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Alan Roehl

Age: 61

Occupation:retired

Number of Cruises: 7

Cruise Line: Oceania

Ship: Insignia

Sailing Date:

Itinerary: South America

PLANNING

While looking for a good vacation for the holiday period, we received an e-mail describing the Oceania Patagonian Odyssey cruise and decided to give it a try. After looking at the various stateroom configurations on the Oceania website, we decided to request a Penthouse Suite because we felt the extra room would be nice on this cruise (we had never been on a cruise ship this long before). When I called to book such a cabin, I requested a port side cabin and was promptly told that only one Penthouse Suite cabin still remained available, and it was on the starboard side. That wasn’t a showstopper, so we went ahead and booked it. We included the “free air” option that Oceania was offering for this itinerary. During the cruise we found several people with the “free air” who were given somewhat convoluted air schedules. Our schedule was quite direct, however, with just two flight segments to get to Santiago and another two to get home from Buenos Aires.

DAY 1 -- EMBARKATION

After a long overnight flight from Los Angeles, we arrived in Santiago around 6AM. There were several Oceania agents waiting for us at the airport and we were boarded on a bus. The agent assigned to the bus told us that we would not be able to board the Insignia until 11AM, so we were taken on a drive through the streets of Viña del Mar and followed by Valparaiso. Although it was interesting to see the sights, many of the passengers were a bit sleepy from the long flight, and were mostly interested in boarding the ship. We were dropped off at the cruise ship terminal shortly after 11AM and learned that we would be permitted on board at noon, but would not be allowed to go to our cabins until 3PM. At the terminal building, we purchased a few bottles of Chilean wine for sipping in our cabin. At noon we were taken by bus to the Insignia and were then led directly to the Terrace Cafe for a buffet lunch. It appeared that just about everyone enjoyed the lunch. After eating, we made reservations for the specialty restaurants, Toscana and Polo. Then we found a quiet location to crash for a couple of hours until our cabin was ready.

Once the 3 PM hour arrived, we headed for our cabin. Everything looked nice in our cabin (8049), and a bottle of champagne was chilling in a bucket of ice to welcome us. Our butler, Ninio, soon showed up to introduce himself and tell us about the services he would be performing for us.

For dinner on this first day, we elected to get some familiarity with the Grand Dining Room. There are a few two-person tables available, but most tables are larger. Some people prefer to dine alone, but we found it fun and rewarding to meet new people, so we almost always sat at a larger table.

DAY 2 – EXPLORING THE INSIGNIA

Even though our shore excursions were already planned, we attended the morning briefing by destinations manager Christina Laybourn. She provided a PowerPoint presentation with pictures describing the upcoming shore excursions in Puerto Montt.

The only wine tasting event during our cruise was scheduled a bit later in the morning, so we decided to give it a try. Head Sommelier Kathy talked about several of the wines being offered on the Insignia. The tasting took place in the Toscana restaurant. Approximately 20 people participated – there was a $10 per person fee to participate.

Rough seas were abundant as we headed south along the Chilean coast. By mid-afternoon, I was experiencing some moderate motion sickness.

Oceania offers a cocktail party to those who sign up via the Yahoo! Oceania message board if at least 20 sign up on a given sailing. Only 16 signed up for this sailing, but we still decided to get together during afternoon tea on this first sea day. The rough seas probably kept several of those away, as only a few actually showed up.

We had reservations in Polo in the evening and although we were seated there, I had to excuse myself after several minutes. The restaurant appeared to be only about half full, so there may have been several others who also opted to stay in their cabins.

DAY 3 – PUERTO MONTT

Our first stop was Puerto Montt. After a day of rough seas, it was a pleasant change to be in the calm waters of this port. The Silverseas Silver Wind cruise ship was already anchored at Puerto Montt when we arrived. The weather was simply splendid, mostly sunny and nearly unlimited visibility. There was one small glitch as we prepared to get off the ship -- we were told that we would need the agricultural declaration forms that we had filled out for entry at the airport. Of course most of us had not kept these forms – but fortunately a stack of blank forms was made available so that we could get off the ship. We had booked a private tour ahead of time to visit Osorno Volcano and the Petrohue River falls. Oceania offers a similar tour, but it was not as inclusive as our tour, and with busses from two ships going to these locations, we expected things to be a bit crowded. It took us a short while to figure out that our guide was outside the secure entrance to the cruise port, but once outside, we located him quite quickly. After a short stop in Puerto Varas, we were taken directly to Petrohue falls. We beat all the tour busses and had very good opportunities to take photos without asking anyone to step aside. As the busses started to arrive, we headed for the Todas los Santos lake (also called Emerald lake due to its green water). After that, we headed up the volcano on our way to a wonderful panoramic view of Lake Llanquihue and the surrounding region. There is a ski resort at the viewpoint, but we didn’t have time to try the lifts that would take us even higher. The clouds were starting to roll in at that time, and we might not have seen much even if we had taken the lifts. We then descended to the town of Villa La Ensenada where we were treated to lunch at a lakeside restaurant (the Oceania bus tour does not include the trip up the volcano or the lunch). After another stop in Puerto Varas to look through the handicraft markets, we were taken back to the ship.

