Number of Cruises: 10
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: January 29th, 2004
Itinerary: South America & Antarctica
The following is a cruise review of the January/February sailing of Holland America’s ms Amsterdam. It was a 21-night cruise that commenced on Thursday, January 29, 2004 in Valparaiso, Chile and ended in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In addition to Valparaiso and Rio de Janeiro there were 7 other ports of call. I have several purposes in mind for writing this cruise review. First, it will be a record that my wife and I can look back on to revisit and/or re-live the trip. Second, I will distribute it to family and friends who have inquired about the trip and have expressed a desire to hear more about it. Finally I will submit it for posting on some cruise websites such as www.cruisecritic.com and www.cruisemates.com. These websites have been invaluable in the past in planning this and other cruises. For those unfamiliar, these two websites, as well as some others like them, have ship reviews of virtually every cruise ship afloat; cruise reviews, cruise comments, and shipboard ratings submitted by passengers; and message boards broken down into several categories including cruise line, roll call by specific ship and cruise, geographic area, and specific ports of call. These websites also advertise some pretty good cruise deals. Virtually anyone can access the message boards however generally you must become a member in order to submit messages. Membership is usually free. There is wealth of knowledge that can be obtained from the message boards either from just browsing the boards or by submitting queries. After we had booked this cruise I was able to contact several other couples who were going on the same cruise and I was also able to find out information and book independent shore excursions. We made specific contact with Ron and Jean, a couple from the Boston area and Carlos and Anne, a couple from San Juan, and both couples were frequent companions during the course of the cruise as will be mentioned in the cruise review. Perhaps this cruise review will provoke enough interest among some that they might seek out a similar cruise, or perhaps it might be helpful to someone who books a similar cruise and would like to know a little more information about it before departing, or at the very least it will provide a vicarious experience for those who may never have the opportunity to partake in a similar adventure.
Since this review may find a substantial and varied audience I thought it best to establish a few facts up front. Depending on the specific audience, you might be completely aware of some of these facts or in some cases totally unaware. Anyway, here goes. My wife, Marge, and I are in our late fifties and mid sixties respectively and we are both retired. I am retired from the airline industry and yes, I do have flight benefits and we do make quite a bit of use of them. They enable us to fly stand by, which for those unfamiliar can be a unique and challenging way to travel. Our flight costs are quite economical but they are not free despite what most people think. In addition to flight benefits, airline employees and retirees among others, occasionally have access to good deals in many parts of the travel industry, cruises being among them. In many cases these are somewhat last minute deals. This cruise was one of those deals and we booked it a mere three weeks before its departure. At that point the only cabins available were inside cabins or outside cabins with totally obstructed views. I had never heard of an outside cabin with a totally obstructed view but a totally obstructed sounded a lot like the view that you have from an inside cabin and thus we opted for the $400 per person savings by choosing an inside cabin. We had sailed in inside cabins a time or two before and they really aren’t that bad. Virtually all ships have TVs in the cabins and there is always one channel showing the view from the bridge. In some respects this can act much like a porthole or window.
I will now give a brief history of our cruise travel that for the most part has been accomplished over the past ten years. This will provide a benchmark of sorts for the commentary that I will be making concerning this cruise.
Date Cruise Line Ship Cruise Itinerary
July 1994 Royal Cruise Lines Star Odyssey Alaska
March 1999 Holland America Maasdam Panama Canal
Feb. 2000 Renaissance R2 Spain and Portugal
Feb. 2001 Renaissance R7 Greece and Italy
July 2002 Holland America Noordam Scandinavia & Russia
Feb. 2003 Princess Cruises Regal Princess Australia & New Zealand
July 2003 Princess Cruises Royal Princess Britain, Norway, & Iceland
In addition we took a 4-day riverboat cruise down the Yangtze River as part of 12-day trip to China in November 2000. And finally there was an 8-day riverboat cruise through Belgium and Holland with Vantage in April 2001.
I will now go over a few facts about the ship before getting into the day to day itinerary. The Amsterdam is among the newer ships in the Holland America fleet. It was built in 2000 and has a passenger capacity of 1,380. Along with the Rotterdam, the Amsterdam shares the designation as flagship of the Holland America fleet. For more extensive detail information on the ship itself, I would recommend either of the following two sources, i.e., www.cruisecritic.com or a current edition of The Unofficial Guide to Cruises. The two-level La Fontaine Dining Room is the main dining room and has open seating for breakfast and lunch, and two seatings for dinner, generally at 6:00 P.M. and 8:15 P.M. The Pinnacle Grill at the Odyssey is an upscale specialty restaurant serving dinner only. Passengers dine by reservation and there is an additional charge. The Lido Restaurant serves both a continental breakfast and a full buffet breakfast. It also serves a full buffet lunch and a casual dinner in the evening. In addition to the usual buffet serving stations, the Lido Restaurant also has a deli bar, an omelet/stir-fry bar, and an ice cream bar. The Terrace grill out by the pool was also open for most of the afternoon serving hamburgers, hot dogs, tacos, and pizza. The variety of food offered was excellent. The dinner menu in the main dining room routinely had the following choices: four appetizers, three soups, two salads, six to seven entrees, four deserts, four sugar free desserts, ice cream, and an evening flambé special. We had all of our breakfasts and lunches in the Lido restaurant and all dinners in the main dining room. My wife felt that much of the food was rather bland. I shared that opinion although to a much lesser extent. In any case it did not seem to deter or diminish our total intake. The ice cream bar became one of my favorite haunts. It was generally open from 11:30 A.M. to 5:00 P.M., 6:00 P. M. to 7:30 P.M., and 11:00 P.M. to 12:00 A.M. On sea days I would frequent it at lunch time, again in the late afternoon, and finally late in the evening if we happened to stay up late. The frequency was somewhat altered during port days and depended on the timing of our touring. In most cases the ice cream bar had 7 to 10 rotating flavors of regular ice cream, at least two flavors of yogurt, and at least 10 different toppings. Another feature was fresh baked cookies. About the only complaint that I had, and it is a minor one, was that they should have had the ice cream bar open from 10:00 P.M. until midnight and stolen the extra hour from earlier in the afternoon.
One of the big questions we had prior to leaving for the cruise was how and what to pack. Besides the amount of clothing needed for a trip of this length, there was the issue of coping with the extremes in the weather. We would be encountering temperatures from the upper twenties and lower thirties in Antarctica to the lower nineties in places like Rio de Janeiro. In addition we would be experiencing weather conditions everywhere between those extremes. You’ve also got cope with four formal nights and 5 informal nights in the main dining room. Thus packing was a challenge but we somehow managed. They key to dealing with the Antarctic is layering. This advice was gleaned from information supplied by Holland America and also by consulting some of the travel websites. Since there was no landfall in Antarctica, the exposure involved was how long you would be on the exposed decks either taking the pictures or viewing the sights. In our case this involved frequent but relatively brief forays out on deck as much of the passing scenery could be viewed pretty well from the various lounges.
Now that I’ve hopefully adequately set the stage, I will proceed into a day by day summary of the entire trip highlighting all of the activities that took place and the sights that we experienced.
Monday, January 26 - Tulsa to Santiago, Chile
We originally intended to depart from Tulsa around 5:00 P.M. but with a rapidly approaching winter storm predicted to arrive in Tulsa in the mid to late afternoon, we changed our plans and left around noon. With a few extra hours to kill in Dallas, our daughter and grandson picked us up at DFW and we went out to lunch. We returned to DFW a couple of hours before the Santiago flight. We actually turned out to be numbers 1 and 2 on the standby list and we got business class window seats on the opposite sides of the airplane.
Tuesday, January 27 – Santiago, Chile
The approximate 10-hour flight to Santiago was uneventful. I had been to Santiago a couple of times in the late 90’s and had paid the airport entry fee, however it was only valid until the expiration of my passport, which alas had expired in 2002. I was thus aware that we both had to pay the now $100 entry fee (it was $45 when I had originally paid it). As we approached the immigration area there were a couple of signs indicating the various fees by country however there were a bunch of people clustered around each of the signs so you couldn’t see the arrows at the bottom of the signs pointing to where you paid the fee. The last time that I had paid the fee, it was done right at the immigration check, so I didn’t try to read the signs more closely, and we thus proceeded directly to the immigration line. A few minutes later someone came around explaining that the fee had to be paid before getting on the immigration line. At that point almost all the people in the immigration line had to go back to pay the fee. The line to pay the fee was quite long and it took about 30 minutes to get through it. The only good part was that by the time we paid the fee, the immigration lines were much shorter. If we had initially been able to more clearly see the signs about where to pay the fee, we could have saved about 20 minutes, so a word to the wise, you pay the fee first, before the immigration line.
After clearing immigration, we claimed our luggage, which was waiting for us because of the aforementioned delay. Before actually proceeding through customs, we spotted a taxi information booth and prepaid the $24 taxi fee for the trip from the airport to the hotel. We went through customs and showed the taxi receipt and a taxi driver took our luggage and led us to his cab. We then headed to the Providencia Panamerica Hotel in the Providencia district which is a little to the east of downtown Santiago. The cab ride takes you right through downtown Santiago. We had booked the hotel through Travelocity and it was around $65 per night for the two-night stay and it included a very good buffet breakfast. It was a nice hotel although the rooms were a little on the small side. It was in a quiet somewhat residential area. About a block to the south were a main east-west avenue (Avenida Providencia) and the Pedro de Valdivia subway station. About a block to the north was a major 6 lane east-west artery running parallel to the river. In the morning it was totally one way eastbound. In the evening it was totally one-way westbound. During the day it was a two way street with varying lanes in either direction. We weren’t there long enough to figure out how they transitioned through the various traffic patterns. After checking into the hotel we slept for a couple of hours and then later in the afternoon took a walk around the neighborhood. That evening we went to dinner at the Nostrum Mare restaurant, which we had seen on our afternoon walk. It was only about two blocks from the hotel. As the name implies, it was primarily a seafood restaurant and about half the menu was dedicated to Peruvian seafood specialties. We had a nice dinner and then walked back to the hotel.
