Monthly Archives: August 2018

The Falkland Islands

This is it…THE port I was waiting for.  I put a lot of time and preparation leading up to our private excursion and I was so excited.  This was a place that was off the beaten path, a location that none of my friends had been to.  All of this would be new to me.

Deciding what to do was easy for me – I wanted to, make that needed to see the penguins.  Sure, I’ve seen them in aquarium shows and at the zoo but seeing them in their natural habitat is something else.

I spent a lot of time researching which company to go with.  I read countless reviews and settled upon Patrick Watts.  I began writing to him about 14 months prior to our cruise.  I wanted in with his group.  As I mentioned before, I took a group of friends with me so automatically he would have sixteen reservation.  I wrote to him about concerns with one in my group who had mobility issues?  How bumpy would the ride be when we are off roading?  He was patient and told me that yes, it would be bumpy but not awful as his drivers take time and do not race across the roadless land.  He would work with the person with mobility issues – just keep him apprised of her needs.

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On the hill in the entrance are names of British ships sent to protect the Falklands. They are written in white stones.

I posted about this excursion on my Cruise Critic Roll Call and said I had seats open. People started signing up and then I would send the names to Patrick.  We each had a list of who was coming through the Roll Call.  About seven months before our excursion Patrick notified me that the landowner was cutting down on the number of visitors to her property where the penguins lived.  That meant that the daily limit was plummeting from about 120 to 60 with his group, and his group was the largest .  I was already at 48 and he had 12 that wrote to him outside of the Roll Call so that was it.  We couldn’t take anymore.  I’m telling you this because if you plan on doing it with Patrick, you cannot wait to book your trip with him.  Princess offers one tour with a maximum of four people at a cost of around $375.00. Patrick’s fee for my group, which received a discount was $170 but for most other groups it was around $200 – quite a savings.

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Meeting on the dock in front of the Visitor Center

It was important to Patrick that my group all try to be on the first tender so we have more time.  I called everyone while on the boat and told them to be in line for the tender tickets about 30-45 minutes prior to them opening up the tender lines.  Everyone did as asked and we were congratulated by Patrick.  He said my group was the only one ever when we all got off the same tender.  Due to my organization with Patrick, keeping him updated on cancellations/talking with him for additions he gave us the lowest rate of any group and discounted my ticket and my husband’s.

By the way, Patrick has some fame in the Falklands as he was the radio station manager when the islands were invaded by Argentina and began the Falkland Island Wars. He had learned about the impeding invasion the day before it occurred and  stayed on the station giving information to the islanders without frightening them too much.  The next morning the Argentinian soldiers arrived and forced him with a gun to his back to go on the radio and deliver the Argentinian propaganda, tapes and music that they wanted him to play.

We met Patrick on the dock when we got off the tender and he took roll call.  He began by assigning passengers in groups of 4 to a driver in a 4 x 4 and off they went.  It took us about an hour on road to reach the spot when the landowners property began and we were off the road.  There were bathrooms for our use at the mid way spot.  After that, although we were only going about 7 miles it took an hour.  There literally no road.  We’d go up hills, down hills, over ruts in the property.  At one point the driver got out of the car and out two pieces of wood across the gully and we drove across it.  Sometimes we couldn’t believe what we were driving on as well as how long it took – be prepared.

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This is the halfway spot where we could stretch our legs and use the restrooms
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photo courtesy of Stan Ellison

As we drove along our driver told us that most of the settlement on the East Island, where we were, was along the coast.  Many sheep farmers would wait for the boats to come and pick up the sheep fur (shearing?) and sell it for them.  Once the war came, they realized that they had very few roads, particularly inland.  After the war, they set about building roads, although there are still few roads.  We learned about their health care, their education and so much more about life as an islander.

We pulled up to the spot and couldn’t believe all the penguins.  They have three types of penguins here at Volunteer Point; the stately King penguin, the gentoo penguin and the Magellanic penguin.  There were about 1,000 penguins here and when we got out of the vehicle we could hear them and smell them.  Yes, there was an odor and although it was always there it didn’t bother most of us as much as when we first got there.  We got used to it.

