My wife and I booked a 12 night South Pacific cruise on the Rhapsody of the Seas to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary and we were certainly not disappointed.
The boarding process in Sydney was extremely quick and the staff were most helpful. We had a well-designed stateroom on Level 3 in the middle of the ship - perfect location to avoid motion sickness. Very adequate drawer and hanging space meant that we unpacked very quickly and were at the Windjammer Cafe in time for lunch! The bathroom was understandably small but very well designed. My only problems with the Stateroom were the small circular table (could have done without it) and the extent of the mini-bar with no fridge - one of the cupboards was entirely taken up storing the mini-bar we didn't use! The big picture window was great.
In spite of the myriad of nationalities in the staff on board, everyone appeared to get on extremely well together. Our Stateroom attendant Dewar was very good at his job and extremely friendly. At the Edelweiss Restaurant for dinner, head waiter Romeo, waiter Bons and assistant waiter Olena were very attentive and professional. Our company at dinner were couples from Melbourne, New Zealand and the USA - a well-selected variety. One of the couples booked a Mediterranean cruise for next year with RCI whilst on board, so they must have had a good time.
We ordered the pre-cruise discount international wine selection (25% off) only to find when we got on board that there was another selection of Australian/New Zealand wines we could have chosen that wasn't advertised - it was a bit disappointing that we weren't informed of this option when we booked.
The ports we visited (Noumea, Lifou, Luganville, Champagne Bay, Vila, Mystery Island and Isle of Pines) accepted Australian currency in preference to US dollars - in Lifou, they didn't accept US currency at all! We were told by some passengers that the Luganville taxi drivers negotiated a fare and then renegotiated for the return journey when they got you to your destination! The Vila taxi drivers were like a swarm of bees but no deviation from the $3 fare each into the main town. In Noumea, it is better to convert your money to Pacific Francs prior to booking on a tour, as we found that the prices quoted in local currency and foreign currency are significantly different.
We enjoyed the evening entertainment on board. Most acts were Australian and if there is one criticism it is that they should take more into account that there are passengers of other nationalities on board: "Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi" can get a bit repetitive. Each night was a different show and the big surprise on the last night was the singing by the Cruise Director Sol - she could really belt out a tune (what a curse - tall, blonde and talented!). The costumes were professional and the dancing, singing, juggling and jokes were all very entertaining.
For this cruise, you need to make sure you take your goggles & snorkels and preferably a rash shirt and reef shoes. Hiring goggles from the inhabitants at Lifou was up to $15 for the day. The coral at most locations was suffering from the volume of tourists but there was still some colour and the fish were plentiful. "Choose your own lobster or crab" was available for fresh cooking at Champagne Bay and Mystery Island (our 2 favourite destinations).
Ages on the cruise ranged from babies and school-age children right up to retirees and the elderly. I think the age group of 50plus would have been the most represented of the 2000 passengers. There were a couple of passengers confined to wheelchairs, but they didn't seem to have any noticeable problem getting off at the ports, even those which required a tender. Smoking was confined to certain areas of the ship, which was good. Cocktails were averaging a reasonable $7 to $9 each and we didn't notice any happy hours. We recommend the Windjammer Cafe for breakfast: we found the Edelweiss restaurant at breakfast time was intimidating and the omelettes are much better and fresher in the Windjammer.
The gratuities (tips) situation was interesting. The pre-cruise wine package included a 15% gratuity on top. When we booked, because we were Australian we were charged an additional gratuity amount in the booking fee. For other passengers, there was a guide ($ per day per staff member) provided on the second last night of the cruise, with envelopes to be handed directly to the head waiter, waiter, assistant waiter and cabin attendant. Working it out, my wife and I both appeared to pay an extra $50 each in gratuities above the recommended amount. I hope at least some of this goes to the "behind the scenes" ship's crew, but I don't understand why other nationalities didn't have to pay up front like we did.
We would recommend the Rhapsody of the Seas to our friends and we would look forward to traveling with RCI in the future.