Some thoughts about a recent cruise experience to the Southern Caribbean aboard RC’s Jewel of the Seas, departing San Jose Puerto Rico, on April 25, 2015. A quick summary would read: The excursions were amazing, interesting and fun and ... Read More
Some thoughts about a recent cruise experience to the Southern Caribbean aboard RC’s Jewel of the Seas, departing San Jose Puerto Rico, on April 25, 2015. A quick summary would read: The excursions were amazing, interesting and fun and life aboard the ship left us hungry – literally and figuratively – thirsty, and bored.
We also had less than satisfying experiences with shipboard staff, and this, coupled with the reality that it was essentially, onboard anyway, a snooze cruise, has us pretty much forgoing any future cruises with Royal Caribbean.
For this cruise we opted for “My Time Dining.” We prefer to be caught in and experience moments rather than adhere to a set schedule so that we might enjoy the special serendipities that usually accompany a cruise. So for the first night, we opted for the Windjammer vs. The Tides for dinner. The selections were good, with a variety of hot and cold foods to please anyone’s palate, and the café staff was friendly and helpful.
Outlook for the week aboard looked promising; however, the reality fell short … far short, with the exception of café staff. To a person, staff in the Windjammer was polite, helpful and fun. Greeters, especially (and I am sorry, I have forgotten their names), the young man who sang along with a music track and the gentleman who balanced a tray of coffee cups as he danced and sang. They were fun, entertaining and a welcome greeting to breakfast every day.
We took an excursion Day 2, in Amalie, St. Thomas, and returned to the ship famished. We hit the Windjammer and were surprised to see, essentially, the same menu we had seen the evening before. There were a couple additions, though we learned soon enough the editions were leftovers from the previous night’s service in The Tides.
We wandered the ship and were surprised there really wasn’t much to do. There was some music in the Centrum, a movie in the theater, but beyond that there was little to do. No shows, no poolside contests or guest-engaging events – not even bingo! Even drinks were hard to come by outside the pool bar or sky bar.
These were situations neither of us had encountered. We have cruised aboard RC before together; she has cruised with her mother; and I have cruised other times and never had trouble finding a drink of the day or other cooling concoction. Access to food was a challenge, too, as the Windjammer was pretty much the only place to get food, and as noted, there was little variety in food selections.
That night, we reserved seats in The Tides. We enjoyed meeting and getting to know our tablemates, and the staff was “efficient,” though not very friendly (outside of the wine and water steward, who was delightful at Table 538). We were pleased with the selections on the menu and looked forward to the meal. I ordered an aged steak, rare, which tasted more like a flank steak that had not been tenderized. I thought it might be a fluke, so didn’t mention it to table staff; however, when we noted the same steaks in the Windjammer the next day, I made a mental note to see if this was a trend.
The next day we left the ship on an excursion and as the day before, were famished upon return. Again, our only choice in the early afternoon was the Windjammer Café, though there clearly were other restaurants present aboard the ship. As mentioned, the previous night’s steak appeared on the buffet, as did a couple other prior night offerings, but the menu remained unchanged from previous days.
On previous cruises, food on the buffet has been changed up with greater diversity, providing for greater selection and satisfaction, so we were surprised by the static menu. As we had done the prior night, we went to The Tides. My wife tried escargot, which she loved (kudos to the chef for that preparation), and I ordered fish as my entrée. It looked good when it came, but when I bit into it, it tasted as if it had never been cleaned or filtered. There was grit in the fish that felt like sand in my teeth.
As happened with the steak, that same fish appeared on the Windjammer buffet the next day. I gave it wide berth – and suggested others do the same – based on the prior night’s experience.
The next day, we wandered around Dominica and returned to the ship only to find the same situation. Only the Windjammer was open for food and the menu was essentially the same as previous days. Oh, there was sliced ham instead of turkey, but that was about the only real change. We wandered to the Solarium but the café there was closed. We wandered to deck 12 but the restaurant there was closed as well. In fact, it essentially was closed the entire trip except for a few hours one or two of the days and then at night for “Burgers and brew,” an extra cost option.
