December 2013 - Jewel of the Seas to Caribbean - Southern
Embarkation: We arrived at the Pan Am pier about 12:00pm. This was the worst system for collecting baggage I have ever seen in my six cruises. I do not know if this is a Pan Am pier thing or RCI thing, but you have to stand in a line to have your baggage taken from you to have them but on a cart to be taken to the ship. All other cruises I have been on, they just grab then from you as you arrive and then you proceed in to the terminal. Once inside the terminal, the process was quick and easy. Cabins were ready at 1:00. They called muster drill at 7:45 PM. Ours was done in the Schooner bar, not outside out our life boat like most cruises I have been on. We had a great muster drill instructor; she said she was called the Vanna White of the muster drills. She would do “game show style” poses as she was showing how to put on the life jacket, one of the more entertaining muster drills I have been to. About 7:00 PM (it was an 8:30 PM departure) we were in our cabin and heard a bunch of noise outside our cabin. We went to our balcony and discovered there was a parade of boats going by us all decked out in Christmas lights, some had Christmas trees on the bow of their boats and others even had Santa Claus waving at us from the aft of their boat. They had Christmas music turn up and shooting fireworks off. It was fantastic to watch and very much unexpected. What a great way to start off the cruise.
Cabin: We were in cabin 8616. Cabin was clean. Furniture and soft goods all were in good order. We found plenty of room to put away all of our clothes, plenty of hangers in the closet. We were able to fit our entire luggage under the bed after unpacking. The bed was two twins pushed together. The bed was very firm, which I like but this was like lying on the floor firm. We asked our room steward, Seville, for an egg crate foam pad. He told us it may be a day or two before he could get it, but he had one on the bed before the ship left port. He is the man! This made it pretty comfortable. Our room steward were fantastic, one of the best we have ever had. We tipped him extra the very first day, then again half way and at the end of the cruise. This was in addition to the pre-paid gratuities. Always had ice in the ice bucket, room was always clean when we come back from the day’s events. The TV in the room is of the old tube type, which is no big deal, but a little bit of a throw back when you are use to a flat screen. I did see some rooms that had flat screens, which I assume were used to replace the old tube types as they went bad. Bathroom was great had plenty of shelf space to store all our toiletries. On bad note every now and then we would get a raw sewage smell in the restroom, never could figure out where it was coming from. Overall the ship was in good condition but she is showing her age.
The Ship: She is a pretty ship with all the glass and views of the sea. We loved the helipad for the sail away. Over all for her age the ship is in decent shape, but is really showing signs of aging, fortunately she is going in to dry dock soon. As other have mentioned the elevator situation can get a bit hectic at peak times. It would help if people paid attention to the elevator up/down indicators and use the elevator accordingly. There were many times people got on the elevator expecting to go one direction when in fact is was going the other, then they are say “Why are we going this way”. Could be some people may not have ever used an elevator before, I don’t know. One thing I did notice is at the elevator lobbies (the center one anyway) where they have the layout of the ship in the center of the lobby. There were buttons on the pedestal where you can use to call the elevators instead of the wall button, although they did the same exact thing as the wall buttons. My favorite area on the ship was the Solarium. This was a very peaceful and relaxing place. Birds sing during the day and crickets chirping at night. I also loved the Atrium. The railing on every floor had curved out areas where you could stop and look down at the lobby floor to see what was going on. When you looked up it looked like balconies. One last note the passengers for the most part were pleasant and courteous with 40% to 50% of them speaking Hispanic. One side note; we found the elusive flamingos on deck 13, even got a picture of these rare birds on this ship
The Food: Okay first of all I am not a picky eater at all. The Windjammer was good, but 90% of the food was the same thing every night. The ribs on the last day in the Windjammer were pretty darn good, this coming from someone who lives in Kansas City the BBQ capital of the world. The mash potatoes kicked some butt as well. I am not sure about the sushi bar they have. I for one do not eat it, but I know many people like it. From the lack of people I saw using the sushi bar they would be far better off turning it in to another station. The grill at the back you could get steak, chicken or salmon grilled up fresh to order, from what I heard the salmon was pretty good. Also the free ice cream was very good. First time I have ever seen strawberry soft serve on a ship, I ate mounds of that stuff. They also had chocolate and vanilla. We ate at the MDR twice both times I enjoyed my food and love the Crème Brulee. My wife order steak and waiter told her it was not the best cut of meat, and he was right it was very tough. Service at the MDR was excellent. I realize the taste of food is a very subjective thing, so your individual taste may vary. As a facility manager this next thing left a very bad taste in my mouth and in my opinion was a slap in the face to customer service. While eating at the Windjammer one night (7:30pm), we were greeted to having half the Windjammer shutdown so they could replace carpet. Really!!! So we sat there and listened to the noise and smelled the carpet adhesive as we ate. This is total disregard for your customers dining experience. Sure maybe for whatever reasons the carpet had to be replaced that day, but they could have done it while in port, overnight, or anytime they were closed. VERY RUDE RCI!!!
