Cruise day - This Hampton Inn provides a free shuttle to the cruise port which we took at 10:50AM arriving at the ship at 11:05. Check-in was in full swing, it was well organized and the terminal was well designed, it only took 15 minutes. We check 2 bags curb side and took one on with us. We took our time getting to the Windjammer Cafe on deck 11 for lunch at 11:40 and it was surprised it was already busy. We had read it opens at 11:45. After lunch we went to our room (9252) at 12:50 and it was ready. Our 2 checked bags were there! The life boat muster was at 4:30, it was no longer required to wear the life jacket during the muster. We sailed on time at 5PM. We explored every deck and public space. The ship was in perfect condition and very clean. Our room was very comfortable and had a balcony. I avoided a room with a interconnecting door to the next cabin due to past issues with noise from the next cabin. We did not hear either of our neighbors during the cruise. We had read that the ship was very stable even when compared to its sister ships. The Jewel is unique in that it was built in Germany while its sisters were not. I do not know why this matters but many attribute its stability to this.. This was important since we were traveling with friends and family, some very prone to sea sickness. Even during the day long stretches with a 20+mph head wind and 6-7 foot seas everybody was fine with only minor discomfort once or twice but nothing serious. It was more like a minor jerk or occasional vibration than a rolling motion. Trivia: One stabilizer is non-functional and will be fixed at dry dock in April-2011.
Day 2 - At Sea At dinner the captain announced that we were stopping in Labadee, Haiti due to a seriously ill passenger and this would impact out time in Aruba and possibly eliminate Cartagena, Columbia.
Day 3 - At Sea - 2 hour stop in Haiti to transfer the person to the Voyager of the Sea for holding until the air-lift arrived. Later we were told that we would arrive at Aruba at 8PM (instead of 7AM to 7PM) but we would overnight and leave Aruba at 1PM the next day and our Cartagena stay would only be shorten a few hours. Royal Caribbean incurred significant cost in port fees, extra fuel to make up time, and lost excursion income to maintain the itinerary, not including the diversion to Labadee. They could have skipped Aruba and saved a lot of money and to their credit, they didn't. By contract they owed us 11 days, it says ports may be substituted or eliminated without refund. Our first cruise we missed Grand Cayman due to a problem, no refund, just an extra sea day...
Day 4 Aruba We docked at 8PM, the stores were closed near the docks. We skipped the main dining and ate in the Windjammer, left the ship hit the Dunkin Donuts for coffee and had drinks on the water front at the marina south of the terminal. We had a good time and enjoyed the warm evening air.
Day 5 Aruba We left the ship for Palm Beach at 0800 which is a strip with upscale hotels and a long beautiful beach. The Radisson offers a day pass which gives you a nice lounge chair under a thatched umbrella, use of a very large fresh water pool, showers, and rest rooms. There are many little boutique shops along the beach side of the hotels. Had we known these shops stay open late we would have been here the night before instead of watching them roll up the sidewalks in town. The water was 84F and nice for swimming but it is cloudy due to sea shells which is not good for snorkeling. There is a beach 1.6 miles north of Palm with great snorkeling but no facilities. The beach folks out numbered me, the snorkeler. We went back to the port area at 1200, had another Dunkin Donut coffee fix (we are from the Boston area and hooked) and wandered through a few shop before boarding at 1230. We sailed at 1300.
Day 6 Cartagena We arrived at 1000 and our group of 6 took a taxi to the old walled city where we roamed for several hours and had lunch. The city is interesting with several nice museums (Nautical, Gold, Natural History), street vendors with fresh mango, shops from T shirts to upscale international brands...and a lot of people. It is not packed or uncomfortable but it is a good place to see a large slice of all types of Columbians going about their business.
