Have you been considering a cruise to South America or Antarctica, or both? In this review, we go on to describe our entire trip that we call a “trip of a lifetime.” Notably, we started planning for this incredible cruise almost two years prior. We were onboard the Island Princess in May of 2018 when we heard that Princess cruises were introducing Antarctica in their South American itineraries for the first time in nearly ten years. No surprise, but we booked this cruise right away.
The itinerary was quite intriguing, with the right mix of ports of call in South America. Additionally, there were to be four scenic cruising days in Antarctica. Our departure date, January 5th, 2020.
Protests and Riots in Santiago de Chile
Santiago de Chile would be our starting point. To be sure, we would be embarking the Coral Princess cruise ship in San Antonio, about 90 minutes from Santiago. Unfortunately, Santiago offered us some minor discomfort a couple of months before our departure. For example, significant protests started to become more and more common in the city. Additionally, the President said they were at “War.” Further, a state of emergency was declared, and a curfew imposed.
Naturally, we monitored the situation in Santiago carefully and begun to take precautions. For example, we immediately booked a backup hotel, by the airport, just in case our downtown location was becoming unsafe. For sure, it ended up being a good idea as the price of the hotel at the airport eventually quadrupled closer to the cruise date.
Our Poor Hotel, Ransacked
Then, just before Christmas, we heard our hotel, The Crowne Plaza in downtown Santiago, was shut down because protesters practically destroyed it. It was just our luck as the hotel was literally in “ground zero” of the protest. As a result, we had to make a booking at another hotel in a different location, just outside downtown. This new hotel proved to be in a much quieter and safer area.
What Should We Pack for our Cruise to South America and Antarctica?
First things first: A cruise to South America is pretty standard. But, a cruise to both South America AND Antarctica is highly unusual. To be sure, the Coral Princess’ route the Antarctic Peninsula occurred only three times of the 2019-2020 season. Additionally, considering the weather in Santiago and Buenos Aires would be 30C (86F) and Antarctica 0C (32F), we were faced with our first problem: what should we bring? For example, what kind of clothes would we need? We were practically traveling from the beautiful warm summer of Santiago de Chile to the freezing icy cold weather of the Antarctica Peninsula and back to heat.
I usually found packing for a cruise effortless, not this time. Indeed, we ended up bringing almost every single piece of clothes we have, and then some!
Flight to Santiago De Chile
After almost two years of planning, we boarded our 14.5-hour flight from Paris to Santiago De Chile! The excitement was high! And, there’s no better way to start a trip of a lifetime than on an Air France (787-9) Dreamliner, with Champagne in hand! Cheers!
We arrived in Santiago around 9 pm, exhausted after such a long flight. We try to find flight itineraries that get us to our destination in the evening, as it helps us avoid jet lag!
Our shuttle waited for us, and promptly took us and our bags to the hotel. In no time, we went to bed, knowing we’d be ready for our new adventure to begin the morning after.
The Next Morning: Free Walking Tour in Santiago
In the morning, we were happy to meet our friends from Canada in the lobby and immediately started to explore the city.
We discovered that some volunteers were organizing a free walking tour of the city, and we decided to take it. To be sure, it was an excellent tour. The guide took us to all the famous monuments in the city, giving us some history and tips about what we were seeing. Our guide was both personable and knowledgeable, and we were able to see almost all downtown in four hours.
The tour included a stop for lunch in a friendly and hip part of town where we had the best beef empanada ever!
Unfortunately, the signs of the recent protests were everywhere. The city got covered in graffiti, and in some areas, you could still smell and feel the effects of the tear gas.
We enjoyed our walking tour, and we thought that our tour guide deserved a tip for his work. Overall the city was quite lovely and the people very friendly. We never felt unsafe during our tour.
The Morning After – Embarkation Day!
The morning after, our driver took us to the port of San Antonio for the embarkation on our cruise ship, the Coral Princess. Notably, we were surprised at how much colder it was in San Antonio, Chile – just 150km west of Santiago.