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There is a large white rock circle where many of the King penguins seems to stay in.  The Magellanic penguins had the burrows in the sand by the beach since they are burrowing penguins.  The gentoos were off to the side of the Kings and it seemed like the groups of penguins did not intermingle.  We were not allowed to enter the white rock circle – off limits to humans- nor were we encouraged to reach out to the penguins.  We could sit and wait for them to approach us which they would do sometimes since they were curious.P1060190IMG_3864P1030214

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Egg on the penguins feet keeping it warm
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Can you see the bump at the bottom? That’s the egg being carried on the penguins feet.

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Looking at the Kings we could see many chicks being fed by their parents as well as eggs on the feet of their waiting to crack open.  Many of the gentoo penguins were molting and you could see fluffy down all around.

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Gentoos molting – feathers everywhere
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A young chick being fed by his parent.

After we spent several hours marveling at all these penguins, it was time to get back into our 4 x 4, eat our sack lunch that we were given by our driver and head back over the bumpy land, go to the halfway station, get on the paved road and go to town.  Our driver began telling us about his personal life, took us by his home.  He drove us by the school where his children attend school and his wife works.  Great Britain is very supportive of these families that live in the Falkland.  If they need more medical care than what they can get on the islands, they are flown for free to Great Britain and are given lodging while they seek treatment.  The Islanders that I spoke with are very resentful of Argentina and they were very frightened when they were invaded, particularly those in Port Stanley, the largest city.  They have erected a sculpture of Margaret Thatcher for sending the British navy to the Falklands to protect it and keep it under British rule.P1030229P1030239P1030237

Hope you enjoyed my visit to the Falklands – a very unique and friendly place to visit.  If you want to book with Patrick here is his email:  pwatts@horizon.co.fk

I received no compensation for mentioning the tour or Patrick’s name.  I just had such a great time that I wanted to share it.  This is true of my entire blog – I have not received one penny from writing about my experiences – they truly are my opinions and my opinions only.

Glaciers, Fjords and Cape Horn

WARNING:  This post has many photos of Cape Horn and cruising the fjords of Chile.

When I began researching the trip I had read somewhere that there are more glaciers in Chile than all of Scandinavia.  I haven’t been to Glacier National Park yet to see those glaciers but have been on an Alaskan cruise and saw my first glacier there.  Here was an opportunity to see glaciers again – while there are still some on this planet of ours.

As like other important “must see” events on cruises, this occurred before breakfast with the sun barely risen over the Andes Mountains.  We dressed warmly and headed outside to view the glaciers.  Hats and mittens kept us warm with mugs of steaming coffee or tea.  On my Alaskan cruise we were met outside with Irish coffee but that was not the case on this ship.   Although you could see the glaciers from  your balcony,  you just didn’t experience the sense of seeing them all around you – just the forward view and a little to the side.  We HAD to go outside to experience them.  The local lecturer, Julio,  was on the speaker though it was a little difficult to hear as the speakers, in my opinion, were not strong enough to carry along the top open air decks.  Additionally he spoke in English and then also in Spanish.  I didn’t know when to make sure I was listening to him.  In my opinion, it would have been better to have two speakers with distinctive voices so you knew who and which language you were listening to.

With the sun not quite out and the tall, grey stone mountains blocking them made it  difficult to get good pictures.  Eventually it cleared but for the most part we were past the glaciers.

Some people missed the opportunity to see Amalia Glacier and the other glaciers  because they didn’t read the Princess Patter (the daily calendar of activities) and know what time we would be passing by.  Make sure you read your daily activities newsletter!

CAPE HORN – To begin with, we never cruised around the island which was a disappointment for me.   Supposedly it was rough on the other side though the waters we were in, in my opinion, was not very rough.  I have been in rougher waters – the west side of New Zealand as winds came whipping up from Antarctica.  I also took a cruise in the fall where we going up to New England and hit the remnants of Hurricane Jose on the way up and the remnants of Hurricane Maria on the way back.  I had heard that only one cruise went around the island and that is when this captain was not on the ship.