Wednesday, January 28 – Santiago, Chile
We had the very good buffet breakfast at the hotel and then inquired about an afternoon tour. We were going to be doing a tour of Santiago the next day as a part of the transfer from Santiago to Valparaiso, so we booked a tour into the mountains for the afternoon. We then walked over to the Sheraton hotel, which was about 8 blocks away on the other side of the river. Jean and Ron were supposed to be checking in sometime before noon so we thought we’d take the opportunity to meet them. We stopped at the desk and found that they hadn’t checked in yet. After about an hour they still hadn’t checked in and we left to take our afternoon tour. It had been agreed that we would meet for dinner that night so we left a message that we’d meet them at the designated restaurant at 8:00 P.M. unless we heard otherwise.
We then took our afternoon tour, which was to Maipo Canyon a little south and east of Santiago. It was about a 5-hour private tour in a van with a driver and a guide. The cost was $100. It was a scenic drive up the canyon, which parallels the Maipo River. We made a short stop in the town of San Jose de Maipo and then proceeded up the canyon to where the paved road ends. At that point we were only about 20 miles from the border with Argentina. As we had proceeded up the canyon, the Maipo River was a very brown color, but by the time we reached the end of the paved road the water was totally clear. As we started back down, it was only a couple of hundred yards before the guide pointed out a side stream of brown water that merged with the clear water to turn the river totally brown. The guide explained the brown water came from an area where extensive copper mining was taking place, which resulted in the silt that turned the river brown. I got a couple of interesting pictures where the two streams merged. On the return trip we made the perfunctory stop at a jewelry store, which specialized in lapis lazuli jewelry. They had some nice items but we were not tempted enough to buy. We got back to the hotel a little before 6:00 P.M. If you’re in Santiago sometime with a half a day to kill, this tour would not be a bad way to accomplish that, however I certainly wouldn’t list it among the top three or four things to do.
After washing up and dressing for dinner, we walked to the Aqui Esta Coco restaurant where we were to meet Ron & Jean and Carlos & Anne. We were the first to arrive and scanned the menu, which was predominantly seafood. Ron & Jean arrived a few minutes later and were followed shortly by Carlos and Anne. We made our introductions, got a little acquainted and then ordered dinner. The food was excellent and it seemed like everyone raved about something be it an appetizer, an entrée or a dessert. The next day we would be accompanying Ron and Jean on a morning tour of Santiago and the transfer from Santiago to Valparaiso to board the ship. Carlos and Anne were transferring directly to the ship and said that they would try to intercede on our behalf to get us an early seating at dinner as we were confirmed for the late seating and wait listed for the early seating. We said our goodnights and walked back to our hotel.
Thursday, January 29 – Santiago, Chile to Valparaiso, Chile
We were up early, finished our packing, had a quick buffet breakfast and then checked out. Jean had arranged for the Santiago tour and transfer to the ship. It was a little cheaper than what the ship offered but had the advantage of being a nice sized van with a driver and tour guide for the four of us as opposed to a large bus accommodating a group of 30 to 40. We were picked up around 8:15 and then headed to the Sheraton to pick up Ron and Jean. We then had a nice tour of Santiago including a stop at the top of the Cerro San Cristobal with its great views of the city and also stops at both Plaza de Armas and Plaza de la Constitucion. Alongside the Plaza de la Constitucion is the Hotel Carrera. It has been referred to as the grande dame of Santiago hotels and I had stayed there about 5 years ago during a business trip. I commented that I had stayed there and the tour guide suggested we go take a look because the Hotel Carrera was in its last days. It was being taken over by the government to be turned into some kind of ministry. We went in and looked around and virtually all the fixtures were labeled for an auction that was to take place shortly. The Carrera was scheduled to be functioning as a hotel for another day or two only. It was kind of sad to see the demise of the once famous hotel.
After the two downtown stops we headed out of town in the direction of the airport and got on the highway to Vina del Mar and Valparaiso. It was almost a two-hour ride to Vina del Mar. Sometime after arriving in Vina del Mar we stopped for a scheduled late lunch at a seaside restaurant that was frequented by several other tours. The lunch was not particularly memorable. We passed through Vina del Mar both going to the restaurant and then from the restaurant to the dock in Valparaiso. I always had the impression that Vina del Mar was a pretty upscale resort area but from what we saw passing by in the van I was not very impressed except possibly for one nice condominium complex. By the time we actually headed for the dock, time was getting short. We arrived at the passenger terminal at about 4:00 P.M. and all passengers were supposed to be aboard by 5:00 P.M., thus we got to see nothing of Valparaiso except the dock area. By getting there a little after 4:00, we encountered no lines checking in and quickly boarded the bus for the ship. The check in facility and the ship were over a mile apart.
We boarded the ship and were shown the way to our room. It was an inside cabin at the front of deck 1 (the Dolphin Deck). It was a nice size room with a queen size bed, a sitting area, a roomy bathroom (shower only), and plenty of closet and drawer space. When we had checked in at the passenger terminal, amongst the papers we were given was the table assignment for the late dinner seating. Amongst some of the papers that had been delivered to our room was a table assignment for the early dinner seating. It appeared as though the intercession by Carlos and Anne had worked. A couple of pieces of luggage arrived shortly after we got to the room so we started unpacking. We then went to dinner and found that we were at a table with Carlos and Anne. When they had boarded the ship they ran into the maitre d’ who they immediately recognized from an earlier cruise that they had taken. At their request he was able to juggle the seating arrangements and get us the early seating we had preferred. There was a sign outside of the dining room that stated that the early seating was full. I suspect that except for the intercession by Carlos and Anne, it might have been unlikely that we could have gotten switched to the early seating. We appreciated their efforts and certainly enjoyed their company both that night and for the remainder of the cruise. After dinner we returned to the room and quickly unpacked the rest of the luggage that had arrived. We left the empty luggage scattered around the room and headed for the evening show. After returning from the show we discovered that the cabin steward had skillfully stowed all of our empty suitcases under the bed. We then retired after a long day looking forward to our 21-day adventure.
Friday, January 30 – Day at sea
For the most part the day was spent settling in and getting more acquainted with the ship. One of the idiosyncrasies to get used to was the naming of a couple of the decks, in particular the Lower Promenade Deck (deck 3), the Promenade Deck (deck 4), and the Upper Promenade Deck (deck 5). One would most likely assume that the actual promenade (yes there was a full promenade encircling the ship) would be located on the Promenade Deck. Well, one would be wrong. The promenade is actually located on the Lower Promenade Deck. The Lower Promenade Deck had a very small public area and was otherwise totally taken up with passenger cabins. The Promenade Deck and the Upper Promenade Deck contained the vast majority of the public areas on the ship, including the two-level show lounge at the front of the ship and the two-level Main dining room located at the rear of the ship. The Lido Deck (deck 8) contained the Lido Restaurant 2 swimming pools, 2 whirlpools, the beauty salon, and the Ocean Spa Gym. The Crow’s Nest lounge was located on the Sport’s Deck (deck 9) at the bow of the ship. One feature that took some getting used to was that you could not access the lower dining room entrance by walking from the front of the Promenade deck to the rear. Apparently the galley blocked the way and you could only get to the lower entrance via the stairs or the elevator. The other access to the lower level of the dining room was via a large sweeping staircase from the upper level of the dining room.
There was a shore excursion talk in the morning given by Rachel from the shore excursion office. This was mostly a recitation of the shore excursions offered during the entire cruise but some of the commentary and opinions made it worth attending. In the afternoon we got our first introduction to Graham Sunderland who was the port lecturer. His first lecture encompassed our first two upcoming stops, i.e., Puerto Montt and Puerto Chacabuco both in the Chilean lake country. Carlos and Anne had heard Graham on a previous cruise and said he was not to be missed and they were absolutely correct. He was an excellent speaker, with a fabulous sense of humor, and an absolute wealth of knowledge and experience relating to this itinerary. He had advice on sightseeing, shopping, food, and even provided some historical insight. He had comments about the various shore excursions and also covered what was available if you wanted to do things on your own. His talks were worth attending for either for the information provided or for the entertainment value, and the combination of the two made them mandatory.
Tonight was the gala dinner and was the first of 4 formal nights. The evening show was “These Three Tenors” and it was one the better shows that we have encountered on a cruise.
Saturday, January 31 – Puerto Montt, Chile
Cruise ships are able to dock at Puerto Montt but apparently it is dependant on the tide conditions which today were apparently unfavorable and dictated anchoring in the bay and taking tenders into the pier. It was a 20 to 25 minute tender ride and it was pretty rough. The weather was overcast and cool. About midday the clouds cleared and we had sunny skies and it warmed up to around 70. Jean had researched and booked an independent tour in Puerto Montt. She made contact with Jamie Toth at www.worldnextdoorcafe.com. Jamie operates internet cafes in both Puerto Montt and Valparaiso. He put Jean in contact with Dr. Robert Boyce who is a Chicago transplant and is a doctor of holistic medicine and a tour guide on the side. Dr. Boyce had suggested a tour including a brief drive around Puerto Montt, then a drive to Puerto Varas to view Lake Llanquihue, then on to Petrohue Falls and the Mount Orsono volcano. An almost identical tour was being offered by the ship at the cost of $108 per person. Dr. Boyce’s charge was $30 per person and he pointed out that the tour could be changed to fit our interests. The ship’s tour did include lunch while Dr. Boyce’s tour included a lunch stop but the lunch itself wasn’t included in the price. Anne and Carlos liked the sounds of the tour and Jean e-mailed Dr. Boyce and got them included on the tour. This ended out working quite well as Dr. Boyce’s car could accommodate three of us ok but four would have been pretty uncomfortable for the person sitting in the back seat in the middle. Dr. Boyce enlisted his brother-in-law who operates a taxi. We split up, three in Dr. Boyce’s car and three in his brother-in-law’s taxi.
