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Old December 20th, 2009, 05:51 PM
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silentbob007 silentbob007 is offline
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Talking Live (of a sort): Down Under on Rhapsody of the Seas for Christmas/NYE

Hi everyone! I thought that I’d try posting my first “live” trip report for this cruise, so I guess we’ll see how that goes. If all else fails, expect complete coverage at the end of the cruise.

About me

One of the things I love about cruising is that, as a vacation, it really can become whatever you want it to be. If you want to sit and read, you can do that to your heart’s content. If you prefer food, well it’s there in abundance. Let’s not also forget the activities available on Royal Caribbean’s ships. I believe there’s plenty to occupy just about anyone even on the smallest ships in the fleet.
With that in mind, here’s where I’m coming from. I’m a frequent cruiser with 20+ cruises (all out of the US) spread over various lines though lately I’ve been “loyal to royal” because of their beautiful ships, competitive prices, loyalty incentives, and onboard credits. I’m a graduate student still working on my doctorate but prefer a secluded view of the ocean to the party scene. I’m cruising with my dad who has a few fewer cruises than me but recently retired and this cruise is his retirement trip. We are both diamond Crown and Anchor members. Originally my mother was also supposed to join us but was eventually unable to due to some family circumstances.

About the trip

We booked this voyage on the Rhapsody of the Seas (12/21/09-01/07/10) over a year ago so that we could combine our available NextCruise with stockholder benefits (we’ll see how that goes). We thought this was an interesting sailing for several reasons. First of all, in leaving from Sydney, we’d get a chance to visit Australia which is something we’ve both been wanting to do. Secondly, most of the ports of call are in New Zealand, which seemed like a convenient way to visit that country as well (I suppose there’s call to mention the Lord of the Rings nerd in me). Third, well, it’s a 17-day cruise over Christmas and New Years … what could be better? This will be our first NYE on a cruise though we have spend several Christmases cruising.

Planning

I’m quite an avid cruiser, but the logistics of this cruise were such that I definitely encountered some new experiences. Beyond just booking the cruise and looking at tours, of course, there were additional challenges when it came to securing flights, confirming proper documentation, making hotel reservations, packing for such a long voyage, etc, that has really made this trip unique. I’ll go ahead and discuss some of these things a little for others who might be thinking about a cruise like this in the future.

Booking the cruise
The actual booking of the cruise was as simple as it usually is when booking a cruise from the United States. We called C&A, converted our NextCruise, and away we went. The only difference was that we were reminded that we were expected to secure our own visas for entering Australia and that we would not be allowed to board (or really, enter the country to board) without them. We used a NextCruise reservation made from before the change in rules, so after receiving our invoice, we emailed Shareholder Services and had the RCCL shareholder OBC applied to our account as well. After watching the prices for months and months (and seeing categories fill and prices shoot upwards),right before final payment we transferred our booking from RCCL to an online travel agency we have used before in exchange for additional OBC. We felt confident in doing this because a) we’d had a positive experience with this company before and b) with the rate of sales, we were fairly sure that we would not have to worry about getting a price drop … of course, we did make sure we could get a price drop if one just so happened to appear.

Booking the flights
Whether or not we were actually going to come on this cruise really depended on flight prices. When we booked last December, flight prices were in the neighborhood of $3,000 apiece, which was way beyond what we were willing to pay. Prices fluctuated a bit for the next few months but still overed in the $2,500 range. When Delta announced that they were going to enter the market in the early part of the year (with first flights in July), we found that there was suddenly a price war occurring between Qantas, Delta, and Virgin. We had to play with the dates a little (and ended up booking an earlier arrival for a substantial rate reduction), but on April 1 we booked our roundtrip flights from Indianapolis to Sydney (with stopovers, of course) for $1,080 apiece after fees and taxes … it seemed pretty amazing to me.

Applying for the Visa
You can visit Australia’s Vista site (http://www.immi.gov.au/) to see what kind of visa you need to receive in order to visit. As a US citizen, I was eligible for an ETA (electronic travel authority) visa. You can navigate to the official website, apply (you need your passport information), and then your visa is electronically added to your passport so you don’t need any other paperwork or stickers. There is a $20 AUD fee for this service, payable by credit card. If you apply through a site other than the Australian government one, I believe you will go through the same process though be charged quite a bit more (I’ve seen as much as $60). These visas are for visitors only (3 months or less visit) and good for one year after your application.

More to come (making good use of time until i can board this morning ....)
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Carnival Legend - 5/2013, Celebrity Solstice - 5/2013, Celebrity Eclipse - 12/2012, Allure of the Seas - 7/2012, Serenade of the Seas - 5/2012, Voyager of the Seas - 12/2011, Liberty of the Seas - 12/2011, Freedom of the Seas - 10/2011, Oasis of the Seas - 5/2011, Celebrity Eclipse - 3/2011, Celebrity Millennium - 12/2010, Radiance of the Seas - 12/2010, Majesty of the Seas - 12/2010, Majesty of the Seas B2B 11/2010, Radiance of the Seas - 3/2010, Rhapsody of the Seas - 12/2009, Mariner of the Seas - 8/2009, Mariner of the Seas - 5/2009, Navigator of the Seas - 2/2009, Jewel of the Seas - 12/2008, Navigator of the Seas - 11/2008, Majesty of the Seas - 9/2008, Explorer of the Seas - 7/2008, Monarch of the Seas - 5/2008, Grandeur of the Seas - 3/2008, Brilliance of the Seas - 12/2007, Carnival Glory - 6/2007, Monarch of the Seas - 5/2007, Voyager of the Seas - 3/2007, Grandeur of the Seas - 12/2006, Carnival Miracle - 9/2006, Carnival Valor - 12/2005, Carnival Glory - 3/2005, Carnival Glory - 7/2003, Sovereign of the Seas - 7/2000, CCL Sensation - 12/1999, CCL Ecstasy - 12/1997, NCL ?? - 6/1996, Hawaiian American Independence - 1992, Premier Atlantic - 1991


