Our cruise highlights

As many of you know, last month we went on a cruise around South America. It was 39 days aboard Holland America’s MS Amsterdam. We boarded in Rio DeJeneiero, Brazil and went south around Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America then up the west coast to Seattle. If I had to pick a theme for our trip it would be visiting South America one play park at a time. We managed to find a park in just about every stop for the kids to play.

There were about 900 passengers but of those, only 4 children, so our kids got spoiled. They had free daycare available 9-1130 in the morning, 1-4 in the afternoon, and 7-10 in the evening on days at sea. On port days only the evening time was available. Richard and Karen really enjoyed playing up there. It was a paint themed room done in primary colors and had a big, red, paint bucket shaped seating area; paper roll shaped slide; low tables shaped like painter’s pallets with paint bucket padded stools. Of course there were lots of toys, blocks, kid books, and games. Since there were only 4 kids, there was just one attendant. Actually there were 2 different young women (Laura and Trisha) because of a crew change half way through the trip. Also they had tween and teen rooms. The kids sometimes went to the tween room to do crafts and birthday parties. Richard and Mia both had birthday onboard.

Richard took his school work with him. (One of the reasons we chose to homeschool was to travel, afterall.) He finished the math book before we left. He did school on days we were at sea and had port days off. (Because of this we won’t finish school until June.) We also bought Neighbors in Latin America (CLE’s 6th grade social studies) and studied about the countries as we visited them. While we didn’t do any book science, he learned a lot about animals, oceans, continental drift and geology, the Coriolis effect (water swirls in the opposite direction in the Southern Hemisphere). He went to several lectures about the history, biology, and geology of the places we visited. He also get a few piano lessons from one of the entertainers, on a concert grand no less. I need to figure out how to write all this up so he can get credit for it.

We had an outside room. This means we had a window. It had a very deep sill which the kids enjoyed playing in. We were on the bottom deck (Dolphin Deck) toward the back of the ship. This was nice because the motion and people sounds were less than on the upper decks. We had a big double bed. The sofa made into a bed and there was a drop down bunk. The kids took turns as to who slept on the sofa and upper bunk. It was very comfortable. There were 6 closets and a small bathroom including a tiny tub just big enough for the kids to play in.

*NOTE* I DON’T HAVE WHAT WE DID IN ALL THE PORTS YET. PLEASE CHECK BACK AGAIN FOR MISSING ONES.

We had 5 days in Rio before boarding. During that time we spent most of it in the hotel getting used to the heat. It was -10F when we left Fairbanks and Rio was in the 80’s. We also went to the beach a couple of mornings. One day we took a city tour. You need to be careful about lunch times. To the Brazilians, lunch is around 2 or 3 in the afternoon. We didn’t know that and bought a tour scheduled to end before lunch. We thought hat would be around noon or 1. It was after 2 when we got back to the hotel and the kids were very hungry. Still, it was a great tour. It included a trip up the mountain to see the giant Christ statue that overlooks the city.

Buenos Aires, Argentina was the first stop. This was an overnight stop. We took a city tour the first day. The second day we took a free shuttle to a jewelry shop then walked to a nearby park where the kids played. The UNESCO World Friendship Bears were on display there. There’s one bear for each country of the world. They are painted to represent each country’s culture.

Montivideo, Uruguay the capital. Again, we found a play park.

Port Stanley, Faulkland Islands (British Territory). In the morning we looked around town. We even stopped at the school administration office to see about putting the kids in school there if we ever sail down that way. It would be a great place to spend the southern winter. We paid $40 for a van to take us to Gypsy Cove where we went for a walk to see Magellanic penguins. Some were in their nests burrowed into the low hills and others were on the beach. Then we had the driver drop us off at a play park in town on the way back.

Cape Horn scenic cruising around was very windy. You definitely get the feeling you’re at the end of the world. It is very remote and rocky.

