I always liked the traditional aspects of cruising that Carnival tried to bring to the public many years ago when it started operations and as evident on my first cruise 30 years ago - fine dining, superior service, great entertainment and large dance floors. Of my 14 cruises most have been in the last 10 years while cruising has been undergoing what I call a "dumbing down" that I blame NCL for starting with it's Freestyle cruising initiative. I see a 2 prong effect of this - more appeal to the sweat suit wearing crowd, discount low income crowdds and the mentality of who wants to dress up style of cruising for Joe Cruiser types and push your way through the crowds. On the other side of this reduction in the glamor and romance of cruising is the cruise lines acting like airlines by getting more and more fees and money from their cruisers for "better food", drinks and service. During the past decade, on some ships the main dining room experience is so degraded in both the quality and portions of food and service that it no longer is acceptable to me and cruising is losing it's romantic, quality vacation allure. Ship board personnel who were always some of the hardest worked in any modern industry are pushed to ridiculous limits when I talk to them about number of cabins stewarded or tables waited and on many ships and cruise lines it shows in their service to you - less personable, more formula and supervisors that only want perfection, not person-ability and connection with the customers.
Sigh of relief - at least to this point Jewel Of The Seas has not been too modernized and dumbed down.
EMBARKATION - We were visiting relatives in the Tampa area. I was looking for a good vacation deal in the Caribbean to fill in part of our 2 week Florida winter vacation. I probably would have preferred an air/land deal but RCL Jewel Of The Seas for 7 nights out of Tamps was at least $300 less than any deal I could find for 5-7 nights from Tampa during January and I and I rate cruises as a good vacation, so I booked this deal after not finding a better values elsewhere during searches over a few months. The Tampa embark and disembark was unexpectedly smooth for an experienced cruiser. The recommended boarding of 1:30 I always feel is towards mid-boarding rush - I prefer to arrive early to enjoy Lido buffet on board and an early preview of the ship even if it involves up to an hour or so wait to board. Most times early arrival and boarding has worked out very well for me. We planned to arrive at noon but I got us there around 11:30 to find boarding already going on and any waits were in the order of less than 5 minutes. Tampa port is surprisingly easy and efficient for both ON and OFF for a ship Jewel Of The Seas size. We were dropped off and picked up by vehicle by local family and it was very easy for everyone.
DINING - one of the biggest hits to traditional dining on many cruise lines is the main dining room. Not on Jewel of the Seas. We could have shrimp cocktail every night. Every night had fine dining food of top quality - prime rib, lobster tail, Atlantic salmon as a standard option every night, My wife, who loves breads, was pleased to still see varieties of 4 or more breads offered for every meal with some variations in the offering during the cruise. Jewel dining was like a forgotten gem - I have seen much much worse food quality and selection in recent years on NCL and Carnival - main dining rooms choices such as no shrimp cocktails, the same 3 breads every meal, tiny prime rib and lobster tail and those presented together on the same night. Jewel was a sigh of relief that not all cruise lines have lowered their main dining room food quality and selections. The service was professional and excellent.
STATEROOM - was a surprise - many cabins, at least towards the front of the ship on Deck 7 have some of the largest balconies I ever had on any ship and we were a low level balcony class. The balcony extended maybe 8-10 feet out and had room for not only 2 deck chairs and table but a lounger as well and the view was totally unobstructed. Deck 7 does have those balconies that extend out far enough that balconies above can look down on you - if you happen to not like that type of balcony, choose higher decks. The room was typically well furnished for a modern cruise ship. We noticed the somewhat medallion shaped bed seemed as wide as a queen or king bed and was very nice and comfortable - it was of course 2 beds pushed together, as is common on modern cruise ships, but seemed rather spacious compared to some others we have experienced. One of the minor disappointments of most modern cruise ships and another example of dumbing down was there were no bathroom amenities like travel size shampoos or body soap - we were only given bars of soap and a dispenser of some one kind of soap or body wash in the shower. All in all a typical but nicer than expected for bed and balcony size cruise cabin. Cabin steward Delano Charles was one of the most personable ever and has a very unique lounging passenger towel critter that is the best we ever saw - should make him famous!!!!
