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Jewel of the Seas Live Blog

Jewel of the Seas Live Blog - Day 7 - Sea Day

In:
28Sep2013

Today was our last day of the cruise and our only sea day.  I'll talk a little about what I did today but mostly I'd like to look back at my Jewel of the Seas cruise and discuss what I liked and didn't like.

This morning we all slept in and the girls went to breakfast first.  I slept a little later but was up around 9:30am and went upstairs for breakfast in the Windjammer.

After breakfast we took the kids to the Fisher Price playgroup.  This is an unsupervised event where lots of preschool toys were available for use in Vortex for an hour.  There were about 5 or 6 kids total who showed up, so plenty of toys to go around.  There was also one Adventure Ocean staff member there who played with the kids.  It's too bad this was the only time that worked for us on the entire cruise.

After we went to Centrum shops for last minute shopping. We ended up buying 4 formal portraits of our daughter that came out really well.  Interestingly there is no CD purchase option on Jewel but thanks to our Crown and Anchor society discount, we got 50% off the second photo.  So 2 of the photos were half price.  The photos are still quite expensive ($19.95 per photo) but we couldn't turn these down.

We also stopped by the Loyalty Ambassaor's office to look at NextCruise certificates.  I love these things because they always end up being the best deal on booking cruises most of the time.  Our friends booked their certificates so I think we've hooked them on another Royal Caribbean cruise and we bought an extra one, well, because we can't get enough cruises!

We had lunch in the main dining room, which is something we love to do because of the food variety offered here.  Unfortunately the menu today wasn't great but we met some nice people at our table.  I'd still recommend trying lunch in the main dining room, especially for the build your own salad option.

After lunch the kids took a nap so Tim and I went to the casino.  Okay, we tried to go do something else but the pool was packed and the cinema was not showing another film until 4pm.  

First rule of the casino is be prepared to lose any money you play.  Sure you hope and want to win more, but you have to assume you will lose.  If you're okay with that, then the experience can be fun and we talked to some pretty fun dealers.

By now the kids were up so we decided to take it easy in our staterooms.  We had considered going to the pool but the pool was so packed it didn't seem worth it.

We got ready for dinner and had I think of the better dinners in the main dining room.  Lots of options to choose from and of course, we had to say goodbye to our waiters.  For their farewell song, all the waiters opted to sing "Leaving on a Jet Plane" with one of the waiters playing acoustic guitar.  I thought it was a nice touch.

After dinner I had a cigar up on the jogging track (deck 12) and had one last hurrah of vacation.  Then it was back to the room to pack our stuff.  I did manage to order room service and get the honey stung chicken, which tasted great but not quite as fun when you get it on embarkation day.

With the cruise over, I've definitely come away with some observations from my experience.  First and foremost, I think Jewel of the Seas is in great condition and I'm not sure what people are referring to when they say they see signs of age.  I looked around the ship and found really nothing to speak of. No peeling paint, no broken facilities. Nothing.  It's a great ship.

Jewel definitely does feel smaller than other ships that I've been on but I enjoyed it.  Sure there isn't as much to do onboard but with these port intensive itineraries like the southern Caribbean, it's no problem at all.  One good thing about a small ship is we wanted to trade email addresses with someone we met earlier in the cruise so we started looking and in about an hour we found them.  Can't say I'd be able to do that as easily on another, larger ship.

I love the Centrum and how beautiful it can be lit up and the great entertainment but my gosh is the music loud.  It's fine in the day time but when they are blasting music at night until midnight, that's not cool.

Yes, there will be a substantial Spanish speaking population on your ship but it's not like you feel out of place or anything.  I estimated in an earlier blog post 20-30% of the guest population were probably Puerto Rican but it wasn't anything I'd worry about.

In terms of the islands we visited, St. Maarten and Antigua were hands down the best for good value and lots to do.  St. Lucia and Barbados are good as well, albeit very expensive. St. Croix was a big disappointment and nearly everyone I spoke with mentioned not enjoying their time there.  

The WiFi onboard is limited to certain areas of the ship but since the entire Centrum is covered, that's not a problem.  By far the connection was worst in the evening and best in the morning.   Also the onboard computers are terribly old so if you want to use the internet, bring your own device.

The staff were terrific all around and I had arguably the best wait staff and stateroom attendants in a long time, if not ever.  They weren't the kind of staff that did magic tricks and back flips for you, but they worked hard for us and made us feel like their guests.  They earned their gratuity and we will miss them all.

The food onboard was good overall and I'd rate everything I tried somewhere between "good" and "very good".  Maybe 2 or 3 dishes were excellent.   My biggest gripe about the food is the breakfast spread at Windjammer never changes but that's a fleet wide thing and I can live with it.

In terms of bringing toddlers onboard (2.5 and 1.5 year olds) being so port intensive it was fine but obviously having no pool access and limited child care options (in-room babysitting only) was a concern.  We knew about that shortcoming when we booked the cruise but on cruises that have more than 1 sea day, I'd be more critical.

