P&O Cruises Arcadia (ex. Star Princess) by Eric December 6, 2002
Overview-This is a very long review as it covers two 14 night cruises back to back from Acapulco to Buenos Aires. The ship is P&O's Arcadia (formerly star princess) now an Adults only ship. I will not spend much time on the ship as it soon transfers to another division & becomes Ocean Village, except to mention things that indicate P&O philosophy. The itinerary was superb & we had a fantastic cruise in spite of our reservations about P&O food. We are both retired and have some limitations on activities that we can do, likewise we are not party animals but do enjoy a good time and regularly attend theatre shows etc at home, we do like scenery & seeing new places but are not into shopping. This was our 1st P&O cruise but we have been on 17 other cruises with various lines. P&O & Charter Flights-Travel to & from ship was by charter flight, formalities at a minimum. Hand over cruise voucher at UK airport, check in, fly out, board coach at airport & given little green card, hand that in at gangway & you are on ship! Credit card can be given to guest relations any time! The USA lines could learn from this simple procedure!! Return boarding cards are given out on ship.
Our outward flight refuelled & changed crew at Montreal, lucky it was not a blizzard there (the unfortunates on a Monarch flight were diverted in Cuba by fog & were 11 hours late). Glad to see the sun rise over Gulf of Mexico after being in darkness for 21.5 hours since leaving home, landed at Acapulco after 15 hour flight to find it full of planes diverted from Mexico City by fog & no steps available. We eventually boarded our coach, best we have ever been on, our cruise then nearly ended before it began when a heavy piece of luggage (definitely over airline limit for carry on luggage) put on rack by fellow passenger came off & hit my wife on the head. Luckily the seat had a high back & took a lot of the weight, otherwise she would have been in hospital or the morgue!! Our big moan is in the allocation of seats on the charters, we requested extra legroom on account of height. Only one was available, so accepted two seats together at a window, these were not good or really bad but we were annoyed to find several rows of 4 seats were empty & had been "bagged" by one of the nearest couple on take off so one had 4 seats (full length sleep) & the other two seats.very comfortable for them but we were still stuck in our 2 seats! Return flight from Buenos Aires was far worse! We were allocated two of the 14 worst seats on the plane in spite of our request for extra legroom, they had only 6.75" between the front edge of our seats & back of one in front!! This applies to seats G&H in rows 6-12 on Britannia 767 flights & is approx 1.75" less than all other seats on the plane. The flight attendant (Kevin) tried to say all seats were the same when naked eye said they were not & when I challenged him to get a tape measure he was "Too busy". Do not accept seats GH rows 6-12 on Britannia if you are over 5ft 3" tall. Also be aware the front cabin is filled up for aircraft balance purposes & any spare seats will be in the rear cabins. Also note the planes for the Christmas cruise from Valparaiso were condensed from 4 to 3 at Barbados resulting in a 3 hour delay for onward flight to Santiago, just good business I suppose!
P&O & The Ship-Arcadia is Adults only & this worked well, however the children's facilities had just been locked up & not converted to adult space, presumably because P&O knew this incarnation was only short term. We liked the Atrium, Horizon lounge, Festival theatre, pool & deck area & thought the public areas were well maintained. The library was ok but only internet terminal was here & all emails had to be typed by librarian @ 3pounds ($4.50) per 100 words with anything over 100words @ 5pounds per 100 or part thereof. There was also a charge of 2.50pounds to receive an email!! We did not like Oval pub (dull 50's decor & smoky) or Century bar also smoky. The bar prices are reasonable compared to some other Lines & include gratuities. The Palladium show lounge has the worst sight lines we have ever experienced on a ship, particularly the balcony. Good job it is one of the changes when converting to Ocean Village, also changed will be casino/oval pub into cabaret bar & Horizon lounge into gym at front & disco at rear. The two self service laundry rooms are very useful & well equipped for a long trip. The gratuity guidelines are also lower than other lines, presumably because P&O charge a higher per day rate. The Decoration of the ship for Christmas & New Year was very good, a team of 6 people had been flown out to Santiago from UK just to spend 2 days putting up the decorations before flying home again.
