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Noel Orraca

Age: 41

Occupation:Finance Manager

Number of Cruises: 9

Cruise Line: Celebrity

Ship: Infinity

Sailing Date: February 1st, 2004

Itinerary: South America


This is a review of our 14-day South American cruise aboard Celebrity’s Infinity from Valparaiso, Chile to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Our embarkation day was February 1, 2004. My wife (40), daughter (2) and I (39) were on cabin 9164 (cat CC.). This was our ninth cruise, third on Celebrity, and second aboard the Infinity.

SUMMARY

This cruise has to rate near the top when compared to all the other cruises we have taken. The itinerary was excellent, providing a balance between ports and days at sea. The scenery encountered during our passage thru the Chilean fjords and the Strait of Magellan was truly spectacular, and made our balcony cabin a wise investment. The weather was great with only one day of rain during the whole trip. We used local tour operators during our cruise, rather than taking the ship excursions in all ports except the Falkland Islands. More on the individual tour operators down below.

THE TRIP
January 27: Our flight from Orlando to Santiago, Chile (via Miami) was on LAN Chile. We had a great overnight arriving in Santiago early the next morning.

January 28: Santiago. Please note that you must pay an entry fee of $100 when arriving by plane in Chile. This amount must be paid before passing Chilean customs. We took a taxi from the airport to our hotel. The Hotel Carrera, once the best hotel in Santiago, had been sold and was to be closed at the end of February. That made our 2-night stay a little surreal, as furniture auctions were been held every day. However, the service was fine and we had a pleasant stay in the hotel. We arrange a city tour with SportsTour Chile (www.sportstour.cl), and had great full day tour with our guide.

January 29: Santiago. Our second day in Chile, we went to Pablo Neruda’s home and took the funicular up Cerro Cristobal for a view of the city. We also visited the Museum of Pre-Columbian Art. I must say that we were disappointed with Santiago. It is a rather unremarkable world capital. I would recommend no more than a day here. After the cruise, we concluded that Chile is a great eco-destination, but not a cultural one.


January 30: Vina del Mar. We had arranged with the taxi driver that met at the airport, for a transfer from Santiago to Vina del Mar (the city next to Valparaiso). The cost was about $85.00. We found taxis to be safe and cheap in both Chile and Argentina. Driving from Santiago to Vina, we were amazed how similar the topography of Central Chile is to that of Southern California. We stayed Hotel Monterilla which was adequate and clean (no A/C), but nothing special. The location was very good, very close to the casino. We took a horse carriage tour of Vina and visited the local shopping mall in the afternoon.

January 31: Vina del Mar. The hotel contacted a Taxi company for a 3-hour tour of Valparaiso. We visited another Neruda home, rode one of the famous hill elevators, and drove around the town. Again, what you find here you can do in a day at most.

February 1: Valparaiso. We met up with other cruisers that were staying at the hotel, and took 3 taxis to take us to the pier at 10:30am. The check-in was quick and flawless. Please note that you take a bus from the terminal building where you check-in to the dock where the ship is at (too far to walk in my opinion). However, the shuttle bus is continuous up to one hour prior to departure, in case you want to get off the ship. We had seen everything we wanted, so we enjoyed the ship the whole afternoon.

February 2: Day At Sea. There was a great mix of passengers aboard this ship. We actually had the muster drill this day. We spend the day enjoying our veranda and using the spa/health club facilities.

February 3: Puerto Montt. We had arranged with a local operator (ALSUR Expediciones) for a Photograph Safari of Rosales National Park and Osorno Volcano. This was a terrific tour and I truly recommend Alsur. Rocio arranged a day tour with a great local guide. We beat the tour buses to all points of interest and reached some places the buses could not. ALSUR Expediciones website is www.alsurexpeditions.com (email: alsur@telsur.cl).

At this point, I want to mention that all our tours during the trip were private, with us and 2 friends of ours that joined us on this trip in a mini-van with a guide. In all instances the prices that we paid were comparable or lower (on a person basis) than similar ship excursions.

February 4: Chilean Fjords. A day at sea, and the beginning of our cruise thru the Chilean fjords. The fjords and nature surrounding the ship are amazing, and it kept getting better the father south we traveled. Get a balcony cabin!!

February 5: Straits of Magellan. Still crossing the fjords. So many glaciers and waterfalls!!

February 6: Ushuaia This town sits on the base of a mountain range. We contacted local operator Canal (www.canalfun.com) and arranged for a tour of the national park, picnic and canoe trip. This operator has Land Rover vehicles. The canoe trip and the picnic (local cuisine) were great and a good opportunity to experience to off the beaten path. They did a very good job and I recommend them. However, it seemed like everyone from the ship was in the national park (where the southernmost road ends). I would recommend a tour of less touristy areas, as listed in their websites.

February 7: Punta Arenas. I contacted local tour operator Yamana (www.yamana.cl) and arranged for a guide to a local farm and city tour, and some kayaking. The tour was OK, but the farm and kayaking were under whelming. However, Jacqueline of Yamana can arrange other activities.

February 8: Cape Horn. At day at sea rounding the southernmost tip of South America. The weather was sunny and seas were calm, which is extremely unusual for this part of the world.

