Jewel of the Seas Cruise Review by DarthGrady: A great repositioning cruise on Jewel!
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A great repositioning cruise on Jewel!
Intro: This was the Jewel's last cruise from Tampa, a one way trip to San Juan, P.R. We'd never done a repositioning cruise before. So the brief drive to Tampa with a short flight home was pretty appealing. We were originally booked in an interior cabin, but got a very cheap upgrade to a balcony room due to a big price drop. We ended up with room 7164, port side aft. My wife's parents were kind enough to drop us off at the terminal, so parking fees weren't an issue.
The Port of Tampa is one of the best when it comes to crowd handling, especially the terminal that the Jewel pulls up to (#3 I believe). We were out of the car, through security, checked in and walking onto the ship within twenty minutes. The only snag was with an overzealous security officer who seemed to think that I was going to commandeer the ship with a cigar cutter. I tried to tell her that I've carried it onto every other cruise without issue, but she would hear nothing of it. Thankfully More another officer quietly told her that he thought cigar cutters were okay, and she relented.
Thanks to Lord Timothy spotting a big price drop while we were on Monarch's final cruise, we got a nearly-free upgrade from an interior to an (extended) balcony cabin on deck seven. The room was pretty standard, with a small sofa, closet, vanity and an extended balcony. As I've noted in other reviews, I was very happy to see that our shower had the sliding doors instead of the attack-shower-curtain. The only drawback to this room was a ledge in front of the balcony that blocks the view directly down to the water.
The Jewel is still in great shape for being nearly a decade old. Her crew keeps her well maintained and spotless. The Radiance Class ships are some of the brightest and best designed cruise ships ever built.
Day 1: Tampa
The first activity of the day was to stop by the Sky Bar for an unofficial Cruise Critic meeting. It was nice to finally meet all folks from the roll call in person.
After the boat drill we made our way up to the Viking Crown Lounge for sail away. We had a great time, and eventually made our way outside to watch the ship sail under the Sunshine Skyway.
We received a letter earlier in the day explaining that the nightly Diamond event would be held in multiple locations, instead of the usual single lounge (usually either the Hollywood Odyssey or the Viking Crown Lounge). We could go to either the lobby bar area, casino bar or the Schooner Bar for drinks from 5pm until 8pm.
Later in the evening we stopped by the Sea View Cafe for food. It's such a nice place to eat, I'm really disappointed that they're getting rid of them in favor of pay-extra venues. The rest of the evening was spent occupying various bars and lounges around the ship. Karaoke in the Safari Club and a "Farewell Tampa" party in the Centrum were the highlights. We then headed back up to the Viking Crown Lounge, which doubles as the disco at night. This night was extra special, since I finally got to see the revolving bar in motion.
Day 2: Key West
We had our first visit to the Jewel's fitness center as the ship was making its way to the pier in Key West. After debarking the ship, we began making our way down Duval Street. Along the way we stopped into The Bull and Whistle pub for a few drinks, we even climbed up to the "clothing optional" patio on the roof. Our time up there was brief, feeling a little our of place since we weren't sharing in the nudity.
Seeking lunch, we continued down Duval Street looking for a pizzeria that L.T. frequents. Unfortunately it had closed down. Still craving pizza, we located another little place nearby called Mr. Z's. (Duval and Southard). We all shared a Philly cheesesteak pie that was pretty good.
The rest of the afternoon was spent moving from bar, to pub, to bar. We briefly debated hitting a strip club, but it didn't pan out. Our second to last stop was at the Two Friends pub on Front Street. They had a nice patio section, but the afternoon was getting warmer so we stayed inside. Of course I devoured my obligatory piece of key lime pie as we made our way back to the pier. We were among the last onboard, and immediately went to the promenade deck to watch for any entertaining pier runners. Unfortunately there were none, and the ship left as scheduled.
We had a few pre-dinner drinks in the Diamond event and then went to the main dining room for the first formal dinner. This was a bad decision. The wait staff was friendly enough, but the service speed was unusually slow. The taste and quality of the meal wasn't quite up to par either. I was glad that we switched to "my time dining", since we feel less obliged to go to the dining room each night to see our wait staff. We intended to go out to the bars and clubs after dinner, but a full day of sun and booze had taken their toll. Bed time came early this night.
Day 3: At Sea
The first stop on our lone sea day was the official Cruise Critic Meet and Mingle. Royal did a nice job with it, supplying pastries, coffee, and some door prizes. I enjoyed meeting everyone, well attended Meet and Mingles are usually one of the highlights of a cruise.
This cruise was the first time in quite awhile that the cooks got the Eggs Benedict right. I'm pretty particular about my favorite breakfast meal, and for some reason they tend to put to much lemon in the hollandaise sauce. Not on this cruise, as they were very nearly perfect. A trip to the gym followed breakfast.
Early in the afternoon we stopped into the dining room for the awesome salad bar they put out on sea days. The rest of the afternoon was spent poolside. First watching the belly flop contest, and then hanging out at the pool bar.
In the evening we attended the past guest party, it was very crowded. Apparently over half the ship were returning guests. Due to high attendance rate, it was fairly hard to get a drink. After the Diamond event we had a late dinner at the Sea View Cafe. The night was capped off with a (completely unauthorized) trip out to the heli-pad deck for some stargazing.
Day 4: Labadee, Haiti
I woke to find one of my favorite ships, Freedom of the Seas, parked next door. Luckily we were on the island side of the pier, so she wasn't blocking our view of the scenery. We again hit the gym after breakfast, followed by some relaxation in the room before going ashore.
