My husband and I recently sailed on Jewel of the Seas out of San Juan. This was our 11th cruise overall and our second time on Jewel. We sailed on her previously in the Baltics and on her sister ship in Alaska. We really like this size ship and were not disappointed.
We flew in a day early and stayed at the Hilton Caribe. We were in one of the villa rooms. Our room was fine, but it was a long and confusing walk to the pool/beach area. If I stayed here again, I'd not stay in a villa. There were not a lot of food options right there, so we ended up going to the convention center and eating at a Brazilian Steakhouse. I'm gluten free and this restaurant had a lot of delicious options for me. Another recommendation from the concierge was the restaurant Choices in the Sheraton at the convention center. I'd like to try that another time. Breakfast in the hotel restaurant was good and you could order from the menu or eat from the buffet.
I did a separate forum post about food and gluten free on the ship, so I won't repeat that here, except to say that we were VERY disappointed in Portofino and would not spend our money on this again.
On Saturday we boarded Jewel and this was a fast and well done process. There is an extended boarding time as the ship does not leave until the evening. We were on shortly after noon and in our room by 1:00. We were in room 8062 mid ship. The drill was at 8 p.m.
Our first stop was St. Croix and this was our first formal night. I am having some issues with RCCL and their dining room policies. They state no shorts - yet consistently allow shorts in the dining room at dinner. I saw one woman come in to eat dinner that was dressed like she just came from the gym. I ate lunch with a man who wore his sunglasses and hat the entire meal. I don't need fancy - but some enforcing and decorum would be good. The windjammer is an option!
Back to St. Croix. We took a shuttle for $6/each (round trip - you are given a return ticket) to Paradise Beach. It is only two miles but you are better not to walk. The beach and water were lovely. We paid $20 for an umbrella and two comfy chairs. You can go to Rhythms right there for food, drinks and a washroom. They do not come bug you on the beach to buy anything. They also had rentals of other things there if you wanted them. While the water is right there and the beach area is not huge - another couple had a phone and camera stolen off of the beach while they were in the water. Someone jumped out of a bush and took off with their things. So do not leave any valuables on the beach! We stayed a few hours and then caught the shuttle back to the ship.
Our second day we were in St. Maarten and did a Random Wind excursion. This was amazing. I did a full review on Trip Advisor - but would suggest you get this reserved right away if you will be in port. It was a relaxing way to spend the day and much more reasonable than anything off of the ship. We previously did a ship tour of St. Maarten and did not enjoy it. We would do Random Wind again. From the port the taxi van was $7/person each way if you had six in the van. For two in the van it was $9 each way. We had 17 on the boat the day we went.
Our third day we were in Antigua and did a segway tour with Juliette of Segway Tours of Antigua. Again I highly recommend doing this and possibly extending your time at the beach/restaurant by the segway office. I also did a full review of this on Trip Advisor. I would do this again.
Our fourth day we were in St. Lucia and did Cosol tours. Another good day and another review over on Trip Advisor. A full day, saw a lot and an excellent value. If you book this you will need $$ for bathrooms, snorkel gear and shopping (although the shopping is very limited).
Our fifth day was in Barbados and we did not book or do much of anything.
A few general comments....
The Jewel has a small movie theater that we really enjoy. Why there is not always a movie playing is beyond me. One day we went to the scheduled movie and it was half over. Other days there would be limited activities and no movie playing.
The shows in the theater were not up to the standards we have previously experienced on RCCL. We had early seating for dinner and usually were finished with dinner about half way through the early show. The shows were at 7 and 9. Having one of the shows at 8 seems like it would make more sense. More than half of the theater was usually empty.
The library is nice. It is small and about half of the books are foreign language books. This would be fine, except that much of the ship population is not foreign speaking - at least not on our ship.
We had requested a large table for dinner. We were placed at a table for four and were the only two at the table. For breakfast they like to seat you with other diners, which I enjoy. Why they use interior tables near service areas is beyond me. We had to sit at an interior table by a service area for dinner - and almost always for breakfast even though there were window tables available. It seems like those willing to share large tables (which they seem to encourage) should be able to do so and be given window tables when available. It would seem to help to encourage what you want and keep everyone happy.
Our meet and mingle was at 4:30 on our third day. A member of the cruise staff spoke. I thought it was fine - at least he admitted that the giveaways were cheap plastic that no one wanted. I've always been curious why they wouldn't give away luggage tags or something with the RCCL name on them that people would use. Seems like it would be beneficial as advertising.
I did go to one jewelry making class and was more disappointed than one could imagine. I'd be happy to pay something - if necessary - to make some quality item. I was actually looking forward to learning how to make something. The staff member had never made the item and it was a super cheap piece of junk. It was held in a space with not enough seating or light and they allowed children to attend. Seems like the kids have their own programs on board. It really is nice to have some activities during the day, but this just isn't it.
The loungers and pool areas are very nice. I don't really care for the whole towel check out process - their sister ship Celebrity provides nice beach towels in your cabin and this seems like a much better option.
Even without a promenade this is a very easy ship to get around. We had no way to hear the ship announcements in our cabin. I guess they are only broadcast in the main areas. I appreciated not being startled to hear about bingo, but would like the option to hear announcements at some times. Our room was fairly quiet except in the morning. We had a service door directly across from our room and the crew was quite loud and in and out a lot. Our balcony was nice and had shade, which we enjoyed.
Disembarking the ship went very well and we were on our way in no time. We rented a car from Charlies and went to El Yunque. This was a nice way to spend a good part of the day, as we chose to stay an extra day. We then spent that night at the Isla Verde Courtyard Marriott. I cannot say enough about this hotel. Lovely location on the beach, wonderful staff, excellent restaurant choices, convenient to the airport, complimentary beach chairs and umbrellas, swim up bar, all the beach towels you want, etc. I would definitely stay here again and consider staying longer. They even have a coffee bar and ice cream bar in the lobby.
All in all it was a very port intensive and good trip. Sailing out of San Juan is very smooth and the stops were delightful.