Often novice cruisers never give much thought to the details of ports they will be visiting. Even experienced cruisers are often so involved with the overall planning of a trip they overlook those important port details.
On our next cruise are there any tender ports? Are there ports that don’t allow walking out? Are there facilities on the pier? Is a port wheelchair accessible? Often cruise ships are not that free with information on upcoming ports of call and it would be helpful if you knew ahead of time if there are going to be challenges.
We’ve begun going thru our trip notes to build a section devoted just to port information and highlights. We hope you find it useful.
Also, If you would like to contribute please email us at TheIntentionalTraveler@gmx.com
For over twenty-five years the heart of our business was servicing customers in the Caribbean. It would be easier to list the places we haven’t been than were we have. As a result we like to think we know the neighborhood pretty well.
Back in the beginning, Eastern Airlines was the primary carrier from the U.S. to most islands and they sold an island hopper ticket that allowed us to travel around the islands for a discount price. We would usually go out for a couple of weeks at a time spending a day at each island and staying at local or discount accommodations. Fast forward a decade or more and Eastern is gone (mostly replaced by American) and, because we now have to book each flight in and out with between islands mostly being LIAT and seaplanes, the trips take in fewer stops at much higher prices. Fortunately our business is more successful but travel has gotten more complicated because we are hauling children with us.
The restaurants, hotels and resorts are more upscale and we tended to spend more time in each location, partly because of the airfare, but also because we are spending time with more customers. We also took a number of busman’s holidays because we liked skin diving and beach combing but also because we could include business and offset some of the costs.
There are some places that we haven’t been back to in a while but we can still talk about the character of the islands. There is one place we can’t go back to because a volcano buried it (Montserrat). There are a number of places we return to often and can offer current tips and suggestions. Keep an eye out as we add articles about our little corner of the world including:
We spent all of February cruising with Celebrity’s Constellation in the South China Sea on back-to-back itineraries. We visited twelve ports with only one repeat (Ho Chi Min City). If you are going to fly twelve thousand miles you probably should make the most of the trip. We flew into Singapore and with the return for the second cruise and the extra day in port at the end we had five days to explore the city and all we could say was wow! The ship also spent two days in the port for Bangkok and we spent that night in a Bangkok hotel and booked a private tour (more about that at another time ;-).
Beyond the usual reasons for cruising there was an additional advantage on this trip. If you are not into a diet of noodles with dried fish flakes or hot curries, the ship gives you the opportunity to return to a Western style menu. The ship also takes care of visas and immigration ahead of each port.
Besides our time in Singapore our trip included four stops in Vietnam, Hong Kong, two stops in the Philippines which included Manila, two stops in Borneo, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, Brunei and two stops in Thailand. We had an opportunity to see a lot as well as try a number of cuisines. Many of the destinations were studies in extreme contrasts but it was also obvious that things are greatly improving economically. It is also interesting to switch from Muslim to Buddhist to Western cultures as we went from one port to the next. On board there were a number of excellent in-depth lectures on the history and culture of the various countries which provided a good perspective on the ways the region developed.
Over the last number of years we have found cruising gives us an opportunity to sample a number of places and than we decide where we want to come back to for extended stays. Southeast Asia is no exception to this and we certainly have a few we will add to our return list.
Phone Service: We were traveling on this trip with an iPhone 5 on Verizon service ($80 for 250 international minutes)and with a Blu 5.5 phone with a prepaid international plan from One Sim Card service. Vietnam and Brunei were not part of the Verizon international service so we switched use to OneSimCard. Phone calls with Verizon worked well everywhere else but there were problems getting text messages out on a few days. The only reliable data that we found on the Verizon service was in Singapore (didn’t attempt in Hong Kong) most other places indicated “Data Service Failed”. The One Sim Card service worked as expected except in Vietnam. There we connected with the recommended service provider (Viettel) but instead of text messages costing the expected 25¢ they were charged at a couple of dollars. One Sim Card did send a text message warning of high costs on this service recommending we switch networks, even though Viettel was their recommended provider.
In the near future look for posts covering each of these countries with pointers on must do things, food, transportation and hotels.
If your plans in the future include a visit to Iguazú Falls (if you are a traveler – it should) we would recommend staying for a night or two in the area. The falls are truly one of the natural wonders of the world. See our article on the Falls HERE.