Day 1: Embarking on our Cruise to Antarctica & South America
A Little About the Coral Princess
The Coral Princess and her sister ship, the Island Princess, got built to be able to transit the old locks of the Panama Canal. As a result, the ship is narrow and long. The Coral can accommodate up to 2000 guests and 895 crew, as per Princess’s website. Princess states that Medallion is scheduled for completion on the Coral in Oct 2020.
I look forward to giving it a try on the new Enchanted Princess this summer (At the time of this writing, the Enchanted Princess is still a few months away from inauguration).
Embarkation was both comfortable and efficient.
Our Cabin B520 on The Coral Princess Cruise Ship – Taking us to South America and Antarctica
In no time, we had arrived in our cabin, B520, on the Coral Princess cruise ship.
Unfortunately, after the safety drill, the Captain announced our departure would be delayed 24 hours due to a refueling problem. Additionally, a dramatic storm in the west would require that our itinerary be modified. As a result, the port of Punta Arenas got canceled, and we’d move on. Further, the Captain informed us that they were monitoring the storm and making adjustments to the itinerary to keep us both safe and comfortable on our cruise to Antarctica and South America.
To be sure, there were a few passengers who were upset about skipping Punta Arenas. You see, Punta Arenas was the hub for the flight into the Antarctic Peninsula. As a result of the cancellation, these passengers were not able to set foot on Antarctica as they had hoped. Rick and I didn’t mind as we were told by someone who had previously visited that there wasn’t much to see. To be sure, we felt that safety was more important.
Day 2: Still in the Port of San Antonio, Chile
While we were warned of potentially rough-seas on this cruise to Antarctica and South America, mainly through the Drake passage, we spent the first evening in port. The running joke of the ship was that we had very smooth sailing last night. We hadn’t moved an inch!
Many passengers chose to take advantage of the additional day in San Antonio and proceeded to take some local excursions. Rick and I, however, decided to stay on board and explore the ship.
Some Photos Inside the Coral Princess
The following afternoon we finally set sail and started our adventure.
Toward the evening, our Captain announced that the storm was getting more prominent with waves up to 8 meters high, and for that reason, they made further adjustments to our itinerary. They decided to stop in the city of Puerto Montt, Chile, and cut our scenic cruise of Antarctica one day shorter.
Day 5: First Stop on our Cruise to Antarctica – Puerto Montt
Our first sea days toward Puerto Montt were quite rough. Indeed, we saw some rather big waves. To be sure though, not as big as the one that we would have experienced had there been no adjustments to the itinerary not have been made. Then, by the afternoon of the second sea day, we finally entered the sheltered water of the bay of Puerto Montt. Finally, it was relieving to have calm seas once again.
We decided to take a tour in Puerto Montt to the Osorno Volcano and the town of Puerto Varas. Unfortunately, the excursion was not very pleasant due to the torrential rain. We were not able to see the volcano at all. Further, the temperature felt something like -5C. To be sure, it was freezing and damp. After, our bus stopped at the Petrohué Waterfalls. Unfortunately, the rain was heavy, and we were not able to enjoy much of the excursion.
Our tour guide said Puerto Montt gets 300 days of rain. Certainly, and in our opinion, this excursion should either have been canceled due to the weather. Alternatively, someone could have offered the passengers some umbrellas.
Day 7: Breathtaking Strait of Magellan
After leaving Puerto Montt, we had another rough day at sea before entering the sheltered water of the Strait of Magellan. Indeed, this was an incredible sight. For example, the mountain peaks of the Andes, most of the covered by massive glaciers, were creating deep fjords. To be sure, I have to admit it was a beautiful sailing, and it reminded me of the Inside Passage in the Pacific Northwest.
Unfortunately, many of the peaks got covered by clouds. Additionally, navigating in the strait was incredibly smooth, and it was delightful after being in very rough seas for so long.
