This review is based on my likes and dislikes, so keep in mind that you and others may have differing opinions, which is fine.
I thought overall that the Jewel of the Seas (JOS) and the cruise were excellent. But as I review the cruise I will mention things that could be improved or that I disliked. I will also try to let you know about some tips I might have about the cruise.
Pre-Cruise: We arrived in Miami two days before the cruise. I highly recommend arriving at least one day before the cruise. I had originally planned to arrive one day before the cruise and had made reservations at the Holiday Inn at the Port of Miami. Our plans changed and we were to come in two days in advance. However I could not get the Holidays Inn for the extra night. I thought it was because of the Pro Bowl in Miami that weekend but it turned out that the Miami Marathon was that weekend and all of the downtown hotels were booked-up. So the first night we spent at the Embassy Suites near the Miami Airport. This is a very good hotel with big 2-room suites and a free happy hour and free breakfast included in the hotel rate. There is a restaurant and bar in the hotel for dinner but nothing within walking distance of the hotel to go to. The second night we were at the Holiday Inn at the Port of Miami. I highly recommend this hotel. I was able to get a room overlooking the port and could see the cruise ships at dock and watched them leave in the evening. The next morning the JOS was at dock waiting for us. The Holiday Inn is across from the Bayside Marketplace which has many restaurants and shops. We had lunch and dinner at the marketplace and breakfast at the restaurant in the Holiday Inn. There is a CVS drug store about two blocks away for any last minute supplies.
Day 1 – Embarkation in Miami – Partly Cloudy 75: It rained over night. We took a taxi for the one to two mile ride to the ship at 11:00 AM. I don’t remember the exact cost but it was less than $10.00. At 11:10 AM we gave a porter our three bags and a tip and went into the departure building. At 11:15 AM we showed our “SetSail” document, passports and credit card. By 11:20 AM we had out “SeaPass”. We had to wait ten minutes since they were not actually boarding the ship yet but at 11:30 AM we were able to board. We skipped around the picture taking which really makes the line back up and went to the Windjammer Café (Deck 11) for lunch. We were eating lunch by 11:50 AM. I tried the Honey “Stung Chicken” mentioned by CC members but it seemed dry and not something that I would recommend. The boarding process was easiest and fastest we have ever had. Since the cabins were not to be ready until 1:00 PM we went for a walk throughout the ship to get our bearing and then sat in a lounge to read until be could get into our cabin.
We were on Deck 9 in cabin 9576. This is a hump cabin and I would highly recommend it and would book it again. The larger balcony had a lounger in addition to the standard 2 chairs and table. The cabin is close to the center six elevators which make it very convenient. It is also right next to the library. Now I have to say this is the smallest library I have ever seen on a ship (it was not much bigger than our cabin).
We had drinks in the Schooner Bar with a couple we met through Cruise Critic (CC). Lifeboat drill was at 4:30 PM. You went to an assigned lounge based on your cabin for the lifeboat drill and you did not have to bring lifejackets with you. We were assigned to the 6:00 PM first seating in the Tides Deck 4 Main Dinning Room (FYI second seating is normally at 8:30 PM). We sat at a table for ten and had great table mates for the entire cruise. I will comment on the dining service and food later as a separate topic.
There was one show this evening for all guests at 7:45 PM (this pushed second seating for dinner to 8:45 PM for this one night). We went in late and stood in the back and heard Ed Regine, a comedian who was the entertainment for the night (there was also a welcome aboard portion of the show that we missed). I will comment on the Coral Theatre later as a separate topic and mention the entertainment as it occurred each day.
Note that my review is based upon the perspective of my wife and I having the first seating in the main dining room for dinner and attending the evening show scheduled for those eating at the first seating. We did not try our luck in the casino, so there is no review of it.
Day 2 – At Sea – Partly Sunny 86: Some days it feels that all you do is eat. This morning we had breakfast in the Tides Dinning Room. A letter left in our cabin said that our Cruise Critic Meet & Mingle was to be at 11:30 AM in the Hollywood Odyssey Lounge. RCI supplied appetizers, ice tea and lemonade. We met Keith Williams, the Cruise Director; Michael Landry, the Hotel Director and other staff. A few gifts were raffled off and then we had the rest of the time to meet the other CC members on the cruise. Then it was time for lunch and we went to the “Seaview” Café on Deck 12. We had a Cuban and a Pastrami sandwich with onion rings and a vanilla shake. I agree with other CC members that the onion rings are great. We ate here many more times during the cruise. We spent the afternoon reading. The Captain’s (James MacDonald) Welcome Aboard Reception was at 5:15 PM this evening in the Safari Club (Deck 6). There was just champagne and punch, no appetizers. The 1st formal attire dinner followed and the evening entertainment was “The Unexpected Boys” who did a tribute to Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. This was an excellent show, don’t miss it.