We stopped on a hill overlooking the town and the bay and then it was on to Puerto Varas. Dr. Boyce supplied us with plenty of information about the entire Lakes area. We stopped in Puerto Varas and had a nice view of the lake but the volcano was still obscured by the overcast. We then headed for the falls making a few stops at nice viewpoints and to see some of the local flowers and shrubs. By the time we reached Petrohue Falls the overcast had cleared and it quickly warmed up. Petrohue Falls is actually an area where a river courses its way through lava fields and lava tubes which were formed by the 1850 eruption of Mount Orsono. The falls were pretty impressive and just off to the north was a dramatic view of Mt.Orsono which was snow covered. After a stop for a late lunch by the lake we headed back for the ship. We were going to make a stop at the market a few blocks down from the dock but we were running a little late so we headed right for the dock. Apparently all the tour buses were arriving back at the same time and the line for the tenders became endless. There were about a hundred or so people in line when we arrived and shortly there were several hundred people in line behind us. The line went very slowly but we finally made it to the tender and back to the ship.
The entertainment tonight was the music and comedy of David Levesque. His violin/comedy performance was somewhat different but very good. He turns out to be quite an interesting guy with a very diverse background. He would later on the cruise give two interesting lectures, one on navigation and another on the liberation of South America. After the show we visited the casino to kill a little time before the 11:00 P.M. late snack. I usually don’t do much gambling on the ship as my favorite is video poker and the pay scales on the video poker machines aren’t very good. I rarely, if ever, play regular slot machines but for some reason I put $10 into a slot machine that I knew nothing about. Within about 5 plays I hit something that took me progressively to two or three more screens where I still knew not what was going on except that I won $80. Fortunately it was just about time for the late snack so I was able to at least temporarily preserve my winnings. Over the course of the rest of the cruise I did play some video poker and managed to give back a little bit more than the $80 that I had won at the slots.
Sunday, February 1 – Puerto Chacabuco, Chile
In the wee hours the ship progressed up the Aisen Fjord and slightly after daybreak we anchored in a small bay near the head of the fjord. It was a bright sunny morning with virtually no wind. This was another tender port and we were anchored out in the middle of the bay. The water was like a sheet of glass and we were surrounded by several mountains capped with glaciers. It was a beautiful sight. Puerto Chacabuco is the regions busiest and most important port but was only established about ten years ago. The former port about ten miles to the east was Puerto Aisen but that harbor had become unusable due to a couple of natural calamities. Puerto Chacabuco is merely a working port with all of the significant population and facilities still in Puerto Aisen. Any touring options outside of what was offered by the ship were almost nonexistent.
We elected to take the Northern Patagonia and Coyhaique City tour offered by the ship. This was a 5 and ½ hour bus tour and cost $79 per person. Certainly over the last couple of years the cost of tours offered by the cruise ships has increased dramatically. It has obviously become an important revenue source for the cruise lines. There are obvious benefits to the tours offered by the ship the main ones being convenience and the assurance that if something goes wrong the ship won’t leave without you. Reasonable cost is not one of the benefits. In this case there were virtually no other options available, so it was a ship’s tour or no tour. Aside from the cost the tour was very good and the tour guide was excellent. The tour took us to through the town of Puerto Aisen and up over the mountains to Coyhaique about 35 miles to the east. Coyhaique was established in 1929 in a river valley. It has a population of about 50,000 and is the main administrative center and the largest town in the region. There was a stop at a spectacular viewpoint before arriving in Coyhaique. The guide then took us on an interesting walking tour of the town. After about a half hour to visit the tourist shops it was back on the bus and back across the mountains. We made one stop at a viewpoint, another at a waterfall and then the last one at a nature preserve. Although a bit pricey it was a nice tour and the weather conditions were excellent with a light breeze and the temperature around 70 degrees. The tour guide did say that it was the best weather that they had experienced thus far during the summer. Upon arrival back at Puerto Chacabuco there was another long and very slow line to board the tender back to the ship.
The show that evening was the first of four cast shows for the cruise. This one was entitled “Las Vegas Nights”. It was a poorly constructed and choreographed show that the singers and dancers did the best they could with. Unfortunately the lead female singer was terrible and the lead male singer was only ever so slightly better. Their performances did not improve throughout the cruise. After the show a number of us retired to the sports lounge to watch the Super Bowl, as the ship was able to obtain the satellite signal as they had hoped.
Monday, February 2 & Tuesday, February 3 – At sea cruising the Chilean fjords
These two days were spent cruising the Chilean fjords as we headed to the southern end of South America. The weather during the two days is best described as unpredictable, anywhere from bright and sunny to overcast and foggy and it would change every couple of hours. The seas were also variable with almost glass like conditions in the channels and fjords to pretty rough conditions as we ventured just off the coast. Although we were supposed to view a glacier or two during these two days, we did not and no explanation was offered. The scenery was very nice with the snow-covered Andes always present in the distance. The scenic highlight occurred on Tuesday as we passed through the narrowest channel that we encountered in the fjords. It was only a couple of hundred yards wide and as we very slowly steamed along, the water was just like glass with a perfect reflection of the surrounding scenery. During the entire two days the scenery was beautiful and there were virtually no signs of human habitation.
There were a number of lectures offered during these two days. The first lecture was entitled “Antarctica as a Destination” and the speaker was John Splettstoesser, hereinafter referred to as John S. for obvious reasons. John would be our chief guide and commentator during our Antarctic passage. A more qualified individual would be hard to find. John is a geologist who has more than 40 years experience in the Polar Regions. He has been a lecturer/naturalist on more than 100 cruises to Antarctica and his work in Antarctica, beginning in 1960, has resulted in two geographic features being named for him: a glacier and a mountain. He has authored numerous publications including 5 books on polar subjects and his work has taken him to all three of the South and North Poles: Geographic, Geomagnetic, and Magnetic. His knowledge of Antarctica from every aspect including historical is absolutely encyclopedic. His first talk gave us a flavor of what to expect during our passage. The next lecture delivered on Monday was by Dave Levesque, the entertainer who had performed two nights earlier. His talk was on the “Art and Science of Navigation”. Dave had gained this knowledge as I recall in the Coast Guard Academy and as an officer in the Coast Guard for a number of years. He later left the Coast Guard to pursue other endeavors. It was a very interesting lecture and brought back memories of the navigation class I took in Naval Officer Candidate School in the early 60’s and further brief experience as navigation officer aboard the U.S.S. Interdictor for part of 1962 and all of 1963. The third lecture that day was a port lecture on Punta Arenas, Chile given by the aforementioned Graham Sunderland, hereinafter referred to as Graham. As with all of Graham’s lectures it was both informative and entertaining. That evening’s entertainment was Los Diablos Gauchos, otherwise known as Juan and Eileen Santillan, who had just finished an extended engagement at Ballys Hotel in Las Vegas in the show “Jubilee”. It was an entertaining show with the highlight being Juan performing with the bolos and Juan and Eileen demonstrating the tango.
The lectures on Tuesday started with Dave Levesque discussing the “Liberation of South America”. It was an interesting lecture well worth attending. Later that day was “The ms Amsterdam Itinerary and Polar Navigation” delivered by the Ice Pilot, Pat Toomey. Again it would be hard to imagine a more qualified individual. Born in England he started his sea career in the British Merchant Navy in 1949, reaching the rank of Chief Officer before migrating to Canada in 1964. He joined the Canadian Coast Guard and served as navigation officer aboard icebreakers in eastern Canadian waters and in the Canadian Arctic until 1970. From 1970 to 1991 he commanded nine different coast guard icebreakers in the Great lakes, eastern Canada and the Canadian Arctic. He retired from the Canadian Coast Guard in 1991 and is now an ice pilot for Holland America Line and for expedition cruises to the Siberian Arctic, the North Pole, the Canadian Arctic, and all around Antarctica. His talk outlined our proposed passage through Antarctica. He emphasized that this outline was merely Plan A”, and there would likely be changes as the conditions in Antarctic waters are always in a state of flux. He emphasized that we were an ice-avoidance cruise, as the Amsterdam was in no way equipped to challenge the ice. The final talk of the day was a port talk covering Ushuaia, Argentina and Graham delivered up to his usual standards. The entertainment that evening was a reprise of Dave Levesque and My Three Tenors. Both acts were just as good, the second time around.
Wednesday, February 4 – Punta Arenas, Chile
We pulled into the pier in Punta Arenas early in the morning. A couple of hours earlier we had passed Cape Froward which is the southern tip of the South American continent with all the remaining land to the south and east being islands. The pier was part of a new port area which is about 6 or 7 miles north of the city, so although it was nice not to have to use the tenders, the location was isolated enough that anything you did off the ship required some type of transportation. We elected to take one of the ship’s tours to the penguin colony at Otway. This was a 4-hour tour costing $59 per person. It’s about an hour and a half bus ride each way and you spend about an hour walking the penguin colony. There is a boardwalk trail which actually takes you in amongst the penguins and at points could almost reach out and touch them. It was fascinating traversing the penguin colony grounds although it was quite windy. During the bus ride out we saw a number of guanacos (an animal somewhat like an ostrich) and also saw about 4 or 5 condors. The tour guide said that it was quite unusual to see condors in that particular location. Also as we left the penguin colony we saw a gray fox, which is apparently common to the area. You just as easily could do this tour by cab at a likely significant savings but be forewarned that half of the trip to the penguin colony is on an unpaved road. While this was not particularly comfortable even on the bus, I’d expect the cab ride to be a much more jarring experience. After returning to the ship we had lunch and then after debating for a while decided to forgo the cab ride to visit Punta Arenas itself. A fairly sizeable portable tourist shop had been set up on the pier and we went down and made a few purchases.
