OK, a little background here. This was cruise number ten for me, the third with RCL. This was a special trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. I enjoyed it last year on the Nordic Empress and wanted to do it again.
This was the first time I boarded from Galveston. The embarkation was strenuous, took almost ten minutes. The port staff were friendly and the bus driver from the airport to the pier was almost worth the trip all by himself. I had communicated with many people on cruise critic via the boards before the trip and we had an unofficial get together for sail away. One of the members had made little name tags which helped to break the ice and get ourselves introduced to many nice people. The party started right at sailaway and set the tone for the rest of the trip. If you are reading this review, it is probably because you are considering a cruise. Sign up for a roll call on cruise critic. I met so many nice people from around the country by chatting on line then meeting in person. Had friends before I boarded.
I found the ship to be adequate, as compared to some of the newer larger ships I have been on. The cleanliness and helpfulness of the crew were up to the high standards I'm used to from RCL with the exception of the smoking area on the pool deck. For some reason the tables were always sticky and the ashtrays seldom emptied. Do I expect too much? On other lines, I put out a cigarette, and the ashtray is emptied before I can notice it.
Due to a boat collision at the mouth of the Mississippi, we could not dock at the port of New Orleans. Instead, we went to Gulfport Mississippi and RCL arranged to bus us to New Orleans. I thought it was a very nice thing for them to do. And these were regular high quality buses, not school buses. They must have been very difficult to come by on such short notice, and I thank RCL for going the extra mile to make sure we did not miss too much of the festivities. Some cruisers expected some huge compensation for the inconvenience, but I believe most of us took the view it wasn't RCL's fault and they did the best they could for us. In fact, RCL, gave us a credit of $100 to make up for it. This was above and beyond as far as I'm concerned.
Mardi Gras was fantastic and something you should think about experiencing. As for the ship, it provided everything you could want. Interior solarium, with pool and jacuzzi as well as the outside pool and the jacuzzis there. The public art was tucked away in different parts of the ship, and was amazing. I would recommend you take an hour or two, tour the ship, and enjoy the art. It was exceptional.
As usual, the formal dining room had excellent fare and service. There was discussion about the "ranch steak" which was served with the lobster. We all wondered what cut of beef it was, because it was a little tough. Of course, if you chewed 100 times like mom told you, it would eventually go down. It also took some getting used to when you ordered a salad for dinner. Three different dressings each night and not always one I wanted. I'm also used to 2 or 3 choices of salad, on this ship we had one choice each night. But again the majority of the food, especially the cold strawberry soup and the cold pineapple soup, were to die for. Also had an outstanding blackberry and apple tart for lunch in the dinning room, which I must say was the best desert I have ever had.
I found the Windjammer cafe (buffet line), to be a little sparse and a little low on service. Especially considering I was told the ship was not full. The same appeared to be true in the bar areas. Several of the bars didn't open until late afternoon, which ordinarily would have been okay. But serval times, the wind was so bad on pool deck they closed the pool bar. People moved inside, but the pool bar staff was not reassigned to serve the inside bars, nor were the closed bars opened early. I'm used to sitting in a bar and having a waiter come around every 10 to 15 minutes. For many periods, I had the choice of walking to the bar myself, or getting sober. As always, I noticed the casino had waiters stationed every few feet.
As for entertainment, to be honest, I am my own entertainment and seldom go to the onboard shows. From what I heard, they were the usual fare. I did enjoy the piano and easy listening at the champagne Bar on deck four. The Bartender Sinan was a great guy and offered exceptional service. Can't get off this topic without a complaint. We were in the Viking Crown lounge, another great place to enjoy the trip. The dance floor was full, as was the bar and most of the area seating. We were enjoying a "Motown hour". Everyone was having a great time and RCL was making money at the bar. At the end of the hour, they were going to shift to a different type of music, which bothered all of us. We yelled to do more Motown, and the DJ said it would have to be repeats. We said fine, and spent a few more hours enjoying ourselves. If I had to recommend something to RCL, I would say to give your DJ and staff the ability to deviate from the planned routine if you have a full dance floor and bar. It just makes sense to give the customer what they want. On the next sailing, maybe Motown hour has 5 people and country western starts at 11pm. At 10:55 the place gets full. Hint Hint. The folks are there for Country Western. Change over. But for us to have to threaten mutiny to keep enjoying ourselves made it look bad.
After Mardi Gras we went to Cozumel Mexico. It was OK, but I just went for New Orleans, so Cozumel was just an additional benefit. Many shore excursions were cancelled do to "high winds'. Several of us found it strange since the other ships in port with us did not have their trips cancelled. Apparently, an additional ship was in with us on an unscheduled stop. They were rerouted from Haiti due to the violence there. Could it be Rhapsody of the Seas was shortchanged for this other larger newer ship. I won't speculate but who knows.
Debarkation was a mess. I liked the immigration being done on ship, the other cruises I've done we did it in terminals. We had early debarkation due to early flights, which was nice. But, there was no system for making sure the people who got off early, were able to get the first buses to get us to the airport on time. I talked with one of the RCL people and he said they only had seven parking spaces for buses which created the problem. They are in the process of building a new cruise terminal at Galveston, so hopefully they will solve that problem.
You've read this far, so lets wrap it up. Cheers to RCL and Rhapsody of the Seas. I had a great time. Could it have been better? Yes. But kudos to the staff and especially the Captain for all he did to show us a wonderful time.
See you next year for Mardi Gras. February 8, 2005. Happy Sailings Feel free to email for more info. Please put Mardi Gras in your subject line.