Rhapsody of the Seas
by Patricia J
November 12, 2006
I am 53 years old and love to travel, but had never thought I would enjoy a cruise until the last 2 or 3 years. I talked my best friend into going with me, and we chose the Rhapsody of the Seas based on Galveston's close proximity to where we live, high recommendations of Royal Caribbean from people I trust and the itinerary. I was not disappointed and absolutely everything about our cruise met my expectations or more.
I love doing all of the planning, preparation and research before taking any trip. Cruisemates.com was an invaluable tool as we planned our cruise. I checked it weekly to read the new reviews about Rhapsody of the Seas and also used all of the articles for first time cruisers and what to expect. I booked our cruise through priceline.com and have nothing but praise for how our reservations and the entire process were handled. I was always kept informed of what was expected of me and received all of my documentation on or before I was told I would. We both applied for and received passports before the cruise, even though we were within the deadline of still being able to travel in the Caribbean with only photo id and a birth certificate. We both decided we would have to get passports eventually, so we went ahead and got them now. We received them in exactly 8 weeks, and did not pay for any expedited service. I made one special request through priceline.com regarding our dinner seating. We did not go on the cruise with any desire to meet new people or socialize a lot. My friend preferred the early dinner seating, but we had initially been assigned to the late seating. I requested through priceline.com that we be moved to the early seating and also requested a table for 2, and both requests were approved.
We drove to Galveston on Saturday before our cruise was to leave on Sunday. We live 6-1/2 hours away in Hope, Arkansas, and made the trip with no problems. I had booked a room at the Days Inn in Galveston (also through priceline.com). It is not on the beach, but was very convenient and was only $50. I was very pleased with the Days Inn, and when we told them where we had planned on eating, they gave us a coupon for a free appetizer and a free dessert. We had planned to eat at Gaido's, but instead ate at Casey's, which is right next door, owned by the same people, use basically the same kitchen, but is a little less formal and a little less expensive. It is right on the gulf coast. Our food was superb and the view was great. We were back in our room in time to watch the Arkansas Razorbacks beat Tennessee on tv.
Sunday morning we went to church, changed clothes at the church and drove to EZ Cruise Parking, where I had made a reservation over the internet. You get a discount by making your reservation on the internet. Galveston is very easy to navigate and everything was very convenient. EZ Cruise will shuttle you AND your luggage to the terminal, which was a real plus as I understand the other parking lots require that you drop off your luggage at the terminal and will only provide shuttle service for the drivers. Be sure to put your luggage tags (found in your cruise documents that are mailed to you) on your luggage before you get to the terminal. We were the only two on the entire shuttle bus who had done so, and we were going to have to wait for everyone else to write out their luggage tags and attach them. One of the stevedores realized that all of our luggage was properly tagged, so he put ours on a separate rack and we were on our way. I had printed our Set Sail passes, but had not signed them as I thought they would want them signed in person when we checked in. That was pretty much the only thing that slowed us down at all in the check-in process. Royal Caribbean had several employees around and available to point you in the right direction and help in any way needed. We did not get out of church until a little after 12:00 and even after changing clothes, getting to the parking lot, parking and checking in, we were on the ship by 1:00. We found our stateroom, dropped off our carry-ons and went to eat lunch in the Windjammer. After that we walked around the ship and got acclimated to where everything was located. I had printed the deck plans from the Royal Caribbean website, and it was helpful to have reviewed them. We found our table in the dining room (table for 2 and early seating as I stated earlier – yeah). We then saw most of our luggage, took it to the room and unpacked some. Muster drill went very smoothly and we went up to Deck 10 for sail-a-way. Carnival Conquest left a few minutes before us and it was fun watching it slowly slip away and then realize that we, too, were moving out of the harbor.
