We have travelled near and far on Royal Caribbean and this was a great new experience to see Brazil with Splendour as our home away from home. First of all the ship was beautiful, the staff was attentive, and this cruise lived up to all our expectations. Travelling to Brazil is not the easiest task you will embark on. First of all you need a tourist visa to go to Brazil. That costs $125 for US citizens and it needs to be issued 90 days or less before your arrival in Brazil. Also, it's summer there and winter here so you can run into travel delays here. There are few "gateway" cities here to fly to Rio or Sao Paulo and from Miami it is a 8 hour flight and 10 hours from Dallas. When you come back the flights leave late at night. We chose to fly in the day before and spend the night at the Grand Hyatt in Sao Paulo. This made the trip to Santos the next day easier. It was not without challenges though. It is 50 miles to the port from Sao Paulo and the cab drivers don't know how to find the cruise port. Outside of the hotels don't count on anyone speaking English until you get to the ship. There isn't a single country in S.A. where people speak english. Portugese is the language and if people are bilingual the next language is Spanish. 75% of the passengers on our cruise were Brazilian and the remaining 25% were from Europe as well as north America. The port was pandemonium. You don't see the ship when you get there and the signage is impossible to follow. You finally are bussed through the port to where the ship is docked. The Brazilians have a different agenda for their idea of fun. This prompted lots of schedule and activity differences.Early seating dinner was 7:30 and late seating was at 10 PM. Even so the Brazilians showed up 30-45 minutes late for dinner. We were originally scheduled for second seating but switched to main seating after the first night. The staff onboard was hand picked and hired to accommodate the Brazilian customers. Menus were in English on one side and Portugese on the other. There was at least 1 Brazilian entree on the dinner menu and the dining room served brunch instead of breakfast 2 or 3 times. The Windjammer was open until 5:30 AM for the entire cruise. The casino and the Viking Crown were packed at 3 or 4 am for the entire cruise but the mornings were very quiet. For the 8 days they only had Bingo 3 times and it was very lightly attended. Even for the final jackpot game! No one showed up for the "Quest". The Love and Marriage game show was held in one spot in Portugese and a different lounge for English. On sea days there was no problem getting a chair early. The Brazilians were not stirring until noon. The party around the pool was a sight to behold. No steel drums and Caribbean music. The entertainment was decidedly Brazil and the cruisers were into singing and dancing along to all the music! Thong bikini suits were the norm for the women and the men's suits were much smaller as well. It was not unusual to see teens running around the ship at 2 am considering that they didn't finish dinner until midnight.
Brazil is a beautiful country and is much larger and has more people than most realize. It is about as big as the US and has 180 million people. Sao Paulo is the third largest city in the world with 18-20 million people. It goes on forever. Rio is large as well and these cities are very European. As you travel to the north the culture and population become more African. The big cities were very modern and the countryside was a little 3rd worldish. We visited Salvador, Ilheus, and Buzios and each had it's own unique culture. Salvador was a new city/ old town combination and we spent our time there in the old town seeing the old cathedrals and getting a taste of the culture. Ilheus was a visit to a cocoa plantation, where we saw how chocolate was made. In Buzios we visited the beach and had a relaxing day in the sun. Lots of great shops to visit as well. The focal point of the trip was Rio for Carnaval and it was our first stop. The city is one of great contrasts. The sights from the top of Sugarloaf mountain and Corcovado are truly spectacular. Just seeing the "Christ the Redeemer" statue was awesome. Great restaurants and beaches too. We had rain so the beaches were deserted but the street celebrations for Carnaval were amazing to behold. The Carnaval parade competition is unlike anything you will see in this country. The Samba schools spend an entire year preparing for the parade. There are floats, dancers, and entire percussion bands for each school. The number of people that parade by the judges for each school number in the thousands!! It takes more than a hour for each school to parade through the Sambodrome.The costumes are elaborate beyond description and the floats are handcrafted. This is not an amateur competition. The clubs are sponsored by the biggest corporations and the prizes are in the millions for the winning clubs. The whole country shuts down for 4 days and people party and celebrate non stop. The Super Bowl was our first night in Rio and about 20 or 30 people watched the game. The rest of the ship was partying for Carnaval. The excursion price to go to the parade was almost $500 per person. We hired RioPlus Tours for the two days we were in Rio and it was the best thing we have ever done. For the 4 of us it was no more than 1 tour to see Rio and we had the luxury of individual attention and touring at our own pace. We saw a lot that the ships tours would never see and picked the best places to eat as well. We were careful to stay on the safe places and our guide Valeria made sure that we saw everything of interest without any risks. When the cruise ended we spent the last day touring Sao Paulo before heading for the airport. It is like visiting NYC but without the tall buildings. It is the commercial center of South America and with so many people it has huge ethnic communities. Large Japanese and middle eastern groups have settled in Brazil. If you have "been there and done that" a South American cruise as a winter get away can't be beaten.Just remember you need to check the "American Ego" at the door because Brazilians do it their way and love every minute of it! As for RCCL, they provided the ideal venue to travel and experience it all. Just spend time and do what you need to do. Get Brazilian currency a couple of weeks before you go cause you just don't walk into the bank or currency exchange and get Reals. Learn to Samba and love it.