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Cruise Ship Review
Rhapsody of the Seas
By
Tom & Lana Hendrickson

Rhapsody of the Seas Inaugural Panama Canal Cruise May 19, 1997

This was our fourth cruise, but our first on Royal Caribbean. Previous cruises have been on Princess ships. We booked an outside cabin with verandah because it was so nice on our last Panama Canal cruise (Royal Princess). RCI put us up at the Marriott the night before departure. Our room looked towards the ship terminal and we saw the Rhapsody awaiting us. During the night all the cruise ships (three were in port) went out to sea. The Rhapsody took a number of travel agents out for a night. The hotel desk clerk handed us a cruise procedure sheet as we checked in. Our ID's were checked and we were given our cruise cards.

The check-in and shuttle bus to the ship was only somewhat organized. They did a good job of lining people up at 11:00 am, and counted the people towards the buses. It was a good thing we didn't put our carry-ons into the luggage compartment, as it filled up prior to us getting on. Some people got separated from their luggage. After a short bus ride we unloaded at the terminal, walked through the now-familiar metal detectors and watched our carry-ons get X-rayed. Our luggage that went straight from the plane to the ship was not X-rayed. As is also getting familiar, the cruise staff only pointed us in the direction of our cabin as we boarded. By 1:00 pm, we were in our cabin after a dozen wrong turns. The crew was a mixture of nationalities, most of whom did not speak very good English. We wandered around after finding our cabin card key sitting on the desk. We were the lucky ones: some cabin doors were shut and they had to find someone to open the door.

CABIN

Our cabin, 7556, was good sized with a sliding glass door to the verandah. The brochure called for the cabin to be on the Commodore Deck. We looked at the deck signs, but the decks were identified on the ship by numbers, a little confusing at first. There were two single beds that the cabin steward joined together to make a queen-size bed, a comfortable sofa which could be used as an additional bed, and a glass coffee table. Along one wall was an eight-foot long dressing table/desk, at the far end of which was the TV. Four movies every day are broadcast over the channels, at no cost; many couples snuggled during relaxing moments watching Fargo, The Silence of the Lambs, etc. I did catch a peek at Star Trek: First Contact. There was a very spacious closet with a shelf and enough hangers. Next to this closet was a smaller closet with six shelves, the bottom two were like wire baskets for drying out the wet bathing suits. Above the closet and under the bed were the life jackets. A programmable safe is above the TV, just big enough to hold the wallets and airline tickets you don't need till the end of the cruise.

The bathroom was the smallest we have had on a ship. The shower curtain attacked you if you got too close. If you dropped the soap, good luck. The formed sink was adequate with little flat space. The medicine cabinet above the sink held all our tanning lotions and other sundries. Makeup and accessories needed to be stored in the cabin by the vanity mirror. Drawer space was ample, with six drawers and three shelves plus the mini-shelves next to the vanity mirror. A very small refrigerator held a few sodas and a tall bottle at an angle (appears to be only in verandah rooms).

Our cabin steward, Erika was new and learning. The cabin routine developed through the cruise. We even could sort of tell a joke and have it be understood by the other by the end of the cruise.

The verandah had a plastic covered chair and small table, which were perfect for the viewing of our passage through the Canal. The wing walls between verandahs do not offer complete privacy: we talked with neighboring cabins from the verandah many times.

THE SHIP

The Rhapsody of The Seas was new and beautiful, with carpeting only laid the day before. The Centrum extends upwards seven decks through the middle of the ship. RCI did a good job of providing amenities while maintaining the feeling of a cruise ship. The Edelweiss Dining Room is on both Decks 4 and 5. There are two galleys, with the production galley on Deck 4. The Baked Alaska parade does take a while to pass through. Also on Deck 4 is the champagne bar and some cabins. On Deck 5 is the Purser, the Shore excursion desk, and the Casino. The Broadway Theater is also two decks high, spanning between Decks 5 and 6. Also on Deck 6 is the Schooner Bar, an area called the Moonlight Lounge which is like a convention area used for auctions and conventions. The Photo Gallery and the shops are located on Deck 6, also.

Morning stretch, line dancing, bingo, and lectures are held in the Shall We Dance Lounge located aft. This is below the ShipShape Center on Deck 9. The Beauty Parlor is located alongside the ShipeShape Center. There is no movie theater per se: movies are broadcast directly to your cabin. The Viking Crown Disco Lounge is the top of the ship on Deck 11. There is a well-stocked Library on Deck 7 along with the Card Room. Both these and the Explorer's Club and Crown & Anchor Club (Deck 8) are located adjacent to the seven-deck Centrum (atrium). An Observatory is located on the bow of Deck 10, the walking deck. Not operational were two star machines that can be set to identify where the stars are in the night's sky. A compass is located to give observers the correct orientation.

