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Golden Princess - Cape Horn & Strait of Magellan Cruise, South America

Written by Donna Brown, Suzy's client   

Donna sailed three Princess cruises back-to-back, this being the first segment.  When she mentions other cruises they would be a segment she did next from Valparaiso to Acapulco and then another Acapulco to San Francisco.   This review only discusses the Cape Horn itinerary.

 

All opinions noted and recommendations of outside vendors for shore excursions are solely the opinion of Donna and not SuzyCruisy.com.

 

Golden Princess

Buenos Aires to Valparaiso

3/8/07 12 nights

 

Buenos Aires pre-cruise

 

We arrived in Buenos Aires on March 6 for our March 8 departure and had arranged for airport pick up, an evening tango show, a half day tour of the Tigre Delta, and a half day city tour, with drop off at the ship, all with Defrantur.  Contact information as follows:

Ricardo H. De Franco Rodríguez

3178 Tres Arroyos St.

Buenos Aires  -  CP.  C1416DEB

Argentina

TEL/FAX   ( 54-11)  4583-4193

TEL           (549-11) 4408-4416 

Government License Leg. 10353 Disp 173

defrantur@fibertel.com.ar 

http://www.defrantur.com/

 

The total for all these services for the two of us was $370, payable in cash or travelers check to a representative who met us at our hotel.  Defrantur accepts US Dollars, Euros, or local currency. 

 

Our hotel was the Hilton Buenos Aires, and we paid the difference for the Club floor, which we felt was well worth it.  The club floor breakfast, evening cocktails and free internet more than made up the difference in our opinion, and the English speaking concierge service and ability to have early check in and stored luggage on check out were additional benefits.

 

We were met just outside customs by our Defrantur driver, and taken to our hotel, where we rested up from our two nights on airplanes and then got ready to meet up with our new friends from Cruise Critic for the tango show at Esquina Carlos Gardel. We opted for the show only and were seated at the raised dais area at the bar.  The show price included empanadas and one drink each.  Visibility was good from pretty much anywhere in the relatively small venue and the show was terrific with very dramatic lighting, wonderful costumes, and great dancing. 

 

Defrantur picked up each couple at their separate hotels, dropped us at Gardel’s and picked us up again at the end of the show.  There were no problems whatsoever and we were escorted by Ricardo himself on this part of the program.

 

The following afternoon, we were met again at our hotel by the driver and our tour guide Elba and we did a sort of mini-tour of the city on the way out to the Tigre Delta.  We stopped at an open air market prior to our boat ride and Elba left us at our leisure to pick and choose what we wanted to look at, while she went and visited with some friends of hers who had a small shop there.  We ultimately joined her there, and discovered that her friends had one of the nicest shops in the area, specializing in Kenyan folk art.  We ended up purchasing some lovely Kenyan art, as well as a nice Argentinean wall hanging from another shop in the area.  With our shopping accomplished, we proceeded to the boat tour of the delta.  There were some very impressive older mansions some in exceeding good shape, and a lot of more tumbled down places.  It was pleasant enough and we had a good time, but we might have been better off doing the ferry to Colonia in Uruguay, or taking our city tour. 

 

The next morning dawned overcast, and got worse as the day wore on, so our city tour became a ‘drive by’ with few stops due to the downpour.  The Recoleta Cemetery was reached just as the bottom dropped out and the rain was coming down in buckets, so we decided to skip it and go on to the dock.  The embarkation process was a nightmare scene with two ships disembarking and embarking (there may have been a third – not sure) simultaneously, in the pouring rain, with no signage, no traffic control and, it seemed, a broken luggage x-ray machine.  Our driver and Elba managed to dragoon a porter into taking our luggage, and a $5 tip got the luggage through the one available screening machine.  Then Elba navigated us into the building (which was like being a salmon swimming upstream past the grizzly bears as passengers in transit and disembarking tried to shove their ways out of the mass of passengers trying to get in) and into the appropriate line for Platinum embarkation.  We gave her a big hug and a bigger tip, and in a relative short time, given the preamble, were on our way on board.  We had a late afternoon roll call meeting and met some of our companions for the next month on board.  The roll call was in Skywalker’s and was well attended, although in ‘batches’ as some people didn’t make it on board in time for the originally scheduled time, and the time of the muster drill was also changed.  Further, the meeting was listed in the Patter as running from 4 PM to 7 PM, with the muster in between.  Still, we did get to meet quite a lot of our fellow Cruise Critic members and also arranged for another meeting for a sea day.

