MapSouth American Cruise
Buenos Aires to Valparaiso
Golden Princess

February, 2007

By Jack Welsch

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We booked this trip some time ago, choosing it primarily because the itinerary was intriguing. It was centered on a cruise from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Valparaiso, Chile via Cape Horn. Stops included Montevideo, Uruguay; Port Stanley, Falkland Islands; Ushuaia, Argentina, and Punta Arenas and Puerto Montt, Chile. Other highlights were the Beagle Channel and Cape Horn itself and perhaps a side trip to Antarctica. We decided to spend time in Buenos Aires before the cruise and in Santiago, Chile at the end.

I had really not thought much about South America as a vacation spot until 2000 when a young man from Chile spent several months working with us. Franco spoke so glowingly of his country that I started thinking I should pay it a visit. The fact that this trip involved two days in Santiago, Franco's home town, sealed the deal.

I happened to mention it to our friends Frank and Pat one day and they booked it as well. A few days later they mentioned it to our mutual friends Gus & Val and they booked, also. Somewhere along the line, Val’s sister Jean and her husband Vic signed on as well. Vic, an MD, signed on as a staff member, lecturing on medical subjects. He does this quite regularly. That put together a nice dinner table of 8. Gus, Val, Vic and Jean made their own travel arrangements but Frank, Pat and we booked travel arrangements and the pre- and post-cruise packages through Princess.

As I've often done in the past, I've divided this page into sections on the ship, the ports, and my diary.

The Golden PrincessThe ship was the Golden Princess. In retrospect, at 950 feet in length, 109,000 Gross tons displacement and a capacity of 3,100 passengers it was much too big for our taste. I've stated on previous pages that we much prefer the more intimate feel of smaller ships and under normal circumstances I'd have dismissed this monster at the outset. However, I got thinking about the infamous seas off Cape Horn and figured maybe in this case size would matter. While I just hate the herding that occurs any time so many people are jammed together I must admit that people were friendlier here than on some other large ships and it IS nice to have lots of options for nightly entertainment. Having said that, the logistics of getting on such a floating city are a real pain and I am unlikely to repeat the experience.

Our Cabin

Out cabin, B423, was a balcony stateroom on the starboard side amidships. The location was quite convenient, the size was reasonable and we had much more room to hang clothes than is normal in a standard category stateroom.

Canaletto Dining Room

The "traditional" dining room is where dinner is served in the the traditional two seatings. This dining room is only a single story and not terribly large but apparently adequate. As always we booked late seating because early seating makes it too tight when you return from a port. The food was fair to good but certainly not outstanding in any way. In other words, it was par for Princess. Service was good but not spectacular. Since cruise lines are handling tipping in a more "socialistic" way, I think service has slipped a bit.

Other places to eat

Our primary alternative for meals was the Horizon Court, a buffet open for all three meals. Food was relatively good but it was sometimes a tad difficult to find a place to sit. It was better on warm days because there's a lot more seating outside. At breakfast, there were normally two chefs doing omelets and they did a reasonable job of keeping up with demand. We never tried it for dinner so have no opinion on that subject.

Just forward of the main pool are is a pizza place and a grill where one could get hamburgers, hot dogs, etc. Food in both was pretty good. Aft of the main pool is an ice cream place as well but we never tried it.

There are two dining rooms, Bernini and Donatello that offer "anytime dining". I know lots of people are gravitating to that format but we are traditionalists so the only exposure was to the Donatello for a couple of breakfasts and lunches.

Like many of the newer ships, this one had two "premium" restaurants, Sabatini's Italian Restaurant and the Desert Rose Steak House. There was a nominal extra charge and we ate dinner once in each of them. The food and service were definitely worth the premium.

Of course, room service is available 24/7.

Bars, Lounges, etc.

The Wheelhouse - On every cruise, it seems we end up with a "default" lounge. In this case it was the "Wheelhouse", reminiscent of preference on our Alaska cruise. The ambiance is very warm and inviting and they had good music there before and after dinner. In most cases the music was appropriate for dancing which meshed well with our new-found love of ballroom and Latin dancing. Three of the groups were especially good for dancing. The bad news is that the dance floor is quite small. It might have been OK before the resurgence of ballroom dancing but most times we found it jammed. Fortunately, there were some times, especially right before dinner and during the shows, when we had plenty of room and, in fact, sometimes we had it to ourselves. As often happens when you frequent the same place, the waiters get to know you. After a couple of days our favorite, Dennis, knew my passenger number and what we drank before and after dinner without asking. Whether that's because he's good or I drink too much is, I suppose, open to debate.

Explorer's Lounge - The Explorer's Lounge is considerably larger than the Wheelhouse with a correspondingly larger stage and dance floor. It was our second most frequented spot for drinks and dancing. The dance groups alternated between the two venues but the Explorer's was where the theme parties were held. It's a good spot but didn't have the intimacy of the Wheelhouse.

Princess Theatre - This is the "big" theatre where the production and other after-dinner shows are held and where lectures were presented on days at sea. We're not all that big on shows so our most frequent visits were for Vic's lectures on medical and related topics. Unlike on some ships and surprisingly in light of the size of this one, the theater has no balcony. No big deal; just surprising.

Vista Lounge - This is a night club/theater on the Promenade deck where various shows and other events are held. Nice venue but we visited only once and then only to watch a dance class.

Skywalkers Lounge - On Royal Caribbean ships, we'd always found the "Viking Crown Lounge" to be a perfect hangout, especially when leaving port, because of its panaramic view. I guess Skywalkers is Princess' answer to the Viking Crown but I think it's a poor one. On most RC ships the Viking Crown normally has a very open feeling with visibility over most of the horizon (the one on the Jewel is a notable exception.) While Skywalkers is high above the sea like the Viking Crown, it is all broken up and does not have great visibility except aft. I believe there was dancing there every night but we never got around to visiting on those occasions.

Promenade Lounge - Located on the Promenade deck at the 3-deck atrium, the rather small Promenade Lounge was the venue most nights for a very popular pianist. We didn't spend much time there but it seemed that virtually every night as we passed through on our way to bed, the place was jammed. I'm not even sure what the guy's name is but what little we heard of him was excellent and he sure was popular! It's just that by the time we were finished dancing, we were ready to crash.

Grand Plaza - Located at the base of the small atrium, there was often light music in the form of a trio or pianist here during the day and early evening.

As on all ships, there are countless other bars tucked here and there, especially near the pools. As always, there's no reason to go thirsty.

Recreation

There are no fewer than 4 large pools and countless hot tubs. The Terrace Pool, designated for adults only, is located right at the stern on deck 12. On deck 14 are two large pools, one open and one covered. On deck 15 near the health club is a very nicely situated lap pool but I rarely saw anyone in it. Unlike on some cruises, I was never at a loss for a good place to sit in my choice of sun or shade, even on warm, sunny days at sea.

