We had sailed Royal Caribbean's Rhapsody of the Seas from Vancouver to Alaska in the spring of 1997. However we were truly looking forward to heading south and choose a Vancouver to Honolulu itinerary. The Vision Class, Rhapsody, like her sister's and cousins, is a beautiful ship. We over-nighted in Vancouver at the Waterfront Center Hotel, directly across from the Canada Place pier where the Rhapsody docks. It's a wonderful feeling waking up and seeing the ship directly across the street from twelve stories above street level, and that certainly added to the excitement, if that is possible.
On embarkation morning the bellman took our luggage directly to the pier. We got together with the CruiseMates we had met the previous night and arrived at the pier about 11:45 a.m, when the embarkation process began. The RCI staff went through the line checking documents and responding to questions prior to your arrival at the embarkation desk. However, the entire process was delayed by a computer glitch due to new computer software. Regardless, we were aboard withing an hour.
One change from the previous RCI check-in is the processing of credit cards for the "Super Charge Cards." This replaces the old system of standing in line again to activate the "Super Charge" once onboard.
In waiting for embarkation,we were surprised by the broad range of age groups on this sailing. The norm is "more days, more years." This axiom didn't hold true for this cruise. The average age aboard this eleven day cruise, was similar to what one would encounter in the Caribbean- in the 45 or 50 plus range. This may have been impacted by a large group of 500 passengers, all in the auto parts business.
Also of note on this particular sailing was a large number of first time cruisers. I was very surprised because of the length of the cruise, and the somewhat exotic itinerary.
THE SHIP The Rhapsody's Centrum is a great spot to walk onboard. Windows to the sea are everywhere, and the warm earth tones in the interior areas direct your eyes to the blue skies, blue seas and panoramic views. This makes for a memorable first impression.
Having sailed the ship two years before, we were struck byt how good she looked in "most" areas, with some cabins being the exception. It appeared that much of the furniture in the public areas had recently been recovered. In a conversation with Hotel Manager, Bob Tavadia we found that it was simply a matter of effective and ongoing maintenance.
Some of our CruiseMates were rookie cruisers; some very much veterancruise addicts, but new to RCI. Everyone new to the Vision Class ships was most impressed with their look and layout. We were in a Category D cabin with a private balcony. The cabin, while not overly spacious, had great storage space and is so well designed that it feels more larger than cabins on other ships that boast more square footage. As this was a long cruise, we had seriously over-packed, yet everything found a place, out of our way.
The cabin's sitting area is equipped with a full size sofa, and a coffee table. Having a place to sit and relax inside the cabin is a nice bonus compared to, Princess's equivalent cabins, which offer only a tub chair, or Celebrity with "sofas" that are much more like loveseats. Yet, these comparable cabins are actually larger. In the tradition of RCI, the showers are miniscule. However, I must be too accustomed to cruising, because they're starting to seem spacious. Our showe had a mind of its own. It shifted from hot to cold a number of times during a typical shower. What a shame there's no video of me jumping in and out!
The cabins are equipped with all the normal amenities with the exception of hair dryers, so if you use one, bring your own. The verandahs are pleasant but small, and not all that private, and have two arm chairs and a small side table. What impressed me most was the sliding glass door to the verandah, as opposed to a door that opens in or out. These don't take up valuable room inside the cabin, or on the verandah.
The Edelweiss Dining Room is, in my view, one of RCI's prettiest, with a particularly relaxing ambiance. Our CruiseMates group was seated at three tables towards the rear of the main floor. I would have preferred round tables to the rectangular ones we had, for easier conversation rather. We decided ond simply switching our seating arrangements each evening to allow everyone to converse with different folks nightly. Of course, this bunch was loud enoughto make ourselves heard!
ENTERTAINMENT With entertainment normally one of RCI's strengths I was looking forward to very good acts. The first night's "Welcome Aboard" was without a doubt one of the worst I've ever seen at sea. The cruise director specifically mentioned that they keep announcements to a minimum. As the cruise unfolded we noticed that this couldn't have been farther from the truth.I would have never given these announcements another though if he hadn't made such a point of mentioning them. They announced bingo, art auctions, horse races, and when anyone on the ship ate, or so it seemed.
My choice of shows on this cruise was definitely off. I attended the bad shows and then skipped the next night,hearing afterward how good they were.
Combining my opinions of the shows I saw with those I heard about from CruiseMates, I would have to say the showroom entertainment was generally below the quality we've come to expect from RCI.
FOOD The dining room cuisine overall was good to very good. The Windjammer buffet was pretty typical buffet-not very exciting, yet not bad. Mornings featured a made-to-order omelet station; lunche offered a carving station for roast beef, pork and similar items. The breakfast buffet menu wasrelatively basic and stagnant all week, alternating pancakes and French Toast from one day to the next. Except for variations in the potato preparation, the morning buffet menu did not change.
I had a mediocre NY steak twice during the cruise but everything else I in the dining room was very good-even other beef dishes. At our table, aside from everyone's individual entrees, the waiter brought plates of the daily pasta for all of us to share, and it was very tasty.
