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Copyright © 1995-2001 
Linda Coffman

Ryndam ~ Holland America Line
January 9, 2001
South America

by Andrew Chiarodo

My wife and I have just returned from a 34 day South America cruise on Holland America’s Ryndam.  This was our 12th HAL cruise. We sailed from Fort Lauderdale (FLL) on January 9 through the Caribbean and the Panama Canal, down the Pacific coast to Valparaiso.  The next segment was from Valparaiso down the Pacific side, around Cape Horn, and up the Atlantic side ending in Rio.  We did this cruise two years ago on the Noordam, but the repositioning segment from FLL to South America was different, sailing between Fort Lauderdale and Rio de Janeiro on the Caribbean/Atlantic sides. More about ports-of-call below.

We booked our own flights arriving two days early in FLL to visit friends.  On embarkation day, we returned our rental car to Hertz which is located near Port Everglades.  We had an unexpected and pleasant surprise when Hertz drove us to the pier in our rental car and transferred our luggage at the pier.  Not having to wait for the Hertz van nor dealing with luggage, we arrived before noon, earlier than we had planned.  Embarkation went smoothly and flawlessly.  We boarded the ship around 1:00 pm.  Lunch was available in the Lido.

The Ship
The Ryndam is a Statendam class ship.  She carries about 1200 passengers, about 500 of whom were sailing both segments from FLL to Rio.  Although the cruise was fully booked, we never felt crowded.  Public spaces are generous and comfortable.  The dining room occupies two levels.  Service from our dining steward and assistant steward was outstanding. The first seating was fully booked.   For us, the food was good to excellent.  Our only “complaint” was that the dining room curtains were closed on several nights.  This was done to create an “intimate” atmosphere to complement the decorations.  In fact, on several theme nights, all diners were made to enter the dining room on the upper level to see the decorations at that entrance.  Diners on the lower level then had to take the stairs to the lower level.  Many diners, ourselves included, complained about the closed curtains, but to no avail.  Casual dining was also available on all nights including formal nights, in the Lido.  This is a cafeteria style buffet service with essentially the same menu as in the dining room.  Breakfast and lunch were available in both the dining room and the Lido.  A Java Cafe provides complimentary, specialty coffees, e.g., espresso, cappuccino, latte, etc. during the day.  A midnight buffet was available every evening after 11 PM, but we did not attend.

Plenty of opportunity for fitness workouts is available.  Four turns around the lower promenade deck equals a mile.  My wife and I have our own weight control program that allows us to dine three times a day without significant weight gain: “A mile a meal, no mile no meal!”  We have to walk at least a mile before we may enter the dining room for each meal.  No mile, no meal!  It works for us.  In addition, there is a tennis/volley ball court, and a basketball court on the sports deck.  The Ocean Spa is well equipped with treadmills, nautilus equipment, weights, and a juice bar.

Entertainment was fair.  We have been cruising with HAL for a number of years and it is our impression that the quality of the entertainers has been going down.  The cast shows were very good although we had seen most of these cast shows on earlier cruises.  Other shows consisted of individual entertainers: comics, ventriloquists, magicians, musicians.  Some of the entertainers were unsuitable for family entertainment.  Some people must have complained since a special announcement to this effect was put in the program after the first such show.  In one instance, many people walked out during the performance by a Las Vegas style comedian.  Interestingly, this same comedian appeared on our Noordam cruise two years ago, and many also walked out at that time.  Movies with popcorn were available in a comfortable movie theater.

An internet facility has been set up next to the Java Cafe.  There were about eight terminals.  The charge was $0.75/minute which comes to $45/hour.  This is in contrast to the many, many internet facilities we found in all the ports where charges ranged from $1 to $3/hour.  We had no problems throughout the entire cruise using internet facilities in these ports to check our E-mail.

The casino never appeared to be very busy.  Each time I passed by, many of the tables were empty.  As one passenger commented, this may have been due to the $5 minimum at the tables.

