Background - This is the third RCI cruise for my better half and me, the first two being on the Adventure of the Seas. She has cruised on Carnival and Princess before, I have only cruised on Royal Caribbean (other than private boat cruises). We're on the younger side of middle-aged. We hail from Florida and Puerto Rico and have cruised to almost every island in the Caribbean. It was time for a change of scenery so we played contrarians and decided to head away from warm to cold (mild, actually). I know the Canada/New England season is almost over but hopefully this review will help those planning for next year.
Pre-cruise - We flew into Boston from San Juan on the Friday prior and stayed at the Charlesmark-at-Copley hotel on Boylston street. I had been warned about the small rooms there but this turned out to be an excellent choice. Great value and VERY centric. My full review at TripAdvisor should be up soon under AoSPR. We took a share taxi from the airport ($14.00 pp) and it took us half an hour to get to the hotel. We should have grabbed a cab instead. The share taxi driver was a very aggressive driver. I thought drivers in San Juan were bad but Boston's got us beat.
Embarkation - We arrived at the Black Falcon terminal by taxi. Our docs instructed that we should not get there before 1:30 PM but we didn't heed the advice and neither did about two hundred other people. They only had three porters available and it was a bit chaotic at the beginning. I waved a $5.00 bill as the porters were approaching the multiple lines and that did the trick. Once past luggage turn in, the embarkation staff inside the terminal were prompt and efficient and we were onboard within 15 minutes.
The Jewel - It is indeed a beautiful ship. We did not miss the open spaces of the Adventure. Even with 2,000 passengers, the Jewel had a cozy and elegant feel to it. Our room was immediately available. We had booked a large outside cabin guarantee and got one on the third deck, port side aft. Very nice. We did not care for a balcony on this cruise as we are the Tropical sort and we thought it would be too cold for us outside. Plus, the price was right. We met our cabin attendant Parisandi, from India. Great guy. We then set about to explore the ship.
We first went to book the Mystery Dinner Theatre as it was no longer available online when we tried. We barely made the list. This needs to be done early if you care to be on the only dinner show they offer.
We then went to the dining room, fifth level, starboard to reconfirm our My Time Dining arrangements and to make reservations for the first night. Adrienn, the My Time Dining coordinator, was great and she always accommodated our requests without problems. More on My Time Dining later.
After that we walked around the entire ship to know where everything was. We never saw everything after being twice on the Adventure. We found everything on this one soon enough. The ship is immaculate as you would expect from a four year old.
Eating - We had lunch at the Windjammer on the first day, and breakfast there on most days. Food was adequate for a buffet and the service staff were excellent.
For dinner, we were advised on our Roll Call that My Time Dining was available on the Jewel. We shot an e-mail to RCI and was promptly booked on it. It was a good choice. You need to call Adrienn at the My Time Dining desk each afternoon and request a table for x hour between 6:30 and 9:00 PM. Alternatively, you can walk in at whatever time and wait just a little for a table to open up. Adrienn was always available and was very helpful. She always got us a table for two by or near a window, always with the same waiters.
Our Assistant Waiter, Stephen, and our Waiter, Nigel, both from India, were just awesome. Very competent, friendly, not intrusive at all. They knew just when to make conversation and when to leave us in privacy. I am sorry that I don't remember the Bar Waiter's name, but he too was great. Always had my before and after dinner drinks just right. The Head Waiter, Gokhan, from Turkey, was always available and ran a good operation. I saw all of them during breakfast and lunch at other times and places and they always noticed and acknowledged you.
Food at dinner - I'm the sort of person who's just grateful to have any food at the table at all so I'll take anything short of liver. The boss lady, on the other hand, is deeply insulted when she's served anything less than adequate to good food. She was never insulted on this trip. On lobster night they offered us seconds. Heck, a couple that almost always sat near us for dinner, the guy seemed to order two different entrees every night and the staff always obliged.
For lunch at sea, we made a late discovery of the Sea View Cafe, top, starboard aft. Sandwiches and what not. Not bad. There's also a small cafe at the Solarium that serves wraps and pizza.
Before dinner the second night, we were lucky to discover that the Champagne Bar served caviar and hot pickies every evening after 5:00 PM (FREE) so we always had a cocktail there before heading to our cabin after the port calls. The bartender there, Veronika, was just delightful.
Activities - We did the gym once. The Spinning class kicked my butt. The Lady attended a flat-belly seminar/infomercial.
A side note - Gym was on our first sea day. On this day, a passenger became seriously ill or injured and the Captain called for a helicopter evacuation. We happened to be at the gym which overlooks forward and witnessed the whole operation, as did many other passengers who invaded the gym and pretended to exercise just to watch. The Canadian Coast Guard crews were real angels for this passenger, who later we learned had stabilized at a Halifax hospital. Is good to know that there are lifesavers nearby.
