Let me introduce myself as a first time poster and a long time reader of the board. I sailed on Jewel in January (21-26, 2012) to Cozumel and Costa Maya. I was cruising with my wife and four friends/relatives. This was my third cruise, and my first on a Radiance class ship. Previously, I was a fan of the Freedom class, but based on this cruise, I am re-evaluating that.
The Jewel of the Seas is a beautiful, well maintained, and well-run ship. Glass is everywhere, with excellent - and often panoramic - views of the ocean from many places on the ship. The public rooms feature a great deal of woodwork, especially dark hardwoods, which reinforces the nautical feel and gives the ship an air of elegance. Everything seemed new and clean. I was hard pressed to find any sign of age anywhere on the vessel. The staff was consistently friendly, cheerful, and helpful. Walking down the corridor from my room to the Centrum, I would typically be greeted with smiles and hellos from three or four of the housekeeping staff. It actually put me in a better mood to be so warmly greeted each day.
Overall this was a thoroughly enjoyable cruise, and I highly recommend the Jewel of the Seas. On this particular ship the goals of the trip were (1) relaxation; and (2) a mid-winter escape from the cold weather. Both goals were achieved. Because relaxation was the priority, we did not do any shore excursions, other than to walk around a little and explore on our own. In truth, the ports of call hardly mattered. The important goals were achieved onboard.
This review does contain a few critical comments, but they are minor. There were no problems serious enough to hurt the overall experience.
3. Embarkation and Disembarkation
Tampa is a wonderful city to visit, with a downtown that is close to the cruise terminal. The downtown has several reasonably priced hotels and plenty of restaurants, and the nearby Ybor City area has additional restaurants and night life. We stayed at the Courtyard Tampa Downtown on Cass Street. Our rate included breakfast, and they also had a free shuttle to the pier. We found it to be a fine hotel. It also provided free shuttle service to restaurants within two miles. We took the shuttle to Ybor City for a fun (and rather inexpensive) dinner at the Tampa Brewing Company, where almost every entree contained beer.
The Tampa Cruise Terminal is clean and spacious and appears to be rather new, which made the getting on and getting off smooth and easy. The hotel shuttle dropped us off at 10:40 AM, and we were onboard at 11:10. On the return, it took roughly 15 minutes to exit the ship, find our baggage, go through customs, and find a taxi. As you exit the building, airport shuttles are almost directly in front of you, while the taxi line is on the extreme left. In terms of location, the cruise port is in a nice area, with the Florida Aquarium, the Victory Ship museum, and some restaurants almost next door. The Tampa Cruise Terminal was a more pleasant experience than sailing out of Ft. Lauderdale.
4. The Room
We were in stateroom 8006, a class F outside room, near the front of the ship, but still facing the side. This is a spacious room, and fulfilled all of our expectations. It had a large, round window, with the head of the bed positioned directly underneath it. The cabinetry and closets were an attractive two-toned woodwork, with plenty of space for our belongings. The bathroom had an enclosed shower (circular, with sliding doors). The water pressure was excellent and there was no shortage of hot water. By the way, the water always looked clear and clean. No strange smells were noticed while walking down the corridor from the Centrum to our stateroom. It was also very quiet at night, with other staterooms both above and below.
5. Stateroom Attendant
Our stateroom attendant was fantastic. She was excellent at her job and completely unobtrusive. We always placed the make-up-the-room card in the door when we wanted the room made up, and as a result, she never once had to knock on our door. Yet we still saw her and chatted with her at least two or three times a day as she was always in the hallways carrying out her duties. Like all the staff, she was cheerful and helpful at all times. We did not have many special requests, but whatever we requested was quickly provided.
6. Mini-bar Dude
On Day 2, a person with a clipboard (not our stateroom attendant) knocked on our door to inquire about our use of the mini-bar, which I assume refers to the products pre-loaded in the fridge. I told him we did not use the mini-bar and had no intention of using it. Nevertheless, he stopped by each day to ask about it, which was a bit annoying. Our stateroom attendant never once disturbed us in our room, but this guy did on multiple days. On the last day, he knocked on our door at 7:30 AM to ask about the mini-bar. In fact, we never touched the mini-bar.
