December 2015 - Rhapsody of the Seas to South America
Where to start... The cruise left from Santos, Brazil, which is about 2 hours from Sao Paolo. When booking the cruise, it was never mentioned that the board language would be Portuguese, but when I was reading other reviews, this came to my attention, so unlike some of the other passengers who were very surprised upon arriving at the port, I had a few weeks notice. The check-in process was complete chaos and the cruise terminal is next to the Garbage dump of the harbor, so it smells horrendous on one side, but the smell dissipates the further to the south and east you get. There was a huge line to get luggage dropped off (we also had one of our bags get "lost in transit" from the handling station to the ship, but I was able to track it down around midnight) and then the line inside the terminal was five times as bad. There was a line for priority check-in, but this was overrun by Brazilians who just were pushing in where ever they could.
Royal Caribbean requires proof of payment of the reciprocity fee for Argentina prior to boarding, so I had to print that out too. Needless to say, if you are doing this cruise, you should fly in the night before and then get to the terminal at 10 AM to try and beat the madness.
At dinner, we asked for tap water (strange enough that it wasn't provided automatically as it had been on every Royal Caribbean cruise I have been on, including those in Europe) and were told that it was forbidden. We had to purchase all drinks in the dining room, so we bought some Evian waters for $4.50 a bottle. This happened the second night as well and I decided to go talk to guest services about it. They said that was incorrect of the wait staff and that they should have provided tap water on request. We just switched wait staff and received water the next nights without an issue. Mr. Haag/Matos at guest services mentioned that the water would be removed from our bill and made himself a note, but this never happened as it showed up on the bill we received prior to disembarking. While in the end the problem was taken care of, this was a major "yuck" for us and really negatively impacted our view of Royal Caribbean. One of the main reasons we sail with them is because they provide free water/lemonade/ice tea/juice with meals unlike the European cruise companies (e.g. Costa, MSC, AIDA, TUI).
The itinerary could have been nicer. Punte del Este was nice, but the town is very small. The beaches were pretty clean though and the water on the south side of the peninsula was fairly clear. The north side was a murky brown though and looked a little gross.
Buenos Aires was fantastic. All Aboard was 11:30pm, so you could watch a tango show, although a midnight departure would have been better. Steaks there are great, the sites are nice, the port is right in the middle of town, taxis are cheap, really everything a port city should be. Just no bank terminal at the cruise port and taxis didn't take credit cards, so there was no quick getaway from the point of arrival.
Montevideo is a city of contrasts. Part of the town is nice, and part of it is incredibly run down. The beaches closest to the pier are really disgusting and the water is brown and gunky. I would recommend just looking at some of the sites, eating some ice cream, and calling it a day.
And that was it for the ports. The next two days were at Sea. It was Christmas on the ship, but there wasn't a real "Christmas show" or anything in the Broadway Melodies theater, just a small program in the overcrowded centrum area. Bad weather led the other deck parties to be held in the Centrum as well.
Food was okay on the ship, actually below average for Royal Caribbean. Chops is nice as usual and there is an Izumi which was quite good. Those both cost extra, but worth it if you have the money since the dining room was not great at all. This ship also didn't have any special Indian menus that we liked from some of the bigger ships. My wife and I just blamed the food on the effort the crew was making to have some Brazilian food like bean stew, rice, farofa, etc. on the ship too and limited their options as well as it being a small ship.
I probably wouldn't take this cruise again. I would much rather just spend time on the mainland in Argentina and Uruguay and leave the cruising in South America for Brazil or the Caribbean.