Chris's guide for budget travel - Made for conferences (may make a cruise version some time) but airline, shuttle, Priceline, and Hotwire tips should remain the same

Pictures - From various cruises including Allure of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas, Serenade of the Seas (Western Med), Celebrity Eclipse, etc Now shooting a Pentax DSLR with Sigma 24-135 and 70-300 lenses

Last edited by silentbob007; December 20th, 2009 at 05:53 PM.
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Old December 20th, 2009, 06:24 PM
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Flights

Anyone who has flown over the past few years probably can relate to the flight-time ping-pong Delta played with us for the 8 months leading up to our flight. Our 5:30 PM non-stop IND-LAX was terminated and eventually replaced with an 11 AM IND-ATL and 12:45 PM ATL-LAX, leaving us 7 hours or so to sit in LAX waiting for the flight to Sydney. I found this the best possible alternative, however, as I’d rather be sitting in LAX waiting for the last flight rather than sitting in ATL hoping the middle flight doesn’t have any problems. We had to run a bit to the ATL-LAX flight as our originating flight was delayed a bit for de-icing, leaving us with a 40 minute connection in ATL to change terminals. Thankfully we were able to grab some doughnuts quickly or be stuck paying for sandwiches, even on a cross-continental flight. We arrived in LAX on time, then headed to the Delta SkyClub where we had gotten a few free passes from their branded credit card. It was not an overly impressive room, but there were snack-type items, an open bar, chairs, Internet access, and even showers available. We boarded our Sydney-bound flight at about 10:15 PM (PST).
While I had dreaded that long 15-hour flight, it ended up being not-to-bad in my opinion (we’ll see about the way back). They asked us to stay up an hour or so after take-off for dinner (beef or chicken, salad, drinks including complimentary wine and beer), take a nap and wake up for a snack (egg and cucumber sandwich with cookies), go back to sleep, then be woken up for breakfast about an hour and half before landing (French toast or ham/eggs, potatoes, OJ, fruit). There was a seat-back entertainment system with a large selection of complementary, unedited movies (from The Sound of Music to Inglorious Basterds) as well as music and games. Being exhausted (and taking a half-tab of Xanax) helped sleep away some of those hours, so I actually didn’t feel too bad stepping off of that flight 2 days after getting on .
After getting off of the plane in Sydney, you proceed through customs. There is a customs form to fill out and make sure you declare EVERYTHING it ask, specifically any wood products and food. The line for customs was a long one (evidently several flights had landed at the same time), so they opened up the Australia/NZ line for others to make it go faster. We presented our forms and passports, then were waved through to collect our baggage. While waiting by the baggage carousel, an agent approached and asked about the items we had declared. After a brief chat, she signed off on our cards and told us where to exit when we received our bags. We finally got the bags, waiting in line to exit, then were waved through a side exit without having to go through additional screening for quarantined items. Once outside, we got into the taxi queue that was probably about 20 minutes long (made longer by the huge bags handled by children who couldn’t navigate the switchbacks).

PS ... a few of my Sydney photos can be found in the photo link in my signature.
__________________
Carnival Legend - 5/2013, Celebrity Solstice - 5/2013, Celebrity Eclipse - 12/2012, Allure of the Seas - 7/2012, Serenade of the Seas - 5/2012, Voyager of the Seas - 12/2011, Liberty of the Seas - 12/2011, Freedom of the Seas - 10/2011, Oasis of the Seas - 5/2011, Celebrity Eclipse - 3/2011, Celebrity Millennium - 12/2010, Radiance of the Seas - 12/2010, Majesty of the Seas - 12/2010, Majesty of the Seas B2B 11/2010, Radiance of the Seas - 3/2010, Rhapsody of the Seas - 12/2009, Mariner of the Seas - 8/2009, Mariner of the Seas - 5/2009, Navigator of the Seas - 2/2009, Jewel of the Seas - 12/2008, Navigator of the Seas - 11/2008, Majesty of the Seas - 9/2008, Explorer of the Seas - 7/2008, Monarch of the Seas - 5/2008, Grandeur of the Seas - 3/2008, Brilliance of the Seas - 12/2007, Carnival Glory - 6/2007, Monarch of the Seas - 5/2007, Voyager of the Seas - 3/2007, Grandeur of the Seas - 12/2006, Carnival Miracle - 9/2006, Carnival Valor - 12/2005, Carnival Glory - 3/2005, Carnival Glory - 7/2003, Sovereign of the Seas - 7/2000, CCL Sensation - 12/1999, CCL Ecstasy - 12/1997, NCL ?? - 6/1996, Hawaiian American Independence - 1992, Premier Atlantic - 1991


Chris's guide for budget travel - Made for conferences (may make a cruise version some time) but airline, shuttle, Priceline, and Hotwire tips should remain the same

Pictures - From various cruises including Allure of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas, Serenade of the Seas (Western Med), Celebrity Eclipse, etc Now shooting a Pentax DSLR with Sigma 24-135 and 70-300 lenses
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Old December 20th, 2009, 06:46 PM
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I can't wait to hear more details of your trip. The details provided so far have been great. Would love to get to OZ some day but the idea of that flight is so daunting. You made it sound almost bearable.
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Old December 20th, 2009, 07:10 PM
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I can't wait to hear more about your trip! Would you do me a favor and find out: if you're overnighting onboard for the first night, how late can you check in? We're on the 14-nighter in February and want to do a wine tour on embarkation day, but don't know how late we can get back. Thanks!
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RCI's 2013 wine list is here: http://s1331.photobucket.com/user/cr...?sort=6&page=1