The Cabin-E184 was chosen as a good position for easy access to most areas of the ship, on the port side for scenery & in a good position for any rough weather we might encounter. Cabins are large but poorly designed & furnished in our opinion. Plenty of storage space, large shower with good performance but rest of bathroom tiny, you had to open bathroom door to have adequate space to dry yourself. Only place you can see TV from is the bed & dressing table is just a single piece of wood (should be other side under TV & a decent seat in its place). Two beds pushed together for a double had a threequarter inch drop from one to the other, most uncomfortable & only single blankets crossways, consequently my feet were always cold. But the worst feature of the cabin was the overpowering stench of smoke!!! It must have been occupied by heavy smokers for dozens of previous cruises. We were given our own spray & sprayed at least twice a day but even after several days it was still there, I even had to spray inside the bathroom cabinets it was so saturated with smoke!! Food & Service-We thought the deck crew worked very hard. In the housekeeping/dining room/buffet areas there seemed to be a lethargic or end of contract atmosphere. We were lucky with our dining room waiters Jude & Raphael were excellent for the whole 28 nights. When we used the Dining room on open seating for breakfast or lunch we were not that impressed with standard of service. Our wine waiter Edwin was excellent & always cheerful. Californian house wine is available at 5.55pounds per half litre carafe & 9.75 pounds per litre. Wines from the "New World" start at 10-12 pounds ($15-18) per bottle. Food.. Given that P&O charge the same or more per day than RCI, Celebrity or HAL we expected better food. Yes it is British cooking but old fashioned British style dating back to the 1950's, they need a new modern British Chef with a lighter touch as consultant, such as Gary Rhodes or Brian Turner. Some of the meat was so tough as to be uneatable (I do not blame the Chefs on board, the supplies come from head office), the fish was very poor, how can you make Salmon tough? The menu design could be a lot better, fish on a bed of mushy peas?? The veg had a preponderance of root vegetables (never seen so many Turnips & Swede. Rutabaga for our USA friends) Potatoes had too many varieties that had started life in a powder form. In the end we took to asking for a baked potato & some of the peas were as hard as bullets! Meat & sauces are served on the plate with "silver service" for the vegetables. For Christmas & New Year dinners P&O pulled out all the stops & they were very good. Starter at Christmas dinner of venison & pork pate with a fruit coulis was the only dish that was up to Celebrity standards in my opinion for the whole trip. Traditional turkey Christmas dinner & pudding flamed at the table by the Chef followed by cake, choc truffles & whole stilton cheese. Party hats & Crackers were provided and again for New Years Eve dinner. Good meals included rib beef, rack of lamb, lamb shanks, chicken breast wrapped in bacon, beef Wellington & tournedos of beef. Good deserts, Christmas pudding & cherries jubilee both flamed at the table, the trifle and all individual sponge puddings were very good. Poor included all fish, goose, sirloin beef & one lunch that was supposed to be vegetarian selection .grilled vegetables.consisted of a few mushrooms left over from b/f. half a tomato, a bit of yesterdays potato & a "vegetable sausage" that could have been mistaken for something else!! My wife had chicken curry one day that consisted of a single tiny chicken drumstick & some sauce on rice & one half grapefruit served to me for breakfast was obviously left over from day before! The Conservatory buffet was limited at breakfast, no omelette station, no smoked salmon etc, we took to having a bowl of tinned fruit & a packet of Kellogg's fruit & Fibre for breakfast & only rarely did we find anything on the lunch buffet to suit us, we did try the curry a few days but not very exciting, we mostly had a baked potato with cheese & a salad. However the special seafood buffet one day was very good & so was the Mexican buffet. The "British Pub food" buffet provided me with the only bit of fish (in batter) that was moist & succulent as fish should be, that I had all cruise. Midnight snacks are available but there is no Gala midnight buffet, one afternoon there is a "walk through the Kitchens" followed by an afternoon chocoholics buffet. You will not starve with P&O but we thought the menus could be better (I had pork one night for the 1st time ever on a cruise ship because nothing else looked appetising, after all it is the cheapest cut of meat in UK) as could the quality of the ingredients & whatever you may think of our P&O food report the food was still at least 5 times better than our disastrous experience on Festival/First European cruises last Christmas. Entertainment-one word, superb. The Stadium Theatre Company comprised 11 singers & dancers who put on 9 different production shows in 26 nights all to a very high quality. We did have Bruce Morrison, a Director of Stadium Co on board for the whole cruise. He was working on the Christmas show & a production based on the work of Freddy Mercury & Queen but also did two cabaret spots on his own, one a history of P&O in song in the Festival theatre & a full show of Scottish numbers on New Years Eve. The ships choir of crew & passengers who had some very good singers did a superb carol concert in the Atrium on Christmas Eve. The classical pianist for the 1st two weeks tended to bang the keys a bit but programme was OK. Alan Schiller for the 2nd two weeks was very good with a good sense of humour. The Male & Female concert singers both cruises were good as was Duggie Brown the comedian for 1st two weeks. Sorry to say neither the 2nd comedian nor the "comedy" magician were to our liking. Music was provided by a 7 piece orchestra, a duo, a trio & a 4 piece group. Orchestra & Trio stayed on all 4 weeks, we liked the first duo better than 2nd & 2nd group better than first. New years eve was very good, trio in oval pub with jazz, duo in atrium with traditional ballroom, group in horizon lounge with party music & by 10.30 we were back far enough north for it to be warm enough for a disco on deck round the pool, a really good New Year & we tumbled into bed around 1.30am.We enjoyed guest lecturer John Carter on the 1st leg but not the port lecturer who only read from the port & tour guides. The port lecturer on 2nd leg, Mrs Taylor was very good. The port guides provided in the cabin were very good. Who goes-As an adults only ship, most passengers were of a mature age but very active with a smaller number in middle age & only a very few in the 20/30 group. We knew the 1st 2 weeks had been sold off at bargain rates a few weeks before departure, but all these places had been taken up by experienced travellers & cruisers who always seemed willing to talk & all really wanted to go to South America. There were tee shirts on display from every corner of the globe! 220 stayed on for the Christmas cruise but some of those joining at Valparaiso did seem a little more reserved & less inclined to strike up a conversation. It did amaze us that people had not done any research on the weather we could expect & consequently had not brought any cold weather clothing. One lady had only brought a cardigan & a couple from Europe complained to us that their TA had not told them how cold it would be!! Most people were from Britain with just one lady from USA who we became friendly with, around 6 from Holland & a few from Northern Europe. Dress standard all 4 weeks was very high, only saw 2/3 gentlemen not in formal dress on formal nights. Itinerary-Superb, magnificent scenery, lots of wildlife & a chance to see cultures most people can only read about. In order to give a view on what we did that may provide an insight for future cruisers to South America, I will provide a journal below in date order, with some emphasis on temperature & wind conditions we found, in the hope that this may help those who think South America ends at Rio! Dec 6th Acapulco- Having been there before we had a sleep to recover from the flight. Ship was 3 hours late sailing due to late arrival of one flight. Dec 7th Huatulco-One hour late arriving, anchor out & with a medium Pacific swell tendering was slow. Independent travellers with a ticket number over 480 did not get ashore. We had booked the ships Snorkel experience tour. Huatulco looks a pretty place just being developed & with 9 sandy bays, will be a big resort in 20 years time. Unfortunately the snorkel boat was not up to standard, the ladder out of the water was almost non existent & you had to be young & fit to get out of the water at all without assistance but P&O did the right thing & refunded everyone their money. Two snorkel stops at Cacaluta bay (only fair) & La Entrega beach. No pillar or fan coral like Caribbean, fair number of fish. If I went back again I would just get a taxi to La Entrega beach & snorkel from there. Noon temp 28.5c & sunny. Sailed @ 1500 hrs.
