by Dileep Bhandarkar
January 22, 2006
This 14-day cruise was our fourth cruise, third on a Celebrity Millennium Class ship. We enjoy our balcony and this time we had one on Deck 8 on the starboard side at about mid ship (8074). We enjoy cruising with Celebrity and this cruise exceeded our expectations!.
We spent 3 days in Argentina before the cruise and 2 days in Chile after the cruise.
We thoroughly enjoyed our cruise. The itinerary is great. The ship is in good condition and we did not experience any bad odor that some had reported previously. The service was excellent. We were very lucky to have great weather. We hardly saw any shows, so we cannot comment on them. We chose to enjoy our balcony with an after dinner drink (usually wine that we picked up in a port) instead. We would highly recommend this cruise.- Dileep & Ann Bhandarkar
Jan 19 - 20: Buenos Aires, Argentina
On arrival at 10:30 am on Jan 19, we breezed through immigration and exchanged some money (terrible rate) while waiting for baggage. Customs was easy. A big disappointment as there was no one to pick us up. Ricardo forgot that we had managed to change our arrival to a day earlier. Fortunately, my cell phone worked and he suggested that we take a prepaid taxi (54 pesos) which only accepts pesos. He agreed to try and schedule our city tour for 3 pm. The taxi ride to NH Jousten Hotel (pronounced Houston) was uneventful. The hotel is very nice with friendly service, free internet in the lobby, and convenient location including the wine shop called Winery next door.
After a brief rest, we left with our guide Ana Pesce and driver Alberto to see May Square, Cathedral, San Telmo, La Boca (the colorful Caminiti street was great) and Recoleta. The mausoleums were all very interesting and works of art. A short stop at the Recoleta Urs factory shop yielded a leather jacket and some merino wool sweaters. Dinner at La Cabana was good.
Day 2 started at 9:30 am with guide Elba Rabito and driver Carlos for a sightseeing boat trip on the river delta in Tigre, followed by a train ride to the quaint town of San Isidro. The boat ride is very interesting and highly recommended. We were back at the hotel at 1:30 pm for a quick lunch and a nap before the long evening.
The evening highlight was the fantastic Tango show at El Viejo Almacen, which has a more traditional tango in a small theatre which gives you a very up close view. They had some Cusco musicians who were great! Dinner started at 8 pm followed by the show just after 10 pm, ending at midnight. We were unaware that there was a show at 8 pm, which we could have taken without dinner.
We thoroughly enjoyed our day and half in Buenos Aires. Ricardo's guides and drivers are very good and cars comfortable. He aims to please.Jan 21: Iguazu Falls - Highly Recommended side trip
Ricardo made amends for his earlier miscues by giving us a complimentary ride to the domestic airport for our trip to Iguazu Falls.
Our guide Miguel picked us up for the 15 minute trip to the Sheraton, which is in the national park. We had our first view of the falls from our room balcony. We recommend the Falls view room.
After a 10 minute walk to the ecological train station we headed on a 20 minute train ride to Devil's Throat falls. Another 10 minute walk, this time on metal cat walk to see the spectacular falls. There was same spray off and on, but we have plenty of time for some great pictures and videos. The total time including the train trip back was 1.5 hours.
The next walk was along the Upper Circuit to see other falls including San Martin Falls. This trip took about an hour including photo stops.
Next we went down the Lower Circuit from which you get a view of Union Falls at Devil's Throat and San Martin Falls, with a walk down to the base of Bossetti Falls to experience the spray. It started to rain just as we were ready to head back to the hotel.
The entire trip to see the falls was about 4 hours with a lot of walking and the guide was helpful. He told us the names of all the falls and pointed out good vantage points. The guide makes it easy, but we could have done it by ourselves with a little more effort and may be a bit slower. We were lucky that it was not as hot as previous days (only high 80's) and water levels were higher than the previous week.Iguazu Falls Notes:
Catarata Train Station is a 10 minute walk from the Sheraton. Get there 10-15 minutes before departure time. Train leaves for Devil's Throat at 10 and 40 minutes past the hour. Train ride is a bout 15 minutes. Walk to the observation point is also about 15 minutes. You can spend 30 minutes there and make the return train which leaves on the hour and half hour. I left at first train at 8:40 am from the Catarata Station and had a few minutes of exclusive viewing before others caught up with me, and returned on the 10 am train.
We you come back to Catarata Station, you can walk around the Upper Circuit for an hour, followed by another hour along the Lower Circuit.
