We got back today from the next to last four day cruise on Jewel of the Seas prior to her relocation to Northern Europe. The ship itself is in beautiful shape and she's kept immaculate. Still, there was a rather pungent musty odor on deck four near the Computer lab. With rare
exceptions, service on board was as wonderful as we have become accostumed to. We are at the Platninum level and have sailed on Serenade once as the only other Radiance Class experience. It's been a little over two years since our last sailing on RCCL.
We drove over from Orlando and parked at Capital Parking's lot on Harbour Island. Big Savings over parking at the pier, and another big discount lot, had what I felt was too high a number of complaints with BBB. I'd use Capital again in a heartbeat. Free shuttle in both directions.
The trip down from Tampa to Mexico was very, very smooth. The return was anything but. Still, I felt that the Jewel was remarkably stable for very rough seas. You know that there are going to be problems when they hang the barf bags on the railings, but we tried to stay on the middle decks and survived the experience.
There have been a couple of things missing from previous sailings. Splenda is available, but it has to be requested. Cranberry Juice is only available at cost from a bar. Chocolate on the pillow is a long lost tradition. Escargot has been replaced by bay scallops in the garlic butter
sauce. I'm sure they could have found larger bay scallops if they had tried. Lobster is now a fee added luxury. There seems to be less bar service in the main dining room and I believe that they've reduced manpower, but then again, someone could have come down with a flu, I don't know, but the time it took to get a drink and then to return our cards was noticeable.
The food in the MDR was generally very good. At breakfast they set up a "fruit and granola bar" which is worth checking out. At Lunch, it's salads that will impress and you can make an entire meal out of one. I really enjoyed the NY strip steak on the last night out. It was tender and perfectly cooked. My wife was as impressed with the prime rib. And I felt that the fish dishes were excellent as well. I did notice the "for fee" steaks and Lobster on the menu. I was aware that RCL had gone to that, but was surprised that the cost was much higher than I would have expected. Desserts were kind of hit and miss. The coffee was very good and very strong. Take a note Princess. Naturally, I had the best waiter in the room; and actually think that could be an accurate statement. His name was John Fernandez, from (where else?), India; I kid you not. For lunch, I also recommend the fish and chips or Rueben sandwich in the Seaview Cafe. The selection in the buffet was generally good, but I did have some cold food in the Windjammer which is understandable because it's difficult to keep everything at a buffet just right. And I'm really not sure the purpose of the giant wok filled with something or other on the left side of the buffet. I wasn't impressed.
I only went to one specialty restaurant, Choppes Grill, and it was not a good experience. Let me just say that they cannot be perfect all the time, and I was there when they weren't. I'm sure that my evening was an aberation, but still, I didn't enjoy myself and would have been happier had I stayed in the main dining room. My steak was overcooked enough to be sent back. It wasn't even close to being pink on the inside. By time I got the replacement, my wife had already finished her dinner and had left to go to the Ladies room. By then, my evening was ruined and I told them to take it away and let's just go on to dessert. I didn' t have to pay for my portion of the meal, but still my evening was ruined and I cannot recommend the restaurant.
The casino draws a lot of attention and stays busy most nights. The most personable dealer, IMHO, is Victoria from Newcastle. I was lucky enough to get to the final table in the poker tournament, but as luck would (or wouldn't) have it, they paid three places including a grand prize of a free cruise and entry into an international poker tournament, and I finished fourth. But it was fun and they bought the final table a round of drinks. It is a full casino and in addition to poker, there are slots, craps, roulette, blackjack, three card poker, and carribean poker. The low bet limit is $5 or $6, but unfortunately craps are limited to single odds.
I don't know why it is, but the bartenders at all the bars seem to have great personalities, except at the pool bars. Maybe that's because they are so busy outside. Still, the best bartender on the ship, and I think I visited every bar, was Michael at the Champagne bar. He usually works upstairs at Vortex, but is down at the Champagne bar while the usual bar keep is on vacation.
As I said before, I've not been on Rccl for a little while, having spent time with Princess and Celebrity, but two things I really liked about this ship were there is a real cigar bar still in operation, and there is free caviar available at the Champagne Bar
I only saw one show and it was a comedian David Orion. I thought he was really good. For those interested, Day 2 was the RC Singers and Dancers in West End to Broadway, Day 3 was Direct from Argentina, the High Energy Los Pampos Gauchos, and Day 4 was Farewell Variety Showtime starring the Jewel of the Seas Entertainers. Again, I only saw David Orion.
For those who care about such things, the Master is Captain Stig Nilsen; The Cruise Director is Dennis Charles; and the Loyalty Ambassador is Christine Maruntelu. I didn't have much interaction with any of them, but people on Cruise Critic always seem to want to know who in on board.
For the rumor mill, at least one crew member was saying that when they return next year, they are talking about sailing from Tampa to Key West and the Bahamas.
Overall, we had a great time. I usually try to take two trips a year and the longer one seems to be in the fall. But I could very much get used to a short shoulder season trip from Tampa.