We were on the Oct 23-30 Jewel of the Seas cruise from Boston to: Portland, Maine; Bar Harbor, Maine; St. John, New Brunswick; and Halifax, Nova Scotia. This was our 12th cruise overall and our 2nd cruise with Royal Caribbean. We stayed in a D2 Balcony aft cabin (1604). We are independent travelers (both age 50) who rarely do ship excursions.
Embarkation: We arrived at Black Falcon (Boston's cruise port) early due to taking a redeye flight in from the night before. We arrived at about 10:15 and were among the first 20 or so people to arrive. We were told that boarding would be delayed due to extra cleaning and sanitizing onboard, since there was an apparent outbreak of norovirus the week before (fine with us, take your time and get it extra clean). Everything went smoothly with the embarkation with two notables exceptions: 1) they had difficulty getting me a working SeaPass card (it took over an hour) and the one they eventually delivered to me failed as well when boarding; and 2) since we arrived early, we were not given a priority number when it was time to board, so we ended up in the back of the herd (can you say "moo"?) when boarding finally commenced. As such, boarding took much longer for us than any prior cruise. We finally boarded at about 12:30p. Black Falcon Terminal is pretty bare bones with folding chairs on a cement floor. Once onboard, we were told the cabins would not be ready until at least 4:00p, but an announcement was made at 3:00p that the cabins were ready.
Cabin: The cabin was a pretty standard balcony cabin with the exception of the balcony, which was quite large. The balcony had plenty of room for two deck chairs (with footrests that flip out when needed), two chaise lounges and a decent sized table (large enough for serving breakfast on the balcony). Because it is an aft balcony, there is slight overhang between the cabins above and below, so about 40% of the balcony is exposed above. Our cabin was on the 10th deck, which was directly below the outdoor seating area for the Windjammer Cafe. Given the late time of year and cool to cold weather, there weren't many people out in that area on deck 11, but I can see how it might be an issue for warmer weather cruises (since it would effectively take away privacy from about half of your balcony space).
Ship: The ship itself is in excellent condition and does not show its age (launched in 2004). If you told me the ship just came out of drydock (it did not), I would have believed it. The public areas are fairly well designed, although the Centrum dance floor was consistently packed on all edges at all floors. While this did provide an interesting effect to have people dancing on the alcoves several stories above, it did make it difficult to have a consistent dance floor experience. The one venue built for dancing (Safari Club) was often near vacant. The ship has a very nice Solarium on the 11th floor with a retractable roof (which was closed our entire cruise), providing a plush and tropical area, even when it is cooler outside.
Entertainment: I don't expect to be wowed by the entertainment onboard cruises, but this cruise was an exception. All of the production show entertainment was good bordering on great, with three outstanding notables: 1) Mario & Daniel's Tango Buenos Aires on Day 6 was the best production show we have seen onboard a cruise--Leandro & Sol (the tango dancers) were outstanding and received multiple standing ovations; 2) the Royal Caribbean Singers (two men, two women) were top notch, good enough to perform on Broadway (a rarity on cruise ships) and performed in several venues outside the Coral Theatre as well; 3) the drummer in the Royal Caribbean Orchestra was likely the best drummer I have seen anywhere. The other production shows were good and pretty standard cruise ship comedy (Rick Starr, worth a few laughs), juggler/comedy (Mark Angelo, one of the best jugglers seen to date) and magic (Kyle Knight and his wife, Mistie, some tricks were easy to figure out, others were extremely well done and difficult to decipher). Tony B on piano in Schooner Bar was consistently off key on the high notes, Anna Babak on piano and singing was a little bit better, but no real crowd following for either (like we have seen on other cruise ships). The Wioletta Duo kept the Centrum dancing. Rosario Strings (classical guitar and violin) were excellent and one of them typically played at dinner in the main dining room in the area between the two floors, providing an excellent background for dinner. The major complaint with the entertainment was the lack of activities taking place at any given point in time during the evenings. There was at most 2 or 3 different venues open and often there was only 1 venue during the production showtimes (and that was the production show--so if you didn't want to see it, there were literally no other options). This was surprising for a ship with more than 2,500 guests aboard. Perhaps it is more lively during the Caribbean itineraries, but it was often difficult in the evening to find an active venue.
