Jewel of the Seas 11 Night Panama Cruise leaving December 8, 2008
I have done the review in two parts, the first part is a quick overview for those who just like the facts, the second part is the detailed reviews for people like me, who like to live vicariously through other peoples reviews in-between cruises. At the end of each day there is a link to my on-line photo album.
Overall a very fun trip. Service, food and entertainment up to par with other cruises I have taken with RCL. Embarkation was quick and took about 20 minutes from the cab to the cabin. (I arrived at the pier just after 1:00). I was upgraded from a D1 balcony to a Junior Suite (Cabin 1596). The JS was clean, well appointed with lots of closet space for clothes and electronics. My wife loved having the bathtub. Great service from the cabin steward and wait staff. The head waiter was at our table every night, which was the first time that has happened to me on a cruise. I was impressed by the friendliness and service attitude of all the staff, even when passing maintenance staff in the hallways. The seas days always had activities, the ports (aside from Columbia) were great. The weather (out of control of the cruiseline) was sunny and warm every single day. Getting off the ship was easy (although too early for me).
Day 0 – Arrived in Miami a day before, stayed at the Holiday Inn downtown Miami. Old hotel, but close to the pier and the market.
Day 1- Leaving Miami. Usual assembly drill, to the bar for a pre-dinner drink and then dinner.
Day 2 – At Sea. Relaxing day by the pool. First formal night.
Day 3 – At Sea. Another relaxing day by the pool
Day 4 – Aruba. Walked on our own, did some shopping, stopped for drinks at Senor Frogs.
Day 5 – Columbia. Stayed on the ship. All tablemates regretted getting off at this port (even on RCL organized shore excursions)
Day 6 – At Sea
Day 7 – Panama Canal cruising
Day 8 – Costa Rica. Did a private tour. Murder Mystery at Portafino’s
Day 9 – At Sea. Got to do a bridge tour. Second formal night
Day 10 – Grand Caymen
Day 11 – Last day at sea
Day 12 – Leaving the ship. One last day in Miami before coming home
Murder Mystery Dinner
3 smoke free nights in the Casino
The Ship itself
Lots of deck chairs in the sun
The not so good:
Older crowd (the disco was empty at 11:30 on some nights)
Theme nights not as good as on other cruises
Columbia port of call
Except after the evening show in the Coral theatre, the forward elevators are never busy. If you can use those, the Centrum elevators were always busy and crowded.
Unless you like adventure, stay on the ship in Columbia. (Based on the feedback I got from all our tablemates who took RCL shore excursions)
December 7, 2008
Woke up at 6:15 and got ready to head over to the airport. Actually had to wait in line to check in, had a very chatty customs guy and only had a half hour to enjoy the lounge (where Joanne changed into her summer attire). Had a perfect flight (after having to wait 20 mins to de-ice the plane) and arrived 2 minutes early. Went to our downtown Miami hotel (Holiday Inn), settled in and then headed across the street to the Bayside market where we went in search of much needed sandals and the Bath and Body Works. For dinner we went to Bubba Gump Shrimp co and had some very yummy food – my wife’s was called “After the storm Bucket of Trash” filled with lobster, shrimp and fish served in a bucket along with some fries. I had cocoonut shrimp. Just watched tv and went to bed early.
Woke up at 5:30 to see our ship out our hotel window. Watched some more ships come in and then got ready for the day and organized our luggage for what we needed when we got aboard and what could come later. We went to Starbucks for breakfast and then lounged around the hotel until we had to check out when we tried to spend more time at the market, but ended up sitting in the hotel lobby until time to leave.
Had no problems, and short lines getting on to the ship and when we got to our stateroom (our upgraded to a junior suite room) we had the champagne and strawberries we ordered waiting for us. After toasting and unpacking what we had, we went for lunch at the Windjammer Cafe. It was pretty busy, but because of the island layout, it was easy to get our food and start eating. Spent the early afternoon enjoying our room since Miami is a little cold and windy.
About half an hour before leaving port we had our mandatory muster drill. We all have to wear the life jackets that are in our rooms and go to our emergency meeting spot. As it was finishing we started moving so we went back to our room to watch us leaving Miami behind from our balcony. When we couldn't see land anymore we decided to get ready for dinner and get out and about the ship.
