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A Journey to the End of the World

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Part 9 - Punta Arenas, Chile, Skua Glacier, Chilenian Fjords

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March 10th, 2015 – Punta Arenas, Chile

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This was another day to which we had been particularly looking forward to. We had booked an excursion to Magdalena Island to visit one of the largest penguin colonies – our day for an in-depth observation of those little guys in tuxes. As it took a longer boat ride to reach the island, and since we had heard that the weather conditions in the tender port of Punta Arenas could change dramatically, we had booked this tour through Celebrity despite the comparatively high price.

At breakfast, we were greeted by another of Nature’s masterpieces.
 

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Although the sky was mostly blue, the wind was already so strong that we couldn’t have our breakfast outside. While we braced ourselves for the day inside the Ocean View Cafe, the Captain made an announcement telling us that with a windspeed of some 40 knots in Punta Arenas, we wouldn’t be able to tender. We would still call at Punta Arenas and, even though the forecasts weren’t positive, would wait for an hour to see how the situation would evolve.

In front of Punta Arenas, the Captain turned the ship into the wind, and we waited…
 

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The weather as such was nice, it was just very stormy. I went to the upper deck to take a photo and was exposed to the full force of nature. I am neither short nor of slight build – but I had difficulties staying steady on my legs and walking against the wind. Now I fully understood why tendering that day was a rather utopian idea.

Even on the pool deck, which had already been sealed off, the wind was howling and the windows at the sides were vibrating because of it.

 

 

 

Not much later we heard the announcement that the authorities had closed the port of Punta Arenas completely, which meant that our day here, and therefore our date with the penguins, was cancelled. As sad as it was, given the wind conditions it was fully understandable.

The organizational machinery inside the ship that was initiated, unnoticed by the passengers, was impressive. The program of the day, originally designed for a day on land, was completely changed for a day at sea. Shows and events were organized, bands assigned to various locations, etc.

A letter from our Captain Nikolaos Frantzis was delivered to our staterooms, in which he explained the situation again, and he and his crew apologized for the developments. The back of the letter presented a completely new program of the day. You can only raise your hat to such a fast and smooth organization.

In this letter, Captain Nikolaos also included a surprise as a consolation for us ... but more about that later.

Like many others, I used the time to make myself comfortable in the Constellation Lounge. During the day, this was the favorite area for many passengers. From the comfortable seats you always had a great view outside through the large glass windows, which somehow made you feel connected with the sea. In addition, you always bumped into friends for a chat about the day and the cruise, while friendly waiters attended to you with drinks and refreshments. This is where I often sorted my photos and where Birgit liked to read her books.

According to the information from the PA system we hoisted anchor. When the Infinity turned towards her new course and thereby offered the wind the surface of her full length as a target, she listed quite a bit for quite a long time. When you were standing in the lounge, you really had to hold on to something or climb uphill in order to reach your chair. From the storage rooms you could hear clinking and rattling, and they surely had to take some damage.

 

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Note the straight horizon in this picture. The ship remained in this position for several minutes.

During an event later in the day, our Captain was asked about this angle and shook his head smiling. He explained that they had been monitoring the weather all morning and had measured continuous 40 knots with gusts up to 60 knots. All calculations and balance shifts had been made according to these numbers.

The moment they turned the ship, the windspeed had suddenly increased  up to 80 knots, speeds which had not been reached all morning long. Captain Frantzis added that this never represented any danger to the ship – but was admittedly a little uncomfortable.

At 1.15 pm MickeyLive was giving a lecture during which he also presented our “consolation” mentioned earlier. Mickey was in the company of one of the two Chilean pilots who were permanently on board.

The pilot was very personable and told us a lot about his responsibilities and the difficult waters of the Chilean Fjords. He then expressed his admiration for Nikolas Frantzis, our Captain, who had contacted both of them immediately after Punta Arenas was cancelled in order to find an attractive alternative for the passengers. Mickey emphasized that Captain Frantzis was always keen to offer something new and unusual to his passengers. That’s why we were very lucky - because after consultation with the pilots, Captain Frantzis decided to leave the original course by far and take us to the Amalia/Skua Glacier located in Bernardo O’Higgins National Park.

Mickey and the pilot were very excited, as usually only small expedition ships approached this glacier. Mickey, who had already spent the entire season on board, added with a wink that this was something special for him, too, and that he clearly preferred it over Punta Arenas.
 

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In the afternoon I returned to the lounge and had the pleasure of chatting with Jelena, MickeyLive’s wife, who supported her husband with his activities on board. It was a very interesting conversation. Jelena, who had previously worked for other cruise lines, was able to give me some more background information. E. g. she also confirmed that gratuities were passed directly and without any deductions to the crew - at least with Royal Caribbean and Celebrity. From this topic we came to talk about our current cruise, which was taken by many Elite and Elite Plus members as a Back2Back or even B2B2B. She told me that these cruises weren’t very popular with the crew and also explained the reason why, which almost made my face blush with anger. Not a small number of the B2B travellers, and among them many top tier members, who often pride themselves on their status and their money, cancel the gratuities for the second and third leg – with the ludicrous explanation that they already paid once... as if after the first leg they’d leave the ship and didn’t enjoy the service. I had no appreciation at all for this attitude, it made me mad and I found it extremely unfair towards the members of the crew who are doing such a hard job, just so we can enjoy our vacation.

We changed the subject, and via trips to Alaska, Social Media and Digital Storytelling (where I mentioned that I enjoyed writing travel reports) we came to talk about the Snapshot Rally. Mickey mentioned that I hadn’t submitted any photos. I told him that I didn’t want to give him yet another photo of the post office or yet another a sea lion, but I showed him the picture of the fox, which actually was a  lucky shot. He suggested I hand in more photos, and over the next few days I gave him or Jelena a few pictures which I found unusual and which might be shots he hadn’t already received in multiple (and probably better) versions.

