After driving from Dallas to Tuktoyoktuk (NWT, Canada, about as far north as you can go by road) last April, we thought it would be cool to travel the furthest south you can conveniently visit in the Americas, Cape Horn, in the same year. Royal Caribbean had the answer, 13 nights on the Splendour of the Seas, from Santiago to Buenos Aires. We booked our reservation with RC and paid a 50% deposit. That was before RC hit us with their "fuel surcharge", which may now be refunded.
RC arranged air transport from Dallas to Santiago, returning from Buenos Aires. Their itinerary included an intermediate stop, with approximate one-way 17 hr transit times. Later checking through Travelocity discovered non-stop flights available, with only 10 hr transit times. A call to RC asking for a change to non-stops revealed that changes were possible, but only after paying a $75/person "custom air" surcharge.
Arrival in Santiago was smooth, after an overnight flight from Dallas which permitted some sleep. We easily found the RC representative at the airport, and were led to a bus. Two hours later, we arrived at the dockside check-in counter, and were soon on the ship. We did talk to a couple later that stood at the check-in counter for an hour and a half trying to get the names on their reservation straightened out- a problem which dogged them for the rest of the trip.
The Splendour is a little tired, and showing its age. Our stateroom (ocean view) was on deck 2, the lowest passenger deck, near the center of the ship. This was a good location, convenient to the central elevators, and away from thruster/anchor noise/vibration at the bow, and engine noises (very loud at cruising speeds above 21 knots) in the rear. Additionally, during rough seas, cabins near the low center of the ship have the least motion. Luckily, our cabin had no residual cigarette odor (an unfortunate circumstance for our dinner table partners), because RC will do nothing for you in the event of problems. A cabin neighbor complained about large blood stains on her floor- a situation resolved only by her leaving towels on the floor to walk on for the entire cruise.
Internet is a staple in our life, and we found it available on the ship for anywhere from $.60/min to a package plan of $.40/min- RC's interpretation of a "nominal charge". Service is not fast- checking e-mail generally took a minimum of eight minutes. At all ports en-route, we found convenient and fast Internet service on-shore for a minimum of $.50 to a maximum of $1.25/HOUR.
Our shore excursions began by gathering all available RC information, and heading out on our own. At all stops, we disembarked, walked past the RC arranged array of busses and guides, and found like-minded people gathering to share mini-van/taxi tours sponsored by local entrepreneurs. Language is a problem everywhere, but our ad-hoc groups always seemed to include a bilingual translator. Typically, we were able to find RC equivalent local tours for 1/3 the RC price (a substantial savings). We never felt taken advantage of, and generally observed local tour people to be hard working, honest, and sincerely interested in giving us (as best they could with limited English skills) a good impression of their homeland. Our excursion groups unfailingly included interesting people to talk with, and we enjoyed each of our stops.
Minor gripes about RC and the ship, encountered from casual conversations and our own observations include: DREADFUL (not just bad) scrambled eggs on the breakfast buffet, NONE of the on-board pepper shakers worked- probably because someone bought a too-large grind, the Windjammer buffet was at many times hopelessly crowded- resulting in people milling around (with plates of rapidly cooling food in their hands) looking for table space for five minutes or more at a time, Trivia and other events being announced at one location but actually presented at another, the exercise room was much too small (a reflection of the ships age) for the demand and always crowded, all overhead announcements were repeated in five languages, room service was timely but always delivered with just approximately what you ordered, and the list goes on. There was a large measure (compared to our prior cruising experiences) of general low to mid level discontent with RC aboard ship- reflected in the overflowing survey collection boxes at cruise end.
We did absolutely enjoy our on-board social encounters, the variety and duration of our destination stops, the friendliness and knowledge of the on-board port coordinator, a few of the shows, etc. If you haven't seen this part of the world, "get out there". Keep in mind RC's relentless determination to pass on every available cost outside their quoted fare as a minimally disclosed fee or surcharge.