Day 3 – At Sea - Partly Cloudy 86: We had breakfast in the Tides Dining Room. The breakfast menu seemed to be the same everyday and not much more than what you could get by ordering room service. Beware if you are offered “fresh squeezed” orange juice on the ship because it comes with a price, it is not free. The regular orange juice seemed to be very watered down. We spent the day reading around the ship. We tried to find a spot by the pool or in the Solarium but always found the loungers and chairs taken; you could tell that some of them were being reserved by “chair hogs”. There are signs in the Solarium that say no reserving of loungers and chairs but it seems to be ignored and I did not see any staff trying to enforce this policy. You can always find loungers and chairs on other decks. This afternoon we met with six other CC members in the Schooner Bar. The eight of us were sharing a tour in Cartagena (more about this later). After dinner we attended the first production show “West End to Broadway”. While the cast had great energy, dancing and singing, I personally did not enjoy most of the show tunes because I did not recognize the shows themselves.
Coral Theatre Review: I want to mention a few things about the evening shows. For the most part all of the first seating shows were packed with people. The first seating shows normally started at 9:00 PM (7:00 PM or 10:45 PM for second seating). If you did not get there between 8:00 PM and 8:15 PM you would have a hard time finding a seat. Then there were the “seat hogs”, who were reserving 8 seats or a whole row of seats. The TV screens showed messages that there was no reserving of seats but there was no staff in the Coral Theatre to enforce the no reserve seat policy nor were there staff to help you find a seat. It is very disheartening to think you had to go an hour early to get a seat in the theatre. The slope of the theatre floor is good enough to give a good view to everyone.
Day 4 – Oranjestad, Aruba - Sunny 86: This morning we had breakfast in the Windjammer Café. It has all the standard breakfast buffet items. I will talk about the food later. Depending on the day and time, at peak time it can get difficult to find an open table even in the outdoor section of the café. We took the ship’s AR06 “Aruba Sailway Beach & Snorkel Cruise”. The first snorkel stop was good with clear water and many fish but the second stop at the sunken ship “Antilla” was not very good (just a few fish and a sunken hull with the water being deeper and darker). Free Rum punch flowed freely on-board the ship. The ship’s tour guide was full of energy and made the trip very enjoyable with his banter. Lunch at the Pelican Marina pier was good but did not leave much time to walk or enjoy “Palm Beach”. We took the ship’s tour because you needed to be back on the JOS by 3:30 PM (this is the earliest scheduled port departure (4:00 PM) of the entire cruise). The evening show was Bob Arno “The World’s Only Legal Pickpocket”. This was a very good show and you should not miss it (remember to come early).
Day 5 – Cartagena, Columbia - Sunny 88: After breakfast in the Windjammer we disembarked for an independent tour of Cartagena through Lee Miles (recommended by many CC members) with Claudia as our tour guide. With 6 other CC cruisers we toured the city and did the La Popa Monastery, took a carriage ride through old Cartagena and then had drinks at the Café del Mar on the old wall of the city. One of the CCers had Lee Miles put together this independent tour with sights that you could not do all together through just one ship’s tour. I would highly recommend booking an independent through Lee Miles. We met him as we came off the ship and he is a very congenial man. Although he also has an emerald jewelry store there is no pressure to visit it or buy but it makes a good restroom stop. The show this evening was “ZeidwiG”, a very good pianist who bungles around the stage with his piano bench collapsing, jumping into the piano and doing other comedy while playing the piano. This was a so-so performance that some may like others may not. We went to the Schooner Bar (Deck 6) after we left the show early.
Lounges and Bars Review: We went to the Schooner Bar (Deck 6) and the Safari Club (Deck 6) on many nights. Patrick Patton plays the piano and sings in the Schooner Bar. We enjoyed his playing. We also enjoyed the Safari Club where we danced to different bands and singers.
Day 6 – At Sea – Partly Sunny 84: Today we slept in a little and went to the Windjammer for breakfast. Afterward we found a place to sit on deck and read for awhile. This was just a very relaxing day and we did not do much. The Crown and Anchor party for previous RCI cruisers was in the Safari Club at 5:15 PM. There was just champagne and punch, no appetizers. We went to “Chops Grille” for dinner (I will comment on this later when I address food). After dinner we went to see the showtime production of “City Dreams”. Again the performers had a lot of energy but I just did not like the production material.
Dining and Food Review: Tides Main Dining Room: We had the 6:00 PM first seating in the dining room. We were at table 499 in the very back on Deck 4. We had 8 other great dinner companions to share our cruise with. The food selection was not as good as I have had in the past. Usually I had a hard time picking between two entrees I wanted but this time I was lucky to find one entrée I wanted. The appetizers, soups and salads have been grouped into one selection category although you can still pick more than one if you wanted. I would rate the food selection as a 3.5 out of 5 and the quality of the food at 4 out of 5. The service was great and I would rate it at 5 out of 5. Windjammer Café: There was a large variety of food in the Windjammer for breakfast and lunch. We did not have dinner in the Windjammer. I would rate the Windjammer food selection as 4 out of 5 and the quality of the food at 4 out of 5. Chops Grille: We went to Chops to try a different dining experience. I found the quality of the food very good and the service excellent. But I have a hard time justifying if it is worth the extra $25 per person. I know food is a very subjective topic and many CCers like Chops. That is why there are all types of options on the ship for guests to enjoy based on what they are looking for. On our next cruise we will try Portofino Italian Restaurant. Seaview Café: We enjoyed the Seaview Café (Deck 12). It never seemed to be crowded. While the food (limited menu) is free, the drinks are not free (other than tap water). There is no ice tea or lemonade in the Seaview Café. I would highly recommend it if you like what the menu offers.
