This was my second cruise with Royal Caribbean and my husband Bill's first. We decided to take a trip on the Rhapsody after our workplaces "graciously" allowed us time off for our delayed honeymoon (June).
It was very convenient for us to sail from Galveston since we live in McAllen and wouldn't have to buy airline tickets. Our vacation approvals didn't come through until two weeks before our sailing date, so we were pleased to find that we could book a large interior stateroom for $549 per person. Unfortunately, we apparently waited too long because when we tried to book through RCCL, all the interior rooms were booked. The only available cabins were suites (Category C and up) for $999 per person. So we paid for a suite. After all, this was our honeymoon.
We left for Galveston the Saturday before and stayed overnight in Sugarland. It was foggy, cold and wet when we left at 10:30 the next morning for the drive to the Port. It was fairly easy to find the terminal. We also noted that some parking companies charge you $60 to park in their lots a mile from the terminal -- the same price that the terminal itself charges for parking. When we pulled up, a porter was waiting; he took no time at all to load up our bags and told my husband where he could park. I was worried because we hadn't receives any luggage tags or papers when we booked online, whereas people who went through an agent did. J.D., our porter, told me not to worry and led me to the warehouse where someone with a passenger manifest looked up our cabin number and tagged everything for us. Total baggage check-in time was less than five minutes.
When Bill returned from parking, we went upstairs to wait in line for security, which looked like it took longer than it actually did. Remember those papers that we didn't receive? Well, guess what the cruise representatives were telling everyone to have out. But if you didn't get the papers, they had forms available, and we only had to fill out one of two while we waited in line. Security was quick. We got stopped for stowing alcohol in our luggage and carry-on cooler, but when we told them this was our honeymoon, they waved us through. There was a special check-in line for RCCL Diamond members and for passengers in suites, which was nice; there was only one person ahead of us. We were checked in, cards in hand, and had our photos taken in less than five minutes.
There was a slight delay with the elevators, since most were used for luggage and loading. My first impression of the ship was that it was very beautiful and gleaming. The biggest sign of wear and tear was the carpet, but what can you expect when 2,400 people step on it every week?
We found our cabin relatively quickly, but we had printed a map of the ship before we left home. The cabin was a nice size, with plenty of room to move around. The queen-size bed was actually two twins pushed together, although pretty comfortable. There was also a loveseat/pullout, two chairs and two pods to be used as extra seats or footrests. They also had storage space inside.
The bathroom was a bit narrow, but since we had a combination tub/shower, it made the room longer. The only downside to the tub was that it was a couple of inches higher than the floor. So, if you're 6'4" like my husband, you'll be ducking during your morning shower. We also had complimentary use of two robes for the week, and plenty of closet space. I've read in other reviews that there wasn't enough space, but we found larger bags easily fit under the bed, and other items could be stored in the nightstand, vanity or above the fridge. We enjoyed the balcony, which had room for four chairs and a table. We spent quite a bit of time there, especially when pulling into our ports.
After a quick tour of the ship we decided to skip the buffet lunch in the Windjammer since we were still full from breakfast. We went back to the stateroom to watch the activity in the harbor. The only disappointment about leaving from Galveston is that the scenery is mainly cargo ships, tankers and oil rigs, and there's a scent of oil and chemicals from the refineries.
We ordered room service breakfast a couple of times, and split the other days between the Windjammer and Edelweiss dining room. Windjammer had buffet breakfast (usually scrambled eggs, sausages, bacon, potatoes, pancakes, French toast and waffles). It also had an excellent omelet station (which Bill enjoyed every time). We also split lunch between the two dining rooms, and unlike breakfast, the lunch menu at the Edelweiss was always different.
We always had dinner in the Edelweiss dining room. The first night, both seatings were 15 minutes later than usual. We ended up being the only ones at our table that night, but I've heard it's not uncommon for people to skip the first night. The food was excellent. The best dinners were the filet, lobster and prime rib. Be ready for the ship's photographer to snap lots of pictures while you're eating.
Drinks are also worth mentioning. I had some of the best mixed drinks I ever had on the ship. At $5.95 for 16 oz. it's not a bad deal, though we found that it was cheaper to buy a drink card and share it between the two of us. The only downside to the card was that (besides beer and wine) it only included the 12 oz. mixed drinks, and could only be used at the bars.
