South America on Mariner of the Seas, 2011
This cruise was booked a year in advance and it seemed to take a long time for this day to arrive. We had an uneventful flight from Vancouver to Los Angeles. When we arrived at LAX our shuttle left before all the seats were full so it was not a long wait and we had a pleasant trip to the port.
The lines for check in were very long but one of the staff noticed my cane and moved us to the handicapped line where only two people were ahead of us. It was a quick and efficient embarkation for us. We learned later that some people had a very long wait before being allowed on the ship. Rumour was that 150 people were not allowed on the ship because they did not have Brazilian visas! Bill talked to a woman on board with her husband's luggage and medications but he was denied boarding. RCI had not to our knowledge stated the need for visas. There will be more people forced off the ship in Montevideo, about 100 we have been told. We were also surprised that there was no welcome aboard drink as Celebrity has for it's cruisers. Not even juice or ice water.
We did not receive our Diamond welcome amenity. Our stateroom was ready at 1:00 and luggage arrived by 5:00. The stateroom was clean with a lot of storage space. I liked the shelves in the closet! The balcony was small but private. The room was well lit including bedside reading lamps. The promised extension cord and distilled water for my BiPap machine arrived later that evening. The bed was comfortable and we slept well.
There were a lot of cruise critic members at the sail away party by the pool but it was so noisy that it was hard to have a conversation. We left early and ordered room service dinner.
PROS AND CONS, MOSTLY CONS
From the beginning we found ourselves comparing Mariner to the Celebrity ships that we have enjoyed. Most of the comparisons were not favourable. Overall the ship was beautiful and public areas were well maintained and clean. The staff, with the exception of front desk and security, were very pleasant. They really tried to please even though there was obvious unhappiness with their treatment by RCI. The ship had no daily newspaper and the only "news" was from CNN. This meant a month with little outside news. The Daily Compass frequently had misinformation and was poorly edited. Port information was nonexistent. There were no maps of ports or any mention of geography, history or culture. The library had very few books to the point that passengers posted a note on the door asking people to donate their books after reading them. The only toiletries were small bars of Chinese soap and shampoo in the dispenser. People with sensitive skin should bring their own soap. Bill had a rash that seemed to be related to the soap. When he quit using the ship's soap the rash went away. Conditioner and shower gel arrived on day 15. There were no post cards of the ship, stationary or pens in the desk and when we asked at the front desk we were told that this is a new cutback and not an oversight. When I went to the desk for paper and envelopes the staff member did not want to give me any. When I insisted that I needed 6 sheets of paper and 6 envelopes he very carefully counted them out. He said that the shortage is part of the cut backs. The stateroom attendant did not have a card holder with her name and contact information on the desk and we did not meet her until the following day. There were no water pitchers in the state room and when we asked, we were told that they were not available. It was suggested that we could purchase bottled water at $4.50 a bottle. Our solution was to order 4 glasses of ice water and an ice bucket from room service. We kept the extra ice bucket in the fridge to make the ice last longer! The coffee on board was terrible! We stayed with hot tea and our morning Diamond cappuccino. As the trip progressed we noticed that most stateroom linens were stained, frayed and some even had holes in them. One towel was so worn that we threw it away. Voice mail was not working and was not to be repaired during the cruise so we needed to hand deliver messages concerning tours. Drinking water from the bars and from the places on deck 5 tasted musty and we could not drink it. The ship keeps running out of basics such as tomato juice (unless you want to pay bar price for it as a mixer), V-8, cream cheese, sour cream and even $1 bills and $10 bills! There are no packages of Splenda and they provide a less expensive type of sweetener. There are no sales of alcohol and mixers for use in the stateroom. The taps in the bars seem to be broken and it is not possible to get most brands of draft beer. The ship will not deliver liquor purchased on board until the guest has final departure from the ship. The comforter on our bed is very heavy and we asked for a light blanket instead. There are none! We had expected that television sets would be modern but many people complained that they had old sets like ours with poor reception and poor picture quality.
