Rio de Janeiro to Ft. Lauderdale
Last segment of its 2002 World Cruise
In the aftermath of 9/11 much has changed, including many cruise ship
itineraries. Radisson, which had planned the Inaugural World Cruise of it's
490 passenger Seven Seas Navigator, altered its itinerary to go around the
Cape of Good Hope instead of through the Suez and Mediterranean. As a
result, its later segments after Cape Town were "under-utilized". In March,
they offered past Radisson guests some price concessions, a complementary
pre-cruise tour, low-cost business class air upgrades, and perhaps most
intriguing to us, an invitation to join the shake-down cruise of Radisson's
new Seven Seas Voyager, scheduled to be completed in Genoa next March, 2003.
My wife Pat and I were definitely interested!
Since we had earlier booked the inaugural transatlantic cruise of Holland
American's Prisendam (the former Royal Viking Sun) plus the following two
segments in Western Europe and the Baltic (a total of 37 days), we didn't
feel we could take the full trip from Cape Town, including a pre-cruise
safari in South Africa. Instead, we opted for the shorter 14-day Rio to Ft.
Lauderdale segment, preceded by the tour to Iguaçu Falls. According to
Brazilian sources, Iguaçu is the world's largest waterfalls. Although
challenging to get to and see, the Falls are truly magnificent! Iguaçu is
much larger than Niagara, and is said to be taller than Angel Falls in
Venezuela. The falls are inland on the Argentina/Brazil border.
After a bit of a run-around concerning our flight arrangements (resolved by
a cooperative Radisson air rep and our very competent agent) we
arrived at the Tampa airport early, only to discover the Delta flight
scheduled to take us to Atlanta to connect with the flight to Rio was late.
Initially the Delta agent (supervisor?) was adamant there was no problem,
until the earlier flight to Atlanta, leaving from the gate next to us, had
closed up. Then she listened, looked at our tickets, and realized the
Eventually, after a big hassle, we were re-routed on an American Airlines
flight from Miami, but had to reclaim our bags in Tampa, go through security
again, and have bags hand-searched, luckily by a nice, helpful American
Airlines porter/security guard(?). And, with no two seats together; we were
assigned seats on either side of someone sitting in the middle seat of a
2-3-2 business class row on a Boeing 777. This turned out to be a ploy to
get the whole row to himself; when faced with reality, he moved to an aisle
seat, so my wife and I were able to sit together, even if not in the most
Generally, we avoid domestic airlines for international flights when
possible, but I must admit that the American Airlines "extra room" tactic
certainly gave us room to stretch out. And their service was pretty good,
too. Radisson had flown us business class on a Continental 777 from Newark
to Rome in the fall of 2000, and we found it to be very good as well,
although I believe the AA flight had more legroom. In our opinion, the
Boeing 777 is superior to anything else flying commercially today.
We had spoken with Radisson reps during the rearrangement of flights, and
sure enough, their agent in Rio was expecting us. Things went quite
smoothly, and although the security for our bags in notorious Rio seemed
casual, everything arrived promptly and safely. Radisson had booked us in
the LeMeridien Hotel, directly across Avenue Atlântica from Copacobana
Beach. Our room for that night was available, without additional charge,
upon check-in before 10 AM. We were in a ocean-front room on the 36th
floor, so high the people on the beach looked like ants. So much for girl-
(or boy-) watching.
After a quiet, security-conscious day and night in Rio (we had an earlier
bad experience there), we flew the next morning via San Paulo to the city of
Foz do Iguaçu, where we were taken by bus to the Iguaçu Falls National Park.
The flights, on Varig, the Brazilian airline, were delightful. Attractive,
sharp, well-dressed and -groomed flight attendants. Fast, cheerful service.
Quick turn-arounds in San Paulo. The stewardesses served drinks and a snack
on the forty-five minute flight to San Paulo, and lunch and drinks on the
one hour flight from there to Foz do Iguaçu! Remember how nice air travel
used to be in the U.S.? How special it seemed? In Brazil, it still is.