Day 7 Panama From this forum we read that it is a dangerous place. It appeared that 1/3 stayed with pre-booked excursions, 1/3 took taxis to sites, and the 1/3 that said it was dangerous stayed on the ship because ....well, it was dangerous. The cruise port is fairly large, new, and is a shopping mall. After reviewing postings, talking to the ship crew members, and passengers that had been there before we decided to go the taxi route. We have done this before in many places with good luck but we were on guard. Within the debarkation area we met a taxi drive we liked, he said he had a new car, and we agreed to $90 for 6 to the Gatun Locks and the San Lorenzo Fort. Once we crossed the bridge to the mall side and parking we paid the $20 deposit and went to the car which was as described. So far so good. But... He wasn't driving us, it was someone else. Before getting into the car we tried talking to the new driver who would not even look at us. We were told he did not speak English which would have been ok if he had smiled and tried a little, not a sound. We walked off and promptly found a driver with a nice van and the same price. He was a typical cruise port driver we have found from Belize, Grenada, and other Caribbean ports, informative, proud of his country and wanted to tell us about it. We had a nice time. Within 2 miles of the port you are in the country, the roads are wide and well paved, everyone drives like they are trying to save gas, slowly. The Gatun locks were worth seeing. We stayed long enough to see a ship pass into the locks. On our way into San Lorenzo we were stopped by a road side check point. Two park rangers with 1 motorcycle wanted $5 a head to enter the park, our driver was not having it and we did not pay. He told us "nice try" but taxis are not required to pay. The rangers were friendly, non-threatening, the whole time. San Lorenzo was a little disappointing. It is an stone fort from 1570 (Henry Morgan) high above the Atlantic but that is all that is there. No visitor center, guide, restrooms, and except for a university survey team of archeologist and another 4 people and their taxi, it was very quiet. It is a large grassy property surrounded by hills and jungle high above the ocean below. The view of the ocean and a bay extending well inland, Colon in the distance, interesting birds, all in the warm sun, we had a good hike touring the fort, it was worth it.
Day 8 Limon - After Panama some of our group decided a tour would be best. We selected the boat, train, bus tour (PL02 $178 for 2) at 1:00PM. We took a morning walk around the town and along the water front. Limon is a small, dusty, working town, not a resort town or business center. There are a lot of fish, vegetable, and open air meat markets. The architecture of a new open air church was notable inside. We found a small shop to replace a cell phone charger forgotten in Fort Lauderdale. There is a nice park near the cruise terminal where we saw 3 toed sloths up in the trees. While we felt safe and a few others from the ship were wandering about our head waiter said he was mugged and lost $100 dollars there so he's never been off the ship there again. One thing was amazing is many of the man hole covers and large storm drain grates are missing, likely stolen. It would be very easy to step off the curb into a 6 foot deep hole surely breaking something. At 1:00PM we boarded our modern coach for the tour. We were quickly out of town into the country with a mix of jungle, mango groves, well-kept houses with small gardens and tumble down shacks built from scrap materials. Within 20 minutes we were at the Dole Banana grove and processing plant. We left the coach for a 20 minute tour watching the bananas coming in from the surrounding groves to be fumigated, washed, sorted and boxed for shipment. Within 20 minutes we met the train for a 20 minute ride (5 miles?) trip largely along the two lane highway we came in on and the coast. After a bit the tracks curved away from the road and into jungle on both sides. When we encounter a caimans (croc family), monkeys, or other interesting wild life the train would stop for us to take photos. Finally we met the coach and within 10 minutes were at the boat dock. The facility was nice and clean. We bought water and beers and boarded the boat and headed down river towards the sea. We saw howler monkeys, spider monkeys, blue herons, and more. It was an nice, open, flat bottom boat with benches. Once we returned to the dock they had fresh mango, bananas, coconut, watermelon, etc, for us. Our guide was good and stayed with us the whole trip. The whole trip covered from maybe 15 miles north to 15 miles south of the port. It was nice seeing more than just Limon and the lion like roar of the howler monkey is impressive and I now know what our blue herons do during their winter get away. The ship brochure indicated ¾ walking on uneven surfaces. This must be the distances from the ship to the coach, and the coach to the banana plant, train, boat and back all added together. No one walk was over 100 feet, if you can climb the stairs into the coach the rest is easy. I felt the description in the brochure would needlessly discourage some people. It is a nice lite 4 hour tour, if there is a next time we will head for a longer tour deeper into the country, hopefully with a naturalist.
