Coming from Los Angeles we chose to go on a South America cruise in february around the the time of Carnaval. I personally have cruised six times and have cruised with Royal Caribbean two times prior to the trip. My partner and I booked the cruise through Royal Caribbean directly. We booked our air travel through Expedia because we wanted to stay in Brazil a few extra days after cruising and the Royal Caribbean packages did not allow for this. Before booking our airfare we confirmed with RCCL that the arrival time into Sao Paulo would work for catching a RCCL official shuttle to the port. Upon booking the cruise and subsequent calls to RCCL we were told that we could not pre-book the shuttle service, but that we needed to provide our flight itinerary with the cruise line in advance, which we did. Even the week prior to departure we called RCCL to double-check that our 1:20pm arrival to the international airport in Sao Paulo, Brazil would allow us to catch a shuttle to the port. We were told that we could simply purchase shuttle tickets at $22 each from RCCL representatives who would be at the airport.
With everything in order and pre-planned we departed Los Angeles on friday and arrived in Sao Paulo, Brazil ahead of schedule at 1:00pm on saturday February 6th. After a very short walk through customs we entered the arrivals area and did not see RCCL representatives. We looked all around the airport for the shuttle that we would be taking to the port. My partner and I spent a stressful hour desperately trying to communicate with anyone about finding the shuttle. No one at the airport spoke English and not even the information desk could help us. Upon finding one English speaking airport official, they told us that RCCL staff should be available to sell shuttle tickets. As time ticked away frustration turned to panic and we did not want to miss the ship. With no other options and no way to contact RCCL, we were forced to purchase a one-way fare via taxi to the port in Santos. The taxi fare cost us $150 USD and the taxi ride took two hours. This is a HUGE oversight that RCCL makes in their description of and advertisement of this cruise, which they advertise as leaving from "Sao Paulo."
Upon arrival at the port in Santos we entered the cruise terminal at around 4pm with luggage in hand ready to embark on the cruise. Once inside the terminal we could find NO RCCL staff or employees to assist us. Again, nobody at the port spoke English and we had no luck finding help with contacting RCCL. We were fortunate to find one woman from MSC cruiseline who spoke English who informed us that the ship had already completed boarding. At this point we were stuck at the port 2 hours taxi from the airport with the ship still there, but nobody to assist us with how to proceed.
We had no choice but to meet the ship at the first destination, Buenos Aires. At this time it was 5pm on February 6th and the ship did not arrive in Buenos Aires until 9pm on February 8th. We then had to pay for return transportation to the International airport in Sao Paulo where we booked one-way flights to Buenos Aires. The next available flights were the next morning at 10am and cost us $650 USD for two tickets. We then checked into an airport hotel at the expense of $100 USD.
The following day, Sunday February 7th, we were still unable to contact RCCL or anyone in Brazil to help us, as their offices are closed on the weekends. We flew to Buenos Aires. Upon landing we were forced to purchase Visas for Argentina, $140 USD each. If you arrive by cruise ship you are not required to purchase a visa, but because we arrived by plane we were required to. We then paid $50 USD for bus transfers to downtown Buenos Aires and checked into a hotel the night of the 7th of February. Keep in mind that ALL expenses were on top of the pre-paid cruise which included lodging, transportation, and food.
After two full days in Buenos Aires we arrived at the port to meet the Splendour of the Seas when it arrived at 9pm. This process was extremely disorganized and we were treated like second rate citizens. Not one employee responded to our explanation of missing the ship. We were forced to wait an hour while all of the guests onboard disembarked, until we were allowed on the ship. We finally got checked in and to our stateroom by 10:30pm, after dinner had ended.
On top of all of the horrible experiences we went through to get on the ship, the onboard experience was no better. While few crew members were kind, nobody at the pursers desk could advice us of what to do regarding missing the ship. The remaining four nights of our seven night cruise were decent at best. When booking our cruise we considered RCCL over other cruise lines because of its American base. The entire cruise was in Portuguese, all announcements, activities, shows, etc. We even had to request English menus at dinner because everything catered to Portuguese speaking guests.
All in all, this was a horrible experience and a terrible way to spend a vacation. The worst part is that RCCL has been rude, unresponsive, and disinterested in our situation. A clear error on their part was to guarantee us a shuttle would be available at the airport to take us to the port and this did not happen.
I highly discourage anyone from booking this particular itinerary with RCCL. I would also advice anyone who is not Portuguese speaking to not book a cruise out of a Brazilian port. I am still awaiting a response from a manager at RCCL who can explain the disorganization and hopefully provide a remedy to this horrible experience.