Block Island Ferry 1965

Nordic Empress 4/95; Vision of the Seas 10/02, 5/03,1/06,11/07, 12/07, 11/08, 9/12; Splendour of the Seas 10/03; Monarch of the Seas 2/04, 12/04, 9/05, 6/06, 9/06, 1/07, 02/07, 04/07, 05/07B2B, 08/07, 11/07, 2/08, 03/08, 04/08B2B, 6/08, 7/08-2x,08/08x3, 9/08x2, 10/08, 6/09, 12/11; Radiance of the Seas 9/04, 9/07, 10/09B2B, 11/09, 4/10; Brilliance of the Seas 10/05, 9/12; Serenade of the Seas 10/06; Jewel of the Seas B2B 11/06, 7/07, 10/11, 12/12x2, 1/13; 2/13, 12/13, Liberty of the Seas 5/07, 3/11, 11/11; Mariner of the Seas 3/08, 02/09, 04/09, 09/09, 01/10, 12/10x2, 01/11; Navigator of the Seas 12/11; Oasis of the Seas 11/09; Rhapsody of the Seas 2/10, 4/11, 5/13; Allure of the Seas 11/10, 1/14

Star Princess 5/02, 9/02, 5/12; Diamond Princess 5/04,4/05,5/07; Sun Princess 5/05; Island Princess 05/06; Sapphire Princess 12/09, 3/13, 3/14, Golden Princess 10/13, 11/13 x3

Azamara Journey 12/08 Azamara Quest 05/09

Carnival Paradise 2/09, 07/09, 8/09, 12/09, 3/10, 10/10, 2/11, 09/11 Carnival Inspiration 12/11, 2/12, 11/12, 3/13, 8/13

HAL Oosterdam 4/11

Celebrity Xpedition - a trip of a lifetime! 9/13
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Old December 20th, 2009, 07:34 PM
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Enjoying your blog so far - even though I live in Australia so most of the details arent relevant yet. I'm on the cruise after you so waiting in anticipation to read your reviews and experiences once you're onboard.

Thanks for doing this for us
Caron
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Old December 20th, 2009, 08:01 PM
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You are a fantastic writer!!! Can't wait to read more....
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Old December 20th, 2009, 09:02 PM
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Welcome to Australia !!
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Old December 20th, 2009, 10:24 PM
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Great words Bob, I am enjoying the views as I live your moments through your words.
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Rhapsody April 2010
Rhapsody March 2010
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Old December 22nd, 2009, 09:55 PM
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Sydney
I’m sure that our stay in Sydney pre-cruise would be unimpressive to most, but we went into our planning a) unsure about what we really wanted to see and b) unsure about how jet-lag would affect us. This made us hesitant to book anything early. Also, since we were paying so much for the cruise and the airfare, price was also quite a consideration for what we would do in Sydney and where we would stay. We’ve talked to several from our Meet and Mingle group who had a wonderful time on the Royal Caribbean cruisetour and saw quite a bit all around Australia. If you can afford it, it sounds like a great, once-in-a-lifetime experience (perhaps like this cruise).

In searching for a place to stay in Sydney, price was a huge factor in our decision making process. I’m normally a person to use Priceline for hotels, but I’ve never used it for rooms outside of the US and, when we were booking this cruise, it was way too early for discount rooms to become available. In the end, I turned to TripAdvisor and sifted through accommodations looking for highly rated places that were within our budget. We ended up making reservations at the Hotel Altamont which is on Darlinghurst Road near King’s Cross. Advertised as “bargain luxury” and with glowing reviews, it seemed to be a good compromise to recognizable chain hotels at about twice the price per night.
Upon arriving at the hotel after our flight at about 10:30 AM, we were told that our room would be ready in about 30 minutes. Sure enough, at 11, we were escorted back to our room (there are only 12 in the whole place) which was a king bed and a roll-away. The building itself had more of a youth-hostile feel, and while our room was private, had air-conditioning, and had a private bathroom, it was otherwise spartan with half-carpet/half bare cement, a rack instead of a closet, and no place to store luggage. Not to get too down on the place, however, there was free wi-fi available, a free breakfast (consisting of cereal, toast, and drinks), and guys working the reception desk who were nice to talk to and very helpful in offering directions or giving suggestions for things to see. Most of the clientele seemed to be Australians as we seemed to be off the beaten tourist path a bit.

With all of this said about the hotel, the worst part about it was probably its location. On one hand, it is conveniently close to rail and bus lines and about a 20-30 minute walk to the harbor. On the other hand, King’s Cross has a bit of a party reputation and is, in my opinion, an area that I was not necessarily wanting to spend a lot of time in. The windows to our room overlooked a small alley and, being that they were single-paned glass, anyone talking in that alley sounded like they were standing next to you. This was not a problem our first or last night, but Friday and Saturday night … wow … let’s just say that the drunks coming from King’s Cross liked to talk, argue, and show off their sound systems until about 4 AM or so, which was not the most pleasant of experiences.
As for things we did in Sydney, we kept it fairly low key. Each day we spent most of our time walking around the city and various harbor areas. We managed to catch Avatar at the Darling Harbor IMAX (largest screen in the world). We also walked to the opera house, visited Star City (lots of construction, no bags allowed, and a decided lack of check-rooms), and sat for long stretches in Hyde Park people-watching.
The US dollar is, as it is world-wide, losing ground against the Australian dollar, so lots of things in Sydney seemed very expensive (when we booked, rate was 1 USD = .65 AUD, now rate was around 1 USD = .92 AUD). For two people, we would end up spending $25-30 on two sandwiches and two drinks at a café and perhaps double that when visiting nicer restaurants. It is all part of the experience, I know, but I think knowing about pricing may help planning. Also, when it came to getting cash, ATM’s definitely seem to be the way to go. We used a bank ATM and were charged a $3 transaction fee to receive the bank rate. When we first arrived, we used a money change booth and were given an absolutely horrid rate plus and $8 transaction fee. I also used credit cards for items and Visa, Mastercard, and to a smaller extent American Express, were accepted in most stores and larger restaurants.