In the afternoon, our Captain gave us a very informative lecture about the Antarctica portion of our cruise. Then, during the talk, he showed us our revised itinerary and what we were about to see. Also, he informed us that sailing the infamous Drake Passage was going to be smooth… on the way down! Unfortunately, no such assurances were made for the portion of the cruise back to South America (Falklands & Montevideo).
Day 8: The Charming Town of Ushuaia – The Last Stop Before Reaching Antarctica on Our Cruise
The following morning we woke up in the Argentian town of Ushuaia. Indeed, Ushuaia was our last port of call on the West side of South America before cruising to Antarctica.
We disembarked first thing in the morning and proceeded to take a nice walk in town. Also, we reserved an excursion for later in the afternoon to “the end of the world.”
Ushuaia is the capital of the “La Tierra Del Fuego” district. Also, in the past, Ushuaia was used as a penal colony. Then, the prison closed in 1947. Nowadays, the prision has a new life as a museum.
Walking in the streets of Ushuaia is both pleasant and exciting. Moreover, it reminded me of walking in Juneau, Alaska.
Excursion to the End of The World
Then, later in the afternoon, we took the excursion to the “end of the world.” Interestingly, we took the road that was built by inmates. Notably, it’s the southern tip of the Pan-America Highway. This incredibly long road starts in Prudhoe Bay Alaska and ends 30,000km later in Ushuaia, Argentina.
During our excursion, we entered the “Tierra del Fuego” National Park. Here, we stopped several times to see some incredible mountain peaks, beautiful bays, and many birds.
We absolutely enjoyed Ushuaia and the National Park. Indeed, it was a great stop before the five sea days ahead of us. Time to brush on up on what to do on sea days!
Day 9: Cruising around Cape Horn – And Down to Antarctica
Early in the morning, the Captain woke us up, announcing that we were approaching Cape Horn. And, due to the pleasant sea conditions, we were able to get up close to it. Then, we quickly ran to the top deck to have a good view of the southern tip of the South American Continent. I have to admit, sailing there really gave me a feeling of reaching the end of the world.
Bye Bye South America & Chilean Pilots
After sailing for about an hour around the cape, we dropped off our Chilean Pilot and entered the Drake Passage. Excitingly, our cruise to Antarctica is now getting real!
Here we were about to reach the peak of our adventure. Surely, we were to be sailing the famous Drake Passage towards Antarctica. Thankfully, the Captain mentioned the ocean would be smooth and the cruising pleasant, all the way down to the Antarctic Peninsula. Contrastingly, no such warranty was made for the journey back to South America!
Entering the Antarctic Sea
The Captain announced that we would cross the 60th parallel, the limit of the Antarctica Treaty Waters, around 8 pm. Then, around the same time, we would reach a point where the water temperature drops to 1 degree Celsius. Indeed, that was the real gateway to Antarctica.
The excitement, at that point, was getting high.
Updated Antarctic Peninsula Route Plotted By The Cruise Ship
That evening, we received our final itinerary for cruising in Antarctica.
Day 10: Entering Antarctica! Finally!
We knew we were close to Antarctica because the air was freezing, dry, and we started seeing big chunks of ice floating in the ocean. Excitingly, our ship was scheduled to enter the Neumayer Channel at noon. So, we went for our usual walk around the ship. To be sure, we could feel the excitement among fellow passengers. Indeed, more people than usual were outside on the promenade looking to spot something.
I checked Google maps. Wow, we were to reach the Antarctica Peninsula! And, after two years of planning and preparations, Antarctica was in sight.
Around 11:30 am we spotted the first lonely iceberg! That was it. We made it to Antarctica!
We rushed back to our cabin to get geared up and ready for Antarctica. Then, at noon, we began to see some fantastic mountains covered by massive glaciers. Incredible peaks were poking out the clouds, and the deep blue ice was shining. Wow, what a sight!
