This was our second cruise and both have been on Royal Caribbean, I feel like we got really lucky on our first cruise and found a cruise line that just works for us, but we'll try something else another day.
This cruise left from Sydney, Australia and we flew from Melbourne on the morning of the cruise, landing in Sydney at about 10.30am. I would typically recommend flying up the night before but that was not an option for us this time around so instead we got an early flight. We had arranged our own pickup from the airport which was great as it means no taxi queues. We arrived at the cruise terminal at approx 11.30am, our driver was nice enough to take us down to the opera house first however so that we could get a look at Rhapsody in all her glory before getting on board.
The ship was at the Overseas passenger Terminal which is adjacent to Circular Quay in Sydney, for those that know the area it is right between the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour bridge, two incredible Sydney landmarks which can be seen in the photos I have uploaded to the gallery. The alone is a magical departure, you rarely get the chance to take photos of the bridge and the opera house from such unique vantage points.
Now remember that this is an 11 year old ship but from the outside the only thing that looks a little aged is the anchor scratches on the hull, which every ship has anyway. The ship really is in good condition, but like most things if you look hard enough you'll find a signs of age. Please don't read this as "the ship looks old", it simply doesn't. You can tell by the decor that it's a slightly older ship but everything is so shiny and clean. Our stateroom was room 8008, a Grand Suite Port side forward. This ship has only 2 decks with balconies and most of the suites are forward.
Having been on Liberty last year we really missed having the royal promenade, there really are only a couple of shops, and there seemed to always be something on sale or a special of some sort. If you really we into shopping on board i think you would be disappointed. There is only minimal logo shopping, a small liquor store, a perfume store and a gift shop and jewelry store. We did get some great RCL branded jackets that were half price though!
We don't get too involved in the activities on board, we don't visit the casino at all, and spend most of our time relaxing swimming, eating and reading. So here's a run down on the activities we did do: - We went to two presentations by an Australian author on personal development. Both were good, the first did turn into a little bit of a grief management session which I thought was weird. - We went to the last half of a trivia contest, it seemed fun but we came in too late. - We visited the spa about 4 times i think doing one thing or another. Apart from the manager always being grumpy they were all great experiences.
Generally the service on board was excellent. As always there were a few little things that could have been handled better and the occasional language barrier but like I said, all in all this is a really friendly ship and most staff will go out of there way to help you out. A few examples: - My wife is vegetarian and after a quick chat to the head waiter one day they specially prepared a vege burger for lunch in the dining room the next day. - Same head waiter made a special order of corn bread muffins for our table after I commented that i missed them on one night.
This cruise stopped at: - Noumea, New Caledonia. We hadn't planned anything on this day so just got off the boat for a look around. The ship docks at a secure container port, so you have to get bussed in and out of the area where the ship is. This is no big deal except to say that on our return the bus got stuck in traffic for about 20 minutes. We ended up getting on a Chu Chu Train tour. This takes about 90 minutes and gives you a highlights tour of Noumea. Downtown area is pretty average, don't expect to find a tropical paradise or sleepy sea side village. It's noisy and dirty, so do something that gets you out of Noumea on this day. - Louganville, Vanuatu. On this day we had purchased an excursion with the cruise to the blue hole. This was a great experience! The roads in Louganville are horrible, sooooo bumby, i've never seen such bad roads. You have about a 45 minutes mini bus ride to get to the river for this, then about a 20 minutes row in a canoe. The locals do the rowing, and they give you life vests just in case. My wife did break her finger when trying to get out of the canoe at the other end, it's really slippery. The water is beautiful however, and well worth the ride. On the way back down the river one of the canoes capsized, but the water is not deep and the passenger just walked down the river to the mini bus, they only had about 50 meters to go. There are some markets on the dock, mostly crafty things, some of it cheap in price, some cheap in quality. - Vile, Vanuatu. We had purchased a 'round the island' day trip on this day. It took about 7 hours to get around the whole island, and we were supposed to be in a non-air conditioned bus but ended up with a little luck in an air conditioned bus which really was a savior... it was so hot and humid. This tour gave us the ability to see the whole island, some local villages, such friendly people. There was a stop at a local village where they rowed us up the river on a not so safe canoe that was taking on water, but then they did a tribal dance which was amazing. The local art was available for purchase and got snapped up quickly. There was a final stop at banana bay for a swim which was just magical, the water so clear and it was like being in a little lagoon protected from the open sea. The driver was great, lunch was ok. - Isle of Pines, New Caledonia. This was out last stop. It's a beautiful part of the south pacific, it was the only stop where we were tendered rather than at a pier. The weather was ok, a few showers in the morning, mostly sunny but then rain for most of the afternoon. We got to shore at about 9.30am, and got back to the boat at about 12.00pm for lunch then stayed on the boat. The dogs on the island are vicious so be careful, also there are apparently stingers in the water and a child on our tender got bitten but didn't appear to be in much pain.
