Our daughter was on a school trip to Italy, so we decided to meet up with her in Rome and take a family cruise to the Greek Isles. We choose Jewel of the Seas, because we like RCCL and sailed on the Radiance of the Seas previously (Alaska). I will say that so far the Radiance Class ships are my favorite of the RCCL line (I have been on Independence of the Seas, Majesty of the Seas, and Empress of the Seas as well). The ship is beautiful. Lots to do while easy to navigate. While all the usual accolades for Royal apply (very good food, great Piano player in the Schooner Lounge, very good Production Shows, etc.), what stood out for me was two new activities that I enjoyed immensely. The first was a Mystery Puzzle game that was professionally produced to be similar to current Escape Room type games. It was not an escape room, but a team game, where each team received an envelope with many puzzles that led to solving the mystery. Like I said, it was professionally produced and really awesome. Not easy, but not extremely difficult either. Took about an hour and was loads of fun. The second was a Murder Mystery Dinner, where the production entertainment team put on a play during cocktails and hors d'oevres where two mob bosses were about to combine their territory. One gets murdered. We went into dinner in one of the speciality restaurants, where clues were given throughout the dinner. At the end, there was a drawing from those who solved it correctly, with the winner receiving a champagne basket. Again, lots of fun. The first was no additional charge, while the second had a charge associated (but did include a great dinner in the speciality restaurant, including champagne and wine). The addition of these types of activities will keep me coming back to RCCL.
The only reason I did not give this cruise 5 stars was the Itinerary. The ship gets 5 stars. The Itinerary, only about 3.5. If you really want to visit the Greek Isles, then this is a great way to do it...but be prepared for a grueling itinerary. We had one day at sea, followed by 4 port days, and ending with a day at sea. In general, the Islands are beautiful, but very hot and very crowded. Long days of touring with crowds, heat, and lines...and 4 in a row was a little more than we could handle. 1. Santorini: Definitely the most picturesque...but get on an early tender. Dress very cool, wear a hat and sneakers. Be prepared to wait in a line for 1-2 hours to get the cable car up and another 1 1/2 - 2 hours to get back down at the end. Be prepared to walk on very uneven cobblestones. 2. Mykonos: Probably the easiest port and also very beautiful. Classic white buildings. Beautiful seascape vistas. Good history. Cool breezes and no lines :) 3. Athens: Our least favorite. Crowded city. Very hot. Walking up the Acropolis is the highlight (you gotta do it), but go early and be prepared for a very slippery climb up ancient slippery marble. 4. Katakolon: Too pooped to visit the sight of the ancient Olympic games...choose instead to taxi to a nice beach.
Royal Cabins always leave a bit to be desired. For two people they are fine. But for 3, it's a bit cramped. Plus, I'm not a fan of having the third bed as a top bunk. Otherwise, nice little sofa seating area and nice balcony.
Rome is one of those cities you just have to see. We stayed at the Independent Hotel, which was awesome, and toured the city for several days. The highlight for me was a Roman Food Tour through Viator, while my husband and daughter really enjoyed the Segway Tour at night. We felt we did the best we could by booking the skip the lines evening tour of the Vatican...but it was still very crowded and hot.
In planning, I was pretty sure we would be to pooped for a 4th tour -- and I could not have been more right. I considered an excursion to the beach...but was put off by the price (onboard $45 each and Viator about $30 ea if I remember correctly). So, my daughter and I took our chances. We went off the ship and immediately found a taxi that agreed to take us to a close-by beach (that was not the very close one that was reportedly very dirty), for 30 Euro round trip (total). The driver waited for us for 1 1/2 hours and took us back. The beach was absolutely beautiful and a welcome respite. On the way back, we had him drop us off a bit shy of the port so we could do a little shopping. So glad I did not book anything!