Day 7 – Colon, Panama – Sunny 86: After breakfast in the Windjammer we went on the ship’s C019 “Embera Indian Culture” tour. We took about an hours bus ride to a river and got into long motorized dugout canoes (held about 10-12 persons one per seat) for an hours ride to the Embera Indian village. This was like going on a National Geographic adventure. When you reach the village they meet you in their Indian garb. Normally the women do not wear tops but most have something on while the tourists are there. The chief of the village speaks to you about his group in a large thatched common hut built on stilts and they prepare their version of “fish and chips” for you to eat. You have plenty of time to look around the village. They have native crafts for you to buy and at the end they dance and have you dance with them. You then return via the canoes and bus. This was a great tour and I highly recommend it. This was Super Bowl Sunday so there was no show that evening other than a late night adult comedy show by Ed Regine.
Day 8 – Puerto Limon, Costa Rica – Partly Sunny 82: After breakfast in the Windjammer we departed for an independent tour we booked with Oscar Brown Tours (recommended by CC members). We met Oscar on the street just outside of the pier area. There was just my wife and I with our tour guide, Ryan, who is Oscar’s nephew. On the way to the Jungle Breeze Zipline we stopped at a roadside fruit stand, a friend’s house who had a baby monkey, and the Del Monte Banana Plantation. My wife went on the “Jungle Breeze Zipline (got there before the buses got there). This was her 2nd time on a zipline and she had a great time. After that we went to have a private Tortuguero Canal Tour and then off to lunch at a local restaurant on the beach. Lunch was great and there was a Reggae trio playing and singing at the restaurant. They were great fun and even sang Happy Birthday to my wife in a Reggae style. My wife says this was the best tour she has ever taken while cruising. After dinner we attended showtime “Knight Magic”. If you like magic you will enjoy this and trying to figure out how it is done.
Day 9 – At Sea – Partly Cloudy 86: Today we spent a restful day aboard the ship. Tonight was the second formal attire dinner. After dinner we attended the “Tango Buenos Aires” showtime production. This is the best of the three production shows. Be sure to get there early because everyone comes to this show. Remember I am talking about the first seating show at 9:00 PM. I do not know what the second seating show at 10:45 PM was like.
Day 10 – Georgetown, Grand Cayman – Mostly Sunny 84: Today you use port tenders from Grand Caymans (hold about 200 – 300 persons) to get ashore. We were going to take an independent “Rays, Reef and Rum Point” tour through “Native Way Watersports” today (recommended by CC members). But before we left the captain announced that the port was stopping all tendering at 2:00 PM due to an approaching storm and that the last tender would leave at 1:30 PM. We originally were to be in port until 6:00 PM. Our tour was originally scheduled to be back by 2:30 PM. I won’t go into all the reasons but we ended up canceling the tour and spending the day on the ship. We had no problem finding lounges in the Solarium and spent most of the day there. Special Note: The ship gives tender priority to those taking their tours. They use tender tickets. However if you want to be on the first tender off the ship, go down to Deck 2 between 7:00 and 7:15 AM to line up for the tender (you do not have to have a tender ticket for this first tender). You will be able to board a tender about 8:00 PM for the 10 minute ride to the port docks.
This evening the group “Horizon” (Legends of Motown and More) perform. They are very good but I wish that they sang more songs that I would recognize as hits.
Day 11 – At Sea – Partly Sunny 77: Today is the last full day on the ship. We relaxed around the ship and started packing. We kept our luggage in our room this evening because we signed-up for “Express Walk-off” where you transport your own luggage of the ship. The farewell show was the “Juggling Comedy” of Bill Prudomme. We skipped this show.
Day 12 – Disembarkation in Miami: We had our last meal in the Windjammer and walked off the ship with all of our luggage about 8:15 AM. We could have left earlier but we were just taking it easy. It did not take more than 10 minutes before we caught a taxi to the Miami airport. When we got to the airport we found that our Delta flight from Miami through Atlanta to Orange County CA had been canceled due to snow storms. Delta had automatically rescheduled us from a Friday departure to a Sunday departure. There was a long long long line of people in the same boat all trying to speak with an agent. I tried phoning to get a Delta agent but there was a circuit overload and I did not even get a busy signal. To make this short I was able to re-book a direct flight from Ft. Lauderdale to Los Angeles for Saturday morning. We make a reservation for a hotel near the Ft. Lauderdale airport, took a taxi there and caught the Saturday flight (getting home only one day late).
Conclusion: This is one of the best cruises we have taken. The Jewel of the Seas is a beautiful ship and we hope to sail on her again. We especially enjoyed being with our dinner companions and with the CC members we met. We had great service from the cabin stewards, waiters and assistant waiters. Yes there are minor improvements that could improve the food and entertainment but that does not take away from the overall great cruise experience we had. We liked the ship so much that we have booked the Serenade OTS for B2B cruises next January/February.