For this cruise we originally booked a junior sweet, but then in the last few weeks upgraded at a great price to a grand suite. It was magic having so much room to ourselves and although a little aged the room was perfect. There is so much storage in the grand suites, we had at least another 8 draws we left empty(with 2 adults and 2 children). I happened to sleep in the fold out bed on the last night and would not recommend it's something that an adult does for the whole cruise. There is a double vanity in the bathroom and a full bath with detachable shower head. The balcony is a good size with a 2 chairs and a table plus a lounge chair.
Staying in the suite gave us the following benefits on this cruise: - Invitation after day 5 to a cocktail party each night in the viking crown lounge with complimentary drinks. This was nice to have somewhere exclusive to head to for a drink before dinner. - Priority tendering. The ticket system seems to work fine otherwise. - Priority disembarkation. Basically first off the boat plus waiting in the dining room with coffee/tea and pastries. - Treats in the room. On most days there was something in the room in the afternoon, day 1 was a big bottle of water, another day was a hand written 'thanks for joining us' note, another day was a bowl of fruit and another day was a plate of chocolate dipped strawberries.
The dining in the main dining room was great, my wife is vegetarian and there was plenty of options each night. We had an amazing waiter, Rex, who is apparently going to be going to Oasis OTS late 2009. He really did make the cruise, it was such a pleasure to come to dinner each night, he was always smiling and working hard, we waited for virtually nothing.
The food was excellent, and as always plenty of it. My kids preferred the windjammer for breakfast as so went with their grandparents most morning while my wife and I went to the dining room. They do group seating but it didn't seem to be a problem if you asked for a table on your own. They give you a menu but i don't even open it and just order whatever i feel like each morning and like magic it appears, whether on the menu or not.
We didn't use room service at all, so can't comment on that.
Kids club is always interesting with our children. My daughter runs hot and cold, she was 5 this cruise and some days she loves it and other's she never wants to go back. The staff always seem friendly and very security conscious. This cruise had about 440 children out of 2200 passengers so they had a lot of kids on the boat and in the club. That being the case they had to move the group my son was in (age 9) to the teens room and then shift the teens all around the ship each day. This meant that alot of the time to scheduled activities didn't always happen and most of the time was spent playing ball games. He still liked it and made a few friends though.
The entertainment on the boat was a little mixed. The performers in all the lounges were great, just relaxing music with vocals from songs you always know the words to and can hum along too.
The stage shows: Welcome show - didn't go. Soul Mystique (Quick Change Artists) - This was a good show, not as much quick change as a i would have liked but i know it's hard work. They did a bunch of ballroom dancing as well which was great to watch. Justino Extreme Vegas Show - This was ok, a few highlights but I would hang around for the whole show. A little over rehearsed. Illusion Show - This was excellent, some really amazing magic. Alot of audience participation which was fun and the illusionist (an australian) managed to pull it all off really well. Wait till the end, the last trick is amazing. Goodbye show - didn't go. Q&A with the staff. This was really interesting, they had the head of the hotel, head of food and beverage, head of housekeeping and the cruise director on stage and the audience just asked questions about the running of the ship. Everything from crew conditions to how the sewerage gets treated.
Disembarkation was a breeze as we had priority, so after about 10 minutes of waiting in the dining room we were able to leave the ship. We disembarked on deck 4, and they had deck 1 operating also. Our bags were waiting for us only meters from the gangway and there was no queue at customs/quarantine. So by about 8.10am we were waiting on the footpath for our car.
This was all in all a great cruise, we did however have to use the medical facilities twice. Once for my wife's finger which was found broken after an xray and another which is worth talking about.
I hope i never have to use the emergency facilities on the ship again but it was amazing to see. My daughter was dancing around in our cabin and slipped and fell, her head falling onto the edge of the glass coffee table in our cabin. Within moments she was screaming and blood was pulsing out of the side of her head. She is fine now but here's what happened: 1. My wife applied pressure. 2. My mother in law got towels 3. I picked up the phone and hit the emergency speed dial. They asked me what was wrong, i'm not sure who I was talking to but someone later said that it is typically someone on the bridge. I said "my daughter has fallen and hurt her head badly", they said "emergency services are on their way". 4. I hung up and about 6 seconds later the phone rang, it was the nurse, she said "do you have an emergency", i said "yes, my daughter has fallen and cut her head, i'm not sure how bad it is". She says "we are on our way" and hangs up. 5. About 10 seconds later the door bell rings and 3 security guards are at the door, clearing passengers from the hallways and then the safety officer walks in, 2 way radio to his ear asking for an eta of the nurse. 6. 30 seconds later the nurse arrives with a wheel chair (they made it from deck 1 to 8 in about 45 seconds). She checks out my daughter and explains what will happen. Nothing too serious after all. 7. My wife sits in the chair, my daughter on her lap, and we go down the hallway. There is a security guard at every corner, and the elevator door is open and waiting. I did notice as we entered the lift that it was in a special security mode.
It was the most amazing things, and good to know that these people can react like they did in such a short timeframe. Within about 3 minutes my daughter was on the examination table in the doctors office. Thankfully this happened on the last day of the cruise, she will probably have a tiny scar but it could have been much worse.
Don't miss this cruise next year when it comes back to australia, and don't miss this boat, it really is the friendliest ship.