Jewel of the Seas
by Gordon Hufford
This was our third cruise and the first time we have sailed on Royal Caribbean. From the time we reached the airport in Fort Lauderdale until we disembarked the ship eight days later we felt that the staff of Royal Caribbean were excellent. We chose the Jewel because it is a relatively new ship (about 10 months old). The ship itself is beautiful and the crew members were the friendliest we have encountered. We had not pre-purchased a transfer from the airport to the cruise line. I asked one of the RCCL staff about doing so and I was told that it was cheaper and easier to just catch a cab (and where this could be done) and go to the port. The cab ride cost about $10 including tip. There was no line for checking in to the ship. We were onboard about fifteen minutes after arriving at the port. Two of the restaurants were open for business (as was the pool bar) so we saved ourselves the expense of buying something ashore and had lunch on the ship. The check-in process was significantly easier and quicker than it was when we cruised on Holland America.
We were assigned second seating for dinner although we had hoped to be in the first seating. This turned out to be just fine and meant that we were not hurrying to get ready for dinner after being in port. It probably also meant that we were not having dinner at the same time as the folks who brought their kids on the cruise and on this trip there were a lot of families. The age range of the guests on this cruise was wider than we have experienced before with a lot of families traveling together. I don’t know if it was due to the time when we traveled (spring break for many schools) or if Royal Caribbean simply attracts families. The ship was very family friendly with special activities for both younger children as well as teenagers.
The food in the main dining room was OK,
not memorable, but not bad either. We had dinner one evening in Chops which is one of the Jewel’s specialty restaurants. That meal was excellent. The staffs in both the main dining room and Chops were great. If we had a say we’d vote for open seating for all meals as is available on Norwegian. The primary problem with the second seating for dinner was with the two special dining events – the Chocolate Buffet and the Grand Buffet. We were not too impressed with the Chocolate Buffet. It came across as an event that the ship knew was expected so they offered it. However, the Grand Buffet was extraordinary. Unfortunately it started at 11:30 and those of us in second seating had finished eating dinner at around 10:00. If we had known how super the Grand Buffet was we would have skipped the regular meal and just gone to the buffet. There was a lot of food left at the buffet. If the Royal Caribbean folks were more adventurous they would cancel the dinner the evening of the Grand Buffet in the main dining room and just go with the buffet and have it start at around 9:00 with the viewing from 8:00–8:45.
We enjoyed most of the entertainment on the cruise. It was somewhat heavy with comedians (5 of the 7 nights). Only one night had a “Broadway” type show. We heard late in the cruise that the Jewel’s performers had just changed ships and the ones that came on the Jewel were practicing earlier in the cruise to get ready for their performance. We really enjoyed the two groups who performed every evening in the Centrum (the main gathering place on the primary deck). The group that performed pool side was also very good and very high energy.
The ports were secondary to us on this cruise. We have no desire to return to any of them for an extended visit. San Juan and Antigua were especially depressing. Saint Maarten had a great beach (Ocean’s beach) which is clothing optional. Our experience is that the less someone wears at a clothing optional beach, the more they should be covered up!! The first person we encountered after arriving at the beach was a guy who had walked down from the nude area who weighed about 300 pounds. Needless to say he is not going to grace the cover of any fashion magazine anytime soon. You can get to Ocean’s Beach by taking a cab that is available near the dock. It cost is $5.00 per person each way which was significantly less than the ship. You rent a beach chair and umbrella ($6) at the beach. Go in the morning to get a good spot. BTW, Saint Maarten had by far the best price on liquor of any of the places we stopped. On Nassau if you want to visit Atlantis on Paradise Island you can get there by taking a water taxi ($3/each way) and walking about ½ a mile once you get to Paradise Island. You can see a fair amount of Atlantis without paying for a tour (including the aquarium and casino as well as much of the grounds).
Departing the ship was much more leisurely than we have experienced in the past, however it was still a mess once we exited the ship. On Holland we were rushed (told to get off an hour earlier than they had said we would be departing so we almost missed our transfer). On the Jewel we went to the main dining room for a made-to-order breakfast, took our time, then sat on one of the decks while the ship was being processed by customs and the luggage was being unloaded. The coffee bar was also open during this time. I don’t think we actually got off the ship until about 9:30 or 10:00; then it was a madhouse looking for luggage and getting a ride to our hotel. Since we were not trying to catch a flight that day this worked OK for us, but we would have been going nuts if we had an early afternoon flight out of Lauderdale on the day the ship returned.
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest, we rate the Jewel between a 7 and an 8. It would have been a solid 8 except for the number of kids (not Jewel’s fault) and the number of smokers. The ship could have used more places that were smoke-free including some of the outside deck areas. The outside main pool was small although the deck was OK. The Solarium (an indoor adult’s only pool area) was beautiful but for reasons known only to Royal Caribbean the pool is salt-water. Finally, the Jacuzzi’s were not especially hot;
in fact they were barely above lukewarm. There is a lot of seating on the walkway located on Deck 5 and it was very easy to find a place in the sun (or shade) there.
We would cruise on the Jewel again. I think everyone we met felt the same way.