Rhapsody of the Seas Inaugural Alaska Cruise June 7, 1997
I said I would NEVER go to Alaska. I had spent the last 40? years freezing to death in northeastern and midwestern states. I was NOT going to spend my hard earned, precious vacation time going on a cruise and freeze to death the whole time.
Well, never say never, because our good ol' favorite travel agent (Sharon Jackson, of course!) told us about a fantastic deal on the maiden voyage of the Rhapsody of the Seas. I couldn't say no. So we packed our bags full of long underwear, sweaters, long pants, heavy socks, and gloves (which we haven't used for a year since we moved to Houston!). In our deal we received free non-stop flights from Houston Intercontinental Airport to San Francisco and back to Houston from Vancouver. This was our ninth cruise.
The itinerary of this cruise was different from your standard Alaskan cruise. We arrived and departed from San Francisco, which is a lovely port. We had a day at sea, stopped at Victoria, B.C., spent another day at sea cruising the Inside Passage, spent a day at Sitka, another day at Ketchikan, and spent our last day cruising to Vancouver. I don't think the ship was totally booked. I asked the purser about it and he said it was almost full; I asked the Captain during dinner one night (more about that later!) and he said it was not full. It did not feel full, which made the cruise even more enjoyable. There were very few children on the cruise, which also made the cruise great for us, as this was our first kid-less getaway in a number of years. The four of us are usually packed together into one small cabin.
EmbarkationEmbarkation went very smoothly. Our flight arrived in San Francisco around 9:30 am. We waited two solid hours standing in the parking lot, however, waiting for people from other flights and for a bus to take us to the port. Luckily it was a nice day, although a little cool for me! It was a 30-minute ride to the port. We were let off in a huge line of people. However, the line went extremely quickly as there were quite a number of RCCL employees checking us in. We were on the ship by noon. We grabbed a bite to eat in the Windjammer Cafe buffet, and then got off the ship and walked a few blocks down to the Wharf. The sun was shining and it was just a beautiful day. We sailed at 5 pm and it was breathtaking sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge. There was the usual lifeboat mustering, but it was the quickest and most efficient one I have yet participated in.
StateroomOur stateroom was the nicest we have had on all our cruises. Of course, it was less crowded since the boys were left home at camp, so it seemed particularly roomy. It was cabin #7152 at the back of the ship on the Commodore Deck (deck 7). If you look at a diagram of the ship, you can see that the category "D" cabins are all located on this deck, and that the ones located aft appear to have larger balconies. This is true. Our balcony wrapped around the side of the ship. The balcony had the standard table with two chairs, but also had two nice lounge chairs. We spent hours and hours on the balcony watching the breathtaking scenery pass, looking for whales, dolphins, and other sea critters. The location of the cabin was also perfect for us. Two decks down was the dining room and two decks up was the solarium. We spent a lot of time in both those places.
We have always cruised in tropical climates previously, so we found ourselves using the various parts of the ship differently. We spent a lot more time in our cabin. The temperature of the ship was kept around 60 degrees, which we found was very cold for us. We cranked up the heat in our cabin, so it was always warm and cozy. The first time I met our cabin steward, I requested another blanket for the bed. He brought it that first night, so I always had a blanket to wrap around myself so I could sit on the balcony even if it was chilly. The cabin was decorated very nicely, with a blue and peach color scheme. There were also nice fluffy peach towels in the bathroom. There was a nice size closet, but I found that drawer space was a little slim, and I wondered how we'd ever fit clothes for four in the storage space. You need lots more clothes than in the Caribbean, where you can get away with t-shirts, sundresses, and shorts! There were two bunks which we had made into a queen-size bed. There was a very nice sitting area with a large sofa bed, which looked to me to be queen-size. There was a remote control TV and a small refrigerator. We like to bring a bottle or two of celebratory champagne with us, even though technically, this is not allowed.