We only spent a few hours in Labadee, just long enough for lunch and a little hammock time. I watched the Freedom leave from the balcony before heading to the Diamond event. We ate dinner at the Sea View Cafe again since the dining room's offering wasn't very appealing. It was an early night due to an excursion planned for the next morning.
Day 5: Samana, Dominican Republic
We had to get an early start this day since we needed to be among the first off the ship. Breakfast in the Diamond area was very good and the service was fast. We then headed ashore for our excursion to El Limon falls which we booked through Terry's Tours. We were joined by several members from our Cruise Critic roll call.
It started raining pretty heavily almost as soon as we boarded the tram. Luckily it was mostly over by the time we got to our first stop. The first area we came to was a small shopping area next to the highway. They had a cigar maker rolling fresh stogies, and a presentation area where they have local rums, cocoa and fruits to sample.
The main attraction of the tour is the El Limon waterfall. The path to it has some steep and rocky hills, so the use of horses and donkeys is provided. There is still a small hike down to the base of the falls, but it takes only a few minutes. The waterfall itself is beautiful, although the area at the bottom gets fairly congested when multiple tour groups are present. My only big complaint about the excursion was how the animals were used to carry people over such rough terrain. The horses and donkeys seemed too thin, and had to really struggle up some of the ridges. If we ever return to the falls, I would opt to bring a pair of shoes/boots that I wouldn't mind getting muddy and hike up there. If the locals can do it in flip-flops, I can do it.
Upon returning to the start point we had a lunch of local foods that was very good. After eating we started back toward the ship. Beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) were provided for us during the ride to and from the falls. Once back aboard the ship, we had an early dinner at the Sea View Cafe before hitting the gym.
First stop during the evening was the Diamond Event, followed by the Top Tier Crown and Anchor party. We had a few more drinks in the casino bar and then watched the "City of Dreams" show in the main theater. The lead singers were very good. After the show we celebrated the birthday of one of our fellow cruisers at midnight in the Champagne Bar. We then finished out the night at the Vortex disco.
Day 6: Tortola, BVI
We didn't have anything planned in Tortola, so the day started later than usual. We did eventually go ashore after breakfast and a trip to the gym. There isn't a whole lot to do around the pier area in Tortola. We wound up just having a few drinks at a cafe with some folks that we'd met onboard. After a little shopping we went back to the ship.
Another early dinner at the Sea View Cafe was followed by the nightly Diamond event and watching sail away. We stopped into the casino before watching the 70s Dance Party in the Centrum. After the party was over it was time for The Quest. They did a pretty good job with The Quest on this cruise, without much watering-down for the sake of decorum. I've noticed too many cruise directors trying to make it less racy, and I was glad to find that (cruise director) Carly wasn't. It would be another late night in the Vortex, ending somewhere around 3 am.
Day 7: St. Maarten, NA
Staying up late the night before seemed like less of a good idea at around 7 am as we were waking up to head out for a shore excursion. We booked through Bernard's Tours, independently of the cruise line. This can save you money. But you do run the risk of the ship not waiting for you if you're late, so schedule carefully.
We met John, our tour guide, at the information desk just off the pier. He had a nice air conditioned van; but more importantly he had a cooler full of beer and rum. After a few photo stops, our first big attraction was Orient Beach. He first showed us that one side is clothing optional before dropping us off further down the beach. The beach is very nice, with several bars and restaurants along it.
The second main stop was Marigot, the capital city of the French side of the island. This was a brief stop, so we didn't have a lot of time to see the city. We did walk through the marina area and stopped at a French bakery. The eclairs were delicious.
After Marigot we traveled to Maho Beach, which is famous for its close proximity to the runway of St. Maarten's airport. The beach itself is fairly narrow and not particularly impressive. The main draw is watching the landing jets pass only a few feet overhead. The brave/stupid can stand behind the departing planes and get a face full of dirt from the jet wash or possibly get blown out into the water. Fun!
After leaving Maho we began venturing back to Philipsburg, but stopped en route so that a certain someone could get a very specific chicken sandwich from KFC. We did a little shopping in Philipsburg before returning to the ship for well earned naps. All in all it was a nice "sampler" tour of the island. We saw many new places since we'd never bothered to leave Philipsburg before. I'd like to go back to Orient Beach, I might even get up the nerve to earn my beads someday.
Later, we went to the Diamond event one last time and made sure to tip the awesome bar staff. We also had one last dinner at the Sea View Cafe. Since Royal Caribbean is unwisely removing the Sea View Cafes from the Radiance Class ships it may well have been THE LAST time we'll eat there. I made sure to put into my comment card how much that disappoints me.
We begrudgingly packed our bags and set them outside before turning in for the night. This cruise was over much too quickly; but it was great to travel with a friend from previous cruises and to meet several new ones at the same time. The itinerary was fast paced with only one day at sea but going to new ports is always a plus. Jewel is still a great ship with a friendly crew, and I'm sorry that she won't be coming back to Tampa.
We debarked in San Juan around 8 am, it went very smoothly. We booked the "Old and New San Juan" tour through the cruise line. They had the shuttle waiting for us at the terminal and took care of transporting our luggage to the airport.
Our guide took us on a narrated tour of the old and new sections of the city with a long stop at the San Cristobal fort. The stop allows enough time (about an hour and a half) to quickly see the fort and walk around down town. The driver then took us to the airport.
L.T. booked the same flight as us, so we all had lunch at the airport. The security process at San Juan's airport was very unorganized. At one point there were three lines for three security officers. Sounds like a simple equation right? Unfortunately it wasn't as clear to the dim TSA staff. Since the lines weren't directly in front of each officer, one agent wound up checking two lines while two agents checked the other. Not a huge deal, but it displays the incompetence of the people we entrust with our security. After the security headache we thankfully had an uneventful flight home.
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