Embarkation The morning of the cruise we drove down from Tampa to Miami, we live in Tampa, and arrived at the pier about noon. We had rented a one way rental from Avis, so we had to drop off our luggage and then return the rental. When we arrived at the pier our luggage got tagged by the baggage person and was whisked away to the ship. We thought we were going to have to be with our luggage more, so our plans changed and both of us drove to drop off the rental and we enjoyed a nice leisurely walk from Avis to the pier. It's a little over a mile and took about 30 to 40 minutes to walk. I really enjoyed walking over the long bridge to the pier.
Once we got the check-in area we waited in line for about 15 minutes and check-in was smooth and simple. I forgot to one important question about my account status, but that was my fault. More on that later. After we checked in we did stop by the Pier Coordinator on the off chance upgrades were available, they weren't, so we proceeded to the ship.
Ship The Jewel is in great shape and since this is the only class of ship we've been on, I really don't have any other RCCL comparison, our other cruise was on the Radiance in 2005. Since this was the Xmas cruise we thought there would be more Xmas decorations, but overall it was done nice. The main decoration was a very long table of Gingerbread houses which were just excellent. Lots of detail and different scenes from one end of the table to the other. I like the class very much, but do want to experience the other ships that RCCL has to offer.
Room We were in an D1 7534, which was a good room with an extended balcony. It's forward on the ship's starboard side. Only negative was the location was Starboard which is the smoking side of the ship, so deck 5 being the walk around deck had a lot of people smoking below our room and that was not pleasurable at times. With being forward we did have a close stairway and elevator bank, but did a lot of walking to get to the aft, windjammer and tides, along with other places nearer the Centrum. Not a big deal as we needed the exercise, just wanted to note that there is some walking and stair climbing to do when your forward.
Ports Labadee We didn't expect much from this port, but had an enjoyable time. We got off and walked to the main beach that faces the ocean. To me that is a real beach and really enjoyed watching the waves come in. I was disappointed that they wouldn't let people swim freely in this area and only kept people in a very isolated area and didn't let anyone enjoy the surf. Probably a liability/risk issue, but it was a damper for me. We watched folks do the zip line and that looked like lots of fun. We passed on that as we thought the cost for the one zip, yes there is a small starter, was too high, plus we were going to do Zipline in Jamaica, so we saved it for another time. The area was nice. We liked walking around and found our way to the new hammocks and spent a couple of hours enjoying those. We then went over to have lunch at one of the barbecue areas and watched some of the entertainment. They were local dancers and musicians. We aren't shoppers, so didn't really mess with the flea market area or the other shopping areas. Nice island, but we liked Disney's Castaway Cay better.
Cartegena No planned excursions for us here, but we wanted to go into town to see some of the sights around town. Didn't have any interest on the other tours outside of the town. We hooked up with a Taxi driver at the pier terminal and he took us around for about 2 hours. It was nice and the driver walked with us as we walked around town and provided history and information on the Old City. He also took us to a couple shops, an Emerald store was nice as we got to go to the back, upstairs, room to watch the jewel maker work. We wished we knew more about Emeralds as we would've like to have gotten a nice emerald jewelry item. The town was nice and it was a perfect day for the short stay at Cartegena.
Panama Canal Our goal for this stop was to stay on the ship and just enjoy going through the canal. We got up early for the first trip through and made our way to the deck 5 bow section, where the helicopter landing area is. We picked a spot and watched as we came through the entrance area. The sun rose and it was a perfect morning to come through. The trip was a little slow going through. I had been there back in 1986, so it was interesting to see what has changed, but DW had never been, so her experience was new. We both really enjoyed it and really appreciate the engineering marvel that it is. They had a Canal person on board talking about the canal and the history as we traveled through, which was great.
Once we got through we spent the day in the Gatun Lake area, where we anchored and enjoyed the day in the sun. In the afternoon we then went back through the canal. We then arrived at Cristobal Pier where we hopped off and walked through the shopping area that is setup in the building on the pier. It was nice as it was low pressure and they sure had some great items.
