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.
The reception and shore excursion desks can be found on Deck 5 in the Centrum. Right above on Deck 6 is the photo gallery, where you can view and purchase pictures taken by the ship's photographers. Thumbs up to the machines that show you all photos of you when you insert your cruise card; thumbs down to the costumed crewmembers hounding you every day to take photos with them. Next to the photo gallery is the pathetic library; the actual library was removed during the 2012 refit to make room for more cabins. Now, a few shelves hold a piddling number of books, games to borrow, and daily trivia and Sudoku puzzles. Around the corner are the art auction desk and a mini-gallery and the Pets at Sea station (where, for a fee, you can stuff and accessorize a plush animal toy).
On Deck 4, adjacent to the R Bar, is the "Royal Caribbean Online" Internet lounge, which offers real-time access to the Web 24/7. The ship is now outfitted for Wi-Fi, bow to stern, but some spots onboard may get better reception than others. You can pay for Internet as you go for 65 cents a minute or purchase a package: $35 for 60 minutes, $55 for 100 minutes, $75 for 150 minutes, $100 for 250 minutes or $150 for 500 minutes. To use Wi-Fi on your own laptop, you must first sign up for an account at the Internet cafe.
Conference rooms are located near the dining room on Deck 4 with a medical facility on Deck 1. There are no self-serve laundry rooms on Rhapsody.
Of the 1,020 cabins on Rhapsody, 613 have ocean views, and 223 have balconies. (That's a pretty low percentage of balcony cabins, compared to today's new-builds.) During the 2012 refurb, 21 new cabins were added to the ship: a family junior suite where the Radio Room was previously; four balcony cabins on Deck 7, replacing the Card Room; and 16 outside cabins on Decks 7 and 8, utilizing space previously occupied by the Explorers Lounge (removed -- new Internet Cafe on Deck 4), Future Cruise Desk (moved to Deck 4) and Library (now a bookshelf by the photo gallery). While all cabins received upgraded linens and soft goods, the new cabins also sport more modern furnishings (upgraded desks/vanities, night tables, bathroom fixtures, etc.).
Three categories of inside cabins range in size from 132 to 165 square feet -- i.e. teeny tiny. While some are a standard rectangular layout -- the door at the short side of the cabin, leading into the living area, with the sleeping area at the other end -- some are laid out lengthwise along the hallway so the door is in the middle with the sleeping area to one side and the living area to the other. Standard oceanview cabins measure 152 square feet. Only two cabins on the ship (junior suites 8086 and 8586) have obstructed views.
Standard balcony cabins (called "superior oceanviews") are 192 square feet with 42-square-foot balconies. Balconies are each furnished with two chairs and a small table.
Family oceanview cabins, at 237 square feet, each feature a main sleeping area, plus a curtained-off area with bunk beds and a sofa bed in the sitting area. They sleep six.
Standard cabins are comfortable and practical, and even the smallest cabins feature small sitting areas with sofas and coffee tables. Storage space is generous with hanging racks and shelving in the closets, drawers and more shelves in the desks/vanities, and nightstands. Cabins feature flat-screen televisions, phones, safes and hair dryers. Outlets were old and not the best, as our plugs kept falling out. Royal Caribbean has added iPads in each suite. The iPads can be used throughout the ship to access daily schedules and onboard accounts, order room service, access the Internet, watch movies and make restaurant reservations. But be careful with your borrowed technology -- the fees for damaged and lost iPads are $200 and $700, respectively.
Bathrooms have decent storage, though each shower only has one shelf and a clingy curtain. Toiletries are limited to hand soap and a mystery substance (Shampoo? Body wash?) in an unmarked dispenser in the shower.
Cabin service was exceptional, unobtrusive and thorough. Cabin stewards create imaginative towel-people and creatures as part of turn-down service. (The hanging monkey was one of the best we've seen.)
