About 11 AM the next day our limousine, driven by a BIG Texan, arrived to take us to the ship! We did the math: RCI bus transfers for four, $116. Limousine for four, $125. Guess what we picked! It was an easy drive of about an hour and a quarter to the ship.
The Rhapsody of the seas is a Vision class ship of RCI, and is truly a beautiful ship. We think she is just the right size, not as big as the mega ships but with all the amenities, including a newly added rock climbing wall! A full virtual tour of her can be found at Parnami's cruise page.
We arrived at the Galveston cruise center about 12:30, and there was a great embarkation area set up, tables for the inevitable few who forgot to fill out their boarding documents, lots of windows for checkin, and good line control. This was our seventh cruise on RCI so as newly minted Platinum members we had to try out that special line! But to be honest our DD and her roommate used the regular line and beat us to the photographer! Checkin was fast and efficient. There was a sign at the checkin that said "If you are suffering from a gastrointestinal problem, we will be glad to give you a full refund on your cruise fare and a free upgrade on a future cruise."
We boarded quickly, dropped our bags in the cabin, and headed for the buffet right away, of course! It was a great beginning to a wonderful trip. On the stateroom TVs there was a video playing from the Captain, explaining that the Mississippi River was then blocked by a collision between two ships. He said the Coast Guard was 99% sure the River would be open when we arrived there on Monday, but that he would keep us posted. As there was nothing to be done about that, we settled down to enjoy shipboard life.
That evening we had a great dinner, with wonderful service. Our waiter Slobodan and our assistant Lujan were both from the former Yugoslavia, now Serbia, and nothing we asked was too much for them to do. The food all week was out of this world, and every single dish was delectable. That night was the first production show, featuring, fittingly enough, Mardi Gras! We enjoyed all the shows all week.
The next morning began with breakfast on the balcony. We had a category D balcony cabin on deck 7, and we thought it was extremely roomy and comfortable. There was a nice sofa bed, and it would have been very satisfactory for a family of four without requiring upper bunks. We did use the balcony occasionally for coffee, but frankly we are not enamored with balconies and probably will not pay for one again.
As we were not scheduled to arrive in New Orleans until late afternoon, this was essentially a day at sea, so we relaxed and enjoyed all the facilities of the ship. Our Platinum coupon book was really pretty good, including spa discounts, bingo cards, casino play, photo discounts and so on. We used it extensively all week.
About midday the Captain announced that we had reached the Mississippi River pilot station and turned back by the Coast Guard, and that the River would be closed for at least 24 more hours. In fact, the Grandeur of the Seas was trapped in New Orleans and unable to sail.
So the ship was re-routed to Gulfport, MS. We were advised that a fleet of buses had been chartered to provide us with free 24 hour shuttle service to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. All the staff really worked hard to make it possible for us to have as much as possible of our scheduled trip. We were warned that traffic might make the trip into New Orleans as long as three hours, however. Since we had tickets for the Orhpeuscapade, the Krewe of Orpheus Lundi Gras Ball, we were very concerned about missing all the fun! But we went ahead, put on our formal clothes and masks, and waited for news.
We arrived in Gulfport at 8 PM, but Immigration was slow about clearing the ship. After fidgeting in a lounge for almost an hour, we were on board the buses by 9 PM. The bus fairly flew to New Orleans, managed to avoid all the traffic, and we were at the Julia Street pier by 10:15. Hustling around the corner in our formal dress, we arrived JUST as the Orpheus parade was turning into the Convention Center!
So we began yelling "Throw me some beads!" without quite realizing how enthusiastic the float riders were going to be! By the time the parade ended we almost had more beads than we could carry, although we had come prepared with bags and bags to carry them in! We caught all sorts of beads, from plain purple, green and gold to very fancy, and a few dubloons too.
As the parade wound into the Convention Center, we went around to the entrance, presented our tickets, and enjoyed the first of the many perks ... clean bathrooms without huge lines! We had our picture taken at the entrance, and found our assigned table just as Harry Connick Jr, the leader of the Krewe of Orpheus, was beginning his concert. He was followed by the first Honorary Marshal, Brad Paisley, who thrilled Andréa because she is a big country fan. Then came the one Renée and I had been waiting for, Dominic Monoghan, Merry Brandybuck from Lord of the Rings! It was a very good concert.
Then we hit the midnight buffet which was typical New Orleans fare: PoBoy sandwiches, sausage and turkey Jambalaya, and bread pudding with rum sauce. All the floats were now parked around the Convention Center, so we had ample opportunity to have our picture taken on them, and meet the float riders. The giant dragon called Leviathan is the world's biggest float, since the city of New Orleans passed a law against any bigger ones when it was built. It is quite a sight and a thrill to stand next to!
Orpheuscapade was a great deal of fun, and we are very grateful to RCI and Rhapsody of the Seas for getting us to it! We walked back to the pier, poured on the bus tired but happy, and got back to Rhapsody of the Seas about 3:30 AM.
The next day I was ready for a peaceful day aboard, but Renée, Andréa, and Rosalie went back to New Orleans for the Zulu and Rex parades and came back with even MORE beads! All shore excursions for Wednesday were cancelled, so we just hung around the ship, visited the Gulfport casinos for some penny slots, and relaxed. That night we sailed for Cozumel.
MORE OF OUR REVIEW
AND PICTURES OF COZUMEL