There's naturally a health club, game arcade, golf simulators, a miniature golf course, a tennis court, etc., etc., etc. The Internet café is open 24/7 and has a geek on duty during specified hours. There is wireless service available but only in a fairly small area of deck 5. The connection, at $0.50/min. wasn't terribly fast but for daily e-mail checks, it was fine for me.

Naturally, there's a casino but, while Linda "invested" a few bucks there on a couple of occasions, I didn't participate. I don't object; I just don't especially enjoy it.

There is a clubhouse for little kids and another for teens. Both had inside and outside areas and the few kids I saw there as I passed by seemed to be having fun.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires is absolutely wonderful! I was sorry we didn't have more time there and if it weren't for the long air voyage, I'd gladly return tomorrow. Buenos Aires is known as the "Paris of South America" and for good reason; it has the FEEL of Paris, my favorite city. In fact, we visited some neighborhoods where, if one couldn't tell the difference between French and Spanish on the signage, one couldn't be sure it was NOT Paris. While we were warned repeatedly about thieves and especially pickpockets, we were assured that our personal safety was not at risk. While there was some dirt, decay and graffiti as you'll find in any large city, there's a vibrancy that is exciting. The architecture is varied and in some cases quite elegant. The Avenida de la 9 de Julio, allegedly the widest in the world, is reminiscent of the Champs Élysées though I don't think it's nearly as elegant. La Boca is a particularly quaint and colorful neighborhood that I wish I'd had more time to explore. I found most people to be very friendly and helpful even though our grasp of the language was less than great. In general, I felt that I had just begun to discover the city and I really regret not having more time to know it better. Maybe someday...

Montevideo, Uruguay

We didn't spend a lot of time in Montevideo itself but when we were in town I was wishing we hadn't signed up for the wine tour so we could spend more time exploring. The Plaza Independencia is a beautiful plaza surrounded by picturesque colonial as well as modern buildings. The Legislative Palace is an impressive edifice both inside and out. The area surrounding the city was quite beautiful as well . The fact that I believe that's where a pickpocket appropriated my cell phone takes a bit of bloom off the rose but I guess that was my own fault.

Stanley, Falkland Islands

We saw a bit of the island outside of town while visiting the penguin colony. The volcanic origin, strong winds and generally dismal weather make for a pretty bleak landscape which, nonetheless (or maybe as a result), has a certain charm. We were fortunate in that we has beautiful sunny weather while we were in Stanley. The sun really brought out the bright colors of the building walls and roofs, contrasting vividly with the island itself. As might be expected, there is a strong British flavor to the town, right down to the picket fences and flower gardens. To paraphrase the cliché, it's a nice place to visit but I think I'd go out of my mind if I lived there.

Cape Horn

Cape Horn was awesome! I must admit that part of my awe was simply because it IS Cape Horn. Because I am such an avid sailor and have read countless stories of voyages around Cape Horn, my visit was a bit of a pilgrimage. I knew it was an island; what I did not know was that there is a deep, wide passage around it and that we would be completely circumnavigating it on this trip. Just being there was a rush. My only disappointment was that the sea was so calm. I was really hoping for more excitement. I'm afraid I was part of a very small minority on the ship as most people were delighted that their anxiety was for naught.

Ushuaia, Argentina

We visited Ushuaia on a dismal, rainy day so it was far from beautiful. Having said that, I'm told that MOST days in Ushuaia are dismal and rainy. Because we did the Beagle Channel tour, we only had a couple of hours in town and didn't get out of town at all. I was continuously reminded of towns like Ketchikan in Alaska; the flavor was the same. Of course, it rains in Ketchikan most of the time, too! My regret here is that our tour, a poor one, prevented us from seeing much of the town.

Punta Arenas, Chile

Because of my tour package, I personally saw nothing of Punta Arenas other than through the window of the bus. What I saw was not particularly attractive but that may be unfair since it was such a small sample. I did see a lot of graffiti even on homes but, again, that may have simply a matter of the route and should not necessarily be seen as typical. Because of its exposure near the tip of the continent, Punta Arenas is famous for fierce winds. While we were there, however, the wind was moderate at its worst and quite light some of the time.

Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

WOW! While this day-trip was essentially a "consolation prize", it was one of the most enjoyable I've taken anywhere. The scenery was breathtaking and I know that I saw only a tiny fraction of this huge park. People spend weeks here and it's easy to see why. Having said all that, I admit that I visited on a spectacularly clear day and that, had the day been rainy or foggy, the experience might have been very different. In any case, this was a place where it would be difficult to take a bad picture!

Puerto Montt, Chile

As with Punta Arenas, we saw little of Puerto Montt other than from the bus as we passed through on a tour. Here also what we saw was less than picturesque but, again, that may be unfair. I have noted over the years that towns that have very cold weather are often somewhat shabby. I suspect it might because people spend less time outside than in but that's only a guess. Having said that, nearby Puerto Varas, on the shores of the large Lake Llanquihue, was quite nice but we were unable to spend much time there.

Valparaiso, Chile

Valparaiso is a port city and, yet again, we saw virtually nothing of other than the port itself and that was less than beautiful but ports rarely are. As far as I could see, Valparaiso was someplace to pass through but that could well be totally unfair. One interesting thing I spotted from our balcony was a funicular leading from the dock area to a much higher plateau. That might have been an interesting thing to do if we'd had time.

Santiago, Chile

Santiago is beautifully situated at the foot of the Andes. While the bus took us through some areas that were run down the area in which we stayed was modern and beautiful with wide streets but lots of greenery. As with every place we visited in Chile, the vast majority of people were warm and friendly.

Thursday, Feb. 8 - Travel

We’d agreed to have a limo service take us back and forth between home and Philadelphia. Al, the driver and owner of the Black Tie Luxury Limousine picked us up at 11 sharp in a stretch Lincoln, having already picked up our friends, Frank & Pat. We were booked on Delta from PHL to ATL and than to Buenos Aires.

The flight was on time out of PHL and actually 30 minutes early into ATL. The trip to Buenos Aires was on a 757 and the flight was OK but LONG at about 9.5 hours. Sleep is never easy for me on a flight so I probably picked up a total of about 3 hours but only in 1-hour pieces.

Friday, Feb. 9 – Buenos Aires

We arrived on time in Buenos Aires. Unfortunately an Iberian Airbus 340 had just landed so immigration was jammed. Though the line moved quickly, it still took forever to clear and get the bags. We bought some Argentine pesos, got the bags and met Frank & Pat just as they got theirs. As is always the case, the area outside customs was an absolute zoo. We eventually found a Princess rep and eventually got on a bus for the Intercontinental Hotel but organization was pretty lacking. It appears to me that Princess does a pretty good job of logistics (as in our trip to Alaska) when they control it themselves but are less effective when they contract it out (as in this trip and the one in the South Pacific).

