We were to board Rhapsody Of The Seas (ROTS) following it's month long dry-docking in Singapore. Upon arrival at the Singapore Cruise Centre there was no sign of ROTS, only Pacific Princess alongside. Check-in with RCI was smooth and relatively fast and we were then directed to a bus. We had heard that ROTS was berthed at a nearby wharf. After a 20 minute ride we turned into the Pasir Panjang container terminal and drove for another 20 minutes or so. After passing several million containers and hundreds of gigantic cranes (the size of this port is unbelievable) we eventually pulled up next to ROTS.
I was expecting it to be looking all sparkling new from its much publicised refit but it looked like any other ship bearing plenty of scuff marks and rust stains along the hull and windows. OK, so they didn't have time to do that bit! We waited in the bus for another 20 minutes to keep us in the air conditioning as the final clearances were being conducted in a large marquee on the wharf. This marquee did have quite a few desk fans suspended from the ceiling to keep everyone cool though! After another half hour wait in line, our passports were taken from us (RCI were arranging Indonesian visas for most passengers) and we climbed aboard onto deck 2.
First impressions ..... I though this ship was built in 1996, not 1976! The decor was very dated, tacky and shabby. One enthusiastic American staff member promptly directed us to our room (2096) which he thought was on the other side of the cordoned off 'exclusion zone' where cruise cards are scanned and ID photos taken. He told us to walk to the other end of the ship and come back around. Turns out, he sent us the wrong way as our room was basically next to where he was standing and not cordoned off at all. Our state room (it's a cabin, nothing Stately about 4 berth cabins on any ship!) like the rest of deck 2 looked a bit tired but it did have a sparkling brand new bathroom .... with a litre or so of dried urine on the floor in front of the toilet! So with three bad first impressions we soon met our Steward who apologised sincerely for the bathroom and he quickly cleaned it for us. I guess a staff member must have snuck in and used it a few days prior.
An amazing place! Big, modern, clean, sophisticated and very interesting. It's a very expensive place to stay but quite cheap to get around. Our travel agent recommended not staying there as it can easily get to $500 per night for a family. So we arrived at around 8:30 am on an Emirates (they're brilliant) flight from Brisbane. We had a tour van pick us up at the airport and we chose to go to Raffles, Chinatown and Marina Bay Sands Sky Park. Using the van meant we could keep our luggage with us and then get dropped off at the cruise terminal. This ended up costing us only $45 as we cashed in some credit card points when we booked it. Raffles was very interesting and a charming hotel. We wanted to have a sling in the Long Bar but we were there about an hour before it opened. We then went to Chinatown and had a look around the streets and shops. Once again, very interesting, non-threatening and everyone is very polite and speaks perfect English. Prices on some things were very cheap and some were much the same as in Australia. Marina Bay Sands has an amazing view from the Sky Park. Admission was about $16 each but for a 200m+ vantage point it was worth every cent. Plenty of photo opportunities here. At each place our driver Kadir waited patiently for us. He then took us up to a vantage point in Mt Faber park where you can see the cruise terminal (no ROTS though) before taking us back there. I'd love to spend more time in Singapore, although it's often very hot and humid, it's fast, exciting and everything seems to be 10 times bigger .... Especially the ports and the thousands of ships waiting to dock!
We managed to wake up before dawn just as we were approaching Darwin. Being on deck at that time was a great experience and Darwin looked bigger and more impressive in its neon glow before sunrise. Tropical sunrises and sunsets are really worth the effort if you get the chance. We had to wait until about 6:00 am for Windjammer to open for breakfast but at least we were off the ship early. RCI offered a shuttle service into the CBD for $7 per person, each way. We just waited for the first cab to arrive and it was less than $7 for the two of us into the Smith Street Mall. It was quite dead at that time as the shops hadn't opened yet but it wasn't long before it got busier. So being the smallest capital city in Australia all the shops were in easy reach so we could stock up on a few things at the supermarket etc. It's a compact but nice CBD and the surrounding parks are clean and well manicured, there seems to be a lot of pride in the place. The new waterfront precinct adjacent to the wharf was very impressive. New apartment blocks, cool surf shops, a huge wave pool, crocodile proof lagoons, a large breakwater pathway to the wharf and a lift up the cliffs to the CBD level. The walk back to the ship took only 10 minutes. Darwin is full of history and there were plenty of landmarks and memorials etc detailing the Japanese bombing from 1942 and cyclone Tracey. It's amazing to see the old town hall and a church (both stone buildings) that survived 64 bombing raids but were destroyed by a cyclone! As we were having lunch in Windjammer that day we looked down and could see a small crocodile swimming only a few metres away in the harbour.
I didn't have any high expectations of Cairns. I thought it might be a bit of a redneck city but I was pleasantly surprised. It was far more sophisticated than I imagined and seemed to be a Mecca for backpackers and overseas tourists. We walked up to the main shopping mall, met some distant relatives there and had a coffee. We didn't do any of the tourist things or excursions here, they are quite expensive. But we checked it all out as we were coming back here on a P&O cruise two months later. That afternoon I walked up to the huge marina for a good look around and to take a few pictures. ROTS is the largest ship to ever dock in Cairns. I later learned that there's only a one metre clearance below the hull here.
ROTS has a Gross Tonnage of barely 2% more than Sun Princess but cannot berth at the suburban Hamilton wharf, possibly due to its ability to pass under the Gateway Bridge. So the larger ships berth at the Fisherman's Island grain wharf (not pretty at all). This is a long way from anywhere and is likely to cost $70 by cab and is not serviced by public transport. RCI provided bus travel into the Brisbane CBD for $27 per person each way. This is our local port so we treated it as a sea day and stayed on board. Not many people stayed on so we had must of the ship to ourselves.
We were up before dawn to sail into Sydney. Many others on board had the same idea, then went back down to get warm clothing .... It was a cold April morning. Sydney Harbour is stunning, even more so before sunrise. After docking at Circular Quay we had our last breakfast in Windjammer and watched Dawn Princess sail past the Opera House on its way into Darling Harbour. Disembarkation was quite quick and easy, then it was a half hour wait for a cab. To ease back into normal life we had booked a 4 hour lunch cruise around the harbour. I don't think you could ever get sick of the sights here. Later that day we took a cab to the airport (cheaper than the train for 4 people) for the flight to Brisbane and thoughts of the next cruise.