After a lot of research and on our travel agent's advice we (myself, my mother and my 8 year old son) decided on a South Pacific cruise with Royal Caribbean (on the Rhapsody of the Seas).
Overall the cruise was great. The level of service from the crew was 5- star- especially in the dining room.
The only disappointment was the kids' club which my son (and a number of other cruisers' children) did not enjoy (due to lack of interesting organised/structured activities). This did not affect our overall experience as there were enough activities on board to keep him entertained.
The seas were quite rough over the first half of the cruise and we could not anchor at Mystery Island (one of 5 scheduled ports). The other ports were Noumea, Lifou, Port Vila and Isle of Pines.
The highlights of the cruise were the Isle of Pines (stunning natural beauty) and snorkeling at Lifou. Both of these stops were by tender boat. The coral and sea life we observed snorkeling at Lifou was far superior to anything we have seen on the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. However the wooden steps to the reef were out of use so in order to enter and exit the water you need to be very nimble to navigate a natural rock embankment.
The other ports- Noumea and Port Vila- are very run down towns. There were good views from the hilltop lookout in Noumea however the city itself is very dilapidated. Several cruisers were back on board within 1 hour of leaving the ship. The weather during our stop at Port Vila was very wet which affected our visit to Hideaway Island (this had been recommended to us by other cruisers). This spot would be lovely in warm weather. However the experience of negotiating with some of the local bus drivers over the price for a ride back to port was quite intimidating at times. Tip= upon leaving the terminal take a lift straight to the drop off point for the boat ride to Hideaway Island rather than going into town and then hailing another bus to Hideaway. Arrange for your driver to return to pick up up from the Hideaway drop off point otherwise you are at the mercy of 2 or 3 drivers who lurk at the drop off point quoting ridiculously high prices to return you to port. To our minds the only reason you would choose to go into the township at Port Vila is to do duty- free shopping. Several cruisers purchased duty free alcohol in Port Vila- we didn't, but we were told that it was quite a bit cheaper than it was on board the ship.
Our onboard experience could not be faulted. Our stateroom (Superior Balcony category D1) was clean and meticulously serviced at least once daily. Most nights there was a towel animal waiting on my son's bed upon our return from the theatre shows.
The shows were fantastic. The Rhapsody singers and dancers are great and the quality of the shows (and their production/costumes etc) was very impressive. The guest performers were also first class.
In terms of food, there was really anything you could imagine to choose from. The food and service in the Edelweiss Dining room was wonderful.
Embarkation (and disembarking at the end of the cruise) was smooth and involved very little waiting.
The gym was well equipped.
The activities staff were full of energy and very efficient.
We would not hesitate to recommend a Rhapsody cruise to any other first time cruisers. It is unlikely to be our last cruise!