Entertainment: We are not much for the sing and dancing shows, so we did not see any of those shows. They had a comedian once on the first night which we missed somehow and once on the night we were eating at Chops. I have to say my biggest disappointment on the ship was the entertainment, little to choose from. Most of the lounges had nice décor as well as the venues. Fortunately we made friends with a couple and met them in the Vortex disco most nights, which was a fairly lively area (After 11:00PM). DJ did a great job of playing request. The disco except for the Carnival Glory’s disco; the Vortex had the look and the feel of a real dance club. Love trying to find your seat at the bar (they start it up and it revolves) when coming back from the restroom
Tortola: We planned to have a private company (D and D Car Rental, Dion and Veronica) take us by private boat to Virgin Gorda Baths. I found Dion on Trip Advisor. Dion received some good reviews. I emailed him back and forth to get pricing, date, time, transportation and cost, which went very smoothly. I emailed him the week before for confirmation. So when we arrive at the port we asked around for Dion and someone told us he was just there earlier. We had a 9:00am time setup with him and we were at the meeting place at 8:55am. So Dion never showed. GRRRRR! Met another guy (Egbert) while waiting for Dion, we told him the story and he told us he can give use the same deal and it was $5 cheaper per person than Dion. So we took him up on his offer, after all the object of the private tour was to beat the cruise ship tour to the Baths. Well, this was the best decision we made. We had a blast on his boat; my wife was setting in the back of the boat and was getting totally soaked by the waves splashing her. She was such a good sport about it, saying “I am not at work” every time she got hit by another big wave. There were about 20 of us on the boat and all the others felt sorry for her. Several times while back on the ship people would stop her and ask her if she was dry yet LOL. The Baths are totally AMAZING!!! If you can only do one thing while at Tortola, do yourself a favor and go to the baths! Our trip back from the Baths was a lot of fun. The return boat trip, we were served rum punch. They made the mistake of asking us to serve our self since one of the guys found the full rum bottle in the cooler. He cracked it open and about 10 of us had it polished off in 30 minutes. Of course they made sure my wife had the first go at it since her rough ride on the way there LOL. Before anyone says this; yes I know that is what can happen if you use a private tour, but it turned out great! 90% of my excursions I have taken on my last six cruises have been private, but this one and the one I will be telling you about in St. Kitts are my first bad experiences with private tours.
St. Martin: We were in St. Martin in 2012 and never made it over to the French side, so we had planned on going to the Radisson Blu Resort on a day pass. On our way there it started to rain, and since this was going to be a beach day at the resort, we decided to save the $110.00 and just go straight to Grand Case. The day before on the boat to the Baths we had met a couple (Harold and Lisa; hi guys if you are reading this) that we became acquainted with and end up spending a lot of time with throughout the cruise. Any way on with the story. So we had our taxi driver drop us off in the middle of Grand Case, and who should be standing there is Harold and Lisa. What a totally random thing to happen, but it was great to hang with them. So we walked around a bit and had lunch at Sky the Limit. Had grilled Red Snapper. Very good! Grand case is referred to as the culinary capital of the Caribbean and I can see why. There was a restaurant every 100 feet. It was not what I expected though, I thought it would be more polished, but reminded me more of a fishing village. Not to say it was a bad experience, I am glad went and it is a neat place to look around. So to wind down the day we went back to the beach closest to the ship and got a chair, umbrella and drinks. It was great relaxing day.