Activities: Those activities that did take place were well run, but they tended to be rather few in number. Not sure if this was due to the itinerary and general age of the guests or the weather, but often there was only one or two activities taking place at any given point in time, even on sea days. While other cruises you may have to choose between several activities during the day, that was not a problem on this cruise, since there were far too few activities.
Food: We consistently ate breakfast in our room (either room service or I would just bring things down one floor from Windjammer on our own), lunch ashore on port days/Windjammer or Seaview on sea days and in the main dining room for dinner. All of the meals were excellent with one notable exception. Up until this cruise, I had always said that I have never had a bad meal on a cruise, in our past 11 cruises (77 dinners). No more. Both my wife and I had prime rib one evening and it was without a doubt the worst prime rib we have ever been served. It had a rubbery consistency and didn't even appear to be meat. Not sure if it was the meat itself, the cut, or how it was prepared, but it was truly awful. Yet all of the other meals were quite good, with usually five or six entree options. We also appreciated Royal Caribbean adding some Indian dishes as entrees. I have traveled to India several times and appreciate good Indian food. The naan and raita breads were not very good (I realize it's difficult to make these in quantity), but the main Indian dishes were very nicely done. We enjoyed each of our meals (and my wife is a real foodie, having been a deli manager in the past) with the exception of the prime rib. One last small thing--do they really need to use an ice cream scooper for the rice and the scrambled eggs? There is something unappetizing about the perfectly shaped half dome scoop. Is it so hard to use a normal spoon instead?
Other guests: Surprisingly (although perhaps it shouldn't have been surprising, given the itinerary and time of year), this was the oldest crowd we have cruised with in 12 cruises. We thought no one could beat Holland America in this category, but this cruise crowd was definitely older. More wheelchairs and walkers than we have ever seen on a cruise. My wife and I are both 50 and felt like the young whippersnappers on this cruise. On the upside, it was easy to win the rarely scheduled sports events.
Ports: In Portland we took the Portland Schooner, which was fun, although we didn't get the wind necessary to actually sail (we were under engine power the entire time). My wife and I enjoyed walking around the town, including a walking tour of the old Victorian mansions on the south end of town. Bar Harbor was one of our favorite cruise ship stops ever due to spending the entire day biking through Acadia National Park, including stopping at Jordon Pond House for lunch and popovers. Lots of great pics and the fall colors were at or near peak (which was much later this year than normal). St. John, New Brunswick is an interesting port city, we did a lot of walking around in the morning, although nothing special. In the afternoon, we went to Reversing Falls, which was pretty interesting. BUT, what made this day was our last minute decision to go on the Reversing Falls Jet Boat ride. It was $41/pp (um, way less than others on the same boat ride paid thru the ship) and it was a BLAST! Wettest ride of our entire lives. And that was while wearing full rain gear, slickers and all. Note that there are two different boat rides at Reversing Falls, one requires you to wear the rain gear (because you will get wet), while the other is more of a normal tour boat. Go with the jet boat and the rain gear (and make sure you close everything fully in front or you will get soaked even more). We were literally howling while people on the other boat were taking pictures of us. The driver of the boat was borderline insane, which made it that much more fun. Well worth the trip and put St. John up there as one of our most enjoyable ports ever, would do it again in a heartbeat. Halifax was interesting, we walked around the port area for awhile and toured The Citadel. We stayed for both the changing of the guard and for the sounding of the cannon at noon, then lunch at an Irish Pub, some shopping and back to the ship for some hot tub time. Side note is that the outdoor hot tubs were almost always vacant due to the cooler weather (typically 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit each day for the high).
Disembarkation: Process was handled very smoothly, our number (8) was called 10 minutes early and our luggage was there for us to pick up as soon as we arrived in the terminal. We were able to get a taxi to Logan Airport and were were all too soon on our flight returning home.
Overall this was a great cruise and I'm glad we came. It was a risky time of the year, we did have some overcast and some rain, but it didn't put a damper on our cruise, which was a very memorable one for us. Were we glad we went? Yes. Would we do it again? No, we still have too many other itineraries that we would want to try out first. But don't let the cooler fall weather keep you away.
Here are the pics from our cruise in case you are interested: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2331983&id=5621097&l=4fe14308ee