When people think of Royal Caribbean, they often imagine mega-vessels with an interminable roster of wow factors: bumper cars, robot bartenders, skydiving simulators and parks so large they could be part of a floating city.
But, there's much more to the Royal Caribbean fleet than these showstoppers. The 2,416-passenger Vision-class Rhapsody of the Seas isn't the biggest or the flashiest of the fleet, but it does have a lot to offer on a more manageable scale. Activities are aplenty onboard, and there won't be a moment where you're wondering what to do. Active cruisers can tackle a rock climbing wall, fitness classes or a jogging track. Connoisseurs of food and drink can sample wine and cuisine at three speciality restaurants -- or even head to the main dining room or buffet, both of which score high in terms of diversity of offerings and quality of provisions. Evenings can be spent at any of the bars and lounges, sipping hand-crafted cocktails and soaking in music, or at the theatre where performers put on nightly shows to packed houses.
Service and consistency are particular strengths on Rhapsody of the Seas -- the result of being a medium-size (and not an overwhelmingly large) vessel. Crew members, from waiters and cabin stewards to the guest services personnel, make an effort to extend their warmest welcome and offer their genuine assistance.
For those who admire ocean views, there are plenty of places onboard to take in the sea breezes -- though not necessarily from your cabin. The ship has just two decks of staterooms with private balconies.
Daytime: Dress, for the most part, is casual onboard Rhapsody of the Seas. About the ship, passengers roam around in shorts or jeans, T-shirts or summer dresses for most of the day.
Evening: In the evenings, some people get decked out in their finest -- jackets and ties, flowy dresses -- on formal nights (typically two evenings for a weeklong cruise). Others won't bother with changing from their day wear. The evening dress codes are merely suggestions, in any case. As a general rule of thumb, passengers -- when choosing their attire -- fully embrace the vacation vibe.
Not permitted: There's no fashion police, though swim attire is not permitted in the more formal public venues and tank tops are prohibited in the main dining room and speciality restaurants at dinner.
The two-tiered Broadway Melodies Theatre is situated on Decks 5 and 6 and seats 870 people in comfortable, upholstered chairs with padded armrests with drink holders. The yellow-and-green colour scheme seems subdued in comparison to more flashy areas of the ship. Just about every seat in the house has an unobstructed view of the stage; the seats in the back row (perfect for late-comers and for those who want to sneak out early) also have some table space.
Show times typically run at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. to accommodate both early and late dinner seatings, although there are some shows that have a single showing or start later at night. Productions feature an eclectic mix of entertainers, ranging from cover bands and stand-up comedians to musicals, some with the accompaniment of the in-house orchestra and dancers.
On our sailing, a ventriloquist conversed with his bird puppets, and on a different evening, a New Jersey comedian put on impressions and cracked jokes -- to varied responses (some guffawed, some groaned). On yet another night, a Beatles' cover band, had the audience up on their feet dancing to the band's popular tunes. Even more crowd-pleasing was a ballroom dance night, when the Royal Caribbean singers and dancers groove to the tango and cha-cha alongside a dance champion couple. On one day of the cruise, a screening of "The Lego Batman Movie" was played in lieu of a live performance.
Daytime activities are what you'd expect on a cruise ship: trivia quizzes, game shows and pool games. Passengers always seem to be having a blast. For active cruisers, there's a rock-climbing wall, poolside stretching sessions and dance classes in the atrium. Plenty of participants joined table tennis tournaments, ring tosses and cornhole challenges. Passengers can also sign up for cupcake or sushi-making classes for an additional fee. Live music gets the atmosphere going starting in the early evening, with a Caribbean band that plays poolside and a string duo that performs in the atrium.
There are also activities that are designed to sell the ship's services, often with the promise of something free to draw attendance, such as skin consultations at the spa, rum cakes and liquor tastings at the liquor store or free Champagne at the art auction.
The Casino Royale was always hopping in the late hours, despite a smoky atmosphere that pervades the venue. It has a constellation theme and bolts of neon lights and features slot machines, such as Wheel of Fortune and Triple Diamond, as well as blackjack, poker and slot machine tournaments, with an entry fee of $25.
