We booked this cruise as a combined Christmas Eve / New Year's Eve family of four getaway. It was probably one of the only 10-night itineraries (FLL, Sea, Labadee, Sea, Cartagena, Colon, Puerto Limon, Sea, Gr.Cayman, Sea, FLL)) available from the US that spanned both holidays.
As a relatively late booking (2 months prior) our options on what would otherwise be relatively affordable & plentiful airfare if off-peak were in fact limited to Spirit Airlines, which redefines seat pitch & service to incredible lows. jetBlue or Virgin America this is not. Thankfully, only 2 ½ hours from LGA to FLL made it entirely barely tolerable, and it was on time both directions. Missed the cruise-connection-ruining December 2010 Northeast Blizzard by three days.
Arrived Thursday and stayed overnight at the very nicely appointed, year-old, Dania Beach FL Marriott Fairfield Inn before boarding the Jewel of the Seas Friday around noontime.
Taxi to the ship was $20 including tip, much nicer for four than the offered $8/pp shuttle.
Royal Caribbean checking/embarkation at Port Everglades was a breeze. Nicely organized, no appreciable lines. Just make sure to have your “SeaPass” online check-in confirmation sheets and passports, or you'll be sorry. Maybe 15 minutes from taxi to stateroom,
which were opened at ready for occupancy at the appointed 1:00pm.
Luggage arrived within 2 hours of embarkation. Nice!
Booked Deluxe Ocean View balcony Stateroom 8042 for us, and Interior 8025 for the daughters.
Our balcony was unusual in that it was tucked into the indent where the superstructure narrows on Radiance-class ships, and was therefore triangular, facing 45 degrees between port and aft. This is also the case with the similar 8542, 9032/9532 & 7048/7548 on Jewel. Drawback is that those balconies are half the expected area, while still very usable. You can see the balconies to your aft, and they can see you on the balcony, but never into the room. Plus is that you get plenty of sunlight and a great sky & ocean view from the bed as there's no partition facing aft giving a much more “open” feeling. Overall we liked the arrangement, but it may not be for those who chase every square inch of balcony real estate and crave total balcony privacy.
Bed was comfy (two halves merged into a queen), with a rounded foot to maximize perceived space between it and the wall. Mattress was fine but in need of replacement. Upon return to Ft Lauderdale, we were told they were replacing most mattresses and saw the new ones being loaded onto the ship.
Bathroom tight with a very small shower stall with the nice clamshell round shower doors. Very usable, with excellent hand held aerator spray & wonderful water pressure and temperature control.
Cheesy wall mounted shampoo dispenser which we ignored. We simply bring our own bottle of shampoo and conditioner and leave it at the end of the cruise. Adequate of shelving/stowage for two.
Stateroom thermostat was notable in that it reliably maintained any desired temperature in the room, assuming the balcony door was closed of course.
Stateroom safe uses keypad combination that you reset each time you close (or of course open) the safe. Make sure to pause and ensure the proper combo each time you close, or else!
Bedside lights are notable in that they have a separate little projector light from the shaded sconce light for personal nighttime reading. Nice design.
Two 110V outlets on vanity, one 220V, for the hairdryer in the drawer. Bring a two prong euro adapter for the latter and you can now charge your laptop, phone & camera all at once! There's a 110V shaver outlet in the bathroom but it's only on with the bathroom light.
Signed up for “My Time” dining, Royal Caribbean's answer to flexible dining. Overall, it worked, but merits comment.
If you rather “My Time” over traditional early/late sitting, you have to prepay your gratuities in advance upon paying your fare. This includes not just dining staff but stateroom attendant as well, and effectively makes gratuities “non-adjustable”. Fortunately, the overall level of service was great.