Before heading off for dinner, we decided to stop at the casino and play a few slots. We didn't stay too long since tomorrow was non-smoking night in the casino and I prefer to play then. We went to the welcome aboard show which was the usual introduction of the staff and some sales pitches. Then it was off for dinner. Our tablemates were mostly from the US and a couple from Panama, who are now living in Florida. Dinner did not disappoint. They had my favorite watermelon gaspatchio soup, which I really enjoyed. My wife had the chef's suggestion which was a vidalia onion tart which she said was good. For dinner I picked the salmon from the health menu and it was fantastic (really the salmon was good, but the sauce and onion straws they put with it made it fantastic). My wife had shrimp ravioli in a lobster cream sauce which she really enjoyed. After dinner, we were kind of tired so we just headed back to our cabin to sit out on the balcony and enjoy some sea air before bed. With our bathrobes on, it was a nice warm temperature outside.
I woke up around 2:00 in the morning because our cabin was bright and I thought dawn was breaking. I couldn't believe it when I got up, looked at the clock and then realized the moon was that bright. I live in a City, so I never really realized how bright a full moon could be when it is just above the horizon and reflecting off the ocean. Was able to easily get back to sleep and woke up around 7. (for me this is sleeping in two hours. I am trying to get onto a 9:00 wake up time). My wife is still asleep so I went out to the balcony and sat on the lounge for a bit.
My wife woke up at around 8, we had our showers and were off for breakfast and to explore the ship some more. We needed to ensure we gave our cabin steward enough time to clean our cabin so we had a tour of the spa and then booked ourselves a pampering session before having breakfast at the Windjammer Cafe. After eating we wandered around the ship some more and when we figured we had left enough time to clean the room we went back and got ready for swimming.
One advantage to being on a ship with an older crowd is that we had no problem getting deck chairs in the sun so we swam in the main pool for the first time in all 3 of our cruises! I spent a few hours in the sun (as my skin will prove).
After lunch we lounged around our room until early afternoon when we went for our pampering appointments. My wife got haircut, and I had a foot pampering session and impressed someone who commented that it was nice seeing a man in there pampering himself.
In the early evening we went for a drink at the Schooner bar and stopped at the casino on the way back. My wife found the machine she won on our last cruise, but it was a $1 machine instead of $0.25, but she had to play it...we came out with $400!! The machine even ran out of coins and had to be restocked before finishing paying us out!
It was the first formal night so we had to get ourselves all fancied up and then we went to the captain's reception. That was boring, but any time I get free alcohol I am happy! Dinner was yummy. I had the shrimp cocktail and beef. Dessert was souffle for me and cherries jubliee for my wife.
After dinner we went to see the first of the broadway style shows and it was pretty good. After the show we went to the disco, but it was virtually empty so we just went back to our room and ordered room service.
We woke up at 8 and made our way to the Windjammer for breakfast. It was another lazy day. We stayed at the pool until lunch time and we were again back at the windjammer. The food at the windjammer was good for all of the cruise. Some of our table mates preferred the windjammer to the dining room on some days. Went to the casino and lost a few dollars before heading back to our cabin. I had a nap, while my wife read out on the balcony.
Around 5:00 we got dressed and went to the schooner bar for our usual pre-dinner drinks. We ended up there every evening of the cruise. They had a really good acustic guitar player and piano lounge singer. A perfect place to relax before the starting the fun nights. The show this day was a Temtations tribute band. The music isn’t my taste, but my wife loved it.
After the show we had a nice long dinner (we had the late seating). We finished up close to 11:00. It is funny how tired we were from a day of doing nothing (although the wine may have had something to do with it in my case)
Today we decided to have breakfast in bed. The food is never as good as the windjammer, but you can enjoy breakfast before you get dressed and ready for the day which is what vacations are for. We got off the ship around 9:00 and walked around. All the shops were still closed, but we didn’t mind. We went to a museum downtown which was really bad. I wish I remembered the name so I could save you a few dollars. The stores opened up and we did some sousvenier shopping. I like to get this done and over with on the first port so I don’t have to think about it for the rest of the cruise.
After a morning of walking in the great Caribbean sunshine we decided to go have a drink at Senor Frogs. It is right by the pier and had good views of Aruba and our ship.
We were back on the ship around 1:00 and wend to the windjammer for lunch. After that we headed for the pool. There is something about laying in the pool in December listening to Christmas music that makes me happy. By now we were becoming regulars with the bar staff and we were ordering our favorite poolside drink, a BBC (Baileys, Banana and Colada).
After a lazy afternoon and our pre-dinner drinks at the schooner bar, we went to probably one of the worst shows I had been to. It was some guy and a puppet duck. It was cute for 5 minutes, but stretched into a 40 minute act. Had a great dinner again, and then onto the Vortex for the 70’s theme night. (My favorite theme night)
We had breakfast in bed again this morning. I went down to Guest Relations to get a port guide and logged onto cruisemates.com to look other peoples experiences. Thanks to everyone who posted on this board who warned us about this port. We decided to stay on the ship. Some tablemates of ours went on the beach excursion we were planning on signing up for. They were actually injured on that excursion and missed a day of their cruise recovering (this was in addition to having an armed guard accompanying them on their boat, aggressive local vendors on the beach, and bribes that the tour operator had to pay to leave the beach).
We went for coffee and found that they had daily news clippings for Canada, so we enjoyed catching up on local news and sports. Since the ship was pretty empty we took advantage of it and did some of the activities that normally have a line like the mini-put.
After our usual afternoon at the pool, we went to see the first broadway type production show called City of dreams. My wife loved it, but I am not really partial to that type of show. (For me, a not that boring rating means other people would probably find it pretty good)
Had a quick stop at the Casino before heading off to dinner. I decided once dinner was served, that my wife made a better choice so I asked our waiter to change, and within two minutes I was eating away.
By now, our sea days are settling into a nice relaxing routine so I don’t really have much to write, pretty much the usual, breakfast at the windjammer, poolside until lunch, lunch at the windjammer, more poolside fun, pre-dinner drinks at the schooner bar, show at the coral theatre, dinner, and then the vortex.
We did have a charity auction for the make a wish foundation. I won three auctions. My picture in the cruise compass, a tour of the bridge and an autographed cookbook for my wife.
We got up around 6, got dressed and went to watch our ship pass through the Panama Canal. I never thought I would enjoy it as much as I did. Just amazing what they were able to build so long ago. Once we were through the locks we went back to our cabin. We had a Romance breakfast which was delivered to us at 8:00. We spent the morning relaxing. Around noon we went back through the locks and docked at Christobal Pier. Some warning to people booking shorter shore excursions. You leave the ship around 8:30 and you meet the ship later on in the day. Some people who only wanted to do a three hour shore excursion got dropped off at the Pier around noon, but because of traffic in the canal, the ship wasn’t docked and ready to be boarded until just after 2:00. People also complained that nothing was open at the pier until the ship docked so it was a pretty boring 2 hour wait.
Once we docked we did some shopping at the market at the pier. We bought some wood carvings. Had we known we would have waited until we got to Costa Rica, as they were selling the same things at ½ to 1/3 the price.
We were back on the ship for our usual evening fun.
After breakfast at the Windjammer, we walked around Limon for an hour or so. Then we booked a private tour of the Limon area. We did some shopping at the pier before heading back to the ship for a late lunch.
I played shuffle board for the first time in my life and am embarrassed to say I actually enjoyed it.
Tonight we did the murder mystery dinner at Portofino’s. This is the first time I have gone to one of the ships specialty restaurants, and I have to say it was the best meal I have ever had. I used to think, why pay for the specialty restaurant when dining room is so good, but I am now a convert. The murder mystery was a lot of fun and we will definitely do this one every cruise from now on. It starts in the safari club with Champaign and the setting up of the mystery, then continues in Portofino’s.
They had Abba hour at the Vortex, and both my wife and I are fans so it was a lot of fun. We ended up staying at the Vortex until late.
Between the Champaign, the free flowing wine at dinner and vortex until late at night, we both woke up with a pretty nasty hang-over. It didn’t help matters that there were high winds that morning and the ship was rocking quite a bit. My wife and I stayed in bed most of the morning. We ordered room service for lunch and felt much better after eating. Our bridge tour we won in the auction was scheduled for 2:00 PM. We met at the designated place and the captain gave us a great tour of the bridge. It was just us and one other couple and we were there for almost an hour. About half way into the tour, we saw about 20-30 dolphins racing across the bow of the ship. It was amazing to see.
This was the second formal night so we got dressed up and did our usual formal pictures. We saw the Tango Buenos Aires show in the theatre which I thought was the best show I have seen on a cruise ship.
We had a quick breakfast at the windjammer. Grand Caymen is a tendering port and this was my first experience with it. All in all it wasn’t too bad. In the past I have avoided cruises that had to tender, but it really wasn’t as inconvenient as I thought. We got our tender tickets and were off the ship within 20 minutes. Coming back was also no problem. Everyone in line when the tender arrived, got on, and they were running about every 15-20 minutes.
We walked around on our own for an hour and then decided to do a tour from one of the many cab drivers soliciting near the pier. We did a 3 hour tour for $30 per person. ($20 plus we tipped $10) which was less than the cruise was charging. It was in an 8 person mini-van and we went to 7 mile beach, Hell, the rum cake bakery, the turtle farm/dolphin swim (they cost extra if you want to go in) and saw the local landmarks. All in all a good tour. Then we had a bite to eat and some drinks at Margaritaville. We headed back to the ship and did our normal evening routine.
