After a really nice cruise on Radiance of the Seas earlier this year, we wanted to try another ship of that class. Luckily Royal Caribbean was nice enough to put Jewel of the Seas in Tampa this season. Two friends of ours accompanied my wife and me. Additionally my wife's parents and both sets of our friend's parents came along. We all drove down to the Port of Tampa on embarkation day.
We arrived at the pier around 11:30 and found the crowds in the terminal to be very light. We got checked in immediately and walked right on board. The whole process took about fifteen minutes. It seemed like we were all good to go.
Everything went totally sideways about an hour later. One of the people in our group is not a US citizen but has a valid green card (an older non-expiring type). My wife and I helped his family in doing lots of research before we went. We even went so far as to ask a Customs Officer about the situation last month as we debarked from Allure. Everyone said that he would be okay to cruise with his birth certificate, ID and green card.
The pier agents checked him in without any problem and we got on board. Later in the day he was requested to go to the Guest Relations desk. They said that Customs needed to speak to him in the terminal. He had to go back ashore and was told that the regulations were recently changed (within the last few days) and that he would not be allowed to go. The Customs Officer didn't have a copy of this regulation since it was so new, and said it wasn't even on their website yet.
The customs officer told them that there is some type of a certification form that is required now which you cannot get with an older style green card. Obviously a new card (with this new form) could not be obtained in one day at the pier. No exceptions could be made and no amount of arguing helped. RCI was equally unhelpful, simply blaming everything on Customs. There was another couple (with green cards) that had flown in from Italy and they were also being denied boarding.
His family members decided to still go on the cruise, but the trip was understandably tarnished for them. RCI did allow his wife to call him for free from the GR desk but offered no other compensation or reimbursement.
The Jewel of the Seas:
Aside from a few dÃ©cor items, the Jewel is nearly indistinguishable from her sister the Radiance. Thankfully Jewel has not yet had the massive renovations scheduled for all the Radiance Class ships. During this remodel two of my favorite spots on board are removed: the Sea View CafÃ© and the Hollywood Odyssey Cigar Lounge. The Sea View makes way for a pay-extra eatery, and the cigar bar is converted into a Concierge Lounge. No sense in dwelling on her darker future though, her present is still very bright.
Starting on Deck 4 we find the main lobby that is home to the Guest Relations desk and a small bar. There is also a dance floor that is used for nightly live music and dancing. The lobby is the bottom floor of the ships expansive atrium, which is the centerpiece of the ship. Also in the Lobby is the lowest landing for the ships 5 glass-enclosed elevators. Two look into the atrium, the other three look outward onto the ocean through a gigantic wall of glass. Aft on Deck 4 is the bottom floor of the Tides main restaurant where most guests enjoy their meals.
All the way forward on Deck 5 is the Coral Theater, the ship's main show lounge. Also on that deck is the Photo Gallery and the shopping area. "Lattetudes" is a specialty coffee bar and Internet cafÃ© located in the Atrium. The upper level of the Tides dining room is aft on Deck 5.
The entirety of Deck 6 is dedicated to entertaining guests. Forward is the balcony of the Coral Theater. Just aft of the theater is the ship's cinema room with stadium seating for screening feature films. Next to the cinema is the Pit Stop sport bar, a NASCAR themed room with several televisions and seating for watching the games. The casino is located between the sports bar and the atrium. The Champagne Bar, a Royal Caribbean staple is found in the atrium with large glass windows that offer great views.
The aft third of Deck 6 is the beating heart of the ship. Guests first enter another Royal Caribbean institution, the nautical themed Schooner Bar. It is a cozy lounge with leather seating and wood paneling that is very inviting for folks looking to relax. They also have live piano music in the evenings. Adjacent to the Schooner Bar are the ships two specialty restaurants, "Chops Grille" steakhouse and "Portofinos" Italian dining. Both carry a cover charge over and above the standard cruise fare. At the very back of Deck 6 is the Safari Club complex. It is a mixed-use area consisting of a card game room, a show lounge, two bars and the room housing the self-leveling pool tables.
Decks 7, 8, 9 and 10 contain mostly guest cabins. Deck 11 has the ship's two main pools. One is located mid ship and is for everyone to use. It has two hot tubs, an area for live musicians and it's own bar. The other pool is located in the adults-only Solarium. This area is themed to resemble an Asian jungle temple. Thankfully it has no piped in or live music, and only has soft bird sounds playing in the background. The pool is very nice and is accessed via a staircase instead of the typical ladders. The Solarium has it's own bar and a cafÃ© offering sandwiches, wraps and pizza. My only complaint about the Solarium is it's lone hot tub. On sea days it is usually full, and sometimes grossly overpopulated with bathers. There really should have been two tubs. At the very front of Deck 11 is the lower level of the ship's spa, which has the treatment rooms, steam baths, saunas and massage suites. Opposite the spa, at the very aft of Deck 11 is the "Windjammer" buffet. It has several stations set up offering decent cafeteria-style food options.
Forward on Deck 12 is the upper level of the ship's spa and gymnasium. The jogging track also wraps around the front half of this deck. Mid ship on Deck 12 are the children's and teen facilities. There is also a video arcade in the area, and a dance club for the older teens. A children's pool is in this area that has it's own water slide. The sports area is located aft on this deck. There is a basketball (half) court there, and golf simulators; a mini golf course is located one deck above.
The biggest attraction for me on Deck 12 has to be the lovely Sea View CafÃ©. It is a small eatery with a selection of made to order sandwiches, salads, soups, fried chicken and much more. It has both interior and exterior seating. The cafÃ© is a great alternative to the often chaotic and crowded Windjammer. Unfortunately the Sea View is one of the great things that will be on the chopping block once Royal Caribbean does renovations to the ship. It will be replaced with a pay-extra restaurant. I think it is disgusting that they are eliminating a great free dining option to make way for one with a cover charge. Cruise lines are becoming so petty with their constant nickel-and-diming of customers. This is yet another example.