During one of the onboard lectures were we shown photographs of Cape Horn with the military building on it and the well known sculpture of an albatross which is a memorial to all sailors who were lost at sea in the Cape Horn area.  If you bring your binoculars like we did or have a strong zoom lens on your camera you will be able to see it.  On Cape Horn is the lighthouse warning ships about the rocky islands as well as a station of the Chilean Navy.  Living in the lighthouse is lonesome and if I remember correctly they rotate about every 6 months with new lighthouse keepers.  Some small expedition ships will launch zodiacs and get you to Cape Horn, climbing up the many, many steps to the top and down the boardwalk to the albatross memorial.  Not sure if I would want to do that though obviously they wouldn’t go in bad weather.

Many of the Cape Horn photos are courtesy of Lea Ann Sugg

Ushuaia – Southernmost City in the World

There were several ports that I was excited for different reasons to visit and Ushuaia was one of them.  This is the southernmost city in the world and the furthest from the equator I have ever traveled.  Years ago I sailed around the South Island of New Zealand and thought that I was really south then but this is so much more.

There were many good excursion opportunities here and yet, we could only do one.  Should we do the train to the end of the world?  Take a tour in Torres del Paine and see the national park.  They were all so tempting but what I did was to rent a 26 passenger boat through Patagonia Adventure Explorers.  I rented the entire boat!  I ran the Roll Call on Cruise Critic for this cruise and I knew that I could fill all those seats and I did, very easily.  The price was $1350 AR (about $70 USD) and you could pay by credit card or cash at their stand by the dock.  I did have to pay a deposit of $25 per person and every single person paid me back.  For several, they paid me on the cruise which we had pre-arranged since they lived either in Canada or the UK and couldn’t easily send me the money in US dollars.  For those who read my blog for credit card point advice, paying the $25 pp deposit  with my credit card gave me three points per dollar spent with the credit card I used as it was coded “travel”.  Back to the story.

The departure was at 3:00 in the afternoon which gave us time after we docked to walk around the area, go to the local crafter’s market (walk to the left of the cruise ship), take photos of the Andes overlooking the town, purchase some postcards and stamps.  Stamps are very expensive – I think for six postcards and stamps it cost us about $60 USD.  There is a mail drop as you walk back to the ship on the pier.  Ushuaia had more shops than I thought they would as well as hostels for those exploring Patagonia.  There was even a Hard Rock Cafe.

TIP –  Across from where the tour vendors have set up shop is an information office.  If you go inside you can ask for a certificate that you went to the End of the World. I’m glad we did because the ship did not give us anything – either going to the end of the World or going to Cape Horn.  Make sure you bring a folder to put this full size certificate in.  While you are there, consider making a small donation to the Tourist Information Office.

We boarded the ship and off we went.  Since it was filled with people  in the Roll Call and we had met a few days earlier at the Meet and Greet, we all felt like we knew each other and it made for a fun time.  Going out in the Beagle Channel on a small boat enabled us to get up close to some of the Channel island where some of the wildlife live.  We were able to get up close and personal.  Once again, the weather favored us with smooth water, very little wind and brilliant blue skies – what could be more perfect.  You could sit inside, outside or on top!  There was plenty of room for us to move around on and for all of us to get the photos that we wanted.  We had a wonderful tour guide who grew up in Ushuaia and knew all about the history here, climate and change that has been happening in the Ushuaia area with tourists and cruise ships.

The first island we went to we all thought was inhabited with penguins but they were in fact cormorants – thousands of them.  Lying  in the middle was a big old sea lion.  Speaking of sea lions, do you know how to tell the difference between a seal and a sea lion.  Seals have ear holes with no flap covering their ears; small flippers and wiggle on their bellies to get around.  Sea lions have ear flaps, and much larger flippers which they use to walk on.  So, if you see one walking on its flippers, you know that it is a sea lion.

On some of the other islands, we would see the sea lions lazily resting on these hard rock surfaces.  I have no idea how they could get comfortable there but they seemed to be.  Some of the sea lions even appear to be posing for us.

We circled around the Lighthouse at the End of the World, also known as Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse which is on one of the northeastern-most island of the five or more Les Eclaireurs islands in Beagle Channel.As we were sailing to another island where we would get out and take a hike, we went inside and was served a local liquor with biscuits to eat.  As we were eating and drinking our guide held up a map and told us stories about where we had been and where we were going.  He also told us about the native population and how there are only a few  true natives left.

