Splendour of the Seas Cruise Review by TINKERTOY: An Unusual Cruise to South American Ports
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An Unusual Cruise to South American Ports
This was a 15 day cruise of South America starting in Valparaiso, Chile and ending in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I booked this cruise about a year in advance while we were on another Royal Caribbean ship so that we could get the on board credit; $100 each person. After booking on ship I made payments and completed the personal information requirements on the RC's web site. All of the on line procedures worked well except that for some reason the system would not accept my air arrangements and so I had to call the cruise line a couple times to make sure that they had the correct information. I booked our air separately myself because for some reason RC's system did not have our local airport and I figured I could get better flights for us doing it myself. I usually do fly to the departure port a day early but decided that since the flight got to Chile early morning there was room for delays. After booking our flights I arranged for transfers at both ends of the cruise. I was glad I did this More
because the cruise ports at both ends are more than an hour from the airports.
The RC's Splendour of the Seas is one of that cruise line's older ships in its Vision Class. It was launched in 1996 and was refurbished in 2006. The ship was nice and well maintained. But you could definitely tell the difference between this and RC's newer ships. A good analogy would be its like having a model year 2000 Mercedes that's well maintained but you know that it does not have all of the latest and up to date bells and whistles. For example, RC's newer ships have flat panel HDTV's, the stunning atriums and promenades, etc. This ship was nice but missing the upgrades. It did have the new upgraded bedding that all RC ships have.
While the ship was nice I did not care for its layout with the Windjammer Cafe on the front and the main dining room kinda mid-ship. The gym is on the front of the ship and kinda small; never used it. The ship does have a solarium with a pool and two hot tubs.
One of the downs associated with this cruise was the dinner hour for first seating was moved back an hour and started at 7:00 PM, an hour later than normal. Then the show for first seating people was moved to 10:00 PM. This left a big gap with no activities each evening. There was virtually nothing going on in the way of entertainment between about 8:30 when we finished diner and 10:00 PM. So most nights we went to bed rather than wait that late for a show to start. The shows were typical stuff we have seen before, singers, dancers, magicians, jugglers, etc. Nothing to make us stay up to see, it.
The main dining room is two level and was nice. There were problems with service as most days we didn't finish dinner until well after 8:00 PM, mostly about 8:15. The problem as I saw it was the waiter had too many people to serve. He had two table of eight, one of six and a two person table. So he was trying to serve a five course meal to about 25 people by himself. Many days by the time we got soup it was still warm but not hot. Contributing to the problem was the ship did not have/use a wine steward. Two of the tables order a bottle or two of wine every day and that took about 15 to 20 minutes for the waiter to retrieve, show, open and pour the wines. The head waiter was frequently helping out but still things were slow. The menu items were standard RC items with just a couple related to countries we visited. Standard stuff but nothing outstanding. There was no lobster night either.
The ship has a casino which I characterize as adequate. There were table games and slots but all of the slots were dated, not the new games now available in Vegas and other gambling cities. There were just four (4) of the multiline $.02 cent machine. The casino is also kinda crowded.
The RC's representative met us at the Santiago baggage claim and directed us to the buses that would take us to Valparaiso. The bus departed soon with less than a full load; it was a nice 45 passenger tour bus. The ride from Santiago to Valparaiso was about an hour and a half. When we arrived at the port there were three long lines of people trying to check in. We initially got in the Priority Check in Line but after about 10 minutes it was not moving at all. So we got in a second line which did not move and finally we got in the third line and about an hour after getting to the port we were checked in. It was chaos at check in.
We later learned that the delay may have been due to the fact that about 75 to 80 passengers were denied boarding in Valparaiso because they did not have the required Visa for Brazil. It seems that many people and/or their travel agents were not aware of the requirement. There were plenty of horror stories of people blind sided by this and having to scramble to find lodging, air transportation and means to get the required visa. One couple that we talked to said it cost them about $500 to get the Visa's on an expedited basis. Then they had to pay for air and hotel to meet the cruise in another city.
Although RC has a statement on its home page that passengers are responsible for obtaining any Visas required, I think the blame for this rests on RC because it should tell every booked passenger that a Visa is required and that there will be additional costs for Visas over and above the cost of the cruise ticket. My bet is that there are many complaint letter headed to RC about now.
