To celebrate a joint 50th birthday, we were looking for a special trip.
I normally do overland trips, but we decided on cruise around South America.
It offered several advantages:
1. As the cruise started in Santiago, it would allow us to see Easter Island before the cruise started (one of the most incredible places on earth).
2. We’d be able to visit the Falkland Islands, which is practically impossible otherwise.
3. Multiple stop off’s in Patagonia.
4. Chance to follow the footsteps of great explorers with things like the Beagle Channel and the Magellan straits.
But how would this work, I’m a backpacker at heart (although I do wear Rohan and carry state of the art technology, it’s where my roots are).
Would a poncy G&T cruise ship work out, or would I feel out of place and just hide in my cabin ?. Time to find out.
After visiting Santiago, spending a few days in Easter Island and back to Santiago, it’s time to join our ship.
The ship leaves from Valparaiso, which is 120k from Santiago. Princess cruises offered to do a pickup, but it was £100.
Instead, we got 2 local buses and it was about £3.
Arriving at Valparaiso port, it felt quite industrial, and lacked a certain romanticism I was expecting.
With plenty of time to kill, we head up the hill. It gave a commanding view of the harbour and there was a superstore selling everything from soap to electric drills in case you’d forgotten anything for your trip.
Back down the hill, we found a nice cafe and I relaxed with a cold beer.
We arrive to be checked in. None of the “party at Buckingham palace” I’d expected.
We queued like refugees, the only positive thing is it had a roof so we were in the shade.
Sensibly, all bags are scanned through security, we’d be re-united with ours later.
We got to the check in desk. Our passports were handed over and we were photographed.
Then we each got a special card. I was really impressed. The whole boat is cash free, if you want something, you use the card and its put on your bill to be paid when you disembark.
Not just that, but when you leave or enter the boat, you swipe the card and it knows if you’re onboard or not. Also security see your picture on a monitor when you swipe, so if someone has stolen your card while ashore, they won’t get far.
At the dockside, some of the 900 balconies.
I’d done lots of research/reading on the Crown Princess, but to see it up-close was incredible.
I found a picture of our ship in dry dock before commissioning.
The Crown class cruise ship, Crown Princess.
Maiden voyage in 2006, a complete refit in 2018.
With 18 decks and a length of 290 metres, she’s bigger than the Titanic.
Were shown to our our cabin and our bags are already inside. Not massive accommodation, but plenty big enough for us and very comfortable.
It would also allow for an entirely different kind of travel. Instead of sitting on a bus for 4 hours, we’d travel while we slept.
Quite a large storage area, a spotlessly clean bathroom, a small sitting area, a desk and chair , and a balcony, I thought they’d done really well with the space available.
We like each other’s company, but it was a long trip. Sometimes, with 1 of us on the balcony reading and the other working at the desk it felt like we had 2 rooms.
Our concierge Geordie introduced himself. he’d take care of our room and provide room service etc.
He told us we would need to attend a safety brief in 30 mins. He was charming and friendly, but the safety brief clearly wasn’t optional.
There are 8 muster point on the ship and we presented ourselves at the Explorers lounge.
A demonstration of how to put on a life jacket and what to do in an emergency, then a quick chat about cruising for those that hadn’t done it before. The ships compliment is 3080 passengers and 1200 crew.
There were guests from lots of different countries (we put up our hand for UK) and staff on the boat are from 54 countries.
Our compère said I’m from Brazil, my colleague is from Argentina but we all get on fine. Why ? because we never discuss politics onboard.
You’re on holiday and free to do as you wish, but our advise is worth considering seriously for the well-being of all onboard.
With the briefing over, the launch party begins by the pool on the top deck.
I’m really excited to see what this floating city has to offer, so I head off exploring.
The Piazza, a 3-story atrium is the main hub of the ship. All the hustle and bustle of the ship can be experience as well as various shops, a coffee house and a wine bar we would come to know well.
A pool at the back of the boat, showing the wake. Most of the pools were open to everyone, but this was 1 of 2 that were for adults only.
We had a balcony, but the view from the top deck was incredible (your 165 feet above the water), especially when we were travelling around Patagonia.
In terms of preparation and equipment, it was the strangest sort of trip. On Easter Island, were were wearing shorts and T Shirts, travelling around the Cape Horne, softshell trousers and a down jacket.
