In September I spent a week on the Rhapsody out of Galveston. Overall it was a great trip. It was a bit rough at the start-up.
Embarkation was a most unpleasant series of unmoving lines snaking through a very hot temporary shed/terminal. Scheduled for a 12:00 embarkation, we arrived a little after that to find terrible traffic congestion around the terminal and a large number of people already crowded into the terminal. It seemed to be about 1 or 1:30 before the folks at the front of the lines were actually allowed onto the ship. We were told by a Royal Caribbean employee that a luncheon for travel agents was held on the ship that particular day and passengers could not board until that group was cleared from the ship. I wonder how often that happens? Needless to say, in the heat of that terminal, waiting in lines that did not move at all for a couple of hours, irritation among passengers was escalating. Some passengers had arrived by mid-morning, hoping for an early embarkation. Those were sorely disappointed. Royal Caribbean did provide water and lemonade and cookies that were set out about halfway through the line, but it was too little too late. Since the lines were not actually MOVING, by the time we advanced far enough in the line to get water it was gone. Further along in the line, we did find a water fountain where we could refill our own water bottles for a much needed drink. And of course, delaying all boarding till most of the passengers had arrived and were crammed into the terminal meant that once boarding did begin there was a mass flow to the buffet for what was now a quite late lunch fed to crabby masses. Repeat of the embarkation lines for food and for tables in the Windjammer. By the time we were actually settled in we were exhausted from the sweltering heat, needed showers and were VERY glad for the great air conditioning on the ship!
No problem getting bags to the room at least, although apparently some passengers never did get theirs and spent the week in RCI logowear! But by the time we set sail, most people were "recovered" and ready for that set-sail drink special, the poolside band and watch the shoreline disappear.
It was necessary to have our itinerary for Grand Cayman changed because of the hurricane. We were very fortunate in slipping in between hurricanes for our cruise! We went to Costa Maya instead of Cayman, which most of our group found disappointing, understandably. However, we did get a longer day in port by going to Costa Maya, and avoided the dreaded tendering process at Cayman! At Costa Maya we rented a golf cart to drive to the nearby fishing village. I had been there in May and found it very nice. The beaches were beautiful in May. In September, there remained a lot of remnants of the hurricanes recently through there. There was a lot of trash scattered around the beach and in the roads.. no apparent effort being made to remove it. If I hadn't seen it looking so pristine in May, I wouldn't have realized what it COULD be like. My family was very disappointed in Costa Maya as a substitute for Grand Cayman. I had been to the Mayan ruins when I visited Costa Maya in May, and thought they were just awesome, but didn't convince any of my September cruisemates to give that a try.
The Rhapsody is a beautiful ship and I found it more to my tastes than the larger Explorer which I was on in May. (I would highly recommend the Explorer for families with school age kids who would benefit from all the available activities, however.) The ship was kept very clean almost all the time (at least up until disembarkation morning). The public areas such as elevators and stair rails were in a nearly constant state of being cleaned, it seemed. I appreciated that cleanliness, however I still managed to get sick by day 3.
I had a less than ideal trip to the ship's medical center for the most expensive strep throat treatment ever....about $250 for office visit and meds that were not effective for what ailed me. I did purchase the Cruise Care insurance from Royal Caribbean, but to date (3 mos later) have not yet collected any reimbursement for my expenses. So far, just paperwork on my part. Haven't given up yet! Since this is the 2nd time I've gotten sick enough on a cruise to require their very expensive medical attention, I think I may do a bit more research on travel insurance policies.
The service we received on the Rhapsody was superb with few exceptions. Dining staff was very attentive. I was traveling with my father who required a scooter for mobility and has very limited walking ability. The staff on the Rhapsody treated him like a king in every aspect. I was most impressed with the care they gave him. Fellow passengers, on the other hand, were less considerate. Elevators were crowded in general, but again, MUCH better than on the Explorer. We often found that folks would press around him and prevent him from boarding an elevator on his scooter. At times we had to wait through several attempts before having an opportunity to board. Sometimes we gave up. I found that very frustrating to watch able-bodied folks who COULD easily have used the stairs jump in front of him and leave him sitting there waiting for the next elevator. I've never traveled as a handicapped person, but I surely did gain a new perspective this time. I think it would be nice if there were an elevator designated for handicapped access as priority. I was amazed how many folks were on the ship with scooters or wheelchairs.