Our stateroom was very comfortable.  We usually book an outside cabin on the Main Deck somewhere in the center of the ship.  This minimizes susceptibility to motion in heavy seas.  We had an excellent cabin steward who attended to our every need.  We never knew he was around, but he was there when we needed him.  His attention to our cabin was outstanding.  Storage space was more than adequate.  Here, I must mention our one serious complaint about the ship: odors in the passageways and in our cabin.  In one instance, we passed a fish processing plant (or so we were told when we complained) off the coast of Chile at about 4:30 AM, and an awful stench awakened us.  It persisted throughout the entire day while we were docked, and it appeared to be confined to the lower decks. Many passengers complained.  After our departure that evening, the Captain apologized.  However, odors persisted throughout the entire trip, although not as intense as on that day.  We could not ascertain the origin of these odors.  In Arica, Chile, we went ashore to a supermarket where we purchased a deodorant spray can which we used in our cabin.  If this had been our first HAL trip, we don’t know that we would have returned.

Ports of Call
The first segment of the cruise was from FLL to Valparaiso stopping at Georgetown, Grand Cayman, Puerto Limon, Costa Rica, then passing through the Panama Canal and continuing to Guayaquil, Ecuador, then visiting Peru (Salaverry, Callao, General San Martin) and finally Chile (Arica, Coquimbo, Valparaiso).  In contrast to the Noordam cruise two years ago, this segment was not as interesting, with the exception of the transit through the Panama canal. The coast from Ecuador to Peru to Arica, Chile is basically desert.  There was a certain “sameness” to these ports, e.g., desert, poverty, decay.  

The second segment from Valparaiso to Rio was far more interesting and enjoyable. Excursions were offered in each of these ports.  For the independent traveler, there were plenty of taxis in each port as well as vans offering tours of local and nearby sights.  There were special excursions to Machu Picchu, to Antarctica, and Iguazu Falls.  These are pricey tours ($2400, $1400, $949 respectively), and they were sold out by the end of the first day.  In fact, many of the tours sold out in the first two days.  If there are tours that you particularly want to do, I would recommend that you request them via fax in the materials that HAL sends you prior to the cruise.  Once aboard the ship, a 48 hour grace period with no penalty was offered to those who made such requests in the event that they changed their minds.  Lines at the excursion office were quite long on the first several days.  We avoided the lines by using the express box outside the excursion office and had no problems getting on the tours that we requested. 

At the start of the cruise, an excursion lecture was offered by the excursion manager describing each of the tours.  In addition, the port lecturer, Graham, gave excellent lectures with maps on each port, usually the day before arrival, for the independent traveler.  Still other enrichment lectures were given on the history, geopolitics and customs of the countries that we visited.  These were multimedia lectures given by a Colonel James Reid, retired, who had served as a military attaché to many of these countries.  Still other lectures on the flora and fauna  were given by a South American naturalist.  All these lectures were excellent.  The following gives my take on some of the ports visited. 

Puerto Limon, Costa Rica: There is nothing to see in this town.  A tour outside of town is a must.  We took the Limon sightseeing which turned out to be nothing more than a comfortable and pleasant bus ride through the countryside with a 45 minute stop at a banana plantation at which soft drinks were served..

Panama Canal: The transit was most interesting.  It is about a nine hour trip passing through three sets of locks and several lakes.  One should read up on the Canal and its construction or attend the enrichment lecture to fully appreciate the transit.  We went through the locks with the Caronia ahead of us, and the QE2 behind us in the parallel locks.

Guayaquil, Ecuador: This was another story.  After reading about this port, we decided not to go ashore.  Guayaquil is a city of some 2 million people and is a main shipping port of Ecuador.  Passengers who took the city tour described it as being a place of extreme poverty and squalor.  We heard no positive comments.  To make matters worse, the local police alongside the ship and under our very eyes, were shaking down those who toured independently and were returning to the ship in taxis.  These were young armed policemen, probably no older than their late twenties, stopping each taxi as it approached the ship, and extorting (my phrase) a dollar from each passenger. (Interestingly, Ecuador has abandoned its currency and adopted the US dollar as its official currency.)  Our port lecturer apologized saying that HAL would do something about this.