Here are a few other notes regarding Punta Arenas. There was as second penguin tour offered which was to the Magdalena Island Penguin Reserve. We passed on that one because of the duration, cost, and long ferry ride involved. It was an over 7-hour tour costing $99 per person, and involved an almost two-hour ferry ride in each direction. I did not hear from anyone that the Magdalena Island penguin experience was any more rewarding the Otway trip. If you are going to do one of the other more pricey and spectacular tours in this part of the world, Punta Arenas is the place to do it. The only other geographic opportunity would be Ushuaia however virtually all of the large cruise ships dock in Ushuaia for 6 hours at the most. This is because part of the day for Ushuaia is dedicated to cruising past the glaciers in the Beagle Channel. There were two major tours offered by the ship in Punta Arenas i.e., the 7-hour Antarctic Flyover and the 11-hour air/land tour to Torres del Paine National Park. I’m certain that the Antarctic Flyover is spectacular, but since the ship was going to Antarctica anyway and the cost of the flyover was $999 per person, I didn’t give it any consideration. Torres del Paine National Park is reputed to be one of the world’s more spectacular scenic destinations but the 11-hour duration and the $765 per person cost ruled it out. If either of those tours are up your alley, Punta Arenas is again the place to do it because it’s the only port stop that affords you enough time for either one.
The show Tuesday night was the second of the cast shows entitled “Personality”. This wasn’t much better than the first cast show. Again the lead singers were terrible. They’d have been better off just plain singing instead of trying to do all kinds of fancy things with their voices of which they were incapable. Better yet they should have let the male and female second leads do the singing in their stead as the second leads were much more talented.
Thursday, February 5 – Beagle Channel Glaciers & Ushuaia, Argentina
Around 7:30 in the morning we were heading east in the Beagle Channel. Over the course of about a two-hour period we passed a series of beautiful glaciers on the port side. Graham was on the bridge narrating the passage. Several of the glaciers came right down to the channel while a few had receded and appeared to be hanging off the mountains which are designated as the Darwin Mountains and yes, all references you see here to Darwin and the Beagle Channel refer to naturalist Charles Darwin and the voyage of his ship the Beagle. We still had several hours to go before docking in Ushuaia and as we were cruising it was very nice scenery though not quite so dramatic as the glaciers. The weather was mostly overcast and a little cool and breezy. We did dock in Ushuaia on the northern side of the Beagle Channel about 1:00 P.M. We were at the end of a rather long pier but the foot of the pier was virtually in downtown Ushuaia. Ushuaia has been designated as the southernmost city in the world and is also referred to as the city at the end of the world. Puerto Williams in Chile, which lies a little south and east of Ushuaia across the Beagle channel, has a population that only designates it as a town, thus preserving Ushuaia’s claim as the southernmost city.
Jean had made contact with a tour guide who we would be using in Buenos Aires and he had suggested that the Beagle Channel wildlife catamaran cruise was worth taking in Ushuaia. He had stated that the cost was $28 per person. The ship offered the same cruise for $59 per person. However as we were entering the harbor of Ushuaia we noted that we were taking the same route that the catamaran’s were taking and seeing the same sights from the ship. Thus we decided to forgo the catamaran cruise and spent a couple of hours walking around town. One block up from the pier was the east-west main street that ran for several blocks. There were several nice shops as well as a number of street vendors. Recalling Graham’s port talk we went about four or five blocks to the east to a tour office and obtained, free of charge, personalized certificates authenticating our visit to the southernmost city in the world. The ship departed Ushuaia around 7:00 P.M. and we shortly passed a lighthouse that is dubbed the lighthouse at the end of the world. This is an effort by Ushuaia to re-enforce its claim to labels as the southernmost city and the city at the end of the world. There are more remote and more southerly lighthouses that could likely make a better claim to the end of the world designation. The entertainment that evening was a British comedian named Mike Goddard who was very good.
Friday, February 6 – Rounding Cape Horn and heading to Antarctica
We were scheduled to round Cape Horn around 8:00 A.M. A short while before we were to encounter the Cape we spotted a small rocky island off the starboard side. Anticipation mounted for a good view of the Cape. The Cape, nearly 1,400 feet high, is a beautiful sight, perhaps enhanced by the fact that the unique landmark is rarely seen. This last sentence is from tourist literature distributed on the ship and unfortunately it was prophetically true. Shortly after passing the rocky island mentioned above, the fog set in. We cruised around a little bit and got as close to the Cape as legally permitted but it was to no avail and we shortly headed south towards Antarctica without any sighting of the Cape. The weather forecast gave no indication that the fog would lift and we had schedules to meet for the Antarctica passage. Aside from the fog, it would have been a good day to see the cape as the winds were relatively light and the seas were not particularly rough. An hour or two after we headed south for Antarctica, the seas started getting quite rough. One of the tv channels in the cabin had the report from the bridge, which included the weather and seas conditions. It indicated that the seas were rough with 7 to 12 foot swells. On deck the swells looked even higher but the strange thing was that there were no whitecaps. Anyway we were now bouncing our way to Antarctica with great anticipation for our first encounter.
Later on Wednesday morning there was a coffee chat in the Explorer’s Lounge with Mike Goddard, the comedian from the night before. This was kind of like an interview conducted by the cruise director who fed Mike questions and then opened up to the floor for questions. Sometimes these so-called coffee chats are quite interesting. In this case it was both interesting and quite funny. It was almost akin to another performance. One story that Mike related was very funny. It was purported to be a true story but whether it was a true or not it is worth relating. He’s apparently a pretty well known comedian in Britain and as such will occasionally get invited to charity functions. He said the one thing that he dreads is encountering other well-known people at these functions but occasionally drawing a blank on their identity. At one such function a woman approached him and he got frantic because he knew her but couldn’t recall who she was. As she rapidly approached all he could recall was that she had a famous sister. She said, “Hi Mike, how are you”. Mike replied, “Very well, and how’s your sister?” She replied, “Oh she’s doing well, she’s still the Queen”. Mike subsequently related another story about an encounter with Princess Margaret, which lent authenticity to the first story.
The rest of the day was fairly quiet with the usual shipboard activities taking place. The seas continued quite rough and Carlos and I dined alone that evening, as our wives were both a little under the weather. Our cabin steward had stated later in the day that there were five cabins he hadn’t gotten to because the occupant and/or occupants hadn’t left the room during the course of the day. The entertainer that evening was a piano player/comedian from San Diego who I didn’t find appealing. He wasn’t terrible but he was the only entertainer outside of the lead singers in the cast that I was disappointed in. Ironically he was the only entertainer who came back later in the cruise to give another full show. That would become the only evening entertainment on the cruise that I would miss.
Saturday, February 7 – Antarctica, first day
As we awoke this morning, the seas had settled down considerably. Initially it was overcast with low visibility. The visibility gradually improved and within easy sight there were plenty icebergs, and then mountains, glaciers, penguins, whales, and numerous sea birds. We proceeded down through Gerlache Strait and then into Neumayer Channel. Just prior to entering Neumayer Channel the Antarctic Penguin Swim took place at the pool on the lido deck. Participants earned a spot in the “Penguin Club”. I chose to witness rather than participate in this activity. In Neumayer Channel the mountains and glaciers on either side seemed almost close enough to reach out and touch. John S. provided plenty of interesting commentary from the bridge keeping us abreast of our progress. The scenery was awesome. As we exited Neumayer Channel we turned west towards Palmer Station at the southern end of Anvers Island.
Sometime in the mid afternoon we anchored off of Palmer Station, one of three U.S. scientific stations in Antarctica. The other two larger stations are at the South Pole and McMurdo Sound. Palmer Station currently has 31 scientists and support staff in residence. About a dozen made the trip out to the Amsterdam on zodiacs. The Amsterdam scheduled two presentations to be made by the visitors. In order to divide the attendance evenly, the first presentation was intended for the early dinner seating and the second presentation for the late dinner seating. Unfortunately this proposed breakdown went almost unpublicized and it was not enforced. As a consequence, the Queen’s Lounge was filled to overflowing for the first presentation with even standing room hard to come by. The scientists gave about a 45-minute presentation describing the station itself and the various activities that they were involved in. They then fielded questions from the audience for the next half an hour or so. Virtually all of their scientific activities are funded by grants through the National Science Foundation. I poked my head into the Q&A portion of the second presentation and the Queen’s Lounge was a little over half full. The Amsterdam staff really dropped the ball in properly getting the audience split for the two sessions. In any case this was truly one of the highlights of the Antarctic experience. Neither of the previous two Amsterdam trips in December and January was able to incorporate the stop at Palmer Station. The Amsterdam was so appreciative of their visit that they packed up three cases of Dutch beer as a gift for the scientists and support staff and then asked if there was anything else they would like. They said that they hadn’t had fresh fruits or vegetables in months and that was the thing they craved the most. Needless to say a couple of cases of fresh fruits and vegetables accompanied them on their trip back to the base. The ship was still buzzing for quite awhile after their visit.
There would be no live entertainment in the show lounge that evening nor for the next two evenings in the Antarctic. The Amsterdam adopted the following policy in that regard: “Due to Antarctic permit restrictions in Antarctic waters, our activities will be kept to a minimum. This will also allow you the opportunity to enjoy the spectacular sights the Antarctic has to offer.” From this statement one would have assumed that some or all of the following activities would be curtailed, i.e., bingo, the casino, trivia, sales in the boutiques, the art auction, jewelry presentations, the evening musical activities in the various lounges, the late night DJ activities in the Crow’s nest, or the gala Ice Ball in the Crow’s Nest. Actually none of the aforementioned activities was a victim of the activity curtailment. They all continued on as usual. The only things curtailed were the daily lectures and the evening entertainment. The lack of daily lectures was understandable, as effectively in its place, there was commentary from the bridge that augmented the sights that were to be seen as we transited Antarctica. So I guess we honored the Antarctic permit restrictions by being deprived of the evening entertainment. Somehow the Amsterdam’s observance of the Antarctic permit restrictions seemed a bit disingenuous to me. I must interject that on the first evening in the Antarctic they did show a “Gold Premiere Movie” in the Queen’s Lounge. The movie chosen was “Lost in Translation”, a recent movie of some acclaim that had even garnered Bill Murray an Academy Award nomination. Whatever acclaim there was for the movie was not shared by the audience on the Amsterdam, at least at the first showing that evening. By the end of the movie there was far less than half of the audience still in attendance. In addition, as the audience that survived was departing, there appeared to be a lot of bleary eyes indicating a significant amount of sleeping was going on during the movie. I know that I enjoyed several naps myself. We managed to kill an hour or so after the movie and headed up to the lido for an evening ice cream fix and then retired looking forward to more fabulous sights in the Antarctic the next day.
