Jewel of the Seas
Alex and Tara Jacobs
First of all, this was our first cruise ever, so we really have no first-hand comparisons, but we LOVED THIS CRUISE! We booked the Jewel of the Seas about a year in advance, in celebration of our 10-year anniversary (February 14, 2007), and were not disappointed. This cruise exceeded our expectations in every way.
Itinerary: This was an 8-night Eastern Caribbean itinerary with 5 ports of call -- Puerto Rico, St. Maarten, Antigua, St. Thomas, and the Bahamas. We had 2 days at sea as well.
Embarkation: We had read so many mixed reviews about the embarkation, but this was completely painless for us. We arrived to the port on our hotel shuttle (we had stayed at the Hampton Inn the night before) at 1:55 p.m. Check-in was to begin at 2 p.m., but we were allowed to check in immediately upon arrival. The entire check-in process took about 25 minutes, and we were happily on board and sitting in the Windjammer Café by 2:25 p.m.
Stateroom: We had a balcony, stateroom 9220 to be exact. It was awesome! The view was gorgeous, and I can’t imagine not having a balcony. We made full use the balcony by having breakfast out there, waking to the warm morning breezes, and retiring to the evening breezes on the balcony each evening. The room was much larger than we had anticipated only because I had envisioned a cramped room. However, after traveling in Europe, this stateroom was no smaller than many European pensions we had stayed in. There was ample room for the two of us, and we never felt cramped.
Shore Excursions: We did not take an actual excursion in San Juan. Instead, we just walked through Old San Juan, which is walking distance from the pier. There are many good restaurants in the area as well (we ate at Café Berlin which is supposed to be a mixture of German and Puerto Rican fare…but the German menu was primarily just for Sunday brunch), and many of our fellow passengers walked up to the old Fort from our ship. I see no reason to have to grab a cab in San Juan unless you want to venture out of the Old San Juan area.
In St. Maarten, we took the Best of St. Maarten tour. Unfortunately, the snorkeling portion of this trip was changed last-minute. The union workers who operated the boat to Pinel Island were on strike, so instead we were taken to a snorkeling spot at Oyster Bay (Dawn Beach), but it was HORRIBLE! It was so bad that Royal Caribbean refunded 50% of our excursion fees. The other portion of this excursion included a bus ride to Marigot for sightseeing, and some shopping. That portion of it met expectations, and because of our inability to snorkel at Pinel Island, we now have a reason to go back to St. Maarten on another trip in hopes of snorkeling there.
On Antigua we took an excursion out to Cades Reef for some snorkeling. What a blast! We boarded a cool, fast, inflatable type of boat that felt like we were on a fun theme park ride. Our guide gave a FABULOUS 11-mile tour up the coast of Antigua and provided commentary on the many beaches we passed along the way. We stopped for a photo opportunity at Georgio Armani’s house and made our way up to the reef. The snorkeling there was in crystal clear water. Nothing can compare to that Caribbean water! On the way back, we stopped at a secluded beach where we enjoyed rum punch, and some time in the sun and sand with our boatmates. There were only about 10 of us so it was a great trip and a nice opportunity to get to know some of our fellow shipmates from Jewel of the Seas.
At St. Thomas we took the Ultimate Island Experience excursion which began with a 2-hour beach visit to Magen’s Bay, one of the top beaches in the world! It was beautiful! Some beachgoers saw a big sea turtle in shallow water, and while we never saw the turtle, we did see a school of fish swimming in knee-deep water. We enjoyed the beautiful sun, sand, and clear water, and took the time to relax in a beach lounge chair. Following the beach portion of the excursion, we got back onto our bus and took a ride to Blackbeard’s Hill with a visit to the pirate statues. We didn’t have a ton of interest in this, but it was such a beautiful view from the hill that it is worth the visit just to climb to the top of the lookout tower and take photographs. From there, we shuttled down to the shopping area in St. Thomas where we enjoyed a nice lunch and shopped the many local tents and stores.
In Nassau, Bahamas we went on the Stingray Adventure tour and spent time at the beach. I was a little apprehensive to swim with stingrays initially, but after having seen the brave children in the water, I knew I could handle it. J We were probably in the water with the stingrays for about an hour and half, and took some time to snorkel in the enclosed area to see the stingrays “hiding” in the sand at the bottom. They are slimy creatures, but friendly (especially since their barbs had been removed). We got to feed them squid, but it was an interesting experience trying to feed them while fish would come up and snatch food out of our hands. It was great, and I would recommend the experience to anyone! The Bahamas was beautiful, and on our next trip there we will probably take a trip over to the Atlantis resort.
The days at sea on Jewel of the Seas were spent watching a belly flop contest, horse-racing (not real horses) contest, playing BINGO (I haven’t played BINGO since elementary school) and laying by the pool. Pool chairs go really quickly on ‘at sea’ days, and to get one, you need to be at the pool around 8-8:15 a.m. or plan on a shady spot. Otherwise, the chairs tend to free up again about 2 p.m. and you can get some prime spots.