Shows - We did the Welcome Aboard, the Farewell, the Tango Buenos Aires, and the Mystery Dinner. All were okay, but the Tango show is a must see if it's available on future cruises. The headline Tango dancers were nothing short of spectacular. They even gave tango lessons afterwards and an encore show at the Centrum on the last night.
Ports/shorexs - First of all, we were very lucky to have exceptional weather at all stops. At Halifax it was overcast but that just added to the mystique. We had not booked any tours with RCI in advance and were just winging it based on previous reviews.
Portland - We decided to just walk around the city. We got temporarily misoriented (I never get lost, you know) and ended up in a bad neighborhood. It seems that the Portland chiefs are pretty loose with graffittiers and vagrants. We quickly found our way back to the main drag and ended up at the Wadsworth (sp?)-Longfellow fella house. It was a neat tour. We continued walking around and found some very interesting alleys, stores and such. Before heading back to the ship, we had lunch at Gilbert's Chowder House. It's a joint but locals seem to prefer it. We both had lobster dinners and beer. Tab was about $60.00 including tips. Note: paper plates and plastic ware, servers are not overly friendly if not surly. Dealing with the lobster was a messy affair but not bad.
Bar Harbor - This is such a beautiful place. We did the Olli's Trolley tour of Acadia and the island. It was good and the driver gave us additional stops on top of the usual three. We then shopped around town. Tendering to/from the boat was painless. You must get your tender tickets ahead of time, which is a good system as it avoids bottlenecks. I highly recommend the West Street Cafe for lunch at Bar Harbor. $24.95 Early Bird Lobster Dinner Special - Chowder, Lobster & Blueberry Pie. Good deal.
St. John, NB - It was too cold for us here so we just went to the markets using the pedwalks. The Old Market is a very interesting place but I get unnerved by shopping crowds so we soon left, much to the chagrin of the Lady. We calmed down with beers by the boardwalk. $18.00 for two beers! Note: the people in this town must be the friendliest people in the northern lattitudes, if not the entire hemisphere.
Halifax, NS - We did the Gray Line hop on/off double decker bus city tour followed by the tour to Peggy's Cove, booked through the boat. The one thing I didn't like was that we were let off the boat around 9:00 AM and had to be back by 5:00 PM. There's so much to see in this place that it is just not enough time. I ask, if the Jewel is such a fast boat, why not make up the time at sea and let people enjoy Halifax until late, eh?
The hop on/off tour was good but hectic since we had to be back at the pier for the Peggy's Cove portion by 1:30 PM. We got off at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, which is an excellent museum. We then did a very quick lunch at Murphy's (the green shack). The staff here was very good. We asked them to expedite our order since we only had 30 minutes to eat before we had to catch the bus back to the pier. Well, we were out of there in 20 minutes and the food was great (Fish and chips, beer, $50.00).
Peggy's Cove - Let me just say that this place must be on everyone's must-see-before-you-die places list. It's like walking in a painting a post card or a movie set. We didn't bother with the Sou'Wester. We just explored the little town and took tons of pics. Make sure you go inside Jo Beale's Gallery. Jo is great and her artwork and her guest artists' works are great. This is were we bought gifts for home. I wanted to take her cat home with me. You'll see him walking around town as if he owned the place.
Last day (at sea) - We slept in and had to beg the staff at the Windjammer for the last breakfast scraps as we got there late. They helped us with that and we didn't suffer from anything afterwards. We then headed for the Solarium to read and relax but all the deck chairs were taken early. So we looked for a quiet corner, the Champagne Bar which was not serving but the chairs were available, and spent some time there. We then took a salsa dancing lesson with one of the RCI dancers. I thought I knew how to dance salsa but apparently my lady had been suffering along all these years without saying anything. I got the basic steps down. But I digress. We then headed to the solarium and it was quiet and available in the later afternoon. The water at the pool there was sufficiently warm. Kids were allowed there escorted as it was too cold outside at the main pool.
Fellow passengers - Everybody was very friendly. Mostly middle-aged to up there. Almost no kids, not that they bother me. There was this cute little girl, God Bless her, to whom going up and down the elevators was the only amusement she needed. Her parents and everybody else were good sports about it.
Meet and mingle - That was a little awkward. The Hollywood setting did not make it easy for everybody to meet everybody else, so people gathered in different clusters.
Disembarkation - As we were spending a few days in Boston, we were in no hurry to get off since our hotel's check in time was at noon. When our color was called, we were off the ship, with our bags, and in a taxi in about 20 minutes.
All in all a great cruise. I hope to get on the Jewel again one day for a Panama Canal cruise.