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Transatlantic with Royal Caribbean’s Rhapsody of the Seas, November 2022

I had such a good time on my first transatlantic cruise from Florida to England that I decided to book another one going the other way, from Barcelona to Barbados. I snagged a great deal with Royal Caribbean and booked an interior cabin for November 8-20, 2022.

This post will be about my experience getting to the ship in Barcelona, being on the ship for the cruise, the ports we stopped at, what it was like getting COVID-19 on the ship, and disembarking in Barbados.

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Barcelona Port

I spent a few days sightseeing in Barcelona before my cruise, and I LOVED it. It’s such a lovely city, with fascinating architecture, very good food, and a decent metro system. They also have a hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus that’s a great deal if you’re only in town for a little bit, as it circles all the major tourist stops.

We still had to get tested for cruises over a certain number of days, so I booked an appointment at Democratest and got that done same day for $17.77 USD.

The port in Barcelona is easy to get to, as its connected by metro and bus lines. That said, to get to the ship you have to take a shuttle, and the confusing part was actually finding the shuttle stop. It’s set a bit away from the metro stop, but eventually I figured out the signs and located it. The shuttle driver and assistant checked that I had a legit reservation for my ship, which I thought was a smart safety measure.

My check-in time was something like 2:00 pm but I went early at 12:00 pm and it luckily wasn’t a big deal. I dropped my suitcase off with the porters and got checked in fairly quickly.

I got on the ship and went straight to get some lunch at the buffet!

Photos of the buffet (for the days I wasn’t in COVID isolation) can be found here.

RCL Rhapsody of the Seas

It’s an older ship, and it definitely shows it. It was built in 1997 and refurbished in 2016, but the cabins still super dated (or at least my cheap interior one was). The exterior areas like the lounge and theater were more up-to-date.

Click to enlarge photos:

Cabin Tour

Our rooms were ready at 1:00 pm, supposedly, but the staff looked a little frantic. I found my suitcase in the hall near my room so I snagged it and went inside.

I’ll be honest– this cabin shocked me a little. It was VERY dated and looked straight out of 1985, but the boring beige kind of 1985. That said, I had a “guaranteed” room which generally means you get stuck in the leftover crappy rooms that need filled. I did check later and I actually WAS supposed to get a room with a sofa, but obviously that didn’t pan out.

The bed was super comfortable, and I liked the big desk/vanity. I also though the closet was relatively huge for the size of my room.

What bothered me most was the ceiling vent in the middle of the room. It was loud, and probably needed cleaning, and I really hated it. At night there were also strange noises from the opposite end of the room, which I figured out where probably staff moving something around because I was near a staff entrance. Luckily, despite being near the elevator I actually didn’t hear any noise from that!

Life on the Ship

Activities

There were lots of fun things to do on the ship, including crafts, dancing, bands/music, the musical shows, lectures, and so on. I went to a lot of these before I got COVID, possibly to my own detriment. They WERE a lot of fun, though.

There were usually several trivia games per day, a movie shown on the big outdoor screen, a theater show (usually singing of some kind), a lecture by a guest speaker (an amateur astronomer on this cruise), dance parties, exercise classes, sports of some kind (including rock climbing), a craft demonstration, and live music throughout the ship. The trivia games in particular were fun, and the staff did a great job coming up with the questions and keeping the audience’s energy up throughout.

Honestly, I felt like the activities were absolutely packed, especially in comparison to the two other cruises I’ve been on.

I have some of the Cruise Compass for the days I wasn’t in isolation available for viewing here.

Dining room

I actually went to dinner every night in the dining room this time, rather than live off the buffet. It was so nice! Solo travelers and couples could choose to either have their own small table or join a big table, and I chose my own table. I was seated next to couples, but we all kept to ourselves, really. My server and [assistant] were super nice and made an effort to be personable, and the food was really good.

I have the menus for the days I wasn’t in isolation and some photos of the food available here. Apologies in advance about the food photos, because the dining room was super dark and they all came out looking a little iffy.

Ports

Most of the draw on a transatlantic cruise is the transatlantic part, so we didn’t have as many ports as you might get on a regular cruise. Still, we stopped in 3 new-to-me places, which was exciting!

Cannes, France

Booked a third-party excursion tour on a Segway, which was fairly stressful as it turns out I don’t have good enough balance to ride a Segway with only 5 minutes’ practice. While the group was small and the tour guide lovely, I was too stressed out to really enjoy it. 20 minutes before the end of the tour it started pouring down rain, which just made it more miserable. Compound that with the fact that the main road was under construction for the upcoming Cannes Film Festival, and all-in-all it was just an okay port visit.

I was so annoyed about the Segway tour that I bought a ticket for the tourist train and went on that, too. The train is covered (safe from the rain!), and comes with an English audio guide. It stopped at most of the same places the Segway tour did, and paused for 15 minutes at the Église Notre-Dame d’Espérance for passengers to get off and take photos.

Cannes is very small, and you can see everything in two hours. There’s lots of shopping if you want that, but it’s the standard luxury brands you can find anywhere. If I go on another cruise that stops in Cannes, I might book an excursion that goes to nearby towns instead, like this one that goes to Eze, Monte Carlo, Monaco and La Turbie.