 

Montevideo, Uruguay

 

Our first day was in Uruguay, with a private tour in Montevideo with some of the same folks from the tango show, and some new participants, also from the Roll Call.  As it happened, President Bush was coming to Montevideo later in the day, and a number of sites were restricted as the locals were setting up security for him.  He arrived after the ship had departed, but it did mean that some of things on our city tour we could only see from the outside.  We had a group of 10, all from the Roll Call, and were met at the dock side by our guide Raquel with a 12 person van.  The tour was arranged through www.ecouruguay.com working with Diego Kraindelman, Raquel’s cousin.  The highlight of our tour was a light luncheon and wine tasting at the Bouza Winery, a small, fairly new boutique winery a short distance outside Montevideo.  The tapas luncheon, served under the grape trellis on a lovely day, with a wide selection of the fine wines and finishing up with a tasting of the ice cold and very strong Grappa was really a treat.  Our group turned out to be quite compatible, and we ended up turning our Personal Choice into a version of fixed seating dining with the same table and time throughout the cruises, even following our waiters up and down as their dining rooms changed from cruise to cruise.

 

If I had this tour to do over again, I would have included the Gaucho Museum, and also gone earlier to the legislative building as by the time we arrived there, it was closed – although this perhaps was due to security concerns, and might not be an issue otherwise.  We visited a rather forgettable art museum in lieu.  Still, all in all, this was a good tour and the Bouza Winery visit was a highlight.  Diego requires pre-payment, accepts credit cards, and the total per person for this tour was $76.75.  I would have felt this to be a bit high, but for the delightful lunch and wine tasting.  The Princess tour equivalent here would have been City Sights and Juanico Winery at $109.  From what we heard from our fellow passengers the hands down hit among the Princess tours was the Estancia trip.

 

Falkland Islands (Stanley)

 

A sea day followed, and then Stanley in the Falkland Islands.  We were fortunate in that there were no problems getting into Stanley, which is a tender port, and is frequently missed due to bad weather.  Unfortunately, however, we were accompanied here (as with all the ports from Buenos Aires through Valparaiso) by the Holland America Line Rotterdam.  Additionally, Stanley had had several days of heavy rains preceding our arrival, and a cold drizzle on the day we arrived.  The combined total of the Golden and the Rotterdam, plus a smaller expedition ship also in port pretty much overwhelmed the tourism folks in Stanley.  We had booked the Bluff Cove penguin tour, of which there were several departures. We booked the last one, on the assumption that we might see more penguins as they began to come in from fishing. Bad move.

 

On the first tour of the day, which was, I think, restricted to the Rotterdam passengers, the 4 wheel drive vehicles that take you from the main road over the farm land, down to the cove, began to bog down in the soft ground and mud, and took about twice as long as normal to make the trip.  This dominoed the start times for the rest of the day’s tours, resulting finally in the cancellation of the final tour.  When we realized this was likely to happen, we found the Princess representative and insisted that she start a waitlist for space available on the other tour, and got ourselves waitlisted.  Ultimately, everyone who had decided to wait around did get on the tour, and it was a wild and wooly one with a longish drive by bus out though the countryside, past the mine fields, to the pickup point, then into the wide assortment of 4 wheel drive vehicles covered in mud and muck and driven by the friends, family, and neighbors of the farmer who owns the Bluff Cove penguin rookery.  The drivers were quite a varied lot and ranged from those who were chatty and willing to act as tour guides to those who were fairly taciturn and thought the idea of racketing over hill and dale to see a bunch of penguins was quite mad.  The ride over the farm land was a bit of an adventure tour, but everyone made it safely to the Cove where we hiked a short distance down to the rookery where there were hundreds of penguins, mostly juveniles, mostly Gentoo, with a couple of pair of King penguins as well.  They are the larger ones with the yellow under their chins – center of the picture above.

 

The farmer, a very charming Irishman who is married to a local Falklander, is also the ‘ranger’ and keeps tourist and penguins at safe distance from each other.  Still, you are quite close – perhaps 6 to 8 feet from the penguins who seem quite oblivious to humans.  A note here – penguin poo is pretty nasty and was quite prevalent all around, along with other types of manure, as this is a working sheep and cattle ranch.  Do yourself a favor and get some of those over shoes plastic boots that you can put on in the bus and then throw away after your return.  Much better than the cleaning job you’ll have to do otherwise.