Dec 8th sea day sunny, noon temp 27.5c Dec9th sea day, mostly cloud with a few rain showers noon temp 25.5c wind force 3 so felt cooler than that on deck. Crossing line ceremony at 3pm, not very good seen a lot better, just a "pillow fight" on a pole across the pool. Dec 10th Manta, Ecuador arrived 11am, total cloud cover & 24c temp but wind made it feel a little cooler. USA destroyer on opposite side of pier & greeted by a small but enthusiastic band. Only a short stay until 4pm, mainly for refuelling. Taxis available for $10 per hour, 3hours plenty of time to see any sights & buy a hat at Montichristi. Manta is very poor, & harbour is full of "the vacuum cleaners" of the sea, the purse sein boats. We only walked along the pier & along the road (watch your step full of holes) as far as a beach that looked very dirty, we did hear one unconfirmed report that a passenger had been mugged in town. Summed up by the Comedians joke that night " are you going back to Manta, reply.. I would sooner walk round Leeds with a nail through my shoe". Dec 11th sea day & a big surprise, although only 7 degrees of latitude below the equator at noon, the cloud cover & wind off the cold Humboldt current made it very cool. Noon temp only 20c but wind factor meant a lot of us had put on long trousers & a sweater by lunchtime!
Dec 12th Callao for Lima. Still heavy low cloud as we approached Callao, had to anchor as our berth was occupied by a Korean naval ship. The 218 passengers on the 3 day tour to Machu Pichu had to be sent ashore by tender to catch their flights. Those of us on the morning tour of Lima assembled in show lounge at 8.45am, we were kept well informed of the situation by the bridge. However the executive purser, Brian Purnell OBE kept our interest for over 2 hours by talking about his life in Royal Navy for 24 years before joining P&O 8 years ago. I do not think many cruise lines could have produced some one to save the day like this! Finally got alongside by 11.30am & the ship arranged an early lunch in DR & Buffet with assembly for the tours at 12,30pm, again superb organisation. Noon temperature 21c. Tour was very good, San Francisco Convent, Cathedral (wooden but you would never know it), Casa Aliaga (oldest house in one family in western hemisphere), Plazas & parks, San Isidro, Miraflores & parque del Amor. Lots of trees & shrubs all over but as not much rain mostly covered in dust, even the gardeners were wearing smog masks! Jacaranda trees in full bloom & a golf course in middle of city. Beaches looked dirty with a lot of wave action & water temp only 17c but some locals were swimming. On way back to ship we passed several street corners with a collection of official "black market" money changers, it seems Peruvians change local currency to $ at first opportunity.
Dec 13th Still at Callao. We hired a taxi for $10 per hour to tour ourselves. Having passed the cemetery's yesterday on the coach we were intrigued enough to go back for photos. The "Britanico" was a typical flower filled garden style & right next door the Peruvian one was stacked up like a mini block of flats. Next the museum of Anthropology & archaeology, entrance $3 & well worth it, very well laid out with mummies & artefacts up to 6000 years old, spent 1.5 hours in there. On to Parque D'Olivia with 300 year old olive trees planted by the Spanish, out for 4.25 hrs altogether. PM we had a stroll to the local market on the pier that we found not to expensive (embroidered t shirts $6 & a small baby Alpaca bedside rug $17. Sailed at 11pm. Dec 14th San Martin Arrived at 8am with sun breaking through. Good sized band playing with 30 school children waving flags. San Martin is nothing but a bulk import coal/bulk export Sulphur facility in a desert, not even a cactus in sight & in the Parancas National Park. It did however provide us with one of the most exciting wildlife tours it is possible to make! Courtesy buses were provided to the town of Pisco 15 kilometre away, heard various reports on this, some thought it interesting others never got of the bus! Flights over the Nasca lines could be made at a price of $375. We hired a taxi for 4, to the pier at Parancas ($10 approx 10k away), there is a small museum near the entrance to the park but those who went in said not much there. At the pier a local with a badge ushered us to the front of the queue at a booth & we signed our names & handed over $15 each for a 2 hour speed boat trip to the "Ilas Balestas" billed as Peru's mini Galapagos. 24 seat speed boats, open, we had been surrounded by young boys at the pier selling all sorts of things but the hats with a brim were good quality, embroidered with a logo + a neck cord to stop blowing off & good value at $4 each. Everyone has to wear life jackets & the operation seems well controlled so that not too many boats are at the islands at one time. Across the bay past the ship we viewed a candelabra cactus geoglyph in the desert & a pod of dolphins came right around the boat. The Islands themselves were magical, 1000's of sea lions, millions of birds, red crabs, rock arches & tunnels. An experience not to be missed if you are ever in San Martin. With our taxi back to ship & a tip it was $21 each against $135 for same tour with the ship, OK so they got a cup of coffee & an English speaking guide, but heck we know the difference between a sea lion & a penguin! PM we sat on deck in hazy sunshine & had a swim in pool (fresh water.. very good) Noon temp 22.2c with little wind, sailed at 6pm.
