by Irish Shark
February 24, 2007
Getting There: We were the only ones to book this cruise as it dropped off the CruiseMates group tour list. Folks said that airfare was too much. I used an online broker who does only first/business class air arrangements. Princess wanted $1750/pp RT for a coach ticket. I got first/business elite on Delta for $2100/pp RT. The cheapest that I found on the typical sites was $6000 - 8000 total. So, I think I did pretty well on the airfare.
We left Las Vegas on 21 February bound for Santiago Chile with a change of planes in Atlanta. The flight to Atlanta was uneventful and we had about a 2-1/2 layover for the next flight. We used the Delta Business Elite room to relax and wait in. Boarding was on time for the scheduled 2200 departure for Santiago. As we waited at the gate, I could hear the crew cycling the flaps and slats. Scheduled departure time came and went. About 2230, the pilot informed us that the flaps and slats were working correctly, but he had a red indicator light and that he could not fly until that was fixed. The repair was not going smoothly as the ground crew tried to fix the issue. The captain said that another plane was being towed to the gate next to us as a backup plan. At midnight, we left the plane and waited in the terminal as the crew transferred luggage and food from one plan to the other. About 0230 we began to board the new plane. Finally at 0330 we pushed back from the gate. We arrived in Santiago at 1330 on 22 February.
Pre-Cruise Package: We booked a 2 night pre-cruise package with Princess staying at the Grand Hyatt. After arrival in Santiago, we paid our $100 USD/pp Reciprocity Entry Fee and went to collect our bags. When we got there our bags were already on a cart and we headed for the bus to take us to the hotel. Upon arrival at the hotel, the check in process was disjointed. There was only one hotel employee to handle the entire herd. Many folks, like me, did not get a room assigned until after 1530. The package included a 3 hour city sightseeing trip after dropping us off at the hotel. Due to the length of the check in process, we missed the tour. The next day we were off to an all day wine country tour with a visit to a local winery (Concha Y Toro) with wine tasting. This was a fun a very good tour. I talked to the Princess rep about missing the city tour and she arranged for us and another couple a van tour of the city. One bit of caution (I should have known better - stupid me). The Princess tour guide wanted to show us some handmade items at a “factory”. She never mentioned what we were going to see. It was a souvenir shop and the prices were sky high. But dumb I bought a penguin for $180 USD. Later in Punta Arenas, I bought two of the exact same penguins for $25 USD each.
Boarding in Valparaiso: After a long bus ride from Santiago, we finally made it to the docks in Valparaiso. The check in process was as smooth as glass. The only thing that I would suggest is to send out those CDC questionnaires with the other stuff that Princess mails you, or have it online for download. Since the pier is in an industrial port, we had to take a bus from the check in are to the ship. We were in our cabin by 1300 and we were greeted by our cabin steward Reymond with a glass of Champaign. The captain was Bob Oliver, the cruise director was JJ Ullrich, and the assistant cruise director was Frankie. JJ was all business with not the slightest bit of humor. Frankie was just the opposite - the ship's clown. At 1800 we set sail for Puerto Montt.
Ship's Condition: The ship is in good shape. Public rooms were clean and comfortable. Due to the sea conditions on this voyage, there was only one day suitable to use the outdoor pool.
Cabin Condition: We were in a mini-suite on the Dolphin Deck. The cabin was always clean and there was plenty of ice. The refrigerator was not working correctly, but Rey fixed that. I find that the duvet is too hot for me and would prefer just a sheet and blanket. The feather pillows felt more like foam and were too small. I had thought that they were larger, but my memory could be slipping. With some adaptation, I still had a good night's sleep.
Food: We had the Anytime Dining which was convenient except for one quirk. Catalina was the same hostess that we had on the Golden last June. There was no issue reserving the same table for 1900. However this time, she would not do it for that time; it was 1830. I guess that ˝ an hour is not a big deal, but I am curious why she did it last cruise, but not on this one. So, I usually was a “little late” to make it closer to 1900.
We are all our meals in the Donatello Dining Room with the exception of night that we went to Sabatini's. We found that the meal were very good with excellent presentation. If something was not right, it was immediately taken away and fixed. The soup was cold one night, but the replacement was bubbling hot. There was only one night that not one of the entries appealed to me and I ordered the always available steak. The menus are usually pretty predictable, but this time there were some changes to make things more interesting.
We received a free dinner and a bottle of Champaign at Sabatini's courtesy of my Platinum AMEX card. Our last experience at Sabatini's was on the Grand and was a disaster. We were in and out in 45 minutes and starving afterwards. This time it was better. The meal was 2 hours long, but I would really call it a tasting menu as they do not give you a sample of everything; just one item per category and what they want to serve not what you prefer. Overall, it was good and free.
