My first cruise and first trip overseas and I absolutely loved cruising but would definitely say it is not for everyone.
OFFSHORE: My highlights were snorkeling at 3 places - On the Isle of Pines where I saw between 20 and 30 beautiful varieties of fish (my first snorkel ever), At Lifou I swam along with 3 turtles, 1 really big one and 2 smaller (all at different times, but just on the first beach from the ship where there was really nothing to snorkel for and I was really just expecting to enjoy a swim - amazing and LUCKY!) then when we got to Noumea, we went on a water taxi to Duck Island where there is a guided snorkel path - More awesomely beautiful fish and I wish we had gone earlier to stay for longer but we finished the day with some nice French brie and a crunchy baguette by the bay before going back on ship - yum! Our only night when we skipped the dining room, lol. Another highlight was visiting the Volcanic Earth Day Spa in Vanuatu - full boy massage, coconut cream bath and a mini facial (almost 2 hours for around $100A - and lovely staff). Highly recommend all of the above :)
POOL - We loved the Solarium - adults only pool area. There were some issues with a particular child messing in the other pool and it was drained and refilled twice (good that they do that though for health and safety). The whirlpools are nice but not bubbly (also for safety - meh!) and the actual pool in the Solarium is small but fun as it swirls and has tides based on movement of the ship. The biggest problem we had there is that some rude people leave there stuff on the loungers and hog them for the whole day whilst hardly spending any time there - that was very annoying! Our biggest recommendation here would be to treat others the way you would like to be treated and next time, I will be more proactive and ask for something to be done by the attendant if I notice a spot unattended for a long period (they really don't do anything otherwise).
FOOD - We didn't eat at any of the specialty restaurants - we were going to but just didn't get to it, but no need really. We ate all dinners except one in the main dining room where we had a good table of people who also mostly came every night - some people were less lucky and were isolated at large tables all alone or with people they didn't really communicate with, however, I would suggest that they would accommodate a request to move if it was possible. It was 3 courses and we enjoyed most dishes but had the occasional dodgy one (but it is important to remember that whilst they try to emulate fine dining in these places, they are firstly; out to sea, and secondly; catering to a very large number of people so we took this into account and felt that overall, and for the price we paid, it was very good). Our recommendation would be to order carefully and to listen to your head waiter's suggestions as ours was pretty spot on. Also handy to know is that if you really want to, you can order an extra dish every now and again, ie; if you can't decide between 2 entrees or something. The WINDJAMMER CAFE is a big buffet, we ate most of our breakfasts there and quite a few of our lunches. It has a wide variety of food and many very good quality things but there are a few dodgy things (especially some of the desserts, but then again some are delicious, LOL). Our biggest tip here is to go for a walk around the buffet and have a good look before finding yourself a table and then going back to get what you want once you know all the options. The third food place is THE PARK CAFE which is in the Solarium, they have nice healthy snack foods, soups and sandwiches/roll etc. plus mixed salads and soups and a few bikkies and cakes. Breakfast there is simple and very nice - eg; fruit, yoghurt and museli cups or bagels filled with smoked salmon and cream cheese, etc. The good thing about this venue is they are open until the early hours (1 or 2 am) and then open again about 6am.
CABIN: We had a large (still small but fine) inside stateroom on the 3rd floor. It was perfectly good for what it was but expect a very small shower. There is plenty of storage room in cupboards and drawers, the beds were extremely comfortable (and I usually struggle with that) and our steward was a lovely guy who was friendly and attentive but not in your face. We spent very little time in our cabin so what does it matter to have a big room. Our biggest tip here, (not mine, I read it online but it works a treat) is that as there are no windows, the room is pitch black when you put the lights out so put the telly onto the shipcam channel to give yourself a pseudo window - angle it away from you if too bright - it's great in the morning to see the outside world when you wake up. :)
ENTERTAINMENT: Some great music onboard - from bands to piano to a pool deck disco - With a range of styles and eras covered throughout the cruise. Mostly mainstream stuff though which is OK with me but not for everyone. There is bingo, trivia and jewellery making and many more small events scheduled throughout the cruise. There are different shows in the Broadway Theatre every night but, in my opinion, these varied from pretty average to quite dodgy but there were plenty of other people who really enjoyed themselves. I'm a bit of a musical theatre lover but it has to be quality and they just didn't come close to the mark for me, however, we went to every show anyway - and only one of them elicited the comment from my friend that there was an hour of our lives we wouldn't get back, LOL! I might have said it more like 3 times out of the 8 if I wasn't so polite. I would say that some of the actual performers were talented singers or dancers but it was just the way the shows were put together. I had been looking forward to the comedian but ours was an old timer with some very outdated material (it wasn't his age, it was his style and attitude too). The funniest and best part of every show was the intro and conclusion from the Cruise Director who is very talented. There was some good stuff in the central area too, including some acrobatics and some disco theme nights and competitions. What you need to remember is that they are catering to a wide variety of patrons so not everything will be for you. We probably didn't get as involved as many others so I might not be the best judge but we did enjoy some of these things.
TIPPING: Many ships have a thing where you pay your gratitudes up front and we did this. However, if you work out what people earn working on these ships, and consider the service you get from some of your regular servers, we thought it necessary to tip further. We tipped our head waiter, assistant waiter on the last night and our cabin steward at the beginning and end of the cruise. There was also a waitress that we became friendly with who served us regularly and we tipped her too. I did notice that some staff did try to befriend you in this way and I would suspect this is their way of hopefully scoring a few extra tips - but they do usually deserve it as they work pretty hard :)
NOW, having been a pretty negative critic in many areas above, I have to say that I fell in love with cruising anyway and would not hesitate to go again. I think the Rhapsody of the Seas is an absolutely lovely ship and I would go back on it in a flash. I guess my point is that this type of holiday is not for everyone. Whilst there were many things I didn't think much of, I was also willing to accept it the way it was and enjoy it no matter what, and we did have a great time.