13 - 22 JANUARY, 2011
ISLE OF PINES, LIFOU, PORT VILA, NOUMEA (intended itinerary)
Master - Captain Stein Bjorheim
Cruise Director - Solvor Woll (Sol)
Activities Manger - Katie
All dollar values quoted in US$
The journey begins with myself, my two sons aged 18 and 21 and my son's 20 yo girlfriend, we headed off on our adventure, myself now a seasoned cruiser LOL (this was my 4th cruise in 13 months - Diamond Princess BKK to SYD, Sun Princess NYE to NZ and Pacific Jewel to South Pacific) and my 3 cruising virgins. With knowledge of cruising into a cyclone, watching P&O ships who sailed a few days before us attempting to dodge cyclonic activity and them missing ports and full knowledge of the seas that lay ahead we headed into the Ocean Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay by taxi. The "gasps" and the "OMG" of the kids as we rounded the corner at Circular Quay with Rhapsody of the Seas now in our sight was priceless and all thoughts of cyclones were a distant memory! We arrived around 1.15 pm and the queue was loooooooooooooooooooooong.
Check-in was relatively painless. Plenty of staff handing out luggage tags which you had to fill in, attach to your bag and hand over. This could be easily avoided if RCL provided luggage tags online prior to getting to the terminal. Then onto the long queue for immigration and embarkation. From the length of the queue I thought we would be there for hours, but only took about 20 minutes. Fortunately it was a warm, sunny day. It would have been awful if it had of been raining! The same staff were handing out the green immigration cards, which I already had a supply of so had pre-filled these in and a health card to be completed. Passports scanned then up to the ship check-in. Fresh (OK, well maybe cordial type lemonade LOL) was available alone the way......which is also available for free in Windjammer. I had booked a Junior Suite and an Ocean view cabin so we were able to get priority check-in. Check-in was simple and the RCL check-in dude was very personable.
18-20's alcohol waiver - having rung RCL many times and what I read on the cruising boards I knew I would be able to sign the waiver for my son but was told I could not for my son's 20 yo girlfriend as I was not her legal guardian/parent. The check-in dude told me if I had of brought a letter from her father stating I will be her temporary guardian that would have been sufficient. I'm sure it depends on who the check-in person is though. No big deal, Miss 20 yo is not a big drinker so we weren't that worried.
Onboard and straight up to the Windjammer for lunch which I was very impressed with, as I was with all the food throughout the cruise. Little chaotic trying to figure it all out, but within a day or two it was all fine and dandy navigating the area.
Then down to the cabins....Deck 8 for me and Mr 18 yo and our corner aft Junior suite 8588. The other cabin was on Deck 2, an oceanview, 2638.
8588 Junior Suite Corner Aft - very cool! The room was a lot larger than I anticipated. Bed was made up as a double which our cabin steward quickly rectified. A sitting area separated by a curtain if you wish, with a 3 seater lounge, 2 chairs and a coffee table. Tea/coffee making facilities an added bonus! Tea/coffee/hot chocolate sachets provided. Fridge with mini-bar (no not complimentary LOL) Safe was small and did not fit netbook but sufficient to keep money/passports/jewellery locked away. Heaps of storage space...heaps! Hairdryer, although I took my own US 110V one. Flatscreen TV, loads of channels including kids channels. Large bathroom with the shower over a bathtub, with bathrobes and shampoos/conditioners/vanity kit/body lotion. Large wrap around balcony complete with 2 chairs and a table as well as 2 sun loungers! Two European and two US powerpoints at the desk. I could be wrong but I believe the power in both was 110v. No drama with a powerboard being used.
Large oceanview cabin 2638. Last cabin almost aft on Deck 2. Did the job for my son and his girlfriend LOL No flatscreen TV!
Towel animals - every night and always different. I love towel animals ?
Next, up to Deck 9 poolside to spend the afternoon before sailaway. I had my identifiable "Adventure before Dementia" t-shirt on so the cruising board rollcalls could find us. Took all of about 3 minutes LOL Don't you just love the atmosphere building prior to sailaway. It was a beautiful day and warm evening and wonderful life-long friendships were beginning to be forged. You can't beat sailaway, especially out of Sydney! Always spectacular, lots of buzz, chatting and mingling with perfect strangers!
