Cruise Review February 9, 2003 to February 16, 2003 Rhapsody of the Seas
Day One: took Continental flight leaving Denver at 6:30 arriving in Houston at 9:45 am. From there we took the Royal Caribbean shuttle which costs 62.00 per person round trip in the pouring rain to Galveston. We got to Galveston at 12:00 and were on the ship by 12:30. That was by far the best embarkation we have ever experienced. We did book a suite category C which lets you skip the lines and get right on the boat. Upon arriving on the ship we proceeded directly to our stateroom which was easy to find and ready for us. We had the best state room attendant Edgar who came and introduced himself to us after we had settled in. As soon as we were settled in we went to eat in the Windjammer which I was dreading because of the poor reviews it received on the message board but we were pleasantly surprised to find that the buffet was very good and fresh and included everything you could want in a buffet including a carving station and ahuge desert station.
Although it was very cold in Galveston (low 50's) the sail away party on the pool deck went on as planned and we were headed to Key West with our bahamma mama drinks in our hand. Just before dinner around 5:30 our bags arrived in our room and we were able to dress for dinner. The first nights dinner we met our waiter Mustafa and assistant waiter Allen who were very proficient considering they had 20 people to wait on they were right on top of it. We ordered the wine and dine package which cost 125.00 including tip which gives you one bottle of wine of your choice with each dinner. However on the first night we could not be served wine until we were in international waters so we didn't get wine until mid way through our dinner. We also met our table mates who were wonderful entertainment.
That night's show included the Royal Caribbean singer and dancers singing "taking care of business" the Ritmos Duo which are male and female drummers who were entertaining but strange and goofy too. We were also introduced to Tom Canosa who is the cruise director who did a great job through out the cruise.
Day two at Sea: there were plenty of activities through out the day for all ages but we chose to relax and swim this day in the solarium pool which was very nice. We did decide to play bingo this day but were not impressed. You paid 35.00 for 5 games but the odds of wining were like a thousand to one too many people played bingo. The show for that night was the Royal Caribbean singers and dancers doing the Swingin Singing Years the band and singers put on a very good show that was defunitny geared to an older audience you can tell that a lot of hard work goes in to the production
Day three Key West: There where a lot of activities in the morning. We walked a mile; Ate breakfast in the windjammer witch I always liked. it was very good any breakfast item you could want ( bagels , lox's , eggs , ham , donnuts , made to order omelets , potato cakes , yogurt . and much more ) At 3:00 pm the ship arrived at key west we docked at the down town Hilton pear. My wife and I got off the ship at 3:45 pm walked around town looked at the bars and shops got back on the ship just in time to watch the sunset from our cabin balcony with a bottle of Champagne. Dinner was open seating we ate early so we could see my big fat Greek wedding in the theater it was very funny hopping they would show it. After the movie we went to bed and missed the comedy show and late night sail away pool party. It is nice to do as much or as little as you like!
Day Four at Sea: Again there were a lot of activities to do during the day at sea. We did all the ship shape activities to earn our ship shape dollars and that was kind of fun. We played in the casino but never one a dime only gave tons to the slots. The out door pool is usually crowded on sea days so we used the in door pool to swim and lay by the pool it is a really nice area to relax. The 4th night show was the best show we have seen. The Original Drifters were on the ship and put on a great show. Even at 26 and 30 we new every song they sang, it was so good. It was by far the best cruise show performance we have ever seen.
Day Five Belize City: We anchored near Belize City at 7:30 a.m. and all the tours were the first ones off the ship and then the rest of the passengers wanting to go ashore could go but you had to tender over so we decided we weren't going to get off the ship. But later that day we changed our minds and took the tender over. It is about a 15 minute boat ride over but there is really not much to see when you get over to the island. We only stayed in Belize for an hour and then tendered back it was kind of a waste but at least now we can say we've been to Belize. We were going to watch the movie that was playing in the Broadway Melodies Lounge but a quarter way through the movie shut off and the only two men who new how to run the computer were in Belize picking up a piano player for the next nights show so the movie was never fixed. However they did run the movie on the T.V. in each stateroom the next day all day long so we were able to see it. We were so exhausted this night we decided to order room service watch a movie and go to bed it was one of the best nights we had.
Day Six Cozumel: We arrived at 7:30 a.m. and we were one of the first people off the ship. It is so easy to get off the ship when you are at the international peer. We took a taxi over to the plaza for $6.00 and we were there way too early nothing opened up until 10:00 or later in the morning. We walked all around and looked at the open markets and found a great place to play mini golf we had a lot of fun. It was hot this day so after playing mini golf we took a taxi back to the peer and got back on the ship and lay by the pool for awhile. It was a great day to be in Cozumel. This was lobster night in the dinning room so we ate in their and had a pretty good meal. The lobster tail were good sized and they even offered you a second or third. This was one of the better meals in the dining room. This evening's show was a pianist named Glenn Smith. He was very unprepared and he was sick so the show wasn't very good. He also wasn't like a concert pianist he was more of a rock-n-roll pianist it just wasn't our taste of music I guess.
Day Seven At Sea: We laid in the sun most of this day as it was our last chance to work on our tans before headed home. We also played the final game of bingo that was a jack pot of $10,000.00 I got with in two numbers but some guy from Texas won the whole pot lucky him. The weather started to change as we got closer and closer to Galveston and we were trying to avoid a storm most of the night. This night's diner was the best on the cruise. It was prime rib and they cooked it any way you liked. It was a great final dinner for the cruise. We decided to skip the last night show and have one more relaxing night before we headed home to our busy house with the kids running around all the time but it was a great night none the less.
Day Eight Disembarkation: We had a lot of trouble docking in Galveston because of the wind so this put the disembarkation about an hour behind but it didn't seem to bother anyone. The customs process ran really smooth and the disembarkation also ran smooth. We were some of the first ones off the ship because we booked the Royal Caribbean shuttle to the airport and these left early so that was a plus. All in all the disembarkation was an easy process.
A final summary: The ship was magnificent very well maintained and very clean. Our state room attendant was the best he was so efficient and very nice too. The food over all was hit and miss the dining room was the worst place to eat but the food in the windjammer was great. We had a great trip and we already booked another one on the same ship for next year. Happy sailings to everyone.
we set sail 2/9/03. the 1st time cruise was fantastic!!! we thought the food was great. sevice super.the shows were good.alot to do onboard.we liked key west but forget belize.
we felt they were anti-american! will never go back.cozumel was the best port. we would go back there.we had one day of bad seas but i think that was our fault too. too much to drink at bingo!but my husband & i cant wait to go again.we meet such great people. so get out there! there is something for everyone!!!!! cant wait til we sailo again!!!!! cheryl
Because I am writing this review over a year after I actually cruised, I will not address in detail the ship, food, crew, etc. except to say we (my sister and I) had a wonderful time and we were so impressed with all of the above.
The point I would like to make specifically is about the stop we made in Belize. I was so excited to make a stop here, after all I had heard and I must say I was not disappointed. If you keep in mind this is a destination in it's infancy as far as attracting cruise ships, it was really exciting. The city itself is a little scary, but if you don't wander too far, you will be fine. We chose not to book an excursion through RCI and took the tender boat to the port, it only takes a few minutes.
