Jewel of the Seas, which debuted in spring 2004, is the fourth and last limb on Royal Caribbean's Radiance-class family tree. At 90,090 tons, Jewel of the Seas, like its classmates, has just enough space for some of the storied Royal Caribbean innovations, such as a rock-climbing wall, beautiful solarium pool, expansive Adventure Ocean kids' facility and two lovely alternative restaurants. At the same time, its layout is so well designed it's easy to forget the ship carries 2,100-plus passengers.
Jewel is a gorgeous ship, with lovely dark woods throughout countered by an infusion of glass and light. The art collection is striking, and a nautical theme is apparent -- without being overstated -- throughout the ship's public areas.
Service was consistently top-notch. Our cabin steward was particularly delightful, greeting us by name whenever we met her in the halls. Dinner service in the main dining area, Tides, was strong, with waiters remembering our likes and dislikes, even though we ate there only intermittently. Passenger relations staff were helpful when needs arose, addressing them quickly.
Cuisine was consistently good, from the main dining room to the alternative restaurants, particularly at dinner, when roughly half the ship is ordering and eating simultaneously.
Entertainment ranged from the fabulously ridiculous (such as the always-funny Newlywed Game) to the pleasantly subdued (various vocal and instrumental offerings).
We do offer a caveat, though: Jewel of the Seas is an exceptional experience, but it's still a big ship, which means you might have to fight for a deck chair on a sunny sea day and pay out of pocket for myriad expenses, from fancy coffees to soda. In tender ports, you'll have to line up for a ticket. Standard staterooms (with or without balconies) are pretty small, and bathrooms offer fairly basic amenities.
Even so, Jewel of the Seas blends laid-back and informal into a quality experience.
It's worth noting that Jewel of the Seas is scheduled for dry dock in 2016, when it will get a number of upgrades and modern amenities, including several new restaurants, a new bar and the line's signature Royal Babies & Tots Nursery. Cabins will gain flat-screen TV's, and a movie screen will be installed poolside. Wi-Fi, currently limited to select areas onboard, will be vastly improved.
The Tides Dining Room is a gorgeously decorated, two-level main restaurant. It's open daily for open-seating breakfast and on sea days for open-seating lunch. At dinner, Tides offers Royal Caribbean's flexible My Time Dining program. Passengers can choose between assigned early (6 p.m.) or late (8:30 p.m.) dining or opt for flexible dining, in which you pick a preferred mealtime (anytime between 6 and 9:30 p.m.). With My Time Dining, you can change your reservations on a daily basis. Those opting for My Time Dining will need to prepay gratuities.
The dining room is decorated with a romantic moonlight and tide theme. More significant, though, are the service and the food (both consistently excellent). Of particular note at dinner in the main dining room is a perfectly cooked, fall-off-the-bone lamb shank. Breakfast proved equally appealing: Eggs Benedict, ordered lightly cooked, arrived just as requested. As with other ships in the line, diners onboard Jewel of the Seas can order certain extra-fee entrees, including Maine lobster ($29.95), surf and turf ($37.50) and a Chops Grille filet mignon ($14.95).
During the day, there are plenty of other options. The Windjammer Cafe is the ship's buffet venue, which serves breakfast from 7 to 11 a.m., lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and dinner from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. It closes between meals. It features a number of food stations, divided into hot dishes, salads and desserts. The room is elegant for such a casual place and whimsically nautical in decor. Behind the Windjammer, toward the aft of the ship, is a covered, outdoor area and a much nicer outdoor seating area that's partially covered. Breakfast and lunch were pretty much the usual cruise fare, plus a hot egg station for breakfast and a pasta station for lunch. The Windjammer offers casual dinners, generally featuring menu items also being served in the dining room. Food was typically mediocre, with a so-so salad bar and few highlights.
Junk food junkies: Don't miss the fabulous Seaview Cafe. It's tucked up toward the back and top of the ship and easy to miss, but it's a great spot for fish and chips, burgers, Reubens and Cuban sandwiches. The onion rings and chili are superb, as are the "feathers and fingers" (chicken wings and nuggets); if you're hungry, order two, as portions are appetizer-sized. It's usually not open until about 1 p.m. and closes at dinnertime, reopening for late-night noshing. The Solarium Cafe offered so-so pizza.
Chops Grille and Portofino are the ship's two alternative restaurants. Chops is a steakhouse-style venue modeled after on-land places like Morton's. It's got an open kitchen, and service teams of two wait on each table. Try the rib eye or the mixed grill, and split the red velvet cake for dessert. (You won't be able to finish it by yourself.)
