me. Found a Wi-Fi hookup at the California Burrito Company restaurant. It was free. The hook up was amazing. Just as good as my cable service back home. I learned from other passengers that had also enjoyed such success at other internet cafes in the town. We even used Facetime and SKYPE, which by the way is "can't be used" aboard ship. Save money and most of all save frustration by waiting until you are docked and then look for an internet café or Wi-Fi spot. We are now two days away from our final destination and the internet has some reliability. We noticed almost all terminals are in use today. We were able to hook up to the internet with only two tries and sending e-mails took less than 20 minutes. What a deal!! Before I receive numerous e-mails. I am aware that the satellite transmission of communications in some parts of the world are rather limited and this may be the case with the South American cruise. However, in all fairness to the customers, HA should not be selling services it cannot deliver. CROWS NEST------On deck 12 at the front of the ship is the Crown's Nest, a place that we frequently have gone for quite time to read. This location is actually large and quite during non-sea days. More passengers use on sea days with some talking so loud they disturb others. One corner is for smokers so if you don't like second hand smoke better stay away from that section. The seats are not all that comfortable as they as low backs and small seats. Lots of bench seating if that is your thing. Occasionally there is a group or travel club meeting on one side to the area. The bar opens later in the day as there is dancing and music in the evening hours. Lots of fog on our trip thus seeing much from the 12th deck was rather limited. I will not list the name, however there was a large travel group from one US company and if that is the way they conduct their tours I will most certainly not be using that company in the future. The "hostess" was actually quite rude. In one waiting area she insisted on getting her group up front and ahead of others that had been waiting. Please remember these are not HA employees but rather independent tour operators. If you are invited to attend a Captain's cocktail, you will more than likely find it located in the Crowe's Nest. There will be no "hand shaking" from either the Captain or his crew. All for health reasons. THE CAPTAIN-----The Captain came to the Neptune Lounge (where the suites are) on the very first evening and brought key personnel with him. This was excellent and another benefit when purchasing a suite. He returned on a later date and chatted with the passengers. There was a special Indonesian luncheon for the suite guest held at the Pinnacle Restaurant with both the hotel manager and the Captain attending. We had to miss the stop at Port Stanley, however the Captain explained more than once it was a safety issue due to the weather. He was sincere and his explanation was acceptable. He seemed to always be truly concerned about the guest aboard. He left us after the first cruise segment and a new captain came aboard. He was present at the first night reception held in the Neptune Lounge for the suite guest. We had an unusual experience as we had two Captain's with the first segment Captain going on leave at the end of the first segment and a new Captain coming aboard. THE FLORIST--You can purchase from HA, through a pre-board internet program, flowers for your room. We paid a premium price and the flowers did not look that good the day we boarded. Within three days they really looked bad as the roses had swiveled up and dropped their petals. We had to toss them on day 5. HA puts a small bouquet in your cabin if you are on the suite deck. They too withered to nothing after day 4 and were taken out of the cabin by the room steward. On our second segment of the cruise we received a very nice bouquet in our suite. We were never sure who sent them as there was no note. They lasted for several days. In fact the flowers at our dining room table were changed several times as they did not hold up all that well. FOOD---There are six main food locations on the ship. The ROTTERDAM is the main dining room located on decks 7 & 8. Breakfast, lunch and dinner is available. You may be assigned (for dinner) early, late or open seating. The LIDO is the deck 11 cafeteria type dining open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You will find the cafeteria line to be broken down into various food sections designed to make the lines shorter and service faster. Does not always happen as some passengers just can't make up their minds on what they wanted. There are the two specialty restaurants, the Pinnacle, where one can get steaks and sea food and the Canaletto Restaurant where Italian food is available. Both of two restaurants require an extra charge. The TERRACE GRILL is located on deck 11 at the end of the swimming pool. You can get hamburgers, hot dogs and fish and chips for lunch or late afternoon snacks. The SLICE Pizza is located on the aft of deck 11 and is weather dependant. We dined all over the ship and we are convinced the quality of the food is the same wherever you go except for the specialty restaurants where you pay an extra fee. If you are being served you will swear the portions are much smaller than on past cruises and we think you will be correct. They seem to count the exact number of green beans or asparagus spears and they will be much less than in the past. In the Rotterdam the asparagus spears were wilted and about the diameter of a pencil. In the Pinnacle the asparagus spears were three or four times the diameter, were green and crisp and served with an excellent hollandaise sauce. They were top quality. However in all fairness, you can ask for more. One evening when crab legs were being served the waiter told us the crab legs were small and not that many and if we wanted to have that entrée he could bring more to start with. We accepted the offer and the crab legs were indeed small and there were only two on the original plate. Food in my judgment, is about what you are going to get back home in a nice restaurant location. It will be served with a little more fanfare though. At the LIDO food is similar to any cafeteria back home. You can always order seconds and the wait staff will accommodate your request.. This reduction in the quantity is certainly being done by the "pencil pushers" as they try to figure out ways to increase the profit margin. The suite guest can have breakfast in the Pinnacle Restaurant with no additional charges. Lunch and Dinner in the same location comes with an extra charge ($10 & $25). Sometimes a quiet evening is worth the price. Not all the suite guest knew about the "no charge" Pinnacle dining for breakfast. Ask the concierge what days breakfast is served for suite guest.. The dinner meal is actually very good with the steaks being great quality and grilled exactly as you order. The bone in rib eye that I ordered was excellent and would challenge any steakhouse in Dallas. The food and service was so good, we are going back for a second evening. There are always a few that think they the staff in the dining rooms are servants and thus they make unreasonable demands. We saw one male that did not like the selection of teas available and he actually threw a fit. Another passenger ordered eggs Benedict and she did not like the way they were served while just a couple of tables away the woman insisted the meat was not prepared correctly and thus sent it back. For those in suites the Neptune Lounge is open for breakfast snacks such as coffee and Danish, however not a full breakfast. You can also get snacks and coffees at the Explorations Cafe. When we first arrived on the ship, there was no self service of food items. This was relaxed a little after the first 48 hours and you could serve yourself on certain items on the Lido Deck. There were some food items that continued to be served by the wait staff. This no self service policy applied to all food areas throughout the ship, including the Neptune Lounge for the suite guest. You should certainly not go away from the ship hungry and the wait staff that we met tries hard to make your dining experience a good one. MOVIES---There are several choices depending upon the days. On deck 11 there is the large outdoor screen which had excellent picture quality and however the sound system is very poor. A lot of the passengers left the area after only a few minutes due to the poor sound quality. You just flatly could not hear the sound. Once the weather turned cold no one seemed to attend these movies. Look for the free popcorn. Movies on certain days may be shown in the Showroom At Sea. The screen is small--small--small. Not much more than your large TV screen at home. Sound is acceptable though. No popcorn. There is the movie theater on deck , the Wijang Theater. The screen is large however don't expect high quality on the screen nor expect high quality sound. The seats in the center section are comfortable. Popcorn is free and you get about 1/3 of a bag. The number of bags is limited and if you get there at the beginning of the show don't expect pop corn as the bags will all be gone. Movies we saw were just DVDs, some of which reflected a lot or use or improper mishandling. EXPLORE TECHNOLOGY----This is a series of "classes" that Microsoft and HA provided free of charge. There is minimal seating, so get thee early. I think HA must go out of their was to obtain the most impersonal people anywhere when it comes to the technology and internet. I would have to give this person a very low rating when it comes to a friendly personality. She has an almost scripted program format , so don't expect to interrupt her and ask a question. Her voice presentation was without much volume thus if you are sitting close to the back of the room you may find hearing difficult. One good aspect is that we were told the "lessons" could be downloaded from the internet when you returned home. As a note, this is supported by Microsoft so expect to get a sales presentation pertaining to Microsoft products. You can learn a little about some of the subjects however if you are already an advanced used of software and the internet you may find these presentations rather boring. Some subjects included cameras and photography however once again don't expect in-depth technical assistance. FOOD PREPERATION & ENTERTAINING---If you have very many sea days you will most likely be looking for something to occupy your time. Perhaps a culinary workshop or food preparation would be to your choosing. Some of these classes have a fee associated with it, thus you have to sign up and be preregistered before going. We just attended the free ones as we are not professional chefs and have no desire to become one. Cake decorating drew about a dozen guest and lasted about 20 minutes. The presentations are made in the Culinary Arts Center (that is the Wajang Theater on Deck 7) BEVERAGES----There are eight locations throughout the ship where you can obtain beverages with the MIX being in the center of the ship on Deck 8. It's a sports bar thus if the satellite transmission is working you can pick up a football game from the US. You can purchase a drink card for 50% of the retail cost and alcoholic drink cards are also available for a discount. Check at the Wine Cellar on deck 7.There is no refund at the end of the cruise. We just paid by the day for whatever we ordered. There is a wine special where you can purchase three bottles of wine for a fixed price. This will actually save you some money if you expect to consume three bottles of wine during your cruise. There is a wine cellar on Deck 7 where a selection can be made. Taking your own non-Holland America wine will incur a corkage fee in the dining room. EXPLORE OUR WORLD----These presentations cover a wide range of subjects, some of which are interesting and other which will give you an opportunity to sleep for an hour. We noticed guest attending were involved in a lot of activities, such as reading the Kindle, crocheting, talking and reading a book. You might want to drop by one of two sessions to see if anything interests you. Don't expect to earn your PHD from the subjects being discussed. Some classes there are discussions on ports where the ship docks. The speaker/presenter was very good. CASINO-----I am usually negative when it comes to cruise ship casino, however this time I make an exception. This is a very small casino, with one roulette table and no crap table. Not all that many slot machines. There are one and two cent slot machines, however I never did figure out a way to play only a penny. The staff is friendly, accommodating and patient. I write patient as there were several novice gamblers that did not know the games or rules, however the staff took their time and made the people feel good and want to gamble. They still lost, however had a good time in doing so. There are Texas Hold'em Tournaments, Slot and Blackjack Tournaments. Texas Hold'em tournaments had buy ins on the first segment which was $30 however it went to $60 on the second segment. The slot tournament had a grand price of $500. The casino is closed while in Chilean waters and at all ports. Video cameras are not allowed however still pictures are permitted in the casino. THE SIGNATURE SHOPS----Sales of merchandise seems to pop up just about anywhere. Could not believe all the people pushing to get those t-shirts at pool side (2 for $25).Most of the "stuff" in the stores one just does not need. The watches and jewelry can be purchased stateside or on the internet at about the same prices or lower. Perfume available on this ship was rather limited and when my wife asked the prices it was more than state side sales prices. The store close to the MIX Lounger was clean and very well lighted. There is a liquor store on the same deck that carries a few drug items and snacks. If you think you will want snacks or drug items, bring them with you. The cost aboard is way out of line. There are several "sales days" aboard, some