From there, we walked a short distance (we were fine, it wasn't scary) to a water taxi service, paid about $25 as I remember and went to one of the outer islands. This is the best kept secret! I wish I could rememberthe name of it, I think it is San Pedro Island. When you get off the taxi, you walk on to a beautiful beach and it is a short walk to the main part of the island. It was incredible to be standing in the sandy street they would call Main Street looking all around, to my left I could see the end of the island with the ocean beyond and to my right the same thing, that is how narrow this island is. It is definitely worth the trip and made our stop in Belize one I will never forget. Just a note about the rough seas and the water taxi, because of the direction the taxi was headed, you must sit in the back of the boat, not in the bow, if you want a smooth ride. I had just had major surgery, (a cervical fusion) and made the whole trip with a towel wrapped around my neck to stabilize it! All was well when I went for my check up, and I have
My wife and I (3 previous cruises) just returned from the 3 Nov 2002 sailing on the Rhapsody of the Seas (Galveston-Key West-Belize-Cozumel). Here's a quick review:
Passengers: Vast majority of passengers seemed to be in their 40's to 60's. If you are looking for a young "party cruise", this is probably not the cruise for you (try Carnival). But if you want to get away from loud drunken parties (like us), this cruise is probably right up your alley.
Ship: Beautiful! Ship was in great condition. Staterooms seemed plenty large (we were in the smallest/cheapest, and we still thought it was large.
Price/Value: Outstanding! (we booked online for $399 each for 7 days)
Food: Very good. To be honest, we thought the food was better on Carnival and Norwegian. But the food on Rhapsody was still very good!
Courtesy of Staff: Good (not as good as Norwegian).
Onboard Activities: Very Good (we spend a LOT of time in the casino)
Summary: We had a great time, and will go again (since we are from Texas, sailing from Galveston is very convenient).
If you want to see the scheduled daily activities ("pocket" Compass), I have posted themonline at http://www.cruiseenvy.com/forumdisplay.php?s=&forumid=8. You can also see photos from our Cave Tubing excursion in Belize, as well as other cruise photos aboard the ship and from Key West and Cozumel.
I've never written a review before but I've read many. I think I'll start with just the basics so you won't have to read through my day by day account unless you really want to. This was the first cruise for me and my husband, celebrating our 23rd anniversary. We live about 30 minutes from the port so we drove to Galveston the morning of the cruise.
Embarkation - we arrived at the terminal at 11:30 and the traffic was heavy because the ship was still unloading. A porter met us and took our checked baggage. I waited about 20 minutes for my husband to park the car and get back in the shuttle. Once in the terminal we walked straight through and were in our stateroom by 12:30. On-line embarkation forms, passports, and having everything ready to hand over made it go really fast. The lady at the counter said "I can tell you've done this before" - Actually I heard that a lot on this cruise. Thank you to everyone posting on Message Boards!
Ship Overall - Very Elegant. Every lounge, the theatre, dining room, Windjammer cafe - very comfortableand well decorated. The sculptures in the stairways were gorgeous. Favorite places on the ship besides our balcony - outside Windjammer, the Centrum with the music, the Schooner Lounge, the Dining Room, the decks on 4 & 5, and the theatre. They were replacing carpet on the stairways and many floors have beautiful new carpet. They had not gotten to Deck 7 yet, but it wasn't terrible. We rarely used the pools, but everyone else seemed to be enjoying them. I don't think I ever saw a problem with a lack of deck chairs - there were always some available. I never heard any complaints about the pool area except when it rained. We didn't spend much time in the casino - I heard about lots of people winning in the first few days of the cruise, after that it seemed to slow down.
Stateroom - We were in 7652, a Cat D corner aft cabin with a huge wraparound balcony. The room was great. With just the two of us we had plenty of room and never felt crowded. There was plenty of room for everything. The only problem we experienced was the electrical circuit to our plug would go out sometimes - no big deal. I will book cruises from now on based on getting a room like this - the aft is wonderful! Best tip I received before sailing was the over-the-door shoe holder - it made everything so organized. We kept all our toiletries and medicines in it - everything was handy. The cabin attendant was great - he kept the room in top shape, refilled the ice bucket a couple of times a day and generally took great care of us.
Food - We ate most of our evening meals in the Dining Room (first seating). The food was excellent! My favorites here were the lobster, prime rib, all the appetizers (even escargot) and the flourless chocolate cake for dessert. Service was top-rate - the head waiter even stopped by a few times to chat and serve some of the dishes. We tried the dining room once for lunch thinking we would be able to go in and get a small table. It was very regimented - they seated us at a large table with some who seem to have known each other - just less than comfortable for us. Most of our lunches were at the Windjammer. The pasta was always my favorite - a new dish every day and very tasty. They also had lots of fresh fruits. We always enjoyed our meals there. Sometimes we ate breakfast at the Windjammer, but a lot of the time we ordered from room service. Room service was prompt and the food arrived as ordered. Dining Room, Windjammer (inside) and Room Service coffee were very good. We brought our own little coffee maker and that saved us when we would wake up before our breakfast arrived.
Entertainment - wonderful!! We really enjoyed the Mardi Gras du Monde show. The singers and dancers are very talented professionals. The comedians were great. One of the best shows (which I'm told is under contract for 3 years) is the magic show with LaRaf. This happened in port at Key West - it is one not to be missed. Then there was Susan Anton (remember her? Baywatch, Dudley Moore's girlfriend back in the 70's). She did an incredible show - had everyone dancing & singing. I think she's on the Rhapsody, then the Explorer this week. If you have a chance to see her, do it. The games onboard the ship were a fun way to meet people. We managed to get together with the same group for many of these and enjoyed it thoroughly. Our favorite-Rhapsody Mania (aka "Quest"). It is amazing what the crew can get ordinary people to do. I do have one comment about shows in the theatre - If you have young kids with short attention spans (my kid was like that!), it would be really nice if you would sit in the aisle seats so that you can make a quick easy escape if the child starts getting noisy. It wasn't too bad on this cruise - there were very few youngsters, but it would be really considerate and a lot less disruptive for the other guests..
Disembarkation - I had heard so many horror stories about the Galveston return, I braced myself for the worst. Actually it wasn't that bad. We had breakfast around 7, were called to immigration check-out about 7:45 then we went back to the stateroom. Our cabin attendant let us stay in the room until they called us to leave the ship. We went down when they called us, found our luggage, my husband picked up the car and we were on the road out of Galveston by 10:30.
Things I'm glad I packed: The over-the-door shoe holder Highliter for the daily Compass Yellow stickie notes - used these a lot when we were on the balcony and couldn't hear the door. Hooks with suction cups - just made it easier to keep things off the floor Collapsible cooler and backpack for day trips at port Champagne in our carry-on for sail-away Binoculars
The rest of this is excerpts from the journal I kept during the cruise. You can stop here if this is getting too long or boring.
Day 1 We went to our stateroom, "oohhed" and "ahhed" over the size of the balcony. John's first innocent question "And who do we share this with?" We unpacked our carryons then went exploring the ship - first stop - the Windjammer for our first lunch aboard. We spent the rest of the day just wandering around. We stopped by the library and picked out our reading material for the week. Luggage arrived late afternoon. We unpacked then popped the champagne for sail-away. What a thrill - people lined the docks and waved. Had our first dinner that evening with table mates... 2 other couples from Texas, 1 couple from Oklahoma. We hit it off right away. Went to the first show (comedians), then relaxed on the balcony, finished off the champagne and fell asleep pretty early.
