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Uncle Fester

March 7, 2020 Rhapsody of the Seas Western Caribbean Cruise Review

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We had the great pleasure of taking the March 2020 cruise on the Rhapsody of the Seas to the Western Caribbean.  As a little background, this was our twelfth cruise with Royal Caribbean and our fourteenth cruise overall. This was our first time on one of RCI’s “smaller ships” since our honeymoon cruise on the Majesty of the Seas way back in 1993. Since then we have sailed almost exclusively on Voyager and Freedom class ships, with one trip on Allure of the Seas.  Along for the cruise this time were myself, a fifty-something transportation consultant, my lovely wife, our 24 year old daughter, 20 year old son.

Embarkation – Grade: A

We flew into Tampa the night before, and stayed at an Embassy Suites by the Tampa International Airport.  As we usually do, we took an Uber to the terminal around noon on embarkation day.  The terminal was virtually empty when we arrived and check-in took about 10 minutes. This was the first time we encountered not receiving our SeaPass cards during check-in, which was a bit different.  As the check-in host said, our SeaPass cards were waiting for us at our cabin when we arrived.

Overall Ship Condition – Grade: B+

Overall, the ship is very nice.  We didn’t see too many signs of wear-and-tear that one usually sees in public accommodations as heavily used as a cruise ship.  We did see some spots that needed some paint here and there, but no everything was always extremely clean and well kept.

Staterooms – Grade: B+

We have booked balcony staterooms in the past and found that we end up using the balcony more as place to dry bathing suits than to sit in the sun and watch the world go by.  We have since taken to booking connecting interior promenade or ocean view staterooms.  This gives us an extra bathroom and little more room for the four of us. We selected connecting ocean view staterooms on deck 3 forward this time.  It was nice to have a window that gave the room a little more open feel.  The rooms were extremely clean, and our stateroom attendant was fabulous about keeping it clean the entire cruise. We found that the room actually had more storage than we have encountered on the larger RCI ships. 

There were two primary issues with the room that caused me to mark it down a bit. First, the closet did not have regular hangers, but the security hangers you find in many hotels, which made it difficult sometimes to get clothes hung.  Second, the shower used a shower curtain instead of the doors you see on larger RCI ships. This caused a great deal of water to fall outside of the shower. 

One other thing to note.  In booking the rooms, I looked at what was above us, but not below.  On our first cruise, we booked a room right below the pool deck, so we learned quickly to see check what was above us.  This time, I failed to take into consideration our position on the lower part of the ship, and booked rooms right above the bow-thrusters.  This lead to some early morning wake ups when we were moving into the ports.  I don’t blame RCI for this, but it is something to think about when booking your cabins.

Food and Drinks – Grades: A- for service, C for product

We had the early sitting in the main dining room with a table for the four of us.  We ate all our dinners except one in the main dinning room and had all but one lunch and one breakfast in the Windjammer.  Whether it was in the MDR or in the Windjammer, we found the service to be good, but a bit overrun.  Our wait staff in the MDR took the best care of us as they could, but they seemed a bit overwhelmed with the number of tables they had to service.  The staff in the Windjammer was also very attentive, but once again, seemed to be spread a bit thin.

As for the food, we found it a bit disappointing in the MDR.  We have noticed over the last 12 years we have been cruising regularly again that RCI has cut back some on the breadth of selections, quantity and quality of the MDR food.  It has gotten to the point where we had to order two salads and extra dressing on the side to receive a salad comparable to what one would find at a TGIF or Applebee’s on shore.  The new system of also ordering your appetizer, main course and desert at the beginning of the meal also made the experience fell a bit rushed.

 We found the food in the Windjammer better than expected. The breakfast was essentially the same every day, but there was so much variety that you did not have to eat the same thing every day.  We also ate dinner in the Windjammer one night when our excursion returned late to the ship.  This was the first time we had dinner in the buffet, and was extremely impressed.  We found more variety and what seemed to be better quality food in the Windjammer than we found in the MDR (I realize it comes from the same kitchens, but the food just seemed fresher).

The ship did have a Park Café on board that served the wonderful roast beef sandwiches, which were the best thing on the ship in our opinion.

I had the Deluxe drink package so had the chance to try many different drinks. We don’t drink wine, so can’t really comment on the selection on board, but can speak to their selection of brews.  While they have some interesting ales, we continued to find the selection of beers and ales they do keep on board to be somewhat limited for this day and age of craft brewing.  They have the usual commercial brews, think Bud, Bud Light, Miller, etc., but don’t have a real broad selection of more interesting brews.   The bar staff really went out of their way to accommodate requests for unusual drinks, and were not shy on the pours. 

