Working our way around Cape Horn was a major goal of this trip. Both of us had romantic recollections of sailing tales about this exotic part of the world – Magellan and other explorers and the sea captains who followed them, creating new lucrative trade routes! What could be more exciting? Indeed, rounding the Cape was so important to us that we planned the entire itinerary by backing up from the cruise departure date. We knew Ecuador and Peru had to be visited on land. Chile and Argentina, on the other hand, could have been toured by land or sea. Based on the wear and tear we expected from the first three-plus weeks spent mostly hiking around, we opted for cruising rather than walking the Horn. We also decided to position the cruise at the end of our six week adventure (we could have done it the other way – beginning the cruise in Buenos Aires and reversing the trip) on the theory that we would be ready to plotz on board and to not pack, unpack and schlep every day or so. It turned out to be a great decision!
The Crown was the perfect ship for this more relaxed portion of our journey. To start, we enjoy the independence that comes with NCL’s “free style cruising,” an approach that allows the passengers to choose when and where they want to eat instead of being locked into, for example, the second seating at a particular table in the main dining room. The Crown also is much smaller than today’s mega ships – 1,000 passengers and 500 crew instead of 3,000-plus and who knows how many staff – which made the ship feel more intimate and much easier to get around. Finally, the ship’s size allowed us to see sights larger vessels are forced to miss – the Chilean fjords, for example (we were in two ports with a much bigger Celebrity ship that we never saw in those tighter venues) – and to anchor at the dock and simply walk off the ship in port (we only had to tender to shore in one port).
We also had a wonderful stateroom for this particular cruise. Sharon Smith of Cruise.com (http://www.cruise.com/ – send her an email before booking your next cruise!) nudged us to select a mini-suite, a step up from the more typical outside cabin. With a king bed, full bath with tub and shower and a sitting area with a love seat, two comfortable chairs and a large window, the stateroom was large enough so we didn’t feel claustrophobic over the extended 14 day period. Susan also thought to place us at the end of a quiet corridor, port side forward on the Lido deck (the eighth level). This allowed us to enjoy many interesting sights from the comfort of our cabin as we passed down the west coast of South America and then up the east coast to Buenos Aires.
Lido turned out to be a terrific deck on which to be located. It was on the same level as the Library (we used that space several times), Le Bistro, the most interesting of the alternative restaurants (we ate there four times, twice at the Pasta Café and once at Chopsticks, the Asian cuisine restaurant), and the Lido Bar, our usual evening cocktail spot aft (Johnny Walker Black on the rocks for BJB; Bombay dirty martini up with olives for JDH) overlooking the pool. Lido was just above Odyssey Deck (the Yacht Club, the buffet restaurant (occasionally for breakfast or lunch), the Casino, shops and the Stardust Theatre), and only two above the Marina Deck (Seven Seas, the main restaurant, as well as the Reception and Shore Excursion desks). On this small ship, we felt we were in the middle of everything.
Just beyond our cabin was “officer country,” the door with restricted entrance sign that led to the quarters for the Captain, the Executive Captain and the Hotel Manager, the three most senior members of the ship’s staff. Normally this would be of little moment, but Barbara and I received a special invitation “to join Captain Berg in his quarters for cocktails" early in the voyage. Having cruised on NCL a number of times (we think six or eight going back to our honeymoon!), we are Silver Latitudes members (well, I am; BJB isn’t so listed even though she’s been with me on every trip!) and apparently we were among the five most “loyal” customer couples on board for this cruise (I note that the other four were much older!). It turned out to be an interesting and informative hour or so. The quarters are quite lovely – a living-dining room combination (full table seating six), office area with a bar, and full bedroom, all dominated by dark wood, eclectic art emphasizing things nautical, and soft lighting with wide windows looking forward. Berg is the youngest captain with whom we’ve sailed (guess, mid-40s) and most personable. He spent 20 minutes or more chatting with the two of us and we learned he’s married (to a former ship’s doctor), lives in South Africa (though he’s Swedish), and has a young daughter (with whom he communicates daily via email). We also learned that the Crown has been sold to a British firm (turn over will be next November). Berg seemed to like the ship quite a bit (because he can take it places the larger vessels cannot go) but he understands it doesn’t fit NCL’s “Free Style Cruising” mantra (there isn’t sufficient space for enough alternative restaurants) and the bigger ships are more economical. We also spent time with the Hotel Manager, a woman from the Netherlands who worked herself up from being a clerk at the Reception desk to be the second most important person on the ship, in charge of all non-sailing/engineering aspects of each voyage, from all food and housekeeping services to entertainment and excursions. While she appeared to love her job she clearly was thinking about how much longer she was willing to do it and what her next career would be. All in all, it was an enjoyable cocktail hour (top shelf liquor, not the swill served at the usual captain’s reception!), the first of its kind we’ve experienced.
The rest of the ship had the usual amenities and services. The Jean Ann Dancers and Singers (the company owned by the spouse of our NSU Law colleague, Howard Messing) provided the live entertainment nightly. The particular troupe on this voyage was quite good and we generally enjoyed the evening shows. We liked both the Lido Bar (more intimate with a good piano player) and the Top of the Crown (larger, forward with “noisier” entertainers). There was the typical poolside deck area for sunning (when it wasn’t too cold to be on deck at all!) and sipping, just outside the Yacht Club if one needed a quick snack. A nice spa and beauty area was on the upper deck (BJB spent some time there), next to the fitness center (full but alas we didn’t use much!). Other than the fact that no one gambled (when open, the casino was empty; the dealers looked like the Maytag repair man; I lost in the one and only round of the blackjack tournament and we had to scramble to get six of us to enter!), the Crown looked and felt like other good ships on which we’ve sailed.
One service we took advantage of in the very first hours on board was the Medical Center. While in Peru (not sure if we were still in Cusco or had left for Puno), I experienced some tingling in my left hand, extending up the left arm. I thought it was Carpal Tunnel because I was using the damn Blackberry so much for email (not enough connectivity to use the laptop as often as I expected; wireless on board the ship was way too expensive for my pocketbook - $25 per hour was the best deal going!). Then somewhere farther along the way I broke out in several sores with blisters, on my little finger, on the inside of my wrist and other spots up my arm. I changed my diagnosis to a strange Peruvian bug that I suspected, probably while I was asleep, bit its way up or down my arm. The sores were consistently painful and very sensitive, with a discomforting feeling regularly traveling along the arm. However, because it didn’t seem to be getting any worse (but then again, not any better!), we decided to wait until we got onto the ship before seeing a doctor (frankly, I wasn’t sure how to select one in Peru or Chile). When we went down to the infirmary the moment it opened on Sunday, the day we boarded, the doctor immediately and emphatically rejected my self diagnoses. The condition had nothing to do with Carpal Tunnel, he said, and it wasn’t any strange insect – it was Shingles! Yup, some chicken pox viruses had been lurking in my spine for about 60 years or so and decided to awaken and whack me while on this long-awaited trip! So this physician from South Africa set me up with a week’s worth of anti-viral pills and a tiny amount of salve (“Treat this like gold,” he said) and sent me off to recover. The sores slowly got less red, the blisters finally broke and the pain gradually subsided (but I still have numbness in my little finger and the occasional annoying spasm up the nerve in the left arm). I certainly hope this was my one and only Shingles attack!
All in all, we had a grand time on NCL’s Crown. I have posted several photos below that we hope will give you a sense of the ship on which we spent two delightful weeks and that was our base for exploring fascinating spots between Valparaiso and Buenos Aires. More on that aspect of our adventure later!