Day 2 (at sea) Got up around 8 and after coffee on the balcony, ate breakfast at the Windjammer. We hit blue water midmorning and I cannot describe how beautiful it was - the deepest blue! John worked out at the gym, I sat on the balcony reading & writing. After lunch we attended the first trivia game and Name That Tune. We didn't win, but met some cool folks from Cincinnati. After that we attended a wine-tasting. I had never been to one before so it was really fun and interesting. We chose our wines for dinners for the rest of the week. This night was the first formal night. Everyone looked so good! We invited our table-mates to join us on our balcony for drinks after the show. They all came - very pleasant company! One thing I remember ... During the day, the special drink was called "The Love Connection" - a huge concoction. I never got one of those but that morning I did see one table of elderly couples, each with their own huge drink.. Reminded me of The Love Boat - very cute.
Day 3 (at sea & Key West) Woke up early (for me) before 7 and ordered breakfast from Room Service. Spent a very lazy morning relaxing on the balcony and wandering around the ship. We visited the RCI rep (Dean) for the first time and started making plans for another cruise. Arrived in Key West around 3pm and everyone except us (it seemed) got off the ship. Since we had visited Key West before, we decided to take advantage of the empty ship - no one at the pools. Later played Trivia and Majority Rules. We didn't win, but hooked up with our 'games' group for the rest of the week. By dinner most people had returned from Key West. They said it was hot & muggy, but they had a good time walking around and shopping. Being this relaxed, I had to force myself to stay awake for sail-away out of Key West at midnight. I'm glad I did - it was beautiful! I fell asleep on the balcony - trudged off to bed about 1:30am.
Day 4 (at sea) Slept till 8:30, had breakfast at the Windjammer. relaxed on balcony and read all morning. After lunch we did the tour of the theatre which was very cool (I'm a techie at heart). It is so amazing that they can have a state-of-the art theatre nestled in a cruise ship. We admired all their light & sound systems, met one of the dancers and enjoyed talking with the stage crew. We went back to the cabin and I took a nap - right through dinner! I was up in time for the Cruise Critic party at 7:45. It was very well done ... The 'light snacks' included caviar. I loved it. They had a drink special for us, but not free. It was so much fun meeting friends from the online community. We had a visit from cruise director, Tom Canosa, and RCI rep, Dean. My only complaint is that the party wasn't long enough. They scheduled it between dinner seatings so people were rushing in from dinner, then rushing out for late-seating and the show. I think it would have been better during the day when schedules are less pressed. We really enjoyed hearing from the staff, but it didn't leave us much time to visit. My husband was really surprised that so many people knew who I was.
Day 5 (Grand Cayman) We arrived in Grand Cayman around 7am, had breakfast from room service and went to the tendering dock around 8. We expected a big crowd, but there were very few people there. A tour group was leaving at that time so we tendered in with them. Our excursion with Captain Marvin was scheduled at 10am, we were to check in at 9:15. We turned left after getting past the dock and walked several blocks (it was further than I thought). We were there so early we went to a Bakery just past Captain Marvin's place and had another breakfast. I noticed they had Internet terminals for $1.50 for 15 minutes - much better than $.50 per minute on the ship. Captain Marvin's is the best snorkeling tour we've ever done. We had a group of 22 and weren't crowded on their boat. First we snorkeled at Coral Gardens and thought that was beautiful. Then we went to Stingray City - I loved the critters! Played with them & petted them for about half an hour, then went to the barrier reef. This is the most incredible thing I've ever seen - huge schools of fish - the reef was amazing with all the types of coral. Sometimes it felt like we were in a cavern. I just can't describe it except to say it was spectacular. We headed back to the ship, ate lunch then took a nap. Again, right through dinner (I'm thinking maybe early seating isn't the best for us). Ate dinner at the Windjammer, then went to the Swing Show in the theatre. Again, it was great. We sat out on the deck outside the Windjammer until around midnight, then headed back to the cabin. This was the first time we felt ANY motion at all on the ship. I noticed it a lot more towards the bow. It was pretty stable in the aft in comparison.
Day 6 (Cozumel) I was up in time to see the sunrise from the balcony - beautiful! We ordered breakfast from room service and watched as the ship docked right next to the Voyager. That is one huge ship! We had a great view of their aft cabins but they seemed really closed-in compared to ours. We went ashore about 10:30 and took a cab to Chankanaab. It poured rain on us as we arrived at the park, but cleared up very shortly. The park wasn't crowded at all. We snorkeled for an hour, then ate lunch at the restaurant there on the beach. It was a bit pricey by Tex-Mex standards, but the food was delicious. We took a chance and ate conch ceviche. No serious repercussions from that adventure. We walked through the botanical gardens admiring the beautiful plants and landscaping, met a couple of iguanas who were nice enough to pose for some pictures. We snorkeled for another 45 minutes and headed back to the ship around 3:00. John took a nap and I headed off to visit Dean again. John later asked if he should be worried about all my meetings with this guy - I told him "Absolutely! Think about all the cruises I could take if I ran off with him!" Seriously, Dean is a wealth of info about ships, ports, itineraries that would appeal to individual interests. I ended up booking a 10-day Western Caribbean on the Splendour out of Galveston. It's the best itinerary for snorkeling and diving (I'll be certified by then!). Went to dinner and had an awesome time with our table mates - these folks became our best buddies. I had two appetizers this time and THREE lobster tails. The food was superb! Shopped a bit after dinner then went to Susan Anton's show. After the show was the much-awaited Rhapsody Mania. I won't tell everything (like how my dear husband was in the middle of the dance floor waving his trousers and my bra) but I will say that it was a sight to behold. We stayed at the Shall We Dance Lounge through the 50's/60's sock hop. A grand time that night.
Day 7 (We hooked up with Fay at sea) I just found out this morning that there was a tropical storm off the coast of Galveston. We took it easy all morning, then we rocked and rolled for pretty much the rest of the trip. John read a lot - trying to finish his huge book from the library. I decided to play bingo for the big prizes. In the morning, I didn't win. No one won the $8,000 so they were having another bingo game that afternoon. I played again for the $10,000 prize. The man sitting right next to me won it. Bingo was held in the theatre and the motion was VERY noticeable there. It rained and rained. The wind blew hard. At one point the ship was hit by lightening. That got my pulse rate up a bit. I was very proud of myself though - I never felt seasick at all and I was never afraid. As a matter of fact, it is good that we had so much motion that day - it was the only time you could tell for sure you were on a ship! We went to dinner and said our good-byes to our friends, exchanged addresses & e-mails, then spent the rest of the evening packing. I stretched out on the bed around 10pm and felt the rocking of the ship - it was so soothing I drifted off to sleep. Woke up at 4:30am and decided to stay awake till we made Galveston. The weather had calmed down and the sun broke through just as we entered the channel.
Best vacation ever.
I posted some of our pictures at http://community.webshots.com/user/sheriew
Background info: We are from the Houston area. I am 47 and my wife is 45. We have three children (they stayed home with Grandma). This was our second cruise. Our first was on the Inspiration last summer.
It was the best of times... It was the worst of times.
The Best of Times: My wife and I were very excited about this cruise. For personal reasons this cruise was enormously important to us. Having taken only one cruise in our life, and that being on a different line and an entirely different type of cruise, we were not sure what to expect.
We had a pretty good idea that it was going to be a good cruise. We were not disappointed. While it was not perfect (nothing in life is perfect, INCLUDING MYSELF), it was as close to it as one could hope for.
Embarkation was very fast and easy. Yes, if you follow the directions in your cruise book, things go faster! We actually had the necessary forms filled out (two weeks before our cruise). A lot of people didn't for some reason.
First impression was that it was a bitwarm in and near the elevators. (that got better when we got underway). Running a close second as impressions go was "UH... UH... UH... " which is short for "MAN, THIS IS ONE FINE SHIP"!
I'm not sure when I realized I wasn't in Kansas anymore :-D.
It is very elegant in it's decor and setup. The Centrum has an enormous work of art hanging suspended in mid-air. There is a multi-level running water sculpture below it. There is a wide variety of colorful artwork throughout the ship that was fun to discover. I had read that her carpet and furnishings were a bit stained and worn. Some places were like that a little, but with 2000 people onboard continuously you can hardly expect anything different. It wasn't that bad and in NO way did it detract from our enjoyment.
I was a bit disappointed when we arrived at our stateroom to find that the flowers I had ordered the week prior to our cruise were the only thing that showed up. The chocolate covered strawberries and wine were missing. It was explained (unfortunately in front of my wife) to me that we had to be so many miles out at sea before they could deliver it. Strawberries came that night (actually twice) and the wine was chilling for us when we returned from breakfast the next morning. We had eaten the berries by then and we didn't feel like wine at 10AM so we just brought it home. Not that big a deal I just wish someone would have let me know it was like that. That way I still could have surprised my wife. Anyhow, it's ours to enjoy at a special time in the future. We can reminisce about our cruise then. It will be nice.
I had been told that the staterooms were smaller that the Inspiration's, but if they were I couldn't tell. There was plenty enough room and we never felt cramped at all. There was even enough room on the sides of our bed. I'm not sure if our room steward saw that we were a couple and pushed the two beds together before we got there, OR if they were always like that. I wonder because other cabins nearby had beds that were separated before the guests arrived. The window was a nice upgrade from the inside stateroom on our other cruise.
It took a couple of days to get oriented to where everything was onboard, and to be honest I still got a little turned around every now and then until the last day. Did I mention that we found it to be an AWESOME ship?
Our favorite place onboard was quickly discovered...The solarium pool! The decor is done in Egyptian with sarcophagus as columns. There are Egyptian statuettes along the top of the wall on one side of the pool. The "Eye of Ra" on another wall, statues of scarabs and sphinx-like statues guarding the pool. Water flowed into the pool from two holes surrounded by what appeared to be snakes. Hieroglyphics everywhere....and every so often you could hear the sounds of jackals howling in the distant and bird chirping. This area was very peaceful and there was never a problem with any youngsters being in there. In fact we really seldom saw any kids in the area at all, except to get a burger, hot dog or pizza every once in a while. No unruly adults either (that was special also).
The canopy was closed the first day ONLY, as I recall.
The other pool area was nice and the band that played there "Hot Sands" was exceptional (a word that I can use for almost everything about this cruise). We spent some time there and enjoyed the upbeat, party atmosphere that prevailed, but we would soon return to the solarium.
We enjoyed diner (main seating) in the Eidelweis every evening. It was a real treat for my wife to dress up and enjoy an altogether new and exotic dish every time. We enjoyed most of these unfamiliar dishes. The more familiar and much anticipated meals like the filet mignon, the lobster and prime rib didn't disappoint us either. It was let me see... hmmm... exceptional!
RCCL must have done some profiling in choosing our dinner companions. There were three couples at our table. The three women were all accountants (and NO!... they were anything but boring) and two of the three men were involved in the medicine / paramedic field. One of the couples was a delightful newlywed couple on their honeymoon. The other couple was our age and very interesting, nice people. We also had a few lunches and a couple of breakfasts there. My wife and I would ask for a table for two at lunch.. It was our "private little five star restaurant" It was as I said above "The Best of Times".
The Windjammer was pretty good with a large variety of foods, and we ate most of our lunches and breakfasts there. The omelets are by far the best thing going at breakfast. The windjammer offers great views while coming into the ports.
The port of calls are really what you make of them. We were disappointed in the decisions we made in Key West and Grand Cayman as far as the excursions are concerned, but "we made them". I'm not going to say what we chose to do, as everyone has different tastes and might well have liked what we did.
Our Cozumel excursion was another story for us. We chose (I have to tell you this one) The Passion Island trip. We thoroughly enjoyed this one! First of all, If you book, you will be extremely fortunate if you get a young man named "Alehandro" as a guide. He has an amazing talent that you would not believe is possible. He was very entertaining and made EVERY SINGLE INDIVIDUAL feel special. Like I said, you will hardly believe what he can do (and NO, I'm not going to tell you).
The island itself and all that goes with this tour is well worth it! If we are ever in Cozumel again, we will do the tour again!
We didn't get to participate in any of the typical onboard cruise director activities like horse racing, bingo, art auctions, belly flop contests, etc. but involved ourselves with each other. It was much more pleasurable than any activity Kyle the cruise director (seems like a nice guy and good at his job) could have come up with. I just wanted to make this cruise special for my wife.
I'm sort of like this cruise... Pretty good, but not perfect. I know my wife enjoyed herself in spite of me :)
The guest entertainers included a pretty funny comedian named John Wing, a very talented comedian / juggler (don't remember his name). We really enjoyed his performance.
Our favorite show BY FAR was "The Fifth Dimension" We had front row seats to what was a spectacular performance. They ALL can belt it out!
BTW, the ship was extremely stable and I couldn't even tell we were on a ship in our cabin, until we left Cozumel on Friday night. There was a storm brewing and a lot of wind but we outran it by Saturday. My wife wasn't bothered by the movement, but I was a bit uneasy in the belly Friday night.
The staff was very good and I made sure to point this out to a number of the supervisors. These people never quit smiling the entire time we were onboard. By looking at them you would think that they were the ones on vacation.
I was glad to find the volume knob for the stateroom announcement speaker :)
This cruise was a keeper!
Now for the "Worst of Times": We had to get off after only seven days! :-( We had to go back to work! We won't be able to do this again for a while! The staff didn't follow us home to keep doing what they were doing so well!
If anyone has any specific questions, I will be happy to reply via e-mail. Mark
We are a family of 4, with 2 daughters ages 9 & 14. This was a wonderful way to spend Thanksgiving. I can't remember the last time I wasn't dicing, chopping and stressing on Thanksgiving morning!
We left Houston at 10:00 am and pulled into Galveston around 11:00 am. Having been down to see the ship a couple of weeks earlier, we knew how to avoid the traffic jam. We went to the Strand (versus following the directions to the pier) and approached the ship from the other side. We dropped off the luggage, parked the car and returned by shuttle. Check-in moved very quickly. (FYI--At check-in there is a staffed table telling you the alcohol policy and giving you a chance to turn in any bottles-we chose not to deal with this issue and came aboard without any alcohol in either checked luggage or carry on). If you are a repeat passenger or staying in a suite, look for the sign that designates the left side of the check in line as an express line for you. We took advantage of this as we are Crown and Anchor members andcheck in was a breeze. We then received our boarding cards. They punch a hole in the minor's cards to identify them as such. We proceeded to have our picture taken by the ship photographers and then on to board the ship. At this point security has you insert your boarding card and your photo is taken again. (As you leave the ship at port and return, your insert your card into a scanner which not only identifies you, but also provides security with a photo id to match.)
We then went to our cabin, Category C Deck 8 (8084) with a veranda and noticed that there were 2 terry robes for our use while on board as well as a hair dryer. We dropped our carry on luggage and went to the Windjammer for lunch. The afternoon was spent exploring the ship. We purchased the soft drink sticker for $20 for our youngest daughter and a non-alcoholic drink card for $29 for our teenager, in my opinion both were a very good deal.