Ushuaia, Argentina the southern most city in South America. We didn’t see any of the town. We went on a tour in a large catamaran. It went out to a rocky island where we saw sea lions and 2 kinds of penguins. This trip took most of our time in port so we stayed on board when we got back and had lunch since it was just about time to for the ship to leave.

Punta Arenas, Chile

Scenic cruising in the Chilean Fjords. This area looks a lot similar to Southeast Alaska and the Alaskan Inside Passage, complete with glaciers.

Puerto Montt, Chile

Coquimbo, Chile

Valprasio, Chile was a major stop for the ship. This is where several guests left and others arrived as well as crew (including the day care attendants). We left our cameras in the room by accidents so have no pictures. We took the local train downtown and rode up one of the city’s many Funiculars to a small tourist market.

Arica, Chile is on the edge of the Ariconda desert, one of the driest places in the world. We went to a play park then hired a cab to take us up to an overlook at the edge of the desert. We went to a tourist market and bought souvenirs. There was also a local kids dance group performance. The kids got to ride a police horse. In the afternoon we went swimming on the ship.

Callao (Lima), Peru was the other place we stayed overnight. The first day we took a three part tour. First we went to the archaelogy museum which we had been to before. Again, we wandered off from the main group and were invited down into the gold room. Then we went to some pre-Inca ruins. Finally we saw a horse show and had a late lunch. After lunch they let people ride the horses. The kids and I did. It was a lot of fun. Unfortunately, I was feeling pretty ill when we returned to the ship. The second day we took a free shuttle to a jewelry store in town and made some phone calls from a nearby hotel then went to a play park.

Ecuador had a stop, but we were so unimpressed with it the last time we were there that we didn’t even get off the ship.

Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica. A small town where we spent Easter Sunday. We went swimming at the black sand beach near the dock in the morning and walked around the market in the afternoon. We were supposed to dock at a different port but had to come here because there was no room.

This morning the ship officially announced an outbreak of stomach virus and were taking major steps to try to curb it’s spread. The condiments, drinks, desserts, buffet, salad and taco bars would no longer be self-serve. Towels were taken away from the pools. You had to ask if you wanted one. Salt and pepper shakers were removed. Again, you had to ask if you wanted any and were given little packets. Bread was served by the waiter instead of being left on the table in a basket. Hand sanitizing alcohol soap dispensers were put in many public places throughout the ship. The hot tubs were drained and closed. Tables, chairs, handrails, and other surfaces were frequently cleaned with Virox. The metal cages were lowered over the books in the library. You had to write your cabin number and book name on a list and books were pulled once a day for those who wanted one. Returned books were wiped with Virox then put in a bin for 48 hours before being reshelved. It was amusing because instead of high-5 or hugs they taught the kids to bump elbows with the crew. Richard caught on pretty quick but Karen didn’t understand. This would be how the rest of the trip was conducted.

Puerto Chiapas, Mexico wasn’t much. There was a small tourist market at the port where we bought souvenirs and watched a local dance show. There was a bus into town but cost $10/person which we didn’t do.

Huatulco, Mexico had a great beach. The ship had a tour that went snorkeling at this beach for $65/person. We rented snorkel gear and hired a local small boat to take us all there for 3 hours for less than $50. This was the first time Richard had even been snorkeling. He was very excited seeing fish like that. Karen played in the shallows with some local kids. I got a bit sunburned.

Acapulco, Mexico was a lot of fun. It was also our most expensive stop. We got a ship tour to take us swimming with dolphins at a water park. We were in the water with the dolphins about 45 minutes. It also included a DVD of our swim and photos. Then we had an hour to play at the water park. The kids played at the kid’s area. Richard was in between the kid’s area height maximum and the regular water slides height minimum so he could do both. He went down one slide twice. It was huge and covered so it was dark inside while going down. Kids under 10 are supposed to have direct adult supervision on the slides so I went down after him. Karen went on a bungee bounce while we were doing the slide.