7. Dinner - Main Dining Room
We had early seating in the Main Dining Room, and we dined there every day. Our assigned table was next to a window, which made up for the fact that we were not really in the main dining room, but in a smaller side room. Our waiter did his job well, even though he did not have much time to chat and usually appeared quite rushed. It should be noted, however, that every seat in his section was always filled, which certainly kept him busy. The assistant waiter seemed young and inexperienced, and on several occasions was out of sync with the waiter, but he improved as the cruise went on. Amazingly, our head waiter (a friendly gentleman from Liverpool) stopped by our table to check on us each and every night. He also stopped by to talk with us when we had lunch in the main dining room. At times I noticed him helping to clear tables and perform other chores during dinner. On other cruises, I hardly ever saw the head waiter, so I was impressed with this one.
The food was uniformly good, and nothing was bad or off. Some dishes were better than others. Also, some items were slightly mis-named. For example, there was a dessert called a parfait, which I normally think of as being something served in a tall glass. Well, this was not in a glass, it was served as a cake slice and in fact it resembled a multi-layer ice cream cake. True, it tasted good, but the name led me to a different expectation. The prime rib was fine and tender, but sliced thin. The salads were all good.
Form previous cruises, I am accustomed to the waiters singing and parading on the last night; however this time they also danced on night 3. This was announced ahead of time and the wait staff gave it everything they had for about three minutes, but they were not well rehearsed. They then spent the next three minutes trying to get the audience to dance with them. Well, there was no room to dance and this clearly was not a dancing crowd. It seemed to interrupt what otherwise was a fine dining experience. In my opinion this dancing idea needs some serious rethinking.
The only significant disappointment with dinner was the inexplicably poor bar service. On my previous cruises, the bar service person would be at our table within a minute of two of us being seated, and the drinks would arrive within ten minutes. In fact, we usually developed a nice camaraderie with the bar service person. Unfortunately, not this time. On the first night, the bar service person showed up 15 minutes after we were seated and our first drinks arrived 45 minutes after we were seated. It was only slightly better the second night. Finally, we got wise and obtained our drinks before dinner at the Schooner bar or Champagne bar and carried them into the dining room. It seemed to be an effective work around.
The daily Cruise Compass includes the suggested attire for dinner in the main dining room. Normally, the suggestions are either formal, casual, or smart casual. On this cruise, they astonished me with two new types: tropical casual and 70's casual. If only I had known about these in advance, I might have packed differently. Who knows?
8. Lunch - Main Dining Room
The main dining room was open for lunch on the two sea days. The seats are not assigned, but there was usually no wait in order to get a table of the requested size. On the first sea day, they offered a pulled pork sandwich that was surprisingly good, and the pasta carbonara (wide noodles cooked in egg) was delicious. One of the highlights of lunch in the main dining room is the fully staffed salad bar. It is a pleasure to pick and choose the ingredients and the dressing and have them tossed for you. The entire staff was very attentive and helpful during lunch.
9. Breakfast - Main Dining Room
We had breakfast in the main dining room on two days. The menu choices and quality certainly met our expectations. However, I found that you have to be loud and clear when requesting a specific size table. On the first day, I simply said party of two, and they took that to mean that they could use the two of us to fill up a table for eight. I watched as another party clearly requested a "table for two", and the same thing happened to them. It was kind of funny, in its own way. I'm not sure how much more specific one can be - perhaps "table for two and only two." Anyway, this problem never seemed to occur at lunch, where just saying "two" worked fine. Different rules seem to apply for breakfast.
I hope that my readers will not consider me some sort of anti-social curmudgeon for wanting a table for two at breakfast. Some people may enjoy chit chat with strangers in the morning, but I need time to fully awaken and embrace the day.
10. Windjammer Buffet: Breakfast and Lunch
Ah, the Windjammer buffet is always great. There is no better place for impulse eating than the friendly confines of the Windjammer. On the Jewel, the Windjammer has an outside seating area in the back, which is a wonderful place to have breakfast (or lunch) if the weather is nice. Many people seem unaware of the outdoor seating, perhaps because you have to go through a set of automatic doors to get there.
In the middle of the Windjammer, there was a small bar where you can obtain bottles of beer or wine by the glass (for a price). I noticed this for lunch, and I assume it was available for dinner, too.
I have read that some people complain that the selections do not change much from day to day. This may be true, but there are so many items it does not appear to be a serious problem. It would take me several days to sample all of the available options. It is also true that some food in the Windjammer is not sufficiently warm. For example, the morning pancakes often seemed to be at room temperature. However, for the most part, the food was excellent. The dessert offerings were good. The tables were cleared quickly. With a little patience, we never had trouble finding a table.
