I'm putting photos together from our cruise vacation...it's hard to believe that it was only weeks ago that we sailed on the Rhapsody of the Seas. Our seven day cruise sailed from Galveston on November 27, 2005 for Key West, Grand Cayman and Cozumel. Being first time cruisers, my husband and I were unsure of what to expect or whether we would even enjoy cruising; the information we got from the Cruise Critic boards helped tremendously. We enjoyed the "Meet and Mingle" and getting to know some of the Cruise Critic members.
Our cruise wasn't planned months in advance, in fact, we booked only two weeks before the sail date. My husband and I are celebrating our 25th anniversary this year and upon my urging, he agreed to try a cruise. It was so great that we are already planning our next cruise vacation!
Here's a quick summary:
Rhapsody of the Seas: nice ship decor, clean and well maintained throughout Accommodations: compact, clean cabin with plenty of storage for two people Staff: excellent service, courteous and helpful Food: good and plenty, but not a foodie cruise like we've always heard about; the casual buffet was the same every day, the evening dining had different themes, the dining staff were attentive and personable Activities: plenty of shipboard activities from morning till night, some, like the Quest game, are a little wild and crazy...but, you'll never see these people again, right? :) Destinations: great sampling of destinations; just short enough to make you want to return Excursions: great snorkeling tour in Grand Cayman, LOVED the Segway Adventure/Snorkel tour in Cozumel; all tour operators were personable and super-friendly
Galveston Cruise Terminal: we live in Galveston and really weren't aware of the growing pains the cruise terminal is going through. A lot of improvements are needed and are already in progress, such as roadways and traffic flow. The next time any cruise terminal improvements come up on the ballot, we will definitely vote in favor of those improvements. Galveston needs to continue to work hard to keep the cruise lines coming here. In the meantime, have patience with the process and the road construction. The porters at the terminal are friendly, hard-working local folks. You will recognize them by their tropical-print shirts. We drove to the terminal to drop off our luggage ahead of time and our porter met us at the car, unloaded everything and while I waited with the car, he and my husband walked into the terminal where he explained the terminal procedures and showed my husband where we needed to go next when we returned to board the ship. We tipped our porter around $1.50 per bag and he certainly earned it.
By the way, the cruise has no problem with you bringing a case of bottled water with your checked luggage. Just mark the case with your cabin number like any of your other luggage. We brought a case of 32 bottles of water and used them all week long. The bottled water was especially handy to bring along on our shore excursions. You will notice as you're leaving on shore days, the ship will sell you one bottle of water for $3.50; we paid $4.80 for the entire case.
Carry-on Luggage: we followed the tip about putting a change of clothes in a backpack to carry on so we wouldn't need to wait for luggage sent to our cabin. All carry-ons are scanned at the terminal before getting in line for the embarkation process. It turned out we didn't need the extra clothes because our luggage was delivered to our cabin very quickly. However, we used our backpacks on every shore excursion, I highly recommend it. The backpacks came in handy for carrying dry clothes after snorkeling, plenty of bottled water and toting purchases. All bags are scanned when you re-board the ship. Embarkation Process: use your passport and processing will go very smoothly. (In fact, by December 2006, cruisers will be required to present passports to return to the US. Just make it easy on yourself and get your passport now.) The lines were long, but the processing went quickly because we had our paperwork (SetSail Pass) completed online at RCI's web site. However, for some strange reason, I had to complete and re-sign paperwork for the on-ship account again, even though I had completed it online. The agent said it had to do with the computer systems not talking to one another...ain't technology grand?
Where the Action is: when you get onboard, check out your cabin, drop off your carry-ons, then make your way to the 9th floor pool deck, where the party starts. That's where you can buy a fruity umbrella drink ($6 each), listen to Caribbean steel-drum music around the pool, or check out the casual buffet at the Windjammer. Take some time to walk around and discover all the ship has to offer, like the pool in the Solarium. It won't be long before you'll hear the announcement that you need to make your way back to your cabin to put on the life vest that is laid on your bed and report to Muster Drill.
Muster Drill: they take this drill seriously, so, do the rest of us a favor, don't come holding your fifth umbrella drink and act stupid...wait until *after* Muster for that. :) They make you stand at your Muster station in your life vest until everyone on the ship is accounted for and in place...and I mean everyone. That begins to feel like a loooong time...then finally, the captain makes an announcement and you're released to go start your vacation. The ship will leave port shortly after, so don't miss the chance to grab a drink and wave goodbye to all the folks left behind on the dock.