Viewing Iguaçu Falls requires a lot of walking and climbing, some of it
challenging. The first day, we went by bus, jeep and, after a treacherous
climb on steep, un-guarded stairs, zodiac boat up the river right to the
base of the falls, getting wet but not soaked. Another, more daring group
went right under part of the falls, but it appeared they were prepared,
having stripped to the waist or to bikini tops.
After a good meal and a night in hard beds in the Spanish Colonial style
hotel in the park, in the morning we crossed the Argentine border by bus,
where we caught two trains and then took a long hike to the catwalks which
extend out over the river 1100 meters to the very edge of the most dramatic
part of Iguaçu Falls, the Devil's Throat. This is a horseshoe shaped
section which appeared to be 400 or 500 yards across and perhaps half a mile
in length. What a marvelous sight! On the way, we passed the "ruins" of
the old catwalk, which collapsed a couple of years earlier. Ah, well.
That evening we dined in Paul Bocuse's  restaurant atop the hotel. A good
meal, high but not outrageously priced, but nothing spectacular. A view of
the lights of Copacobana on a Saturday night. This time we had a
ocean-front room on the 14th floor, so we could see the people on the beach.
Lovely. At the concierge's suggestion, we went to the Hippy Market in
Ipanema Sunday morning. Held in a park several blocks in from the famous
beach, this weekly open-air market specializes in local art, crafts and
jewelry, with clothing and souvenirs also available. I got Pat a huge topaz
and silver necklace. We also bought a very nice modern sculpture, as well
as a couple of small limited edition prints, all exceptionally inexpensive.
We had a great time. If you're in Rio on Sunday, don't miss it!
Back at the hotel, we just had time to collect the luggage from our room and
grab a drink before catching the bus to the ship. Boarding a Radisson ship
is a delightful experience, you are welcomed with a glass of Champagne, and
the formalities are handled quickly, efficiently and pleasantly. The only
downside here was that the passenger ship terminal in Rio is a long
building. They drop you at one end, forcing you to walk quite a distance
carrying your hand luggage past yet another gauntlet of hucksters and the
inevitable jewelry and other duty-free shops in order to reach the greeting
area and gangway. Once there, you're in Radisson's friendly, competent
hands, but till then, you're on your own.
Because of our other cruise plans, we had asked for the lowest cost cabin
available. On Radisson's Seven Seas ships, all suites are at least 300 sq.
ft., and most have balconies. In this case, we got a suite on six deck,
port side, without a balcony. Instead, each morning we had seamen outside
on a walkway, hosing down and cleaning up. The first morning, a passenger
wandered back and forth, lost we presume, but that happened only once. We
learned to close the drape before retiring.
Cabins on the Seven Seas Navigator are really terrific; spacious,
well-furnished and -equipped, exceptionally comfortable. The baths are
perhaps the best afloat, with separate tub and shower and a spacious vanity.
We don't miss the double sinks some folks favor, having consciously left
them off the plans of the last two houses we've built. Everything else was
there in abundance, especially large, absorbent towels and bath-sheets and
even pool towels! Our cabin stewardess and her helper were just delightful,
cheerful, prompt, nice. Actually, that goes for everyone on board the
Navigator. We've never been on a friendlier ship. Or heard of one. The
entire crew seems to go out of their way to be nice, to greet you, to get
whatever you want or need. May sound exaggerated, but isn't. Try it, you'll see.
Knowing passengers joining the ship may not have had lunch, they kept the
informal dining room on ten deck, the Portofino, open late. Thoughtful!
Lunch was delicious, a nice buffet plus carving and pasta stations, while
out on deck, a grill offered hamburgers, hot dogs, etc. On most days, there
were two grills outside during lunch, the second with at least four or five
choices, including a grilled fish and some kind of steak. They also offered
fruit, cheese and other deserts. More than enough; too much, really.
That first day our waitress seemed to have a large, busy station, part of
which was outside on deck, but we didn't wait overly long for anything. We
soon learned to sit on the other side of the room, in Ann Marie's area. She
's a very efficient, friendly English girl who seemed to anticipate our
needs after only a couple of days. Throughout the cruise, service in all of
the dining rooms was excellent to outstanding.