Cruising the Neumayer Channel
We started sailing the Neumayer Channel shortly after. This channel was stunning. We were sailing in this narrow channel surrounded by majestic mountains covered in thick layers of deep blue ice. The ship was moving very slowly, allowing us to soak in the beauty that was surrounding us. The wind was frigid, but we didn’t care. We were completely mesmerized by what we were seeing. I was taking hundreds and hundreds of photos having difficulties deciding what I wanted to photograph. Everything was so beautiful. Being here felt like I was in another world.
While sailing, we passed by a big penguin colony and observed a seal peacefully resting on a big chunk of ice.
Entering the Gerlache Straight
At the end of the channel, we entered the Gerlache Strait. This strait had incredibly calm water with low clouds and hundreds of icebergs of all sizes. The view was incredible. What mesmerized me the most was the deep silence of the area. Everything looked frozen, even the time. It’s an awkward feeling to describe, but I felt like I was outside our planet, somewhere I could only imagine existing in science fiction. Some of the icebergs had penguins on them just sitting there looking at our giant cruise ship passing by.
We saw a few whales swimming between icebergs calmly and serene.
After leaving Gerlache Strait, we had a few hours before reaching our next stop Charlotte Bay. That allowed me to download the 2000 photos I took and recharge the battery of my camera. I was still mesmerized by the incredible beauty we saw in just a few hours in Antarctica.
Bonus: Best Cabin Type for Antarctica
Picking the best cabin types on a sea-intensive cruise is crucial. Certainly, a Cruise to Antarctica is certainly sea-intensive, and for these types of cruises, we recommend a balcony cabin.
By contrast, port-intensive cruises such as our recent 21 Day Mediterranean Cruise are different. For example, generally, port-intensive cruises don’t necessarily require a balcony as you generally only cruise at night.
If you really want to be picky, we recommend Starboard side Balcony cabins on cruises from Santiago to Buenos Aires. If your cruise to Antarctica or South America starts in Buenos Aires and ends in Santiago, then we recommend Portside balcony cabins for optimal viewing pleasure.
While we are on this topic, we would highly advise against inside/oceanview cabins on sea-intensive routes, in particular on Antarctica routes. You will find that booking a balcony cabin allows you the best opportunity to see the amazing wildlife, icebergs and everything else that Antarctica has to offer.
Scenic Cruising: Charlotte Bay
Around 7 pm, we entered Charlotte Bay, our last destination for the first day in Antarctica. In the bay, we had water as smooth as glass with majestic mountains in the background. The bay was full of icebergs of all sizes. Some of those icebergs were as big as three-story tall buildings. The icebergs featured deep blue colors both in and out of the sea. The feeling once again was of complete calm and serenity in these smooth waters. We were also able to see a few whales jumping out of the water and feeding.
We sailed in the bay for a few hours. The sun was beginning to set on the horizon, and the sunset colors started to tint the sky. The ice looked even more surreal.
Our first day in the Antarctica peninsula was almost over. We went to bed very excited and looking forward to another day in the magical continent.
We set the alarm clock for 6 am because, at that time, we were reaching our next destination Deception Island. Unfortunately, once we reached the island, the fog was thick, and the visibility was only a few meters. For that reason, the Captain decided to move on to our next destination.
Day 11: Scenic Cruising in Admiralty Bay
We were entering Admiralty bay around 1030am. On this island, we could see two important scientific bases in Antarctica, the new Brasilian base and the Polish base. The Captain announced that he was able to speak with the scientists in the Polish bay. Consequently, he invited them on board at noon for an interview. The interview proved to be quite exciting.
After sailing very close to the brand new Brasilian Base, we reached the deepest part of the bay where some massive glaciers were ending in the ocean. The view was quite impressive. We sailed in the calm waters by the glaciers for sometime before approaching the Polish base, the Arctowski Station, to let the scientists on board.
