This is a review of the 2/3/08 Jewel of the Seas 6 Night Western Caribbean cruise out of Ft. Lauderdale visiting Key West, Cozumel, Belize and Playa del Carmen. This was our 3rd cruise, and first with Royal Caribbean. Previously we've sailed the Eastern Caribbean on the Carnival Legend and went to Canada/New England on the Carnival Victory. My husband and I left a day before cruise embarkation and stayed in Ft. Lauderdale at the Sheraton Yankee Clipper hotel which was right on the beach. Our travel agent had booked us a room at the Bahia Mar for $260 per night, but we were able to get the Sheraton on Priceline for $150. The Bahia Mar was right across the street and both hotels were within walking distance to nightlife, stores, restaurants, etc. We enjoyed our stay there and would recommend it to others planning to visit the area. However, there wasn't a complimentary shuttle to the port, and the cab fare was about $16 to the port.
Embarkation—We arrived at the terminal around 11:00. When we first got to the terminal, porters were there to take our luggage and luggage tags were available from the porters. We then moved inside the port terminal and received a number and were directed to a seating area. Each number represented a group and was called in order about 15 minutes apart. Once inside, there was another line for check-in. We had e documents and had our Set Sail pass completed, which saved time. We got our Sea Pass cards and then went through security, embarkation photos and then on board the ship. The whole process took about 45 minutes to an hour. Once on the ship we were directed to the Windjammer for lunch on deck 11. We were impressed by the dEcor, layout and design of the ship. The elevators have glass windows allowing you to see out into the ocean which was really beautiful and unique to any ship we've been on. When you step out of the elevators on each floor there is a deck map/cross section of the Jewel telling you where you are and the location of everything else in relation to where you are so it makes it very easy to find your way around the ship. We had lunch in the Windjammer which somewhat hectic due to everyone embarking at the same time, but all of the food stations were well laid out and lines were short. There was lots of fresh fruit, good salad bar and separate dessert area in addition to various hot food stations including Asian and pizza.
The muster drill was quick and painless. We gathered in the Schooner bar and listened to instructions over a loud speaker while cruise staff demonstrated in front of you. It wasn't a lengthy out door, crowded process the way we experienced on Carnival so this was much better. Stateroom—We had originally booked and ocean view stateroom without a balcony, figuring we'd be in port more often than on the ship so we put the savings toward shore excursions. However, the upgrade fairies intervened on our behalf. Three days before we looked at our reservation online and noticed we were upgraded to a deck 8 balcony stateroom! When we called RCCL to confirm, they said that the room we originally booked held 4 people and there was a passenger need that prompted the upgrade for us. Whatever the reason, we definitely lucked out. The room was smaller than the balcony staterooms we've had on Carnival, but we were able to unpack all of our things and store our luggage under the bed. The balcony itself seemed larger than what we've had in the past, and had two chairs and a table on it. The bathroom had some storage, and shower doors which were better than just the curtain. There was a shampoo dispenser in the shower, but no liquid soap. This was a birthday cruise for me and my husband—mine was during the cruise and his right after, and he had the room decorated with garland, a happy birthday sign on the door and 1 dozen red roses and a birthday cake made out of daisies. There was a refrigerator in the room filled with sodas and candy (at a charge of course), but we used it to store bottles of water. Unfortunately it was not very much colder than room temperature. Nothing ever got cold in there.
Our cabin steward, Ron, came by shortly after to introduce himself and he was on top of every detail the whole week. We had towel animals, he let us in our room if he was nearby rather than us get our key out, always said hello to us by name and kept the room very neat and clean. He really worked hard. We had all of our luggage by two o'clock.
The Ship—The Jewel is a beautiful ship--very nicely designed/decorated and well laid-out. There was lots of glass offering views of the ocean and all of the public areas were well maintained. There were several bars/lounges—the Champagne Bar in Centrum which was the middle area of the ship viewable on each deck, the Schooner Bar had small couches and tables in front of big screen TVs and the Safari Club, where karaoke took place had comfortable chairs, self-leveling pool tables and lots of seating. The dEcor was rich dark colors and dark wood, very refined looking. The common areas never felt crowded and there was a good flow of traffic on the ship and no significant lines anywhere. The Tides dining room was also very nicely done. We were on the lower level toward the back which wasn't the greatest location but still very nice. The only disappointment as far as how the ship looked was the Coral Theater. It was filled with individual multi-colored seats and neon lights on the walls and it was kind of tacky. We actually didn't spend a lot of time there because we had late seating dining and there was usually a pre-dinner show that we missed because we were most of the time getting ready for dinner after shore excursions.
