Jewel of the Seas Live Blog - Day 4 - Antigua

In:
24Sep2013

Half way through our Jewel of the Seas cruise brings us to the island of Antigua (pronounced an-tee-gah).  Once again, our plans revolved around going to the beach.

First of all, we woke up at 7 and were ready for the Windjammer at 8.  Crowds for the Windjammer haven't been bad at all when we have been there, with little lines to speak of.  The omelette station has been my go-to breakfast place, especially because I've lost the ability to tolerate mass produced eggs.

In Antigua, the dock is rather short so we had to take the forward elevators to disembark instead of the Centrum elevators.  The good thing about this is the walk from the ship to the port area is quite short. 

We needed a taxi to get us to our beach of choice, Valley Church Beach.  Antigua boasts they have 365 beaches (one for each day of the year) and after some research on TripAdvisor, Valley Church Beach looked beautiful.

As soon as we walked into town, the usual barrage of taxi drivers hit us.  My general strategy is to go to the back of the "pack" of drivers and find a driver who isn't in our face, so to speak.  We found one such driver who agreed to drive the six of us to Valley Church Beach for $30 each way.  

Our driver, Cutty, took us in his van and provided narration about the island and what we were passing along the way.  He was nice, curteous and the sort of driver you hope to get on any island.

What drew me to Valley Church Beach besides the beauty of the beach is $5 chairs and $10 umbrellas along with free WiFi.  Sure enough, when we arrived that was the situation.

First and foremost, the beach was beautiful  The color of the water was amazing, perhaps more beautiful than Orient Beach in St Martin, although the water was not as clear here.  The sand at Valley Church was made up shells and sand, so it was more coarse than normal.  That being said, the sand brushed off our bodies easier.

Once we got our seats and umbrellas ($20 for 2 chairs and umbrellas) we immediately ran into the chrorus line of vendors trying to sell jet ski rides, shirts, massages, CDs, shark wrestling (seriously) and other wares.  It's easy enough to say no thank you but I'm certain no less than 10 times were we asked about jet ski rides.

When we arrived, the beach was completely empty and it stayed that way for the first hour or two.  But quickly thereafter more and more people showed up.  It wasn't crazy crowded by any means but by the time we left, the beach was pretty full.

There's also a bar and restaurant at the beach.  They offer the usual sort of drinks, although no waiter service.  For food, they offer hot dogs, burgers, pizza, salads and an assortment of seafood dishes that are considered local food.  We didn't try the food but the beer prices were between $3-5 per beer.  Not bad.

The water was, well, beautiful.  An amazing shade of blue and the perfect warm temperature.  It was a pleasure to go swimming here and the view made the experience wonderful.

Cutty came to get us at our pre-arranged time of 2:30 and we piled back into the van and headed back into town.  We had lofty goals in the morning of coming back early to shop in town but the sun was once again brutal and since we had not eaten anything, we all wanted to get back onboard for food and rest.

Once back onboard, we went straight up to Seaview Cafe for a late lunch.  The food was good as usual and came out quickly.  I am noticing more and more people onboard the ship in the early afternoon.  I had a discussion with Cutty, who said if Antigua is the first island their ship stops at, lots of people take taxis but if it's an island they visit towards the end of their cruise, people stay onboard the ship to save money.  I think he might be onto something.

After getting back to the room to rest (also know as taking a nap), we got ready for dinner and Italian night in the main dining room. Food was really good all around, with the eggplant pargmigan standing out as a favorite.

Tomorrow we are going to St. Lucia and the Captain warned us over the PA system that we will need to go siginifigantly faster than any other day, so we may feel a little more movement tonight.  I can feel it more than usual but truthfully a little rocking is perfect for sleeping.

CocoCay is just ok

In:
24Sep2013

Coco ok.

Today we were in the Bahamas, specifically, the private destination CocoCay. Although its better than Nassau all day, it's just ok.

You have to tender to CocoCay, which can be daunting due to the occasional (READ: more often than not) choppy southern Atlantic. The tenders are good sized, and have a ginorm platform not be front acting as a dock which helps but lets get real, you're going from a ship to a boat in the middle of the ocean. Be careful.

We got to bfast super early so we could relax & not have to rush to the first tender. The early morning tenders & any tender after like 9a tend I be F-U-L-L full & have long lines, I strongly recommend you plan accordingly.

We had a beach cabana massage scheduled for 9 so we needed to make haste to get over there.

The captain came over the announcement system & said we could start making our way to the tender stations on deck 1 forward and mid-ship. So we did. We were greeted by a combo of cruise directors staff & other who quite frankly were disgusting & rude. They decided to talk smack about passengers loud enough for all of us to hear. This has got the be one of the most unpleasant and very first staff experiences I've had on board. Some of you may know, I'm not one to keep quiet when I'm in the right...(poor Sean) It went a little like this...they said something to the effect of 'as soon as the captain say they can do something they rush to do it' me: " he's the effing captain, it's comes with the badge." Them: 'just because he says we should be ready doesn't mean we are' me: "then your obviously in need if serious performance management." Like are you kidding?! If we're not supposed to listen to the captain & his instructions isn't the compulsory in his directives moot? Exactly. Obviously talking back at them changes nothing, so I made sure I took a moment to speak with the diamond concierge & give names. To be completely honest, not to start trouble to to preclude this from happening to a first time cruiser who's sure to be affected by their rudeness. I get it I work retail, I talk about my customers...off the sales floor, where they're not in earshot.