Expect this to run about $10/pp/night, or $400 or so for a family of four on this 10-night trip. The last day you get vouchers for Attendant/Waiter/Ass'tWaiter/HeadWaiter and the usual envelopes to present them to the respective recipipent, who presumably then exchange the vouchers for cash. You can of course add any additional amount if you feel the need, and we did, for our stateroom attendant. He was that good, even over and above the towel animals. No request was ever met with anything but enthusiastic efficiency. It was of course impossible to be sure, but I got the impression that service was just a little bit better for My Time subscribers given the assurance of a predictable gratuity.
Back to My Time Dining. Jewel of the Seas devotes the port-side upper tier of the Tides main dining room for My Time, available, well, any time from 5:30pm onwards. You show up at its dedicated entrance and the Maitre'D consults his laptop to see if he's seated you at any particular table before. You are not guaranteed any particular table, but if you take a liking to the waiter/asst assigned to it, and let it be known, you'll very likely get that table for the rest of the trip. Tables are per party and vary in size based on the expected makeup of the clientèle. They of course know ahead of time roughly how many tables for four, six, etc they'll need.
Overall, worth it. Never had to wait more than a minute or so for a table, mostly just breezed in.
Tip: My Time guests, as well as guests who book any single excursion costing $100 or up (many to choose from!) are entitled to $5 off the $25 Chops steakhouse cover charge. Not valid at the already $20 Portofino Italian venue. Only a cynic would say that that's why Chops is $5 more to begin with.
We did not partake of either.
Overall Tides food was excellent. Very few misses. The “Surf” in Surf & Turf was a giant shrimp (sorry for the oxymoron), but made up for on a subsequent proper lobster night. In fact, shrimp was ubiquitous, showing up in all guises. When asked about this to the F&B manager, he acknowledged it and explained that the American clientèle liked shrimp... French onion soup was forgettable, but made up for by all the other varied and superb hot and cold soups. Often ordered two appetizers to sample them, waiter would often ask unprompted if we wanted an extra main dish.
Overall Tides service was fine, but not exceptional. You could tell the waiters & asst waiters were stretched slightly thin yet nevertheless hustling to keep everyone happy. Again, unusual requests were instantly met. An extra waiter or two in the room would have no doubt turned a “fine” into an “excellent”.
Tip: Don't miss the daily Tide's Lunch hand-chopped salad bar. Not advertised and outstanding!
Three formal nights on this 10-night trip, which included Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve with very nice events for both. Christmas morning had Santa and his cute helper elves near the Centrum Christmas tree, handing out presents to 17 and under cruisers ranging from a very nice logo messenger bag to a Dora play set depending on age. Made for a very nice photo op and an overall nice touch. Good job, Royal Caribbean! Of course “for those of our young guests who do not celebrate Christmas”, a plain crew-member on a couch one deck up was handing out the same gifts, minus any glitz. Kind of sad-looking by comparison, but nonetheless a reasonable accommodation.
New Year's Eve was also nicely done. Free bubbly in the Centrum, but most people opted to buy a bottle from the nice selection of five ranging from Prosecco (the aforementioned bubbly) to Dom Perignon(2000 vintage). We chose Veuve Clicquot ($77+15%), our particular favorite.
Leading up to New Year's were of course the expected entreaties to “reserve & prepay your bottle ahead of time to avoid disappointment”. The F&B manager admitted to us that they had loaded 1,000 cases of each selection in Ft. Lauderdale, or some 60,000 bottles, which they expected would last them beyond this unusual holiday voyage with 2,200 passengers. Perceived scarcity would be a recurring marketing tactic in other areas as well, such as the all-too-iconic $10 Bijoux Terner gift-shop “blowout” with stocks of cheap accessories which never seemed to diminish. Did I mention the $25 shore shopping coupon book hawked at the port shopping “presentation”? Quantities limited!
Windjammer (buffet venue) was very nice, with serving stations & islands instead of an infernal cafeteria line. Never any waiting for food, although table space was occasionally lacking. Tip: go outside to the aft-facing covered outside area, with its dedicated coffee/tea/water stations. Nice 11:00pm “midnight” buffet one night.