The Polish Scientists Interview
The scientists came on board around lunchtime, and the Captain started his interview. It was quite fascinating to hear how the selection process is to became a scientist in the base. They stayed with us for about an hour than they left, and we were on our way to our next and final destination in Antarctica Elephant Island.
A time-lapse video of us Cruising Admiralty Bay, Antarctica
Cruising By Elephant Island, Antarctica
Our cruise ship reached Elephant Island Antarctica around 7:30 pm. To be sure, Elephant Island is famous for being the refuge of the Endurance Expedition in 1916.
By the time we reached the island, the sun was out and getting low on the horizon, coloring the sky of a beautiful orange. Indeed, Elephant Island is rocky and mountainous. Also, it features some rather impressive glaciers. Best of all, we sailed very close to it and got to see the island with a stunning sunset. And as per usual, a few more icebergs were seen floating around.
Cruising by Elephant Island was bittersweet because we knew that our time in Antarctica was over and we were leaving that magical place.
After sunset, we were back in the Drake Passage sailing towards our next destination, the Falkland Islands. Unfortunately, the passage was not as smooth as we had on the way down. In fact, by lunchtime, the following day, the ocean was getting rough.
Day 12: Fun Day at Sea!
We had a lot of sea days on this cruise. To be sure, it was no surprise. But, we used the time wisely. For example, we started putting together our memories of the trip as it was nearing the end. Indeed, here are some photos of the fantastic crew who went out of their way to keep us both informed and incredibly comfortable.
Day 13: Falkland Islands
After a pretty rough day at sea, we finally arrived at Port Stanley, the principal town in the Falkland Islands. The view from our balcony was quite interesting. We could see the little village of Port Stanley with its colorful houses.
We decided to explore the town before our excursion to Bluff Cove Penguin Rockery in the afternoon. The city is very British, with the typical red phone booth, the Royal Mailboxes, and old England architecture. We enjoyed our walk. We stopped by the church, and we were able to have a friendly long chat about the Islands with the priest. At lunchtime, we had a typical British Pub lunch in a very typical pub.
What’s the Best Part about our Cruise to South America? The Penguin Excursion!
At 2 pm, we had our cruise penguin excursion planned. To be sure, the penguin excursion was one of the most fun excursions we have ever done! It started with a short bus ride from Port Stanley to the Bluff Cove Farm. From there we took 4 x 4 Rover to the beach. Once we arrived at the penguin rookery, we were mesmerized by the incredible number of Gentoos penguins. It was amazing seeing all those beautiful animals up close. The penguins have no fear of humans, and they were walking around us freely. There were a lot of baby penguins walking among the adults — or feeding on their parents. We saw a vast amount of King Penguins nesting, as well.
After an hour with the penguins, we were served tea, delicious scones, and cakes before our trip back to Port Stanley.
Undoubtedly, today is one that I will never forget.
Day 15: Sea Day / Coral Princess Ship Tour
On the 15th day, we got invited to visit the different areas of the Coral Princess. The tour was a delight and a big surprise. Naturally, we thank those who are responsible for setting it up (You know who you are).
First, we got to visit the bridge, where one of the officers told us about the steering, navigation, and propulsion systems. Then, the Master in Command, Capt. Todd McBain came out to tell us more about the ship and our cruise.
Then we went on to visit the Galley, where all the food gets made for the dining rooms. Last, we got to visit the laundry facilities. To be sure, the laundry section was the most fascinating to me as I had never seen it before.
On future sailings, I look forward to checking out the M1 and the Engine room, however, that might take a little extra work 🙂
Here are some photos from this day.
Day 16: Montevideo- Our 2nd to Last Top on our Cruise to South America & Antarctica
Our adventure was approaching the end. We sailed two more days before reaching the cute port town of Montevideo. By then, the sun was back in the sky, and the temperature was warming up quickly. We did not plan any excursion in Montevideo, but we decided to explore the city and enjoy it.