Salaverry, Peru: There is nothing to see in Salaverry itself.  From this port, one can easily visit the city of Trujillo.  The ship provided a free shuttle bus from the dock to Trujillo for those not on excursions.    With only a few buses, departure times were assigned on a first come first served basis.  Since our assigned departure involved a two hour wait, we chose to take a taxi.  A 20 minute cab ride ($10 which we shared with another couple) took us to the center of the city which we explored briefly on our own.  Pleasant, but much poverty and run down.  After strolling the Plaza d’Armas and a brief visit to a colonial house on the Plaza, we returned to the ship.  There are also interesting archeological sites that can be visited from this port.  Not all the buses that were used for the tours were air-conditioned.

Callao, Peru: this is the port of the capital city of Lima.  We took the Lima city tour which provides a nice overview of the highlights of the city and its beaches.  While we were visiting the main city square and its cathedral, we witnessed a peaceful demonstration by fired municipal workers who were demanding their jobs back from the government. Things were under control with the presence of many helmeted armed police with body shields.  Another tour offered is the trip to Cuzco and Machu Picchu.  This is a three night overland trip at a cost of $1600 (train to the ruins) or $2399 (helicopter to the ruins).  Those who went spoke highly of the trip.  It is my understanding that the visit to the ruins lasts only about three hours by train, or about 5-6 hours by chopper.

General San Martin, Peru: There is nothing to see in the port itself, and the tours did not interest us.  We stayed aboard the ship.  Several tours are offered.  Buses were not air-conditioned.  One tour that we considered was the cruise to the Ballestas Islands Wildlife Sanctuary.  As it turned out, we were glad that we did not take it.  The boats were rather small and packed with passengers.  These boats carry only seated passengers with no room to stand or stroll.  This is a two hour trip with no landings.  As we learned from others, the guano stench in these islands can be quite overwhelming. 

Arica, Chile: This is a charming small town which can easily be done independently.  You can walk into the center of town directly from the ship which we did.  We checked our E-mail at a local internet facility and it cost about 30 cents for about 20 minutes.  We considered taking the Lauta National Park tour but decided not to in view of the 10 hour trip.  This trip goes to an altitude of over 14,000 feet.  Friends who took it were not too happy.  Their bus was not air-conditioned (needed at the lower altitudes).  On the way back down curving mountain roads, the passengers shouted at the bus driver telling him to slow down!  One can only imagine what the trip must have been like.

Coquimbo, Chile: We took the La Serena and Coquimbo City tour.  This is a pleasant tour in air-conditioned buses.  There is not much in Coquimbo but La Serena is a tourist center with lovely beaches.  We expected to see a small beach village and instead found a large town with modern buildings and hotels. 

Valparaiso, Chile: This was the disembarkation point for the first segment of the cruise.  Passengers leaving were transported to Santiago, about a two hour bus ride, for their flights.  They were offered tours of the city since the flights are all night flights.  Several tours were offered to those continuing to Rio.  We took the Valparaiso and Vina del Mar tour.  Valparaiso is basically a port city although some sections were reminiscent of San Francisco with its hills and winding streets.  Vina is a beach town, or perhaps I should say city.  We were surprised by its large size and many high rise condos.  It was reminiscent of Miami Beach.

Puerto Montt, Chile: Puerto Montt is a busy commercial city.  Two years ago, we enjoyed the tour to Puerto Varas and Frutillar.  This trip travels through lovely countryside with lakes and stops at each of these two charming towns.  This time, we visited the market at Angelmo.  Angelmo is a short walk from the ship. On the way, there are about 30-40 stalls selling all manner of Chilean handicrafts and woolens.  In fact, the ship’s shop purchased loads and loads of woolens for resale on board the ship for those who took tours.  We enjoyed the stroll and the fish and vegetable markets.  Our port lecturer said that the best thing to do in P. Montt is to get out of the city.  The next best thing is to visit Angelmo.  He was right. 

Leaving Puerto Montt, we cruised the Darwin Channel and Chilean Fjords.  Some of the passengers likened this to Alaska.  Most impressive was the Pius XI glacier.  The captain brought the ship as close to the glacier as he safely could, and remained there for awhile.  For me, it was almost like a spiritual experience.  We continued through the Straight of Magellan to Punta Arenas. 