Málaga, Spain

I booked a walking tour through GuruWalk which was VERY fun and highly informative. The main tourist parts of Malaga are fairly crowded, so it was good to go with a group and not feel quite as squashed as I might’ve been going by myself. Our tour guide was fantastic, and the group wasn’t too big. There were other people from cruise ships in my group, but none from MY ship! How funny!

We went to a mix of old and new stuff, and we got a good overview of the history of Málaga and southern Spain. Walking around the city, I spotted tons of amazing street art, and adorable boutique shops. I took as many photos as I could but I’m sure there’s tons more I missed.

Málaga is a very charming town and I definitely want to go back for the Christmas markets! They have a Hop On Hop Off bus that seems like a good deal, too.

Madeira, Portugal

Madeira is on one of Portugal’s islands, Funchal, and it’s the last stop before crossing the Atlantic.

I booked a one day pass for the Hop On Hop Off Bus, and then just took it around the city. It comes with an English audio guide that was pretty well-made, and overall it’s a good introduction to the town.

Madeira is very hilly, and walking around can be difficult if you don’t regularly climb hills all day. The part of town closest to the port has some shops and restaurants, but all the good historical stuff tends to be UP in the hills. The best viewpoint is from Skywalk viewpoint at Cabo Girão, which the HOHO bus goes to.

If you do nothing else, get up to that part of town. It’s a wonderful view of the city and the water, and while it’s a bit crowded, it wasn’t terrible. Also, if you collect pressed coin souvenirs like I do, there’s a few machines scattered throughout the city, including one at the Skywalk.

Sick Days / COVID-19

By Monday, my throat was feeling really bad and no matter how much tea I guzzled it didn’t get better. I’d also developed a cough! So…I called the medical staff to ask for a COVID-19 test.

I called staff around 1:30 pm and they sent someone to do a swab test within the hour. Meanwhile, I had to stay in my room and wait for the results. The room service staff called and asked if I needed to order lunch, and then sent someone up with some menus.

Around 3:00 pm I had my results: positive for COVID-19. This was the first time I had COVID and I was pissed because I managed to avoid it for almost three years. Luckily I’d had multiple vaccines, so while I felt horrible it only got to the level of a harsh cold, and not anything worse.

After my diagnosis, I went down to the medical facility on the lower deck. A nurse checked my vitals (heart rate and blood pressure). Then a doctor came in and gave me DayQuil/NightQuil and a bunch of Ibuprofen, plus a thermometer and a fingertip heart rate thingy. I was being put in isolation for five days, basically the rest of the cruise!

Because I didn’t want to be stuck in an interior room for five days, I asked customer service if I could be moved to somewhere with a window. At the time, this was a common practice for cruise passengers COVID, though nowadays I think you’re just stuck wherever you originally booked.

Luckily for me they had a cabin available on deck 3 in the “Red Zone,” aka the section set aside for people who need more medical attention AND for incoming crew members who had to be isolated for potential COVID problems before they joined the rest of the ship.

I say “luckily” because it was an oceanview room. A balcony room would’ve been best, but at least this way I could see the sun during my time in isolation. If I had to stay in my old room the entire time I might’ve gone ’round the bend.

I had free room service during the duration of my stay. The room service staff were very proactive in getting me my meals and everything I ordered came hot and fresh. (That might’ve been an extra benefit of being in the red zone– closer to the kitchens?) They also made sure to offer me extra water and food if they didn’t think I ordered enough, haha!

Every day I’d get at least two phone calls from customer service. These were standard “how are you doing” calls, very informal. On day 3 or 4, I got a phone call from medical where I had to take my temperature and heart rate. Luckily by that point I was on the way to being better, though I still had a nasty cough.

Looking back, I honestly don’t know where I caught COVID. It must’ve been early on in the cruise, maybe in the dining room or buffet area? At one of the activities? All my port excursions were outdoors, and I did wear masks while walking around the ship. Eating meals was the only time I was “exposed” to potential contamination, as it were.

Kind of a bummer if that’s what happened, because I actually really enjoyed going to the dining room each evening (and sometimes lunch).

Released from isolation & back to freedom

On our final sea day, I was released from isolation and feeling much better, though still extremely tired. My porter had kept my certificate for crossing the Atlantic for me and gave it to me when I got back.

I didn’t chance the dining room again and went to the buffet, where at least I could sit myself further away from people. Kind of a bummer way to end the cruise, but at least I was healthy and safe and about to go to a new country: Barbados!

Disembarking & Barbados Port

I got the latest disembarking time I could, so I could leisurely have breakfast and pack etc. Still, I had to be off the ship by something like 9:30 am, and so I went into Barbados.

The port building is not air conditioned and VERY hot, but the process of getting into the country was fairly easy. They checked my passport and asked how long I was going to stay, and that’s it! Once through immigration, there’s a shopping area just to one side of the port building which is where all the taxis and stuff are.

Final Thoughts

Except for the fact that I got COVID, I actually really enjoyed this cruise. The ship may have been old and kinda ugly, but I enjoyed the activities and the food, the staff were super nice, I liked the ports and basically everything else. I’m definitely going to book another cruise with Royal Caribbean in the future.


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Anastasia is a former librarian turned digital nomad. She's been traveling the world full time for two years and has visited 18 countries so far! Just Gone Wandering is a travel resource for solo female travelers on a backpacker's budget-- or slightly more-- and highlights amazing places to visit as well as providing tips and tricks for traveling smart and frugal. Read more...

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