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Caribbean Pirate

Age: 34

Occupation:Systems Analyst

Number of Cruises: 3

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Rhapsody of the Seas

Sailing Date: April 16th, 2006

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

Since there are many who wonder the difference between Carnival and Royal Caribbean, I will try to compare the two here. I just returned home yesterday from my cruise on the Rhapsody of the Seas out of Galveston. Our ports of call were Key West, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel. Overall, I had a great time and would do it again. I decided to finally do a review since I get alot out of these reviews when I read them.

My girlfriend and I have been on two previous cruises together, both aboard Carnival ships, one of them the Conquest which is also in Galveston (we were on it out of New Orleans in May 2005). This was my first Royal Caribbean cruise. We got our cruise for $499 plus tax, oceanview. This price raised quickly soon after we booked ours. I'm used to seeing 7 day RC cruises running about $200 more than Carnival in the $800 range for oceanview in the Western Caribbean. Maybe RC is having some bad press lately with the Brilliance ship and running specials? I don't know. I had always heard RC was better and I wanted to see for myself.

What is better than Carnival Conquest? Embarkation and the food. We arrived at 11 at the EZ cruise parking lot and were told it would be til 11:45 til they started taking passengers. We loaded up on the shuttle at noon, went to the port, got processed (do the online process beforehand) and were walking on board about 12:30. Incredibly fast compared to Carnival and their yellow chairs process. We weren't even forced to take pictures before going on, but we did anyways. The food was great. No complaints. Everything was very good. On Carnival at times I'd be at the buffet and not see anything I liked. Carnival had more to choose from, but the Rhapsody had better quality. Period. Carnival also seems afraid to put any spice in their food.

I also believe it is hard to compare the staff, but the staff seemed more professional. None of that dancing on the tables, making fools of themselves for little pay that Carnival makes their employees do. Good, polite service.

I have heard that RC has a better "class" of passengers. I think this is true to some extent. I felt OK on Carnival though that doesn't bother me.

The Viking Crown Lounge was fun on 70s and 80s night. However, I guess the DJ doesn't get the concept. 70s night is disco. That's fine, but alot of folks wanted to hear some 70s rock. 80s night they played a few 80s songs, then went back to playing 70s disco! That's fine too, but people wanted to hear more 80s. At 1am or so when they start playing the modern techno stuff, the place clears out.

There are two formal dining nights. Food was good on these nights. I tried escargot for the first time. The 3 other couples at our table were all nice. It is OK to order two entrees if you can't decide, and they have a standard alternative menu so you can always get a steak if you'd like.

What isn't better than Carnival? One thing that surprised me though was I thought Carnival was the ship for families. Well, everywhere I looked on the Rhapsody there were kids and teenagers. Mostly they congregated around deck 10 forward playing ping pong. There is an indoor swimming pool at a place called the Solarium where adults only can go swim, but they let kids in to come get hamburgers and hot dogs. This makes no sense. Someone else on this board also mentioned this. What are all these kids doing out of school in April? If Carnival has more families and kids, they did a better job of keeping them out of the way. My suggestion to RC is to put the kids area in the cargo hold. I really expected alot more 30s-40s people. I guess alot of people got in on this good deal.

Also, overall the shows aren't better than Carnival, from what I saw or heard. Rhapsody had one comedian who was good the first night that I saw, and he did an adult show later in the week that I missed. There was one show, a Beatles tribute band called Revolution, that was great. I would like to see them again and would have liked another hour. The rest of the shows I was mildly entertained or skipped because they didn't sound interesting.

The cabin seemed a lot smaller on the Rhapsody than on the Conquest. Also, the beds were more like cots. It wasn't too bad really, but not great. I heard a story that RC plans to revamp their bedding fleetwide. This would be a good thing.

The Cruise Director, Dan, does an adequate job and is like about every other director on ships I suppose. However, Todd on the Conquest when I was on it was great and reminds me a bit of Greg Kinnear.

In case you are wondering about beer/liquor. All liquor is automatically charged a 15% gratuity. Beer is $3.00 (not bad), mixed drinks $5.95 (I think Carnival was cheaper, especially with their $2.95 drink of the day). Then it goes up. A glass of wine about $8, and something like a glass of Hennessey Cognac is $12. I don't know what a bottle of wine for dinner costs, but I bet it was ridiculous.

We were able to sneak on several bottles of liquor in plastic bottles (so they wouldn't break) in a suitcase and had no problem. This saved alot of money. Unfortunately, after 9pm, you can't get any juice from the cafe. So you need to bring your own stuff to mix it with.

One of the busy spots on the ship at night was the Schooner Bar where they did kamikaze kareoke. Don't walk through this area if you are passing through to the Shall We Dance Lounge, because the host Derek will stop you and mess with you like he did me. I didn't like that too much. He did this to many people. Still, the folks there looked like they were having fun and I went back and watched later.

Destinations and Excursions:
Galveston - This place might have been nice in the 60s. It's kind of run down in parts. Grey water, not that pretty. It's good if you're in Texas and just want to run down to the ocean. However, they have their act together as far as getting to and from parking lots from the pier.

We parked at EZ Cruise that I recommend. ($50 for 7 days). They handled the luggage decently. Much smoother than our shuttle to the port in New Orleans last year.

Key West - Arrive at 3pm, left at midnight. Mostly a tourist town. Lots of stores. We tried to book the Sunset Sail Schooner for $56 on the ship, but it was sold out. When we got off the ship, right there at the pier is a booth for the Liberty Schooner for $49. We went out 6:30. All the beer, champagne, or cokes you want. It wasn't a wild party like you'd think. Pretty relaxing. You get to take the wheel if you want. We went out a ways and came back, about 2 hours long. Seeing the sunset and coming back in quietly in the dusk was pretty cool.

Grand Cayman - Arrive 7, left at 4. We'd done the Stingray thing before (I recommend that), so this time we just hit the 7 Mile Beach excursion we booked through the ship. This is a place where they dump all the cruise ship guests onto one beach packed with chairs. There isn't much to see for snorkeling unless you go way out to the markers. I did see a stingray (and snorkeling is good on the Stingray tour). If you know of another way to get into a hotel beach, then do that if you are wanting to just go to the beach. This is supposed to be the 4th best beach in the Caribbean I heard? I wasn't impressed. Still, I made the best of it, and hit some shops and bought a Cuban cigar for later. Even a so-so beach is still pretty fun compared to being at work. This is a tendering port, and it went pretty smooth, although a long line on the way back.

Cozumel - Arrive at 9, left at 6. Cozumel is still tendering since the hurricane. It's a hassle. They need to learn a thing or to from the Caymans. Also, from the time you get on the ship, there are local dealers trying to get you to buy some junk. They can't even wait til you hit the shore! Our excursion booked through the ship was the Dune Buggy, Beach, and Snorkel tour. One of my bests excursions yet. Riding a dune buggy through town was interesting and around the eastern part of the island was very pretty over there. Nice big waves. We did some snorkeling close to town and it had pretty good scenery, but it's a big group so not really good for soloists. We then drove to a secluded beach on the eastern side, passing by alot of scenery. That was a really nice place. Big waves, blue water, and snacks served. Then we drove back to town and had an hour to pass. We got the last tender to the ship. CHAOS. It took forever to load.

Overall, it was a good trip. The Rhapsody is still a very nice ship. It was a very wobbly trip though. I have always gone in May and maybe April it is still a little rougher. I don't get seasick, but the turning is annoying.

My next trip will depend on the price and destinations. Both Carnival and Royal Caribbean are fine by me, with each having their advantages and disadvantages.

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