Non-gamers have plenty of other choices onboard. Live music and dancing are hosted nightly: A pianist takes requests at Schooner, "Dancing Under the Stars" parties are organized on the pool deck and a DJ plays at the Viking Crown night club. The multilevel Centrum atrium is always buzzing with activities from karaoke contests and game shows to the captain's reception and dance bands -- all of which attract many passersby that watch from the decks above. By the pool, recent movies or sports are shown on the big screen.
R Bar (Deck 4, midship): The R Bar is a throwback to the bars of the 1960s, with velour chairs, a curvy bar and a menu of classic craft cocktails that includes martinis, whiskeys, gimlets and Champagne-based drinks, some with an innovative twist. There's also a list of beer and wine. The R Bar is always abuzz, thanks to its central location in the Atrium and musical bands, game shows and other activities that draw attention.
Schooner Bar (Deck 6, midship): The decor of this 145-seat bar was inspired by masted ships with maritime-themed elements such as a crow's nest, canvas sails and wood panelling. It's a popular spot for pre-dinner aperitifs with a menu of time-honoured cocktails and variations on the classics, such as a tropical version of the Old Fashioned. A piano player jazzes up the ambience at night. Trivia quizzes, crossword challenges and Sudoku are part of the daily happenings.
Shall We Dance Lounge (Deck 6, aft): Passengers head to this lounge -- where a large circular dance floor and a stage is the centrepiece -- more for the entertainment than for the drinks. Karaoke and game shows are hosted here; and the art auctioneers throw seminars, sales and displays of their pieces. The lounge is quiet when there's not a scheduled event, and during the day, some passengers take advantage of the ambience to relax.
Solarium Bar (Deck 9, midship): Part of the Egyptian-themed Solarium, this bar -- near the covered pool -- is the place to get a frozen drink (coconut mango daiquiri, anyone?) post-hot tub or to accompany a sun-soak in a lounger. It also serves hot and cold espresso-based coffee during the day.
Viking Crown Lounge (Deck 11, midship): This is the ship's nightclub, though only at random hours on random nights did it ever seem animated. Adorned with gold-and-red chairs and glass-bubble chandeliers, Viking Crown has a DJ that spins dance songs late into the night and a minuscule dance floor. During the day, the lounge has a completely different identity: People come here for conversation and to soak in the views from the slanted windows that span the room.
The main outdoor pool on Rhapsody of the Seas, located on Deck 9, is one of the most packed places on the ship during warm days. You can count on a lively atmosphere both day and night, with splashing children (the pool has a wading area and family pool games), musical bands and occasional contests (such as the Guess the Weight of the Nano Lopez sculpture), table tennis tournaments and under-the-stars dance parties, during which only the four shaded hot tubs are open. Plenty of chairs and loungers surround the pool and on the deck above, and a big screen projects box-office movies after sundown.
Around the edges of the main pool, is a shallow wading area, where junior cruisers get their feet wet. Connected but separated by a barricade is another wading area where children can splash to their heart's delight without disturbing adults.
The glass-covered Solarium pool is for passengers ages 16 and over, but the ship makes exceptions on days when there's inclement weather. During this time, young cruisers -- supervised by parents -- are allowed to frolic in the Solarium pool for a limited number of hours. Otherwise, the typically adults-only enclave acts as a sanctuary from the more trafficked outdoor pool, with two hot tubs and cushy loungers in an ancient Egyptian-themed setting with columns, pharaoh statues and hieroglyphic motifs.
At the aft of the ship on Deck 10 is where one of Royal Caribbean's signature activities takes place. The 30-foot rock climbing wall -- open for just a few hours each day -- has different paths to the summit to accommodate both beginner and advanced climbers. Crew supervise sessions and can help with the provided equipment. For the more nimble, there are speed-climbing competitions with prizes to take home. Also on Deck 10, cruisers can play shuffleboard 24 hours a day.
The sun deck around the main pool -- set up with vinyl-strap chairs and loungers -- tends to get crowded during sunny days. Fellow sunbathers are friendly and polite though, and chair hogging is rarely a problem. For sun-worshippers who want a more tranquil spot, there are areas around Deck 10, above the main pool and forward above the Windjammer Cafe, to lounge out. Note: These areas are also used as a jogging track, so you may have to share space with -- or strategically avoid -- pedestrians.