Dec 15th at sea following Peruvian coastline. Cloudy & very cool, 9am update from bridge said we were on same latitude as Cairns Australia, this is much cooler than there, noon temp 22c. Large pod dolphins on port bow at lunchtime & a grey whale mid afternoon. Talked to a couple celebrating their diamond wedding anniversary (60 years) that day, the lady had an aortic heart valve replacement 6 years ago & they had just done the tour to Cusco & Machu Pichu to 14000ft with no problems when younger ones had gone down with altitude sickness.. There's hope for us all yet!
Dec 16th Arica, arr 7am, mini bus service provided to dock gates. Outside gates across the road is a small park & there was a craft market set up here. Behind the park is the Cathedral & right of the park is El Morrow, to the top of which is a pathway negotiable by the fit & healthy in 10/15 mins. Chile is more prosperous than most South American country's & taxis are $20 per hour. We took one to top of El Morrow to see the monuments & admire the view etc, then to the geoglyphs in the desert. The valley is green & productive from the Andes melt water but it hardly ever rains here. Dropped back in town to find an internet cafe, there are 2 just above McDonalds to left of Cathedral but you need to understand Spanish & have an hotmail a/c to use them. We found the people of Arica to be polite & friendly, even stopping cars & trucks to let you cross the road when not on a crossing. At lunchtime there was a large band & troupe of dancers on the dockside. Our table companion did the ships tour to Lauca national park, up to 14000ft & 4 people collapsed with altitude sickness & revived with oxygen. She said views & wildlife were spectacular. Dec 17th sea day again, sun rising earlier as we head south, some cloud about. Noon temp 25c but wind force 4 making it cooler on deck. Whales seen again & a large pod of Dolphins at 5pm.
Dec 18th Coquimbo arr 7am, very low cloud & temp only about 15c forecast to rise to 19c so decided to postpone our planned trip up the Elqui valley until the afternoon, silly us, found out later once you get away from the coast it is always sunny up the valley. Early lunch then negotiated a taxi trip up the Elqui valley to Vicuna for 3 hours @ $20 per hour. Valley is broad & lush with fields of Papaya, tomatoes, potatoes, oranges & grapes but narrows further up the valley to a dam with a large lake. All water is melt water from the Andes & the valley sides are pure desert with candelabra cacti. Vicuna is a pretty little town with a nice plaza that has old knarled trees around it. On way back stopped for a walk round the plaza at La Serena, full of flowering trees & shrubs, Jacaranda Datura Poinsettia etc would have liked more time here. Arriving back at ship we found a boat tied up behind unloading swordfish with quite a crowd watching & sea lions swimming around looking for scraps. Sun started to get out at Coquimbo by 4 pm & was full out by 5pm when temp was up to 27c, sailed at 6pm.
Dec 19th Valparaiso arr 06.40am, 3615 nautical miles from Acapulco. Clear sky & sun shining. Had booked a full day ships tour to Santiago for 75 pounds ($113) mainly to use up some onboard credit we had. Interesting coach ride through scrubby hills & fertile valleys full of grapes & vegetables with some views of snow capped mountains. Passed through several tunnels on the motorway (tolls) before arriving at the horse racing course (mainly for a restroom stop). Then toured the traffic jams down O'Higgins avenue while several buildings were pointed out (sit on left side of coach for best views). Presidential palace closed, walk across park & wait for bus to negotiate traffic jam, round to another plaza & then I was embarrassed to be taken into the Cathedral in the middle of a large service, & more so by some of our party using camera flash while there, I walked out. We then went to top of Conception hill for views of Santiago & the 19000ft high Andes through the smog! Lunch was taken on the hill & took over 2 hours & was not very special, some nice gardens there though with roses & gladioli at 2500ft above sea level. Having taken so long in Santiago our tour of Vina del Mar & Valparaiso on way back were cut short & we saw next to nothing of them! Only just got back in time for a quick change for dinner. A disappointing tour, would have been much better off taking a taxi.
