2020 South America cruise

This Holland America cruise aboard the ms Zaandam departed from Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 8, 2020 and was to sail around Cape Horn and up the west coast of South America, through the Panama Canal and the Caribbean Sea to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA over 31 days. We flew from Victoria, Canada to Buenos Aires, where we stayed overnight on board the ship before we departed on the cruise. This gave us a day to rest and briefly experience Buenos Aires before the cruise started.

Carnival costumes - Carnaval Museum, Montevideo, Uruguay
Carnival costumes – Carnaval Museum, Montevideo, Uruguay

This cruise promised myself and my travel companion lots of unique and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Unfortunately, world events overtook this dream cruise in the form of the coronavirus (COVID-19), which was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11th. To their credit, Holland America did their best to continue to operate the cruise, but on March 14th they decided to pause all their operations worldwide.

Holland America attempted to disembark passengers in Punta Arenas, but Chile changed their mind about allowing the ship to dock, so we ended up on a 3-week voyage with no ports-of-call. As it turned out, the ship closely following our original planned route through the Panama Canal, and we eventually disembarked in Fort Lauderdale on April 3rd. We were confined to our cabin under quarantine from March 22nd until we disembarked, so that part of the cruise was not a lot of fun.

Despite all this drama, we enjoyed the first part of the cruise, and this travelogue will showcase our carefree days aboard the ms Zaandam in the southern latitudes of South America, as well as document our run to Fort Lauderdale while confined to our cabin.

Original route map for the South America cruise
Original route map for the South America cruise

If you just want to see photo albums, the 2020 South America cruise collection of photos covers everything we encountered during this voyage both onboard, ashore, as well as getting there and returning home.

Our full itinerary (as experienced) is listed below. Feel free to click on what interests you, however if you click on the top-most item, there are links at the bottom of each page (just above the Comments section) to take you to the next destination – from beginning to end. This is the best way to explore the whole trip as it happened.

Unless the details of being quarantined aboard a ship and the machinations of bureaucracy coping with a pandemic are of interest, I would suggest the last travelogue entry to be read would be for Valparaiso, Chile.

Travelogue

How it started

Who can say ’rounding the Horn isn’t on their bucket list? Throw in some cute penguins on the Falkland Islands, some exotic ports in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Peru, and a Panama Canal transit, and most dedicated travellers would agree this cruise offered a lot of great experiences.

Molting Gentoo penguin - Bluff Cove Lagoon, Falkland Islands
Molting Gentoo penguin – Bluff Cove Lagoon, Falkland Islands

I booked this cruise in May 2019 and followed up by booking three shore excursions that were must do for me: snorkelling on a shipwreck in Aruba, seeing penguins in the Falklands, and visiting the Cerro Tololo Observatory in Chile (I’m an amateur astronomer).

How it evolved

I was planning to travel solo, however a friend contacted me to ask if she could come along on the cruise. After some discussion, we agreed to share the cabin and expenses. This greatly reduced my per-day cruise costs, which ultimately motivated me to sign up for more shore excursions and extras while aboard the ship. I find taking the ship’s shore excursions is a good idea, since I don’t have to spend precious time ashore trying to find others to share taxi rides with, or alternately going off on my own and possibly missing major sites and experiences.

Costs

This particular cruise was reasonably priced, even with the single supplement applied. The fare for a basic ocean view cabin was about $300/day when I was travelling solo. Flights to Buenos Aires and home from Fort Lauderdale only brought the total cost up to $350/day. Once there were two of us in the cabin, the cruise price was under $200/day, with the total cost of the trip running to about $250/day. Prices quoted are in Canadian Dollars – discount about 35% for US$ equivalent.

So was it worth it?

Obviously nobody would choose to travel while the world is experiencing a pandemic. I have never experienced being in quarantine before, and being confined to our cabin aboard ship caused a lot of stress and anxiety. The captain was very good about communicating with us every day, updating us “on the situation”. Holland America Lines spared no expense or effort to find a port where we could disembark, so we could return home.

On the flip side, we did have some wonderful experiences in the first few ports-of-call.

Holland America offered a choice of very generous refunds and/or future cruise credits to everyone aboard this cruise, so we certainly can’t fault the company for wanting to make up for consequences from a situation that was beyond their control. I chose a particularly generous offer of 3.5x what I paid for this cruise in the form of future cruise credits, which I plan to use in 2021 to take one of Holland America’s premier and luxurious Alaska Cruises. I might even have enough credits left to also take a European/Mediterranean cruise!