We expressed our unhappiness during the mid cruise survey and added four pages of comments. This was supposed to be responded to within 24 hours. Days later we received a phone call at 9:30 at night after a long strenuous port day. We were sleeping and considered this late call as harassment!
RCI had decided not to honour the on board credit agreement which was part of our package. We received the first $200 but nothing for the second leg of the trip. Even though we have it in writing they say that money does not exist!
CRUISE CRITIC PARTY
The cruise critic party was very poorly handled. There were about 150 attending the event but there were no officers to welcome us aboard. RCI provided a small gift (lanyard) for each person. The raffle gifts included key chains, 3 tee shirts, 2 RCI umbrellas, RCI bags and two bottles of sparkling wine. This seemed very paltry considering the numbers of people who had registered for the party. The person distributing these trinkets seemed to be embarrassed. On the positive side, it was nice to meet some of our shore excursion mates and to put names with faces. During later conversations we found that other guests also felt that RCI had let us down.
ENTERTAINMENT AND SERVICE
Theatre seating was comfortable but crowded. There seemed to be good sight lines through the theatre. The first performance was a group of Beatles imitators and they were not very good. It would have been more enjoyable if they had lip synched rather than trying to perform. Later I saw a ventriloquist who put on an enjoyable show and also a classical violin and piano trio which was excellent.
During the first leg of the trip we found the dining room staff excellent. Not so during the second half. Throughout the trip we enjoyed the staff at Vintages and in the Dragon's lair. The Dragon" Lair is one of the nicest Diamond benefits with complementary wine and drinks at reduced prices. The servers were excellent and seemed to be tipped quite generously for their friendly service.
CABO SAN LUCAS
In Cabo we walked around the port for a while and spent some quality time with Scotty Nesbitt, the owner of the beach bar and restaurant "no worrys"! This business has free WI-FI and the owner is such a pleasant young man who sees that his customers are happy. He typically stops to talk with his customers and we enjoy his company whenever we are in Cabo. It is a very pleasant, relaxing and scenic water front spot to people watch, catch up on email and enjoy a bucket of beer. It will definitely be on our list of places to visit again next time we are there. Scotty emailed us later in the cruise to thank us for visiting his establishment and to ask about the cruise.
In Puerto Vallarta we were given more than a cursory search by port authorities before going through ship security. We don't know what they were looking for but they carefully went through purses, backpacks and shopping bags as well as using the wand to detect any metal. Ship security was as usual when we boarded.
The following day I managed to find a seat in Studio B for the ice show. It is a very good show with beautiful, colourful costumes based on a circus theme. It is amazing what the skaters could accomplish on such a small ice surface. This was very good entertainment and the audience was very appreciative. Bill went to see it later and took some photos. The skaters are primarily Canadian with Russian Irina Boyarintseva as the headliner. Bill realized he had lost his Nikon lens cap and reported it to the desk. Within 20 minutes it had been found and delivered to the desk. The staff gets some things right.
There were many complaints about the slowness of the connections, the old machines on the ship and (a cutback) no staff available to help in the computer station. At times there was simply no service at all.
Most evenings we enjoyed our Diamond status by going down to the Dragon's Lair for conversation with new friends and complimentary wine before dinner. The lounge is designed as a medieval castle with stained glass and dragons. The staff in the Lair were wonderful! Most people left the lounge carrying a glass of wine to dinner. Although we had bought a 12 bottle wine package, this allowed us to have the package stretch for the entire trip and we even brought a bottle of wine home.
Typically on a back to back sailing, liquor purchases are delivered on the last night. Not so with RCI as they kept purchases (and seized bottles) until the passenger disembarked the ship. They even seized one bottle of cold local beer which I was taking back to the ship for Bill.
Every day as we sail further south we can notice the temperatures getting warmer. So far the temperatures have been pleasant but tomorrow is supposed to be 35 C.