This way, the day went by quickly. Of course, we were a little disappointed that after missing out on snorkeling with the sea lions we had also missed the visit to the penguins, but we accepted it.

In the evening, we finally did get to see some penguins at the shops, even though they were of unusual shape and color...
 

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March 11th, 2015 – Amalia/Skua Gletscher


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Birgit turned around in bed in disbelief when I got up at 6.00 am to join the “Sunrise Club”, which MickeyLive had initiated. A few crazy early birds met in the Constellation Lounge to witness the passage into the glacier’s fjord at sunrise. It was another moment of interesting conversations about all sorts of things while outside the shores of Esperanza Island and Hanover Island first loomed as black shadows, followed by the mountains and gorges of Bernardo O’Higgins National Park becoming visible in the dawn.

 

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Later I woke Birgit and, as usual, we celebrated our little breakfast routine at the Ocean View Cafe.

 

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Around 9.00 am we reached the glacier. Through gaps in the clouds, sun beams shone on the glacier’s surface, appearing like fingers reaching for the ice sparkling in the early light.

 

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Amalia Glacier, also known as Skua Glacier, located in the bay ahead of us arises from the South Patagonian ice field and reaches a length of 21 km before opening into the water as a tidal glacier. Unfortunately, it suffers the same fate as its fellow species and is rapidly receding. Between 1945 and 1986 alone, a 7 km retreat of the glacier was recorded. MickeyLive mentioned this during his talks and rightly added that we were lucky to actually still get to see this glacier.

This wasn’t the only reason why we enjoyed the view of this ice giant, which offered a new sight with the ever-changing angles of the sunlight. The pearly-white, snow-capped mountains and the facetted, luminously blue, rugged ice edge offered magnificent contrasts.
 

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Even more intense was this experience for passengers of “Skorpios III”, an expedition ship. They were taken on land with a Zodiac and could be seen as tiny dots at the foot of the glacier. 3-day tours aboard the “Skorpios III” can be booked from Puerto Natales.

 

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As previously at the Cape Horn lighthouse, our captain slowly turned the ship 360° on the spot so that everybody aboard could get a good view of the glacier. We then continued our journey on our original route towards Puerto Montt.

 

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The red line shows our original course, the magenta and yellow lines show the route we had actually taken. The crew on the bridge had really done a lot to compensate us for the day lost in Punta Arenas. Again: Respect!

In the early evening, a reception was held in the Constellation Lounge for the top tier members of the Captain’s Club. Usually we don’t attend these events, but we had arranged to meet with other passengers, with whom we had booked a tour in Puerto Montt. The number of members at the higher level was so high that they had to have the reception in two seatings.
 

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From the panoramic windows we saw the beautiful landscapes of the Magellan Strait and the Chilean Fjords pass by. This part very much reminded us of our trip through the fjords of Norway. Rocks overgrown in lush green and small creeks sometimes turning into waterfalls before merging with the sea – scenery we had already loved way up north.

 

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For that night’s dinner at the Blu, we had met with a wonderful couple from Canada, with whom we had already come together - and got lost in chatter – a few times during the cruise. We always had a lot of fun, and more than once there wasn’t a dry eye left laughing.

As usual, the food was excellent. All four of us were thrilled, again, by the great service of Agus, our waiter, who recommended and served our dishes with witty charm.

 

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A few nights earlier, just for a change, we had had dinner with our Canadian friends at the main dining room. The service and the food there were also very good, but it was more rushed, and the background noise was stronger compared to the Blu, where there was never any hectic, and the ambient noise was always bearable.

That evening however, in another venue, the noise level was to increase dramatically: “Dancing with the Officers” was on in the Constellation Lounge. With a lot of fun and commitment, the dance contest resulted in a roaring crowd and much laughter. Especially Mathew, our young Staff Captain, put his shoulder to the wheel giving it his all. At the end he looked like he had just come out of the shower.
 

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March 12th, 2015 – Chilean Fjords

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Unfortunately, the weather that day was rainy and cloudy, which meant that in some parts of the fjords we weren’t even able to see the walls of the channel through the thick curtain of rain – in other words, a perfect day to linger: gym, sauna, Apple class, sorting photos in the Constellation Lounge... and taking pictures of the ship, of course.

Similar to the Constellation, the Infinity doesn’t appear quite as modern as the Solstice class. However, with some “Solsticizing” measures it had achieved, in our eyes, a very successful blend of coziness with a modern twist. As on the Solstice class, you always found a peaceful corner, and even on days at sea the Infinity never felt overcrowded (which is important to us, even if this makes us sound old...). In short – we were extremely happy on board.

Some reports on CruiseCritic mentioned that you could tell the ship’s age. We could not and would not confirm this at all, but enough said – make up your own minds from the pictures of the ship...
 

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548-IMG_1084Cellar Masters Bar

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Passage to Bistro on Five

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Bistro on Five Crepe Restaurant

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Centrum with backlit stairs


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Artwork around the Centrum


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Shore Excursion Desk


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Rendezvous Lounge


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SS United States Specialty Restaurant


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Gelateria / Cafe al Bacio


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Emporium Shops


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Future Cruise Sales Office – also known to some as Addiction Treatment Center...


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Celebrity Innovations (Apple Store)


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Fitness Center


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Spa Area


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Constellation Lounge


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Main Dining Room


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Blu Restaurant

 

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In the late afternoon, the Ocean View Cafe always offered Sushi, freshly prepared by a chef behind the counter.

In the meantime, the weather had cleared so we did get to see a little bit of the Chilean Fjords from our balcony after all.

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