St. Kitts: We were here in 2012 and wanted to see Nevis this time. I know; taking a cruise ship to an island, just to get on another boat and go to a different island. Crazy, right? So once again we scoured Trip Advisor to find a good way to get to Nevis. RCI offered a trip there but it was an all-day thing and we wanted only a half day trip to Nevis. (“Nevis” means snow in Spanish because Columbus thought that this small island from a distance, looked like mountains covered by snow. It is said that there is a cloud on top of Nevis 80% of the time.) We also did not want to be in the big crowds and on a specific schedule (the reason we typically do private excursions). So we had made arrangements with Clivin Christmas of Blackfin Charters via email. He had arranged a taxi to pick us up and take us to Cockleshell Beach to meet him on his private boat. We confirm with him the week before via email. We are at the meeting place 10 minutes early and nobody shows up from SeaMoss Taxi (the taxi Clivin arranged for us). Now it is 15 minutes past the meeting time and a lady by the name of Beulah of Welcome Tours St. Kitts and Nevis stop to ask us if we need anything. We told her our story and she was on her phone in a split second trying to call about our ride, but without any luck. She then arranged a taxi ride for us to Cockleshell Beach; we figured we could still meet Clivin and get our boat ride to Nevis with him. Beulah hooked us up with Merlyn, what a fantastic guy!!! He took us to Cockleshell while giving us a quick tour of the island. We arrived at Cockleshell, but alas no Clivin in sight. Okay maybe he is running late. Waited another 15 minutes still no sign of him. Merlyn said he would call him for us, what a guy. He got a hold of him and he said he was fishing. Really??? He said he would have another boat come for us. Instead of dropping us off at the beach to wait on the replacement boat, Merlyn waited with us for about 20 minutes until the boat arrived. We asked if he could pick us up later and we agreed upon a time. So we arrived at Nevis (wasn’t sure it was going to happen for a while) on Oualie (pronounced "oo-a-lee”) Beach. The first thing you see is the Oualie Beach Resort. A small quaint little resort. We found a couple of loungers with a thatch umbrella and set up for the day. I was expecting for someone to come from the resort at any moment to ask for rental money for the loungers and umbrella but no one ever did. Of course the resort bar and restaurant was the only place to get any food or drink without walking a long distance. We had drinks, which were decent and lunch there. I tried Lion fish for the first time, pretty darn good, although it was served cold on a salad. I think it would have been even better grilled and served warm, but I love trying new foods so it’s all good. The beach is about 300 yards long and we saw maybe, 15 people the entire time. It was very relaxing and we had a great time there. So we got on the boat for the return trip, which was tied up at the dock the entire time we were at the Oualie Beach, and what do you know there is our man, Merlyn waiting at the dock at Cockleshell for us. On our way back to the ship we asked Merlyn if we could stop at a place we passed last time we were in St. Kitts, but did not have time to check out. It is called Carambola Beach restaurant. What a beautiful beach and restaurant, we plan on making this our next stop when we come back to St. Kitts.
Dominica: First time here for us. This is a very beautiful island, very rugged and not fully developed as some cruise ports. Lot of your shopping is done in back alleys, but not in a scary back alley environment. Watch where you step, lot of uneven cobble stone walk ways. Very friendly people. I needed to get some Pepto Bismol for my wife, so I asked a police officer for the nearest pharmacy and he walked me almost all the way to the door. “This is our best pharmacy we have” he says. I am thinking this is probably your only pharmacy you have LOL. It was very nice of him to take the time to show me though. So here I did an excursion with RCI, I know shocking isn’t it? RCI was the only source I could find to take me snorkeling to Champagne Reef and Scott’s Head. Champagne Reef was just a little bit disappointing. I was expecting to see a lot of bubbles, instead it was just a few thermal vents scattered around. Don’t get me wrong it was still worth going. You do see more coral type things than you do fish, although I did see my first spotted eagle ray in the wild, so that was cool. After Champagne Reef, we took a 5 or 10 minute boat ride to an area that has a 1000 foot drop off, which would be better for diving than snorkeling. So I head over to the shallower waters and did get to see many more fish. Also on our short boat ride they point out the back drop of where they shot Pirates of the Caribbean two and three.