Embarkation Day
During our few days in Sydney, we had occasion on several days to head down to Circular Quay and visit the Overseas Passenger Terminal, which is where the Rhapsody would dock. It was definitely a different experience from US ports when no ship is docked as the area is open for pedestrians and outside dining. When a ship is in port, however, the area is more gated off on the ground level, though there are still pedestrian areas and viewing platforms right next to the ship.

According to our documents, the Rhapsody was set to sail at 6:30 and boarding was to commence at 3:00. Upon the advice from others on our Roll Call thread, we arrived at about 11 AM, just as we would at an American port of departure. Right at 11 there was a bit of a queue outside of the building, but it started moving just a few minutes later and was cleared out a few minutes after that. We handed our baggage to porters wearing bright vests who loaded it onto a truck (no tipping required or expected). We were asked to show our SetSail Pass to enter the terminal building, then proceeded up the escalators and through metal detectors. One through security, we were asked to fill out health forms (stating we did not have H1N1 or had not knowingly been around someone with it) and then we were asked to present ourselves to Australian customs who scanned our passports. We were then able to proceed to the standard check-in lines. We mistakenly went into the Priority line, which had a few people in front of us, when we could have continued on the standard line where no one was waiting … oh well, we didn’t notice our mistake until it was too late, though it was only a few minutes wait. We were checked in fairly efficiently and then proceed aboard Rhapsody where the security photos were taken.

Once onboard, I would describe the onboard experience as fairly typical. Cabins would not be ready until 1 PM, but the Windjammer and public areas were open for use. We proceeded to the WJ for lunch which offered fairly typical selections including the (in)famous Honey Stung Chicken. The food had obviously been sitting out for a while as the chicken was bone dry and when I went to scoop the mashed potatoes the plastic spoon bounced off of the top of them. Once the food was switched out it was much better, but that early food was of very low quality.

After finishing at the WJ, we proceeded to the Schooner Bar to sit down and figure out which excursions we wanted to take. Our choice, due to our budget, seemed limited as many of the excursions were over $150/pp. We opted for cheaper excursions in more places as opposed to expensive ones in only a few. Since we wanted to use OBC for our excursions, we could not book online. As such, we headed to the shore excursions desk early, figuring there would be a line as it opened at 1 PM. Much to our surprise, there was not a single person in line at 12:45. We stood and waited until 12:55 or so when someone opened the desk and input our tours, by which point, there was still no one in line … so either many booked online, there is less excitement for the tours, or most people didn’t know they could board early. We were able to book all of our desired tours and times … and this being our first “destination” cruise, were still shocked at the price tag of almost $700, not including the one private tour we are taking in Wellington.

At 1 PM we proceeded to our cabin, 7065, which is an interior on the seventh deck. It has a unique sideways layout that differs a bit from other inside cabins I have been in. The cabin definitely feels a bit small, though there does seem to be a lot of storage space. I do miss the larger bathrooms with a shower door found on newer ships, but I knew I’d be doing to shower-curtain tango going into it. Luggage arrived sporadically and the stairwell landings were absolutely filled with bags … I’ve never seen so much luggage before, but then again, I guess I’ve never gone on this long of a cruise before. Muster drill was at 5:15 and as on other ships now, life-jackets were not required to be worn. Muster was fairly brief as it was done in English only and many cruisers arrived before the warning bells. Sail-away was at about 6:30, which was right in the middle of main dining. We elected to eat and watch sail-away from the dining room (we have a window table), though the dining room was quite sparse so I figure quite a few people elected to skip main dining in order to be on deck for sail-away. Main dining was also rushed a bit to be finished in time for the 7:45, one-time-only welcome aboard show which also seemed sparsely attended. It featured, as usual, the cruise director, singers, and dancers. The variety act at the end was a juggle who seemed alright though did not have a confident or competent stage presence in my opinion. There was a late trivia competition at 9 PM in the Schooner Bar which my team managed to win, so now at least we can say that we won trivia at least once (and were given Vitality keychains as a prize).

Day 2: At Sea (Dec. 22)

On embarkation day, a letter had been stapled to our C&A Diamond coupon books with information about the Diamond privileges available onboard Rhapsody. Beyond the nightly Diamond Event (held in the back of the Viking Crown from 5-8:30), we have also been given a Diamond dining area in the main restaurant for breakfast. We decided we would check it out, so we went down there for breakfast. We were shown into a small room just off of the entrance to the Deck 4 dining room with some continental fare available as well as waiters to take dining room breakfast orders. I did not inquire if specialty coffees were available free of charge, but I’m not sure that we will be going back as it seemed a bit lonely and secluded (we ate with the other 4 people in the room). When we went to leave, a side door was opened so that we could exit directly to the hall and not through the dining room.