We got to the island, stepped out and given a short lesson on the fauna and flora of the island.  It was windy here on the island.  It had a short easy hike to the top or, you could have stayed on the ship as a member of my group did.  

Even though we were going to be spending 14 days at sea, taking a small boat excursion in the Beagle Channel brought up closer to the wildlife than we would get on almost all of our excursions.  Learning the history of the area from our guide added to our learning about this area.

I highly recommend you join your Roll Call on Cruise Critic to find opportunities like this that others have organized or organize one yourself like I did.  The great part about that is you get to set the agenda and decide what your group will see and do.

Next:  Glaciers and Cape Horn

 

Punta Arenas, Chile

One aspect of the Emerald Princess that I really enjoyed on this South American cruise was the, for the lack of a better word, a lecture series.  One of the lecturers was from South America and he would give a port talk each day.  Having been on many other cruises and cruise lines, that usually translates to port shopping.  You know where they tell us to shop at Diamonds International or purchase a shirt from Del Sol.  I stay away from those talks like the plague – just my opinion.

With that being my impression I actually skipped the first port talk – BIG mistake.  Blogger Hubby went and reported back that it was very interesting and it was actually about the city we were docking in and what was around it, what we should see and do.  There was no talk of selling excursions or which one you should take.  It was information, imagine that!

With that in mind, I did not miss the next one which was on Punta Arenas, Chile.  This was a port that we had nothing planned and was going to just wing it.  After showing us photos of the town and what laid just outside the town we felt more confident in our decision to just walk around.  Punta Arenas is on the Strait of Magellan which connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean.  It is a beginning point for many expeditions into the surrounding area of Patagonia as well as a jumping off point for travel to Antarctica.


Standing alongside the Strait of Magellan

As we disembarked from our tender, we notice a small terminal building where we could make purchases but for us we decided to look in town.


Terminal Building in Punta Arenas

This sprawling city was just a 10-15 minute easy walk from where we were docked.  After wandering and poking in stores a little bit we finally made it to the town square where there was a large monument of Ferdinand Magellan.

In South America, one of my goals was to buy alpaca yarn to bring home and hopefully knit some socks, a hat or a sweater.  As you are entering the town square coming from the dock go up the street to the left of the monument and in the second or third block there is a store that has lots of hats in the window.  The store doesn’t look like much but don’t let that deter you from going inside.  Their hats and sweaters were made and knitted in the style of traditional patterns.  They had ponchos, jackets, mittens, etc.  I found was able to purchase a beautiful hat and some yarn to bring home.  Yarn can be bulky but it weighs next to nothing.

Following our lecture’s advice, we hailed a cab and had him take us to the Nao Victoria Museum where they had replicas of famous ships.  It was about $8 and when we got there he had another driver ask us if we wanted him to stay there and wait for us – price would be $15.  We quickly said yes as we were about 8 km from town.

Magellan’s ship – Victoria
full view of Victoria

At the outdoor museum there was a replica of Ferdinand Magellan’s ship, The Victoria.  When you see the size of it and think about his journey about the world it is just simply amazing.  There is no other way to describe the small cramped quarters, this small ship that sailed down the western coast of Africa, crossing  the Atlantic Ocean, through the treacherous Straits and other bodies of water as he was looking for a westward route through South America, across the Pacific and Indian Oceans and up the west coast of Africa again.  What these explorers did with 16th century navigation and tools is astonishing tome.

The life boat used by Shackleton to get help for his crew

The museum also houses the James Caird lifeboat of the Endurance, which sailed from Elephant Island to South Georgia during Sir Ernest Shackleton’s failed 1916 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. The feat, considered by many to be the most impressive of all global navigation, has gone down in history and is brilliantly recounted in Shackleton’s personal account, South: The Endurance Expedition.  Angela, the other lecturer on board the ship, gave a presentation on Ernest Shackleton as well as the expedition.  Seeing the boat and knowing the conditions that these men sailed in to find help for their crew mates is astonishing.