After lunch and a couple of hours unpacking into the very spacious cabin and
walk-in closet, we explored the ship. Then we were invited on deck for
Champagne, to watch as we sailed out of Rio de Janeiro. It was dark, but
the lights were a sight themselves, and Sugar Loaf was silhouetted against
them. Then, to dinner. We put ourselves in the hands of the Maitre D',
Miki, asking him to put us at "a large table with interesting people". On
this and every other evening that we didn't make our own arrangements, Miki
put us with people we enjoyed. We sat with the Staff Captain the first
formal evening, and at the Captain's table twice (the Captain wasn't there
when we were -- we sat there when we were with a large group, as it was one
of few tables for ten available). Whatever you want, they tried to
accommodate you. One night Pat wasn't feeling up to snuff, so we ate in our
suite from the dining room menu. They served us in courses, much as if we
were in the Compass Rose restaurant. Classy.
On Radisson ships, wine and drinks with dinner are included; no extra
charge. The sommelier and his assistants knew their wine, but more
important, they quickly got to know their guests. That first night, both
the red and white wines served were Burgundies. I much prefer Burgundy to a
Bordeaux, for example. The next night, the white was another Burgundy, but
the red was Bordeaux. Having had a pleasant experience earlier on the Seven
Seas Mariner, I thought I'd try again, and see what happened. I asked if
any of the Burgundy they had served the previous night was available. But
of course! Almost without delay, there it was. After that, wherever we sat
(remember, the main Compass Rose restaurant holds almost 500 passengers when
the ship is full) here comes one of the wine stewards asking if we were
having the Burgundy tonight? And several knew us by name.
One night early on we had dinner with two couples who were
"circumnavigators" (i.e., had been on the ship for the entire World
Cruise). They were very interesting, talking about the highlights (and the
few low spots as well) of the trip to date. One of the men, a digital
photography buff, was making an album of the entire cruise, a marvel
according to the other couple. Although quite modest, he had been a very
senior IBM systems engineer, and had been talked into teaching a three class
digital photography and photo album course. I told him I had just bought a
digital camera and was interested.
One of the drawbacks of cruising on a small ship like the SS Navigator is
that there are a limited number of things to do, particularly on sea days,
so I welcomed this opportunity Unavoidably, I arrived late for the first
class, held in the Stars Lounge outside the large Seven Seas show room. The
class was over-subscribed, but we pulled up more chairs and everyone was
accommodated. The class itself was very interesting. Ron, the instructor,
was a good lecturer, exceptionally knowledgeable about his topic .
For the second class, I arrived early to find Ron with a projector, a table,
and his own PC, struggling to rearrange the chairs into a classroom layout,
so everyone could hear and see the screen. I helped, as did a couple of
other early arrivals. The chairs were heavy and not easy to grab on to, so
it was difficult to move them. When I spoke to Ron afterward, he said that
after the first classes, support for his efforts was basically limited to
announcing the class in the ship's daily newspaper, and providing the
projector and screen. Later, I spoke with the officer who ran the computer
lab, but he seemed unable to help. When pressed, he suggested I discuss it
with the Cruise Director or even the Hotel Director. So I did.
This resulted in only real negative in our cruise on the Seven Seas
Navigator. I've been a bureaucrat myself, and have dealt with them for much
of my career. I know when I'm getting the run-around or a brush-off. These
guys didn't even try to hide it. For the only time on board the Navigator,
I met with indifference and a defensive, negative attitude. The hotel
director explained plans and implied he would get help for the room set-up,
but none appeared. Unfortunately, the cruise director happened along when
we were breaking the room down the second time, and I spoke with him, but
all I got were excuses and BS. This was out of character for the ship and,
in fact, for the Radisson line. There may have been something I didn't
understand or know about going on, but it seemed to me that here was an
opportunity to give passengers something useful and desirable to do on a
boring sea day at little or no cost, yet they ignored it at first, and
derided it when questioned head on. Certainly not typical.