Sunday, February 8 – Antarctica, second day
The morning started off with a bit of a disappointment although it was not totally unexpected. The previous two cruises of the Amsterdam had ventured down to actually cross the Antarctic Circle on their first night in the Antarctic. Although the actual crossing was in the wee hours and few were awake to witness it, all passengers were greeted the next morning with certificates authenticating their crossing of the Antarctic Circle. When Pat Toomey, the ice pilot, outlined plan A of our passage through Antarctica he said that venturing down to the Antarctic Circle was not in the plan. He stated that it was the result of anticipated problems with ice conditions, sea conditions, time, and fuel expenditure. Unfortunately this part of Plan A was executed as planned. Last summer on a cruise to Norway and Iceland, we had crossed the Arctic Circle and I thought it would be kind of neat to cross the Antarctic Circle a mere 7 months later but I guess that it just wasn’t meant to be.
In the morning hours on Sunday we headed south into Lemaire Channel. As we entered the channel it narrowed to less then 1,000 yards wide. It was overcast, windy, and there were scattered snow and rain showers. The visibility wasn’t great but everything was close enough that we could still see reasonably well. The weather conditions kept everyone inside most of the time. The Crow’s Nest lounge was pretty much standing room only the entire morning. As we progressed through the channel we were surrounded by snow covered mountains with numerous glaciers and there were a significant number of icebergs in the water. About three-fourths of the way through the channel a large iceberg blocked the way. The ship had slowed to a crawl, and then virtually came to a stop and then we executed a 180-degree turn. Pat Toomey later related that our failure to totally traverse Lemaire Channel was as much because of the wind as for the iceberg blocking the way. The winds at the time were 55 miles an hour with gusts to 72 miles an hour and the profile of the ship was such that it was acting like a sail making the ship very difficult to maneuver. Watching the ship make the 180-degree turn in the narrow channel under the existing weather conditions was quite impressive. As the afternoon approached we headed back north and the sea was littered with icebergs. We progressed through what is referred to as the Palmer Archipelago with a landmass on the right and a series of islands on the left. The scenery was still compelling although not quite as dramatic as in the morning. It was another rather quiet night as the main evening entertainment was still suspended. The ship was headed for an early sighting of Deception Island the following morning.
Monday, February 9 – Antarctica, third day
This day didn’t start well but it improved dramatically as it progressed. I had thought that we were supposed to arrive at Deception Island around 8:00 A.M., so that’s about what time I got up on deck. Unfortunately by that time we had departed Deception Island leaving it far behind in our wake. And then I had to put up with all of the comments about how awesome it was. Deception Island is a still active volcano with an opening in the side of its crater that has been breached by the sea. The passage is called Neptune’s Bellows and it is where the ocean pours into an interior lagoon that is actually a flooded caldera. Small ships can and do enter the caldera although a ship the size of the Amsterdam cannot. In any case it is a kind of unique sight in Antarctica. Fortunately Anne and Carlos were up early and had shot some video as we passed Deception Island so we were at least able to see what we had missed. Apparently a weather phenomenon was occurring as we passed Deception Island and some adjacent islands of the South Shetland Island chain. Fog was rolling in from the Northwest so when we were not in the lee of an island, we were socked in with fog. However as the fog hit an island, it was lifted up and we were thus afforded a perfect view of each island as we passed it. That is exactly what had happened as we passed Deception Island. As one of the subsequent islands came into view it looked like a good photo opportunity so I hurried up to the Lido deck and went through the gym to the doorway that led out to a small front deck. I had to lean hard against the door as it was being held closed by the wind. When I finally opened it and got on the deck I tried to take a picture of an upcoming glacier. The wind was blowing so hard that I couldn’t steady myself or the camera in order to take the picture. I leaned against the bulkhead in an effort to brace myself but it was to no avail. I don’t know what the actual wind speed was but I would guess at least in the 45 to 50 mile an hour range. I strugg led to open the door to get back inside and a woman was about to try to come outside. When she saw what the wind was like she hastily retreated. I heard something fall to the deck so I let the door go and saw one of my camera batteries rolling around the deck. The wind had actually blown the battery cover off the camera and this is a battery cover that can usually only be removed by depressing a small pin. I quickly picked up the battery and seeing no sign of the battery cover struggled back inside. Now the predicament, the camera would not function without the battery cover. A couple of hours later when the wind had settled down I decided to go back out on the small deck and see if the battery cover might somehow turn up. I was far from optimistic since the battery cover was about the size of a postage stamp and in all likelihood had been blown overboard. At first I didn’t see anything but I did notice that where the wooden deck ended there was about a two-foot section of metal that was painted black. Naturally the battery cover was black so even if it had blown into this area it would be almost impossible to see. In any case I got down on my hands and knees and all of a sudden saw a little glimmer of metal that turned out to be the reverse side of the battery cover where the metal contacts were located. I retrieved the cover but was still uncertain if it had been damaged when the wind had torn it off. I took it down to the cabin, reaffixed it to the camera, and the camera hummed back to life. This was the turning point of the day.
By early afternoon the weather conditions had improved and under mostly sunny skies we cruised into one of the bays of King George Island, which is towards the eastern end and also is the largest of the South Shetland Islands. Under relatively calm conditions we passed by the Polish and the Brazilian scientific stations and also observed several glaciers. We departed King George Island and headed for Elephant Island. As we approached Elephant Island, John S. was providing commentary from the bridge. He was explaining about the Shackleton expedition of 1914 and the important role that Elephant Island played in the ultimate outcome of that expedition. For those not familiar with it, the Shackleton story is one of the greatest survival stories in the annals of exploration. There are several books about the journey and there was a recent PBS documentary that recreated the adventure. A quick primer on the Shackleton story can be found in the November 1998 copy of National Geographic magazine. Very briefly, Shackleton departed Plymouth, England in August of 1914 with a crew of 27 aboard the three masted wooden sailing vessel the Endurance. By January 1915 they were about 100 miles from their destination in the Weddell Sea when the ice closed in around her. For the next ten months they drifted with the pack ice, but in late October the grinding ice flows started to crush the ship and they were forced to abandon ship. They had no radio communication and no one in the outside world knew where they were. As a means of subsequently getting to any kind of safety they were able to salvage three lifeboats. They first attempted to march over the ice to Paulet Island nearly 400 miles to the northwest. That effort failed as dragging the loaded boats over the ice was impossible. They drifted with the ice until April when the ice finally started to break up. They then launched the three lifeboats and tried to head for Elephant Island. About a week later they made it to Elephant Island but this was merely a temporary refuge, as Shackleton knew that the outside world would never come to Elephant Island. Shackleton would then fortify the largest lifeboat (the 22 and ½ foot James Caird) and with a crew of five sail 800 miles across some of the most dangerous water on the planet, the south Atlantic, in winter, to the whaling stations of South Georgia Island. They made it to south Georgia Island 15 days later but were forced to land on the uninhabited southwest coast. If they tried for the inhabited northeast coast they risked being blown into oblivion. In fact had they missed this narrow island, the next landfall was Africa, nearly 4,000 miles away. Shackleton and two of the men set out across the mountainous spine of South Georgia Island and arrived at the whaling village on the other side in 36 hours. A ship was sent to rescue the three crew members left on the other side of the island. Three rescue attempts were made to reach the 22 sailors left behind on Elephant Island but were thwarted by pack ice around the island. The fourth attempt was successful and the men were rescued on August 30, 1916. It had been just over two years since they had left Plymouth and through all the long months of their terrible ordeal, Shackleton had lost – not a man. This is an extremely shortened over simplified version of the Shackleton odyssey and is merely related to put into context our experience of viewing Elephant Island.
We initially cruised from south to north along the east side of Elephant Island. The scenery was quite dramatic with the sun starting to set over the mountains that ran the length of the island. John S. then pointed out the northeast corner of the island where the Shackleton lifeboats first made landfall. They realized shortly that this area of the island did not provide a safe haven from the elements so they relocated to the north side of the island. We also then cruised around to the north end of the island. As we were passing Elephant Island there were numerous icebergs and we encountered several large groups of whales. As we were approaching the north end of the island we sailed by two icebergs that had small colonies of penguins on them. We then got within a mile or so of shore and saw the monument that had been later constructed where Shackleton’s men had spent over four months waiting to be rescued. We were now about to end our Antarctic adventure. As we departed Elephant Island we passed a mile or two from a rather large iceberg. John S. commented that the same iceberg had been there on the previous two trips. Apparently it was grounded and they had used some instruments on a previous trip to measure it. It was 140 feet high and almost three-quarters of a mile wide. And one must keep in mind that only 10% of an iceberg is visible above the waterline.
It was a fitting end to our visit to Antarctica. Words can’t really begin to describe the awesome scenery and in many cases even pictures can’t truly do it justice. For those interested there is a very good article with some excellent pictures in the May/June 1990 issue of National Geographic Traveler. It documents the trip of an expedition ship that traverses a very similar itinerary to what we experienced. The expedition ships have the advantage of using zodiacs to make landfalls. We in fact passed close by a couple of expedition ships in Antarctica. Although we did not actually make a landfall in Antarctica, this in no way diminished the trip. The sighting and passing of Elephant Island during the late afternoon and early evening certainly took the place of the evening’s entertainment that would again be unavailable during our last night in Antarctica.