around the pool or on the deck where the shops are located. Just what you needed more "stuff" to put into that suitcase and take home for the next garage sale. PHOTO GALLERY------The ship offered all the photos taken of you aboard the cruise for a one time price of $299.00. Throughout the cruise we never saw very many passengers making purchases at the photo shop, however on the last day at sea of the first segment, we witnessed several making package as well as individual purchases. Many of the photos taken on shore and in the dining room were actually not all that great. They were just poorly concrafted snap shots and I know you can do much better. Even the formal night photos were out of focus, poorly posed and just enlarged snap shots. We noticed very few guest stopped by the photo locations on formal nights. The ship also has a special section called "Black & White". We talked with the graduate photographer, a young girl from England, who studied design, etc. and went into the photo portion after graduating. She has limited settings for her work and she tells me that generally the work is done on 8 X 10. There is no charge for the settings, however she advises there is a limit of 18 clients per cruise. You have to be into this type of photography to enjoy it and many are not all that keen about the rather off the wall concept for portraits. You will find though some of these type approaches to photography being highly acclaimed especially in the photo magazine contest. THE OUTSIDE WALKING TRACK--DECK 6---This is a walking track with several signs posted that advise "No Jogging Allowed"---In spite of that, you are going to encounter the person who thinks they are still a high school jock and can run down all those who walk on this deck. This is really a nice area to enjoy and four trips around the deck will give you your daily mile. Walk in the direction indicted by the arrows, not opposite like those "jocks" who apparently could not read. TOURS The ship's staff will offer a presentation on the various tours that are available. This will more than likely take place on the first morning after sailing. You can also go on line after registering and pre reserve your tours via the internet. We found this easy to do and on top of that your tour tickets will be delivered to your stateroom on your first day at sea. If you happen to be staying in a suite the concierge has the ability to reserve your tour at his/her desk and print your tour tickets immediately. Under the "ports" section I have discussed some tours. Benjamin along with another crew person made presentations on tours each morning. While they never misrepresent the tours, you may find the actual tours a little different than the presentations. For example the City of Rose and the German settlement tour was listed as 3 ½ to 4 hours. This was a tender location. We waited on the ship from 8:05 until 8:30 when we boarded the tender. After arriving at shore we had to wait until a second tender arrived which took us to around 9:15AM. The moved through the city to a stopping point above the city where we stopped for 5 minutes before proceeding o Puerto Arenas where we arrived at 10:15AM and advised we had approximately 30 minutes to visit the town. We reboaded at 10:50 and proceeded to the town of Fruitillar where we were again given 30 minutes to visit the German Settlement. Leaving at 11:45AM we arrived back at the dock around 1PM, boarded the tender and was back on the ship at 1:40PM. If you count all the waiting time then it is possible to get 3 ½ to 4 hours posted in the tour brochure. Actual time at the two site---one hour with all the rest being travel and waiting time. If you had done this on your own you could have seen a lot more and spent additional time at both locations. LAUNDRY & PRESSING & DRY CLEANING The laundry and dry cleaning with a suite cabin is complimentary. Otherwise there is a charge. Before you go cheering about this a word of caution. Don't send any really good, especially designer, clothing to be washed or cleaned. After 5 laundries your under clothes will no longer be a bright white, but rather a dingy gray. Those shirts you had laundered and starched will look a little dingy after just a few washings and your trousers will not hold a crease even a few hours after wearing. The bottom line is that the free service is a fantastic idea however the wear and tear on your clothes may end up costing you in the long run. My colorful polo shirts have lost their brightness and now look like dollar store shirts. Perhaps I can pass them off as designer polo shirts that were designed with dingy colors and by cutting a couple of holes in the blue jeans I now have designer blue jeans. As for the under shorts---they did not cost that much so I will toss them upon return home. PUERTO MONTT, CHILE This is an anchor port with about a 15 minute tender ride to shore. The landing port is a little over one mile from city center. There is very little around the actual port other than some local shops. The walk to town center will take about 30 minutes over concrete walkways and some gravel intersections. We found little to do in the town center other than browse through some of the local shops and stores. Tired of ship food---there is a McDonalds in the middle of town. We would suggest taking one of the ship's tours thus on our return trip we decided to take the tour that goes to Puerto Varas and Frutillar, the "city of roses" and the "little black forest". USHUAIA, ARGENTINA----- This is a neat little town of about 60000 population and is the most southern city in the world. The day we were there the weather was spectacular with the temperature around 50 degrees. A short walk from the cruise ship to downtown and St. Martin Street where one finds all the shopping, including internet cafes and restaurants. If you want to use the internet there are several locations on St. MARTIN'S Street and at a very nice hotel the Wi-Fi is free plus the coffee is rather good too and at a reasonable price with no charge for the internet. You will though need your own laptop. There are several museums plus the train to the end of the world. People are friendly and the US Dollar was accepted everywhere we went and credit cards could be used with your passport. One day we were there many of the shops were closed all day on Wednesday. By the way---tour guides at the end of the pier will tell you that just about everything you go to see will be "at the end of the world". According to the ship's personnel this is basically true as it is the mostly southern large city in the world. As we leave Argentine and return to our cabin we have a notice from Guest relations (still puzzled by guest relations title) that as we head for Chile we need to complete an entry form for each person. The form has been partially completed thus all we have to do is check a few blocks and sign. No doubt the cruise line feels as though many or some of us don't have the ability to complete such forms so they do it for us. A letter attached states that we need to have a copy of our passport which the cruise line has previously given us. When you make your last stop in Chile an immigration office usually aboard ship will ask you for that form before you leave the ship, so hang onto it. PUNTA ARENAS, CHILE-----This is a neat town with a very clean downtown area. The port though for our ship was in the industrial cargo container section and if you are going to the city center you should get a taxi ($10 per cabin or ride one of the vans ($3 per person) as going to town. It is too far to walk. There is a very nice port downtown and the days we were there a Seaborn ship was berthed. The area around that port is very clean with lots of new construction including a large casino. You can easily walk to the downtown from this port. There is some small amount of shopping about a mile from the pier. If you are not on a pre-paid tour there are dozens of taxis available in downtown and for a flat price they will take you most anyplace you desire to visit. We hired a taxi to take us an hour's drive away to a penguin colony. The price for three hours was $100 which included a return to our ship. In downtown we found a neat coffee shop, candy store/deli all rolled into one. Decorated in Christmas colors and trim, the place offered free internet (need your own PC or iPad). This was a friendly very clean stop located just a block off the main square on the main shopping street. At the park square there are dozens of local vendors selling trinkets as well as locally made crafts. Prices are most reasonable. A very nice tourist bureau office is in the park. You may have taken just those tours offered by the cruise ships or you may be an independent traveled and contract for your own tours. Around the square are lots of taxis and tour operators.Let's compare one of the tours offered at this port. The ship tour programs calls this the Patagonia Experience Otway Sound & Penguin Reserve -4 hours for $94.You travel to Otway Sound mostly over gravel roads. You will walk to the penguins area and from beginning to end is about 1 ½ miles over dirt, gravel, tundra and wooden walkways. The walk is not difficult however the walkways re uneven. Your guide will speak English. There are no stops and you are kept to a rigid time schedule. Most likely some guest will not be aboard on time to return from the tour. You will wait along with all the others. Let's look at the same trip "on your own". The cost for the driver to and from the ship was $100. You have to pay to enter the park and that is $4 each for you and your traveling companion. At the sound there is a $11 per person entrance charge. Total paid for the trip is $130. No tip to the driver. Total paid for the cruise ship tour is $188 plus $5 guide tip for $193. Savings for independent travel for this trip is $63.00 How do the trips compare? On the ship's tour you have English speaking guide, large bus type seating and service from ship back to ship with no corners about being late as the ship will wait. On the independent travel you save $63.00. The driver speaks very little English. You get service from and back to ship. The driver stops for you to take pictures along the way of the jack rabbit, sheep and wild birds. Not going to be the case on the large bus. The seating is car level with small seats however there is air-condition. Almost to your ship and you spot a souvenir stand so the driver stops. Not the case on the bus. Will the ship wait if your are late returning----NOT in a million years. You weigh the difference and see which is best for you. Time was not a factor as both the taxi and the bus returned some 4 hours before departure time.. MONTEVIDEO, URUGUAY-----The ships docks right downtown thus walking into the city center is easy. Once off the ship, look for the "green walk way"---that being the sidewalk that is painted green and one that will lead you away from the pier and into the city. Although we were there this last time on a Sunday there were still some stores open and lots of locals on the streets. Travel a few blocks up the street from the pier and make a left toward the city park area which is a few blocks up a slight incline. There is a church on one corner across from the park so look for that church steeple so you can track your way. Want to use the internet (must have your own PC)---well there is a small California Burrito Company store on your right as you go toward the park. Free and fast internet hookup so you can send everyone an e-mail. It's free however at least purchase a drink from the friendly operator. He will appreciate your business. The burritos are hugh so don't order more than one. Traveling on toward the park and then past the park, you will leave the old town and enter the newer financial and hotel district. Worth your time to see all the locals busy shooing and hustling from office to office. If the city center is not your thing, we suggest going to the COLONIA DEL SACRAMENTO which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is a 2 ' hour drive each way. You can opt for a tour from the ship or hire a driver at the pier. A personal driver will not take quite as long to get to the town. There are tolls along the way thus check to see if the driver is willing to pay those tolls. We had lunch at one of the local restaurants in the town. It was a long day with cobblestone streets inside the old city. Walking may be a little difficult however it can be done. Wheelchairs are a little more difficult to navigate. There is also a steam train ride available however we were advised this is primarily a tourist attraction like one might find at a large amusement park. Just across the street from the ship terminal entrance is a large pavilion filled with shops and many restaurants. Fresh meats are being bar b q'ed and grill over open pit fires. This is definitely a place to visit and to have lunch or dinner. FALKLANDS ISLANDS No doubt our most interesting and adventurous port stop. First the tenders have to travel quite a way to get to Port Stanley. The water was rough and the winds very strong. We went ashore without any tour reservations and found a local person that took us on a fantastic penguin tour about an hour away from the docks. He had a 4 wheel drive Range Rover that was needed as we crossed private ranch land to reach the nesting and beach area. We were the first to arrive at the area where we spent about 30 minutes observing and photographing at least 200 penguins. We can say this was a fantastic opportunity. As we left several other 4 wheel drive vehicles arrived and all in all at least a dozen by the time we got back to the gravel highway. We were paying $40 each for our trip will some of these other people had paid as much as $259 per person to see the penguins. Oh they did get a box lunch thrown in. We could not have been more pleased with this experience. It was fantastic and we saved a large bundle of money. Upon return to the docks we spent the next hour touring the small port town of Port Stanley. By the way that would