We participated in a couple of seminars and paid $6 each for a wine-tasting festival, which we enjoyed. It seemed like the ship was really pushing for Bingo, which had a jackpot of $10,000 -- but it seemed like it should be more, since a pack of tickets cost around $35 and the lounges were full each time. Shopping was also encouraged, especially when we arrived at our ports of call. We went to most of the shows, the biggest being the Mardi Gras Du Monde (Vegas style show). And yes, the dancers do wear thongs.
We spent a great deal of time at the pool, especially on days at sea. We never had a problem getting two seats together in the sun, and it didn't seem like people were saving seats. I will add that if you don't like the smell of school cafeteria food (like my husband), stay out of the solarium. We sat in the hot tubs a couple of times but only because it was chilly outside. The pools were also pretty chilly. I only went swimming on Wednesday, on our way to Belize, because it was so hot out.
This was our first port, and the shortest stay. We didn't arrive until 3 p.m. and had to be back on the ship by 11:30. There was a huge crowd waiting to get off the ship; we didn't think we were ever going to make it! We rented a rickshaw to give us a ride to the southernmost point of the island, which was under construction due to graffiti. We walked back up Duval Street and poked around a couple of shops before heading up to the pier for the famous sunset, which was beautiful. We also ate the famous conch fritters before heading back for more shopping and a peek at the "freak show" in Mallory Square.
We didn't buy any excursions for Belize, because we didn't hear very nice things about Belize City, and because the ship's excursions were pretty expensive. We teamed up with a couple we met at the wine tasting and awaited our tender to go ashore. When you arrive at the dock, you're right in the middle of the "tourist village," which is basically a bunch of shops. There are also lots of people trying to sell excursions to the same places as the ship, but for less. We decided to go exploring a bit and wandered outside the village gates. There were a few more street vendors and a department store of sorts. We ended up persuading a cab driver to give us a half-hour city tour at $20 for four people. He was a nice, informative young man and we enjoyed seeing parts of the city that others wouldn't usually see. We found out that there is an hourly water taxi service to the outer islands for around $25 per person roundtrip. But by the time we discovered this, we had to return to the ship.
I had convinced Bill to buy tickets for the catamaran sail, snorkel and beach party excursion. We were off the ship by 8:15 and setting sail via catamaran by 8:30. Voyager of the Seas and one of Carnival's ships were arriving into port at the same time, so we got a really close-up view of these two ships. We stopped at a site the guides called a baby reef. We were disappointed that there weren't more fish and coral -- and I was stung by a couple of baby jellyfish. We stayed in the water for around 30 minutes and then got back in the boat to go to a private beach. The water was beautiful and crystal clear. We went sea kayaking and then retired to a hammock for the rest of the hour.
Then the crew called us back to the boat and we set sail for the trip back. The funniest part was when the crew started line dancing. by the time we made it back to the dock, we were doing a conga line with margarita shots. We went back to our stateroom and changed to go back out shopping; we ended up walking three miles to the other cruise terminal, where Princess and Crystal ships were docked. This was the nicer of the two shopping areas. There was an outdoor mall, Punta Langosta, that had a Burger King, TGI Friday's, Senior Frog's, and Carlos and Charlie's. We started to go shopping, but we live on the Texas-Mexico border, so once you've been to one shop, you've pretty much seen them all.
Service on the ship was excellent. Several staff members went out of their way to help us enjoy our cruise. Our cabin attendant, Peter, was fantastic; he made neat creatures out of pillows and towels each night. My only gripe was with the photo shop. We had formal pictures taken the first night at the captain's reception, but couldn't find the photo. It turns out they messed up a roll of film that probably had our photos on it. I waited until the last day to buy any of our other pictures. Again, we had pictures taken on the second formal night, but couldn't find the ones taken at dinner. I went back around 7:30 p.m. and found that they had put up more photos, ours included. Don't be surprised if you pay around $50 for six photos.
In general, we had a great time, and plan on sailing with Royal Caribbean in the future. There were a few key things that we learned:
(1) Research the area that you'll be visiting for the availability of shore excursions from local operators. They're often the same as those sold on the ship and at half cost. (2) Stock up on medicines like Tums, Dramamine, sea bands, Dayquil, Nyquil, etc. It'll be cheaper to go this route than through the ship's hospital if you get sick. Also try sitting facing forward or backwards and not toward the sides. (3) Bring your own drinks. There is no law against bringing your own sodas and water. You can even bring your own alcohol if it's for a special occasion and if you don't mind paying corking fees in the dining room.
I hope this review was informative and enjoy your vacation!