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Cruise Critic Chris

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Everything posted by Cruise Critic Chris

  1. Hi there! Cruise Critic was also at the event, and it was a nice one. Really, a lot of excitement for this relaunch. It was nice to hear Nobu himself say such nice things about Umi Uma. We've written up our article, also with some photos: https://www.cruisecritic.com/news/crystal-relaunch-partnership-with-sushi-master-chef-nobu-matshuisa-on-revamped-cruise-ships. (Some of my Instagram photos are shared above; I'm @chrisgrayfaust.) Cruise Critic will have editors onboard Serenity right before the first sailing and on Symphony for the first sailing. Chris
  2. The next event was the required biosecurity check. Because Antarctica is such a specific and protected environment, all of your outdoor gear needs to be treated to make sure you aren't bringing any spores or seeds with you. It's also a time to exchange your gear if it doesn't fit. My pants and jacket were both too small, and my husband needed smaller boots. I was a bit worried I wouldn't get the size I need. But it ended up being an easy process. I now have what I need to be comfortable. As a reminder; Viking gives you a parka with an under jacket, waterproof pants (Helly Hansen) and boots. You get to keep the parka/jacket.
  3. We woke up on our first day in the Drake with quite a busy schedule. There are two lectures today, one on mammals and one on birds. Plus the kayak test and a time to go get your gear "bio-protected." More on that. First the kayak test. They brought us down to the Hangar and we were told the best way to get from the zodiacs into the kayak. Everyone passed. That being said, if you have mobility issues, this is likely not the activity for you.
  4. So, the dreaded Drake! I brought four types of seasickness remedies with me, just in case - the patch; bonine; seabands and ginger candies. I almost never get seasick but my husband does. If you want to stalk Drake weather, use the app Windy.com. It had been showing green for our trip, and the captain confirmed it at the first briefing. Drake Lake; it is! That doesn't mean you won't get any swells. My husband, who is more susceptible, took Bonine. But our entire first two days sailing look to be very calm.
  5. Our first night was very uneventful. I went to the spa and had a soak; no one was there. For our first meal; I did room service and did the Chairman's Special salmon. As good as is it on other ships! The entertainment was a movie about whales: which we skipped. First day dailies attached. The ship has stressed that you really need to check your app, though, as things can change. Sailing through the Beagle Channel was lovely. Very calm. Sunset was around 10 pm., about the same time we entered the Drake.
  6. Checking in to the ship was very easy. I had copies of everything - my express check in; my medical form - but no one asked me for it. Once you check in, you go and get weighed if you're signed up for a sub ride; you also sign a waiver. Then you are seamlessly directed to your safety briefing. All very smooth. Your first gathering as a group after the ship leaves goes over submarine and kayak safety. The kayak test is the next day.
  7. I forgot to mention the flight down. You do not get to choose your seat, although it does seem that the line puts people together in the same row, with no one else. Even though you are given a zone, you don't board that way - it's a bit of a free for all. The biggest problem with this was the carryon situation. Many people were toward the front and had no overhead bin space, forcing you to go to the back of the plane to stash your bag. We ended up moving to a seat back there so it would be easier to get off. The plane wasn't full so we were allowed to do this. People were putting things like coats and purses above and refusing to move them for larger bags. A bit more control here, and a bit less entitlement among the passengers, would have gone a long way.
  8. A few shots from around the ship. If you want more photos of a specific spot, let me know.
  9. Boarded the ship yesterday in Ushuaia. We were onboard around noon, and cabins opened at 1. Back onboard time was 4 pm and the ship left about an hour later. There was definitely enough time to get your passport stamped at the Ushuaia tourism office. I am in room 4003, a Nordic Penthouse. It's plenty spacious, although I did prefer the expanded balcony room I had on Seabourn Venture two months ago. The drying closet is great, though! The gear that you ordered in advance was already in there but don't worry, if anything doesn't fit, you can exchange (I'll write about that separately). USB ports by the bed. Heated floors in the bathroom. Our phone does not work: as we found when I tried to order room service, but we've been told it will get fixed. A few shots.
