My family and I sailed the Rhapsody of the Seas from Galveston in late May, and what follows are some thoughts, observations and port comments.
First, this was our 5th cruise on Royal Caribbean, and our 10th cruise overall.
The ship is a member of the Vision family and it entered service in 1997. She has a passenger capacity of 2400 people. We've also sailed the Splendour and found them to be almost identical, with few structural and cosmetic differences.
From reviews I've posted in the past and this trip Galveston remains out port of choice for departure. Like several million other cruise passengers it is only a short drive from our home. With a family we save nearly a grand on airfare by driving down, unloading and being in our stateroom in less than two hours total time.
The shortcoming of Galveston departures means most ports of call are Mexico, and the Rhapsody is no exception. The seven-night itinerary allows for more options, and with our sailing Jamaica and Grand Cayman was included along with Cozumel.
The Rhapsody alternates weekly itineraries with a Key West run every other week, and it skips Jamaica for this one. The arrival in Key West is 4:00 pm EST and that limits time in port in daylight hours. If you have a family Key West is a different place after the sun goes down.
The ship is extremely well laid out, with the Lido deck being the hub of outdoor activities. The cruise director was quick to delegate entertainment and other passenger needs to an eager crew. The entertainment director was funny, well informed and everywhere.
The sail away day was uneventful. Weather was beautiful, the muster drill was the quickest of all our sailings and we departed exactly on time. The music from the steel drum band was excellent, and we were officially on vacation!
We enjoyed early seating dinner, and found two other couples, one from Texas and one from Missouri to dine with. Both were a pleasure to be with for the duration of the cruise.
The food service was absolutely incredible. Dinner was quick, accurate and served by a team of headwaiter, waiter and assistant that clearly enjoyed their positions. We were entertained as well as fed. If I were to improve on anything I'd make the beef choices a tenderer cut, and use a little more spice in the preparation. Seafood, including lobster tasted great. We have dined in the downstairs portion of the dining room on all the cruises, and enjoy a larger table, and this trip was no exception.
My family upgraded at the dock to a Royal Family Suite, and in a word, WOW. My teenager had her own bedroom, bathroom and closet. You cannot imagine how many pairs of flip-flops a 15 year old can carry. The balcony was great, the living area had a full-length window and the climate control system worked well enough to have us scurry for covers at night. We've never enjoyed a room this size before.
The only shortcomings of the cabin were poor television viewing choices and visible wear on the outdated furniture. These were minor observations, but worth noting. We woke Wednesday morning in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. This is a pretty harbor area, but somewhat primitive compared to Cozumel or Nassau. Jamaica is a poor country, and the locals are not above begging, offering to sell drugs or braid hair. They are aggressive with all three. I was amazed that they solicited a 46-year-old man in tourist garb, his teenager and spouse. Dunns River Falls is the most touted excursion in Jamaica. We took a boat ride to the falls, and were quickly escorted as a group to the climb. The falls do represent some danger for those with little athletic ability. Several in our group left with scratches or bruises from a tumble. If you do this, bring your own water shoes, and bring a waterproof case for your ID's and cash. Leave your watches in the safe on the ship, as the rocks showed no mercy. We had a blast, and our family made the journey up the tiered falls in about an hour. We walked down the well-constructed boardwalk and trail back to the boat for the ride back to the ship.
After a quick shower and lunch we ventured into town. Here is where the locals see you as a cash resource. We took a cab to the newer shopping area, spent about 2 hours looking around and returned to the ship. Others at our table shared some of the same experiences with Ocho.
Grand Cayman is in a state of recovery from hurricane Ivan. The port area is rebuilt and the shops have returned to business. Beyond the first row of streets the damage is extensive. Office buildings, homes and small businesses remain in severe distress. These people are lucky to be alive.
Cayman is a tender port, and with two Carnival mega liners in port and the Rhapsody I was expecting a long wait for a ride to town. During breakfast it was announced that all the stingray excursions were cancelled. We quickly booked a tour of the island bus trip, as the weather turned from beautiful to thundershowers in about twenty minutes.
Our excursion included a semi-submersible boat ride, a trip to Hell, the Turtle Farm and the rum cake factory. All but the boat ride and cake shop were rained out. This was our least fun day, but Royal Caribbean cannot change the weather.
One note, the captain did reposition the ship four times during tender operation to facilitate re-boarding in calm water. This was fun to watch from the protected balcony of our cabin.
We woke the next morning early and watched the docking in Cozumel. We'd been here several times before, and this trip we selected the Playa Mia Beach Break for our destination.
Here is where I can strongly recommend you take the lesser of the two choices for Playa Mia. We selected the trip where a taxi is required at your own leisure. This allowed us to be the first family at the beach. We selected a great set of chairs and loungers, umbrellas and then spent nearly an hour on the Hobie Cat while those that paid more were waiting in line for the bus. By the time that group arrived we had revisited our Hobie skills from our youth, enjoyed a couple of the all-inclusive drinks and were headed to the kayaks.
Those on the Carnival ship were even less fortunate. They arrived in an old barge type vessel with blaring music at 99% distortion in the 11:30 am sun, and found few choices of chairs and amenities near the food and included activities. I'd be angry with my shore excursion desk personnel if they had recommended that for my family.
Playa Mia is a great place, they allow some local vendors to lease space for shopping, and they were clean, courteous and well stocked. The prices were the same as the shops in town.
Time passed far to quickly here and we returned to the ship. Our cabin was on the pier side and we enjoyed watching the 50 or 60 passengers that spent far too much time shopping and drinking versus making the departure time. Hecklers soon emerged from the balconies and the fun was on!
This agenda allows for two full days at sea before a port, and one day at sea to unwind before returning home. This was the best schedule my family has sailed.
The Rhapsody has great, but not excellent shows, good food, a nice casino, clean pools and a very friendly staff. The Solarium pool is very nice, and they opened the sliding roof on the sea days. The water in this pool is cold, so it made for a great place to cool off after being in the sun. Other things we liked included the fitness equipment, the ample supply of chairs, the beauty of the theatre for shows and the hotel like atmosphere the ship presents.
For those that live within a one to 6 hour drive from Galveston, Texas the Rhapsody is the finest choice for a 7 day cruise. It is not the least expensive, not rowdy, not gaudy and not a drunken party. If all these things are important you might consider some of the other options for ships. If however, you want a great vacation that allows some other ports besides Mexico then call your travel agent.
We booked the Splendour for Spring Break (again!) and I cannot wait for March.
I have a link to photos of the ship and ports, so e-mail me with your information.