We were supposed to dock in Puntarenas, Costa Rica but were diverted to Puerto Caldera, about six miles away. Apparently the area in Puntarenas was not dredged and the Captain is afraid the water is too shallow for Mariner. We have no tour booked and had planned to wander around town so this should not be a problem for us. But it was a problem! There is nothing in Puerto Caldera other than containers and there are no tourist facilities. None of the people speak English and the dock area is like a steam bath! Bill could not take the heat and went back aboard the ship.
People were very angry that RCI did not provide any transportation to Puntarenas. I met some people from the ship and joined them on one of the few non ship tours available. It was a 5 hour tour for $25 and I was happy to be included. The bus was air conditioned! The first stop was to visit wild monkeys. The people have been setting food out for them for years and the monkeys come out of the jungle to eat and then return to the wild.
Next we stopped at the Tarcoles River to see the huge salt water crocodiles. There were many and they were monsters! We then passed through several small towns and at one we stopped to watch children perform folkloric dances. We completely enjoyed meeting the local people and seeing the varied scenery.
For lunch we stopped at a fruit stand. I had a whole papaya for lunch ($1). The store keeper peeled it, seeded and sliced it and put it in a plastic bag. Very refreshing.
Sea days now and we are enjoying ship board life. We crossed the equator and watched the King Neptune ceremony. We are now "shell backs" instead of slimy polliwogs. The Captain had never crossed the equator and the crew enjoyed inducting him by pouring and smearing him with awful looking gunk! We will receive our "crossing the equator" certificates tonight.
We will be in Peru tomorrow and I went to a lecture on the ancient native Peruvians. We will be anxious to meet our tour guide, Renato, tomorrow. Bill went with me to a second lecture in the series but we left because so many people were coughing and sneezing. Even with hand sanitizers available and their use encouraged at the entrance to restaurants, there is no supervision inside the restaurants. This really needs to be changed or more people are going to get sick.
We saw whales at a distance and I watched several dolphins leaping as much as 5 or 6 feet in the air and really putting on a show! Two of them swam right up to the ship just below our stateroom. Also saw a large feeding frenzy, possibly a school of tuna. A bit later there were hundreds of small silvery fish jumping in the bow wave. We are very relaxed and doing a lot of reading.
Renato was our guide and is a very personable and friendly fellow with good English and a lot of information about the area. His van is air conditioned and he has a driver who stays with the van while we are away. If planning to book with him it would be good to ask him to bring bottled water or provide your own. Also be sure to have an idea of what you most want to see and how long you want the tour to last. We very much enjoyed seeing the cathedral, monastery and catacombs. The library was the absolute highlight. It was a long, high ceilinged room with skylights. The shelves were filled with very, very old manuscripts and books. One of our cruise mates gasped and said she felt like she had been transported to a Harry Potter movie set!
Renato told us the story of a very large statue of a soldier on horseback placed in a small park next to the river. It is a statue of Pizarro made by the Spaniards. Initially it was placed in front of the cathedral but the bishop would not allow it to remain there and it was moved to the Presidential Palace. The President also did not want it on the property because Pizarro had murdered so many Peruvians. Spain refused to send a ship to take it back to Spain and so it was moved to the garbage dump next to the river in hopes that the river would flood and wash it away with the garbage.
At the palace we stopped to watch a traditional folkloric dance occurring within the gates. We were kept back from the gate and the heavy fence by soldiers. They were spaced about 10 feet apart all along the sidewalk in front of the palace. They were armed with AK47s! There are many, many police and soldiers in Lima!
We spent a lot of time in traffic jams! Finally we just got tired of riding and seeing nothing but traffic and asked to be taken back to the ship. The beach drive back to the ship is very nice with rugged cliffs on one side of the road and the ocean on the other. Lima is a very clean, progressive city and they are developing a lot of parks. The sites of interest are widely separated. Back at the ship we noticed a huge Naval presence. We even saw a submarine base there. The fishing fleet in Lima is huge!
