We were going to Antarctica, so it really was all about the expedition. I will say without question, that part of the cruise was exceptional. The Expedition Leader was experienced, engaging, fun and educated. His team was extensive, young and enthusiastic - exceptionally well educated, anxious to engage and share information and experiences and talented in helping you to get the most out of each expedition. The crew were professional and looked out for your safety and comfort entering and exiting the Zodiacs. The lectures added to the experience and were available on the suite TV for those of us who preferred a nap or a late lunch. We got to see and do everything we had hoped to.
The ship was also wonderful. Small at only 250 passengers, it is without shopping malls and cabaret shows, but offered everything needed. Well appointed and nicely decorated - easy to find your way around.
The cabin had lots of room. It included a walk-in closet - a necessity for the parka, waterproof pants and many layers. The sofa and 2 armchairs were a bit cramped, but once we organized one at the desk, and the convertible table over the sofa, there was lots of room and still the ability to easily dine in the room. The balcony was a basic space - great for checking the weather, if you had enough layers or watching the passing icebergs. It was not a hospitable outdoor oasis, but given the subzero temps I wasn't planning on lounging there.
The disappointment came in the staff and the food.
Front desk staff were uninformed and unhelpful. They couldn't follow through on simple requests or connect you to senior staff who might be able to assist.
The main dining room was table service with open seating. The host made no attempt to provide a consistent server even if tables were available or a specific area was requested. That meant even those staff working hard to establish relationships and know your preferences were at a disadvantage, and you were constantly explaining sparkling water, red wine, no coffee amongst other things.
The food was unfortunately inconsistent - an amazing veal chop followed by inedible shrimp. The special South American buffet dinner included an Argentine BBQ lamb that so overcooked and a whole fish that say drying under a heat lamp. The last lunch was the 'Gala Buffet' that turned out to be everything left in the fridge and pantry. The breakfast buffet was consistently good but the al a carte breakfast was painfully slow - priority was given to cooking made to order eggs for the buffet diners. The specialty restaruants were good - Italian (well not quite authentic) had great flavours, well cooked and well served. La Dame (the Relais & Chateau) restaurant was flawless.
At the end of the day, it is about value for money - this was a great cruise and I would not skimp on the expedition side of things, but check other vehicles/accommodations - they may be cheaper.
Finally I must comment on the pre/post cruise transfer process. All I can say is it truly is a sh****ow! You stay a night at a hotel in Santiago for them to get you up at 2:30am to board buses to the airport to stand in line for over an hour to check in to a charter flight to wait in the boarding lounge for over 2 hours to get onto a 3 hour flight that provides you an inedible empanada imitation. This happens in reverse to get you back to Santiago - surely doing this every 10 days they could arrange hotel/ship based airline check in and luggage check - a dedicated security line and immigration line (remember it is only $$, and we certainly put out enough of it for the cruise).
Nice city - lots to see - good shopping and restaurants