For many years my wife had wanted me to take a cruise but I resisted because I felt there was nothing to do "in the middle of the ocean". Finally in 2003 I gave in and we sailed on the Splendor of the Seas from Galveston, TX going through the Panama Canal and return to Texas. It was a fantastic cruise and I was "hooked" from then on. Now, I'm always bugging her to "put me on the water".
In June of 2008 we flew to Barcelona Spain, boarded the Brilliance of the Seas for a Mediterranean Cruise and it turned out just great. On one of the sea days we talked to the "future cruise" representative and he told us of a cruise on the Radiance of the Seas leaving from Buenos Aires sailing to the south end of South America then back to San Pablo, Brazil. He said it would sail on Dec 7th 2008 so that was plenty of time for us to make ready and pay off the fare. Also, the cruise was just being advertised so we would be the very first ones to sign on and we could have any cabin we wanted. That sounded like paradise to me as we had not been to South America and it seemed that everything just "fell into place". We signed on and selected an 8th floor Balcony amidships and were very pleased. We also signed up for the CruiseCare insurance and arranged to go to Buenos Aires 3 nights early to sight see, and then take the cruise. After we returned home it sure seemed like December would never arrive just like a young child waiting for Christmas.
We (finally) left Houston Texas on 3 Dec 08 and arrived at Buenos Aires Airport, then caught a Taxi to the Sheraton Libertador Hotel. I just cannot say enough good about this hotel or its staff as they treated us great. The front desk clerks were pleasant, patient and helpful and one clerk, Eleonora Flores, was outstanding. Each clerk that we asked for recommendations to eat or site see gave us very good directions and the restaurants were very good. Florida Street is one of the major pedestrian streets in Buenos Aires and is filled with what seemed like thousands of people. There are many nice shops and street people on it at least until after 10 pm at night because that's the latest we were on it. There are many "blanket" vendors, artists, musicians and beggars on the street and I noticed that almost every store had a security person on the premises. At night at closing time all the stores pulled down a metal "picket fence" type gate that had a door about 24" wide by 36" high. The clerks would close the shop then the security guard would let them out of the door, then close it and secure it with a padlock. We were never warned to watch out for thieves but we always take precautions no matter where we are. My wife wears her purse with the strap over her neck and the purse between us. I always wear an elastic material around the calf of my leg to keep my money and ID's. We were never bumped into nor threatened in any way that we know of, however, one night as we were walking down Florida street we saw, at three different stores, there were 3 or 4 men hunkered down by the door and one of them was trying to "pick the lock". This was in full public view and everyone walking by did not seem to notice.
Two of the things we heard that Buenos Aires was noted for was their leather clothing and Steaks. I can say with certainty that we indulged in both of those. The restaurant we selected for our steaks was along the docks and one thing that happened that took us by surprise though is that when we were seated my wife hung her purse over the chair arm and within 3 minutes the head waitress came by and secured the purse to the chair arm with a plastic "tie wrap". We also noticed others around us that were the same way. We assume that it was to keep purse snatchers from grabbing the purse and running. As I mentioned before, we were not cautioned about a high crime rate but it makes me wonder about it. Most stores have security guards, at three separate stores a person was trying to pick the lock and women's purses were tied to the chair arm. Hmmm, if it looks like a duck, sounds like a duck and walks like a duck, it must be a duck. Buenos Aires is a nice place but a full 3 nights/4 days were enough for us so it will not be very high on our list of places to revisit although friends of ours swear by it.
Finally, on Sunday, Dec 7th, we checked out of the Hotel, said our goodbye's to the staff and caught a Taxi to the RCCL Cruise Ship dock. It was a very busy place, as you can imagine, found the baggage drop off place and 2 porters grabbed our bags as soon as the taxi stopped rolling, then rolled the bags about 20'away, then one of them approached and told me, "we want a tip". I most always tip but this all happened so fast I didn't have it in my hand ready to give to them. I hurriedly got the appropriate tip, handed it to him, he then sprinted off to grab more bags. He never said "thank you" either but that's alright, he could have "misplaced our bags". ;-) We then found the entrance to check in counter but before we could go to the counter an RCCL representative asked for our passports. He examined the Passports and then said, "you cannot go on this cruise as you do not have a "Visa" for Brazil. My jaw dropped to my chest and I told him RCCL did not tell us we needed one. He stated that it was our responsibility to check with the embassy's to see if they required a visa. I disagreed and told him that we booked through RCCL, that they were the "travel agent" and should tell us what documents we needed and the countries that required visas. He stated that "it's in the papers they sent you" and then said "you can wait over there with the other people". There were about 8 people there and guess what, they did not have visa's either. After listening to the other peoples encounter with him it was very obvious to us that "the representative" knew we needed a visa so it stands to reason the rest of the reservation personnel knew it also. My question and greatest concern is "Why"? Why could something as important as this not be included in the instructions when you book the cruise?? We have sailed with RCCL many times and have never needed a Visa at any port so this definitely caught us and at least 8 others, flatfooted! This was a very devastating blow to all of us as we knew immediately that we would loose all of our money and would have to come up with a lot more in a hurry. The representative came over and told us our choices. He said that the Brazilian Embassy is closed today (Sunday) and tomorrow (Monday) as it is a holiday. He said we could go to the Embassy on Tuesday and apply for the Visa and it usually takes 3 days to get it. After we get the Visa we can fly to the port where the Cruise Ship is docked, get on board and finish the cruise from there. To do that we would: 1. Have lost at least 5 days of the cruise; 2. Have to pay for a hotel room for at least 4 days and 3. Pay for the flight to whatever port the ship was in. That, in my opinion, was unacceptable as it would probably cost as much as the original cruise cost us. The representative was very nonchalant about it and basically said, "Take it or leave it".
My wife and I went back to the Sheraton Hotel and explained our situation to the desk clerk, Eleonora Flores, and asked if she could help us. She seemed very sympathetic to our cause and said "I will try". She then called Continental Airlines and explained our situation, and asked them if they could/would change our flight from Dec 20th to Dec 7th. It took her almost an hour talking to the Airlines and they finally got our flight changed, and they did not charge a "reissue fee" either, so we could leave that same day at 11:50 PM. We wanted to "hug her neck" as this was a very big weight off our shoulders. Eleonora also told us to just enjoy the rest of the day and before we went to the airport we could use the shower in the gym room of the hotel and they would put our baggage in the security room that had an armed security officer standing near by (no crime rate here, right?). The rest of the day was spent taking a leisurely look around town, having a very nice lunch, and enjoying our last day in Buenos Aires. Eleonora had called to reserve a taxi to pick us up at 7 pm so we were off to the airport, and then back to Houston Texas.
As a last look at our situation, it's interesting to note how those that helped us were very sympathetic and went out of their way to be nice. They never charged nor even mentioned charging us for the help they provided. I can't help but compare that to RCCL's attitude of basically saying, "there's nothing we can do, you're on your own". Just think, "we paid a lot of money to be treated that way". This would have been our 10th Cruise with RCCL and were looking forward number 10 as this would give us the "Diamond" Cruiser" status and we could get the added benefits that it gave us. After enduring the nonchalant "take it or leave it" attitude we experienced by RCCL at the dock, we may never become a Diamond member as there are other good Cruise Lines going to the same places that RCCL goes to and I'll bet their will not be any worse than this. Happy Cruising everyone, Pyatt Cook H