For their maiden visit to South America—but not their first month-long cruise—Mary and Mike Peeples hit fourteen ports in seven countries, unpacking only once.
We're still laughing about... The lesson our group (average age 70) learned zip lining through the trees in Costa Rica: You are never too old to let loose with your best Tarzan yell.
Our favorite part... Unfettered access to Machu Picchu. [PHOTO] Most of the pictures I'd seen were taken from the entrance, giving me the impression that we would look out over the ancient Incan ruins from a roped-off area and not be allowed to get close. Wrong. The entire site is open. We wandered through the polished rock buildings, rested on farming terraces, and took breathtaking pictures of the neighboring peaks from the unending stairs.
Worth every penny... A room with a balcony! The scenery's always changing, and on this trip from San Diego to Peru on Holland America's Rotterdam, [PHOTO] we sailed by dolphins, turtles, whales, sea lions and, of course, other ships. I think there's a misconception that cruising is expensive, but we were entertained and fed non-stop for a month for far less than that would cost at home—trust me, this is our third 30-day cruise. We stopped in Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Ecuador, and Costa Rica. We needed the sea days to rest up—and we did, admiring the view from our balcony.
Great local meal... My husband eats street food without fear, whereas I am a cautious eaters. The answer is cruising, and we do best at a buffet.
Moment when things got tense... Just before we left. For a year, we'd been anticipating the train to Maccu Picchu as the highlight of the trip. [PHOTO], but due to railway flooding, the two-day overland journey wasn't back on the trip schedule until right before we sailed. [PHOTO] Past travel experience has taught us to be flexible: In 2008, a cyclone disaster nixed our stop in Myanmar, and on that same cruise, a terrorist attack on the Taj Hotel and rail station cancelled our visits to Mumbai and the Taj Mahal.
Never again... Will we kick off a cruise by flying to an embarkation port (at least, if we can help it.) We chose this trip partly because it didn't involve air travel, and it was so much less grueling—especially since the San Diego Amtrak terminal is located 1 block from the city's Cruise Port.
Overrated... The older Mexican tourism ports, like Acapulco and Cabo, felt like total tourist traps, selling rip off souvenirs and tequila. (Huatulco was beautiful.) [PHOTO] I ended up finding local treasures at almost every other port, including a beautiful yoga blanket in Huatulco, intricate silver jewelry in Peru, several pounds of coffee in Costa Rica, and woven textiles in Guatemala. [PHOTO]
Fun surprise... Returning from Maccu Picchu to Cusco through the snow-capped Andes Mountains after dark during a full moon. The way the huge peaks reflected the moonlight was a sight I'll never forget.