Embarkation was smooth and organized; it took only minutes to get aboard the ship. This ship is amazingly beautiful, quite well maintained and provides a traditional ship experience for discriminating over-40 passengers. She excels in quiet, refined living and has surroundings of good comfort. The interiors are spacious (there is place for everyone, even when the ship is full), with high-ceilinged public rooms (some are two decks high) and extremely tasteful conservative décor. There are fine quality furnishings and fittings, and many works of art (this ship is really a floating gallery).
Public room facilities include three good-sized pools (one with a convertible roof, which opens on every sunny day); whirlpools; a spacious and very well equipped fitness center; a basketball and volleyball court; a spa with thalassotherapy pool; a dry sauna (free of charge); seven reasonably stocked shops in the Rialto Galleries; a casino with many tables and slot machines; a flower stand, and more.
The Navigator Club situated on the higher decks and in the front of the ship is a comfortable & quiet place to read, relax or just look at the sea during the day, and a happy disco at night. Tastings is a nice bar/lounge where you can dance to the excellent music of the Fun & Joy duo. After dining, a good choice is going to the Cova Café (inspired by the Milanese coffeehouse) for a cappuccino and a little piece of Cova chocolate and listening to the incredible Moonlight Quartet.
Michael's Club is a very elegant smoking room with fine artwork. The cinema was nice, but featured "Evita" almost everyday. The Celebrity Theater is beautiful, comfortable and has no obstructed views. The shows were good, Las Vegas style, and the musicians in the lounges and bars were the best part of the entertainment.
The Library is poor - almost always closed - and you cannot find playing cards in the Card Room. Medical facilities are excellent with very attentive personnel. The ship was very clean, extremely well maintained and the staff was very friendly.
Our accommodations (Standard Inside) were very clean, soundproofed and comfortable, with minibar/refrigerator, personal safe and many cabin amenities (I particularly liked the light bathrobe, which I bought at the end of the cruise). The closets and bathroom were ample and the cabin was nicely decorated with soft colors. The TV channels were insufficient, but there is pay per view and you can always rent movies at the Purser's desk. Our cabin steward, Esteves from Costa Rica, was excellent - he kept the cabin impeccably clean and made up, without being noticed.
The Manhattan Restaurant is beautiful with an elegant Old World atmosphere; the electrically operated blinds featured outstanding views of the Beagle Channel. The Polish quartet (violin, harmonica, clarinet and cello) was outstanding, adding to the unforgettable dining experience.
The food was very well presented, had excellent taste and was served in French style (small portions). The desserts were also beautiful, but not very tasty. Our waiters, the Portuguese Flavio and Telmo, were outstanding and had very good senses of humor. The Czech Maitre d', Martin, was very efficient and courteous. Our Lithuanian sommelier, Sniega, showed knowledge and finesse, always commenting on our wines.
The Palm Springs Café for breakfast, alternative lunch and dinner, and midnight buffets is beautiful, formed by separate small bay-windowed rooms. During the day you can sit there and watch the beautiful scenes going by as you listen to relaxing classical music. The pizza served by the pool is very good. The stern pool serves as an interesting third choice for lunch, with regional meals. Breakfast was very good with lots of fresh fruit.
The Midnight Buffets were very attractive and alternated with the Gourmet Bites (waiters with trays of appetizers in some public areas). The Grand Buffet was a work of art, beautiful and delicious. The two Captain's Cocktail Parties, where very interesting and well served.
Ports of Call & Scenic Navigation
The shore excursions were very good but expensive. We took independent tours (hiring taxis or vans at the piers).
Rio de Janeiro
Rio is known as "The Marvelous City" for its incredible natural beauty, such as the Corcovado (Mountain of the Christ The Redeemer statue) with a 360-degree view of the city, The Sugar Loaf Mountain, and the white sandy beaches (like Copacabana, Leblon and Ipanema). If possible, three days should be reserved for this city. The best way to know Rio de Janeiro is the "Rio Sightseeing" hop-on/hop-off bus. Economical (about US$10 per person per day), safe and comfortable (air-conditioned, with ongoing explanations in many languages), this red bus (big Coca-Cola inscription on both sides) runs every half-hour by all major attractions, main hotels and the pier. Tickets can be bought at the hotels or from the bus driver (cash only). Ask the hotel front desk where the nearest "Rio Sightseeing" stop is.
The pride of the Argentineans, Buenos Aires is a cosmopolitan city with plenty of beautiful parks and interesting buildings. In spite of the economic crisis they were going through at the time of our visit, we saw no abnormal disturbances during our stay there. A city tour, and later a walking tour downtown, would be a good choice. A taxi from there to the pier will cost about US $5.