I'll have more in-depth reviews in the weeks to come, including the excursions we did, restaurants we ate at onboard and more.  I really appreciate all the great feedback I've received in the comment here and via social media.  It was a real treat for me to check what you all thought and talk about it.

So I'm signing off from my Jewel of the Seas adventure and I can't wait already for my next Royal Caribbean vacation!

Jewel of the Seas Live Blog - Day 6 - Barbados

In:
27Sep2013

Today is our last port day and it's always a bittersweet day for me (well, not as much as tomorrow will be) and we are in Barbados. 

As per usual, up at 7am, in the Windjammer at 8am and off the ship at 9am.  The crowd at Windjammer at 8am versus 9am is incredibly different and 8am is much better.  I think I've said this in past cruise reports but I'd like to see more variety in breakfast.  Unlike lunch and dinner, the breakfast spread has been exactly the same every day.

We got off the ship a little before 9am for our tour we had booked with Tyronne Griffith tours, which was coordinated by people on Cruise Critic.  Because we all booked as a group on Cruise Critic, we were able to get the per person rate down to $25 per adult (kids free) and free water, beer and rum punch.

We met the driver right at 9am and after sorting through some paperwork issues we were on our way. They managed to cram 12 of us in one van, which while theoretically possible was not comfortable.  In addition, the air conditioning was not as cold as we would have liked.  

The tour itself was informative and timely.  It took about 4 hours and took us all over Barbados.  Our driver was quite good and pointed out every detail on the island.  We went to historical places of interest as well as scenic points.  

The hit of the tour was when we stopped to feed the local wild monkeys.  Aside from disturbing the monkey's natural way of feeding, it was an undeniably cool opportunity.  Our driver had a bunch of bananas that he cut up and gave to us to feed them.  It felt like a once in a lifetime opportunity.

As I said, the tour took us all over the island and we definitely saw a lot for the price.  At the end we had the option to go to the beach or go back to the ship.  We opted to go back to the ship to try to let the kids nap.  

Overall, I found the tour good although I think personally I don't love group van tours.  After doing this sort of tour in St. Thomas on a previous cruise and this tour, I'm beginning to think I'd prefer a more personal tour (albeitly at a higher cost).  Everyone I spoke with seemed to mostly enjoy the experience.

After getting back to the ship we walked through the shopping plaza at the pier.  Of course, it's tourist trap stuff and given its lack of air conditioning, I can't say it's worth more than a walk through.  However, there is free WiFi provided there so I guess I can't slam it too much.  If you happen to be there, go to the Barbados Tourism Office because it's air conditioned, has the best WiFi signal and has chairs for you to sit down (and electricity to charge your devices).

Back on Jewel of the Seas, we tried...and failed to get the kids to nap.  So we had lunch in the Windjammer and then relaxed in our stateroom during the afternoon.  It was a nice opportunity to enjoy our balcony, which we probably have not spent enough time on this cruise.

We got ready for dinner and had a few extra minutes so took some professional photos with my daughter near the Centrum.  I have hopes they came out well enough to warrant buying.

Dinner was in the main dining room and I really love how our wait staff knows us so well that they are starting to bring us food and drinks without asking and it's exactly what we wanted.  Frankly, this is the best wait staff we have had in a number of years.  It's kind of amusing since they admitted this is their first or second week working together.  My hat is off to Leao and Silveno.

A quick note on the main dining room menu, the escargot has been replaced on the menu by the scallops. On our February Freedom of the Seas cruise, the escargot was still on the menu despite not being available but it's now removed.  RIP little (tasty) buddies.

Spreaking of the wait staff, I have to bring up a pet peeve of mine which is the head waiter.  I know they work hard but more often than not they just end up coming over to essentially kissing up.  Sorry, I don't need to tip someone just to have someone talk to me and my kid.  Granted it's not a lot of money to tip but when I don't have special requests for the head waiter, it kind of bugs me.  Especially when we didn't even meet our head waiter until the second or third night.

Anywho, we went for a walk around the ship on deck 5 after dinner, which the kids loved.  The front deck and helipad were blocked due to high winds (or at least, I am assuming that is the reason). 

We went up to the Windjammer to have more of their sushi but I'm sorry to say the sushi tonight tasted pretty awful.  It was great the other night but today it was lackluster.  Oh well, better luck tomorrow!

My wife and Sarah went out for a girls night out so nothing else exciting happening for me.  Tomorrow is our last day (boo!) and it's our one and only sea day.  Looking forward to some pool time and sleeping in!  Gotta have priorities.

Jewel of the Seas Live Blog - Day 5 - St. Lucia

In:
25Sep2013

Today is our fifth port of call, St. Lucia.  It's also our last scheduled beach day.  Because of the distance between our last island (Antigua) and St. Lucia, we arrived at 9am instead of the usual 8am.