Enjoyable as Chops was, the real highlight of onboard dining is Portofino. Favorites included tiger shrimp risotto (which you could order as an appetizer or an entree) and spaghetti with lobster sauce. And don't, whatever you do, bypass the tiramisu for dessert. The interpretation was fantastic -- it was set in a chocolate cup and layered on the bottom were crushed raspberries.
Both Portofino and Chops Grille levy a per-person service fee ($20 in Portofino and $30 in Chops).
Cafe Latte-tudes, a coffee bar on Deck 5, serves up specialty, a la carte priced coffees and free pastries.
Royal Caribbean's room service options are available around the clock via 24-hour menus that offer a range of snacks and sandwiches. At breakfast, continental dishes, along with a handful of egg entrees, are available both in cabins and suites. Items off the main dining room menu can be ordered at dinner. There is no charge for room service (though a buck or two gratuity is recommended) between 5 a.m. and midnight; late-night orders incur a $3.95 fee.
First impressions count, and the initial reaction to Jewel's airy and light eight-deck high atrium (called the Centrum) is "wow!" It is definitely a passenger magnet; areas around the Centrum, whether on its ground-floor level or five decks above, are constantly in use. During the day, there are cooking demos and art auctions; at night, there's dancing to live music, with passengers hanging over banisters to watch the scene below.
Other features include a selection of shops selling logowear, a lot of jewelry and duty-free perfumes.
The ship has a small Internet Cafe, where you can use provided computers to check e-mail or surf the net. The cost per minute is 65 cents, or 44 cents if you log on between 7 and 9 a.m. Prepaid packages are available, from $35 for 60 minutes to $150 for 500 minutes. You can also connect wirelessly, though only in select few "hot spots" (including the Internet Cafe). You won't find Wi-Fi in your cabin.
There's a tiny library with a disappointing collection of books (bring your own). Game-players can venture over to the Serengeti Card Club on Deck 6, just off the Safari Club. The Card Club has a selection of board games and cards in addition to large tables for playing.
On the whole and with the exception of suites, Jewel's cabins run on the smaller side of industry average, though they are pleasant and compactly laid out. Inside cabins are 158 square feet. Outside cabins, which come in at 169 square feet, have portholes but are otherwise not at all different from standard balcony staterooms. There are cabins to accommodate disabled passengers in many categories. Family oceanview staterooms also are available. At 319 square feet, they can accommodate up to six people.
Those looking for balconies can choose from the 160-square-foot deluxe with 27-square-foot balcony option or the 184-square-foot superior with 53-square-foot balcony option.
Standard in all cabins are two twin beds that convert to queens, a mini-fridge that's filled with a few sodas and some snacks (for a charge), a television (flat-screens aren't standard in most cabins) with an interesting assortment of channels (including classic flicks and nostalgic sitcoms), a desk/vanity area and a safe. They also include hair dryers and a variety of Vitality amenities, such as a shower dispenser and bar soap. Each balcony stateroom also features a sitting area with a love seat. The balconies themselves are pleasant, with comfortable nylon mesh furniture; two chairs and a table are standard.
Jewel of the Seas has five suite categories. At the smallest end is the 282-square-foot Junior Suite (basically the size of two cabins), which has a 74-foot-balcony. At 382 square feet, Grand Suites have marble bathrooms, dry bars, sound systems and balconies that stretch 110 square feet. Owner's Suites, at 581 square feet and with 188-square-foot balconies, have flat-screen televisions and whirlpool baths. The top-of-the-line Royal Suite has a baby grand piano. It comes in at 1,233 square feet and features a 328-square-foot balcony. Those booking Grand Suites or higher will have personal concierges, luxury bath amenities, bathrobes, 24-hour-a-day room service, dedicated suite attendants, invitations to exclusive cocktail parties, reserved V.I.P. seating in the main theater and priority departure.
Royal Caribbean passengers are charged $12 per person, per day ($14.25 for suite guests). Gratuities can be prepaid or added on a daily basis to passengers' SeaPass accounts during the cruise; those opting for flexible My Time Dining must use the prepay option. Passengers can modify or remove gratuities by visiting the reception desk while onboard. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar tabs.
|Fitness and Recreation|
The main pool area is vibrant and well used. Because of shade issues, sun loungers on the deck overlooking the pool were in more demand than right by it. Two whirlpools flank the pool.
Jewel's fabulous glass-domed solarium -- decked out in a Thai theme, complete with a bronze tiger -- features an 18th-century Temple Bell from northern Thailand. Wooden deck chairs with rust-colored chaise pads surround the pool. There's a whirlpool here, too.