There was also a Tourist Visa required for Chile but it was payable in cash or credit card upon entry at the airport. But still it would be nice to know that as soon as you get off the plane in Chile you must pay $130 per person for US citizens. Another thing that RC should have told passengers ahead of time is the cruise visits three countries each of which has its own currency and exchange rates.
We booked a balcony cabin but a few days before the cruise we found that we had been upgraded to a Jr Suite. The cruise line never sent us any notice of this but I noticed the change on line. I do not know the reason for the upgrade but I do know that a few weeks before the cruise the same cabin that we had was being offered at a lower price. When I called to get the lower price I was told that it was a one-day special. But then I saw the lower fare was still available a week later. I suppose that the upgrade was to compensate for the higher price I had paid.
The Jr Suite was OK; a 236 sq ft room with more room, two additional sitting chairs, a slightly larger balcony and a tub in the bathroom. After being in the room for 2 weeks it was nice but I would not pay the extra for it.
Our cruise departed on time under partly cloudy skies. The first part of the cruise was kinda like a cruise to Alaska. It was cool, drizzling and foggy at times. The scenery cruising the Chilean Fjords was like cruising the Alaska inside passage. It was scenic even with the fog and clouds. Our first port stop was Puerto Montt, Chile. It was cloudy and foggy most of the day and so scenic sights were limited. We did a tour that visited a sausage plant and then went to a restaurant by a lake that served us a lunch spread with sausages, meats and plenty of wine. There was one brief stop at a market for souvenir buying.
The next day we cruised the Chilean Fjords and again the clouds and fog obscured a lot of the view. Cruising the Fjords was nice compared to the open waters which resulted in some rough sailing.The next morning we cruised up to the Brujo Glacier where the captain spun the ship 360 so all passengers could see it from their staterooms and/or anywhere on ship.
After a couple at sea days and cruising the Straights of Magellan we arrived at Punta Arenas. We took a tour that included a couple of museum and a tour of the city. On hind sight I would just skip these and just walk around town on my own.
The next morning we arrived at Ushuaia, Argentina, the city called the "end of the World" because it is the city which is the farthest south in the would; just about 600 miles from Antarctica. We took a "Train to Nowhere" tour and it was nice but not something you really need to do. Skip it and just walk into town; the port is just a couple blocks from mid-town and shopping. The weather at this point was great and so was the scenery.
The ship followed the Straights of Magellan and the Beagle channel with a scheduled arrival at the Cape Horn island at about 8:00 AM. WE arrived there with cloudy skies but no wind or rain and the captain circled the island and then tacked back and forth so passengers could see from about anywhere on ship.
After rounding the Horn we has another "at sea' day before we arrived at Puerto Madryn, Argentina. WE did not do a tour but walked into town and the few blocks of it and then returned to the ship. This was a kinda nothing stop as far as I was concerned.
Then we had another at sea day before arriving in Buenos Aires, Argentina. We did a tour of the city that was good and had as its highlight a stop at the graveyard where Evita Paron is buried. After a stop at a street market we returned to the ship.
After two more at sea days we arrived in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. Rio IS a beautiful city. We took the "best of Rio" tour which was all day and included lunch at a Brazilian steak house. We saw all of the sights including the Christ stature, Sugar Load Mountain and the Copacabana beach.
Our final stop and departure city was Santos, Brazil. We had a tour of Sao Paulo scheduled with our transfers that included lunch at a Brazilian steak house. Departure went well and quickly with just a few glitches. The bus ride to Sao Paulo was through great scenery. The tour of Sao Paulo was mostly nothing but it served the purpose of filling the time until our 9:25 PM flight. Another problem on this cruise was the Norwalk Virus. Problems started about the second or third day of the cruise. Hand wipes were passed out at the entrance of all eating places, in the casino, and the show rooms and lounges. Then after the third day the Windjammer was kept open but staff served everything, including handing out plates and napkins. Most of this was not a big problem but getting drinks like coffee, tea, juice or lemonade was really bad. The staff service in the Windjammer continued until the 13 day of the cruise.
We learned later that about 100 people got on the ship and were already sick with the virus. Speculation was that they got it on a plane, or brought it from home. One of the best parts of this cruise for us was the Concierge Lounge which is available for Diamond members. We met a lot of nice people in the lounge and had plenty of free drinks. It because our hangout after dinner since there was not much else going on on ship.
As usual my main complaint about entertainment is that the disco does not start until well after 11:00 Pm each night and there is nothing to fill the time between dinner, the show and the disco. Less
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