DAY 4 – A DAY OF RELAXATION

In the morning we attended the second enrichment lecture by Chris Ogden. He is a semi-retired reporter for Time magazine. This lecture concerned the Chile 9/11 event and how it relates to the 9/11 event in the USA.

The weather was mostly overcast as we crossed the Gulfo de Peñas. In the evening we had our first dinner at Toscana, and what a delight it was. There are 8 or 9 courses on the menu (not counting the dessert, which is ordered from a separate menu), and we ordered something from each. Just about everything was delicious, and we were really stuffed by the time we were done.

We took in our first evening show in the lounge this evening. The headline group was a cabaret act from Australia named “Black Tie”. Every seat in the Insignia lounge appeared to be occupied for this show. The music was not our favorite, but the audience appeared to really enjoy their show.

DAY 5 – FJORDS AND GLACIERS

During breakfast we started to see icebergs in the water. We were sailing up the Seno Eyre Sound towards Pope Pio XI glacier (the largest glacier in South America). We reached the glacier around 10 in the morning and the Insignia stopped for several minutes to allow people to take in the sights and take pictures. The weather was overcast with some rain and it was quite chilly. People seemed to find the experience a delight nonetheless. A small boat was dispatched from Insignia to fetch a piece of glacier ice to bring on board.

During the afternoon we sailed towards the Europa glacier. It is fed from the same ice field as the glacier we viewed in the morning. The timing worked out such that we had tea in the Horizons lounge while we sailed towards the glacier. We then arrived at the glacier around 5PM and went outside to take pictures. It was raining once again, but people appeared to be quite taken by this glacier.

The evening show in the Insignia lounge was a musical review called “Ah Yes, It’s Love”, starring the Insignia singers performing some Broadway love songs. The lounge had a few empty seats, and we observed a few people leaving from time to time, but we enjoyed the show. The only negative for us was that the sound system volume was cranked up so high that much of the music was distorted.

DAY 6 – MORE FJORDS AND GLACIERS

During breakfast, Insignia entered the “Canal de las Montañas”, a 31 mile long channel with numerous glaciers. We were told that there are no navigational charts for the last few miles, so Insignia only ventured about 25 miles into this fjord. Occasional showers kept most people from staying outside for the entire time, but each of three very large glaciers brought many people outside for the best view. A small Chilean ship (Skorpios III) was anchored near one of the glaciers, and we could see people from that ship walking towards the glacier for a really close-up view.

In the afternoon we attended a PowerPoint presentation by Paula Lucero, who is from Argentina and is working at the Destination Services desk. Her presentation included historical information about Argentina followed by a wonderful slide show of Argentinean scenes.

Our dinner reservations were at Polo, and this time, with calmer waters, we had a great time. Later we sat in our cabin and marveled at the ever-changing sunset in the Straight of Magellan.

DAY 7 – PUNTA ARENAS

The weather was mostly sunny as we approached Punta Arenas around 6 AM. After a leisurely breakfast, we went for a walking tour of the city. Arguably the most interesting place to see is the municipal cemetery with its huge mausoleums built by the area’s wealthy families. With some spare time on our hands, we headed for one of the places offering internet service and checked our e-mails. For approximately 40 minutes of service, we paid one dollar – a good bargain compared to the ship’s satellite internet service.

In the afternoon, we took a PortCompass excursion to Otway Sound with six fellow passengers. The logistics for the tour had been handled by Brewer, a person who we had first met on the Oceania Internet message boards. She had also arranged for a smaller group to go kayaking in the morning, but due to some sort of glitch, they never found the tour operators. The Otway Sound tour worked out much better, and despite the high winds (which we were told are common to this area), we thoroughly enjoyed watching all the penguins. Our guide was a lady named Andrea who was very good at telling us about the penguins and other wildlife – we saw several rheas on our way to and from the sound. On the way back, she stopped by the office so that she could obtain a gift wrapped bottle of wine to give to Brewer as a result of the morning mix-up with the failed kayak excursion.