SHIP INFO - LIKE that there is decent space for weight machines which we use both on board and in our daily lives - a good selection of full body work out machines that are hard to find at resorts and hotels. LOVE that Solarium, adults only, glass enclosed pool area. BEST arrangement of food lines on Lido deck - "food islands" than customers can bounces around to, without waiting in lines - seems the most efficient design I have ever seen to feed large numbers of people. LIKE that pretty atrium with a circular Crown and Anchor area suspended above it at the top level and those green lighted stairs on the bottom level. LIKE the non-symmetrical walk through ares of decks 4-6; LOVE my wife and tables for 2 in the main dining room that seem in good supply. RCL has a hit in this ship design. LIKE fast elevators - seemed like the smallest waits and fastest rides of many ships I have experienced.
ACTIVITIES and ENTERTAINMENT - who cares. The cruise lines all want you to think there is tons of things to do. REAILTY - a sea day is made for those who want to relax, eat, work out and be entertained. The specialty events are sparsely attended and really not of that much quality or interest. It took me a lot of cruises to really get that sea days are not for the specialty events - they are for lounging in the sun, by the pool, maybe watching or involved in silly pool side games and sometimes decent music - for me sea days are a nice day to work out in a well equipped gym, walk the deck or stairs and then lounge to give my wife a great long back run - and of course - eat, eat eat. The ships shows always seem to be the same old song and dance to me - it amazes me that they get so much attendance. TV - you might catch up on the news or maybe find a movie or show of interest but the channels are limited and not usually very entertaining. The on board theater might have a fairly recent tv show worth catching.
TOURS - I agree that Stingray City at Grand Cayman is one of the top tours in the Caribbean. It is also suitable for most ages and aquatic capability levels because it is only waist to chest deep and relatively calm. An excellent interaction with wild sea critters on a very close up, safe and entertaining level even in a large group - play with them, kiss them, half them, feed them, and watch their amazing grace under water if you want to put on a mask and maybe snorkel. We opted for the ship's tour - a combination tour and then Tiki Beach on the also I agree top rated 7 Mile Beach. The downside of many ship's tours, which I already know well as a diver is crowds - divers don't like crowded cattle boats - preferring small fast boats with maybe 6 divers - cruise ship tours tend towards big groups - like 12-20 divers. There were 7 ships porting in Grand Caymen Jan 16, when we arrived, and RCL was maxxing out profits sending us plus Navigator Of The Seas passengers on a totally full small bus then an over crowded boat to Sting Ray city. When we got on board the boat all spaces were full plus 4 customers up top with the captain and no spare space on the full front deck. At Stingray City it did not matter and turned into a fun time for everyone and everyone was given an opportunity for full interaction with the sting rays. Tkii Beach was built for cruisers and had customers from 4 or more ships. There were enough loungers and beach for everyone but it as crowded and the one small women's restroom which also doubled as a changing room had long lines that were disappointing to my wife. We enjoyed seeing and being on 7 Miles beach and felt the $20 we paid for 2 man kayak was a good deal - it was nice to paddle off shore with no crowds and the beautiful shallow water, but then again at the end of the tour were were packed onto a full size modern bus with some people having to stand to get back to the port. All in all I got what I wanted and paid for - to see two famous Caribbean items - Stingray City and 7 Mile Beach, but the crowds on the ship's tour lessened the experience. At Cozumel I arranged a 2 tank dive from an independent operator that was even better than expected - almost private - 3 divers and guide on the first dive, then just me and one other diver with the guide on the second dive PLUS Cozumel's, famous to me , valet service from the boat driver and DM - put all your equipment and weights together - assist you into your gear and help you back on the boat - perfect and NO CROWDS, and of course, less costly than the ship's tour.
SUMMARY - very nice cruise, great food and service and not pushed to pay for alternative dining to get the good stuff. We also took advantage of RCL's new carry on non voyage wine to take one regular bottle size wined on board for each of us. Looking forward to a March 2014 cruise we have booked on Jewel for 7 days from San Juan. Hope the ship's refit with dining that sister ship Serenade Of The Seas just had doesn't dumb don the good traditional experience we just had.