The adults-only Solarium, which has a retractable roof, is another option for serene sunbathing, though the temperature in the enclave tends to be hot and humid compared with the pool outdoors. The loungers and chairs here are cushioned -- unlike on the pool deck -- which makes for a more comfortable bask or snooze under the sun.
Deck 5 is the promenade deck -- a peaceful spot for taking a walk or pulling out a chair to take in the sea breezes under shade.
Most of the ship's services are concentrated on Decks 4 to 6. A 24-hour internet cafe is located on Deck 4, adjacent to the Next Cruise office, which helps current passengers reserve future sailings -- often at a small discount. Those who prefer Wi-Fi on their personal devices can purchase a VOOM! internet package that costs $12.99 or $17.99 per day for each device, the latter of which includes streaming. Across the atrium is the location of two out of the ship's three conference rooms (the third is on Deck 6, near the Shall We Dance Lounge).
On Deck 5, the guest service desk assists passengers with everything from lost room cards to billing. Nearby, the shore excursion desk is where you can get more information on ports and tours. You'll find an enclave of shops, which sell jewellery, duty-free liquor, clothes, watches and handbags near the Broadway Melodies Theatre on Deck 6. You'll also encounter the art and photo galleries here, in addition to the Loyal Ambassador's Desk, for all Crown & Anchor loyalty membership-related questions and concerns.
Rhapsody of the Seas has a Book Corner, which is essentially just a few shelves with a seemingly random selection of books and magazines that passengers can borrow and return at their leisure.
The ship has no self-laundry services but offers professional cleaning. A wash and fold laundry special costs $34.99 for a bag of items, such as socks, underwear, T-shirts, pyjamas, swimwear and shorts. There's also a pressing service that charges per piece. Prices range from $1.99 to $14.99 depending on the piece of clothing. Options included washing and pressing, pressing and steaming only, or dry cleaning and pressing. Same-day services charge an additional 50 percent express fee.
The ship has a for-free medical facility tucked away on Deck 1, where passengers can go for first aid.
Just off the Solarium, the 14-treatment room Vitality Spa occupies a serene spot on the ship. Once you check-in at the reception desk, a long corridor leads to a relaxation room, which has cushioned wicker chairs that face slanted floor-to-ceiling windows, and herbal teas and fruit-infused waters to sip while you wait. The light woods and neutral tones of the spa create a sense of calm; in some areas, the Egyptian theme carries over from the Solarium. The crown jewel of the spa is the couple's suite, which can be booked for luxurious bathing rituals or side-by-side body treatments. Women and men have separate changing facilities, including a sauna, steam room and showers.
The Vitality Spa, operated by Steiner, offers a full range of services. Most treatments are Elemis-branded, including seven types of facials, plus a range of seaweed wraps, salt scrubs and deep tissue or "aroma stone" massages, which all incorporate the British company's products. Non-Elemis offerings include coconut poultice and bamboo massages, and medi-spa treatments, such as Botox and skin-tightening treatments. There's also a beauty salon that performs manicures and pedicures, waxing, hairdressing and barber's services. An acupuncturist and teeth whitening clinic are also available for consultations and remedies. Prices run on the high side but check the Cruise Compass for daily specials.
Accessible from a staircase near the entrance of the spa, the fitness centre on Rhapsody of the Seas is far from being the most spacious at sea, but it largely serves its purpose -- and only before dinner time is it packed with gym-goers. The complex is equipped with elliptical machines, stationary bikes, treadmills, free weights, mats and a handful of weight machines. Some of the machines could use some updating -- a few were even out of commission while under repair. Passengers must be at least 16 years old to use the gym.
The fitness centre offers classes, many of which take place on a dance floor/stretching area in the gym. Body Sculpt Boot Camp, a three-class series, costs $35 per class and $90 for all three, while Pilates, yoga and spin classes go for $12 per session. Stretching, ab strengthening and body conditioning classes are free.
Additionally, there's a quarter-mile jogging track on Deck 10 for passengers who want to get some exercise while breathing in the fresh ocean air.
