Our family had a delightful first cruise on Rhapsody of the Seas (children aged 6 & 8). The 10-night trip went from Sydney up to the tropical north-east of Australia (Airlie Beach, Cairns, Port Douglas, Brisbane), conveniently returning back to Sydney. Aside from the first and last partial days, there were 4 port days and 5 sea days.
The weather, on the whole, was fantastic but the last couple of days turned chilly and a bit wet. Fortunately, there was plenty to do indoors and the jacuzzis were always warm!
CHILDREN Our children took a couple of sessions to warm to the idea of the Kids Club, but the reward of an ice cream afterwards seemed to do the trick! They typically spent a half-day in Kids Club during each day at sea and we have nothing but admiration for the the Royal Caribbean Adventure Ocean staff. (Hats off to Slojam for donning pirate gear and leading the kids on a Pirate Night one evening, charming guests around the ship as the children chanted and performed!)
The Kids Club opens from 9am each day (7am on port days) and normally runs 9am-noon, 2pm-5pm, 7pm-10pm and then a late-night party 10pm-2am. We only used the 7pm timeslot on the last night when Sydney daylight saving made ship time an hour earlier than Queensland, but there were many children taking advantage of late-night activities.
One problem we had was timing in the evening. We did the early dinner at 6pm, which meant our Theatre timeslot was 9pm (the 8.30pm diners had theatre at 7pm). However, this was too late for our children, so we often tried to squeeze dinner into under an hour to attend the early show. Alternatively, we grabbed a late lunch in Windjammer but it unfortunately closes at 5pm to prepare for the 6.30pm dinner so it wasn't very convenient, either.
FOOD The food was plentiful and excellent. While there weren't seafood buffets, the variety and quantities were tremendous. Formal dining in Edelweiss was available for Breakfast and Dinner, plus Lunch on sea days -- the waiters were plentiful, friendly and very happy to oblige with an extra dessert!
Informal dining in the Windjammer was available 7am-5pm and 7.30pm-9pm and offered a wide variety of buffet-style meals with pleasant variations throughout the cruise.
There was even Pizza in the Solarium (2nd swimming pool) but it was best avoided.
ENTERTAINMENT There were two showings every night (to cater for dining times) with shows including guest entertainers (musicians, comedians and, our favourite, Bjorn Again) plus the standard performances (Piano Man based on popular music from Billy Joel, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Barry Manilow; Pure Country with tunes that are probably familiar to Americans but were to us; plus a Dancing performance) and a wonderful final-night show with some excellent theatrics from Fluorescence.
There were musicians throughout the ship (our favourite were the Jamaicans on the pool deck), pianists, singers, bands and a DJ in the evening (but we always had early nights so never saw the entertainment after 10pm). The ship took on a great feel during the 45-minutes prior to a mealtime, when people would congregate in the Centrum, sip on some cocktails and do couples dancing while waiting for their dinner to commence. A minute later, the area was deserted, with most people eating or in the Theatre.
There were many activities (especially on sea days) including Trivia, crafts, enrichment lectures and the ever-popular Bingo. At first, I was disappointed that I couldn't attend everything because there was so much on, but then I realised that there were only a few things that interested me anyway. There was also good content on the TV channels (eg behind-the-scene tours, information about the cruise) but we hardly spent any time in our cabin.
PORTS Our family had already been to the ports of call (via land, not sea), so we only disembarked to visit swimming lagoons or beaches. The ports, however, offered other guests a variety of tours, including snorkeling at the famous Great Barrier Reef.
The ship docked at Cairns, which is only the 3rd time this has happened. The Rhapsody is the largest ship capable of docking in Cairns, and it made things very convenient to walk on and off at will. Airlie Beach and Port Douglas were serviced by very large tenders (ones that normally go to the Barrier Reef) so they could take a lot of people, but security took a long time when returning to the Ship. In Brisbane, we docked in the industrial port that was too far from town for us to warrant a visit. Instead, we stayed on-board, taking advantage of the less-crowded pool!
Embarking the ship on our first day was miraculously fast -- we put our bags on a truck, flashed our paperwork and were onboard within 10 minutes. Similarly, disembarking on the last day was great, with times allocated based upon transport connections. We had time to enjoy a final Windjammer breakfast before leaving the ship, grabbing our bags, breezing through customs and grabbing a taxi. (Here's a tip: Even though they say not to arrive on the first day before 3.30pm, some people boarded in time for lunch!)
CABINS We stayed in pretty much the cheapest category, paying ~AUD3400 for an interior Deck 3 Quad room (2 pullman beds), plus USD400 for gratuities. While small, it was perfectly adequate, with quite a few drawers to stash our clothing. When the lights are off, you can't tell the size of the room, anyway!
We tried pushing together the two floor-beds each day, but the cabin attendant kept resetting the room saying that it was unsafe if somebody fell from the pullman bed. So, we eventually gave in on that one.
At the end of the cruise, I had a peek into the suites as they were being housekept, and they are indeed impressive. The Royal Suite has a grand piano, a bathroom bigger than our entire K-class cabin, a walk-through wardrobe, a private master bedroom bigger than mine at home, dining table, plus a large lounge and balcony. Mind you, outside of the room all passengers had access to exactly the same facilities (but for a reserved row at the Theatre for suite passengers).
We heard of several groups of passengers who had been 'bumped' from the equivalent 1-December cruise and moved onto our 11-December cruise. They received half their money back and were given a cabin upgrade. Lucky them!
SERVICE & FACILITIES The ship was filled with areas for entertainment and also for "getting away" (such as the Library, Card Room and Centrum lounges). Most activities took place mid-ship which was also where our room was located. This is fortunate because, although the ship is on the smaller end of RCI ships, the walk from Front to Aft is simply huge!
We were highly impressed by the cleanliness of the ship and the huge number of staff who made the cruise enjoyable. Our cruise director, Carly B, was highly approachable and kept popping up throughout the cruise. We even chatted with the captain during a couple of events.
However, it's the behind-the-scenes crew that really make the cruise possible. They are away from their home and families for months at a time, yet continue to make the cruise enjoyable for guests. My congratulations and thanks goes out to them.
Now we've got to lose the weight we put on!