We had late seating and never felt rushed. It would have been very difficult to enjoy our time onshore and have 4 people dressed and ready for dinner by 6:00 pm. As it was we learned to dress in shifts! Our luggage was delivered to our cabin prior to sailing and we managed to find a nook and cranny for all our belongings--there were even 4 empty drawers.
The kids programs were very well organized, they had 402 kids on board from infants to late teens. The age groups were as follows: 3-5, 7-8, 9-11,12-14 & 15-17. There were activities arranged while in port as well as evenings and late night group sitting (10pm-1AM for $5 per hour cash). Our youngest went every night directly from dinner to spend time with her friends.
In Cozumel we arrived before 7:00 am and docked at the pier. It makes it very easy to come and go during the day. Having been there before, we chose to go to Chakanaab park. The taxi fare was $8 each way and $10 per person admission (children under age 10 I believe are free). We spent the afternoon relaxing on chairs under a thatched hut. The water was a bit rough so we did not snorkel. There was equipment rental available as well as restaurants, shower and changing facilities, gardens, etc…
In Grand Cayman we had arranged the 1:45 tour with Captain Marvin to snorkel and swim with the stingrays. This was one of the highlights of our trip. The cost was $30 per adult and $20 for children. We had a van ride of about 15 minutes and then were taken out on a boat with 2 guides and 13 guests. This was ideal. The guides were very helpful for nervous snorkelers, and were in the water with us and the stingrays. by the end of the swim, they had my very skittish daughter holding the stingray and even held it up to lay on her back. The attention was very personal and this was a fabulous experience! We saw the ship's tour at the sand bar and it was a large boat holding approx. 200 people. We went back to town and had about 45 minutes to explore and shop before catching the tender back to the ship.
In Key West we wandered the area and in Mallory Square found a very entertaining and creative man at a candle booth. We ended up designing our own candles and watching them made (great long lasting souvenirs).
The service on the ship was terrific. Our waiter was very personable, provided excellent service and catered to our every whim. He entertained our youngest daughter with nightly magic tricks, napkin art and even sent her a foil turkey filled with warm chocolate chip cookies. He was on his last trip before leaving for his 2 month vacation, and gave us final hugs in the terminal while he was waiting his bus to the airport.
Our cabin steward was an artist with towels! He left everything from an octopus made from a spare blanket, to daily pillow art to hanging monkeys, swans and the piece de resistance--the baseball cap, night gown clad creature sitting in a chair holding the remote control while watching TV.
Overall experience was great. The food was very well done for feeding 2200 passengers 3 meals a day. The evening entertainment was not necessarily what we loved, but was well received by others. We enjoyed Name That Tune in the Schooner Bar on Sea days, as well as other activities.
A couple of random thoughts-- If you have kids, bring yarn or string to thread through the hole on their card to make a necklace. Bring your own shampoo, conditioner and lotion
I am sure there are details I have forgotten, I may add more later.
"Everything I expected and more" is how I would describe our experience on Royal Caribbean's Rhapsody of the Seas. The beauty of the ship is only surpassed by the level of comfort one will find on board.
My partner and I took the 7-day Mexican Riviera excursion out of Los Angeles right before the height of the season (Oct. 29 to Nov. 5), and had a fantastic time.
The check-in process (other than the porter service) was extremely well-organized. Within an hour, our bags were enroute to the cabin, our documents checked out and our Super Charge card activated.
STEPPING ON BOARD AND SETTLING IN Upon arriving on the ship, you're met by the fantastic "Centrum" multi-floor atrium area. This has a distinctive Hyatt hotel feel with its marble, plants, sculptures and glass elevators -- all quite intoxicating for a first-time cruiser.
Quickly we found our way to our cabin on the Commodore Deck (No. 7). (A note: The decks are numbered on board, not named as they are in the brochure, so be sure and know your level number.)
We were stateroom 7100, a Category D, "superior ocean-view stateroom with balcony." Now, let metell you, the balcony was worth every dime! I know that you read over and over how people say they never spend any time in the room, but I think that's because their room is not as pleasant. The balcony *made* the room! We watched dolphins swim by, eyed each port as we arrived, reveled in the privacy of our own ocean view balcony, and slept each night to the sound of waves hitting the side of the ship. It was like having an oceanfront hotel room for a week!
The cabin, itself, was very comfortable, with plenty of storage space. The 7-foot ceiling took about an hour to get used to due to my height at 6-foot-4. But in due time, I no longer felt like "The Land of the Giants." Our room also boasted a full-size sofa that was great for watching TV. The bath is compact but well laid out. The small shower was a tight fit for me, but I made it in and got the job done. The "roaring" toilets are hilarious (I was prepared for these from my reading on the Internet). I joked with our tablemate that if you sat on the toilet and flushed you would get the biggest hickey on your bottom.
The color scheme of the room is done in pastels of blue and peach. The ship is 3 years old now, so I did find some minor coffee stains on the carpet, but nothing that made me worry about going barefoot.
On a side note about the cabin, from what I gather the more expensive rooms boast a couple more conveniences. For example, I was surprised when we found fluffy robes for our use (never mentioned in the brochure). Our tablemate at dinner commented she did not bring a robe and none was in their oceanview room (with no balcony), so I ended up loaning my silk robe I brought to her. They also mentioned that their refrigerator was more like an honor bar, while ours had plenty of room for the liquor and soda we brought on board.
Our cabin steward, Verol, was at our door within the hour of boarding to explain his job and to see whether we had any special requests. A tip: Take notes of things you wish to ask the cabin steward and any additional items you would like (pillows, etc). Verol came to the door, and I was all prepared with a three-item or so list. He was back at our door in 5 minutes with everything we requested.
GETTING OUR BEARINGS Instead of waiting for our suitcases to arrive, we decided to get a bite to eat at the buffet and take a quick tour of the ship. Armed with the ship diagram I ripped out of the our brochure before we left home, we quickly navigated all 11 floors. (Taking the ship diagram was a tip I learned from a cruise-tour book, and it was so helpful in learning the layout of the ship and came in handy for days.) ... By the way, another quick tip, make one of your first stops the library on the seventh deck -- we quickly snagged two biographies that we enjoyed reading at various times during our cruise.
After the library stop, we began to check out the rest of the ship. The outdoor pool is gorgeous with spraying fountains. It was a great place to lay out, and do some reading and people-watching. The indoor pool in the Solarium was my personal favorite. Done in an Egyptian theme, it felt like you were swimming at Hearst Castle. By the way, the pools are heated to 86 degrees -- even I could stand to go in them!
The Windjammer Cafe (where they have the boarding buffet set up) is very pleasant with numerous windows to watch the ocean and view. The food is buffet-fare, but came in handy especially at breakfast-time when we wanted a quick meal or just wished to dine alone.
The fitness center is also very pleasant -- be sure and use the steam room and sauna found in the locker rooms by the health spa. They're free to use, and often were empty when I went in them in the early evening. The casino is aptly glitzy. On our first night, my partner lost $5 in the slots, and I made $7 on the $5 I put in, so we came out $2 ahead. That was the first and last time we used the casino, though. We're just not big gamblers.
There are numerous bars on board with live music. Our personal favorite was the Schooner Lounge, which is a nice quiet place to enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail while listening to the piano player sing some standards and easy-listening songs. The Viking Crown Lounge on the 11th floor boasts a fantastic view, and was very lively at night with its disco/dance music. We went one time, and enjoyed ourselves very much. We never went to the Shall We Dance lounge during its entertainment times but were there during the Captain's Cocktail Party. The band was so-so -- read wedding-style fare.
