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Christmas & New Years Cruise South America Style

Author: Amelia Hesson
Date of Trip: December 2012

12/22/12–Valparaiso & Santiago, Chile on the Star Princess

We pulled in Valparaiso very early in the morning, around 4am. We had hired Christian, the van man over a year ago and were looking to get an early start. Our agenda included Santiago, a nice sit down lunch, a visit to a winery with tasting, and a tour of Valparaiso. We had arranged for a 7am pickup, so our group of 6 met on board at vines, we disembarked together and took the shuttle to the port immigration and made it to the arranged meeting spot at exactly 7 am. We scoured the private guides and buses looking for our sign and couldn’t find Christian. We waited and waited and finally at 8am we found somebody with our sign and followed this person out of the guide and bus area and finally found Christian. He loaded us into a nice van, the excused himself to take cafe of a problem. By 8:30 we were still waiting in the van, we were not happy campers! A other large bus of folks also using the van man were loaded and off long before us. Not our favorite way to start the day!

Finally Christian joined us, apologizing for the lateness and blablabla and off we went, speeding towards Santiago like lighting. We learned along the way about the weather, politics, flora and fauna, and all the particulars of Chile and Santiago specifically. We made it to Santiago and got off the bus at a main square which was filled with all sorts of military officers and their military dogs, which were so cute but don’t touch them!

We visited the large church and saw all the damage caused by the earthquake a few years ago. It was very interesting. Inside there was a confessional where the priest was face to face with the confessor, who was kneeling on an outer kneeler in a somewhat public confessional. We had never seen that. The church was beautiful and massive, with many chapels, a main transept, and lots of Christmas decorations, mangers, and other scenes of religious significance. We all enjoyed seeing it.

Next we visited the public bathrooms, which were not free and nobody would accept US dollars and thankfully Christian paid for us to us it. We walked to a statue where we were able to stand exactly in middle of Chile, kind of a neat place to take a picture. We continued to walk around the city, visiting a fish market and opting to not visit a crowded flea market. At this point we are into avoiding crowds, so we loaded back into the van and off to see more areas of Santiago. We climbed a hill to see where the wealthy lived, saw many skyscrapers and even found ashore where we bought wine, olive oil, and other necessities. In the distance the Andes loomed above the city covered in snow framing the city in beauty, I really liked the vibe of this city, it’s worth a more in depth visit and hope to come back soon.

As we headed back to Valparaiso and along the way stopped at a restaurant that Christian recommended called Los Hornitos de Curacavi. This was typical Chilean food and we ordered a salad and main course that were very delicious. It was not cheap, our two items cost us about $30 but it was delicious and worth trying, I bought some Marzipan there as well and that was also yummy.

Next we headed for the winery, Emeliana Winery that is an organic winery using all organic farming and also produces olive oils, vinegars, and honey! I bought a beautiful dark honey there and waited as our group had their private wine tasting, which cost$17 each for 4 different kinds. Everybody seemed to enjoy this. We left when they were finished and headed to Valparaiso. We had little time to see or visit Valparaiso but we did go up to a lookout and snap photos of our ship in port. The day was over by3:45 and we got on the ship with time to spare, since we did not have to go to muster we hung out I. The room and read all our info.

Santiago and Valparaiso, Chile
Christian Montenegro, aka The Van Man
christianroymx@hotmail.com

Sea day 12/23/12

This is the second day of the second segment of our cruise, the whole vibe of the ship has changed! Yes there are a lot of kids on board, many people complaining about kids running through the halls, removing stuff they shouldn’t (like my formal night order of chocolate dipped strawberries) and pressing every elevator button constantly. Typical Xmas behavior, I’ve been on too many of these!

I’ve had a lot of problems today. They did not transfer the obc that I didn’t spend on the first segment although they told me they did, I had to go around working hard to get my on board credit back, I lost my Internet minutes– the not so brainy internet mgr informed my that I didn’t exist in the system. I told him I must have disappeared with the last day of the Mayan calendar! He didn’t laugh, he has the personality of a doorknob, a mean one at that!

I am trying to find out if I have a chance to make it to the most traveled lunch, it would be my first. The circle hostess is still calculating, so who knows. I finally cleared up the problems and with little time to spare to make it go trivia, and then the CC meet and greet.

The M&G was nice, we had good turnout and the CD JJ tried again to take over the meeting even though we had to pay for the mike. JJ is strange, I’ve never seen a CD do this at a CC M&G. The Maitre d Rui also came and he was a gem, very friendly and accommodating the luncheons I am organizing. We had a gift exchange and the stealing was scandalous but fun. Our luncheon is New Year’s Eve day, should be fun with over 40 people signing up.

