Feb. 19 – March 6, 2008
By Mary & Vincent Finelli
We anticipated this 'trip of a life time' with eagerness, and now
that it is over we are still awe inspired by this southernmost
continent: Antarctica. So little is known by many of us, that when
we think COLD, it is the Arctic North Pole which first comes to
mind; however, actually it is Antarctica and the South Pole where
the coldest temperatures are recorded (-112 to -130 degrees F in the
winter and 41-59 degrees F in the summer). Don't forget that the
seasons are reversed in the Southern Hemisphere. Antarctica is a
frozen desert with hardly any precipitation. Then why go there?
Actually less than 20,000 people have visited it. But, those of us
who have, can now relate the beauty of the snow covered mountains,
the stunning variety of icebergs seen in “Iceberg Alley” and the
various wildlife (whales [9 varieties], seals [3 types], penguins [5
varieties] and the many other birds like albatross, petrels,
Now let us go back to the beginning: We flew American Airlines from
Miami, FL on Feb. 17th. Flight #909 was set for a 8:15 pm departure
and we boarded on time. Then we sat on the tarmac for two hours
while baggage handlers searched for a passenger's luggage in order
to remove it, since this person had opted to be paid to make a
latter departure. In the waiting areas, it was obvious that AA had
over booked several flights and enticed passengers to give up their
seats for money plus free hotel rooms and meals etc. We left two
hours late, but the time was made up in flight and we arrived on
schedule in Buenos Aires, Argentina the next morning. We spent
overnight with Vincent's family and embarkation was Feb. 19, 2008 at
Embarkation was chaotic to say the least. In port
were the MS Symphonia and other ships. There were no baggage carts
and very few handlers to take luggage. Vincent with the help of his
cousin Fabian found someone to help with the wheelchair, but there
were huge potholes and we didn't get far. Out of the blue, the taxi
driver from yesterday at the airport appeared: Giorgio! He came
straight to us and said, ”Signora! May I help you.” Problem solved.
When Vincent returned and heard about it he said, ”nothing like
tipping well.” We had done pre boarding at a downtown hotel the day
before and received cream colored boarding cards. Thus, we moved
straight ahead to buses and the ship's gangway. It all seemed well,
but we were told we still needed boarding cards which were supposed
to be on the pier. After a mix up, where our passports were sent
back to the pier, Jr. Asst. Purser Suzanna Romano got our boarding
passes from the ship. She assured us our passports were safe with
the ship's personnel. And they were, because all passports were
collected, so that clearance for each country we entered was done on
board in each country we visited.
The Star Princess was built by Fincantieri in
Monfalcone, Italy and launched in January 2002. Her length is 950.1
feet; Breadth is 118.1 feet and she has a draft 27.7 feet. Her total
passenger capacity is 3,100 and she sails with a crew of 1,120. She
is propelled by six diesel electric engines. Her cruising speed is
21 knots and maximum speed 23.3 knots. The Star Princess is
beautiful both inside and out.
Overall the ship's decorations are in exceptionally good taste.
There is simplicity and elegance rather than neon and gaudiness. We
found the ship to be in excellent condition and well kept.
We have already done a deck by deck description of this ship,
published in 2005,
when we first cruised on her in the Caribbean. So this review will
center on the Ports and the gorgeous natural vistas offered by
There were over 1,800 Princess Captain's Circle Members on board
and Captain Bob Oliver of Harwich, England hosted four cocktail
parties in order to accommodate us all. We had a fantastic Bridge
Tour with Capt. Oliver and his 3rd Officer Raffaele Ansanti. We
learned of the many ship's components all linked to the LIPS
joystick giving terrific maneuverability to this huge 109,000 ton
ship. This was soon to be appreciated as the very able Captain
threaded our way among icebergs.
Our wheelchair accessible cabin #E304 on Emerald Deck 8 is centrally
located near the forward elevators. It has a wide entrance which is
necessary for a wheelchair. On the left is an excellent large
bathroom with safety rails all around. There is a fold away seat in
the 5'x5' shower. There are also two large shelves for toiletries
above the single sink. There are two low dressers flanking the king
size bed with the “de rigor” heavy white puff, but, for the first
time, since we were travelling to the South Pole, this puff was
necessary. When entering on the right there is a parking space for
the wheel chair. Next, there is a triple armoire with hangers in,
two sections and shelves and a private safe in the third section.