Wear shorts and comfortable walking shoes. You will not get soaked unless you take the boat. You will get sprayed a bit, which can be refreshing.Jan 22: Return to Buenos Aires and sail away on the Celebrity Millennium
After a sunrise falls view from our balcony and a relaxing morning, I had to make another visit to Devil's Throat to see in the morning light. I managed to get on the first train at 8:40 am and beat the crowds to the observation deck. We took our return flight at 1 pm. Aerolineas Argentinas is a nice airline with clean airplanes and good service (including complimentary wine). Our flight pushed back 10 minutes early. Ricardo's driver Carlos picked us up and we made a quick stop at the NH Jousten hotel to pick up our luggage before heading to the port.
We checked in to the ship around 3:30 pm without any delays or hassles. They took our passports and kept them for the duration of the cruise. We had no problem carrying on the 4 bottles of wine we had bought in Buenos Aires. Our luggage, including the checked in wine box, were delivered in a reasonable time. After tasting the Martini sampler we had dinner. There was open seating for both early and late diners. Ship departed for Montevideo down the Plata River (Rio de la Plata) at 11 pm. Fortunately, no late night life boat muster.Jan 23: Montevideo, Uruguay - Informal Evening Attire
Spectacular sunrise around 6 am. Our arrival was delayed by slightly more than an hour by the port authorities due to congestion in the shipping channel. Celebrity pushed out our departure time by an hour to compensate. Leather shop shuttles are right there at the port! We were met by our guide Marta and her driver Washington (aka Pocho) and we left on our 5 hour private tour ($25 per person for 6 people) of the city with 4 other cruisers (Billy & Jane Defoyd and Colin & Jenny Lavery). Marta was excellent and very knowledgeable. We made frequent photo stops. She took us to a supermarket to buy wine and beer. We enjoyed our 3+ hour city tour and ended with a stop at the small Leather Outlet Club, where Ann found a great shearling lambskin coat. Lifeboat muster took between the two dinner seatings.Jan 24: En route to Puerto Madryn - Formal Evening Attire
Fairly calm seas and partly cloudy. Cruise Critic Connections party took place at 10 am in Michael's Piano Club. Simon Weir, the Cruise Director, stayed for a full hour and listened to cruisers introduce themselves and answered questions. At least one couple did get their invitation. There were 18 or so attendees.Jan 25: Puerto Madryn, Argentina - Casual Evening Attire
We docked early and got off the ship quickly with Anna Marie and Bob Harvey on a bright sunny day. Our guide (Miriam) and driver (Leandro) were waiting for us and we were one of the first vans to head out for our Punta Tombo excursion ($50 per person for a group of 4) at 9 am. The 100+ mile drive takes about 2.5 hours, including 1.5 hours for the last 73 miles on a dusty unpaved road. The long bumpy ride is definitely worthwhile. We got there at least 30 minutes before the Celebrity buses started to arrive with many people. You walk among hundreds of penguins on a graveled path that is easy to walk on. There are penguins everywhere and they have the right of way! We spent an hour and half taking pictures of the penguins and enjoying the sights.We made a quick stop in Trelew at the Paleontological Museum, which was nice but somewhat disappointing. We did find some Patagonian wine in the gift shop. We got a quick tour of Puerto Madryn including a quick peek at the busy beach before returning to the ship around 4:30 pm. The private tour for 4 people in a van is not only about half the cost of the ship's tour, it is more comfortable than riding in a bus, and you get there before the place gets too crowded.
What a difference a few days makes. We had a nice warm sunny day. The previous cruise could not get into this port due to high winds on Jan 18!
We had the Menu Exceptionnel dinner in the Olympic Restaurant on the ship with our dining room table mates (Al & Pauline, Lee & Gigi) in the wine room. A perfect way to end a great day!Jan 26: En route to Port Stanley - Informal Evening Attire
Fairly calm seas and sunny in the morning. A few white caps appeared in the afternoon and the wind picked up.Jan 27: Port Stanley, Falkland Islands - Casual Evening Attire
It was a bit rough, so they decided that the tenders would move slowly. We had our priority passes for Concierge Class, so we were able to get on the second tender along with Colin and Jenny Lavery at about 9:30 am. The general tender boarding was supposed to start after 10:30 am. Those with shore excursion tickets had first priority.
The Falklands is the only place where you see Gentoo and King penguins. Everywhere else you see Magellanic (aka Jackass) penguins. Celebrity has an exclusive for Bluff Cove (most popular tour) and Sparrow Cove which have many Gentoo penguins and sometimes 4-5 King penguins. Bluff Cove is an hour away including a 30 minute ride over rough roads. Sparrow Cove is reached by a special tender followed by a 4 wheel drive. The biggest King penguin viewing is at Volunteer Point which is 2.5 hours away and monopolized by Celebrity. Book the ship's tour for the best penguin viewing.