Punta Arenas: We did this port on our own.  HAL provides free shuttle bus service to the Plaza d’Armas in the center of town.  In the center of the Plaza is a tourist office which gave us, among other things, the location of a good internet facility, about two blocks away, where we spent about 40 minutes for $2.  We visited some of the local sights, enjoyed coffee at a nearby cafe, and returned to the ship.  Several excursions are offered.  The sights of Punta Arenas is basically a visit to the local cemetery (which you can skip if you plan to visit the one in Buenos Aires), a couple of museums, and the Plaza d’Armas.  There is also a tour to a penguin colony.  This involves about a mile and a half of walking with the possibility of cold, windy, rainy weather.  This area of Chile is known for high winds.  This is also the departure point for the ship’s tours to Torres del Paine, and flightseeing to Antarctica.

Ushuaia, Argentina: This was a brief stop of about six hours duration.  There is nothing much in Ushuaia, but there are plenty of tours from which to choose.  Two years ago, we took the bus drive to Lake Escondido.  This was a drive through beautiful mountain country to the picturesque Lake with a 45 minute stop at a small hotel on the Lake.  This year, we chose the Beagle Channel Wildlife Catamaran cruise.  The cruise was not what I expected. We cruised for three hours, in the same channel through which we had arrived on the Ryndam.  However, the catamaran did sail right up close to three islands (actually small outcroppings of land) where we observed cormorants, cormorants, more cormorants, and seals.  The catamaran was quite comfortable with both indoor seating at tables and two levels of outdoor seating.  Hot chocolate was served.  I don’t know that I would do this trip again (unless I had a passion for cormorants!).

The next morning we sailed around Cape Horn.  This was our second visit to this spot, and on both occasions, the sea was as calm as could be.  This truly borders on a spiritual experience.  We then sailed to Port Stanley.

Port Stanley, Falkland Islands: By the time we arrived, the winds had picked up and the seas were heavy.  This is a tender port, and the captain determined that tender landings could not be made safely.  The harbor is open and unprotected so this visit was canceled.  Of course, we were disappointed, but I think the captain made the right decision despite some passenger complaints.  We had visited Port Stanley two years ago.  This is a port which one can do independently and very easily.  The town is very walkable. For those who want to see the countryside and penguins, there is an entrepreneuring van driver who runs a continuous shuttle back and forth from the dock to an area outside of Stanley where penguins and other birds can be seen.  I think he charges a few dollars but I don’t recall the exact amount.  Lunch can be had in any of several pubs.  It was unfortunate that we could not visit this port.  It stands in contrast to the other South American ports as a little bit of England.

Buenos Aires: This is the most European of the South American cities.  It is known as the Paris of South America.  Two years ago we took the half day city tour.  This gives a good overview of the different parts of the city and includes a visit to the famous Recoleta Cemetery.  I would recommend taking it on the first morning of the two day visit (sign up right away to insure going on that first morning).  You can then decide how to spend the rest of your time.  Other tours include a visit to a ranch on the Pampas, a tango show with or without dinner, a day trip to Iguazu Falls, a walk through the Recoleta cemetery.  We chose to do the city on our own.  H. Stern, the jeweler, operates a free shuttle between the ship and the Marriott hotel which is centrally located at the foot of Calle Florida, one of the pedestrian-only shopping streets.  We strolled this street as well as the Av. 9 Julio, the Plaza de Mayo, the Puerto Madero, San Telmo and the Recoleta areas, stopping for coffee in several cafes.  We visited several museums and spent some time in the Plaza Francia which on Saturday afternoon was filled with all sorts of street entertainers.  

