This was a cruise of many firsts for us: first time on a Radiance-Class ship (and what a great name for this class, too!); first time on a cruise that was 8 nights (our longest cruise to date!); first cruise out of Fort Lauderdale (a really cool port- not to mention a crowded one!); first time on the top deck (albeit in a smaller balcony cabin)! This was a thoroughly enjoyable cruise from beginning to end!
We began this luxurious vacation by flying down to Ft. Lauderdale the day before the cruise (as usual) and found Ft. Lauderdale in the midst of a rainy/cloudy but warm day. We stayed at the luxurious Marriott Harbor Beach hotel. The pool area there is magnificent!
On Saturday the 9th, the day was gorgeous. We got over to port around 11:30am and we were aboard Jewel within 15 minutes. Our stateroom wasn't available for another hour, so we met up with our excellent cruise pals (and close friends) Steve and Kim (who arrived early that morning) and we ate lunch in the Windjammer then we explored this incredibly beautiful ship! We eventually caught up with the rest of our traveling group: Dad, Pat and Mac while heading to our cabins. Kim and Steve and Pat and Mac and Diane and I were in three adjacent cabins on deck 10 (1514, 1512, 1510) while Dad was in another balcony cabin on deck 7.
Speaking of Dad's cabin, the only real negative about this ship was the enormous view-obstruction that runs along deck 7's balcony cabins! Dad's location had most of the balcony view blocked by a ridiculous curving wall from the deck below that made looking straight down to the sea virtually impossible. If this is important to you ( and why wouldn't it be?) contact your travel agent to change your location when sailing on this ship or any Radiance class vessel. If your location is on deck 9 or 10, your increased height will probably make this less of an issue. To completely avoid this get a cabin in the same area that we did or go for the center of the "bump out"- all of these views should avoid the overhang from below!
Never have I seen a ship of such beauty and grace and warmth as this one! Sure, the Voyager class has the ultra cool Royal Promenade, and it's hard to let go of this once you experience it, but Jewel's sheer beauty made up for this. Her Solarium is Thai themed, and completely enclosed against the elements. You hear artificial bird chirping sounds by day and artificial cricket sounds by night. The Solarium also serves late night snacks featuring pizza and crepes and sandwiches! It is probably everyone's favorite spot on board.
The pool deck is very spacious and quite comfortable.
The Centrum is simply beautiful from every angle. It's the Radiance class version of the Royal Promenade, and it serves as the jump off point to all of the ship's hotspots. The Vortex, an incredible disco at the top of the ship in the Viking Crown Lounge, is an excellent party spot. Yes, the entire circular bar is spinning... it's not that you're drunk! The music here was excellent except for the constant chatter of the DJ!
The Casino is nicely outfitted and never seemed overcrowded as in other ships. The Schooner Bar is one of the largest of it's ilk and is nearest to the ultra cool self leveling pool tables. (These are really difficult to get time on- especially when 20-somethings "discover" them. So play early in the cruise or you'll never get the chance. Steve and I got to do this, but unfortunately Diane didn't.)
Jewel's gym and spa facilities were excellent, and we used both throughout the week to help shed some pounds. Diane and I played basketball (she beat me!!!) and miniature golf (she beat me again!!!) on the sports deck, and my friend Steve finally convinced me to climb the rock wall (I loved it, but I'm not sure it's something that I need to do again now that I know I can do it). I made it to the top in 40 seconds... not the best record for a newbie (according to the guy running the climb, that's about 12 seconds!) but still pretty impressive. I guessed it would take me about a half hour before I actually did the climb. My buddy Steve climbed up and down the wall like a monkey! He even conquered the toughest segment! (I climbed the "easy trail". I just wanted to see if I could really climb something after climbing nothing taller then my 25' ladder... and that's leaning on supports on my house, not on the back of a smokestack a bizzillion feet above the sea with the wind whipping by you!)
The onboard Portofino's and Chops Grille were the finest in beauty and food and service that I've experienced yet.
The food in the main dining room, another gorgeous site on two levels, was good to excellent, although the level of service from our waiter was bumpy at first. The assistant waiter was very good. Food in the Windjammer for me was always good, but then, I'm a buffet junky. I know what to eat and what to avoid on most buffets. I did hear that the breakfasts there were bland, but my sister Pat highly recommends the omelet station when doing breakfast there. Another fun place (but congested when at sea) to eat was the Seaview Cafe for a burger and fries. It's the Jewel's version of the Johnny Rocket's on the Voyager class but without the surcharge. Frankly, I think the burgers were better in the Seaview then JR's, but then to each his own. We had breakfast on our balcony the first day at sea and this was very nice. (If you have a balcony cabin, have breakfast there at least once during a cruise!)
