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Copyright © 1995-2001 
Linda Coffman

Rhapsody of the Seas
Western Caribbean from Galveston 
December 9, 2001

by Earl & Virginia

This is a review of the December 9, 2001 cruise of the Rhapsody Of The Seas 7-day cruise round trip from Galveston to Cozumel, Grand Cayman, and Key West. This was our eleventh RCI cruise over the last twenty years and the third on this class of ship. We have previously cruised on the Splendour and Grandeur. The Rhapsody is almost identical to the Grandeur.

It had been a year since our last cruise so my wife Virginia and I were excited to be finally setting sail again. The Rhapsody cruise attracted us because it presented absolutely no logistical problems from a medical standpoint. Virginia's medical needs which use to be centered on the need for supplemental oxygen changed dramatically this year. I won't go into detail on her unique needs, but we brought special equipment from home (ventilator and air compressor). Home in our case is a thirty minute drive to the pier. We were able to read the Sunday paper, have a leisurely lunch at home, and then leave for the cruise.

We found that most of the passengers drove to Galveston for this cruise, some from as far away as Oklahoma. Eighty to ninety percent of the passengers were Texans, but I met passengers from California, Canada, and there were a few on board from Europe. Galveston has plenty of parking to handle the large drive in crowd. I dropped Virginia off at the terminal with our considerable carry on baggage and equipment. A longshoreman took our checked bags and stayed around after I tipped him to help unload the carry on stuff. He was more helpful and friendly than I have ever encountered at a cruise pier. I drove the car back to the parking lot while Virginia waited. The parking system in Galveston is very well organized. I was directed to a spot in the fenced parking lot and a shuttle bus was waiting as I parked to carry me back to the pier. The cost for a week is $60; cash and paid in advance.

Security was very tight. It took nearly an hour and a half from the time we arrived at the pier until we boarded the Rhapsody. Most of that time was spent on security. First was getting through metal detectors and the x-ray of carryon bags. The line was long and slow but I didn't hear anyone complaining. Our past passenger status got us to the front of the check-in line once we got through security. Then it was off to an even shorter line to pick up passenger ID cards. The next line was to have pictures taken and loaded digitally onto the ID cards. Finally we were able to board. In addition to the security on the pier, a Coast Guard cutter was on sentry duty beside the ship.

After depositing our carryon items in our room we made our first of many trips to the Windjammer Cafe for a snack. It was a long way to our second sitting dinner time even though we had already had lunch at home.

With the mandatory muster drill completed, we were ready to sail. We parked ourselves in the Viking Crown lounge for the sail away. Several well wishers were waving from the pier as we slipped our lines and slowly moved toward the Gulf. It was nearly dark by the time we dropped the pilot. Drink selection was limited until we reached international waters due to Texas law.

There was an excellent pre-dinner show this first evening. The typical first night show these days seems to be equal parts entertainment and advertisements for the casino, spa, tours, and shops. Not so on the Rhapsody. There were introductions of the cruise staff but no promotions from the profit centers and most of the time was devoted to an excellent comedian. All the seats are good in the two level Broadway Melodies Theater.

We were seated with two other couples in the Edelweiss dinning room, one from Galveston and the other from San Antonio. We were all veteran cruisers. It was my impression that most of the passengers were first time cruisers. About 25% of the passengers were RCI repeaters. Our waiter was from Yugoslavia and the assistant waiter from the Philippines. Both were absolutely first class. Our dining room service was terrific throughout the entire cruise. We found the food throughout the cruise to be excellent. Certainly, we know what to expect from RCI and we weren't disappointed. My impression was that the dinning room and kitchen are extremely well run on the Rhapsody.

Feeling very comfortable and satisfied being back at sea, we quickly settled into our sea going routine. I would get up every morning by 8:00 for a vigorous walk. It is so enjoyable walking on deck with the broad vista of the sea sliding by. I was able to exercise like this nearly every day, something I don't have the discipline to do at home. Then, after a quick shower, Virginia and I would go to the buffet breakfast in the Windjammer. We generally used the omelet line which was very efficiently handled. After participating in whatever activities we had chosen we would return to the cabin so Virginia could get an extra hour on her ventilator while I sat on the balcony and read. The weather cooperated with us for the entire week. Temperatures were nearly perfect. We went to the open sitting lunch in the dinning room nearly every day. Service was just as good for the open sitting lunches as it was at our assigned table at dinner.

Activities were plentiful in both the morning and afternoon. I felt there were plenty of things for both the physically ambitious and for those of us who prefer more cerebral pass times. Competition at trivia and Name that Tune was spirited and fun.