Dining on Rhapsody of the Seas is varied, consistent and tasty. Collectively, the complimentary and for-fee options offer a good number of choices for every type of palate and dietary need. Most passengers are content with meals in the dining room and buffet, but the specialty restaurants, nonetheless, offer some novelty. Be sure to check the cruise bulletin for restaurant hours -- they can vary during the cruise, and sometimes even crew members taking reservations can get confused.
Edelweiss (Decks 4 and 5): Bedecked in maroon-and-gold upholstery and carpeting, the Edelweiss Restaurant is Rhapsody of the Seas' main dining room and spans two decks, connected by a sweeping staircase.
Edelweiss serves all three meals. Breakfast and lunch operate on an open-seating plan and serve many of the same items as the buffet: Belgian waffles, eggs Benedict and omelettes made to order for breakfast; Thai curry with peanut sauce and citrus salad for lunch.
On sea days, the Edelweiss Restaurant transforms into the Royal Brasserie for lunch, which serves hearty gastropub-type fare, such as steak, kidney and mushroom pies; fish and chips; and quarter-pound burgers, as well as decadent desserts like chocolate profiteroles and warm apple and rhubarb crumble.
Tables are assigned for dinner, for which there are two seatings: 5:30 (early) and 8:30 p.m. (late). Flexible-time dining, without assigned tables, is also available for a limited number of diners from 5:30 to 8:45 p.m.
Appetizers at dinner consist of soups, salads and more creative inventions, both hot and cold: escargots with melted garlic-herb butter and chilled strawberry bisque, for example. The kitchen can adapt dishes to suit dietary restrictions. Icons on the menu indicate gluten-free, dairy-free and vegetarian options (there are also tons of sugar-free desserts).
Dinner entrees could include roasted pork loin with black truffle sauce, garlic tiger shrimp with vegetables or eggplant parmigiana. If you aren't in the mood for one of the chef's more "spur of the moment" creations, a fixed menu of alternatives is available every day, in which a Manhattan strip steak or linguine with pomodoro sauce are among the choices. Standout desserts include creme brulee, chocolate almond cake and the sugar-free strawberry charlotte.
Service is prompt, courteous and attentive. A wine steward will assist you with your beverage choice upon arrival, and the waiter assigned to your table will be more than happy to offer his or her (often spot-on) recommendations on what to order off the menu of the day before delivering fresh bread to your table.
Windjammer Cafe (Deck 9): The indoor Windjammer Cafe is spread out around two, long semicircular buffet stations and surrounded by a series of side stations. It's busiest on embarkation day and at breakfast and lunch, when the queues seem interminable and when there never seems to be a free table. For dinner, the chaotic atmosphere calms down, and the Windjammer takes on a more subdued feel, where you can enjoy your dinner in peace.
Windjammer is open for breakfast from 7 to 11 a.m., lunch from noon to 3 p.m. and dinner from 6 to 9 p.m.
For the morning meal, you'll find the usual suspects: muffins and pastries; eggs and omelettes; bacon, ham and sausages; cereal, fruit and yoghurt; and pancakes and waffles. For lunch and dinner, options could include roasted chicken, grilled vegetables, pizza, soups, sandwiches and international foods such as empanadas, fried rice, vegetable curry and pork vindaloo. In addition, there's a carving station, pasta bar, shrimp cocktail station, Mongolian barbecue and gluten-free corner with some items that actually look appetizing.
The fresh breads -- pumpkin rolls, or onion and pepper focaccia, for example -- are excellent; spreads such as cinnamon and cayenne butter make them even better. Some desserts have wow-worthy presentations: a gigantic apple pie, a towering croquembouche (small round pastries held together by threads of caramel). Waiters circulate among the tables with trays of soft drinks (for an extra fee) or cookies; an ice cream cart, where you can choose your own toppings, also makes the rounds at lunch.
The food is good for a cruise ship buffet. The menu changes every day, and there's enough variety so that there's something for everyone.
Ice tea, water, lemonade, fruit drinks, coffee and tea are complimentary, but only the water, coffee and tea are available 24 hours a day.
Park Cafe (Deck 9; aft): Located in the Solarium, the Park Cafe is where to head in between meals when the buffet is closed. It offers a selection of snacks and light fare, such as soups, pizza, sandwiches, salads and quesadillas. There's also a carving station and fruit and desserts. Because it's the only venue open during off hours up until midnight, the queues can be long to pick up food. It's also open for a light breakfast.
