June 2014 - Jewel of the Seas to Caribbean - Southern
My wife and I took this 7 night southern Caribbean cruise to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary and we had an absolutely wonderful time. Overall we did not enjoy it as much as our 10 year anniversary cruise aboard the Adventure of the Seas but other than a few relatively minor things this cruise was fantastic and just what we needed.
We arrived very early to the San Juan cruise terminal, dropped off the bags with the porters and were quickly through check in, security and on board the ship. Once aboard we noticed a gathering around the various tables where RCL was selling drink packages, spa packages, etc. This created quite the bottle neck right as you first enter the atrium area and is something RCL should consider moving. Once we navigated through the small crowd, we were up at Windjammer for some lunch. Windjammer is a buffet and like nearly every other buffet I have been to, the food is average. Other than for the date of embarkation we typically try to avoid Windjammer or any of the other buffets on board cruise ship. Later in the cruise we were reminded why when people were acting like it was their last meal and had zero regard for line etiquette or personal space. After eating lunch, our cabins were now ready and we went to drop off our carry on bags. Our cabin, an aft balcony was incredible. Surprisingly spacious with lots of little areas for storage. They sacrificed space in the bathroom to build more space into the cabin which is fine by me. After dropping the bags, we left the ship to walk around Old San Juan. The cab fare from the cruise terminal to Old San Juan was $15-$20 depending on who you spoke to (get a price up front before jumping in the cab). We toured the forts of Cristobal and Morro and had a great time before returning to the ship. By the time we returned our luggage had arrived and our cabin steward Olman had already placed them in our room for us. If there was anything we needed during our cruise relating to our cabin, Olman was on it and I could not have been more impressed with his level of service.
This particular cruise hit the ports of St. Croix, St. Maarten, Antigua, St. Lucia and Barbados and I will write about each of the ports in the port review portion so I will not waste time here. The ship itself was clean well kept. If you looked hard enough you could find some area that need to be refreshed but there was nothing that just jumped out at you as a glaring issue as some others have written. The service in the dining room from Robert and Domingos was top notch. They went out of their way to greet the guests, explain the menu and get to know our dining habits. Overall the food in the dining room was excellent and I was pleased with the quality of food and variety of options. If you cannot find something to eat on the menu, you are either not trying or arguably one of the most picky eaters on the planet. One nice thing about this cruise compared to others is that the bar staff is not in your face about trying to sell drinks. On other cruises you feel like you are constantly being hounded to be nickel and dimed but not the case here. Thanks to cross marketing promotions we were able to dine in Chops one evening and it was excellent. Being from Texas, we take our steak seriously and Chops delivered. Every item we had was wonderful and the service was equal to the quality of the food.
The entertainment options is where this cruise has some concerns. On several nights, there was only one show offered which made it very inconvenient to attend if you were dining in the dining room during either of the time slots. You were either at dinner or prepping for dinner during the show time. On other nights when two shows were offered, the times did not seem to make sense. On every other cruise we have been on the show times exactly corresponded with the dining times so that while one group is eating the other is watching the show and vice versa. The Coral Theater itself was nice and I do not see the issues with the quality of the theater others have noted. That said I have only cruised with RCL, Carnival and Norwegian so maybe that plays some role in the dynamic. Other than the comedians, the show quality was not very good. This was particularly the case with the production show West End to Broadway. Whomever designed this show from the production value to the costume design to the music choices (for the most part) should lose their job as the show was a complete mess. I think the singers and dancers were talented enough but they were dealt a very bad hand with the show design. We did not make it to the other production show or the two variety shows. The production show by choice and the variety shows because of the aforementioned scheduling issues.
Disembarkation was great until we got to customs which is always a pain but seemed to take longer than it needed to. Having previously cruised with RCL we were allowed to stay in the upstairs dining area and disembark at our leisure which was a nice bonus. Overall this was a great cruise where we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
St. Croix - Due to the limited number of excursions available non of which appealed to us, we decided to make this a beach day. We walked off the cruise pier and turned left and just went to the beach right there by the pier. The beach chairs were $7 each. There were restrooms available as were several bar areas. The beach was nice but once in the water it was very rocky until you got out too deep to matter. We had a great time but this is a port the cruise lines should either avoid or poor some money into it as they have done elsewhere to make it more appealing.
St. Maarten - Having previously been to St. Maarten we decided to go to Maho Beach to experience the planes as they land and take off at the nearby airport. Originally we were only going to stay at Maho for a little while and then venture over to Orient Beach. Partly due to cab fare and partly due to our pleasant surprise at the quality of beach at Maho we decided to spend the majority of our day there and then go back to the cruise ship. This was a lot of fun and a great experience. Just note if you are anywhere in proximity to the beach area behind the runway when one of the big jets is set for takeoff, you will be sand blasted as the jet exhaust shoots the sand around at high rates of speed.
Antigua - This was the highlight of our cruise. Antigua is a beautiful island and our excursion allowed us to experience it all. Our tour consisted of a land/historical tour during the bus ride to the launching point of our excursion. We boarded boats and headed to the kayak portion where we kayaked through the mangroves and got to see a variety of sea life. The kayak portion was much longer than expected and although tiring was well worth it. We then hiked to the top of one of the islands points where we were blessed with breathtaking views of the island. It wrapped up with some snorkeling which was nice. Overall, this was our favorite island and excursion for the trip.
St. Lucia - St. Lucia is another beautiful and picturesque island with the Pitons as its most prominent feature. The Pitons are majestic and can be seen from just about anywhere on the island. Our tour took us through the banana plantations where we got to sample the local bananas, toured the fishing villages, visited the volcano, enjoyed the sulfur mud baths, swam in the a waterfall and dined at a postcard worthy resort overlooking the Pitons. It finished off with a short stroll on one of the beaches. Arguably the most picturesque of the islands we visited.
Barbados - Barbados was a lot of fun and were it not for the crowds at a couple of the snorkel stops, I would have scored this higher. We took the catamaran and snorkel tour which apparently there are a ton of companies offering the same tour with the same stops at the same time as part of their offering. We snorkeled at the shipwrecks where we got to see a wide variety of fish as well as several of the wrecks in the area. We then moved over to snorkel with the sea turtles and while there were not as many as I had hoped, it was a great treat to swim with these animals in such close proximity. We wrapped up as we anchored about 100 yards off shore for lunch and then you could stay on board and drink, swim to the beach or just swim around the catamaran. Whichever you chose you were sure to have a good time. Our crew was great and went out of their way to make sure everyone had a great time.