We are Diamond Members and went to the Diamond Lounge for happy hour most evenings.  The lounge is extremely small on the ship, but because there where so many Diamond and Diamond Plus members on this cruise, RCI took over part of the Shall We Dance Lounge to accommodate everyone.  The Diamond Lounge staff was wonderful, and even provided complimentary drinks that were not part of the official Diamond Lounge drink menu.

Entertainment – Grade: B

We missed the opening night show, but did see the three of the production shows, and two of the guest entertainers. 

The first production show was “Ballroom Fever.”  As expected by the name, the show was heavy on dance, but the show did also feature the ship’s singers.  The dancing was excellent and the signing was very good.

The second show as “Pure Country,” RCI’s take on country music.  We are not real country music fans, but do appreciate live music.   With that being said, the show was not really that good.  The singers did their best, but you could tell they were more pop and musical theater performers, and the dancing and song selection where a bit hokey.

The third show, “Piano Man,” made up for the “Pure Country” misfire.  The show featured songs from famous piano players, and you could tell the performers were back in their element.  The show was very entertaining, and well worth the time.

The guest entertainers were two comedians.  They were at the level you would see at comedy clubs around the country – funny, but not too memorable.

The bands and other entertainers on board were fine.  The cover band played nice cover songs and the Caribbean band was good.  I would have liked to see the Caribbean band play more at the poolside, though. 

Activities – Grade B+

The Cruise Director staff was very good.  Bill Bronckhurst was the Cruise Director.  We never did see him around the ship during the day, which was surprising given it wasn’t one of RCI’s larger ships, but he was at the major shows. He was a pleasant emcee, but not one we will be talking about years from now. The Activities Manager was from Puerto Rico and great fun, but can’t remember his name.  He as on a cruise on the Adventure of the Seas we took about four years ago, and is as fun as ever.  The ship also had one fellow from Mexico, two young ladies from the UK and a gentlemen from Italy.  All but the fellow from Italy were great, as he always seemed to rush through things and was not very personable. 

The audience participation shows were much better than the staged productions in my opinion.  The “Love and Marriage” show was very good with Bill Bronckhurst the cruise director bringing some life to the show.  The “Quest,” or the “Crazy Quest” as they call it now, was as much fun as always as where the “Complete the Lyrics,” “Belly Flop Competition,” “Sexiest Man, and Battle of the Sexes” games.  The 70’s disco dance party was a great time, as was the late night party on the pool deck.

There were two issues that kept me from giving this topic an “A.”  First, the timing of the events was a bit strange.  For example, we really enjoy the music trivia games, but they scheduled the trivia games for 6:30 pm right in the middle of the first dinner.  The two MDR dinners were scheduled for 5:30 and 7:30, I believe, and they could have scheduled the trivia for 7:00 pm when both sittings could participate.  There were other times when the event start times just didn’t make sense compared to what else was happening on the ship.  Second, there just seemed to be a lack of activities at times.  This is likely due to our being used to larger ships with more activities, but if you were not into a particular scheduled activity, there was not much else to do, unless sit in a bar or go to the casino.

Casino – Grade: B

We go to Las Vegas several times a year, so we are pretty acquainted with casinos and their table games. The table game rules on board were a few steps below what you’d find in Las Vegas so don’t expect a real great game.  Lower limit Black Jack games were dealing the hideous 6-5 Black Jack, and they only dealt single-odds at the dice table.   They also had the usual assortment of carnival games (Three Card Poker, Ultimate Texas Holdem, etc.), and what looked to be a standard U.S. roulette wheel.  They had converted a Black Jack table into a live Texas Holdem game, where they ran tournaments. Kind of a strange way to play poker, but people I spoke with didn’t seem to mind the table setup.

While the games rules weren’t up to Las Vegas standards, I found the dealers, on average, were friendlier than in Nevada.  In prior cruises, I noticed that the dealers skills were not quite up to the technical standards you’d see in Vegas, but this time, all the dealers I played with had strong skills. It was kind of nice to have a friendly dealer every time at the tables.

Ports of Call – Grade: B

Costa Maya – We took a taxi to the Tropicante. It is a nice restaurant/bar on the beach with great service and decent prices.  We were the only ship in port in the morning, so the place was quite.  The water in Costa Maya isn’t as clear in other parts of the Caribbean, but there was no sea grass this time of year, so the beach was fine.

Roatan – We have done the sloths, monkeys and beaches here before, so my wife and daughter took advantage of the spa specials on the ship, and my son and I went into the port for some food and drinks.  As is typical, the second we stepped outside the port gate, we were surrounded by people wanting to give us taxi rides or to specific bars.  We just walked through them until we found a nice small bar on the beach and sat there for a few hours. 

