SPLENDOUR OF THE SEAS- ROYAL CARIBBEAN’S STALWART

Splendour Of The Seas off Santorini

Splendour Of The Seas off Santorini

Looking at the graceful, flowing contours of Splendour Of The Seas, it’s hard to believe that the Royal Caribbean stalwart is now some seventeen years old. Always gleaming and recently extensively refurbished, the 70,000 ton Splendour has been a consistently successful team player; never really a headline maker, but rather a solid, workmanlike ship with a unique style and vibe of her own.

Part of this relatively low profile comes down to her being the second member of the six ship, oddly named Vision class. Twin sister ship, Legend Of The Seas, was the trailblazer for this innovative new class. The namesake ship was actually the last of the sextet to enter service.

Splendour Of The Seas debuted in Southampton in March of 1996, almost a year after her sister. I visited her then, and found her to be a hugely impressive ship. As with all of the class, a huge amount of floor to ceiling glass was used in the superstructure, to bathe the ship in natural light. The two deck high dining room was especially stunning, and must still rank as one of the most beautiful ever installed on any ship.

The showroom was pure Art Deco and, as with her sister ship, there was a conscious effort by Royal Caribbean to provide bigger cabins than the company ever had before. Gone were the ‘get out there’ shoeboxes of the Sovereign class; Splendour showcased over two hundred balcony cabins; a huge amount for that time.

These ships also began Royal Caribbean’s relentless march towards bigger, more amenity laden ships. Splendour featured a full, eighteen hole mini golf course on her upper decks, and it was a huge talking point at the time.

She soon settled into popular cruise service, mainly in the Mediterranean, but within three years she was eclipsed by the mammoth Voyager Of The Seas, the first of a five ship series that was, incredibly, twice the size of the Vision class.

These behemoths upped the ante enormously in the amenity stakes, and it was eventually decided that all of the Vision class ships should be retro fitted with some of the new eateries, leisure and entertainment options- such as the rock climbing walls- that have become as much signature Royal Caribbean trademarks as those famous Viking Crown lounges of old.

The result is, quite literally, the best of both worlds. Splendour Of The Seas remains relatively intimate, yet still replete with a conga line of cruising goodies comprehensive enough to satisfy the most jaded of travellers. She usually sails from the stunningly beautiful backdrop of Venice through the spring and summer, to the highlights of Croatia and the Greek Islands.

At the end of autumn, the Splendour usually relocates to South America, crossing the Atlantic in good time to offer that continent when the weather is usually at its best. Typically, she operates a series of three to seven day cruises from Santos, the port for Sao Paolo.

For those looking for an elegant, accommodating ship that offers more than just a little charm and style, the Splendour Of The Seas is definitely one of the better choices out there.

WINTER BRAZIL SEASON- WHO’S SAILING THERE THIS YEAR?

Silversea will take you to Rio in sumptuous style

Silversea will take you to Rio in sumptuous style

Now that autumn’s cold, clammy fingers are tickling our collective windpipe, many of us start to succumb to an almost pathetic sense of yearning for clear skies, sparkling seas and yes, good, warm sunshine. If the Marie Celeste had only been able to drift like our collective thoughts, then she would never have been becalmed in mid ocean…..

Assuming you’re ready to take the plunge (pun wholly intentional) then; where to? If the Caribbean seems overcrowded, or the Canaries too ‘same old’, then options look as if they are beginning to stretch thinner than the credibility of Donald Trump’s wig. The Far East too far out? The winter Mediterranean not warm enough? Dubai just ‘duh’?

So- how about Brazil in particular and, indeed, South America in general?

OK. Halt. Who goes there? Well, you might be surprised at just how many options you actually have, my friends…

Late each autumn, a conga line of cruise ships flee the leaden European winter and flock like so many exotic birds of passage to the warmer, far friendlier waters of South America. Every kind of ship and line, from budget to mass market, to deluxe, all inclusive icons of the cruise trade. And they do it for very good reasons.

..as, indeed, will classy Crystal...

..as, indeed, will classy Crystal…

For starters, there’s that sultry, samba fuelled fire cracker otherwise known as Rio De Janeiro. But Brazil is far more than just Rio. There are stunning beach resorts like Ilhabela, Paraty and cool, swaggering Recife. Argentina rolls out the red carpet in sultry, full blooded Buenos Aires, the tango capital of the world. An overnight stay here on most cruises is almost mandatory. Quite right, too.

Uruguay is often overlooked and forgotten in the South American beauty pageant, and yet Montevideo is one of the most stately, graceful monuments to sheer indolence and tropical cafe life that you’ll find anywhere south of the equator. In short, there are no shortage of places, parties and sheer pleasurable experiences to be had down under the balmy tropical Latin skies.

You just have to decide what ship and style is right for you.

Louis Cruise is operating the Louis Aura (ex-Orient Queen) in those waters over the winter. She’s small, intimate and unassuming, but well fed and chock full of charm and fun. Cruise lengths are everything from three days to a week. The ship is an absolutely great budget choice for the region.

Latin flavours are on offer from both Iberocruises and Pullmantur, The two Spanish operators both have a ship or two ‘down Rio way’ during the winter, offering predominantly seven day cruises. Of the two, Pullmantur has the advantage of being all inclusive, and generally offers bigger ships. Both products are great value for the fares charged.

MSC know how to get the samba started

MSC know how to get the samba started

Staying in that Latin groove, both Costa and rival MSC have big, amenity laden megaships aplenty down here for the season; a hangover from the days when Italian liners routinely made line voyages from Italy down to South America. The big draw with both lines is the vast number of available balcony cabins that they offer.  These are probably the best party boats in the region if you’re looking for some serious hedonism, but the lines to get off and on them at some ports might not be everybody’s cup of tea. Good prices, though, and again, itineraries are typically six and seven days, with a few shorter cruises in between.

Touch more international? Royal Caribbean usually has a pair of its gorgeous Vision class ships down here, with their updated eating areas and vast swathes of floor to ceiling glass windows. They, too, will offer six and seven night round trips- typically from Santos, the port for Sao Paolo- but they will also fold some shorter, three and four night jaunts into the mix as well. And, don’t forget that Royal Caribbean now offer a handful of single cabins on many of their ships as well.

Want luxury? Fine. Sassy Crystal, sophisticated, European accented Silversea and classy, all inclusive Regent Seven Seas all offer winter holidays on wonderful, expansively opulent ships, where tailored service, gourmet food and a classically styled cruise experience are all in the mix. Longer itineraries- typically in excess of ten days- allow for a far more immersive experience, but at a price.

Costa has specialised in South America for decades

Costa has specialised in South America for decades

Most of these lines will offer you packages including airfare, hotels and transfers, but what if you want to book your own flights? Well, here’s a few ideas….

British Airways offers a string of flights from all over the UK through Heathrow, and many of these are often on a code share with it’s Spanish partner, Iberia, over Madrid.

Air France/KLM also offers good regional connections to both Brazil and Argentina over it’s main hubs at Paris Charles De Gaulle airport and Amsterdam Schipol.

You could also do worse than to take TAP Air Portugal. They fly from their main hubs in Lisbon and Porto, with connections from the UK available from Gatwick, Heathrow, and also a limited number from Manchester in the winter months.

So-food for thought? Throw off your winter woolies, put on your dancing shoes, slap on the factor thirty sun screen (lots of it) and- get out there!