Age: Baby Boomer
Number of Cruises: 25
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Ship: Norwegian Dream
Sailing Date: February 2nd, 2003
Itinerary: South America
On January 30, I left the frigid cold temperatures and snow covered streets of Cleveland, Ohio for a 14 day South American cruise through the Chilean Fjords and Strait of Magellan. An uneventful, but long, overnight flight from New York transported me to Buenos Aires, a truly seductive, vibrant city that was to be the point of embarkation for the cruise. This would be my first foray into this part of the world, and as I eagerly anticipated a cruise that was out of the ordinary for me, little did I realize at the time that this would prove to be a truly unforgettable adventure.
My traveling companion, Pat, and I planned to spend a two night pre-cruise visit in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Once we located all of our luggage and filed through customs, we were greeted by a wonderful gentleman who would be providing our pre-arranged transfers to the Sheraton Buenos Aires Hotel and Convention Center. He spoke no English and we spoke no Spanish, but his friendly outgoing nature and enigmatic smile seemed to be sufficient to break the language barrier. As we drove to our hotel, I was already enamored with the city and looking forward to investigating its environs in greater detail.
We arrived at the hotel about noon and our room was not quite ready, so we spent some time exploring the hotel. It is an excellent hotel with first rate facilities. Upon returning to reception, we were to discover that our room was still not ready, but th e staff was so friendly and accommodating that they profusely apologized for the inconvenience and assigned us a suite on one of the executive floors. I could easily get used to that kind of warm hospitality! The suite was quite luxurious and proved to be a precursor to the kind of adventure that was in store. Overlooking the Rio de la Plata and centrally located in the heart of the city, I would not hesitate to recommend this hotel to anyone staying in Buenos Aires.
On our first afternoon in Buenos Aires we took a walking tour of the El Centro neighborhood. We began our walk at Plaza San Martin which was located directly across from our hotel. This park was just one of many that are located throughout the city. From there we strolled down Calle Florida, a pedestrian only shopping street and also the location of a very nice shopping center, Galerias Pacifico. The street was alive with activity and a vibrancy that was infectious. We followed Calle Florida to Avenida Corrientes which is known as the “street that never sleeps”. Theaters, shops and restaurants beckoned us as we walked westward to the huge, 221 ½ ft. tall Obelisco. As this is summer in Buenos Aires, and temperatures hovered in the upper 80’s even in the early evening, it was time for our first cerveza (beer) break of the trip. A light dinner followed, then off to bed anticipating a full day of sightseeing tomorrow as the rest of my traveling companions would be arriving in the morning.
Unfortunately, a major storm front had moved in during the night and the record high temperature we had experienced the day before was replaced by grey and gloomy skies. The other four members of our traveling brigade arrived from various parts of California late that morning, and we entertained ourselves through lively conversation waiting for their rooms to be ready and the weather to break. The weather and the hotel both cooperated, and by early afternoon the six of us were off to explore other neighborhoods in the city. We had already discovered that Buenos Aires is a wonderful city to explore on foot, so once again we took a walking tour to Plaza de Mayo in the working class neighborhood of La Boca. La Boca is the Little Italy of Buenos Aires. Plaza de Mayo is the location of the presidential palace and square depicted in the movie Evita, where Eva Peron greeted the Argentine crowds. From there we grabbed a couple of cabs (extremely inexpensive in this city) to La Recoleta. This is the fashionable boutique district of Buenos Aires. It is also the location of La Recoleta Cemetery where Eva Peron rests in the Duarte family tomb. Don’t miss the opportunity to explore the elaborate mausoleums and ornate architecture that provide an historical glimpse into the wealth and opulence that was once Argentina. It is easy to get lost in the labyrinth of walkways that wind there way through the cemetery. Add to that the infestation of cats that call the cemetery home, and you have one scary place to spend a night After our foray into the past, we stopped for some liquid libation at one of the quaint sidewalk cafes, then returned on foot to our hotel to freshen up for dinner.
The concierge of the hotel recommended Lola’s in La Recoleta district, which proved to be an excellent choice. Our evening was capped off by one of the definite highlights of this trip. Based on the recommendation of one of the servers at the restaurant we spent the evening at a very small local tango bar in San Telmo. Once we set foot in this secluded, intimate bar we were immersed in the essence of the Argentine culture and transformed to another place and time. I fell in love that night with Buenos Aires, its seductive tango, and the friendly and gracious residents of this diverse city.
Feb. 2, my third day in Buenos Aires and we planned to visit Plaza Dorrego in San Telmo for the infamous Sunday flea market before we boarded the ship to begin our cruise. This is a perfect place to purchase an authentic mate (small hand carved gourds) and bombilla (metal straw that has a filter in its lower tip) for drinking Yerba mate (a crop that is cultivated in Argentina that provides a stimulating drink as popular with Argentines as coffee is to Americans). It makes a unique, yet inexpensive, gift or souvenir. After a few hours of bartering with the locals and watching tango dancers perform in the square, the threat of an afternoon storm had us returning to the hotel to collect our luggage and catch a cab for the very short ride to the port. Embarkation was relatively quick and painless and we were settled in our cabin by about 1:30 pm.