Thursday, February 10 – At sea – headed for the Falkland Islands
Shipboard life this day got back to the routine. In the morning there was a Q&A session conducted by Ice Pilot Pat Toomey and Lecturer John Splettstoesser entitled “The route we took and why”. They provide a map that detailed the itinerary that we actually ended up taking while in Antarctic waters. They both deemed the passage to have been a success and both felt that the Palmer Station visit was one of the highlights. It was explained again that although there was Plan A, we likely reverted to Plan C., which didn’t necessarily involve seeing any more or any less, it was just seeing what the conditions dictated. There were two more lectures that afternoon both referencing our next stop, i.e., the Falkland Islands. One was a port lecture by Graham and the other an “Introduction to the Falkland Islands” by John S. The evening entertainment was finally restored and provided by Celeste Francis an excellent singer from England. During the late afternoon and evening the seas again got quite rough.
Friday, February 11 – Stanley, Falkland Islands
Stanley would be our first landfall since Ushuaia six days earlier. Cruise ships are only successful in stopping at the Falklands about 50% of the time due mainly to wind conditions. Stanley would be our final tender port. We anchored out in the bay shortly after 8:00 A.M. We decided to forgo any tours and just do a walking tour on our own. The Falklands are rather remote islands about 300 miles off the coast of Argentina. The human population is about 2,300, while the sheep population is some 600,000. The Amsterdam passengers and crew number around 2,100, so our arrival virtually doubled the population of the islands. As we rode in on the tender a dolphin cavorted in the water just off the bow. After getting off the tender we walked east on Ross Road, one of the main streets that run parallel Stanley Bay. We stopped first at Christ Church Cathedral which was built in 1892. It is a nice church although rather smaller in size than what one envisions for a cathedral. There was quite a bit of impressive stained glass work. It turns out that the status of “Cathedral” is historic and is founded on the fact that the Falkland Islands were the original seat of the bishop of the Falkland Islands, the diocese covering most of South America. In the garden adjacent to the cathedral is an interesting rather large arch constructed from the jawbones of a whale. We then decided to take the about one mile walk along the bay to the Falkland Islands museum. On the walk we passed the town hall, the war memorial, and Government House. In addition, in the bay there were a number of very old decaying shipwrecks. The museum has a large number of displays covering the history of the colony. In addition there is quite a bit of material on the short 1982 war with Argentina. On the way back to the tender pier we visited one small Catholic Church and also stopped in one or two shops on Ross Road. While not registering particularly high on the highlight list of the cruise, the Falklands were nevertheless an interesting place to visit. The show tonight was the Amsterdam cast in “Romance on Broadway”. This was the cast’s best show thus far although unfortunately there was no improvement in the singing performances of the lead female and male singers.
Thursday, February 12 & Friday, February 13 – At sea bound for Buenos Aires
There were a number of interesting lectures during the at sea days of Thursday and Friday. On Thursday morning John S. gave a talk on Antarctica entitled “Living and Working in the Interior – Three Months and Still Friends”. He had quite a few pictures including some of he and some of his comrades from his initial trip to Antarctica some 40 years ago. This was the last lecture by John S. As I stated earlier it would be virtually impossible to find anyone with more knowledge of geography, geology, and history of Antarctica. His recall and his ability to extemporaneously relate information no matter what we were seeing or no matter what the subject matter at the time was nothing short of amazing. Later that morning they scheduled the Cruise Chronicle Premiere for the Wajang Theater. The cruise chronicle consisted of extensive video of this cruise shot by the ship’s photographers. This turned out to be a scheduling fiasco. The Wajang Theater holds about 120 people. At least four times that many showed up for the viewing. Why it wasn’t scheduled in the main show lounge, nobody understood. In the show lounge at that time, bingo was being conducted. The assumption was that bingo couldn’t be set up and held in the Wajang Theater. However the next morning, lo and behold, the bingo session was conducted in the Wajang Theater and strange to say there was nothing scheduled at that time for the main show lounge. Somebody really blew it on the cruise chronicle scheduling on Thursday. Thursday afternoon Graham did his port lecture on Buenos Aires. In this lecture Graham pointed out that we were approaching the part of the cruise where more caution was needed when going ashore. He stated that men should not carry their wallet in their back pants pocket unless they wished it to be stolen. He also warned that women should not be wearing any ostentatious jewelry when going ashore. These warnings had not been necessary in the ports that we had visited up to this point. Graham’s lecture contained his usual humorous touch. The final lecture on Thursday was given by Olga Stavrakis and was entitled “Voyage of the Beagle from Rio to Valparaiso – 1831 to 1835”. This obviously was Charles Darwin’s voyage and the lecture was a pretty interesting summary of the voyage and indigenous natives that were encountered along the way. The entertainment that evening was provided by Martin Lass an accomplished violinist who was born in Chicago but raised in Sydney Australia. We had seen Martin Lass on Baltic cruise about two years ago and this was the first time that we encountered an entertainer that we had seen on a previous cruise. We enjoyed him this time as much as we had the last time that we saw him.
On Thursday morning they scheduled the “Light and Sound Show/Backstage Tour”. The first half was a presentation and demonstration of the technical lighting and staging equipment available aboard the Amsterdam. This was extremely interesting. We then broke into smaller groups and toured backstage which was also quite interesting. There was plenty of opportunity in both parts for questions and answers.
Later that morning Olga Stavrakis returned for a talk on the Native Peoples of Patagonia. This was an informative talk and somewhat interwove with the Darwin talk from the day before. It was nearing lunchtime and I couldn’t find my wife so I headed up to the Lido. I ran into her a short while later and found out that Jean and Ron had enticed her to attend the Art Auction. She didn’t have any particular interest in the art auction but decided to give it a try anyway. She didn’t bid on or purchase any art however each attendee was given a raffle ticket and at the end of the auction they had a drawing. There were six pictures available and the winner would be able to select five. They drew my wife’s number and she became the proud possessor of five pictures. Fortunately they had a mailing tube that could hold up to five paintings and they shipped them to us at the cost of $35. After our return from the cruise, framing of the pictures would significantly increase the cost of the free paintings. The afternoon started with Graham’s port lecture on Montevideo. He re-emphasized the caveats that he had related about Buenos Aires. The last lecture that day was the final appearance of the Ice Pilot, Captain Pat Toomey and the title of his talk was “Ice Breakers and Ice Breaking”. He went into the construction and operation of icebreakers and we got a much better appreciation of why the Amsterdam Antarctic cruise was an ice avoidance cruise. Like John S., Pat Toomey credentials were impeccable and I’m not sure that you could find a more qualified person to perform his duties as Ice Pilot as well as lecturer on our Antarctic passage. Both Pat Toomey and John S. would be leaving the Amsterdam at the conclusion of this cruise, both having participated in the three Antarctic cruises that the Amsterdam did this year. Late in the afternoon in the show lounge was the “Antarctic Movie Premiere”. This was a compilation of footage from the three cruises to Antarctica that the Amsterdam had just completed. This video as well as the final video of the cruise chronicle was available for purchase in the photo shop. This evening there were two shows. The first was the liars club, which as always was a lot of fun. The other show was reprise of Mike Goddard, Martin Lass, and Celeste Francis. They were also just as good the second time around. One humorous comment by Mike Goddard about the Falkland Islands is worth repeating. Acknowledging that he was British he nevertheless stated that he sometimes had difficulty understanding the British Government. His point was, “how could the British Government give up Hong Kong willingly, with a smile nonetheless, while at the same time going to war over the Falklands”.
Saturday, February 11 – Buenos Aires, Argentina
The entry into the harbor and to the pier in Buenos Aires is very narrow and requires a lot of tight turns. Watching how the ship maneuvered through this maze was truly remarkable. Shortly after us a Celebrity ship came in and docked at an adjacent pier. Jean had done some research and had booked us jointly with Carlos A. Vitro a tour manager with Tours VIP, www.excursionsinba.com.ar. We had booked portions of two tours one called Buenos Aires South and North and the other the cultural city tour. The cost was $25 per person for the initial 5 hours and $5 per hour for any additional hours. The tour would combine everything seen on two of the ship’s tours as well as a few other sights. The ship’s tours cost $39 and $42 per person respectively. We did end up touring for 7 hours so our total cost was $35 per person. Carlos and his driver picked us up just outside the passenger terminal. It was an 11-person van so it accommodated the four of us plus the driver and the tour guide very comfortably. Carlos provided commentary for the better part of the 7 hours. He obviously conveyed a wealth of information, which was for the most part quite interesting.
It was a very pleasant day with the temperature gradually rising to about 80 degrees. We stopped first at the Plaza de Mayo and visited the Metropolitan Cathedral where revered national hero General Jose de San Martin is interred. The Cathedral is actually built on the site of the first colonial church. At the far end of the plaza we saw the Casa Rosada Government House (Pink House). It is from a balcony of this building that Evita Peron used to address adoring crowds of Argentine workers. There are several other impressive buildings surrounding the plaza. Next it was on to the neighborhood of La Boca. As we approached we passed the Boca Juniors Stadium home to the most popular Argentine soccer team. We then took a short walk around the La Boca neighborhood, which is reputed to have given birth to the tango. We walked along Caminito the very colorful pedestrian walkway that is both an outdoor museum and a marketplace. We then got back in the van and headed north passing through the San Telmo neighborhood and seeing buildings and homes dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries. We then drove along the coast of the Rio de la Plata towards San Isidro where aristocratic families would spend their summers during the 18th and 19th centuries. We passed a number of large beautiful homes. We visited the Cathedral in the small square in San Isidro and walked through the market set up in the park across the street. Then we proceeded on down through the park to board the coastline train. We boarded the train and took it for four stops to where the van driver met us. We then took a short ride to Tigre, which is a city on the delta of the Parana River. We then took a leisurely one-hour catamaran ride along the waterways of the Tigre Delta. The Delta islands are formed by continuous sediment of the Parana River, which gives the water a very brownish-red color. In addition it had rained quite heavily the previous few days and the area was partially flooded. After the boat ride we boarded the van for the return to Buenos Aires. Our next stop was Buenos Aires’ most exclusive neighborhood, La Recoleta and a visit to La Recoleta cemetery. The cemetery is quite a dramatic sight. There are more than 6,400 mausoleums, which form an architectural free-for-all. No less than 70 of the mausoleums have been declared national monuments. The grounds cover four city blocks and are a lasting place where the elite can show off its wealth. We visited the most popular tomb, that of Evita Peron. Hers is one of the very bodies from a non-elite family allowed to be buried there. Our final destination was the Calle Florida (Florida Street), the main pedestrian shopping thoroughfare in Buenos Aires. On the ride from La Recoleta to Calle Florida and then back to the ship we passed a number of other architectural landmarks including the Colon Theater and the Obelisk in the center of Plaza de la Republica. Buenos Aires is a very beautiful, very European city. There is far more to see than our short stay afforded although we were able to see quite a bit on our tour.