have been another tour charge had we purchased on the ship. The time on shore was short, however by 1:30PM we were ready to return to the ship and we caught the last tender back to the ship before tender service was suspended. Those still on tours and on shore found long lines and long waiting time for their return trip to the ship. We were about two hours later leaving the area due to these long waits caused by large waves and high winds. The ride back consisted of repeated tossing's by the waves and getting along side of the ship became a real challenge for the skipper of the tender as we tried several times before being able to get along side. Even then many of us got thourghly soaked by the splashing waves that hit the tender. You can walk all over Port Stanley in a short period of time. We don't think a paid tour for walking is necessary. There is a war memorial that you need to see. Also a large general store right on the waterside street(The West Store), where you can get groceries, a cup of coffee, books and souvenirs, wines, toiletries plus there is an electrical store where cameras and supplies are available.. The place is clean and prices are reasonable. Across the street is the Capstan Gift Shop where some nice gifts c an be found. Numerous gift shops are in the downtown area. There are some small coffee and bakery shops that are worthy of your stooping by. Look for them on the side street away from the water. Pass up the "trinkets" shop as many of these souvenirs may not be of such great quality. There are two churches downtown just opposite the water and a restaurant across from the newspaper office. (Christ Church Cathedral , St. Mary's Catholic Church and The Tabernacle, United Free Church).Close by is the Post Office. The Whalebone Arch is in this part of town as is the 1982 Liberation Memorial. A school is also located downtown. The houses are quaint and most have a brightly painted roof that can be seen from a long distance. The wind blows very hard so bundle up for your walking tour. We were told that the Falklands get 40% of all their electrical power from wind turbines and that the percentage is increasing on a steady basis. If you are interested in the history of the Falkland Islands, including the 1982 war with Argentina, may I suggest that you research back at home before you come as books are rather expensive in the Falklands and I have yet to find that really good one about the 1982 war. Most in the bookstores are written from the perspective of a daily journal by one of more of the residents of those days. You can drop more than $300 per person on ship purchased tours for the Falklands or you can have an equally great time for less than $50 each by becoming your own travel agent. Just get to the dock early as the number of guides is limited. There is a close by penguin area where one can actually walk (about 1 ½ hours each way) and that is 100% free. What a fantastic job to have just meeting the 50 or 60 cruise ships per year and providing tour guides around the island! This in my opinion would be a great fun job, very limited workdays and a fairly good income. Now one would have to bear the cold and winds which never seem to die down. If you are a cruiser and have never been your own travel agent, there is no better time especially with the internet, to save yourself a bundle of money, get away from the crowds and take some fun and adventurous tours on your own. If you are tired of waiting on that constant straggler missing from the bus after every stop, if you are tired of the pushing and discourtesies at each stop, may I suggest trying a tour on your own. Start several months ahead of your trip and gather up tons of information and don't forget to check reviews on what has been the experience of others. CAUTION---There are live mines located in numerous places of the area. They are marked with signs, thus observe those signs and don't enter the marked off areas. Our guide says that mines are still being removed however the process is very costly and progress is slow. EXPLORATIONS CAF'---This is place along the port side on deck 8--just past the casino where you can get a book, coffee drink or use the internet (good luck on the internet). In fact this is one of the most frequently used areas we noticed on the ship. Large windows let you look out on the port side. You are close to the Rotterdam Dining room, thus a good place to meet friends before dinner. On the opposite side of the ship is another good place to meet friends at the Explorer's Lounge. Coffee is sold at about the same price you would pay at Starbucks. In the Neptune Lounge (suite guest) there is no charge for coffee including cappuccino. OCEANS BAR---Has some good seating with large windows on the starboard side. Music and entertainment in the evenings. Check the daily bulletin for drinks specials (usually the second one for $1) each day. TIPPING ABOARD SHIP I have read numerous posting on web sites in which questions have been ask about cruise ship tipping. There is no simple answer in spite of the fact that cruise ship experts , especially those working for the industry, will attempt to give you a "concrete and simple" answer to your question. On board this two segment trip Holland America added $11 per day per couple on the first segment and $12 per person per day on the second segment. total charges. Thus we paid for a 28 day , two segment trip $640.00. This means we paid $640.00 in tips for this limited number of employees, such as cabin stewards, their assistants, the waiter, his/her assistant and "others". In addition we paid 15% in tips for those drinks we purchased. Now if there was someone that was really outstanding, such as your waiter, to whom you have already committed $96.00 in tips, you may want to give him or her some additional cash. While Holland America used to provide envelopes for this at the end of the cruise, there were no visible envelopes around, however the front desk would be most happy to provide as many as you desire. Just remember that your waiter who was serving three tables of six has already received $864 from the mandatory tips for those past 16 days. On top of all of this you most likely were not served every meal by that waiter as you may have dined in the Lido or had service in your room. The point is that the cruise industry really screwed the tipping situation up when they started their "mandatory" program. You now give the same tips whether your service is good, poor or outstanding. On the other hand there are those passengers that without the "mandatory tipping" would most likely leave the ship without having left any tip. Now there are the "good guys" who will leave that waiter an extra $20, $50 or $100 bill as they leave the table on that last day. The real answer to that question is to "absorb" the Holland America "tip policy" and give something extra to that person what you think about his/her service. If there was nothing really outstanding then you have already tipped enough. By the way, these employees aboard the cruise ship are not paid great wages and their livelihood likely depends heavily upon your tips. Did you know Holland America makes that same wait staff pay for their inte3net usage? It is no wonder we see so many staff at the internet cafes on show where they make telephone calls back home or send e-mails to their families. SHIP'S CRUISE SURVEY OR EVALUATION At the end of the cruise expect your service to get about as good as it can get as every crew member is aware that a survey form is about to land in every cabin. However that was not our case as we did not receive a survey form. When we inquired at the front desk we were advised that if you are on a back to back or multiple cruise segments you will receive a survey from only at the end of the cruise. We don't think this is fare to either the staff or the customer. For example we changed Captains, Cruise Directors and many wait staffers at the end of the first segment. One of these was outstanding when another was just satisfactory. There is no way, unless I write a narrative on each employee, that those reviewing the survey will know who I am evaluating. I will probably not turn in my survey form and send a letter AND the survey form to Corporate instead. BACK TO BACK CRUISES----We have done this in the past and without a problem as we have always stayed in the same cabin for the entire cruise. This time it was a little different as the cabin we reserved on the first segment was not available for the second portion of the cruise. I was assured by a representative at corporate that we would have no problem. Not exactly true. Our first segment cabin was 035 and the second segment cabin was 006. One of the port side and the other on the starboard side. On the last evening of the first segment we still had no guidance on the move so I went to the front desk and was told I would get a letter later that day. I did receive a letter in a couple of hours and I suspect it was generated as a result of my visit to the front office. I noticed there was no new cabin key thus back o the front desk. I was informed that a new key could not be issued UNTIL THE actual cruise date which would be the following day. I once again asked about the actual move and was assured that a cabin attendant would assist. I even verified this with the concierge. We wanted to get off the ship as it was docked at Valparaiso however this was not going to be possible as we still had no new cabin at 10AM. Finally shortly after 10AM a cabin attendant came to the area where we were waiting and advised the new cabin had been cleaned. We moved out personal belongings with only one load of hang up clothes being moved by the cabin attendant. It just seemed as though no one knew what to do. We returned to the front desk where we were issued a new cabin key for the new cabin. At 11AM we ask a about leaving the ship and learned that the new boarding passengers would start boarding at 11:45AM. We did not want to get involved in any additional waiting lines thus we left the ship, went to the terminal and shortly after that reboarded so we would not have to wait with new boarding passengers. Holland American did not assist us in any way and I to assume they thought we could just work "it" out. Well we did, as we retuned back to the ship before noon time. So much for touring any of Valparaiso. One certainly needs to work out as many details on such a change before the final day. You can eliminate this problem completely by reserving the same cabin for your entire cruise. SHOULD I RESERVE MY NEXT CRUISE WHILE ABOARD SHIP? If you want my short answer it is "NO". I know it may be tempting to only have to pay a deposit of $100 for a cruise nearly two years away. You will also be advised that "credit" will go back to your home town (or wherever) travel agent. It may also be tempting from a standpoint that you may be able to select exactly the cabin you always wanted. Do you have any idea what world conditions will be some 18 months from now? Will those cruise destinations you desire now still be the ones you want to cruise to in 18 months? The economic stability of business and countries throughout the worlds are such that I just tend to say, let's wait until a closer time when I actually want to cruise. I look for destinations we want to visit, fro great fares and super accommodations aboard the ship. Sometimes it takes a little waiting to get just the right combination. There are new ships being added by the cruise industry every year plus there are new ports being opened up throughout the world. I have come to the point where we are looking for quality service, quality food, quality cabins, etc without breaking the bank. Rather than four cruises in two years we are opting for two or three where we can enjoy cruising at our expectations. Holland America has a 212 page Cruise Atlas 2012-2013. The booklet is very good and was planned well. You can browse through all the Holland American cruises for the two year period. Fining a copy locally may be difficult thus requesting a copy form HA may be the best way to get a copy. There were limited copies available on this cruise however there was a notice asking that the brochures be returned after reviewing. EXPLORE WELLBEING & Salon This is where you can go for a fitness class, acupuncture or across the hallway for a hair makeover or touch up on your fingernails. The Greenhouse and Explore Wellbeing will set you back a few dollars regardless of what you desire. While my wife used the hair dresser I stayed away from all of this section. If it is your thing --then go for it! YOUR TRAVEL GUIDE BENJAMIN Some good information with lectures throughout the cruise. Held in the Showroom at Sea. RELIGIOUS SERVICES Mass was celebrated in the Wajang Theater at 8AM ART AUCTIONS There were none---hurray!!! LATE NIGHT DANCING Available at several of the lounges throughout the evening LIBRARY There is a large library on deck 8 at the Explorations Cafe. Books can be checked in and out at the desk. A few paper backs are available for exchanges. You do not have to check these paperbacks out, just leave one as you take one. You will find a few books in the Neptune Lounge if you are a suite guest. Read Less
Sail Date: February 2011
This cruise had to be delayed a year for medical reasons, and we even had to switch to Holland America's Veendam. We booked a veranda cabin, which proved a prudent move because it enabled us to listen to the commentary on our TV, but ... Read More
