Holland America

A Solo South American Adventure Aboard Holland America Line’s Oosterdam

Written by Jane Wilson
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 They waddled like wind-up toys while others just stared in silence at us—intruders invading their territory. Wallowing on the cushioned vanilla sand dunes of the Falklands Islands, the penguins, dressed in their tuxedo-like coats, soon felt like my newfound acquaintances since I was travelling alone on a 14-day voyage aboard the Oosterdam, my first cruise with Holland America Line and my first visit to South America.

Holland America Line Cruise
The Falkland Islands are home to five species of penguins (Photo by By Ben Tubby – flickr.com, CC BY 2.0)

 

Going Solo

My solo adventure started in Buenos Aires where I boarded the Holland America Line’s Oosterdam. Impressively, there were no queues or crowds, which I expected on embarkation. Smiles all around, I was welcomed aboard and better still, my luggage was whisked away to my spacious verandah cabin, my comfortable home for two weeks.

Designed in calming neutral colours with Elemis amenities and attentive cabin attendants on hand to ensure a comfortable stay, the room had a great choice of on-demand movies with a considerate nod to the region too, broadcasting films such as March of the Penguins and Evita.

I was told I was very brave to travel so far away on my own, to a new continent, and for a whole two weeks. But if you feel cruises are lonely, think again. My first social engagement was a meet-up for solo travellers, the perfect time to link up with others for that shawl of comfort and confidence.

I met Canadian, British, Irish, Dutch, American, Australian, Asian – a melting pot of cultures and languages make up the passenger mix, all merging on this South American journey, adding an international contact list of newly-formed friendships.

 

 

Life Onboard Holland America

It’s easy to keep as busy as you want and I didn’t stop from the moment I rose to witness the sunrise, starry-eyed on the top deck, to join the tai chi class to the last note played in the “Rolling Stones Lounge”. During the day, there’s a host of scheduled activities from a “digital tech for travellers” tutorial, a Spanish language course, (hola!), flower arranging, (I could open a florist now), doodle art workshop or blend your own tipple in a mixology demo.

There’s more too: learn to line dance, jiggle your hips with salsa moves or master the Tango; play bridge, poker or ping pong; join the knitting circle, quizzes, bingo, or enjoy a sing-a long with the pianist. For solitude there’s the library with daily crosswords to tax you.

On sea days, there’s a casino and tax-free shopping for that diamond ring you’ve been coveting. Presentations not to be missed are the destination talks, which provide helpful tips, history and recommendations. They draw large audiences eager to learn about the port visits.

Don’t miss the captain’s appearance on stage. I am now well-versed in weather patterns and also have an in-depth view of the behind the scenes of the “city on the sea”. Too much to remember? Then download the clever mobile app – Navigator,  which manages your itinerary, bookings and spend, just like magic.

Hollan America
Oosterdam has more than 900 staterooms across myriad categories, including comfortable verandah staterooms

 

The Oosterdam

The 285-metre (936-feet) Holland America ship was built in 2003 and has 959 total staterooms that retain the charm and tradition with American and Dutch influences. Carrying roughly 1900 passengers, the service level is high with 800 eager-to-please staff, and there is an array of dining and entertainment options.

One of the ship’s best features is that 67 percent of all staterooms include a verandah, with 85 percent offering ocean views.

The Oosterdam’s décor swirls with gold bannisters, a hanging globe features in the atrium along with pleasing artwork around the ship and intricately decorated elevator doors and comfortable armchairs in cosy alcoves. Understated elegance is the best way to desscribe it.

It’s easy to imagine the Dutch smoking room and Japanese tea room existed in bygone days – floating emblems of yesteryear.

And while the sun kisses farewell to the ocean, the lights dim, and the ship is aglow  with laughter in the bars and high octave chatter of tales of this South American adventure. The guitars are tuned, microphones tested, song choices lined up, retail sales on display, casino tables manned and the curtains open for evening performances in the luxurious theatre.

Dinner is served!

Book your spa treatments early and soak in the hydro pool at the Greenhouse Spa & Salon® 

 

Wining & Dining

 Take your pick of atmospheres over your cocktail and dining experience. This was my first experience having my own stash of wine behind the bar, on tap, labelled with my name. I could ask for a glass of ‘my wine’ even if I was elsewhere on the ship – what service!

