We decided to try a different cruise line , for our 30th anniversary celebration, and we were certainly pleased we did. Overall, Royal Caribbean is definitely a step up in standards and Rhapsody of the Seas, and her crew, is an impressive ship to sail on.
We decided to travel to Sydney the day before departure. We stayed at Amora Jamison because of it's close proximity to Circular Quay and the overseas cruise terminal. Unfortunately, it rained that morning so a cab was required, but on a clear day it would be an easy walk even with luggage.
Check-in was super quick, maybe we had missed the crowd, as we were on board by 3pm and ready to explore. Had all our luggage by 4pm, unpacked ready for lifeboat drill at 5pm and then a slightly rainy sailaway through Sydney Harbour. The ship definitely has a wow factor and a classy feel to it & not that difficult to navigate once you find your sea legs.
The crew on this ship are extra friendly, courteous & helpful....nothing seems to be too much trouble. Our head waiter (Cleo) in the restaurant was super patient with our dining group...bringing alternatives if diners were not sure about their order, extra desserts etc etc.
The food in general on this cruise was wonderful...lots of choices & beautifully cooked in every instance. We ate our evening meals in the restaurant, and most of our lunches & breakfasts in Windjammer Cafe. It was sometimes hard to get seating, but the quality was always of a high standard.If there was any complaint about the buffet, more dessert choices could have been offered but you certainly never went hungry!! There are also many opportunities to purchase extra food or beverages....Ben & Jerry's icecream, coffee shop, fresh orange juice at breakfast, hot chocolate (with or without an extra nip) on deck.
There were also a number of special food displays...chocolate & ice carvings, gingerbread & christmas arrays, cooking & towel folding demonstrations with lots of guest involvement.
Entertainment & activities on this ship were probably my only complaint. The quality of the on board dancers/singers was unfortunately lower than others we've seen, as were the guest entertainers (impersonator, comedian, musicians). The scheduling of activities was often poor, with things clashing with late or early sittings. At times it did feel like they wanted you to sit in bars & order drinks rather than be entertained. The planner for the day looked quite full but a lot of these were spa related rather than true activities... on the positive side, you never had to look too far for a cosy place to sit & relax or read/play cards etc...lots of public areas to enjoy. Another nice touch was the New Zealand cultural dancers that were brought on board to entertain the guests on some evenings in the Atrium...great if you had been unable to attend a shore tour.
We booked most of our tours through the cruise line, even though they were definitely more expensive than if you purchased them privately. On our last cruise we had had a number of late or missed port arrivals, so we were a little wary this time around. Two of our ports were scenic cruising, Milford, Dusky & Doubtful Sounds and White Island Volcano. We were blessed with great weather(though cold & a little windy) on both these days.By the time we reached Dunedin we were glad to put our feet on terra firma! We had visited the South Island before, so did a little exploring on our own at this port, and also in Christchurch. In Wellington we used the hop-on-off bus system and looked at the major sights at our own pace.The next port was Napier where we had booked the Waka/war canoe tour. Well worth the money as you got to be fully involved paddling the boat plus heard a lot of cultural info ( hard work at times but lots of fun!). We also managed to fit in a bus trip out to Hawkes Bay & Cape Kidnapper & through the city itself. In Tauranga we decided to hire a car & drive into Rotorua. This was easy to do, as there were rental car companies on the dock waiting for guests to disembark. This proved to be a perfect choice for us as you didn't need to be back on board til 7pm. We got to visit the Buried Village, the Blue Lakes, the thermal park & the Sky Gondola plus see a little of the countryside. Auckland was another day at our own pace...luckily as the weather was not too good for sightseeing.Bay of Islands had been the port we were waiting for...we booked a jetboat ride through the hole-in-the-rock & would thoroughly recommend it. We also fitted in a bus trip out to the Karakara historic railway which we booked on site in the town. New Zealand is definitely a country where you feel confident making your own travel arrangements which gives significant savings compared to the cruise line on-shore tours - as there were no arrival hiccups, we probably should have taken the risk & waited until we arrived in each port. There were no problems with what we did book - just more expensive.
Disembarkation went smoothly.. we were towards the bottom of the list but still not too long a wait until the holiday was just a lovely memory!