There was a wide range of entertainment on board in the main theater. It's everything you read -- very beautiful, very comfortable seating and not a bad site-line in the house. During our seven-day trip, we saw only three of the nightly shows and one late-night comedian. The Coasters performed during one "headliner" show and were quite enjoyable. Comedian Kelly Monteith was on the bill for the other "headliner" show, and was quite funny. We saw one production show, and it proved to be enjoyable fare when we were ready to just sit and be entertained. One note: We were second seating for dinner, which proved problematic sometimes to catch the shows, in that several of the performances set aside for second-seating diners were *before* dinner. We skipped nearly all of these because we preferred to not be hurried prior to dinner. Rest assured, though, the headliner shows are *after* the second-seating at dinner.
IT'S DINNERTIME! Speaking of dinner, the Edelweiss Dining Room is absolutely beautiful, and the service impeccable. We had requested a table for eight (in order to get several options for conversation), but ended up assigned to a table for four. We chose to go with the flow, and were happy we did. Our dining partners were a couple in their early 40s on their honeymoon. Every night, we closed the dining room down because we enjoyed talking with them so much. In fact, our waiter, Ivan, thought we were traveling together because we got along so famously. So, the lesson here is to be open if dining arrangements were not exactly as you had requested. Of course, you can always request a change if your partners are not to your liking. (We did encounter this a couple times during the open seating meals of breakfast and lunch -- why is it that some people complain about everything???) Those times we were even happier that dinner was with our fabulous tablemates, Rich and Karen.
Dinner, itself, was fantastic and never disappointing. Each meal had a theme -- Venetian, Mexican, etc. There are always several entree choices -- at least one fish, one meat, one pasta and one vegetarian. I did learn as the trip proceeded to order as many courses as I wished, because the appetizer, soup, and salad courses are all small-to-reasonable sizes. In addition, I began to order a couple appetizer courses because, again, they were so small in size I could afford to sample at will. Oh, and that's also another suggestion -- try new items on board (what other time can you do this, and not have to pay for something you don't care for?).
Our waiter, Ivan, and assistant waiter, Dragos, were the epitome of efficiency, competency and charm. Factored in with our tablemates, they made dinner a special occasion every night. Our smaller table also allowed us some more personal interaction with Ivan and Dragos, which was always enjoyed. My goal every night was to get Ivan to crack a smile or make him laugh, because he was always the height of decorum -- I'm happy to say I succeeded every time.
WHEN DO WE DOCK? Other than dinner, our most anticipated point of our trips were the ports of call -- Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta. It was so exciting to wake up or watch as we approached each port from our balcony -- again, one of the top benefits of having one. We took a ship-sponsored shore excursion at every stop, and were happy we did. I vacillated for weeks prior to the cruise whether to do this or go on our own. I would strongly recommend that first-time visitors to a port take the ship's shore excursions. The cost was quiet reasonable -- between $25 and $35 each for 31/2- to 5-hour outings, and we felt we were able to see numerous sites in our one day in each port. Those who went out on their own seemed to have been in the places before, but still did not enjoy much savings at all. It seemed the benefit of the "going on your own" was more freedom, but we never felt too rushed at any stop. Plus, we liked not having to think while in port.
In terms of the ports, Cabo San Lucas was a beautiful fishing/marina type city. We took the city tour, which also allowed us to venture to San Jose del Cabo (another town on the outskirts). Again, we felt as if we got a great overview of the city on the tour. Mazatlan was my least favorite stop. It's separated into two areas -- Old and New Mazatlan. In the morning, we went on our own to Old Mazatlan. It was a bad idea. The vendors and taxi drivers are *extremely* aggressive -- pulling on your arms, shouting at you, calling for you to come into the shops and "buy a dress for your girlfriend," etc. The downtown is also very congested, dirty and the only place I felt concerned about being pickpocketed, etc. New Mazatlan is much glitzier and very Americanized -- to the point of feeling like a tourist trap. The drive along the shoreline and the view stops were enjoyable, though.
Puerto Vallarta, on the other hand, was my favorite port. Very tropical, gorgeous, and still maintained a strong Mexican-feel without the dirt and aggressiveness of Mazatlan. I would go back any day -- and our "city, country and tequila tour" was so much fun. We got a wonderful feel for the city, and enjoyed several enjoyable stops, including a ranch in the country, a country church and school, and, of course, the tequila distillery. All in all, my favorite place we stopped.
On a side note, for us Internet junkies, the cruise terminals in Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta boast businesses that offer Internet/email access for $2-$3 for 15 minutes of usage -- much cheaper than the 50 cents per minute on board the Rhapsody. I emailed one friend on AOL -- who was tickled to death to hear from me -- and she called a few friends and relatives to read them my note.
NEGATIVES -- "IT'S ALWAYS SOMETHING" Being a positive-attitude person, it's foreign to me to mention anything I found not to my liking during our cruise on the Rhapsody. But the two sources of frustration we found on board were the porters when checking in at the terminal and the haphazard room service.
Upon arriving at the terminal, we were met with the most unorganized baggage check-in I've ever encountered. This was not helped by the fact that the majority of the porters were either rude, surly or just uninterested in helping anyone. There were no signs directing where one should drop their cases or wait for a porter, so it was a free for all to get someone to take our cases. From speaking to many others on board, it seemed everyone else came away with the same impression. The best tactic I can recommend is to move your cases into the terminal or directly outside (they won't take them from across the street), find a porter, and stand next to him until he takes yours. This took at least three or four tries. We were lucky enough to find one female porter -- the first friendly porter we encountered -- who took our bags with a smile. On our comment card at the end of the trip, I asked why they did not have a more airline-type bag check-in, in which you could drop 'em on a belt and have them whisked away.
Our second negative experience was with the room service on board. Several times, they were right on the money -- our order arriving when we requested and correct. But other times, we were met with the following experiences: items missing (silverware, etc); duplicate orders (one order arrives, and then 20 minutes later, it arrives again); extremely tardy service (we waited one hour and 45 minutes for two salads) and a general disorganized feel about that department on board. This, too, went on my comment card.
However, despite those two minor irritations, we loved every minute on our cruise on the Rhapsody.
CRUISING -- A FANTASY LIFE When we were driving back home to San Diego, my partner and I commented that we were surprised we didn't take part in more of the organized activities on board (bingo, cooking demonstrations, etc). But, for us, the point of our trip was to see some cities where we had never been, not be beholden to any schedule, and generally relax and do what we wanted.
If I had to summarize the joy of cruising, it's the rare opportunity in this world to have someone else do everything else -- and, you, to do whatever you want in between. And the Rhapsody lived up to that in every way. Now, when do we get to go again?
What a gorgeous ship. Very elegant and the amenities were outstanding. We have only been on one other cruise, a Carnival cruise to the caribbean, and this was a vastly different experience in both the ship and the itinerary.
The centrum is breathtaking with piano music and complimentary caviar at the champagne terrace. You can't believe you are on a ship, even when it starts to move you are somewhat sceptical.
We immediately checked our rooms (balcony rooms 7148 & 7150) and they were lovely, beautiful pastel colors. If you don't like peach and blue you are in trouble. We then checked our dining arrangements which we changed with no trouble (we were initially at a table for four and our party likes to mingle with others so we requested a larger table, not as good a view but that's OK).
The most impressive public room is the solarium - it looks like the egyptian equivalent of a roman bath - just wonderful, we used it a lot.
I'm not a big casino person but really liked the echo chamber in the casino.