We were escorted to our cabin #5068 (Deck 5, outside cabin with 2 portholes, aft). Interestingly, Pat and I had recently sailed on the Dreams sister ship, the Wind, and occupied #5065 on that cruise. Although not ideal, this was a much better cabin than the one we occupied on the Wind. Cabin selection on the Dream, just as on the Wind, is very important. Overall cabin size, closet, counter, and shelf space vary greatly within each cabin category. Noise and vibrations are also issues depending on the location of your cabin. It is important to choose carefully. This is one ship where a cabin category guarantee can be a major mistake. Cabin size was sufficient and there was one full closet, and a 1/2 closet with 3 storage shelves and the safe below. Closet space was ample for our needs, however, there were not nearly enough hangers to accommodate two women’s wardrobes for a 14 day cruise. I was glad that I had anticipated this and brought extra wire hangers from home The beds were arranged in a twin configuration, comfortable, and high enough to slide our suitcases underneath. A small lighted desk with one drawer and 2 small shelves acted as our vanity. Two electrical outlets housed there are the only receptacles in the cabin (Bringing an extension cord is a wise move - particularly when women are traveling together). Four very tiny drawers and a couple of open shelves under the TV unit was the sum total of storage space. A chair, ottoman, convertible sofa, and small glass table, completed the furnishings of our room. A privacy drape separated our small sitting area from the beds. A full length mirror was well positioned on the inside of the cabin entry door.
The bathroom was compact, but larger than the one we occupied on the Wind. The small shower had a lightweight cloth shower curtain prone to clinging to your body while showering (Bringing a couple clothespins from home to clip to the bottom of the curtain will alleviate that problem, however). There were two shelves under the sink, and a nice shelving unit in the corner for storage of toiletries. There was a small retractable clothesline in the shower for drying clothes. A wall mounted hair dryer was provided, but there are no electrical outlets. Shampoo and shower gel were housed in dispensers in the shower, but there was no soap or other amenities provided.
I mentioned noise and vibration as issues in selecting a cabin. On this ship, cabins at the very aft or forward on deck 5 tend to be very noisy, and prone to an inordinate amount of vibration. On one occasion the vibrations were so intense that I was actually shaken off my bed.
I will start my tour on Deck 7 and move upward, as there only staterooms on Decks 4-6. Promenade Deck (7) is the location of the jogging track. The enclosed promenade circles the ship. At its center is a small, but attractive pastel lobby where guest relations, information and the shore excursion desk are located. A number of staterooms complete the configuration of this deck. It should be noted that although these staterooms are considered ocean view, the enclosed promenade interrupts the view, as well as the privacy in these cabins. Deck 8 is also just staterooms, so I will proceed to Deck 9.
Starting in the very aft of the International Deck (9) is a small pool and lounging area that can be reached only from outside stairs on Deck 10. The interior aft is the location of The Terraces restaurant. Tables for two to eight are attractively arranged on three tiers. This room was one of the most attractive public rooms on the ship. Its expanse of windows, overlooking the aft pool and providing spectacular views of the ocean were a compliment to the good food and service. Strolling forward on an open corridor will take you through the card/game area, the Coffee Bar, and the Rendezvous Martini Bar. It is difficult to identify these individual venues, as they all flow together along an open deck. Windows along the exterior of the deck provide continuous views of the ocean. Tugged along the interior of this corridor are the Internet Cafe and Le Bistro. The internet cafe has 6 terminals that were in use quite frequently on this cruise. Cost is a hefty $.75 per minute, or packages could be purchased, which were still quite pricey compared to other cruise lines services. As I knew I would be using the internet extensively, I purchased the 250 minute package for $100. To accommodate the internet cafe, the library was relocated, and presently is nothing more than a check out desk and a few shelves of books along the entrance to the internet cafe.
Continuing to move forward on Deck 9 the sprawling Four Seasons restaurant can be found midship. When the Norwegian Wind underwent its stretching this area was expanded. Consequently, forward of the Four Seasons are more staterooms. A downside to this stretching is the inaccessibility of these cabins. Getting to the public rooms requires an elevator ride to another floor, or the necessity of walking through the Four Seasons. Something we had to do nightly as we left the Observatory lounge to go to our dining venue. In addition to being an inconvenience, this public thoroughfare somewhat compromised the ambiance of the restaurant.
Deck 10, Star Deck, comprised the bulk of the rest of the public rooms. Again starting aft, The Galleria, a small banquette of shops, lined both the port and starboard side of the ship. The Photo Gallery was on the port side of the shopping galleria. Open corridors on both sides, like the ones found on Deck 9, led from the shops to the other public rooms. Directly forward of the Photo Gallery was Lucky’s Bar, which led into Dazzles Disco. A number of sofas and chairs arranged in conversational sitting areas lined the exterior of the walkways on both sides of the ship. The bar and dance floor for both Lucky’s and Dazzles was in the center of these two walkways. There was a definite design flaw in this concept. Due to the public access, listening to the talented duo performing near the dance floor, while you were seated on the other side of the walkway, was somewhat disconcerting. The other problem with the design had to do with noise distortion. Although there was a wall that separated Lucky’s and Dazzles, the open walkway on both sides allowed music from one venue to flow into the other. Very distracting to say the least.