Rhapsody offers six types of suites. The Junior Suite (at 243 square feet with a 67-square-foot balcony) is essentially an expanded balcony cabin with a larger sitting area (sofa plus two comfy chairs) and a bathroom with a bathtub. Grand Suites (353 square feet, 111-square-foot balcony) are even bigger, with more distinction between the sleeping and sitting areas (with an L-shaped couch) and a larger foyer area. The Owner's Suite (516 square feet, 116-square-foot balcony) has a separate living area with a queen-size sofa bed and a small dining table. The Royal Suite (1,140 square feet, 131-square-foot balcony) has a king-size bed in a separate bedroom, a large living room with a queen-size sofa bed and baby grand piano, and a whirlpool bathtub.
Suite passengers are entitled to perks like priority check-in, Concierge Lounge access (see below), priority tendering (where applicable), access to dining room menus via room service, luggage valet service, complimentary clothes pressing on formal night and priority debarkation.
Two suite categories are intended for families. The Family Junior Suite (470 square feet with 75-square-foot balcony) sleeps six with two sets of twin beds (one set in a separate room and others that convert to queens) and a double sofa bed in the living room. The Royal Family Suite (480 square feet with 59-square-foot balcony) features two bedrooms, two bathrooms (one with shower, other with tub), a walk-in closet, a double sofa bed and a Pullman bed in the living room. It can accommodate up to eight people.
A new Concierge Lounge, carved out of the Viking Crown Lounge in 2012, is open to all suite passengers and "Diamond-Plus" Crown & Anchor loyalty program members. Amenities include continental breakfast (served daily, 8 to 10 a.m.), hors d'oeuvres and petit fours served in the evening, a self-service bar (no fee) during happy hour, movies and CDs to borrow, and business services (faxing and copying for a fee). A concierge can assist passengers in making reservations for specialty dining and shore excursions, spa and salon appointments; pre-ordering wine at dinner; and arranging private parties. "Diamond" Crown & Anchor members have their own lounge in the back corner of the Shall We Dance Lounge, with similar services.
Wheelchair-accessible cabins come in several categories: outsides (255 square feet); balconies (350 square feet, with 39-square-foot balconies); and suites (276 square feet, with 69-square-foot balconies). These cabins feature open bed frames, wider entry doors, space to turn, lowered vanities and closet rods, bathrooms with wider doors, roll-in showers with fold-down benches, grab bars, a raised toilet and a lowered sink.
The hub of the ship -- and its entertainment options -- is the Centrum, which got a full-on makeover in 2012. Its lowest level is Deck 4, where the R Bar serves up classic martinis in a setting that's supposed to be '60s mod decor. The bar and additional comfy seating surround a small dance floor and bandstand. That's where all the action takes place, including art auctions, cooking demos, ballroom dance classes, audience-participation games like ring-tosses and "live horse racing," and late-night themed dance parties. The Centrum space soars up to Deck 8 with a windowed ceiling on the pool deck above, and the upper reaches have been outfitted with stage lighting and rigging for aerial acrobatic performances (think high-flying bungee swings). The performances, some of which are publicized in the daily programs and some of which are serendipitous, vary in quality; if you go to only one, make it the farewell spectacular.
The ship has a few main lounges. The Broadway Melodies Show Lounge is one of the most functional and intelligently designed we've experienced. Sightlines from either the main floor or balcony are excellent. Seating is on fixed banquettes, which guarantees adequate space to enter and exit rows, and space is maximized by eliminating tables in favor of drink holders on armrests. The lounge is done up in rich jade-green marble, with furniture upholstered in matching leather and peach and turquoise brocade. On a one-week cruise, expect several performances by the ship's singers and dancers and a few specialty acts. (On our cruise, it was a Beatles tribute band, a comedian and Bowser from Sha Na Na.)
The clubby yet whimsical Schooner Bar has floor-to-ceiling glass windows that look onto the outdoor promenade one deck below. There, the floor by the bar is actual teak decking, varnished and polished to a rich, glossy mahogany sheen. Several tables feature ersatz bits of masts and rigging sprouting from them like transformed umbrellas. A piano with sing-along seating is there for evening entertainment and trivia game purposes.