18-20's Alcohol waiver - OK so I've signed the alcohol waiver. Miss 20 yo can't buy drinks and her card is identified with two hole punches, we are cool with that. Mr 21 yo card looks like mine with no hole punches. Mr 18 yo has one hole punched and an M2 printed on it, meaning he is a minor but has waiver. So Mr 18 yo and Mr 21 yo go to the bar to buy drinks. No can do. They want photo ID???? So mummy has to go buy the drinks (mind you, mummy doesn't drink!) and grumbles thinking she has to be attached to her kids for the entire cruise if they want a freakin drink and has "discussion" with bar attendant (nasty piece of work she was!) and she starts on about they would need photo ID if they were buying drinks at home. Yeah I know that, but at no time did anyone say they would also need photo ID. Fortunately, I had brought along their drivers licences'......so heads up folks! It was sporadic when they were asked throughout the cruise but usually only if you went to the bar to get a drink and the server didn't know you, and not waiter service. Apparently someone got sacked the cruise prior to ours for serving underage drinkers. Don't know how true that is.....I think the bar chick had PMS LOL (no names given for bad staff....only good staff hehe)
Muster - ½ hour prior to sailing. You actually assemble at your muster station/lifeboat but do not bring your lifejackets. Your muster station is printed on your seapass card and the younger kids get a wrist band to be kept on for the entire cruise with their muster station number printed on it. Muster would suck if it was raining!
We had booked traditional dining at 8.30 pm, so we went to the Welcome Aboard show prior. Shows in the theatre are held at 7.00 pm and 9.00 pm. I have to say I was very disappointed with this show and others in the theatre we went to (and others we heard about). Their stage shows were very ordinary.
Our table was 164, table for 8. I still had not received some of my luggage so it was shorts and t-shirts for dinner. I didn't feel out of place as just about everyone was in shorts and t-shirts on the first night! Our table waiters were Zoran and Jovie. After the first night of sizing each other up, they were so much fun and always laughing and smiling (can't say the same for the waiters at adjoining tables though or perhaps they didn't smile because their diners weren't smiling!) Our 4 other dining companions did not show the first night, the second night, the third night.......infinitum. They probably saw the 4 of us and ran LOL The food was great, a large selection and always very tasty mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Vladamir was our drink waiter and right on the ball every night knowing exactly what we wanted before we asked. Sadly, no lobster or baked Alaska or champagne waterfall on formal night ? Not sure what's up with that?
Lost luggage - around 11 pm I went back to my cabin to check to see if the missing bag had arrived. Nope, but a message on the phone saying it was on Deck 1. Hmmmmm in the naughty room! And I promise I did not sneak alcohol on! Down to Deck 1 and no bags to be seen. A security guard rang around for me and after about ½ hour it was finally found out the back of the pursers desk! There's a note on it saying 'scissors'. What the? So I pull everything out to show them the pair of nail scissors that were obviously such a risk. Not happy! They then tell me I can take my bag now.......yeah right, I tell them they can take my bag back to my cabin now. Was a little annoyed by this stage!
Dress was 'casual and/or casual/theme', with two formal nights (2nd night and 2nd last night). Themes included 80's, Tropical (not at dinner though!), 50's/60's and 70's with the evenings entertainment and nightclub following suit Shorts were always turned away but men in nice un-collared t-shirts (as well as shirts obviously) were always welcomed. Jeans were never an issue either. Formal night was an array of attire from collared shirts with no ties up to a couple of tux's - not many mind you. Majority wore shirts (with or without ties) or suits. Ladies again were in a variety of attire. Honestly, there was such a mix you would never feel out of it regardless of what you were wearing.
DJ Dave played great music up in the Viking Crown Lounge after 11 pm and was usually very well attended. On this cruise there were a lot of 18-25's.
Casino - I love to play Blackjack when I cruise. Never do it at home. The slots were tight as a fishies bottom. I did very very very well at Blackjack. One night I cleaned up with $800. 3 nights later (yeah I went back) I walked out with $1300. I donated a little back but was very very very happy!
Day Spa - always willing to go to the day spa. I had 3 treatments over the 9 days with Eden which were sensational. Yes, expensive but what the heck...I'm on holidays to relax, rejuvenate and welllllll just spend money I won in the casino LOL
Cafe Latte-tudes - great coffee. $3.75 for a large latte. Don't forget to ask for you free cake as they don't offer it up! They give you a coffee card and after you buy 6 you get one free.
Drinks/Alcohol prices - I don't drink so all I can tell you is Coronas were $5.50, Cocktail of the Day was $6.25. Soda package for 9 days was $62.10 which I'll add we shared with no dramas.
Photos - always expensive at $19.95 each. Package for 10 photos was about $150.00. Very disappointed in their presentation. They were stuck in a plastic sleeve! No cover like other ships I have been on.