The city is rather small but very nice. It has some great colonial architecture. People in Montevideo are very friendly and helpful. The highlight of the town was the Mercado del Puerto. This cute little market is full of restaurants with a large woodfire grill where several cuts of meat are grilling. The smell is intoxicating, and the food is delicious. We decided to have a nice lunch there, and we were thrilled we did.
Unfortunately, it was time to start packing. Our adventure was almost over. We only had a short sail to Buenos Aires, and then it was time to disembark.
Day 17: The Final Stop on Our Cruise in South America – Buenos Aires
We disembarked in Buenos Aires around 9 am. The weather was warm but with a little rain. After checking in at the hotel, we decided to go out and explore the city.
Our hotel wasn’t too far from Plaza de Mayo and the Casa Rosada.
Just 10 minutes of walking. In the same piazza, we took a good look at the Catedral Metropolitana de Buenos Aires. The church where the Bishop Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, used to be.
We then hopped in a taxi to go to a restaurant that was recommended us by a friend. The restaurant was just across the street from the famous Recoleta Cemetery. After lunch, we decided to have a look at it. Wow, the cemetery was not at all what I expected. The cemetery features ornate mausoleums with statues and columns. We walked to the most famous grave of all, the Eva Peron one.
Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires
It is quite an In the evening we decided to go for a drink in Plaza Dorrego. T is probably my favorite place in Buenos Aires. In this beautiful little piazza, friendly and calm, where it is possible to sit outside and have a drink while watching dancers dancing the Tango.
For dinner, we decided to go to the Puerto Madero area. Here, you will find the old port docks area that is now getting converted into an area with restaurants and nightlife. It is the perfect spot for a night stroll.
La Boca, Buenos Aires
The next morning, we visited the La Boca area of Buenos Aires. La Boca used to be the first port of Buenos Aires. La Boca got Neglected in the 1980s and 1990s. Then, it reinvented itself with extravagant explosions of kitsch. To be sure, nothing is sophisticated or subtle in La Boca: brightly painted walls, caricature figurines, papier-mache shop greeters, and gaudy graffiti scream in your face. Still, as a spectacle, it’s a treat. La Boca’s streets are a living, breathing performance art gallery for the 21st century. No one should leave Buenos Aires without this visual assault.
We walked at El Caminito La Boca’s most recognizable street, directly translates as “little walkway” and refers to an alley lined with the restored “conventillos” or colorfully painted tenements made of wood and corrugated zinc. Although the area has undoubtedly lost some of its authenticity (many say it has transformed into a tourist trap), it’s still worth visiting. Indeed, you’ll encounter elegant dancers tangoing to live music against a backdrop of local artists and stall owners hawking their wares.
Palermo District & Plaza Dorrego
After spending the morning at La Boca, we ended up back in Plaza Dorrego for a cold beer and Tango viewing.
On our last night in Buenos Aires, we decided to go for dinner in the Palermo district. This area has some charming streets for a night walk full of restaurants and pubs.
The morning after, we had a few hours before going to the airport, and we decided to go for a walk to La Torre Monumental, the train station, and the Falkland war memorial. The area is very friendly and manicured, with a beautiful park perfect for a stroll.
That’s it our time in Buenos Aires was over, we had to make our way to the airport. Our incredible adventure was over.
Reflecting on our Cruise to Antarctica and South America
Overall, this was a fantastic adventure. For example, we saw some very unusual and magical places and met new friends and bonded with some old friends. Surely, we had a great time both onboard and on land. As usual, I was sad to leave the ship, but I am looking forward to our next adventure soon. Finally, I want to especially thank our Master in Command, Captain Todd McBain for keeping us posted on a regular basis on what was going on with the cruise. To be sure, it was the first time, for me, that a Captain was so detailed on everything that was related to our cruise.
Andrea was born and raised in Northern Italy. At the age of 30, he moved to Vancouver Canada. Over the years he traveled extensively in North America, Europe, Central America, and Asia. He is passionate about traveling, cruising, and travel photography. He likes to write about his traveling and shows his travel photos.