Today, we continue our five-course feast that is an Antarctic cruise. Missed our previous post? See An Antarctic Voyage: On Silversea, A Veritable Feast
Like any memorable feast, our Antarctic voyage begins with an aperitif. So before we embark on our journey to the land of ice, snow, seals and penguins, allow me to offer you an exquisite glass of champagne, which, of course, pours freely and frequently on Silversea’s all-inclusive, ultra-luxury expedition vessels.
While I am pouring the ethereal effervescence into your glass, let’s visit the first stop on our Antarctic journey, Santiago. You may be thinking that Chile’s capital city is an odd choice to begin our Antarctica cruise, but the majority of Antarctic cruises begin and end in either Argentina or Chile.
Cast against the monumental backdrop of the Andes, Santiago is to our Antarctic cruise what champagne is to our five-course meal, a toast to the start of something designed to be immensely satisfying.
Silversea includes (at least on this particular voyage) an overnight at the Sheraton Santiago Hotel and Convention Center, before proceeding the next morning by a 3.5-hour flight to Punta Arenas, where we’ll board Silver Cloud. This, of course, is assuming that you’re not doing a back-to-back voyage. Some guests, for example, are cruising from Lima, Peru.
I hope you’re a patient reader. This is a detailed piece with two intentions. The first is to inform you about how Silversea takes care of its guests from arrival at the airport through check-in at the pre-voyage hotel. The second is to give you an idea of what you can expect during your first couple of days of your Antarctic adventure, which essentially gets you to the ship.
A penchant for patience will come in handy when traveling to and around Chile. That is if your experience is anything like our experience was upon touching down in this sliver of country along the west coast of South America. As with most things, there is an explanation.
In 2008, Santiago’s Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport reached its annual maximum capacity of 9.5 million passengers. A decade later, more than 20 million passengers use the airport annually. That overcapacity goes a long way in explaining why we spent nearly two hours from the moment we deplaned to pass through immigration (a 90-minute process), to baggage claim, through customs, and, finally, through the exit. We were glad we visited the toilets before we entered the long and winding line for immigration.
After passing through immigration, we began to see representatives from Silversea. From the moment we approached the baggage area all the way to our hotel, we saw and engaged with a couple dozen representatives holding placards inscribed with “Silver Cloud.” Their presence was reassuring and helpful.
The first representatives explained to us how and where to collect our luggage, carousel number three. After we collected our luggage, another Silversea rep told us how to proceed through customs and then where to exit. While these steps may seem evident to experienced travelers, the guidance was helpful for a couple of jet-lagged travelers whose brains were still a bit foggy from an overnight flight.
As we exited the baggage area, another Silversea rep took us to a Mercedes bus for our transfer to Santiago’s city center. Thirty minutes later, we pulled up in front of the Sheraton hotel, where more Silversea reps helped us check in. We were happy that although check-in was not until 3 p.m., our rooms were ready when we arrived at 1 p.m. So far, Silversea was hitting all the marks, making the travel experience – well, to put it in nautical terms – smooth sailing.
Before heading up to our room, we stopped by Silversea’s hospitality desk, situated in the lobby. We confirmed our transfer times for the next day’s flight to Punta Arenas.
“Your transfer is at 4 a.m.,” the Silversea rep told us.
“I still like you,” I said. “Not as much as I did when I first walked up here, though.”
Wait, she said, studying the manifest: “Your transfer is actually at 4:50 a.m.”
Nearly an extra hour of sleep.
“I like you better now,” I said.
We trundled up to our room. Jet-lagged, and with the early-morning flight, we felt we had neither the time nor energy to explore Santiago, so we settled on enjoying the hotel. We considered a swim in the large outdoor pool, but opted instead for lunch and, later, a workout in the gym to get the blood flowing. We had wanted to hike up nearby San Cristobal for an overview of Santiago, but with the early-morning flight, and the bright sun, the hike seemed a bit ambitious. We regretted not seeing more of Santiago than our hotel and we were even more regretful when we learned that another couple on our voyage had taken the hop-on, hop-off bus, which stopped in front of our hotel.
Silversea books its guests in Sheraton Club rooms, which comes with a bonus, the top-floor lounge, where complimentary beverages and hors d’oeuvres are served from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. We ambled up to the lounge at about 7, an hour before sunset. Already bathed in the late-evening sunlight, the Andes formed an imposing backdrop to Santiago’s cityscape. It seemed entirely appropriate to toast the city’s natural beauty with a glass of Chilean bubbly.
We were in bed and well on our way to sleep at around 10 p.m. Our phone alarms buzzed us at 4:15 a.m. We dressed and proceeded downstairs to the lobby, where once again, several Silversea reps greeted us and informed us that a light breakfast awaited us in the lobby. One cappuccino and croissant later, we, and a couple from Ireland, boarded a private bus to the airport, accompanied all the way by Carolina, another Silversea rep who rose long before us, at 2 a.m., to begin her job. Carolina stayed with us from check-in to the security line, which appeared interminably long and zig-zaggy but moved quickly.
Just after 6 a.m., we boarded Latam flight 83, bound for Punta Arenas. Situated near the Strait of Magellan in Chile’s southernmost Patagonia region, Punta Arenas is base camp for our Antarctic expedition. A Silversea rep greeted us, directing us to a motorcoach for the 20-minute transfer to the city center and Silver Cloud.
Established as a penal colony in 1848, Punta Arenas today has grown into a major city with a population exceeding 100,000. Nonetheless, Punta Arenas has the feeling of a frontier town. Indeed, near the docks, you’ll find a memorial to Ferdinand Magellan, the 16th-century Portuguese explorer who organized the first circumnavigation of the earth. Magellan’s memorial is a reminder that we’re not the first Antarctic explorers to set sail from Punta Arenas, and we won’t be the last.
In fact, it’s not unusual to see Antarctic ice-breakers or research vessels leaving the city’s docks, destined for the White Continent. Punta Arenas serves as the staging area for supporting Chile’s bases and research stations in Antarctica.
At the terminal, we passed through security and a few shops selling souvenirs and local crafts. Docked along a working quay with fishing boats, tugs and research vessels, Silver Cloud was ready to welcome and transport 208 guests (and nearly an equal amount of crew and expedition team) across the South Atlantic Ocean to New Island, situated in the Falkland Islands. The journey will take us more than 30 hours, and just as an aperitif is designed to prepare us for the feast that is about to come, our journey across the South Atlantic would prepare us for the extended journey to Antarctica.
We were excited to step onboard and to begin our journey. Our adventure was about to begin.