There are a number of drinks packages too. Travelling alone I opted for the minimum 4-bottle deal, which offers a choice of white, red and rosé wines in various categories, according to brand and grape.

Two specialty restaurants aboard require reservations in advance and a supplement, and are worth it, especially the elegant Pinnacle Grill, which is fine dining at its best, but be warned, portions are large. The menu features a selection of 28-day wet-aged USDA prime steaks and innovative recipes from chef David Burke. Some of note include Clothesline Candied Bacon with maple, black pepper, and half sour pickles, Beef Tenderloin with Lobster Dumplings or Beyond Meat Kofta (vegetarian) and topped with a Not-So Classic Baked Alaska.

Alternatively, there is Canaletto, an Italian restaurant with pasta and classics such as braised chicken cacciatore al forno, branzino ai ferri and garlic shrimp ravioli. For dessert, try the tiramisù, cannoli alla Siciliana, and gelato.

The Dining Room is waiter service for all meals and admittedly, I did indulge in the delight of afternoon tea a couple of times.

The Lido, in contrast, is on a higher deck with a riot of colour and fresh buffet-style dishes and an outside area, steps from the Lido pool where you can order grab-and-go snacks or sit and dine with the sea breeze.

Canaletto serves fresh pasta and classic Italian specialties

 

Heath & Wellbeing

 The overwhelming benefit of cruising is the quietude of the open seas, the mesmerising effect of nature’s reflections on the waves – the rhythm of travel and nothingness out to the horizon. It’s a time to live in the moment and contemplate. But if that’s not enough, the Greenhouse Spa & Salon® has 10 treatments rooms and 20 staff on hand to offer more.

The thermal suite provides heated relaxation loungers, indoor hydrotherapy pool and steam rooms, one without essential oils for those with allergies.

Against the backdrop of a well-laid out fitness room, and guided yoga and pilates classes (additional supplement), there’s the opportunity to use the cruise to change your image with non-surgical facelifts, improve your posture with a foot imprint analysis, have your teeth whitened, increase your metabolism, and enhance your lifestyle health routine with a host of wellbeing seminars.

Book a complimentary consultation at the medi-spa or a tongue and pulse test which will reveal how acupuncture can cure niggly ailments. There’s Reflexology, and Chinese herbal medicine, a variety of facials, massages, not forgetting hairdressing and a nail bar. And when the sun shines, head out on the promenade deck, grab one of the blankets and simply take in the sound of the ocean, chill and soak up that dose of vitamin D.

Holland America Line
Endless entertainment and dining options aboard Oosterdam include the Vista Lounge

 

The Observation Deck

The Explorations Lounge on the top deck will satisfy your thirst for knowledge and it proved to be one of my favourite places to relax and educate myself on the science of cruising. Surrounded by charts and fascinating facts from touchscreens and live data zooming directly from the bridge, this is the best area to secure a seat for narrated scenic cruising.

Put your feet up with a cappuccino and a cookie while lapping up spectacular panoramic views during daylight cruising through Glacier Alley, otherwise known as the Avenue of the Glaciers. This awe-inspiring scenery stretches along the Beagle Channel in the territory of Tierra del Fuego and is a maze of inlets, islands and narrow waterways rich in biodiversity and spectacular scenery.

Interestingly, this archipelago at the southernmost tip of South America was named Tierra del Fuego, meaning Land of Fire, by passing Spanish explorers who saw bonfires lit by the local native inhabitants. The channel extends from Nueva Island in the east to Darwin Sound and Cook Bay in the west. Its western end lies within Chile, while its eastern end forms a segment of the border between Chile and Argentina. Look out for residents on Isla de los Lobos, (Sea Lion Island) and Isla de los Pájaros (Bird Island) along this route. This is also the journey the famous HMS Beagle travelled with biologist, Charles Darwin, onboard back in 1831–1836.

This route has become the favoured waterway for ships to avoid the fury of the waters around Cape Horn. Against the guard of snow-capped mountains, majestic monoliths have carved great chasms into the terrain with tons of slow-moving ice, waterfalls trickling from their edge and maybe a display of force from a giant piece of ice break.