For dinner we decided to give Tapas on the Terrace a try. It was our first time having dinner at that restaurant. Not being really hungry, we found it to offer just what we wanted. We found others who told us they were having all their dinners at Tapas on the Terrace because it was quick and light.

The show for the evening was Insignia pianist Jerry Blaine performing his “Hooray for Hollywood” tribute. We enjoyed the selection of music (from numerous films through the past 80 years), but found the volume on the PA system was turned up way to high (for our tastes) once again.

DAY 8 – CHRISTMAS EVE

We had the morning free prior to departure from Punta Arenas. After breakfast, we walked into town and did some more exploring. My wife enjoyed seeing the bustle of last minute shoppers, and she reports that it gave her a bit of Christmas spirit.

After our 1 PM departure, we spent a quiet afternoon. We attended the midnight mass later that evening. There were approximately 100 people attending the mass, mostly passengers along with a few staff members.

DAY 9 – USHUAIA

Waking up this morning we were treated to scenic views of the Darwin Channel. During breakfast, Insignia docked in Ushuaia. This was our one time during the cruise to use an Oceania excursion offering. Many passengers booked the train ride excursion, but our trip research had led us to believe that the train was more like a Disney attraction than something that would leave us with great memories of Tierra del Fuego. So we booked the four wheel drive adventure. There were seven people (including ourselves) who booked this excursion, and we were all stuffed into the Land Rover along with a driver and a guide. We started with a short ride heading northeast out of Ushuaia along the Pan American highway. After a short stop to view the Carbajal valley we went off the highway and started following an old logging road. We got stuck a couple of times, but were able to get started again each time. After going a couple of miles, we stopped to view mountains, walk on peat and view a beaver dam – we were told that 50 beavers were introduced in Argentina in 1946, but now number 50,000 and are somewhat of a problem because they destroy the linga trees. We were then taken to a shelter built by the excursion operators where we had snacks, including some Argentinean wine and a chance to try the local drink, mate.

After driving back to Ushuaia, we were dropped off near the center of Ushauia and spent some time exploring the town. Even though it was Christmas day, several shops were open to accommodate the tourist trade. We used this opportunity to once again check our e-mail, and paid approximately 30 cents for 20 minutes of internet service.

In the evening we attended the show in the lounge starring the Insignia entertainment department performing Christmas music. Since this was Christmas day, it was nice to hear the music of the season delivered by a variety of performers. Cruise Director Bob Cook played Santa Claus and read the “Night Before Christmas” story to the children in the audience. One little boy who joined the group of children kept taking cookies from Bob’s plate and then returning for more – this brought much laughter from the audience. At the end of the show, members of the crew ship hotel and restaurant staff came out to sing a couple of Christmas songs for the audience. This was the most enjoyable show for us thus far on the cruise.

DAY 10 – CRUISING THE DRAKE PASSAGE

This was to be a sea day with only cold ocean waters for scenery. We therefore elected to try a few onboard activities. In the morning we entered the daily golf putting contest in the Horizons Lounge – neither one of us did well, but we suspected that the ship’s motion in the Drake Passage might be a factor.

After lunch we attended a lecture by Joe Watters, Chairman of Oceania Cruises, with the subject “Cruising, Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow”. It was nice to know that the Chairman was on this cruise with us. He provided an overview of how the cruise ship industry has evolved.

Later in the afternoon we took part in the daily team trivia contest. This is a very popular activity on this cruise and several of the teams are quite competitive. It’s a good activity to pass the time on a sea day and meet some new people in the process.

The evening show was presented by guest lecturer Peter Holden and Expedition Leader Peter Croyle and was titled “Anarctica, Wilson & Shackleton”. The lounge appeared to be full for this program and consisted of a slide show along with a video presentation.

DAY 11 – PARADISE BAY

As the Insignia approached the Antarctica peninsula, the weather was initially foggy. As the clouds got heavier, snow started to fall. After a couple of hours of snow, there was some accumulation on the decks. One staff member (named Putu) told me that he was from the Philippines and had never experienced snow. He appeared to be ecstatic now that he could see and touch the snow and told me that he couldn’t wait to tell his friends back home about it. As we arrived at Paradise Bay, the snow let up – there were even a few patches of blue sky. The mountains were all lined by clouds, however. The rescue boat was once again dispatched to take some photos of Insignia and also fetch a small iceberg. We reached our southernmost point for this trip, and the Captain told us we were at 64° 51’ South, or approximately 103 nautical miles north of the Antarctic Circle.