Laundry - we had two "bag" washes which were $15.00 each on Day 3 and Day 8? (or 7 can't remember). If you fold and scrunch carefully you can fit a lot in! It is only wash and fold though, no ironing. I did use the regular laundry service also which came back ironed. I didn't bring a price list back but for the few items I needed washed/ironed it didn't phase me too much. I sent my son's new grey shirt out which came back red/grey ? My fault, as I forgot they do wash in hot water.
Internet - slow and sporadic at times but did the job. $0.65 per minute or packages were available. Plenty of PC's though so never had to queue or wait. No Wifi in my cabin (probably too far away to get reception), but there are hotspots throughout the ship.
Mobile phone - I'm with 3 and this is the first time I have ever had service at sea! Simply amazing LOL
Shops - very disappointing! They had no RCL lanyards, and only a handful of beaded type ones (which break). Not much in jewellery, watches, etc. In fact, not much of anything. Word was that the stock was all stuck in Bond. I don't believe them, as all the previous cruisers said the same thing.
The Cyclone & Port Changes - can't be avoided as it did impact our cruise, especially for first two days! What can I say? I'll try not to be too graphic! The Captain did a sensational job in attempting to avoid the worst of the cyclone and change our itinerary and ensure we got to ports, unlike our poor P&O friends. You know you're in for it when the spew bags are already on the stair banisters at sailaway! The first night wasn't too bad....a bit rocky but bearable. By the middle of our first sea day, everyone was dropping like flies. The seas were increasing and my worst (premediated) fears were coming to fruition, as I was also tracking the P&O's on the cruise forum (well I couldn't get any factual information from anyone on the ship LOL). Mr 18 yo and Miss 20 yo were down for the count, along with ¾'s of the ship. No vomiting but feeling very very green and none of the seasick stuff I had brought along worked for them. By Day 2 they wanted off! Actually I wanted off by the end of Day 2! Fortunately I don't get seasick, however, when I went to my wonderful corner aft Junior Suite I couldn't stay there for long. The ship was pitching incredibly. No roll just pitching! On Day 2 morning I got jolted awake and almost tossed out of bed.....and I couldn't even stand in my cabin. To shower I had to sit on the shower floor! The rain was coming in horizontally inwards towards the aft! F me! Gotta admit I started to get a little panicky at this point, but promptly left my cabin and went upstairs! Interestingly enough, our cruise forum adult group were all alive and kicking and keeping the ship alive and rocking ? All pools were closed but the band was playing poolside and we had fun attempting to dance. We found Deck 9 midship was the safest place to be! Drink sales were very slow the first 2 days LOL Probably good, as the ship ran out of Coronas 2 days before we got back home hahaha We thought we'd attempt to get some food from the Windjammer.......seriously what were we thinking?? you couldn't even stand in there, plates and food were flying everywhere and we had to hold onto pillars! There were "bodies" lying all over the ship, in the Centrum.....everywhere, looking very green. People were throwing up everywhere.....in the main dining room, Windjammer, public toilets, any old floor space! The cleanup crew were working overtime, big time! I was having breakfast in the main dining room and one of the guys on the table said "don't look"....well what do you do when someone says that...."look".......a bunch of folks losing their breakfast! Ok enough of the graphics, I'm sure you get the picture LOL It was incredibly bizarre cruising on the edge of the cloud line and looking "Into" the cyclone. I would have hated to have been any closer!
The Captain was not very forthcoming with any information. I'm sure it was to prevent panic, but I gotta know these things! It wasn't until Day 3 when we arrived at land that he made mention that the seas were 7+ metres. I'm sure that there were plenty of waves in between that that were well over 7 metres as of the waves were coming up to the level of Deck 9 at times. My spa girl told me her friend worked on the bridge and the waves were 14 metres (just saying!) There was a rumour going around that we would have to turn around and come back down towards New Zealand (glad that didn't happen! LOL). Our itinerary was altered and monitored on an hour by hour basis. Originally Isle of Pines was our first port of call, but that was in the middle of the cyclone so we went to Noumea first and were told we would stop at Isle of Pines as our last port. I have never been so glad to get off a ship and stand on land! Next stop should have been Lifou, however we altered course to Mystery Island as Lifou had also taken the brunt of the storm. Then onto Port Vila as scheduled. Last stop and a problem for us and the Captain. Isle of Pines, Lifou and everything else in between was closed or had a ship in. The Captain said he had to "strongly convince" the Lifou folks to open up the island and let us on! He advised he really wanted to give us a port instead of bobbing around the ocean. So we missed Isle of Pines and headed to Lifou.