The other ship that we looked at was Charles Darwin’s Beagle.  The first voyage of the Darwin saw it conducting a survey around Tierra del Fuego.  Charles Darwin wrote his diary on the second voyage with illustrations and notes about what he saw. 

This outdoor museum is well worth the time and money to visit.  As I mentioned, it cost us about $5 USD for our cab driver to take us there, wait and then take me to a grocery store to purchase some wine to bring on board and take us back to the dock.  In my mind, that is quite affordable.  Unfortunately I do not remember the price to get into the museum.  I would say to spend less than an hour here.  For me, it was exciting to stand along the Strait of Magellan – I mean, I remember learning about this strait that connected the Atlantic with the Pacific Ocean with Magellan being the first European to sail it.

As a side note:  do you know what Tierra del Fuego means?  Land of Fire.  The native population of Tierra del Fuego wore very little clothing and when you think of the terrain you’ll know why.  To keep themselves warm they would have many little fires all around.  The Europeans when they came to this land would see the flickering light at night and it became known Tierra del Fuego – Land of Fire.

Although I wore my packable down jacket with a sweater underneath, it was never zipped and half the time I took it off and put it in its bag.  I think instead I cold have worn a wind breaker.  We were extremely fortunate with weather during this cruise – we never had rain, or extreme cold. The most we had was cool/ very cool and windy (Falkland Islands) but not knowing what the weather is like you will have to layer and be prepared.  The Emerald Princess did sell some reasonably priced jackets if you needed something more than what you brought with you.

Next Up – Ushuaia, Argentina

Puerto Montt, Chile

Excursions in General – my viewpoint

For us one of the most challenging aspects of cruising is finding the perfect excursion at the price point that you want and the number of people that you are comfortable with.

There are what I call two schools of thought on excursions. Some cruisers will only go on cruise line excursions thinking that if they are late the ship will wait for them and they feel safe with that knowledge. Others feel that cruise line excursions are over priced and large.

Let me first debunk the thought that the cruise line will wait for you. They will TRY to wait if they are able to but there is NO GUARANTEE. What a cruise sponsored excursion will do is to get you to your next port of call with no expense to you. Cruise sponsored excursions tend to use 45 passenger buses and what I have found the few times that I have used them – there is ALWAYS some person who thinks that the time to be on the bus does not apply to them.

From my experience of probably taking 25 or more cruises and excursions, I have never once been late or had to run to get up the gangway before they pulled it inside. To me, I have a few rules – I always tell the tour company/driver a time that I have to be back about 45 minutes to an hour before I need to be. giving myself a cushion just in case there are problems.  Secondly, I read reviews of tour operators both on the Cruise Cruise Ports of Call thread as well as Trip Advisor tours/guides. I also correspond with the tour guides well in advance of our trip making sure that we are on the same page, and going over the time we need to be back. Again, earlier than I need to be.

As you might be able to tell, I enjoy booking my own excursion so I can see or do what I would like to. I feel fortunate that I am able to share these private excursions with my cruise’s Roll Call found on Cruise Critic. They tend to be like minded people who also want a smaller, more intimate experience for either the same price or most often, a less expensive price. The excursions that I will be writing about will primarily be ones that I booked and for the one that I took that was a ship’s excursion, I will identify it.

Puerto Montt
Our first stop after departing San Antonio was the city of Puerto Montt. There was no one thing that I wanted to see here but more of an overview of this part of the country. I worked with Patagonia Austral in booking a 45 passenger bus but limiting it to 35 passengers. Our itinerary was to visit Petrohué Falls & Todos los Santos Lake and the city of Puerto Montt. The tour left Puerto Montt toward Puerto Varas, known as the City of Roses, and stopped at the main square to view Lake Llanquihue with a photo opportunity of the Lake and Osorno Volcano.

The volcano was a beautiful snow capped mountain overlooking the lake. We kept taking photos through the bus window since it was so serene and scenic.  We then continued to Ensenada, stopping at the lookout “Los Riscos” on Lake Llanquihue to view Osorno Volcano and more photo opportunities.