We were supposed to have a city tour on the way to the hotel but were told by the guide that our information was incorrect; the tour was tomorrow. Some folks seemed upset by this but we were actually pleased since we were too tired anyway to enjoy a trip. Traffic in BA is like that in any big city so by the time we dropped some folks at the Sheraton Park Towers it was noon when we arrived at our hotel. Princess had their own check in desk on a lower level. While in line, we heard the agents telling others that the rooms would be available at 4:00. Ugh! Fortunately, when I gave my name, the girl said our friend Gus, who had arrived earlier, had checked in earlier and had reserved upgrades to the concierge level for us and for Frank & Pat. The additional cost would be US$40 per day for a better room with free drinks and breakfast and was (she said) available now. Naturally, we grabbed it. She said she had to go to the hotel desk to make the key cards and that she would do so right after she checked in the other folks in line. She suggested we wait in the lounge but when I said we were hungry she suggested we eat in the bar and she'd find us there. When she hadn't shown up some time later, I found her at the desk. She reported that one room was ready and the other would be so in 1/2 hour. We figured that was no problem since we still had not eaten. I called Gus in his room and he and Val joined us in the restaurant. For lunch we all had empanadas and I thought they were great though not everyone agreed. Lin had Chardonnay and it was pretty good. I had Argentina’s notable wine, Malbec, and it was great!

The Gang at SpettusAfter lunch we learned that Frank & Pat's room was ready but ours still wasn’t. The girl suggested we wait in the concierge lounge on the 17th floor and the butler would tell us when the room was ready. Frank & Pat headed to bed as Gus & Val accompanied us to the lounge. There was no one at the desk when we arrived and when a guy eventually arrived he checked and said they'd KNOW in another 1/2 hour when the room would be ready! I must admit I went a little berserk. About 15-20 minutes later the report came that our room was available. Since by now it was 2:30 and we were asleep on our feet we went down and grabbed the bags and a porter rather than wait for the bags to be delivered. The room was absolutely great and we crashed and burned after putting in a wakeup for 5:30 PM. Being an engineer and this being only my second visit to the southern hemisphere, my first priority after the nap was to fill the tub and then open the drain to watch the water go down clockwise! After showering and getting onto fresh clothes, we met the others in the concierge lounge and, after drinks, headed for dinner. At the concierge's suggestion, we went to Puerto Madero and ate at an Argentine steak house called Spettus. The meal and service were wonderful and the price was surprisingly modest. I sat in the front of the taxi on the way back and got to have some fun exercising my quite limited Spanish with the driver.

Saturday, Feb. 10 – Buenos Aires

La BocaBecause we were booked for a city tour, we put in a wakeup for 7:00 but I was awake at 6:30 anyway. After breakfast in the concierge lounge we headed for the lobby where we met Frank & Pat. The four of us got on the first bus and Gus & Val caught up later. We had a great guide who went by "Big Maria" since there is apparently a small one on staff as well. She was both well-informed and entertaining as hell. Tomb of Eva PeronWe saw a LOT of the city and stopped twice. At La Boca we stopped at Caminito where Lin and I bought 2 paintings from street vendors. We only had a 20 minute stop and, in retrospect, I'd have given up some of the rest of the tour for more time at La Boca; it was absolutely charming. The second stop was at the cemetery at Recoleta where the principal mission was a visit to the tomb of Eva Peron. The cemetery was much like that at Pere Lachaise in Paris and it, too, deserved more time. I was shocked to see how modest Evita's tomb was!

At the end of the tour we chose the option to be dropped at the 1000 block of Calle Florida to do some sightseeing and shopping in this pedestrian shopping street. Our first stop was H. Stern's where Lin bought an Inca Rose pendant. I then bought a fantastic pair of sheep skin shoes at Frenkel's and a wonderful leather jacket at a great price at Casa Lopez. After lunch at Florida Garden Café, we walked the length of Florida and back to the hotel where, before preparing for dinner, we danced a tad in the room to a CD we had bought on Calle Florida.

La Viejo AlmacénAfter a glass of wine in the bar, we met the bus for the dinner and Tango show we’d booked. The others did not show up until our bus was full so we were separated for the evening. The dinner and show were at El Viejo Almacén. Dinner was OK but the show, in a small theater or cabaret across the street, was one of the best I’ve seen in my life; fantastic music and dance. I was wishing the show would never end and afterwards I bought both a CD and a DVD. The thing I really dislike about dinner shows is watching the show while sitting sideways at a dinner table. Since the two venues were separate, this was, for me, an ideal situation. All good things must end, however, and we were soon back in the room where we watched a bit of the DVD before Lin went to bed and I wrote in the dark.

Sunday, Feb. 11 – Buenos Aires

We set a wakeup for 7:00 and I was up at 6:54. Strange how that happens. The concierge lounge was closed so we were told we could eat for free in the hotel's main restaurant. Though breakfast was also included with the Princess tour package, being on the concierge level meant we didn't have to eat with hordes of people.

GauchoSpeaking of hoards, today we had a Gaucho Tour. We were to meet a bus at 9:00 and were in the lobby at 8:45 with Frank & Pat appearing a few minutes later. Gus & Val opted out. There were at least 3 buses leaving our hotel. Our guide, "Freddy", in his limited English said we had a 2 hour bus ride to the estancia. He started talking about their popular morning drink, mate and passed around a can of the mate herbs for inspection. He then demonstrated how to make and drink the stuff with evertone using the same metal "straw". He tried to get us to drink it and, of course, everyone declined. I guess we worry about germs a lot more than they do.

GauchosWe drove west on route 7, which Freddy says is the Pan American highway going from Argentina to Alaska. After about 1-1/2 hours we stopped for a 25 minute potty break and met about 6 or 8 more busses, all from Princess and all going to the estancia. Many were of people who will be coming off the ship tomorrow.

In total, the trip was a lot closer to 3 hours than 2. The estancia, La Fortuna, was very nice and the people there were great but I'm afraid the whole thing shouted "tourist". They had lots to eat and drink, though, and the food and service were superb. Because of the "Gaucho" tag, I'd expected the show to be something of a rodeo but it was primarily dancing. There was, however, one horseback competition where pairs of riders raced to capture a jewel or some such thing suspended from something that looked like a small football goal post. They did this by spearing it with something that looked like a small pencil.

Casa RosadaWe were back at the hotel at about 5:20. Lin went to the room while I rushed down to La Plaza de Mayo for some pictures. Plaza de Mayo is in front of the Casa Rosada or Pink House, the home of the president. It was from the balcony of this building that the Juan and Eva Peron addressed the crowds gathered in the plaza.