Sorry about that. I've been trying to keep everything positive but he shock of the whole ordeal was huge.

Moving on.

Once on CocoCay, we made our way over to the Island Oasis cabana club for our massage. We were early, so we did he unthinkable. Scoped out some beach chairs set up shop & about 20 minutes later headed back tot he club for our appointment. The cabana club is cool, the beach cabanas are like those in Labadee. From what We could tell, the service level provided was definitely lower than that our our experience but I was just a squatter waiting for my uber romantic couples beach massage. (How cheesy are we?)

I did notice that the cabana club has wicked convenient t things like a bathroom with in spitting distance of the cabanas (not so in Labadee) and a neat bar in the middle of everything and a little baby kitty. (!!!!!!!!!). The one thing these cabanas lack? Convenient access to the beach! For $200-$250 you'd expect them to be right on the water line or have their own beach access, right? Not the case. They are on the tender side of the beach so swimming not safe...that's if you can avoid the rocks. Our (free) beach chairs were closer & way more convenient than any of he cabanas. Doesn't make a lot of sense to me, but it did when an island staff member told me that the cabanas were added just a while ago. Ah makes sense. An addition after the success seen in Labadee.

The chairs we had selected were on snorkel beach. If you're looking for peace & quiet this is not the beach for you. Thankfully, CocoCay is small enough to get from beach to beach easily enough if you discover the beach you're on isn't for you.

We stayed put because we'd decided we were headed back to Freedom as soon as we'd had lunch.

Lunch was delish. Classic BBQ with some nice additions like ribs, salad bar & dessert.

We grabbed a tender back to the ship, we caught it right as it was closing for the trip, so we were stuck on the top deck. Thankfully we had towels. Hottest bench ever!!!

Back on freedom by 2pm we planned out the rest of the day. Showers, nap, beautification, all the formal picture stops, name that tune, dinner.

We turned in shortly after dinner. Tomorrow is the first at sea day, there are huge groups on this sailing plus ship maintenance will be taking the port side of the pool chair section on deck 11 & 12 out of service tomorrow so it'll be a tense day of deck chair chess tomorrow & I intend to get my chair right where I want it (read: have had it for a week). I promise I'm not a chair hog or one of those people who reserves a section big enough for 20 people. But I do like a nice convenient pool front chair that I am wicked careful not to leave longer than 30 minutes unattended. Ever.

Later.
Smiles & smooches.
Stephanie & Sean

(I really like alliteration)

Jewel of the Seas Live Blog - Day 3 - St. Martin

In:
23Sep2013

St Martin is one of my favorite islands to visit on a cruise for its sheer beauty.  Going into today, we had plans laid out, of which a majority didn't work out but we still ended up having a great time.

We were up at 7 like every other morning, in the Windjammer at 8 and off the ship at 9.  Nothing interesting to report other than the lines seemed longer in the Windjammer today.  Oh the hardships of cruising when you have to wait an extra few minutes for your omellete.

Prior to the cruise I had booked a local taxi driver to drive us around.  His name is Leo Brown and we met him on our cruise in February.  The man is genuinely concerned about our trip and really goes out of his way to help us all while asking for very little money.

We had arranged for him to drive us from the port to Le Gallion beach for most of the day, pick up lunch for us at a local restaurant and bring it to us and then in the afternoon take us to Maho Beach to watch the airplanes take off and land and then return us to the ship.  He asked for just $20 per person.  Sold!

Leo picked us up at 9am at the entrance to the taxi area and off we went.  Our first stop was the local restaurant to check out the menu.  As it turns out, the restaurant was closed because of it being off season.  We decided it wasn't the end of the world and would just eat at the beach.  Off we went to Le Gallion beach and when we got there, we found the beach empty and once again, closed due to the off season.

For those counting at home, that's 0 for 2 so far in our plans.  We asked Leo for where to go for a beach and he said he knew a good quiet spot at Orient Beach.  A quick car ride later we pulled up to a part of the beach called "Bikini Beach".

The beach has chairs and umbrellas for $10 per adult, so $20 for 4 chairs and 2 umbrellas.  There's also a full service bar and restaurant.  Moreover, the restaurant had a waiter that delivered food and drink to our chairs.  I call that perfect.

Then there's the beach.  To try to describe the beach here would be futile so I will just say it might be the most beautiful beach I've ever been to.  Crystal clear water that is an amazing shade of blue.  The water is also that perfect temperature where you can walk right it without any hesitation. There was a good bit of surf but the kids handled it well and the adults really enjoyed a little excitement in the water.

The beach is topless and I think we saw exactly 2 women topless.  Granted the beach was not very full but I wouldn't avoid the beach if nudity is a concern.  There's also about a half dozen people that will walk up and down the beach offering shirts, massages, CDs, horse rides, coconuts and anything else they can carry.  A simple no and they move on.

