Overall, the cruise was fantastic! The ship was very clean and tidy (not bad for an 11 year old ship), the crew friendly and helpful, and the food was out of control! Embarking in Sydney was a breeze - nothing at all like our previous cruise with P & O. Although we arrived at Circular Quay about 3 hours before we were due to embark, processing was very swift and efficient, and we were onboard within about 20 minutes. Very painless indeed. The buffet was already in full swing at Windjammer Cafe, and off to a great start of 10 days of eating, eating, eating. Our bags were delivered to our room in about 1/2 hour of us boarding, so I was able to unpack and we were very settled before the mandatory emergency muster. Off to a great, relaxing start! We were assigned to the early sitting for dinner, which unfortunately was usually the same time as we set sail from port. I would have loved to be able to watch us setsail from one of the upper decks, but because we were usually either seated at dinner, or getting ready for dinner, this was not possible. Hence after the first few days, we hardly ate in the dining room, but at Windjammer Cafe at our leisure. We only ever had one breakfast in the dining room - we found the service to be of a poor standard. And only 1 lunch as well, for a number of reasons. Due to the fact we did not often eat in the dining room and the fact we had prepaid our gratuities, we feel the tips were unfairly distributed. We would have far preferred to allocate them to other departments. Mainly the crew in the Windjammer, who work tirelessly, and the barstaff. As for our cabin, we had a balcony room on deck 7. Our room was immaculate, and other than occasionally forgetting to top up our coffee, we could not fault our housekeeping staff. The bed was more than comfortable, and the bed linen of high quality. My husband usually has trouble sleeping, but not here! Our room attendant, Gene, was extremely polite at all times (I'm still amazed at how they remember everyone's names!), and very helpful. The one grievance we had with our room, however, was to do with smoking, and I urge any non-smokers booking a cruise to take note!! My husband and I do not smoke, and quite frankly are quite intolerant of smoking. The couple in the cabins either side of us did. The people in the cabin forward of us spent a LOT of time on their balcony, and we could not spend anytime at all on our balcony, or even open the door because we would be constantly getting bombarded with clouds of 2nd hand cigarette smoke! It was revolting!! The upper decks have certain areas for smoking (the starboard side of the ship), and I feel the cabins should be arranged the same way!! We paid quite a bit extra to have the pleasure of a private balcony which we could not use. I think all Royal Caribbean has to do is allocate a specific 'group' of cabins to be occupied by smokers, so we can stay comfortably too!! We also found the Viking Crown lounge to be full of smoke (the upper area is the cigar lounge). They had a couple of 'family nights' in the Viking Crown lounge, and I don't know how parents could bring their children to a place like that - let alone be able to find them through the smoke. My husband and I like to dance, but unfortunately we have a complaint to make about the choice of music playing in the nightclub (Viking Crown lounge). We spoke to the DJ about this, and were told he was given direction by the Cruise Director as to what music to play, and at what time. The music until quite late was for the older generation, but even though there was none in the place, they refused to play other music. The DJ was actually quite rude when we spoke to him about it. A complaint was subsequently made at the Pursers Desk, and we were told the Cruise Director would contact us about it. This never happened. This is pretty much the end of our grievances, though, and don't get me wrong - the good CLEARLY outdoes the bad!! The Rhapsody of the Seas is a lovely ship. VERY clean and well maintained, and FAR better than the ship we sailed on with P & O. The detail on Rhapsody was very impressive. We both also felt the layout was very sensible. After talking to people who've done a lot more cruises than us, this is not always the way. The crew members were fantastic, and the barstaff very entertaining. The drinks were way overpriced, and anything purchased on the ship was in US dollars. At US$6.25 for a beer, it's quite easy to overspend. The Caribbean band playing poolside was fantastic!! We could kick back around a pool listening to those guys anyday!
Our first port of call was Noumea. We had not pre-purchased any shore tours, and are pleased we didn't! We didn't even disembark at Noumea and a few people we spoke to who did, wish they didn't either. We were told it was dirty and slummy and there's not much to see. Our second stop was Luganville, Vanuatu. We disembarked here, grabbed a taxi (not one of the ones that drive you crazy as soon as you get off the ship, but a quiet guy further down the road), negotiated a price and went sight seeing. He proved to be fantastic!! He took us to a private beach on his own land, to his house where we met his wife, mother, and 2 month old baby, and gave us a sight-seeing tour along the way. It was fantastic value!! 3rd stop was Port Vila, where we also got a taxi to take us sightseeing. He was also a lovely man, and took us anywhere we wanted to go. We gave him 5000 Vatu (about $40 AUD I think) and he was stoked!! Later when my husband tried to buy a local beer with USD, the taxi driver promptly ran over and paid for it for him with Vatu! 4th stop was Isle of Pines which was stunning! The water was very cold, although most braved it - it was too beautiful not to! There were some local people cooking food the traditional way which was free to taste. We gave them money though and they were clearly shocked!! We just found we couldn't take their food without paying! There was a bar on the beach some friends of ours bought a drink at, and it was hellishly expensive, so be aware! The shows each night were fantastic, but I feel the Cruise Compass should give a brief description of each one prior. We found there was often a couple of things we would have liked to attend on at the same time, and if we had a little better description, it would have been easier to make a decision on what to do. Also we found the drink specials were on at the same time at different bars. And as we were trying to save some money on drinks, it was difficult to time the specials. The Solarium Pool has a retractable roof, but even though most of our cruise had the best weather ever, the roof was never retracted. We didn't enquire as to why - maybe it was broken? The internet and ship to shore telephone calls are quite expensive. The internet is .55c US per minute and an extremely slow connection. The phone calls are $7.95 US per minute! We also thought the shops could have had a little more variety - maybe some magazines or puzzle books wouldn't go astray. Lots of jewelry, alcohol and perfume though! As I mentioned before - the good most certainly outweighs the bad, and I will most likely be sailing the Royal Caribbean again!!