On June 15, 2012, we embarked on the RCCL's Rhapsody of the Seas, a Vision-class vessel accommodating about 2,000 passengers, to sail the Alaskan Inside Passage. We took a taxi from the Hilton Seattle (centrally located/comfortable) to Smith Cove Terminal Pier 91 in Seattle. The 10-minute ride cost $12 plus gratuity.
NOTE: As residents of Las Vegas, we are accustomed to top-tier service in restaurants, lounges, casinos, and resorts. Living in the "Entertainment Capital of the World" also affords us access to outstanding cuisine. My comments therefore tend to reflect comparison of our cruise experience with Las Vegas amenities.
Embarkation: Although our pre-check-in documents stated boarding time as "1:00 PM," we arrived at the Seattle Terminal around 11:00 AM. Embarkation procedures including luggage drop-off, document check, security, Sea Pass issuance, and boarding were incredibly efficient, easy, and fast. When we met our traveling companions (two couples) in the waiting area at 11:20AM, initial boarding was announced. After posing for a professional "happy snap," the six of us enthusiastically trooped aboard!
The Windjammer Cafe (buffet) was open for lunch. Our checked baggage was delivered to our stateroom within 1.5 hours. (Tip: If you directly deliver your luggage to the bag handlers, you are more likely to receive your bags sooner than passengers who used curb-side service.)
Ship: Having recently undergone refurbishment in dry dock in Singapore, the Rhapsody of the Seas was "ship-shape." Stateroom bathrooms and the Broadway Theater clearly had been remodeled. The ship appeared to be booked to capacity. Common areas usually were packed with people.
Crew: According to the Captain, the Rhapsody crew comprised persons from 52 nations! With one exception, our crew was fantastic, warm, cordial, and professional: from Captain Rob to Cruise Director Anna Bass to the cabin attendants and wait staff. However, three dealers who worked the craps table in the casino on Day 1 were surly, unfriendly, and rude. We never returned to the casino.
Stateroom: Our "large outside ocean view" stateroom on the starboard side was great: Comfortable bed and sitting area. Live satellite TV on a flat screen. Sufficient storage space. Newly remodeled bathroom. One surprise: on port days we were awakened very early in the morning by outside hull noises related to cleaning the cabin windows. (Tip: This disturbance may be avoided by occupying an inside cabin or a stateroom with a balcony.)
Dining: Overall, the food was mediocre, save an occasional dish. Windjammer Cafe provides buffet-style "dining". The Solarium offers healthier food options at its Park Cafe. Cuisine in the Edelweiss main dining room was average. One evening my husband and I dined at the upscale Chops Grille ($30 per person cover charge plus drinks and extended gratuity). We enjoyed the best table in the house, great wait staff, and decent food. Beverage service however was interminably slow. Furthermore, my petit filet was so overcooked and tough that I requested another steak, an action that dampened the "special" dining experience.
Seasickness: Once the ship left protected waters during the first night, the rocking/rolling motion became apparent. Despite two stabilizers on the Rhapsody, her encounter with 8-foot-high waves on the journey to Juneau caused hundreds of passengers to become ill during Day 2. Fortunately, my husband and I felt fine. In the Windjammer Cafe and some common areas, we witnessed prolific vomiting (I'll omit the details), biohazard clean-up personnel, and barf bags strategically placed near stairways and elevators. (Tips: Pack Dramamine, Bonine, ginger root capsules, and/or patches. And, if you feel nauseous, avoid dining in public areas. Please.)
Beverages: We pre-purchased the $35 Water Package. Upon arrival, 18 large bottles of Evian awaited us in our cabin. That's the good news. The not-so-good part is the "nickel and dime" approach to obtaining soft drinks and alcoholic beverages. The generally steep beverage charges and the interruption of signing receipts upon each purchase were tiresome. A lady who was treated in the ship's medical facility for seasickness told me that she was provided a Dramamine-type patch and advised to drink ginger ale, a beverage only available in F&B facilities for $2.25 plus 15% tip.
Solarium: A big disappointment. Crowded with screaming kids. Access to the Solarium is normally restricted to persons age 16 and older. Due to "inclement" weather during the entire cruise, children were allowed in the Solarium during designated hours. Despite the ship's rules, kids were spotted in the two hot tubs (no jets, by the way).
Gratuities: At a minimum, passengers are expected to tip their cabin attendant, head waiter, waiter, and assistant waiter. We purchased pre-paid gratuities from RCCL and added commensurate cash to individual crew envelopes. In addition, a mandatory 15% service charge is added to all beverages except free non-alcoholic drinks (tap water, lemonade, ice tea, and a couple other insipid beverages).
Casino: If you don't want to throw your money away, don't gamble in this casino.
Spa: I attended an excellent health seminar presented by Jessica, a personal trainer. Also had an OK massage later in the week. Decent facility but beware of aggressive product (Elemis) sales pitches at the end of treatments.
Onboard Activities: Our Cruise Director Anna was beyond outstanding. She exudes energy and enthusiasm that are difficult to ignore. She's a treasure!
Ports of Call:
--Juneau, Alaska. Weather was cloudy, cool (about 50F) and rainy. I am not a crab fan but we indulged in Alaskan king crab bisque (to-die-for) and crab cakes at Tracy's Crab Shack (only a couple minutes' stroll from the main dock). Tracy's is a "don't miss" if you want fresh food. We also enjoyed the Mount Roberts Tramway owned by local Tlingit folks. Had the weather been better, we would have walked through the old town section of Alaska's capital.
--Skagway, Alaska. Weather was cloudy but a bit of blue sky peeked through the clouds later in the afternoon. Highly recommend hopping aboard the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway for a scenic, 3+ hour ride. Saw two bear, one frolicking in a bed of dandelions.
--Victoria, British Columbia. Weather was partly cloudy with temps in the mid-60s F. Victoria is a lovely Canadian city. Enjoyed the two-hour "scenic bus tour." Splurged on afternoon tea at the famed Empress Hotel (about $80 per person included tax and gratuity). Sampling chocolate at the venerable Roger's Chocolates is another "must do."
Glacier Cruising: We viewed beautiful Dawes Glacier at the end of Endicott Arm Fjord, Alaska. Captain Rob explained Tracy Arm Fjord, our original destination, was still full of ice, inhibiting close viewing of Sawyer Glacier.
Port of Disembarkation: We used the "Express" check out; disembarkation was a breeze.
Transportation to Airport: Scores of "Yellow Cabs" were awaiting passengers near the terminal exit. The Yellow Cab that transported us to the airport hotel was filthy; appeared to have never been cleaned. Expect to pay at least $55-60 including tip for a taxi to Sea-Tac airport.
Airport Hotel: The Marriott Seattle Airport offered a welcome respite from seven days of living in close quarters. Our corner room on the top (9th) floor was spacious, quiet, and comfortable. Food was awesome as the dining facilities offered sustainable cuisine including fresh northwestern salmon and halibut. Complimentary shuttle to the airport departs every 15 minutes. Highly recommend this hotel.
Overall: The camaraderie of our friends, awesome crew, and new adventures contributed to the enjoyment of our first cruise. However, the mediocre food, "nickel 'n dime" beverage services, and crowded common areas detracted from my overall rating: 7 out of 10.