We were at Orient Beach from 10am until 2pm and the entire time Leo was there, in case we needed something.  At one point very early on it rained, and we scrambled to get our stuff under the bar's roof.  Leo was right there to give us a hand.  One time my daughter made a bee line for the ocean and he literally chased after her, throwing his shoes to the side as he grabbed her before she went in.  He was a tremendous help beyond just shuttling us around the island.

Probably the one negative to St Martin is the prices on the island (Leo not withstanding).  You will pay same prices in America, if not more, for food, drinks and entertainment.  In our time at the beach, we ordered about a dozen beers, a mixed drink or two, lunch for everyone and the bill came out to about $130 before tip.  Not terrible and the service was great.

At 2pm we gathered our stuff and sadly left Orient Beach.  Back in Leo's van, we headed towards Maho Beach to watch the planes land at the local airport.  On the way, Leo took us on a tour of the French side of the island and pointed out interesting things. 

One at Maho Beach, we went to the Sunset Grill and saw there was one more scheduled landing.  As it turns out, there would be another unscheduled landing and a takeoff, so we essentially got the full experience.  The bar is also clothing optional, with women having the option of drinking for free if they go topless at the bar.  While neither of our wives were willing to take one for the team for some free booze, we did find it fun.

When a plane does land or take off, it's an experience, with everyone flocking to the fence to watch.  It's a great specticle and I am glad we took the time to see it for ourselves.  Can't say we could have spent the whole day there but it was a nice quick excursion.

The plane landing/takeoff experience is tremendously touristy at this point but it's good fun for adults and kids (nudity aside). If you have an extra hour, I would recommend checking it out at least once.

We hopped back in the van and Leo took us back to the cruise ship with plenty of time to spare before sailaway.  Considering most of our plans fell through, we had a great time at all our stops and would love to spend a few more days in St Martin.  We tipped Leo handsomely for his service and back on the ship we went for showers, a change of clothes and some relaxtion before dinner.

Tonight our plan was to drop off the kids with an in-room babysitter and have dinner at Chops Grille.  Before that could happen, we had to feed the kids so it was off to the Seaview Cafe for their dinner. It wa far busier this evening than the previous time we went there.  Food was still great, but we had to wait considerably longer for the food. Not the end of the world, just a different observation.

After dinner, the women and kids went to see the evening show onboard, which was a mix of Broadway and West End songs.  They reported the show was good although they were not familiar with all of the songs despite both being self-proclaimed Broadway buffs. 

Us men despire the best of intentions, ended up in the casino.  We really did try to just go somewhere to have a drink but a few of the bars were closed for private events so we had "no choice" but to gamble.  The casino was very empty at around 7pm and we had bad luck with the 3 card poker but made up our money with roulette.  

The in-room babysitting was next and this was our first time trying this option out. The cost is $19 per hour for up to 3 kids.  Despite what you may read online, the fact is you can throw in any 3 kids from any 3 staterooms in the same room for the cost of $19 per hour.  So my daughter and our friends' son were in the same room, which made the cost far more reasonable. 

We then headed to Chops Grille for dinner.  Chops is located directly across from the Schooner Bar on Jewel of the Seas and I found it odd just because Schooner Bar was quite loud with the music trivia playing and that resulted in music making its way into Chops.  I asked for a table further in the restaurant away from the doors and didn't hear the music too badly.

As for the food and such in Chops, I will save the full details for an upcomong review but I can say Chops was as good as I remembered.  Consistantly good food across the board and service was great as well. I'd recommend eating at Chops if you happen to sail on Jewel.

We relieved the babysitter after about 2 hours, which by the way there are 2 babysitters.  They do that for liability reasons so in case one kid needs the full attention of one of the babysitters, the other kid(s) is not being ignored.  Both kids were sleeping and the babysitters were not crying, so I considered it a win for us.

Another observation is the evening entertainment in the Centrum. Each night from 6pm until midnight there is live music in the Centrum.  That's usually a good idea but the "noise bleed" into the staterooms near the Centrum is quite bad.  Our room (8102) is the first stateroom close to the Centrum and our friends (8088) are the same but on the opposite side of the elevator bank. In both rooms, you can quite clearly hear the music and that's caused varying degrees of problem going to bed since we are in bed by 10:30-11.  

I know I've read plenty of message board posts about staterooms being noisy and while I do love my rather large balcony and convenient location, I would not book our room again just to avoid the noise from the Centrum.  What boggles my mind is on ships with a Royal Promenade, they do not play as much live music this late there.  I don't know why the real loud stuff isn't reserved for the pool decks, especially since it's not raining or anything.  Alas, I felt the need to share my experience.

Tomorrow we are going to Antigua and considering how close Antigua is to St Martin, our ship feels like we are going no more than 5 miles per hour.  Will try to get more WiFi tomorrow to share more during the day.

Thanks for following and the great coments so far!

My apologies but the internet cut out half way through posting this blog so a few photos are missing.  I will try uploading them on Tuesday.

Turnaround day!!!!

In:
23Sep2013

Turnaround day!!!

It's no longer a secret. Well to me anyway. Turnaround day was in a word comical.

You all know the deal you walk through the hallway the night before mocking this who have packed before dinner, silently totes meals of their efficiency. But we all know once your suitcases are packed your options for entertainment & wardrobe changes is over right along with your vacay.