We saw a man (Gerald Cheek) holding up a "Sightseeing Tours" at the pier and we hired him ($60 for 4 people) for a city tour and a trip to Gypsy Cove, which has a few dozen Magellanic penguins and one King penguin. It was very windy and rainy and the King was just lying down on the beach. Just as we were ready to leave a fighter jet flew over us. That noise woke up the king penguin and he put on quite a show for us. Gerald was delightful - a fifth generation resident, who retired 5 years ago as the Director of Civil Aviation. He showed us the battlefield of the 1982 war and all the sights in the city. We had fish & chips at the Victory Bar and walked around town and shopped for souvenirs.
The wait for the return tender was less than 10 minutes and the seas were calmer than they were in the morning. A great stop, but this is one port where paying Celebrity $110+ per person for a 2.5 hour penguin viewing tour might be worthwhile. Only the ship's tours take you to see Gentoo penguins. All tours were sold out at the beginning of the cruise. Taxis are available at the public jetty and there is a shuttle bus that runs to Gypsy Cove, which as Magellanic penguins only and a lone King penguin on the beach.
The ship left about 7-8 hours late because the refueling barge could not approach the ship until after the tenders were all hoisted up. The seas were too rough during the day.Jan 28: At Sea - Formal Evening Attire
We finally sailed away some time after 3 am. Relaxing day at sea. It got quite windy around noon. This brought out a lot of birds - petrel and albatross.Jan 29: Cape Horn, Chile - Casual Evening Attire
The seas were somewhat rough at times but not too bad. The ship got to Cape Horn around 4 pm as planned and the master got us really close and the ship stayed there so one side could view and then turned slowly for the other side. They opened the heliport (accessed from the port side on Deck 4) for people to view, but it was very windy and cold. We got a nice view of the Chilean garrison and the Albatross Monument. We spent about 2 hours there to get different views before moving on to our next destination.
The casino was closed from about 4 pm and will not re-open for another 4 or 5 days. No gambling when the ship is within 12 miles of Chilean coast.
Another fine dinner in the Olympic Restaurant with our table mates including 2 new additions (Betsy and her mother Dorothy). We had lots of wine, including some Chateau Yquiem that Lee & Gigi bought for the whole table to celebrate their upcoming 50th anniversary. Our dinner lasted almost 4 hours!Jan 30 : Ushuaia, Argentina - Informal Evening Attire
Even though the itinerary said that we were to be tendered, we docked right in town at 6 am. This was good day to sleep in if you were not on any of the ship's early tours that started at 6:45 am! It was rainy and cold in the morning but it got better as the day progressed. We left the ship around 9 am and bought tickets (70 pesos per person) at the pier for a 3 hour Beagle Channel excursion on catamaran operated by Caneoro Catamaranes. We stopped on Bridges Island for 40 minutes for a panoramic view of Ushuaia and the mountains around it and to see the local flora and fauna. We saw cormorants and seals on little island and the Lighthouse.
We had a fabulous lunch at Restorante Tante Nina which serves great crab dishes in a room with a view of the harbor.
We left an hour late at 5 pm because the tour buses that took people on the train ride and national park tour returned late. About 3 hours after departure the ship sails along the glaciers Holande, Italia, Francia, Alemania, Romanche - all visible from the starboard side. These glaciers are magnificent. It was slightly foggy at time and very windy, but our balcony on Deck 8 gave us a great protected vantage point. Some on deck 9 were obscured by the overhang.
The Hotel Director left the ship and his assistant was promoted.Jan 31: Punta Arenas, Chile - Casual Evening Attire
It was a sunny day and we managed to get on one of the early tenders. Even with Concierge Class priority, we were told that we could not get on until 9 am. We went down to Deck 1 at just after 8 am and there were 8 seats open of a tender that was bout to leave and we got on and the tender left with 4 or 5 empty seats!
Our guide (Paulina) and driver Hector met us at we set out for Seno Otway Penguin Caves around 8:30 am. The 50 km ride took about an hour, with the last half on unpaved road. It was extremely windy (40+ mph) and chilly but the penguins were great. The terrain is grassy here and the penguins were often in group. We saw several lines of 10 or 12 head out to the sea and dive in. It takes about an hour to walk around the 1.5 km circuit. These are Magellanic penguins just like the ones in Puerto Madryn, but the experience is quite different. You definitely need something to keep your ears warm.