Arica at last! We had arranged a private tour for eight people with Victor of Sertours to take us through the Atacama Desert, the driest in the world and up to the Alta Plano and into the Andes. Everyone in our group made it off the ship early and we met Ivan, our guide and his driver. Victor was there to see us off and met us again on our return.
The Mercedes Sprinter van was clean and roomy. Everyone in the group was friendly and looking forward to the tour. Since we had organized the tour, people left the front seat for Bill and me.
The scenery was spectacular. The road from the coast was very twisty. Many times it doubled back on itself as we climbed rapidly to 15000 feet. The mountains were very dry and barren but the intense green of the Luta Valley contrasted with this background and was beautiful.
The tour was to include a Chilean breakfast and we were curious about what would be served. We stopped at a cute cafe which was very clean and spacious. Our group were the only customers. The man and his wife who owned the cafe did not speak English but seemed very friendly and happy to have us there. Breakfast, however, was a disappointment. The meal consisted of two buns split in half. Two were covered with a home made cheese spread and the other two halves with mashed bananas. There were two of these plates for the four people at our table. There was also a plate of cookies and coca tea.
In both directions on the road we saw some terrible accidents involving huge transport trucks. There were certainly multiple fatalities as the scenes were terrible. We were very happy with our driver's careful driving. The weather became foggy and misty and actually rained which was only the second time in eight years that our guide had seen rain there. Unfortunately the weather made it impossible to see all the geoglyphs on the hillsides.
Souvenir stops were made in three places and we were able to buy some lovely souvenirs made of llama wool and some wall hangings of llama hides. Altitude became a problem for several of us. It is amazing how quickly the lack of oxygen hits and how completely it disables you. The craft stalls were only about 4 metres from our van but by the time I walked over I became dizzy and things quickly started to go black. I knew there was a chair only about four feet from where I was standing but also knew I could not walk that far. Bill grabbed me and held me up until Ivan and the driver came over to give me oxygen and help me back to the bus. He poured some coca loco on a towel and I used it as you would smelling salts. When I grabbed Bill for support I did not realize that he was also having problems. We were surprised to have any effects from the altitude as we had been taking medication for two days to prevent it.
At the second stop I made it out of the bus before deciding that it was not possible for me to walk to the craft stalls. Bill is responsible for finding most of the nice souvenirs we brought back. Other people also needed oxygen and they had terrible headaches and nausea. Our guide had brought "coca loco" which the Indians use to prevent altitude sickness. We poured some on a towel and kept smelling it and it did seem to help. Coca is used in making cocaine!
Lunch was in a small town, Putre, in a cute little cafe. It was a very traditional place and the people spoke no English. Most of us had coca tea. The dishes served were a llama stew, a chicken dish and a vegetarian dish. I tasted the llama but found it tough. Ivan, our guide, contributed two bottles of red Chilean wine. Only one bottle was opened and shared and the group "toasted" me for organizing the tour. They also gave me the other bottle which was promptly seized back at the ship!
At one souvenir stop we met Lolly, the resident llama, who was looking for a handout. Ivan had to shoo her away before she climbed into the van. There was another animal there which did not like people. It was stomping the ground and had its ears back. It spit at a lady and she took it full in the face! We saw herds of alpacas and llamas as the van drove past but Lolly was the only one we got close to.
Everyone became very excited when we saw the first vicunas. Soon they were ignored as there were so many. The vicunas are wild and are protected while alpacas and llamas are owned by people. At Lago Chungara, the highest lake in the world, we saw flamingos. They were not very noticeable until they flew and then the colour was beautiful!
The Andes were more spectacular than we had expected and very rugged. To demonstrate the effects of altitude pressure Ivan took an empty water bottle and sealed it while we were at 4,500 metres. At sea level he showed it to us and the change in altitude had caused the plastic bottle to flatten. Everyone was happy to arrive safely back at the ship after a long and tiring day. We now had two sea days before reaching Valparaiso.