We packed until about 7, then joined the others in the bar. For dinner, the concierge recommended Siga La Vaca in Puerto Madero so we set off once again in 2 taxis. Our driver said Siga La Vaca wasn't so great and when we arrived it really didn’t look too special so we walked until we came across Estilo Campo, a steak house that turned out to be fantastic. Even the manager there had pretty weak English and my poor Spanish was about all we had on our side so ordering was an adventure, especially since I'd even forgotten my dictionary. However, dinner and service were both spectacular. My filet mignon (lomo in Spanish) was outstanding! For all of this, including dessert and lots of wine, the bill was only about $US60 per couple! The waiter ordered 2 taxis and they arrived at the door just as we did. Neither driver spoke English and neither seemed to know the hotel at first but here, at least, my Spanish came through.

Back in the room, we finished packing, had the bags out by about 11:30, and hit the rack at midnight.

Monday, Feb. 12 – Buenos Aires

La Avenida 9 de JulioThough we set no alarm, we were up at 7:30 and had breakfast in the concierge lounge on 17. We waited until shortly before 10:00 so the shops would be open, then headed for Avenida 9 de Julio and turned right. After several blocks, we crossed to the center to take pictures of this fabulous avenue. I stopped at an Internet place and checked and sent e-mail for only 40 centavos; less than 15 cents US! At the Obelisk, we turned right onto the Diagonal and walked to Calle Florida, turned left and followed it all the way to Plaza St. Martin. Other than another CD, we bought nothing but had a good time and took a taxi back to the hotel.

After hanging around the room and even dancing a bit to the new CD, we headed for the ship. We'd all agreed to take taxis but to do so separately rather than try to coordinate. As it happened, we saw Frank & Pat in the lobby so they rode with us and as we got to the dock Gus & Val were a few taxis ahead of us! The place was a zoo as is always the case and it was 2:30 when we passed through security. The cruise company who figures out how to do this well is likely to get all my business. I needed to go to customs for a VAT refund on my leather jacket but was told they were closed until 3:00 so I deferred that until later.

After dropping the bags in the room, we headed for the Horizon Court for lunch, after which Lin explored while I went to customs to collect my 270 peso VAT refund. I explored a tad when I returned and found Lin in the room. We just chilled and unpacked the 3 bags that had been delivered. By then it was time for the &@+*#$ lifeboat drill.

For the sailing, we could not follow our norm of watching from the Viking Crown since this is a Princess ship so we sat in "Skywalkers Lounge”, a poor substitute. By the time we got to the room, the other bag had arrived so we unpacked that and headed for dinner.

We were headed to the Wheelhouse Lounge for dancing but ended up inadvertently at the Explorer Lounge where there was a great dance band. Lots of people were dancing and it was obvious some had had a LOT of lessons. When we did head for the restaurant, the crowd was backed up as it always is on the first night so we checked out the Wheelhouse and actually struggled with a Tango, much to the amusement of the few spectators. A few people actually clapped but I'm sure to acknowledge our bravery rather than our skill!

At our table were Frank & Pat, Gus & Val and Vic & Jean. Jean is Val's sister. Due to a small scheduling problem, we were seated at a table other than the one to which we had been assigned for this one evening but that was certainly no problem. After dinner, we all went our separate ways with Lin and me going to the Explorer to dance some more. We didn’t dance long, though, because we were tired, had an early start in the morning, and had to set the clocks back yet another hour.

As we normally do, we left the balcony door open but it was really to hot during the night so neither of us slept well.

Tuesday, Feb. 13 - Montevideo.

MontevideoWe had breakfast in the Horizon Court and were in the Explorer before the 8:15 schedule for the city and Juanico Winery tour. I thought this tour might be a waste but it was really quite good. I was surprised by the quality of the guide's English until I learned he was from Maryland and works for American Express. We had a little walk in the old part of the city and then visited the Legislative Palace before taking the 30+ minute drive to the winery. The winery was very nice and the people there friendly. A guide from the winery got on the bus and as we drove through the vineyard she talked about the conditions, the grapes they grow, etc. Uruguay's unique grape is tannat. The grapes themselves are quite sweet but the wine is anything but. It had more tannin than anything I've ever experienced. Gus really liked it but, though I like meaty red wines, I did not.

Legislative Palace - MontevideoOnce off the bus, we got a glass of excellent sparkling wine and a quick tour of the cellars before sitting in a large dining room for the tasting and dinner. The tasting was of 5 wines in addition to the champagne. The "Preludio Tinto" and the "Extra Brut Cuvee Castelar" were excellent . Though we didn't taste it there, I took a chance by buying 3 bottles of their Botrytis Noble 2003" and it was excellent as well. The meal was also superb with all of the meats cooked on the BBQ outside. In addition to our group, we sat with Dick and Marie from CA. Both are ex-marines. They were a lot of fun; especially Marie. Unfortunately, there were some ignorant folks who felt it necessary to talk loudly while the very talented young man was trying to explain the wines. I really have trouble with the people who earn us the name, "ugly American."

Juanico WineryWe stopped on the way back at Mario's leather shop and that was a mistake; it was strictly a tourist trap. I bought a nice belt for $15 and a mate cup but most of the stuff was junk. Back on the ship, I went to the pool while Lin laid down in the room. The day went downhill quickly when I came down to dress and discovered I could not find the cell phone. I looked all over in vain, and then went to the purser to check lost and found but no dice. Ricky, our room steward, said that 4 of his other guests had their pockets picked today so I guess I know where the cell phone went. Damn!

We danced in the wheelhouse until it was time for dinner. We were the first at the table; the right one this time. The waiter, Edal, is from Philippines as is his assistant, Vince.

We were really shot so went directly to bed after dinner.

Wednesday, Feb. 14 – At sea

I was up at 7 and read on the balcony for a while before I felt cold and came back inside. Since I didn't want to wake Lin, I went back to bed and slept 'til after 10!

We grabbed breakfast in the Horizon Court and, against all odds, checked lost and found again, then I went to the pool while Lin shopped. It was tough to find a place by the main pool so I sat on the sun deck until I was feeling the sun too much, and then moved to the Terrace Pool at the stern where there was some shade.

We met at the room at 1:30 and grabbed something to eat by the pool before going to Vic's lecture on Mohammed Ali. Vic was actually Ali's doctor for a while and had some pretty interesting stories to tell. Afterwards, we stopped at the Internet Cafe to send a message about the cell to my assistant, Charlene, so she could cancel the service. We sat on deck for a while but it had become decidedly colder. We sought shelter from the wind at the Spa Pool but Lin got too cold and went down. When it started to rain a few minutes later, I followed. We just loafed in the room with me writing, downloading pictures, etc. while Lin read and slept.

