Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Ferry Facts – Argentine Version

What you are about to read is a true story – this is not a joke, and the images have not been photoshopped.

With the end of our vacation in Argentina approaching, Lisa and I decided to take advantage of the lovely weather and leave Buenos Aires for a day-trip to Colonia – a cute little town just across the Río de la Plata in Uruguay most easily accessed by ferry.

We arrived at the Buquebus terminal – a massive, modern complex for both bus and ferry service on the BA waterfront – about 15 minutes before the noon passenger-only fast ferry was scheduled to leave.

Anyone who complains about the process for boarding a WSF ferry should visit BA; while the Buquebus terminal is sleek and clean, and the staff exceedingly friendly, they do require passengers to jump through a few hoops before boarding a boat.

First, reserve a ticket.

Yes, I said reserve a ticket – even though the boat is leaving in 15 minutes, we had to stand in a
reservations line because all seats on these ferries are reserved, and I’m talking about a walk-on, passenger-only ferry.

The ticket agent was very nice – we booked a pair of regular tourista-class seats for the outbound trip, but only first-class was available for the return.

Second, pay for our tickets.

I list this as a separate step because that’s exactly what it is – we had to go stand in a separate line to pay for the ticket that we’d just reserved.

Third, get a boarding pass

I list this as a separate step because that’s exactly what it is – we had to go stand in another line, this time to show our receipts for the tickets we’d just paid for one minute ago and twenty feet away so that we could get an airline-style boarding pass (and check luggage if we desired).

Fourth, go through security.

I imagine this was because the ferry was an international run between Argentina and Uruguay. It was basically just like going through security for an airline flight back home, minus the humiliation. We had to put my daypack through an x-ray machine and walk through a metal detector, but we got to keep our shoes and they didn’t seem concerned about the possibility of someone trying to sneak more than three ounces of toothpaste onboard.

Fifth, and finally, fill out an immigrations form and go through customs before walking through the “jet way” to board the boat. Again, it makes perfect sense since it’s an international run.

I couldn’t get a good look at the ship as we boarded, because it’s a “side loader” and the huge terminal obscured any view of it from the street – but it sure was impressive once we got on board!

Before us was an amazing lobby, with a duty-free shop to our left and a grand stairway leading
up to “Primera Especial Class” seating that overlooked the midships area. I managed to go up and take a look just as the ship was getting under way, and it was incredible: a very small cafeteria where “especial” passengers could order “especial” meals, which were brought to their seats by a steward!

The stairway to “Primera Especial Class”

The “Primera Especial Class” galley - note the wineglasses in the foreground!

The seats look like something that belonged in the
space station on 2001, or Star Trek, or I don’t know WTF, clustered around tables alongside the huge picture windows.

The seating in “Primera Especial Class”

I instantly though of the comments on the Kitsap Sun website that readers in Bremerton frequently post; about their perceptions that Bainbridge passengers have Red Hook and sushi on their runs, while the Bremerton passengers are treated like the “red-haired stepchildren” of WSF. They’d scream if they saw this!

Alas, our tickets were “Turista Class” so I made my way back downstairs and forward, and was again shocked at what I found.

It was a large seating area similar to that at either end of a WSF vessel, but the seats were like those on a commercial airliner – but with more cushioning, and leg-room for humans!

Tourist-class seating, looking back from the cafeteria line

Instead of a picture window with a view ahead, there was a cafeteria with excellent food and beverage service that included top notch wines (and probably Red Hook, though I didn’t check since I’m not a beer drinker).

Tourist-class seating, with cafeteria in front

There were large, flat-screen televisions mounted on the bulkhead in front of us that played an airline-style safety video before switching to a soccer match for our one-hour crossing to Colonia.

The ride was very smooth, and looking out the window I got the impression that we were traveling at least 50 percent faster than a WSF vessel. Considering that the crossing from BA to
Colonia across the Río de la Plata is much longer than most Puget Sound crossings but was only going to take an hour, that made sense.

Eventually I made my way to the head. I was smaller than the large institutional-style facilities on a WSF vessel, but much nicer and very clean. You’ll have to take my word on this, since prudence prohibited me from taking photos inside a public bathroom…

As we approached the port in Colonia, the football match on the big screens was switched over to a “pilot cam” view of our approach to the harbor, and before we knew it we were docked.

Looking back as we disembarked, I got a partial glimpse of the vessel I’d been cruising in: the beak-nosed superstructure looked more like a spaceship than a ferry and she had a sleek catamaran hull, which finally explained why the crossing was so quick and smooth.

The ferry "Atlantic III"

Our return voyage in first-class yielded one final surprise: champagne!

Yes, champagne!

As we entered the “Premera” cabin, a “flight attendant” checked our boarding pass – and offered us each a champagne flute of sparkling wine, and we settled into air-line style seats even more comfy than those on our outbound voyage.

Lisa took a short nap during the one-hour return trip, and a steward took our empty glasses as he delivered food and drinks to passengers which they had ordered in the café!

Yes, I know what you’re thinking.

A one-way, tourist-class ticket on this vessel cost 130 Pesos, about $34 U.S. at the gate. You can reserve on-line, which probably yields a discount.

There’s also a slower passenger/auto ferry (3 hours) that costs 99 Pesos per tourist-class ticket, about $25 U.S.

First Class?

188 pesos, or about $48 U.S. for the fast boat and 144/$37 for the slow.

Bon Voyage!

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