Monday, August 25, 2014

Review of the Jewel of the Seas

Royal Caribbean: Jewel of the Seas


Copyright Disclaimer under section 107 if the copyright act of 1976, allowance is made for "fair use" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use.

I am going to be honest. When experienced cruisers critique cruise lines, I have always heard stereotypes about the quality: Carnival is the party line, Disney is best for kids (and is expensive) and Holland and Norwegian seem to cater to older folks. Then I heard, that although Carnival can be less expensive sometimes, one should always treat oneself and go up a notch and sail with Royal Caribbean.

Cruise lines, as you know, categorize their ships into classes. Therefore, when I boarded the Jewel of the Seas, in Royal’s Radiance class, one source likened this class to Carnival’s ship Spirit class. Since I have been on the Carnival Pride, it seemed like a fair comparison.

The décor was lovely. Some ships can seem like a bad night in Vegas (Sensation Boulevard on the Carnival Sensation comes to mind) and some can seem like Titanic imitators (the grand staircase on the Disney Fantasy).  But for some reason, the blond wood grain interior was soothing, classy and relaxing.  Each landing on the staircases was highlighted with tasteful art that inspired many passengers to take pictures. Glass elevators proclaimed the day of the week with a removable panel on the floor and a lit staircase rose from the lobby.  (Digression: why do cruise ships have beautiful staircases and then let the photographers block them every night for hours?)

Deck 4 was the main drag: the lobby, customer service and excursion desks and one entrance to the Tides dining room, the one main dining area for dinner and sit-down breakfast.

The fun continued on Decks 5 (shops and photo gallery) and 6 (the Safari Club, casino, Pit Stop bar area and movie theatre).  The rest of the activities were located on the traditional upper decks (11, 12, 13).

The corridors were slightly wider than the Carnival Pride or Sensation or again, it could have been the color scheme, tricking me into thinking that. They were decorated with pop American art, such as portraits or black and white photos of Hollywood stars.

My stateroom was a little less spacious because we had a balcony (my first time). It got a bit cramped with 3 people for 7 days but we toughed it out. The balcony came in handy when we were in port because we were able to dry our swim wear from the day before (not recommended, by the way, by any cruise line).

The main dining room, Tides was divided into 2 levels: assigned dining was on the first floor and the flex time diners were on the balcony. No waiters singing, though. You heard many Carnival folks wondering where the “entertainment” was.

I was a little surprised that the food was not much better than Carnival. I had heard that Royal as supposed to be a real notch above and the food seemed comparable. The lunch buffet was sometimes better than what was served for dinner. They had an international theme happening, with a different region every day: Caribbean, European, Asian American.  I spoke with several cruisers who had been on Carnival and Disney and we all agreed that hands down, Disney still has better food.

Interestingly, the theatre entertainment was not bad. I have to cheer for the performers who are really trying to give a good show because many of them are either Broadway hopefuls or have just come from there. The content of the shows are often restricted by copyright laws and the contracts with companies that create them. Again, Disney is an exception because they have their own catalog to draw from. It’s not fair to compare.

The live performers were also not bad. If they lacked anything in exceptional talent, they certainly made up for it in enthusiasm and professionalism. I have to remember that my level of expectation can be too high since I come from New York.  Think resort entertainment or summer stock and you’ll appreciate it.

One very nice treat was the movie theatre, rather than having a movie screen on deck. It was small, but a good treat. They would schedule a movie for the entire day, so you could catch a screening at your leisure.

The fitness room was awesome. It was spacious and well maintained, I don’t recall seeing one out of order machine. There were enough treadmills and elliptical machines for at least 30 people. There were free weights and machines. I am not a spa person, but I looked through the area and took some flyers so that I could report. The products were massively expensive for this class of ship ($100 per bottle for one of the detox products) but they offered many specials on some of the services.

The track on deck was not as large as Disney’s but twice the size of the Carnival Pride, Glory and Sensation. Those tracks are so small I actually get dizzy and lose count (11 times around is a mile). For the Jewel, 6 times around was a mile, which wasn’t so bad. Like the other ships, though, except for Disney, the track is on the upper deck, which makes the wind a big factor on some days.

The pools, surprisingly, were saltwater. Even more surprising was the fact that the gift shop did not sell goggles. The excursion desk had snorkel masks for sale, but they really should consider selling goggles for those caught by surprise by the saltwater pools. These pools were more spacious than the Carnival Pride. I could actually swim a “lap” in the solarium pools.