The Shall We Dance Lounge, located at the stern, is the ship's secondary performance venue, but it's strangely off-the-beaten-track, as you must walk through the Schooner Bar to get to it. It plays host to art auctions, bingo games, dance lessons and dancing to live bands, karaoke and various presentations, from future cruise sails to shopping talks.
The most recognizable public room on Rhapsody of the Seas is Royal Caribbean's signature Viking Crown Lounge. With the addition of Izumi and the Concierge Lounge in the same space, the area feels less open and more chopped up than before. It's still a lovely spot to watch sailaway from indoors and is the late-night disco venue.
The Casino Royale has slot machines and all the requisite card tables (poker, blackjack, craps, etc.). We found the casino staff unusually friendly and helpful, and have never had so much fun losing money. The casino's astronomical decor (lots of stars and moons and astrological symbols) implies that your luck may be at the mercy of the stars.
The Edelweiss Restaurant is also employed as a venue for daytime activities, including scrapbooking and crafts.
On port days, Royal Caribbean offers a vast array of shore excursions, including active tours like hiking, biking and kayaking on its Alaska cruises. Tours are marked for activity level: mild, moderate or strenuous.
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.
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.
Rhapsody has an extensive children's program called "Adventure Ocean," for kids from ages 3 to 17. (Kids must be toilet trained; they will not be allowed in if still wearing diapers or Pull-Ups.) The children are broken up into five age groups: Aquanauts (3 to 5), Explorers (6 to 8), Voyagers (9 to 11) and two groups of Teens (12 to 14 and 15 to 17). Eighteen-year-olds are not allowed into Adventure Ocean, with no exceptions. In addition, the Royal Babies and Tots program is geared toward the littlest cruisers, ages 6 to 36 months. The three youth lounges -- Nursery, Adventure Ocean and teen disco -- are located on Deck 10.
Adventure Ocean activities for kids ages 3 to 11 are free of charge and are available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and from 7 to 10 p.m. On port days, the center will open a half hour prior to the first excursion. Age-appropriate activities may include finger-painting, talent shows, pajama parties, karaoke, sports tournaments and scavenger hunts. Royal Caribbean also offers special kids' programs in science, art, theater and storytelling. Certain events are designated as family activities for parents and kids to do together.
Teen activity hours vary during the day and run from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. for younger teens and from 9 p.m. 'til late for older teens. Think dance and pool parties, video game play, casino nights and sports. The teen disco has a "mocktail" bar, dance floor and video game area. It's located off the all-ages arcade.
Royal Babies and Tots Programming is geared to little kids, ages 6 to 36 months, and take place in the Nursery. The Nursery's main playroom is outfitted with all sorts of Fisher-Price toys, soft climbing structures and interactive play stations lining the walls. A huge flat-screen TV shows Sesame Street, the Wiggles and Thomas the Tank Engine videos nearly nonstop. A back room has several cribs and a changing station. Typically, the Nursery is open from 8 a.m. on port days and 9:30 a.m. on sea days through midnight.
The babies program works differently than Adventure Ocean. Most of its open hours are reserved for drop-off group baby-sitting, day or night, at a rate of $8 per hour, per child. Staff will change diapers, but you're expected to provide supplies (diapers, milk, bottles, sippy cups, etc.). Parents will receive a pager to be buzzed if there's a problem.
During late afternoon open-play sessions, Fisher-Price Playgroups and Crayola Beginnings art time, kids can come for free, but they must be supervised by a parent. The room is a wonderful place for little ones to play, and we discovered that if no tots have been dropped off, the staff will allow parents and kids to come in for additional open play time. Families can also borrow bags of toys for the duration of the cruise -- a neat idea so you don't have to pack your toybox. We even asked and were allowed to borrow a toy for our son.