 

There is a trail along the water side from the Cove to the family summer home which is pressed into service as a sort of impromptu café during the tour season, and hot tea, coffee, and hot chocolate, as well as nice baked treats – cookies, cakes, scones – are provided as part of the tour, with additional servings available for purchase.  From the café you rejoin the 4 wheels for the trip back – generally to the same drop off point where you would reboard the bus.  However, we were so late that the 4 wheelers just took us all back to the ship.  Fortunately, since this was a ship’s tour, the ship waited for us.  We were at least an hour late getting back and were all on the last tender with the crew and all the shore side supplies.

 

Cape Horn

  

Our next ‘stop’ was scenic cruising around Cape Horn.  From the times as children we read adventure stories of rounding the Cape, this has seemed both wildly adventuresome and romantic and something we were extremely unlikely to do.  All those ‘Before the Mast’ stories of enormous seas, ships sunk or so badly damaged that they had to limp into port and so on were on our minds.  Imagine our surprise when the weather was perfectly gorgeous and the seas as calm as can be.  Still, it was an emotional moment as we stood on the balcony and watched the ‘End of the World’ slowly pass by.  We took turns going round with our shadow, the Rotterdam, and got some lovely pictures of her going past. 

 

Ushuaia, Argentina

 

Next up was a stop in Ushuaia – a rather surprisingly upscale little town that hosts skiers in the winter season and expeditions to the Antarctic in the summer.  After a walk around town and a peek into the shops, we took the Beagle Channel Wildlife cruise – a Princess excursion again.  It was well organized and there is an abundance of wildlife – birds and seals and sea lions for the most part - and the boats get quite close into the islands in the channel.  Others in our group did the ride to the ‘end of the road’ and enjoyed that excursion as well.

 

Punta Arenas, Chile

 

Ushuaia was followed by Punta Arenas,  – which means Sandy Point, our first stop in Chile and here we had another private tour, this one provided by Turismo Viento Sur who had been recommended on the South America ports forum.

Contact information is as follows:

 

FRANCESCA BALDECCHI V.
Atención Clientes Internet

TURISMO VIENTO SUR LTDA.  
Monseñor Fagnano 585, Punta Arenas
Fono: (56 - 61) 710840   /  Fax: (56 - 61) 613845
agencia@vientosur.comwww.vientosur.com 
Patagonia - Chile

 

We were met at the dock after tendering in, and we did a half day city tour.  Our guide was very nice and well informed, but the town is not all that impressive.  The high point, and this will tell you something, was the cemetery – quite an elaborate affair with mausoleums, statuary, pictures of the deceased, and a large niche with a statue to a murdered native who is believed to grant favors.  His hands and feet are shiny from the attentions of the believers and there are numerous plaques and tiles attesting to his intervention on the behalf of various individuals.  Also of note in the town is a large square surrounded by mostly turn of the century mansions turned restaurants, office and bank buildings in which there is statuary group which includes a couple of figures of native people.  These, our guide pointed out, were positioned in such a way as to be in the view plane of two homes which had belonged to people who were responsible for massacres of these same tribes.  One of these figures is also supposed to be lucky and the local practice is to touch (or kiss) the big toe.  In addition to the square and the cemetery, we went to the Museo Regional de Magallanes.  Principally a collection from some of the Catholic priests and monks in the area, the natural history portion is in very sad shape – the taxidermy is becoming noticeably motheaten and decayed.  The ethnographic displays are in better shape and more interesting and our guide did a good job of pointing out and translating the more notable bits for us.  We chose to do the city tour principally because it was so late in the season and the penguin migration had begun early as well, so the rookery at Seno Otway was pretty much deserted.  If you are here early in the cruise season, there are a couple of penguin rookeries in the area that should be worth a visit – the Magdalena Island Penguin Reserve and the Seno Otway Colony.  This is also the place from which the Antarctica Landing Expedition ($1739/person) takes off.  One of the couples in our group did this and raved about the experience, which they felt was well worth the cost.  Our much more modest half day city tour, for four was $45/person.  The equivalent Princess tour was the Punta Arenas City Sights at $44/ person.