Dec 20th still at Valparaiso, change over day. 1st coaches started leaving for airport at 5.30am. We sunbathed on deck & had a swim in the morning, then in afternoon had a walk round the square with all the naval buildings just outside the dock gates. The streets off this were not a very smart area with down & outs sleeping in the gutter, a small square at the end had some flower sellers & we bought some carnations (100 pesos each) for the cabin, A motor cycle policeman came up & warned us to watch out in this area! We did look in an old Victorian style grocery shop, just like the ones we have in museums in UK! Sailed 6pm
Dec 21st at sea, sunny start but cool. Noon temp 15.6c with part cloud & passing rain showers. Wind force 2 but a large swell, pools closed! Dec 22nd Puerto Montt. After transiting Chacao channel in the night we anchored at 7am, cloudy & dull, temp around 11c with a cool breeze, morning scenic flight seeing cancelled. Tendered ashore for 9.30am very steep climb from tender to dock side, joined with another couple for a 7 hour taxi tour of the district ($170). Saw Frutilla, Puerto Varas, the snow capped volcano & mountains, several rain showers, Petrohue falls (1200 pesos entrance), the Emerald lake & Llamas + a caged Puma at a restaurant, our driver spoke some English & we thought we had good value for money. Others paid $30 each in a 10 seat mini bus for a much shorter tour with a driver who spoke no English. Flowers were everywhere with flowers we consider to be either spring or summer in bloom at same time & Embothrium (Chilean fire tree) growing wild in the woods. Sailed at 6pm along the fjords with snow capped peaks still visible in the twilight at 11pm. Dec 23rd During the night Arcadia sailed the confined waters of the Morelado channel & entered the Darwin channel at 07.48am, exiting at 09.50am straight into a force 9 gale. This remained with us all that day gusting to force 10 that night. Noon temp 11c but felt a lot colder with a 60 knot wind & rough seas with a heavy swell. Upper deck was closed to passengers to avoid accidents! Evening show cancelled that night. Some had problems in the night but we slept through it.
Dec 24th Christmas Eve. Entered Trinidad channel at 3am, followed by Conception channel & Wide channel, during which the wind dropped & sea conditions improved. Entered Seno Eyre fjord at 10.48am & encountered first ice growlers soon after, still 15 miles from glacier, all around were sharp mountains with fresh snow, superb scenery but low cloud & mist obscured some of it. Air temp 6c but felt colder, rain showers on & off all the time. Approached the Pious XI glacier very very slowly, lots brash ice & growlers & turned away at 12.30pm when still 5 miles away with porpoises playing in the wake. Due to its size (2.5miles wide 300ft high) it was still an impressive sight. Watched the return journey down the fjord from the rear deck & sometimes the cloud lifted for spectacular views, at one point there is a brief glimpse of the edge of the Patagonian ice cap (84000 hectares). Left the deck at 5 pm when rain/cloud/mist obscured everything. Ship continued in sheltered waters through channels Innocentes & Sarmiento entering the Pacific Ocean again via channel Smyth at 11pm by which time Santa Claus had already been to our cabin.
Dec 25th Christmas Day. Wind force 9 again in the night until we entered the Magellan straights at 5.30am. We were already awake & phoned Daughter in UK on the ships phone (4.24pounds or $6.40 per min) at 5.35am. Superb scenery again with higher cloud than yesterday, saw tooth jagged mountains with snow on them & some small hanging glaciers all day as we slowly meandered along the straights, spent a lot of time on deck. 9am temp report 6c & noon 8c wind force 2/3 meaning less windchill than yesterday, we even sat on a deck lounger at stern for some time. By dinner time the Eastern end of the straights had turned to flatter shale type hills with no snow on them, western end is much more scenic. Evening dinner & entertainment was very good & we fell into bed at midnight well satisfied with our Christmas day.
