South American/Antarctic Holiday Cruise aboard HAL's Veendam

Travel Day, Dec 18-19,2010

What a hectic couple of days it’s been.  No matter how early I start preparation, I’m always scurrying around like a crazy woman at the end.

It was a rainy, yucky morning in Naples; would have been perfect for sleeping in.  But I was up by 7.  Didn’t start packing until this morning.  My car service picked me up at 1:30.  Howard came over to see me off.  And my neighbor, Patricia, (who is originally from Buenos Aires) came out to tell me that she was going to be in B.A. while I’m there.  I gave her my hotel info; & she says she’ll e-mail & possibly show me around during one of my 2 days there.

It took several hours before I could tame my nervous energy.  I made a few goodbye/holiday calls while I awaited my 4:15 flight to ATL.  Once in the air, I kind of zonked out.  At least I think I did since my head kept falling forward.  I had a 2 hr, layover in ATL: & was fortunate to have access to the Delta Sky Club lounge.  It’s like an oasis in the desert once you step inside those frosted glass doors.  I found a comfy spot, got a drink & some snacks (fruit, cheese, pretzels & olives).

When I boarded my flight to Santiago, I thought we’d never leave the gate.  The jetway was stuck; we pulled back half an hour late.  As soon as I sat down I overheard a lady across the aisle talking about boarding the Veendam.  I just had to ask if she was a “cruise critic”.  She said no; but her husband was.  I met my first shipmates, Deb & Rich (otherwise known as “obnxshs” on the C.C. message boards.  They’re from Orlando.

When we finally got in the air, a lovely dinner was served.  I started w/ a dual appetizer;  grilled shrimp w/ lemon grass & marinated hearts of palm.  This was paired with roasted beets w/ crumbled bleu cheese (different, but delicious).  This was followed by tomato & basil soup & a mixed green salad (w/ jicama, yellow pepper, almonds & roma toatoes) w/ sour cream & chive dressing.  For my main course, I had a huge salmon filet topped w/ roasted garlic chips & citrus mojo sauce.  Sides were a turnip puree & grilled asparagus.  I was stuffed.

I was all primed & ready for a long internet session only to find out that they only have wifi on domestic flights.  This blew my plan for the long night all to hell!  I had a power port plug in my seat; & I was all set up for business.  So, it was either pull out the kindle or try to sleep.  So for the next 6 hrs, I tried to sleep.  I couldn’t get my neck situated just right.  My arms were cool; but it was hot w/ the blanket.  My seatmate managed to sleep despite an occasional hacking ‘smoker’s cough’.  Somewhere in the darkness I dropped my eye shade.  I think I might have gotten an hr just before sunup.

A little before 6 the FA’s walked through, INSISTING that we take a hot towel.  In other words, GET UP!  I cracked the window shade a bit; & there was a hint of orange on the horizon & solid white below.  It looked like the fake ‘cotton ball’ snow you see around a tabletop Christmas village.

Got to hand it to Delta, the food on this flight has been 5* (by airline standards).  Breakfast started w/ a bowl of honeydew, pineapple & grapefruit.  The main course was applewood smoked sausages, a grilled tomato & a (hot) omelet bursting at the seams w/ Swiss cheese & mushrooms.  Even the croissant was warm; coffee was almost hot!  By the time breakfast ended, I was mesmerized by the scenery outside my window.  The Andes Mountains stretched forever on both sides of the plane.  For a while, you could only see the tallest peaks; & then the valleys were hidden below a misty layer of fog.  As we descended, I could make out dry river beds winding amongst beautiful squares of various shades of green.  Like an ornate patchwork quilt.  My camera was in the overhead bin; & I wanted to get up & retrieve it so badly.  But seats were reclined & breakfast trays blocked my path.  There would have been some stunning photos, except I would have been shooting straight into the sun.  We’re not in the U.S. anymore, Dorothy!