We have lots of trivia including Beatles trivia and other music trivia, which is so fun, and today we won fans! There is an accumulative speed trivia daily on sea days, and always a morning and Afternoon trivia game, only sometime do we have trivia at night. Majority rules is always funny, hopefully we will get that the segment, along with the various liars club games.

Finally, Bobby Brooks Wilson was on the ship and everybody enjoyed him a lot. We bumped into him with our friends and chatted about what he is doing, he has a new record coming out soon. He is a really nice guy.

Regarding clothing there was a mix of styles in the dining room, although everybody dressed nicely. Lots of nice jeans were worn, especially after an excursion where people were in a hurry to get to their tables, or just lazy to change pants and shoes. I did not see anybody wearing jeans with holes; they are not exactly in style anymore anyway! I have a lot of “not your daughters jean” in black, green corduroy, and dark jean material and wore them all the time in the dining room. I’d laugh if anybody thought I was dressed in appropriately, the again I call most pants jeans! I did see one man turned away from the dining room wearing shorts at dinner. So they certainly maintain a level of dress that does not include shorts. In any event, I would it worry about wearing jeans as long as they are not the out of fashion kind with holes in them!

12/24/12–Christmas Eve in Puerto Montt, Chile

Puerto Montt is a tender port situated in an inlet that is not on the Pacific Ocean, rather it is in a calmer inside passage surrounded by mountains. It is a beautiful place, the town itself is very walkable from the tender dock, there are restaurants and shopping close by but don’t miss taking an excursion here. This is the southern end of Chile’s Lake District and surrounded by mountains, lakes, forests, and rivers.

Our guide Manuel was promptly waiting for us at the dock at 7:15 am and off we went on a great Adventure. We toured Puerto Montt first and learned that this town was built primarily by German immigrants who were brought here by the president of Chile (Manuel Montt) to populate the town and bring their culture and customs to it. The town has the feel of a typical Bavarian town with wooden facades and lots of parks and gardens. We stopped at the main square where we saw a beautiful church built with the wood of the Alerce tree, a relative of the Redwood that had red wood and can grow to be 4,000 years old. We saw a lot of wild dogs but these animals are cared for, fed, and are friendly and cute! Then we drove to one of the four hills that over look the city and from there we could see the Star Princess as well as the two other ships in port, the Celebrity Infinity and one of the Oceania ships. We got some great pictures of the city and the ships, this being one of the must haves on our tours.

Next we headed for Llanquihue Lake at the base of the Osorno Volcano. Locals claim Mt. Fuji looks exactly like Osorno, I have to take their word for it because it was clouded over for the most part, with brief moments of clearing that revealed parts of the lower snow cover. Although the day started out In rain, we had only a few moments of hard rain which passed quickly. We stopped at a resort on the lake for a bathroom run for me and got to see lots of Llamas, cows, and deers. Later, on the way back we stopped again and got to get up close and personal with the Llamas. There was one with a French name that escapes me now but he let us pet him and we took a lot of pictures. Very cool.

Next we headed for Petrohue rapids (falls) and met up with a slew of tour buses from all the ships. These falls are in the magnificent Vincente Perez Rosales NP, the oldest park here. We headed on an easy hike, crossing several bridges over beautiful green/blue rivers with the runoff from the Volcano. Along the path were several places to get coffee and snacks, as well as several shops that were very reasonably priced. If you see something you like here, buy it because the prices allowed this area are the best I’ve seen in Chile. Anyway at the end of the path are the falls, it’s very windy here so dress appropriately because you can’t miss this. The falls come from another lake called Todos Los Santos, which is a glacial lake at the base of the Volcano. As we headed back to the van we bumped into pals Gloria and Lew and all laughed about bumping into each other on our small group tours! When there are 3 ships in port it’s impossible to avoid the crowds no matter where you go. I suggest getting your shopping done early since most ship tours save that for last as our guide did and it was a zoo. Anyway we continued up a road covered in black volcanic earth to the end where we found another slew of buses all on a catamaran trip so no people here at all. The end of the road was so windy we didn’t want to get out of the van but our guide ran out and collected pumice stones, the remains of a pyroclastic flow from eruptions past. We all got rocks but I suggested we not carry them home since I know it’s bad luck to carry volcanic rocks away from their origins. Everybody quickly threw the rocks back! What the heck, who needs bad luck.