There are plenty of taxis at reasonable rates at the port and we saw several on the road with 3 or 4 passengers. 4 hours is plenty of time. Entrance to the penguin colony costs $6.
We were dropped off at the cemetery which has mausoleums similar to the one in Buenos Aires, but on a smaller scale. We walked to the main square (Plaza Munoz Gamero) which has a bronze statue of Ferdinand Magellan and several old buildings that belonged to some of the elite in the 19th century. There are several vendors selling crafts, sweaters, and souvenirs.
We had lunch at Sotito's Restaurante which serves great seafood. We had King Crab a la crème and avocado salad. Yummy! The appetizer portion is plenty for lunch. Senor Sotito served us and was delighted to see the print out of his web page that I had with me. He gave us cigarette lighters with his logo.
The return tender wait was short (10 minutes or so).Feb 1: Skua Glacier - Informal Evening Attire
Don't know why the itinerary lists this day as the Straits of Magellan. When left the straits of Magellan around 5 am and cruised up the Pacific Ocean before entering Canal Nelson and Canal Castro en route to Skua Glacier. The Pacific was quite rough.
We reached the glacier around 2 pm and they opened up the heliport for viewing again. It was spectacular. The master took us to within a mile of the glacier and turned the ship to allow a good view from all sides. We spent about 2 hours here. The ship's tender took the photographer very close to the glacier and seeing the tender there helped frame the size of this glacier. It is not as wide as Hubbard Glacier in Alaska, but it sure is a beautiful sight.Feb 2: Chilean Fjords - Formal Evening Attire
We were back in the Pacific Ocean this morning and we could feel the waves rocking the ship. We entered the fjords around 5 pm and they were not as spectacular as we had hoped. Around 7 pm we saw a snowy peak on the starboard side, and had to run out of the dining room to take a quick picture. The scenery got more interesting after 8 pm with rocky mountains with evergreen vegetation and another snow covered mountain. After 9 pm we could see Volcano Osorno in the distance.Feb 3: Puerto Montt - Casual Evening Attire
We pulled into Puerto Montt around 7:30 am. We had a group of 10 (Anna Marie & Bob Harvey, Lynn & Jan Fidler, Keith & Luanna Mitzner, June & Dennis Marquis, and of course the two of us) and we had made arrangements with Brenda at The Captain's Club desk to get on the tenders early for out 8:30 am appointment with Gail & Veronica of GV Tours. It was a bright sunny day - not common in this city!
We drive off for Frutillar on Lake Llanquihue (pronounced Yankee Way!). It was a bright sunny day. Frutillar is a quaint Germanic town, but it was the least interesting part of the day. We drove through Puerto Varas (a slightly bigger German town) and drove on to Lake Todos Los Santos (aka Esmeralda Lake due to the green emerald colored water) in the Vicente Perez Rosales National Park with stops for pictures of Volcano Osorno and Volcano Calbuco. The lake has nice views of Osorno and Volcano Puntiagudo. The scenery is spectacular. Our next stop was at Petrohue Falls, a scenic waterfall. You see Volcano Osorno and Volcano Tronador in the background.
After an excellent lunch (red trout) at Restaurant Las Tranqueras we stopped for some photo opportunities in Puerto Varas before returning to Puerto Montt at 3:15 pm for some shopping at the handicraft stalls. There was no wait for the tenders.
There are plenty of taxis at reasonable rates ($40-50 per hour at the port and 6 hours will cover the points of interest. A new Captain took over today. Many of the ship's tours came back late and we sailed out about an hour late. We enjoyed room service dinner on our balcony as we sailed out towards the Pacific Ocean.Feb 4: At Sea en route to Valparaiso - Casual Evening Attire
It was a nice sunny day with smooth seas. There were many people by the pool and on Deck 11 taking in the sunshine. It was a nice relaxing day at sea on the Pacific Ocean.
We ended the cruise with another fine dinner in the Olympic Restaurant with 4 of our tablemates. There were 3 showings of the March of the Penguins at 6:30, 8:30 and 10:30 pm. We packed our bags and had them out before the 11 pm deadline.Feb 5: Disembark in Valparaiso and City Tour of Valparaiso and Vina Del Mar
We pulled into port around 6 am, and were in the Celebrity Theatre for our 7:55 am debarking, but the Chilean authorities did not clear the ship until around 9:30 am. After that the disembarkation procedures were smooth. We were glad to be greeted by our guide Julio from ABS Mundo. Our driver Leslie came with the Hyundai Sonata and we struggled to fit all, and our luggage in the car. Next time we will ask for a station wagon.