Don't be shy about sending back things you don't care for, or ordering another portion of the dishes you liked. The waiters want you to enjoy meals rather than leave the table complaining. If you do, in a way, it's as much your fault as the chef's.
Royal Caribbean can still lay claim to the worst pizza at sea. It seems a shame that no ones attention has been directed to improving this area. I'm sure some people couldn't care less about pizza on a ship. But, after so many elaborate meals, some good old junk food can be pretty appealing.
The Solarium Cafe also featured good hamburgers, decent hot dogs and wonderful curly French fries.
The room service menu is not exciting, but fairly substantial for snacks.During meal times you may order off of the full dining room menufor service to your cabin.
SERVICE & STAFF We encountered what I feel is quite standard for Royal Caribbean; a warm and friendly staff. Our cabin steward did a good job of keeping our Kuki little home clean, and decorating the roome using pillows to create different shapes and insignias. It wasn't quite up to the "towel animals" of Carnival, but nonetheless, cute.
Our dining room waiter was a true professional, and shared his pleasant personality with us, while doing a yeoman's job of delivering the goods.A few days into the cruise he realized that we would welcome his participation in the fun at the table, and joined right in. In Maui we found a shop that had tee shirts dyed in chocolate. One had a moose characture with the title Chocolate Moose on it. This seemd like an appropriate gift for our waiter Andre, so we gave it to him at dinner. He was thrilled. I believe that by the end of the cruise he was sorry to see us go.
The assistant waiter/bus boy was perhaps the worst we've ever had. He wasn't happy with his job and it showed. He should not have been there. I notedon my comment card that he should seek a career change.
Regardless of this we maintained a Kuki tradition. Every cruise, I bring tee shirts from Calgary for our dining room staff and present these on the last night. Both were very appreciative until I explained that it was in place of the customer gratuities. Both were very relieved when I reassured them that I was kidding.
The headwaiter in charge of our section was very personable. He stopped by for a chat nightly. However, when he was informed of the bus boy's shortcomings hedid nothing to remedy the situation. We were told they would reduce the number of the busboy's tables on the next cruise, but that did nothing to address our problems. I felt that if the headwaiter was aware that the job was not well done, it was his responsibility, even if he had to pitch in himself.
Tim Seaver was the Cruise Director on this sailing, a nice enough guy, but everyone seemed to agree that he didn't come across as very genuine. He admitted that people seemed to either love him or hate him.
While he was very pleasant when we encountered him, we didn't notice him about the ship much. To my view this limited his involvement with passengers.
I've had the pleasure of sailing with two of the best CDs in the business; RCI's Jamie Logan, who Tim tells me ihas left the business, and Carnival's John Heald, so it may be hard for other Cruise Director's to measure up in my eyes.
RANTS AND RAVES RCI's has given it's onboard daily activities report, Cruise Compass, a new and innovative twist. Along with the normal 4 page, 8 by 11, pamphlet, is an abbreviated carry around size. These are easy to carry, and serve as great bookmarks at the same time. It doesn't sound like much, but was very handy to keep up with events. Unfortunately someone continuously placed mis-infomation in the Compass. The other oddity with regard to these were the numerous and daily, typos and errors in grammar. Doesn't their word processor have spell check? It was daily entertainment to find the errors. We laughed out loud at the look on the head waiter's face when it was pointed out that on debarkation day the Compass stated the dining room would be open for breakfast from 6 AM to 8 PM. We told him we'd see him at 7PM for breakfast.
The Cruise Compass is a part of the Cruise Director's responsibilities, so that may have impacted my earlier evaluation of him.
Another area we found very confusing is the way they worded some of the "suggested dress." RCI has "Formal," "Smart Casual" and "Casual." I think most understand "Formal" and "Casual" but the "Smart Casual" seems to throw everyone off. I inquired as to the meaing of this classification. For men, they intended sports jackets, with no ties necessary.
On the first "Smart Casual" night, I bet my fellow CruiseMates that most people would be confused by this description and I was right. At least 75% of the passengers just took it to be another casual night. I really don't care what people are wearing, but the poor description of the attire they're trying to promote is to blame. A more apt term to describe the dress they're suggesting would seem to be semi formal (tie optional). I discussed this with Hotel Manager, Bob Tavadia, and while he understood our viewpoint of view, company research and opinion polls came up with this terminology.
Along this line; it's been my observation on my last three cruises, that attire on board all ships lately is heading more and more casual. On this particular cruise I cited quite a few people wearing blue jeans, jogging suits, and even shorts in the dining room.
I personally don't mind getting "gussied up" a couple of times on a cruise, and dressing reasonably well on the remaining nights. But, if the cruise lines are not going to enforce their suggested dress codes,they should stick with the two formal nights, with the balance remaining casual. It seems to be what the passengers are after.
Summary We found our RCI cruise experience to be very comfortable. Overall it was a terrific cruise. Theinteraction we had with fellow CruiseMates truly made it memorable. The group fun seemed to diminish any shortcomings we noticed on the part of the RCI.