My family and I live in Long Island, New York, and over the last 17 years, my husband and I have lived in 4 different countries and traveled with our children to Australia, Asia, and Europe. We have cruised before in the Caribbean, and through Hong Kong, Singapore, and Vietnam. Our children are now 11 and 8, and are very well traveled, having been to Iceland, Spain, Germany, Austria, the above-mentioned places in Asia and Australia, and all over the United States. With this trip, they can now add South America to their list of travel experiences.
When we arrived in South America, we did some pre-cruise traveling, but stayed the night before the cruise at the Sheraton WTC in Sao Paulo. The hotel is attached to a mall and a lovely food court with many restaurants is directly accessible from the lobby.
After being charged very high prices from hotel pick up services, friend of ours recommended Evolution Taxi Services. Their prices were almost half of the hotels, and even though the embarkation pier in Santos is very hard to find, the driver was very good-natured about finding it, and very excited to have gotten us their in plenty of time to go through the boarding process.
After getting to the pier, there was a fairly lengthy wait for people who were not Gold Members of Royal Caribbean, but luckily, since we had booked an Owner's Suite and are Gold Members, we were able to have priority boarding. At that time, they took our passports, to be returned at the end of the journey during the immigration process upon the return to the port.
The boarding information we were given said that we could board between 1:00 pm and 3:30 pm. However, we arrived a little after 11:30 am and were able to board the ship. All of the bars were open and they were already serving a buffet lunch, although the rooms were not accessible until 2:00 pm.
As stated, we were in an Owner's Suite. All of these suites are named after famous artists. Ours was the Matisse Suite. We had a similar suite on our Asia cruise on the Legends of the Sea (same class as the Spendour). The suite is very large, double the size of a regular state room with an over-sized balcony with two lounge chairs. There are two televisions in the Suite, one in the bedroom and the other in the separate living area. The separate living area had a pull out couch, on which our children slept comfortable. The bathroom as a bidet to accompany the toilet, a stand alone shower, a Jacuzzi tub, and a double sink with medicine cabinets. The bedroom contained a king size bed with two nights stands, a dresser, a vanity with a large mirror with a cabinet behind it, and a small magnifying mirror. It also had a large 4 drawer dresser, 16 with additional drawers located throughout the cabin. The closet was double wide with plenty of hangers. The only problem we had with the suite is that it was located under the main Windjammer buffet dining room, and set up of the Windjammer began in the middle of the night. There was a lot of things rolling, slamming and banging over our heads from very early in the morning, around 4:00 am. We questioned why they would located the better cabins below such a noisy area. However, it in no way took away from our experience, other than a little loss of sleep. The room also was equipped with an ipad that had all of the daily cruise activities on it, along with any information you may need.
In the way of dining, the ship has, the above-mentioned buffet dining room, the Windjammer Cafe, the King and I, more formal dining room, and two specialty restaurants,Chops Grill (a steak house) and Izumi (a Japanese place). They also have a hotdog place and a healthy cafe in their Solarium, along with a Starbucks and Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream Shop (Starbucks and Ben and Jerry's are not free, nor are the two specialty restaurants. There is also a bar menu in the Top Hat Lounge, and small snacks are available in the concierge lounges after 5:00 pm, if you have access.
The Windjammer has a breakfast and lunch buffet daily, and serves the same food every day. This got a little boring after a while, but, you are so busy, you don't notice. In addition, every day poolside, they made paella in a 3 foot in diameter skillet over a barbecue, each day was a different kind, and the line was always around the corner. You can also eat lunch at the King and I dining room, if you choose.
We went to the King and I dining room every night except the last night for dinner at our designated "our time dining" time. Really you only had two choices, 7:30 pm and 9:30 pm. We chose 7:30. You are assigned to the same table every night and you have the same waiting staff. If you have already purchased soda and drink packages, there is no additional charge unless you buy wine that is not included in your packages. Soda packages are reasonable, around $35 for unlimited soda for the entire trip. The alcohol packages was $55 each a day for unlimited drinks, as long as they were not high end champagne or, again, expensive wine.
The food at the King and I changes daily and is decent. They had many soups and pasta dishes, along with duck, chicken, and steaks. If you would like lobster or more expensive cuts, you can purchase them. The only disappointment that we had there was when I ordered escargot and was served scallops in an escargot pan. When I pointed it out, they said "Yes, we have no escargot on this trip," which they never told me. Had I been allergic to sea food, this could have been a problem. Escargot are usually garden snails, not sea snails. I thought it odd that they tried to pass off scallops for snails, when they look nothing alike. However, all of the other experiences there were great. They had an extensive kids menu of chicken fingers, grilled cheese, pizza, hamburgers, macaroni and cheese, and pasta, including french fries fruit and shakes for dessert. The desserts for adults were lovely and included, flan, creme brulee,chocolate mousse, lots of cakes, etc.
Chops Steak house charges $30 a person for unlimited food. We went there the last night of the cruise. The food was excellent. My son said it was the best steak that he ever had. They had many cuts and a choice of three sauces, including hollandaise. The offered lots of sides, such as spinach, asparagus, mashed potatoes, and a cheese potato, which was heavenly.
Izumi Japanese Restaurant was also very good. We went for lunch and the prices were a la carte, and around $5 to $8 depending on the dish. They had many different types of rolls and raw sushi, and a great chicken dish that my son also loved, and he is a picky eater. They also had great Saki Specialty Martinis which were very, very good.
The smaller cafes are also great to have a snack. However, the hot dogs, served German, Italian, or Coney Island style,come on huge rolls and are very, very filling. The healthy cafe serves wraps, chopped salads, stuffed hot pockets. They also serve pizza from noon t0 3:00 pm. However, pizza is available through room service 24 hours a day, as well as anything else that they serve.