Forward of Dazzles was the bi-level Monte Carlo Casino. All of the necessary gaming tables to keep the gambling set happy can be found here. According to some members of our professional group who spent much time there, the slots were definitely not passenger friendly. Walking through the casino will take you to the entrance of the Stardust Lounge. This bi-level theater is the location of all major productions. Seating is tiered to provide good sight lines from any seat. There are a few poles that obstruct the view of some of the rear seats, but overall a well designed theater. As my roommate injured herself during the cruise and was confined to a wheelchair (more about that later), I became more aware of the accommodations provided on the Dream for handicap accessibility. I am pleased to say that the Stardust Lounge was well designed for this purpose, and a number of excellent seats were available for wheelchair access. There is a small cluster of cabins forward of the Stardust Lounge, and they suffer the same fate as the forward passengers on Deck 9. Due to the stretching midship, their most direct access to the rest of the ship is through the Stardust Lounge. Often, when a show is in progress that egress is unavailable to them, thus the saying, “You can’t get there from here” is apropos.
As we work our way upward we find ourselves on Deck 11, the Sun Deck. The Italian restaurant, Trattoria, is located at the very aft of the ship. Like The Terraces, it is tiered with wide expanses of glass to provide views of the ocean. For some reason, however, for me, it did not exude the same pleasant ambiance as The Terraces. The Kid’s Corner and conference rooms round out the interior of this deck. The Kid’s Corner was not very large, but as there were very few children on board, provided ample space for them to enjoy very personalized service by the capable and energetic youth staff.
Strolling forward will lead you to the open deck where the main pool is located. Topsiders Bar and the Cafe/Pizzeria are tucked at one end of the pool, while cafe tables and chairs line its periphery. The Cafe/Pizzeria was the place to grab a quick cup of coffee or tea early in the morning. The deck space adjacent to this pool is also the location of the popular luncheon BBQ and can get very congested. On the few days at sea that the weather allowed for this venue, lines were relatively short and seating was adequate. It is definitely not an ideal spot for a relaxing swim, but a great spot for people watching. In fact, due to our itinerary, for much of the cruise this pool was closed. You must traverse a flight of stairs to get to the other side of the deck where a wet bar, with a swim-up bar and two adjoining pools were located. These venues were also closed during the entire length of the cruise, however. An open deck leads to a tiered lounging area ensconced by two canopied hot tubs. Technically these are part of Deck 12, but one space flows into the other without a discernible difference. Between the hot tubs, is the Ice Cream Parlor that was open each afternoon. Forward of the hot tubs was Champs, another outdoor bar, as well as the Mandara Spa, and fitness center. The fitness center, although open 24 hours, was not overly impressive. There were 5 stationary bikes, treadmills, and stairmasters of relatively standard quality in this small facility.
The versatile, multi-purpose Observatory Lounge completed the forward section of Deck 12. During the day, its floor to ceiling windows provided an excellent sea view, whether you were enjoying enrichment lectures, exercise and self-defense classes, a private gathering, or just admiring the view in quiet solitude. From 7:00 – 9:00 most evenings this was a popular spot for those who enjoy sushi. Unfortunately on this cruise, they seemed to have difficulty accommodating the sushi aficionados in a timely fashion. During the first part of the cruise long lines formed as one sushi chef prepared individual orders. Later in the cruise, in an attempt to alleviate the long lines, they utilized a number system. This, too, was ineffectual as one hostess spent most of her time wandering the room looking for passengers whose orders were ready. Musical entertainment provided by various groups was scheduled throughout the evening beginning at 5:30. Unfortunately, the music was often scheduled at odd times. On numerous days there was over 2 hours between musical sets.
An open sun deck leads from the forward Observatory lounge forward, passed the pool areas, ending at the Sports Bar & Grill aft. Breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets were all served here. It is not a very large space and serving lines can become very congested. A small island within the main serving area creates much of the problem, as the space is it not well geared for two lines of traffic moving simultaneously. The main beverage station for coffee, tea, milk, juice and water is at the end of the buffet line. With the exception of an additional coffee/tea station set up along one wall of the dining room in the morning, this makes for getting refills very difficult. You must either wait through the entire buffet line, or cut into line. Neither option is pleasant. An added inconvenience on this cruise was the way in which food was disseminated in the buffet line. In an effort to prevent the spread of any virus, passengers were not permitted to handle any of the food or serving utensils. Servers were stationed along the buffet line to serve your food to you. In theory this may have been a good idea, but it took FOREVER to get through the buffet line. I am also not certain that the primary purpose for these servers was for health issues. I believe it was a cost cutting, food conservation measure on the part of the cruise line. Individual portions were doled out sparingly, and second helpings were given begrudgingly.
Basketball and volleyball courts could be found on Sky Deck 13, the uppermost deck on the ship. During this cruise I did not see them being utilized at any time, probably due to a combination of passenger load and weather conditions.