We woke early arriving in Valparaiso. The city is pretty with multicoloured houses clinging to the hill sides. We took a taxi to the top to see the view and do some shopping. The prices however were more than double what we had paid the Indians in the Andes. We used one of the very old ascenseors to go back down to sea level. Bill and I were the only passengers in the car and were able to move around, These old elevators have been used for years and there are only a few left in working condition. They are now a UNESCO site.
While walking back to the ship a German Shepherd mix adopted us. He followed us for nearly a mile. He was very street savvy about traffic. When we crossed the street at an intersection he sat on the curb and waited until the traffic had cleared and then caught up with us. At one point we stopped at a street side kiosk and I bought a package of some kind of sweet roll. I did not see any packages of meat products. He was lying down waiting and I put the food between his paws. He just looked at me but was not interested in the food. After that though he barked at anyone who came near us! He followed us all the way back to the ship and laid down in the shade to wait for his next friend.
The next morning we learned that three of our crew had been robbed at knife point. One had been cut while trying to defend his friend. Also, a passenger had her necklace ripped off her neck while on shore.
LATINOS HAVE ARRIVED
This is the beginning of the second part of the cruise. It seems that the entire dining staff has been rotated. The only familiar face was William and he always takes a minute to come over to say hello to us. The Latinos have boarded and the entire atmosphere has changed. Portuguese is now the first language on board. Spanish type music is played in the elevators and the dining room. The main dining room now had three buffets set up.
The South Americans seem very different from the North Americans. They certainly know how to have fun! One day there were a couple of hundred people dancing on the promenade deck. The entertainment there is now also Latino. Unfortunately, many of them smoke and it is not possible for sensitive non-smokers to be in those areas. The women especially dress very differently from the North Americans with very short skirts, tight clingy fabrics and show a lot of cleavage! Some of them are very beautiful. and they all seem to radiate confidence. We're not in Kansas anymore.
During muster for the second part of the cruise, we reported so that our names would be checked off and then went to the dining room to sit. The sound system and crew there provided the same information and it avoided standing on the deck for more than 30 minutes. Many other people had the same idea and the room was soon fairly crowded.
This evening I went to the casino with the free coupons from the ship and won (and kept) $50. Next went to the promenade deck to watch the parade. While it only lasted for 10 minutes it was one of the highlights of ship activities. The costumes were beautiful and one of the girls was even on stilts! It was a Disney like production.
CRUISE CRITIC PARTY
Bill had contacted the new cruise director prior to the second meet and mingle party to tell him that people were most unhappy with the initial one. When we went to the lounge for the second party it was full of people who had ignored the private function signs and refused to leave. One group of Germans was particularly rude as they tried to talk louder to drown out the cruise director and became quite disruptive. Bill told them to be quiet or leave but of course they ignored that and became even louder. There were still no officers to welcome us but there were many more raffle gifts
SEA DAYS AND CRUISING THE FJORDS
The wind picked up and we had high waves. The ship was now two hours behind schedule due to these conditions. Captain Per came on the P.A. to tell us that the winds are 50 knots and the seas are 6 to 7 metres. He might keep the ship in the fjords and not come out to the open ocean again until we reach Ushuaia. All of the outside decks had been closed. It is very important for me to have a cane or walking stick to help maintain balance in these conditions. We had a room service dinner but it arrived with no silverware! A call back still did not produce any silver ware and by that time, dinner was cold. I called and told them that the food was inedible and to come and pick it up. The next day we received a note of apology and a plate of chocolate covered strawberries.
We enjoyed watching the fjords slip by. They are not at all what we had expected. There is very little snow and so far, no glaciers. The hillsides are covered with some scrub brush and a lot of rock. It is interesting but not nearly as pretty as our wild British Columbia coast.
