On a last minute whim, I decided to go on a cruise from Miami, Florida to Santiago, Chile via NCL. It was a 15 day cruise and as a single traveler only was $2500 USD for a balcony cabin! Wow, how could I not go? Booked it back in October 2019 for travel that started in Miami, Florida on December 6, 2019 and ended December 21, 2019 in Santiago, Chile. As before, I have discovered that these re-positioning cruises are great deals! Of course my options to cruise always depend on decent airfare, so I immediately spent the hours required to find the best deal. Starting on Kayak.com leads to me to several options and I was able to get business class airfare on United Airlines from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to Miami, Florida for only $350 USD. Then using miles transferred from American Express (my preferred travel credit card) to Aeromexico, I was able to using 80,000 miles and only $300 USD to fly business class back to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. All these costs work in my travel budget and so I am off on this new voyage! The cruise ship bonuses I received included 250 minutes of WIFI, 5 specialty restaurant meals, free alcoholic beverages and a $100 per port excursion credit. All that made the deal even more attractive as I was able to book almost all of the port excursions for free! I was able to pre-book all my tours because of the $100 USD per port credit and I seriously considered the expensive 4 day, 3 night excursion to Machu Picchu, but decided that I would opt out.
The flights were all on time and I had to prearranged a hotel near the airport in Ft Lauderdale, Florida because I could not get there the day of the cruise ship departure in Miami, Florida. A bit frustrating wait for check in at the front desk at midnight at Red Carpet Inn Airport, but finally got to my room which was decent for the price of only $65 USD. Plus they offered airport shuttle service the next day, making it easy for me to return to the Ft Lauderdale airport for the Miami Port Express shuttle that I have had booked. This service leaves from Ft Lauderdale Airport and takes you directly to the Miami cruise port for only $17 USD. Can’t beat that deal! The service was efficient and I was at the cruise port in about 2 hours due to traffic delays.
Of course checking into the cruise ship early or right at the time embarkation time is always a bit of a nightmare due to the long lines. I wish cruise ships would find a more efficient way to get through this process! But after about 45 minutes I was ready to go and was onboard for my next cruise adventure. I usually drop off my carry on bag in the room, even-though they are not technically ready for passengers, but I usually do not have any issues with the cabin steward to do so. Now time for lunch and exploring the ship!
Our itinerary on this cruise is going to be Grand Cayman; Puerto Limon, Costa Rica; Panama Canal; Salaverry, Peru; Callao, Peru; Pisco, Peru; Arica, Chile; Coquimbo, Chile; and then finally Santiago, Chile. Originally the first 2 ports were scheduled to be in Cartegena, Columbia and Santa Maria, Columbia but were changed by NCL a month out. Not sure why…. heard rumors on board that they determined the ports not to be as safe as they would like.
We are off on time leaving the cruise ship port in Miami, Florida right at sunset, so it was a great departure.
Having the first day at sea is always relaxing before you have to get off and do the shore excursions, so that is how I spent the first day. The next day we arrived in Grand Cayman Island at the port of Georgetown. Since the docks cannot accommodate a cruise ship, the port used Tenders to move passengers ashore where we would meet for our shore excursion. I had booked the Turtles, turtles, turtles tour that took us by bus out to the Cayman Turtle Centre with a guided sites tour along the way. The Centre is known for saving and releasing over 30,000 turtles since its inception. After a short tour, the rest of the time could be spent as you wished. This included swimming in their giant pool or snorkeling in their man made lagoon.
My next day involved another day at sea on the way to Puerto Limon, Costa Rica. We arrived fairly early and I had booked the Rain Forest Tour which involved a 2 hour bus ride to the Rain Forest Aerial Tram. We arrived to the sight of white faced monkeys! Then the 30 tram ride at the bottom and return at the top of the rain forest did not excite because we did not see much wildlife and pretty much the same tropical plants. Lunch was served afterwards and they a tough 3 hour bus ride back (due to traffic) made the ship have to wait for us! The advantage of ship booked tours is that the ship always waits for the tour participants to return, something to consider when you decide to do your own tour planning. I decided upon return to the ship to inquire whether there were any more openings left on the Machu Picchu tour and to my surprise it was full, however they had started a wait list and would contact me if someone cancelled.
