We typically cruise with Carnival, but wanted to do a full transit through the Panama Canal, which Carnival rarely offers. So we booked a cruise on Jewel of the Seas, we have been on Explorer of the Seas back in 2002. We have been on nine ... Read More
We typically cruise with Carnival, but wanted to do a full transit through the Panama Canal, which Carnival rarely offers. So we booked a cruise on Jewel of the Seas, we have been on Explorer of the Seas back in 2002. We have been on nine cruises, we are in our mid sixties, husband and wife. We have never had a bad cruise and we did enjoy Jewel, Some people might be upset that I am doing a comparison, but it may help explain our views on the ship and may help others deciding what cruise line is best for them.
Our cruise left on March 13th out of San Diego, we did an overnight in Cabo San Lucas, next port was Puerto Vallarta, Puerto Quetzal Guatemala, Puntarenas Costa Rica, cruising through the Canal, Colon Panama, Cartagena Columbia, ending in Miami on March 29th.
Embarkation: We arrived a day early in San Diego and stayed at The Courtyard in Liberty Station. Embarkation on the 13th seemed to take longer than Carnivals, with both there are long lines, Carnival seems to move all the time, we stood barely moving in Royals lines for about 45 minutes. We headed to Windjammer for lunch as expected, it was crowded. Lido Marketplace on Carnival is even more difficult to get a seat on the first day, but Carnival has alternatives to go to and avoid the crowd, we usually go to Guy’s Pig and Anchor BBQ or Pasta Bella, which are free for lunch but away from the crowds. It would have been nice to have an alternative on Jewel, say lunch in the main dining room.
Ship Décor: Jewel of the Seas is much more toned down and drab, I am used to the bright, flashy décor on Carnival. That being said, she is a lovely ship once I got used to the subdued look. I found her very easy to learn my way about the ship, I rarely got lost. The Coral Theater have great line of sight and as long as you arrived to the shows about 30 minutes early, there was no problem finding a great seat. Most shows were full by the time they started. Windjammer could get very crowded, but we tend to eat lunch early and I loved the outside tables. The main dining room was nice too, but I felt the tables were too crowded together, it could be difficult just maneuvering to get to your table. Schooner Bar and Safari Club were lovely; we often got an afternoon drink at the Schooner Bar. And I often read or did my sewing (appliqué) sitting in Vintages, I loved the big windows to look out. We don’t gamble, though the casino was quite pretty and we don’t use the spa or gym. The Solarium was probably the most beautiful part of the ship, both in the décor and plants, it beats Carnival’s Serenity hands down in ambiance. I was really looking forward to spending time here, boy was I disappointed. There are not only lounge chairs, but there are tables with chairs which is nice when getting a snack at Solarium Café. But what happened is that groups of people would come and sit at the tables, conversing loudly, spoiling what should be a quiet area. On cool days, people who sit at the outdoor pool took all the seating inside. Noisy music from the pool deck bled in every time the doors opened. And I found the bird noises annoying after a short time. After the first two days of trying to enjoy the Solarium, I was chased off by the lack of serenity to the area. I ended up spending the time I would have in the Solarium at Vintages.
Cabin: We almost always get a balcony cabin. First off, I was disappointed that the view over the side of the ship was obstructed by the roof over the lifeboats. You could look out just fine, but not down to see the ship cutting through the water. This was my mistake as I should have checked to see if there was a sight line down (if you have a balcony at the front of the ship, the roof does not extend there). The room itself felt smaller than Carnival’s cabins, it only had a loveseat instead of a sofa. But Jewel’s actual balcony was probably twice as large as what we get on Carnival. The railing on Jewel was right at sightline when sitting in the chair, you had to bend down to see the horizon. Carnival’s is positioned differently as I never had a problem seeing the horizon. The bed was fine, a bit hard but we had no trouble sleeping on it. The cabins seemed to be soundproofed well, either that or we had quiet neighbors. We did not get much hall noise either (unlike Carnival where the partiers make a lot of noise). The bathroom has less storage of toiletries than Carnival, but the shower with a door is far better than Carnival’s curtain which does not keep the water in.
Entertainment: The shows offered in the Coral Theater were good to excellent. My biggest problem was the lack of choices. There was usually one show: dance production, singers, comedian, juggler, hypnotist, etc. Carnival offers a show in the theater and four different routines in the comedy club every night. We were always busy going back and forth. On Jewell we usually went to bed after the show, nothing else offered that interested us. (We are not into Trivia or karaoke). There were a few shows in the Centrum, like finish the phrase, copy cat, dance moves which were entertaining, but seating was limited around the Centrum.
Live Music: We enjoyed the Jewel Orchestra very much, supper talented bunch of musicians. There was duo of strings offered occasionally in Centrum and Mood Icons were good.