February 9: Port Stanley. This was the only port that we signed up for a ship excursion. Even 6 months before the cruise all local operators had been spoken for. Important: Please sign up early for the ship’s penguin excursions as they are sold our months in advance. We did the excursion to the Bluff Cove Rookery. The trip is very bumpy, but the up close encounter with the penguin was great. We saw both Magellanic and King Penguins (these penguins are more impressive than those at the Puerto Madryn Rookery). I highly recommend this tour.

February 10: Day at Sea. Just relaxed!!

February 11: Puerto Madryn. We contacted local tour operator EcoBikes and arranged for a private tour to the Punta Tombo rookery. German was great tour guide and provided great insight about the region and its fauna. The trip to Punta Tombo is long, but German had a very comfortable minivan and we stop for snacks on the way to the rookery. I truly recommend German as one of the best guides we had on the trip. German is the owner and tour guide of EcoBikes. He can be reached at ecobikes@madryn.com. The rookery was impressive because of the sheer number of penguins (over 200,000). It was another great day.

February 12: Day At Sea. After the long day to Punta Tombo, we just took it easy aboard the ship.

February 13: Montevideo. This was the only day that we had bad weather on the trip. It rained most of the day. We actually arranged a city tour thru Port Compass. The guide, although very knowledgeable, did not seem to kin in altering the tour to meet our needs and preferences. We wasted about 2 hours driving around residential areas, and he took us to a terrible restaurant for lunch. The port is right next to the city, which can be seen very quickly. I would recommend hiring a taxi for a couple of hours and then spending the rest of the day exploring or shopping on your own.

February 14: Buenos Aires. We arranged another city tour thru Port Compass. This time the tour guide was very nice and gave us a very good overview of this great city. We did a Tango show tour thru the ship and it was very good, although expensive. You can get cheaper tickets on your own.

February 15: Buenos Aires. We disembarked the ship mid-morning. We arranged a tour of the Tigre Delta thru DeFrantur (www.buetours.com). Our guide, Irina, was a great and friendly guide. They took us from the port to our hotel, waited for us to check in and drop our luggage in rooms. They also gave us extra time to visit a couple of flea markets (it was Sunday) before heading to the delta.

February 16: Buenos Aires. After our first hotel night in Buenos Aires, we arranged a day at an Estancia (an Argentinean ranch) also thru DeFrantur, and with Irina as our guide. This experience was worth every penny. The estancia was about 1.5 hours outside of Buenos Aires. We got to go horseback riding around the ranch and had a huge BBQ lunch on the porch of the great house.

February 17: Iguazu Falls. A dream on mine since watching the movie The Mission many years ago, has been to visit this natural wonder. A 1.75-hour flight from Buenos Aires, we just could not pass on this opportunity. We contacted local tour operator Explorador Expediciones. Andrea Arecco runs the company and provide us with an excellent guide for the 2.5 days that we spent there. She can reached at explorador.expediciones@rainforestevt.com.ar. After arriving at Iguazu airport, we were met by our guide, Elsa, who earned our trust and admiration quickly. She took us to the hotel, checked-in and the headed to the lower circuit trails. What an amazing place, full wildlife (we saw toucans, coatis, monkeys, butterflies, etc). We took a boat ride the foot of some of the waterfalls. A one-in-a lifetime experience.

By the way, we stayed at the Sheraton Iguazu, the only hotel inside the Iguazu National Park in the Argentinean side. A great hotel in a great location – our room had a view of the waterfalls.

February 18: Iguazu Falls. In the morning we headed to the Brazilian side of the falls. Although the better trails are on the Argentinean side, the more panoramic views are on the Brazilian side. Note: The best souvenir shop is the one inside the park, next to the place where you buy the tickets. They have great shirts!! We had a lunch buffet in the restaurant located at top of the waterfalls – great views, even better food. In the afternoon, we returned to the Argentinean side and took a small train to the start of the trail to Devil’s Throat (the largest waterfall). It was just incredible.

February 19: Iguazu Falls. With Elsa, we took a day trip to visit the ruins on the largest Jesuit mission in the area (San Ignacio Mini). Once there, a local guide gave us a very informative tour. It is a long trip (about 3 hours each way, but worth the effort once you have seen the falls and if you have extra time). However, skip the local mines, they are not worth your time (tourist trap).

February 20: Iguazu Falls. In the morning we did a jungle safari – a separate tour. This one was not worth doing. We did not see any wildlife that we had not seen already, and the mosquitoes here were unbearable. We returned to Buenos Aires that evening, after our plane was delayed for 8 hours.

February 21: Buenos Aires. We got up late after returning late from Iguazu the night before.

We visited Boca and walked around the Recoleta area this day, and prepared for our trip back home

February 22: Return flight back to the US.

In all, this was one of the best vacations we ever had. I highly recommend the itinerary and will be happy answer any questions. Our email is: prmex95@yahoo.com

PS. Because of the variety of climates we thought we would encounter (from cold weather around Cape Horn to hot weather in the Amazonian jungles, we ended up taking way too much luggage. The cold weather never materialized, and ended up carrying around a lot of unnecessary luggage.

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