I would like to start off by saying Thank You to Royal Caribbean for adding to our wonderful wedding/honeymoon. We truly enjoyed our trip as a whole, and you helped make it memorable.
Now... on with the review. After getting engaged February, a year earlier (2011), we've decided to go to Hawaii for our wedding. And, for our honeymoon, a cruise of sorts. For me, this was my 2nd cruise, so most of my review, I have something to compare it to. My last cruise was with Costa Cruise lines, on the Magica. After speaking with friends, many recommended RCCL, and reading some reviews, I've learned that it was one of the best cruise lines out there. We looked at various options, some of which were cruises leaving Vancouver, San Diego or Los Angeles, all of which meant we'd be on the seas for 8-10 days, with limited time in Hawaii itself. So we started looking at relocation cruises, and there were two options available at the time we were looking at and coincidentally, both were Royal Caribbean. I guess relocation cruises are more expensive than standard, but that was the price to pay for a far away vacation. The two ship available were the Radiance of the Seas and Rhapsody of the Seas. Radiance, which was a larger class ship, had 1 extra night on its agenda, but that extra night cost $500 per person, so we chose the 11 night Rhapsody cruise instead.
A couple of uncontrollable facts to start off with. First off, this cruise takes place at the end of April, in the Pacific. Although, this makes weather and temperature comfortable in Hawaii itself, it does get cold by the 2nd/3rd day at sea towards Vancouver. Also, because it's slightly more expensive and it takes place in April, most college and kids are still in school (or have just finished and started working), so I'd say 65% of the passengers were 65 or older, which makes it for a very elderly/senior cruise. Great if you want peace and quiet, but as my review will point out, it does have its downside. Also, coincidentally, May 2012 had a super moon, which meant the tides were about 15% higher than normal... that may or may not have any effect, but because the ship is a smaller class ship, and the Pacific has big waves, it was a rocky ride the days at seas. Many people got sick on the ship, so if you easily succumb to seasickness, consider a larger ship.
1) Price. As I mentioned earlier, it is a relocation cruise, so, it typically has a higher price point. A year earlier, end of February, when we checked the prices, we felt it was reasonable. By May, a year earlier, when we finally booked, we found the prices were all about 25% higher for the following year. This might be a rookie mistake, by booking early, but we wanted a guaranteed room for our trip. What we found was, that after our final payment was made some 60 days before the trip (due date), prices dropped. What made me notice available space was the fact that family of ours got upgraded from Balcony to Suite for free after the fact (because they were seniors, whereas we were not), along with friends of family who booked after the 60 days / last minute, and got a suite at a cheaper price than all of us. For future cruises, we will book only 60 days from the cruise itself to get the best deals possible. And we may consider dealing directly with the cruiseline, instead of an agent.
The price didn't include alcohol... which is no surprise. It also did not include freshly squeezed juices or soda pop. Although other juices were available, (which was fantastic by the way), I was told by friends that the pop was diluted and eventually not worth it. They had to pay extra to get canned pop, on top of what they already paid for fountain pop.
Finally, it's a smaller ship. I'd understand if the ship was a larger class ship with tons of amenities, but it was a smaller ship, so price was a little high for this. Maybe it was the fact that there are limited relocation cruises from Hawaii. 3 out of 5.
2) Service. Good service all-round. Our stateroom attendant, was funny, charming and friendly. Same could be said with the Waiting staff at all restaurants. Professional and courteous. For many, (because it's a relocation), they've been at sea anywhere from 2 to 8 months (we were told) and the fact they still had a smile on their face, shows determination to offer great service. Only on a couple occasions where we found some surprises. For example, on our 2nd day at sea, we noticed one of the chairs in one of the lounges to be broken. We immediately pointed it out, and the first response we got was, "oh... sit there instead." It took 3 different attendants to have someone take the chair and put it aside. But what made it worse, is that on our last day at sea... I found the exact same chair, in the same lounge ... still broken.
In general however, service was great, and for that I give it 4.5 out of 5.
3) Pool. One key point I really enjoyed was the fact that the pools were open late. On the Costa Magica, both pools and jacuzzi were closed at 8pm, and if you're like me, and after the 9pm Theatre Show, you want to head out to the pool and relax before going to bed, the fact the pools were open until midnight was amazing. Look up at the stars, and enjoy. Their stateroom documents pointed out that "certain pools" were open 24hrs... which really meant that the jacuzzis closed at midnight while the pools themselves stayed open, at your own risk of course.