Captain Per overtook and passed the Regent Seven Seas Mariner, the same ship which has visited our home town of Campbell River. For a while we ran parallel to each other. We did not see any glaciers. There has been a lot of bird life but no other large marine life noted since seeing the sea lions in Los Angeles.
HEADING TO USHUAIA
We woke up in big water again, back on the Pacific Coast and heading south. Tomorrow is Ushuaia and we have some concerns. Our tour with the penguins was due to leave at 8:00 a.m. As Diamond level we were supposed to have priority tenders but today I found out that RCI has changed its mind. They will only provide this for suite guests. The tender tickets are supposed to be given out on deck 5 at 6:30. I got up and went downstairs at 5:30 and there were already people waiting ahead of me! I managed to get tickets for the first tender!
The government allows only one company, Pira Tours, to take tourists to the rookery on the island. Only 20 people at a time are allowed to go and only two trips will be made while our ship is in port.
Well, the tenders made it to shore and we had an incredible day with the Penguins! It took 90 minutes to drive to the Estancia Harburton. That gave us a chance to see a lot of the Argentinean country side. We were taken across the Beagle Channel in a rigid inflatable and in ten minutes we were on the beach. We were the first group to be allowed on the island today. The Island has about 15000 penguins and it seemed they all came to greet us! They are not at all shy or aggressive, just really endearing little animals. We saw both Magellenic and Gentoo penguins from chicks to adults. The chicks are only about three weeks old but are nearly full size.
The skuas were on the island as well. These are a predatory bird similar to a gull. They eat the penguin eggs and the chicks. Now that the chicks are larger they are safer unless they wander away from the flock.. While we were on the island the wind continued to blow and it was cold. The sun was out and had some warmth but could not overcome the wind chill. Everyone in our group was dressed suitably for the weather.
As we walked over the island we had to carefully watch our footing. The penguins had dug burrows all over and we often saw chicks peeping out from the entrances. In one place a board had been placed over the burrow as it was right on one of the paths. There are countless trails through the tall grasses to the beach. Amazing how fast these creatures can swim! They are slow and awkward while on land.
The Captain approached to within a kilometre of Cape Horn and then circumnavigated the island. Bill was on deck to get photographs when the Captain cleared the decks. While on deck, however, Bill had his photo taken by the ship's photographer and it is an excellent photo! Just after that Captain Per ordered everyone inside as the weather deteriorated. Winds picked up to 55 knots on the north end then increased to 60 to 65 knots on the south end. The waves were huge. Captain Per was exuberant! He wanted it to storm as we went around the horn! "Yah, just like it should be around Cape Horn, Yah!"
Lunch in the main dining room was bizarre. Bill ordered fried catfish and I ordered oriental chicken stir fry. When the meal arrived Bill had (farmed) salmon and I had a completely different chicken dish. The waiter said that he had given us the wrong menu and so he substituted without asking us. It was time for a small lecture! He continued to hover over us and was quite concerned that we did not eat. Nothing else on the menu appealed to us. We finally had to shoo him away. The menu was repeated every week and by this time few items appealed. The quality of the food was poor.
The Captain's reception was very crowded. The people who sat at our table were very unfriendly not making eye contact or responding to conversation. After a very few minutes we left to join our friends in the Dragon's Lair. A much more comfortable setting. The Dragon's Lair has a club like feel and you feel welcome to sit with any group there.
Montevideo was our last port of call, with Marta Marquez as our guide. We had arranged a small private tour with a 10:00 starting time. Everyone in our group was ready on time and we saw the sign with our name on it. The person holding the sign was not Marta. In addition Marta had sold four more seats in the van and the people inside the van had been waiting for an hour as she had also changed the starting time for the tour. We had promised our group of eight that we would not fill the van so that everyone would have plenty of room during the tour. Marta had agreed to this but at a higher price which was agreeable to everyone in our group. Bill and I left and the others in our group made their own decisions whether to continue the tour.