Spa: I purchased a ‘port day special’ the morning of our Puerto Rico stop, and went to the spa in the morning for a Lime & Ginger Scrub and a Full Body Massage. I probably get massages about 5-6 times per year at various spas while on vacation and in my hometown (Seattle), and this spa treatment was on par with most. However, the spa itself was not as I expected. Since this was our first cruise, I really don’t know if all cruise ships’ spas are like this or not, but the spa area itself was really small. There is no ladies locker room or changing area, so plan to change your clothes in your treatment room.
(Cruise Diva Editor's Note: there are changing/locker rooms adjacent
to the fitness center.) There were also no “extras” included, probably because all of the extras they could include would already be part of your cruise experience (fitness center, hot tub, etc). Therefore, the spa treatments seemed a bit pricey since there were no extras.
Food: The Windjammer Café is the buffet restaurant on the ship. We went there a few times for breakfast and lunch, but never for dinner. We liked it, but after awhile, got a bit tired of the same ol’ thing. I am a vegetarian, and there were very few options other than salad every day. In the evenings we ate at the Tides Dining Room for our late seating and LOVED the food there. We were apprehensive due to a few reviews that were critical of the food, and while my husband is a meat-eater, he primarily stuck with seafood, so we cannot comment on the steaks.
We got lucky with our dinner mates as we really enjoyed the company of each of them from different areas of the country and world.
There are 2 specialty restaurants on the ship that require a $20 fee, but we only ate at one of them – Portofino – for the Murder Mystery Dinner ($49 per person). This was so much fun, and at the start of the mystery, my husband was pulled out by the “fortune teller” who told him his secret desire was to be a runway model. My husband, in true improv style, then proceeded to do a runway walk and pose for the crowd. What a ham! Later, some told him that he looked like he’d done that before, and yes, he pretends to be a model all the time when posing on escalators in department stores. Funny stuff. The food at Portofino was wonderful!
The Seaview Café is tucked off in a corner of the ship, near the Adventure Club. There, you can get everything from burgers, sandwiches and fish n’ chips to milkshakes and other diner plates. My husband overheard many people who commented on how they loved being able to order a “fresh” burger and “real” milkshakes.
The Solarium Café is something not to be missed. There, you will find a few quick, veggie options such as good pizzas and wraps, along with crepes made to order! The crepes are available with a variety of toppings such as butterscotch, strawberries, chocolate, ham or cheese. The great thing about both the Solarium Café and the Seaview Café is that they were both open very late (until 1 a.m.) for a late-night snack.
One thing to note about the food options is that my husband purchased the Beverage Plan, which was probably not worth the cost. With gratuity, the cost was $55. He did not drink $55 worth of soda during the trip. To do that, he would have had to have ordered more than three sodas per day. Save a few dollars, and just order your drinks as you go.
Entertainment: There is SO MUCH entertainment happening on the ship all of the time, that you can’t possibly see everything. We went to the Quest Game Show, which is a MUST. It is sort of like a scavenger hunt, but you don’t actually leave the room (the Safari Club) for the game. It is a must for anyone who likes to have fun. Again, my husband was picked out of the crowd to sit in a chair and allow other men to kiss his forehead. Those men got “points” in the game, while my husband got a lot of slobber on his forehead. (You had to be there.)
We went and saw one movie (Inside Man) on one of our days at sea. The cinema on-board is structured with steep stadium seating, so it is virtually impossible for anyone to block your view. However, we were a tad surprised when the ship’s PA announcement for “Cash-Prize Bingo” was broadcast right in the middle of the movie.
Our nightly escapades usually ended up with dancing and/or people-watching in the The Vortex, the ship’s adult dance club. Jewel of the Seas had several themed nights in The Vortex which were nothing less than hilarious. We went to the Disco Night, with a special appearance by the ship’s crew of the “Almost Original Village People” delivering an entertaining performance. There was also a Ladies’ Night with the Hunkamaniacs (think Chippendale-style dancing by the ship’s male crew) again providing a “hot” performance.
Disembarking: Again, we read reviews about how painful this can be, but we experienced no pain. Our cabin was scheduled to leave the ship in the 7th or 8th grouping, so I projected that to happen at about 9:40 a.m. (they started exiting people at 8:30 a.m.). We were actually called at 9:35 a.m. and we were completely checked out, with luggage in hand by 10:10. The most challenging part of it was trying to find our shuttle to take us to the airport. We had pre-paid with KTS Tours to pick us up and take us to the airport, however, they were no where to be found. Next time around we will just grab one of the gazillion cabs waiting at the pier.
This cruise absolutely exceeded our expectations. We had no idea how much fun we would have on the ship, away from the ports of call, and how EXCELLENT the service would be from the crew. Whether it was our dining crew, our cabin crew, the cruise director, and guest relations – everyone was so friendly and helpful that we will definitely be cruising on Royal Caribbean again!
Thank you to Royal Caribbean for helping to make our 10-year anniversary so fun and memorable!
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