How new can you make an old ship seem? Royal Caribbean is trying to prove that even 15-year-old ships like Rhapsody of the Seas can hold their own against newer, bigger, sleeker ships — with a little plastic surgery, that is. We’re onboard Rhapsody this week in Alaska, checking out the added dining venues, entertainment options and updated cabins. Our first thought is: Yeah, this ship does not feel old or dated, even if it does lack Royal Caribbean signatures like the Royal Promenade or FlowRider. No scuffed wardrobes or ’90s color schemes here. But do the new additions live up to expectations?
Thumbs Up: Royal Caribbean has made over Rhapsody’s lobby area into a popular gathering spot and entertainment venue. It’s a bit of genius — events you might miss like the art auction, ’70s dance party, salsa lessons and sushi demo are now in a highly trafficked area, so passengers stop to watch from an upper deck or slide into a seat at the R Bar, even if they didn’t really mean to.
Thumbs Down: The most talked-about entertainment option here — the aerial acrobatic performances — are designed to be serendipitous. They’re not listed in the daily schedule, and you’re supposed to just stumble upon them. But passengers are getting irked when they discover they missed the main event. Luckily, we saw a bit of the morning rehearsal because we completely missed the first show. Hint: We’ve heard they take place at the welcome and farewell parties.
Thumbs Up: The pan-Asian restaurant (it’s mostly Japanese) is located in a gorgeous spot, carved out of the top-of-ship Viking Crown Lounge. The venue is open and airy, offers lunch and dinner, and even has a sushi bar. We’re not sushi connoisseurs, but the fact that we ate raw fish several days into a cruise and still feel fine has to count for something.
Thumbs Down: This may be the longest, most confusing menu we’ve ever seen. We had to ask the waiter how most people go about choosing between sushi, hot-rock cooking and other entrees because we were at a total loss. (Answer: Most people go for the combination meals to avoid ordering a la carte.) Also, there’s a cover charge plus a fee per item ordered.
Royal Babies and Tots Nursery
Thumbs Up: The nursery is a godsend for parents looking for a safe place for their little ones (6 months to 36 months) to play on a ship that’s just not designed for the toddling set. It’s a wonderland of Fisher Price toys, soft play structures and developmental games. Expect both parent-baby playtime and drop-off sessions, and yes, the nursery staff change diapers (rare in the industry). You can also borrow toys to bring back to your cabin (for free), so that’s one less thing to pack for Junior.
Thumbs Down: Unlike Adventure Ocean, Royal Caribbean’s kids program for ages 3 and up, you have to pay to drop off your kid. And if just one other tyke has been dropped off, parents are not allowed into the facility. That means if you want your baby to play in a safe environment, you either have to ditch him with a babysitter or wait for the meager open-play sessions. We’d appreciate more parent-baby playtime.
Thumbs Up: We’re big fans of the Digital Way-Finding systems and find that we’re browsing dining menus, looking for directions or checking the daily schedule any time we pass by one of the interactive screens. They’re great for international passengers, as the information is available in several languages. Flat-screen TV’s in the cabins help bring staterooms into this century.
Thumbs Down: The poolside movie screen has been under-utilized on our Alaska cruise. It’s constantly playing scenes from the Caribbean, which are jarringly out of place on grey days sailing through snow-capped mountain ranges. Perhaps this feature will be better appreciated on warmer itineraries. We’re told there’s shipwide Wi-Fi, but it’s hard to test in Alaska were service is always spotty. (Hint: The Centrum is one of the better spots onboard for access.)
Check out Rhapsody of the Seas cruise reviews.
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