There were two pools on the ship. One outdoor, one indoor. By day 3 at sea, it was almost unbearable swimming outside, let alone sit outside. So having an interior pool was great. However, one big no-no. As I said earlier, it's an older clientele, so one of the rules was, while in warm climate, no kids were allowed in the indoor pool. But once in colder climates, kids were allowed in the pool between Noon & 2pm and again between 4pm & 6pm. I counted, at the most 30 kids under the age of 18 on this ship, one of which was a 5 year old girl who loved swimming, from friends of ours. 2 days before hitting Vancouver, the little girl was enjoying her swim, alone, in the indoor pool, where at 2pm, an attendant, dressed in a Parka, kicked her out of the pool and was told to swim outside. I understand rules are rules, but this one didn't make sense to me. Once in a colder climate, anyone should be allowed in the indoor pool, especially when no one else is swimming.
Towel service was outside on the deck by the pool. Opened between 7am and 10pm. First off, it should be open as late as the pools. That said, I felt bad for the attendant who had to sit out there, during 12c temperature with 40 mph winds. I understand the logic behind it, but the smarter thing would be, make towels available in the staterooms, and if some go missing, then charge the stateroom, as per usual. By day 7, no one was on the pool deck as it was too cold, so why have the towel service there?
Pool amenities, I give a 4 out 5.
4) Stateroom. Real simple. It was clean, large, and well decorated. You could tell that it was recently upgraded. Couldn't have asked for better. 5 out of 5.
5) Food quality. There was the Main Dining room, Windjammer (buffet lounge), Park Cafe and 3 pay-per-use fancy restaurants.
Main Dining Room's food, we only used for dinner time 4 times. We were told lunch and breakfast were delicious. But for us, the dinner was the only time we used it, and it was very good. Three course meal, with fairly good options. The quality was great. It still fascinates me the quantity and turn around the chefs produce at dinner time. For a first time cruiser, I would think they wouldn't know the alternatives. As a 2nd time cruiser, I found that Costa had more choices, or ... 'higher grades' of food. For example, Rhapsody had only 1 lobster night... where as I've seen lobster served more frequently on the other. Filet mignon once. Only a 3 course meal, where I've seen 5 course meals on the other ship. I'm simply being picky at this point because the food was fantastic, but I can see where some people would give it a negative review. Main Dining Food quality: 4 out of 5.
Windjammer Food quality... well... it's buffet. At dinner time, they had some of the Main Dining food available with added bonus. They always had pasta, but the sauces were watered down. They had great salads. And a good variety of desserts. But the quality at Windjammer was hit and miss. Every other day, it felt like dinner was good/bad. One day, Chicken Cordon Blue, the next day, Tacos. Didn't feel consistent. What we ended up doing for dinner was dropping by Windjammer first to see if what the quality was like... if we liked it, we stayed. If we didn't, we went over to the Main Dining (since we had My Time, but that's for later down below). Lunches were standard too... pasta, chicken, sandwiches, hot dogs, burger and pizza. No complaints on the lunches. And definitely no complaints for breakfast. Plenty of fruits, eggs, pancakes, bacon galore, etc... Windjammer quality: 3.5 out of 5.
Park Cafe is simply a cafe that served sandwiches and desserts. Not much needs to be said.
The other 3 restaurants were Japanese, Italian and Grill, with $15, $20 and $30 cover (respectively). The Japanese you also had a la carte prices. Italian didn't include gratuity. Like other specialty restaurants, these were also above and beyond great. Quality, quantity, and service was all above par. You don't have to use these, but they are there for your enjoyment. We tried the Japanese and Italian. They were fantastic.. no ifs or buts. However you pay extra. And because of the additional fee, I've knocked down a point and give them 4 out of 5.