For consecutive cruiser...that's what we're called...it's a weird unsettling phenomenon for first timers.

I think I forgot to mention that we were asked to attend a consecutive cruiser meeting on Saturday to review expectations. Times, places & meals. That's what we reviewed. Also what the process is if you want to get off & go ashore or if you're planning on staying on through. I'll scan in the sheet they gave us to review overnight to assist us in our decision making.

Waking up Sunday morning in port Canaveral was totes relaxing. We set our alarm for 8a. We arrived into port at 4a, so everything ran really smoothly and ahead of schedule. You know what you can never bank on? People getting themselves off of the ship. We had bfast in the WJ, the hung in our cabin till we were cattle called into the Pharaoh's lounge at 9: 45, even though we were originally asked to be there at 9:15. There were a couple hundred people who wouldn't let their vacation say uncle. While in the lounge attendance by cabin number was taken & we were given a brief synopsis of what we will going through. Once they, I'm assuming, forcibly removed the squatters from the premises, we were invited to be escorted to the terminal to be processed by CBP (customs & border patrol) in the terminal. All we needed was our seapass card, proof of citizenship and our declarations form. We made a snake through the terminal & down the final escalator to baggage claim area. There were two CBP agents asking "are you immediately returning to the ship or will you be a passenger in transit for a day in Floridia?" Apparently they have to ask. Not a problem. This going to Florida went left out of the terminal, those going back to freedom, made a U turn. This process was so quick. It took longer for them to change the direction of the escalators! We had to hover in a random waiting area for about 15 minutes during which time we were handed our new seapass card & a wristband. The wristband was for the private luncheon and access to the cabin decks. Having the ship empty was a fleeting feeling. Since they were so on schedule, regular checkin/boarding started at 10:30.

The consecutive cruisers lunch was nice. Offered a lot like dinner service in the MDR. You kinda felt like you were part of a museum exhibit because of the newbies walking through gawking & wondering what where why & who we all were.

We officially were apart of the next sailing now so we eased into week too well. Football at the pool & an informal cruise critic gathering at the pool bar (we all wore beads), and before you knew it we were ready to set sail.

The transition from week 1 to week 2 seemed effortless. Until you tried to use your seapass. Since we didn't have to go through the technical check in process your credit card information isn't immediately updated or loaded until a, you go to guest services 3 times, or a lady who does the transfer paperwork comes back on to work her late shift on day1. Usually they make you a cash account until the transfer or until you figure it out. Quite annoying more than anything.

Off to dinner we met our new table mates. A lovely couple from Scotland & another from las vagas who seem excited to be newly married & on their honeymoon.

I fell in love with the champagne bar tonight.

CocoCay tomorrow.

Smiles & smooches
Stephanie & Sean

Royal Caribbean could order fourth and fifth Oasis-class cruise ships

In:
23Sep2013

Royal Caribbean placed an order for its third Oasis-class cruise ship late last year and will have the steel cutting for that ship occur on September 22, 2013 at STX France.

Cruise Industry News posted an article that cites supplier reports, a fourth Oasis-class ship will be confirmed by next summer, followed by an order for a fifth Oasis-class ship.

There's been an option for Royal Caribbean to build a fourth Oasis-class ship ever since they signed their contract with STX France for the third ship last year.  If Royal Caribbean exercises their option for a fourth ship, it would be ready for delivery by mid-2018.

For a fifth Oasis-class ship, Royal Caribbean has up to four days prior to the one year anniversary date of the signing for the fourth Oasis-class ship contract.

Jewel of the Seas Live Blog - Day 2 - St. Croix

In:
22Sep2013

Today we visited the island of St Croix, which is part of the US Virgin Islands and it's also our first visit to this island.  Our plan was simple for the day: to spend the day at a beach resort. Let's see how that worked out.

We woke up early and made our way to the Windjammer for breakfast at 8am.  Our first breakfast in the Windjammer was as good as I remember.  I always go for the omelette station, which had no line at all.  One difference I have noticed between Jewel and the larger ships is lines seem much shorter all around.  Not that Freedom or Oasis-class ships have lines that long but it definitely seems like a more personal experience.

Jewel of the Seas was cleared rather quickly and when we were ready to disembark at 9, no real line.  We were docked in St Croix and once again I was glad to not be tendering because docking is just so much easier.

We had researched on our own prior to the cruise what to do on St Croix and the Sand Castle Beach Resort caught our eye.  $5 per person admission fee and $25 on top of that for 2 beach chairs, an umbrella and 2 rum punches.  Sounds perfect to me.

We walked right into the port and into a sea of taxi drivers.  I decided to push through most of them and talk to some of the less aggressive drivers.  We found one that would drive us for $3 per person.  Great!

He brought an air conditioned van quickly over and what I liked was we did not have to wait for anyone else.  It's a pet peeve when taxi drivers give you a good quote and then make you wait to fill up the van.  Not the case here and the driver gave us his card to call him for pick up later.  He was nice and made good small talk without being overly talkative.  Best kind of taxi driver.