Next we headed to a beautiful green lagoon that was also in the National Park. We hiked a handicapped accessible path to an incredible place and got pictures of the volcano’s reflection in the lagoon. We went off the path to see some flora including the “cold tree” named by the indigenous people because if you hug it you get very cold. I guess that means it gets warm here, although not today. It was another interesting and easy hike with only a few people on it.

Next we went to a restaurant on the shores of one of the lakes, it was a German buffet with lots of goopy salads, fried breads, lots of Salmon salads, and a meat roasting section serving beef, chicken, port ribs, fish, and more. There was also a bunch of desserts. It cost an additional $20 pp and didn’t look good for me since I am somewhat picky so I passed on it but the rest of my group ate and enjoyed it. I can’t remember the name but if I find it ill pass it on. For me we spent way too much time here and I would have preferred a quick light lunch.

After lunch we headed to Puerto Varas, another cute German town that was so crowded with buses and people it was truly a bummer. It took so long to make our way through town, we only had a half hour to walk and shop on own. Still, I managed to find a pretty, soft Baby Alpaca sweater for $25. This would have cost me over $200 in the states. This is definitely the place to buy these sorts of items, as I said they had the best prices we have seen. We missed a nice artesian market that I heard was very nice.

We headed back to the port trying to find a supermarket, our guide said this was an unusual request. Really? He managed to find us a place to buy some fine Chilean wine at the fish market, and we had a few more minutes to shop. We bought these cute kitchen witches, something unique to this German/Spanish town.

We made it to the port with minutes to spare, missed the cheese market because of the loooooong tender lines that ultimately ran pretty fast. There were some classic fights at the line up as people lost their manners and their patience, which was totally uncalled for because everybody eventually got back to their respective ships. We did leave an hour late because of course the captain waited for all passengers to come aboard. We took off at 6 pm, slowly making our way through the inside passage. Sunset was at 10:30 and the sunset was great. In fact earlier in the morning the sunrise was just spectacular, I got some great pictures.

Our guide was ‘Manuel’ and we hired him through Denis Purtov whose email is denis.purtov@gmail.com his cell phone is 0056 (9) 76665557 and the cost was $93 for six people. One couple in our group was ill and could not take the tour so he sent us with his payment but we negotiated a better price of $120 per person and saved our friends some money. All in all it was a fantastic day, certainly a place not to miss! Today’s tour in Puerto Montt was one of the best so far, we all agreed it was pleasant because we were touring with a small group, all great people I met on our Cruise Critic roll call. This is the best way to go. We are never squished in a van and we can slip in and out of places easier, so we are never waiting for “that person” who didn’t pay attention to our meeting time because they had to go shopping!

12/25/12–Christmas

Merry Christmas to all! Today my friend Gloria and I had a productive morning. We were invited to attend the most traveled luncheon, my first time ever, and that will happen tomorrow. We were so excited about this.

Santa was on the ship after a long night of deliveries; many kids lined up for their presents, water bottles or teddy bears with the Princess logos on them. We decided we wanted to sit on Santa’s lap together and got a big laugh about that, especially when we blocked his face on the Santa! LOL, we moved so Santa’s face was visible and they took our picture and filmed us for the video! We hope Santa’s legs recover!

We had a special scholarship@sea lecture entitled “Magellan Circumcises the World with a good cutter” and we couldn’t stop laughing about that one. JJ says he did that on purpose but who knows for sure, he makes a lot of mistakes! Back to the merrymaking!

12/26/12–Amalia Glacier

I woke early to beautiful scenery as we glide through the straits of Magellan on our way to the Amalia Glacier. Wow, wow,wow. The water is so blue and I can almost reach out and touch the canyon walls. The weather is cloudy but clearing as I type, it looks like we will have good views of the Glacier. I turned to the morning show, which has been such a disappointment because JJ lacks panache and the show is basically a boring sales pitch, and once again he is talking about the 3 hour sale today. Nothing about the glacier. Yuck.

Anyway it’s time to go outside! Joe May begins to narrate, as we turn starboard into the Amalia sound. We are surrounded by Chilean Fjords, and the snow level is low. It’s 42 degrees Fahrenheit as the ship begins to wake up and people are bundled up and out on their balconies. It’s show time!

The glacier is amazing, its glacial blue colors are visible because it’s cloudy out. The sun is peaking out from the clouds occasionally with the promise of better weather as we sail out of the Amalia sound and back through the straits of Magellan to the Pacific Ocean again. I am reminded that as we look at the Glacier, we are only seeing approximately 10% of it with the remaining 90% not visible, as it is deep under water.