There were many different activities through-out the day, from various trivia games to cha-cha dancing and cooking demonstrations. There was also time to appreciate how nicely the ship is decorated for the holidays, capped off by the large Christmas tree and gingerbread house display in the Centrum. The Meet and Mingle was held in the Viking Crown at 11:15 and had good attendance. The group coordinator and cruise director hosted the event, providing drinks and canapés. After the Meet and Mingle, we went to the dining room for lunch (only open on sea days). I was surprised to see a different lunch menu than I had seen over the last couple of years. The nice salad bar in the dining room was also available and seemed to move very efficiently as the salads are passed from station to station as opposed to having a single person follow you through the line.

As is traditional, the first sea day was also the first formal night with the Captain’s Welcome Aboard reception. Dress for the evening seemed to skew one direction or the other, with many either dressing very formally or others dressing very informally. Since we could check two bags on an international flight, we actually brought our dress-up attire, including my new tuxedo. The reception was held in the Shall We Dance lounge at the back of the ship and there was quite a line to get back there as there were photo lines holding things up. Dinner featured prawn cocktail, lobster bisque, escargot, filet of beef, duck, and the Grand Marnier soufflé. I thought that the escargot and duck was very good, and I was also pleasantly surprised about the sugar-free layer cake offered.

We made a brief stop at the Diamond Event which seemed sparsely attended during times available for main dining. The waitress there informed us that we could have wine, champagne, and soft drinks complimentary (as well as juice mixers only) while anything else had a 25% discount. This is slightly different than the advertisement which does not include soft drinks, so that might be interesting to some folks.
After dinner, we changed and headed to the main show only to find almost every seat in the house taken about 15 minutes before show time. This is the first we’ve experienced shows being this full when there are two shows a night, so it was a surprise. Instead of fighting to find a seat, we just left, wandered around the ship, and then headed to bed.
One interesting note: Every time I pass through the casino it seems to be fairly empty. I’m not sure exactly what the cause is, though it may be a combination of both the availability of casinos in some cities in Australia along with the fact that the Rhapsody’s casino only takes US dollars. For whatever reason, however, I’ve never seen a casino so empty and smoke-free.

Well that’s it for today, but I’ll try to update soon (assuming the ship’s connection is not as dreadfully slow as I’ve been experiencing).


Coming up: Melbourne, Christmas at Sea
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Carnival Legend - 5/2013, Celebrity Solstice - 5/2013, Celebrity Eclipse - 12/2012, Allure of the Seas - 7/2012, Serenade of the Seas - 5/2012, Voyager of the Seas - 12/2011, Liberty of the Seas - 12/2011, Freedom of the Seas - 10/2011, Oasis of the Seas - 5/2011, Celebrity Eclipse - 3/2011, Celebrity Millennium - 12/2010, Radiance of the Seas - 12/2010, Majesty of the Seas - 12/2010, Majesty of the Seas B2B 11/2010, Radiance of the Seas - 3/2010, Rhapsody of the Seas - 12/2009, Mariner of the Seas - 8/2009, Mariner of the Seas - 5/2009, Navigator of the Seas - 2/2009, Jewel of the Seas - 12/2008, Navigator of the Seas - 11/2008, Majesty of the Seas - 9/2008, Explorer of the Seas - 7/2008, Monarch of the Seas - 5/2008, Grandeur of the Seas - 3/2008, Brilliance of the Seas - 12/2007, Carnival Glory - 6/2007, Monarch of the Seas - 5/2007, Voyager of the Seas - 3/2007, Grandeur of the Seas - 12/2006, Carnival Miracle - 9/2006, Carnival Valor - 12/2005, Carnival Glory - 3/2005, Carnival Glory - 7/2003, Sovereign of the Seas - 7/2000, CCL Sensation - 12/1999, CCL Ecstasy - 12/1997, NCL ?? - 6/1996, Hawaiian American Independence - 1992, Premier Atlantic - 1991


Chris's guide for budget travel - Made for conferences (may make a cruise version some time) but airline, shuttle, Priceline, and Hotwire tips should remain the same

Pictures - From various cruises including Allure of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas, Serenade of the Seas (Western Med), Celebrity Eclipse, etc Now shooting a Pentax DSLR with Sigma 24-135 and 70-300 lenses
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Old December 22nd, 2009, 09:56 PM
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I believe they wanted everyone onboard by 4:30 on embarkation day.
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Carnival Legend - 5/2013, Celebrity Solstice - 5/2013, Celebrity Eclipse - 12/2012, Allure of the Seas - 7/2012, Serenade of the Seas - 5/2012, Voyager of the Seas - 12/2011, Liberty of the Seas - 12/2011, Freedom of the Seas - 10/2011, Oasis of the Seas - 5/2011, Celebrity Eclipse - 3/2011, Celebrity Millennium - 12/2010, Radiance of the Seas - 12/2010, Majesty of the Seas - 12/2010, Majesty of the Seas B2B 11/2010, Radiance of the Seas - 3/2010, Rhapsody of the Seas - 12/2009, Mariner of the Seas - 8/2009, Mariner of the Seas - 5/2009, Navigator of the Seas - 2/2009, Jewel of the Seas - 12/2008, Navigator of the Seas - 11/2008, Majesty of the Seas - 9/2008, Explorer of the Seas - 7/2008, Monarch of the Seas - 5/2008, Grandeur of the Seas - 3/2008, Brilliance of the Seas - 12/2007, Carnival Glory - 6/2007, Monarch of the Seas - 5/2007, Voyager of the Seas - 3/2007, Grandeur of the Seas - 12/2006, Carnival Miracle - 9/2006, Carnival Valor - 12/2005, Carnival Glory - 3/2005, Carnival Glory - 7/2003, Sovereign of the Seas - 7/2000, CCL Sensation - 12/1999, CCL Ecstasy - 12/1997, NCL ?? - 6/1996, Hawaiian American Independence - 1992, Premier Atlantic - 1991


Chris's guide for budget travel - Made for conferences (may make a cruise version some time) but airline, shuttle, Priceline, and Hotwire tips should remain the same

Pictures - From various cruises including Allure of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas, Serenade of the Seas (Western Med), Celebrity Eclipse, etc Now shooting a Pentax DSLR with Sigma 24-135 and 70-300 lenses
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  #11  
Old December 23rd, 2009, 02:16 AM
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I've just come back from watching you sail out of Melbourne - just gorgeous! So excited it will be me on board next.