Photos: the professional photographers snap your photo wherever you go...in the dining room, getting on the ship, getting off the ship, in the ship's Centrum...you get the idea. Go with it and put on your best smile, the photos are usually great, reasonably priced and there is absolutely no obligation to buy them. The photos are on display and you choose whether to take them or not. I told my husband that we *will* have a photo taken on formal night for our 25th wedding anniversary, and after some grousing, he really got into the idea and actually looked forward to it. We had several poses taken so we would have plenty to choose from. In all, we bought three formal night photos, another photo with Captain Teo and an informal photo, total about $99. If you take part in some of the "wild and crazy" activities, expect to be on the ship's video that will be for sale at the end of your cruise week.
Ship Activities: the Cruise Compass newsletter is delivered to the cabin nightly and is full of info about the next day's activities. It was our best source of information; we usually brought the Daily Planner section with us to breakfast to look over the day's activities. Drew Devine, the cruise activities director, keeps the energy high. He is a great MC and a pretty good drummer too.
What not to miss? The Captain's Reception (free champagne and a good photo op with the captain), the nightly production shows, Captain's Corner (Q&A with Captain Teo), Caribbean Night/Buffet around the pool, the spa and fitness center, the rock climbing wall, talent night, the various dance parties and audience participation game shows; a different game is going on each night. Also, check out the $10 items at the ship's boutiques...love the pashminas and the wide-brimmed travel hats. (Although I recognize the $10 sale items as being the same imports available on Harwin Drive in Houston, I liked the convenience of picking up pashminas (shawls) in several colors at $10 each, and having one to wear to dinner that night.) Other bargains: later in the week, the spa offers specials, 3 services for $99.
Excursions: we purchased independent tours online for Key West and Grand Cayman, then purchased a tour through Royal Caribbean online for Cozumel. I highly recommend any of the tours as they were thoroughly entertaining and a good value. It was impressive that the tickets we purchased ahead through RCI were waiting in our cabin when were boarded the Rhapsody.
In Key West, I booked the "Ghosts of Key West" walking tour online about a week before sailing (www.hauntedtours.com) ($15). We couldn't care less about ghosts, but because the ship arrived so late in the day, we wanted to see Key West's points of interest and thought it might be entertaining too. We weren't disappointed. Michelle, our tour guide, came dressed in Victorian costume and carried an oil lamp to guide our group through the dark streets of Key West while she told us tales of lost sea captains, eccentric husbands and a "living" doll. Pretty entertaining and a pleasant walk to see the architecture and homes around town. Now, I see the same tour company has an Ernest Hemingway walking tour, we might try that next time. Best kept secret for nice t-shirts in Key West?...Walgreens! I bought two embroidered Key West t-shirts that change colors in the sun...2 for $9.99!
In Grand Cayman, I booked the "Half Day Snorkel Trip" online through Captain Marvin's (captainmarvins.com) ($40). This is a 3-hour trip that includes two reef snorkeling stops and a stop at the Stingray City sandbar. This tour was probably the best and most memorable part of our cruise and I recommend it to anyone. Although I have my own snorkel equipment, the snorkels, masks and fins are provided. The underwater disposable cameras we brought with us took awesome photos in the crystal clear water. Also, there is a videographer onboard who will record your underwater encounters with the fish and stingrays...the video is well worth the $65 price tag.
In Cozumel, I booked the "Segway Adventure and Snorkel" through Royal Caribbean excursions online ($89). I highly recommend this tour by Sunshine Tours. There is nothing like riding a Segway! Our tour guide, Carlos, was wonderful...he was so friendly and gave my husband and I personal attention during the snorkel from Uvas Beach Club. Cozumel has suffered tremendous damage from Hurricane Wilma and has damaged the beaches and shoreline reefs. We did encounter some small schools of fish, but the reef is nothing like it was. Uvas Beach Club is super...clear kayaks, scuba, snorkeling, restaurant and bar (http://gocozumel.com/kayaks-snorkeling-uvas/). Carlos said the club really comes alive as a party place at night. Made us wish the ship was staying late...maybe next time! Best deal on t-shirts in Cozumel: the vendors selling t-shirts on the water taxis for $5; nice designs and what a great way to shop...from your seat!
What we would do differently next time: bring fewer clothes and skip the formal attire; use the casual dining at the Windjammer for dinner instead of the dining room; spend more time at the pool and spa; skip Bingo completely (ugh!); stay up late and join the dance parties; carry our own bags and use Express Departure.