Rio de Janerio

After a very long flight overnight, arrived in Rio de Janerio. Very warm here, they announced it as 88 degrees or so when when landed, and I tend to believe it. Also discovered that Rio was 3 hours ahead of where we started, not the 2 I expected. Didn’t think about daylight savings time. Met the Princess reps after going through immigration and customs. Apparently there was only 1 other couple on our flight that was going to the ship, which kinda surprised us, but they put both groups on a bus and took us over to the JW Marriott on Cococabana Beach. Saw a little of the city while driving through, and one immediate impression was that traffic was pretty bad. People on scooters and mopeds would just drive between cars, and everyone changes lanes to gain any advantage they can.

Arrived at the hotel, and we were able to check in and get access to our room immediately even though it was still only about 1:30pm or so. Met with the Princess tour rep in the hotel before going up to the room, and their recommendation was to use a tour to try to go to the Christ the Redeemer statue, because it’s busy this time of year, and tour groups jump the line. Otherwise, you can get there, find a long line to get tickets, and then have a wait before your particular train time comes. Cost a little more to do it this way, but also meant not having to deal with taxi’s, and hopefully not have problems with getting on a train up the mountain. Unfortunately, as she started to sign us up, she discovered that the tour was already full. So, we headed up to the room to take showers and change since we’d been travelling for the previous 20 hours or so. Came back down, and when Cathy talked to the woman again, apparently she’d found space. (I think she’d oversold several people already, and what she’d done was find another tour to put everyone on, instead of the one that she was originally selling.) So, we frantically ran back up and grabbed the better cameras, and some more money since we needed to change some over to Reals. Turns out there was a desk in the hotel that we could do that, although the exchange rate wasn’t particularly great, but we were in a hurry.

Turns out that the tour that she put us on was basically I guess supposed to be a Spanish speaking tour. The guide was doing his best to give both English and Spanish explanations (we weren’t the only English speakers on the tour), but it definitely made things a little more interesting. Basically, after everyone was picked up, we drove by Ipanema Beach, then stopped at a beach that a lot of people use for landing hang gliders, and we could see where they were launching from up on top of the hill. However, what it really was was a lot of sitting in traffic. Rio’s traffic is pretty bad, and we spent a lot of time going very short distances. Then we headed to the train up Corcovado. It’s a cog railroad that heads up the mountain, and is pretty steep in places. At the top, you go up an escalator, and then either take an elevator or a set of stairs up to the base of the statue of Christ the Redeemer. Our guide was sending us up the elevators, although they seem to be pretty inefficient to me, and could only handle about 10 people at a time.

It’s a big statue, I guess mostly made up of concrete. I’ve got to think it must have been a real pain to try to build in this location, because I honestly don’t know how they’d have gotten the materials into place. And the view from up on top is excellent. You can really see all the way around, and on the day we were there it was pretty decently clear (some haze around Rio, but not too bad). Now, you always see pictures of people posing in front of the statue, but it really isn’t that easy to do. On most of the observation platform you’re really too close to take a picture of someone standing in front of the statue (although a fair number of people were trying by lying on the ground). The one real spot you can do it is by walking down to a slightly lower observation platform in front of the statue, and then taking a picture with your subject standing on the stairs. Of course, everyone else is doing that, so you’re never going to get that picture that has nobody else in it. At the time of day we were there you could also only use about half the stairs to pose on, because the sun was behind the statue, and you had to stand in a place where it would block the sun from being directly in view.

After that, it was back to the hotel. We changed, and then headed out for dinner. We’d decided to try a churrascaria called Porcao (apparently pronounced por-cow). I’d read that it might tend towards a little on the touristy side, and there may be better choices, but it wasn’t too hard to get to, and there’s a nice view of Sugarloaf from the dining room (although by the time we got there it was starting to get dark out). Cab from the hotel to the restaraunt was about 20 reals (slightly more going back to the hotel because of the road configuration). I think most of the cab drivers in Rio think they’re Ayrton Senna reborn.

