This was a late 'summer holiday' for my wife and I, and we've done six cruises (including RCCI Independence of the Seas last year).
We stayed at the Sofitel in Lisbon the night before the cruise and in the morning, took a short taxi ride to the port area - we dropped off our luggage and were on the ship 15 minutes later (around 11.30 am) - if you do all the necessary 'admin' and print your cruise boarding pass online before the cruise, embarkation is a total breeze!
As the staterooms weren't available until 1.00 pm, we looked around the ship a little and had some lunch in the Windjammer buffet restaurant, which throughout the cruise was very good - excellent variety, hot, tasty, and great staff.
At one 'o clock, the stateroom was ready and our luggage was already there waiting for us. The room itself was more spacious than the Independence with loads of wardrobes, drawers, shelves etc, the TV was small and very old (over 12 years) but still worked, and the bathroom was fine. The only slight disappointment here was the balcony - it was very small with only enough room for two chairs and a tiny table, i.e. no loungers. Our stateroom attendant was terrific - very friendly and immediately got us bathrobes to use for the cruise which were not included as 'standard'.
Although 13 years old, the ship is in very good condition but is certainly 'tired' and in need of a major refit (worm carpets, very scratched or torn chairs around the ship etc) but very clean with the crew keeping everything looking as nice as possible.
Briefly, here are some 'plus' points: Food, especially in the main dining room, was excellent with terrific service (we used Anytime Dining - works brilliantly). Public areas and bars, all good with nice music etc, although the prices have soared since our last cruise with RCCI. Shows, some were outstanding and the rest were as expected.
However, there were a few 'issues' worth noting...
Firstly, the majority of the crew were Brazilian and pretty new to the ship, and it showed. Some could hardly speak English and others simply didn't know where to find things etc, but they were friendly and tried their best. The Cruise Director, however, was terrible (also Brazilian) and clearly out of her depth in terms of good and exciting presentation. She totally relied on her Activities Director who did little but push the (costly) daily bingo sessions. The TV service in the staterooms was terrible - only a handful of films which were nowhere near enough for a 14 day cruise (and repeated over and over again...), sometimes films simply stopped midstream and other times, were on different channels and had different starting times to those advertised. Bearing in mind that this was a Transatlantic crossing with many sea days, this was a big letdown and many people complained. Another problem we encountered was a total lack of care regarding disembarkation - we had pre-booked coach transfers to the International airport in Sao Paulo but were given luggage tags for transfers to the national airport. Luckily we noticed the error and got the right tags, but when we picked up our cases and found the right coach, we weren't on the list for that transfer which caused quite a bit of stress in an already chaotic port (Santos) with very little help available to sort the mess and confusion out. Again, I believe this was down to the totally laid-back attitude of the admin crew, particularly on the last couple of days. The shops on board have very limited choice, and the prices for everyday items like Advil etc. are exhorbitant compared to on-land. Duty-free??? Much better selection and half the price in the ports of call! (An example of their own logo stock - they're selling a really cheaply made 'Officially Licensed' model of the Splendor of the Seas for $29.95. The trouble is that the model is of a completely different ship that looks nothing like the Splendour... small point, but annoying!)
The ship has a capacity of 2200 guests - we were just over half that amount at 1298 guests and the ship had space around the pools etc. However, space in the Windjammer (especially at peak breakfast times etc) was sometimes hard to find and I reckon that with a full ship, the public areas such as Windjammer, the pools, and the main theatre would be a total nightmare.....
The ports of call were OK - Madeira, Tenerife, and Rio de Janeiro were fabulous, Recife and Salvador were nice, and Sao Paulo seemed a big sprawling mainly industrial city mess, but a really horrible port (Santos) and horrific traffic jams. (I can't figure out why RCCI wants cruises to start or end at Santos - it's horrible, disorganised, and creates a terible impression......)
So, my overall feelings about this cruise - good but not great. But we still met really nice fellow-cruisers (thanks Cruise Critics!) and had a wonderful holiday.