The Captain's Cocktail Party was held in the Shall We Dance Lounge. We had no trouble finding seats and service was good considering the packed room. I estimate the tux ratio at about 15 to 20%. There were obviously some people who felt they could wear anything after making they're command appearance at the Cocktail Part and dinner. Remarkably, the dress at our table in the dinning room was completely formal for both formal nights.

Our first port of call was Cozumel. We hardly made it past the shore line. Our shopping interests were easily covered by the shops on the pier. We thoroughly enjoyed stopping at a side walk cafe for a beer before returning to the ship for lunch. I came back ashore after lunch to rent snorkeling gear ($7) just off the pier where I snorkeled for an hour. Water clarity was very good with plenty of interesting marine life to watch. I walked back to the ship barefoot and dripping wet.

By coincidence we had friends on the Rhapsody. Virginia used to do volunteer work with Betty and I knew her husband John from work. They are both now retired and living in a different area of Texas. They were on first sitting dinner so our paths did not cross often. We did manage to have breakfast with them twice in the Windjammer. Their impressions of the Rhapsody mirrored ours. A beautiful ship, great service, excellent food.

Our second port of call was Grand Cayman which always seems to be a hassle due to tendering. A tender pass was delivered to our room which gave us priority. I assume this was due to our being repeat passengers or because we had a balcony cabin. No matter, by the time I was ready to go ashore the rush for tender tickets was over. Virginia was afraid to chance the tenders with her poor vision and uncertain balance. I went ashore for an hour to look through the shops thinking I might find some last minute stocking stuffers. The tendering setup on the Rhapsody is very good. All steps are inside the hull and there aren't many. The elevator gets you to within about 8 steps on the loading platforms.

We had a relaxing day at sea before our next port of call, Key West. The repeaters party was held this evening. There was plenty of food and cheap champagne. The captain talked about the Princess RCI merger and how many ships they would have in total. Size is now what everyone is talking about.

This was our second time in Key West in as many years. This time we docked at the Naval Air Station. A free tram was provided to and from Mallory Square. We visited Truman's little White House which was interesting. Then we prowled the streets of Key West in our search for stocking stuffers. With endless varieties of things to find in stores and galleries, this is a great place to look or shop. On a day with perfect weather, as we had, it is wonderful just to walk the streets. We have become big fans of Key West.

Another full day at sea from Key West until our return to Galveston, again with great weather.

We found the entertainment to be excellent throughout the cruise. There were the expected two production shows and 5 single performer shows (3 comedians, 1 magician, 1 singer). In addition, there was music throughout the ship. In the evening we would walk from the dance music in the Shall We Dance lounge, past the piano player in the Schooner bar, through the Centrum with music from the Champagne Bar, and on to the production show in the Broadway Melodies Theater.

Our cabin was very nice. This was our first time for a balcony cabin and it worked out wonderfully given our unique circumstances. We could use the balcony when we had to be in the cabin due to Virginia's medical needs without feeling we were missing a thing. It was great using the balcony even when we didn't have to be in the cabin. Storage space was more than adequate for a weeks cruise. Our room steward was terrific. As I've read in other recent RCI reports, a new wrinkle is turning bath towels into sculpture that we enjoyed as we returned to our room each night. They included a crab, a lobster, an elephant, and a dog with floppy ears wearing my sun glasses that made me laugh out loud.

Service was so good in the cabin it was almost out of control. When we first checked into the cabin an initial look at how Virginia's medical equipment needed to be situated and the position of the electrical outlets led me to believe that we needed an extension cord. Our room steward said he would take care of it. Later I determined that I didn't need an extension cord after all. As we were returning to our cabin later that day we came upon an electrician with extension cord in hand at our door. English was not his strong suit, but I thought I made him understand that we no longer needed an extension cord. When we returned to our room that evening to retire I found two extension cords and a power strip on our sofa. We had enough wiring to run Virginia's ventilator from an outlet on the bridge.

I had heard that disembarkation in Galveston was very slow. Due to Virginia's special medical needs we were in the first group of luggage tags to be called. We were off the ship and home in our living room by 10 AM. I don't know how long it took the last group to get off.

Looking at our cruise overall we had very little to complain about. The service and food were excellent. The entertainment was excellent. There were plenty of activities that we enjoy. And the ship is beautiful. It's wonderful to finally see this market served by a state of the art ship.

Here are my few complaints. It seems to me that the size of the drinks have been increased to justify higher drink prices. The drinks were too big for my capacity. As with all ships of this class there is no movie theater, something that we prefer. Oh yes, one last nit. The ship is full of art, almost all of which is not my taste. The only picture I liked was a gift from the Rhapsody's builder. None of these things would stop me from cruising on the Rhapsody or with RCI again.

Now that we've built our confidence in being able to cruise with Virginia's special medical situation I hope we'll be cruising again in the not too distant future.

Royal Caribbean - Cruise Reviews