I mentioned in yesterday's post that the Captain warned us the night would have more motion than we were used to but I felt the amount of motion was akin to what I'd consider little motion on most other cruises I've been on.

We went to the Windjammer for breakfast and for the sake of keeping my breakfast posts interesting, I'll note my omelette order was messed up twice. The first time they added ham to a veggie omellete and the second time they omitted the Jalapenos.  If that's the worse I can say about my cruise than I'm doing well.

We got off the ship, which had by far the smallest pier ever.  No mile walks to be found here!  Once we got there, we started negotiating with the taxi drivers.  We wanted to go to a beach with a view of the Pitons... until we were told it would take about 1 hour and 20 minutes just to get there!  

We huddled together to figure out our options.  If it were just me and my family, we would have gone back to the ship for swimming but our friend's child can't swim in the ship's pools so we talked with the taxi driver about other options and he recommended a beach about 20-25 minutes away.

St. Lucia also has a reputation for being expensive and our taxi ride would cost us $50 each way for the 6 of us.  I think we just took a "whatever" attitude and went with it.  The driver was fine, but compared to other drivers we had not very interesting. Nonetheless he was nice and got us to the beach quickly.

We arrived at Pigeon Bay, which was a fairly unremarkable Caribbean beach.  Water was crystal clear and had great color, although it did have a bit of a current despite not being very deep at all. 

There were locals at the beach who rented us 2 chairs and an umbrella for $10.  There was free WiFi also, but you had to walk off the beach to access it.  Nearly as quick as we sat down, the horde of vendors started trying to sell their stuff to us.  Some of them were pretty aggressive, meaning a simple no was not enough to send them off.  Luckily they all got it in fairly quickly and didn't bother us for most of the day, like had happened in Antigua.

We decided to spend the day at the beach, having our taxi driver pick us up at 3pm.  The kids loved the beach and ran around to their hearts content.  There were another 6 people or so at the beach, so it was not crowded at all.

There were two restaurants right behind the beach that offered local food.  I tried the stewed lamb which was tasty and a rather large portion.  

After a few hours of swimming our driver returned and got back to the ship for a late lunch and to get ready for our second formal night.

Before heading back onboard I explored the tourist trap area outside the ship on the pier.  You standard issue selection of overpriced jewelry, clothes that change color in the sun and other nick-nacks made in China.  I wil say there is a rum shop all the way in the back that offers free WiFi, which had a huge crowd around it. Not sure how much rum they sold, but getting people in the door is half the battle.

 

My take on St. Lucia is it's beautiful, but expensive and really too large for just a cruise ship stop.  I'd have rather spent another day in St. Maarten or Antigua but you don't know what you like best until you see other things you don't love as much. It's a notch on my "cruise ship belt" and I can't say I had a bad time.  

This formal night dinner we were in the main dining room and it's "lobster night".  I'm not one to eat lobster but our friends were and said it was good.  I should mention I brought a bottle of wine to the main dining room and was charged the corkage fee.  It seems like if the waiters assume you brought the bottle, then no corkage fee. So it seems pretty hit or miss but the value savings even with the corkage fee really makes a difference.

After dinner I went to the "Top Tier Crown and Anchor Society Event" for C&A members Platinum and above.  Met the Captain and other senior staff and had the usual assortment of free drinks, which were quite plentiful. The event itself was, well, a dud.  The cruise director came out and thanked us all and shared how telling staff members we remember them makes their day.  Then the staff danced and that was it.  I'm guessing they figure everyone is just there for the free booze and cut out the filler.

After the event, we had reserved in-room babysitting again so we put the kids there and it was time for adult night out.

First up, the girls had drinks at the Schooner Bar while us men played a couple rounds on the self-leveling billiards table.  Billiards is free and the table is cool, although Tim had his doubts the table was 100% effective.  A good time all around even if I was beat both times.

Next up we went to the casino.  Once again the girls went to the bar and drank while us men played blackjack and roulette. And lost. It was fun but we had bad breaks everywhere.  Like I said, we had a good time but gambling is a lot more fun when you're having fun.  If you're wondering, Guest Relations will not advance you money on your SeaPass account, however the casino will for a 5% fee.  

Next we headed up to the Vortex bar for 80s & 90s party.  The Vortex bar is just fun because it's neon and spins very slowly.  Silly things like that amuse me and we had fun, although the music mix wasn't great.  Rather than playing a mix of music from both decades, all we heard while there was music from the 80s.  And some of the selections aren't exactly dance party music (like "Walk this Way" by Run DMC/Aerosmith).  Alas, the girls had drinks and had a good time.

By now, we were ready to head back to pick up the kids from the babysitter because we have an early morning tomorrow.  The babysitters were great and both kids loved spending time with them. Well worth the money for the escape for us adults.

Tomorrow we are going to our last island of Barbados. We have a tour booked through a group of people I "met" on CruiseCritic so I'm excited to see how that goes.  Leave your question and thoughts in this post's coments!

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.

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.

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

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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