I went to the Seaview Cafe once. It has cooked-to-order burgers, but it is really out of the way, being at the back of Deck 12. It has very limited hours, such as 2:30 - 6:30, then 9:00 - 11:00. As far as I can tell, you have to go outside to get to it, and doing that between 9:00 PM and 11:00 PM on a windy night is somewhat daunting. I think the food is pretty good, but I never saw many people in there, so I'm not sure if this cafe really justifies the space it occupies.
The Latte-tudes coffee bar in the Centrum has some pastries, but it closes at 11:00 PM. It primarily serves specialty coffees (for a fee, of course), but the pastries are free. Usually only one person staffs Latte-tudes. Since it can take time to prepare specialty coffees, you may wind up waiting quite a long time for a free pastry.
The Solarium Cafe is the only source for late night food (after 11:00 PM). They have three or four types of pizza, as well as hot dogs, pre-made sandwiches, cookies, and some fruit. This cafe also serves as a water station for the forward part of the ship (the other water station is just outside the Windjammer, near the rear of the ship). We visited the Solarium Cafe most evenings before going to bed. I feel that this ship really needs more late night snack options. As it is, the only other option is room service. Note: after 11:00 PM you cannot get milk to go with your cookie except by calling room service.
12. Bars and Bar Service
The Schooner Bar is one of the most beautiful bars on the ship. The seats are large and comfy, and the floor-to-ceiling windows provide a stunning view of the ocean. Alex at the Schooner bar was very helpful and talkative. I never noticed any smoke in the Schooner bar. The pina coladas and strawberry daiquiris were good.
Regardless of which bar you frequent, the Drink of the Day was $6.25 (or $7.46 with gratuity). Bottled beers ran anywhere from $5.50 to $6.50 (including gratuity), and they had a reasonable selection of beers. For example, with a little effort I was able to find Newcastle Brown Ale. Not all bars have the same offerings and they do not necessarily display all the beers that they have, so it pays to inquire what is available at each bar. Their tap beers were rather pitiful. I cannot remember them precisely, something such as Heineken and Amstel Light (essentially the international equivalent of Bud and Bud Light).
Compared to the price of other mixed drinks, the Drink of Day is not a bad deal. The price includes the glass, which in most cases is actually plastic. However, on one occasion, I did receive an attractive souvenir glass made of real glass. I was amused by the fact that the Drink of the Day comes in a tall glass, but the straw is shorter than the glass. Once the ice melts a little and the straw falls down, you have to fish for it with your fingers. Considering all they things they do right on this ship, it is amazing that they could not figure out that the straws should be taller than the glass.
Bar service in the theater was quick and easy, provided you get to your seat well before the start of the show. Oddly, most of the drink glasses they used in the theater did not fit into the cup holders in the seats, which meant that you had to hold your glass during the performance.
13. Sports Watching
I enjoy watching sports, and spending a weekend afternoon in a good sports bar watching games, drinking and chatting would count as one of my favorite pastimes. If I could successfully combine this activity with cruising, that would be something. Alas, the cruise lines simply have not figured out how to put a decent sports bar on a cruise ship or perhaps they simply do not want to.
I assume that the Pit Stop bar, near the casino, was intended to be a sports bar. Now a good sports bar should have many channels available, with different games on different screens. When sailing out of a US port, it should have all the North American flavors of ESPN, as well as access to all NFL, NBA, and MLB games, and if possible I would even like to see the college networks, such as the Big Ten Network. Any patron should be able to request a specific game to appear on any screen, and there should be enough screens to satisfy most patrons. Unfortunately, every time I walked through the Pit Stop, the same channel (some kind of international edition of ESPN) was on each and every screen. Most of the time, there was no bar attendant there, so you could not even inquire if other channels were available. Another problem is that the Pit Stop is very small and a main corridor runs through it, making its effective area even smaller. Also, it was one of the few bars on the ship that allowed smoking, which essentially makes it useless for non-smokers.
During this cruise, the NFL conference championship games were played. This was two weeks before the Super Bowl, and these games would in fact determine who would play in the Super Bowl. Therefore I tried my best to find a good spot on the Jewel from which to watch the games. As a last resort, I could always watch the games in my cabin, but that seemed pretty boring. Watching in the company of other fans is almost always a more enjoyable experience.