If you are inclined toward deluxe accommodations you can’t do any better than the Gran Melia Iguazu, a five star resort located right inside the park with spectacular views of the falls and only a short drive from the airport. All the remaining accommodations are about fifteen miles away in the town of Puerto Iguazú which boasts almost a dozen four star rated hotels.
We booked our stay at the Hotel Saint George and were pleased with its location. Overall the staff was very friendly and helpful, the rooms were large, clean and well appointed. The pool patio area was attractive with a nice snack bar. Unfortunately the hot tub wasn’t operational while we were there.
The Saint George is located right in the middle of town and across the street was the Restaurant Parrilla where we enjoyed pizza, beers in the evening with a tango dance show that was a surprise bonus.
After our day at the falls we went back to the Saint George to clean up and pick up our bags before our flight . Again the staff was most accommodating, providing us with a place to clean up with plenty of towels.
When you start planning and begin reading reviews keep in mind that you are going to be visiting an isolated area and even four star ratings will most likely not rise to the level you come to expect in the U.S. or Europe. After all it is an outpost of civilization a couple of hundred miles up into the South American rain forest. For that reason you should discount many of the negatives you read. We did and were generally pleased with this part of our trip.
Ushuaia is often referred to as the end of the world and is the capital of Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. It is recognized as the southernmost city in the world. Ushuaia is located in a wide bay on the southern coast of Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, bounded on the north by the Martial mountain range, and on the south by the Beagle Channel. It is a popular port of departure for ships and expeditions headed to Antarctica. A little over a decade ago the cities population was less than 10,000 while today it is approaching 100,000. This is partly due to the growing popularity of Antarctic tourism but equally because the Argentinian government has encouraged manufacturing with special tax breaks as well as subsidies for people living here.
The Beagle Channel is the most northern natural channel connecting the Atlantic with the Pacific and has been a popular shipping lane. South of the Beagle Channel is Tierra del Fuego which means land of fire. Because the area was often shrouded in fog early explorers called it the land of smoke which was exaggerated in Europe for advertising purposes into land of fire. A large part of Tierra del Fuego is an Argentine national park.
Where You Dock
Ushuaia has a large pier right at the cities waterfront capable of handling most ships. It is usually busy in season with expedition boats getting ready for Antarctic tours along with large cruise ships rounding the Horn or setting out for Antarctic waters. Right at the end of the pier is the cities visitor center with facilities and information on tours and the city. Also along the waterfront are a number of tour booking offices.
While the city has a population of almost 100,000 it is geographically compact with most restaurants, cafes and shops located within a ten by six block area. While the Pan-American Highway passes through the city it is also isolated with no other towns or cities nearby. The big attraction for a visitor is the national park and the animal life on island is the Beagle Channel which are best visited on a tour.
At this writing the exchange rate is about 38 Argentine Pesos to one US Dollar. Because of inflation rates over the past several years buying Pesos before leaving the United States is almost impossible. In the city many shops will accept Euros and American Dollars but it is advisable to exchange some currency for convenience.
Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego (Tierra del Fuego National Park) is probably one of the major attractions in the area. It is also the terminus of the Pan-American Highway that ends in a narrow dirt road inside the park. There are also a number of islands near the city in the Beagle Channel that are popular with penguins, seals, sea lions, cormorants along with whales depending on the season. There are a number of tour boats along the waterfront to book.
In town there are a number of excellent restaurants, cafes, and chocolate shops along with gift shops. The city also can boast that they are home to a Hard Rock Cafe
Puerto Madryn is an amazing city that is very popular with cruise itineraries in South America. While Mydryn itself is a modern and thriving city with much to offer, the big attraction in the area is the national parks. The park of Mirador Elefantes Marinos has become famous for colonies of penguins, sea lions and seals along with pods of orcas. The orcas have gained a lot of notoriety in recent years for coming up to the beach to grab seals in the surf.
Where You Dock
Puerto Madryn has a large marine pier right in the center of the city capable of handling large cruise ships. A walk down the pier puts you right in the middle of the CBD with good restaurants, cafes and shops along with a large selection of tour operators. All along the waterfront is a wide beach with a walking promenade.
