This was my 12th cruise overall and 9th with RCI (second on the Jewel) so guess you can say I'm a seasoned cruiser.
We were going to book a suite but our last suite on the Vision was noisy and since that's where the suites were on the Jewel, we opted for a regular balcony. Our mid-ship stateroom was perfect with an extended deep balcony - look for these rooms on most all RCI ships, the balconies are large and very private. There are 4 on each of the upper decks and though they're right next to the stairs/elevators (convenient too), we never had an issue with noise - once the door is closed you can barely hear a thing. The size of the bathroom sure made me miss the suite though. It's the only time I can pee and do my makeup at the same time. Bring your own shampoo, the 2 in 1 provided is horrible.
First time cruisers would do well to book a mid-ship room where you're less likely to feel motion and get sea sick especially if you're on the smaller ships (under 100K tons). It's also a good idea to book a cruise such as this one that leaves from the Caribbean so your ports of call are close together and the ship travels at a much lower knot speed to get to the ports. I've always found I feel the motion most when we're heading back to the USA at a higher speed.
We spent 3 days in San Juan pre-cruise and stayed at the Doubletree Hilton - excellent hotel and had a lovely garden view room which leads to the open 24 hour pool area - fantastic! Aside from that, what can you say about SJ other than meh?
Embarkation at 12:30 pm was smooth (about 15 mins) and there's a wine/liquor stand upon entering the terminal but it's not that cheap and the wine selection is worse than meh. You're allowed 2 bottles of wine so buy them in SJ instead; expect to pay at least $15 for a decent bottle at the local supermarket. We also brought bottles water and canned pop with no issues.
Disembarkation was also smooth and all I can say is we saw lots of confiscated irons at the terminal which you can reclaim at the end of the cruise so save the time and leave them at home. Yeah, it's a scam - they just want you to use their cleaning service - but you'll never get one by their scanners.
Service was simply fantastic. We opted out of the dining rooms years ago when we felt they were declining in quality so go to the buffet and Chops instead. Chops is excellent (wear loose clothing) and the service and food in the WJ is very good. You get far more personalized attention there and with so many choices including those made to order, you just can't go wrong. Best of all, it's quiet and relaxed unlike the busy dining rooms which my hubby refers to as upscale cafeterias not worth getting dressed up for.
A server (Edwin) even reserved a table for us when he saw us coming with my milk there waiting for me. He served us wine many nights in a professional manner, we were most impressed. The buffet managers visited our table every night to ask if we were pleased and considering all the reviews I've read where cruisers never knew who their maitre d was, this counts for something! My dessert every night was fresh fruit and cheeses;what a great variety from blue to brie every night - yummy! Watch out for the wasabi at the sushi bar - it's killer.
Because RCI requires you to choose a formal dining option, we simply released our seats the first day and then went to Guest Services to stop the auto gratuity. We gave our tips only to the WJ staff and our room steward.
The trio at Lattitudes were the best and so much fun! Our room steward was attentive and all staff was friendly and helpful. We had no complaints aside from now that RCI applies C&A benefits auto to your account rather than giving out vouchers; you had to ask for them except for the few occasions when a server asked if I wanted to apply it. For eg, you get a discount on one beverage but it wasn't until after a few beers that we were asked if we wanted to apply the discount (thanks Edwin). There was a free beer when one bought and we just assumed there would be a beer subtracted from our account but no such luck so be sure to ask.
The ship was clean and well maintained, can't see why anyone would say she's showing her age. Yeah, maybe the carpets aren't as bright blue but I don't go on a cruise to look at the floors either.
We don't do excursions with RCI. we prefer to book these on our own. We were disappointed when we got off in St. Kitts to do the zip line to learn we could only go through RCI, no independent tours allowed. Not a major issue but really wish RCI would have mentioned that in the excursion description. Best beaches were in Aruba and St. Thomas. Watch out for pricing in the Dutch islands too, it's in florins which is 1.75 to the USD. We had a beach server try to charge us at par and a bartender who billed us in florins after I told him USD. Listen for the ice cream truck - delish and cheap. Another plus for Aruba beaches is they're all public so no resorts on them and the plentiful shade huts are free to use. We went to Eagle Beach but there's a string of beaches here to choose from. Best clothes shopping was in Curacao but you had to look for the better shops amid all the tourist stuff.
Aside from a comedian from NJ who looked like Jerry Orbach, the entertainment was our only negative. Yikes, the shows were terrible. And can RCI please bring back "If I Were Not Upon the Sea" for the finale? At least it's funny! You also have your usual array of cruise activities, definitely something for everyone.
Would highly recommend the Jewel.