So I walked the ship in search of good football watching. The Jewel does not have a giant video screen in the pool area, as some ships do, and I noticed that they did not open up the main theater to watch the game, which is sometimes done for big sporting events, such as the Super Bowl. The Safari Club would have been a good venue, but it was already scheduled for Bingo and then the Captain's Reception. Finally, I inquired at Guest Relations, and they advised me to check the Pit Stop bar and the Schooner bar. Well, I had already checked the Pit Stop bar, and as expected it was overflowing and smoke filled. So it was on to the Schooner, which does have two screens and is adjacent to the Game Reserves, which has two more. I decided to do my football watching in the Schooner bar, first standing, but eventually finding a place to sit. Well, it was certainly better than watching in my room, but the experience still left much to be desired. While the screens were of reasonable size, all but one of them were too low, which limited how many people could view them at the same time. Still, I managed to have a good time, especially with a nice view of the ocean rolling by and easy access to drinks.
Funny anecdote: While the Schooner bar was filled with people watching the game, it turns out that a napkin folding class had been scheduled for the Schooner bar. The instructor tried valiantly to work around the game, by doing the napkin folding only during the commercials, but that did not work too well. At halftime, he seized the opportunity and spent the next twenty minutes demonstrating the delicate art of napkin folding. Amazingly, several of the football fans (including some of the more inebriated ones) decided to participate. The results were pretty comical, but I have to give the instructor credit for making the best of an awkward situation. He managed to engage an initially hostile audience by showing them how to fold napkins into the initials of their favorite teams, such as P for Patriots. Thankfully, he left after halftime and it was back to the game.
14. The Solarium
The Solarium became my favorite part of the ship. I did not see any children in there (officially, they are not allowed). It is an ideal place to relax and read. With only a little effort, I was usually able to find a chair facing the outside glass, so I could lounge back and read, while ordering drinks and watching the ocean go by. My compatriots liked going into the Solarium pool and hot tub, so we were all able to spend time together there.
The water in the Solarium pool is salt water, but warm and pleasant. The pool has a shallow area, okay for getting your feet wet, then it drops off suddenly to a depth of six feet. The Solarium pool and hot tub appear to be open late into the night. I saw people in there after 11:00 PM, when I was in the Solarium getting a snack. I did not see too many people reserving chairs and then disappearing for long stretches, although there were a few cases. I was almost always able to find a chair.
The roof of the Solarium is supposed to be retractable, but it was always closed. This was a January cruise in the Caribbean, and temps were in the upper seventies and low eighties. I assume that the Solarium is air conditioned, because otherwise the glass roof would have made it unbearably hot. Perhaps they open it in hotter weather?
I must say that I liked the Solarium on the Jewel of the Seas much better than the Solarium on the Independence of the Seas, where the Solarium is just another pool area. On the Jewel, it served more functions than just a pool area.
By the way, the Jewel of the Seas is an excellent ship for people who like to read. I found many great spots for this activity. Besides the Solarium, the Schooner bar and the Safari Club, which are often nearly empty early in the day, are great locations. The outdoor seating area of the Windjammer is another good place, as are deck chairs in certain parts of the ship (such as the life boat deck). Actually, reading in a comfy chair on any balcony of the Centrum was also quite pleasant, and often there was live music to go with it.
15. Fitness Center
I cannot say enough good things about the fitness center. I made a point of doing a workout every day of the cruise, including the first day. It is a joy to work out in that facility. It has floor-to-ceiling windows, with views of the ocean on three sides of the ship. The treadmills face the glass, making cardio workouts a visual pleasure. The fitness center attendant was always helpful. The arrangement is very similar to the fitness center on Freedom class ships, minus the boxing ring and perhaps a little smaller overall. Still, I never had to wait for a machine. I did not participate in any of the classes, but I was able to watch a couple of them while working out. They were not at all crowded.
16. Cruise Director
The cruise director was called Carly B and her assistant was Becky. Carly sounds British and has a dry sense of humor. When introducing performances in the theater, she was always professional, more like a master of ceremonies instead of a comedian, which some cruise directors resemble in those situations. However, at other events, such as the game shows, she can be very funny indeed. At the 70's Dance Party, she was in costume, with a wig, and leading the dances. While I was a bit skeptical of Carly at first, I eventually realized that she is a pretty good cruise director.
