For our two week sojourn on the Norwegian Sun, our sights were firmly set on the destinations, not the on-board experience. For the sake of this post, I will quickly recap the ship, but emphasize that this was a negligible factor in our trip planning.
Reading cruisecritic, you would think that ocean water is slopping through your door and that the buffet is feeding you sludge. Yes, the ship is older. The entertainment was stodgy for the most part, with the exception of the Argentinian tango and then gaucho performances performed by a group from Buenos Aires. The food is not as good- specialty dining included. But lets be real- if the kid won’t go to sleep when you have dinner reservation and the Maître d’ offers to send the food to your room, kindness makes everything taste better. It was probably the best meal one could have on a beach towel in bed.
The ship’s bedraggled character had its charms. The observation deck was a quiet respite, basically inaccessible unless you climbed a separate set of stairs. A cute little kiddie pool towards the back of the ship had a hot tub right next to it- paradise for two pooped parents. The theater had the cushy chairs and cocktail tables towards the front, feeling a bit more intimate than the larger theaters on the new ships.
But who cares. The itinerary!
The en route view was the most important factor in choosing a room, for which Matt decidedly chose a “left” facing suite as we would be traveling south along the west coast. Not a bad option, as it turned out. We spent many a morning in fluffy robes with room service breakfast, watching the fjords and glaciers go by.
Our first port was Puerto Montt, for which the ships offers fly fishing, forest walks, and river rafting as popular excursions. Traveling with a toddler minimized our adventure potential, so we linked with a taxi driver directly outside the port convincing us with the magic words “I have a car seat”. We stopped at his house to pick it up and were on our way.
We decided to drive towards Puerto Varas and then Frutillar, a historic German town situated on Lake Llanquihue. The town itself was rife with German influences, full of cafes and bars housed in traditional architecture. The views of Volcano Osorno were especially beautiful from the Teatro Del Lago, which hosts world-renowned musicians.
We continued onward around the lake, with Osorno showing its snowy head closer and closer as we approached. Our driver navigated the winding road toward the glacier-capped peak, and though the drive took quite a while, the clear views from the top were worth it that day.
There is also a cafe with empanadas and local beer/wine to warm you up, and ski lifts to take you further up the volcano. A quick snack and a hike later, we turned back around and returned to Puerto Montt.
On the drive home, we noticed the smoking Calbuco volcano from our window, which most recently erupted in April 2015. Our driver described how widespread the ash traveled, serving as a great reminder that in the ring of fire, Nature commands the utmost respect.
We asked our driver to drop us at the fish market instead of back at the ship, which was within walking distance and definitely worth the visit. The market had vendors selling prepared and fresh-off-the-boat fish, with restaurants on the upper level and quick grab snacks below.
The stalls lining the street as you walk back towards the ship sell the traditional handicrafts you might find through the country and other parts of South America- Alpaca wool garments, wood utensils and toys, woven baskets. If you plan to purchase any of these during your journey, I found that the offerings here were varied and extremely cheap.
For us the convenience of having a driver proved to be extremely helpful, as we could change itineraries on a dime depending on what the baby was doing. If was he sleeping, we kept driving to the next location. If he was up, we made a pit stop- luckily, these involved llamas.
And most importantly, it was only the four of us, so if the baby expressed his dissatisfaction, we would only annoy one other person. With all of this, the price for the day was still half of the price had we done a ship excursion. These kinds of plans (or lack thereof) are a gamble, but we knew that the town had sufficient infrastructure to support a large amount of tourist, so we would be able to make something happen regardless. Overall, this was a great glimpse into the lake district , and I would definitely return to better explore Puerto Varas and the other more adventurous offerings in the future.