This cruise had to be delayed a year for medical reasons, and we even had to switch to Holland America's Veendam. We booked a veranda cabin, which proved a prudent move because it enabled us to listen to the commentary on our TV, but step out on the veranda to take photos during the day cruising Glacier Alley. The ship and our cabin were spotlessly clean, and all the furnishings, carpets, etc., were in excellent condition. Arrivals and departures, with one exception, were on time. Cabin stewards were most helpful and accommodating. Dining room staff seemed to be a bit harried at times. Dining room meals were good, although not exceptional. The extra-fee dining room, which we visited once, was very good. The Lido restaurant was very busy at breakfast and lunch times, and on some occasions they ran out of some items. One of the highlights on Holland America is the Microsoft computer classes. The young woman doing these was absolutely phenomenal. She didn't talk over anyone's head, neither did she make anyone feel foolish. Some sessions were called "Techspert Time" where you could ask questions about computers, or cameras, and she really knew her stuff. One man said the classes were worth the price of the cruise on their own. Just get there early because seating is limited to about 20 people. All of the shore excursions we took were booked through the cruise line, except one from our Buenos Aires hotel to the ship. This took us through the city and into the Tigre area, and included a cruise on the Tigre river and connecting waterways. Dozens of islands, but no roads or bridges - everything, including the grocery stores, goes by boat. Montevideo, Uruguay appears to be a lovely city, and the locals love their beaches. There are some superb parks. Arrival in the Falkland Islands port of Stanley gives you the impression you are somewhere in England, and the locals all have West Country English accents. No wonder they didn't want any part of the Argentines during the 1982 unpleasantness. Most of their food and other needs are imported from Britain and the wool from their sheep (thousands of them) is shipped to England. We visited a penguin colony, via 4 wheel drive vehicle over bogs and rough terrain, and saw two types of penguins, including one pair with a late hatched chick. Ushuaia, Argentina, is a busy, modern city, with a very large port, and ship repairing facilities. We toured out into the countryside, then spent some time shopping in some excellent stores. Cape Horn has a reputation for some of the worst storms Mother Nature can devise, and the Veendam plowed through one in December. Waves broke over the bridge roof and the windows of the Crows Nest Lounge on Deck 12. The day we sailed around, it was almost as calm as a river. Punta Arenas, Chile, and Puerto Montt are both remote cities, but touring with a guide was most informative. At Puerto Montt we had gorgeous weather - one of only about 50 good days a year, according to the guide, a transplanted American. In between, we sailed to the Amalia Glacier, through the Strait of Magellan and the Beagle Channel, and past a series of glaciers. Initially we went to the Crows Nest Lounge to view the glaciers, but there were so many people, most drinking and talking loudly so we could not hear what the commentator was saying. So, we went to our cabin, turned on the TV to listen, and took photos from our balcony, which happened to be on the correct side of the ship. The cruise finished in Valparaiso, and our transfer to Santiago to catch our flight home included a stop at the Concha y Toro winery, one of the largest producers of wine in the world. This cruise covers a lot of territory. Shore excursions booked through the cruise line take up most of the buses available in remote ports, and we found them good value, with excellent guides who spoke good English. If you want to see penguins, there are some excellent tours. In the Falklands, the drivers of the 4x4 vehicles were local farmers who gave a good account of life on the islands. The one exception to punctuality I mentioned was caused by a tardy passenger who forgot that ship's time was different from local time, and came ambling down the wharf with her purchases an hour after we should have sailed. We were surprised the ship waited so long. Entertainment in the big theatre was good, although they always crank up the volume far too loud.   Read Less
Sail Date: December 2010
This cruise truly was a dream come true for me. We lucked out weather-wise - and the only turbulant waters were while at sea, and they were fun times - not at all alarming. The waters around "the Horn", in the Antarctic area and ... Read More
This cruise truly was a dream come true for me. We lucked out weather-wise - and the only turbulant waters were while at sea, and they were fun times - not at all alarming. The waters around "the Horn", in the Antarctic area and at the various ports were amazingly calm, and if there were rough times it must have been while we were sleeping. We, my youngest daughter & I, enjoyed every day aboard ship, and each port of call provided special joys for us. I must mention how much we appreciated our Captain, Rik Krombeen. He seemed determined to make the cruise "special" for everyone. His announcements were clearly given, with many humerous touches and we enjoyed hearing his "Hi, It's me again" when he'd call our attention to something special that we'd have missed otherwise. Our room steward, Farid (?), was the greatest. He was so efficient, and yet so friendly and willing to share with us, even though we knew we were interruping his work routine. He definitely left a couple of extermely happy travelers, and we hoped that HAL realizes what a great asset he is in conributing to a guest's overall enjoyment of the whole trip. We were made to feel special by so many members of the Veendam's crew - waiters who remembered our names after we first met them, the Lido staff, Cruise Director Patti Honacki, etc. etc.- so many smiling faces made for a truly happy trip. (We met just one unsmiling, rather dour faced "seater" in the Rotterdam Dining Room on two occasions.) I especially enjoyed the friendship that came with participation in the daily TaiChi sessions with Lifestylist Prince. He was great - and it was fun to progress through the series of lessons, feeling more relaxed and at ease after each session. I have a multitude of wonderful memories that will brighten my days through the years ahead.... Thank you to HAL and the entire crew of the Veendam. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2010
This was my first cruise ever and it couldn't have been better. I traveled with my mid-70s parents and they loved it too. We really lucked out weather-wise and made all of the ports of call. I particularly liked Puerto Montt ... Read More
This was my first cruise ever and it couldn't have been better. I traveled with my mid-70s parents and they loved it too. We really lucked out weather-wise and made all of the ports of call. I particularly liked Puerto Montt and Stanley, Falkland Islands. Puerto Chacubuco was good only because we had an awesome shore excursion (En Patagonia). Other people didn't particualarly like this stop. The itinerary was great, how they brought us to a beautiful glacier on Christmas morning so we could have a "white christmas". Antarctica was spectacular - could have used another day there since a couple spots were fogged out. I had considered one of those national geographic expedition-type trips that are big $ and get to step foot on Antarctica, but I really don't feel like I missed much, especially since we got to see penguins up close and personal in Punta Arenas and Falklands. Picking up scientists in Palmer station was also a fun and interesting thing to do. Our captain did an amazing job helping us to see some of the real highlights of antarctica, especially navigating down the Lemaire Channel where the other ships didn't dare to go. The sea days were almost as fun as the shore and antarctica days. Lots of fun activities, speakers, trivia, movies, bridge, etc. The shows were mostly good - I liked the variety of the people brought on for one night's show only (Daniel Bouchet, Fabio Zini, Juan Carlos) I liked reading the daily newspaper and getting the sudoku every day. Good selection of news and movie channels on the TV, plus ability to see reruns of ship speakers that were missed. The staff was all good - captain, cruise director Patti, our steward Sam, etc. Our room was OK and on the Main Deck. No issues with room temperature. The food, especially the desserts and prepared salads in the Lido were great. Lots of variety. Nice touch when they served special treats (gingerbread & hot chocolate at the christmas shows, finger food for the bowl games on Jan 1, snacks at midnight on new years eve) I have only a few minor complaints. The ship's shore excursions are too expensive. They seem to cost about double what it might cost if booked independantly. The tendering process at Puerto Montt took 2 hours before any independant travelers could get off. A few food items were bad (I couldn't even look at the lobster thermidor). I was sleeping in the sofa sleeper and the sheets were clean but old (permanent stains and holes). I only called room service a couple times, but it was sometimes slow (for example, took an hour to get ice delivered). I loved the Crows Nest but it got way too smoky in the Antarctic. Due to regulations, people couldn't smoke outside or on their balcony so the only smoking areas were the casino & crows nest. Overall great trip and good value. I would recommend this cruise to others. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2010
This was a great cruise. I was really interested in the scenic cruising aspect and it did not disappoint. Loved the Veendam, much better atmosphere than the Eurodam which was my first HAL experience.My lanai cabin was an excellent ... Read More
This was a great cruise. I was really interested in the scenic cruising aspect and it did not disappoint. Loved the Veendam, much better atmosphere than the Eurodam which was my first HAL experience.My lanai cabin was an excellent alternative for a single who did not want to pay for a balcony. We hit an amazing storm after we left the Falklands. The Captain, Rik Krombeen, kept us informed of what was going on, so it was not at all frightening.Communication was so important to keep everyone calm after he requested that we stay in our cabins. The next day the Captain announced that we had had winds that were one and a half times hurricane speed, that is over 100 mph on deck.The forecast had been for 55mph winds and he said it was the worst storm he had ever been in, in 31 years of sailing. Waves were 35 feet and were hitting the very top deck. People in the lower decks had shutters fitted to their windows. We lost a whole day and I would have been happy to miss Punta Arenas but it is where the $3399 day in the Antarctic excursion leaves from, a good little Holland America money spinner. We missed Puerto Montt instead. I was very happy with the way this cruise went but I can understand that those who were seasick found it a nightmare. It certainly gave everyone something to talk about and we were well informed. I was amazed at the people who had very tight connections in Valparaiso, one of whom publicly abused the captain. We got a very generous cruise credit for something that was not HAL's fault. Please read my port reviews for further details. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2010
Sunday December 19, 2010: The day started with a call from Duncan at 5:00 AM stating that their flights had been cancelled since Europe was under snow. They tried to rebook a flight that would get them to Rio on Tuesday prior to ... Read More
Sunday December 19, 2010: The day started with a call from Duncan at 5:00 AM stating that their flights had been cancelled since Europe was under snow. They tried to rebook a flight that would get them to Rio on Tuesday prior to sailing, however, I don't have my hopes up too high. Mary and I got to O'Hare airport at 3:30 PM for a 6:15 U.S Airways flight to Charlotte, NC, which left on time, arrived in Charlotte on time, and had us walking a half mile between terminals to catch the connecting flight to Rio. The flight was delayed as we waited on 11 passengers on an inbound flight from San Francisco. We were also told that the plane would be making a stop in San Juan, Puerto Rico, since they needed to refuel, due to the weight load on the plane from cargo. The planned 20 minute stop at 2:30 AM lasted almost two hours. Monday December 20, 2010 We were one hour late arriving in Rio De Jenairo. Princess had the transfer folks waiting for us. This was nice. We had a pleasant ride to the docks, check-in was smooth, and we were on the ship by 3:30 PM. We immediately signed up for a $175 internet package, and had a terrible time connecting, just to look if we had email from Duncan and Jenny. After much frustration, we got the bad news that they couldn't get out of the UK, and we were on our own for this adventure of a lifetime. Mary and I ate at the Horizon Court buffet for a quick meal. We then went to our cabin and rested a while, I notified the family that we arrived okay, and then went upstairs and made a cup of Starbucks via...the first good cup of coffee we had in 48 hrs. We met a nice couple from Jacksonville, MaryLou and Bill, both used to work for Eastern Airlines. It was a pleasant conversation, but didn't have quite the wit and humor I was anticipating.....it should have been Duncan and Jenny. We had our muster drill at 7:30 PM, and then Mary and I went back to the cabin and prepared for dinner. I ran up on Deck 14 to do some night time photography, and Mary met me. A wonderful full moon on the port side of the ship reflecting off the harbor. There's supposed to be a full lunar eclipse tonight, but I don't think we'll be up to enjoy it. We ate dinner at the Crowne Grille restaurant on the ship. $20 cover per person, but a wonderful combination of gourmet appetizers (Crab Cakes and Asparagus for Mary, Sea Scallops, Apples, and Faux Gras for me), followed by Filet Mignon for Mary and Rib eye for me. Mary had some excellent sautEed mushrooms with her entree, and I had a loaded baked potato. Both of us were pleasantly surprised by the flavor of the beef. Mary went back to the room, and I roamed the deck, dealing with my depression over Duncan and Jenny. I went back to the room, dropped off the camera, and went back out to claim a double Jim Beam on the rocks as a night cap. The alarm is set for 6:15 AM since we have the morning excursion