We arrived at the Sand Castle Beach Resort in about 5 minutes and checked in.  We did not make reservations ahead of time but that was no problem since we were the first guests of the day.  The woman working there welcomed us and told us we had access to not just the beach but the pool, showers and any other facilities.  She made it a point to let us know we were to feel as welcome as any other guest.

 

If you were wondering, the resort is about a mile or so from the port but the walk is pretty substantial and I think a taxi is worth the cost.

The beach was great and one of the workers brought us the chairs and set up the umbrella for us wherever we wanted.  The ocean was crystal clear and barely rocky.  There was a quick drop off about 5 feet in but after that there were no rocks and water was the perfect temperature.

No beach toys or anything else to report for kids but our kids had a good time playing in the sand and in the water.  Given the price, I have no problem with it.  Probably the big issue with the Sand Castle Beach Resort was since it was off season, the restaurant was closed and the bar did not open until about noon.  I get they aren't busy but don't they want to make some money?

By about 11am we tried the sometimes futile effort to get the kids to nap.  My daughter gave it a try but then got it in her head that she wanted to go nap back on the ship.  Frankly, I can't blame her just because it was brutally hot out.  My wife also wanted to take a nap back on the ship so we decided to take a taxi back early while our friends stayed at Sand Castle.

We called the taxi and within 5 minutes he was back to pick us up.  By the time we left at noon, there were probably another 6-8 people there.  That's it.  It's probably bad for the resort but we enjoyed having the beach to ourselves.

We made it back to port and back on board.  My wife and daughter took a nap while I grabbed a quick bite in the Windjammer and then I wanted to explore St Croix a little more.

Personally, I fancy myself someone who enjoys exploring ports beyond the tourist areas.  I had asked our taxi driver about places to go to eat where tourists don't go but he reported most places were closed becase it was Sunday.  So I walked a few blocks in from port and it quickly felt more local than touristy.  That being said, the area did not feel as welcoming for tourists in the "local area" compared to other ports I have explored like Cozumel or St. Maarten.  In addition, it was brutally hot so I had a few beers ($2 each!) and then headed back to the ship.

My take on St Croix is it's far from my favorite port to visit but its beaches are still beautiful. The town has very little to offer in terms of shopping and/or sightseeing.  Basically find a beach and call it a day.  

I went to the Solarium to relax and despite it being a port day, at 1:30-2:00, the Solarium was fairly full.  I found a chaise lounger and jumped in the pool and it felt amazing to cool off. A few drinks of the day later and I was feeling real good.  Quick reminder, you can get the drink of the day minus souvenir cup to save a dollar or two.

Eventually my wife and kid woke up and I made it back to my stateroom for a shower and change.  They had skipped lunch so we decided to finally try the much talked about Seaview Cafe.

The Seaview Cafe has a near cult-like status online, with people raving about the food.  It's basically a complimentary restaurant where you order food and then sit and wait for it to be delivered.  They have burgers, Nathans hot dogs, Reuben & Cuban sandwiches, onion rings, fries and more. I had the Reuben while my wife had a burger.  My reuben was really, really good and my wife said her burger was better than the burger she had at Johnny Rockets on Freedom of the Seas.  I think the Internets got it right with the hype surrounding Seaview.

Next up was the Cruise Critic mix and mingle.

I've been to a number of mix and mingle events and for those unaware, the Cruise Critic mix and mingle is an event organized by Cruise Critic where if enough people (25) RSVP prior to the cruise, Royal Caribbean will set up a special event to meet other Cruise Critic members and even win a few prizes.  

Our mix and mingle was for St. Croix day at 5:30, whereas other mix and mingles had been on sea days usually.  Since we only have one sea day and that sea day is our last day, Royal Caribbean had to do the best they could do.  I think prior to the cruise we had about 30-35 people who RSVPd for the meet but there was maybe 15-20 people in attendance.  Can't say I was surprised given it was a port day and formal night.

Nonetheless, I met a number of nice people and a few of us won some nice prizes.  I think it's a great idea for Royal Caribbean to recongize their most vocal supporters and I will continue to go to them for the opportunity to meet new people.  And maybe one of these days I might actually win something!

Right after the meet was formal night dinner.  I opted for the linguini pomodoro for my main course which was actually quite tasty.  But the best part of dinner was the fact they had coffee ice cream for dessert!  I love coffee ice cream so I asked for as much as they could give me and our waiter brought me 3 servings.  Best night ever!

After dinner we took formal night photos in the Centrum.  Lines were pretty long but we were in that time between first and second seating dinner.  We should have waited another 30 minutes for second seating dinner to be seated but maybe we will remember for next time.

Quick note on "life" onboard Jewel.  As you may remember, we embarked in Puerto Rico and quite understandably, there are a number of Spanish speaking guests.  I'd guestimate about 20-30% are Spanish speaking.  Nearly all are adults (in fact, barely any school age kids on this cruise).  The announcements are made in English and Spanish and at night in the Centrum there is a live band playing and speaking in Spanish only.  Kind of interesting and certainly different from past cruises. I'm not complaining or anything, just pointing out the difference.

Tomorrow we will be in St Maarten and we have a driver booked that we met on our last cruise there.  It will be another beach day, going somewhere we have been before and trying somewhere new too.  Can't wait!

