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Adrian A.

Age: 36

Occupation:Information Systems

Number of Cruises: 1

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Rhapsody of the Seas

Sailing Date: March 5th, 2006

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

First of all, let me say that I HIGHLY recommend a cruise as a desirable vacation. Everything was absolutely awesome and we had a blast! We got to Galveston Island, Texas on Saturday the 4th and stayed at the Howard Johnson. I do not recommend this hotel, but it served it's purpose. We had rented a car from IAH (definitely recommend that route as opposed to taking a shuttle. It's much cheaper and you can get around Galveston the next day to sightsee). That night we drove around the island, mostly to find something to eat. We ate at the Fishermans Wharf restaurant. It was very good. Large portions and not that expensive.

The next morning the fun really started. We drove to the pier to familiarize ourselves with the area, but, since we couldn't board for another few hours, we drove around until we found a nice beach to stop at. It was a nice day and the beach was very good. After a while we needed to return the car and get to the dock. We went with Enterprise, and they shuttled us to the dock for free. After we did that, we were impressed at the efficiency of how things worked at the dock. Our luggage was swiftly carted away and we were ushered into the check-in area where we waited to board. We recommend getting there by 11am to beat the main rush, as we did.

This being our first cruise, I was very easy to please, and the first time we boarded the ship was a highlight. The grandeur and majesty of going onto such a large ship was wonderful. I know there are much larger ships, but we were impressed nonetheless. We immediately went up to the Windjammer Café, where a lunch buffet was waiting for us. We boarded at noon, but the staterooms weren't ready until 1pm. While we waited, we wandered around and checked out the ship. We would become very familiar with it by weeks end.

Since departure wasn't until 5pm, we had an opportunity to get settled in our room and check out the activities and such. The room was small, but very comfortable. It was an interior room, and were very satisfied with it, especially since we were almost never in it. We slept well on the bed all week. Our "stateroom attendant" kept it clean and also made several "towel animals", creatively placed on our bed during the week.

Departure from Galveston was another highlight. The feeling of "we're actually leaving" was awesome, and it was great as we "shoved off" into the sea. Obviously on future cruises I won't have such an "in awe" newbie feeling, but I enjoyed all aspects of this cruise. Now about the food:

The dinners were VERY good. You could eat as much as you wanted. There was a specific menu for each day. If you wanted 2 entrees, you ordered it. 3 appetizers, no problem. It was a food-lovers dream. I actually ate escargot (it was good) for the first time. Service was superb, and they were always there to help. I could go on and on about the food, but you get the idea. We had lobster (I ordered 2 tails) on Thursday night. I wanted to order the prime rib as well, but a person can only eat so much at one time.

Commenting on Billie Ricks' comments about the smoking: I agree for the most part. We are also non-smokers/drinkers/gamblers, and we don't drink coffee or tea, but I'm always satisfied with just water. The smoke was irritating to us as well, but was definitely not a show-stopper. Having lived in California most of my life, one does tend to get spoiled with the anti-smoking laws in effect there. We just ignored it and enjoyed the many other wonderful things about the ship.
We departed Galveston at 5pm on Sunday, but didn't get to Key West until 3pm on Tuesday, so we were at sea for almost 2 full days at the start. It was great. The seas were calm and the weather noticeably got warmer and the waters bluer as we headed Southwest. It was amazing looking at the vast expanse of ocean we were in. Beautiful. We enjoyed the onboard activites during this time, including shuffleboard, the exercize room, broadway-type shows, comedy, FOOD, crafts, on-board shopping, lounging about and reading, lying by the pool (there were 2 pools: one outside and one in a solarium inside), and many other things. If you drink, the crew is always wandering around with trays of pre-made drinks for you to purchase. And, they do not accept cash. Everything goes on your Sea pass card. Of course, the casino is always willing to accept your donations as well.

The "formal nights" were fun. We got dressed up and the dinners were especially good. By the way, you don't sit alone for dinner. We sat at a table with 7 other people. I read that sometimes these can be unpleasant experiences and you can ask to be re-seated elsewhere, but it was not a problem for us. Just the opposite, we became good friends with all the folks, and we hung out together during several shows and such, and everyone exchanged contact info at the end.