It was about 4:00 P.M. when we returned to the ship. At 5:00 P.M. we attended the “Argentine Folkloric Extravaganza” with the Ballet de las Pampas and the Grupo Viento Norte. This was held in the show lounge. The M.C. was Buddy McCloskey who told an interesting story to account for his presence there. His father was a famous bandleader back in the twenties and thirties. Among the members of his band at one time were the Dorsey brothers and Harry James. Around the advent of talking motion pictures he was commissioned to participate in the inauguration of talking motion pictures in theaters around the world. These travels found him at one point in Argentina. After having finished their work in Argentina they were next scheduled to go to Brazil but they were delayed a week because of a problem with the plane. During that week’s stay, in Buddy McCloskey’s words “my father met my mother, and the rest is history”. The Grupo Viento was a singing group and they were pretty good. The Ballet de las Pampas performed a number of different dances and they were excellent. Particularly noteworthy was a performance of the tango by a brother and sister combo.
That evening at dinner I set an unplanned personal record that requires a little bit of an explanation. On one of the earlier nights that lobster was on the dinner menu my wife and I both ordered it and in addition we asked for an extra order to share. The lobster dinner consisted of two medium sized lobster tails. We each got our initial order but the extra order did not appear immediately. By the time that we finished our meal the extra order still hadn’t arrived but we didn’t say anything because the initial meal was plenty and we were still looking forward to dessert. Carlos and Anne were more upset about the extra dinner not arriving than we were but we told them not to worry. In any case this evening, as we were about to depart Buenos Aires, lobster was again on the menu. My wife and I both ordered it and also asked for an extra order to share. Carlos and Anne had gone to a restaurant in Buenos Aires that afternoon that they had been to before and didn’t finish their large late lunch until around 4:00 P.M. They were not hungry at all for dinner but instead of leaving us to eat alone they came to dinner to be sociable. One of them ordered an appetizer and one of them ordered soup and then I was surprised to hear Carlos order the lobster. My wife and I finished our meals and split the extra meal that this time had arrived simultaneously with our initial meals. We were both placated and ready for dessert, at which point I noticed that Carlos hadn’t touched his meal. Carlos then passed his meal to me saying that he had ordered it for us just in case they forgot the extra meal this time. I tried to give my wife one of the extra lobster tails but she turned it down immediately. I wasn’t particularly hungry but did proceed to devour the two remaining lobster tails thus recording my personal best of consuming 5 lobster tails at one sitting, not something that I set out to accomplish but it just kind of happened.
Sunday, February 15 – Montevideo, Uruguay
During the night the ship traversed across the mouth of the Rio de la Plata and in the morning docked in the harbor of Montevideo. The ship offered three full day excursions out of Montevideo. They were to Punta del Este (about an hour to the east), Colonia del Sacramento (about an hour to the west), or the Vineyards of Juanico. These tours ranged in price from $99 to $139 per person. There was also a half-day tour of Montevideo for $39 per person. The ship’s tours did a very good business as I counted 40 tour buses waiting on the pier as we pulled in. After hearing Graham’s port talk and reading the tourist information provided, we chose to do our own walking tour of Montevideo. As we left the passenger terminal area we entered a not particularly appealing part of town, which was absolutely deserted, it being Sunday morning. About every second or third block there was a policeman on the corner, which was both disconcerting and reassuring. After about ten blocks we arrived at the first signs of activity that being the Plaza Constitucion. We took a brief look inside the Matriz Cathedral, which is the oldest public structure in the city. We then walked through a small market in the park in the middle of the square before proceeding three blocks east to the Plaza Independencia, which is the city’s main square. Among the buildings surrounding the square, two in particular are noteworthy. The first is Palacio Estevez, which was formerly the national government headquarters and is still used for official ceremonial events. The second building is the unique Palacio Salvo. When it was built in the 20’s, it was South America’s tallest manmade structure. It is now a national treasure and remains today the highest building in Montevideo. We then decided to walk about eight blocks further east to the Plaza Cagancha where there is a large artisans market. A tourist book that I had read suggested that the market was only open Monday through Saturday. The shore excursion office thought that they would be aware that a large cruise ship was in port and they would likely be open on Sunday. Unfortunately the tourist book proved to be correct. We then retraced our steps back to Plaza Independencia. We found a kind of neat souvenir shop on the north side towards the northeastern corner of the plaza and made a number of purchases. We then returned to the ship in a little more direct route than we had traversed earlier. Just outside the pier we stopped in a small artisan’s shop that was part of the passenger terminal. We found a lot of very interesting things and made a number of purchases. There were a number of gaucho related items and one small painting of a gaucho was the exact likeness Will Rogers. Will Rogers had spent some time in this part of the world although the people in the shop had no knowledge of Will Rogers and thus could neither confirm nor deny that the likeness was Will Rogers. We did not purchase the item but probably should have. We got back on the ship and had lunch.
I then decided to pay a visit to the Internet café at the end of the pier to get a current update on the flight availability for our return from Rio de Janeiro to the states. I had to wait about 15 minutes for a computer to become available. When it became available I made a reasonably quick connection to the AA employee website and checked a number of flights for later in the week. The response time was actually pretty good. I finished up and when I logged off, it said that I had been online for 14 minutes. I inquired of the cost and it was $1 for the first 15 minutes so even though I could have stayed on one minute longer I was still quite pleased. The ship does have an Internet café but I suspected and would later confirm that I had encountered a distinct bargain using the Internet café on the pier. We still had another hour or two before the ship departed so I took a quick walk, about two blocks from the passenger terminal, to the Mercado del Puerto (port market) but didn’t come across anything interesting that we had not already encountered earlier in the day. After returning to the ship I still had time for a visit to the lido for my regular afternoon ice cream fix.
The entertainment that evening was scheduled to be the comedy of Frank Berry. When I first saw the name in the daily schedule it sounded familiar and after reading his brief career summary, I realized that we had seen him on our Australia/New Zealand cruise last year. We thoroughly enjoyed him at that time and looked forward to seeing him again. He did not disappoint.
Monday, February 16 & Tuesday, February 17 – Days at sea bound for Rio de Janeiro
The lecture on Monday morning was the third appearance of Olga Stavrakis and the subject was “Gaucho History and Culture”. This lecture was quite interesting and on a par with her previous talks. Later in the morning the ship obviously slowed down and then anchored several miles off of the city of Rio Grande in southern Brazil. It was announced that we were stopping because of medical emergency. Apparently a passenger has suffered a stroke and the necessary treatment was beyond the capabilities of the infirmary aboard the ship. A boat came out from the mainland, the medical evacuation took place, and then the ship got back underway. In the afternoon Graham had his final port talk covering Rio de Janeiro. Graham saved his sternest warnings about pickpockets and the like for this talk. Nevertheless he was still able to interject his normal sense of humor into the talk. This evening was the last formal night and the farewell dinner. At the conclusion of dinner was the traditional ‘Baked Alaska Parade’. The entertainment tonight was by Steve Fowler who had performed as a singer on Broadway and has a very powerful voice. He performed a few songs quite well and some others not so well. The choice of songs played a big role in the results. Later in the evening the Desert Extravaganza (formerly known as the Chocolate Extravaganza) took place in the Lido buffet. Each side of the buffet was set up with a similar display and selections. One side was opened at 10:30 for the first dinner seating and the second side was opened about 45 minutes later for the second dinner seating who were just leaving the evening entertainment show. There were a large variety of dessert items with chocolate being a major but not exclusive theme. I sampled about three different desserts and then had an ice cream nightcap.
Tuesday morning activities started with the disembarkation talk. We had received some information along with color-coded luggage tags in our cabins the night before. The disembarkation talk filled in some of the missing details. There was a reminder that all passengers would have to go through Brazilian immigration on board the ship the morning we arrived in Rio de Janeiro before we would be able to get off the ship. These immigration procedures were for the most part in retaliation for immigration procedures recently instituted by the U.S. government. Some of us were aware of this process from some Internet postings from one of the previous sailings of the Amsterdam. On that sailing the new procedures had just commenced and it was a bit of a fiasco when the Amsterdam had arrived in Rio and there were long delays in getting processed. We all hoped that the procedures had been streamlined at this point and the delays minimized. This turned out to be wishful thinking but more about that later. We were basically told that the immigration procedures would commence around 8:00 A.M. on the morning we arrived in Rio and that we should be prepared for processing when our group was called. There was no elaboration on what a group consisted of, nor in what sequence these unidentified groups would be called. In essence it said everyone should be ready to proceed at 8:00 A.M. The rest of the disembarkation talk was pretty much routine.
