Cruise Line: Celebrity Cruise Line
Date of Cruise: Christmas and New Year's 2001
Christmas Holidays in South America
By: Bruce Baldwin
This was our 30th
cruise vacation. It was great!
Our cruise took us from Valparaiso, Chile to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
We flew to Santiago, Chile the day before the cruise, rented a car at the
airport, and drove to Valparaiso where we would meet the ship. The charming old town of Valparaiso is built on the side of a
mountain. We had booked a hotel in
the center of town; it offered free parking and free breakfast, a nice room with
a window looking onto a cliff wall. We
spent the early afternoon driving around the winding back roads of town and its
sister city of Vina del Mar. Vina
as the natives call it is similar to Ft. Lauderdale in climate and appearance.
Many Chileans and Europeans use Vina as a summer vacation locale.
The embarkation process was unusual.
We took a taxi to the pier entrance.
We saw the ship at dockside just around the corner from the entrance.
We boarded a bus but instead of going to the ship, we went in the other
direction. Holy Cow, had we got on
the wrong bus? The drivers
assistant told us that we were on our way to the Jockey Club in the next town [Vina]
to check in. This seemed really
unusual but only a few cruise ships begin or end cruises in Valparaiso each
year; the pier is not set up for passenger processing.
The old town of Valparaiso doesnt have facilities for processing and
transporting 1900 people in a short period of time so off we went to the Jockey
Club. Tuxedo white gloved waiters
served finger food and drinks in an elegant setting as we completed our
check-in. We returned to the ship
on the same bus; our luggage was off-loaded and we went aboard.
We were on the Mercury in 1998 when she was
almost new. The Mercury has
been well maintained during the past 3 years.
The ship was sold out for this itinerary. There were 1946 passengers aboard; only 700+ were from the
U.S. or Canada. There were
over 600 Brazilians aboard. There
were about 350 Mexicans. The
remainder was from all over the world. There
were 202 children aboard, most of them Latinos.
Several of the passengers were nannies for these kids.
The international composition of the passengers added some confusion and
misunderstandings on the cruise. Surprisingly,
the majority of these Latin passengers spoke some English when they wanted to.
About 750 of the passengers were repeat passengers of Celebrity.
This cruise turned out to be especially memorable for us.
The morning after boarding we happened to meet Ray Carr, the Cruise
Director. He had been the Cruise Director on Holland America ships
during 3 of our cruises on that line. We
knew Ray had moved to Celebrity and we were happy to meet up with him again.
Ray shocked us when he told us that he remembered us and rattled off 2 of
the cruises we had been on together. It
was like meeting our nephew again. At
the young age of 35, Ray has already visited 136 countries around the world.
Ray has been one of our favorite cruise directors.
We enjoyed talking with Ray and hearing of his unusual challenges with an
international passenger mix. He has
a multilingual staff so that everyone can understand whats going on.
We always enjoy meeting cruise ship staff.
They are a most interesting lot and come from all over the globe.
For example, Sandra McLay, the Social Hostess on the Mercury is
from Vancouver. She has served as
Cruise Director on some of the Windjammer ships and enjoys a very different
experience on this mega-ship as well.
At the end of her current contract she plans on leaving cruise ships to
move to New Zealand for a few years. She
has family in the TV production business in Canada and plans on filming in New
Zealand with a friend. She would
like to document the preparation for the 2002 World Cup. We also had an opportunity to visit with Captain Adamidis and
his wife, Joyce Gleeson Adamidis. Joyce
used to work on cruise ships. She
shared some of her great experiences with us and in fact has written a book, Under
the Captains Table: If I Were Not Upon the Sea. Joyce spends most of the year aboard with the Captain
and their 5 year old son.
New Years Eve was pandemonium aboard the Mercury from
about 7 pm [midnight in Great Britain] until almost dawn New Years Day [5:21
am]. The Latinos aboard certainly
know how to celebrate. We had been
invited to the Captains table at second seating so we went to the early show
before supper. It was a cast show
and we didnt want to miss it. We
sat close to the front so I could see the singers and dancers. One of the numbers featured Marilyn Monroe [Madeleine
Spratt]. She came into the audience
and danced with me while she sang. Wow!!!
What a New Years Eve beginning.
Then among the guests sitting at the Captains table was
Keeley Sims. She is traveling alone
on this cruise. She is a former
model [Cosmopolitan, Vanity Fair], off-Broadway performer, and sports
enthusiast. She will be spending 3
days in Rio at the end of the cruise and is booked at the same hotel where we
will spend a night. Hummmmmmmmmm. It
sure was fun talking with her. She
has traveled a good part of the world while modeling and performing.
