I have cruised many times. But this is the first time I have been compelled to write a review. It's not that our previous cruise experiences haven't been compelling. We just seem to return from our cruises and get right back into the swing of things at work and school and our cruise is a warm and pleasant memory. For the most part, our recent five day voyage on the Jewel of the Seas was just as warm and pleasant. Make a coffee and prepare to sit to read this long review!
To begin, we were travelling as a family of 11. My family of six have cruised many times, but it was a brand new experience for my brother and sister in law and their three children. In total, the seven children range in age from 11 to 16. We flew into Tampa on December 31st and stayed at the Homewood Inn and Suites. Our stay there was fine. They have an inclusive airport shuttle and our hotel sail away rate included transportation to the port of Tampa. The rooms were clean and spacious. Our children had a great time in the pool and at the basketball court. The included breakfast in the morning had all of the usual choices. Staff had a hard time keeping the supplies up as the hotel was full. There were many patrons present for the Michigan/Georgia Outback Bowl game. Everyone at the hotel was in a festive spirit. The staff at the hotel, in particular a service rep. named Kendall, was very helpful. The only downside to the hotel(and others in the Avion Park Complex) is its location. It's withing walking distance of nothing. So if you prefer being in middle of things, this is not the place for you. The group of eleven enjoyed a wonderful dinner at the Hilton Garden directly across the road - wonderful food.
We embarked the Jewel seamlessly by eleven on day one. We had all of the paperwork in order and the process took no time at all. We waited in the holding area for less than ten minutes before boarding. Most of the group was exploring the Windjammer by eleven thirty. I scouted out a warm spot on deck as the weather had turned unseasonably cold in Tampa that morning(low fifties). We all had a lovely afternoon on deck. All of our luggage had been delivered well before dinner time. All set for a great cruise. We'd been telling our family about cruising for years and were eager to share the experience with them. My sister in law was worried about motion sickness and had applied a patch the morning of embarkation. Good thing!
I have cruised many times, but never have I been so motion sick as I was the first night. The captain's announcement warned of three metre swells. I have experienced swells in this range before and wasn't too worried. But this time I was dreadfully ill, as was one of my sons, sister in law, and niece. The next day, many people complained about it. My son and I were mostly better by the next day as the meds kicked in; however, my sister in law and niece felt unwell for a long time. In fact, it wasn't until day five that my sister in law felt stablized.
On board the ship were the usual repertoire of great activities. Carly and Beckie are excellent. They are funny without seeming forced and seem to work really well together. The rest of the staff are similarly professional. From Garnet our room steward to our excellent dining room staff (can't remember their names, we have nothing but praise. We hadn't laughed so much in five days for a long time. The whole family laughed through world's sexiest man and the bellyflop competitions. The adults laughed through quest and love and marriage. The performers from Argentina on the last night were hilarious. We didn't go to the theatre every night as we usually do as its location seemed to accentuate the ship's movement negatively.
We visited Cozumel and Costa Maya on our five day cruise. We had been to Cozumel in the past and didn't leave the ship. My brother and sister in law took their kids into town for a bit of shopping (and I think to kiss the ground - terra firma). In Costa Maya, the group of eleven had booked a private excursion to a "funky beach resort" called Maya Chan. We had a great day there. It's an all inclusive place that lets in about one hundred people a day. Good food and good drinks are included. The kids snorkelled and kayaked. It was a great day. Sea days were great too. The kids enjoyed the rock wall and other activities. I enjoyed hot spots by the pool and read a couple of books over the five days.
The food - I don't understand how people can complain about the food. Breakfasts were predictable - eggs, cereals, pastries, etc. My sons said it would be nice to have a few more varieties of donuts available. And then I reminded them that they were eating donuts for breakfast five days in row. And they said .... "oh yeah. No complaints". There were lots of options for lunches too. We ate breakfast and lunch everyday in the Windjammer. It seems quickest and we always have lots that we want to do and see. There were nachos available on the pool deck one day. I think there may have been food available in the Solarium pool too, but as were travelling with our children on this cruise, we didn't sit in there, respecting the adults only rule. We sat as a group of eleven for the early sitting in Tides dining room. No one had any complaints. None of our children are picky. Nor do we have any food allergies. The oly problem we had was choosing. Usually there was more than one selection that we wanted to try. And thanks to all of the food available through the day, no one had the stomach space to go crazy at six pm! We really liked the appetizers. Most of us had prime rib on day one and the filet of beef on day two. Other nights, we covered most of the menu items by the time the eleven of us had ordered. The kids and dad had chocolate milk every night. As mentioned earlier, our servers were prompt and friendly. As an aside, my kids said they wouldn't buy the pop package again.
My only complaint about our cruise was disembarkation. It was an absolute, unmitigated disaster. All non us citizens were asked to report to the Safari Lounge by 6:45am. No problem. We wanted to do Express Walk Off anyways as we had a flight at 10:35am. I have cruised six times in the last four years with Royal Caribbean. Most times, I have done express walk off. We travel lightly and have no problem carrying our carry on sized bags. We were informed on day three that there would be no express walk off allowed. What? No matter. We were told that we would be in the first group getting off the ship at 7:45am. Still no problem. We have lots of time to make our flight since we're not checking any bags. But this is where all the wheels fell off the baggage cart so to speak. We are rule followers. We report when we are told to report. However, we were informed that NO ONE was getting off the boat until ALL of the non US citizens had been processed through immigration. There were between 700 - 800 non US citizens on the boat. We reported to the Safari by 6:20am. But for people who didn't have flights until much later in the day (all Europeans for example) or those who were extending their stay in Florida(snowbirds from Canada), or those who were driving, what incentive would they possibly have to report by 6:45am. None. So to be clear about this, the fate of everyone was in the hands of close to 800 people to report at 6:45am and be processed. Needless to say, it was a disaster. There was ONE person trying to control the lineup. After being processed in the Safari, we reported to the Coral Lounge to await the walkoff. We were part of the first twenty people in line. Others were trying to butt in line. Others, when recognizing that butting would not be tolerated, tried to begin new lines. I mean really? Where are their manners and sense of right and wrong? For our promised 7:45am departure, we got off the ship at 9:20am. Our group of eleven caught the first two taxis as we had no luggage to pick up (we all used carry ons only). Our taxi driver got us to the airport asap. Luckily Tampa is a small airport and we got their first to be processed through security before the lines got too unruly. Many who came after us missed their flights entirely. The whole process left a very sour taste in my mouth. Cruise lines can only do what immigration lets them do. However, the sense of urgency for all non US citizens to report was not made clear. They should have sent notes the day before saying "No one is getting off the ship until each and every non US citizen has cleared immigration". Royal Caribbean can probably leave a voice message on the room phones of each party of non US citizens. No matter what, they needed to make the situation far more obvious. Some may say book a later flight. But for some of us, we don't have a lot of choice with regards to flights. There is one at 6am, one between 10:30am and 11:30am, and another after dinner. What do you do with four kids all day if your flight is after dinner? And we have a three hour drive after getting off the plane. We've always made the 10:30 - 11:30am flights with lots of time to spare.
Sorry for the long review. Trying to be thorough.