A slight mix up as the guide was not told that we were to get a tour of Valparaiso and Vina del Mar before being dropped off at our hotel in Santiago. Fortunately, I had a printed copy of our voucher and after a quick phone call to the travel agency we were on our way around Valparaiso. We stopped for several picture opportunities including La Sebastiana (former home of Nobel Prize winning poet Pablo Neruda), Victoria Square, Chilean Navy building, and on a hill with a panoramic view of the city. Valparaiso has some colorful quaint old homes.
We then took the coastal road to Vina del Mar which is tourist town with nice beaches and fancy hotels. Places of interest are the Floral Clock, the Abarca Cove, the Arab Union Club, Wulff Castle, the Municipal Casino, Peru Avenue, and Acapulco beach.
We then traveled to Santiago past the vineyards, farms, orchards and olive plantations of Casablanca valley (well suited for white wine grapes), including a brief stop at Veramonte Winery for some wine tasting (Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay). We got upgraded to great corner room at the Marriott on the 22nd floor (Concierge Level) with panoramic views of the mountains. The hotel does make tour arrangements at reasonable prices, e.g. airport taxi for $20.
We watched Super Bowl XL on ESPN in our room drinking Pisco Sours, with room service dinner at half time with some fine wine! They had commentary in Spanish by Raul Allegre (former NFL place kicker) and Alvaro Martin. We missed all the Super Bowl commercials!Mon, Feb 06 Santiago, Chile
With the morning rising sun, we had an excellent view of the snow capped Andes from our room. The sunrise over the mountains was a beautiful sight too! We departed at 9 am for a city tour of Santiago. We started our tour with a panoramic view of the city at the Cerro Santa Lucía (the Santa Lucia Hill), where the city was founded in 1541. We drove to the Plaza de Armas to see important National Monuments, such as the Iglesia Catedral (The Cathedral Church), Correo Central (The Main Post Office) and the Municipalidad de Santiago (The City Hall), and then walked to the Palacio de la Moneda ( President's Palace). We drove past the St. Lazarus church. We visited the "Club Hípico" horse-racing course, which is considered one of the most beautiful courses in South America. We drove through the area with restored university buildings. We were dropped off at the Central Market, where we had an excellent seafood lunch at Donde Augusto. The avocados in Chile taste great as a side dish with fish!
We took an afternoon excursion to Concha y Toro winery. We were supposed to be picked up at #:45 pm, but we got a call in our hotel room at 3:15 pm asking us to meet the bus downstairs! Founded in 1883, it is the country's largest wine exporter. Our guided tour of the facility with Carolina began with a walk around the mansion and its gardens, followed by the Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards planted in 1978. This was followed by a tasting of the 2003 Casillero del Diablo. Then we visited the regular cellar. We also visited the old Devil's Cellar and then tasted the Don Melchnor Cabernet Sauvignon. You keep the tasting glass as a souvenir. The gift shop has reasonably priced logo items like shirts, caps, cooking aprons, and of course wine and other souvenirs.
The Marriott is right next to Parque Arauco, the biggest shopping mall in Santiago. We had a nice dinner at the El Parron Restaurant with some fine Chilean Sauvignon Blanc.Tue, Feb 07 Santiago, Chile, Transfer to Airport, Depart 1:45 PM
There is a nice wine shop called La Vinoteca at the airport with a great selection of Chilean wines at god prices, so I had to buy a bottle of a single vineyard Carmenere!
Ship's Crew:Master: Captain Michael Karatzas
Chief Engineer: Ioannis Pepes
Hotel Director: Renato Chizzola & Garry Abbs Staff Captain: Spyros Konidaris
Cruise Director: Simon Weir
Our Celebrity Service: State Room Attendant: Vali Cateanu Asst State Room Attendant: Aaron Mutate
Our Waiter: Igor Cuk Asst. Waiter: Agung Wine Steward: Nikolay
Metropolitan Asst Maitre D'Hotel: Wlodzimiez Czajka
Olympic Restaurant Maitre D'Hotel: Raffaele Bernardini
We thoroughly enjoyed the Lectures given by the naturalist Dirk Younkerman. We found the Enrichment Lectures by Colonel James W. Reid to be rather long winded and punctuated too often with "in my book". He had some good information to convey, but he digressed too much and was somewhat boring in my book!
We generally had our morning coffee and orange juice in our stateroom and had breakfast and lunch (when not in port) in the Ocean Café on Deck 10. On port days we ordered room service breakfast. We ate 3 times in the Olympic Restaurant in the Wine Room and loved each meal.
Our stateroom and dining room staff were very attentive and excellent. All in all we had a great time! It was truly one of our most enjoyable vacations!