We then proceeded to the Crater “Green Lake” before returning to Ensenada to enjoy the included buffet lunch.

photo courtesy of Stan Ellison

South Americans love their barbeque, even more so than many Americans do and their assortment of grilled meats was almost never ending. In addition, long tables of many different salads for us to eat. Finally, the desserts…oh my! There were so many, all different. Nobody’s sweet tooth went unanswered.

location of our luncheon
meat on the spit
salads and side dishes
Sweets

After lunch we went to Petrohue Falls in the Vicente Perez Rosales National Park. We walked along the path with our tour guide telling us about the area. We saw some beautiful but small waterfalls and rushing waters. This park was Blogger Hubby’s favorite since it was one of their national parks.

We had some extra time since my group was very good at getting back to the bus on time so our guide had the driver take us to Puerto Varas for some shopping time, walk to the Lake or just wander around for a little bit.  Women had alpaca and jewelry on their minds while the men held the bags and hoped that they weren’t spending too much this early in the trip. They had some very nice things in these stores and I wished I hadn’t waited to see what else there would be further along in the trip. Chile is where you can get alpaca products so purchase in Chile and not try to find something in Argentina at the end of the trip (side note: we were cruising from the west coast to the east coast).

the lake at Puerto Varas

In the square the musicians were playing traditional music as they tried to sell some of us their CD’s. We found a park bench, listened to the music as we looked over the lake – certainly a peaceful feeling in a picturesque part of Chile. I would definitely go back to Puerto Varas along the lake for a short vacation if I was to return to this part of Chile.

The tour was $70 per person. Our tour guide gave us all a bottle of water and maps of the area. Since I organized the tour and filled the bus, my husband and I were given discounts. I found them easy to work with and we stayed in good communication with each other. For payment, they, like most of the other tour vendors on this trip wanted US dollars in large denominations that were clean, unmarked and no folds to them. Apparently their banks will not accept the bills that way. I did have to provide to them a list of those going on this tour, their nationality and their passport number. I found out later as I was working with other tour operators that this is not unusual in Chile.

I did not receive any payment from Patagonia Austral for this blog post. These are strictly my comments. I would recommend them if your cruise stops at Puerto Montt.  You can reach them at :

www.patagoniaaustral.cl 
P U E R T O  V A R A S  –  C H I L E

As I mentioned above, the tour cost us $70 and the Princess cruise that was most like this charged $159. We got back in plenty of time to stand in line to take a tender back. While you are in the terminal building, look around at craft items that locals are selling.

The Emerald Princess

If you read my previous blog post, you are aware that we took a two week South American cruise.  I have cruised quite a bit but this was only my second time with Princess and the first in sixteen years. I will say I was a little apprehensive about the cruise line and the ship.  Would I like it?  How would it compare to the other cruise lines I have sailed on?  What would the food be like?  I’ll address all those questions as we get further into future blog posts but for right now, I’m going to share some photos that Stan, a member of my group took of the Emerald Princess.  Hope you enjoy and if you have any questions, please feel free to make a comment and I will reply on the blog.DSC00463

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Beginning our Pre Cruise tour of South America

This past year Blogger Hubby and I went on a Princess Cruise around the southern tip of South America.  We have been to the other famous cape, Cape of Good Hope and now we wanted to see Cape Horn – the infamous cape that stories have been written about.

We like traveling with friends in a group and I like to organize trips and excursions so I opened up our vacation and asked friends to come with us.  My travel agent, Michelle, took care of all the group details.   For this trip there were a total of 16 of us and everyone had a connection to someone else.  A few in my group did the pre cruise with Princess, others went off on their own and a few did what Blogger Hubby and I did.  We were all looking forward to catching up with each other on the ship.

Our cruise was initially embarking in Valparaiso, Chile but was changed a few months prior to our cruise as did many other cruise lines.  The new port was in San Antonio and was a working, industrial port.  They were not really set up for overnight guests though there were a few two star hotels located there.  Nevertheless, our plans were already in place and since we had invested so much time and effort in planning our pre cruise time and excursions.