One surprise for me was the massive up-selling philosophy I wasn’t prepared for.
It seemed to me, we’d paid a small fortune to be on this boat, in the lap of luxury and all that remained was to enjoy it.
In reality, the money you’ve paid for the cruise is just the start so far that they’re concerned. Here’s one examples, the shop sells chocolate bars, deodorant & sea sickness tablets.
There is nowhere to buy books and internet is expensive, so you might almost think they want you to be bored and spend money 🙂
The Calypso reef and pool on the top deck.
In the evening, they would show films. We’d normally wander around the top deck once it got dark, but to watch films, we normally went back to our cabin.
I’m always open to new idea’s and it’s strange some of the new things youre prepared to try on holiday.
On sailing days – when we were at sea all day (there were 5), I’d go to Horizon court (all day buffet dining), get a mid-morning coffee and sit with it in the Crooners Piano bar.
He played every day/evening for 14 days and I really enjoyed his music.
The Neptune’s reef and pool had nothing of interest to me from a water perspective, but as a culinary experience, the complete opposite.
On one side, Prego Pizza station, that cooked fresh pizza right in front of you. You could choose from one he’d just made, or he’d make exactly the pizza you wanted.
On the other side, The Salty Dog grill, serving burgers, hot dogs and chicken burgers just to your liking with every kind of sauce.
OK, certainly not health food, but I’m on holiday, this stuff is completely free, so why the hell not.
A map was posted and updated each day by the pool which showed a nautical chart and our progress.
I visited it each morning, to see where we were/where we’d been. I’m not sailor, but this was adventure on the high sea’s and I was totally engaged.
On sailing days, they were big on activities. But these activities usualy involved trying to sell you something.
So there would be 20% off all jewellry, an art auction and special promotions at Gatsby’s Casino. All of no interest to me, so I just did my own thing (and I really regret not taking more books, see stuff bellow, advice for cruising).
But where it did get on my nerves, was when I visited the gym. I just wanted to have a go on an exercise bike and as soon as I walked in they started selling me a personal trainer or acupuncture. I just got sick of the hassle and left.
But there were lots of other things to do as well like quiz’s and Spanish lessons, Motown afternoon and nightly Cabaret.
In the Princess theatre, there were talks and lectures about the destinations we’d visit.
The talks were top notch, with humour, relevance and the genuine charisma of the speakers.
One of the talks, showed the difference between cruise ships and ocean liners. It mentioned the average age of cruise ship guests was 47 (with number of mobility scooters on board I thought they should try adding 25 years to that number :).
One talk I really enjoyed was about Charles Darwin.
Darwinss discoveries – How a voyage to the Galapagos shocked the Victorians by Angela Kelly.
Later, I got to follow in his footsteps on my tour of the Beagle channel.
In the evening, lots of Cabaret, singing and othe activities. One I really enjoyed was a Tango demonstration by Fernando and Cecilia.
I was also a bit surprised at the evening dress code. Each evening was either formal or informal and the dress code was as follows.
Women: evening gown, cocktail dress or elegant pant suit.
Men: Tuxedo, dark suit or dinner jacket and slacks.
Women: Skirts, dress, slacks and sweaters.
Men: Pants and open-neck shirts.
Generally though, they were pretty relaxed about dress, and common sense prevailed, people didn’t walk into the restaurant in swimming trunks or anything silly like that. I was just frustrated that the one time my Rohan evening jacket would have been useful, I’d left it at home.
In the evening relaxing on our balcony.
Dining options were to say the least, extensive. We spent most evening in the Michelangelo dining room.
Sometimes on a shared table with a chance to meet new people, other times just the 2 of us.
In terms of quality, it was the sort excellent food I’d normally eat as a special treat on my birthday. But every night!.
Baked potato soup was my favourite starter.
Although all food was included with the cruise, some speciality dining options were available at additional cost.
We decided to try the Sabatini Italian restaurant, which was £30 extra for both of us.
An incredible experience, 5 courses, our table had its own exclusive waiter with an assistant for drinks.
Across the room we saw that Captain Manfuso and his wife were there as well. We enjoyed it that much, that we did it again a few nights later.
The Crown Grill steak house was another speciality option we tried.
It was £50 this time for both of us. They had a vegetarian option for Nikki, my steak was superb as I’d expected and the sommelier recommended a nice red to go with it.