 

Deck 9 is the pool deck with a nice two-depth pool and four hot tubs. You also have your standard bar, calypso band, and deck chairs. What is great is the covered Solarium with its retractable glass roof: wonderful for Midnight Buffets, swimming on cold days, and for whenever you need to get out of the sun. The Egyptian motif does not tie well into the pizza /hamburger/hot dog bar, but this food keeps going 24 hours per day. Cabins are located on Decks 2, 3, 7, and 8 (I already mentioned the half deck of cabins on Deck 4).

DINING

Top of the list was the quiche for the English dinner, the chocolate velvet on Saturday, and the grilled steak during the gala midnight buffet (I couldn't resist it as it grilled right in front of me). The food for the midnight buffets was gorgeous. The lean and rare sliced beef, pate', seafood plates, and scrumptious pastries stood there beckoning. Could this food be moved to lunch time? My wife and I are budding gourmets. We like good food well prepared. The food was very good, but not in the gourmet range. I know others would disagree, because food is a subjective thing. As mentioned above, certain dishes blossomed forth. We had to send back the lobster and some other dishes due to quality concerns, but this was always done quickly and without hesitation. One fish dish we tried was tasteless and even had a fishy smell. The waiter agreed that the calamari one day could be mistaken for leather.

Our waiter Alex was great; he was from Thailand. His assistant Chris, from Great Britain, knew I wanted my iced tea at each meal with no lemon or straw -- I didn't even need to ask. Once Alex had a feel for what we liked, we only hinted that a second dessert or entree sounded interesting, and it appeared (my conscience was clear because I didn't ask for them). Magic tricks, some adult humor, great conversations, and many more examples kept us entertained during the meals. The Headwaiter was involved with us on a daily basis, more so than on other cruises. We never did see the Maitre d' Hotel, but he/she did a great job in the background. Food was served fast and it was hot, the menu was adequate and always had something for everyone. Dining in the Edelweiss was a good experience.

The Windjammer Cafe

What can I say about the food in the Windjammer Cafe? It was good, and the lines were not long. They served good frozen yogurt (only chocolate by the last day). The buffet selection for both breakfast and lunch was good, with scrambled eggs prepared just right. There is an omelet bar with Eggbeaters and every topping you want cooked up right in front of you. The afternoon tea is a sham: no white gloved waiters, no tea sandwiches served to you, no tea poured into your china cup. Instead it is the buffet line with decent sandwiches, usually rice pudding, frozen yogurt, and the tea faucet. Let's be real and call it an afternoon snack.

The pizza in the Solarium is good and there was never a line. Also available are hamburgers and hot dogs. This was our repast at 5:00 to tide us over to our second seating dinner.

SHOWS

Three variety shows were performed by the Wave Revue singers and dancers. These were well done with live music. I guess the glitzy numbers on the Princess line moved me more. Frankie Avalon appeared and sang; he looked just like he did 30 years ago. He signed autographs and was interviewed for the shipboard "Rhapsody Today." He was great. Ben Vereen and Norm Crosby appeared to glorious applause, but I liked Frankie (I was only a small kid then). Renato Pagiliari, a famous tenor, performed beautifully, but I liked Frankie. Other comedians, singers, a calypso band, and jugglers appeared in the Broadway Melodies Showroom and throughout the ship, but I liked Frankie.

PORTS

Cartegena, Columbia
The Panama Canal
Caldera, Costa Rica
Acapulco, Mexico
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Been there, done that. I was interested in this first cruise of the Rhapsody of The Seas, not the stops.

THOUGHTS

Our dinner companions were great. Three other couples, Bob and Bonnie from Las Vegas, Max and Barbara from Miami, and Mary and Al from Cincinnati, all were veteran cruisers. Notice Al being number eight on the list (inside joke). Making friends on a cruise is easy and always enjoyable.

Yes, there were chocolates on the pillows every evening.

No cruise card/room key holder is provided, which is an inconvenience for the ladies.

Water fluctuated during our showers, which might have been due to the newness of everything.

We have to say that service at the open seating lunches was not good.

Bridge tour -- they sure all look the same to me.

If you ask , they may say yes to a limited-size group taking a look "backstage."

Ask Alex about pepper mills!

I picked up the 1997/98 cruise schedule with the newest picture of the Rhapsody of the Seas. Cabin 7556 is located above the fourth lifeboat. The picture shows this area to have major columns with three cabins between. As I looked out my verandah, I saw only two: I wouldn't have noticed if I wasn't on the side of the ship pictured.

My hat will go off to the cruise line that will come around with a rolling cart passing out iced tea and snacks to those hardy souls who stand out on the foredeck at 6:00 in the morning to see the ship move into the Panama Canal and remain there for four hours awed by the experience. RCI did set up a table with beverages you could buy. What a small cost the rest would have been.

I could not find a self-service laundry.

It would be nice to have robes provided in the rooms.


We thank Tom and Lana Hendrickson for contributing this review. They can be reached at: hendrick@netwizards.net.


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