There s a TV, bar and refrigerator, and a long desk/vanity with a
lighted mirror and four drawers. The back wall has a huge window
which was partially obstructed by a life boat. Our view was
“letterbox”, just as when viewing an old Vista Vision film on TV.
Top and bottom are cut off, but the panoramic sweep is wonderful. We
had an excellent view of the continental shelf from our cabin.
Our steward was Luis and he was very efficient. Thanks.
SERVICE & FOOD
Service is overseen by Passenger Services Director (PSD) Claudio
Mazzoni, who was extremely helpful in answering our many questions.
The ship service is excellent, Asst. Purser Suzanna facilitated
boarding, assessed delays and took control. How nice it feels when
it seems everything is mixed up and someone can take control and
ameliorate the situation.
We were leery about taking this trip so far away from home with a
wheel chair etc. Mary has a distinct fear of falling, since she
broke her leg that way last October. However, Dr. Marguerite Bozian,
our travelling companion, was the one who slipped and broke her arm.
Princess' Dr. Stewart Buchanan and nurse Vina came to the rescue:
they expertly cared for her and sent her home with a write up, DVD,
X rays and a history of the whole matter. All of which her husband
Dr. Richard Bozian termed as “not only efficient, but accurate and
sensitive... the whole matter was impeccable” and a credit to
Princess Cruises. Thus, we learned about the medical service on
board through our friends, and it is comforting to know that the
quality is excellent.
Of course, it is in the dining rooms where service reaches its apex.
The suave Maitre D'Hotel Daniele Saredi secured for us a table for
six near the entrance to the Capri Dining Room. We don't like to
disturb diners with our walker or wheel chair. We had sixteen happy
evenings with our travelling companions the Drs. Bozian and the Drs.
Chen. Our Waiter Emmanuel and his Asst. Waiter Ariel were spot on.
The Head Waiters Silvio and Angelito always charmed us with
Executive Chef Francesco La Forgia's marvelous food! We can still
smell the wonderful Limoncella cake served in an artisan crafted
chocolate bowl. How delicious!
The best way to describe the food is to start at the beginning; each
morning we were served continental breakfast in our cabin by the
very prompt and efficient Elena. Her smiles and her bouncy curtsies
were a delightful way to start off the day. The meal consisted of
Cappuccino, hot chocolate, croissants, and brioches with fresh fruit
plates and marmalades along with cereals. Excellent!
At lunch we mostly dined in the Portofino Dining Room where Maitre
D' Vincenzo outdid himself with excellent tables near the windows.
The lunch menu was terrific. Some of the selections were Mozzarella
in Carrozza , fried calamari, Monte Cristo sandwich (ham & cheese on
French toast) and crispy English style fish & chips. So many
choices, so many decisions. When the weather was nice, we went up to
the Horizon Court Buffet or to Prego Pizza and the Trident Grill,
for Hamburgers, Chicken Sandwiches, Hot Dogs or German sausages,
which were served with the lightest French Fries afloat.
Dinner was the best time for our group, because we all got together
after going our separate ways during the day. We talked of the
ports, the Antarctic scenes, the photos we took, the gigantic
tabular icebergs, the wildlife and the wonderful food. Appetizers
were Pate, shrimp, pineapple boats, etc. Soups included Lobster
Bisque, clam chowder, cream of wild mushrooms, clear broths with
tortellini, or refreshing cold slurry style soups of pineapple or
Entrees of many types were offered, plus a pasta course. Try the
Fettuccine Alfredo served in a Parmigiano Reggiano cheese bowl, or
spaghetti alle vongole or primavera. The main entrees included
succulent and tender beef Prime Rib; fillet Mignon; veal, lamb or
pork chops; and seafood such as salmon, Chilean bass, shrimp,
lobster, etc. Desserts were many, and varied pies--lemon, apple,
pecan, etc.; profiteroles; souffle, cheese cakes and mousses--plus a
large selection of ice creams and sorbets. Our hats are off to Chef
Francesco La Forgia. When he strolls through the dining room, you
can't miss him-- at 6'2” and with a 10” chef's toque, he's easily
Cruise Director Frank Castiglione keeps the
passengers hopping with the following: Bingo, Trivia (Get some new
questions, players are tired of seeing the same back-to-back and
round the world cruisers walk off with all the valuable prizes [the
real plastic key chains and the Princess logo luggage tags are
collectors items!] and No, if you are on the ship nonstop for 76
days, it does not make you smarter than the rest of us, even a
parrot could win if it heard the same questions over and over
again). There are dances in the Skywalkers Night Club on Sky Deck
17and Casino tournaments. The on board Lectures by Joe May and other
University Professors were very well received. The Las Vegas style
entertainment each evening was lead by the following: Philippa
Healey with her mix of opera and classical songs had a standing
ovation, the tenor Vincent Talarico was enjoyed in concert.