6) My Time dining. Beware!!!! First, if you use My Time then you have to prepay gratuity. No problem, if fact, it made things easier, didn't need to do math at the end of our cruise. It begs though, why not include gratuity in the cruise price? I guess because you'd get sub-par service???? I don't know, I think it's becoming a little ridiculous. Regardless, the advantage of using My Time is that you're not typically set to the ships' dining schedule... at 6 and 8. You're supposed to have the freedom to choose whatever time you want to eat at. But what we found was that, they take reservations. It's not first come first serve. After speaking with others on the ship, we found that most of the Senior citizens made reservations as far back as last JULY. That's right. They all booked their dinner reservations between 5:30 and 7. So you could never get into the dining room until after 7 and in most cases, after 7:30. I'm guessing those people didn't want to be assigned dinner at 8, so they took My Time and forced a 6pm dinner. That was definitely annoying and was a big reason why we dined at Windjammer and the two Specialty restaurants 'Â½ the time. What makes it worse is that, the "prepaid gratuity" no longer goes to those who served us at Windjammer or the Specialty restaurants. So our Dining Room Waiters received full gratuity amounts, even though they only served us less than half the time. I'd advise anyone to avoid My Time, on this ship (as we were told there are better My Times out there) and use your gratuity accordingly. My Time review 2.5 out of 5
7) Food Availability. This, along with My Time, are my two least favourite features of this cruise. Their food availability didn't make much sense to me. For 6 days, we were at port, and if you're adventurous, it means you were out and about during the day. You had to be back on the ship by 4pm. Main Dining was open for breakfast 7 to 9:30 (not so great for those who sleep in), noon to 2 for lunch, and 5:30 to 9:30 for dinner. Windjammer opened at 6:30 with cold foods and 7am warm foods were available. They had a nice over-lap system at 11:00 where 'Â½ the bar became lunch. Lunch was served from 11:30 to 3. To 3pm. Windjammer didn't open up again until 6:30pm. The only thing available from 3 to 6:30 (5:30 if you're one of those Senior Citizens My Time Diners) was Park Cafe which offered a couple sandwich selections, pasta salads and cakes. This was a bit disappointing. Especially after being out and about all day, back on ship at 4, and have very little available for you to eat, with Main Dining seating at 7:30. That did not make sense. To make matters worse, lets say you did have a meal at 7 or 7:30, but wanted to make the 9pm Theatre Show. After that, you want to go to the jacuzzi and relax with a snack. Unfortunately for you, there is nothing open between 9:30 and 11pm. You cannot get a meal anywhere between those times. You might think, it's only an hour and half. Sure, but once Park Cafe opens at 11pm, the only thing they're servicing is Nachos, Calzones and Cheese Pizza. This definitely surprised me. Room service was available until midnight for free (a $4 fee between midnight and 5am), but their menu choices were limited to Spinach Dip, Veggies, Cheeze/Pepperoni Pizza, chicken finger like food and another option I can't remember, delivered only to the room. I guess things could be worse, and maybe I'm being picky, but I thought, like all-inclusives offer, that food would be available almost always. For this, I will give 2.5 out of 5.
8) Entertainment. First off, Casey the cruise director was fantastic. And his staff even better. Cheerful, funny, entertaining. Couldn't ask for a better crew of entertainers. The cruise performers were college graduates/students and worked very hard during their performances. But felt little to no attachment to them compared to Costa. What would have been nice to see was those performers helping out with other activities, poolside, lounges, or even Embarkation. The activities on-board were good. Lots of trivia, lectures, arts & crafts. Some paying, some free. Poolside ban was repetitive, playing 50's rock and Calypso, on a daily cycle. The cruise show band however were extremely talented and were definitely not used/seen enough. As for shows, it felt like they were geared more towards the older crowd. And by older crowd, again, 65 and over. In some ways, I felt bad for the middle aged group, who are young enough to appreciate and enjoy youthful shows and activities (which seemed available after 11:30pm) but were stuck with Barry Manilow, (he's good an all, but only at bedtime).
Entertainment is subjective... so... for that I'm giving them 4 out of 5.
Other notes: no self-serve laundry. I was stuck using their $25 bag for laundry, and 3 of my shirts got ruined with some sort of ink spots. Embarkation wasn't bad, but debarkation took forever, mostly cause of Canadian Customs. Vancouver port had two ships arriving at the same time that day. (Both RCCL)
All in all, my general experience was good. I would give 3.5, but since I must give round numbers, I'm passing it along as a 4.