I'm really into working out and was favorably impressed withthe gym and equipment.
Each day in the elevators, there were new carpets which told you what day of the week it was! Interesting, but I'm not sure why...do they think you'll lose track? We thought they should do day 7, countdown to 1 on your last day!
We felt the service was not as friendly as Carnival, maybe it's just more formal. Our steward never introduced himself although he did a good job (mostly except for one day when we had to call to get our room cleaned!). He made some interesting shapes with the pillows and towards the end of the cruise made some towel animals, which my ten year old enjoyed immensely, she grew to look forward to those on our Carnival cruise.
We did not feel we got to know our waiter as well as we did on the Carnival cruise, mostly because we only saw him at dinner. The open seating thing for all breakfasts and lunches is both good and bad, it made you meet other people, which was very interesting, but it was really luck of the draw as far as the wait staff.
One thing about meeting more people, it seemed we kept running into people we had met over and over, which was not true of our Carnival experience and this was pretty nice. Although ROS is such a big ship, it NEVER seemed crowded, except for getting off at the shore and it seemed almost intimate.
Dining - we had the most wonderful dining companions and we had the best time getting to know them! We were sitting at the ship's doctor's table and one formal night he ate with us. All of the wine and cocktails were free that night for our table! What a treat! And it was really interesting to meet one of the officers, he is from Iceland and favored us with some stories about what it is like to be a ship's doctor.
The ship also had a wine tasting on the first day at sea for $5.00 which was very well done and informative.
RCL has a wine and dine package where you can get 7 bottles of wine for about $110, it is a good deal if you like wine with dinner every night. WE didn't find out about it until the second day, but still managed to drink the seven bottles. Also, if you ordered the package, the wine steward knew ahead of time you would be ordering wine and you didn't have to look for him/her like we did on the first night.
Food - some dishes they executed very well, some dishes they didn't. Appetizers, salads and soups were very good. All fish and seafood dishes came with a scoop (literally a scoop, like a scoop of ice cream) of plain or very boring rice pilaf - what's up with that? Salmon was overdone. Beef dishes in general were very good. My husband had a fish stew that was divine.
On the next to last night of the cruise our waiter harranged us about the comment cards, wanting to make sure we put "excellent" for his service...I know the cruise line probably requires this but boy is that in poor taste! Everyone at our table commented how distasteful we found this...RCL should stop this! It's demeaning for the waiters and made us all so uncomfortable.
ALASKA - wow, what a place..it was cold and rainy a lot but you have to see it at least once...we booked all our shore excursions through RCL and were mostly very happy. We did a river raft in Juneau (it was raining and extremely cold, in our opinions should have been cancelled, we were truly so cold we were MISERABLE)and that was the only one we disliked. Some of these really outdoorsy ones you should probably wait to book to see what the weather is going to be like! Also, don't miss the tram, it was snowing at the top of the mountain, and in Texas we don't see a lot of snow so that was a neat thing for us!
Did the train in Skagway, that is WONDERFUL and you had better book early, a lot of people didn't get to do this that wanted to..We did the train up/bus ride back and the second half was also very enjoyable. The bus makes a couple of neat stops and my daughter got to pan for gold at Liarsville, something she really wanted to do.
Did a nature walk in Haines, really cool to get into some of that old forest...I recommend this...it was a challenging 1.5 mile walk in fairly rough condition but the forest is amazing and our guides were so knowledgeable. Others of our party did a lake cruise and saw a moose which was pretty cool.
We did see some whales, one thing about Alaska, you have the impression before you go that it is just teeming with wildlife waiting to be seen but you do have to look for it. We spent a lot of time on our balcony scanning for whales and it paid off.
Alaska is big and so remote. The towns are small. I was unimpressed with the shopping, either everything was just cheap or very expensive. One good thing is that you can dock everywhere and don't have to tender.
Everyone's favorite port was Ketchikan...it WASN'T RAINING..we did a floatplane and cruise return...the real highlight of our trip...$195 PP but well worth it, it was a thrill to go on the floatplane and saw lots of wildlife on the cruise back. Again, people did miss out on this one by not booking early. Saw tons of bald eagles in Ketchikan, they apparently feed on the scraps from the canneries...wow.
A cruise is really the way to "rough it", you can get off and do something like a river raft adventure or a forest walk, and then get back on the ship for your five course dinner. One thing RCL did well was to re-schedule dining times so that no one had to miss meals on the ship!
The people in both Canada and Alaska were SUPER - friendly, helpful, laid back, everyone gave us lots of information. One of our best guides was the RCL driver who took us back from Vancouver to Seattle!
I'll definitely do RCL again but am also ready to try some other lines too. We love crusing, it is so wonderful to be pampered! We both work very hard and long hours all year and this is the one time of the year we can let others take care of us!
I think my daughter had a better time in the kid's program on Carnival, but there just weren't as many kids on this cruise, either due to the itinerary or the time of year. People in general were older although it was a very mixed group.
On April 15, my husband, 13-year-old daughter and I left for San Diego, the day before our cruise was to sail. This was my eleventh cruise; tenth for my husband and daughter. We have cruised with Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Princess and Norwegian. We traveled to San Diego a day early. Since nearly missing a cruise several years ago, we always travel to our departure city a day early to allow for possible delays. We stayed at Loews's Coronado Bay Hotel and had a delightful night.
We got up early Sunday morning, drove to the cruise pier where we dropped our luggage and then returned our rental car to the San Diego Airport. One of our biggest complaints with this cruise was we could never get a straight answer from anyone as to what time the buses actually departed for Ensenada. In fact, when we arrived at the terminal around 11:00 AM, the Rhapsody was docked (in San Diego). We were quickly told that the ship was leaving for Ensenada (something about a U.S. law that prohibits ships of foreign registry from going directly from one U.S. port to another without stopping atanother foreign port). What a hassle. Even upon checking in, no one was really willing to tell us when the buses would load. Since we were among the first to arrive, we were fortunately on the first bus. It also helped to be a Crown & Anchor member.
by the time they loaded the buses (around 1:00 PM) there were probably 15 bus loads ready to go. Once on the road, our trip was pretty uneventful but several other buses had problems. Some broke down and had to wait for help, others experienced troubles and took a much longer time to arrive. I've spent a lot of time talking about this aspect because we had so much trouble getting any information before we left. We were really glad to get to Ensenada and see the ship.
We picked this itinerary for two reasons. We thoroughly enjoy the days at sea and this cruise had five in a row and we had never been to the Hawaiian Islands.
THE SHIP The ship was extremely similar to the Vision of the Seas we cruised last year so it was very familiar. With five days at sea, we really had plenty of time to explore the ship. I loved the art work. We probably looked at it more than on any previous ship. We liked our room (same cabin type and location at the rear of the ship as we had on the Vision). We were disappointed in the condition of much of the public furniture. Much of it was dirty and stained and this included all of the dining areas and pool deck chairs. We were told that the ship was heading to dry dock for several weeks of refurbishing. Good thing! It appeared that the Broadway Melodies Theater has recently undergone a renovation and was beautiful.
The ship is easy to learn and navigate your way around. We learned on this cruise that some of the places we really enjoyed on previous cruises (the piano lounge for instance - The Schooner Bar on this ship) weren't the same because the passengers were different. A rather rowdy travel agent took over this lounge every night. But we found plenty of things to do. In fact, the time change from Mexico to Hawaii took its toll and we were in bed early every night at sea.
