June 2016 - Rhapsody of the Seas to Europe - Eastern Mediterranean
I am a long-time cruiser, having cruised RC about a dozen times over the past 20 years. While some RC cruise ships are a little better than others, they tended to be similar -- until I took the Rhapsody of the Seas. This most recent cruise was an absolute shock. The cost-cutting measures that RC have taken over the past year are extremely apparent and were thrown in our faces over the entire 10-day Mediterranean cruise. For those of you who have cruised before, I'll let you in on a few of them:
* Nonstop (NONSTOP) upselling. From internet options to beverage packages to premium restaurants to spa packages, RC is hounding you at all hours, at every activity, to buy something. Yes, they've always offered additional packages, but I've never spent a cruise feeling like I was being hustled on a used car lot. * Major cutbacks on past benefits. Did you enjoy lobster night? Well, now RC offers lobster EVERY night -- for an upcharge of $30. And both the menu and waiter will remind you EVERY night that you can buy these add-ons. If you enjoyed complimentary prime rib and lobster before, be prepared to shell out cash for these and other benefits. * Limited activities. On the back of your Daily Compass is a listing of the day's activities. A few years ago, maybe 80% of the activities were complimentary, and many (albeit not all) of them could be pretty fun. On the Rhapsody of the Seas, at most 50% of the activities were complimentary -- the rest were "activities" consisting of you paying for spa activities or buying overpriced art or learning about the excursions they sell. (As a sidenote, even their excursions, which have always been more expensive than what can be purchased onshore, are now a solid 3x market price. My wife and I consistently paid $50 for the same excursion offered by RC for $149.95.) And of the activities that were complimentary, most of them were, well, pretty lame. Lots of trivia and bingo (which, by the way, they profit from). The evening shows weren't too bad, and my wife and I enjoyed a few of them. * Reduced staffing expertise (which probably costs less). It's possible that we just had the most incompetent waiter on the planet. But at our table of 8, every single night our waiter would mess up at least TWO orders, and the meals never arrived anywhere near the same time (leaving us to awkwardly wait several minutes for the rest of the table to be served). He was very, very nice and very hardworking, but the service was atrocious -- and from speaking to others, this was not uncommon. By the 6th day of the cruise, the running joke at our table was whether we should order a different entree than what we wanted, in the hopes we might actually get what we wanted! * The Rhapsody of the Seas is a run-down ship that's ready for retirement. It has the feeling of a 2-star Vegas hotel.
The straw that broke the camel's back was during the "Love and Marriage" game. All three men (understandably) wanted a drink on stage. But the show was interrupted for a couple minutes while the contestants and the waitress fumbled around with their SeaPass card to make sure the drinks were paid for. WHILE THE CONTESTANTS WERE ON STAGE. Let that sink in. RC was using its own paying customers to provide the show's entertainment, and wouldn't even comp their drinks while on stage! It was awkward for the entire audience.
On the plus side, the Captain seemed to genuinely care about the ship and the staff was hard-working and friendly. (It's not their fault they were understaffed!) Also, they went out of their way to give us an additional hour at one of the ports of call. Further, our room (while outdated) was clean and the housekeeping staff did a good job.
I think if this was a person's first cruise, they would enjoy the mediocre food, the ports of call, and many of the shows. If they got the cruise for $50 or $70 a night (per person), it wouldn't be a bad deal. But anyone who had cruised RC before and expected its past glory will be sorely disappointed. Sadly, RC is a sinking ship at this point. Clearly someone at the corporate helm made some decisions that will inevitably increase profits for the next year or two, but will soon morph RC into the KMart of the seas.