Madryn is a port city boasting a large deep-water port and is also a major industrial city, mainly focused on aluminum production and fishing. Puerto Madryn is also in an isolated area of Patagonia with the biggest attractions in the area being the national parks. Trips out to the parks can take between one and a half to two hours each way and the best way to visit is to book a tour. Other than walking the best way to get around the city itself is by taxi.
At this writing the exchange rate is about 38 Argentine Pesos to one US Dollar. Because of inflation rates over the past several years buying Pesos before leaving the United States is almost impossible. Because of the high number of visiting tourists, in the CBD many shops will accept Euros and American Dollars. It is still advisable to exchange some currency for convenience.
It is one of the most vibrant cities in Patagonia, with a beautiful coastal avenue overlooking Nuevo Gulf. As noted the focus of the tourist business is visiting the parks to see the penguins, seals and orcas. In town there are a number of shops and cafes with over a dozen good restaurants within a block of the waterfront. One of the local favorite pastimes is drinking coffee with chocolates in the many chocolate shops along the waterfront.
To begin with New Orleans is a destination virtually in a class by itself. The city is famous for its history having been settled first by French trappers in the seventeenth century, than ceded to the Spanish in 1762 by Treaty. Following a number of fires in the late eighteenth century the Spanish rebuilt the French Quarter using mostly fired brick, including the most impressive structure in New Orleans, St. Louis Cathedral. The architectural character of the French Quarter, including multi-storied buildings with inner courtyards, arched doorways, and the extensive use of decorative wrought iron, were actually characteristic of the Spanish colonies
Beginning in 1800 Spain and France signed a series of treaties stipulating that Spain give Louisiana back to France, these confirmed and finalized the retrocession of Spanish Louisiana to France. In April 1803, Napoleon sold Louisiana which then included portions of more than a dozen present-day states along with New Orleans to the U.S. in the Louisiana Purchase.
Involved in a war with England, in 1814 New Orleans defended itself against a large English force sent to take the city. Marshaling forces (regular, militia, and naval) and recruiting pirates led by Jean Lafitte, Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson routed the British in a decisive battle in the early morning of January 8, 1815.
Anchored by the famous French Quarter with its iconic architecture the downtown area wasn’t big enough to hold all that was going on so it’s spread out into the adjacent neighborhoods and the warehouse district with famous eateries, clubs and trendy galleries.
Famous for throwing one of America’s biggest parties each year called Mardi Grau, the truth is the party virtually never stops in this city. The sidewalks of Bourbon Street are packed at night and some of its bars and restaurants virtually never close. Home to a musical tradition second to none and a restaurant scene famous around the world New Orleans isn’t just a cruise port it’s a destination.
Where You Dock
The Mississippi waterfront runs along the French Quarter and the growing Warehouse District and in the middle of it all is the Riverwalk Mall where the cruise ships tie up. Virtually in the heart of everything the cruise terminal is attached to the outlet shops of the Riverwalk Shopping Mall and only blocks from Canal Street and The French Quarter.
If you are flying into New Orleans to catch a cruise expect to pay a little over $50 for a taxi ride to the cruise terminal. There is a public bus route that will take you into downtown from the airport for less that $4 but the trip takes about forty minutes. We have found an advertised shuttle to be unreliable but the airport has a very convenient ride share pick-up area. A recent Lyft ride cost us $32.
In downtown New Orleans there are numerous good hotels and if you aren’t up to walking there are pedicabs, street cars and easy to catch taxis.
Being the United States the currency is the Dollar and if you are visiting from out of the country you will find a number of conveniently located currency exchange outlets along with ATM machines.
New Orleans is an attraction in itself. Just walking the French Quarter, listening to street music, eating Creole food, visiting Jackson Square and window shopping is a true experience but there are some other things to consider:
St. Louis Cathedral built in 1789 is the oldest cathedral in the United States.
Saint Louis Cemetery is a famous New Orleans cemetery (actually 3) where most of the graves are above-ground vaults constructed in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Preservation Hall is a jazz venue in the French Quarter. The building is famous for a house band, a record label, and a music foundation.
The National WWII Museum, formerly The National D-Day Museum, a military history museum located in the Central Business District. NewOrleans was the manufacturing center for the landing craft used for WWII beach assaults. The museum focuses on the contribution made by the United States to Allied victory in World War II.