There was one major problem that got increasingly worse as the week went on. There was a terrible smell on the starboard side of the ship. It started on deck 5 and by the end of the cruise, you could smell it all the way up on the pool deck. No announcement was ever made regarding the problem but I'm sure it was addressed when it made it to dry dock.
PORTS OF CALL Other than St. John (U.S. Virgin Islands) and Tortola/Virgin Gorda (in the BVI's), all of the ports on this cruise were better than anywhere else we've been. Each was different and unique and we'd go back to all of them to spend more time. I should note that we planned all of our shore activities (including car rentals) before we left home. It is very relaxing to board the ship and not have to figure out what we're going to do for shore excursions. This was also the first time that we did not take any of the ship's excursions. We rented from National in San Diego and Honolulu and from Alamo on all the other islands.
HILO, HAWAII This was our first stop. Alamo has shuttle vans at the cruise terminals to pick up passengers. We got our car and headed off to Volcanoes National Park. Our first stop was at the visitors' center. We took a brief 30-minute hike with a park guide to get a general feel for the park. I had printed out a lot of park information from the National Park Service website so we had a good idea of what we wanted to do. We drove Crater Rim Drive to the end of Chain of Craters Road. This is the spot where lava flowed across the road about five years ago. We parked here and walked out across the lava about 100 yards. You could see the steam from the active lava flowing into the ocean from here. But they warn that the hike to see actual lava is extremely dangerous. It was all an incredible site to see. We felt like we were walking on the surface of the moon. We spent our day in the park.
As we sailed away that night, we went south and as we passed the southern tip of the island, our entire dining room emptied onto the decks to watch the orange glow of lava flowing into the water. Another incredible site!
KONA, HAWAII Another stop, another Alamo car rental. This was a beach day and also Easter Sunday. We drove north and spent a couple of hours at Hapuna Beach. By lunch, we headed south to look for a resort where we could get lunch. We ended up at the Hilton Waikoloa. A lovely spot where we had a great lunch. We spent some time wandering around the resort (lots of pretty pools, gardens and grounds). As we walked up to look at the golf course, we heard someone yell "whales." We looked out at the ocean and just off shore were several whales playing. What a fabulous site. We were glad we had our video camera. We just sat and watched them jump and play for about 30 minutes. As the week went on, we realized we were very lucky. Most people never saw whales.
Car Rentals: www.alamo.com
NOTE: At each port, we rented a car from ALAMO except Honolulu where we rented from National. There was a van to pick you up at the ship and take you to their agency. The car rental company will also return you to the ship at o charge.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park www.nps.gov/havo
We printed out all of the applicable maps and tours provided by the National Park Service. It was approximately 30 - 40 minutes from the car rental pick up to the park. A terrific day!
KONA We drove North and stopped at several beaches along the way to swim and relax. Around noon, we headed back South looking for a place to eat. We stopped at the Hilton Waikola Village for lunch. We had a great time walking around the grounds (everyone was very friendly). We enjoyed lunch outdoors near one of the many pools. After lunch we continued our exploration. My husband was dying to see the golf course. As we walked up to it, someone yelled "WHALE". Just off the golf course there were several whales frolicking in the waves. We watched them (and videotaped them for about an hour). As it turned out, this was one of the rare whale sitings on the trip.
MAUI Two days are spent here. On the first day, we ventured out on Trilogy, a catamaran that sails from Kaanapali Beach. WE HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS TOUR! We've done a lot of ship excursions over the years and this was better than most. We booked it ourselves (www.sailtrilogy.com). These trips sell out early so I'd recommend booking prior to your trip. We did the Kaanapali Picnic Sail. We visited two different (very good) snorkeling sites and had a terrific barbecue lunch on the boat. They even served us ice cream sundaes for dessert. This was a first class excursion!
Our first night on Maui was spent at the Old Lahaina Luau. Like the Trilogy excursion, this luau fills up quickly. We made our reservations before leaving home on-line at www.hawaiiguide.com If you do a search on Old Lahaina Luau, you'll also find the site. We had a great evening and it was well worth the money. We choose to sit on the ground on mats and were very close to the show. The only down side was that we were the last to go for food (the VERY last) and there wasn't much left by the time we got there. Always a downside of a buffet type meal. But the surroundings, the ceremonies and the people were well worth the money. We had a spectacular sunset and thoroughly enjoyed the evening.
For our second day on Maui, we hired a private guide from Guides of Maui (www.guidesofmaui.com)
Donna was our guide and did a FABULOUS job at showing us a side of Maui that most people never see. While you might think it is a bit more expensive than a ship excursion (it was $220 for the day), an 8-hour trip from the ship's excursion desk would cost more for far less attention. We picked Donna up at her office and she was available to us all day long. We chose to let her show us her "favorite" part of the island since she was native to Maui. We ate at a wonderful place in the middle of the island that most tourist never see. We saw private, out of the way waterfalls, and we saw the popular spots such as the Ioa Needle. We'd highly recommend Donna! She was a delight! And don't forget to ask her about Sean Connery!
KAUAI Hands down, our favorite island. We would (will) go back here to spend an extended vacation. We began with a helicopter tour with Island Helicopters (www.islandhelicopters.com). It wasn't an easy sell to get our 13-year-old to agree to this tour. We told her that she didn't have to go if she really didn't want to once we got there. Upon arrival, she got to sit next to the pilot and the rest is history. This was truly like going to heaven. It can't be described in words. The sites, the music, the feeling…..they are all indescribable. Be sure you check out IZ while you are there. He is a Hawaiian legend who has the voice of an angel. Any Hawaiian will know who he is. His music filled our tour! While this might be the most expensive thing you do, this IS the place to do it. Even more so than Maui. We WILL go back to Kauai for vacation!
After the tour (it only lasts about 50 minutes) we ventured to Poipu Beach on the south side of the island. This was a wonderful choice. We spent the rest of the day here and it was our favorite beach of the entire trip. We ate lunch directly across from the beach and again, it was as if we were in a painting. GO HERE. You will not regret it!
OAHU Our last stop, and we had a great time here. Upon disembarking from the ship, we rented our car (had to take a cab to the National counter). We drove to the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbour (my husband really wanted to visit here….so did the rest of us) where we got a number for our tour. Since it was approximately three hours until our tour left (you take a boat to the memorial), we drove to our hotel to check in. We stayed overnight at the Halekulani. If there is anyway to swing the cost of this hotel, it is worth it. It is very expensive, but you know that old saying, you get what you pay for. It is true here. The service was unbelievable (more on that later). After checking in, we drove back and did the tour at Pearl Harbour. My dad was in WWII and it was really important that our daughter see the memorial. It touched us all.
That night we had (without a doubt) the best meal of the trip at Roy's Restaurant in Honolulu. Roy Yamaguichi is one of Hawaii's best known chefs (kind of like Emeril stateside). His Honolulu restaurant is located beyond Diamond Head. The food and service was the best! We wish we could go to Roy's every week. If you have just one night in Honolulu, go to Roy's!
On our second day, we were flying home late that evening (an 11:00 PM flight). We spoke to the front desk at the Halekulani about storing our luggage and changing for our flight because we were dining at their restaurant, Orchids, before leaving for the airport. The gracious staff offered us to stay in a room if we were willing to move (our room was already reserved for the evening) at NO EXTRA CHARGE!!!! Yes, the hotel is expensive, but offering a checkout at 10:00 PM certainly wasn't something they had to offer without additional charges. It was a delightful way to spend the last night of our trip….and dinner at Orchids was superb, too!
Overall, we had a terrific time and will definitely return to Hawaii again.