Rather than providing a day-by-day recounting, I will give you my thoughts on various aspects of the cruise:
We went to every show in the main theatre. The Royal Caribbean singers and dancers were good and obviously enjoyed their job. I personally thought the singing in both of their production numbers was too loud. Our favorite show was El Goucho --- South American cowboy who played guitar, drums, piano and did outstanding tricks with the bolo, and he was very funny. It was a thoroughly enjoyable show.
We played bingo twice. It was fun, but we were not able to use the free bingo cards we were given the first day on the ship either time, and I still am not sure why. They just said they had to be used in a 'regular' bingo session. We went to a couple of karaoke programs, the Quest game, Love and Marriage game show, back-stage tour, and they were all fun and enjoyable. We also went to a couple of the art auctions – pleasant but won't do that again – not my cup of tea. The cooking demonstration and other demonstrations in the Centrum were very nice.
We had occasion to deal with the purser's office several times and they were always very helpful and friendly. We asked to get our passports stamped in the three ports and they were able to have them stamped in Jamaica and Mexico (too many ships were in port at Grand Cayman and they could not get the port agent to stamp them). I bought Jamaican postage and Cayman postage to mail post cards. Also, I left my fanny pack in the Windjammer one morning and when I went back to get it, the head waiter had already delivered it to the purser's office. They handled everything with efficiency and friendliness.
In Cayman I booked a ¼ day snorkeling and sting ray city tour with Captain Marvin over the internet ($40 each). We did the early-bird tender at 7:00 a.m. so we would not miss our tour. Captain Marvin's is great. We snorkeled in two different spots and the fish and underwater plant life was beautiful. I had never snorkeled before and really enjoyed it. The stingray city stop was also fun, even though I was a little hesitant after the Steve Irwin incident. I even kissed a stingray and got a back massage from one. The guides and assistants on the boat were extremely helpful. Snorkeling was the highlight for my friend. We ate again at Margaritaville, did some shopping and walked right onto a tender boat to go back to the Rhapsody – no waiting. It was starting to sprinkle and seemed that a little storm was coming up and when the tender boat got to the Rhapsody it took about 30 to 45 minutes before they were able to get us close enough to get back on the ship. It was interesting to see what all was going on. There were about 8 ships at Cayman that day. Some of the other folks on the tender boat seemed to be a little anxious at the waiting, but I thought it made it more interesting.
We had not booked anything in Cozumel as we wanted to wait and see what we enjoyed and what we might want to do after two days of planned tours. We tried to do some more snorkeling after we had enjoyed it so much in Cayman, but all of the water activities on our side of the island were cancelled due to the bad weather the night before and the undercurrent was still too strong. We walked around, did some shopping and went back to the ship and laid out by the pool and read. It was a very relaxing, nice day.
I had purposely chosen a week I did not think there would be very many kids traveling, and that was also nice. One night there were 3 or 4 pre-teen boys chasing each other in the hall, but that was the only time I ever saw any of the small number of kids doing anything out of the way. We chose a timed departure as we had too many bags (with the souvenirs purchased) to do the express departure. Our color was supposed to be called at 9:15. We ate a leisurely breakfast in the Windjammer and sat in one of the lounges until an announcement was made at about 8:30 that all remaining colors could disembark. EZ Cruise was waiting for us outside the terminal and we were in our car headed home by 9:00.
Things I'm really glad I took: water shoes, highlighter to mark the daily calendar for things not to miss, clock for the room, hats, lots of $1's for tips, fanny pack
What I'll do different on my next cruise: pack less clothes and shoes, leave room in luggage or take an extra bag for souvenirs
In conclusion, I will definitely cruise again, and with Royal Caribbean. You can do as much or as little as your want in wonderful surroundings. I loved the whole experience --- where else can you get a nice room (which is cleaned twice a day); as much food as you can eat 24/7; entertainment; the mesmerizing ocean all around you; and travel to Jamaica, Grand Cayman & Mexico for about $100 a day!!!! Incredible value!!! I would like to see some of the other Caribbean islands, which will probably mean leaving from a Florida port, or possibly New Orleans. I can't wait!!!!!