My wife and I had planned a cruise from (or to) Australia and New Zealand,
either on the Navigator this fall or on the Mariner next winter, but our
experience this trip caused us to re-think our plan. This cruise was 13
days, calling at four ports: Salvidor de Bahia and Fortaliza in Brazil,
Bridgetown, Barbados, and San Juan, PR on the way to Ft. Lauderdale. That
left nine sea days. We don't play bridge, and are spoiled by our 45' lap
pool at home. The casino crew went out of their way to drum up interest,
running classes for neophytes early on and blackjack tournaments later. We
enjoyed that. The library is pretty good, and there are enough computers
when the ship has 350 guests. Just upgrade memory  and fix the
charge-back software before the next long cruise, please.
There were some good speakers, particularly former Attorney General and PA
Governor Dick Thornburg (although his wife cut off informal conversation
after the lecture, and little or no time was provided for questions.) Prof.
Michael Mendelsohn, who talked on a variety of topics, was also quite
interesting. But that doesn't begin to fill up nine days! Now think about
expanding that to 45 days, with 19-22 at sea. Gives you something to pause
about, doesn't it. It has us, I'm afraid.
A few other observations: We never missed a meal, and the food was good to
excellent. Perhaps not as good as the Signatures dining room on the
Mariner, maybe even not as good as the Mariner overall. But much more than
adequate. We both gained weight, not a lot but some. Pat wished for more
variety in the on-board shops. We met quite a few very nice people. In
fact, on every Radisson ship we seem to meet nice people. As for
entertainment, the Peter Grey Terhune company are attractive, talented,
energetic, and they sing and dance well. We found their shows first-rate.
The concert pianist was excellent, although we missed her first (best?)
show, unavoidably. Larry Hagman was on board and turned out to be rather
entertaining speaker, although I never did care for either Dallas or I Dream
of Jeannie. All in all, for a smaller ship, we found the entertainment
The ports visited after Rio were less than inspired, in our opinion. We
would have liked to cruise up the Amazon a way, or perhaps stop at Devil's
Island. We did go ashore in each of the four ports, but took a tour only in
Barbados. That was sponsored by our travel agent's Voyager Club, but we
didn't think much of it. Of course, we've seen a lot of islands. "Free"
tours are often worth just what you pay for them.
Next year the Mariner's World Cruise is scheduled to skip Rio, going
directly from Ascension Island to Fortaleza. That certainly will be
exciting! (NOT!) We've compared Radisson's port selections with some of its
competitor lines; in our opinion, we find them sorely lacking. Who plans
these trips, anyway, the bookkeeping department? Of course, if you don't
like the itinerary, you don't have to go. We won't.
On this cruise, the hospitality and excellence of the ship itself, the
excursion to Iguaçu, and the time in Rio made the whole thing worthwhile for
us. Open single seating in the dining room is a major plus. It puts a real
handicap on Crystal, which has two sittings for dinner. Seabourn and
Silversea use smaller ships, and you do pay for their "all inclusive"
approach. If you're not a drinker, or don't use the included amenities, you
're paying for someone who is/does. Radisson balances this well, we think:
drinks with dinner and an initial setup in your room are included, as are
non-alcoholic beverages. After that, you pay for what you use. Works for
us. All things considered, we'll be aboard Radisson again, selectively.
Actually, we did book two future cruises while on this one. The first is
the inaugural cruise of the new Seven Seas Voyager, which follows the
shakedown cruise we've been invited on. Not worth it to fly to Europe for
one week. We also booked a Montreal to Palm Beach cruise on the Navigator
for the Fall of 2003, itinerary unseen. But now that we've seen details and
the ports of call, we don't think we'll pick up our option. A real
disappointment! We were so looking forward to Newport or Philadelphia and
Charleston or Savannah.
We do like Radisson, we like it a lot, in fact, but improvements are needed
in a couple of key areas. Some of the annoyances would be quite easy to
fix, we feel. Like cross to Montevideo and Buenos Aires, then round Cape
Horn and up the Pacific Coast to LA on the SS Mariner World Cruise next
 Owner/chef of the famous Michelin 3 star restaurants in and near Lyon,
 Pardon my critique here, I am a retired Computer and Information Science
Professor and was considered a pretty good lecturer myself.
 Don't skimp, put at least 384 meg in each computer, which should be
doable for under $75. each. email@example.comJune 2002