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico was pretty laid back. The ship was anchored in the bay so we had to take tenders to the small boat dock. After making some phone calls and buying souvenirs, we hired a local boat to tour the rock formations at the tip of Baja for $15. The ship wanted $45/person for basically the same tour. We also saw pelicans, seals, little crabs, and a sea turtle. The kids and Ray napped while I explored the town in the afternoon. Then we went swimming on the ship before dinner.

San Diego, CA. US Customs was horrible. The other countries did it all at the front office. The passengers didn’t have to do anything and we were usually cleared by 7:30-8am. The US is different.You had to pick up your passport the day before. Starting about 6:30 in the morning they started making announcements about where to go. Then you stood in line to have your passport checked. Everyone onboard had to do this including crew. Finally about 9:45 they started announcing 7 people who still hadn’t checked in yet. No one was allowed off until everyone had checked in with customs. Several people were supposed to end their cruise here. Others were just waiting to get off and explore like we were. Finally a bit after 10am everyone had checked in and the ship was cleared to start letting people off.

We were docked near the USS Midway, a retired aircraft carrier. It is now a museum. We walked over and spent the day exploring it. Karen was too short to go up in the control tower so she went with Ray to look at planes while I took Richard up. He got to sit in the captain’s chair and was Captain Richard. The tour guides are all retired Navy men who had served aboard the Midway.

Victoria, Canada was a lovely city. Spring was in bloom. Ray hadn’t slept well the night before so I took the kids to a play park while he took a morning nap. Later we all walked around and found a boat tour of the harbor. That was neat.

Seattle, WA was the end of the cruise. We had signed up to get off in the last group since our flight wasn’t until the next day. They sent around a sheet that said our anticipated departure time would be 8:45 so we finished our last minute packing and had breakfast. It turns out it was almost 10:30 when our group was called (US Customs delays again). We rented a car, had lunch at the Space Needle with friends then stayed the night with other friends. The next day we mailed a box of stuff home and visited friends again before heading to the airport. Ray and the kids flew back to Alaska from Seattle. My mom had been very ill and in the intensive care of the hospital the last part of our trip so I flew over and visited them a week before returning to Alaska.

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6 Responses

  1. Sounds fun.

    Your experience reinforces something I’ve heard on travel channel. That on cruises you can often get a better deal on side trips from locals rather than the ship.

  2. Dee,
    It was a lot of fun. Last night Karen asked when we can go again.

    Yes, you can usually get better deals on locally hired tours. We only paid the ship for 2 tours that we really wanted to do that may be difficult to arrange locally. Almost always there were taxis and tour van drivers available at the pier. Sometimes it was hard to get away from them to take a walk because they can be very persistent. Prices charged by the ship for tours were often at least double what we paid for basically the same thing locally. Plus, the local tour operators didn’t mind haggling over price to get a good deal for us. A few times we saw the marked Holland America buses at the same places our local guides brought us so we’re fairly sure it was the same tour just much cheaper. Also, locally you often have smaller tour groups and can make special stop requests like when we were dropped off at a park. However, we wanted to be sure we saw penguins so we booked the catamaran tour, same thing with the dolphin swim. I wanted to do a tropical forest horseback ride in Costa Rica that I would have book through the ship but it was canceled.

  3. Oh, I finished Proverbs and half of Ecclesiastes on the trip too. It had church services but they were rather generic.

  4. Hi Frankie and Kids, I have copied the Blog for Jet/Leroy Gordon. We follow Ur activities and find Ur family is exciting. Jan and I just got back from a drive to Cottonwood Arizona in the 25 Studebaker, about 2500 miles in a car 80 years old is a little tiring as we only travel at 40 mph. We will wait for Ur next addition to the blog. Jim

  5. Jim,
    Great, thanks! Sounds like you had an adventure of your own too. Not sure what our next one will be at this point. We may go canoing this weekend if the weather is reasonably warm.

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