Dec 26th Boxing Day. Woke 6.15am & alongside at Punta Arenas by 7am. Took the free transfer bus to Plaza de Armas, lots of old trees with a Laburnum avenue in flower & tulips just finishing. Tourist info office here & has 2 internet terminals with 20 mins free if you can use it in Spanish & with unfamiliar controls. Just off the Plaza is the Galleria shopping mall not that special but it does have rest rooms/toilets with 150 pesos entrance! We walked to the Regional Museum kept by the Salesian friars as I had seen this before in the 1950's, it is much expanded now. After lunch we took a taxi ($20 per hour) to see the old port, the viewing point and the Cemetery, an amazing sight, they really do look after their ancestors in South America. Long avenues of clipped trees among the mausoleums with elaborate sculptures, did a photo stop on the way back at the monument to the Patagonian Shepherd. We have never seen a town before with so many Statues & Monuments. Sun had broken through during the morning & temp was 9c by noon with a wind force 4. During the afternoon it was even warmer & we sat by the pool but with all our clothes on! The wind then increased in minutes to force 10 & Arcadia had to use side thrusters & two tugs to hold against the pier until leaving in a force 8 wind at 6pm.
Dec 27th Beagle Channel & Ushuaia. During the night there was a brief move out of sheltered waters before entering the Beagle channel at 5.30am, unfortunately I had dropped off at 5am after being awake most of the night & so missed the best of the glaciers seen immediately after entering the channel. Woke at 6.40am to see another glacier from the window & dashed on deck to see the last two glaciers! Sun shining, clear sky & magnificent scenery. If we thought we had seen the best of the scenery before this then we were sadly mistaken! Lots of large jagged mountains with snow kept us on deck for rest of morning. Tried to get alongside at Ushuaia at 10am, lost two lines in force 6/7 wind off the pier, took nearly 2 hours to get alongside with help of 2 tugs, but the setting of Ushuaia is beautiful with mount Olivia rising to almost 5000ft behind. Off the ship at 12.25 to share a taxi with our friends, did the tour to the lakes & the national park for $65, 6 hours in taxi. Superb scenery on way to the coastguard station on lake Faganano most of which was on graded roads, quite an experience. The lake is 90K long with a third on the Chile side, back to hidden lake for a coffee, several stops at viewing points. Then through back of the town & out to the park on graded roads again. Saw the little railway (those who did the tour said it was not worth the money) & most southerly golf course, post office & sign for end of Pacific highway (17848Km to Alaska) lots of wildlife, wonderful trees & very picturesque lakes & pools. Again a superb tour, as we had no Argentine pesos the driver paid the park entrance fee & charged us $16 for all of us. Noon temp 9c wind force 6, sailed at 8pm & exited Beagle channel at 11.30pm. Stayed up to watch a new show in the theatre until 1.0am!!
Dec 28th Up at 6am for Cape Horn, cloudy & misty, out on deck by 6.30am with Cape Horn obscured as we approached. Weather cleared & we had a good view as we passed to starboard at 7am but as we turned & passed again to port it was back to dull. 9am bridge said temp was 8c with a following wind force 7, only a little rocking & rolling as we headed for Falkland Islands. Noon temp 8c but seemed warmer than that out of the wind, very easy to get sun/wind burnt down here.