Food and Dining:
As part of the NCL fleet, the Norwegian Dream provides freestyle dining. There are no fixed dining times, or seating. On the Dream there are a number of dining options from which to choose. You determine, when, where, and with whom you would like to eat. From my perspective there are both pros and cons to this concept. As I was traveling with a group, this dining format was quite pleasant and convenient. I believe two things made this a better experience than my last freestyle cruise. First, a specific restaurant was designated for all optional formal meals, guaranteeing those of us who chose optional formal attire the comfort and pleasure of being surrounded by like minded individuals. Secondly, on this particular cruise, the dining room staff was able to reserve space for our large group to enjoy three meals together. On the other hand, if I were traveling alone, or with a single traveling companion traditional dining would be much more preferable. A solo diner was always asked if they would like to sit with others, or dine alone, but even if you chose to eat with others, it was a different set of people nightly, so there was little chance of developing a meaningful dialogue or camaraderie with table mates.
Now let’s talk about the specific dining venues. I will elaborate on each, in order of preference. My favorite restaurant was Le Bistro, the Specialty restaurant. It requires a $10 cover charge, and reservations are recommended (However, we did not have any difficulty being seated without advanced reservations on this sailing). The decor and menu were both very cosmopolitan. This intimate, refined restaurant, with its pleasing ambiance, and impeccable service was well worth the cover charge. The menu changed twice during our 14 day cruise and I preferred the second menu to the first, but both provided outstanding choices.
The impressive Terraces was one of the two main restaurants, and also my second choice. The Terraces emanates a sense of grandeur. It was elegant, yet inviting. The terraced dining area provided breathtaking ocean views from every table. The wait staff was professional and attentive, while maintaining a friendly and upbeat attitude. The quality of the food matched the excellent service. Full breakfasts (from 8-10 am), lunches (12-2 pm), and dinners (6-10 pm) could be enjoyed daily, at your leisure, with no reservations.
The Trattoria is the Italian restaurant on the Dream. I have already mentioned that its physical layout is similar to The Terraces with its tiered dining levels and expanse of windows. I found the service to be good, but not excellent. Although the menu changed twice during our cruise, I was not overly impressed with the regular choices or the quality of the food. The exception, however, was the nightly pasta choice. Two or three different specials were offered nightly and prepared to order. These proved to be excellent, both in taste and presentation.
The Four Seasons is the other main restaurant on board the Dream. The large restaurant with its low ceilings did not exude the same elegance or charm of The Terraces. The decor and furnishings were derivative of convention dining, which did not appeal to me personally. I found the food and service to not be of the same quality as The Terraces, but I am all about ambiance, so that may have colored my opinion. Lunch and dinner menus were the same as The Terraces. A full breakfast buffet, with eggs cooked to order, was served here daily from 7:30-9:30 am.
I ate many quick meals, usually breakfasts, at The Sports Bar & Grill. As I have already described this venue, I will just share that I found the food to be typical of most cruise line buffets. At breakfast, there was a wide assortment of prepared foods. An omelet station was also always available. A bread station provided bagels, toast, and English muffins. The fruit selection was limited and not of the best quality. At lunch a soup selection replaced the bread station, and usually some form of stir-fry was served at the morning omelet station. The standard luncheon options, including burgers, hot dogs, and fries were usually available.
Rounding out the dining options was a luncheon BBQ, prepared on the pool deck, providing a choice of chicken, ribs, or fish, as well as salads, and usually corn on the cob. This was open only on the warmer days of our journey, however. Towards the end of the cruise, selections became significantly limited. In fact, when burgers were served, there were no buns available and the were using Kaiser rolls and dinner rolls as a substitute At lunch, if you wished to remain outdoors, and the luncheon BBQ did not appeal, pizza was served in the pizzeria, adjacent to the BBQ area. The Observatory Lounge, as already mentioned, offered sushi. If you were still hungry in the evening, hot and cold canapes were served from 11:30 - 12:30 in the lounges. Add to this, 24 hour room service, and there was certainly no way anyone could complain that they did not have enough to eat on this cruise.
One more thought on the dining experience: The Dream was not originally designed for “Freestyle Cruising” and as such, the dining choices are somewhat limited. Someday I would like to test the freestyle cruising concept on one of their newer ships, designed specifically for the “freestyle cruising” market, that provide more dining options.
Day 1 (Welcome Aboard):
We were supposed to set sail for Montevideo, Uruguay at 5:00 pm, but serious weather conditions caused many passengers to be delayed and we did not actually set sail until approximately 9:00 pm that night. Even with the ship delaying its departure, many passengers were still unable to make the sailing and were diverted to Montevideo, our first port of call. The good news to come from these unfortunate circumstances was the emergency lifeboat drill scheduled for 4:30 was postponed until the next day. Although I realize its importance, it is one of only two things I truly dislike about a cruise (You’ll hear about my second personal dislike later in the review).