Marta had been recommended on cruise critic by others who had taken her tour. We were completely caught off guard by her poor judgement in changing the tour without contacting us directly. Greed? We could never recommend her services to any of our friends!
Bill and I completely enjoyed our day. Montevideo is a fun city to walk around with its pedestrian only streets, small shops and street venders. We walked through the Puerto Mercado (amazing!) and shopped for souvenirs. Then went back to the ship. The area is well policed and feels safe. We went out again in the afternoon and ran into Elmer and the other bartender from Vintages. They were some of our favourite people on the ship and we walked with them until we were out of the port area. We also stopped in a side walk cafe for a beer.
We went ashore again in the afternoon and took the free shuttle to the Leather Factory. I was surprised that it is right downtown on Independence Square. We rode upstairs on one of the very old metal cage elevators! Had not seen one in many years! After a few minutes of browsing we took the stairs out.
We walked into the centre of the square to General Artigas mausoleum. It was a very large dark underground building and it was kept very dim inside. There is a dark marble walkway all the way around the urn. His ashes are in a very large gold urn flanked by an honour guard of two soldiers.
Back outside we found the large flea market and antique market. It was fun to look there and I would have been happy to spend hours there. Bill however was not feeling well and we found a spot for him to sit while I spent just a bit longer looking. Then we found an outdoors bar and had a cold local beer. A friend from the cruise ship wandered past and we invited him to join us. We finally returned to the Leather Factory for the shuttle back to the ship.
We were so tired of the dining room menus and our wait staff on this second part of the cruise that against our better judgment we went to the ship's buffet. The wait staff on this second part of the cruise lacked personality and seem poorly trained. At the buffet the food was even worse than in the dining room and much of it had been sitting on the steam tables much too long. We watched people handling various pieces of cutlery and plates and then putting them back in the containers. They also repeatedly picked up fruit and then put it back. We mentioned this behaviour to the lady at the hand sanitizer machines. She was always ensuring that everyone entering the dining room use the sanitizers. They also really need staff posted inside the restaurant to monitor people's behaviour.
We can't use our balcony because of cigar smoke. Since the South Americans have boarded there have been a lot of comments about smoke on the balcony, in the casino and on the Grand Promenade.
Our room attendant and ten other crew members were put off the ship because they didn't have Brazilian visas. This was only two days before tips. I accidentally ran into her on deck five and asked her to come to our stateroom so we could give her money. But most of the people on our deck had no idea this was happening. She was obviously concerned because she didn't know where she would be staying or even if the group would be booked into the same hotel. Of course our new room steward was Portuguese! Not a nice thing for RCI to do.
We dreaded the long flights home. I waited in line for a long time to get our passports. Finally they asked for and repeated our names correctly before handing me the passports. I looked at the top one and it was mine and walked back to our room where we quickly realized that they had given us someone else's passport instead of Bill's. I knew the lady and tried to contact her with no response so I went back down, cut through all of the people waiting in line and found her standing at the desk. They had been unsuccessfully looking for her passport for more than ten minutes and she was beginning to panic. I should not have been so trusting and should have checked both passports but this should never have happened. Such relief!
The ride to the airport took almost three hours. Sao Paulo is not what I had expected. It is the world's third largest city and seems to go on forever. We passed mile after mile of terrible slums. Extreme poverty and very poor living conditions. The huts of tin leaned against each other. Later we passed an area that looked like projects followed by more slums. Any unoccupied space was very dense jungle. As we climbed into the mountains it was like being in a cloud forest. There were three very long and very dark narrow tunnels. The roadside had huge drop offs, hundreds of feet! The jungle areas had many thick canopies of a beautiful pink flowering tree. These were, I believe, the Brazilian Walnut. From a distance the flowers looked like a dense carpet of impatiens. Just beautiful!
We will never cruise on RCCL again and would not recommend it to our friends. Now we are beginning plans for the Alaska B2B in May! This will be on Celebrity and we hope the RCI cut backs do not extend to Celebrity and Azamara.