This was the first formal night with Lin dressed in red for Valentine's day. We'd been invited to Gus & Val's for drinks at 7. While Lin finished getting ready, I took my laptop to the hot spot on 5 to check and send e-mail. Next stop was the Wheelhouse for some dancing, then on to Gus & Val's where the 8 of us had a nice private party.

Wheelhouse LoungeAfter dinner, the rest of the gang went to the show while we returned to the Wheelhouse. The band quit at 1:00 and we left shortly thereafter. Who would have thought we'd be out dancing until such an hour? I messed with the computer for a while, transferring files, etc. before turning in. Fortunately, the clocks get turned back an hour tonight.

Thursday, Feb. 15 – At sea

We slept even later, waking at 10:30 and eating in the Horizon Court at 11:30. I wrote an e-mail update on notepad, figuring I'd send it later since a notice on the TV said the satellite link was down. I also dumbed-down some pictures as attachments. After sitting on deck for a while, we listened to Vic's lecture, then I went to the hotspot to send the e-mail. By the time we were ready for lunch, it was 3:30 and the Horizon Court was finished serving lunch so Lin grabbed a hot dog and I a couple of pieces of pizza by the pool and, since by now it was really cold on deck, we brought them to the room.

Eventually we dressed for dinner but stopped at the photo shop where I bought a formal portrait from last night while Lin staked out a spot in the Wheelhouse. The band the, the "Romantic Trio", was good for listening but not dancing so at 7:30 we moved to the Explorer for Latin dancing and danced until it was time for dinner. Had great escargot and a great duck pate as well as OK duck for dinner.

After dinner we returned to the Latin party at the Explorer and danced a couple of numbers but it was too crowded so we moved to the Wheelhouse where we met Andy and Nellie from Toronto.

When the band broke a little after 11, we quit since we had a tour scheduled at 8:45 AM.

Friday, Feb. 16 – Stanley, Falkland Islands

PenquinWe were to meet in the casino at 8:45 for our “Sparrow Cove” penguin tour. PenquinAs per normal, we gave ourselves more time than needed and set the alarm for 6:45. We ordered room service breakfast to be delivered between 7:00 and 7:30. Unfortunately, I set my watch as a backup and screwed up the time zone for the alarm so we were up at 5:45! I got ready and ate with Vic in the Horizon Court while Lin loafed.

We were taken in a dedicated launch directly from the ship to a dock dedicated to the penguin visit. There were only 12 on the launch and we were joined at the pier by 12 more in a launch from the Crystal Infinity which was also anchored in the bay. The 24 of us were loaded into 4 Land Rovers for a 20-25 minute ride to the penguin site. We were in car #1 with Adrian, the owner of the 10,000 acre farm and the tour operation and I ended up in the front seat. It had rained during the night so the ground was quite muddy and the drive, over very uneven ground, was a riot! When he dropped us at the penguin site, Adrian said he'd be back in about an hour to pick us up.

Linda & penquinsThere were some other people there already but not a lot. However, there were a LOT of Gentoo penguins! Many were huddled together in an area we could not approach too closely but many others were where they and we could mingle. Penquin VideoWe were told we could not touch them but could allow them to touch us. A couple were interested in Linda and pecked at her pants and jacket. Someone said that if you open your legs they'll walk through. I did and one did. However, he pecked at the inside of my thigh. It didn't hurt but I decided to put an end to that before he got more personal! We walked around quite a bit and I took a lot of pictures. The video file included here was just good luck! If you have a broadband connection, it's worth a look. I lowered the volume because the wind was howling and making a terrible racket!

They had a little hut where they provided tea, coffee and homemade cookies and cakes so we ducked in there a bit to get warm. An hour later, Adrian returned and drove us back to the pier from which the launch returned us directly to the ship. We'd been told that by the time we got back we'd no longer need tender tickets but when we got to the embarkation port we were sent to the Explorer for tickets. An hour later we got to shore. Ugh; I hate tender ports!

StanleyThe town of Stanley is very bright and picturesque. We'd been told by Adrian that the Globe Tavern would be "chockablock" so we ate in the Victory Bar. I had curry chicken which I liked; Lin had fish and chips that she didn't. We walked around together for a while but eventually I continued on my own while Lin went back to shop. Meeting on the pier at 3, we headed back to the ship.

Before dinner we danced in the Wheelhouse for a while and were just thinking about checking out the Explorer's when we were invaded by a boisterous crowd from NYC. That tipped the balance and we bailed. Nellie and Andy from Toronto joined us and we danced a few numbers but were not delighted with the music. Andy said they were going back to the to the Wheelhouse so we returned with them.

After dinner, Lin wanted to go to a Gaucho show in the Princess Theater. I wasn’t crazy about the idea but went along. It was positively TERRIBLE so we walked out and returned to the Wheelhouse where we danced until just before midnight.

Saturday, Feb. 17, Cape Horn!

Cape Horn Weather StationThis was a day at sea with the main attraction being Cape Horn, which were scheduled to reach at about 5:00 PM. We were just waking at about 8:45 when Gus called and invited us to join them and Frank & Pat for breakfast in the Donatello at 9:00. We hustled on down to some pretty lousy eggs benedict. Vic was speaking in the Princess Theater at 11:00 so the whole gang of us attended that together.

Cape Horn Rainbow - From WestAfterward, Lin & I chilled in the room for a while until I bundled up (not enough) and headed for the sun deck to write and read. As I write these words I'm sitting all alone in an area at the bow that is partially blocked from the strong wind. The seas are actually quite mild given our location but the bow of this huge ship is still dancing quite a bit due to some low-frequency swells. This is a kick! Still, I wish it was a lot rougher; this is much too calm for the infamous Cape.

We had lunch in the Donatello and I had to run off to a meeting, leaving Lin at the table. The meeting was simply a gathering of pilots in the Promenade Lounge. A Princess staff member was there just to serve as a focal point to get things going but he was not a pilot and left as soon as conversation was flowing. Of course, that doesn't take long with pilots! There was quite a collection including a Vietnam helicopter jockey and a guy from Panama who also flies choppers. Frank and I both attended but Gus was AWOL. There were about a dozen folks there and it started breaking up after about an hour.

Cape Horn from EastBack in the room, I could see Cape Horn in the distance from the balcony.I watched it from there for quite a while but eventually the ship made a right turn and the Cape disappeared beyond the bow. We’d wanted a cabin on the starboard side because I naturally assumed we'd leave the Cape to starboard. Cape Horn from SouthHowever, the ship circumnavigated the island counter-clockwise so the port side was the favored one! This time I bundled up properly with long underwear top and bottom, cords, wind pants, flannel shirt, lined jacket, wind shell with hood, woolen skull cap and boots. I only wore one pair of medium weight socks. The one thing I neglected was gloves but I'm not sure I could have worn them and used the camera, anyway.