Maurizio, who played several nights in the Atrium, Plaza Deck, was a
sensation in concert one night titled “The Duke of Verona” in the
Vista Lounge. The ship has many areas for entertainment and
relaxation. We had a wonderfully relaxing time, but of course, it
was the itinerary which drew us so far from home. This was a never
to be forgotten trip. In view of an article dated March 6, 2008,
which detailed the breaking off of a 400 square kilometer ice sheet
from the Wilkins Ice Shelf on the SW Antarctica Peninsula and with
scientists saying that this is another indication of global warming,
we feel that future generations probably will not be as lucky as we
have been to enjoy the wonders of Antarctica. Perhaps, these wonders
will diminish with the passing of time.
2-19-08 Buenos Aires, Argentina Sail away. 7:00pm
2-20-08 River Plate out to the Sea headed to the Falkland Islands.
2-21-08 At Sea
2-22-08 Stanley, Falkland Islands Arrive 7:00am Depart 7:20pm
(Tendering to the on shore pontoon)
2-23-08 At Sea. At 1:15pm we passed over the Antarctic
Convergence Zone where the sea temperature falls rapidly due to the
constant melting of Antarctic ice into the Southern Ocean. The first
look outs for icebergs were put to work on the Bridge.
2-24-08 Elephant Island -- The first pieces of ice were detected
on the ship's radar. This island juts out of the ocean. At 4:30am we
passed latitude 60 S. and formally headed into Arctic waters. At
9:00am we sighted Elephant Island, numerous icebergs and many
penguins. After cruising around the island we headed SW.
2-25-08 We set course toward the Antarctic Sound, but conditions
worsened and at 8:24am we turned around and began a slow exit of the
Sound and crossed the Bransfield Straight towards Admiralty Bay.
This was the first of several stunning days, with the slow movement
of the ship affording passengers magnificent views of icebergs and
spouting whales. The sun was shining brilliantly and we approached
400 foot high icebergs. Surreal! They were so huge compared to the
ones in Alaska.
This was our first glimpse of Antarctica and it was spectacular!
The age of an iceberg is told by how low it sits in the water. The
blue ice is the oldest and most compact, the white ice is newer and
has more air in it. These huge icebergs usually last about 8 years
and are eroded by water and air. They turn over in the water and
there is a tide line around the bergs. The seals are in the water
even in the winter. During the winter, this area is 80% covered in
ice and only ice breaker vessels can enter here.
The famous explorer Captain Cook would pull up the smaller icebergs,
called “Burgy Bits” and bring them on board as a source of fresh
water. On the Port side of the ship we saw part of the ice shelf
100ft. above water and 800ft. below. There were spectacular icebergs
every where, with some bigger than the ship. There were tabular
perfect rectangles of pure white that looked as if they were sawed
off. There were some shaped like ramps which could be used for water
skiing. Our first glimpse of Antarctica revealed its pyramid shaped
mountains, snow and vertical striations and the ice cap that in some
places can be over 5 miles deep.
We sailed through out Admiralty Bay and at 1:15pm the scientists
from the Polish Artowski Research Station boarded the Star Princess
and gave a short informative talk. They were invited to dinner and
left soon after to return to King George Island. Their station has
been operating continuously since 1977. We heard of glacial movement
and the micro chemistry of their layers which trap pockets of
atmosphere. At 6:32pm we passed out into the Bransfield Strait and
headed south to the Neumayer channel.
2-26-08 Sunrise 5:55 am and Sunset 9:47 pm gave us an almost 16 hour
day. Fantastic, like the white nights of the Baltic! This morning
there was a brilliant sunrise. Humpback and orca whales were sighted
spouting everywhere, easily spotted by the oil slick they leave on
the water. Penguins were also seen. The orca whales work in packs
much like wolves; they separate out the weaker prey and attack.
