Cruising with Holland America Line

Reviewed by The Wellness Traveller

South America

Penguins on Holland America Line Cruise

Board the ship feeling like a wreck and disembark as a new person – relaxed, physically fitter, mentally clear with whiter teeth, wrinkles smoothed and brimming with knowledge of new places. Cruising with Holland America Line’s Oosterdam offers all the facilities to make this happen as I discovered.

I travelled on a 14-day voyage following the southern coast of South America from Buenos Aires to San Antonio cruising with Holland America Line. Three Latin American countries, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile, all in two weeks and unpacking a case just once! It all started in Buenos Aires with its murals of Maradona, polo fame and Evita. It’s the home of the tango where passion and rhythm are joined at the hip, sensually described as the vertical representation of horizontal desires. A city tour here will guide you past a magnificent opera house and to the Recoleta area, one of the city’s most glamorous spots where palatial buildings, built at the turn of the 19th century by Argentina’s powerful gentry, grace shady lanes and manicured gardens. Recoleta Cemetery houses the grave of Eva Peron and is worth a visit to see paths of mausoleums and statues marking the generations of Argentine in ornate splendour. For a wilder atmosphere, La Boca is a cauldron of noise with street artists, attractions and steakhouses which surround Caminito, a narrow alley fringed by brightly coloured zinc shacks that hark back to its immigrant days. 

The Oosterdam Ship

The Oosterdam was built in 2003 and has retained the charm and tradition of American and Dutch influences. The décor swirled with gold bannisters with a hanging globe in the atrium navigating to intricately decorated elevators and pleasing artwork which led to sink-in armchairs in cosy alcoves; understated elegance is the best way to describe it. And being one of almost 1900 passengers, the service level was high with 800 staff eager to please. On this mid-sized ship there were six cabin categories. My spacious room was decked in calming neutral colours with a good-sized veranda – perfect to eavesdrop on the meditative sounds of the sea

Life onboard

Life onboard is as busy as you want it to be, I didn’t stop from the moment I rose to witness the sunrise and join the tai chi class to the last note played in the Rolling Stones Lounge. During the day there was a host of enriching activities from “digital tech for travellers” tutorials to a Spanish language course, (hola!). There were classes in salsa, line dance, or mastering the Tango; bridge, poker or ping pong. Destination talks provided helpful tips and history on port visits, all collated on the ship’s handy mobile app Navigator, which proved very helpful in organising my schedule and spend. 

Port Visits

It was fascinating to peep into new cultures in a continent new to me. 

Montevideo, Uruguay

In Uruguay, the capital city of Montevideo’s oldest neighbourhood, Ciudad Vieja, was buzzy with street artists, craftsmen and a flea market. The city is renowned for the longest carnival in the world so a visit to the Carnival Museum was a must and a chance to watch a performance from scary-painted muscians. 

The Falkland Islands, Argentina

Port Stanley offered a taste of back home with fish n’chips and several pubs serving locally brewed beer. It’s steeped in natural and military history with a bronze bust of Margaret Thatcher located close to Liberation Monument, a tribute to the 255 British troops (and three female civilians) who gave their lives during the 1982 Falklands conflict. But it was the penguins in the Falklands that stole my heart.  They waddled like wind-up toys on the vanilla sand dunes in their tuxedo-like coats. The world’s largest colony of 1,200 adult king penguins outside of South Georgia Island is 50 miles away from Port Stanley on a private nature reserve.

Ushuaia, Argentina

Sitting at the southernmost tip of Argentina, this port town is accessed only by the Beagle Channel. Ushuaia attracts exploration ships and tourists often starting their voyages around Cape Horn and trails around the jagged peaks of the nearby Dientes de Navarino. Here you could hop on the End of the World Train, a heritage railway experience, passing through Tierra del Fuego National Park. (It’s said that this is the southernmost city in the world. Chile however argues it is Port William, a town on Navarino Island is the southernmost populated settlement in the world).