Room Service: When the buffet shuts down -- which it does at 9 p.m. -- and you don't feel like making a trek to the Park Cafe, room service is the best bet to get a bite (orders cost $7.95 per delivery, with the exception of continental breakfast). All day choices, which are actually available only from 11 a.m. to 6 a.m., include mainly bar-type food, such as Cobb salad, chicken tenders and cheesesteaks. You can also order breakfast delivered to your cabin from 6 to 11 a.m.
Chef's Table (Deck 4, aft); $85: The Chef's Table is an exclusive, intimate experience where passengers get to dine in an elegant room near the kitchen and sample some of the chef's finest dishes. The meal consists of five delicate and delicious courses, including wine pairings. The menu changes, but sample dishes may include scallop carpaccio with yuzu vinaigrette and crispy quinoa and a Maine lobster salad with hearts of palm, pineapple and cilantro. There's a choice of entrees, but you don't get to choose the other courses -- so make sure you read the menu before booking.
Chops Grille (Deck 6, aft); $35 for dinner: $22 for lunch: This is, by far, the most popular speciality restaurant on the ship; many passengers head to the dark-wood panelled Chops when celebrating milestones. The classic steakhouse -- awash in burgundy and gold tones -- features favourites, such as wedge salad with blue cheese and prime meats like bone-in ribeye and filet mignon. The Gruyere tater tots and creamed spinach are deliciously decadent accompaniments, and the desserts are just as rich and ridiculously copious.
Giovanni's Table (Deck 6, aft); $30 for dinner; $15 for lunch: Located near the Shall We Dance Lounge, Giovanni's Table is an Italian trattoria that serves familiar dishes family style. The whole experience is supposed to be on par with a culinary adventure in the region of Tuscany. Though that may be an exaggerated fantasy, everything about Giovanni's Table is cosy, warm and comforting. It serves dishes such as buffalo mozzarella, linguine with clams and osso buco. During lunch, only a portion of the dinner menu is available.
Cafe Latte-tudes (Deck 6, midship); a la carte: This casual counter delivers speciality teas, hot chocolate and espresso-based coffee drinks, such as cappuccinos, lattes and frappes that range in price from $1.75 to $5. Complimentary snacks such as Danish, doughnuts, muffins and croissants are served as an accompaniment. Adjacent to the cafe, Ben & Jerry's ice cream is served for an additional fee starting from $2.50 per scoop.
Izumi (Deck 12, midship); a la carte: On a mezzanine above the Crown Lounge, Izumi -- Royal Caribbean's Asian-fusion restaurant -- occupies one of the highest decks and boasts high ceilings with broad-reaching views. The decor is sleek and minimalist, with neutral tones and orange chairs, screens that serve as partitions and kimonos adorning the walls. The menu features mostly Japanese items, with a variety of sushi, sashimi and rolls (highly recommended: the poke tacos), as well as other hot and cold items, such as a sesame tofu salad, udon soups, vegetable tempura and skewers cooked on hot rock stones, with three dipping sauces.
Rhapsody of the Seas has 1,020 cabins; less than a quarter of them have balconies and a high percentage of them (almost 40 percent) are interior staterooms. Cabins are comfortable and have a subdued teal-and-tan colour scheme. Mirrors are displayed throughout, alongside various paintings. All rooms have a king-sized bed that can be converted into two beds, flat-screen LED televisions (albeit some of them small), safes and hair dryers, a telephone and a mini-bar stocked with extra-fee drinks and snacks. Outlets are 110/220 voltage, though some are an awkward size (you can't plug in two devices at a time, depending on the charger).
Most bathrooms are on the small side but are sufficient. Storage is minimal, with only one set of shelves in standard cabins, plus some under-the-sink space. Showers have adjustable heights, good water pressure, a wire shelf for toiletries and a shampoo/soap dispenser. A clothesline to hang your laundry, an outlet for hair dryers and electric razors, and a box of tissues is also at your disposal.