to Christ the Redeemer statue, the symbol of Rio. They recommend we bring our own water. The temperatures are in the 90's here, as summer gets into full swing. Tuesday December 21, 2010 Woke up early. The Internet was much better. I bet that everyone was still sleeping. Since I am an early riser, if the connection is this good early in the morning, I will have no problems keeping in touch with friends and family. Reading work email has been ruled out as a precautionary measure to maintain sanity on this well deserved three week holiday. We ordered room service for breakfast. We met our tour group in theater for the trip to Christ the Redeemer statue. We had a wonderful tour guide, Patricia, a local native, and a very proud native. The view from top of Corcovado Mountain is spectacular. Bonus: We had 1 hr left of tour time, so Patricia took us for a drive through the Copacabana and Impenema beach neighborhoods and along the beachfronts . Several topless women, and lots of butt floss filled the sand. We ate a light burger lunch, and went back to room for a mid-afternoon rest. The boat set sail from Rio at around 5:50, a little late, since we had to wait for a busload of passengers from the Sugar Loaf Mountain tour that were stuck in traffic. The sail-out from Rio was beautiful, as the sun was starting to set, the city was silhouetted on several sides. The two notable points were seeing Corcovado Mountain and the statue in silhouette against a backdrop of puffy clouds. The second gorgeous vista was the close sail by of Sugarloaf Mountain. Mary and I ate a light dinner at the Horizon Court buffet, then a quick stop at a horrible ONE NIGHT ONLY show in the theater, which was Frank the cruise director selling you everything about Princess. We stopped at the casino and I won $60, and Mary won $5. Wednesday December 22, 2010 Out in the south Atlantic all day, calm seas, and no land. Mary commented that it was amazing how the horizon is circular around you, as if you were the stake in the ground holding a measuring rope to draw the circle. Dinner was the first formal night, and the Captain's Champagne Waterfall event in the Atrium. We ate by ourselves this night. I had an appetizer of Kiwi, Grapefruit and a Raspberry sauce, a bowl of chicken won ton soup, and medallions of tenderloin with mixed vegetables and a potato Almond croquette. Mary had a Crab Cake, a Cesar Salad, and a very nice piece of Halibut. Desert was decadent chocolate pudding cake with flaked dark chocolate and fresh sweet whipped cream. Can you say sugar coma? The rest of the evening was spent going to the various venues and sampling some of the entertainment. We stopped at the casino again, and Mary started with $20, and ended up with $56. Way to go Mary, as I returned the $60 won the previous night. Thursday December 23, 2010 At sea all day, as we steamed towards Montevideo, Uruguay to pick up fuel and supplies. I got a good early morning internet connection and sent mail to Duncan and Jenny to see what their status was. We were hoping, since the captain announced that over 60 passengers from the UK would be joining us in Montevideo, that Duncan and Jenny would be amongst them. I received a return mail from Duncan stating that they couldn't get out of the UK, and to enjoy ourselves. I am heartbroken. We finally came out of open seas near San Carlos, passed a lighthouse and took some hazy photos of the shore. About two hours later, we entered the Rio De La Plata and into Montevideo harbor, the busiest sea port in South America. The key for the ship was so narrow, and it's amazing how the pilot can use the thrusters to slowly manipulate the ship into port. Dinner: I had a shrimp cocktail, a salad and Duck L'Orange. I forget what Mary had. We retired to our room which is on the starboard side of the ship facing the dock. We watched, as workers unloaded 7 full shipping containers, and 2 semi-trucks worth of produce and non-perishables, stage them on the dock, have them inspected for explosives, then fork lifted on to the ship. All was completed by around 12:30 AM, and at 1:00 AM the pilot fired up the thrusters and inched us out of port. Right below my balcony, a huge tugboat came and pushed us around our axis to turn the ship 180 degrees so we could head out back to the Rio De La Plata and out into the Atlantic again for our 1500 mile journey to the Falkland islands. I didn't get to bed until after 2 AM since this sail away from Montevideo was too awesome to miss and I just had to watch. Friday December 24, 2010 We watched a presentation by Captain Edward Perrin, Joe May, and an Ice Captain, detailing the navigational charts of where we will be sailing to in Antarctica. We were prepared by the captain, that the weather is totally unpredictable, and can change within minutes, and the only thing certain was uncertainty. They also spoke about how they double man the bridge to navigate through the ice in the channels of the South Shetland Islands. I went up on deck around 10:30 AM to join Mary. We both ate brunch, and read our books until about 1 PM. At 3:30 PM, Mary and I attended the Maitre D's Sommelier's wine club tasting. The tasting features 6 wines, 1 champagne, 2 chardonnays, Jack London Cab Sav, Opus 1, and another Cab. All 6 wines were fantastic, and paired with a platter of CanapEs...after all, a sommelier's job is to know the wine and how to pair it with food. A new wine trick we learned....if it has oak, bring out the smoke. Basically, a California Chardonnay has lower acidity than its French counter parts, is more complex, and pairs well with smoked fish, or lightly smoked barbecued meats. We stopped at Vines, the wine bar, and purchased a bottle of the Jack London Cab Sav, and a bottle of the Cuvaison chardonnay. Dinner: I had a duck pâtE appetizer, a dry Caesar salad, and a roasted shrimp kabob. Mary had baked calamari, which was tender and perfect, a Caesar salad and the shrimp kabobs. For desert, I had a Pineapple sorbet and some pistachio ice cream. Mary had an apple strudel with vanilla ice cream on a bed of vanilla sauce. It was 9 PM when we finished dinner, and we went to the casino to try our luck. We were both playing a 10X 3 coin quarter machine. Mary was up and down, and I hit two 10X single bars, which was 300 coins or $75 each. By the end of the night, I was up $200. As we headed back to the cabin, we noticed the sunset on the starboard side. It was about 9:45 PM and the colors were fantastic. We quickly went back to the room and grabbed the cameras. The sun had just settled below the horizon, and the colors were changing by the minute. I stood on the balcony and fired off about 100 pictures over the next 15-20 minutes, until the color was gone from the sky. I now understand why the photographers consider the 30 minutes after sunset "The Sweet Spot." We went up to the buffet to pick up "Denny's" late night snack and two coffee cups for our morning Starbucks Via. What a wonderful invention, and we're probably the envy of all American coffee drinkers on board, since the coffee on the boat borders between bad and horrible. Our little Proctor Silex electric kettle is a wonderful accessory to travel with for making hot water very fast. We returned to the room and opened the wine, had a couple of glasses, and settled down for the night. Saturday December 25, 2010. Merry Christmas. Overnight we cruised to the southwest, so we went back a time zone. Supposedly, that gets you an extra hour of sleep, however, you really just wake up an hour earlier. I awoke at 5 AM to the sounds of the ship's foghorn, and as the sun came up, it quickly burned off the fog. The temperature outside is a cool 56 degrees, a big contrast to the 80's and 90's experienced in Rio and Montevideo. The seas are still relatively calm, with waves 1-4 feet, however, there is a low pressure system moving in. I am trying to figure out this time zone thing. I think that Brazil sticks out so far to the east on the South American Continent, that it pushed those folks two hours ahead of NY, and being in summer, and observing daylight savings time, they are 3 hrs ahead of NY, 4 ahead of Chicago. As you head down the east coast of South America, you are actually heading southwest, so you move back into another time zone. Port Stanley is 3 hrs ahead of Chicago. Sunday December 26, 2010 Sunday was spent in Stanly, Falkland Islands. With a population of just over 3000 inhabitants total throughout the Falklands, when a cruise boat docks, the population doubles for a day. The local folks were wonderful, and Stanly has a rich history savored by the people. It was about 45 degrees, and very windy, however, Mary and I were dressed for it, in layers. and didn't mind the wind at all. After tendering to shore, we explored the town, and of course, in the Falklands, you can get all four seasons in one day. The sky covered itself with clouds, and we had a light rain, followed by even stronger winds. It's funny to watch the tourists battle the elements, all bundled up, and the locals walking around in nothing but hooded sweatshirts. Mary spend the early afternoon shopping, and I went on my Gentoo Penguin tour, which consisted of a 10 mile drive in a mini-bus past the extensive mine fields that are marked for your safety. According to our guide, both the British and Argentinean governments are still actively clearing mines from the 1982 conflict, but lack funding to complete the job. While there have been no human casualties due to land mines since 1982, it has taken a big toll on the cattle and sheep that graze those fields. We then met our 4x4 driver and had the most awesome time going off road in the rocky and muddy fields for about 7-8 miles down to Bluff Cove to walk amongst the colony of about 2000 penguins. This was one of the greatest thrills of my life. The chicks were already hatched and about 2 months old, so they were about 2/3 the size of the adults. The Gentoo are the species that builds their nests of little pebbles and sticks, but constantly steal pebbles from neighboring nests until the victimized male starts chasing the thief. It's hilarious to watch. The sun hid behind a big black cloud, making photography a bit difficult, but there were several times the sun shone brightly, and I took hundreds of shots. Another bonus was that a small colony of King Penguins was starting to inch their way into the Bluff Cove area, as well as some Rock Hoppers. The wandering albatross, with a wingspan of about 11 feet was the predominant avian species in the sky, and I did spot several arctic terns, as well as other various sea birds. Mary and I have also spotted several pods of dolphins off the starboard side of the boat, and one whale so far. We left Stanley about 6:15 PM, and are now headed southwest to the Antarctic Peninsula. We should be crossing the Antarctic Convergence, the area of the ocean where the colder Antarctic water goes beneath the warmer ocean waters of the south Atlantic. This churns up the food supply for the cetaceans and we should be seeing many whales during the day today. I don't need to say anything more about the food on board, since 99% of it is yummy. Monday, December 27, 2010 We entered the Drake Passage between South America and Antarctica around 7 AM in the morning. The Drake Passage has the world's roughest navigable waters, and thousands of ships have been lost during the glory of the whaling era, however, our entry into the passage was met with sunshine and calm seas. Around Noon we passed across the Antarctic Convergence. That is where the colder waters from below the 60th parallel undercut the warmer waters from the south Atlantic. This churns up the food that many sea birds and cetacean (whales and dolphins for you non-biologist) thrive on. The first signs of Antarctic wild life made their presence known. They are Snowy Albatross, Wandering Albatross, Petrels, and Prions. All were photographed in flight and I have quite a few good shots. I do have a birds and mammals guide for Antarctica that I picked up in Stanley, so this came in handy to identify the exact species by their markings. Mary and I had lunch in one of the main dining rooms today, she had a tuna melt and I had a Beef London Broil in a mushroom gravy topped with shitake mushrooms, with a side of fresh peas and carrots....yum! I topped off my meal with some chocolate bread pudding. I thought I wasn't going to talk about the food any more. I guess I slipped. Well, the Drake Passage is starting to live up to its reputation, for after lunch the seas went from slight, to moderate, with about 10 foot swells. The barometer is falling, so a low pressure system is moving in, which means wind, wind, and more wind....they are expecting about 25 foot swells come mid-evening. I find the rocking of the boat very soothing. We were informed several times today by the ship's crew, that there are special rules we have to observe for our 4 days sailing the Antarctic continent, like no food or smoking on the balconies or open decks, not to wear ball caps, don't expect clean towels, etc. The loose clothing and smoking & eating ban on the open decks is because they want nothing to blow into the water so the Antarctic Peninsula can remain a pristine environment. The clean towel, no laundry rules are because the ship can only carry so much "gray water" (toilet flushes, waste water from showers, cooking, etc) and we can only dump this gray water in certain locations in the ocean. Antarctica restricts this dumping, so we have to hold on to it for the four days. So to conserve our capacity to hold this water, the rules are enforced by international treaty. I am a firm believer in "leave nothing but your footprints, take nothing but your memories" and about a 1000 pictures. We are expected to arrive at Elephant Island by 6 AM. The sun is setting here around 10:30 PM and rising around 4 AM, so there's not much full darkness. Elephant Island is where Ernest Shackleton left the crew of the Endeavor and made his way 800 miles north to South Georgia Island and came back to rescue them a year later. The crew survived on penguin, and anything else they could catch and lived beneath a wooden life boat for a year. Tuesday, December 28, 2010 Traveling across the Drake Passage is like a never ending ride at Disney World. Compounding the problem was 90 knot winds. 