Interestingly, South America is evolving much in the same way Alaska has: Once a destination mostly for senior ladies who wore white gloves and toured by stately motorcoach, the region now attracts families and adventure lovers via youthful, mainstream cruise lines like Carnival, NCL and Royal Caribbean -- and active shore excursions involving 4x4's, Hummers and zip lines.
What's also noteworthy about this announcement is that Royal Caribbean has cooked up a series of unique itineraries roundtrip from Sao Paulo with a heavy emphasis on Brazilian ports such as Portobelo, Salvador de Bahia, Buzios, Florianopolis, Rio de Janeiro, Ilheus and the up-and-coming Ilhabela. Because they range in length from just six to eight nights, young professionals and busy families can consider a South America cruise without breaking the bank or depleting what little vacation time they're allotted.
The season also includes two versions of the standard around-the-horn route -- alternating 13-night cruises between Valparaiso and Buenos Aires, calling at La Serena (Coquimbo), Puerto Montt, Punta Arenas, Ushuaia, Puerto Madryn and Punta del Este; and two 15-night voyages between Sao Paulo and Valparaiso and vice versa, with stops at Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Puerto Madryn, Ushuaia, Punta Arenas and Puerto Montt.
This will be the first time since 2002 that Royal Caribbean will have a presence in South America. Splendour operated there in 2000, 2001 and 2002, but was ultimately pulled because the economy in Brazil was not strong, according to a spokeswoman for the line. "The environment now has changed," she tells us, "as the cruise market has grown tremendously since then."
Shore excursion selection is still in the works; expect a list of offerings in January 2007.
--By Melissa Baldwin, Associate Editor