We did not take in a tango show since we had done this previously at the now defunct Casa Blanca.  The ship’s tour takes passengers to the show at El Viejo Almacen.  Among the crew, the show at El Senor Tango is the most popular.  Any of a number of tango shows can be booked on the pier.  They will pick you up at the pier, and return you to the ship after the show.  Instead, we chose to have a steak dinner since this country is famous for its beef.  We were not disappointed.  We had a fabulous reasonably priced dinner at Hereford, 1140 Alicia Moreau de Justo, in the Puerto Madero area.  This was recommended to us by one of the ship’s cruise staff who is from Buenos Aires (he also recommended La Caballeriza at 580 on the same street).  Puerto Madero is a nice area along the river, safe and well suited for an after dinner stroll.  Both these restaurants are a short (less than $5) taxi ride from the ship.  Taxis are plentiful all around town and they are inexpensive.  We used them extensively enabling us to visit many parts of the city in the two days that we were there.

Montevideo, Uruguay: This city is laid back after BA.  If BA is a color picture, Montevideo is black-and-white.  Again, having taken the city tour previously, we went ashore on our own.  Several leather goods dealers were at the pier offering free rides to their shops, and then to the Plaza Independencia, a major square in the center of town.  If you chose to use one of these, take the one whose store in on the Plaza, since that will take you directly to where you want to go.  Taxis are pretty cheap.  We took one back to the ship from the Plaza, and it was $2.  Sharing with another couple, it came to 50 cents a person, less than what a bus would cost.  The Plaza is adjacent to the old town section where we spent our time.

Rio de Janeiro: The approach to Rio is spectacular and seeing this is a must even though it means setting the alarm clock for an early morning wake-up.  Seeing the beaches with Sugarloaf and Corcovado is a sight to be long remembered.  The other two must-see sights, of course, are Corcovado and Sugarloaf.  Previously, we did Corcovado, so on this trip we went to Sugarloaf.  The ship offers half day tours to each of these, or a full day tour to both.  The tours to these places also drive through the city and by the beaches so that you get an overview of Rio.  An evening Samba Show is also offered.  This is a two day visit, the second day being disembarkation day.

Disembarkation went smoothly.  Since all the flights back to the USA are in the evening, passengers flying back that night are transported across town to the Rio Sheraton where there is a hospitality room and where a complimentary light lunch and refreshments are available.  The departure times for transfer to the airport for particular flights are prominently posted.  Luggage which was picked up on the ship the night before, is transported separately and directly to the airport where one can pick it up about two hours before flight time.  As far as we can tell, there were no glitches.  It’s a long day but they try to make it as painless as possible.  It was 97 degrees that day so that a leisurely stroll was not practical, at least not for us.  One option is to take one of the ship’s tours for disembarking passengers.

Concluding Remarks
Although there were a few glitches here and there, it was a wonderful trip, and we will probably do it a third time in the years to come.  Next year, the Ryndam will leave for South America from San Diego.  Two of the cruises (January 4 and 25) will be 21 day cruises which will include a visit to Antarctica.  Some practical matters to remember: all the ports that we visited accept US dollars.  In using dollars, I found the rate of exchange to be fair even though slightly tilted in their favor (a small price to pay for the convenience of not having to change money on a one day visit to a port).  This was particularly easy in Argentina where one peso equals one dollar.  We found taxis to be reasonable and the drivers to be honest in all the ports.  We did not have any problems, although I always checked to be sure the meter was on and set for the appropriate tariff. Another matter to consider is the weather.  

Although we were there in the middle of their summer, the weather can be quite cold in the Southern part of the continent.  The posted average daily highs for these ports was in the low 50's but the winds (and it is almost always windy in Patagonia) resulted in wind chill factors approaching freezing.  It was quite cold after we left Puerto Montt until about a day before Buenos Aires.  Instead of the usual morning lemonade and afternoon ice tea aboard ship, they were serving hot pea soup and hot chocolate on several days.  The deck chairs were empty.  Pack accordingly.  

One final thought.  HAL’s policy of “tipping not required” does NOT mean no tipping.  We were shocked to learn that some passengers left no tip after being served for 34 days.  Our dining room steward was on the verge of tears after I asked him about this and he told us how one couple left nothing, and another lady left three dollars.  He didn’t know what he had done wrong.  These people work hard, very hard.  My own personal feeling is that leaving a tip will make no difference in my life, but a big difference in their lives.  If I can’t afford to tip, I can’t afford to take the cruise.  Please forgive my sermon.

I’ll be happy to answer any questions. 

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