I think the ship handled the seas very well considering and in comparison to what I've read about the P&O's. I was on the Pacific Jewel last August and we had a couple of rocky days. When I asked a bridge crew member how big the seas were he said the seas were only 3 metres but were coming in quarter aft so it made it feel worse. I just don't think PJ (and it's sisters) can cope with the seas as much as the Rhapsody or Princess ships. Personal opinion of course, but based on experience.
Shore tours - we didn't book any ship tours.
Noumea - due to the itinerary change we arrived on a Sunday so everything was closed in town. Left our snorkel gear on board as I had a feeling we wouldn't be seeing anything underwater! Our plan was to go to Duck Island for the day but it was closed so we jumped on the shuttle and headed to Lemon Bay beach but it was pretty messy so stayed on the bus and went around to Anse Vate Beach which was a little bit cleaner. The locals had done a great job cleaning up since the cyclone went through. Some signs of damage though. Apart from the fact it was great to walk on land, it was great to jump into the sea! After a couple of hours here, we went and got an ice cream and headed back to the ship. It was sunny and hot and humid!
Mystery Island - last minute decision and the islanders did their best to accommodate us at short notice as they come across from the larger island next door. I hadn't been here before so I was happy hehe. Due to the short notice they didn't have many lobsters and at $50.00 each we gave it a miss. The Captain kept telling us it was his favourite place in the world.....I think he's lying LOL It's beautiful, but I doubt the best in the world! We were late disembarking as they had to fix the pontoon which was damaged in the cyclone. We took our snorkelling gear but the water was still pretty cloudy, although further out (on the other side of the island.....which ain't far mind you LOL) it wasn't too bad. Would love to come here when it wasn't so murky. Some markets here also. They do offer to take you out in boats further out to the reef but I didn't think it would be worth it. Pretty bumpy getting in and out on the tenders. We went back to the ship for lunch. There was a 2 hour delayed departure as the pontoon snapped off and they had to attempt to get the stranded passengers back on board. No sure how they did it though! Weather great.
Port Vila - we had pre-booked the Turtle/Buggy Tour with Offroad Adventures before we left home. Owned by the very endearing Eddie Tan (Aussie). Our cruise forum friends had also booked on it. We had a ball! Having done the buggy tour from P&O before (owned by a French guy and very very very lame) there was no comparison, especially in cost and duration! Plenty of on-road (kinda scarey!) and offroad buggy riding. We stopped at a small village and had some fruit. The kids line the road and come out for lollies (I took our own lollipops) but you can buy them from Eddie. We went to Turtle Bay and there had been a recent hatching of turtles a month ago which was so cool as we were allowed to hold them......awwwwwww. Some had been re-released and the others will go back soon. We were able to go snorkelling and in the small area we were allowed in it was the best coral and fishies I had seen in the South Pacific in this and my last cruise. You can hire snorkelling gear for $5.00 a set (although it wasn't very good). We were provided with a BBQ steak lunch, salad and bread.....very tasty! Then buggy riding back. All in all it was a fantastic 4 hours and I highly recommend it. Back into town for some smash and grab in the duty free shop, a quick stroll through the markets lined up to the ship for an early boarding at 2.30 pm, once again due to our itinerary changes.
Lifou - never trust someone else's comments! We were walking over to Jinek Bay and heaps of people were walking back and said it was rough and the stairs were closed (gone!) and you had to jump in fully geared up to snorkel and the water was very rough. Being lazy as we were (it was very hot and humid) we decided to stay on the ship side cos I was trying to figure out in my head that if you had to jump in fully geared up, how did you get out???? Not much coral or fishies over this side, and once again, the ocean was very churned up but it was very pleasant for a swim. Headed back to the ship for lunch. Speaking to some 'snorkellers' on the ship they told me the concrete stairs further down were there and the water was just fine and dandy and not rough! Never trust a first time cruiser LOL (or ask if they are a first time cruiser before you listen to the comments hahaha) No big deal, we had a nice time on the island.
Meet & Mingle - The ship put on a lovely spread and it was great to meet up with all the cruise forum people. There is no doubt in my mind that meeting people on the internet prior to boarding is a great way to break the ice and start having loads of fun from the get go, especially for solos and solo parents.
Kids Club - can't comment too much as my guys are too old for this, but from what I saw and heard from the others they had a great time. My Mr 18yo had a ball with the 18yo self-made kids club and made many friends and never came home until.......sometimes never! LOL All the crew (and passengers) knew him and they always told me he was very well behaved in the wee small hours (thank you God!)