The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas located on the waterfront is run by the Audubon Institute, which also operates the New Orleans Audubon Zoo and the Insectarium on Canal Street.
When it comes to food New Orleans has more than its share of famous chefs including Emeril Lagasse, Paul Prudhomme, John Besh, John Folse,, Donald Link, and on and on. With restaurants like Emeril’s New Orleans, K. Paul, Commanders Palace, Brennen’s, and Emeril’s Delmonico you’ll run out of time before you run out of great restaurants.
A collection of video clips from two days at Iguazú Falls National Park Argentina.
In recent years there have been a number of organizations that have attempted to update the lists of the seven natural wonders of the world along with modern and ancient wonders. The most widely accepted effort is a new consensus list of the ten natural wonders where Victoria Falls has been replaced by Iguazú Falls.
Picture a wide, slow moving river flowing through tropical jungles around hundreds of islands thick with trees. The water at the nearer bank flattens and spreads out into jungle while the far side narrows and seems to funnel into a U shaped trough. Clouds of mist billow skyward as the trough drops away into a horseshoe shaped rift. The near bank of the river breaks into dozens of channels that seem to fan out farther into the jungle. Down through the jungle a series of rifts fracture the landscape and the land falls away in a jagged line a mile wide. Fingers of the river race to the edge of these rifts and pour over the edge in a swirl of mist as the water roars through narrow gorges. This is Iguazú Falls, the largest falls complex on Earth.
Last week I was speaking to someone who has spent the past twenty-five years making his living traveling the world. We were in Argentina and had just come back from Iguazú Falls. Like us, he felt the falls was one of the worlds great natural wonders and how remarkable it was that so few people know about it. He said that his first trip to the falls was about twenty years ago and at that time there was no national park, no visitors center and the dirt trails were connected with ramshackle wooden bridges. To reach the upper falls was almost a days hike along unmarked trails.
Today Iguazú Falls is an Argentine national park with paved trails and metal bridges and includes a train to take people to the upper falls. The park includes a number of food concessions and even boasts a Melia Resort Hotel. There is a boat ride up to the bottom of the major falls and outside the park down river a town has grown up with a number of restaurants and four and five star hotels. There is frequent jet service to Buenos Aries where it is possible to fly up early in the morning and fly back late at night.
We first learned about the falls last year when we were planning our Antarctic trip that was to start from Buenos Aries. In researching we found an article that said that if anyone had the time while visiting Argentina a couple of days at Iguazú Falls was not to be missed.
Iguazú Falls are waterfalls on the Iguazu River at the border of the Argentine province of Misiones and the Brazilian state of Paraná in the South American rain forest. Remarkably together, they make up the largest waterfall system in the entire world. The falls divide the river into the upper and lower Iguazu near the boarder where Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay meet (Tres Frontieras).
You may have already seen these falls if you have seen movies like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls, The Mission or Moonraker, all shot here on location.
In making our plan we thought we had figured it all out – but we got it backward. Early on we found a number of tour operators that offered one day trips from Buenos Aries and that became our starting point. While planning on our own saved us a lot of money and gave us plenty of time at the falls we missed a few important points. We decided to fly up one afternoon, get a hotel for a night, get to the park early in the morning and fly back to Buenos Aries late that night. We booked our flights and shopped for a hotel. There are a number of hotels to pick from with good reviews – we selected the Saint George which was very nice (review later). Many people suggest renting a car but our plan was to take a taxi from the airport to the hotel and take a local bus to the park and back. While inexpensive the bus service would have taken up a lot of time so we ended up striking a deal with a taxi for the two days.
While it should have been obvious, we missed it. Our day at the falls included ten miles of hiking in 100° weather with humidity in the 90’s. While most of the trails were in shade, at the end of the day we were exhausted and sweaty and in no condition for a plane ride. Fortunately we had time to get back to the hotel to freshen up before our light but if we had this trip to do over we would have changed up a lot.