So, at this type of restaurant, basically what you have is a lot of waitors coming around with skewers of various types of meat. They stop at your table and tell you what they have (generally took a second request for what it was from us because we’d need the english translation), and you’d let them know if you wanted them to carve you off a piece or not. And they have lots of different types of cuts of meat. They also had some chicken, and sausage, and some pork. (And chicken hearts, although I wasn’t particularly interested in that). And they keep coming, and coming, and coming. They give you a little disc to flip back and forth between saying yes to stop by or no, but they only sorta pay attention. Oh, and then they also had a large buffet of salad type stuff and other side dishes. They also dropped off at the table a plate of french fries, a plate of fried bananas, some onion rings, and some sort of pastry type thing that seemed to have cheese in it. The meat is pretty salty here, I guess that might be somewhat common in Brazil? I’ve also seen people speculate that they do it to get you to order more drinks, which aren’t real cheap. We had a total of 3 caipirinhas between us (at 17.50 real each), plus a bottle of water each (3.50 each). Dinner ultimately ended up being somewhere around 260 real, which works out to around $145 or so. Not particularly cheap, but it’s not like it’s something we’re doing all the time. And we definitely ate a lot. Neither of us had gotten any lunch, and our breakfast was some airline food, so we were both pretty hungry at the time. We didn’t leave hungry.

Went back to the hotel, and then wandered a ways up and down Cococabana beach. We’d been told that there’s something of a street market set up along the walkway in the evenings, but really didn’t find that much of one. We did make it far enough down the beach to where we’d seen a street market set up during the day, but it wasn’t really anything to write home about, and the vendors were starting to close up for the night. So ultimately we headed back to the hotel.

Our hotel was the JW Marriott. It was one of 2 choices that Princess had for their pre-cruise stay, and the other choice definitely had some sketchy reviews. But the JW Marriott through Princess was about $400/person for the 1 night (that did include transfers, but even if you booked the hotel directly they want about $500/night). It’s a decent hotel, but I’m not sure they’re not overreaching some in level they claim the hotel is at. Rooms are pretty small, and for what we paid that got us a view of the inner atrium of the hotel. I think a lot of it is really just location (which is admittedly, right across the road from the Cococabana beach). Basically, I thought it was pretty decent, but not quite living up to the standard one would expect for the price range. That said, the concierge desk was pretty helpful, including letting us borrow a stapler, since we’d forgotten one to put together our luggage tags for getting on the ship.

Departure from Rio

Got up in the morning and had breakfast at the hotel which thankfully was included in our price. Then we had to gather things together to put our bags outside the hotel door so they could be collected to be taken to the cruise ship. This did involve visiting the concierge desk to borrow a stapler. Princess now makes you print out your luggage tags, and since we don’t like to put them on before flying, you need a stapler to assemble them, and we forgot one this time. (Although we were far from the only ones, I know I heard at least one other request later that morning at the front desk to borrow a stapler.)

Since we had some time to kill, but not really enough to try going over to Sugarloaf, we ended up going out and spending a little while on the beach. After the beach time, we stopped at one of the little kiosks along the beach, had a couple of cokes and a caipirinha. After all, figure we’re not likely to be able to get those once we leave the country. Then it was just sit around and wait until our transfer to the ship.

The port was kinda a madhouse, with a fairly large crowd already at the port waiting to check in. Since we’re Platinum with Princess, that did let us skip the waiting and get right into the check in line. Checked in, went through the exit immigration procedures, and headed onto the ship. Think it probably took us maybe 15-20 minutes tops. Ran into some people that had been on our same bus to the port but didn’t have status with Princess, and they did say it took a lot longer for them to get through.

Stopped by the room to drop things off. Always nice when you enter the room and can’t smell smoke, that’s always been one of my bigger fears. Thankfully, in less than a month Princess goes non-smoking in rooms and balconies. I still think they should have started that early on the Star since it had just gone through dry docking before it crossed the Atlantic.

Found some lunch, then waited around for sail-away. Sat through the muster drill, which took probably about 3 times as long because they were doing it in both English and Spanish. Apparently, for whatever reason, there’s a very large number of Spanish speakers on this particular cruise. We ended up sailing just a little late because there was apparently some confusion between the shore and the ship, and it took a bit to straighten out. There were actually 4 other ships in port today. Aida Cara I think might be overnighting in Rio, because we saw them coming in sometime just before noon while we were still back at the hotel. Pullmantur Empress, a Royal Carribbean ship (I think it might have been Vision of the Seas), and Ibero Cruises Grand Celebration (which was clearly a former Carnival ship) were the others in port.

After leaving the port, sailed right by the naval base in Rio. Among other things, docked there were a submarine and an aircraft carrier. Our route out of port took us right next to Sugarloaf Mountain, and then we turned and went down along Cococabana and Ipanema beaches. By the time we were passing Ipanema it was really starting to get a little dark out.