We had an enjoyable meal in the Grand Dining Room and our waiter was Gustavo, who is from Argentina. He offered some suggestions regarding good restaurants and places to shop when we arrive in Buenos Aires.

The primetime entertainment was a magic show with Kirby VanBurch and his wife. They operate a theater in Branson Missouri and brought their show to the Insignia. Once again, the show was standing room only. We are not big fans of magic shows, so our feedback is probably not meaningful. In discussions with other passengers the next morning, we heard mixed feelings regarding the show.

DAY 12 – DECEPTION ISLAND AND BACK TO THE DRAKE PASSAGE

Around 7 AM Insignia passed through Neptune’s gate into the caldera of Deception Island. This is a fairly active volcanic area and the coloration of the scenery showed quite a bit of volcanic signs. There are a couple of experimentation stations here, and at one of them we could see some people standing outside watching the ship. There are a large number of chinstrap penguins near the entrance (Neptune’s gate) – some were porpoising along side the ship and some could be seen along the shore. We also saw a whale swimming in water just below the penguins on the shore. After spending a little over an hour exploring the caldera region, we headed towards the Drake Passage for the continuation of our journey. The sun came out while we were passing the last of the Antarctic Islands (Smith Island).

In the afternoon I attended a shore excursion briefing concerning Puerto Madryn and Montevideo. Later we participated in the daily team trivia game.

The Drake Passage was reported to be a bit rougher than when we crossed the other direction, but there did not appear to be too many people suffering from motion sickness.

DAY 13 – EXITING THE DRAKE PASSAGE

Most of the morning was foggy, so there wasn’t much to see. Some passengers have been showing signs of restlessness – this being the fourth consecutive sea day. And there is still one more sea day after today before we reach Puerto Madryn. Fortunately we have made our way across the Drake Passage, so rough seas should be mostly behind us.

During the Antarctic portion of the voyage, the Waves grill had to be shut down. This is because of treaty provisions that prohibit any food being placed where it might attract the wildlife of the Antarctic. Now that Insignia has exited the Antarctic region, Waves was once again opened for lunch. Even though it was quite windy, the location of Waves is such that we were well protected, so we had our lunch there. We had ham and cheese sandwiches, and were glad to find something that had a smaller portion size.

Other than that, we mostly relaxed, did some reading, and participated in a few of the shipboard activities (golf putting and team trivia). We even tried our hand at the “Name That Tune” game in Martinis Lounge – and although we didn’t know many of the answers, it was much fun to participate.

DAY 14 – EN ROUTE TO PUERTO MADRYN

Several computer classes are offered in the Oceania@Sea lab on Insignia. A few of them are introductory courses and are free of charge, but for most, a fee of $20 per class is charged. I signed up for the Adobe Photoshop Elements (level 3) class. The Photoshop Elements courses are given in four levels, and after discussing the content of each with the instructors, I opted for the level 3 class. Each class lasts for one hour and has a maximum of 12 students – there are three instructors for each class. I found the class to be worthwhile and appreciated the printed notes for me to take home – it would not be possible for me to remember all the clever Photoshop commands to use. The classes seem to be quite popular – I think the Photoshop series was offered at least three times during this cruise.

Later in the morning we attended a presentation regarding future Oceania cruises and an introduction to Club Oceania.

The ride was a bit rough throughout the afternoon – the winds were reported to be in the range of 30 to 40 knots. During our dinner at Toscana, the Captain came on the public address system and announced that due to strong head winds that we would arrive in Puerto Madryn approximately four hours late. All shore excursions were cancelled as a result. We had booked a private tour (via e-mail prior to our cruise) to see the penguins at Punta Tombo. Since we would not have time for this tour, I used the Oceania@sea e-mail system for the first time in order to notify our tour operator in Puerto Madryn that we would not have time for the penguin tour.

The headline show for the evening was the Insignia Orchestra and singers performing music from the big band era. Despite the rough seas, many people used this opportunity to dance the night away. As an extra incentive, our cruise director gave away a few bottles of champagne (for New Year’s Eve) during the show – but to win a bottle, the people needed to be on the dance floor. One bottle was given to the couple who had been married the longest – as it turned out, two couples tied for this honor with 54 years. Each couple was then given a bottle of champagne.