Punta Arenas, Chile

Punta Arenas in Chile is a centre for adventure with everything from kayaking on the Strait of Magellan to trekking through the woods of Patagonia. I travelled to visit more of my penguin friends on Isla Magdalena via a catamaran ride. Over 120,000 Magellanic penguins enjoy this protected island all to themselves. It was declared a Natural Monument in 1982.

Puerto Montt, Chile

Often called the gateway to glacial lakes and volcanic landscapes, Puerto Montt is the capital of the Los Lagos region of Chile. This port is home to a German settlement and the indigenous communities of the Mapuche people. Nearby is the city of Roses, Puerto Varas, with gardens, a pretty main square and a historical monument overlooking Lake Llanquihue, one of Chile’s largest lakes. The snow-covered Osorno and Calbuco volcanoes form the backdrop. 

Wining & Dining

After exploring the destinations either on the arranged excursions or independently, wining and dining back on the ship was a welcome reward. This was my first experience of having my own stash of wine behind the bar. There were a number of drinks packages – I opted for the minimum 4-bottle deal – to sip in the various bars and four restaurants. The Pinnacle Grill was one of the specialty restaurants which featured a selection of 28-day wet-aged USDA prime steaks, naturally, being in Argentina. The second was Canaletto serving Italian classic signature dishes. The fresh food buffet with regional dishes was served in the Lido while The Dining Room was waiter service for all meals as well as the delicate afternoon tea.

Ship Day Cruising

The narrated scenic sailing was, for me, the epitome of cruising, especially through Glacier Alley in Southern Chile. A time to relax, lapping up the spectacular panoramic views from the Observation Deck, surrounded by its charts and statistics from touchscreens with live data zooming directly from the bridge. This awe-inspiring cinematic journey stretched along the Beagle Channel in the territory of Tierra del Fuego and was a maze of inlets, islands and narrow waterways rich in biodiversity. This was the journey the famous HMS Beagle travelled with biologist Charles Darwin onboard, back in 1831–1836. It has since become the favoured waterway for ships to avoid the fury of the waters around Cape Horn.

Much like the Norwegian coastline, the west coast of Chile’s narrow spine is carved by fjords. This desolate and windswept landscape passed as the ship meandered through channels of majestic monoliths that have sculpted great chasms into the terrain with tons of slow-moving ice, waterfalls trickling from their edge which presented a dazzling theatre of icebergs.

The Spa, Medi-Spa, Thermal Suite & Fitness

A major benefit of cruising is the quietude of the open seas, the mesmerising effect of nature’s dance on the waves and the sheer nothingness out to the horizon. I captured this cuddled on a lounger with a blanket, soaking up a dose of vitamin D out on the Promenade Deck. Yet the Greenhouse Spa & Salon® had more on offer with a thermal suite of heated loungers, saunas and hydrotherapy pool. The Spa accommodated 10 treatments rooms and 20 staff on hand to relieve those niggly aching pains and facials to smooth out any telling wrinkles. For more permanent changes there was the new medi-spa technology along with dentistry to whiten teeth, that is if you had the budget and time. Holistic treatments embraced Chinese herbal medicine, acupuncture and reflexology. The gym was impressive as was the timetable of exercise classes.

On my final evening I witnessed the sun kiss farewell to the ocean, causing the wispy clouds to blush.  The ship was aglow with laughter in the bars and high octave chatter of the day’s adventures. I may not have had my teeth whitened or invested in acupuncture treatments but I disembarked relaxed in mind, body and soul brimming with knowledge of the three countries I had explored and memories of the passionate tango dancers in Buenos Aires and those tuxedo-clad penguins.  A new day on the horizon awaited

GETTING THERE: Cruising with Holland America Line ( or tel 0344 338 8607) offers a 14-day South America Passage voyage on Oosterdam from £2,569pp, double occupancy, which excludes flights but includes the “Have It All Package”, (signature drinks package, shore excursion credit of £160, Wi-fi, specialty dining for one meal in each of the two restaurants, and crew appreciation) departing 5 March 2025.

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