I cruised on the Mariner of the Seas on a Mexican Riviera cruise and one week later was on the Splendour of the Seas. Although the Splendour is a much smaller and older vessel the difference between the two was amazing.
We left on this tranatlantic from Barcelona. Barcelona is a busy port with usually two or three ships in port. That day was no different. I arrived late since I don't like to wait and since we were going to be on the ship for two weeks there would be plenty of time for exploration. Check-in went very smoothly and we got on the ship in a matter of minutes.
Once we arrived at our stateroom I was initially pleased with the large size, the clear glass veranda and the refrigerator, and flat screen TV. But, it was only a few more minutes that I noticed that the curtain divider had some magazine pages stuffed into the ceiling fitting. I assume it rattled and since it wasn't making any noise I thought I just better leave it that way. I had put some sodas in the refrigerator and thought I'd have one. They seemed awfully warm. It was two days later that I finally figured out that the refrigerator didn't work. I mentioned it to the cabin steward and then it took two more days to get it replaced. The glass veranda panels were a bit salty, but I assumed that once we were under way that they would be cleaned by either the staff, or my steward, probably at the next stop. It turned out that it was MY responsibility to clean the panels. After two stops they were still not cleaned. I noticed that this is a new policy since none of the panels that I could see were clean. I just washed them off with water using the ice bucket.
The Splendour is only about 15 years old but it is really showing it's age and no more so than in the bathroom. The first thing you notice is the water pressure in the sink. It dribbles, it drips, it reluctantly oozes through a water saver. That's fine for washing your hands, or brushing of teeth, but even washing your face is a bit of a chore when the water is being parceled out in tablespoons. Thank goodness there was enough water in the shower! I had a Junior Suite and it has a bathtub. I was looking forward to the tub since it's nice to have a nice quiet private soak, especially on sea days. However, once you are in the tub the black mildew in the caulking is a bit irritating. I asked the steward to clean the mold off. He tried, got the black off, but there were still grey spots,and stuff where the caulking was rough. And, the plastic wall panel/wall paper was peeling and separating, which probably led to the caulking in the first place. But, the worst was the floor drain. When you are finished with the bath the floor of the bathroom floods with huge clods of slimy black mold, and stuff that gets stuck in the drain, the size of silver dollars. It comes up out of the floor drain. At least the toilet is a separate system. Eventually the water does recede but it leaves these disgusting patches of slime on the floor. The steward cleans this all up but suggests that because the ship is so old and the drains so clogged that taking a bath is not a good idea and to stick to showers. He then says what all the staff says about the Splendour "It's going into drydock soon, sorry".
Royal Caribbean is not known as a gourmet cruise line. On board the Mariner of the Seas the previous week I thought for a second that things might have changed. But, once on board the Splendour of the Seas it was back to basics. If you are a little bit fussy with food eat in the dining room. The choices are always more interesting, and the atmosphere nicer. The staff was absolutely wonderful. When a dish wasn't well received they always offered another selection and best of all it arrived pronto. Sometimes when they knew that we had made a "mistake" they went ahead and brought the "pick of the litter" dish.
Another sign of the times aboard the Splendour is the gym. Wasn't anyone interested in fitness 15 years ago? One look at the Splendour's gym and you'll think so. It is by far the smallest, most cramped, poorly equiped gym I have seen at sea in over two decades. If a nice gym and locker room are important to you, you'd better forget the Splendour.
Th entertainment on board a transatlantic is always a bit of this and some of that. The Splendour has a single level theatre, with some obstructed view seats. You really can't expect the type of shows and production numbers you would see on a newer or larger ship. But, every evening there was something different.
I only went on one shore excursion from Cadiz to Sevilla. It was well run, and the staff very accomodating. Considering the time it takes to get there and get back we had just enough time. This was the excursion that is basically transportation only. In Tenerife I just got off the boat. Walked across the street and rented a car. I didn't have a reservation, and it only cost $55 with everything for a day.
Since this was a transatlantic with lots of Latins on board the second seating for dinner was at 9:30PM. I don't know if there is anyway to tell what time the second seating will be. Once I found out I was desperate to change since I really didn't want to be walking away from dinner at 11PM, or later. I was accomodated, but first seating was packed.
Then there is the visa issue... Brazil requires a visa. I knew that. I got my visa. But, at our table there was the "Tale of two visas". RCCL allowed one couple to board at Barcelona without a visa for Brazil. Another couple were refused boarding at Barcelona and told to figure it out by themselves and once they got the visa they would be allowed to board, wherever that might be. For that couple the worst was that they had to wait 3 hours for RCCL to find their luggage that they had handed over at the curb. In the meantime watching 100's of other excited passengers board.
The onboard couple had a mad race in Lisbon to get the visas. It was a crazy "Mr. Toads Wild Ride" with wrong addresses, wrong documentation, and even a car accident to spice up the day. And, of course it was down to the very last second, including a case of mistaken identity with the Vision of the Seas.
The couple who didn't get on spent four days in Barcelona going through all the hoops to get a Brazilian visa in Spain. Confusing? Difficult? Frustrating? Costly? Yes! all of the above. When was the last time you tried to buy a one way air ticket at the last minute? Then, when they finally joined the ship in Lisbon to find out that some lucky passengers had been enjoying the cruise for the past 4 days, even without a Brazilian visa...
Well, RCCL is very clear, concise and correct; Visas are the responsibility of each passenger.
Regarding the itinerary it is too bad that there were some early "all aboard times". I would have liked to have had a stop in Recife as well. It was nice that we did cruise though the Cape Verde Islands.
I choose to get off in Rio. I'm glad I got off there since I was in Ipanema in about an hour instead of being in Santos. However, the facilities at Rio are really not geared up for large cruise ships. I just got out and hailed a cab in the street. And, 1o minutes later I was driving along Copacabana Beach!