First we would have caught an early morning flight from Buenos Aries and gone straight to the park which is actually nearer the airport than town. A rental car would probably have been cheaper and also much more convenient. The town is some 14 miles away from the park. After our day at the falls we would have gone to the hotel, freshened up, taken a swim, drinks, dinner and been ready for a leisurely return to Buenos Aries the next day. Live and learn…
A few parting observations. While Brazil has an Iguazú Falls park most of the good stuff is on the Argentine side which is also much more developed. You will also need to arrange a visa to visit Brazil. Arranging a tour is also probably a waste of money. The park has excellent trails and facilities, the train rides are included with park admission and even taking a taxi to reach the park over a tour is a big saving. Also don’t book a package that includes air and hotel and perhaps a tour (and that includes Expedia etc.). We looked at booking a number of ways and the least expensive by far was booking the air and hotel separately. Yes it is summer in January here and it is much cooler in winter. But that is also the dry season and the flow over the falls is said to be greatly reduced. January is the high tourist season at Iguazú Falls. We read a number of times that you will need cash at the park which is also wrong. Visa and MC are readily accepted for admission and at the concessions in the park along with the hotels and restaurants in town.
A final thought – if you ever find yourself anywhere near Buenos Aries do NOT miss the opportunity to visit Iguazú Falls – it is a true wonder of the world.
Occupying a land area about the size of the United States and Mexico combined, Antarctica is the highest, driest, coldest, windiest and brightest place on Earth. It is completely covered by a layer of ice that averages more than one mile thick, but is nearly three miles thick in some places. It is without question the loneliest place on the planet.
Over the past decade the frozen continent has hosted only about forty-two thousand researchers and visitors per year. To protect this incredible place the requirements that define and manage how visitors travel in Antarctica is controlled by the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators. One of the rules is that any vessel holding more than five hundred people is not allowed to put anyone ashore while visiting.
Just imagine that we live at a time when there is actually something called the Antarctica Tour Association that sets the rules for vacations to this continent. Never in our wildest dreams would we have thought something like this possible.
Today there are a number of options for visiting. If you would like to visit and go ashore there are a number of expedition boats that travel to Antarctica that carry about one hundred passengers and land using Zodiac rubber boats. We talked to several people while making our way south that were taking advantage of that option and indicated that the fare runs between $10,000 and $20,000 per person for a week-long trip. Luxurious accommodations can also be booked on modern cruise ships starting at about $3,000 for a two week cruise.
On of the reasons that Antarctica is so isolated and harsh is that it is ringed by the Southern Ocean with a circular current that races around the continent. Some of the worst weather on Earth is in Drake Passage, that is the gap between Cape Horn in South America and Antarctica. Often the passage is afflicted with high winds and heavy seas.
Many of the expedition trips to Antarctica start from up the Beagle Channel at the city of Ushuaia at Terra Del Fuego. This city has grown to a population of almost 100,000 with much encouragement and funding from the Argentine government. It is also usually a last port stop for cruise ships heading south to round Cape Horn or sail into Antarctic waters.
We chose to travel with a bit more luxury and a lot more stability and cruised with the Celebrity Eclipse out of Buenos Aries. Each year the number of choices in cruise ships grows larger. After our port stop in Ushuaia, visiting the park at Terra Del Fuego, we headed out for our first destination in Antarctica, Paradise Bay. Passing the “light house at the end of the world” we entered Drake Passage facing high winds and twenty foot plus seas for a rocky afternoon and evening. The next morning the Sun broke out as we approached Antarctica cruising by icebergs the size of Manhattan. The seas calmed the sky turned blue and the temperature soared to 35° as our ship, the Eclipse became the largest ship to ever enter Antarctica.
Stark, snow drifted mountains towered above the horizon and ice floated everywhere with many icebergs being as big as our ship. We sailed for hours up the channel toward Paradise Bay. We were told the area had the most snow covering the shoreline for this time of year that’s been seen in a long time. The water around us was full of whales and penguins that shot by like little black torpedoes. Albatros and other sea birds where everywhere. The professionals that were with us said they hadn’t seen such a beautiful day in over six years and we couldn’t imagine how it could have been any better.
When I was in the military I served with a couple of people who had volunteered to do a “winter-over” in Antarctica and used to talk about how incredible the place was. Just a decade ago a visit to Antarctica was something I never considered even possible. Who would have thought that this incredible, isolated, frozen continent could become a tourist destination? There is really no way to describe this experience in words so I’ll close by simply suggesting that this should be on everyone’s bucket list.