Rock Climbing Wall - didn't use it but you sign up for a time slot.
Pools - the outdoor pool is not a bad size and has 4 hot tubs. The indoor pool has an Egyptian theme, a cafe with food (there's food everywhere LOL!), but I found it too hot on this cruise but would be sensational on a cooler cruise. On arriving back from port one day we wanted to jump into the outdoor pool but it was closed due to a 'floater' (yuk!) and was closed until the next day.......very annoying! The indoor pool was closed from the get go due to the seas and not long into our first sea day the outdoor pool was shut. Eventually they were both open when we found calmer waters. Free soft serve ice cream, a drinks buffet (coffee, tea, etc.) and obviously a bar and a short sashe into the Windjammer where you could bring out your food. All very convenient ? We spent a lot of time on Deck 9!
Dining Room Lunch - tried it once (too nice outside!). A great salad bar as well as the menu to order from. Very yummo!
Smoking - Ok some of us still have a death wish :P On Rhapsody it is starboard side (right) on most of Deck 9 and Deck 5. You can smoke on your balconies (cabin steward will provide a very heavy duty closed in ashtray). No smoking in any inside area including cabins. All in all, if you smoke, there are plenty of areas for you. If you don't smoke, don't complain when you're sitting in the minimal areas smokers have. You have 95% of the ship to sit in!
Entertainment - great variety for all age groups and tastes. Island night (unfortunately we didn't have much island gear as it was on the night we went to Noumea, our first port of call) and Toga night (they provide the sheets) on deck were fabulous and well attended! Bingo - first day major prize was a suite to move into for the remainder of the cruise, next sea day the prize was $500 off your onboard bill, and the last jackpot was $5000. I found the timing of the 7 pm theatre show difficult to get too before dinner. I guess I could have moved my butt quicker but hey, I'm on holiday! Daily movies in the theatre, Trivia, a variety of music in all areas of the ship, Karaoke, Marriage Game Show, The Quest (A must!!), Name that Tune.....the list goes on.
Under 18's midnight Curfew - I don't think they were particularly strict with this. If the kids were behaving there wasn't a problem. Although on the last night the crew said they were all running amok LOL
Medical Centre - well I didn't want to go to the doctor but my friends made me! On the 2nd formal night I was walking out of the lift on Deck 5 (nice shiny tiles) at 8 pm (stone cold sober) and took a few steps and next thing you know I'm flat on my face on the ground. Ouch! And it hurt. I'm lying on my side and people are just staring at me (probably though I was blind drunk). The area was packed as there was something going on in the Centrum. I tried to get up but couldn't. Eventually a lovely man and his wife helped me up. She said at least you fell elegantly LOL. Didn't feel too elegant. I hurried off (most embarrassment!) and had hurt my wrist which was already starting to swell and bruise (I obviously tried to break my fall although I don't remember what I did!), my back and neck were killing me and I had taken a load of skin off my knee (and I had a long dress on!) I went down to dinner, feeling very very ordinary. I didn't report it, but I went and put some ice on my wrist and knee. I knew I hadn't broken anything and it was all soft-tissue damage so why bother? The next day I was pressured by my cruise forum friends to go to the medical centre just in case I needed insurance to cover anything as I was really started to feel it all over. They were fantastic. I filled out a bunch of forms, was told there would be no cost and they gave me some medication and anti-inflammatory cream on the house. She diagnosed me with soft-tissue damage all over my body LOL Back in my room and I then get a phone call from the Chief Safety Officer to meet him at the area where I fell. He took some photos and I'm pretty sure he had already seen the video cos he knew what I had been wearing. I asked for a copy of it so I could send it in to Funniest Home Videos. They didn't oblige LOL. 5 minutes later back in my cabin and Guest Relations are on the phone making a fuss.
Cruise Forum Lifelong Friends - What can I say! (Be my facebook friend Taylah LOL) A very special thank you to Sonia, Warren, Grant and all of our kids. They made this a very memorable and fun time and one to be treasured into dementia! I hope we can all cruise together in the very near future. Start looking guys!
We had a sensational cruise, and although there were some minimal negative aspects it definitely did not detract from a great time. I would highly recommend the Rhapsody of the Seas, she is a beautiful ship with lovely lounges and areas. 99% of the crew were sensational, happy and very helpful. We can't help Mother Nature and my cruise virgins enjoyed the remainder of their cruise so much they are hooked!
I've prattled on so much, and I've probably missed things, so any questions, fire away and I'll attempt to answer them.