I have to apologise on behalf of all Melburnians for the hideous weather we provided for you today - it's currently 39 degrees celcius - and boy was it hot watching you sail away. We get a few scorchers every now and then during summer and today was one of them. Hope you enjoyed Melbourne anyway.

Looking forward to your next blog entry!
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Old December 23rd, 2009, 05:17 AM
rianvi rianvi is offline
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Default Enjoy your cruise

Have a wonderful cruise. Happy holidays. What a way to celebrate Christmas...at sea. Ask your Dad if he misses the Canadian weather.
Take care...Anna
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Memories....
Royal Princess 02/14...Eastern Caribbean
Grand Princess 01/13 B2B..Eastern & Southern Caribbean
Oasis of the Seas 05/12...Eastern Caribbean
Caribbean Princess 01/12...Western Caribbean
Celebrity Constellation 01/11...S. Caribbean
Caribbean Princess 09/10...New England/Canada
Adventure of the Seas 02/10 B2B- S. Caribbean
Crown Princess 02/09...Eastern Caribbean
Explorer of the Seas 07/08... New England/ Canada
Celebrity Mercury 04/08... Alaska
Emerald Princess 02/08... Southern Caribbean
Empress of the Seas 07/07... Bermuda
Star Princess 02/07... Western Caribbean
Celebrity Zenith 07/06... Bermuda
Celebrity Mercury 03/06... Mexican Riviera
Celebrity Horizon 03/05... Eastern Caribbean
Carnival Fantasy 02/97...Bahamas
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  #13  
Old December 23rd, 2009, 06:36 AM
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apk1389 apk1389 is offline
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nively done bob
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2004- Serenade-Southern Caribbean 2005-Brilliance-Greek Isles(George Smith)
2006- Freedom- Western Caribbean2009-Jewel- British isles/Norwegian Fjords
2009-Serenade- Southern Caribbean (NYE)2010-Brilliance-Venice
2010-Mariner-Mexico 2011- Explorer- Bermuda 2011-Jewel- Baltics
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  #14  
Old December 23rd, 2009, 08:00 AM
NEWCRUISER176 NEWCRUISER176 is offline
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Smile Thank you

We are sailing on ROS on 21st Jan so your 'live' report is very exciting, can't wait for the next episode.
Thank you
Marylyne
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  #15  
Old December 23rd, 2009, 08:18 AM
margord margord is offline
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Great review. It brought back memories of our trip to Australia and NZ last year. Enjoy.
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  #16  
Old December 23rd, 2009, 03:16 PM
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Bob - Have enjoyed your blow-by-blow of your trip and cruise so far. I think my friends, Lance and Susie (susie2shoes) are on your cruise. If you run into them tell them 'Hi" from "Mary in Iowa" for me. (Cruise Critic is such a small world!) This is one trip I would love to do in the future. Your flight experience was especially interesting to me as that would be the only thing I probably wouldn't enjoy! You did get a great deal on the airfare though.

Keep the review coming; it has been so interesting!

--Mary
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  #17  
Old December 27th, 2009, 03:07 AM
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Day 3 - Melbourne (Dec. 23)

The Rhapsody pulled into Melbourne at around 7 AM as scheduled. We headed up to the WJ to see how much we liked it and found it much too crowded for our tastes. It offered fairly standard breakfast items including eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits and gravy, and cold selections like cereal and fruit. There is also an egg station that will make eggs/omelets to order, though it seemed to be fairly busy.

As when coming into Australia in the air, quarantine regulation was very strict and you are told not to take any ship food ashore or face a heavy fine. Bags were given a one-over in the terminal building by a customs dog. I know a lot of people try to pack snacks from the ship for excursions and day-trips and, while they might get away with it in Caribbean and Mexican ports, I definitely wouldn’t try it here.

Also in the terminal building was an information desk staffed by volunteers. Not really having a plan, we stopped to talk with them and they gave us a map and some ideas of things to do. There is a public tram into town that stops about 300 yards from the terminal building that will take you right into downtown Melbourne. They sell public transportation tickets at the terminal, with an all-day pass costing us $6.80 AUD (cash only) each. They also have discount tickets available (called “concession” tickets), though for seniors, for example, you need an Australian senior card … no go on the US driver’s license. J. You can also take a city bus from the terminal downtown, but it is evidently slower as it has to contend with much more traffic in its lane. The bus, however, is much closer to the terminal than the tram, so if you have mobility issues it may be your chosen mode of transportation. Besides public transportation, there are also several walking routes. Leaving the terminal area, you can turn either way and walk several kilometers along the harbor. You can also walk on a bike trail that follows the tram line all of the way into town, but that is at least a 1-hour walk, so it might not be advisable unless you want a bit of adventure. We opted for the tram which seemed the easiest route. There were volunteers stationed on the tram platform to show you how to validate your ticket (and make sure you had a ticket).

