We booked our own flights and spent two nights in Sydney before the cruise. Sydney is a terrific city – lots to see and easy to get around in. If you have time to arrive a couple days early, we recommend it. Our hotel was very close to Circular Quay so we walked from the hotel to the ship with our bags at 3:30. There was no line for check-in.
We had a balcony stateroom and no complaints. Everything worked, there was decent storage space, and our steward took good care of us.
We like this ship. The public spaces are nice, the entertainment is excellent, the buffet and dining room are great, and the service is terrific.
The service and the food in the dining room at dinner were great. We had traditional second seating.
We typically ate breakfast and lunch in the buffet, which is one of the best cruise ship buffets we have encountered. The food was tasty and hot and there was good selection. The grill in the buffet is excellent, with omelets at breakfast and good grilled sandwiches at lunch. We also had breakfast and lunch delivered to the cabin, which was just fine.
The usual cruise ship activities were available. This ship has a rock climbing wall (which entertained people young and old) run by a guy who really knows his stuff.
Service was terrific throughout the ship. We had been on this ship about nine months earlier and were impressed when our old waitress recognized us and greeted us on the first night even though we were not sitting at her table again.
We’ve been on a lot of cruises, and this cruise had some of the best entertainment we’ve seen on a ship. RCCL hires top notch acts, and the production shows were very good.
After we booked the trip but before we got on board, there were three itinerary changes. One stop in New Caledonia and two stops in the Loyalty Islands were cancelled, with Mystery Island, Champagne Bay, and an extra day at sea being substituted. Initially we weren’t too happy with the changes, but then I read on this website about how terrific Mystery Island and Champagne Bay were, and in the end we weren’t disappointed.
In Noumea, New Caledonia, we took a tour to two lookouts, an old church, a cemetery of those killed at Guadalcanal, and the aquarium (which wasn’t bad but couldn’t compare to the one in Sydney). There is a big nickel smelter in Noumea, so it’s a pretty industrial place and not particularly attractive. Someone else in our group rented a bike and saw the same sights on his own with no trouble. He also raved about the Tjibaou Cultural Center. All in all, there wasn’t a whole lot there but it was nice to visit a country we had not been to.
Mystery Island, Vanuatu is a very small, uninhabited island (with a small airstrip) that the ship tenders passengers to for the beaches and snorkeling. The locals set up a lot of souvenir stands and perform local songs and dances, so you could spend an hour or two here even if you’re not a beach person. One side of the island is sandy and the other side (which has better snorkeling) was crushed shells. This was a fun stop and we enjoyed the snorkeling.
In Vila, Vanuatu, one person in our group went scuba diving to the wreck of a cargo ship. He said the wreck was just okay but the dive boat and the dive crew were excellent. A couple of us did the jet boat ride, which was fun, and then the trip to the Ekasup cultural center, where we learned how the native inhabitants prepare and store food in case of cyclone, use medicinal plants, trap animals, and catch fish. We found it very interesting and would recommend this tour. It’s very hot and humid here – bring water.
Champagne Bay was another trip by tender to an island with very good snorkeling. There were locals set up along the beach selling souvenirs and showing local sea life, etc. The beach is gorgeous and we really enjoyed it here.
In Luganville, Vanuatu, one member of our group walked around town on his own without any trouble while the rest of us went to the Lysepsep cultural center. The cultural center was interesting but not very sophisticated, so don’t expect anything very polished. The people were very nice but there’s not as much to see as at the cultural center in Vila, and it’s much less structured. It’s very hot and humid here, and you may have to wait awhile for the vans going back to the ship. The locals did an extensive series of dances for us, which was interesting and fun, especially seeing all the children dancing. Bring your camera.
Isle of Pines was another trip by tender to a village on an island. We took a hike that had been recommended in our guidebook. It started on the road past the governor’s house and some prison ruins and then proceeded down a narrow path along the cliffs, but the path clearly did not get a lot of use. If you’re an experienced hiker, you’ll be fine, but the trail is narrow with a drop off to the surf below (although the cliffs are not very high) and there were poisonous banded sea snakes on the trail, so be careful. The trail got narrower and narrower and we ended up turning back and walking through a couple shops before going snorkeling. This part of the island is very narrow, so you can easily walk from one side to the other. One side of the island was very windy and the water was cool, but the snorkeling was good around the sacred rock. On the other side of the island was a beautiful, quiet sandy beach with calm water. Out of Champagne Bay, Mystery Island, and Isle of Pines, only Isle of Pines has any real infrastructure.
We took our own bags off and caught a taxi back to the airport – easy and painless. The ship had warned that the taxi stand in front of the ship would have very long lines and that people should buy the airport transfers instead. However, if you’re willing to haul your luggage a little ways, you can flag down taxis anywhere around Circular Quay instead of standing in line at the ship.
We really enjoyed this trip. We love Sydney and we really enjoyed the stops at Vila, Mystery Island, Champagne Bay, and Isle of Pines. The food, service, and entertainment were great on the Rhapsody. This is not a fast-paced trip since there are a lot of sea days and relatively few activities available in the ports. If you want a lounge chair and margaritas on the beach and some serious shopping nearby, this isn’t the trip for you. However, if you’re looking for something unusual and exotic with some great beach and snorkeling time combined with some really interesting cultural adventures, it’s a great trip on a great ship.