  10. Here is the schedule for the charter flights between BA and Ushuaia: Transfers for the first flight began at 4 am, the last flight at 6:10 am. We were in the happy middle group. Note: these were assigned randomly; you do not sign up for a time. There's a cold breakfast buffet set up that morning, along with small bags to take away. The process to get on the buses was very smooth. You receive your boarding pass for the domestic flight on the bus.
  11. We did sign up for the sub ride, the kayaking, the SOB and landings. But I know this is one trip where things definitely depend on the weather. I am ready to take it as it comes!
  12. A few photos of the Hilton and surrounding area. Puerto Madero is not super close to main sightseeing but it is safe and there are plenty of restaurants nearby along the river. Uber is easy to use. Most people checked in today. There was a Viking desk in the front lobby, where you received info about your airport transfer times. We are in a group leaving the hotel at 5:30 am. Bags out for collection at 8 pm tonight.
  13. I'm not going to get too much into my vacation, unless people have specific questions about things to do in BA. This is my third time here but first time for my husband. We are at the Hilton Buenos Aires, which is generally the hotel that Viking uses. Viking arranged it so we did not have to change rooms - highly appreciated. This hotel is used for quite a few groups as a pre-stay before Antarctica trips - I saw Hurtigruten. Tauck and Globus info behind the front desk. Viking seems to be upgrading people to the 8th floor, which is nice because you get access to the executive lounge, which has breakfast and Happy Hour snacks. The Hilton is in Puerto Madero, which is lively and has many restaurants along the river. It's not as good for sightseeing - it's a walk to San Telmo and you'll need to take a taxi or uber if you want to visit neighborhoods like Recoleta or Palermo. Uber has worked just fine for us. BA this time of year is quite warm - 85 degrees F. So we had to pack clothes for the heat, in addition to our cold-weather gear. I kept all my BA clothes separate in packing cubes in my carryon, which meant I didn't really have to disturb my cruise bag. We have spent our time exploring and taking various tours. Sunday, we went to the San Telmo Antiques Market, and enjoyed watching the tango dancers there. Monday we took a tour with Context, one of my favorite tour providers, that gave us a deep dive into Peronism; we were mostly in Recoleta for this. We also had a fabulous parrilla (steakhouse) lunch in Palermo. Tuesday we did a day trip to Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay booked through Viator. And today, we're eating steak again on a food tour in San Telmo with Parrilla Tours. I'll add a few hotel photos later today.
  14. Hi all! I'm writing from the Buenos Aires Hilton. My Viking Polaris trip "officially" starts today. I came in early for a few days vacation in BA. As it is for everyone, this cruise will be an adventure of a lifetime! Through my work here at Cruise Critic, I have read and edited many stories about Antarctica cruising, and sent many writers to the White Continent. But this is the first time that I get to go! There is a fairly large press group on this trip, and two representatives from Viking. Please let me know if you have any specific questions. I will try to post photos of the daily programs as well. All internet permitting!
  15. And that's a wrap! on my home now. Airport transfer on the bus was easy, no issues at the Stockholm airport. We are on IcelandAir, connecting through Reykjavik. Tomorrow I go to the dentist immediately to fix that tooth! I still have some stories to write and I will post the links here. If you have any questions, let me know!
  16. Final meal: Toscana! I love the olive oil presentation here. Everyone knows the menu but i'm posting it and the dishes below anyway. My favorite was the veal tortellini.