The Patagonia Ice Cap is an ice field covering over 6,000 square miles stretching through Argentina and Chile which feeds all five of the glaciers: Holanda, Italia, Francia, Alemania, and Romanche This is a land of dazzling blue icebergs which can be ogled close up and personal from the comfort of your seat.

Much like the Norwegian coastline, the west coast of Chile is carved by fjords. The desolate and windswept landscape is on full display as the ship meanders through channels lined with rugged landscapes and glacier-covered valleys.

This dramatic coastline starts near Reloncaví Estuary, located halfway down the long narrow spine of Chile, and extends south to the very end of the continent at Tierra del Fuego, home to Chile’s national parks, reserves and valleys. Early Spanish explorers established these shipping routes when they searched for gold and diamonds and although such treasures were not found, the routes are still used today.

 

Holland America

Chilean fjords provide some of the journey’s most dramatic and stunning scenery (Photo by Gregory “Slobirdr” Smith  CC BY-SA 2.0)

 

On Shore

Travelling alone can be daunting for some, especially to a new continent, so it is advisable to play safe and join one of the many tried and tested creative excursions organised by the cruise ship, such as the Battlefields of the Falklands, horseback riding on the Pampas, penguin reserves, and a journey on the “end of the world train” in Argentina.

Peep into the carnival culture in Uruguay and a guided tour of Montevido, its capital city, while in Chile immerse yourself in the outdoors – kayaking and fly fishing, sample wines in Casablanca Valley, appreciate Chilean colour with an artist studio visit in Valparaiso or capture the culture of  Santiago on a guided highlights tour.

Solo cruising has so many advantages. I explored three countries of my bucket list continent, at my own pace. I made new friends, heard fascinating life stories, honed new skills (I can speak a few more words in Spanish) and practised the art of travelling alone.  And although it comes with an additional single supplement, I appreciated the double space of my cabin and just being in the moment, travelling with myself.  So, here’s to my next cruise!

***

 

About Holland America Line

Holland America Line’s fleet of 11 ships offers more than 500 cruises to more than 470 ports in 98 countries, territories or dependencies around the world. From shorter getaways to 128-day itineraries, the company’s cruises visit all seven continents, with highlights including Antarctica explorations, South America circumnavigations and Australia & New Zealand and Asia voyages; three annual Grand Voyages; and popular sailings to the Caribbean, Alaska, Mexico, Canada & New England, Europe and the Panama Canal.

QUICK FACT BOX: Holland America Line Oosterdam

Itinerary: South America Passage

Duration: 14 days

Departure port: Buenos Aires

Calls at: Montevideo (Uruguay), Stanley (Falkland Islands), Strait of Magellan (cruising), Punta Arenas (Chile), Cockburn Channel (cruising), Beagle Channel (cruising), Glacier Alley (cruising), Ushuaia (Argentina), Scenic Cruising Cape Horn (weather permitting), Scenic cruising Sarmiento Channel, Cruising Chilean Fjords, Puerto Montt (Chile), Santiago (Chile)

What’s included: All meals (excluding speciality dining), afternoon tea, theatre shows, onboard gym, children’s clubs

For more information: 14-DAY SOUTH AMERICA PASSAGE (hollandamerica.com)

***

Be Seeing You:  Aboard Holland America Oosterdam

Good to Know: Don’t wear obvious British colours in Argentina, or use sterling

WOW! Factir: Daylight narrated scenic cruising, especially as the sun rises

Tip: Attend the captain’s talks onboard. It’s fascinating to learn about the behind the scenes on the ship, and understand the weather forecasts that steer the itinerary

Author bio: Jane Wilson

Find more travel inspiration at BeSeeingYou

Jane Wilson

Jane is a travel journalist who specialises in wellness travel, an area which has moved beyond the spa and yoga mat and is firmly on-trend. Think slow travel, rituals, retreats, indigenous therapies and destination medi-spas for the ultimate make-over for mind, body & soul. Whatever the reason, Jane considers travel as an investment in health and wellbeing.

As a regular contributor to BeSeeingYou, you will always discover that healthy twist laced into her articles. Jane writes for a range of UK magazines as well her own online media The Wellness Traveller.co.uk

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