In-cabin sitting, between the hours of 8 a.m. and 2 a.m., is available through the purser's desk and must be booked at least 24 hours in advance. It's based on availability with no guarantee that a sitter will be found. Minimum age is 1 year; the charge is $19 per hour (for two hours or more) for up to three children within the same family.
Group baby-sitting for ages 3 to 11 is available from the youth staff from 10 p.m. through 2 a.m. nightly. The rate is $6 per hour, per child. (Kids must be at least 3 years old and potty-trained.)
Royal Caribbean provides Pack 'n Play porta-cribs on advance request, but standard cabins do not have curtains to divide the rooms or bathtubs. High chairs with trays are available in both the Windjammer and main dining room, as is whole milk. Royal Caribbean's Babies to Go program allows parents to preorder jarred Gerber baby food, Huggies diapers and Cotonelle wipes to be delivered to their cabins for exorbitant prices.
The main dining room does offer a kids' menu with appetizers, entrees, desserts and even virgin cocktails and frozen drinks (specialty drinks cost extra). The waitstaff was extremely accommodating of children, having a fruit salad ready for my son whenever we arrived in the dining room, making animals out of napkins and just dropping by to say hi.
Several family-friendly dining options are also available. Lunch & Play is offered on sea days from noon to 2 p.m. when Adventure Ocean is typically closed. Counselors will supervise a boxed lunch, movie- or cartoon-watching and playtime for a charge of $7.95 per kid. My Family Time Dining is a free service for families with early seating in the dining room. Kids will receive an expedited dinner service so they can be in and out in 45 minutes, when counselors will pick them up and bring them back to Adventure Ocean for evening activities while parents enjoy the rest of their dinner at leisure. And, Adventure Ocean Dining is a program on select nights to allow kids to have dinner in the ship's restaurants with their peers and youth program staff.
Royal Caribbean will not accept pregnant guests who have entered their 24th week of pregnancy before or during the cruise. Pregnant women in their first and second trimesters technically need a "fit to travel" note from their physicians.
|Fitness and Recreation|
The main, open, central outdoor area on Deck 9 has a large pool surrounded by four shaded hot tubs. The pool is divided, with a shallower area on one end and a depth of five feet at the other. An outdoor movie screen shows scenes of Caribbean beaches and sea life on our Alaska cruise; movie screenings were scheduled for select evenings. Lounge chairs are your basic plastic and metal affairs. A couple of Ping-Pong tables are hidden away by the entrance to the Solarium.
Toward the stern is the Egyptian-themed Solarium (yes, there are pharaoh statues) with the secondary pool and another two hot tubs. This area is covered by a retractable glass dome, and it's a warm hideaway when the weather is chilly outside. It's also adults-only (minimum age 16). You'll find nicer lounge chairs, tables and chairs for playing cards or eating snacks from the adjacent Park Cafe.
On Deck 10, a jogging track circles the ship, overlooking the pool areas. At the very aft of the ship is Royal Caribbean's signature rock-climbing wall, and the requisite shuffleboard courts are on this deck, as well. There is no basketball court onboard.
The two-deck Vitality Day Spa and fitness center, run by Steiner's of London, occupies Decks 9 and 10, aft. The Egyptian-themed spa offers all the usual treatments (massages, facials, hair and nail services), as well as acupuncture, medi-spa procedures to reduce wrinkles and enhance lips, waxing and special offerings for couples, men, teens and kids. The Cruise Specials newsletter that accompanies the Cruise Compass usually lists same-day spa specials and other discounts.
Rhapsody has a perfectly adequate gym for a ship of its size, with eight treadmills, eight elliptical trainers, six exercise bikes, weight machines and free weights. Fitness classes -- yoga, spinning and boot camp (for $12), as well as free abs and stretching classes -- and spa seminars take place in the central aerobics area.
The promenade on Deck 5 would be ideal for sea-day walking if it weren't blocked off at one end. Still, people will stroll in a U, up and back.
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