Key West, Florida was our first stop. It was very windy, but nice. We had signed up for a tour, "Taste of Key West", and we sampled foods from 5 different restaurants. I had a great time during this tour, eating and learning some local history, and of course having some genuine Key Lime pie. We also sampled conch fritters (http://www.m-w.com/dictionary/conch and http://www.bahamas-travel.info/recipes/conch-fritters.htm), fried mahi-mahi, a sampling of local hot sauces, and coconut shrimp (to die for).

Key West is a party town. There are more bars per capita there than any city in the US. Duval Street, where over half the bars are, is dirty, smelly, and riddled with drunk folks, but also strangely enchanting. I wanted to stick around and check it out some more. Shopping was fun there and we found some very cool shops. I have "good feelings" when I think about Key West. I did not feel unsafe, and watching interesting people in interesting states of mind is always fun.

Then it was off to sea again at midnight. We headed south, around Cuba (we could see it from the ship), to the Cayman Islands. Tendering was smooth for us. We started early with a 7:30 am parasailing excursion. This was another highlight. The feeling at liftoff was a rush! I was surprised at the calmness and quietness when we were up in the air, though. Afterwards, however, my wife had some motion problems and "gave a little gift" to the ocean. After that, we had some time for shopping before snorkeling and swimming with the stingrays (do not miss Stingray City when you're there). Grand Cayman is a British island so everyone drives on the left side of the road. There were a lot of cool shops. At 10:30, we met up with our tour group, took a bus to the other side of the island, and took a boat to the reef where we went snorkeling. My wife had a bit of a bad experience because she swallowed a lot of salt water by the time she got the hang of it, and ended up not feeling well. If you have never snorkeled before, make sure to get some basic instruction before getting in the water. It's against the law to touch the reef in any way, so it was difficult to stay up in the water and get the hang of snorkeling. Still, we were able to get in some very good time looking at the reef life. I should mention that it was in the 80's both in Cayman and Cozumel, and humid, so we were plenty hot.

After the reef, we went a few hundred yards to "Stingray City". The rays are obviously used to humans being around. They're like kittens, brushing up against you and looking for food. You could even hold them. They're remarkably soft on the underside. The water was only a few feet deep there with soft sand, so we just stood there and played with them.

We were very tired when we got back to the ship, but quickly showered and got ready for dinner (you don't want to miss dinner in the dining room if you can avoid it…it's just too good). We may have watched a Broadway show that evening as well (we saw several). I can honestly say that there was never a moment during the whole trip that I felt bored and was wondering what to do.

Friday was Cozumel, Mexico. Some minor engine trouble brought us in about an hour late, and it took a long time to get to shore. At first they said it was "high winds" that delayed us, but I knew that was a crock when they first said it. I figured it was the Mexican authorities holding us up. Hurricane Wilma pretty much wiped out Cozumel last year including the ship dock, so we were tendered in by smaller boats. Fortunately, we were on Tender #2 (make sure you get your tender tickets early, like as soon as they open, which was 8am for us), so we were only about 1 1/2 hours behind schedule. And, when we got off at Cozumel, workers there made sure we knew that the last tender would leave 45 minutes later than planned. We shopped for a long time there. The Mexican merchants are VERY aggressive in trying to get you into their shops. It was humorous. After shopping we took a taxi to Paradise Beach, where we originally intended to catch a snorkeling tour from. We ended up just hanging out on the beach. On the taxi ride, it was very apparent that the damage from the hurricane was widespread. Stripped trees. Demolished buildings. We then took another taxi back to the dock and shopped for a while longer before heading back to the ship, totally exhausted, but again hurrying to get ready for dinner. After dinner we planned on taking a very quick cat nap before the show. We never made it to the show. We crashed at 8pm. The whole next day (Saturday) was at sea so we took it easy, read, and did various activities to occupy the day.

Since we have 4 young children which we left at home (woo hoo!), we were able to maintain contact using the ships email system for 50 cents a minute. That worked out nicely for us.

It was mildly depressing to get back to Galveston Sunday morning. I could have easily got right back on the ship and done it all again. Disembarkation, however, was again incredibly smooth. We did not do "early departure", and we're glad we chose not to. For one, we got to sleep in. We were also one hour late getting to the port, which I believe was announced that morning. We were able to have a leisurely morning, reading and eating, while we waited for our color to be called, which it was exactly on time (1 hour behind). Our luggage was waiting for us and and we were shuttled to our rental car, drove through Houston to the airport, and made it home safely at about midnight Sunday night. All our planes were on time, which was nice.

I'm sure there's a lot that I missed, but hopefully you get the general idea what it was like on this cruise. I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

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