DAY 15 – PUERTO MADRYN

We arrived at Puerto Madryn a little before 2 PM and people appeared to be glad to get off the ship for a short period of time – not surprising after five consecutive sea days. Coming from the northern hemisphere it was interesting to see all the people on the beach on New Year’s Eve. Of course the conditions were right for being on the beach – the temperature was in the 80’s and there were hardly any clouds in the sky. We walked around town, stopping for a beer (at a restaurant with a view of the beach) and once again finding a place to check our e-mail. Even though we didn’t get to do the Punta Tombo excursion, we were able to get a quick glimpse of life in Puerto Madryn. Our departure was somewhat of a mystery. After heading out at 6 PM, we soon turned around and headed back towards the pier. The captain made an announcement over the public address saying that a passenger had been left on shore and that we would be fetching this person. Insignia then stopped a ways off shore and the rescue boat was dispatched to go back to the pier. I could see three people in the rescue boat as it went out, and then saw three people in it when it returned. So we don’t know just what happened.

New Year’s Eve was quite a party on board. There was music, dancing, champagne, noisemakers and more. We watched a musical show (with the Insignia orchestra and singers) in the lounge from 10 to 11 PM and then went to Martinis Bar to listen to Jerry Blaine on the piano from 11 PM till midnight. After ringing in the New Year, we went back to the lounge for some dancing and further celebration.

DAY 16 – EN ROUTE TO MONTEVIDEO

The staff told us that they had their own New Year’s party after all the passenger parties were finished. They must be worn out, but are still working as hard as ever.

This was our last sea day – we started to think about what we would need to do to disembark. We did some packing, but mostly just relaxed. It was warm enough for us to sit on our verandah and read or just let the world go by.

DAY 17 – MONTEVIDEO

Because of our delay in departure from Puerto Madryn, we arrived a little late in Montevideo. There was no impact to the organized shore excursions this time, however. We walked around town for a couple of hours and took a few photos. It was Sunday in Montevideo, and there was very little activity in the downtown area. We were told that because this is summer in Uruguay, many residents were out on holiday. A few souvenir shops were open, including Casa Mario, a leather goods store, which was providing shuttle service between the cruise ship terminal and their store.

After returning to the ship, we finished the last of the wine we had purchased in Chile. Our last dinner on this cruise was in Polo. This time I made sure my steak was cooked to my liking.

DAY 18 – BUENOS AIRES (DISEMBARKATION)

This was Oceania’s first arrival at Buenos Aires, and maybe their lack of experience with the local officials might explain the delay in letting passengers off the ship. We were told that all luggage had to be off before any passengers could leave. Most of us waited over an hour in the lounge before our respective group was called to get off.

Our hotel (Sheraton) was only a short distance from the cruise ship terminal, so we had only a short ride to get there. The hotel assigned us to a smoking room, so it took some time to get reassigned to a non-smoking room. We heard from some passengers who were staying at the Marriott that they were not allowed to check-in until mid afternoon, so we should still consider ourselves lucky.

In the afternoon, we did some walking – we explored the Recoleta district (including its famous cemetery with Eva Peron’s tomb) of Buenos Aires.

Most restaurants in Buenos Aires don’t start serving dinner until 8:30 PM, so we relaxed in our hotel room prior to going to dinner. Around 7 PM, we looked out our window and could see the Insignia departing from the pier with a new set of passengers.

We had dinner at La Chacra, one of Buenos Aires numerous parrillas (steak houses). The steaks were excellent (even better than on the ship), and the tab for dinner and a delicious bottle of Argentinean Syrah was around $50.

DAY 19 – BUENOS AIRES

We did lots of exploring (museums, shopping areas, etc.) during the day. In the evening, we booked a Tango Show (El Viejo Almacén) – in my opinion this is a “must do” for anyone going to Buenos Aires. The dancers and singers were wonderful.

DAY 20 – BUENOS AIRES

Most flights to the US depart in the late evening, so we had another day to spend in Buenos Aires. We booked an excursion that took us to the pampas to see the gauchos. This was a bit touristy, but we still had a good time, and had another opportunity to enjoy some of the excellent Argentinean beef.

Our transfer to the airport went smoothly, although it is a tedious process to get checked in at the airport.

SUMMARY

This was a very delightful and relaxing cruise. Oceania went out of their way to put a seasonal touch being this was the holiday season. They had numerous decorated trees around the ship, there was a giant gingerbread house, they provided noisemakers and champagne to help ring in the New Year and much much more.

Of course not everything was perfect. We did not expect to see so many children (mostly teenagers) on the cruise, and we were a bit disappointed in the lack of parental supervision many of them had. Due to high winds, we were unable to reach Puerto Madryn in time to see the penguins at Punta Tombo. We would have liked to have a more lectures, particularly regarding the places we were seeing and visiting.

But the positives far outweighed the negatives for us. We highly recommend this cruise.

A few photos from this cruise are posted at http://public.fotki.com/phlewt/patagonia/

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