This glacier is in the straits of Magellan right now and tomorrow morning at 8am to 10 am we will be passing 5 glaciers and the one the captain likes the best, we will stop and do a 360 so all sides of the ship can see, otherwise all the glaciers will be visible only from the Port side, which we have. I will keep you all posted on the situation; I know how you all feel about us making the ports! Sounds promising, I hope I can give you all good news

12/27/12–Punta Arenas, Chile

We pulled into Punta Arenas early and by 6:30 the tenders were up and running. It was a magnificent day, sunshine with few clouds in the sky and the water was as smooth as glass. This area of South America has a thinner Ozone layer and it’s very important to use a strong sunscreen, especially in the sunshine. It was very chilly; we dressed in layers and never peeled off anything so dress warmly.

We met at 8:45 in Vines to tender off, we had to get to Soloexpeditions by 10 and wanted time to walk and scope out the shopping for later. The tender took about 30 minutes, I don’t know why but it might have been because we were sharing the dock with Celebrity. We got to the dock, took the requisite pictures of us with the city sign, and off we went to walk the 5 short blocks to the meeting place. It was an easy walk and we used the map on the port guide. Once we got there we paid, used the bathrooms, and everybody used their free Internet to download and make Skype calls. Don’t forget to bring your phones and bring some plastic ziplocks to store them in one the boat just in case.

We stayed at the office for a long time, waiting for a bus to take us to the dock they use. Next store I found a organic bulk food store and bought 100 grams each of almonds, walnuts, dried Kiwi, golden raisins, dried strawberries, and dried coconuts in case I didn’t like the lunch we were supposed to get. That turned out to be fortunate because we never got lunch, only coffee and a cookie. I fed my pals.

We finally got to the dock, waited way too long, and boarded one of two boats by 11:30 so be prepared to wait! Off we went, the seas were not as calm by this time and it was a bumpy ride but we spotted dolphins and they rode with us for a while. We were all delighted. We went to Magdalena island first and disembarked to Natural Monument Los Pinguinos where hundreds of thousands of Magellanic Penguins made their summer home. There were only 50 of us and plenty of room to roam. The penguins were incredible, while there was a roped off path for us to follow up to the lighthouse and bathroom, the penguins were free to cross the path and interact with us. We were warned not to talk loud and scare them, and of course not to approach them and most of us followed that rule (but not all) honoring their habitat. I cannot stress how awesome this experience was. My friends took a princess tour to the Otway sound where hundreds of people pushed and shoved to see penguins and their experience was not nearly as magnificent as ours!

We had an hour to wander and take pictures at this magnificent place. Park rangers roamed to make sure we did not disturb the animals. There were also a lot of Terns on the island; we found several nests with eggs in them as well. After an hour we gathered and boarded the boats to go to Isla Marta, another fabulous ecosystem filled with Sea Lions, Cormorants, Skuas, Austral seagulls, Antartic pigeons, and Sea Elephants.

We did not disembark here, instead we circumnavigated the island while viewing the wildlife. If we wanted to go to the outside of the boat, we had to put life preservers. This was a magnificent opportunity to photograph and admire all the wildlife without disturbing their ecosystem. After a half an hour we headed back to the mainland and the waiting buses that brought us back to the office in Punta Arenas. We got back at 4 pm, which left some time to shop and see the town since the last tender was at 6pm. We made our way to the main square that was close by, it was lined with crafts vendors. The prices were much better here than at the shops in the port, however the vendors did not bargain here at all. The prices we still very reasonable and I got another Alpaca sweater with no pulls for $20.

Back at the port, there was a wine store, and more shopping up the prices were so high and we were all shopped out. It was raining now and we noticed that Celebrity’s tender line was covered while ours was not. That was fine, the rain stopped and the line was fast and we stayed on the top part of the tender because there was a wonderfully brilliant rainbow. There were rainbows everywhere until the sun set by 10:30, actually it hardly got dark all through the night because I get up several times looking for the southern lights! The sky was beautiful, not sure if I saw the lights but its my thing, it’s on my bucket list!

We used soloexpediciones, email canales@soloexpediciones.com. Cell +56 0982393545 Carmen Gloria Pacheco.

