Many cruise passengers are more interested in the quality of their ship-board experiences than the ports of call, but my top three priorities in selecting a cruise are: 1) The ship is the most convenient transportation to the ports I want to visit 2) It’s a small ship (500 or less passengers) and 3) It provides excellent on-board learning opportunities.
In the past several years, the frequent rave reviews of the 500-passengers twin ships –Azamara Quest and Azamara Journey –motivated me to book an Azamara cruise, but I had already traveled to most of the countries on the ships’ itineraries.
Then, this January, I discovered an intriguing 16-day roundtrip cruise from Buenos Aires to Antarctica. Buenos Aires, the “Paris” of South America, was well worth a return visit and Antarctica, an intriguing new destination.
Unlike expedition ships which spend 12-18 days going around the entire Antarctic continent with two landings a day, the Azamara Quest would cruise just three days along the shores of the Antarctic Peninsula and Elephant Island, enabling us to comfortably view the wildlife and breathtaking scenery from the ship. That suited me perfectly!
The two lecturers aboard ship – Nigel Marvin and Chuck Richardson – were so outstanding, they greatly enhanced the voyage. Both offer lectures onboard Azamara ships several times each year.
Nigel, a wildlife explorer and superb documentary film maker, was always available for commentary on the deck, as was Chuck, who concentrated on the fascinating historical and scientific aspects of our journey.
In addition, they enlighted our port visits to Montevideo, Uruguay; Port Stanley, Falkland Islands; Cape Horn, Chile; Puerto Madryn, Argentina; and finally, Buenos Aires.
We were unable to dock in Ushuaia, Argentina (for a visit to Tierra del Fuego National Park) due to rough weather. As Ice Pilot Capt. Demel, who had been in Antarctica over 100 times, explained, “A significant number of passengers do not know how difficult the infamous Drake Passage can be.”
But the spectacular number of wildlife viewings from the ship more than made up for this one disappointment. More than 20 whales of various species surfaced so close to the ship’s top deck, you could almost reach out and touch them. And there were hundreds of penguins on floating icebergs nearby.
Prior to sailing to Antarctica, we had visited the adorable penguins up close and personal at one of four penguin colonies in the Falklands. Afterwards, I visited a popular Port Stanley pub to meet the friendly native Falklanders (called “Kelpers”) and learn about their easy-going lifestyle.
Those passengers who pre-booked all their shore excursions before the voyage received an almost-too-good-to-be-true 50% discount on the excursions. Another excellent value – tips and wine with lunch and dinner were included in the price of the cruise.
On future voyages, pre-booking shore excursions will reflect a 25% discount and unlimited standard alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks will be complimentary.
Other advantages of the 500-passenger ship included never waiting in life for an elevator, very short lines when disembarking the ship, and superb service from the entire staff.
However, the price of booking a hotel in Buenos Aires directly with the cruise line was expensive. I highly recommend my delightful small hotel – the newly remodeled Rochester Classic at Esmeralda 542 . It was conveniently situated two blocks from Florida Street, the city’s central pedestrian thoroughfare.