Jewel of the Seas Live Blog - Day 1 - Embarkation Day

In:
21Sep2013

Today the real fun of our cruise vacation begins and without a doubt, embarkation day is my absolute favorite day of the cruise.  Today we got to board Jewel of the Seas and start the fun.

We woke up and had breakfast at a small cafe in San Juan.  It was quaint, quick and cheap and just the right sort of basic breakfast food we needed.  Called Cafeteria Mallorca, it was pretty close to our hotel and I think everyone was happy with it.  Naturally, I went easy on my breakfast in anticipation for our first meal on Jewel of the Seas!

After breakfast we made a pit stop at a CVS to buy wine.  Seriously.  It turns out there really aren't any wine stores in Old San Juan and for whatever reason, this CVS has an amazing selection of wine for a convenience store.  We wanted to bring our alloted amount of 2 bottles of wine for dinner and made out quite well.

Now it was time to get to Jewel, so we went back to our hotel, got a taxi, loaded up our stuff and took the short drive to the port.  Nearly immediately we could see Jewel of the Seas docked in San Juan habror at the Pan American Pier.  The taxi drive was no more than 5 minutes and we arrived at 10:30am.

Once there, the pier was closed although they allowed guests to take their luggage and wait in line.  What was weird was the porters were there, but not taking luggage.  However, there was a special line for Platinum Crown and Anchor members and above and in that line, porters were accepting luggage.  I felt bad for the other people in the main line because they had to drag all of their luggage into line and then wait with it.  

The check-in process did not begin until 11 so all guests had to wait outside, which was only a problem because it was oppresively hot and humid.  Luckily we only waited perhaps 20 minutes and at 11am the doors opened and we were let in.  Security and check-in was a breeze and interestingly the ship was open for boarding immediately.  We got onboard and made our way right to the Windjammer.

Although the ship was open, the Windjammer was not open yet.  They informed us the Windjammer would open in another 10 minutes so we hung out until it was ready.

A little background on me, we haven't been on a Royal Caribbean ship this "small" before.  We had been on Voyager, Freedom and Oasis class ships so Radiance class is going to be an interesting comparisson for us.  Just driving to the pier, we noticed it looked smaller than other ships we had been on.  That being said, smaller isn't a bad thing.  It's simply different and throughout these blog posts, I will be making comparissons to note differences.

The Windjammer opened up and I was impressed by how classy it looked compared to the Windjammers on newer ships.  I liked the deep blues and hard wood look.  It reminded me of the Schooner Bar on other ships.  

Food wise, the Windjammer was as good as I remembered.  Wide selection with a lot for everyone.  Of all the food I tried, I had to get the honey stung chicken if only for the sake of embarkation day tradition.  Eating lunch in the Windjammer on my first day is that moment when it starts to sink in that I'm on a Royal Caribbean vacation.

After lunch, we went to Guest Services and booked in-room babysitting.  $19 per hour for up to 3 kids.  The staff member informed us they would take our day and time requests down but they would notify us if there was a staff member was available.  It's kind of like someone puts out a notice to the staff members a guest wants babysitting and if someone signs up for it, then you get a babysitter.  Basically, there isn't a dedicated babysitter.  

We then headed to the Main Dining Room to check our table assignment.  Our table was for six, which is perfect for our group.  I also spoke with the Head Waiter on duty to request Indian curry every night for dinner.  I told him I was vegetarian, which is a lie but it's easier to say that than explain that I can't get enough of their curry.

Next up we took the elevators to the spa for a tour.  Frankly, I think the spa on Jewel was much nicer than the spa on Freedom of the Seas in terms of decor and ammenities.  Quick note, the sauna and steam room are complimentary for all guests.  There's also some really amazing thermal, aroma and massage rooms.  You can book an unlimited pass for the heated chair, rainforest shower, aroma and steam rooms for $69 per person.  My wife is debating it but I think our itinerary (6 islands, 7 nights) is too port intensive to make it worth it.  They do offer a day pass for $20 per person.

After our tour it was 1pm and time for our room to be ready.  Sure enough, we got to our deck and the doors were open for guests to go in.  We had booked a "hump" balcony room and the room was clean and in good working order.  The real reason we booked this room was for the super big balcony that can fit 2 regular chairs, a table and 2 lounge chairs as well.  

After relaxing in the afternoon we went back to the spa for the raffle drawing.  I didn't expect to win but our friends wanted to give it a try and so we went.  As it turns out....we didn't win anything.  Oh well!

The spa raffle took longer than we expected and so it was off to dinner in the main dining room.  I know there are a lot of strong opinions about the main dining room but I really like the experience of the main dining room.  To me. it's something very special to cruising and Royal Caribbean does it well.  Yes, I saw people show up wearing shorts, hats and flip flops.  But I think was way worse were people showing up an hour or longer late for dinner and being seated!  I'm assuming this is a day one thing but I found it incredibly rude personally.  If you are going to be that late, then enjoy the Windjammer or one of the specialty restaurants.  Anyway, off my soap box.

Dinner was great and this was my second time around with the new menu.  I found the vegetarian tortillas to be good while my wife loved her grilled chicken dish.  Our friends raved about the coconut seafood soup.

