The 78,491-ton, 2,040-passenger Rhapsody of the Seas will never win any awards for being the biggest, newest or most innovative ship out there. It's part of Royal Caribbean's Vision Class, among the line's smallest and oldest vessels, in a fleet dominated by humongous mega-ships that sport ice-skating rinks, indoor malls and onboard surf parks. But does that somehow lessen the fun cruise vacation experience? Not a bit.
To be fair, Royal Caribbean
is going out of its way to update its oldie-but-goodies, spending millions of dollars to add favorite Oasis-class
features to ships lacking in dining variety, balconies and all the latest bells and whistles. Rhapsody's 2012 refurb -- which updated cabins, added specialty dining venues and an outdoor movie screen, and redesigned the atrium -- was a giant step forward in giving passengers more ways to enjoy their time onboard. The ship's size will never be the main draw, as it's too big to be truly intimate, but too small to compete with even Voyager-class
attractions. Though, with the new additions, it is a good choice for Royal Caribbean fans who simply can't stomach a 6,000-passenger vessel, but want at least some level of choice.
No, Rhapsody's likeability is about attitude. Its energetic, accessible crewmembers display an infectious ebullience, and its passengers come aboard intending to enjoy themselves. Whether it's shamelessly stumbling through a cha-cha class in the atrium in full view of everyone passing by, lining the decks to see a calving glacier or packing the shops for special sales, Rhapsody sailors are joiners. It makes you want to drop everything and try your hand at a ring-toss game -- just because everyone else is having so much fun doing it.
As for the ship itself, passenger flow is excellent, with the only real crowding at the Windjammer Cafe buffet restaurant, during limited-time souvenir sales or at prime hours in the teeny gym. The hub of the ship is the Centrum, the six-deck atrium, with a bar and dance floor at the bottom and balcony-like walkways flanking its upper levels. Its main level is used for everything from art auctions and song-and-dance-and-aerial-acrobatics performances to cooking classes and silly games. The genius of this area is that you have to pass it to get anywhere on the ship, so even if you don't mean to stop, you get sucked into the action below and find yourself watching or joining in the fun.
One of our favorite additions was the new digital "Wayfinder" signage, which debuted on Oasis of the Seas and is being retrofitted on a number of RCI ships. The large touch-screens, posted by the elevators, let you browse daily activity schedules and restaurant menus, and find directions from here to there (or to the nearest loo) -- all in multiple languages. They're fun to play with and incredibly helpful when you can't remember whether you're forward or aft on the ship.
Our one gripe was the consistency of the food. The main dining room was hit or miss, and the buffet was solidly mediocre, with that mass-produced, institutional cafeteria, sitting-out-too-long taste. (Especially avoid the Windjammer's pizza.) Food was definitely better in the for-fee Chops (steakhouse) and Giovanni's (Italian), but not all passengers want to pay to stuff themselves silly for an evening.
Then again, a reason not to gain 10 pounds on a cruise could be a good thing after all.
Royal Caribbean typically appeals to couples and singles in their 30's to 60's, as well as families of all ages. The cruise line attracts passengers that are looking for affordable, active vacations. The folks are a high-spirited, high-energy lot and really get into the onboard activities, from cooking demos and ring-toss games to the aerial acrobatic shows in the Centrum.
A large percentage of passengers on Rhapsody's Australian and Pacific itineraries will be locals from Australia and New Zealand.
A weeklong cruise will have two formal nights, one smart casual night and four casual nights. Even the longest cruises won't have more than three smart casual and three formal nights (with the remainder all casual).
Most men opt for dark suits instead of tuxedos, and women choose cocktail dresses rather than lavish gowns. Despite the stated dress code, we never actually had a smart casual night on our Alaska cruise. The only difference between smart and regular casual is jackets for men, with sport shirts and slacks recommended, and dresses, skirts and nice slacks for women. But, honestly, this is a cruise line that doesn't get hung up on dinner dress. Jeans are not looked down on, and no one blinked an eye when our tablemates rushed into dinner from a long day in port, still wearing their hiking clothes.
Royal Caribbean passengers are charged $12 per person, per day ($14.25 for suite guests). Gratuities can be prepaid or will be added on a daily basis to passengers' SeaPass accounts during the cruise. Passengers can modify or remove gratuities by visiting the guest services desk while onboard. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar tabs.