This was my 4th cruise on RC (Grandeur, Liberty, Allure and Jewel). Took a flight from Baltimore, MD to San Juan which was hassle-free. The 20 minute taxi ride from airport to pier was at times a "nail-biter". Apparently, they don't use turn signals there. Let me start off with the pros, which are quite a few.
Whereas, RCCL no longer sends luggage tags either by email or in the mail, we had to get them at the pier which wasn't a big deal (this should probably be listed as a Con, but I'll keep it here). Arrived at the pier around 11:30 and embarking was, as usual, very quickly. On the ship in less than 20 minutes. Went straight to the Windjammer, which I'll discuss a little later, for a quick bite and the cabin was ready before I could finish. The cabin was next to the elevators overlooking the sea therefore, the balcony had a restrictive view towards the front of the ship. The balcony was huge and could accomodate 6-8 people with as many loungers/chairs. The Windjammer had a nice selection of breakfast/lunch foods including an omelet station, which incidentally isn't on the Allure (go figure).
Even though the Jewel is almost 10 years old, staff does a decent job in maintaining it's upkeep. There were small areas that showed minor wear and tear, like peeling paint, worn carpeting, etc., that will be part of the major upgrades/retrofit in '16. (Again this could be a Con, but I'll keep it here).
Chops Grille was great and I make it a point to eat there at least once on every cruise that I take. Didn't do Portofino's based on other reviews that I've read. Overall, I had a pleasant experience on this cruise and have already booked the Jewel for May, '14 to the Southern Caribbean with friends that couldn't make it this past May.
Cons (both ship and ports):
No Johnny Rockets (that sucks!). No sliced salmon in the Windjammer. On formal nights quite a few people didn't bother to dress appropriately and some even had the nerve to wear shorts and sandals. One guy even had on a "wife-beater" and staff didn't turn him away. Can you believe that? Also, a lot of people think that since they'd paid their money for the cruise, staff should wait on them hand and foot. I overheard an intoxicated, no drunk, couple talk to a worker using crude and racist language telling him that he needs to get off the ship and swim back to his country. And this was the same couple that held up the muster drill by not checking in with staff as was previously reported on another post. Captain Tull did the right thing in not releasing the drill. Unbelievable!!
When I got to St. Croix, I stopped at a vendor and in talking to her, I found out that she lives off-season in my hometown (5 blocks away). I've kept in touch with her and mentioned that I'll be back next May. Incidentally, when I was on the Liberty in '10 I met a couple on board that lived around the corner from me and had never met or seen them. Amazing!!! Now I'll get to the cons of the ports.
St. Croix was OK, just did a little shopping at the port and returned to the ship. The area around the port looked a little suspect to me with a lot of abandoned buildings around the narrow streets. Didn't want to walk to far from the ship. There also wasn't many vendors for shopping or bargaining. Philipsburg was also OK if you just wanted to shop "downtown", which is loaded with shops and and local vendors. St. Johns was the worst with the volume of "hawkers" trying to force you buy their stuff or taking a taxi to who knows where. I enjoyed St. Lucia and even took a walking tour through their rainforest which was very exciting to say the least. Barbados was great once you get away from the pier which reminded me of a run-down warehouse district. All and all I always make the best out of a cruise though. RCCL needs to really survey their guests for input on the cleanliness, safety and other matters for some ports that they visit, especially Nassau, St. Johns and a few others. They'd have to pay me to cruise to Nassau which I did on the Allure in '12.
As I'd stated before, I'll be returning on this cruise next May and I now know what to expect. This time though, I've booked a Junior Suite where I can double my Crown & Anchor points which will put me in Platinum status. Currently, I'm a Gold member with 29 points. After another cruise in May, '15 and with another Junior Suite, I'll graduate to Emerald. Now I know Suites are the way to go. Keep cruising folks!