Day 5 starts out very early because we hit the first lock of the Panama Canal at about 7am. I loved having my balcony room and would certainly suggest that you have one if you plan to cruise through the Panama Canal. It made things very easy and you could see the whole process right from the comfort of your own cabin. The first 2 Gatun locks and then into the Gatun Lake and then back down to the Pacific via the Miraflores locks. It is an all day affair lasting about 8 hours. This was my 3rd time, however, it was still fascinating! Great News, I have been confirmed on the Machu Picchu tour which means I will be leaving the ship after 2 days at sea for a 4 day, 3 nights tour. Costing about $2500 USD, it was not cheap but a once in a lifetime chance to see one of the 7 Wonders of the World!
After the 2 days at sea we are off (32 of us) to go on the 4 day, 3 night tour to Machu Picchu. We leave early for the bus ride to the Lima, Peru airport for lunch at the Wyndham Garden Hotel at the airport and then the flight from Lima to Cusco that afternoon. Via mini buses we were transported the wonderful 5 star Palacio del Inka Hotel in the center of Cusco. Dinner was served that evening and at 11,000 feet of altitude several of us were having some breathing issues!
Day 2 of the tour is going to be the long one because our travels to Machu Picchu are planned for this day. Hotel breakfast served in a fabulous spread, some Coca Leaves Tea, I am feeling much better dealing with the altitudes. Another bus long bus ride takes us to the town of Ollantaytambo where all of the trains go to Machu Picchu. The only alternative route is a 4 day hike! But another first class luxury coach train by Inca Rail takes us about 2 hours with Salmon lunch and wine to the base of Machu Picchu to the town of Aguas Calientes. Onto shuttle buses for 30 more minutes to the lower entrance to Machu Picchu. Each of our 3 groups had their personal tour guide the whole time, providing very insightful and knowledgeable information along the routes as well as inside the Machu Picchu historial site. Spending about 3 hours within the site, everyone was exhausted and we worked our way back down to the train station for departure that evening. Again dinner was served along with wines and entertainment for the 90 drive back to Ollandtaytambo with our long 2 hours bus ride back to the hotel in Cusco. It was worth the price of admission!!
Day 3 of the Machu Picchu tour took us around Cusco to the Koricancha Temple, Sacsayhuaman fortress, the Cusco Cathedral and the main square. Lunch was back at the hotel and then off to the Cusco airport for our flight back to Lima, Peru. I am not sure who decided to book a hotel so far away from the airport but due to rush hour traffic it took us 2 hours to get to the Westin Lima Hotel. Fabulous first class hotel, but having to wake up at 2am for the travel back to the airport put a damper in the experience of using the hotel.
Day 4 was the early 230am departure back to the Lima, Peru airport and then the 430am flight to Tacna. Immediately another bus trip that would take us over the border with Chile and the cruise ship in Arica. Unfortunately, due to some bureaucratic errors with our Peruvian visas, we spent 2 hours at the Peru/Chile border trying to straighten things out, so we could leave Peru. We finally arrived at the ship about 130pm after an exhausting but exhilarating trip to Machu Picchu!
Our next day was a welcome day at sea and then we arrive in the port of Coquimbo, Chile the last port before the final day ending in Santiago, Chile. I also took a tour that day and it offered us a round the city views from the hills surrounding to the ocean beaches with a short stop a the main market.
The final day of the cruise ends in Santiago, Chile for this portion. I understand that several hundred passengers would continue onto the 1st trip from Santiago, Chile to Buenos Aires, Argentina the planned winter routes for the NCL Star cruise ship. I was unable to continue plus I have already planned that trip in 2021, so I disembarked via the all day tour and final transfer to the airport. The airport for Santiago, Chile is about 1 hours away from the cruise ship port so this was convenient. The days tour included city sightseeing, stop in a Chilean Rancho for Empanadas and wine, views from above, artisan marketplace, wine country views, and a visit to a friendly huge restaurant Los Buenos Muchachos for lunch and entertainment of Chilean Dancers. Unfortunately, Santiago has it’s own share of social problems with lots of protests the last few weeks leaving damage to this great city all around from these actions. Seeing graffiti painted buildings, traffic signals down, and even an assault on our bus by a protester; made us a little nervous and happy to get out of this fabulous city.
In conclusion, I was very happy with this planned cruise and it was certainly worth the money and the experiences to places that were new to me!