The tram ride into town was fairly brief (10 minutes) and then there were multiple choices where to get off. We got off on one of the Collins St. stops and wandered around a bit. There is obviously quite a lot to do in Melbourne (museums, shopping, eating, arts, etc) so we decided upon none of the above. We actually ended up getting on one of the free tourist busses that make about 13 stops around the city. We boarded in front of the visitor’s center and rode the bus all around the city, checking out the different shopping and cultural areas. The bus had some automated narration as well as a driver that would throw in some interesting facts along the way, as well. An entire loop on the tourist bus takes about 1.5 hours and you can get off at any stop you wish and pick up a later bus (they supposedly arrive about every 30 minutes at the designated tourist loop stops). There was also the City Circle tram route that was also free, but it makes a smaller circle around the city than the bus does. Of course, if you purchase the one-day transportation pass, you can get on any of the for-fee busses to take you to specific destinations such as the zoo or the beach.
All-aboard was at 4:30, so by the time we made it into town and circled around it a bit, it was already going on 1 PM. This didn’t really leave us a lot of time to do in-depth exploring, so we headed back to the ship for a late lunch and a little less-crowded ship time. Trams back to the port were well labeled (109 – Port of Melbourne) and as the ship is at the terminal stop, you don’t really have to worry too much about missing it. I noticed upon our return that the terminal building no longer had any volunteers offering information, so keep that in mind if you decide not to explore until the later part of the day. There was a single, small souvenir store in the terminal that looks a little dreary on the outside, but had cheaper prices on Australia souvenirs than anything I saw during my four days in Sydney.

Entertainment onboard for the night included the 70’s Dance Party (with the ever-popular, pseudo-Village People) and a production show called “Piano Man.” I can’t really comment on the party (never really go to them except on Voyager-class ships when they are on the promenade) but I did attend the production show which was fine. I think they put on a pretty decent show given their resources, though you have to enjoy the source matter, which in this case included Billy Joel, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, and Barry Manilow mash-ups. I have to admit that I have grown a little tired of these type of shows where you get lots of little pieces of songs with many of the songs fundamentally altered (to be duets, etc) but the singers and dancers on Rhapsody are good for the most part.
Note: Clocks were to be turned ahead one hour tonight.

Day 4 – At Sea (Christmas Eve)

Our first of three sea days to get over to New Zealand also happened to be Christmas Eve. The crew appeared to be in a festive mood around the ship with many wearing Santa hats. Some passengers also got into the spirit of the season, while others suffered a bit from the rocky sailing in the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand. Personally, I did not find the motion too disturbing or any more extreme than bad conditions in the Caribbean, but I believe there are many first time cruisers aboard and some ran into problems. You can always tell when it is going to be a rough day when sea bags are velcroed to the stairwells. The ship felt a bit crowded today as it was too rainy and windy to spend any time outside (deck 5 outside promenade was close for most of the day).

Many different activities were offered throughout the day, from exercise to bingo, as is usual for sea days. A few special activities were thrown in for the holidays including some holiday craft making. Unfortunately the reindeer racing could not be held on the pool deck, though it may be rescheduled for tomorrow. The trivia sessions have been very well attended and highly contested with a typical score of 13-15/15 needed to win. The first few sessions of the cruise were quite easy, but they have gotten progressively harder as the days have gone on.

There were several big events held especially for Christmas Eve. First of all, the show tonight was a Celebrity showtime show starring Rhonda Burchmore. This announcement made many of the Aussies very excited, though I’ll admit that coming from the US, we’d never heard of her. Her show was quite good and was basically a singing/lounge act. After that, there was Christmas caroling in the centrum at 10:30 PM on Christmas Eve. The entertainment staff and quite a few of the officers showed up to sing and people joined in from decks 4-8 in the centrum (though the bottom deck only seemed to be the one where people received song books). At the end of the caroling, those of us up on deck 8 helped the crewmembers drop white balloons down into the centrum for the “Let it Snow” finale. A Catholic midnight mass was also offered in the main theatre for those who wished to participate.

Funny story

I sailed on the Navigator in November of 2008 on a cruise that ended on Thanksgiving. I was cruising solo on that cruise and wasn’t too interested in the ports, so I spent quite a bit of time talking to the various members of the cruise director’s staff. When I went back on Navigator in February of this year, I attended the opening night parade and one of the staff, Lara (spelling?), picked me out three rows back while she was performing and welcomed me back onboard. Sure enough, guess who was running trivia today on Rhapsody? I went up for a sudden-death play-off during Name That Movie Tune and when I went up, Lara still recognized me and remembered my name … not too bad considering the amount of people she interacts with each cruise … so either I’m just completely memorable, or I’ve been cruising way too much ….

Days 5 and 6 (Christmas Day and Sound cruising)

Christmas Day was our second consecutive day at sea and the conditions were much like the first … cold, wet, and a little rocky (though not as bad as yesterday). It was a bit of a “lazy” day for most it seemed, especially with all of the late activities on Christmas Eve. Santa arrived in the morning and handed out presents to children in the centrum while they sat on his lap … though I noticed quite a few adults sneaking onto his lap, as well. Holiday trivia was a fun time, though I really was kicking myself for not remembering some of the answers from my Christmas cruise last year. The weather once again canceled any pool deck activities, though reindeer racing was eventually held in the centrum. The pool deck BBQ was supposedly moved into the WJ, though I could see no evidence of BBQ there. There was quite a spread in the WJ for lunch, however, with New Zealand mussels (in shell) and huge dishes of large, peel-and-eat shrimp. Dinner was our second formal night and also had special menus that featured turkey and plum pudding. There was a special holiday production show at night, though I did not attend. I heard it was fairly standard, Christmas-y fare.
Note: Clocks were to be turned ahead another hour tonight.

