This was the longest cruise to date that we have taken - 11 nights. Still, it seemed to go by too fast. I guess no matter how long of a cruise you take, you will eventually have to depart the ship.
We drove to Ft. Lauderdale, and for parking, we found a Hampton Inn in Plantation, Fl. about 6 miles from Port Everglades. The first cruise out of Ft. Lauderdale, I could not find a hotel that would offer a cruise and park package with a return shuttle. However, this hotel does. We paid about $25 extra for the parking and shuttle both ways between the hotel and cruise terminal. But as we had to wait about 25 minutes for the shuttle (you have to call the hotel after you leave the ship and clear customs), taking a taxi back to the hotel is not a bad alternative. However, at the present time, this is our favorite method of getting to the port.
The Jewel is a sister ship to the Radiance, and was the last one built. While overall there was an elegance to the ship, there are some issues I think. One is that the ships seem a bit more crowded, especially in the Windjammer.
There were 5 cruise ships in port that day; two Holland America ships, two Princess, and the Jewel. We left the hotel about 12:00 by shuttle, and there were about 12 of us on the shuttle to the port. Since the 12 of us were booked on different ships, the shuttle had to make the "rounds" to each ship's drop off point. This didn't really go very smooth, which was surprising since the port handles dozens of ships weekly. As a consequence, we spent more time in line dropping off passengers than the shuttle trip from the hotel to the port. Our ship was the third one in the shuttle drop-off order, and we finally made it through to check-in and to the ship about 1PM.
For some reason the rooms were not ready until 2PM, which meant that all of the passengers that had boarded before we did were hanging out at the Windjammer. Consequently, when we arrived, we had to get our food at the Windjammer and eat at the pool area. I mean, there were people even sleeping in the chairs in the Windjammer waiting for their staterooms to be available - come on people, have a bit of common sense.
When we arrived at our stateroom, our traditional bottle of Champagne was on ice for us, along with the couple of perks (Cokes and Cookies) we were given for recognition of our Crown & Anchor status.
Departure. It seems to always happen... the day of departure from Florida often rains. Of the 10 cruises we have taken, I think it rained during departure at least 50% of the time. After departure, we had 2 days at sea. This is a relaxing time on-board, and I got a chance to catch up on some reading and my wife worked on her tan.
Aruba.This was a very nice port, and it's a shame that more cruise ships do not visit this port. It could easily become one of the favorite ports. The island is relatively clean, and the weather is always beautiful. One of the significant features of the island is that it is arid, almost Arizona desert-like, and the wind is always a'blowin.
We took an island tour; Best of Aruba by Land and Sea; which included a catamaran cruise from the ships to Pelican Point, then a bus ride to the California Lighthouse (named after the ship that sunk before the lighthouse was built), then to Alto Vista Chapel, and finally the Casibari rock formation. We often like to take an island tour upon the first visit to get an idea of the island.
Aruba is only about 14 miles or so from South America, so the sun is HOT. And especially in April, when the sun begins it's northern trek, it is almost directly overhead at the noon-time hour.
Tip #24. Sunscreen and Hats are a must in the Southern Caribbean.
After leaving Aruba, we had another day at sea. I like that the port days are inter-mixed with days at sea as it gives you some time to relax between ports. Another cruise we took (10 day Eastern Caribbean), we had 5 days in a row that were port days, and by the fifth day, we were literally worn out.
Cartagena, Columbia. Cartagena; pronounced "Carta hena", was a large metropolitan area of nearly a million people - I was quite surprised. Since the US State Department has issued a travel advisory for all of Columbia, we decided not to take an excursion. However, many folks did, and they did not have any problems. Instead, we went on shore and went to the little shopping area where my wife bought a set of Emerald earrings. Emerald is native to Columbia, so we were told that the prices were low for Emeralds here. My wife nor I am really experts at jewelry prices, but we found Emerald earrings ranging from $50 to $750. My wife did find a nice set for $80.
Colon, Panama. Again this was a relatively dumpy city, and we elected to not take an excursion. While we did not see the locks, we are from Michigan and have visited the Soo Locks (Sault Ste. Marie) on several occasions. These locks are as large - but only consist of one level, not three like the Panama Locks. The excursions were relatively expensive, and we didn't think it would be worth the cost as we have seen similar locks in the past.
We did get off the ship, and went to the nearby shopping area for the obligatory T-shirts. One of the proprietors there was an American expatriate from New Jersey that we talked to for some time. We were cautioned by him to not venture beyond the little shopping area on foot. If we wanted to go somewhere, to take a taxi.
Puerto Limon, Costa Rica. Relative to other Central American countries, Costa Rica has a relatively decent standard of living - but Puerto Limon is the poorest part of the country. We did take an excursion here, and visited a Pineapple factory; Hacienda Ojo de Agua. It was really a nice tour, and consisted of an hour bus ride to the factory. We were able to see how they processed Pineapple, and even sampled some. I have to tell you, the fresh Pineapple had a much better and distinctive taste than what you can buy at the local supermarket. Even the pineapple that is fresh in the supermarket has been frozen for it's journey from the plantation. And freezing the Pineapple changes it's flavor.
Between Puerto Limon and Grand Cayman, we had another day at sea. Here though the sea was a bit rough. We had 10~15ft waves, and while they were not an issue for a ship the size of the Jewel, the ship did roll +/- 3 degrees or so. I used the rolling ball feature on my "Carpenter" app that I have on my iPod Touch to watch the ship roll. The crew also put out barf bags at all of the starwells, which is the first cruise I saw those being deployed.
Georgetown, Grand Cayman. This was our third time here, so we just walked around town for awhile. I was interested in buying a new watch, and while there were plenty of watch shops, they were fairly overpriced - duty free or not. You can buy the same watch at Amazon.Com cheaper than you can in Grand Cayman.
Arrival. The 11 day cruise seemed to be over so fast. We returned to Ft. Lauderdale without any issues, and after we went through customs, we called the hotel shuttle and were picked up within 25 minutes. My wife and I both felt that this is the way to go in the future - booking a room prior to leaving at the hotel, and leaving the car there for a week. If you are interested in doing something like this, many hotels offer some sort of cruise-and-park package, but you usually have to call and reserve it ahead of time.