Food—overall the food was just okay. We had higher hopes for it because Royal Caribbean is reputed to have better cuisine than Carnival, but we actually preferred most things on Carnival. The dinner menus for the most part, were unappealing and the taste/preparation was just okay, nothing great. I think my favorite meal was an alternative selection... NY Strip steak. It was a good cut of meat and prepared exactly as I'd asked. Lobster was served on night 5 with something called the Captain's Platter. That was a lobster tail and three small shrimp. I think they could have done a little better than that. Dessert is my favorite part of dinner, but they were disappointing. The best thing was Tiramisu. The warm chocolate cake and brownies were just okay, wouldn't really impress a chocolate lover! Our wait staff for dinner was good. Hayden was the waiter, assisted by Marcos. Hayden was really good and Marcos was still learning. The headwaiter, (forgot his name) actually came by each night to say hello and would shell our shrimp and lobster tails for us and make sure we had all that we needed. It was clear they worked hard, but there were times that we were waiting for water and the whole process seemed a bit rushed. A nice thing about Hayden was that each night he would let us know what to expect in port the next day and did make conversation with us each night. He also was more than willing to bring two of whatever if you couldn't decide on what to order.
We did go to Chops one night and it was definitely better than the dining room. My husband enjoyed it more than I did. I just felt that we shouldn't have to spend $50 extra to get a good meal on a cruise. The service was better than the dining room and our filet mignon was very good as well as the sides. I do have to say the highlight was the chocolate mud pie. I wished there was a chocolate cake even half as good as this elsewhere on the ship, but I never did find it.
In the Windjammer we enjoyed breakfast the most. Each day they offered omelets, pancakes, French toast and waffles instead of alternating them each day. We only ate lunch there twice and never had dinner there. A few things we didn't like. There are two areas where attendants fill cups with water, iced tea, lemonade and coffee and juice during breakfast which you can just grab on your own. However, the juice was warm and the Windjammer would close at certain times during the day and definitely at night which meant that you couldn't get anything but water or a drink that you had to pay for after that time. Because the Windjammer was closed at certain times and at night, there wasn't frozen yogurt available when you wanted it and the only topping offered was chocolate syrup. Also, the had hamburgers and hotdogs, but they weren't grilled to order, they were pre-cooked and were sitting in water or grease which wasn't the greatest. The pizza was okay, but not as good as on Carnival. There were two alternative casual lunch/snack spots—the Seaview Cafe and the Solarium. At the Seaview you could get grilled burgers, Reubens and fish and chips. I had onion rings there and my husband had a Reuben. Though we didn't try them, you could get milkshakes which was a nice touch.
The Solarium had pizza and crepes made with different fillings which were quite good. The area of the Solarium looked really nice. It had a pool and hot tubs and comfortable seating. There were lots of big plants to give it a tropical feel and a glass roof.
Entertainment—We only saw a little bit of the dancers in the welcome show and we saw a comedian, juggler who was quite good and a magician that kind of did a David Blaine type of act and also chained himself up poolside and was thrown underwater to see how long it would take for him to break out of it. Mildly entertaining. The cruise director was Bobby Brown and he was pretty good. On our sea day we went to the cooking demonstration with the head chef which was good and a towel folding demo. They actually gave out recipes and diagrams on how to make a few animals which I though was nice.
The Quest game show was entertaining. There were a bunch of very funny guys heavily competing to win. It's one of those things you just have to see.
The Captain was Thor from Norway and he was a very personable Captain. He gave a lot of info about the ship at his cocktail party and interacted with many of the guests.
Karaoke in the Safari lounge was our nightly activity. They had two days of try outs and a finale show. We thought this was better than Carnival. On Carnival, they have the guests compete as the final show, but RCCL gives a final show and a final karaoke contest. There were a few really good performers and of course, the "wrecks." The bar staff was present, but not annoying and there was a great frozen wild berry pina colada called the Lava Flow that was excellent. So was the frozen Key Lime pie drink that was really good too.
Gym—The gym was pretty large and never fully occupied. I went almost every day and I was always able to get an elliptical machine and they had a studio in the middle for classes. The spa was right near by and I didn't have any spa treatments, but I did go to the puffy eye seminar that was pretty informative and surprisingly, they didn't try to sell products.
Key West—The boat was docked and we didn't plan an organized excursion through RCCL. We ended up renting bikes from Paradise Bike Rentals right off of Front St. For two bikes, for the whole time we were in port, it was only $25. It was well worth it. We were able to explore the whole island and there's lots of places to lock up the bikes when you want to stop. We saw all the major sites and toured Hemmingway's house. I highly recommend it for animal lovers. The cats have the run of the property and it's a great tour. We sat down on a bench near one of the gardens and a big white cat came and laid down on my husband's lap and purred while he pet him. Most of the cats were friendly and some just went about their business on the grounds oblivious to tourists. We ended the day with conch fritters and pina coladas at Sloppy Joe's bar and definitely enjoyed our time in Key West. It's a great town and a place we'd visit again.