By the way, the wine we bought?  No problems getting it in and brought it to dinner and at least thus far, no corkage fee charged to me.  This is exactly the same experience I had on Freedom of the Seas in February. I'm certainly not complaining!

Following dinner it was time for muster drill.  Seriously.  8pm muster was so odd because every other cruise we have ever been on had muster in the later afternoon.  But with this Jewel of the Seas cruise, we were sailing at 8pm so a late muster drill was a necessity.  I was quite happy to discover our muster station was in the Schooner bar because that meant it was air conditioned!

After muster it was finally time to sailaway, so we made our way to the front of deck 5 to go to the helipad. There were probably 20 people or so there, so plenty of room.  Helipad is still very much a well kept secret for sailaway!  It was quite beautiful leaving San Juan harbor at night to see everything lit up.

The kids wanted ice cream and the adults were open for another snack so we went to the Windjammer (before you ask, Seaview Cafe was closed and we do have plans to go check it out).  Another good selection of food and their free sushi I found to be MUCH better than the free sushi on Freedom of the Seas.  I'd compare it to supermarket sushi here on Jewel and the rolls with fish were worth a snack.

Tomorrow we will be in St. Croix, a first for us.  St. Croix is part of the United States so we will be tweeting and Instagraming a storm up again so follow us there for up-to-the-minute updates!  Also, post your questions and comments in the comments area below and I will do my best to answer them for you.  

Day 1 Cruise Compass

Day 2 Cruise Compass

Cozumel-mazing!!!!

In:
21Sep2013

Cozumel-mazing!!!

Today we were in Cozumel. When we arrived the weather didn't look promising. I'm sure you've all done a better job keeping tabs on the news, and have heard that Mexico has been slammed with some SERIOUS rain. Today, fortunately for us & them nothing but blue skies & fun to be had.

Cozumel is a late port day. We arrived at 10 (ship's time), so like Jamaica sleeping in & missing the WJ crush is easy.

Today, is the day I've stepped out of my 'I only do Royal excursions' box. The dune buggy tour has always intrigued me, but normally it's sold out. So I did some digging online & found A tour company called Groupo America (or Americana, I'll confirm later) that for a fraction of the Royal cost would take you on a 4 hour dune buggy tour.

We got off the boat around 10:30 ST grabbed a cab to the meeting place & found a hidden little gem. I guess 'found' is not accurate, because we had instructions to go there...there being varadero beach restaurant. This sign did say all the tours that leave from there & some business about free wifi (of course did we being our iPad? iPhone? Nope) anyway we did discover the most ah-mazing (see what I did there?) margaritas. The glass was the side if my face & when they say the key lime makes a better drink than the regular lime...lying they are not.

Another great thing about playing outside the royal lines is meeting new people. Not to say that I've met all 4,000 people on board but after being on the love & marriage game show, your cruising anonymity shatters (lesson learned) & you feel like you know everyone or at the very least they know you.

Anyway, we met a fellow newlywed couple from Israel, a federal forensic agent fresh off assignment in Afghanistan, and a diving enthusiast couple from California by way of Maryland.

The tour started right across the street from the restaurant with snorkeling. We didn't take part. I'm not a good snorkeler, plus they don't serve the margs in the water. Fast forward to post snorkel lunch. It was a classic Mexican feast. Fajitas, arroz con pollo, refried beans, guacamole, pico, fresh salsas (the habanero was hot & incredible). It was delish!!!

After lunch we were in our buggy & off in our tour. First stop, Punta Sur. After a bumpy, muddy (white mud...weird) ride down a road, we came upon a light house that we were able to climb (143 steps!) to get to a breathtaking view. (Just you wait till you see the pictures. Of course to me it could have been great because I had to climb all those GD steps to forth there... Once posted lemme know). On the way from the lighthouse there's a crocodile lookout place. Anyone who knows me knows I don't like anything without shoulders. Or equines/quadrupeds. So the croc stop, not necessarily my cup of tea. But I went across a rickety wooded bridge to see whatever we could see, which was one sitting like a statue, mouth open. Our guide apparently wanted us to see action (i was good with the statue looking one) so he climbed I've the fence & into the area to entice this one to move. Words that would make a sailor blush were said & I was outta there. On the way back to my buggy, a giant lizard scurried across the bridge right in front of me (!!!!! If you ask Sean he says it's was a tiny salamander, but I know what I saw & if I hadn't broken into a dead run, I could have been lizard food. Yeah I know they eat bugs, but still.)
We got on the road again, buzzing around this island on a coastal road, came to our next stop. A beach break that included a place to shop, willingly hold a lizard for a photo op (I opted not to) & to be on a beautiful beach with crashing waves & white sand.

On the road again to the PeePee station for a quick lesson in tequila making, tasting and some helpful hints buying tequila at home. Wouldn't you know Jose Cuervo is not real tequila?!

As the only cruise pax in the tour, this is where our day ended with our group. The second in command tour guide aka the if the first one had gotten eaten by a croc guide, hopped in our buggy & delivered us to the downtown shopping area to complete our day in Cozumel. To break it down. The whole tour was about 5.5 hours for $60/person. With taxi & tips &75/person. Not bad in my opinion. Oh! I meant to add along the whole tour unlimited complimentary water, soda, juice or cervesas all day. Totes worth it.