90 knots is about 120 MPH. Air temperature was 33 degrees F, and with the wind chill, it was 18 below zero. Mary and I dressed in several layers: Silk long johns, shirt, fleece sweatshirt, wind proof jacket, and an over jacked with fleece. We were perfectly warm throughout, and when we got to Elephant Island, the first island in the South Shetland islands of Antarctica, it was snowing, and foggy, and 20 foot swells. The captain parked the boat to ride out the wind and snow. He said Elephant Island was 1/2 mile to starboard, but we couldn't see a thing. He turned the boat and started heading back the way we came to see if we could escape the weather. While he was turning, we had a 95 MPH gust and associated squall. The boat listed about 10 degrees to port. It was a weird feeling, but only lasted about 2 minutes and we were stable again. Mary and I ventured up on deck just to see what it was like to stand in a 90 MPH wind. It was almost impossible to stand, and we sought shelter with the rest of the 2500 passengers. Around 11 AM, the fog started to lift a bit and we had a hazy view of Elephant Island. It was then I realized the true mystery of Antarctica, and the lure it has on adventurers. You see, the ship can get you there, however the continent only reveals itself to you when it wants to, and then, only enough to make you want more. The ship then proceeded to the south portion of the island, where the Endurance Glacier is. This glacier is about 2 miles across, and about 100 feet high at its calving edge. It was so overcast, that photography was near impossible, however, the sun did shine through and I have some fantastic pictures. The ship stayed by this glacier for about 2 hours. The sun came out full as we headed out to sea. We are currently heading for Antarctic Sound, which is also known as Iceberg Alley. This should be interesting. The sun sets at 11:30 PM or so, and then sunrise is as 2:30 AM. It doesn't really set, as the sky is fairly light for being night time, sort of like a dusk to dawn with no dark in between. Wednesday, December 29, 2010 I awoke at 6:45 AM and we were smack dab in the middle of "Iceberg Alley" in Antarctic Sound. The weather was mostly foggy with visibility of about 1 mile. The Captain slowed to boat down to 2 knots, as the ice pilot navigated his way through aircraft carrier sized pieces of ice. We were making our way to Esperonza Station, an Argentine observation post, one of the first in Antarctica. The fog got so bad, the Captain had to use only the thrusters to move the ship. After about 1.5 hrs of waiting, the decision was made to abandon our attempts for the trip to Esperonza Station, turn the ship around and head back to the Bransfield Strait, just south west of the South Shetlands, to make our way to our second destination, Admiralty Bay. On the way out, the weather cleared just enough to behold some of the biggest pieces of floating ice in the Antarctic Sound. Many of the icebergs had chinstrap penguins and Adelie Penguins hitching rides across the Sound. There was even a single Adelie Penguin on a small iceberg that became a meal for a lone Leopard Seal. The sun broke through the fog at around 10:30 AM, and the Bransfield Strait was full of marine wildlife. Mary and I watched a pair of humpback whales spout and breach on the Starboard side of the ship. I believe I caught a few of the blows with the camera, and maybe the head of one of the humpbacks. Of course, the weather changes quicker than a blink of the eye here, and within 30 minutes or so, we were back in fog, and had some more snow on deck. We made the entrance to Admiralty Bay as the sun dramatically broke through the clouds. The ship made a nice pass of Pieter J. Lenie, a U.S. summer scientific station, and north to Shag Point, home of the Polish Arctowski station, which a year round scientific station. There, the ship stopped to disembark 4 Polish scientists that we picked up during our service call in Montevideo. They will be there for 6 months. Two zodiac rafts launched from the Arctowski station came along starboard, picked up the scientists, and they quickly made their short trip back to the station. Between the American and Polish stations were two huge colonies of penguins, one Adelie, one Chinstrap. I would estimate about 10,000 individuals in the colony. To the left of the Arctowski station, were a pair of humpback whales hanging out at the surface, fin slapping the water for at least an hour. Another humpback was spotted starboard aft, and was spouting the breaching. I caught a great, although slightly out of focus shot of the fluke. The naturalist answered some questions about the wild life and the actual area we are in. The water depth in Admiralty Bay is 16Km (10 mile) deep, as it is part of a deep Antarctic trench. During the slow sail out of Admiralty Bay we were only 1/2 mile from the coast of the islands, and we gazed upon fantastic vistas of glacier upon glacier, upon glacier. I thought I was in heaven when I saw my first glacier in Alaska . All Alaska was in reality, was an appetizer to the main course. We are below parallel 63 now, and by international treaty, we cannot sail below 65, so tomorrow, we will be spending the day in the Neumayer Channel, going to about 64.8 degrees south, then finally, on 12/31/2010, head out of Antarctic waters with a quick stop at Deception Island, a caldera (sunken volcano), before crossing the Drake Passage north to Cape Horn. Sunset tonight is at 12:45 AM, and sunrise is a 2:15 PM. I have a nice suntan already, even though the sun is only out for about 5 hrs a day and hides behind those pale gray clouds the rest of the time. Thursday, December 30, 2010 I woke up around 6:45 AM to nothing but fog. Mary popped her head up and inquired as to what was outside the window, to which I said, "Nothing but fog," but as soon as the words left my lips, the fog lifted and we were in the Gerlache Strait, with tremendous 6000 foot spiked snow covered peaks all around the ship. I made some coffee, but couldn't really finish it, and grabbed the camera, bundled up and ran up on deck 16 to see. I thought it would be cold, since the air temperature was only 32 degrees, however it was quite comfortable. I didn't know where to look, it was sensory overload. The incessant recurring clouds and fog make it difficult to photograph the scenery in the distance, however, when we made the turn into the Nuemayer Channel, the sun came out to reveal a wonderful blue sky and the mountains of the Antarctic Peninsula....stupendous. We sailed all the way into Neumayer Channel, seeing Crabeater Seals and Gentoo Penguins, all hitching rides on the ice flows. We also saw numerous Humpback whales, however, they were too far off to photograph. We officially made it to the 64.8 degrees south, as far south as we are allowed to travel in a heavy fuel vessel. It is sad that the big ships will not be able to travel to this wonderful land anymore, but I fully embrace the necessity to ban the travel due to the risk of damaging the fragile ecosystem down here. Small ships carrying less than 250 passengers that consume diesel fuel will still be allowed south of the 60th parallel. My soul tells me that I will return here one day on one of those vessels. One of the day's highlights, was how the captain and his bridge crew navigated through a brash ice field. Brash ice is little tiny pieces of ice that are the last remnants of an iceberg. They are not so little. This was like navigating a mine field, or passing through the meteor belts that surround earth. We watched as the ship made its way through this ice....crunching around the sheer weight of the ship. They used their thrusters to push the ice away when it got too thick. This is the kind of ice that the old whaling vessels dreaded, since it can gather around your ship quickly and refreeze, trapping your ship. One of the most spectacular things of the day was when one pickup truck sized chunk of ice completely came out of the water and flipped over on itself with a thunderous crash....right in front of our balcony. Mary was filming video of the brash ice, when I heard her say, "OH MY GOD!!! Look at that," and you think she would have turned the camera towards it, but no. The ship pivoted on its axis and sailed out of the Nuemayer Channel, and the captain made a quick stop in Paradise Harbor. This place was pristine. Calm, glassy deep water, and towering mountains with the edge of the Antarctic ice shelf in the near distance. It was here where a humpback whale decided to breach in front of our balcony. Of course, I didn't have camera in hand, and missed a golden opportunity. We stayed in Paradise Harbor for about two hours, then headed back out to sea, on our way to Deception Island for an early morning arrival tomorrow. This will be the last views of Antarctica before we set out to re-cross the Drake Passage and steam towards Cape Horn. Right before leaving for dinner, a pod of three humpback whales breached in front of the balcony. This created the perfect ending for the perfect day....at least that is what I thought. At dinner, the ship's sommelier gave Mary and I personalized service for about 45 minutes. We had attended his wine tasting on the 3rd day of the cruise, and he was wonderful....now we had him at our table, expertly pairing a wine with our selected dinner choice. The marvelous thing about having the sommelier tend to you, is that you get to find out what he has hidden in the wine cellar that is not on the wine list. Mary and I has a superb 2000 Robert Mondovi Merlot. The sommelier decanted the wine so slowly, with a high intensity halogen pen light to make sure no sediment entered the decanter. What an experience. The sun will not set until 1:20 AM, and will rise again at 2:30 AM....so this is coming close to no true dark hours. Friday, December 31, 2010 As the old year comes to an end today, so does our Antarctic adventure. I rose at 7:15 AM, looked out the window to our balcony, and saw hundreds of Chinstrap Penguins breaching through the calm waters. We were only about 5 miles from Deception Island, a caldera in the South Shetland islands. The last eruption of this volcano was in 1972, and destroyed a British and an Brazilian research base inside the perimeter of the caldera. It was extremely foggy, but the fog lifted enough to make out the outline of Deception Island and its volcanic ash beaches. The air smelled from Penguin and from sulfur. Deception Island is home to the world's largest Chinstrap Penguin colonies, with over 300,000 nesting pairs. I think most of these pairs were in the water this morning. The ship stopped for a bit so we could view the sites, then circumnavigated the island, turned around and headed back out to sea to begin our 1.5 day crossing of the western Drake passage. A low pressure system is moving into the area, indicating an infamous South Atlantic summer storm, and it's expected to be a rough crossing. The captain came on the PA and informed us to store all valuables in a drawer, or to leave them on the deck (the nautical term for the floor), since if they are on the deck, they can't fall any further. Tonight is New Years eve on the Star Princess. They have hung a huge net from the ceiling of the atrium, and are beginning to fill it up with balloons for a midnight drop to ring in the new year. It is also the second of our formal dinners. The naturalist on board tried to make a joke that we needed to sail away from Deception Island, since with everyone dressed in tuxedos tonight, the Chinstraps would think that we were a big floating penguin colony. The New Year's Eve party was fantastic. If you can imagine about 2600 people gathered on three decks around the atrium, a great band playing good old time rock and roll and then the balloon drop at midnight...it was AWESOME! Overnight, we had to secure everything, as we made our way back across the Drake Passage. We have 20 foot swells and 60 MPH winds....the ship is doing its own version of Rock and Roll. Tomorrow around 4 PM, we will circle Cape Horn, the most southern tip of South America, and then make our way into the Beagle Channel on our way for a very early morning docking in Ushuaia, Argentina on Sunday, 1/2/2011. Mary and I have a full day of shore excursions there. The following day, 1/3/2011 we will dock in Punta Arenas, Chile, and have some fun things to do there after we tender to shore. Saturday January 1, 2011 The Drake Passage crossing was extremely rough with 25-30 foot swells. We awoke around 8:15 AM to the boat listing back and forth. Mary wasn't doing so well and looked a little green around the gills. We went for a 10 AM presentation by Joe May, a port lecturer in the Princess theater at the front of the ship. The boat was bouncing pretty good. Mary was too sea sick to eat breakfast, and after the lecture we returned to our cabin and Mary slept most of the early afternoon. The captain announced that the seas and winds were too harsh to embark our Chilean pilot to circumnavigate Cape Horn, however, we'd still do a sail by about 3 PM. The view was spectacular, as we were met with the cliffs of Cape Horn, as well as many albatross and petrels. Cape Horn was shrouded in cloud, but as soon as we sailed past it on the Atlantic ocean side, the seas calmed, and Mary started to feel better. About two hours later, as the sun burned off the clouds and we were presented with blue skies as we entered the Beagle Channel, so named for the vessel that was captained by Fitzroy, and carried a young twenty six year old naturalist named Charles Darwin. Mary and I ate dinner in the main dining room, which was unusually empty. I think too many people were nursing hangovers from the night before, or recovering from sea sickness from the morning's rock and roll revival. After dinner, we watched as our Argentine pilot come on board, from an Argentine Navy vessel with huge 50 caliber machine gun mounted on the bow. The sun began to set on the port side of the boat, and I grabbed the camera and went to the Sports Deck on level 16 of the ship, however, the ship went into a hard left hand turn in the channel that put the sunset over the Argentine hills on the starboard side of the ship. I ran back to the cabin, and waited patiently to capture the sunset in the southern most part of South America. As soon as the sun dips below the horizon, or in this case, behind the mountains, the sky becomes ablaze. It is hard to describe, and even though the camera can accurately capture the colors, it's just a narrow view of the sky, not what you take in 360 degrees around you. Sunday, January 2, 2011 We arrived in Ushuaia, Argentina around 5:30 AM, about 1.5 hours ahead of schedule. Due to only 1/2 hour between tours that we had booked, we were able to cancel our mountain drive in the morning, and Mary and I were free to roam the streets of this town at "Fin Del Mundo" the "End of The World." We started by stopping at the post office and mailing 20 postcards to everyone we love. We did a little gift shopping, then strolled the streets. We went back to the ship around 11:30 AM, ate a quick lunch, and got ready to disembark for our Beagle Channel Catamaran tour. The catamaran took us to several small islands inhabited by sea lions and King Cormorants. I was pretty exciting since the boat got us to within about 20 yards from the animals. We also saw a colony of Rock Cormorants that just had their brood. There is advantages to photographing the wild life up close, but there are disadvantages too, number one on the list is the stench. Since I have been around sea lions before, I knew they had an odor, however the Cormorant smell was almost overwhelming, where the sheer concentration of ammonia in their droppings goes through your nostrils and enters the back of your throat where you just can't get rid of it. There were several times I had to enter the ship's main cabin to rid myself of that smell. Mary didn't fair too well with the stench either. We got back to the Star Princess around 3:30 PM, and we sailed away from Ushuaia around 5 PM going back into the Beagle Channel....Argentina on the starboard side, and Chile on the left. The channel widens a bit, and then you have Chile on both sides. We disembarked our Argentine pilot, picked up two Chilean pilots and proceeded to navigate the fjords of the channel. There were six glaciers, small compared to what we saw on the white continent, but still quite impressive. They were named after countries during the charting of the channel from 1882-1883. They were Holloandia (Holland), Italia (Italy), Francia Nuevo (France, new glacial arm), Francia (France Originally charted glacier) Alamania (Germany), and Romantia (Romania). The last glacier for Romania, was a sad site. The glacier is melting at an incredibly fast rate, and the tallest glacial waterfall I have ever seen was cascading down from the cliffs into the channel, as if it were fed by a river. Climate change is real. It's not a made up thing. The history of this planet shows that it has happened time and time again throughout the ages, only never during the time of man. The changes are drastic, and regardless of what we do, we cannot control it, alter it, or reverse it. The glaciers will disappear, and they may be gone for generations to come, then the climate will change again and recreate what it has taken back. Monday, January 3, 2011 We pulled into Punta Arenas at 6:00 AM, ahead of schedule and anchored in the harbor. That morning we saw three dolphins off the starboard side just playing in the water. I have a nasty cold, and was not feeling well, but disembarked on the ship's tender to go ashore for our 11:30 City tour. Of course, it was raining, and the bus was 45 minutes late. I realized that if Punta Arenas is representative of Chile, and is the Capital of Patagonia, then Chile is a very poor nation, however, their downtown area is very pretty with architectural elements of England, Spain, and Croatia, the 3 primary European groups that settled the area. The other thing I learned, is that Ferdinand Magellan is as popular as Jesus is in Rome. Everything in this city is dedicated to Magellan. We toured the Public Cemetery which was very interesting, the Patagonian Institute's collection of items from the Industrial Revolution, as well as a Natural History museum dedicated to the Native peoples, whom the Spanish nearly wiped out along with all traces of their culture. We then went to the town square, to touch the Indian's foot on the Statue of Magellan. It is said that if you touch the foot, you would return to Patagonia. I touched and held the foot. Someday, I will be back here. Mary and I walked back to the dock, purchased a bottle of wine for Mary at 10,000 pesos ($22), gave the woman $25 U.S. and received $1600 Pesos back. We then re-boarded the Star Princess and rested in our stateroom. In the evening, we saw a few Sea Lions, and extremely playful Magellanic Penguins in the straits as we sailed out for our 2.5 day journey to Puerto Madryn, Argentina. Tuesday, January 4, Wednesday January 5, and Thursday January 6, 2011 The sail out from Punta Arenas was uneventful. I was feeling quite under the weather, having picked up a cold from someone on the ship. I wasn't in the mood to do much but sleep, which I did nicely for the next two days, getting a total of about 20 hours between the two sea days. There was not much happening on the ship these two days either. The seas were smooth, and the only wildlife we saw was a pair of sooty albatrosses and a couple of petrels that were following the ship's wake for 2 straight days. On Wednesday night, there was an incredible sunset. I don't think I have ever seen sunsets as beautiful as I have seen in South America. Another highlight of our two days at sea was Wednesday night in the casino. Somehow, Mary managed to win $80 and I won $700. I call that a very good night. Princess told us that they would provide shuttles from the dock to the downtown area of Puerto Madryn. When we pulled into port, the sea lions were all around the dock, and all we had to do was look over the balcony. I spent some time photographing them from the balcony, and then again when we disembarked for our day in the city. I thought that this city was going to be a bust, but found it very delightful. We took the shuttle to the downtown area, and then walked with the son of a woman we met on board, and another couple about 2 miles into the residential area of the city. We were met with quite a few stares from the locals. No one speaks English in Puerto Madryn, and reading a menu was also a challenge, however we managed. The 5 of us had a ton of food and several local beers, and the bill came out to $10 per person. Mary and I shopped for a few items, found a couple of beautiful scarves which were unbelievably cheap, and then headed back to the ship. It was the Chef's Dinner tonight. I had a braised rack of lamb, and Mary had some pan seared sea scallops. Both were accompanied by a wonderful bottle of wine, and an awesome desert. We both headed back to the Casino. I put a $50 bill into the same machine I had played the night before and in less than 15 minutes, had won another $300 and cashed out. The casino is only open for one more night....maybe I can pay for this cruise with the winnings? Well, at least the bar bill. On Saturday, we will be in Montevideo, Uruguay, our 5th and final country. Princess cancelled my tour of the Synagogue...DUH! It's Saturday! In any case, Mary and I will have the day to roam the city on our own, then we have to get back to the ship and pack, since Sunday 5 AM is disembarkation in Buenos Aires on Sunday. I can't believe three weeks have passed already. All I can say is what a ride. Friday, January 7, 2011 Well, I think Mary has my cold now. It's good we have a day at sea on our way to Montevideo, because she can spend it resting. After dinner we went and gave a little money back to the Casino, after all it was their money. The long and the short of it, we ended up with $1000 winnings....and ownership of the cash has been transferred from Princess to Denny and Mary. We went to the Princess Theater to see the new production show, "Brittish Invasion" a tribute to all the bands from the 1950's through the present day that have had a profound influence on our music. The show was well staged, the dancing and costuming were fantastic, however, technical sound difficulties detracted from the show. I am sure when they work out the glitches, this show will be enjoyed by thousands. Saturday, January 8, 2011 Mary and I slept until about 8 AM as the ship thrustered its way into the slip at Montevideo. How do they do that with such accuracy? We ate a light breakfast, then disembarked, made our way down the long pier and tried to figure out how to get into the heart of the city. Very little English is spoken in Montevideo. Even the "Tourist Police" which were out in great numbers do not speak English and directions are given with hand gestures. Although a little on the dirty side, I found Montevideo to be a wonderful city. The neighborhoods are a mix of 18th and 19th century Spanish and other European influenced architecture. I was amazed at the 12 foot tall hand chiseled doors on most of the buildings. Using a few crude maps, Mary and I made our way to Independence Square, meeting up with a nice couple from England who old us of the tomb below the statue of Artiga in the middle of the square. Mary and I checked it out and were quite moved. We visited the Montevideo Leather Works, and we amazed at the craftsmanship in the garments, and the relative inexpensive price tags. Although we were very tempted to purchase high quality items at dirt cheap prices, we knew our suitcases would be packed to the gills and we wouldn't have the room. We strolled down 18th D'Julio avenue, the heart of the Montevideo shopping district for about a mile, saw trash being collected by horse drawn carts, looked in several shops, then headed back towards the square. By the time we got there, all the sidewalk vendors had their local crafts for display. Mary and I saw some nice artwork, and fancied one of tango dancers which we purchased, as we listened to the artist describe how to pack and get the art home without damage...all in Spanish....all in great detail, without understanding a single word, but for the "mucho gracias" that was said as we paid in American dollars. Mary and I stopped for lunch at one of the local establishments, with a sidewalk cafe, that actually had a menu with fine print English for the items. Mary had a steak sandwich, and I had what was probably the best sirloin steak in a creamed mushroom sauce that I have ever tasted. Mary had a bottle of Orange Fanta, and I had a Coca-Cola in a real Coca-Cola bottle. Getting the check for $610 was not an episode in sticker shock...it was an exercise in mathematics as I quickly applied the 19.2 Pesos to the dollar conversion, and realized that this fantastic lunch was only $15 per person. We took a leisurely stroll back to the ship, stopping at the old railroad station for a couple of last minute t-shirt deals, then back up the gangway to our stateroom, where we proceeded to start the arduous task of packing our suitcases. They needed to be placed outside our room prior to leaving for dinner. After dinner, we had a nightcap, and retired early, since the ship arrives at our disembarkation port of Buenos Aires, Argentina at 5 AM, and we have a 7:15 AM departure for our all day city tour and Estancia Visit. Sunday, January 9, 2011 Ok, so we get up, get dressed, make sure we're packed, do a room check, and head to the Wheelhouse Bar to meet our tour group. One thing I can say about Princess, is they treat you like royalty when they are taking your money during the cruise, but their haste to get you off their ship leaves a bit to be desired. Disembarkation was disorganized to say the least. It took us so long to get down the gangway, that Mary and I missed our bus for our tour. The tour operator was very understanding, and although we were supposed to be on bus 2, they allowed us on bus 4. I guess there was a lot of shifting around since people were missing the buses. We had a nice drive through Buenos Aries proper, then off to the cemetery to see the grave of Eva Peron, then a drive to the Pampas and the working Estancia. We were greeted at the bus by the gauchos, serving empanadas and wine. A few folks on the tour group did not like these yummy empanadas, and just took a small bite and tossed them into the wicker baskets set around the main house as trash cans. A few of the young gauchos and their lady friends did several folk dances for the crowd, then randomly selected folks from the audience to participate. After the crowd cleared to go horseback riding and explore the estancia, one of the huge hound dogs on the ranch quickly ran to the wicker baskets and found all the uneaten empanadas and filled his belly. The funny thing was that the empanadas were wrapped in paper napkins, and the dog was able to get the treat out, but the paper napkin was left hanging in his mouth. Several people went horseback riding, took hay rides and sat in the shade. Mary and I wondered the grounds, looked at the rooms in the main house, enjoyed listening to and watching the peacocks crow and display their feathers, and took a gander at the barbeque that was being prepared for the large tour group. The gauchos put on a display of horsemanship where a small ring was placed on a ribbon in an arch in the middle of a field. A small stick, the size of a common chop stick was used to try and snag the ring as the gauchos rode full gallop through the arch. If the gaucho caught the ring, he'd give it to a lady in the audience in exchange for a kiss. Rumor had it that if the gaucho gave the ring to a man, the man would have to kiss the horse. We were then mustered to the main dining hall. In a smaller ante room to the dining hall, was