12/28/12–Glacier Alley in the Straits of Magellan

Wow! We are cruising down glacier alley, past a series of glaciers including Espana, Romanche, Aleminea, Francia, Italia, and Holanda glaciers. There are visable from the port side and spectacular to see. Joe May and the Captain are narrating this unbelievable strait where you can see the glaciers melting and a mix of fresh and salt water.

As we pass the Romanche glacier we are treated to a spectacular sight, this glacier is huge and it is melting fast, there is a giant waterfall baring witness to the melting and it is one of the largest waterfalls I’ve seen. As we pass, a giant rumbling occurs and we witness a calving so tremendous it thunders. I’ve never seen a calving like this, as it breaks off the glacier it tumbles down the waterfall and there are gasps all over the ship. Make sure you get a port side balcony to witness this spectacle at its best.

One by one we pass glacier after glacier, this is more incredible than anything I’ve see in Alaska. As we arrive at Italia glacier captain Perrin continues narrating and Joe May is translating. We will stop here and turn around so the Starboard side of the ship can see it too. After this a pilot will join us to navigate through the rest of the straits all the way to Ushuaia, where I have a halfday excursion to the national park. Talk about swooning! Off to finish the viewing and grab lunch before we get to Ushuaia.

12/28/12–Ushuaia (Tierra Del Fuego), Argentina

We got to Ushuaia late and got off the ship at 2:45pm, after being trampled by unruly passengers who felt entitled to push, shove, and cut into the line which was kept so well by staff members Theo and Veronica. I felt sorry for them, every time they turned their back a slew of people took the non manned stairs down to deck 4 where disembarkation took place. They could not manage the large crowd alone, Princess should have provided more staff to man each elevator and staircase like they do in muster. Getting off a ship mid day is always chaos. I heard horror stories about people in princess tours as well as private tours. Be prepared for this!

Our guide Gaston was there as we walked off the ship and saw the beauty of this port, our first stop in Argentina. Surrounded with snow capped Andes mountains and the Beagle channel, this town touts itself as the southern most city in the world. It is the starting point for ships like the National Geographic Expedition’s journey to Antarctica. The ship was in port in front of our ship and across the dock was Celebrity which has followed us everywhere. Ushuaia (pronounced oo-swy-ah, not oo-shwy-ah like I had been saying) is considered the end of the South American world; interestingly it is not as south as Fairbanks, Alaska is north.

We headed out of town to visit the National Park of Tierra del Fuego, a beautiful wilderness of forests, rivers, and green meadows typical of the steppes. We stopped at several scenic points for hikes and lakes, including the end of the Panamerican highway where the famous sign indicates the distance between here and Alaska. This was a pretty impressive place, with a boardwalk that takes you out to beautiful lake. As we headed through the park Gaston suddenly stopped the van, he spotted some woodpeckers and we slowly crept toward then with cameras in hand. We encountered several, males with their red heads and females all in black, and I was able to video them in action pecking at the trees. We started to leave when Gaston spied a red fox up the road. The red fox was not afraid of us, in fact it was clear it was waiting for food and sure enough, another car filled with visitors started throwing food out to get it to come closer. This is a terrible thing to do, these animals should not be so close to humans and Gaston ran up to them and told then just this. They quickly picked up all the food and were off, thankfully. This was an awesome animal encounter marred only by the stupidity of those people!

Next we headed to the park headquarters that housed a nice museum, lookout point, restaurant, and gift shop that was way overpriced. We used the facilities and took off for the “end of the world” post office where I got a passport with several stamps for 3 dollars. This was a great photograph spot, the post office was on a small pier in a wonderful glacial lake.

As we drove through the park, we spotted a lot of hawk like birds, especially in the campgrounds. We even found several RVs, giving birth to an idea of driving our Winnebago down here! We probably would never want to drive through Colombia, and that leg of the Panamerican highway is accessed by a ferry, which probably doesn’t take 30 foot RVs! As we headed back to Ushuaia, we saw the most southern Golf course in the world, and there were people playing on it. One of our last stops was a spot near the airport where we had great views of our ship in the port, this always being an important photo opportunity for us! Finally we arrived in Ushuaia, we drove down the main shopping street and Gaston showed us where the best Rhodocrosite shop was as well as the wine shop, and market. This was the end of a nice half-day tour.

We paid $65pp for the tour plus $20 each for the park entrance fee. We used edgardocalaio@gmail.com to book this tour and enjoyed it very much. Gaston was our tour guide and he was very good.