This is the first cruise that I gained weight on. I put on a good 8 pounds, so the food had to be good.Entertainment: I have always given Princess an “F” for entertainment and this time I gave it a “D”. The production shows are poor in quality. “Motor City” in the Vista Lounge should have been called Stevie Wonder night. I like Stevie, but this show was 65% his songs. Gaucho Del Plata (I don't know what it was), Jeri Sager (singer), and Gaetano (magician) were awful. Darren Lynton was the only bright spot. However, if Simon was judging his performances he would say that it looked like something that you would see on a cruise ship. And he would be right. Darren was the only reason that I gave Princess a “D” this time. We skipped John Martin (comedy act), The Den West Show (some sort of instrumentalists), and Shirley Dominguez (harp). Ports and Points of Interest: Puerto Montt, Amalia Glacier, Punta Arenas, Ushuaia (docked), Cape Horn, Port Stanley, Montevideo (docked), and Buenos Aires (docked). The seas were rough for most of the cruise and we had winds of 150MPH after Port Stanley. After Puerto Montt, It got progressive colder with strong winds. The Horn was relatively smooth, but very high winds. I stayed a good 10 feet from the rail for fear of getting blown overboard. The first day out of Port Stanley was the worst and after that it was smooth sailing. I am glad we took our New York snow jackets, boots, and gloves. I don't think the layer thing would work very well. It was very scenic especially after Puerto Montt and up to Port Stanley. I booked all the shore excursions with Princess since I did not comfortable doing it on my own in South America. The biggest rip-off was The Penguin Colony tour in Punta Arenas. After about a 2 hour bus ride we arrived at the colony. We had to walk 1-1/2 miles to what I called “The Gallows”. There was a wooden structure with three wooded steps and three slits about 4 inches wide to view the penguins. There were two groups of them. The closest being about 75 yards away. Each group had maybe 12 - 18 penguins. After that, it was a 1-1/2 mile walk back to the bus. It was very disappointing. The Sparrow Cove Penguin Adventure in Port Stanley made up for the previous tour. We were able to walk very close to the penguins (had to stay behind the line). A few penguins were only a few inches from the line. This was much better. Due to global warming, there was not a lot of snow on the mountains and the glacier looked pretty small. The original glacier had too much ice around it, so the captain substituted the Amalia Glacier. I did not learn from the penguin rip-off in Santiago. This time a leather shop called Casa Mario in Montevideo was highly advertised on the ship for the quality and price of leather goods. I had been told that Argentina was the place to buy leather, but I should have noticed that nobody was leaving the store with any packages. I bought a leather briefcase for $220 USD which I found on Florida Street in Buenos Aires for $110 USD. Oh well, I guess it could have been worse. Post-Cruise Package: I booked a 3 night “Gaucho Tour” package with Princess. Since the Delta flight on Saturday was fully booked for business elite, we had to stay another night and leave on Monday. This part of the trip went wrong as we disembarked the ship. It was pouring rain and Princess said to take the red shuttle busses to the cruise terminal, collect our luggage, clear immigration and customs and then meet our bus. Wrong. There were no bags to collect as they were already on a truck to the hotel. OK, just clear immigration and get to the bus. Wrong. We were to meet the bus at the pier by the ship and not take the shuttle. The police in the cruise terminal would not let us go back outside to where the red shuttle busses were. We were trapped in the cruise terminal. We went out to the immigration/customs area and just walked out of the building. What a zoo outside. We had to walk around the building to the area where the red shuttle busses dropped us off at. There were no Princess busses. The Rotterdam was also in port and the bus driver took us back to the Golden. We boarded the bus and there were two other couples on the bus. After several hours a few more folks made it to the bus. We ended up leaving 8 people. They might have taken a cab to the hotel.
The hotel was the Intercontinental just two blocks off the Avenida 9 de Julio (the widest street in the world). These folks were worse than the Grand Hyatt when it came to checking in. They would not give out any rooms until 1600. Folks swarmed the desk at 1600; it was total chaos. After three room changes, we finally got the correct room at 1730. It was time for a quick meal and to bed as we had the Gaucho tour the next day.
The Gaucho Tour was an 8 hour affair. Due to the rain, it was too muddy to go horseback riding. (We were the only ones in group that signed up for it.) They did a carriage ride instead. After that we had a fabulous Argentina BBQ lunch. Sausage, chicken, steak, salads, bread and the wine and beer never stopped. It was a 1000% better than our wine tour lunch in Santiago. After the feast, the Gauchos put on a show for us.
I picked up a virus/cold/cough or whatever last Saturday. I still cannot shake the cough. The Princess lady said that a lot of folks got the same thing. I felt so bad that I had to cancel our Tango dinner and show. Oh well, maybe next time.
The hotel would not give us a late checkout on Monday, so we spent most of the day in the hotel lobby waiting for the van to take us to the airport.
Getting Home: The Buenos Aires airport is a complete zoo. Checking in at the Delta counter was the easiest part; that took about 12 minutes. After that, it was 20 minutes in line to pay the $18 USD/pp departure tax. It took another 20 minutes to go through security and at least 20 more to go through immigration. We arrived at the gate and they already started boarding the flight so there was no time to enjoy business elite lounge. At the boarding area, Delta hand searched our carryon bags again as well as using the handheld wand on us.
Uneventful flights back to Las Vegas where the temperature was 89 degrees F.
All-in-all, I would do it again in a heartbeat - skipping those two tourist shops next time around!