The all new Splendour of the Seas

With five new dining experiences, 124 new balcony staterooms, 10 bars and lounges, the new and improved Splendour of the Seas is really living up to her name.

Wendy Liscia, freelance travel writer, was amongst some of the first English speaking guests on board when the ship set sail from Santos in Brazil during her immersion season.

I boarded Splendour when she was three weeks into her new season, following her five week makeover at the Navantia Shipyard in Cadiz. The $50 million spend was well worth it, thick carpets, squeaky clean bathrooms and exquisite sofas in the brand new R Bar; the Centrum’s chic new cocktail bar, were all evident. Unfortunately, the new ipads had not been installed, but the technology behind the interactive information screens gave a taste of what would be in store for other guests.

The large screen Digital Wayfinders, situated on the public decks, help with orientation indicating current deck location, directions on how to get to the restaurants, bars and entertainment venues; but they were especially useful in locating the nearest restrooms. In a choice of languages, these screens also offer details of the day’s activities via the cruise compass. An excellent idea.

Dining is always an important part of any cruise holiday, and for me, this was the best dining I had experienced on any Royal Caribbean ship. The Windjammer, often criticized for buffet style luke warm food, was excellent, but what impressed me the most was the hygiene. In my experience, there may be hand sanitizer stations, but many guests don’t use them. On Splendour the staff are there to see that guest DO use them. A huge plus.

The excellent food and service in the Windjammer continued in the King & I dining room. My Time dining on this cruise is a bonus for guests who prefer to eat around 8pm, unlike the Brazilians and Europeans who consider 10pm ideal. My only regret was that there wasn’t enough time to try out all the speciality restaurants; however, the new healthy eating Park Café had some excellent salads, stuffed breads and biscuits. The Dog House, somewhere I tried to avoid until the penultimate day, was superb; these hotdogs from around the world were tasty, meaty and totally unexpected.

All of the ships staterooms have received a makeover including the installation of brand new bathrooms. The addition of a whole new deck of balcony cabins on deck 6 also means that more guests can enjoy breakfast on their patio.

It is clear that the Centrum is an area where a large amount of the budget has been spent. Comfy chairs and sofas in red velvet and gold hug the small dance floor and the upper levels. The R Bar, with its Italian marble counter, is where the ’mixologist’ creates cocktails from around the globe, whilst entertainers perform at great heights in well choreographed shows.

Many US and European customers feel reluctant to try a cruise where the majority of the other guests are non English speaking, but this experience, in my opinion, was an excellent way to experience a ‘taste’ of South America with the locals.

Quick facts:

What’s New?

  • 124 new balcony staterooms on deck 6
  • All staterooms have been refurbished to include new carpets, bathrooms, and flat screen TV’s.
  • New Touch Screen information points help you see where you are, where the facilities are located and what’s on.
  • ipads in every stateroom
  • New poolside big screen on Deck 10
  • Brand new gym equipment – including a rowing machine.
  • Park Café – serving make your own salads, healthy choices and snacks
  • Dog House – mouth watering hotdogs from around the world.
  • Café Latté-tudes
  • Izumi Asian-fusion cuisine, featuring a la carte sushi selections
  • A la carte dining in the Viking Crown Lounge
  • Chef’s Table – An intimate dining experience
  • R Bar in the Centrum – A combination of ‘60’s style and chic comfort
  • Ariel entertainment

Old favourites:

  • New to Splendour but not Royal Caribbean – Choppes Grill
  • The Vitality Spa
  • Fitness classes from kick boxing to Pilates
  • Solarium
  • Theatre
  • Casino
  • Rock-climbing wall
  • Upper-deck jogging track
  • 18-hole miniature golf course

For Club Members:

  • Concierge club
  • Diamond Lounge

For Families:

  • Royal Babies® and Royal Tots® programming featuring specially designed Fisher Price activities
  • Expanded teen-only hangout areas
  • Family-friendly activities including games, contests, enrichment classes and lectures

Better left unsaid

Review sites are a godsend when it comes to choosing the right accommodation, but now one of the most highly respected sites has being accused of featuring reviews that have been paid for, its hard to know who to trust.

Recently back from Rio, we chose a comfortable B&B based largely on the rating from one such site. Ranked 3rd in Rio, it was not too expensive compared to other places, and its position in Santa Teresa made it quite appealing.

Santa Teresa - Rio de Janeiro

Recent reviews declared the property “Absolutely outstanding, it was the highlight of our trip”, another said “A warm, welcoming, spotless B & B with a great view”, and the other reviews stated that owners were wonderfully helpful, and so on and so on. It sounded perfect.

When we arrived we were greeted by a lovely man who didn’t speak English, but insisted on telling us in considerable detail how everything worked – in Portuguese. He even helped us up one flight of stairs with our suitcase. Unfortunately, he broke the handle, so we decided to take it up the other three flights ourselves. He showed us to our room, still telling us everything we needed to know, and then Bill the owner showed up. Apparently he’d been waiting for us to arrive. We’re not entirely sure where, after all, we’d come in through the front door and passed through the living room, the only way in, or perhaps there was a secret entrance. He continued with the ‘orientation’ and suggested somewhere nearby we might like to try for a meal tonight.

On our way out we met Bill’s wife, Sue, who totally disagreed with Bill’s recommendation for a meal saying it was a horrible place and she didn’t know why he’d told us to go there – perhaps because he hated us? She said we’d be better off in the centre of Santa Teresa. Advice was given on where we might to consider, and that because the hill was so steep we’d need to get a taxi back, unless we wanted thighs like elephants. Already having elephant thighs, I disregarded that comment.