Shopping in Ushuaia is expensive, especially for stuff you can get in North America. The Rhodochrosite here is very nice, it’s the national rock and unique to Argentina. I found a good shop called Inca Rose which is on the main shopping street, go left when heading up from the port, it’s on the far side of the street (right side) after you turn left. I also found some good semi-sweet Chocolate that was made here and a decent price, there are many places to buy that.

12/29/12–Cape Horn

I Woke up early to a very cloudy sky although the seas were gentle. After writing for awhile, I looked up and saw the sky’s had cleared and the seas remained calm and we were approaching Cape Horn, passing Celebrity going the other way as they don’t go to the Falklands like us.

We are currently rounding Cape Horn, the seas are calm and the sky’s are only partly cloudy with a temperature of 43 degrees F. Time to go gawk at the beautiful islands and try to find whales, dolphins, and birds!

Captain Perrin began narrating as we circled the islands going from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and back to the Atlantic in a grand circle. Captain Perrin said he had never seen the seas so calm around here, not to mention the incredible blue sky’s mixed with high fluffy clouds, and we were able to get so much closer than normal because of the favorable weather and seas! For an hour we circled Cape Horn as the captain narrated points of interest like the Albatross statue and lighthouse. Joe May translated his narration, adding his own perspective to this incredible experience. The day was another Wow day, filled with Ohs and Ahs from the people in the port side balconies. What a spectacular morning we had once again.

Later I saw the Captain talking to my friends Chris and Pat, he told them that he had no doubt that we would certainly make it to the Falklands tomorrow. He said the weather changes frequently but according to his reports, we would not encounter weather of seas that would prevent us from going. He warned us about the long tender ride, two miles, that might be bumpy but nothing terrible. We are looking forward to getting there and hope all goes well!

1/1/13–Happy New Year

We celebrated the New Year in grand style on the Star last night. The ship was filled with balloons and party decorations and everybody was in good moods. We ate a nice meal in the Portofino dining room where we have been eating since we embarked in San Francisco. Our waiters Harold and Mark were busy taking good care of us, something they have done since the beginning.

The headwaiter in Portofino, Pietro, is outstanding and really deserves some big kudos. He goes above and beyond the call of duty nightly, always with a big smile filled with kindness. I met a woman who was on the ship with her very ill husband. He was recovering from multiple maladies, one of which would fell any person, he was very grumpy and refusing to eat. I asked Rue (the incredible Maitre d) to get this man and his wife an assigned table in Portofino because of Pietro. Rue and Pietro handled this with such kindness and grace it made me proud to be a Princess cruiser. Every night Pietro would prepare this mans meals making sure the cuts of meat were the best, he went above and beyond the call of duty nightly and helped this man begin to eat and recover. Pietro is truly an angel, and one of the best headwaiters I’ve ever met. He really made a difference for me!

We celebrated early because we had to be up and out by 7:30 am for Puerto Madryn, no doubt we would make this port. We played Beatles “name that tune” trivia and the whole room was singing and celebrating, nobody caring about wining at all. I suggested a sing-a-long in the future (tonight?) because we had done many of these on the Pacific Princess last December with David Crathorne. Anyway, it was fun and we won!

It’s early New Year’s Day and we are in Puerto Madryn. I have a private tour today and need to go get ready soon, but I wanted to share a little about the people on this ship who have made this cruise so special. I will write more tonight or tomorrow morning, I know this is a new port and many are interested in it. Hope everybody had a grand celebration last night!

1/1/13 Puerto Madryn, Argentina

We have lost 5 hours so far and tonight we lose the last one! It has not been a big deal since we are on for 30 days, but going home next Sunday will be yucky for DH who has to go back to work Monday. By the way FaceTime and Skype work excellent on the ship, I have been using them to call throughout the cruise. Lots of people think it does not work but it does. The lovely Internet (not) mgr says it does not work however he is clueless. Make sure your families and friends know how to use them and check them or leave them open. It’s a wonderful way to connect.

Excursion to Valdes Peninsula (a UNESCO World Heritage Natural Reserve)

We walked off the ship at 7:45am and found the two bus drivers and guides waiting for us. Several people canceled without telling us and several had joined at the last minute too. It all evened out in the end, just like Jerry Seinfeld said! Off we went.

Puerto Madryn is a newish town with nothing remarkable about it except it is the entrance to many natural sights; we are in the midst of Patagonia. Our guide Mimi was funny and personable as she told us briefly about the town while we drove out of it. The most distinguishing thing we noticed was a giant open dump on the outskirts of the town!