a craft store, with hand woven items made from alpaca fur. Mary bought a very pretty poncho and three scarves. Lunch was more than any one person could possibly eat, and we all felt obligated to get into the Guinness Book of Records, at least sampling everything that was served to us. Sirloin steak, Chicken, Lamb, Beef Ribs, Potato Salad, regular salad, all the wine you could drink, desert. I think the gauchos were fattening us all with intentions of serving us to the next tour group. We then boarded the bus for the trip back to Buenos Aries to pick up our Airport Transfer bus. Everyone peacefully snoozed on a full bellies. I did not nap. I was watching out the window of the bus as we passed from the Pampas back to the city. At one point, close to their main soccer stadium was a neighborhood that was a scene out of Slum Dog Millionaire. Row upon row of 2 and 3 story buildings, most missing the walls or with huge gaping holes in the brickwork, street after street...all filled with the poorest of the poor of Buenos Aries. I was shocked at the level of poverty in this affluent city, and for the first time in 3 weeks, I felt that I was in the middle of a third world country. The bus let us off at the downtown Radisson Hotel, and we were directed to the hospitality room, which was nothing more than their ballroom, crowded with people, waiting for the airport bus. The transfer process was totally disorganized. I was shocked at how well things run, like clockwork, when you are on the ship, but as soon as Princess is done with you, you are pretty much treated like cattle, being herded from place to place. Our bus was supposed to leave for the airport at 5:30 PM for our 9:30 PM flight to Atlanta on Delta airlines. Due to some other tour group arriving at the Radisson, and no parking area for the busses, we were told that it would be safer to just stay where we were. One German speaking fellow, in broken English became irate and started laying into the poor woman who was trying to coordinate people's departures. I felt bad for her, since the situation was way out of her control. We were finally called at 6:15 PM, boarded the bus, and took the 45 minute ride to the airport. We quickly found our luggage, entered the terminal and were greeted by a line that went a quarter of a mile to check in for the flight. Give me a break people!!! It's a 767 that only seat 241 people. It took us two hours to check in. Then we had to get through security, which was the biggest joke. Put your stuff on the belt, walk through the metal detector. No taking off of shoes, no showing your liquids in a baggy, no removal of laptops or electronics from your bag. Just when we thought we were off the hook, we see the immigration clearance line, snaking like the line for Magic Mountain at Disney. We had 30 minutes until our flight, the message boards showed the flight as "boarding" and there we were in a line that had several hundred people in it. Someone suggested we speak up and let folks know that we had a flight in 20 minutes. I felt that it would be hopeless, until this wonderful Argentine woman spoke up in Spanish, explained the situation to the folks in line, and like Moses parting the Red Sea, the line opened up and let Mary and I to the front. If you would have tried that move at a U.S. airport, you would have been trampled, stripped of your clothes and valuable, and people would be stepping over your naked body to take their shoes off and place them in the plastic bins. We got to the gate area where they searched our hand luggage, cleared us, and we got on the plane. Delta is a good airline, much better than the inbound flight on US Airways. At least on Delta, the flight attendants smile at you. The plane took off 1 hour late. We ate dinner, and fell off to sleep for the rest of the flight. Monday, January 10, 2011 We only had a 1 Hour and 22 minute layover in Atlanta to get through immigration, claim our bags, clear customs, recheck our bags and catch our connecting flight back to Chicago. Lesson number 2: Never let Princess book your air travel. I found out from other passengers who booked their own air from the Chicago area, that we paid almost triple through Princess, and had no flexibility in our flights, and they book the connections too close together. Well, we got to Atlanta in the middle of the worst snowstorm that Atlanta has ever seen. We waited in line, cleared immigration, however, they put a little stamp on my declarations form, and when we got to customs, Mary was sent on her merry way, and I was singled out and asked to go into this holding room, and they took my passport. When I was finally called twenty minutes later, the customs agent told me I declared the two cartons of duty free cigarettes, one for me, one for Mary, and that you were only allowed one carton each, and to "not do that again." He then told me "Have a nice day." GROWL!!!! We rechecked our bags, looked at the boards and saw our flight was boarding. Thanks to the snow, everything was delayed, since our flight was supposed to leave at 7:20 AM, and it was now 8:15 AM. Of course, we're in Terminal E, and our flight is leaving from Terminal A. We go down to the train station, where the trains are supposed to run every 3 minutes, and we just missed the train. The timer that counts down until the next train goes down to zero, then a message comes up that says, due to technical issues, the next train will be here in 6 minutes. Mr. Murphy, your laws were in full action. The train finally comes, and we go through all the other train stops...Terminal D, Terminal C, Terminal B, and finally, A. We hoof it through the terminal, down to gate 5, where I see our Delta plane pushing back from the gate and disappeared around the corner. The gate agent saw the disappointment in our eyes, and looked for the other flights going to Chicago.....everything was cancelled due to the weather. Just when we thought all hope was lost for getting home on Monday, the desk agent's phone rang and we heard her distinctly say, "You are kidding? You just made two people's Christmas list for next year." She hangs up the phone, looks at us and says, "You're not going to believe this, but they are pulling the plane back to the gate because there is a big delay for de-icing. You're going home." I then realized that there is a God, although he has to mess with you a little before you believe in Him. We got on the plane, sat for two hours, but eventually took off and made it back to Chicago. God wasn't done messing with us. We made the plane and made it back to Chicago, but our bags didn't. Okay, one more line, file the claim, get the case number and wait a few days until they are delivered. If an airline is going to have lost or delayed luggage, it's always better to have them lose things on your way home. One problem. In Argentina, the temperatures were in the 90's. In Chicago, the temperature was in the single digits. Over my back was nothing more than a wind breaker, in the bags were my wool winter coat. The wait for our town car wasn't that long, and the car was warm and toasty. We got home, opened the door, and God had just one more trick to play on us. Somewhere, over the course of the three weeks we were gone, one of our house sitters must have accidentally started the dishwasher cycle, which leaked, on our new hardwood floors that we had just installed in October, and the floor in the kitchen was totally buckled. Although upset, and although I knew the insurance would cover most of the damages, it just felt so good to be back home. There is nothing like Antarctica on the planet. Not Alaska, not the North Polar regions, nothing. The adventure of getting there, being there, and returning home safely is one that will be emblazoned in my mind for all of my days. I give Princess a 7 out of 10 for this cruise. They would have had a 10, but I took back 3 points for how they handled disembarkation and airport transfers. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2010
We arrived in Santiago de Chile 5 days before our cruise. After spending very nice days in the Valley del Maipo and in Vina del Mar we boarded the Celebrity Infinity in Valparaiso. Boarding was smooth, well organised and quick. Once on ... Read More
We arrived in Santiago de Chile 5 days before our cruise. After spending very nice days in the Valley del Maipo and in Vina del Mar we boarded the Celebrity Infinity in Valparaiso. Boarding was smooth, well organised and quick. Once on the ship we went to see our room. We were happy to see that it had a good size and we did not felt claustrophobic despite being an inside room. The bathroom was smaller than in other ships and it had an unpleasant smell. In general, we thought that the room itself had somehow not very good ventilation despite the air conditioning. As a matter of fact each time we spent some time on the room we started to have a sore throat. We realised that our neighbors were probably having similar problems because they always tried to keep their door open while inside their room. Although we have cruised already a couple of times on an inside cabin, this was the first time where we had the feeling something was wrong with the air of the cabin. The rest of the ship, we found it to be very nice. Celebrity Infinity has already several years of life, but it is a nice, elegant ship. We have liked it very much and it was a pleasure to be on board of this lovely ship. We took this cruise because of the itinerary. We were very excited about sailing around Cape Horn and about being in the most southern inhabited places of South America. Sailing was most of the time smooth. Cruising the Cape Horn, the Strait of Magallanes and the Beagle Channel was absolutely great. We were extremely lucky with the weather. Of course it was cold and windy, but in overall the cruising experience was lovely. We did avoid one port because of possible weather difficulties. That port was Punta Arenas. I guess the captain and co. took the right decision in not going to that Port. Other ports were Ushuaia, Puerto Madryn, Punta del Este, Montevideo and Buenos Aires. All of them interesting and different. We have enjoyed travelling to Punta Tombo from Puerto Madryn to be among the Penguins. It was so lovely!! Although it takes more than 2 hours each way to go there, it was really worthed! We have also liked very much Punta del Este although it seems a very expensive place to spend some time. For example, the real state was advertising apartments with a rent of about US 30000 per month (yes thirty thousand dollars)!! Local people told us that there are several celebrities which come to Punta del Este over Christmas and apparently are able to pay those rents. Montevideo was also interesting. However, we had a not so nice surprise there. We were there on December 31st and it happen to be that on that day in Montevideo, the people have the custom of playing with water and color sprays. To our surprise we have received full buckets of water while walking on the street. We were not amused at all. If we would have known this was a custom, we would have been prepared for it and maybe we would have even played with the locals. But we were not informed at all. It would have been good that the ship employers, which in several languages provided port information and safety tips, could also include this information in their programs. Food at the Celebrity infinity was very good. So many options! We have enjoyed sampling from the nice variety in the buffet restaurant and also in the main dining room. Wine was expensive though. We both love to have a good wine with our dinner and we found that the imported wine selection was not worthed for the price being charged. However the wines from Chile (Carmenere)and Argentina (Malbec)were to our opinion better value for money. It is a pity that wines are always so expensive on cruise ships!! For us a wine with dinner is not a luxus. It is a quite normal part of the meal. It is a pity that Celebrity does not offer good quality wines at reasonable prices like the Italian style cruise liners do.... Service was friendly and accommodating. The shows magnificent, specially the Gaucho Show "Diablos de la Pampa". One thing, that I particularly have enjoyed was having the movies with subtitles. I am hard of hearing, so I mainly read the subtitles. This was great on this cruise. I wonder why others do not do it although every CD nowadays provides the opportunity of having subtitles. There is however one more issue, which we found it has room for improvement at the Celebrity Infinity. This was the health providers at the ship. For the first time in one cruise we had to go to the Doctors office. The reason was, my husband had a thrombosis 10 days before the cruise, so he was taken anticoagulants. They had to be monitored. Our house doctor was always in touch with us per telephone and he recommended for my husband to have a blood test every second day. We knew the range in which the values of the test had to be. So my husband went to the health office at the ship and found out that for this simple blood test, he had to pay almost US 100 because he had to see the ships doctor (US 70) otherwise he could not have the test done. I mean, if you are being monitored by another doctor, and everybody who has had a thrombosis knows what the blood test should look like, why this unnecessary cost? It was disappointing but fortunately my husband could have this test done in the ports of call. Results provided on the same day, very efficient, they could even send the results to us per email if we wanted so. How about the cost? US 10 per test. What a difference right? In any case, we have enjoyed this cruise. We felt safe with Captain Margaritis. We have also liked Cruise Director Alan and the enrichment lecturer, who was very well informed and provided excellent insights in the wildlife of the region. As I have written above we liked the Celebrity Infinity. We will be looking for another opportunities to cruise with this lovely ship. Read Less

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