The better half of our back to back S. America cruises.
Rhapsody of the Seas Cruise Review to South America
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. Luckily, we were on the far end since there was a Costa and MSC ship parked closer to the terminal. If you are doing a Royal Caribbean cruise from Santos, you should fly in the night before and then get to the terminal at 10 AM to try and beat the madness. There were huge lines and the priority-lane doesn't really exist because everything was so backed up.
The itinerary was nice. We started at Portobelo, which is probably the worst port. It would have made much more sense to either dock at Florianopolis or Blumenau instead of the middle of nowhere. There are some transfer services, but good luck finding a rental car or any way out of the town on your own. The beaches were okay, and there are a couple small shops if you need sunscreen or want some ice cream or acai.
We also went to Ihlabela, near Sao Sebastian. This was a great port. They have lots of tour options onshore and we booked a boat and snorkel trip with time at a beach for $24 (80 reais) a person. They also offered discovery scuba diving for $90 a person. We saw some nice fish and some dolphins, but no turtles. The beach was crowded being the main vacation time between Christmas and New Years, but we still found a spot and the water was really warm and great for swimming.
The next stop was Buzios (I think). This was a nice port, with nice shopping and restaurants, but a little overrated in our minds. We went to Ferruda (spelling?) beach and one other beach. The water was cold, but it was really sunny, which helped offset that cold. Unfortunately it was also extremely windy, so we were just covered in sand. Also beware of people trying to rip you off. Our taxi driver tried to charge us double the fare (there is a chart in Buzios with fixed rates) going to the beach. The taxi driver on the way back was fair.
We also went to Rio de Janiero. We booked a ship-run excursion, mainly because I had read that traffic has been bad with the construction for the olympics and some people said there are always long lines for the attractions. Truth be told, we would have been okay on our own. We went to the Christ the Redeemer statue as well as Sugarloaf, and we had a little time to go to the beach too before heading back to the Port. I think if we had done this on our own, we probably would have had another hour or two to explore. Rio is a nice town. We didn't have any problems with pickpockets or other crime. The port is kind of junky and in a bad part of town though.
After Rio, our ship parked in the water near Copacabana beach with about 5 other cruise ships to watch the fireworks. There was one ship "in front" of us that blocked a little of the fireworks, but it was a great show. The band on the ship though, was simply awful. We were in the mood to dance for hours, but this band was so bad. We took a break for half an hour hoping it would be better, but when we reemerged, it was even worse (hard to believe). Perhaps my wife summed it up best when she said at one point, "this is giving me ear cancer". Tough to dance to, but many of the Brazilians were trying their best to support them. The DJ in the Viking Crown lounge was much better, but we still went to bed sometime after 3am.
New Years Day was spent at sea, then the next day was Ihla Grande. This island is beautiful, and was probably my favorite port. It poured rain, but it was like walking through a rain forest and since it was still so warm, we didn't care. We just covered our beach things and swam in the water in the rain at Praia Preta (the black beach) where the sand is black and the water amazingly clear. We also saw some monkeys here, which my wife loved. We ate at a small restaurant called Gabi Biel, and it was fantastic. The prices were a little higher than we would have expected on the mainland, but we paid 110 reais for a big filet mignon spread for two including rice, beans, farofa, chimmichurri and fries as well as drinks. They also had good wifi.
And that was it for the ports. The next day we were back in Santos. Getting off the ship took awhile as well and it was pouring rain, and then it was tough to find our ride since there are so many people just standing out there and parked in odd spots so he was unable to get through the traffic mess. Traffic was really good though getting back to Sao Paulo and we had time to stop at a Churrascaria before going to the airport to catch our 5pm flight.
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 am not sure if I would take this cruise again. It was nice to see the ports, but I was pretty disappointed with the onboard experience for both this cruise and the one we took the week before. The entertainment, with the exception of the dancers, was just so-so, and the music performances were not good with the one exception of a Bossa nova singer who was fantastic. Not sure what her name was though, Julia or something like that I think.
Since it was New Years, the Christmas decorations were still up, which made the ship feel a little more like "home". If you are looking to choose between this and the Christmas cruise though, this one was definitely better. I wouldn't be surprised though if Royal Caribbean cancels these Brazilian cruises in the future. They are just not up to the standard that Royal Caribbean is used to setting and I think that is obvious to the crew and staff onboard that has worked on other ships.
Food and Dining
Service and Staff
Cabin / Stateroom
Ship is small, especially the gym. There is a jogging track, but limited area outside of it, so jogging often means lots of people dodging. I would also budget some money to eat at the specialty restaurants since the quality of the dining room food wasn't that good.