We drove on a nice highway, stopping for bird and animal sightings that were plentiful. We saw a hawk like bird, and lots of sheep grazing in what seemed to be terrain similar to California’s low desert. We also spied a Guanaco, a funny camel like animal with a big white stripe going across the behind. Easy to spot that.

We got to the entrance to the park in Caleta Valdes which designates the beginning of the peninsula, a unique environment that has sea access to both sides of a strip of land with its giant cliffs of sandstone that promise an abundance of wildlife including penguins, elephant seals, sea lions, Orcas, and lots of birds. This peninsula has a beautiful bay on one side and the other is on the Atlantic Ocean. At the entrance is a nice park headquarters with bathrooms, a small museum with a right whale skeleton of a young male, a gift shop with food and some nice woven scarfs and purses and more, and best of all free wifi!

After a brief stop, we continue on and soon drive off the paved road and onto a bumpy dirt road that is not too bad, only loud. At our first stop we see a small colony of Magellanic Penguins that were easy to see and not smelly or dirty like some of the penguin colonies we saw before. We spot a couple celebrating New Year making penguin love (aka penguin porn) and of course we all take pictures. I make a movie of it! The funniest thing was when they were finished; the female just dropped in exhaustion, and didn’t move for a while. I found this so funny, but I am sure there is some biological reason this happens.

Onto our next stop, along the way we spot many types of wildlife including the Quanacos, snakes, ostrich like birds, a fox, and an armadillo! We get to Punta Norte which is a beautiful spot along a cliff of sandstone, below are many sea lions and elephant seals, all molting (losing their skin fur) and playing with their babies. We see several alpha male fights that are loud and violent as the alpha gets the female haram! This spot is where Orcas are often spotted attacking the smaller seals and sea lions that swim in the bay. We do not see any of this, but that is how it goes when you are out on a safari. We ate our box lunch, which was not bad at all, only a little tasteless because there was no mustard or mayo on it. None of us were hungry any how, we’ve all been on the ship almost 30 days by now! You know how that goes. Anyway we all had a great day and made it back to the ship with time to spare. Because it was New Year’s Day, no shops were open so we went back to the ship. This is a great tour and we all thought it was a wonderful way to start the New Year. The company we used charged us half the price Princess was charging for the same tour. A great deal at $140 pp. Below is the contact info.

Leticia Benitez
Forastero Tour
e-mail: info@forasterotour.com.ar o ventas@forasterotour.com.ar
web: www.forasterotour.com.ar

1/3/13—Montevideo, Uruguay

I will briefly tell you about Montevideo. We took a specialized tour visiting synagogues and a museum, plus some holocaust museum that was sobering and sad. It was a princess tour, ok but not great. I’d do this privately, with a group or on your own and combine it with other sights in Montevideo. I thought Montevideo was a lovely city. It’s quite small and completely walkable, from the ship (which is on a canal) you can see the sea, maybe 20 blocks across the city to the other side. I didn’t like the ship tour we took, that was not very informative and the guide was unclear and gave in a inaccurate information. However Montevideo was a nice smallish city, some parts clean and others grimy and filled with homeless. Anyway the shopping and food market were very close to the port and easy to walk to. We were glad we had taken a half-day tour so we could pack up and enjoy the last night on the ship playing trivia (what else) and saying goodbye to new and old friends.

The half-day tour gave us plenty to time to walk on our own. The market was interesting although we did not eat there, having hit the wall of too much food on the ship! The shopping was okay, but we were spoiled in some of the great shopping ports like Punta Arenas, Puerto Montt, Guatemala, and Lima’s Indian markets. Next time I visit Montevideo, I would take a private full city tour instead of a half-day tour, and I favor private tours over ship tours although Gloria enjoyed her ship tours a lot. It’s a matter of how you like to travel!

1/4/13–Buenos Aires, Argentina—Disembarkation and Half-day city tour

This is my first time here, it is a beautiful city and seems like it deserves a week or two of discovery. Sadly I only have a few days here, but I will make the best of it following my favorite theme; go go,go!

After a bit of a stressful disembarkation from the star princess, we are taken off the ship as a group and have a private transfer and half day tour of the city all lined up. After finding lost luggage, and figuring out how to deal with four extra people and their luggage, we realize it was fairly impossible. The tour organizer had indicated there would be enough room for all and there was not. They had to call for another car to pick up the extra luggage and that was taken to the hotel ahead of us, I was glad my luggage was in the van with me! This tour operator was horribly inaccurate and our initial impressions were not so good. My husband, Mr. Safety said it was dangerously full, and one person got hit in the head by flying luggage. Lots of people were pissed off by the time we got to the hotel.