 

Chilean Fjords

  

We next had two days at sea, and one wonderful surprise.  The winds were quite heavy as we came up the Chilean coast, and after a particularly strong (100 MPH) set of gusts, our Captain, Bob Oliver, decided to take us inside the barrier islands and give us an impromptu tour of the Chilean fjords.  As soon as we got ‘inside’ the winds dropped out dramatically, and we were treated to an ‘up close and personal’ tour of the fjords which were beautiful and dramatic, and somehow Capt. Oliver managed to navigate us into the tiny bay at the Brujo tidal glacier.  This was another highlight of the trip and truly spectacular.  The passages were so narrow it was hard to believe we were going to fit, and the masterful navigation job was almost as awe inspiring as the glacier.  We were later told that we were the largest ship ever to visit that glacier.  I wouldn’t expect it to be put on the regular tour agenda, however, and we will cherish this experience as truly one of a kind and once in a lifetime.

 

Puerto Montt, Chile

 

Our next port stop was Puerto Montt, and again, we had a private tour, this time with guide Carlos of Enaturchile. Contact Information as follows:

 

Victor Aballai R.
(Directo : +56 (2) 491-8224
(Movil   : +56 (9) 240-3159
http://www.enaturchile.com/enatur_english/index.html

 

The weather was overcast and cool, and the views were restricted, which was unfortunate, as I think we missed a good bit of the scenic beauty of the area.  We had specifically asked that lunch not be included, that we be given ‘free time’ in one of the tourist towns like Puerto Varas or Fruitllar.  More on this later.  We had a little trouble finding our tour guide here as we had managed to get an earlier tender and had to wait a bit.  We had a party of 10 on this excursion and the 12 person van was full.  It would have been better, as we had a good bit of driving to reach the Petrohue Falls, to have kept the group to 8 or requested a 14 passenger van.  We did a brief but productive shopping stop in Puerto Varas, and found some good values on alpaca and vicuna woolens and the national stone, lapis lazuli.  The lake front there, in good weather, also offers a splendid view of the Osorno Volcano.  From there, we were taken, along with a lot of other vans, cars, and some buses, to a farm with llamas, ostriches (or emus – not sure) and other critters, a (pay) rest room, and small café for a rest stop and/or picture of the llamas.  This was a bit disappointing as they never got very close, although we saw other guides taking their groups to the area where the llamas were pastured and, I assume, feeding or otherwise tempting them to come closer.  I think Carlos and the driver were taking a cigarette break and we were left on our own to wander about (and also discover on our own that the rest rooms were a paying affair.) We spent about 45 minutes or so here, then headed into the hills to the Petrohue Falls.  If I had this tour to do over again, I would request that this be made the first stop because, as usual, the Rotterdam beat us in to port, and their buses set out well before we did and it was a mob scene at the falls with all the Rotterdam buses already there, the Princess buses pulling up, and a fair number of vans and other smaller tour vehicles as well.  Had we reversed the itinerary, we could have gotten to the falls earlier, gotten a better vantage in a less congested environment, and also have gotten the lunch stop I had requested initially.

 

From the falls, we went to the Emerald Lake, where, on a clearer day we would have had views of the Andes as well as the lake.  Unfortunately, we had heavy cloud cover, and, while the lake is pretty, we didn’t have the postcard type scenery that we had hoped for.  From the lake we started back towards Puerto Montt, and about 45 minutes in, we stopped for lunch at what clearly was – contrary to my request, a pre-arranged lunch, at a roadside restaurant near exactly nothing.  The lunch was mediocre, with the only redeeming feature being the Pisco Sour, a regional drink which removes the pain from most any situation at all.  It is made with a very strong brandy and a variety of fruit juices, but more traditionally with lemon or lime.  Tasty. 

 

After the lunch, we didn’t have time to do much but make our way back to Puerto Montt and the ship, but we did do the obligatory stop at the “Indian Market” on the way back in – this was pretty forgettable, and was a precursor of many such markets to come as we made our way up the coast from Chile to Ecuador. Much higher end goods had been available at Puerto Varas, and I would have preferred a return visit there.  The tour cost was $50 per person, and was the equivalent of the Princess tour Osorno Volcano, Petrohue River and Puerto Varas at $144.

 

Victor Aballai of Enaturchile was great to work with in all the administrative details, both for Puerto Montt and for our much more complicated arrangements in Valparaiso. Carlos, our guide, was less so, although I must take responsibility for not checking out the lunch situation at the outset and assuring that we were delivered back to Puerto Varas or taken to Frutillar instead of getting stranded out on the road at the guide’s pick of lunch spot.  On balance, this was a tour that I could improve on significantly if I were to do this area again.  I wouldn’t hesitate to work with Enaturchile, but would be far more specific about my tour order, and about the lunch situation, and would also verify these with the guide at the outset of the tour. 