17. Theater Shows
This was an unusual cruise in that a new cast of singers and dancers boarded with us on Day 1. They then had to rehearse and prepare, so as a result, there was only one production show, the City of Dreams, and that was on the last night. The City of Dreams featured a very good cast. The singing and dancing was excellent, the sets beautiful, and the overall production values were high. However, like many similar shows on other cruise ships, it was just a disjointed collection of songs pulled from all over the place without any coherent story linking them together. The end result was a show that was well done, but did not really engage the minds of the audience. It was fine for an hour's entertainment.
In terms of other shows, the comedian on Day 1 was okay, but nothing to write home about. The 'Man of a Thousand Voices' was very entertaining. He did impressions of various singers, and often switched from one singer to another in mid-song. This was the only headliner show of the cruise that I wished could have gone on longer. The 'Los Pampas Gauchos' were fun. They are a couple of performing cowboys from Argentina. They dance, swing bolas, tell jokes, and perform stunts involving audience members. On another night, there was a magician, nothing special, but he did okay.
Even though my comments about the entertainment sound critical, all of the shows were entertaining and professional. It is a wonder to me that they can provide this level of entertainment as part of the package.
18. Other Entertainment
Overall, the entertainers in the lounges were all pretty good. They rotated to different bars and lounges, but seemed to save their best stuff for when they were in the Centrum in the evening. On one night, they assembled the Jewel of the Seas Orchestra (which usually accompanies the shows in the theater) for a performance of big band music in the Centrum. They were great, but they played for only one hour. I wish that had been longer, or that they did this more than once.
I liked most of the performances in the Centrum. The music could be heard very well from every floor, and there were always comfy seats near the Centrum railing available on most floors. The 70's Dance Party was in the Centrum and it was a lot of fun. I was skeptical at first, but when the cruise director and her staff arrived in costume and started dancing, that got everyone moving. When the faux-Village People arrived, that did it. Mrs. Astro and I immediately went down to join in.
19. Internet Access
Wireless access was spotty to nonexistent in the staterooms. I had a forward stateroom, and my computer could not find any wireless network at all. However, the Centrum seemed to have decent wireless connectivity on virtually any floor, perhaps not a fast connection, but a reliable one. Actually, having to go the Centrum to connect is not a bad thing. The Centrum has enough comfy chairs on its many levels to make computer work there a real pleasure, and the live music in the evenings was enjoyable to listen to.
Internet connections cost a lot. As a Gold member, I had two coupons for five minutes each, and I certainly took advantage of these. They could be applied to a single sea pass account, providing a total of ten minutes. I talked with some friends who were at a higher level, and their coupon books had two 30-minute coupons, so it pays to check your Crown & Anchor coupon books.
To take advantage of a coupon, first bring it to Guest Relations. We did this before actually setting up our user name and password. However, I suspect you can also do this after you set up your internet name and password.
20. Star Gazing
Ships at sea are lit up like cities, which makes star gazing a real challenge. I found that the best place to star gaze is from the very forward facing part of Deck 12. Here it is relatively dark, and after allowing my eyes to become dark adapted, I was able to see parts of the winter Milky Way, as well as hosts of stars way too dim to be seen from my suburban home. Of course, it is windy on Deck 12, so be prepared for that. The helipad was open during the day, but closed at night, which was too bad. I suspect that the helipad would have been ideal for star gazing.
The shops and photographers were about the same as I have seen on previous cruises.
They had one late night buffet. This was on the pool deck. It was nothing special. Longtime cruisers I talked with said that the late night buffets appear to be well on their way to extinction.
I missed out on watching the ship go under the bridge out of Tampa Bay. I would like to have seen that, but early seating had me in the main dining room.
We had remarkably good weather everyday, temps in the upper 70's or low 80's with mostly sunny skies.
I did not use the casino, but did walk through it a few times. It always smelled of smoke, as did the Pit Stop. However, the smoke did not seem to make it into the Centrum. They did have at least one non-smoking night in the casino. This was announced in the Cruise Compass.
On the last sea day, they had a fundraising event for the Make a Wish foundation. For ten dollars (or more, if you desire), you could participate in the one mile walk (six laps) on Deck 12 and get a t-shirt. I counted roughly 100 people participating. It was not at all strenuous.
I will conclude this review by once again emphasizing how cheerful and friendly the staff were and how beautiful the ship was. Sitting in the Schooner Bar in the late afternoon sun and having a drink while chatting with friends is a memory I will treasure for a long time. All I can say is well done, Royal Caribbean. As I sit in the cold, winter weather back at home, I dream of the Jewel of the Seas and the warm waters of the Caribbean.