English: Rio de Janeiro slum (right) on hill, ...

Next morning, after tripping up twice on several pieces of loose parquet flooring, we went for breakfast and a word with Bill about a few small things.

  1. In a city like Rio where you are told not to wear jewellery, carry lots of cash etc etc, was it a problem that our patio doors, which opened onto a communal patio, didn’t lock? Bill: Oh no, it wasn’t a problem, and besides they were only aluminium keys which kept breaking.

2. We can’t seem to use the safe in our room. Bill: No, I lost the key.

3. The patio is lovely, but is there any chance of having two chairs which we can actually sit in, rather than ones which are ripped and have screws sticking out? Bill: Unfortunately not. The new ones had been stuck at the port for 5 months. The ones we had were the best ones, but as they’d been out in all weathers they were rotten.

Oh well…

We tried out a couple of Bob’s recommendations, then after spending an arm and a leg on local restaurants, we decided to try lunch in Downtown. We stuffed ourselves on an ‘all you can eat buffet’ for less than the price of a starter at any of Bob’s recommendations. That night, still full to bursting, we picked up a bottle of wine and a few nibbles from a local store and decided to have a picnic by the pool. After enjoying a glorious evening with a sunset over the city, we went inside to make use of the communal laptop and check our emails. Bill arrives and interrogates us as to what we had been doing, and where we were going tonight. We said nowhere; we’d eaten out at lunchtime and were staying in tonight. “You’re on holiday for Christ’s sake”, was the response we got; Basil Faulty springs to mind.

After that, we decided to try and give Bill the slip as much as possible. Maybe we’d upset him when we ‘snuck in’ on arrival, who knows?

It’s time to leave, Bill’s on his laptop. Our two heavy cases are at the top of the stairs. The taxi arrives. Bill carries on working, is he going to help carry the cases? No.

The moral of this story – its not always the good and the bad reviews you need to consider, some people feel that some things are ‘better left unsaid’.

Just Back – from a great discovery (for Telegraph Travel)

With the washing piled high and the unused emergency sewing kit still to put away, I know the holiday’s over.

The planning and hopes, the time we spent together getting dusty, muddy, and wet is over, and now we are left with just our thoughts and some wonderful photos to remind us of the really good time we had together.

We’re just back from Namibia. It was just like being young again. We did crazy things, things we shouldn’t have, and best of all we spent time laughing. That’s what life used to be like, fun, free, and time spent doing things you wanted to do, even if it wasn’t what everyone else expected.

We’ve never been compliant, and no doubt at 5am when we were still in our tent and everyone else was heading out on safari, they thought we were missing the best experiences, but we weren’t. We had our own experiences, and we still managed to see that illusive leopard right near the camp. The others had missed her because she wasn’t there earlier, she knew it would be quiet now; the tourists were long gone. We saw the incredible sight of thousands of seals at Cape Cross, we saw the dunes at Sossusvlei, and we did all those other ‘must do’ things, but in our own kind of way.  We also got to do one of the best and most unexpected things; we got to talk to Connie.

Connie runs a restaurant at Klien Aub, the middle of nowhere, and for 27 days she hadn’t seen another soul. She opens at 8, and closes at 5 every day. She waits for people to call, normally she bakes cookies, but for a few weeks she hasn’t bothered because nobody comes, but today is different. Today she still looks a million dollars in her lilac two piece and perfectly combed hair, but today she also makes coffee for her ‘special guests’. We sit and talk, we talk to her, we talk to her cat, and we read the postcards and letters that’s she’s received from all over the world from previous customers she’s made coffee for. They say what a wonderful hostess she is, include pictures of themselves with her, and say they’ll see her next time.  She’s so proud.

Travel is all about exploration and discovery and one of the best places to discover is yourself, that’s what we did on our trip to Namibia. As well as discovering a diverse country with wildlife and desert, we discovered ourselves again, and what a wonderful discovery it was. And, when I look back tomorrow, and in the future, what I’ll always remember is that it’s the little unexpected things that make you smile.

La Bella Vita

La Bella Vita – is what you will find here in Abruzzo.  This is the ‘real’ Italy. Beautiful hilltop villages, unspoilt seaside resorts, wonderful food and wine and some of the friendliest people you will ever meet.

Whichever season you choose to visit there is always something new to see and do. During the spring the National parks are filled with wild flowers and the weather is mild, the summer brings high temperatures down at the coast but if you prefer cooler temperatures head for the mountains where you can stroll or hike through magnificent scenery and discover natural waterfalls and pools to cool your aching feet.  Autumn is a spectacular time to visit because the area is full of forests and the colors are a photographers dream.  Winter sports are also very popular here.  Unlike the larger resorts in the Alps you will rarely find queues for the ski lifts so you can enjoy more time on the piste, the resorts here are among only a few where you can ski and have views of the coast on the way down.

If you are a lover of food and wine you will not be disappointed.  Montepulciano D’Abruzzo is produced here along with many other varieties.  Many of the wineries are small family run affairs but none the less produce delicious inexpensive wines, they are always happy to offer guided tours with some tasting afterwards of course.  Pasta and meat lovers will also be in heaven.  Lamb graze on mountain herbs so produce tender, sweet and ready seasoned meat; pasta is always homemade and exquisite.

One of the most memorable parts of your holiday however will be the people.  They are extremely proud that people choose to visit the area, so the welcome here is one of warmth and kindness.  Even if you only speak the very basics of Italian you could spend hours talking together with the help of your hands.

If you love peace, tranquility and good company you will be coming back here again and again.