Barbados: Loved Barbados!!! We would like to go back there for a week sometime. So we had schedule (you guessed it) another private tour with Small Cats to swim with the turtles. They included transportation to their catamaran which was about a 10 -15 minute drive, which gave us the opportunity to see some of Barbados from the land. Once we arrived, we found out that they had 6 people cancel for the 3 hour tour we were scheduled for so they put us with El Tigre. I asked what the difference would be and they told me it would still only be 12 people but a larger cat. It would be the same price, same 3 hours, the same stops and the same turtles LOL. So we went to Carlisle Bay to swim with the turtles, even though they were throwing out food we only saw two turtles, which is great, we got to see turtles and I was in Barbados and not in the freezing, snowing weather at home. One turtle we saw was pretty big about 3 to 4 feet in diameter. We then went over to a shipwreck and snorkeled; saw a lot of fish there. The shipwreck is about 25 feet deep so it was kind of hard to see it. I did free dive down and got a better look at it. I even got a great picture through one of the windows of the ship with a school of fish inside. Maybe this was there “classroom”? We had a great time aboard the cat and the crew was fantastic. Especially Charlie! They made you feel very welcomed and were always checking with you to see if you need anything. We had one girl that was a first time snorkeler and they took the extra time and personally help her through the experience, holding on to her and staying with her the entire time she was in the water, great service. The cat we were on was a 5 hour tour which included lunch, so right before they had their lunch they dropped us off at Paynes Beach. They pulled right up to the beach dropped the ladder right on to the beach and there was one of their staff waiting to take us back to Bridgetown. We told our transportation guy we wanted to go to Rockley Beach, he said he could not take us, but would drop us off to another taxi he had arranged for us. We had limited time to go to Rockley and wouldn’t you know there is rush hour type traffic through town (weird to think of a traffic jam on a tropical island LOL). Our taxi driver said because of Christmas everyone was in town shopping for presents. So the 20 minute drive took us 45 minutes, which left us only an hour at Rockley. What a shame because this beach was gorgeous!! Rather crowed with a lot of chairs and umbrellas at the back of the beach, but the beach was about 200 yards long and beautiful blue water. We walked the beach a couple times and then went to the “food court”, which is a few shacks that you can get food and drinks. Both were very good, I had a Barbados dish, flying fish which was very good. The drive back was much shorter, not sure if he went a different route or traffic had calmed down.
Debarkation: Worst debarkation I have experienced. About half way through the cruise we decided to use the RCI transfer to the airport so we signed up (it was cheaper than using a taxi). So they have you go to a specific room depending on your luggage tag number. We were to be at the Safari Lounge at 8:45am no problem, it was later than 9:45am before we ever got out of our area. Now as I understand it, each tag number was called to allow a small amount of people off the ship at a time, so why they started merging different tag numbers from different areas of the ship was a little baffling to me. Here is a tip: Once you get off the ship in to the terminal find a porter to help you with your luggage (if you have a lot like we did, my wife loves to over pack; bless her heart!). He had my wife stand in the customs line while he and I went to look for the luggage, this work like a charm. So customs line wasn’t too long of a wait, but when I looked behind me the line grow very long very quickly (remember the merging of the lines). So we get to our bus for our transfer to the airport and we are stopped by a guy saying put your luggage in this truck. I said no it goes to the bus like usual. Bus driver is pointing at the truck. So I give him our luggage. It will be waiting for you when you get to the airport they tell us. We get to the airport and luggage is waiting but not ours. I am seeing luggage tags with tag numbers of 22 and 24 ours were 16. How does that happen? So about 20 minutes later the luggage shows up while I am stressing out on our flight, that is leaving in an hour and we still have to do security and agriculture line. Once again, porter to the rescue. There was a very long line at the agriculture screening, he whisked us by that line and went a couple doors down to a screening which no one was in line for. He assisted us all the way until the bags were checked. This was so very helpful, this being our first time to fly out of San Juan. The tip I gave him was well worth the money!!
The Big Picture: The ship itself is great. We had a fantastic time and met some great shipmates. Great itinerary! Embarkation and debarkation needs improvement as far as luggage goes, which may be a pier issue. If you would like to see pictures from the trip go to: