Alaska, whales and glaciers have always been a destination we've wanted to experience. We had heard great things about Royal Caribbean, so we decided to take the 7 night Alaska Sawyer Glacier Cruise from Seattle on the Rhapsody. My husband and I had cruised once before on another cruise line, but primarily do resort vacations for the all-inclusive style. We are in our late 30's/40's and we sailed this trip with another couple who are also our age; we didn't bring our children on this cruise. We also purchased the premium drink package because we prefer the feel of all-inclusive and there's no shock at the end of the week when the bill comes.
Embarkation was speedy and effortless, and the personnel who helped us with luggage and boarding were so friendly and helpful, it really set a great tone for the week.
The ship. The Rhapsody may be an older ship, but she is in great shape. We found the entire ship to be very clean and well cared for, and often saw maintenance doing touch ups and generally keeping things bright and clean. Our stateroom, 7080, had a balcony and was just off the Centrum, but still quiet enough that we slept well and had plenty of privacy. I would highly recommend a balcony for any Alaska cruise. There's too much to see throughout the trip, and often the upper decks were a little too chilly to spend long periods out there watching.
The staff. We can't say enough about how wonderful the staff of the Rhapsody was the entire week. Graham, the cruise director, and his entire staff were so energetic and friendly from morning until late at night. Belle, Katie and Lee all provided humor and energy to every activity ' keeping what appeared to be an exhausting schedule, always with a smile. The dining and bar staff was all very helpful and friendly. The Viking Crown Lounge staff (especially Jancil) gave us great tips on where and when we could best see whales off the ship and gave us great service in general. We did MTD, and in the dining room, found our wait staff to be terrific too. Our room attendant did a great job, and was so friendly we couldn't help but smile every time we saw her.
Activities. The ship provided a good variety of activities. We tried some of the trivia, karaoke and game-show style activities and had a great time. We enjoyed the late night adult sing-along in the Schooner bar. We loved the idea of the chef demonstration (and the samples), although we would have liked to have been in a location where we could actually have watched the chefs more closely. In the Centrum, we couldn't see much. Our only real complaint about activities had nothing to do with the programming or the staff. There were children everywhere, all the time. There weren't many kids in total on the ship, but the ones who were there weren't well supervised. Every karaoke event featured the same 6 year old, who was cute the first time...not so much the third or fourth. There were always kids on the dance floor rolling around, even hanging around in the Schooner Bar all the way up until someone asked them to leave for the adults-only shows. If there were kids' activities on the ship, we couldn't tell...they were cannonballing into the hot tub unsupervised and in the middle of the adult activities most of the time.
Entertainment. We didn't attend the production style shows in the theater because it's not generally our style of show. The aerial performers in the Centrum were entertaining, but the seating there is so limited it was difficult to find a place to see the show with a good view. This was the case with many of the Centrum activities; it's just a tight venue for any larger audience. The real entertainment highlights on this trip were the Headliner shows. John Joseph & Johnny B were really funny on Day 2, Greg London was truly excellent and a highlight of the cruise, and the adult comedy shows were great fun.
Ports & Sailing. Captain Rob did a wonderful (and often humorous) job of keeping us informed regarding what we'd be seeing and our progress in general. The morning we headed into Juneau, we were out on our balcony at about 5 a.m. (hard to adjust to the time zone change for us Midwesterners) and saw at least 30 whales off our balcony over the course of an hour or so. We saw more whales off the ship (from the VCL, from the Windjammer, from everywhere) throughout the trip than on any whale-watching excursion. We had a little seal bobbing off our balcony the morning we sailed into Skagway. We booked our excursions privately before we sailed. We felt we had plenty of time in both Juneau and Skagway, but wished our stop in Victoria, BC had been longer. The trip to Dawes Glacier was spectacular. Captain Rob got us up as close as possible (and it felt very close) and then turned the ship around a couple of times so that we all got beautiful views (and photos) and got to see calving and hear the thunderous sound of the ice crashing in to the water below. Again, we feel a balcony on this trip was essential; we got to have the entire glacier morning in our PJs (with a jacket, of course).
Food & Drink. The food on the ship was excellent. We did My Time Dining for most of the trip and ate some breakfasts and lunches in the MDR, some in the Park Caf', and some in the Windjammer. Park Caf' is a really nice venue for a 'normal' sized breakfast or lunch. The MDR left us hungry at breakfast and lunch sometimes, while the Windjammer mostly left us overstuffed. We didn't try the premium restaurants, but felt we had plenty of wonderful food nonetheless. I've seen lots of debate about the drink packages and whether they are 'worth it.' I'm fairly sure I didn't drink the cost equivalent over the course of the cruise, especially with the number of days in port for long periods. But the all-inclusive feel of not worrying about the drink bill at the end of the week was priceless for us. If I saw a pretty drink I wanted to try, I tried it. I did have an issue with the lack of wine selections. For the cost of the premium package, there should have been more than Chardonnay as a white selection. House Merlot, Cabernet and Chardonnay were the only wine selections. For a wine drinker, the package would be awful, in my opinion.
RCCL provided a Cruise Critic 'meet & mingle' event for us on day 2 and we enjoyed meeting other cruisers from the site. There were some raffle prizes and appetizers; it was a nice event to start our trip. We took the Spa tour and our friends won a spa credit; we also participated in a couple of seminars there and found the staff, facilities and services to be top-notch, too. And don't let anyone tell you no one wins in the casino, my husband spent an hour there playing slots and brought a nice little stack of money back from the trip.
Overall, this was a wonderful trip, on and off the ship. We felt the entire trip was a destination, with the views off the balcony and the terrific atmosphere the staff created inside. We'd definitely recommend this ship and this itinerary to anyone looking for a relaxing, enjoyable and gorgeous trip to Alaska.