For once this post is about what I am not going to experience, rather than what I have experienced. A timely post, as it affects what I will be doing for the next couple of days, and therefore my next post or two.
When the glossy advertising brochure arrived on my doormat for this South American cruise, one of the main things that jumped out to me a reason to book this cruise was the planned visits to an archipelago – Fernando de Noronha, and an island – Ilha Grande, both off the coast of Brazil and famed for their stunning natural beauty and wildlife. While a visit to Rio de Janeiro would be an exciting spectacle, I am always more interested to see and photograph natural places and creatures than I am man-made ones, and therefore when I made the decision to book this cruise, these islands were going to be a major highpoint of the voyage.
For reference, here are the photographs and descriptions the Fred. Olsen website uses to promote these islands as cruise destinations:
Fernando de Noronha
The beautiful Fernando de Noronha archipelago is an absolutely breathtaking collection of 21 islands and islets located 220 miles off the coast of Brazil in the Atlantic Ocean. Revered by locals and those who have been lucky enough to visit it, this World Heritage Site is renowned for it’s pristine golden-sand beaches and the glistening crystal-clear waters that lap the shores of the islands. In 2015, one of the archipelago’s most popular beaches – the Baia do Sancho – was named ‘World’s Best Beach’ in the TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards for the second year running, thanks to reviews provided by thousands of travellers from around the globe.
Protected by UNESCO, the archipelago is largely untouched and is the perfect habitat for plants and wildlife. Bird spotters will gasp at the site of the island’s two endemic birds, the Noronha Elaenia and Noronha Vireo, while keen divers will enjoy exploring the corals alongside dolphins, lobsters and colourful tropic fish.
A remote escape away from the busy cities of mainland Brazil, Fernando de Noronha is the perfect place to while away the hours under the baking South American sunshine. Relax on the beaches, explore on horseback or wander into the forests and go in search of native wildlife – whatever you choose to do, your time here will be simply unforgettable.
Once a hideout for pirates, Ilha Grande is famous for its beautiful tropical beaches, waterfalls, caves and rivers. It is also home to the “Mata Atlântica” or Atlantic Rainforest. As one of the richest ecosystems in the world it’s a hotspot for biodiversity and conservation, containing many endangered species.
Home to some of the world’s most endangered species; Ilha Grande is a haven for animal lovers. Those with a keen eye will spot the red-ruffed fruitcrows, brown howler monkeys, red-browned Amazon parrot and broad-snouted caiman to name a few.
The waters surrounding the island are protected and have a unique mix of tropical, sub-tropical and temperate-zone marine life living amongst them. This means you can often spot tropical fish living among the corals as well as native penguins and whales. A trip to Ilha Grande is a truly unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Some months after I had booked the cruise, a letter arrived from Fred. Olsen informing me that the Brazilian authorities had decided that Balmoral was too large and carried too many passengers to be able to visit the Fernando de Noronha archipelago after all. In order to preserve the natural beauty and the wildlife there, access to the islands is strictly controlled. While I was obviously hugely disappointed, I could understand the reasoning, and the decision was clearly not due to Fred. Olsen themselves. As a replacement, Fred. Olsen were adding two port calls, to the Brazilian mainland ports of Maceió and Salvador. To me, adding two more mainland ports to those we would be visiting already was in no way a comparable replacement, but as it was not Fred. Olsen’s fault, all I could do was be philosophical and look forward to the visit to Ilha Grande.
Moving forward in time, the great day came to embark on this epic cruise. We settled in to the daily routine as we sailed onwards towards South America. However a few days in, we heard from the Captain that there has been disquiet from many of the passengers over the time we were due to leave Rio de Janeiro, 1:30am, en route to Ilha Grande. This was because that night many of them were booked on a ship’s shore tour to view a finals night of the Rio Carnival, which does not finish until much later into the night. We were told that discussions were taking place between the ship and Fred. Olsen’s head office about how to resolve this problem.
In due course a letter was delivered to our cabins from the Senior Commercial & Planning Manager at Fred. Olsen, informing us that the decision had been made to extend our stay in Rio de Janeiro until early the following afternoon, so that passengers would be able to view the entire night’s carnival events. As a result the planned visit to Ilha Grande was cancelled, and we would sail directly to the following port. The letter stated “Apologies to all those who had been particularly looking forward to this contrasting call, although we believe that our 5 other Brazilian ports of call will still provide all with ample opportunity to experience the quieter side of this fascinating nation.”
I totally understand that it was wrong to expect passengers who were paying a considerable sum of money to see a lifetime experience like a carnival finals night to leave early before it was finished, but it has meant that now we will not be visiting either of the island destinations, leaving me hugely disappointed.
I can only lay the blame with Fred. Olsen for this, as it is widely known how late into the night the carnival runs, and to plan the itinerary for the cruise such that the ship needed to leave earlier than that was at best very foolish, some might say very stupid. In addition the notion that visiting busy commercial mainland ports provides an opportunity to experience the quieter side of the nation that would have been provided by the island visits is just unbelievable and to me such a statement that only serves to make the situation worse. The Fred. Olsen website still says that “A trip to Ilha Grande is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience”, yet the letter claimed it could be replaced by visits to mainland ports – is it unique or not? From the pictures and information I have read about the island, I believe it really is a unique destination, which is why unfortunately I feel so let down and disappointed by the very poor planning which has led to our missing out on going there.
The result of all this is that the next port of call is unfortunately the mainland port of Maceió, which will be the subject of my next post.
In short, for Island read I don’t land. 😥