Not much else for the day. Dinner did include one of our favorite deserts on Princess, the flourless chocolate cake. Also they had the passion-fruit souffle.

First Sea Day

First sea day, which means we pretty much did very little. What a difference a day makes in the temperature though. When we left Rio, it was pushing 90 degrees. Today, much cooler, and there’s a fair amount of wind. Ship’s been moving a little all day long too. Not quite enough for them to empty the pools out, but I suspect it was getting a little close. With the wind, sitting outside on the Promenade deck was a little liffy, plus, one side of the Promenade was getting very wet from spray, and even the other was getting some. Annoyingly, the Star Princess seems to have benches along the Promenade instead of chairs or loungers, so it’s not going to be quite as comfortable to sit out there like I like to do.

Since it’s Christmas, tonight was the first formal night. During the Captains speech he was going over the number of people from various countries, and for the Americans, it was only around 720 people. That’s probably the lowest number of Americans that we’ve been on a ship with, except for when we’ve cruised the smaller ships. 400+ Brazillians on the ship, which isn’t really that surprising considering where we started from. I’m almost a little susprised they’re not doing announcements in Portuguese given that number.

Second Sea Day

Another sea day, and once again, not didn’t really do a whole lot. Spent some time at the art auction and ended up buying another piece, but that’s probably been the highlight of the day. Weather is definitely better today, warmer, but not too hot, and the wind has died down, so the swells have also died down a lot. Ship isn’t moving anywhere near what it was yesterday.

One other note of interest. Princess has always had a reputation for having some lousy beds. Seems like they’re starting to address that issue. We’ve always asked for an egg-crate pad because it at least helps some, but apparently on this ship, on all outside cabins, the beds are equiped with a pillow-top on the mattress. I have no idea how far through the fleet it’s spread since I hadn’t seen anything about it before this cruise, but I’m hoping it becomes standard fleet-wide quickly. Definitely improves the beds.

Montevideo

Today’s port is Montevideo, in Uruguay. We’d booked a tour through someone on the roll call on Cruise Critic which was to do some sightseeing. Started out on a rough note when apparently one of the people had lost their key card and was having to get a new one, so that delayed us for a bit. Tour also turned out to have a few more people than we really expected, we were travelling on a full sized motor coach.

Headed from Montevideo up to Punta de la Esta (all names and spelling subject to correction later when I have a chance to double-check them). Stopped part way up there to view this weird house or something with some strange architecture. Punta de la Esta is something of a resort town with beaches right on the Atlantic. Drove around town for a little while and stopped at a street with some shopping and some places to grab a quick snack.

Back on the bus, then headed down to a place called Periopolis or something like that. Drove up a large hill (and I’m pretty impressed that the driver was able to handle the curves with the bus), to a spot with a pretty decent view. Then back down and we stopped briefly in the town itself. Decent views, but really not a whole lot to do in these places.

We did have a little excitement on our way back to Montevideo. We heard a very loud bang and in the window right next to Cathy’s head was a small hole, and the entire window was basically shattered. It was some sort of laminated glass, so in general it held together in even it’s shattered state, but whatever hit the window did actually manage to produce a small hole right there next to Cathy. The guide and driver thought it might be kids with slingshots, but it also could very easily have been some sort of bullet. Good thing for safety laminated glass.

Finally, back in Montevideo we did a little driving around to see some of the sites there. We got off to see a few things in a plaza there, and seriously considered walking back to the ship from here. Looked like it would have been easy, but decided not to, and finished up by being dropped back by the ship. We did a little wandering around in a shopping area that’s right near the port, then headed back to the ship ourselves.

Honestly not real sure what to make of this tour. It was a *lot* of driving around in the bus, with very little getting out of the bus. It made for kinda a long day, something like 7-8 hours.

One thing we did discover as we were walking out of the port is that Montevideo has a walking tour of the town, that covers some of the new city and old city. It was part of this walking tour that we’d been tempted to do when we stopped at the one plaze in Montevideo. While it would certainly not use up an entire day (they said the whole tour would take about one and a half hours), I’m not overly convinced that this wouldn’t have been more interesting than what we did. I’d certainly considering giving it a try if we ever end up back in Montevideo.

One of the soups this evening at dinner was a chilled tropical fruit soup with vanilla aroma. Gave it a try, but wasn’t real sure about it. To be perfectly honest, I strongly thing it could have vastly been improved by a little tequila in it. Cathy says she’d choose vodka, but I honestly think a nice Reposado would have accented it pretty well.