In any event, after settling down into the over crowded bus, we began our tour which was really just a drive by overview and not my favorite kind of thing, we asked to be taken into Recoleta cemetery to see Evita’s mausoleum. We practically had to force the tour guide to stop, but we did. We walked through the interesting cemetery and after got some ice cream, a bathroom, and a quick leg stretch before we went back into the bus for the rest of our driving tour. Finally after 4 hours we were taken to our hotel, the Savoy. We were glad to get rid of the sourpuss tour guide whose name escapes me.

The Savoy in downtown Buenos Aires is a beautiful hotel built in the 1920’s; it’s Art Deco style evident everywhere. Recently renovated, this hotel is a trip advisor winner and comes highly recommended. I asked if they had any upgrades and I was given a slightly bigger room at no extra cost. The room was lovely, high ceilings with beautiful crown molding, and all the necessities including a safe, refrigerator, desk, king sized bed, and flat screen TV. Another bonus was that the free Internet that can be accessed from the lobby worked in my first floor room!

We met up with our group and walked a few blocks to a market for snacks and water, it was Friday afternoon and busy. We lingered at the hotel and decided to go to a recommended Argentinean restaurant close by called Chiquilin, a four-block walk which was easy and quick. We ate a meal of caprice salad and filet mignon, the meat was the best I have ever had anywhere in the word. OMG. If you stay here you should visit this restaurant! The cost for the meal for two, including tip, tablecloth, and bread was $64 dollars, quite a good deal.

http://www.chiquilin-argentina.com.ar/

1/5/2013 –Buenos Aires, Argentina—La Tigre River tour

The tour operator we used for the transfer and half day tour, plus the following day tour to La Tigre, and finally the transfer today to the airport was horrible. He changed the la Tigre tour from 6-7 hours to 4 and the person who organized it had to “pout” to get the train ride we were promised. However our guide Petra was an angel and when we showed her what we were promised by the idiot Javier, she gave us the full tour as promised. We thoroughly enjoyed her tour, we took a bus to the river, then had a nice boat ride. After we shopped a little, went to a train station where we had a half hour to shop, or eat. Then we drove to another station, waited for the train and boarded it for a quick ride illuminated by Petra. After, we walked and she pointed out some interesting elements of the environment including trees and places and even flowers indigenous to the area. She did her best to make us happy and we all appreciated her efforts. It was a nice day.

1/6/2013 –Transfer to Airport, COPA Airlines, and Panama

The next day for the transfer he also sent a tiny car to pick up 4 of us and all of our luggage, which did not fit, and had to be tied to the roof. It was awful. I have to get the name of the tour operator; I did not make the arrangements and the person who made the arrangements was uncomfortable sharing the tour operators info. Suffuce it to say, be careful and mindful of the amount of people and luggage on buses and always keep it small rather than large! I would follow this advice regardless of whom you use. While I don’t like to recommend or bash tour operators, this operator sucked so bad, he used bait and switch tactics, increased the prices and changed the tours without notifying the person who organized these tours and transfers. Be careful of these tactics

We flew COPA air, the airline of Panama. We flew business class and it was fantastic, fully reclining chairs and all the trimmings of first class including unlimited drinks, toiletry kit, blankets and pillows, nice meals with real silverware and table cloths, snacks, desserts, and bottles of water. I had not heard of them, and had read a few negative comments on tripadvisor about coach, but in business (their first class) it was completely different. I paid a few hundred more for this and it was completely worth it. In addition, we were able to use the VIP lounges in both Buenos Aires and Panama and they were fantastic, with food, drinks, and free wifi. Panama’s airport is really nice with tons of shopping, they even had a Helly Hanson store. Helly is a great place to get all the goretex pants and sports wear for Penguin poop and cold weather jaunts!

The transfers and excursions were organized using South Excursions and Javier was the contact. The person who organized these tours and transfers had great experiences with this same company in several different ports, these experiences were positive and timely and there was no complaints regarding them. Our disembark transfers were problematic as stated earlier, and there were a few issues with the tours but all of those issues were settled and we were all happy with them. My best advice here is to make sure your transfer tours will accommodate all people and all of there luggage so that nobody has to share seating space with luggage. Also, several pieces of luggage had to be sent directly to the hotel we were all staying at. There were no problems with the luggage sent ahead, the hotel Savoy had them stored securely and safe.

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