Pre cruise we stayed a few days with my mother in Fort Lauderdale and traveled via mini van to the port. We sailed on the Jewel of the Seas March 22 during Easter Week with 3 cabins for a multi generational cruise (1 senior, 3 adults, 3 young adults - 20, 17, 16). We had booked this trip almost a year ago in advance and signed up for the Meet & Mingle and corresponded with other cruisers through Cruise Critic's forum. This was our 2nd cruise and my mother's 10th, on several different cruise lines. RCI was chosen because the travel agent convinced us the kids would enjoy the rock climbing wall and other young adult activities.
The Good: The stateroom was spacious for a cruise ship. We had a large ocean view cabin. The king(?) size bed was very comfortable. It is kind of heart shaped with the middle being longer than the sides. DH is 6'2" and had no complaints about his feet hanging off the bed. There was ample closet space for clothes, toiletries and suitcases. Our cabin was near the 4th Floor Centrum, there is Guest Relations, a bar, etc, the Tides Dining Room nearby and we were concerned about spillover noise, but we never heard any. We appreciated a couple of smoke free evenings in the casino. The slots were warm, I won several times fairly decent money in the machines. Our waiter, Pillar from Chile, and Devorah from Peru, were excellent. Our family really bonded with them. They were extremely courteous and took time to learn of family member allergies. They were extremely patient serving us (demanding family members!) and warm in greeting us. We didn't have much interaction with the head waiter, as we didn't order liquor or wine, but he came by every evening to be friendly as well. The debarkation on the last day went pretty smoothly, even though we were among the last people to be able to leave the ship.
We did not do any excursions from RCI, we preferred to make our own arrangements. The stop in San Juan was just long enough to explore the Old City, no reason to go back. We went to Coral World & Koki Beach and shopping in St. Thomas. We thought Coral World was very interesting; the driver gave us reduced admission tickets. Koki Beach was more suited to snorkeling than swimming, wish we had gone to Magen's Bay. We rented a mini van in St. Maarten. Don't rent from Budget, they gave our reserved mini van to the party just ahead of us and luckily we found another one from a local rental company. We spent most of the day at Orient Beach, which we loved. The kids went jet skiing and parasailing and we bought trinkets in town. Husband stepped off the ship in Tortola, got the lay of the land, didn't want to go to the beach, and promptly returned to ship. Not much else to do there. This was our least favorite stop. Mother & I went to Cane Garden Bay.
The Bad: Unfortunately, the negatives outweigh the positives and most likely we will not be cruising with RCI again. The embarkation on Sat March 22 was a disaster. We arrive at the port about 10:30 a.m. Luggage check in went fairly smoothly. We wound through several rooms and then seemed to get stuck in Cruise Ship Purgatory and separated from the rest of our party. The excuse staffers gave was that the RCI computer system had broken down. We stayed in Purgatory for about 90 minutes. Wonder what kind of disaster recovery back up systems RCI has?? IT folks need to engineer for maximum usage, which obviously is embarkation day. We did not get on board the ship until about 1:30 p.m. and promptly headed for the Windjammer for lunch.
What can I say about the food? I would give it a C. There were a lot of European passengers onboard (with the Euro doing so well against the dollar) and they seemed even more disappointed than us. Supposedly the pastry chef is from Austria, if that's the case he must be from Austria, WV or someplace other than European Austria. The Danish, bagels, croissants, etc. were inedible - tough, not flaky and there was not one dessert on the Tides dining room dinner menu that I took more than 2-3 bites from. The food in the dining room, where we ate all dinners save one, was very uninspired. The one meal that seemed somewhat expensive was the lobster tail & prime rib. Otherwise, there were quite a few braised dishes (lamb shanks, etc.), which obviously cost less than 1st class fare. The fish was merely passably, covered with a lot of sauce. The lamb chops we had the first night in the Windjammer was one of the better meals on board the Jewel. The breakfast in the Windjammer was passable truck stop fare, the made to order omelets being the only edible things. Lunch in the Windjammer was a travesty. For 8 solid days, the same buffet lunch was served. You can imagine how bad the cookies & pizza were if our kids would not even eat them! My mother insisted on breakfast in the Tides dining room, which was consistently horrible. The only decent thing on the breakfast menu was the smoked salmon plate, but the bagel tasted like a warmed up Lender's frozen bagel. The room service menu was very limited. Strangely, you could only order eggs, sausage/bacon, pastries on the room service breakfast menu. The smoked salmon was only available at the Tides dining room. Frankly, the food we had on the Carnival Legend in March 2006 was MUCH better and the cabins cost a lot less differentially. They offered smoked salmon as a room service option, which we had almost every day.
The entertainment rated a C+/B-. The cruise entertainment director, Chlo from Ireland, had a lot of enthusiasm and was very friendly but we were not too impressed with the performers. The best of the lot was the Elton John impersonator. We went to the shows maybe 3-4 evenings. We had the second seating at 8:30 p.m. and several shows during the week only performed once at 7:00 or 8:00, not conducive to our timing.
The pool was a typical cruise nightmare. Even though there are huge signs stating you cannot reserve deck chairs, by 7:00 a.m. there were no free chairs. As this ship has a large indoor, covered Solarium, outside seating was at a premium and virtually impossible. Who are these people that wake up at 4:00 a.m. to grab chairs? The kids did enjoy the rock climbing wall but the ROI wasn't there - an investment of 30 min wait for 20 seconds of fun.
The cabin steward for our area was only marginally effective. Even after repeated requests, we had to go to the pool area every morning to grab beach towels for our port stops. The towel decorations were a joke they were so bad. There were tons of kids on board and some of the creations were truly frightening! It really irritated me that when you returned from your port stop, your wet beach towels were not picked up until during the dinner service (9:00 for us!). Why not put a large hamper next to the boarding machines so you can dispose of wet, smelly, moldy towels ASAP? Also, a $2 charge for a 16 oz bottle of water was ridiculous - most ships give you one for free!
The Ugly: In Nassau, we had unfortunate experience at Cabbage Beach on Paradise Island. Small child (6 maybe 7 years old) tried to steal our beach bag by throwing sand in my face to create a diversion. The beach was beautiful, but impossible to relax as local could not stop bothering you to braid hair, sing song for $1, make you coconut drink, sell you Cuban cigars, conch shells, etc. Won't be returning to that beach.
Overall, we had a good time in spite of the negatives described above. A cruise is a great multi generation vacation as you can be as busy or lazy as you want. You have lots of options. However, don't think we will choose Royal Caribbean again.