Dec 29th Falkland Islands. Looking out of the window from 4.30am for first glimpse, on deck by 7am for final approach in a force 8 wind, anchor dropped at 8am. We managed to get on the 2nd tender to go ashore with spray going right over the boat. I should explain that as my ship was based here 45 years ago I was particularly keen to get ashore here & knew that conditions could blow up to prevent tenders getting passengers ashore. We met a born & bred Falklander (Lachie Ross) with a Range Rover at the Tourist centre who took us to gypsy cove to see the penguins, then all the other sights & down past the end of the harbour for a good view of the two sisters mountains that I hiked up all those years ago. Back in Stanley we had fish & chips + coffee for two in the Globe tavern for 9pounds ($13.5) then explored the shops & the Britannia museum before making some phone calls home. Back on board we left our anchorage in Port William at 6.15pm with a service of remembrance on the aft decks (over 300 people present) for those lost in the 1982 war with a poppy wreath cast into the sea. Noon temp was 7.5c wind force 6 but in the afternoon the wind had dropped & sun came out making it quite warm around 15/16c. At dinner that night I watched the Islands recede after what had been an emotional day for me, never having thought I would ever get back there again. Then all the early mornings & late nights caught up with me, the adrenaline high of the past 10 days subsided, by 8.30 I was asleep & slept on & off for 14 hours in next 22 hours, it is exhausting being a tourist! Dec 30th at sea. Still cool 8c at 9am with following wind force 5/6
Dec 31st New Years Eve. At sea, cool am but sunny & temp up to 19c by noon with following wind force 4, drank our bottle of "champers" on a sheltered aft deck following lunch, to start our new year celebrations off on the right note! Dinner & evening celebrations very good & well organised. Jan 1st Montevideo & New Years day so everything closed, must have been a good party here last night, streamers & empty cracker cases all over & more tourist police than people on the streets. Main squares etc can be walked to from the ship, the Graff Spree anchor is right by the ship. We took a taxi with our friends to all the main squares & parks then out along the beaches & through the upmarket housing area. Many fine trees & flowers to be seen all over Montevideo. Taxi was $50 for 4.25 hours, again a very good tour. Spent the afternoon packing as we had a full day arranged for tomorrow, up on deck at 4pm for sail away at 5pm. Noon temp was best yet 27c with sunny clear sky.
Jan 2nd Buenos Aires. Alongside at 6.45am, after 3826 nautical miles from Valparaiso. We did a ships city tour in the morning & found it to be very good, a very smart city with lots to see & many skyscrapers. Yes we heard all the warnings about watching out for ourselves but it is a beautiful city with wide streets having tree filled central reservations & 25% of its area dedicated to parks & public open space. Saw the plaza mayo with the pink palace & "Evitas" balcony, the Cathedral, & the circle that the mothers of the disappeared walked round when the dictatorship was in power. On to Recoleta church highly decorated with the cemetery next door containing Evitas final resting place. I never thought I would see so many cemetery's as I have on this trip but they do have a certain fascination in the styles used in the different Country's. Palermo park has 800 species of tree from around the world & a large rose garden & BA has 1000's of jacaranda trees that must be a sight in their spring. Afternoon we did a ships tour to the Tigre river delta for a very nice cruise around some of the Islands, again fascinating to see how people lived on them & a good tour, shame about the very sweet black coffee they gave us on the boat! All tours leave from the ship but you are dropped back at the dock entrance were there is a shopping area! Taxis are available here & very cheap, a shuttle bus is provided from the ship to the gates.
Itinerary summary-For us it was superb, tropics, desert, temperate, cold etc back to temperate then tropics again. Magnificent scenery, lots of wildlife. The Fjords/Magellan straights/Beagle channel area is devoid of any human habitation, no signs of it at all. This must be one of the last great wilderness cruising areas, see it while you can! However the sunbathing shopaholics among you would probably not enjoy cruising this area. All the South American ports are commercial ones, no cruise terminals at all. At the pier or dock gate there is usually an English speaking taxi "organiser" & if you are early & ask for an English speaking driver you may just be lucky! You will almost always be considerably cheaper than a ships tour. Having seen all 3 of the major fjord areas I now rate this as number 1, with Norway inside passage to North Cape a close 2nd & Alaska a distant 3rd (sorry my American friends but that's the way we see it).
Conclusion-Adult only cruising is a winner & is here to stay, we would never contemplate a holiday time cruise again on a regular ship. We enjoyed this cruise immensely & think that P&O has many good points but the food sadly lets them down. That comment may upset some of the P&O regulars but we did have one comment from a regular that "this food was a lot better than Oriana 6 months ago" if that is true then P&O must get up to date with the menus & quality of their food. We would travel with P&O again at the right price but not at their regular early booking terms as these are usually more expensive than RCI, Celebrity & HAL