Married (for the 2nd time) just a week ago,we flew into Sydney the day before embarkation to kickstart the honeymoon at the 5 star Sofitel Wentworth in the CBD.I had booked us into a Club Sofitel room and was looking forward to all the little extras that go with it (full breakfast,Lenotre afternoon tea,pre-dinner drinks and canapes all served in the private Club Sofitel Lounge) and I must say my expectations were most definitely exceeded. On arriving at the hotel we were immediately whisked away to the Club for private check in and shown to our room (luggage was already there) within minutes.To our delight we realized that they had upgraded us to a beautiful suite with bubbly and petite fours, compliments of the management...a perfect start to the honeymoon.So perfect in fact that we decided to shelve our plans to see Sydney at night and simply lapped up all the Sofitel Wentworth had to offer and spent the night in.
Since our documents said that embarkation was 3.30pm,we checked out of the hotel (they held our luggage) and wandered down to Circular Quay to catch a glimpse of the ship.We could see people boarding and on enquiry were told that we could board at any time.Within the hour,we were drinking at the Pool Bar.From the time we paid the taxi driver to walking into our stateroom on board would have been no more than 30 minutes,the check-in process was absolutely seamless...things were looking good!
Our Superior Interior Stateroom #8019 (upper deck 8,slightly larger than standard) was more than adequate.On previous cruises I had come to realize that the extra $100's of dollars on small windows and $1000's of dollars spent on balconies just wasn't worth it for me and was money better spent elsewhere on the ship. If I wanted sea views and fresh air I had only one flight of stairs to climb. Our stateroom was as I expected...more than adequate for a 2 week cruise.There was plenty of storage and wardrobe space with lots of hangers (I usually bring extra hangers) and with a TV,phone,room safe, (no fridge) and comfy bed it covered most of my requirements.The smallish bathroom was OK but the feeble water pressure in the shower was frustrating. Our Grand Romance Package (US$200) was in our room as promised which consisted of a lovely bouquet of flowers,a bottle of Veuve Cliquot champagne with choc-dipped strawberries,2 x 100% cotton RCI bathrobes to keep,pre-dinner canapes and post-dinner petit fours on 2 formal evenings (of which there were 3),breakfast in bed on 1 morning and framed formal portrait. Our cabin steward,John (from Trinidad,I think) was a lovely chap and nothing was too much trouble. Things were still looking good!
We liked the look of the ship.It was large and spacious and seemed clean and very well maintained.This was the largest ship I'd been on and there were approx. 1850 passengers out of a capacity of 2400 so it never seemed too crowded (except on sunny days looking for a deck chair or sometimes in the Windjammer cafe) and we rarely had to line up. When I'm on holiday I don't normally go out of my way to find fault (unlike other reviewers) and tend to tackle problems as they arise,so at first glimpse,the Rhapsody was getting the thumbs up from us.
At first I liked the Windjammer Cafe...breakfast and lunch were tasty and plentiful with lots of choices.Towards the 2nd half of the cruise it started to get a bit mundane and boring eating pretty much the same stuff everyday, especially at lunch.Perhaps at this stage they could have introduced some theme lunches just to mix it up a bit and make it a bit more interesting...french,italian,asian etc.etc. Quite often,particularly at breakfast (when wife was sleeping in) I would share a table with other cruisers if it was a bit full and enjoyed meeting new people form around the world.I like this aspect of cruising and I'm sure other people like the idea of talking to strangers over a bite to eat that you probably wouldn't normally do back in your own town.
The Edelweiss restaurant (where we dined every evening,and some lunches) was always an experience I looked forward to at the end of each day.I enjoyed very much the people (same every evening) that we were put with and made some good friends that we will stay in contact with. I have to say that I'm a bit of a foodie and overall the food in the main dining room was good but not great...I understand that they're catering for 2000 passengers,but to be honest,I thought (or was hoping) they could have raised the bar just a tad.In saying that,some of the dishes (particularly starters) were excellent and even if I wasn't keen on any of the dishes served up,upon request they would always get something else without question. A quick suggestion...unless you have children,I always book 2nd (late)seating for dinner as you avoid kiddies running around the dining room and you don't have to rush back on board after a day on land to make 6pm dinner,nor are you rushed out after you've eaten to make way for 2nd seating. We pre-purchased our dinner wines on a package (platinum level US$344 for 12 bottles) which I was a bit disappointed in...crappy wines (and expensive given the quality) of which I only found one half decent white and one red (out of a total of 17 wines)that I stuck with for the whole cruise...so not much variety for me in the wine stakes.
Pre-dinner shows in the Broadway Melodies Theatre were sometimes spectacular (Extreme Vegas) but always very,very entertaining including comedians,juggling,comedy and salsa dancers...this part of our day was a real highlight.
STAFF AND CREW
I'll be brief here...at no stage ever did I not feel welcome onboard and I was always greeted with warmth and enthusiasm from every member that crossed my path.Even when I had a problem with having prepaid my gratuities and them not showing them on their system,they allowed me free internet to help me resolve the problem with my agent. I found the spirit on board to be upbeat and cordial at all times. Our waiter Rose-Marie (from the Philippines) was just delightful and met EVERY request and assistant waiter Rosendo (Dominican Republic) although I had to train him up a bit to some of my my preferences (correct wine levels in a glass) was a real gem and equally hard-working.
PORTS OF CALL (I guess you make your own fun anywhere you go)
Noumea - did our own thing here,and caught a shuttle to Baie des Citrons...nothing spectacular,but did enjoy the aquarium.Wouldn't rush back.
Mystery Island - nice little (uninhabited) island that you could walk around in less than an hour.Spent half a day lounging on lovely sandy beaches and visiting the craft stalls selling mainly tacky stuff.
Port Vila - Buy you're duty free here...best prices by far.Quite a bustling little town...but wouldn't rush back.
Champagne beach - lovely beach with locals setting up stalls selling pretty much the same stuff that you'll find at all the ports of call. Definitely worth getting off the ship.
Luganville - Stay onboard...this place is an absolute tip.I'm completely bewildered why any ship would stop here in place of Ouvea (itinerary change pre-cruise) unless you're a diver I wouldn't even bother getting off.
Isle of Pines - lovely beaches AND no tacky shopping...worthwhile stop.
For me,this was a real letdown and my only real complaint...everything of course was in US$ and they didn't mind ripping the cash out of you.Drinks...US$11 martinis,US$10 cocktails (although they did have daily specials),US$7.50 for a large tap beer. Just about everything else you had to shell out money for onboard really hurt the wallet...spa treatments,bingo,bottled water for US$4 etc.etc. "Let's get 'em onboard with a cheapish fare and whack'em every which way until they get off" seems to be their catchcry.Dissappointing! Shore excursion prices were bordering on extortion! Do your own thing in port.
Again,seamless and without incident.They had a color coding system that worked well.We were off the boat within 45 minutes.Waiting for a taxi quayside was a different matter...but that's not Rhapsody's problem.
All in all we loved our cruise experience on the Rhapsody which of course made our honeymoon so special.Would I go again?...most definitely. .