The food in the dining room was beautifully presented and generally quite good. I had one steak that was not fit to eat, otherwise my meals were very good. Wait staff was great and seemed for the most part able to keep up with requests, except for formal nights when they had a lot of "extra" bottles of wine to open at surrounding tables. On those nights it was harder to get a water glass refilled or a dinner bread or even a glass of wine poured from a previous day's bottle. Their attentive care to my dad's needs was so impressive though, I could ignore the small stuff that was less than "perfect." It was far superior in every way to the service we received on the Explorer in May. On one evening, our waiter made a special effort to locate a "leftover" piece of cake that had been on the previous night's menu for one member of our party who said she had particularly enjoyed THAT dessert.
We did have some confusion related to celebrating my sister's birthday on board. I thought the travel agent had arranged for a cake to celebrate her birthday. When I called Guest Relations to confirm that on the afternoon of her birthday, I was told it had not been reserved and it was too late to arrange for that evening. The agent was very courteous and offered a bottle of wine to the table instead....courtesy of the ship. I said that would be lovely and provided our table #. At dinner, there was no such bottle of wine. I spoke to the waiter and to the head waiter, who said it had not been provided and that it was not something that was customarily done. Unfortunately, I had not made note of the agent's name who promised it, so there was little I could do but feel embarrassed.
The theatre is gorgeously decorated and reasonably comfortable seating. The entertainment there was very well done in nearly every instance, and of a nice variety. The only negative entertainment experience was a "Beatlemania" concert. The group was certainly quite talented but the technical sound quality was, for some reason, very rough that night. I wondered if there were a substitute technician or something. Vocal blends and instrumental balances were so far off as to be simply painful to listen to. (As a singer/musician, I'm probably oversensitive in that area, and I would have written it off to that had the non-musical person next to me not leaned over and asked me why it sounded so bad and why was it hurting her ears.) Otherwise, the production quality was awesome throughout the week, and I assume that bad night was a fluke. The comedians were wonderful. I wish they would make more use of them in other ways on the ship. The singers and dancers were very skilled and professional. I did not get the opportunity to fully enjoy the entertainment on this cruise, as I was pretty much sick the whole week. So I missed all the late night music and games, though others in our group participated and really enjoyed them.
We had wonderful service in our room from staff that were all but invisible, but seemed to always know when we were out of the room and make sure our room was ready for our return. Only negative there was a charge on my final bill for bottles of water that we had not used... expensive water at that! I had moved them off of the small vanity to make room for our own items and apparently the room steward did not realize I was moving them. Next time I will make a point of telling the staff I am moving them and won't be using them. (I drink a LOT of bottled water.. so I really have to bring my own or I'd go broke on their water!) I did try to have the error corrected prior to disembarkation and was told it was too late to change it.. the bill was put under my door during the night and apparently I was supposed to have looked it over and taken it to the purser's desk before 7 a.m. for any corrections. However, a phone call after I arrived home proved adequate to make the correction.
Overall, with the exception of being sick, this was a wonderful cruise on a beautiful ship. It was my first cruise out of Galveston and I did miss the international flavor of the other cruises I had taken from both USA coasts and the Mediterranean. Almost all the guests on this cruise spoke Texan, while nearly none of the staff had English as a first language. It was an interesting combination. Staff presented a salute to America... a flag raising in the Centrum accompanied by a medley of American patriotic songs and Texas favorites like "Deep in the Heart of Texas" sung by multinational staff singing in English as second language. That was an interesting event to observe. My Texas family loved it, so I guess RCI knows what their target customers like! It seemed a lot of the cruisers were Texans who make the Rhapsody a regular family tradition.
I would definitely cruise on the Rhapsody again.. it was a wonderful ship. I would not cruise out of Galveston again unless I had a very good reason to (as I did this time.... a port my father could go to with no airline hassle). However, it appeared the terminal there was under major reconstruction, so the issues we encountered may be short lived. I can certainly see why this would be a favorite vacation activity for local folks who can save cost of air travel to either coast to spend on-board, and cruise on a beautiful ship as well.