A dedicated egg&omelette station at breakfast would make'em up any way you liked, except, oddly, poached. This prompted me to later go to Tide's for sit-down breakfast, where Eggs Benedict were not on the menu. Asked waiter if such were possible, but he did not understand what Eggs Benedict were, so after futile “it's an English muffin with Canadian bacon and a poached...” attempt, I simply asked if he would go backstage and ask for Eggs Benedict. 3 minutes later, out come perfectly made Eggs Benedict. Good job.
The Seaview Cafe had excellent light offerings such as fish&chips, made-to-order sandwiches, onion rings, etc in a sit-down waitress format. Service though, was consistently unsmiling, only here for some reason.
There were several underutilized spaces throughout the Jewel, such as the barren “Art Gallery” next to Windjammer, presumably a casualty of Park West Auctions being mercifully discontinued fleet-wide, and the “Country Club” golf-themed area fronting the golf simulator. The “Pit Stop” dated-racing-themed round bar next to the casino, and too close to its bar, was consistently open yet devoid of patrons although they had set up a popular hold-em poker table there. I hope Royal Caribbean will rethink new innovative & revenue generating uses for these and other spaces in the next refit. The Casino itself was quite popular afternoons at sea and evenings. Won $75 at roulette and quit while ahead.
Pool deck & outside decks had plenty of lounge chairs, rendering the “no deck chair reservation” signs mostly moot. Labadee (private beach) also had 1000's of extra unused lounge chairs and plenty of space, thanks of course to Oasis of the Seas. Jewel's “modest” 2300 passenger complement made Labadee very pleasant with plenty of BBQ lunch space, no lines and acres of space.
Someone else can comment as to what Labadee is like with 5400 roasting Oasis sunbathers...
Two shore excursions we took merit comment:
“Panama Canal Tour” (from Colon, Panama, $150), one of many canal-themed excursions involves a bus ride to Gamboa to board a small 200-passenger ferry which then heads south through the canal, through the Pedro Miguel and Miraflores locks and ends at Isla Naos near Panama City in the Pacific. A 90 minute transcontinental bus ride then returns you to your ship in the Caribbean.
The ferry felt crowded, but overall a unique way to experience the canal and locks.
Initially, we had wanted a cruise itinerary which actually transited the locks, but in the end, the ferry gave a much much more interesting, up-close and intimate view of the locks; you could simply reach out and touch the sides when drained. Our ferry was so small it shared our “lockage” with another, plus some millionaire's sailing catamaran with lots of room to spare. Recommended, and consider this option over a classic ship transit itinerary if the Panama Canal is on your bucket-list.
“Rainforest Lagoon Kayaking” (from Puerto Limon, Costa Rica, $74).
A short bus ride to a tired locals' resort hotel bordering a canal to a river where you board 2-person modern kayaks for about 90 minutes of paddling through the rainforest lagoon.
Fine as far as it goes, but:
The rainforest lagoon is really an open, “uncanopied”, canal-like river bordering a highway behind the trees.
Saw one sloth, some birds, some small bats. Not at all the tropical rainforest you might expect.
Overall, not awful, but not worth the money. Other more genuine rainforest tours probably better.
Oh, and it poured, but that was actually part of the fun! After all, it's a “rainforest”...
You are assigned numbered luggage tags, but everyone is off between 08:00 and 10:00 regardless. If you want to get off at the crack of 08:00, you can register ahead for walk off with luggage.
Tip: If you don't like your (high) number, just get off anytime you want making sure to mention the current appropriate number if challenged. After all, the tags were on your luggage, not you.
We breezed off at 8:15, all luggage was already perfectly lined up by number in the terminal.
Immigration/Customs booths could have used more agents, we waited about 15 minutes to get through.
We had bought some nice jewelery in Gr. Cayman, exceeding our combined duty allowance by about 20%. Declared it all to the letter, inspector waved us thought without any additional duty. Honesty paid off.
Got to FLL in 10 minutes, in plenty of time for 12:00 sardine flight.
Home sweet Home!