After acclimating ourselves to the ship, beginning the unpacking process, and freshening up for dinner, the traveling six-pack met for cocktails in the Observatory Lounge, before joining the rest of the 20+ members of our travel professionals group in Lucky’s Bar for an informal meet and greet reception. Being familiar with the dining options onboard the Dream; we chose to eat at our favorite restaurant, Le Bistro, after the cocktail reception. Engaging in lively conversation, savoring each course of the meal, and languishing over dessert and coffee we missed the show this evening (something that seemed to happen to us on a regular basis). We capped off the evening with a visit to Dazzles Disco and danced off just a few of the calories we had managed to intake over the course of the evening.
Day 2 (Montevideo, Uruguay):
We arrived in Montevideo at approximately 7:00 am. Our original plan was to visit Punta Del Este, one of the most popular and beautiful beach resorts in Uruguay. However, the weather started out a bit sketchy that morning and as the beach resort was over an hour and 1/2 away, we revised our plan. One of the traveling six-pack, Sheryl, opted to take A Day in an Estancia (a working country ranch) tour from the cruise line. At $119 per person it was a bit expensive, but Sheryl thoroughly enjoyed the experience and was happy with her decision.
The remaining five of our group opted for a tour of the city. We negotiated with a driver at the pier who spoke English and hired his van and services for $100. The van was comfortable and he did his best to share the history and his obvious pride of his city. We toured Constitution Square and the parliament. We stopped at a beachside café for a break and as the weather had sufficiently warmed, I took my requisite walk on the beach. While I wandered the beach and reveled in the sunshine, our driver took others on a tour of the wealthiest area of Montevideo. Our final stop was to visit a leather store, and do some souvenir shopping before returning to the ship. Although we had been informed that this was one of the best places to get leather goods, we found the prices to be inflated and the quality of goods questionable. Locating a perfect charm has become one of the ultimate challenges of our group, however, and I am pleased to say that some in our group made successful purchases.
Montevideo is underwhelming at first glance, but once you scratch the surface there is a quiet charm to the capital city of Uruguay. Clean streets and soft colored flowers abound. It is most definitely a city of subtleties.
We had to be back on board by 4:00 pm as the Dream was set to sail for Puerto Madryn, Argentina at 4:30. Once on board, I visited the internet café, and rested before preparing for what had already become our evening routine: meeting at the Observatory Lounge at 7:00 pm for pre-dinner cocktails. It is amazing how quickly life onboard takes on a consistent ebb and flow, not unlike the sea. This venue proved to be quite popular with our group, as this was also the location of the sushi bar which was open nightly from 7:00 – 9:00 pm. Having allowed myself the opportunity to “experience” sushi on another cruise, I was not impressed. It must be an acquired taste, however, as my California friends thoroughly enjoyed the nightly feast.
Dinner tonight was enjoyed in the second of the specialty restaurants onboard the Dream, The Trattoria. Surprise, surprise! Once again our dinner took on a life of its own, and we found ourselves too late to attend the show. Personally, I enjoy the shows, but tonight’s production of Sea Legs at Sea, featuring the Jean Ann Ryan Company is one I have seen on numerous occasions on previous cruises. I did slip into the theater to catch the last 5 minutes, however, and it was exactly the same as I had remembered it. As usual the Jean Ann Ryan production was upbeat and energetic with very talented gymnasts taking center stage in this performance.
Tonight we visited Lucky’s for a short while to listen to the sounds of Toby Beau, and then headed to Dazzles to end the evening dancing. I love to dance, and nightclubbing in Cleveland is somewhat limited for the over 30 set, so get me on a cruise ship and it is difficult to get me off the dance floor. We met some young ladies (18 and 19) from Santiago, Chile at the disco who were gracious enough to teach us some of the South American dances, in turn for us teaching them some American “moves”. I thoroughly enjoyed the interchange, and it provided one more memory of the diversity and cultural immersion I was experiencing on this cruise.
Day 3 (At Sea):
Ahhh! My days at sea, truly my favorite parts of any cruise. I awoke this morning to sunny skies and pleasant temperatures. This was to be a day of relaxing in the sun, enjoying the spa and savoring the moment. A morning power walk began my day, and life onboard was wonderful! Not wanting to take any time away from my enjoyment of the beautiful day, I opted to grab a bite of lunch at the BBQ poolside.
Our group had enjoyed the Tango Bar experience in Buenos Aires so much, that we thought it might be fun to take the Argentinean Tango lessons being offered onboard. Our first lesson was scheduled for 4:30 pm. What an experience! I am not sure how well we did at learning the steps, but if laughter is good for the soul, we exceeded our required limit during these lessons. We certainly were not going to give Duo Miro, the talented dance team instructors any competition on the dance floor.
Tonight was optional formal night, so after our lesson I returned to my cabin to shower and dress for dinner. Having collectively attended numerous Captains’ Gala Champagne Parties, we elected to forego the festivities and once again meet in the Observatory Lounge. We ate dinner at the Four Seasons as it was the restaurant reserved for those dressing in formal attire. Tonight’s performance of vocalist Peter Fernandez was missed by the six-pack, but, I did speak to others from our travel professional group who were impressed and found him quite entertaining.