 

Santiago / Valparaiso, Chile

 

Another sea day and then we hit our first turn around port – losing all but about 400 of our ship mates, including some of our Golden Gang from Montevideo, sadly.  Again, we had booked with Victor at Enaturchile, and this time we had a good guide and very complicated arrangements that were handled well, although, again, there was some confusion over the lunch situation.  The prearranged lunches at specific restaurants seem to be such and integral part of the way tours are arranged that if you don’t want them, it would be best to both emphasize that you don’t want this in the arrangement, and also to review this with the guide at the outset of the tour. In the case of this tour, the lunch restaurant was also the rest room break, and was in the town of Renaca, a relatively upscale seaside town north of Vina del Mar.  Again, with 20/20 hindsight, I’d have insisted on the lunch stop being in Vina del Mar which had a wider range of potential places to go, including a casino which would have provided the non-lunching group members with both entertainment and a rest stop.  That said, the rest of the tour and complex tour arrangements were handled well.  We had 4 couples, two going on to Santiago, two returning to the ship.  Victor arranged for a smaller vehicle with guide and driver, to meet our van at the winery stop (which was at a very pretty winery that didn’t have very good wine, unfortunately – nonetheless it was very attractive and had great views over the valley). The couples returning to the ship switched to the other vehicle for our return and the two couple going on went to Santiago all without a hitch, and everyone arriving to their respective destinations in good time.

 

We had some initial difficulty in finding our guide in Valparaiso, in large part due to the vast confusion of this embarkation port.  Valparaiso is a commercial port and, again, with two ships disembarking and embarking passengers, coupled with the port’s lack of passenger ship handling facilities, the fact that all movement through the port had to be by motor coach, and the general confusion outside the luggage area, we were not really sure where to look.  In addition, our party was split up due to the disembarking process which got pretty messed up.  In the end, it turned out that our guide was waiting just outside the gate area, and we finally assembled everyone and their luggage to head out to Vina del Mar, an attractive upscale beach resort town.

 

It was a grey, overcast day, with occasional misty rains.   We stopped in Valparaiso to see the ascensores – the rather strange wooden elevator type carriages that run up the hillsides on rails, and to take pictures from one of the platforms at the top of the hill, visited the home of Pablo Neruda, and then proceeded on to Vina del Mar.  The famous floral clock was a primary stop, then a ‘shopping stop’ at a very nice jewelry store with complimentary Pisco Sours – a canny marketing ploy on the part of the owners to be sure! We then viewed the opulent Casino from the outside as it was a bit too early for them to be open, wandered the esplanade along the waterfront, and then drove further down the coast to Renaca, which was the lunch stop.  Following lunch, we headed inland toward Santiago, stopping at the winery and making our transfers.  On the way back we made the obligatory stop at the Indian Market – a few blocks of open air stalls with woolens, dolls, carvings, and llama skin rugs, and the usual other tourist trade trinkets and goods which were becoming altogether too familiar.

 

On our return to Valparaiso, we were appalled at the chaotic embarkation process.  We arrived at around 3:30 PM, generally well past time for huge lines and crowds of embarking passengers.  Not here!  The lines were enormous and there was no provision whatever made for transiting passengers (although we were given an ‘in transit’ card). Talking to the harried Princess representative (who, as it turned out, was a hapless and clueless member of the ship’s photography team) rendered the information that we needed to ‘get in that line over there’ to go through security and thence to the motor coach to get back to the ship.  Not helpful.  An hour or so later, we finally cleared security and were sent off, by a Princess representative, to one of the buses.  The bus delivered us to the Rotterdam.  There were about 6 or 7 other folks who were supposed to go to the Golden, in addition to our group of 4.  We were all ready to walk from the drop off at the Rotterdam the few hundred feet up the dock to the Golden, but this was not permitted.  We had to circle around on the bus through the containers for another 15 or so minutes to get into the line of buses dropping people off at the Golden, and then, were almost turned around by security because, evidently, the driver was supposed to have taken us back to the terminal to get on the ‘right’ bus.  To say the very least, this was not the perfect ending to the day!  It was so bad that we decided not to do our tour in Acapulco (the next turn around port) and risk the same kind of bedlam and cancelled it that same night.  It is hard to identify the equivalent Princess tour as this involved both a transfer for four of our party of eight and the tour for the rest of us, but Valparaiso and Vina del Mar with the Matetic winery was $149, and the Santiago and Vina tour was $126, so our tour and transfers at $50 per person was a real bargain.

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