In keeping with Royal Caribbean's focus on activity, the two-level fitness center and spa offer comprehensive equipment and services. The spa, in particular, offers a full range of treatments, like teeth-whitening, Restylane and various massages. It's got a thermal suite that features steam, aromatherapy steam, a sauna and fog showers, plus heated tile loungers. It costs $20 a day to use it, even if you bought a body treatment. The spa is operated by Steiner Leisure, and staff therapists are guided, at the end of a treatment, to try to sell you their quite expensive beauty products. Not interested? Just say no before you even get started. There's also a beauty salon, offering haircuts, colors, manicures and such.
The fitness area is large, with the usual assortment of cardio equipment -- treadmills, ellipticals and stationary bikes. It also has a decent selection of dumbbells and strength equipment. Classes are a mix of free and for-fee, with a $12 charge for most spin, yoga and Pilates offerings. A jogging/walking track is located on Deck 12. Six laps around equal a mile. There's also the ubiquitous rock-climbing wall, sports court, mini-golf course and golf simulator.
Adventure Ocean, Jewel's family program, is housed in a sprawling facility that extends outside (to a pool with a slide). Kids are divided into five groups: Aquanauts (3 to 5), Explorers (6 to 8), Voyagers (9 to 11), Navigators (12 to 14) and Guests (15 to 17).
Kids must be toilet trained to participate in Adventure Ocean activities and to use the kids' pool.
Key components of the program (for the 3- to 11-year-olds) include Adventure Science, Adventure Art by Crayola, Sail Into Story Time and Adventure Family. The last invites parents to participate in planned activities, such as scavenger hunts and talent shows.
Teens have "Fuel," their own facility, which consists of an area called "The Living Room," a disco, a juice bar and Internet-connected computers (at half the price of the terminals in the cyber-centers).
Fisher-Price Playgroups are available for children 6 months to 36 months. Parents must attend with their little ones.
My Family Time Dining is open to passengers who select first seating in the main dining room. Children have 40-minute dinners before the Adventure Ocean staff pick up the kids and bring them to the youth spaces so parents can enjoy leisurely meals.
Royal Caribbean offers in-cabin baby-sitting for children, ages 1 and older within the same family ($19 per hour for up to three children), between the hours of 8 a.m. and 2 a.m. This service is based on availability, and you must book it at least 24 hours in advance at the Purser's Desk. Group baby-sitting for ages 3 to 11 is available from the youth staff from 10 p.m. through 2 a.m. nightly. The rate is $6 per hour, per child.
What is fun about Jewel is it attracts so many different types of passengers -- older, younger, active, laid-back and, when school isn't in session, kids.
Dress is casual during the day. On weeklong (or shorter) cruises, there is one formal night; on the ship's eight-night sailings, there are two. On formal nights, most folks wear dark suits (men) and cocktail dresses (women). Otherwise, country-club casual pretty much dominates in the evenings.
Royal Caribbean doesn't stint on onboard entertainment, whether by day or by night. Daytimes (particularly sea days), the options are pretty run-of-the-mill -- bingo, dance classes and trivia contests.
Evenings, though, are a veritable six-ring circus. After dinner, you can start off at the two-deck Coral Theater -- shows specializing in Broadway-style ensemble singing and dancing were big hits there. Then maybe catch a movie, join in the Battle of the Sexes competition, or hit one of the bars for a variety of musical performances. Check the daily schedule for karaoke, which takes place at night in the Safari Lounge.
The real action, though, can be found in the ship's numerous bars. On top of the ship is the Vortex Disco, a funky bar that revolves. It's primarily the ship's spot for late night revelry, but it's also a great spot for a pre-dinner cocktail at sunset. Also up top is the Hollywood Odyssey, a cozy spot that is a favorite for cigar-smokers.
In the evenings before and after dinner, the bars surrounding the atrium are vibrant and lively, particularly the Champagne Bar and the Lobby Bar. Off the main path a bit is Royal Caribbean's trademark Schooner Bar -- it's in the space between Chops Grille and Portofino. You can tuck into comfy booths or hang at the bar. Just past the Schooner Bar is the Safari Club, which hosts private events and serves as a secondary showroom.
To get a different perspective, head to the Crown and Anchor lounge on Deck 12, where you can peer straight down (through reinforced glass, of course) to Deck 4.
There's also a very smoky casino with the usual slots and gaming tables. Located right off the casino, the Pit Stop is ostensibly the ship's sports bar. It's hard to hear any of the coverage on the handful of televisions because of the ringing of the slot machines, and it's quite smoky, even on the nonsmoking side.
The ship also has a small cinema on Deck 6, which is nonsmoking but fills with smoke from the nearby Pit Stop.
On port days, Jewel of the Seas offers a variety of excursions. In Key West, excursions lean toward tours, while the Caribbean ports -- including Cozumel, St. Kitts and St. Maarten -- tend to be water-based and, therefore, more active.
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