Rhapsody of the Seas also has 14 accessible cabins that are slightly larger than their regular-size counterparts of the same category. (For example, a Large Ocean View stateroom covers 154 square feet versus the 255 square feet of an Accessible Large Ocean View room.) Features include wider doors, grab bars in the bathrooms and toilet heights suitable for wheelchair users.
There are interconnecting cabins on every deck for families who want to be close, but not share a single room. Two cabins on each level between Decks 2 and 4 are designated Family Ocean View Staterooms. These cabins, which measure 246 square feet, sleep up to six people, with a sofa bed that sleeps two, a king-sized bed (which converts to twin beds) and a pair of pulldown beds. On each of Decks 7 and 8, there's a pair of two-bedroom Royal Family Suites, which cover 509 square feet (not including a 59-square-foot balcony). The suites have two bathrooms (one with a shower; the other with a tub). The sitting room has a sofa bed that converts to a double bed; pulldown beds accommodate another two for up to eight people.
Inside: Located on Decks 2, 3, 4, 7 and 8, inside cabins are compact, though square footage ranges considerably, starting from 135 up to 174 square feet for the Large Inside cabins; some have third and fourth beds available. The cabins also have a sitting space consisting of a small sofa and a round coffee table, and a vanity with desk is tucked into one side of the room. Cabins on Decks 2 and 3 are the smallest.
Ocean View: Spread across four decks -- 2, 3, 4 and 7 -- the Ocean View rooms feature a large, rectangular picture window and measure 154 square feet; those on Deck 7 are designated Preferred Ocean View rooms and span 193 square feet. Similar to Inside cabins, Ocean View rooms hold up to four people, with two pulldown beds as extra berths.
Balcony: Located on Deck 7, there are a precious 233 of these cabins, which measure 195 square feet and have an open-air terrace of 35 square feet, with a small round table and chairs. Most Balcony rooms sleep up to five people, with a sofa bed that converts to a double bed and a pulldown bed that accommodates an additional person.
Junior Suites: The Junior Suites are an upgraded version of the Balcony cabins, with more square footage at 241 square feet, plus a balcony of 64 square feet, with a table, a set of chairs and a lounger. The staterooms have prime views because of their location on Deck 8 and offer a sitting area with a three-seater sofa (some convert to double beds), a table and two armchairs.
Suites: Located on Decks 7 and 8, suites on Rhapsody of the Seas are divided into four major categories: Grand Suite with Balcony, Royal Suite, Royal Family Suite (described above) and Owner's Suite.
Suite passengers (minus those in the Junior Suites) receive special privileges such as priority embarkation ad disembarkation, Gilchrist & Soames amenities and spa bathrobes, an upgraded breakfast at Chops Grille and access to the Concierge Lounge, a private space which serves complimentary hors d'oeuvres and beverages during happy hour. Suite passengers also have access to a concierge who can provide bookings for shore excursions or spa appointments and reserve tables at speciality restaurants, among other types of vacation assistance.
Located on Deck 8, the Grand Suites measure a spacious 355 square feet and feature a 104-square-foot outdoor area with two loungers on one end and a round table and two chairs --perfect for alfresco meals -- on the other. The living room has a marble entryway, a bar, a sectional sofa and armchairs. There's also a DVD player and two phones, and a vanity table with an extended workspace. The bathrooms have a bathtub and twin sinks. The suite sleeps up to four people in a double sofa bed and a king-sized bed that can be converted into two twins.
There are five Owner's Suites on the ship, located forward of the ship on Deck 8; these luxe staterooms have bathtubs and glass-encased showers, plus a separate living room with a sectional sofa and armchairs and a dining area. The private balcony measures 104 square feet and is furnished with cushioned loungers and side tables; the indoor area measures 523 square feet and sleeps up to four.
The single Royal Suite is the top cabin category on Rhapsody of the Seas and it's most grandiose at 1,326 square feet. Situated all the way in the front of the ship, the stateroom has the best private views. The large living room feels more like an apartment than a cruise ship cabin; there's even a baby grand piano and a bar, and the sofa can be made up into a bed that sleeps two people (for a total capacity of four). In one niche, there's a dining room setup with sculptures. The bedroom has a king-sized bed and a TV. In the bathroom, there's a whirlpool tub, double sinks and a glass-encased shower. The terrace spans 104 square feet and holds loungers, chairs and tables.