Speaking of the solarium, it was a lovely area of the ship. It was supposed to be the adults-only area of the ship, but the web site advises that during inclement weather, children under 16 are allowed with supervision. It was enclosed, with a pool, hot tub, bar area, and a food area open when the Windjammer buffet area was closed. It was quiet and they had soft music with sprinkled with bird sounds. Very relaxing.

The water slide was a big disappointment.  First of all, it was not open all hours, about two hours a day. Then, it was restricted to ages 3-11 years. The person monitoring the slide said that he keeps turning away all the adults and teens. The rock wall was an exciting touch but also open only 2 hours a day. I am wondering if Royal Caribbean is saving money with less personnel. This particular itinerary called for only one day at sea. The rock climbing wall would open while the ship was in port, closing about one hour after sailing. Not very convenient. You had to return back to the ship early to catch it.

The basketball area stayed busy. I’m sure the folks were annoyed when they used it for dodge ball (for both the kids and adults). Near there was the miniature golf, always a treat and the golf simulator, which I did not have a chance to experience.

The video arcade also saw a lot of activity. You passed through it to the children’s club. The tweens and teens were not too impressed with the clubs for their age groups but since, they can be wishy-washy about organized activities, it is difficult to take their review too seriously. Therefore, Royal stated that if no one showed up within 15 minutes of an activity’s start time, the event would be cancelled. One nice perk was the free lanyard they gave to all kids for their room keys/cards.

There was no burger grill on deck. Interestingly, the Windjammer café closed down for certain hours but you could get a bite to eat in the solarium or the charming Seaview Cafe, which functioned like a free luncheonette: you ordered your food off a menu and they served you. The décor was like a 1950’s diner. These two options turned out to be necessary when we returned from a day on land and if you had the late seating. 

The Safari Club area was very nicely laid out. Ironically, it turned out to be where the kids wanted to be, also. We had to remind them they had their own area. Their answer was that the better events seemed to be in this area for the adults and it was true. Putting a Wii in one corner did not help to kids out! Once again, the décor was inviting, classy and not ostentatious. I was surprised that the comedy was not held here, it was certainly the ambiance for it. This area included the Schooner, the Zanzibar lounge, the Congo bar, the Game Reserves and the Serengeti Card Club.

Activities during the day were comparable to other lines: bingo games, raffles, cruise sales talks, trivia games and karaoke.

However, my biggest gripe (and several other cruisers, also) was the lack of beverages and access to them when they were available. For hygiene’s sake, there were no beverage dispensers. Instead, the free water, lemonade and iced tea were poured by the staff into cups when the buffet was open. There was a hot coffee and tea station right outside the Windjammer Café that seemed to be open 24 hours. But iced water? It became a treasure hunt. At first, I thought I was missing it. Then, as I inquired around, I heard other passengers also looking for water. There was a fountain in the fitness area but no dispenser so you could not fill up your water bottle (to prevent contact between the mouth of the bottle and the dispenser spout). Finally, on the third day, after a particularly hot excursion into Antigua, a dispenser was placed in the solarium area (with a sign not to fill up your bottle directly from the spout).

Now, we all know that cruise lines are trying to sell you the beverage packages (soft drinks and/or liquor). However, Americans are accustomed to thinking that basic water is one of their constitutional rights and having one dispenser in a corner wasn’t cutting it. Unlike other ships, the lemonade and iced tea was not available 24/7.

Royal went out of its way to keep everyone healthy. Cruise lines have been almost fanatic lately with the hand sanitizer but this particular voyage seemed to be even more so: they dispensed before and after every meal (even if you went near the dining areas but were not going in); before you got off and when you got back on the ship (in three locations on the gangway, at the security area and one near the towel return) and had self-serve dispensers at every stair case landing. I was waiting for the masks.

Finally, the staff was professional, courteous and friendly. The cruise director did not make too many announcements and the captain was very capable and serious about his job. For example, as usual, drinks are for sale as soon as you board, and as usual, there is a safety drill prior to sailing. The two events may be hours apart, therefore almost guaranteeing that some passengers may not be cooperative in attending the drill.  The captain refused to sail until it had been reported that everyone had been accounted for and everyone was on deck for the drill.  In addition, the crew conducted another drill while we were in port one day.

Would I sail with Royal Caribbean again? Yes. The Radiance class? Yes. However, I must say, I would not rank Royal Caribbean above Carnival. At this point, they are neck and neck.


Copyright Disclaimer under section 107 if the copyright act of 1976, allowance is made for "fair use" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use.