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David Handrahan

Age: 49

Occupation:Engineer

Number of Cruises: 4

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Rhapsody of the Seas

Sailing Date: July 2nd, 2006

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

Our history: This was my fourth cruise with Royal Caribbean and my wife's first cruise at all. I am a Royal Caribbean fan, having previously been on the Empress to the Bahamas, the Radiance to Alaska and the Monarch to Mexico. We're off to Alaska on the Radiance (different itinerary) next year and the Panama Canal a year after that.

Trip Prep: We chose to have our ticket paperwork sent electronically and while it was nice to be able to download everything to our printer, it becomes difficult in trying to "tear out" the vouchers and coupons for transfers. In the future for us, and our recommendation is to get the tickets printed and sent to you by RC. As usual (for me at least) we let RC make all of our plane reservations and transfer arrangements. I've found, unless you have frequent flyer miles to cash in or you get a screaming deal on airfare, there isn't but a few dollars difference in doing it yourself and letting RC work it for you. The earlier you book, the better your flight/connection times will be. We also read a lot of on-line reviews on the Rhapsody and most were very helpful.

Trip to the ship: We flew into Houston from Phoenix (with a stop in Dallas) and were met by the RC rep at baggage claim. We immediately started getting questioned about how many folks were in our party based on my wife's total pieces of luggage. We boarded a shuttle bus to the Doubletree Hotel at the Houston Airport where our reservations were waiting for us, I even got us a room upgrade at no charge by presenting my Hilton Honors card. We got RC bag tags for our many suitcases from the bellman (here's another reason why you want to get the ticket package sent to you, the tags are in the package, I had to write out all the ship and cabin info on ours) Knowing we had a busy day in front of us and after traveling by plane all day, we ordered room service (you pay for that yourself, meals are not included in the overnight hotel stay set up by RC) and then went to sleep. The next morning, we called the bellman who took our bags off to a holding area for RC passengers; he said we'll see them next on the ship. That was great not to have to worry about them anymore for a while. Next we met with the RC rep in the hotel lobby, got a check-in number for the shuttle to the Galveston port and then we had breakfast while waiting. The shuttle bus takes a little over an hour. The check-in at the port was smooth and fast. We had our passports, credit card and sea pass in hand and it took less than 5 minutes and we were on the Rhapsody; absolutely, hands down the quickest and smoothest I've seen yet.

The cruise starts: I liked that my sea pass card said "Gold Member" for the Crown and Anchor society on it, everywhere I went for the length of the cruise I was "welcomed back" by crew members. We got a ocean view room with a small balcony on deck seven and it was the way to go. In the days we were at sea, my wife spent a great deal of time out on the balcony just relaxing. We got the Coca-Cola stickers on our cards, despite what others may say, I still think this is a good deal. We hit the Windjammer for lunch and then relaxed in our cabin as our suitcases arrived one by one (by one by one). The cabin was spacious with a good size bathroom, a valuables safe and stocked (careful the stuff is expensive) mini refrigerator. After the mandatory lifeboat drill, we went up to the deck for the departure. It was very windy and a little drizzly (rain-wise) but all in all pretty smooth as we headed out to sea that night. We got dressed for our dinner, since it's just us we chose late seating. Our table mates were all from Texas as was a vast majority of the other passengers. We lost Dave and MJ who had previously arranged for a private table, so it was me and my wife Debi, joined by Barbara and Jim from San Antonio after the first night at our table. We had fun all week at dinner and seeing them in shipboard activities. The Rhapsody is not too big, you'll see folks all week long.

At sea and Key West: Absolutely love the days at sea to relax and unwind. We explored and just kicked back on day two. We attended the "shopping" briefing in the theater and made our list of places to go in each port. Just a lot of souvenir stuff, no big ticket items planned. Key West was fun, but really humid for us desert dwellers from Arizona. We bought tickets for the Hemingway House tour and it was great.... a lot of local Key West history is covered in the walk to the house from the ship. Being a big fan of James Bond movies, I wanted to see some of the sites where they had filmed parts of the 007 movies and we did (poor Debi had to watch the movies with me when we got home so I could show her the scenes in the movies). It was 4th of July, but except for some cool fireworks we saw later from our balcony on the ship, it seemed like just another night in Key West to us. We had dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe after making the rounds at the shops recommended by RC. We pulled out of Key West later that night and headed for Grand Cayman.

At Sea and Grand Cayman: More relaxation at sea and formal night brought out my wife in a killer dress and me putting on the tuxedo I own which pretty much only gets used on cruises now. Everyone looked great. We posed for formal pictures and met the captain at his reception. Grand Cayman started out ominously for us. The ship "parks" off-shore and you tender in to the island. It was raining steady when we first got on the tender and was pouring by the time we hit the shore. We booked the Stingray City and Turtle farm tour and our bus was waiting for us when we got off the tender, we shivered as we dried out in the air conditioned bus. You get a brief guided tour of Grand Cayman on the way, some hurricane damage from last year is still evident. We got to a dock and boarded a catamaran to Stingray City, eventually ending up at a pair of anchored catamarans in the Caribbean. The tour takes in a semi-submersible to see the stingrays and even a barracuda named "Chili", definitely worth the trip and the time, even with the rainy weather. We headed for the turtle hatchery stopping off in "Hell". It is a spot with a lot of strange rock formations that were named Hell. You can send a post card with the "Hell postmark on it and they play up the "How the Hell are you" and "What the hell can I do for you" aspects. The turtle hatchery is recovering from hurricane damage, but even then it wasn't very interesting for us; someone with children would love it. You even get to pick up and hold the baby sea turtles.

Cozumel: They've got the dock fixed for ships the Rhapsody's size, so no tendering. Great weather and a lot of sun! Trust me, a lot of sun. I missed a few spots of applying sunscreen (no less than SPF45) on the tops of my feet and my shoulders and paid for it for 3 weeks (seriously)! We got the "beach party" tour that included transportation, drinks and food. The beach is great and the Playa Mia facility itself is wonderful. You can rent jet-skis (bring a photo ID) or just relax and bake. All drinks, yes all drinks, are included and that's good, the food was nothing to write home about, a Mexican buffet but then again we got spoiled on the ship. Still a lot of hurricane damage in Cozumel, it's really overwhelming in some places, but will not affect any excursions.

The last day at sea/disembark: More relaxation at sea, another formal night; just a suit this time, put the tux away. Spent the day sort of packing and one last bit of shopping on board and even attending one of the art auctions (they're fun and informative, please try one of them). The packing can be tricky. You have to place your suitcases outside the cabin no later than midnight the last night, which means you have to have carry on bags to hold your night clothes, toiletries and stuff the next day. We got up, went to our appointed meeting place and waited for our group to be called. We got off the ship, grabbed a porter for 10 bucks and got through customs with no issues. On the shuttle to Houston airport and back to the Arizona desert with a lot of great memories.

Inputs to our traveling partners: A great suggestion was to get a plastic over the door shoe holder. Debi was able to put most of her shoes there and we had room for other stuff, toiletries and things. Don't forget chargers for digital cameras and cell phones (you can use them in Key West to call friends and relatives). They have wireless capability for computers in some parts of the ship, but it is pricey. The food on the Rhapsody was great in quality; I'd complain about the portion of some items being a little small, but you could always ask for seconds. We had great service from our cabin attendant as well as our waiter and asst waiter who was surprised and happy when I spoke a little Turkish to him (from my military travels). The ride on the Rhapsody stays pretty smooth. We had great weather area for the most part and with only one exception, there weren't any "whoa, did you feel that" moments.

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