Reality soon hit; the visa line, the immigration line, baggage claim & finally 1½ later……customs.  The agent at the visa reciprocity booth didn’t like 3 of my (7) $20 dollar bills.  He said they had creases &/or a torn corner in them!  I had to go through every $20 & every $10 that I had until he found $140 that he deemed acceptable.  Whew……………………

Immigration was a breeze; but then the HAL rep at baggage claim wanted to make sure I had filled out the customs form honestly.  They have some pretty vague questions about the kind of stuff we carry as “normal baggage” stuff.  No, I wasn’t bringing in more than $10K (I wish).  Was I carrying any new or used electronics that was in a quantity more than personal use?  No, but more than just one of each!  Was I carrying any animal/seed products (amongst them honey & corn)?  I had answered no to both questions; & she said it would be wise to just answer yes in case I had something they didn’t like.  Since I had previously said ‘no’, I had to fill out a new form (while standing in line).  So when you hand the customs guy your form, he wants to know what exactly I’m carrying.  I dug out unopened bags of corn nuts & honey/lemon cough drops.  Corn & lemons are a no-no. Then I had to show him my Ipod, laptop, Kindle, Oasis (sound machine for sleeping), a U.S. cell phone, an international cell phone, my big digital camera & my little pocket size point & shoot camera.   I had cords for all kinds of electronic devices hanging out of my 2 bags.  He thought it all quite comical.  I was afraid that he’d think I was importing stuff & take some of it away from me.  Maybe I just looked like a stupid, yet innocent, American female.  I felt even more stupid trying to wedge all that stuff back in it’s carefully thought out, designated place.  But he seemed to be in a good mood today, so he waived me through.

A HAL rep pointed me toward the waiting buses in a lot across the street.  My porter pushed the cart w/ my bags to a luggage truck.  After he left, they started to put “Infinity” luggage tags on them & load them on the truck.  I realized that this wasn’t HA’s bus; & nobody spoke English.  Magically another HAL rep showed up & took care of things.  We sat on the bus an hr. waiting for about a dozen people.  And here I was wondering how we were going to kill time before going to the hotel!

                    The Andes Mountains in the background

It took about 15 mins. to get into (what appeared to be) the “city”.  Lots of high rise condos, each w/gorgeous plants & trees spilling out over each balcony.  We arrived at the Santiago Marriott about 11.  The lobby was slightly chaotic w/ HA people coming in & (post cruise) Celebrity people checking in at our respective hospitality desks in the atrium.  Some of the rooms were ready at this time; mine was not.  So, I parked myself under the glass roofed atrium & used the free wifi for about 1½ hrs.  There’s a gorgeous Christmas display; flowers everywhere; very festive.  And all the hotel staff I came in contact with have been extremely nice & helpful.

My room was ready about 12:45; & boy was I surprised when I opened the door.  It’s a huge (775 sqft) business suite.  The main living area has a king bed, sofa, coffee table, 2 side chairs, 2 end tables, a cabinet w/ hidden beverage amenities & a large flat panel TV.

In the adjoining room is a “conference room/office”.  It has a large oval glass top table w/ rolling leather chairs, a wall of cabinetry w/ desk top & another large flat panel TV mounted on the wall.  I could live in here for weeks.  It’s a corner room w/ 2 walls of windows overlooking the street (ho hum) & a slight view of the Andes Mountains.

I did a little shuffling of stuff between the 2 big suitcases; & then laid down for a short nap.  This short nap turned into 3 hrs; I was exhausted for several nights of very little sleep.  The fact that Chile is 2 hrs. AHEAD of FL, caught me by surprise.  I was expecting the same time zone (or at worse 1 hr. behind, not ahead).  The sun started to set about 8:45; & it was beautiful outside.  I just wasn’t up to dressing; & going down to the restaurant for dinner.  So, I edited photos on the computer; & then ordered an awesome burger from room service.

                             A view from my window at sunset

                    Christmas decorations at the lobby entrance

When I checked the cruise critic message boards about 10:30, I read that our ship (the Veendam) would be arriving late in the morning; & that our transfer times had been pushed back by 2 hrs.  I was assigned the 9:25 am bus for the 2 hr. drive to Valparaiso.  If this is so, I wish someone would let me know.  I guess they’re assuming that everyone would automatically go down to the hospitality desk in the lobby & check a bulletin board for any possible discrepancies.  I, on the other hand, think it would be a common courtesy to tell those who have already checked in about any change in plans.  (Would this be standard procedure on my other “favorite” cruise line???)

I’m hoping to confirm or deny before going to sleep.  I really don’t want to set that alarm for 6:45 am!

1 comment:

bostonwebbie said...

I gained 2 pounds before you even got off the plane!!