The cape was WONDERFUL but even the pictures won't tell the story. As we rounded the southern tip, we were probably no more than a mile away. I had not dreamed that we'd get that close! It was a beautiful day; not totally sunny but bright enough for some good pictures. I was a little disappointed that the sea was so calm. The Captain said they've seen 60 foot seas with waves crashing over the bridge and filling the pool! Unknown to me, Lin spent the time in the Horizon Court.

By the time I came down I was frozen but exhilarated! We danced in the Wheelhouse before and after dinner. However, because we were unsure what time our tour started in the AM, we quit when the band broke at 11.

Sunday, Feb. 18, Ushuaia, Argentina

Beagle Channel WildlifeOnce during the night I awoke in the dark to see us lying off the lights of a town. Later, I was awakened by the sounds of a tug maneuvering us so I got up and closed the balcony door. When the alarm went off we were moored at the dock in Ushuaia. We had breakfast in the Horizon Court and I checked e-mail, then we met our tour in the Princess Theater. Booking this tour was a big mistake. We ended up being among the last to board the second boat, which was jammed with about 200 people. We found seats near the bow of the lower deck but we were lucky even to get 2 together. The rain made things somewhat miserable but it did tend to keep the outside decks rather clear and I had my parka so I stayed out there most of the time. The boat stopped near 3 different islands, each teaming with wildlife. The smell was "memorable"; the result of zillions of creatures on a fish diet. The wildlife was nice to see and the smell was what one should expect so no big deal but the experience was hardly worth being herded together. I think the seals jammed onto the rocks may have had more elbow room than we did! At least I got some great pictures.

UshuaiaIt was raining quite hard by the time we got to town but we walked around anyway. We bumped into Gus and had lunch with him at a parrilla called La Estancia. After eating and buying a stuffed animal and some t-shirts at "End of the World", and some great marble and Inca rose penguins at "Piedras Argentinas", we were back on the ship about 45 minutes before the 3:30 deadline. This time both of us took a little nap but I got up when the ship started to move and wrote as Lin dozed.

GlacierWe were invited to Gus & Val's suite for cocktails so we could watch the glaciers together as we proceeded through the Beagle Channel. Initial info was that we'd get to the first glacier at about 6:20 so the invitation was for 6:15. At about 6:10 there was an announcement that we'd not be at the first glacier until about 7:20. The glaciers were pretty as always but, of course, would have been prettier if it had not been so cloudy. We went directly from there to dinner and, of course, danced in the Wheelhouse afterwards. We didn’t stay out long, though, because I had an early wakeup for what I hoped was my Antarctic trip.

Monday, Feb. 19, Punta Arenas & Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

Torres del PaineI had booked a flight to Antarctica and to say I was eager to go is an understatement. Neither of us slept well and I was up with the alarm at 5:20, had breakfast in the Horizon Court, dressed in warm clothes and was in the Princess Theater at 6:30 against a 6:50 deadline, the first to arrive. Sadly, a bit after 7:00 came the announcement that weather in Antarctica was forecast to become windy with low ceilings so that trip was scrubbed! GuanacosTwenty-four of us plus a Princess rep had elected the alternate of Torres del Paine National Park. Someone asked whether we needed all the warm clothes for that and was told no but that we didn't but have time to go back to the room to change. Within a few minutes we were put on the tender and taken to the pier to meet the guide, Betsy, and be loaded onto a bus for the ~25 minute ride to the airport. Betsy is Chilean but had impeccable (American) English and, given her comfortable use of idioms, it was obvious she' spent considerable time in the US. It turns out her father spent time at Cornell when she was a toddler and thereafter she spent a lot of time in the US as a child. She also returned there to attend UCSD. She is actually a veterinarian at the zoo in Santiago. She does research on penguins in Antarctica, though, which is how she's involved in guiding. She was supposed to be the one to take us south but she promised we'd enjoy the alternate trip. Her enthusiasm was contagious.

Torres del PaineThe Punta Arenas airport is actually quite nice, reminding me of the one in Duluth, MN. We were loaded onto the same DH7 that was supposed to take us south. Since 1/2 of the people had opted out, there was lots of room. After about 1/2 hour we landed in Puerto Natales, the closest airport to the park, and loaded onto a very nice tour bus. Here again we had lots of room since the bus was a full-sized one and we were only 26 with Betsy. The ride to the park was almost 2 hours and, since most of the 2-lane road was under construction, it was mostly on dirt. However, contrary to the warning, the road was not bad at all. The park itself was absolutely magnificent and I have little doubt it was more scenic than King George Island in Antarctica, our original destination. The scenery was breathtaking and we stopped frequently for pictures. Betsy, being focused on wildlife, was constantly looking for it and we stopped and climbed out whenever she spotted something worthwhile.

Lago PehoéLunch was at Hosteria Pehoé on a small island in Lago Pehoé. To get to it we had to walk across a footbridge. Upon arrival we each had a pisco sour. Lunch was lamb and it was great. Dessert was flan and it, too, was excellent. The scenery from the restaurant was unparalleled.

When we got back to the airport the crew was still in town so we waited about 20 minutes for them. As a result, it was 6:35 by the time we got to the pier though the last tender was to have left at 6:00. Betsy got a cell call and was told that, rather than go through the formalities, the bus was to drive us directly onto the pier and directly to the tender. The tender crew had already stowed much of the gear by the time we arrived at the ship and, by the time I got to the room Lin had already gotten a call from the Purser asking whether I was aboard.

Lin was already dressed for dinner when I arrived. I got dressed quickly and we went to the Wheelhouse but the Romantic Trio was there and they aren't especially good to dance to so we went to the Explorer’s Lounge to dance to Deep Blue. After dinner we went to the Wheelhouse to dance to Tito Cruz but we were tired and the floor was jammed so we quit early.

Tuesday, Feb. 20, - At sea

It was quite rough during the night, especially in the early AM hours when we exited the Straights of Magellan into the Pacific. We woke about 9:00 to an announcement by the captain about conditions; gale force winds and 12-15 foot seas.

Skywalker's LoungeWe ate breakfast in Horizon Court with a couple that had rented a boat from Crown Blue on the Soane. He's also a sailor and a pilot so we had a lot in common.

FjordVic spoke on "Love or lust" and stirred some people up. The passports had been collected when we first boarded the ship so that we would not have to present them personally every time we crossed a new border. Since we had now entered Chilean waters where we would dock, we were able to retrieve them. After getting the passports I checked e-mail and hung by the indoor pool. Lunch was in the Horizon Court. Afterwards, I spent some time on deck taking pictures as we traveled through the fjords, very reminiscent if Alaska's Inside Passage. Unfortunately, ceiling and visibility were pretty poor for most of the time. On occasion, however, the sun poked trough and the result was beautiful. For a while Lin and I sat in the Skywalker Lounge watching progress.