This was living like James Bond.
We had an interesting talk and tour on the ship’s kitchen.
Suffice to say, it can cater for over 4000 people so it was enormous.
Broken down into small teams and units, every kind of cooking utility and spotlessly clean.
Here, a cake with an ice sculpture prepared for a guests wedding anniversary.
So where did we drink. I found the Wheelhouse bar to be quiet most of the time with plenty of space, so I sat with my kindle and a bottle of Bud.
At £8.50 a bottle, it was expensive but I wasn’t there to get drunk, just to relax after all.
Any trip with Nikki is going to involve a winebar.
We spent most of our evening here trying nearly every wine they had. The staff were very friendly and we soon settled in.
We saw the winestore on our tour of the kitchen.
It’s value is never less and $1,000,000.
The last night of our cruise.
Sat at the wine bar at 10:30pm, most of the Piazza is empty.
The following morning, watching the sunrise from our cabin.
My final memory of our cruise. Although sceptical at first, I really enjoyed that trip.
Conclusions: my recommendations for cruising, what would I do differently.
- Get active – With loads of food options and every opportunity to relax, you need to get organised. Dismiss the sales people and spend at least an hour in the gym each morning. Alternatively, there is a running track on the top deck, or just go for a long walk.
- Treats – If you like chocolates or sweets, take your own, they are fantasticaly expensive onboard.
- Kettle – Hot drinks can be delivered to your room, but a better option is to take your own travel kettle, some plastic cups and in my case lots of sachets of nice hot chocolate.
- Coffee – You normaly have to pay for coffee from the coffee shop, but in the buffet, it’s free. If you take one of those cups that keeps coffee warm, a fill-up at the buffet will set you up for mid morning.
- Books/Films – When you’re collecting firewood, work out how much you think you’ll need and double it. Take a kindle loaded with books and use the same forumula (and at least 1 paper book, technology can fail). A laptop loaded up with tv & films you’ve not seen is also usefull.
- TV – One thing to note, is that the tv in your room is “locked”. The old trick of connecting your laptop to a hotel TV with HDMI lead won’t work here. They had some excelent films for free that we really enjoyed.
- Plan each day. “Patter” magazine is delivered each evening. It has “news” and the following days activities and talks. Lots of stuff going on so go through it and mark the things your interested in. Take it with you the next day when your wandering around the ship.
- Formal clothing – Next time I’d take a formal jacket and some darker shoes (the shirt and polo shirt I had was fine, but desert boots didn’t work that well in evenings.
- Lectures/Talks – Attend every lecture you get the chance too. No matter how much you’ve researched your destinations, there’s going to be something interesting in there.
- Find your place – Initialy, cruise traveling is amazing but Cabin fever can set in. Find somewhere you are comfortable and make that your place.
- Go ashore – Not to sate the obvious, but some people like cruising for the boat expirience alone (we met people doing their 32nd cruise). Try to remember it’s a vehicle for adventure travel so spend as much time onshore as you can.
- Where to cruise – Some places are well suited to cruising like South America and the Caribean, but remember you usualy you get 1 day in each and you only get to see the outside of a place.
- Stairs/Lifts – Try to use the stairs and burn some calories. Be carefull of lifts, when the doors open, people can fly out on mobility carts and if they hit you, it will really hurt.
- Wifi – Expensive @£1 per minute. Each morning I’d connect and quickly read bbc news, while email, whatsapp and facebook were downloading. Disconnect, read and send replies. If you do this each day, it will keep costs down. Best wifi options are bars in Port.
- Comunication – They have an app you can install on your phone that allows you to message friends onboard for free. It also has a map of the ship and lists activities for the day.
- Calls/Texting – Unlikely to get a phone signal for most of the trip. Don’t be too connected anyway you’r on holiday.
- Health/Medical Care – Don’t get on the ship, without insurance. Sick bay has an operating theatre and everything you’d expect to find in a hospital – but it’s all chargable so only use in a crisis. For non urgent, use your first aid kit and local pharmacies when in Port.
- Laundry – They offer a pickup and return laundry service, but we used the coin operated washing machines, which were much cheaper.
- Flowers – A bit of a daft one this, but the first night of our trip was valentines. The cheapest flowers I could find were £120. So I got a magician’s wand think that turned into flowers. It went down quite well, and entertained the other guest’s at our table. Cost £7