When the ship is as important as the destination. Words: John Pond.

I believe all cruise ships are beautiful; some more than others. It’s a matter of comparing many factors.

When my wife Sandra and I boarded Rhapsody of the Seas, we were a little disappointed at not being able to obtain a balcony stateroom, but we became pleased with our large Oceanview stateroom, with its picture window and more room than the usual balcony stateroom. Our cruise was headed north and we were looking forward to 10 days of R&R.

We arrived at the Sydney dock about an hour before departure time. I always say, only partly in jest, “Get on early and have an extra meal!” Check-in was fast and easy; lifeboat drill was just starting; and there was a large line at the purser’s desk (principally people wanting holes punched in keycards: why aren’t they all pre-punched?).

Royal Caribbean now has a ship in Australian waters for our cruise season: currently, it’s the only competition for Carnival Australia’s P&O Cruises and Princess Cruises.

I won’t list the ship details: they can be found on many websites. I believe passenger satisfaction is determined by the cruise price, the ship’s age and condition, its food and service, fellow passengers, destinations and onboard entertainment, so let’s examine these.

The ship: Maiden voyage, 1997; guests, 2,435; overall condition, excellent.

Décor: Rhapsody of the Seas looks like a ship, not a theme park. The atrium is a popular meeting place with almost non-stop live music. There are lots of bars and relaxing areas, and two pools – one undercover, with a well-patronised pizza and burger outlet.

Destinations: To me, the ship itself is the destination. At several ports, we did not get off as we were enjoying the ship’s facilities so much.

Food and drink: Overall, the food is excellent: I liked eating most meals in the main dining room but many preferred the excellent buffet on the pool deck. I really enjoyed the personalised service; the head waiter and maitre d’ visit each table nightly. The food quality and service on Rhapsody of the Seas surpasses that at most onshore restaurants, but there’s no alternate speciality option, which is unusual these days.

Entertainment: The production shows were great and the orchestra equal to the best I have experienced. There are ‘happenings’ all day around the ship: our favourite was the daily quiz, with prizes – a good opportunity to meet fellow passengers. The cruise director is professional and hosts the shows most nights. Unfortunately, the young staff members overseeing daily onboard activities were less than brilliant – they merely do their jobs. On the plus side, a number of events are tailored for solo guests.

Extras: There’s an onboard Day Spa, and though I’m not a fan of onboard spas and believe their services are over-priced on all ships, they are popular. My tip is to look for specials on shore days. There’s also a gym but I get my exercise walking quickly to the free ice-cream machine.

Shops: Several outlets sell duty-free liquor, perfume and cosmetics but generally, a wider range of merchandise could be offered.

Housekeeping: Top marks for high standards and friendliness.

The verdict:

Overall, it is a great experience and good value. I would certainly recommend a cruise on Rhapsody of the Seas. The captain is a great personality and very friendly, as are all the officers and crew.