Jamaica - Montego Bay First shore excursion for us. We signed up for Chukka Canopy experience, which is a Zipline tour. It started at the pier where a driver picked us up and drove about 30 minutes up into the mountain area near Montego Bay. They had setup an area where we all got our Zipline gear and then headed out. It's a walking, climbing, and zipping experience which is just want we wanted. The forest was great and guides were a lot of fun. There were 6 different zip lines. Two of them were short little hops to get from one stand to another, but the long ones were really very nice. Only real negative was that it had advertised a rope bridge and we didn't do that at all. They also apparently had 3 or 4 more ziplines that are only offered to hotel guests as they say there isn't enough time for cruise guests. The tour ended and a few folks got some food and did a little shopping at the make shift shop they had. Our drive back to the pier was nice and the driver even offered to take us to Montego Bay if we wanted, but everyone opted to go back to the pier. That was the end of our day as we had no interest in going to Montego Bay. Grand Cayman A very busy day for us as we had booked two shore excursions. Sting Ray city in AM and 2 Tank Scuba dive in the PM. The day started early as we had to be at the pier by 7:15 AM. We arrived on time, but then sat around for about 45 to 50 minutes waiting for, well I don't know, but the operation didn't seem to have it's act together at the pier. Sting Ray city is on the opposite side of the island from the pier area, so we all hopped into a bus and were drive, about 20 minutes, over to where the boat was located. We then hopped on to the boat and began a 20 to 25 minute boat ride out to Sting Ray city. When we arrived we were the third boat to get there, would have been first if we were on-time. The boat Captain had a problem with getting the boat to anchor and almost ran into a sail boat that was already anchored. We hopped in right away and had tons of fun with the Rays. Feeding them, Holding them, and just having fun playing with these amazing creatures. I wasn't really impressed with one of the guides as he wasn't offering any information about the sting rays and kept singing the same "we will we will rock you" song over and over. I think he thought he was trying to make it fun and lively to help encourage people to get in, but it was annoying to me. If people didn't want to do it, then it was there loss, but there are better ways to help encourage people to get in and enjoy the experience. We then headed back, but I felt we were rushed as the other two boats were still there when we left, so us being late starting cut the experience short, even though they said we would get the full experience. The ship had different add ons with the sting ray experience, so on the drive back we made a couple of stops to drop people off at other locations.
Once back to the pier we only had about 50 minutes until our next excursion, so shopping at Grand Cayman was cut short. We were also forced to have to baby sit our dive bag as the RCCL excursion guy said they would have a place for our bag, but they didn't, so we had to stay with it.
The scuba trip was a great. We again hopped into a bus and were taken a brief drive to the pier where we got organized to get ready to dive. Again we were late as it took longer to get ready, there were 24 of us diving, as apparently the ship never sent over the equipment list and they had to handle that one by one once we got there. The boat ride to the dive site was short and we hopped in and enjoyed a nice 30 minute dive. I think with the size of the group and being late, this bottom time was reduced, but we still enjoyed ourselves. Our second stop was about 45 minutes later, have to be on the surface between dives, but they only offered water. A snack or more drink options would have been nice. The second dive was again 30 minutes and we were brought to the surface early as we were running late. We all surfaced at about 4:20 and the last boat back to the ship was at 4:30. We knew they wouldn't leave, but it was a rush to get off of the boat and back to the ship.
All in all we had a great excursions, but the day was not smooth and I blame both RCCL and the excursion company. By the way, when they tell you Sting Rays don't bite, well they kind of do if you stick your thumb up while feeding the suction is really strong and the abrasive plates the rays have for chewing can do some damage.
Disembarkation We were part of the late group to get off as we had our own ground transportation. We enjoyed a nice breakfast and then headed off of the ship. The line to get off the ship and get through customs took about an hour, longer then I had expected, but was uneventful. Got our luggage and then I headed off to Avis to pick up the rental car. Unfortunately, Avis had problems and I had to wait about an hour and half until a car was ready. All in all the two one way rentals was worth it as it saved us over $100 on transportation costs.
Summary We had an outstanding time on the cruise. It was a great length, 10 days, and well balance of sea days and port stops. The ship crew was just excellent. Our cabin steward was decent, however he had to be told that we were C&A members, but he did a great job keeping the room always ready for us. Our waiter was outstanding as was the assistant waiter. We purchased the gold wine package, so we always had wine for us during dinner. The meals were good and offered great selections. I don't consider myself to be food critic, so didn't really find too much fault with the food. DW commented that some of the deserts were bland in flavor. We love the Windjammer as breakfast and lunch offered great variety and good food. We also tried out the Seaview, which was good as well. The ship activities were very diverse, and we had fun doing Bingo, Trivia and some of the talks. The only down area were the type of entertainment they offered. While they were generally enjoyable, I felt they were bringing out a lot of older entertainers and lacked some younger/newer talent.
I also wanted to comment on the Cruise Director, Joff Eaton. He is an interesting person and we found him to be very accessible and visible throughout the cruise. His staff was excellent as well.
I mentioned earlier that I had forgotten to check on our account status. The on-line TA that we transferred too was to give us prepaid gratuities and OBC, but it didn't happen. When we found out, near the end, the ship personnel were helpful in doing the research and even allowed us to call the TA free from the ship, but we had to take care of it once we got back. It all worked out, but the lesson learned is to check when getting there so that if there is a problem it could get fixed.
We definitely recommend the Panama itinerary and the Jewel of the Seas. We are anxious to get to our next cruise and hope to do more cruising with RCCL.
Starboard Side, Extended Balcony, no obstructions below, above deck 5 smoking.