Belize- My wife and son had booked a cave tubing trip through the ship, but the excursion was canceled due to high water in the caves.  They instead joined my daughter and me on an excursion to the Lamanai Archaeological Reserve.  We don’t usually book excursions through the ship since you pay a premium, but we do when it involves a long bus ride.  In this case, it paid off as the tour was late getting back, but they held the last tender for us.   The excursion included an hour bus ride, a half-hour speed boat ride up a lake to the ruins and lunch. The ruins were extraordinary, and unlike the ones we say in Tulum, they let you climb the pyramids.

Cozumel – This was our sixth or seventh time to Cozumel, so we decided to just get off the ship in Port and have some lunch. 

Gym/Pools – Grade: B

I try to work out every day while on the ship so became pretty acquainted with the gym.  From a cardio stand-point they had all the treadmills, bikes, stair machines you’d find in any gym.  As usual, the place was packed the first two days of the cruise, but thereafter, I never had to wait for a machine even at what would be considered busy times. The gym was lacking in the weight and machine department, though.  They had one pulley machine and limited number of free weights. You could get a decent workout with the equipment they had, but it was not as nice a setup as you see on the larger ships.

The pools and spas were very nice. The ship has one main pool and another in the Solarium.  Both are salt water pools.  Usually you have to fight for chairs by the pool, but on this cruise there seemed to be plenty available.  I'm not sure whether this was because there were a lesser number of people, or the staff was making sure the chair hogs weren't holding chairs, but it was noticeable.

Debarkation – Grade: B

We had a scheduled 8:30 am departure time, but didn’t get finished with breakfast until 9:00 am.  There was extremely long-tine to get off the ship, but it moved quickly.  There was also an extremely long line in the terminal building to get to the Custom and Border Patrol agents, but if you use a porter for your luggage, you move to the front of the line.  It was well worth the tip to not have to wait.

Overall Grade: B

This was a nice enjoyable cruise.  The ship was well maintained and very clean, and the staff was for the most part awesome.  RCI’s food quality seems to continue the decline we have seen in the last few years.  I am not sure if this is its way to get more guest into the fee-based specialty restaurants, or just general cost cutting, but the food just isn’t the same as it was a decade ago.  I am glad we took the cruise, but will likely stick to the larger ships in the future. This ship may cater more towards those just looking to relax and not be entertained as much.  As for us, I think we will stick to the larger ships that have more things we like to do on board.

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Uncle Fester said:

We had the great pleasure of taking the March 2020 cruise on the Rhapsody of the Seas to the Western Caribbean...

Thanks for taking us along on your cruise. 

Edited by davekathy

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Posted (edited)

Uncle Fester, DW and I were on this cruise too.  I was hoping to meet you, perhaps we did but didn't exchange screen names.  I thought your review was very good.  We had a great wait staff for our MTD and thought overall the food in the MDR was good.  We ended up eating breakfast in the MDR every morning which is the 1st time for us since we usually like to sleep in.  This was our 1st time as Diamonds and overall really enjoyed it though I never understood why they were so strict about carrying drinks out especially since we were headed to an early dinner.  It didn't make much sense since they were fairly liberal about using your seapass card to get drinks elsewhere on the ship during happy hour.  I thought our Chops dinner was the worst ever and wasn't happy with the amount we spent vs quality of the food.  I gave them a "0" on the RCI survey.  Waiter told me they had a new chef, I would have thrown him overboard based on quality. This was our 10th sailing on RCI and I think the overall quality made it the worst for me.  I can't quite put my finger on specifics but it just felt that way to me.  Our next RCI sailing is on the Radiance in Alaska in 2021.  Really looking forward to that one. 

Edited by JTBCruiser

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On 3/28/2020 at 11:12 AM, JTBCruiser said:

This was our 10th sailing on RCI and I think the overall quality made it the worst for me.  I can't quite put my finger on specifics but it just felt that way to me. 


I know what you mean.  There were certain things and people that just made it feel a little off.  I was thinking perhaps because the ship was smaller, I kept seeing the same people. 

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Thanks for the review.  We were on the cruise and had a great time. Ate at chops and Giovanni’s twice, and Izumi’s three times. 

Have to agree that chops was not up to normal standards.  Izumi’s was great. But we all know that food is very subjective.  

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Thanks for your review, I agree the food in the MDR has gone down and the Windjammer has a better selection.

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Me and my fiancé were on this ship the week before you guys. We are Diamond with Royal and I am Prime with the casino so we got this cruise as a compd cruise. I thought the dining room food was a little better than the big ships, but as far as everything else, we were not impressed. We are big ship junkies!

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Fester, thank you very much for the review. Very comprehensive and detailed. I liked you note about the balcony. I think for the most people travelling with family, the balcony is a must. We always use it as a place to dry things. Veery rarely we stay there to chill. Also its good when you need some fresh air. In any case, I see you had a great trip. Post such review every time you travel. They are very helpfull

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