  17. Our last port was Stockholm, the end of the cruise. I woke up to find us sailing through a gorgeous landscape of small Swedish islands, dotted with fancy summer homes. The scenic sailing went on for several hours. This ranks among the most scenic port approaches I've had - comparable to Kotor. I had signed up for a tour that was in a category I had been told was new - Go Local. It turns out it is not a new program; Oceania has had it since 2019. And....it wasn't led by a local. Our guide was very nice but she was Italian and had not actually been in Stockholm all that long. This all made me a bit cranky, especially as it was my first visit to Stockholm. in any case, our group was small, only six people, and that was nice. We took the Metro to see the art in the stations, and then visited the Ostermalm market. A huge contrast to the Riga market! this one is was quite gourmet. We received a small snack and had time on our own. A Swedish friend of mine told me to try Princess cake and that was delicious. I had to go back to the ship to work but the tour continued back on the Metro and went to a local supermarket. My husband stayed on the tour - he was also cranky to spend his one day in Stockholm this way so I have promised him that we'll come back. (I saw friends posting pictures from the ABBA Museum and that looked so much more fun!) I'm back to saying that I love the idea of alternate tours but I think they need some tweaking to have more interest. This one fell flat on a lot of fronts.
  18. As noted, we had dinner in La Reserve that night. We had the Odyssey menu; I was among the lucky media members to preview the Dom Perignon menu in Miami when it debuted a few years ago. Our table consisted of three couples from southern California- two from the same town, Long Beach - so it was a spirited evening. All had cruised Oceania before. All in all, I did like the meal and the wines, although I might have enjoyed the French menu a bit more, upon reflection. (What i learned on this trip after eating it twice is that Wellingtons are not my favorite!) The pours and portions are generous - we were all quite happy and full when we left. Everyone agreed that it's an outstanding value for $95. Menu and photos below.
  19. Kotka, Finland was the next port after Helsinki. This was a substitute for Poland (still haven't received an answer over why that was canceled) and a new port for Oceania. Most of the excursions in this port were either outdoors or centered around water: RIB adventure boat; rafting (at various difficulty levels); hiking and sailing. There was a small town nearby with a shuttle. We took the sailing excursion, on a 1949 renovated schooner. It's now manned by volunteers who use it to teach people about Finland's maritime history. Nothing too exciting about the sail, although we were surprised to know we were about 20 miles from Russia (yes, we could see it from our boat!) Just a nice day on the water. So here's another excursion conundrum: all of the travel media in my group loved this port stop, because it was a nice chance to get outside and do something active. But when we went to La Reserve that night and met three other couples at our table, none had gotten off the ship. They considered it a wasted day. This is where Oceania and other lines face a dilemma. How do you appeal to those active people in their 50s/60s -- the cruisers of the future -- while still keeping your base happy? That's not to say that people in their 70s aren't active. But the tastes of the veteran cruisers we met were decidedly different than people who were experiencing the brand -- and cruising -- for the first time. Photos from the day on the water.
  20. Here's my article about Baltic cruising, and why I think a cruise here is a lovely replacement for the Med, especially with soaring summer temperatures in Europe. https://www.cruisecritic.com/articles.cfm?ID=7071
  21. People seem to be "country club casual" - not seeing any jeans or shorts. Men are wearing polos or button downs, women dresses or nice pants.
  22. I took Helsinki as a "sea day" since I had spent time here before. A few bits and bobs/menus from around the ship. Loved the "healthy breakfast" option at Waves. I countered that with the wagyu burger and milkshake, though, at lunch, so definitely not a healthy eating day I also went to afternoon tea and have to say, I was underwhelmed. They gave you a teabag to make the tea yourself. And then they didn't even come around to pour! This is one area where Viking's Wintergarden experience clearly outshines Oceania.
  23. We went back to Red Ginger for a full meal so I could try the duck and watermelon salad. It was delicious! A highlight. FWIW, I checked the menu again and it is miso-glazed cod. The server told me that it had been switched from sea bass but couldn't tell me if the change was temporary or not. In his presentation on Vista, line president Howard Sherman made a big deal of how certain menu items would always stay the same and he mentioned the sea bass. Perhaps he doesn't know it's been switched!
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