We did visit Dazzles for a short while this evening as we danced through the decades, but all of us were beginning to tire from the hectic pace and called it an early evening in preparation for our day in Puerto Madryn tomorrow.
Day 4 (Puerto Madryn):
As the ship was docking in Puerto Madryn, we met for breakfast and planned our day. Puerto Madryn is located in the Patagonian coastal province of Chubut. This mainland Galapagos has the second largest concentration of visible marine life in South America. It was a pleasant and warm day and we looked forward to a visit to the Punta Tombo penguin rookery to witness the annual migration of the Magellanic penguin.
Cabs and excursion vans are plentiful at this port and once again we negotiated for a van to take us to Punta Tombo. The penguin reserve is located about 2 ½ hours away in a secluded desert region. The ride is long, hot, very bumpy and extremely dusty. We could have easily hired a cab for $100 (no air conditioning), but gladly paid the asking price of $250 for a comfortable air-conditioned van. Besides, we found it much more fun to keep the six-pack intact then to be separated in 2 taxis. Although our driver spoke no English, one of the members of our group spoke limited Spanish, which proved sufficient for our needs.
Nothing had prepared me for the awesome sight of over ½ million penguins all concentrated on this 210 hectares reserve. It was well worth the long trek on a graveled road to witness this spectacle of nature. We were fortunate enough to visit while the newborn chicks had not yet shed their dark grey down. Grazing amongst the penguins I caught my first glimpse of guanacos, a llama-like animal indigenous to this region.
As we did not need to be back on board until 7:30 pm, after our visit to the penguin rookery our outstanding driver took us to Balneario Restaurant de Mar at Playa Misuosa for a fabulous fresh seafood feast and some excellent Argentine wine. This quaint beachside outdoor cafe proved to be another highlight of our trip. Let me share this incident as just one more example of the outgoing friendliness and honest hospitality that seems to be a quality of the Argentine culture: While five of us were enjoying the Argentine wine, one of the members of our group preferred vodka. Rather than make her a cocktail, however, they just brought the bottle, along with her mixer and left it on the table. Once again by going off the beaten path and opting for non-touristy experiences we were able to garner a much more meaningful interchange with the locals.
We had managed to communicate with our driver that part of our visit was to include time for shopping before returning to the ship. In an effort to accommodate our needs, while we were enjoying our seafood feast, he picked up his wife to assist us. She was obviously the shopper in the family and also spoke English. Although we did not have any success in this port in the “charm department”, we all purchased authentic gaucho hats that became our signature attire onboard, as well as one of our favorite acquisitions of the trip.
With the long day in port, we revised our evening itinerary and met for pre-dinner cocktails at 8:00 pm, donning our signature hats. Having gotten a late start, we opted for eating at Le Bistro this evening as the specialty restaurants are the only option for seating late diners after 9:00 pm. This evening we could have made the show as there was only one performance of the entertainment staffs’ rendition of “The Liars Club” at 11:00 pm. For those of you who are new to cruising this can be an enjoyable show. Based on the number of cruises our group of 6 had collectively logged, however, it was something none of us were particularly interested in viewing. So what else was there to do, but head off to the dance floor?
Day 5 (At Sea):
As we were moving closer to Cape Horn, the weather was beginning to cool and sunny skies were replaced by cloudy conditions. This morning, at 10:00 am, was the first of some optional meetings that were scheduled for our travel professional group. I grabbed a quick breakfast, and attended the meeting as I always find the opportunity to share ideas and network with other travel professionals stimulating. This informal meeting proved to be interesting and I was glad I had chosen to attend. Still in my professional mode, after the meeting was over, I spent the remainder of the morning at the internet café taking care of correspondence and work related issues.
I love the outdoors and my roommate, Pat, loves leisure lunches in the dining room. Since sunny skies were not the order of the day, I opted to join her and the others for a relaxed lunch at the Four Seasons. These would become known on this cruise as our “Pat lunches”. After lunch we did have some time to enjoy a relaxing Jacuzzi session, before heading for the second of our tango lessons (we really are gluttons for punishment), where once again laughter proved to be the order of the day.
The first of our three scheduled dinners with the travel professionals group was scheduled this evening for 8:30 in Terraces Restaurant. The entire group met for cocktails at 8:00 pm in the Observatory before dinner. Tonight we were treated to the Chef’s Dinner and as none of the offerings appealed to me, I chose the always available breast of chicken. This proved to be a less than perfect choice, and I would not recommend that option to others. You would think by now that we would have run out of things to talk about, and been able to avoid a 2 hour power dinner, but no, that was not the case. As had become our MO, our enigmatic dinner conversation and enjoying that final glass of wine, or cappuccino, caused us to miss the evening entertainment of guitarist George Sakellariou. I was able to catch a few minutes of his encore, however, before joining the others in Lucky’s, and came away with the impression that he was quite a prolific entertainer.
Day 6 (Port Stanley, Falkland Islands):
We arrived in Port Stanley at approximately 7:30 am, and the weather was surprisingly mild. This was a tender port and we felt very fortunate that the calm seas permitted us the opportunity to visit this port. Before the trip, I had heard that due to weather conditions, and the need to tender, that only about 20% of the time do cruise ships that call on this port actually make it ashore.
