Occupation:Self Employed - Real Estate Broker
Number of Cruises: 5
Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean
Ship: Rhapsody of the Seas
Sailing Date: January 22nd, 2006
Itinerary: Western Caribbean
I’ll start with my biggest complaint which was that there are NO LAUNDRY FACILITIES on board! This really is a bummer if you plan to exercise everyday, like I did. I mention this first because I read MANY reviews before we left, but nobody mentioned the lack of laundry facilities, if I had known in advance I just would have packed differently. When we went on the Grand Princess, I did laundry ATLEAST 3 times during the week! So when I packed for this cruise, I packed just one “carry on” suitcase, assuming that I could do laundry. . .We did finally use the laundry facilities at a resort in Grand Cayman (and their pool while we waited for the laundry), so I did get a few things washed (not dried). The other drawback was that there was very little area for drying things in your room, and with the humidity and lack of air flow, it took nearly 24 hours to dry even small items.
All that being said, there are many pluses about this cruise, and really the laundry thing was my ONLY complaint (not bad as far as I’m concerned). The EMBARKATION process was SO FAST and EASY! We filled out our stuff online and had our paper ready to go when we got there with our passports in hand. The whole process (including going through the security screen) took about 5 minutes (if that)! This was a huge plus considering when we went on the Grand Princess, we had to wait in a phenomenally long line, and the whole process took 1 ½ hours to board!
My one recommendation for boarding the ship is to keep as much luggage with you as possible, since we were erroneously planning on doing laundry on the cruise, my husband and I packed a “carry on” suitcase each, which worked out REALLY well for embarkation and debarkation. When we got on the ship and down to our floor where our stateroom was, the halls were FILLED top to bottom with luggage, and it was well into the evening before the other couples traveling with us got their luggage!
I must say that the biggest two highlights of the cruise were the dining room service and the entertainment. We had table #72, second seating, and our waiters were Leo (from the Philippines) and Alexis (he looked just like the former quarterback, Warren Moon, he was from Costa Rica), they were the BEST waiters we’ve had out of our 4 cruises (FAR surpassed the service we received on the Grand Princess with personal choice dining)! The first night we asked for lemons for our water, and I asked for toothpicks, that was the last night we had to ask for either thing because the rest of the nights they always had the lemons and the toothpicks waiting on our table before we even sat down! One day for lunch (which is open seating, so you never know what waiter you’re going to get) we got Alexis for our assistant waiter, and when he saw us sitting down he immediately brought out our lemons and toothpicks without us even asking! That was really impressive! The food quality was very good as well, and they were always encouraging you to order as much as you want, if you want two entrees, order two entrees (even when they had their lobster and shrimp)! This was very different from Princess Cruise line where they made it clear you couldn’t order more than one entrée, appetizer, dessert, etc.
The entertainment was top notch. We personally don’t care for the typical “Vegas” type, nearly naked, dancing girls shows, so we really appreciated the variety of shows they had on the cruise! There was a “magician” who was funnier than any comedian I’ve ever heard, and we are STILL baffled by his magic tricks, it was without a doubt the best show I’ve ever seen! The last night they had a two time gold medal gymnast who was incredibly good too! We were wondering how they could possibly have a gymnastics show, what could they possibly do on a moving ship?!? He did a lot of tricks with the silks (which would be similar to the ring event in gymnastics), but he also was a funny comedian and an excellent juggler and piano player in addition to his gymnastics!
They also had a highly talented set of musicians called “Metroline” they were 3 Polish guys playing “big band” style music, and they were GREAT! The flute/saxophone player was especially talented (maybe I appreciated it more because I am a novice flute player, and I have an appreciation for how difficult it is to play the instrument clearly, and fluently, much less for 45 minutes as this guy was doing). Anyhow, they were a great group. They also had another really talented group, the Diezsels, but we didn’t hear them as much because they usually played later at night in the dance lounge, and I was always tired by that point.
I would say the two fortes of this ship are that it’s small enough to easily get around and to learn its layout quickly (but it’s not a tiny ship by ANY means) and it also had many relaxing sitting areas and lounges, much more so than the very large Grand Princess. The sitting areas were nice for us because we liked to just sit and relax and play cards with the other couples we were cruising with, so it was nice to have areas we could go to and look out at the sea and relax. The ship also had four shuffleboards on deck 10 which we enjoyed playing while we soaked up the sun.