I always love to peek into other cabins when I first board the ship, and I did. I saw all cabin categories except the Royal suite and the Owner's suite. I definitely felt that our cabin "D" was well worth the extra money. I would not spend the extra money for the next higher "C" category. The category AA family suites were lovely, if you are travelling with a large family; I believe they can sleep seven. Even the smallest inside cabins were pretty, and had a tiny sitting area.
Our cabin steward did a great job. By the time we were finished with breakfast, our cabin was made up. There was a new system where you use a card in the door. One side is blue and says, "Do not disturb". The other side is white and says, "Please make up cabin". At a glance, the stewards could immediately see which cabins were ready for cleaning.
DiningThe food on this ship was good, but not great. Our favorite food was probably on Celebrity's ships, particularly the Zenith, but we enjoyed our meals. For the first time, we had late seating. We really enjoyed it. We were able to relax before dinner and spend time on our balcony, having a glass of champagne, before getting ready for dinner. We were able to go dancing for a half hour or so before dinner. Three nights we had a show at 7:15 pm, but the other nights the show was after dinner, about 10:45 pm.
The dining room is beautiful, on both the fifth and sixth decks. It has a lovely central staircase of glass and chrome, and the color scheme is lots of pale beige, taupe, light gray, and rose. The upper level had floor-to-ceiling windows, while the lower level had large oval windows. The service was also very good. A couple of nights it took an exceptionally long time to get our entree, but it was certainly not the waiters' fault. There was a back-up in the kitchen. Most of these little nuisances that ocurred were probably due to the newness of the ship and staff; I did not let those things bother me. Breakfast was good; I especially liked the French toast. My eggs were always perfectly cooked, as well. The most memorable dinner was Alaskan night where Alaskan char was on the menu. It is the best fish I have ever tasted! If you like a mild white fish, don't ever hesitate to order it if you see it on the menu.
The Windjammer Cafe was also lovely. We had lunch a couple of times there. I really missed, however, the outside dining. There were a few tables by the sides of the ship, but those tables were under cover. There was no large outside dining area, as on most ships. I always find that RCI has very long buffet lines, so we tended to avoid this area. Most tables outside had ashtrays and people were all smoking, so that was another reason we skipped it.
The solarium had a bar at one end for drinks and a small bar/cafe at the other end with pizza, hamburgers, and hot dogs. Many times we grabbed a burger or pizza and sat on our balcony and ate lunch, while whale-watching.
Entertainment:The Broadway Melodies Theater is just gorgeous. There isn't a bad seat in the house. The theater is arranged like a typical theater, with no couches or cocktail tables. I really enjoyed the production shows, which were some of the best shows I've seen on the sea. The singers and dancers were all very talented, and the sets and costumes were fabulous. Frankie Avalon was the star entertainer of the week, and he was great. The general age of the passengers was much older than the typical Caribbean cruise, so most could really relate to Frankie's era. There was a comedian one night, which wasn't very good, but otherwise the entertainment was top notch.
The Centrum and Champagne Terrace were lovely areas to sit and listen to music. All the singers, orchestra, quartets, and pianists were extremely good. I enjoyed the music on this ship and cruise the most of any cruise yet. My husband and I love to ballroom dance, and the bands played actual rhumbas, cha chas, waltzes, and foxtrots. Other passengers who were our age or younger might not have enjoyed this "old fogie" music, but they could always go up to the disco for modern tunes.
The Shall We Dance lounge was used for the Captain's Cocktail Party and the Repeater's Cocktail Party, both of which we attended. We were able to order champagne, and the orchestra was great. The dance floor was quite large also, and was heavily utilized by many. The hors d'oeuvres were marginal, but do you really want to spoil your appetite for dinner? There was also late night entertainment in this lounge, but we were snoozing by that time.
The Schooner Bar was a very nice place, with lots of wood. A wood aroma enhances the atmosphere. There was a great pianist in the lounge who played very enjoyable tunes.
The Viking Crown Lounge had two levels and was decorated a bit garishly for my taste. This area became a disco at night, but we never checked it out at night, as we preferred the other lounges and music.