The shows in the main showroom were terrific! The night with Marty Allen (of Hollywood Squares fame) and his talented wife was a lot of fun! He still knows how to deliver the one liners and at 85 he's still very energetic (I ran into him in the gym where he did an impressive workout on the treadmill). The production shows were out of this world GREAT! All four singers and the dancers made all that hard work look so easy and the shows were excellent.
Our ports were in the eastern Caribbean, and we had great weather in all but one, Puerto Rico. We had decided to stay aboard in PR anyway just to enjoy an empty ship for a change but the inclement weather made just about everyone else do the same. (sigh) Still, if you've never been to Puerto Rico, this is a beautiful island and one that you should get out and enjoy. (we've been there so many times that we're looking for more offerings then what is usually available as excursions. I think a trip to the Arecibo Dish would be cool!) At St. Martin we headed to a spectacular day at Orient Bay (as usual) and frolicked with the well to do and sometimes barely clothed (or completely naked... hey, I keep my trunks on but viva-la-difference!) and had a great time with Steve and Kim. (Pat and Mac and Dad joined us later)
On Antigua (pronounced "ahn-tee-gah", not "ann-tig-wah"), Diane and I spent the day on an equally gorgeous beach at Jolly Harbor (although there were very few beach umbrellas, so take one of those small ones with you if you can) where we were provided with a BBQ lunch.
At St. Thomas, we had all signed up for a trip to Virgin Gorda to do the Baths, but this was canceled due to lack of interest! (Geez, what a bunch of dull co-passengers!) Update 2009: We finally got to do the Baths on our Celebrity Solstice cruise 4 years later! See the Solstice Review! So, instead we took the Skyride up (within walking distance of the ship) the mountain and enjoyed the view of the port (where we got incredible shots of the ship) and saw a free parrot show and had some refreshments. Normally we'd go to Magen's Bay, but we were a little over-roasted since Orient Bay (who knew SPF30 suntan lotion loses it's properties after a year???) so we decided to give the epidermis a break.
At Nassau, I went to Atlantis and Diane went shopping. I lost my shirt, but Patty and Mac bought me a new one that gets colors in the sun. It was a fun last day! In between all these cool ports, we had two wonderful days at sea.
Our cabin was an "E" class, and as such, it was rather small for a balcony cabin. For those used to a "D" cabin on a Voyager class, take out the 3 cushion couch and replace it with a large cushioned chair, and that's about the space you lose. Otherwise, it's got the exact same appointments as the "D" class. For some reason though, I felt like the balcony was bigger here... but then that could be due to the fact that there wasn't much of a roof overhang, so there was more open sky. Our location was perfect, but it should be noted that those closer to the bridge might have some privacy issues. The bridge "pontoons" that jut out make seeing into the first two balconies pretty easy from the bridge. This is a guess on my part, but something to consider if you want some privacy on the balcony. (Of course, there's really no such thing as privacy on most balconies... a nosy neighbor can poke their head around in most cases if they want)
I think that this crew was one of the friendliest yet... not once did someone walk by without a "Hello" or "Good Morning" and always with a smile. The ship also had the first female Cruise Director we've ever experienced, and this was a pleasant surprise. I like this bit of progressive thinking on RCI's part- good for them! Our cabin steward, Rex, was excellent. I had lots of dry cleaning and laundry for him and he always had this back in a timely manner. Our room was always immaculate and he was always quick to respond to any needs... no challenge was too great. I thought he'd be an excellent trainer for future cabin stewards and said this in the comment card.
Artwork, unparalleled on any ship in my experience, festoons this entire ship... and it's breathtaking. (Although, I'll never understand the goofy flamingos at the top of the external elevator shaft.) For one of the best views in the ship, go to the Crown and Anchor Society place and look down from the center glass floor! (It's hypnotic!) I was able to peek into the Concierge Club and I was suitably impressed... hey, I'm not that far from Diamond. I rate a sneak peek! I'm told the digs on the Voyager class are bigger but that the views aren't as nice as there are none with the Concierge Club being at the center of the ship. Update 2009: as of Sept 2009, Diamond members in the Crown and Anchor Society will no longer be able to use the Concierge Lounge. This is now reserved for Diamond Plus and Suite guests only.
In wrapping up, I give this ship my highest recommendation. She's beautiful, warm, and friendly. I kept referring to her as "home" the entire week because I felt at home instantly. My mother, who sadly passed away suddenly last December and who was scheduled to make this cruise with us, would have loved this ship. She won a free cruise playing BINGO on Navigator (see the cruise review) and decided to take Patty as her guest. When she died, RCI graciously allowed Patty (her daughter and my sister) to take the cruise anyway and allowed her husband, Mac, to join her in Mom's place. Say what you will about RCI, but this is customer service above and beyond normal... and it's what keeps me coming back to them time and time again.
See more pictures from this cruise HERE!
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