There was also a great area called the Solarium which was an Egyptian themed 16 and older area to relax with a pool and two hot tubs. Although, the only time that I attempted to get into the pool or hot tub, I thought the pool was too cold, and the hot tub too hot (and I like hot water, but that was too hot even for me!) But the area in general was very nice and enjoyable.
I thought the room layouts were nice with plenty of space for unpacking and putting things away. We had an interior room at the front of the ship, 3013. The little “half couch” as I called it, was nice and kind of opened up the area a bit, helped it not feel so small. We did have one issue the first night, when we arrived at our room our bed had about 4 comforters on it! It looked like a big patchwork of quilts!! I asked our room attendant about it, and she said they didn’t have anymore quilts that would cover the whole bed!!! I was dumbfounded at such a thing! So the first night, needless to say, was bad as far as the comforter went because we had one across the top and another one across our legs. . .it didn’t work out well at all. Luckily they found a bigger quilt the next day!
Each room had a safe that was free to use. It was easy to use, you set your own password, and we just kept our passports and cash in there so we didn’t have to worry about losing them, etc.
My one opinion on the room attendants was that I didn’t think they came in and cleaned enough, just once in the morning and then once while we were at dinner. I guess that’s where we got spoiled on the Grand Princess, because on that ship the room steward was straightening the room at LEAST three times a day, he was constantly in the halls if we needed anything he was right there, always available from the time we woke up to the time we went to bed! As soon as he saw us leave, he would go in and cleanup! But on this ship, our room steward was rarely around, we’d maybe see her twice a day, and often times if I needed anything, I would just grab it off the cart myself since it was just sitting in the hall. I will say that she was very nice and very friendly when we did see her though.
One other item of note on the rooms is, beware of the “ocean view” rooms in the front of the ship. . . they’re a BIG disappointment. Our friends had room 3014, and there was platform about 5 feet deep by the head of their bed, and if you climbed in to the platform you could see through port holes that were about 2 feet deep!! Not what they expected for the extra $160 they paid for the “ocean view!”
As I mentioned, we didn’t have our kids on this cruise with us, so I can’t give any good details on the kid’s program, except that there were probably about 40+ kids in the program, and the directors actually appeared to be engaging the kids in fun activities that the kids seemed to be enjoying. This was in contrast to the kids program on the Grand Princess where the kids were put in a room with board games and supervisors basically, very minimal.
If you’re into the future cruise promotions, Royal Caribbean is very weak in this department. They had their “future cruise ambassador” onboard, available to help you book a future cruise, but there was always a long line of people, and the wait was generally 30 minutes to talk to her. Ultimately 90% of the people she spoke with didn’t book anything because very few people are ready to actually book their next cruise while they’re just in the middle of their current cruise, and very little got accomplished for the time you’d spend waiting. Royal Caribbean requires a $250 deposit per person (refundable up to 70 days prior to sailing), and they do allow you to make changes to your reservation, but you must book it directly through them. All that got you on a 7 day cruise was a free $100 onboard credit. My next cruise I want to take my kids, and to book a cruise in advance and have to put down $1,250 deposit was outlandish just to get $100 credit! Princess Cruise line had a much better program where you just fill out a form and put down a $200 deposit (refundable) that you use towards any booking with them in the future 4 years, and then you would receive a free $100 onboard credit. With Princess you can use whatever travel agent/method you want to book your cruise, your money was just basically in a savings account with your name on it.
As for the ports, we enjoyed all of them very much! We didn’t go on any shore excursions, instead we just got our own transportation when we got off the ship, and toured the islands on our own.
In Key West it was nice because they dock there, so it’s easy to get on and off the ship. We rented scooters from a local down on the West end of Duval Street, and we bargained for 3 double scooters from 3:30 p.m. until as late as we wanted (as long as they were locked up back on his “lot” when he returned in the morning), we paid $35/scooter! We thought this was a good deal since the “standard” rate on the island was $35 for 2 hours, $70 for 4 hours, etc. This way we were nearly the only ones still riding scooters at 10:00 p.m.!! Everyone else had to return theirs by 6:00 p.m. or so!