Cozumel—We were docked in Cozumel. Because we were in a foreign country, and didn't want to worry about "what ifs," we decided to book all our tours here and thereafter through RCCL rather than locally. I'm sure you could do well booking locally, but we just didn't want to take the chance of something going wrong and missing the ship. Here I did the City Highlights and Shopping tour and my husband did the Two-Tank Scuba Dive. I enjoyed the city highlights and the ocean looked amazing. The shopping part wasn't the greatest. The tour guide and everyone you come into contact with are trying to get you to go into Diamonds International, but I just wasn't interested. There's a great store called Cinco Soles that sells all sorts of things from jewelry to house wares and it's attached to Panchos Backyard restaurant. I did buy some vanilla and a few souvenirs there. Otherwise, the store owners are very aggressive and completive when trying to get you to come into their stores. You should definitely negotiate with them, particularly for the jewelry. I was looking at a black coral bracelet that I was told was $150, but somehow went down to $40 when I was walking away. When I said no to $40, the seller said "Okay then, how much do you want to pay for it?" so it's definitely possible to get the price you want or close to it. I would never again do a shopping tour, just city highlights.
Scuba diving was great; water was warm and very clear. First dive was to Santa Ana reef that was part of the continental plate and the second was to el Paradiso where the depth was about 40 feet and like swimming in an aquarium.
Belize—We were tendered in Belize, but it was a smooth process getting ashore. Belize itself is a very poor country. There isn't much to do very close to the port. There's some restaurants and shops near the port, but not enough to occupy your time there. You'd be better off doing some kind of tour. We booked the Mayan ruins of Xuanantunich (pronounced shu-non-tu-neech). We had a very knowledgeable tour guide and the ruins were very impressive. We were able to climb the taller of the two ruins where at the top you can see Guatemala. It was a hike and very hot, but worth it. I think going down was worse than going up because the stairs were very small, uneven stone formations. We got some great pictures and learned a lot about the history. The marimba lunch was at a nearby open air restaurant and it was okay...some chicken and rice and beans. The only downside was the bus. Though it had some air conditioning, it was pretty warm and it was a two hour ride each way. So, with it being in the 90s outside, a hike up some ruins and a hot bus for 4 hours, we were looking forward to the tender ship back. But, the ruins were definitely worth it. We'd recommend this excursion.
Playa del Carmen—We were tendered here as well, but getting ashore wasn't a problem. We did the Tulum tour which was a Mayan city built on the ocean. There were lots of tours going on at once so it was a bit crowded there, but it was a good tour. The water was incredible there and we'd highly recommend seeing these ruins. The whole scene was amazing. It's hard to compare this and Xuantunich since they are so different. Both should be seen for different reasons. If you are looking for a shorter tour, take Tulum. Once back in Playa del Carmen, we shopped a bit and went to Senor Frogs for drinks before taking the tender back. Some of the store owners were rude and aggressive. When I was negotiating with one on a necklace for my mother in law, he told me that the price I was looking for would get me cheap crap and if that's what I wanted to buy my friends back home that was my problem! A couple we were at dinner with had a similar experience as well. Definitely a sales oriented town but not very consumer friendly!
Debarkation—This was different from Carnival. In the past, we would do the self assist walk off without having to let anyone know beforehand with the cruise line. RCCL asks that you register beforehand to do that, so we decided to do the regular debarkation which meant we put our luggage outside our room between 7-11PM with a certain color tag on each. The next day you gather in the common areas and wait for your color to be called. Our color wasn't called until 10A, so it was a lot of waiting. Once off the ship, you find the section with your color posted and all of the luggage is arranged in that section. We were able to find our bags and get a taxi to the airport. We had a 12:40P flight and we had lots of time in the airport to spare after checking in. Also, the tipping process was a bit of a hassle. Though you could opt to do pre-paid gratuities, the norm was to get envelopes and put cash in them. Because of this, there seemed to be a heavy emphasis the last night on tipping and it took away somewhat from enjoying the last night of the cruise. You had to make sure you saw the person you intended the tip for to give the envelope to and it just seemed tacky. With Carnival, it was all taken care of, you didn't have to think about it and if you wanted to tip extra in cash for above and beyond service you could, but it wasn't emphasized the way it was on this cruise.
Overall, we were satisfied with the cruise—loved the ship and the Western Caribbean itinerary. I think we were expecting a little more from RCCL over Carnival and found it to be the opposite. We wouldn't be opposed to cruising again on RCCL, but our next cruise is going to be with Carnival and even with the things we didn't like, it was still a vacation, very relaxing and we liked the cities/tours. Although we didn't post on the boards often, we appreciate all of the advice and comments from previous cruisers. It definitely helped us make the most of our vacation and we hope this review helps others thinking of going on the Jewel in the future.