The Falkland Islands are located 300 miles east of the Argentine Patagonia on the Falkland Plateau. The population of approximately 2000 makes a living through sheep farming, fishing and tourism. There are no shore excursions at this port, and once ashore it is evident why. The tiny town can be easily traversed in a very short period of time. Other than Christ Church Cathedral, most notable because it is the largest building on the islands, and the Arch Green, a small green arch made out of the jaw bones of two whales, which sits next to the Cathedral, there isn’t much else to see. After seeing “the sights”, we did the requisite souvenir shopping and all made successful charm purchases. The highlight of our visit was an afternoon at Victory Bar for some traditional English fish and chips and some stout hearted ale.
I must give credit to the tourism board of the Falkland Islands, however. The Penguin News, a tourism supplemental newspaper was distributed to us the day before arriving in Port Stanley. It provided an excellent overview of the island, as well as a detailed map. The tourism center was located at the pier and greeters from the island were there to welcome us and answer any questions. It is obvious that they take the tourism industry very serious and make every effort to accommodate visitors.
Although I am glad I can say I visited the Falkland Islands, I am not sure it is a place I would choose to return. Although the people were friendly, and obviously quite proud of their home, I find it difficult to fathom why anyone would actually choose to live there. Of course, traveling with a group of friends from California, they find it difficult to understand why I would choose to live in Cleveland.
Once back onboard, the beers we consumed had caught up with me, and a short nap was in order to recharge my batteries for the evening. By now you know the routine; we met at the Observatory lounge at 7:00, followed by dinner. This evening we chose to eat in the Trattoria again as the menu had changed. Russ Louis, a ventriloquist was the evening Showtime offering, followed by 50’s & 60’s sock hop in the Observatory lounge at 11:00 pm. This evening proved to be a serious night of dancing for me, and as we closed the disco, I knew I had done my part to burn off all the extra calories that I was consuming on the cruise.
Day 7 (At Sea/Cape Horn):
We awoke this morning to very rough seas and strong winds (nearing hurricane force). A seminar at sea for our travel group had been scheduled for 9:00 am, but due to the excessive motion of the ship, was canceled as a safety precaution. In fact, the wind was so intense that the captain locked down the ship and ordered everyone inside until the winds subsided. Being forced to slow down is not always a bad thing, and I took advantage of the respite from activity to languish in bed and enjoy a quiet morning.
We met for a “Pat Lunch” around 12:30 and slowly eased into the day. The winds had subsided a bit by afternoon and a few brave souls weathered the tempest to spend some quality time in the hot tub (four to be exact). I willingly admit that I was one of those intrepid sailors. Now, although I admit that this is out of the ordinary for most, as I sat in the hot tub, I found it much more amazing to witness the parade of passengers all bundled up, braving the intense winds on the open deck, just for a scoop of ice cream at the ice cream parlor.
The seas we encountered today are not unusual for this southernmost point of exposed land. Cape Horn is actually 1300 miles farther south than the Cape of Good Hope, and is 600 miles below the latitude of New Zealand’s Steward Island. Cape Horn is the point at which the powerful waters of three oceans converge. Because this is considered to be the most dangerous of navigable waters it is traditional to have a rounding Cape Horn ceremony. The tradition was upheld on the Dream and about 7:30 pm, when we actually rounded The Horn, passengers were crowned with water from Cape Horn and issued certificates to verify they had successfully navigated these treacherous seas. These festivities far outshined the performance of master magician Charles Bach that evening.
As we were to arrive in Ushuaia at 7:00 am the next morning, and were to be back onboard by 12:30 pm, we knew a very early start to our day was necessary. In preparation of the early morning wake-up call, all of us chose to call it an early evening (relatively speaking anyhow).
Day 8 (Ushuaia, Argentina):
Our goal was to be off the ship by 7:30 in the morning, but no matter how hard our group tried, we always seemed to fall behind schedule, even before we got started. This morning was no exception. We did finally get ourselves organized and were ready to explore the “port at the end of the world” by about 8:30. By the time we had gotten off the ship, our options for independent transportation were very limited. In fact, there was only 1 van left. Although there wasn’t much room for negotiations, we did agree on a price of $30 per person for the day. Since the cost of a visit just to Tierra Del Fuego National Park via bus was $46 per person through ship excursions, this was still a bargain. Our plan was to visit the park and go to “the end of the world”. This is the point where the Pan-American Highway (Route #3), which begins in Alaska, ends. From there we were going to take a quick trip to Glaciar Martial just outside the city and ride the ski lift to the top of the glacier, before returning to the ship. Well, our group is nothing if not flexible, and as you will see, our plans would need revision.
