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Julie Rieke

Age: 38

Occupation:School Counselor

Number of Cruises: 1

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Rhapsody of the Seas

Sailing Date: November 19th, 2006

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

This review will focus entirely on family cruising because most of the reviews I read before cruising did not tell me what I wanted to know about what things would be like for our family. I hope this will be helpful to people traveling with young children.

This was our family's first cruise, and Royal Caribbean did not disappoint us. Our party included two adults (late 30's) and 3 kids (ages 11, 8 and 4). Because we have three kids, we had two staterooms with a connecting door between which we left open.

I highly recommend Royal Caribbean for family cruising! The Rhapsody of the Seas, although not a mega ship, still had plenty of great things to do.

Since it was a Thanksgiving holiday cruise, there were over 600 kids on the ship. I know that sounds like way too many, but I would say that 99% of the kids were very well behaved. The Ocean Adventures kids program was great! Our 8 year old and 4 year old absolutely loved it. Our 8 year old would have spent the entire cruise in the kid's program if she could have. The kids' staff was superb. Our four year old's counselor "Pineapple" was awesome! All of the kids' staff showed a true love for children and made things fun for the little kids. They had a different activity every 15 minutes so the kids were never bored. One night the 3-5 year olds took a walk on the deck with the counselors to look for the moon. The moon was behind the clouds so they all starting blowing trying to blow the clouds away. The clouds moved, and the saw the moon! Amazing!

Royal Caribbean also has a program for toddlers called Aquatots. Apparently for a few hours a day parents and counselors meet in a room and play with Fisher Price toys. I don’t know much about it since my kids are older, but it was listed on the daily Compass of activities.

The first night of the cruise, the kids’ program wasn’t open, but the staff provided a program for families that explained all of the details (times, activities) of the kids’ program. Then the families went to the program location, filled out forms to sign the kids’ up, and the kids got a free toy from Royal Caribbean. Times for the kids’ activities were 9:00 a.m.-noon, 2-5:00 p.m. and them 7:00-10:00. us to let her participate in late night, and we did let her stay up late one night. She loved it!

We did notice, however, that older kids did not participate as much in the kids' programming. Our 11 year old checked it out a few times but chose to spend most of his time with other kids he met on the ship. I know some readers are probably groaning thinking that kids were running wild, but it really wasn't like that at all. Since many of the older kids didn’t participate in the kids' program one of their counselors basically followed my son and his group of friends around and kept an eye on them. They thought he was “hanging out” with them.

There were a lot of teenagers on this cruise, and they seemed to spend a lot of time together and looked like they were having fun. They were also well behaved.

We had early dinner seating and the food was excellent. However, sitting through dinner was a little difficult for our 4 year old. Her brother and sister did just fine. One thing we might do on a future cruise is book the late seating, then take the kids to the Windjammer early and let them go the kids’ program after their dinner so the adults can enjoy a nice dinner. If you do eat with your kids, they do have a nice children’s menu, and the wait staff is very accommodating to children. For example, they’ll bring the kids’ food early and let the kids have more than one entrée if they desire. If kids try something and don’t like it, they are more than happy to replace the food with something the kids like. Our waiter was from Romania, and when we told him our son was doing a project on Romania for school, he went out of his way to provide us with several websites about his country and even had one of his friends on the ship burn a DVD about Romania for our son. Our assistant waiter was from Peru and was really just a kid himself and a sweet kid at that! Our head waiter stopped by to visit our daughters every night and even remembered the names of the stuffed animals our little one carried around. Overall, all service was outstanding from our cabin steward to bartenders to wait staff.

The Rhapsody went to Key West, the Cayman Islands and Cozumel. In Key West, we didn’t do much as a family because it was way too cold and rainy to bring the kids off the ship. Also, the Rhapsody arrived late due to an emergency evacuation of a passenger the night before which delayed us (we sure hope whoever it was is all right!)

Any kind of family activities in Key West were already closed. In Grand Cayman, we swam with the stingrays (the kids were scared so maybe it’s something you’ll want to do with older kids) and went to the turtle farm (the kids loved it!). Book excursions through Captain Marvin’s, not the cruise line. It’s less expensive, and, even though we had some tendering problems, Captain Marvin’s staff was waiting for us as soon as we got off the tender. In Cozumel we went to Playa San Francisco. My advice is not to book an excursion in Cozumel. Just get a taxi and go to one of the beaches. We did talk to another family who did a swim with the dolphins excursion through RCL, and they said it was amazing. I guess it depends on how much money you want to spend.

As for cruise programming, our 11 year old enjoyed the magician and juggler shows. He also loved bingo. Our daughters had fun participating in the pirate parade. There are lots of great activities for kids. One day they showed “Over the Hedge” in the theatre for the kids.Our kids didn’t spend all of their time in the kids’ program. The girls probably went once or twice a day. Just sign your kids in and out when they want to go. If you want to just hang out at the pool or do other family things, that’s great too.

There are of course several great things for adults to do without the kids. Don’t miss the Cocktail Seminar ($10/person) and the Adult Scavenger Hunt. Both are really fun! The ship never feels crowded. Even though there are over 2000 passengers, everyone is doing their own thing so there aren’t huge crowds anywhere.

Our family takes a vacation every year. We’ve been to Disney World twice, to the Smoky Mountains, to Branson, and to several different beaches in Florida. We all agreed that this Rhapsody of the Seas cruise was the best vacation we’ve ever had!

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