One note on the tendering into Grand Cayman, if you’re ready by 7:00 – 7:30 a.m. you can take the tender over without a tender ticket, this is a good option, and I’d highly recommend doing it because the tender tickets are a time consuming process. The nice thing is that the tenders are quite large – two decks, and they’re open so they don’t get all stuffy and uncomfortable. The currency exchange rate in Grand Cayman is $.80 on the dollar, so in general, things in Cayman are more expensive. We took a taxi $4/person (plus tip) to the beach, however she dropped us off at the nearest beach, and it wasn’t the nicest one, a ton of shells on the shoreline and for the first 8 feet of water, so it made it painful to get into the ocean (this was also the case in Cozumel, so I think it may be a result of the hurricanes). Anyhow, the beach we were at, had ball rentals for $2 (and a deposit consisting of your cruise card – I guess they REALLY want to make sure you return their football to them), they also boasted to have volleyball, but when we inquired about the volleyball, they said, “No, it takes up too much beach area.” Jet Ski rentals were something like $70/ ½ hour?!? One of the other couples we were traveling with ended up walking down the street and renting a SUV for $80 so we took it up to Morritt’s Resort on the North East coast in search of windsurfing because on the internet it had said that was the only place on the island that had windsurfing, but after a 1 hour drive up to the resort, we were told they don’t have windsurfing anymore. It was an interesting drive (kind of rough roads and slow going though), we stopped at a tasty little restaurant on the side of the road called “Chesters” for jerk chicken and rice.
Cozumel also had tendering, but they didn’t offer the early tendering without a ticket, which was a bummer. We did manage to get on one of the first tenders into the island, but it still took about 1 hour to go through the process, kind of a chaotic, unorganized process with a rush of people trying to get downstairs to the tender. The nice thing on this tender was that they had a rental car representative (Executive Car Rental) on the tender, so we were able to make our rental car arrangements before we got to the island. This worked well for us since we knew that we wanted to rent a car and drive around ourselves. We got a 7 passenger van for $75. We were able to drive to the beach, after stopping at numerous beaches and reviewing their options, we decided on (Playa Palancar) which I would highly recommend. You could use the chairs, restrooms, etc. for no charge. The food there was VERY good (beef tacos ($6.50) were made from steak, not hamburger), my husband and our friend each ordered a different kind of fish ($11 each), and they were excellent! Pop (or Soda, for the Southerners) was a little more expensive, $2/can. We played volleyball (free), the net was very worn, and we had to draw our own boundaries in the sand, but we had fun and got some exercise. They had snorkel equipment there for $10, or they’d take you out in a boat for $14, we didn’t go because we ran out of time, but I really wish we had. We talked with a guy who went and he said it was beautiful snorkeling, he highly recommended it. After the beach we drove around the island, it’s amazing how undeveloped it really is! It’s a pretty drive up the coast, rustic and rocky.
Debarkation was not nearly as smooth as embarkation! We had signed up for the “Express Debarkation” which meant that you’re the first ones to get off the ship, but you MUST carry off all of your own luggage! We were supposed to be able to start getting off at 7:00 a.m., but we didn’t end up getting into port until 7:45 a.m.! So it actually ended up being 8:00 a.m. before we were off the ship and out to our friend’s car, which I guess is still not too bad. One thing to note is that they tell you to meet in the “Shall We Dance Lounge,” but there isn’t anybody there overseeing the process or directing people, so you just end up sitting there with everyone else and nobody knows what’s going on. My suggestion is to go to the fourth floor atrium area and wait because this is where you’ll be exiting anyhow, and the stairs and elevator become incredibly crowded when they start calling group colors. (Of course they don’t want you waiting on the fourth floor, which is why they tell you to go to the different lounges on the ship instead). You go through Customs AFTER you get off the ship, so ultimately you don’t have to do anything in the lounges they send you to, except sit and wait. I didn’t know this because when we went on the Princess cruise they actually had customs come on board and we had to process through the main theatre, so I thought that’s what we’d be doing when they directed us to the lounge, but I was wrong. If you go through their normal debarkation process, you have to put your luggage out in front of your stateroom door on Saturday evening and then Sunday morning you have to wait until your “color” tag is called before you can get off the ship, which can be a couple of hours. They request that you completely vacate your stateroom by 8:00 a.m. which means that you may end up with two or more hours of sitting around on the ship until you can finally get off.