Embarkation - Smooth – the best we have experienced from the tent at Wharf 5. Room key plus a separate cruise card a nuisance at first but you get used to it. Disembarkation was even better – just luck that a Maxi Taxi appeared on cue within 5 minutes. Excellent assistance for people in wheelchairs or with mobility problems.
Cabin - Good – midships starboard side. The balcony is quite narrow with an outward opening door that limits the usefulness of the full width – the door will not open or close if one of the chairs is in the way. We were glad we had booked deck 11 with the open balcony rails when we saw the width of the balcony. The much reported noise from the Pool Deck above was not a problem for us but then we live in the inner city in close proximity to our neighbours and have developed a somewhat Japanese attitude to neighbour noise, Our Steward - Edela from the Philippines was on hand to welcome us aboard and check for any special requests. She provided excellent and caring service throughout the cruise.
First impressions of the ship – décor a surprise – warm tones with columns of iridescent red in the lift lobbies and luminous pink highlights in public areas at night. The warm colours were followed through in the cabin with full length striped curtains in yellow and burnt orange, which reminded me of our room at Circus Circus many years ago in Las Vegas. Thankfully no luminous pink lighting. The walls were a pleasant (and restful) light blue green. Lots of storage and a pleasant open feel to the space. Champagne on the balcony – for us a cruise tradition. I would swap the Spa area on Deck 14 for more open public space and the pool deck was not as attractive as other ships we have been on. Otherwise the public areas were varied and not usually overcrowded.
Navigating the ship - Our cabin was midships – the nearest lifts only reach as far as deck 11 so getting to 12 for the pool, buffet and speciality restaurants meant a trip along a corridor to the forward or aft lifts. We are not lazy – Harry rides a small bright red mobility scooter. I walk ahead waving a warning flag, watching out for my own heels and the toes of people wearing thongs. One midships lift went out of service early on but was fixed within a day – otherwise no lift problems, except on the final morning when everyone plus their hand baggage was trying to cram into the same lift at the same time. Being the last day, most were back into shore side rush hour mode and complained grumpily about the delay instead of airily waving the lift on with a “No Worries Mate, we’ll take the stairs”.
Dining – We chose to sit at the same table for two each night in the Waterfront for late service dinner and found this worked for us – booking for the next night as we walked out Our companions at the adjacent tables changed each night and conversation was easy. The wait staff quickly worked out our preferences. Wine and food arrived at a comfortable pace and at the right temperature. After the first few days we ate lunch in the Waterfront Restaurant in preference to the Plantation Buffet. Service was a little less responsive at lunch when we had a different table and therefore different wait staff but was still good . Waterfront is a very different main dining room from our experience on Princess and HAL – no sweeping staircase or frescoed ceilings. It is modern in style and divided into smaller more intimate spaces by wait stations, which are topped with clumps of artificial grass. The Executive Chef has a good joke to tell about this grass, which I won’t spoil. Go to the Culinary show and do the galley tour. The quality of the food varied based on what we chose – sometimes we chose well sometimes not. The nightly specials were worth trying and the always available selections were usually good especially the soups and light dishes. Extra bread rolls, butter or a quick change of a bad choice for a better one were not a problem. We ate breakfast in our cabin or on the balcony ordering a basic room service continental breakfast and adding some extras from the buffet. Room service was always on time with hot coffee and was worth the $3 delivery charge for us. We ate once at both La Luna and Salt Grill – enjoyed both as a novelty but not overly impressed.
Bar prices - This took us two sea days to work out. The penny dropped on the third night after we had conducted serious research in several bars. A cocktail in the “premium” bar on Deck 7 - the Atrium Mix Bar – will cost you $15 and a shot of whisky $10 – more for single malts – “We only serve premium brands in this bar.“ commented the bar tender when we asked for House Scotch. By comparison, in Connexions – a larger bar with a dance floor on deck 7 – a cocktail will cost $7 - $9 with beer less than $6. The price lists on each table spell out the cost of cocktails but not individual prices for beer, wine or soft drinks. These are Price On Application and asking is the way to go. So ask and shop around. Room Service prices vary from $5.50 for XXXX to $144 for Moet with a $3 charge for delivery. You can buy a cocktail, a mocktail, wine or beer at almost any bar and carry your drink(s) away with you wherever you like. Breakable glasses on the pool deck are discouraged. Wine by the glass is not good value so buy a bottle and either leave it in the dining room for the next meal or take the remainder with you back to your cabin or onto the next activity – no problems.
Entertainment – The signature Pacific Cirque shows are brilliant. On this cruise the winds were too chancy for open air Deck 12 performances. The Atrium is a good alternative – aim for level 6 and get in early for a good view – pretend you are waiting for a washing machine in the Laundromat and take a book. The Production Shows were energetic, well designed and very well received. Some of the individual guest artist performances were a little lost in the large two tiered Marquee theatre unless you were in the A grade stalls on Deck 7 or front balcony rows on Deck 8. There was one very good light classics pianist Ian Mason, who mostly played in the (Premium) Mix Bar. Meet the Cast plus the (optional) Backstage tour on the last day was an interesting and fun look into working as an entertainer on board a cruise ship.
On Board Activities – Short, varied and frequent was the usual pattern unless you go in for bridge or bingo – both requiring a longer attention span than I can manage on a cruise. I stopped counting the individual activities on offer on sea days after 40. The range and spread out locations for all this busyness was enough to distribute the passengers throughout the ship and the only crowded spaces were the pool deck on sunny days, Bingo as the prize snowballed and Connexions bar in the evening.
Shore Tours - The Shore Tour Desk was helpful when the tour we had booked ahead on line was cancelled. To find an alternative tour in Port Denarau, we needed confirmed assistance with tendering and on shore transport that could manage the scooter. This was organised by email from the shore tour desk to the tour operator in Nadi and it all worked, We were escorted via the secret lift to the tender level and on shore were directed to the bus with the luggage space we needed for the scooter. I did the Isle of Pines Natural Aquarium Tour and recommend it – good exercise, a beautiful beach and some interesting fish. Otherwise we did our own thing on shore. On Mystery Island, I did a local off the beach "Best Snorkelling" trip to the fringing reef for $25 including (dare I say it) a tip. I recommend this option having snorkelled directly off the beach on a previous cruise. You get away from the crowds, your camera and bag are safe in the boat and there are some wonderful stag coral formations , a variety of fish and plenty of coral outcrops I really noticed the crowds on Mystery Island this visit but despite this the tender operation was smooth and well organised.
Overall – Enjoyable – much more so than we were expecting from some of the reviews we had read. The weather was kind apart from missing landfall on Dravuni Island and the ports were varied and spaced well over the 14 days. The real plus was the excellent service from staff in dining areas, bars, at reception and in general just walking around the ship – smiles and greetings on all sides. The Jewel seemed a happy ship. If you are looking for a special occasion cruise with dressing for dinner, silver service and formality, this is not the ship for you. From our experience, you will have a relaxing and entertaining cruise with good service and a wide variety of food and entertainment. We chose the mini suite to provide room for the scooter - not sure it would be worth the extra if you did not need the space as we did. The standard balcony cabins on Deck 11 seemed reasonable and not cramped. The mini suite balcony is no wider only longer.