Back on board, post mud & bugs, showers were required, followed by snack time in the WJ & a nap.

We overslept a bit into dinner but were able to rush there & catch up.

After dinner we attended the 70's dancing in the street party. Always a hit & one of my favorite cruise director activities.

So there's this new activity I've never experienced before in any if my sailings. The silent disco. It's where all the people in the crypt have headphones on & dancing around... But when you slip yours off...it's funny to hear people singing along...in the 'silence'. It's a weird activity.

Tomorrow is the dreaded cruise day 7. The last real day if vacay for most. I know the compass you get says some crap about day 8 but that day doesn't count & we all know it.

We're at sea tomorrow. I anticipate it being a deck chair war kind of day. I probably should have brought a helmet.

Royal Caribbean announces ocean voyages and free alcohol deal

In:
21Sep2013

Royal Caribbean announced its ocean voyage itineraries, which are cruises that go from one side of an ocean to another, which includes 11 ships and 35 destinations. Included in this batch is the brand new Quantum of the Seas, which will debut in November 2014.

In coordination with the announcement, Royal Caribbean is offering complimentrary premium beverage package for all new individual bookings made in balcony- and suite-category staterooms on 13 select 2014 Trans-Atlantic Ocean Voyages.  The complimentary premium beverage package offer is available from September 11 through October 15, 2013 and vacationers must ask for option code SPV3 to receive the offer.

Royal Caribbean senior vice president of Marketing Carol Schuster commented on the announcement, "Royal Caribbean’s collection of Ocean Voyages offers unique and enriching WOWs.  Our ships are world-renowned for their wide range of exclusive and innovative onboard amenities and our friendly and engaging Gold Anchor Service. Combined with exciting onboard enrichment and interesting itineraries, guests on these sailings will enjoy a distinctive experience that can only be found on Royal Caribbean."

 

Jewel of the Seas Live Blog - San Juan Day

In:
20Sep2013

Today our Jewel of the Seas adventure finally begins, after about 18 months of planning, the day is here and we are ready to go.  Well, we aren't actually going on Jewel today but we are flying to San Juan, Puerto Rico to begin our vacation a day early.  

Our flight will leave New York's JFK airport at 8:55am so we set our alarm for 5:40am to get ready.  I think the excitement got the better of me and my wife because we woke up at about 5am and decided to just get up and go.  So up and at 'em we went, getting the last things packed, waking up the daughter and waiting for our town car service from Legends Limousine at 6:30am.  A quick ride to the aiport and we were on our way.

The whole flight experience was great.  We were on time, had minimal turbulence and landed safely, what more could you ask for?  I will give big kudos to Delta because on the flight, WiFi was free while it lasted (once you are 100 miles from United States it ends) and all of their movies on the entertainment system were free.  Plus there were games and customizable music too.  Really good inflight enterainment, especially for free.

We landed in San Juan at 12:30 and made our way to our hotel to drop off our luggage.  We are staying at the Sheraton Old San Juan, which is located inside Old San Juan and convenient to everything we did.  We dropped our luggage off and started to explore Old San Juan.  We were starving so we tried some Puerto Rico authentic street food, the alcapurrias.  It's basically a fried beef patty and it was really tasty.

Now that we had some real food in our stomachs, we took a tour of the Puerto Rican Governors Mansion.  It's a 20 minute free tour of the mansion grounds and it's quite beautiful.  It's a combination of Spnaish architecture and Moorish revival.  

After our tour, we took a walk to check out El Morro, which is the major Spanish fort on the island.  It's massive and we took the opportunity to explore various areas of the fort.  My daughter loved running around the fort and checking out the various tunnels and areas.  I've never seen her so excited about something not stereotypically childish.  Admission was $3 per adult and kids were free.

We did a little more sight seeing around the city but by this point we were all tired after being up since about 5am.  Our friend recommended a place for another Puerto Rican specialty, mofongo.  

We headed over to Restaurante Raices for dinner and tried a couple kinds of mofongo (fried, mashed plaintains) along with what is described as a giant pork chop.  The restaurant itself is a cross between over-the-top historical decor and real tasty food.  

Overall the food was really good, although the prices were a little high (most entrees were between $15 and $20).  We had a good time there so it wasn't a bad choice by any means.  But next time we are in Old San Juan and want mofongo, I may opt for somewhere else just to see what other choices are out there.  

After dinner the whole group was done physically. I would have loved to go walk around a little more, especially since I haven't been able to check out San Juan at night.  Alas, no need to push myself too much and tomorrow is day one of our Jewel of the Seas cruise so I definitely want to have enough energy for that.

Definitely a great first day and we are all even more excited to get onboard the ship and let the real adventure begin.  Our plan is to have breakfast at 9am and then be ready to go to the cruise terminal by 10ish.  I do need to make a pit stop to buy some wine to bring onboard first but I think we will be at the cruise terminal by 10:30am.

We will have a lot of updates in our live blog here but also on Royal Caribbean Blog Twitter and Instagram.  Follow along and then get the whole summary here tomorrow.  

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