December 26th was technically our third consecutive sea day, though we spent much of the day navigating through three different New Zealand sounds. We arrived at Milford Sound at around 7:30 AM (listed for 8:00) and stayed until about 9 when we turned around and navigated out. After that, we visited Doubtful Sound (11:45 AM – 1:15 PM) and Dusky Sound (2:00 PM – 3:30 PM), both of which are one-way passages that return to the sea without a turn-around. The weather continued to be cool, rainy, and windy. These conditions made being out on deck a little harder, though they did make for some spectacular waterfalls coming down off of the ridges. We stuck completely to the deck 5 promenade as that offered at least some cover from the rain. Quite a few others had the same idea and the railings were quite crowded near the doors though you could always find your own space if you traveled a bit down the deck. I’m not sure how crowded the pool deck was, but given the conditions, those people would have been soaked. We just would walk from side-to-side to take in the different views. There wasn’t much wildlife visible, though we did see a large pod of dolphins entering Milford Sound as well as what looked to be a seal. Otherwise the sounds were quite beautiful though not quite distinguishable to my eyes. You’ll have to wait a few weeks for me to get a good Internet connection to be able to upload my photos.

The rest of the day was pretty much organized around the timing for entering the sounds with quick breakfasts and lunches taken in the downtime. The headliner show tonight featured Glenn Amer who is a singer and a pianist. We stopped in for a bit of a song and then left … the music was quite old and not really to my tastes. I finally noticed in the Compass that they have been playing full movies in the afternoon in the main theater, so that is an interesting way to spend a sea day if you are so inclined. After today, I’m going to have a lot more tour reports as I’m doing all of my ship-organized tours in New Zealand.
Next up: Dunedin, Christchurch
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Carnival Legend - 5/2013, Celebrity Solstice - 5/2013, Celebrity Eclipse - 12/2012, Allure of the Seas - 7/2012, Serenade of the Seas - 5/2012, Voyager of the Seas - 12/2011, Liberty of the Seas - 12/2011, Freedom of the Seas - 10/2011, Oasis of the Seas - 5/2011, Celebrity Eclipse - 3/2011, Celebrity Millennium - 12/2010, Radiance of the Seas - 12/2010, Majesty of the Seas - 12/2010, Majesty of the Seas B2B 11/2010, Radiance of the Seas - 3/2010, Rhapsody of the Seas - 12/2009, Mariner of the Seas - 8/2009, Mariner of the Seas - 5/2009, Navigator of the Seas - 2/2009, Jewel of the Seas - 12/2008, Navigator of the Seas - 11/2008, Majesty of the Seas - 9/2008, Explorer of the Seas - 7/2008, Monarch of the Seas - 5/2008, Grandeur of the Seas - 3/2008, Brilliance of the Seas - 12/2007, Carnival Glory - 6/2007, Monarch of the Seas - 5/2007, Voyager of the Seas - 3/2007, Grandeur of the Seas - 12/2006, Carnival Miracle - 9/2006, Carnival Valor - 12/2005, Carnival Glory - 3/2005, Carnival Glory - 7/2003, Sovereign of the Seas - 7/2000, CCL Sensation - 12/1999, CCL Ecstasy - 12/1997, NCL ?? - 6/1996, Hawaiian American Independence - 1992, Premier Atlantic - 1991


Chris's guide for budget travel - Made for conferences (may make a cruise version some time) but airline, shuttle, Priceline, and Hotwire tips should remain the same

Pictures - From various cruises including Allure of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas, Serenade of the Seas (Western Med), Celebrity Eclipse, etc Now shooting a Pentax DSLR with Sigma 24-135 and 70-300 lenses
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  #18  
Old December 27th, 2009, 04:50 AM
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Brossy Brossy is offline
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I'm really enjoying your in depth review. Please keep it coming.
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Fedor Shalyapin Jan 1976
Fairstar Oct 1981, Jan 1989, May 1992
Silja Serenade July 1998
Carnival Paradise Nov 1999 R150
Celebrity Solstice 9/12/12 7168
Pacific Dawn 2/5/08 D170, 21/7/09 D166, 17/12/09 D168
Pacific Jewel 14th February 2010 6200
Pacific Pearl 9/4/11 5127, 9/10/11 5188
Pacific Sun 23/7/07 U68, 22/08/10 R21, 3/3/11 U145, 6/3/11 M32
Dawn Princess 16th November 2009 C727
Mariner of the Seas (Mexican Riveria) 31/10/10
Radiance of the Seas 18/11/11 1570, 12/2/12 8000, 15/11/12 3140, 9/4/13 8502
Rhapsody of the Seas 1/4/09 3083, 3/2/12 3062
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  #19  
Old December 27th, 2009, 01:33 PM
goldiemom goldiemom is offline
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Bob, great information! We are on the Rapsody in Jan. 2011 (14 day New Zealand), so all the information you are giving is going in my file for that cruise. I can't wait to read about the rest of your trip.
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  #20  
Old December 27th, 2009, 04:55 PM
vivian02 vivian02 is offline
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Smile Rapsody Sailing

Bob,
Great information. I saw your postings when Micheal gave his report from Rapsody. Thanks so much for the Delta report. We will be taking the same flight out of LAX next month. I have to admit you got a fantastic airfare. It sounds like my wife will be very happy with the movie selections. We have done many flights over the Atlantic and I still can't get her to sleep on the plane.
I'm sure your missing that wonderful New York weather at the present time. Have you been to the solarium yet? Keep us informed. Tim
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