First we had a major communication problem. Our driver spoke no English, which to this point had not been a problem. He was, however, not the brightest Ushuaian on the block, and even our attempts at communicating in Spanish were beyond his comprehension. As we had our own agenda and timetable, we were not interested in all of the tourist traps that guides typically stop at along the way. This young man was programmed, however, to follow a scripted route. In an effort to speed up our journey, 2 of our group left the van to quickly check out a trail he wanted us to take, while 4 of us waited in the van for their speedy return. Well, our driver had other ideas. Rather than wait for their return, as soon as they were out of sight he drove the van up a dirt road. He ignored our pleas to stop, and we ended up at the very tourist trap/gift shop/snack bar we had tried to avoid, with our friends nowhere in sight. Hmmm, now what to do? After finally realizing the error of his ways, the driver ran off in search of our friends. Fortunately he did locate them and the group was reunited, but not after wasting significant time, and raising our anxiety level! Ah, but wait, the story does not end there. When we finally reached “the end of the world” we vacated the van to take pictures. Feeling confident that he understood we would be only a few minutes, we made the short trek to the end of the highway, took our pictures and promptly returned to the spot where we had left the van and driver. Well, surprise, surprise, the van was not there! We walked a short distance to the parking lot area, fully confident that he would be waiting there for us. Nope! Not there either! We truly had been dropped off and left at the end of the world. Other than the fact that I had inadvertently left my purse with ID and credit card in the back of the van, we looked upon our fate somewhat retrospectively. Humor had managed to be our constant companion throughout the cruise, and this was to be no exception. My roommate informed us that she had some liquid refreshment in her purse and there were portable restrooms on the edge of the parking lot, so what more did we need. After contemplating our fate for about 20 minutes, our driver did in fact return for us. Where and why did he go you ask? Beats me, I was just relieved to see him!
Obviously, this is where a revision of plans would be necessary. Time had slipped away, and a trip to the glacier would have to wait until the next visit. We had our driver drop us off in town in order to do a bit of shopping before reboarding the ship. (In case you haven’t realized it yet, shopping was a major requirement at every port).
Upon returning to the ship, we met for a “Pat Lunch”, followed by a lengthy hot tub session. This would prove to be a wonderfully surreal experience. Once again our group had the hot tub all to ourselves. It was chilly on deck, but the winds of yesterday had totally abated. We sailed to Punta Arenas in the protected waters of the Northwest Arm of the Beagle Channel. The hot tub proved to be a well protected perfect location to witness the scenery and natural, untouched beauty of this area. Around 4:00 pm we sailed by a series of famous glaciers. The channel was so narrow in some spots that you felt like the glaciers were almost close enough to touch. Enjoying a glass of wine, relaxing in the hot tub, and allowing myself to be visually immersed in this visual smorgasbord was a memory that will linger in my thoughts for a very long time. Life is good! I could have easily spent the entire evening in the hot tub, but dinner beckoned and I was forced to retire to my room in preparation for the evening.
We had planned to attend the Jean Ann Ryan Production Company performance of 42nd Street this evening, but one of the dancers had suffered an injury so the show was postponed. We opted not to attend the Variety Show that was its replacement. Pre-dinner cocktails to the Observatory Lounge, a late dinner, listening to music in Lucky’s and ending the night at the disco was once again the fare for the evening.
Day 9 (Punta Arenas, Chile):
Punta Arenas provides an interesting contrast of ecological environments. It is the location of one of the largest coal reserves in the world, consequently coal-mining and petrol-chemical industries comprise the bulk of their economy, thus making this a heavily industrialized city. It is perhaps for that reason that the city proper was much different than any we had yet visited and was reminiscent of places like Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, or Buffalo, New York. At the same time it is the best port within thousands of kilometers attracting fishing fleets and supply ships, while providing the jumping-off point for Antarctic expeditions. Travel approximately 60 kilometers outside the city limits and one can visit Otway Sound and a Magellanic penguin reserve, or travel farther into the Patagonian region of Puerto Natales and witness the awesome beauty of Torres del Paine National Park.
We were feeling deprived of significant shopping time, and were beginning to tire of the hectic pace of “power sightseeing”, and as we had already seen the Magellanic penguins in Punta Tombo and visited the Tierra Del Fuego National Park, our group opted for striking out on our own walking tour of the city. Our late evenings were also beginning to take their toll, so we greeted the morning leisurely, enjoying breakfast and eventually starting our city trek around 10:30. A giant map and a kind taxi driver provided us directions to the Plaza Munoz Gamero, the central square. A craft fair was in full swing (for the cruise ship passengers I am sure) which provided us an opportunity to quench our thirst for shopping. Young, street performers entertained us with traditional dances while we shopped. Finally, a visit to the tourist information center in the square provided us with all the direction we needed to complete our mini tour. We were able to admire the main sights of the city while visiting a significant number of shopping venues, capped off by a very late lunch at a fabulous seafood restaurant recommended by the friendly gentleman manning the tourist information center. This proved to be an excellent recommendation. Sotitos, located very near the port on O’Higgins Street, offered fresh seafood that was superb and good Chilean wines that were a compliment to the meal. I was served perhaps some of the best king crab I have ever tasted!
This was a long port day as the Antarctic flightseeing excursion was scheduled from here. Personally, I thought $1400 for a window seat in a regular Boeing 737 for a flyover of the Antarctic Peninsula was a bit overpriced, but I understand that it did sell out. The extended port time, however, gave me time to log some serious internet time at