Activities: My favorite activity on Jewel was the knit, crochet, and sew group that met every sea day in Vintages. I had brought handwork specifically for sea days and was pleased to see they offered a group meeting (self lead). I met several wonderful ladies that share a passion of handiwork. Bingo is another favorite of ours, but the bingo costs more than on Carnival. We typically buy six cards to play, Carnival offers this for $29.95 for three games. Jewel had a six card offered for $29.95 for one game a couple of times and $39.95 for three games other times. A lot of money to play bingo. But I have to admit, the final day of bingo on Royal is better. Carnival offers $5000.00 in a coverall, but if no one wins after 50 balls are drawn, reverts back to just a percentage of the take. Royal offers a free cruise and they play until someone wins. We also signed up for the galley tour which we were very interested in, it was offered three times during the cruise. It was offered on the first sea day, we wanted to explore the ship. We booked the second time it was offered, but found out it was the same time as the lecture on the building of the canal, which we did not want to miss. So we booked it the last sea day, showed up and were told it was canceled due to lack of attendance.
Fellow Cruisers: We usually do a seven day cruise on Carnival and you do get a lot of partiers. For a 16 day cruise I figured it would be an older crowd and I was right, my guess is the medium age was 70s to early 80s. The other interesting thing we noticed, Carnival sells a lot of beer, very few people had beer on Jewell. The drink of choice is wine. The activities reflected that this is an older group.
Dress in the dining room: Carnival and Jewell are very similar in dress code. We had three formal nights, few ball gowns and suits, but mostly nice dresses and sport coats and ties. Casual was the same for both, my husband wore shorts every night with nothing said.
My Time Dining: When I booked the cruise the traditional dining was booked full for the early slot and I don’t like to eat late. So I booked My Time Dining. I found that I could book a reservation for My Time Dining, which I did for 6:00 pm every day. It worked out wonderfully, we had the same table for two every night right at a window. Granted the tables for two were close together and we really liked the two couples next to us at tables for two. But if we had not cared for them, we could have ignored them as we weren’t really sitting with them. We always walked right in and were seated immediately.
Crew and Staff: This was the biggest jolt to me, on Carnival every single employee whether staff or deck hand, met your eyes when passing and have a smile on their face. I was shocked at how the crew usually avoided eye contact and rarely smiled. They did not make me feel welcome on the ship. Our personal attendants in the stateroom and in the dining room were fantastic. Very attentive and made sure our every request was met. There were many attendants in Windjammer that were friendly and happy to see us. On Carnival I would say that 99% of the employees have a smile on their face and are happy to see me, even just passing. Royal I would say maybe 50% are that way. We saw the cruise director at the beginning of the shows in the Coral Theater and that is about all we ever saw him. Carnival’s cruise directors are much more visible and inactive with the passengers. We always have a Q & A with Carnival’s cruise director which is very entertaining. Not so on the Jewel.
Food: This is a very subjective topic, but we found the food to be good to excellent. Windjammer at lunch had a great variety and usually very good. We loved the curry dishes and they usually had all different kinds of roast chicken, stews, and good assortment of vegetables. But, Carnival has Guy’s Burgers and the Mexican Cantina, which are fantastic. Windjammer had hamburgers that I would not even try, they looked gray and dry. Windjammer usually has cookies, mousse, custard pies, a chocolate cake and fruit for dessert. Sometimes a warm dessert was offered such as rice pudding or peach cobbler. Carnival has a dessert station with tempting an assortment cakes and pastries. The main dining room had good food, just not much variety. Appetizers had two to three different offerings, then always had French Onion soup, Cesar salad, shrimp cocktail, and maybe a few more. Main offerings usually had two seafood, a beef, lamb or duck, a vegetarian, and always had a roast chicken breast and New York Strip. Desserts had two different options, then every night had cheesecake, crème Brule, chocolate cake, fruit and ice cream. Carnival’s menus have very few repeats in any category. We happened to go up twice after dinner to see what Windjammer had and felt we might be better off there. One time they had a whole roast turkey, what was offered in the main dining room was turkey roll. On the last night they had a chocolate buffet (which was not advertised in the compass).
Beverage packages; We do not usually buy beverage packages, I don’t drink much and my husband has a beer or two. On Jewel they offered a refreshment package, which I was able to buy just for me. This is a great deal. In the morning I would get specialty coffee at the Lattatudes, at breakfast I would get fresh squeezed orange juice and I used the freestyle machines to get soda , sparkling water and carbonated water, in different flavors It does not include alcohol but I was very satisfied to get fruit slushies at night. It was a great package and I would buy it again in a heartbeat (I got it on a black Friday sale for $17.00 a day). My husband likes beer on tap and Jewel offered 10 beer for $49.50 (they had to be on tap, which works for him).
App on board: On Jewel we had to use a paper to find out activities (the compass). For menus we had to find an interactive screen near the dining room. For our bill, we had to look on the TV. This all seems very primitive compared to the Carnival App. On the Carnival App (at no charge) we can see menus for the entire cruise, hours of operation, all activities (and can like them so it reminds us when it is coming up and tell us which of our party is going), our shipboard charges, all on our phone. And there is a chat feature to talk to others in my party for $5.00, one time charge.
Conclusion: When considering a cruise, if all ports and time is equal, we will choose a Carnival cruise. But I now love a long cruise, which Carnival does not offer. I would certainly book another Royal cruise, on the whole I was pretty happy with it. Read Less