Before-dinner dancing was to Tito Cruz in the Wheelhouse, then all 8 of us had dinner in Sabatini's. The meal was excellent and though we started at 6:30 it was still after 10 before we left the table. Dancing in the Wheelhouse was to Jackie Harrison. We sat with Nellie and Andy. Turns out Andy was a metallurgist and did R&D for a Canadian steel company. He just retired. Frank sat with us for a while since Pat was gambling. We headed for bed at midnight.

Wednesday, Feb. 21 – At Sea

Dance ClassWoke about 9:30 and ate in the Horizon Court where we met Shirley and Eddie from Houston and some friends of theirs from California. We went with Shirley and Eddie to the ballroom dance class in the Vista Lounge but it was absolutely jammed so the 4 of us just watched. Afterwards, I read on deck and then met Lin for lunch by the pool. Afterwards I returned to the pool deck to read while she did some shopping and gambling. The sky was still overcast but with better visibility. The sun poked through occasionally and it was relatively warm when it did. Clad in shorts and a tee shirt, I eventually got cold and returned to the room and was editing when Lin returned. I wrote while she slept.

Formal night again. Danced in the Wheelhouse, and then attended the "very gala" Captain's Circle party where we also danced a couple of numbers. Lobster for dinner was pretty good as was Lin's halibut. Of course, back to the Wheelhouse for dancing. Quit about 10:30 as we had another early wakeup.

Thursday, Feb. 22 – Puerto Montt, Chile

Petrohue FallsWoke to the alarm at 6:15, had breakfast in the Horizon Court and were in the Princess Theater at about 7:30 for the 7:45 meeting time for our tour. We sat there for a long time before being released to the embarkation port only to stand at the embarkation port forever. It was 8:45 when we got to town. I've never seen more busses in one place in my life! We were booked for a tour titled, "Petrohue River & Lake Esmeralda".

The catamaran tour on the lake, which is locally known as "Lago Todos los Santos", was a bust; lots of people jammed in for a 40 minute trip to nowhere and back. I'm guessing that if it was a sunny day the scenery might have been magnificent and the cruise worthwhile but in our case it was a waste of time. Petrohue Falls were interesting but absolutely teeming with people. They are more rapids than falls, cut through volcanic rock; quite picturesque. Lunch of salmon at View from Las Onces Bellavista“Las Onces Bellavista”, a very nice place with excellent service. It was absolutely great; a terrific stop and by far the highlight of the tour. We also enjoyed the shopping stop at Puerto Varas though we only had 40 minutes there. I bought 2 CDs from a street musician for US$15 and a fantastic little clay pot for US$3 (sic) from an artisan's guild, the Fundación Atesanías de Chile. Our tour guide, Carolina, was great and, in fact, virtually all the local people we met were friendly.

There was quite a line for the tender when we returned and it quickly got a lot longer behind us. Back on the ship I dressed for dinner and sat on the balcony while Lin got ready. There was a continuous parade of small boats laden with locals, many of them kids, circumnavigated the ship. Most of the folks were waving and many shouting "Helllloooo"; it was quite a picnic!

Puerto MonttWe had dinner with the gang in the Desert Rose Steak House. The filet was wonderful but Gus said his t-bone was tough. We got out of there about 8:30 and headed for the Wheelhouse. The show band was just quitting and were replaced by Deep Blue who were quite good in that venue. Lin and I sat with Nellie and Andy Lee for the rest of the evening. Frank & Pat were with us for quite a while and we sat further back from the band so we could talk.

We quit about 11:30 and I wrote and read for a while.

Friday, Feb. 23 – At Sea

This was our last full day on the ship. We were up at about 8:00 and had breakfast in the Donatello with two folks from CA and 2 from Scotland. The guy from Scotland had grown up in the Falklands but had left there in '65 and had not returned until just now. During our visit to Stanley, he had visited his mother's grave and some former neighbors so it was an emotional trip for him. During the meal there was an announcement of whales off the ship's starboard side. Though we were seated near a starboard window, we saw nothing.

Main PoolI found a spot by the pool and read ‘til Lin came up from the Casino whereupon we moved to the Sun deck and sat together for hours, getting lunch from the grill. Though we used sun block, we both missed a few spots and paid dearly for it. After checking e-mail one last time, I returned to the room for the hated packing. Having put out 3 of the 4 bags, we headed for the Wheelhouse where the Romantic Trio was playing. We listened for a while but then moved to the Explorer’s Lounge to dance to Deep Blue. When we left for dinner, we said a final goodbye to Nellie and Andy. They're great people and it's a shame to have to part. After dinner we danced to Tito Cruz for a while but quit about 10:45, packed the final bag and hit the rack.

Saturday, Feb. 24 – Valparaiso and Santiago, Chile

We were up with the alarm at 7:00, had breakfast in the Horizon Court and met the gang as planned at 8:30. Gus & Val and we went to the Horizon Court to wait it out while Frank and Pat stayed at the lounge on 7. Our color, “Gold 1”, was near the bottom of the list so we knew it would be a long wait. As with our trip to Alaska, booking the post-cruise program with Princess apparently gives a lower priority, not a higher one, for getting off the ship. Eventually we were the only people in the Horizon Court and, though the staff didn't bug us, we moved to the pool to get out of their way. It was after 10:30 when we got called for disembarkation. There was further delay because we had to take a shuttle bus to a terminal and then have our luggage scanned by dogs for agricultural products so it was after 11:00 by the time we got on the bus.

Los Hornitos de CuracaviThe good news was that we had an outstanding guide, Alex. The very bad was that we shared the bus with a group of incredibly rude, overbearing, loud-mouthed New Yorkers (actually I think New Yorkers transplanted to Florida) who thought they were very special indeed. We stopped at a quaint roadside stop called "Los Hornitos de Curacavi" for lunch. Among the six of us, we had 10 empanadas, 4 glasses of wine, a glass of water and a glass of coke and the bill came to only about US$40...TOTAL! We were fortunate in that we were the first bus there and got tables and prompt service. By the time we came out, people were stacked up waiting to get in.

SantiagoAlex was fantastic; both entertaining and informative yet the obnoxious New Yorkers had a discussion about tip for him and decided among themselves that $2 was appropriate!!! No wonder people hate Americans; I was ashamed to be associated with them. Scum!

SantiagoWe got to the hotel, the Grand Hyatt in Santiago, about 2:45 and, though most people got their keys, we did not because our room was apparently not ready. It was almost 3:30 when we got to the room and when I called for the bags I was told if I wanted them soon I'd have to come down and get them myself!

