Southern Caribbean Cruise March 7, 1998
Ship and Entertainment :
Several good reviews of the Rhapsody of the Seas had been published before I had embarked upon her. I was especially excited, therefore, to live the experience and compare her to her Vision Class sisters, Grandeur and Enchantment of the Seas. This was my 13th cruise and my 10th with Royal Caribbean International. I traveled with my family with one pre-cruise night (Hilton Caribe) and one post-cruise night (Hyatt Regency Dorado Beach) in San Juan. I especially enjoyed the Hilton Caribe as we had a view of the Port of San Juan and were able to watch the Rhapsody sail in Saturday morning (5:15 a.m.) with her cobalt crown and anchor gliding along the skyline. There really was no better way to mentally prepare for my upcoming cruise!
I pressed to get to the ship early and it paid off dearly. We arrived at the port by 11:15 a.m. and were about the fifth group in line to board. This afforded me the opportunity to have ample exploration room around the ship upon boarding. I loved the fact that Royal Caribbean established my SuperCharge credit offshore without having to scout the officials on board ship. After the customary embarkation photo, we proceeded up the gangway with much anticipation.
As striking as the main entrance lobby and Centrum were, I felt very much at home and was able to fit in very well. The Centrum itself is comprised of six passenger decks surrounding the atrium space with two additional decks (including the Viking Crown Lounge) accessible by panoramic lifts. I feel that Rhapsody's Centrum is the most beautiful and well-organized atrium yet with its non-symmetrical circular design and staircases joining nearly each level. The suspended structure, Diadem, is 2.5 tons and spans the length of over four decks.
Anchoring the Centrum lobby is the Champagne Terraces area. Here, among the foliage, marble, and water fountains, is plenty of seating with access to a small bar and large portholes with sea views. The focal point of the Terraces is a bronze and glass structure with flowing water named Ribbonesque. The music of the Sharon Andrews Trio frequently provided pleasant music in the Centrum to dance by. As I write this review I witness the graceful ability of a panoramic lift traveling from deck four directly to the sky-lit roof up to the Viking Crown Lounge.
My favourite feature of Njal Eide's design on Rhapsody of the Seas is her non-symmetrical nature. This is demonstrated in purser's square as the shore excursions desk and purser's desk flow from the port side gracefully forward to a single entrance of the Casino Royale. The casino aboard Rhapsody is a treat for all of the human senses. One may stand under a dome with sharp colours of royal blue gazing at the constellations while hearing the buzz of a kinetic touch-sensitive globe, music of many types, and the echo of one's voice under one of several domes. Rhapsody is the first ship to also implement a sports bar aft in the casino featuring five television monitors, featuring sports games at times and CNN broadcast at others.
Forward on Promenade Deck 5 is the Broadway Melodies Theater, seating 870 guests. I will find myself speaking in superlatives regarding the Rhapsody so I will say that this is the most beautiful show lounge that I have seen at sea, dominated by various tones of green balanced by maroon, warm wood paneling, and brass railings. Stained glass textured walls of musical patterns extend from the balcony level down to the main floor. Flowing glass musical staves on the ceiling also carry the theme of music, music, music everywhere! Wave-backed theater-style seating is tiered for great sight lines.
Entertainment on board the March 7th sailing was diverse and kept me in suspense for each night of wonderful performances. The revue line-up for this sailing included comedian John Roarke, comedian Kelly Monteith, magician Dale Scott, juggling twin brothers Doubble Troubble, and Rain - a tribute to the Beatles. I was thrilled to also see El Gaucho on board ship for celebrity showtime Thursday evening. I was almost chosen as a pawn for his act but he found a better candidate! In addition to the featured acts were the Wave Revue singers and dancers who always put on an exciting and dazzling show. This week's featured shows were "Spreadin' Rhythm Around" and "In the Heat of the Night". The revue cast also performed for the welcome aboard and farewell shows.
Surrounding Promenade Deck is the open walk extending nearly completely around the ship. The forward turn is "crew only" but does have a continuing walk around the bow of the ship - frustrating! Grandeur and Enchantment provide this access with a clear view of the bow. The open promenade is half teak, half rubber-padded, and gently rising and falling.
Traveling to Mariner Deck 6 I found the customary Boutiques of Centrum which have taken on a strikingly new design on board Rhapsody of the Seas. The feel is of a 21st century streetscape with metal paneling with a low-hanging continuum of fluorescent lighting. In addition to the traditional shops is a circular video wall room playing the current CD of many performers such as Madonna and Celine Dion. The kiosk of bargain jewelry and clothing is set off in the logo shop clearing the traffic flow of the virtual street. The photo gallery opens from the video area, also with a very clean and modern design offering traditional photo services.