You can find excellent restaurants, and the barbecue houses are strongly recommended, as Argentina has the best meat in the world. Try the fancy and expensive "Cabana Las Lilas" at Puerto Madero (near the pier) or the typical and inexpensive "La Estancia" at Calle Lavalle 941 (downtown). For meat lovers, I recommend the Argentinian's favorite "Bife de Chorizo" (a delicious thick sirloin cut), a green salad and a bottle of red wine ("Borgonha Rodas" or any other good wine from Mendoza). Believe me, it is heaven!
There are good shopping centers: Galerias Pacífico downtown (there is a free bus shuttle from the pier), the fancy Patio Bulrich, and Shopping Palermo.
This is a small city without major attractions. From here you can go to Punta Tombo Penguin Rookery or Peninsula Valdes (natural habitat of sea elephants). Both places are about 100 miles distant -- a three-hour trip each way in non-air-conditioned buses and partly on an unpaved road. There is a bus shuttle from the pier to town. The stop is just in front of a travel agency which charges US$30 per person for any of the two tours of the ship. There is a good market (Super Mercado Norte) on the main Street (28 de Julio 136) with a good stock of Argentinian wine.
Strait of Magellan and Cape Horn
It is definitely an experience to know that you are in the southernmost point of South America and feel the freezing Antarctic breeze.
This place can be described as the end of the world. Located in Tierra Del Fuego (Land of Fire), it is the southernmost city of South America on the shore of Beagle Channel, surrounded by the snow covered Martial Mounts. The town center is a very short walk from the pier. There are many shops and restaurants on the Main Street (San Martín), where you can eat the famous crab "Centolla" and the Argentinean Parrillada (Barbecue). We went to the "Rancho Argentino" and the cost for a parrilla, salad, red house wine and dessert for two persons was US$25. Also on the same street (no. 294) is the Massera Ice Cream Parlour -- it is really worth a visit.
The ship tour "Train Ride at The End Of The World" is an expensive joke (US$84), so forget it. A good tour is the "Tierra del Fuego National Park." You can pay US$47 for the guided ship tour or take a van, one block to the left from the pier and pay US$10 per person.
Approximately three hours after ship's departure from Ushuaia we saw the first of the famous glaciers of Chile on the starboard (right) side of the ship. The names of the glaciers in the order in which they appear are: España, Romance, Alemania, Fráncia, Italia and Holanda. Glaciers are large masses of ice (not snow) that form high in the mountains until it becomes heavy and starts to move downhill. This is one of the highlights of the cruise -- do not miss it!
A fjord is a long narrow coastal valley between rocky cliffs that were gouged out by one or more glaciers and then flooded by the nearby sea or ocean. During the navigation of Canals Darwin and Moraleda, we saw snow-covered volcanoes, a beautiful landscape and small islands full of sea lions (another highlight of the cruise). Navigator Club or Palm Springs Café are excellent places to see all this beauty.
We took a van at the pier and spent all day touring (cost: US $65 per person). After a brief tour at Puerto Montt, we went to Puerto Varas (charming little town), Lake Llanquihue, Petrohué River Falls (light colored clothing is recommended to avoid the annoying "Távano" flies), and emerald green Todos os Santos Lake, where we had a breathtaking view of the Osorno Volcano. Then we had a break for lunch at a restaurant located near the lake and returned to Puerto Montt. There is a handicraft market two blocks from the pier.
Debarkation here was also very smooth, but I could not imagine what was going to happen. On the Internet, I had arranged a private tour around Puerto Montt, Viña del Mar and the transfer to Santiago, with sightseeing, for US $75 per person (15% pre-paid via PayPal) with the very well recommended Mr. Gaston Lux. He simply did not show up! Being left at the port was angering, but after a long wait, I managed to find a taxi to the Viña del Mar bus station and went to Santiago without the sightseeing of Valparaiso and Viña del Mar.
Fortunately, I speak Spanish and we are experienced travelers. I can only imagine how awful it would have been if we were one of the many Americans arriving in Chile for the first time. After arriving home, Gaston sent me an e-mail offering apologies and a US$20 refund. What an easy solution! I will never contract tours on the Internet again!
It is very easy to experience the city by taxi, Metro and walking. We stayed at the very nice Torremayor Hotel, which is conveniently located in a residential area, near Los Leones Metro station, Panorámico Mall, and fast food restaurants, and within walking distance of San Cristóbal Hill. A double apartment was US$80 per day, with breakfast buffet and free use of the Internet. There is a good Italian restaurant in the hotel. At the front desk, we contracted a very interesting tour to Cousino-Macul winery and to the not-so-good Cajon Maipo (US$40 per person).
Celebrity Cruises is improving and offers excellent products at affordable prices.
PHOTOS courtesy of Celebrity Cruises.
For lots more SeaLetter photos and information on Mercury, click HERE.
Nelson de Barros Pereira is a Civil Engineer who currently resides in Brazil. He has been on 13 cruises and may be reached at: Nesclau@uol.com.br.
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