Although we are from Nebraska, we have friends in Denver that we enjoy traveling with. We loved the fact that the ship sailed from Vancouver B.C., sailed the Inside Passage, and then the cruise concluded at Seattle. We purposely booked three nights prior and two nights after in those cities. In just under two weeks we enjoyed three vacations in one, with many bucket list experiences.
Normally, it makes more sense financially to book round trip airfare to Seattle, then Amtrak or shuttle it to Vancouver. However, because our travel friends work for a major airline out of Denver, we were able to take advantage of a "family and friends" type program, so we flew in early direct to Vancouver. For three nights we stayed right at the port, Canada Place..at the Pan Pacific. This is an expensive hotel;for good reason. The facilities, service, the rooms, the views of the many floater planes landing and taking off, the cruise ships docking and departing, are spectacular!! Also, so many things are within walking distance, shops,pubs,fast food, and the historic Gastown District. And no need for taxi to the ship. It was literally spitting distance. Access to boarding is direct from the hotel. After 3 nights, and visits to Vancouver musts like: Capilano rain forest, Granville Island, Stanley Park (and the Aquarium), we almost hated to leave. But the morning of 5/24 as we gazed at the lovely Rhapsody of the Seas as it prepared for the first Alaska cruise of the season, we were ready for 'the main event'...
Along with my wife, Beth and our friends, my college age step-daughter and Mother-in-Law were also along for the adventure, using two outside-window cabins on deck 3, 3550 and 3552. When we booked 10 months prior, the price for this early season voyage was very reasonable (and before it sold out, the price went up considerably, so at least for Alaska, best to book early), and the difference between inside and outside was only about $50, so we went with the window, and we are so glad we did. Canada Place is one of the most beautiful ports I have sailed from, but with three ships in at once it was at full capacity and embarkation was very busy, and, what I would call "controlled frenzy". Still, the whole process took all of 90 minutes, and all of us were enjoying our first lunch at the Windjammer by 1 pm.
The first cruise Beth and I ever took together was on the Rhapsody of the Seas back when it was doing 7 day Caribbean runs out of Galveston. We thought it was lovely then, but even though it's older now, the recent refurbishment gives the appearance of a newer ship. The cabins, at 154 square feet, cannot be called spacious, but perfect for two, with upscale touches like raised bowl sink in the (tiny but modern) bathroom. The shower had great pressure. I have read other reviews that at times the hot water ran out too quickly, and my step daughter said this about their cabin next door, but that was never an issue with us (maybe we were using it all???)Had a nice flat screen, bed was extremely comfortable, more than enough storage room. The refurb brought some nice design updates to the ship. Each deck has it's own artistic theme. Our deck was rock and roll; with framed historic posters and pictures (some autographed) of legendary acts like the Beatles, Stones...Elvis was right next to Mom-in Laws cabin 3552. It was like a Hard Rock Cafe presentation on the seas. Very cool.As for the rest of the ship,cruise critics review and pictures tell the story better than I could, but suffice to say we were very happy with the ship.
The staff and service: We couldn't help but notice, at the very first, before the muster drill that as we walked by some of the bar staff, they were not as engaged with the passengers as we might expect, talking among themselves, not going out of their way to greet us. For whatever reason that changed, like a switch was turned on after the muster. What would be our favorite lounge, the Schooner Bar (did team trivia there three times a day)..the staff came alive, asking our names, and remembering them throughout the cruise. Excellent, attentive service, and the drinks, always cold, tasty, and never "stingy". We did "My Time" dining, and the service, and our waiter, Andrew..who served us most nights, amazed us the first evening my naming all 7 of us around the table. We had pre-registered My Time times before the cruise and he had memorized the list. Needless to say we were impressed, as we were with the service, and most of the food throughout the week. I had one piece of grilled chicken that had been overcooked and it was dry. Andrew whisked it away and assured us he would inform the head waiter and the chef.So, I went for the prime rib. Being from Nebraska, I know good beef, and it wasn't the best I had ever had, but it was darn good.We tried Giovanni's one night.I would call it Old Country Italian.My wife would have preferred the steakhouse Chops, but in my opinion, the food and the service was well worth the $20 fee.It didn't hurt that the ship Captain personally came to our table to greet us. Our cabin steward was appropriately friendly, and kept our stateroom immaculate. It was always a delight to relax in the cozy confines after another great day.
The entertainment was, on balance, good. Perhaps the most fun was Derek, who conducted what some might call a PG-13 rated sing along Kareoke type thing in the Schooner Bar late night.My wife and her daughter got into the fun and got a C.D of their performance (for a small fee of course). The other music and fly-in performers (a juggler and a singer/impersonator) offered on the ship varied from OK to very good, but all of this can be very subjective. We missed the two big productions shows but saw the performers, dancers and singers in the farewell show. Also, the house band, as is usually the case were excellent musicians.
The biggest disappointment was the much hyped aerial show in the Centrum. At least at this point, it needs work; but this really was a minor issue for us.
The ports: Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan, all have their own incredible charms; and all of them with that beautiful Alaska mountainous backdrop. For more information on these ports,refer to cruise critics excellent professional reviews. While in these ports, all or some of our group enjoyed: the Mendenhall Glacier, the White Pass train (a must), zip-lining, a Whale Watch excursion, the Lumberjack show. We also enjoyed a "pub tour" of sorts in all the stops. Although undoubtedly touristy, perhaps the highlight was the Red Dog Saloon in Juneau. But honorable mentions go to the Red Orchid and Bonanza Bar and Grill in Skagway, and the Fish Pirate in Ketchikan.
One of the reasons this cruise cost less than the same cruise later in the summer is: weather. Late May in the Northeast and the Alaska Inside Passage can be very iffy. It can be cloudy, rainy and cool. From the second day in Vancouver all the way through our post Seattle stay, we had uncharacteristically dry and clear weather. Even the Captain remarked several times during his daily reports how blessed we were. It made for some very dramatic, "chamber of commerce" views of every port.
When we sailed into Seattle, we were sad to leave our Rhapsody home, but comforted to know we would not have to rush off the ship like so many. We lingered in the special lounge reserved for Platinum, Emerald and Diamond level passengers (coffee, rolls...nice touch) until we were getting the polite 'time to get off' looks from the staff, and embarkation, while never fun, was uneventful. We enjoyed two nights in Seattle at the airport Embassy Suites. We visited the Public Market, rode the Seattle Great Wheel (similar to the London Eye), went to the top of the Space Needle, enjoyed the Seattle Museum of Science near the needle, before our early flight on a Sunday morning returned us safely to Denver, before our 5 hour drive back to Kearney, Nebraska.
I cannot guarantee the picture postcard perfect weather we enjoyed if you choose an Alaska cruise, but I can highly recommend the Rhapsody of the Seas to take you there for a great bucket list adventure. Happy Sails!