I was crushed to discover that two human figures "The Waiter" and "The Maid" were destroyed by children on the President's Day sailing a few weeks prior. The purser also informed me that other artwork was tampered with by the unattended, mischievous children. I lost much enthusiasm from hearing this news and it is completely unfortunate. A request was put in recently for new glass-enclosed figures but nothing has taken place yet.
The crisp, bright Schooner Bar breaks from tradition with a lighter look but keeping the same rustic design and scent. The adjacent Moonlight Bay Lounge is used for conferences, private parties, and the captain's cocktail party. Moonlight Bay is very dramatic in that it opens aft to an open marble foyer, curving directly into the sole entryway for the Shall We Dance Lounge, seating 575 guests. A circular outlet houses a bronzed dancing couple welcoming guests into the lounge. This room follows RCI tradition with soft colours such as beige, rose, and blues balanced with woods and brass. Ballroom dancing, the captain's cocktail reception, 50's & 60's night, and the Crown & Anchor repeat guest reception were just some events held here. Tiny pin-pointed lights illuminate the ceiling throughout creating a star effect by night. Large floor-to-ceiling windows wall Shall We Dance providing a wonderful vantage of the ship's wake.
The library and card rooms are located midships on Commodore Deck 7 parallel across the Centrum. The ship's library contains the daily TimesFax and french language newspapers which I collected. It was amazing to find that "civilization" exists outside the realm of the ship!
Cabin televisions provide CNN, major networks, shipboard information, and top-40/dance music videos. Also offered is RCTV, an interactive passenger service allowing guests to purchase shore excursions, check one's account balance, and retrieve customized information. Bridge deck 8 is home to both Explorer's Court and the Crown & Anchor Study. Ironically, a large model of the M/S Enchantment of the Seas is displayed here.
Traveling through the Centrum to deck 9, I found the Solarium and Solarium Cafe just aft. An Egyptian motif is found in colorful tiling, under the glass dome, and in carved statues of pharaohs throughout. Pool stairs lead one from the stone walk directly into the pool and the whirlpool effect created therein. This pool was closed on Sunday (first sea day) due to the rolling of the ship. The Solarium Cafe provides hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, and fries throughout the day and all night long. The ShipShape Center aft carries the Egyptian motif fully and provides European hair styling facilities, massage services, hydro- and aromatherapy as well as the complete gymnasium one deck above. Midships on Sun Deck is the large main pool balanced by four jacuzzis.
The Windjammer Cafe, seating 710 guests, lines the forward section of Sun Deck 9 on three sides. Two buffet lines continue to the circular main dining area. Skylights are abundant and encompass a suspended canoe in the center of the cafe. A grand piano and pictures and models of windjammer ships provide attractive scenery for breakfast, lunch, and the new casual dining service provided here. I was hysterical when I overheard one passenger ask of the windjammer model, "Oh is this our ship?" Directly above the cafe is an open deck with a full-circuit padded jogging deck. The forward observation deck provided incredible views of departures from Curacao and St. Maarten in particular.
The Viking Crown Lounge gazes over the pool deck and is accessible by internal panoramic lifts as well as two external staircases. Dominant various shades of purple prevail throughout complimented by wave-like glass creations with the same colour scheme. By day the lounge provides a nice gathering spot for views and cocktails and by 10:30 p.m. a high-energy discotheque is the Viking Crown's role. Sweeping glass pillars soar upward and forward providing additional lighting effects by night. Top 40's, disco, and 80's music played by deejay Jason was the most popular here.
The upper deck, which overlooks the entire lounge, was a great place to chat with friends, crew, and watch over the activity on the dance floor.
Food & Presentation :
Dining aboard ship was always enjoyable and there was never a lack of options for meals. I experienced the majority of breakfasts, lunches, and afternoon teas in the Windjammer Cafe. The food here was very much what one would expect in a casual dining atmosphere although it was much more enjoyable than on previous cruises. There was always a great variety of vegetables, fruits, rice, and lighter fare - all of which I prefer over heavier content. Service in the cafe appeared to be a bit more lax than on other ships but the personnel were quite friendly.