Deck 13 is the highest guest accessible area on the ship and is where the "Viking Crown Lounge" is located. The VCL is the signature feature of all Royal Caribbean ships. It is a great place to relax and enjoy drinks while enjoying the sweeping panoramic views it's huge windows offer. On the Jewel and other Radiance Class ships, the VCL does double duty as the ship's dance club at night. The "Hollywood Odyssey" cigar lounge is adjacent to the VCL. It has a dedicated bartender after 9:30 each night, and has a small humidor with cigars for sale. There were many guests enjoying drinks and fine cigars in the lounge each night. It is such a shame that they will be converting it into a private lounge for concierge level guests. I don't have a problem with the cruise lines offering lounges only for suite guests or frequent cruisers. I do have a problem with them replacing well-used public spaces with those private areas.
Day 1, Tampa:
After embarkation and the problems with US Customs we went to our cabin, #7174 that is at the very aft end of deck 7. We were originally booked in an ocean view room, but upgraded to a balcony after a price drop. The cabin had a spacious aft-facing veranda with two loungers, two upright chairs and a small table. The room itself had a full size sofa, an older style tube TV and a safe. I was happy to see that the shower had the sliding doors versus the nasty shower curtains used on other ships.
Before dinner we watched sail away from the Viking Crown Lounge and stayed there for the Diamond Event. It was lightly attended, but the free wine and sodas were nice. After that we had our first dinner in the main dining room. Our serving team was pretty slow but the quality of the food was high. A buddy and I finished the night with some cigars and drinks in the Hollywood Odyssey.
Day 2, At Sea:
Our first full day on board began with breakfast in the main dining room. Their eggs benedict were excellent. I always appreciate it when they don't overcook the eggs, the yolk is supposed to be runny! The rest of the morning was spent in the Solarium swimming and soaking in the hot tub.
That afternoon we had lunch at the Sea View CafÃ©. The food was very good, but the sandwiches were much smaller than the ones we had on Radiance. Later that day we watched "Super 8" in the Cinema. It fills up quickly, so anyone wanting a seat should arrive about twenty minutes early.
The second evening was the only formal dress night of the cruise. We met in the lobby for formal portraits and waited in line to be photographed on the glass staircase. When we finally made it in front of the photographer we had the displeasure of encountering the rudest (or dumbest) people I have ever seen on a cruise. Just as the photographer was getting us into poses an older fellow walked up to him and interrupted with a question. After his question was answered he proceeded to walk right between my wife and her mother who were the two in the middle of the shot. The moron then stopped about half way up the staircase and began yelling to his wife who was still standing in the lobby. Instead of walking up the main stairs that were about twenty feet away, she began to walk toward the glass staircase as well. She almost made it. A loud "UUMM NO!" and a finger snap from my wife diverted her from her course of stupidity. She stood there dumbfounded for a moment with an odd look on her face before walking off toward the main stairs. It's a sad comment on the state of society when the photographer is afraid to say something to rude or clueless passengers for fear of being complained about.
After a few more portrait stops we made our way into the main dining room for dinner. As with the first night the food was very good. I have a few orders of escargots bourguignonne, which is my favorite dish on Royal Caribbean. The service speed was again very slow. We had drinks at the Diamond event in the VCL after dinner. At midnight I went to the adult comedy show. The comic was okay, but not outstanding.
Day 3, Cozumel:
My wife and I slept in late this day. We didn't even leave the room until around 11:30 am. After a breakfast in the Windjammer we headed ashore for some shopping. We have been to Cozumel many times, so after shopping we just went back on board the ship to enjoy the nearly empty pool deck. After some swimming and hot tub soaking I went to the bow to watch the Carnival Triumph cruise into port. I then met the family at the Sea View CafÃ© for lunch.
I watched the Liberty of the Seas leave port before we headed to the Diamond event for some pre-dinner drinks. The service at dinner this night was very much improved. After dinner my wife and I went to the top-tier Crown and Anchor reception. They served free drinks and had live music. Later in the program the Captain spoke to the assembly, as well as the Loyalty Ambassador. She screened the new "Shell Phone" TV ad. I thought the commercial itself was silly and tacky. But I think the new tag lines "The Sea is Calling" and the longer form "The Sea is Calling, Answer it Royally" are actually really good. Classy and simple like the old "Get Out There" campaign.
I later met up with some of our friends at the Coral Theater for the Gaucho show. The show is very funny, and the stunts the gauchos perform are impressive. I highly recommend the show. Afterward we had cigars and drinks in the Hollywood Odyssey before retiring for the evening.
Day 4, At Sea:
After another sleep that lasted until noon we went to the main dining room for the excellent salad bar they set up on sea days. There is just about any component that one could want in their salad made right in front of you. I also had an order of the delicious gnocchi.
We attempted to see "Thor" in the Cinema but were too late to find seats. So we instead went to the Solarium for more swimming. We had afternoon snacks at the Sea View CafÃ© and then stopped by the photo gallery to look at our pictures. We visited the Diamond Event one last time and made sure to tip the friendly wait staff before leaving. After dinner we smoked our final cigars of the cruise and left to watch The Quest. The Quest is a must-do on a Royal Caribbean cruise. It is so fun to watch and take part in!
Debarkation and Conclusion:
We had breakfast in the main dining room before leaving the ship. The process went very fast and we were driving away about a half hour after leaving the dining room. In spite of the rocky first day we all still managed to have a good time on this cruise. The ship is in very good shape. I am glad that I got to cruise on the Jewel before they renovate her. I am looking forward to our next cruise on her in March of 2012, our Spring Break cruise!