Service on the Mercury continues to be very
good. The dining room staff was
attentive, efficient, and friendly. The
stateroom steward and assistant were always on the job but almost invisible.
The ship was nicely decorated for the holiday season and Tracy Agar, the
on board floral designer, kept all of the floral arrangements and plants always
looking fresh. The youth
coordinator did a fine job of keeping the little devils occupied on the
Dining on the Mercury was very adequate.
There were a nice variety of dishes at every meal, be it in the dining
room or in the Palm Springs Café [buffet].
Dee Dee especially liked the luncheon variety of salads.
I loved the many flavors of homemade ice cream.
The quality of food has diminished somewhat since our last Celebrity
cruises. Suppers were the
traditional 2 sittings arrangement with formal, semi-formal, and casual nights.
Most of the Latinos preferred the late seating; it was filled to
over-capacity. Alternate dining was
available in the La Playa Grill evenings but advance reservations were required.
Fresh and flavorful pizza was offered daily from 3 6 pm and 10 pm
1 am. One could spend almost full
time eating; food or snacks were almost constantly available daily until about
12:30 am when the midnight buffets closed.
Then, of course, there was room service.
Internet connectivity is not available on the Mercury.
There are about 15 terminals located in a couple of places but the
network hardware and software still is not operative.
We thought the Cast was especially good on this cruise.
There were 4 shows with 4 vocalists and 8 dancers.
The 2 female vocalists, Nova Hughes and Madeleine Spratt, had superb
voices. The young dancers were some of the most energetic weve
seen. All 4 shows were very
enjoyable and the best we have seen on any of our cruises. There were also guest entertainers; a pair of comedians, a
violinist, a pianist/magician, two vocalists, and a gaucho group.
Some special programs and events were staged for the Latino guests so
that they also could enjoy programs in their native languages.
There was lots of other musical entertainment aboard too.
The Latino crowd kept the Disco jumping until about 4 each morning.
The 14 days aboard the Mercury zipped by.
It was a New Year before we knew it.
Many thanks to Ray Carr and all of his staff for making this a most
memorable and enjoyable cruise. We
had great table companions at suppers and we met lots of other nice people from
all over the world. We are booked
on the Mercury again in May.
We will take our kids and granddaughter to see Alaska.
The South American Ports
Puerto Montt was our first port, arriving on Christmas
morning after a sea day to get rested from the journey to the ship.
This city of about 100,000 is
a relatively young South American city, first settled by Germans in the 1850s.
The city is located on a bay and is noted for being the starting point to
the southern lake district. The
snow-capped volcano, Mt. Osorno, can be seen from the pier.
The Norwegian Dream was at the pier when we arrived.
We elected to enjoy this port on our own.
Right at the end of the pier we noted a local bus stop.
We jumped aboard to see where the bus took us.
Among the locals there were 8 other tourists aboard.
Six were from the Norwegian Dream. We
discovered that the bus would pass through town, up the hills through the
residential district and then back to the front of the pier.
Just think, a 1 ½ hour city tour for less than $1.
Puerto Montt is a charming friendly town.
Lots of the locals who boarded the bus were on their way to friends or
kin with coolers filled with fixings for a Christmas feast.
Children were treasuring their Christmas gifts and all were friendly to
When we returned to the pier we asked the pleasant driver
[in Spanish] if he could take us to other interesting spots.
We worked a deal for the 10 of us for just $40 to see the sights of the
area in his deluxe [but rather ancient] little bus.
What a hoot!! Edwin, the bus
driver, shared lots of local lore with us.
We went to Puerto Varas, known as the Chilean City of Roses.
It is beside Lake Llanquihue, Chiles largest lake, where lots of
residents and some tourists were enjoying a swim in the frigid waters with the
snow covered mountains in the background. We
stopped for lunch at Ensenada. Seafood
and fresh fish are the specialties. We
all enjoyed our meals. Almost
5 hours later we arrived back at the pier with 10 new friends.
Along the way we had picked up the concierge for the suites on the Dream
and his associate. It was an
unusual and most enjoyable day.
We headed south for two sea days on our way to our next
port of Punto Arenas, Chile. The
ship rocked through the waves but rolling was kept to a minimum by the huge
stabilizers. Lots of activities
were offered in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.
We entered the Straight of Magellan on the second day and the seas calmed
down. The fjords were picturesque
but not as spectacular as the Norwegian fjords.