The Edelweiss Dining Room on decks 4 and 5 is, yet again, the most beautiful dining space that I have seen afloat. The room is dominated by light purples, plums, and beige with a light hint of green in the glasswork. A bright chandelier and glass leaf covered column are the dominant sources of light with dim recessed lighting for the remainder of the dining room. A large, sweeping glass tapestry flows from deck 5 to deck 4 on the forward wall of the dining room providing a secondary focal point. The service here was average although I experienced some fantastic personalities when I dined in Edelweiss for lunch on occasion. An extensive selection of low-fat and vegetarian plates was offered. I enjoyed the vegetarian plate for most of the evening and they were outstanding! Our waiter and assistant waiter, Demir and Cem respectively, were very attentive and fun to dine with. The usual theme nights were in order and waiters / assistant waiters gathered on the sweeping staircase for post-dinner performances.
Ports of Call :
The itinerary on this cruise was the best yet as far as the Caribbean is concerned, by far. Aruba was a bit windy, calming down significantly by the end of the day. The Dawn Princess and Crystal Harmony joined us in port here and we had a magnificent view of the Harmony passing us on her way out. I enjoyed some of the night life in Aruba at a nearby club named "Cheers". Many of Rhapsody's crew were also found here dancing the evening away. We departed at approximately 1:00 a.m. With various languages as my background, I was unable to discern the local language. After asking a local, I discovered that it is called Papiamento, a mix of spanish, dutch, portuguese, and english.
Curacao was a charming port as far as culture and friendly people! I took the Willemstad Trolley Train Tour and got a glimpse of the various facets of life here. The ship's departure from Curacao is absolutely not to be missed. Upon sailing from the dock, Rhapsody of the Seas passed underneath the Queen Juliana Bridge, appearing to clear it by only feet!
I have visited St. Maarten and St. Thomas many times before so I took no tours other than my tour of the ms Galaxy.
Throughout the cruise, ships that shared port time with Rhapsody of the Seas were the Dawn Princess, Fascination, Crystal Harmony, Island Breeze, Mercury, Galaxy, and Bolero.
Overall View and Summary :
Rhapsody of the Seas, costing $275 million, was delivered April 22, 1997, accommodates 2000 guests (based on double occupancy), and houses 765 crew of Norwegian and international backgrounds. She is 915 feet long, 105 feet wide, and has a gross tonnage of 78,491. Normal cruising speed is 22.45 knots utilizing 2 stabilizers, twin screw propellers, 2 bow thrusters, and one stern thruster.
The weather on the March 7th sailing was excellent, provided each day with good sun as well as occasional refreshing and short showers. The seas were moderate (about 8 to 18 feet) and many aboard seemed to think that this was the worst case but it could have been worse, for sure.
We occupied cabin 7026, a category D cabin with a balcony on Commodore Deck. The design is very tastefully appointed and much like that on her Vision Class sisters. I spent very little time in the cabin other than taking a break from exploring the ship, changing clothes, and sleeping. My family occupied the two twin beds and I had the couch which would convert to a bed by night. Our cabin stewardess, Melita, was very attentive and friendly each time I would pass her in the corridor - which was very often!
I noticed, for sure, that there were a lot fewer announcements made during the days on board. This could have been, perhaps, a result of complaints from previous passengers. There were only a few announcements relaying main activities occurring and the ship's clearance into port. The hostess, currently, aboard Rhapsody of the Seas is Shannon Whitney and her husband (Dan Whitney) is the assistant cruise director. I did not see Shannon around the ship much except for the cocktail party, a bit less than I have on smaller ships.
I believe that the dress code should be much more strictly enforced than was done on the Rhapsody. I have seen everything from shorts and tank tops at dinner to a diver's suit in the Edelweiss Dining Room at lunch! I would have been beside myself to be seated with the frogman suit in the dining room!
I heard many reports that the coffee on Royal Caribbean, especially on the Rhapsody, left much to be desired. I, along with my coffee connoisseur mom, enjoyed it thoroughly and looked forward to any moment to savour a cup of coffee and watch the scenery! Coffee, tea, and water were also available outside the Windjammer Cafe on the pool deck as well at any hour of the day. This was a great feature for when I took a breather from the action of the discotheque, Viking Crown Lounge!
My experience and viewpoint of the cruise may differ from others in that I was on a mission to research and gather information for working aboard ship. I hope to be working for Royal Caribbean in a few months as cruise staff and am simply waiting to graduate and fully pursue the position. The staff on Rhapsody was great in sharing the experience and scope of the cruise staff position. I would not be disappointed in working closely with any of them, including the fun-witted cruise director Kirk Detweiler.
For any further insight or information about Rhapsody of the Seas or other ships upon which I have sailed, please contact me!
Steve J. Garrod has served on the cruise staffs of both Holland America Line and Royal Caribbean Cruise Line ships, and has written extensively for the SeaLetter. He can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can view wonderful photos of many of his past cruises at his web site at: http://www.geocities.com/~shipcafe.
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