Weather and Ports of Call:The weather in San Francisco was lovely, with the high around 72 and sunny. About an hour after leaving port, however, the wind picked up and the temperature dropped significantly. It was almost too chilly to sit on our veranda. By the time we finished dinner, the ship was rocking and rolling. We had hit a storm with 50 mph winds and very large waves, close to 20 feet. The ship was moaning and groaning. We went to bed shortly after the show, but didn't sleep well due to the racket of the ship and having the sensation of falling out of bed! By 7:30 in the morning, the waves were upwards of 30 feet! Needless to say, I felt a bit green around the gills. We had a hard time standing upright, but did manage to get dressed and go down to the dining room for a very light breakfast. It was almost humorous by the time we left the dining room, as there were seasick bags all over the ship! We went up to the solarium, where it was nice and warm and had some lovely padded chairs. I started to read, but promptly fell asleep until noon.
When I awoke, I felt like a new person, and grabbed a pizza for lunch. By 2:00 pm the waves were steadily decreasing in size, but the wind continued to howl. Signs were posted everywhere warning guests not to go outside on the decks. Of course, I had to try it, but couldn't make it very far for fear of blowing in the wind to ports unknown. The weather became warmer and sunny and I was able to relax on our balcony and watch for whales. We actually saw six Orca whales right beside our balcony. It was so great! Later, at the Captain's Table one night, the Captain said that the ship handled magnificently in the storm, as the storm was totally unexpected.
The next day we arrived in Victoria about 4 hours late, due to the storm. But it was a gorgeous day. Native "Victorians" met us as we disembarked, dressed in Old English costumes and pinning a carnation on the shoulder of each woman as she stepped off the gangway. Complimentary double-decker buses met the ship to take us from the dock into the town. Because of our delay, I didn't have time to go to Bouchart's Gardens, but we walked all over town, enjoying the sunshine and visiting lots of shops and the Empress Hotel. The hotel's rose garden was exquisite and in full bloom. The whole city was pretty as a postcard and the people were warm and friendly. It was a marvelous day.
Tuesday began partly cloudy with a beautiful sunrise, but by noon it was raining. We hung out in the solarium, ship-shape center, and our cabin and veranda. The Inside Passage was majestic and breathtaking. Mountains were snow-peaked, with melting snow becoming turbulent waterfalls cascading down the mountainsides. I've never seen such scenery, and Frank rarely could part from his binoculars and the balcony, despite the drizzle. The captain would often come on the air and point out specific sites of interest and keep a watchful eye out for whales, bears, and other wildlife.
Wednesday was our day in Sitka. It was cool, about 50, when we docked, but warmed up during the day. It was a very cute town, but you could see most of it in a very short time. We took a sea-kayaking shore excursion, and we enjoyed it tremendously. The group took a Zodiac out to the kayaking area, where we were shown how to climb into the 2-man kayaks. We kayaked for almost 2 hours in and out of small inlets, looking for wildlife and enjoying the beautiful scenery. The water was so clear we could see urchins, fish, and brilliant red starfish. The excursion cost $80.00 per person and I felt was well worth the money.
Thursday, our port of call was Ketchikan. It was cloudy and quite chilly when we arrived. We had booked the seaplane adventure at 10:30 am.We flew over Misty Fjords and gazed upon sheer granite walls, steep and deep fjords, snow-capped mountains, cascading waterfalls and narrow valleys. It was quite spectacular. The pilot landed the plane on the water of a quiet peaceful inlet, and we all climbed down the steps to stand on the pontoons for photographs and to enjoy the spectacular view amidst the peace and quiet. It was lovely. The excursion cost $130.00, and it was great, but I wouldn't do it again as it was very expensive.