Shortly after the end of the talk I went to the Internet café because I needed to send a message to the tour agent in Rio regarding our arrival and expected disembarkation time. We had booked an independent tour and airport transfer in Rio. Although the ship was arriving in Rio on Wednesday morning, final disembarkation was not until Thursday morning. The ship was scheduled to be our hotel in Rio for one night. In our case, flight availability back to the states on either Thursday night or Friday night looked out of the question. Thus it was either go home one day early on Wednesday or stay over until Saturday. With Carnival about to start in Rio, accommodations were either difficult to obtain or at a very high premium. All of the ship’s day tours accompanied by airport transfers were scheduled for Thursday and of no use to us because we would be departing on Wednesday. I was able to obtain tour and airport transfer references from a message posted on the www.cruisemates.com message board. In any case, I went to the Internet café to send a message to the tour agent in Rio. The initial sign up on the ship’s Internet cost $3.95, I was online for 13 minutes (at $.75 a minute), and I sent one e-mail at $3.95 (each outgoing e-mail cost $3.95). I had to get back on a few hours later to receive my return message from Rio. I was online for 2 minutes, which at $.75 a minute was another $1.50. Thus in total I was online for 15 minutes and sent and received one e-mail at a total cost of $19.15. In the Internet café on the pier in Montevideo, a similar amount of activity cost $1.00. Do I sense that the cruise line has homed in on a lucrative new revenue source? At least I was assured that the travel agent in Rio had confirmed that he was aware of our expected arrival in Rio.
There was another performance that afternoon by Frank Berry, the comedian from two nights ago. This also was a very enjoyable performance. With no other compelling activities scheduled that afternoon, we adjourned to our cabin to commence packing, as we would be disembarking the next morning. I took a break during the packing for my final afternoon ice cream visit. We were about 90% completed packing when it was time for dinner. The show that evening was the final cast show called “Jazzmatazz”. This was their best show although alas the voices of the lead female and male singers had not improved even marginally. A little final packing before retiring and we felt we were in pretty good shape for the next day.
Wednesday, February 18 – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
During Graham’s port talk on Rio de Janeiro he advised us not to miss the sailing into Rio’s harbor, as it is a truly spectacular sight. Thus I was up early and out on deck as we passed by Copacabana Beach and started the broad left turn around Sugar Loaf and then spotted the skyline of the city. It was a partly cloudy day with some of the passing clouds partially obscuring Corcovado, the mountain with the famous statue of Christ the Redeemer. Then an interesting phenomenon occurred. Most of Corcovado was still obscured except for the very top where you could just make out the Christ the Redeemer statue, which seemed to be hovering on top of the passing cloud. It was a pretty amazing sight.
We went up for breakfast about 7:45 and at just about 8:00 o’clock an announcement was made that the non-U.S. passport holders with the letter “O” should proceed to the Rembrandt Lounge for processing by the Brazilian authorities. Some passengers had received a small piece of paper containing the letter ”O” is the disembarkation information delivered to each cabin. We were among the passengers who had received the letter “O” although I never did understand the significance of it. We thought perhaps being U.S. passport holders having the letter “O”, that we might be the next to be called. Everyone had been informed that the non-U.S. passport holders would be processed in the Rembrandt Lounge and the U.S. passport holders in the adjacent Explorer’s Lounge. In any case we hastily finished breakfast, went back to the cabin, put our luggage out, and proceeded to the Sport’s Lounge to await the next announcements. The Sport’s Lounge is adjacent to the Rembrandt Lounge and it became readily apparent that a significant number of passengers had already congregated in both the Rembrandt Lounge and the Explorer’s Lounge well in advance of any announcement. We patiently waited while watching utter confusion as to who was in what line and who had or hadn’t been called yet. Finally about 9:30 they called for all remaining non-U.S. passengers to report to the Rembrandt Lounge. Then about 10:00 they called for U.S. passengers holding the letter “O” to report to the Explorer’s Lounge. We entered the Explorer’s Lounge and found it packed to the rafters with passengers, 90% of whom were not holding the letter “O” and had thus not yet been called. There was thorough confusion about where the letter “O” line was forming although it finally appeared snaking its way back towards the elevators. It took us about 15 minutes to get to the point where we picked up our passports and just as we were about to proceed through the Brazilian immigration process, two announcements were made. The first was that since the immigration process was taking so long, the Lido buffet was being opened early for lunch. The second announcement was that when they would be calling the remaining U.S. passengers, they would be doing it by deck. Within about half an hour we finished the immigration process, got off the ship and met up with our tour guide. I would speculate that it was at least noon before the last of the passengers were processed. The planning and handling of this entire process by the responsible Holland America staff was atrocious. And there was no excuse as they had gone through this process a little over a month earlier on the first of the Amsterdam’s Valparaiso to Rio cruises. Apparently they didn’t learn anything from the first time around or there had been some turnover in staff and the information hadn’t been properly turned over. They had everyone primed to go at 8:00 A.M. with no clue about the sequence of processing. In addition they stated where the activities would take place so that people who wanted to get a jump on things were merely cluttering up the process. The Brazilian authorities were in no way to blame as they were merely doing their job. I did write a brief cruise critique to Holland America summarizing both praise and blame for various parts of the cruise experience, especially blame for the immigration handling by the Holland America staff. They did respond that my comments would be forwarded to the appropriate departments for their information and review. Somehow I didn’t sense that they were concerned over their own performance in this immigration situation as they noted that they were working very closely with Brazilian officials to ensure that the process is handled smoothly and efficiently. They were clearly trying to at last shift some of the blame onto the Brazilian authorities who I had clearly held blameless in the letter that I had sent. Anyway, enough of immigration and on to touring Rio.
As I stated earlier I had found a glowing recommendation for a Rio tour guide on www.cruisemates.com. The contact was Pedro Landsberg with Rio tours and Transfers – www.geocities.com/riotransfers/index. I contacted Pedro and he said that he could provide a private car and driver/tour guide for a full day tour of Rio including a transfer to the airport for the total cost of $250. The best the ship had to offer was $195 per person and that was only available on Thursday and was by bus not private car. Pedro said that either he or an associate would meet us at the pier. It turned out to be an associate who was a female schoolteacher who was tour guide during the summer (remember it’s reverse seasons in the southern hemisphere, thus it was summer time there). She had a very nice almost new car and after a little pushing and shoving we were able to stow all of the luggage. The tour guide’s English was very good. We set out for Corcovado and on the way we passed several sites where we could see the Carnival preparations taking place. When we got to Corcovado we had about a 20-minute wait for the train ride up the mountain. The picturesque train ride was supposed to take 20 minutes but for some reason it took almost double that time. When we got off the train we took a combination of elevators and escalators to the lookout point and the base of the statue. These had been installed about a year ago. Until then there were only a series of steep staircases at the end of the train ride. In between breaks in the clouds we were afforded absolutely spectacular views of the entirety of Rio and its surroundings. From the viewpoint you had to look almost straight up to see the statue of Christ the Redeemer, which is over 100 feet tall, on a 20-foot base, and weighs 700 tons. There were several interesting and almost surreal views of the statue as the clouds would envelop it and then dissipate. After having exhausted just about all of the views we walked down to the train stop. We then had about a half hour wait for the train ride down. After we got back to the bottom we headed off for Sugar Loaf.
The tour guide bartered for a parking spot at Sugar Loaf and then we embarked on the two part cable car ride to the top of Sugar Loaf. We stopped at the intermediate point for a couple of nice views and then continued on to the top. There were spectacular views in all directions including across the valley and up to Corcovado and the Christ the Redeemer statue. To the west the views were of the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema. To the north and east were the city and the harbor. We had a light lunch at a small snack shop next to the viewpoint and then headed for the cable car station for the ride back down. Retrieving the car we were then driven along the beachfront of both Copacabana and Ipanema and then headed for downtown. After arriving downtown we briefly went through one of the main palaces from colonial times part of which is now a museum. Then we went across the street and saw one of the oldest cathedrals in the city, which unfortunately was pretty much in a state of disrepair. After a brief walk through a pedestrian area containing a number of outdoor restaurants it was about time to head for the airport. Although we had accomplished quite a bit after our late start and definitely seen a number of the highlights, there was a great deal of Rio that had to be left for a later visit. Traffic wasn’t quite as bad as expected and we made it to the airport a little earlier than planned. That afforded us the luxury of an early check in and we again ended up first and second on the standby list. There were two Rio to Miami flights that evening and we luckily barely made it on the first one and again got business class window seats on opposite sides of the airplane. After connecting in Miami and Dallas the following morning, we arrived back in Tulsa around noon on Thursday almost 24 days to the hour from when we had left.
One thing that I failed to mention was the entertainment in the lounges. The Station Band in the Crow’s Nest, the George Kowalski Trio in the Ocean Bar, and the Rosario Strings in the Explorer’s Lounge were uniformly good. Randall Powell in the Rembrandt Lounge was ok, although his singing wasn’t quite on a par with his piano playing. The Amsterdam Orchestra which played at the evening showtime was a notch above similar shipboard orchestras that we have seen in the past and we’ve always thought that most of the shipboard orchestras were very good.
Despite some of the glitches discussed in the daily summaries, this was a fabulous cruise. Even without Antarctica, it would have been a great itinerary, but Antarctica was obviously the icing on the cake. We passed through a variety of climates that you’re unlikely to see on any other cruise of this duration. The ship has a nice layout and it’s relatively easy to find your way around pretty quickly. I have always been fascinated with geography and maps and consider myself somewhat of a student of geographical trivia, however I did become aware of one geographical fact that I couldn’t believe until I actually verified it by looking at the large world map on display just outside one of the lounges. I always knew that the southern tip of South America was quite a bit further south than the southern tip of Africa. I was never aware of how much further south, but I would have guessed three or four hundred miles. Somewhere during one of the lectures it was revealed that the southern tip of South America is 1,300 miles further south than the southern tip of Africa. In the course of our 21 days at sea, the ship covered 6,174 nautical miles, which is the equivalent of 7,100 statute miles. The shipboard noontime temperatures while the ship was at sea ranged from a low of 34 degrees Fahrenheit to a high of 78 degrees Fahrenheit. If we were to include the nighttime lows in Antarctica and the daytime highs in some of the ports, this range would be significantly greater. One question that may come to mind is “would I consider doing this cruise again?” I guess my answer would be that if and when I start to repeat itineraries, this itinerary would likely be at the top of the list.