We began our pre cruise land tour in Santiago, Chile and other than a pre arranged bike tour of the city, we did the city on our own.  We rode through the city and spent time in their market.  Ten of us stayed at the Crowne Plaza which was very central for us and I would recommend it.  We had very good breakfasts there and a nice size lounge area near the bar where we could sit and talk about our plans for the day/evening.  We rode the HOHO bus (Hop On Hop Off) and got an overview of the city.  We paid extra to include the funicular and tram to the HOHO bus ticket which afforded a beautiful view of this city that is trying to modernize as well as the rugged Andes Mountains.  We were really in South America – a trip we had been planning for about 18 months!P1050997

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It was recommended by staffers at the hotel that we eat in the Patio Bellavista area which had many restaurant in this courtyard type setting.  This is where we had our first Pisco Sour as well as mint mojitos.  For food was delicious with flavors of this country.

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We had made arrangements months prior to our arrival for a transfer to Vina del Mar that included a tour of the area as well as visiting several Chilean wineries, Valparasio and then Vina del Mar which loosely means Gardens by the Sea.  There were eight of us in the mini bus which transported us from location to location along with a driver and a tour guide.  We went through Guides Chile to book this tour.  The first one was an organic winery but they did not bottle wine.  Instead they sold their grapes to other wineries.  It was very interesting to hear the story of how their grapes were organic, the use of flowers and bees and why they plant certain flowers around certain varieties of grapes.  The second winery was more of the traditional one that you may be use to.  The best part about this stop is that we had our lunch here.  Our guide was so good that we went in as a group and paid for his lunch.  Speaking of the lunch, it was delicious.

We purchased a few bottles of wine to take with us on our ship, Princess Emerald.  Princess and many other cruise lines allow you to take one bottle of wine per person with no charge.  We had decided that we would purchase our wine before and during our trip and then pay the $15 corkage fee so that we could take the wine into the dining room on the ship with us.  We found it to be less expensive than purchasing overpriced wine and we knew what we were ordering and had tasted and like it.  This was our preference though of course you can do what you prefer.

We continued our tour and stopped at an open air market overlooking the coast in Valparaiso.  I wish we had more time there as they had beautiful lapis lazuli, alpaca wraps and so much more.  Our guide heard us speaking of the lapis and he said he would take us to a place that guaranteed that we were getting the “good lapis.  He ended up taking us to a jewelry store where he knew the owners. Of course I’m sure he got a “cut” for taking us there but nevertheless they did have some beautiful stones and many of us made a purchase there.

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We all had booked rooms with points at the Sheraton Miramar in Vina del Mar.  I would highly recommend this hotel as it was the only one that I could see that was on the beach.  It was around the corner from their famous giant floral clock.  As I was Platinum with the hotel chain, they sent up to our room a bottle of Chilean wine and a charcuterie platter.  We enjoyed nibbling on this for the three nights were were there – though to be hoest in was just about gone within a day.  We were able to rent bicycles through the concierge and have them delivered to the hotel for out use. They have an outside patio where we would sit and have afternoon drinks, lunch and even dinner one evening.  We would walk during the day stopping at restaurants along the coast that our concierge had recommended.  One evening we took several cabs to a small local restaurant and had traditional Chilean food.P1060029P1020939P1020924

As you recall, our port of embarkation changed and I needed to find a way to get many of us from Vina del Mar to Port San Antonio – about 90 minutes away.  There were at this time about 12 of us.  I ended up chartering a bus – yes, a full transit bus for the 12 of us.  It cost us $40 each, far less than the transfer that Princess was offering from Santiago, about the same distance away.  The other benefit is that we knew that all of our luggage would fit – some people pack more than others and we did not want a mini bus where some might have to have their luggage on their lap the entire way.  The Sheraton Miramar had no problem with the bus picking us up – took about a total of 15 minutes to get us and our luggage on the bus.  We did ask their permission prior to booking the bus.  We felt like we arrived in style with our own bus.IMG_3485

Traffic in San Antonio – glad we had a driver

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Checking in and getting our room key was quite easy.  By this time we were hungry and headed for the buffet – of course we had to find it first.  After eating we began our tour of the boat, seeing similarities and difference from our ships we have been on.  This was my first time on Princess in 16 years and only the second time I’ve been on Princess.  Almost all ships have something I like, something new to me and some things I don’t care for but flexibility and the willingness to try new things will make your cruise a much better one than endless complaints.

Coming up next, what we did in the ports and how soon you need to book your private excursion.