We spent the rest of the day meandering through the town, visiting Creek Street and Dolly's house (a famous "house" of ill repute). The ship departed at 3 pm, and headed out into Misty Fjords. We cruised Misty Fjords until about 9 pm and it was fabulous. We sat out on our veranda, drank some champagne, and viewed the majestic mountains, waterfalls, and wildlife. The Captain constantly pointed out highlights, and an occasional bear. At one point he actually stopped the 78,000 ton ship so that everyone could watch a small brown bear playing in a grassy clearing between mountains. We had a great chuckle over that! Here we are, this mammoth ship with almost 2,000 passengers, stopped to watch one small bear! We even missed most of the last show because it was so fascinating just to sit on our balcony.
The last day was spent cruising back to Vancouver. By noon the sun was out and it was a gorgeous day. People came out on deck and actually swam in the lovely pool and sat in the deck chairs to get some sun. The deck area was lovely with its blue and touquoise color theme. The pool was rather small, however, and as the second pool was in the solarium, the deck would get very crowded in warmer climes!
Saturday we disembarked at Vancouver. This was the low point. Embarkation was very smooth, and we were off the ship, onto a bus, and at the airport in no time. The bad news was we literally stood in lines for 6 hours until we boarded our flight for home. We were in lines to check in, we were in lines to pay an additional "airport improvement tax" of $10 per person, we were in lines for customs. It was like being in Disney World, where you would think you were at the end of the line and Boom! You entered another whole room of lines! It was not a good time. I was glad our boys weren't with us because they would have gone nuts! We finally managed to board our plane and head back to Houston.
Highlights of our Cruise:I'm not going to spend time with deck to deck descriptions, which were covered in last month's reviews. I also can't comment on the children's areas and activities, as we were alone (yes!) on this cruise.
We just loved our deluxe cabin with the veranda and its location. It was perfect for us.
We also loved the Solarium. This is a great addition to RCI ships and is a beautiful area. It is decorated in an Egyptian motif, with a cream and beige tile floor. Huge pillars, with painted designs of bright yellow, green, red, blue and beige, surround the pool, which is kept at 86 degrees. Large "statues" of Egyptian mummies are placed around the area. Egyptian heiroglyphics and designs are carved into the walls and pillars. The pool has 2 fountains on the sides, with water pouring out of a serpent's mouth at one end. There are huge wide steps to get into the pool, which was great for kids. The entire solarium is surrounded by huge windows and a glass canopy top, that can be slid back in good weather. Rows of lounge chairs surround the pool, and padded lounge chairs, tables and chairs are placed next to the windows. Sun pours into the area, which made it warm and pleasant to sit and read, swim, or go into the two hot tubs.
At the end of the solarium to the right is the cafe, and on the left is the entrance to the spa. There were great spa facilities, saunas, and steam rooms, which were empty when I used them. Up one flight of stairs is the Ship Shape Center. Several aerobics classes were cancelled due to the rock and roll of the ship, and the others that I attended were too crowded to be of much benefit. It is a lovely work out area, but much too small for the size of the ship. I can only imagine what it would be like on a Caribbean cruise with lots of young people!
We really enjoyed the music and entertainment on board. And the whole ship is truly elegant, with a wonderful atmosphere.
We were invited to dine at the Captain's table on Wednesday night. This was fun for us, as this had never happened before on our previous cruises. Invitations were delivered to us in our cabin, and we were requested to dress in jacket/tie attire. We met the other six "invitees" in the Schooner Lounge about a half hour before dinner. The Captain and his wife joined us about 15 minutes later. We ordered cocktails and chatted, then headed down to the table. A photographer took our picture at the table. We had exquisite service! The Captain ordered two bottles of wine. Frank sat next to the Captain's wife and we chatted quite enjoyably through dinner. We felt very special. Later, we received a dinner menu signed by the Captain, and the photograph that was taken that evening.
Overall:This was, for me, a surprisingly wonderful cruise. Sure, there were some small irritants, but all in all it was a great experience. I would definitely take another cruise to Alaska. I would also not hesitate to cruise on RCI's new Vision class ships. They are elegant, well-designed, and well-run. We thank you, Sharon, for talking us into taking this great vacation!
If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please