Day 9 At sea I learned to enjoy sea days on this cruise.
Day 10 Grand Cayman - 7 Mile beach - Royal Palm-$10 lounge chair, $10 Umbrella - crystal clear water, good snorkeling, many colorful fish, showers, restrooms, good food/drinks with service to the beach. They rent snorkel gear and water toys. Watch for $4 pp taxi signs leaving ship terminal area to cross the street into town, it is about 2 miles up the coast from the ship. Two great snorkeling beaches are Rum Bay-North Side of the Islands and calm shallow waters that allow children and adults snorkel /swim. Rum Point offers changing/restrooms, showers, huts, hammocks, a volleyball net, water sports rentals and it's own beach bar providing food and drinks, and then Smith Cove-A smaller beach with restrooms, picnic benches, showers, snorkeling and great photo ops. There are no dining and drinking establishment at this location. After 7 Mile beach we went into town and had lunch at Casa Nova's just up from the terminal and on the water. It is Italian owned and operated. It has a large deck above the water in the rear and the food was very good and reasonably priced. From lunch we roamed thru town for a while before boarding.
Day 11 At Sea I learned to really enjoy sea days on this cruise. Breakfast, exercise, reading by the adult pool, lunch, exercise, the drink of the day, exercise, a show,all with good food sprinkled throughout.
Day 12 Fort Lauderdale, FL We took advantage of the express luggage handling. On our last cruise we missed signing up on time. Since the cut off was very early in the week we almost missed it again. With the express service they delivered our boarding passes and airline luggage claim tags to the room Thursday night, we put the bags in the hall before midnight and collected them at baggage claim in Boston Friday evening. Without bags we could leave the ship when ready Friday, we took Tri-rail to Miami ($4 ea) and the free Miami light rail to the water front with just a purse and a beach bag. When the time came it was $14 plus tip from the water front to MIA via taxi. Travelling with the budget minded folks taught us a few tricks for retirement if the market fall when we need it.
Overall - I could write pages about the interior but will say it is very well done throughout the ship for a large ship. The use of wood, chrome, stone, glass, and art in every space was unique and beautifully done. Each area had a theme and must have had a dedicated design team given the level and attention to detail. Our last 3 cruises were on the Celebrity Constellation once (our favorite) and the Summit twice. We were concerned about going with the RC Jewel but did so for our friends budget concerns. Our balcony on Celebrity would have been about the same. Also Celebrity had the identical itinerary but managed to include an additional port and therefore one less sea day. I must say the Jewel was just as nice. We missed Celebrity's Aqua Spa with its lo-cal snack offerings at the adult pool, a string quartet in the coffee bar, and the bar on the stern where the Jewel only uses this space as outdoor seating for the Windjammer cafe and are slow to clean it after lunch. These are minor differences. The on stage entertainment on the Jewel was the best we have seen. On previous cruises we didn't mind if we missed a show. On the Jewel we missed 2 shows and regret it. We found the back stage tour interesting.
Last, I decided on boarding I needed an anecdote for short day light, +10F day time temps induced tip toeing else succumbing to ice caused fractures, and too many hours working at my computer. With things like endless smoked salmon, fresh fruit, oatmeal, tasty fish, great salads, and healthy choices at dinner and a daily dose of 5 loops around the top deck when I felt like it. I lost 7 pounds without missing a desert at any meal, or a round when the fellow came by asking, and was never hungry.
Yes, I had to skip great looking casseroles, mounts of pasta, cinnamon rolls (well, ok, one each sea day with an afternoon coffee from the Coffee bar on deck 6, but they were small) , pizza, and breakfast sausages and many other tempting things. Six sea days is a real vacation to re-charge, plan these day too!