Thank heaven, we did not witness them in action. The view from our
cabin window is picture perfect.
The on board Antarctic specialist says this is a rare clear day
here. Port side lets us view the Ice Cap and the Antarctic
Peninsula. It is the narrowest point of the peninsula called
Paradise Harbor. The other side of the peninsula is the Weddell Sea.
The water is incredibly calm and there are Burgy Bits everywhere
with penguins on them and pods of whales in the Gerlach Strait (Gerlach
was the first explorer to spend a winter here and with him was
Armundsen the first man to go to the South Pole). At 11:20am we
reached our Southernmost point of this voyage, latitude 64, which
places us 3,898 nautical miles south of the equator. The eeriness
and quiet of this scene is remarkable, the water is almost glass
Lion Island is at the head of the Neumaier Channel. It looks like a
sphinx with a black face. There is much more snow and ice here,
actually, yesterday we saw snow flurries. In 1819 Anvers Island was
named by a Belgian Expedition. We sailed northeasterly toward
2-27-08 At 7:45am we approached Deception Island and it was visible
from some 10 miles away. All morning we saw minke and humpback
whales and then penguin colonies on the shore. The island is
actually the remains of a volcano with a caldera similar to
Santorini. From here we turned away from the Antarctic and faced
patches of fog where visibility was near zero.
2-28-08 We crossed the Drake Passage neared the Pilot Station at
Cape Horn. The waters were exceptionally calm, unlike the last time
we rounded the Horn. The pilot boat was an hour and a half late and
Capt. Oliver circled patiently waiting. Fortunately, the sea was
very calm, and we had an excellent view of the Chilean Flag over the
weather station and the Albatross Monument dedicated to those
sailors who lost their lives in these treacherous waters. There is
an old tradition for sailors who round the Horn: they had their ears
pierced, got a tattoo and had a drink of rum, which they shared with
the sea by pouring some into the ocean.
2-29-08 Ushuaia, Argentina Arrive 6:50am Depart 4:28 pm -- Many
passengers were happy to set foot on terra firma and do some
shopping. Magellan called this Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire). It
was named that because sailors feared it due to the wildness, fierce
winds and the rocky shores that literally ate up whaling ships.
Today it was 58 F degrees and bright and sunny in the morning. In
the afternoon we headed for the Beagle Channel. The Argentinian
pilot debarked and the Chilean pilot steered the Star Princess
through the Beagle Channel past the European named glaciers. We saw
these glaciers six years ago and we were amazed by how much they
have receded: in some of them the ice that once arrived all the way
down to the water has been replaced by waterfalls, more evidence of
3-1-08 Punta Arenas, Chile Arrive 6:48 am Depart 7:50pm -- This is
the southernmost Chilean city which is a center for oil drilling. It
has stark snow less mountains and was the turning point of our
journey, for today in the rain we headed back east and then north to
Uruguay. Our travel companions returned to Sotito's Restaurant where
we had dined in 2002. They enjoyed it, but not as much as when we
had eaten there before.
3-2-08 At Sea Smooth seas and a sunny day in the open waters of the
3-3-08 At Sea Sailing Northeasterly in over cast skies.
3-4-08 At Sea Sailing Northeasterly in clear skies.
3-5-08 Montevideo, Uruguay Arrive 7:45am Depart 5:00pm
3-6-08 Buenos Aires, Argentina Arrive 6:00am Debarkation 8:30am
This was much smoother than embarkation. We had wheelchair
assistance from our cabin to the bus only, and then we were stuck
until we were moved to luggage pick up. Once more we were on our own
until we managed to get a porter. Needless to say, it was not too
smooth, and we were happy to see cousin Fabian again, waiting for us
outside the terminal.
Definitely, this has been one of our best cruises ever, considering
the itinerary, our traveling friends, Marguerite and Richard Bozian
and Yvonne and Alan Chen, the excellent food and service, especially
in the restaurants, and our return to the Star Princess. And just
think that we almost canceled the booking of this cruise due to
Mary's recent knee replacement surgery. We are glad we didn't!
We have booked two future cruises with Princess, one on the
Norwegian Cruise Line without specific dates and one in November on
the new RCI ship Independence of the Seas. We have not booked a
cruise for this spring or summer due to Mary's knee surgery
scheduled for April 10th. However, we hope that she will recover
fast, so we don't have to wait too long for the next cruise. Happy