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Cruise: South America

Going Down to Rio

Snowbirds, many more ships sailing in South American waters this winter

September 14, 1997|SHIRLEY SLATER and HARRY BASCH

Maybe it was Madonna singing "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" in "Evita," the growing popularity for ecotourists of the Chilean region of Patagonia, the lure of the tango, the flash and dazzle of the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro or the Caribbean solar eclipse coming up Feb. 26, but something is really shaking down South America way.

This winter is shaping up as a big South America season, with almost two dozen ships offering cruises there, more than twice as many as last year.

The least expensive sailing on a per diem basis is aboard Regal Cruises' 904-passenger Regal Empress, a 53-day program called Cruise of the Americas that sets out Oct. 25 from Port Manatee in St. Petersburg, Fla., and sails across the equator, around the tip of South America and through the Panama Canal. It has 21 ports of call and a bargain-basement fare that begins at $4,995 per person, double occupancy, or about $94 a day.

For this price, don't expect the Crystal Harmony. The Regal Empress is a 44-year-old ship. But for a non-fussy traveler yearning to visit South America on a budget, it's a good buy.

Clipper Cruises is adding a new expedition ship to the fleet this year, the 121-passenger Clipper Adventurer, formerly the Russian research vessel Admiral Lazarev. With its A-1 Super Ice Class rating, the ship can sail both the Arctic and Antarctic. In South America, Clipper Adventurer sails the Amazon and other jungle rivers in October, then cruises south to the Falklands from Rio de Janeiro in November on its way to Antarctica. Fares begin at $2,480 for a seven-night itinerary.

Want to catch Rio's Carnival? Holland America's Nieuw Amsterdam, carrying 1,214 passengers, makes its South American debut with a quartet of sailings, including one that disembarks in Rio on Feb. 21 with an optional add-on land package ($950 per person, double occupancy) for three days in the city with lodging at the Rio Sheraton during Carnival.

The Nieuw Amsterdam's South America Explorer Cruises include a Jan. 4 sailing from Fort Lauderdale that arrives in Rio Jan. 20; four 16-day sailings between Rio to Valparaiso, Chile, that visit the Falklands and Tierra del Fuego, as well as cruising the Beagle Channel and the Strait of Magellan, on Jan. 20, Feb. 5 and 21, and March 9, and a return sailing from Rio to Fort Lauderdale March 25. Fares range from $2,840 to $6,800 per person, double occupancy, plus air fare. Early bookings earn 25% to 30% savings, and two back-to-back itineraries knock off 5% more.

Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Crown also makes its first visit to South America under the NCL banner with a series of 14-day sailings between Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Santiago, Chile, beginning in January.

Princess Cruises' Royal Princess swings around Cape Horn on 14-day sailings between Santiago, Chile, and Buenos Aires Dec. 13 and 27, Jan. 10 and 24 and Feb. 7, followed by 14-day Buenos Aires to Manaus, Brazil, cruises along the Amazon in late February and early March.

Royal Olympic's 620-passenger Stella Solaris, a longtime veteran of South American sailings, will be joined there this winter by another Royal Olympic vessel, the 400-passenger Odysseus.

The Stella Solaris cruises the Amazon River and the Caribbean on 13- and 14-day itineraries (the longer cruise is southbound) between Fort Lauderdale and Manaus, Brazil; departure dates are Dec. 30, Jan. 13 and 26 and Feb. 9. Caribbean ports of call include St. Thomas, St. Lucia, Barbados, Grenada and Tobago southbound; Trinidad, Bequia, St. Vincent, Antigua and St. Thomas northbound. Fares range from $3,295 to $6,715 per person, double occupancy, plus air fare.

The smaller Odysseus spends Christmas sailing along the continent's east coast from Rio de Janeiro to Buenos Aires, then making a pair of 14- day Strait of Magellan cruises between Buenos Aires and Puerto Montt, Chile, followed by a 14-day sailing around Cape Horn and into the Falkland Islands. Fares range from $2,820 to $6,510 per person, double, plus air.

Abercrombie & Kent's intrepid little expedition vessel Explorer takes 100 passengers along the Amazon this fall, cruising between Belem, and Manaus, Brazil, Sept. 8 and Oct. 12 on 18-day explorations, and sailing from Iquitos, Peru, to Manaus on the Upper Amazon on 12-day itineraries departing Sept. 23 and Oct. 4. Fares on some departures are being discounted, so call A&K at (800) 323-7308 for details.

OdessAmerica offers year-round sailings of three small adventure-oriented vessels in South America, the Ambasador I in the Galapagos Islands and the Skorpios and Terra Australis in the Chilean fiords.

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