We were first time cruisers and were looking for a cruise liner and destination that would suit our budget and the needs of our family of five. After reading many of the reviews for many different cruise companies on Cruise Critic, we decided to go with Royal Caribbean and Rhapsody of the Seas and we are very happy with our choice. The cruise was wonderful!
Rhapsody left Sydney on 23/1/13 and we arrived home on 1/2/13. Our ports of call were Isle of Pines, Lifou, Mystery Island and Noumea with just under three days sailing there and back.
Embarkation: We were given an embarkation time of 2pm for our deck and we arrived just after that time at the OPT. The process onto the ship was relatively fast and seamless, I think. I'd hazard a guess that it took approximately 30 - 40 minutes from the time we arrived and dropped off our bags and then headed up to get our photos taken, sea passes and then on through Customs. Considering that Rhapsody was at full capacity with just under 2400 passengers to process, I think that was excellent.
Staff: We were greeted by a multitude of staff on entering the ship, all with friendly faces, directing us to various areas of the ship that we might be interested in - Vitality Spa, Adventure Ocean Kids Club, etc. Our Stateroom Attendant, Esron, was amazing! Could not have asked for a friendlier, more helpful person. Nothing was too much trouble for him and the kids loved him, especially our son. Our wait staff, Anoop, Ajay and Sanchin, in Eidelweiss Restaurant were fantastic. Great with recommendations from the menu for all types of appetites and if someone didn't like something, they'd whip it away and bring along something else. Ajay kept the kids entertained with tricks and brainteasers which could engross our whole table of 10 for over 10 minutes sometimes! All other staff we encountered were friendly and helpful and they managed their duties without being obtrusive. Captain Rob was fantastic and we really enjoyed his 'High Noon' broadcasts which were very entertaining. His Captain's Corner chat on day 9 was great.
Staterooms: Being a family of five, we chose to book two Large Interior Staterooms on Deck 3 that were twin and triple share. They were roughly about mid ship which we wanted to try and minimise any excessive ship movement. Our rooms 3573 and 3571 were lovely and quiet, great air conditioning and completely dark at night. Both cabins had twin beds pushed together to make a queen bed and our kids cabin had an additional single bunk. Beds and pillows were comfortable, bedding crisp and clean, there was a mini bar but no fridge (which would be an improvement). Flat screen TV showed a range of channels (only one from Australia - ABC) with a lot of US stations. There was a kids channel which was great for late night entertaining of the kids if they weren't ready for sleep. The bathroom looked new and always clean - although for my husband (6ft 4 in) the shower was a tad small. There is storage under the bed. Lots of drawers and a good sized wardrobe. There is also a safe which was great for those items you wanted to lock away.
Food: There was ample food EVERYWHERE!! My husband was in heaven! We chose to eat dinner at the Eidelweiss Restaurant and had first seating at 6pm. We had a lovely table by the window, shared with another family of 5, with kids of a similar age. The food was lovely - 3 course meals, with a wide range of variety for any appetite. There was also a kids menu as well. We tended to eat breakfast and lunch at the Windjammer Cafe on Deck 9 which had lovely views at the front of the ship. Food was buffet style and again lots of variety. There was also Park Cafe which offered food across the day if the Windjammer was closed. There were three specialty restaurants, Chops Grille, Portofino and Isuzu's which can be dined at for a small additional fee. We chose not to eat there because we were really happy at Eidelweiss but did hear good reviews from those who did. There is free icecream (which was revealed to be frozen yoghurt - tricked the kids) on Deck 9 near the pool which was delicious. There is also Ben and Jerry's icecream on Deck 6 near Cafe Latte-tudes which served lovely coffee. Both of those came at an additional charge but were definitely reasonable.
Entertainment/Activities: Ricky Matthews was the Cruise Director and he and James, the Activities Director, made sure that there was activities and shows to entertain everyone. The whole team was amazing. Each night there was a performance in the Broadway Melodies Theatre from the Rhapsody Singers and Dancers to hypnotists, comedians and magicians and a Motown group. These were of a really high quality and I can't fault a single thing here. The whole family loved it. During the day and evening, there were seminars, art auctions, bingo, dance classes, performances in the Centrum, specialty classes like scrap booking, towel animals, jewelry making, etc and other games (sometimes adult only), discos and dance parties by the pool, movies played on the large screen, pool side - there was so much choice, that is just a small sample. You can get involved in as much or as little as you like. There was also the rock climbing wall at the back of the ship which was a hit with the kids and we never had to wait long at all to get on. There is a Casino, the Shall We Dance Lounge along with the Schooner Bar and the Viking Lounge which was great for a cocktail (or two!).
Rhapsody: Had a refit 12 months before. Looked lovely. Although it was a full ship, I can honestly say that I never felt crowded or had to wait in line too long anywhere. The ship is clean and set out really well. The ship had one main pool for everyone with a couple of whirlpools which were lovely to sit in and watch the outdoor movie. There were always plenty of deck chairs in and out of the sun. The Solarium is for 16 years and over so can be a nice respite with its lovely pool and deck chairs. Kids are allowed to come in between a certain time if the weather is particularly bad but otherwise, its a kid free zone. Vitality Spa offered lots of pampering and seminars. The Gym was also available for use for those who are interested. There is a walking track on Deck 10 - beautiful view!! - for those who want to try and walk off a little of that wonderful food. Plenty of seating in public areas with a view over the Centrum. Allows you to sit down and read or chat to people, look at at the wonderful view and listen to the music/entertainment on Deck 4. There is also a small library/bookshelf for public use and a small selection of shops.
Kids Club: Our kids were 17, 11 and 8. Only our 8 year old went to kids club and he loved it. Lots of activities, movies, games, etc. Our other two decided that they didn't want to go. Ages for kids club are broken into 3-5, 6-8, 9-11, 12-15 with some specialty activities for teens aged 15-17.
Ports of Call: Beautiful islands, definitely take your own snorkelling gear otherwise you can buy it on the ship for an inflated price. You can hire some on the islands too if you need to. The water was beautiful, got to see fish, coral, turtles, starfish, etc. Markets on Mystery Island were the best for souvenirs - also the markets at Noumea. Take reef shoes too or wear flippers as the sand in Lifou, Mystery Island and Noumea is rocky or full of coral/shells which makes walking painful. The sand on Isle of Pines was amazing - so soft it felt like flour. The CBD of Noumea seemed a little scary as we were so clearly tourist and there seemed to be many groups of teenagers/early twenties groups of people congregating on corners or sitting down on the footpath watching you. Seemed to be homeless or very poor. There was a police presence which was reassuring. We took a bus south to a lovely bay (not as far as Anse Vata) which was gorgeous but I would recommended buying the $5 Shuttle bus ticket which allows you to hop on and off buses as you want. There were also a number of tours you could choose to go on.
Disembarking: We elected to do the self assist departure which meant we carried off our own luggage unassisted from 7am on day of arrival back into Sydney. It was a hassle free way to go and we were off and cleared through customs within 15 minutes.
Gratuities: We elected not to prepay our gratuities because we don't necessarily agree with the whole US style of tipping and found that most Aussies didn't feel comfortable with it either. However, having said that, we would probably prepay any future cruise just for convenience. Once you see how hard the staff are working, it doesn't seem too much to give. I think a better system would be to incorporate gratuities into the overall cruise rate/price so that people know exactly what they are paying and the staff receive what they should be receiving as apparently, only 85% of Aussies actually pay what the recommended amount is.
We would give this cruise a 9/10 - it was fantastic value for money, great entertainment, lovely ship and super friendly, helpful staff. Couldn't ask for more for our first cruising experience :)