Having waited long enough, I went down and got the bags. The bellmen were helpful enough; they were just totally overwhelmed by sheer volume. The young man who helped me said they had checked out over 500 bags early this morning and were checking in almost 500 now. He was dead on his feet yet, though he was supposed to have quit at 3:00, he couldn't go until the bags were all delivered. He didn't complain at all; I dragged all this out of him. I don't know whether it's true but someone told me they only had 4 bellmen on! God bless those guys.

Some years earlier, Franco, the son of our ditributor in Chile, has spent a summer working for me as an engineering intern. Having contacted him before leaving home and agreeing to meet for dinner, I called him and we agreed he'd pick us up at 9:00, then called the others to give them the word that we'd not be joining them for dinner.

I spent about an hour at the hotel's absolutely gorgeous pool. When I was returning to the room at about 6:30 I ran into my friend Jim from the Patagonia trip. I'd seen him in line when we were waiting for our keys yet he had just then gotten his! And I thought WE had a beef!

Linda, Carola, Franco and meAfter I dressed for dinner I realized I was too hungry to wait until after 9 to eat so I went in search of a snack. Options in the hotel were sparse so I walked the 3 blocks to the huge mall, Parque Arauco, and after a search settled for some hot pretzels from "Mr. Pretzels".

Franco and Carola picked us up at a little after 9:30 and we went to a restaurant called "C" for dinner. C is a new fusion restaurant and was excellent. We had a fantastic time and a great meal. They did not have an English menu so ordering was challenge and a lot of fun. We shared abalone and razor clams for appetizers. For the main course I had duck while Lin had filet and both were excellent. Carola had said that Tom Jones had just appeared in Valparaiso and, sure enough, he was entering the restaurant as we left. We got to the room about 12:30.

Sunday, Feb. 25 – Santiago, Chile

Hyatt AtriumWe slept in and it was almost 11:00 when we got out of the room. We figured (correctly, it turns out) that we'd missed the breakfast provided by Princess so we walked to the mall to find something to eat. Since we were not interested in the food court, it took us a while but eventually we ended up in "the Boulevard", an area with lots of restaurants on two levels around an outside courtyard. Some US chains were there (Friday's, Benihana, Starbuck's…) but there were a number of nice local places as well. We had tea and croissants ("los Medialunas") at "Dulce Lunas", an outdoor Café. After walking the mall a bit, we returned to the hotel where we met Frank and Pat. They said they were waiting for Val and Pat to get back from the wine tour and then they plus the Vic & Jean were going to lunch. Vic & Jean, having checked out of their own hotel since they' were flying out later in the day, were in Gus & Val's room. When 2:00 arrived and Gus & Val hadn't arrived, we returned to the Boulevard, this time for empanadas at El Perron. After lunch Lin bought a nice Lapislasuli pendent at a shop in the mall.

Hotel PoolBack at the hotel, I headed for the pool while Lin relaxed in the room. Dinner was at Cueravaca, a steak house not far from the hotel. Dinner was excellent as was the service. Even though the staff spoke limited English, they were great and we had a good meal and a good time.

Monday, Feb. 26 – Santiago to Philadelphia

As would be expected, this was a day from Hell! We had a 9:30AM flight and Princess said they'd provide transportation at 7:00. Since yesterday's "7:00 bus" left the hotel at 7:45 and given that it was an international flight, Frank & Pat had spoken to Princess and made arrangements for the 4 of us to be on a 6:00 van. We were up at 4:45 and in the lobby before 5:45. There was a van outside when we arrived in the lobby but it left with only one person at 5:45. A few minutes later we learned that THAT was our van and that Princess had not made arrangements for anyone other than that one person so when he arrived, the van left. A guy showed up a few minutes later who was apparently in charge of logistics for Princess. He was very uncooperative and even rude in reply to our complaints; he's definitely in the wrong business. He was full of excuses and made no attempt at resolution or even apology. In the end, we had the hotel order us our own van at a cost of US$60.

The flight left on time but was full, including a large group of what appeared to be High School soccer players from Argentina. They spent the entire 6 hours to Caracas in the aisles so it was a pretty stressful flight. In Caracas we had to get out of the plane while they disinfected it, then re-board. Things were rather confusing there but eventually we were on our way again.

We arrived in Miami on time and had just under 2 hours for the connection. Immigration wasn't too bad and customs was OK but there was a rather long delay for Department of Agriculture inspection. After that, we found ourselves outside of security and had to get screened again so by the time we headed for the gate, it was getting rather late. I'd noted earlier that we were to get the flight to PHL at C9. The walk toC9 was interminable and as we approached it, I checked the screen and saw that our flight was no longer listed! Checking with an agent, I learned it had moved to D45 and would be 90 minutes late! We walked what seemed like several additional miles to D45 and grabbed a pizza nearby. The terminal was mobbed and the crowd was loud so, given our already shredded nerves, we in pretty bad space. When we finally got on the plane there were further mechanical delays so we didn't land in PHL until after 1:30 AM. By the time we got the bags and picked our way to the airport Marriott and checked in, it was 2:45. Ugh!! Like I said, day from Hell!

Tuesday, Feb. 27 - Home

Back homeUpon check-in, we had set the wakeup for 10:00 and arranged room service breakfast for 10:00-10:15. We were up before 9:30, though, and were in the lobby at 11:00 just as Al pulled in with the limo. The ride home was peacefully uneventful and we got there about 1:30. As always, it’s great to be home even though my first order of business was to clear snow from the driveway. From the height of summer to the depth of winter in less than 2 days. Amazing.

Though there were some disappointments and aggravations, this was a great trip.

On the debit side of the ledger, the ship was much too big and we spent much of our time appreciating how cattle must feel. Princess let us down in a number of ways. As a result, there is no chance I'll again book on such a large ship and a greatly diminished chance that I'll book with Princess. It was our own fault that we let ourselves be frightened into sticking with organized tours rather than venture out on our own. My experience with the cell phone confirmed the fear of losing property but at no time did we feel the least bit unsafe. If I we had done "our own thing", I think we'd have enjoyed ourselves much more. Certainly, my inability to visit Antarctica was a disappointment but, given the day I had in Patagonia, perhaps it was for the best.

On the positive side, we saw a different part of the world and cultures to which we'd not been exposed. My infatuation with Buenos Aires was surprising to me; it's truly an enchanting city and one worth seeing again at a more relaxed pace. Chile is an absolutely beautiful country and its people are almost universally friendly. It, too, is worthy of a return visit. Our problem, of course, is that it's BIG world and neither our life spans nor bank account will allow us to see it all even superficially so return visits are rare.

However, we'll keep at it!