After dinner they had the late night dancing and buffet under the stars by the pool which was a lot of fun.
The last day . We got an email from home saying a big storm was going to hit Toronto the next day, so we decided to call our airline and rebook for December 20th instead. Ordered our last room service breakfast and had a pretty relaxing day. Got back to our cabin around 4 and started the sad task of packing up. We did some last minute shopping at the stores and went for dinner and handing out our envelopes. We have only done 7 night cruises in the past, so this was the first time we really felt like we were saying good-bye to people. We had great table mates, waitstaff, bar staff and cabin steward.
After dinner, we finished our packing and set out our luggage in the hall.
We woke up at 6:45, showered and got dressed. By the time we got out of our cabing around 7:30 our colour had already been called so we reluctantly proceeded off the ship. The last time we took a cruise from Miami, it took over an hour to get through customs, this time the line took less than 20 minutes, and we had collected our luggage and were in a cab by 8:00. Since we decided not to fly out today because of the snow storm we headed to the Airport Hilton where I was able to get a good deal on-line the day before. Our room wasn’t ready until 10:00, but no problem, we went out to the pool and read for a while. Once we checked in, we changed into our swim suites and spend another great relaxing day by the pool. I went for a walk around the hotel. After lunch we checked the departures screen, and our flight which was supposed to leave at 1:30 had been delayed so we knew we made the right choice. (At the end of the day we checked again, and our flight didn’t leave until 5:00 and the weather was so bad in Toronto, that our 45 minute drive home from the airport, probably would have taken us 2-3 hours.)
Michael great review. I liked how you took each day and elaborated on what you guys did. I have never been on your ship; only been on Exlorer of the Seas, and Majesty, and Splendour. Anyway thanks for the in depth review.
Freedom of the Seas Dec 11
Allure of the Seas: Jan 11
Voyager of the Seas: May 09
Splendour of the Seas: May 07
Explorer of the Seas: Jan 04
Majesty of the Seas Jan 99
You don't get much time in Panama. The ship anchors in the lake after the first set of locks and they only tender people off the ship who have booked a shore excurion. The rest of the people are let off the ship when it docks at Christobol Pier near the entrance of the canal. You have just over four hours.
Great review! I'm one of those "older" folks you wrote about who enjoyed some of the events on board, but mainly liked relaxing on our balcony. We went on the 12/19 10 day Jewel to the Panama Canal. We did do a tour in Cartagena, Colombia, to the mangrove swamps. Went there on a bus with an armed guard aboard, and two police on motorcycles followed us. The canoe trip through the swamp was stinky and uninformative. Our tour guide boarded the second canoe (we were the fourth out of six) and took off right away and stayed far from us. So if she had anything interesting to say, we missed it.
Going through the Canal was very interesting. However, we found out several days later while watching our TV that there was a lady onboard who explained what was happening. If that was broadcast throughout the ship, we never heard it.
Also went on the RCCL shore excursion to Seven Mile Beach. Another ripoff. We paid $35 each just for the bus ride there, a "drink" and a lounge chair. We had to leave the ship at 8:30 in the morning (didn't get to the beach until close to an hour later) and the bus returned at 12:30. Found out another couple simply took a taxi from the pier, at a total cost both ways of only $8 each, were able to leave the ship at whatever time they wanted and could return any time up until 4:30!! And guess what? They also had access to the same "private" beach club, got the same lounge chairs and the same watered down rum punch drink! Guess we'll never learn. I've always been afraid to book a local tour in case we wouldn't make it back to the ship on time.
Thanks for a terrific review - we're think of taking this cruise and you gave us a lot of information. I just have one question... is it possible to just view the canal from your balcony? Or is it better to be else where on the ship?
You can only see what's happening on your side of the ship, but you are able to see the ships going through in the lock next to you. To see the locks actually opening and closing for the cruise ship, you need to be on deck, right at the front of the ship.
The canal is best viewed from the front or back of the ship. The first way through starts at about 6:00 AM and is quite crowded on the helipad. The way back through was a lot less crowded and I got better pictures on the way back through. Also, in the public areas there you can hear commentary about the canal and what is happening.
We missed the commentary because we watched from our balcony for a long time -- watching the other ships go through in the adjacent canal. We didn't hear the commentary until much later, when we saw it on our TV. We wish they had broadcast the talk throughout the ship so we could have known what was happening as it happened.