We spent the afternoon in the Solarium by the pool, which is a nice feature for adults, but we could not find a waiter or get a drink. I went to the pool bar several times … not that far, but not as convenient as I had been used to in the past. Then at one point, as I went to get another round, I noted the Solarium bar was closed, but when I returned, it appeared to be open.
As I passed, the bar attended yelled, “Hey Mister! Hey Mister!” I stopped and looked at him and said, “yes, can I help you?” He barked, “We’re open!” I must have looked surprised because he barked again, “I said, we’re open.” I looked at him, taken back by his rudeness (it’s hard to reflect how short and curt he was), and told him, “Yes, you are now, but you weren’t when I went to get these and haven’t been open all day.”
I am still surprised by how rude he was. In all my cruises, with RC, the Delta Queen Steamboat Co., Carnival and others, I had never been barked at my staff – ever! And we never ordered from him or that bar – we opted to walk to another bar (pool bar, sky bar) where smiles came with the service.
On the service note, I want to mention our lackluster cabin steward and hospitality staff. We never “met” our cabin steward, and the only time we saw him was when we bumped into him. We had to ask for soap and towels and when I asked if we could get the minibar restocked, he told me that it wasn’t his job, that it was the hospitality staff’s job. I was surprised by his reaction and comment as well, so asked if he could please ask the hospitality staff to restock the minibar and he said, “OK, I guess.”
This is as good a time as any to share that if RC didn’t “require” and add tips to the cost of the cruise, only the water and wine steward in The Tides, a bartender in the Champagne bar and another server who went out of his way to be helpful would have been tipped. No one else provided or delivered service at a level that deserved a gratuity, the first of any cruise I have ever been on. Usually, we are happy to honor them for their outstanding work. Not so in this cruise.
The rest of the week, situations and events mirrored those mentioned – difficulty finding food outside of breakfast, lunch and dinner hours; difficulty finding a variety/diversity of food beyond what was served every day (or carried over from the previous night’s Tides menu); difficulty getting drinks and difficulty finding things to do. Though there were a few events, such as one bellyflop contest (late in the week), a parade of flags and a newlywed game, outside of the nightly showcase in the theater, there was very little to do.
We sat in on a couple of trivia events in the Schooner Lounge, but given the energy of the moderator and the participatory interest of the few who had gathered, we moved on pretty quickly. We’ve never experienced this dearth of things to do in previous cruises. In fact, on those, we had to choose what we wanted to do, often having to choose between one, two or even three gun and exciting options.
We were surprised, too, by the talent featured in the showcases. We missed the Beatle night (which we regret having heard it the best show of the cruise), but we sat in on the trumpeter, the comedian, the cast “through the ages” show and Mark Preston. The comedian was very funny, but the others were lackluster. It was especially odd to see the line feature a trumpet player who is part of the ship’s orchestra. While he had a solid resume, he was not a headliner by any means, and he wasn’t even the bandleader, so it was odd to see him pulled out and put in the spotlight.
The cast show was OK, but felt more than passing time than being entertained, and Mark Preston was, as a promised, a “two-time Grammy nominee.” No slam on him, but his was an efficient performance. Not much else. Not much energy, not much variety, not much entertainment.
I want to say I am sorry for this appearing to be so negative, but we’ve never experienced a cruise such as this. The venue – the Southern Caribbean – is among the best offered by Royal Caribbean and the Jewel of the Seas remains that – a jewel – even with her years at sea. We came aboard expecting an exceptional time, with exceptional variety of foods, things to do, drinks, entertainment – options. And we found all of that – in the excursions, but not aboard ship.
Life there was tedium, interrupted by off-ship opportunities. Food, which started off promising, ended up being the same thing, day after day. Access to food was restricted to limited hours and the most limited selections of venues we had ever seen – largely the Windjammer. Drinks were hard to come by unless we were willing to find an open bar and a willing server. Cabin service was spotty and largely by request or begging.
We just thought you might like to hear about our experience and our concerns about future cruises with Royal Caribbean. Read Less