In addition to the dining facilities, the ship has many other things to offer. They have the 42nd Street Theater, which has nightly shows, a pianist and a tango show were among the highlights. The ship also has the Schooner bar where you can relax and play trivia, the Top Hat Lounge, where you can grab a snack or play bingo (although, we never saw many people there), and they have a casino. The casino has roulette, black jack, Caribbean stud poker, and holds daily Texas Hold 'em Tournaments. They also have all of the usual slots and a daily lottery. Of course, you can always hang out in the lounge in the Centrum of the ship with the panoramic elevators and the duty free shops. They even had an aerial show in that area one night with artists swinging from the top of the atrium. Spectacular.
In addition to the above, they had daily pool side aerobics or dance classes, including belly dancing. They also had "sexiest man" competitions, ice sculpture demonstrations, karaoke, family ping pong tournaments, and family pool games. There is also a full gym facility, sauna and steam room available, along with miniature golf (silly on a windy ship) and a 10 meter (30 foot) rock climbing wall, and shuffle board. A jogging and walking track is located on the uppermost deck.
The Splendour also has an Elemnis Spa, where you can get any service you like. I got the Ioni and a seaweed treatment, both are for detoxification. They are expensive, but you can get deals if you go at the right time. They canceled one of my treatments one day, and they offered me a 20% discount for a different treatment for the inconvenience. They also sell some nice products.
On to the pools. The pools, in my view are disappointing. There is a small outdoor pool with an attached kiddie pool with a hot tub on each side. For a cruise that fits 2000 people, the pool is too small. They have a second pool inside their Solarium (an indoor area) but children are not permitted to swim in this pool, and it is not any larger. I feel, instead of the 9 hole miniature golf that they have on deck ten, a family pool with slides and spraying water would be better. They kids got bored of the crowded pool very quickly, as it was so full of adults, it was uncomfortable for them.
For the kids, they do have a kids club. However, although the staff their speaks English, they do not translate the group activities into English. My daughter went once and didn't want to go back because she couldn't communicate with any of the other children there at the time that she went. We saw a lot of things going on with the kids club though; pirate parades, face paining, etc. The boat has a small arcade, but it is costly. The average game costs a dollar, and my kids went through a lot of money very quickly. They enjoyed the bingo greatly, and they always love to play trivia in the Schooner Bar.
The staff on the boat was excellent, with the exception of our room attendant who I felt was mostly indifferent. The concierge was from Mexico and took care of our every whim. One waiter remembered that my daughter liked cherries and scoured the boat for more for his section because he had run out and knew we would be there. Another Guest Services staff member promised my kids extra Easter treats if they came back the next day and could remember her name. She purposely took her name tag off and waited for just them to come. I saw her put the tag on after they left, so I know it was just for them. All of the staff spoke English, and although Royal Caribbean warns you that they trip will be in Portuguese, everything was always translated into English and Spanish, regardless of the activity. We had no problem communicating for the entire trip.
For shore excursions, we chose the following:
Punta Del Este, Uruguay (our first stop):
We chose a city tour. Unfortunately, it is a small city, and there is not much interesting to see there except for "The Fingers" which is a sculpture that sticks out of the sand in the beach. There are Sea Lions there, but they did not offer a tour to that part of the area which was disappointing. The tour also included two hours of shopping, which we felt was way too much so we walked back to the pier (5 blocks) and had lunch at a great little place right at the end of the dock. The waitress spoke English and we had some great wine and a lovely lunch.
Buenos Aires, Argentina: (our second stop):
On the first day we stayed on the boat into the evening took the night tour to the Tango Show offered. The show was awesome, however, the food included was near inedible. We were very disappointed in the "Tourist Trap" type cuisine, but very happy with the show.
On the second day, we took the city tour. It visited Eva Perone's grave, which was very interesting, lots of local building and markets, etc. We had a great time, but, having learned, we skipped the lunch included and found our own place. We had a great lunch at a real Argentinian steak place which had the best buffet I've ever had and all the meat you could eat (and brick oven pizzas)
Montevideo, Uruguay (our third stop):
We again, chose the city tour. This tour was quick, as they do not dock for long. We saw some interesting things, but the best was not in the tour. When you get off the bus at the pier they have a "Port Market" with tons of meat restaurants. We chose one and had the best mean that we had had on the whole trip. It was a true local experience and less than 2 minute walk from the ship.
And so, it was time to leave. After one more day at sea, we were finally back in Santos. The disembarkation process was horrendous. We waited on line for over 1.5 hours to have our passports returned and go through Brazilian immigration. There is no special priority for Gold Members in this process, and the Brazilian had only 3 officials to check out hundreds of people. It was brutal. After, you were spread out into lounges to wait to be called for disembarkation (your luggage tags were given a number the night before). The ship took forever to be cleared, but finally we were called and we had no trouble finding our luggage and hiring a taxi to take us back to Sao Paulo. We could have chosen to take a city tour here as well, as our flight did not leave until late, but we were kind of "city toured-out", and we relaxed again at the Sheraton for the afternoon until getting Evolution Taxi to take us to the airport.
In summation, we had a great trip. The boat was very modern. Each floor had a digital map and display on it to find your way around and see available activities. The pool had a huge video screen above it and played music videos all day and night long. The service was spectacular, the food was good, and the people were lovely. We loved seeing the beautiful South American countries we visited and enjoyed experiencing the culture. The room was unbeatable for a family of four and the price of $5600 for the family was very reasonable. I recommend this cruise for all, whether you speak Portuguese or not, it will make no difference. Bon Voyage!