The main attraction in Punta Arenas for us was access to
the Penguin Caves and the National Penguin Reserve. We hired a taxi, saw the city sights, and then traveled 50
miles through the sandy countryside to the Penguin Caves. The taxi waited for us as we walked the 2 mile circuit.
There were penguins, penguins. They
come to this location to nest and hatch their young.
These are the little Magellan penguins with the white bellies and striped
backs. They were not at all afraid
of us so we watched them in and out of their nests.
The day was partly sunny but the cold winds howled.
Its a wonder those little fellas werent blown over.
After Punta Arenas we headed for Ushuaya, Argentina.
Some say this is the end of the world.
Ushuaya is the capital of the Province of Tierra del Fuego [land of
fire], Antarctica. When Magellan
discovered this area, he saw fires at night from the shore.
That is how the province got its name.
The fires were lit each night to guide the Indian fishermen back to their
homes. The town was best known for its prison from 1884 to 1947.
We saw the prison that is now a museum.
It is one of the most inhospitable places one could imagine.
Some might have considered a sentence there worse than the death penalty.
The Mercury was the first cruise ship to dock
in Ushuaya this season. The Royal
Princess and the Norwegian Dream had both visited here in prior days but neither
could get close enough to the pier to tie up.
The port is shallow and narrow. The
winds were too strong to enter safely. We were fortunate, however.
The winds died down and we could enter and tie up.
About midday the winds picked up again and the force of the wind against
the ship caused it to pull loose 3 of the pilings holding us to the pier.
The gangway slipped into the water and it was 45 minutes before the
Captain could get the ship back alongside, tied up, and the gangway reset. Fortunately no one was injured.
The next morning we cruised around Cape Horn.
Ray Carr invited us to see the Cape from the Bridge.
It was a truly memorable experience.
We could track our approach from the radar and GPS screens.
Then we saw the big rock. There
is a tiny weather station on the rock and we heard the Captain on the radio with
its sole inhabitant. We were
fortunate that the skies were mostly clear and the seas were only moderate for
this part of the world. After
circling the Cape we headed north into the Atlantic and back toward Argentina.
The weather continued beautiful but cold considering this is the South
American summer. Dont forget to
bring warm clothing when you travel to this part of the world.
New Years Eve was spent at sea. It was formal night with a special supper and entertainment
for every nationality throughout the ship.
There was free champagne for all at the stroke of midnight.
The parties went on and on through the wee hours of the morning.
New Years Day found us at
Puerto Madryn, Argentina. This
small town is noted for its commercial squid fishing, aluminum refining, and
tourism. Madryn is in a bay with
nice beaches. Nearby cliffs are
home to sea lions, penguins, and lots of birds.
We hired a taxi at the pier and visited the town [nothing, but nothing
was open on New Years Day] and went out to Punta Loma and the national park
to see the sea lions and cormorants.
We returned to the pier just in time to board for the sail away party and
another day at sea as we headed for Buenos Aires.
Our visit to Buenos Aires was in doubt for a while.
The economic upheaval resulted in riots during the previous days.
Celebrity personnel had Montevideo as a back up but tension had lessened
by the time we got to Buenos Aires so we visited as scheduled. We docked at 9 am and stayed until 9 pm.
We took a city tour in a private car with another couple and had a
fabulous time. We saw the Casa
Rosada where Evita addressed her
countrymen. We also visited the
cemetery and saw her mausoleum. We drove by numerous government buildings that had been
recently battered by rioters. We
saw most of the foreign embassies including the U.S. Embassy and the
Ambassadors residence. Both were
heavily guarded by National police as well as a substantial Marine contingent.
Buenos Aires is a beautiful city with wide avenues and many parks.
We passed by their great Zoo and some of the grand churches. There are
lots of cultural and sports facilities. Most
all of the people were friendly toward us Americans.
Most are really scared about their economic futures.
Our U.S. dollars were most welcome.
Lots of passengers elected to spend the evening ashore visiting one of
the many tango taverns and enjoying some Argentinean beef but we returned to the
ship before dark.
We finally arrived in Rio after two additional sea days.
The ports were varied and interesting.
There wasnt a lot to see at some of the ports but we knew that when we
selected this cruise. We enjoyed spending the Christmas holidays in South America
but we think we will not travel on cruise ships during future holidays; too many
port facilities are closed during the holidays; too many unruly kids travel
during the holidays and I believe lots of the staff are homesick during that
period. Nevertheless, the Celebrity
Mercury cruise and the ports were great!
Ó January, 2002