At the end of March, we set sail from Florida to Italy on an Atlantic Ocean crossing onboard Royal Caribbean’s Jewel of the Seas. It was a 14 day journey that included nine days at sea, as well as stops at the Azores, Gibraltar, Alicante, and Valencia. When I told people we were doing this, the first question was almost always about the large number of “Sea Days”. These are days that are spent entirely at sea. What does one do at sea? Did we get sick? Did we feel scared? All of this and more coming up after this message from my affiliate link. *Cue the theme music!
What’s Included In the Ocean Crossing?
The standard cruise ticket is nearly all-inclusive. It included our room, transportation, entertainment, and food. Our ocean crossing room was as advertised and included a twice-daily cleaning by our floor steward. Transportation from Florida to Rome was complementary, but port transportation is our responsibility. Entertainment was included except for a long list of specialty events that require a small fee. The free activities are pretty much anything one might do at a summer camp or a retirement facility. Everything else, like Sushi Making Class, Spin Class, Wine Tasting, and Mystery Dinner Theater, all come at an extra cost. The final category is food, which is pretty straightforward. The complementary food does not include alcohol, soda, or premium coffee (though black coffee is plentiful). It also excludes “Specialty Dining”, which on our boat included Chops Grill (steak house), Giovanni’s Table (Italian), Izumi (sushi), and Chef’s Table (I didn’t even look at the menu after seeing the prices).
Each evening, our steward left a schedule of events for the following day. It also included some information about our location, the weather forecast, opening times of the various venues, and daily health and safety updates. For travelers of the Organized persuasion, I suggest packing a highlighter to more easily navigate the sea days. Just be sure to schedule in some nap time. There is nothing like getting rocked to sleep by the waves.
Anyone who has ever roomed with me knows that I am a prompt eater. I am hungry from the second I wake up in the morning and it is best for all of those around me that I eat immediately. This is why I almost always opt for on-board room service in the morning. Although room service is always an option, it is only free at breakfast. I order us a pot of coffee, orange juice, and pastries. We often ate breakfast in bed while watching the pre-recorded British game shows. Our favorite shows were The Chase and The Tipping Point. They are both dumb, but in all of the right ways.
There were a couple of times during our ocean crossing that Josh was willing to risk his life to put off breakfast long enough for us to walk up to a different breakfast option. One option is in the formal dining room. We had the option of sitting with other people or by ourselves. Due to my “condition” we usually found it best to eat alone. In addition to the buffet tables, the formal dining room also had a new made-to-order menu each day. The other option is the Windjammer Cafe. It is the informal buffet on the pool deck that offers a lot of great options. In addition to the obligatory coffee and juice, I often made myself a yogurt parfait paired with some sliced meat and cheeses. Josh preferred the heavier options like pancakes, eggs to order, and hash browns.
After breakfast, Josh and I would part ways for our separate fitness routines. For sea days, I enjoyed taking a few laps around the track on the 12th deck. As the second highest deck, the 12th deck running track offers amazing views and high winds. I enjoyed the nice breeze and direct sunlight for my morning walk. At 9:30AM, I joined a few other passengers for Morning Stretch, Poolside. By 10:00AM, I was grabbing one more cup of coffee and heading down to the 6th deck for Progressive Trivia.
Josh was a little more dedicated than I was. During his morning workout, he would hit the complimentary gym. The gym is also on the 12th deck, but located inside at the front of the ship, with a big glass wall that provides an awesome view of the ocean. Once he finished his workout session, he would climb the stairs back to the room on the 2nd deck, shower, then climb back up to the 6th deck to meet me for Progressive Trivia. Although climbing stairs was not a scheduled part of our workout, it was a daily… no, hourly part of the routine during our ocean crossing.
I’ve found that a large percentage of the people who cruise enjoy trivia. The ship’s entertainment staff has taken notice over the years and has packed the schedule with opportunities for us to show off our sick skillz… and by “our”, I of course mean “Josh’s”. First of the day was the 10:15AM Progressive Trivia. This was THE trivia event of the ocean crossing cruise. The sessions were daily (sea days only) and the scores were cumulative over the length of the ocean crossing. We had a team of six called The Imperfect Strangers. We lost pretty miserably, but overall had a lot of fun and enjoyed each other’s company.
While Progressive Trivia was general trivia questions, there were other themed trivia quizzes throughout the day. We often enjoyed the 1:30PM Visual Trivia after lunch. As the score wasn’t cumulative, we regularly switched up our teams among whichever of our new friends was closest when the questions started. There was also 4:30PM Afternoon Trivia, which I usually slept through (nap time), and finally, 7:00PM Music Trivia. We were picky about the Music Trivia and only attended on the days where we liked the theme. My two favorites were 80’s Music Trivia and Color Music Trivia. In both of those, we placed second.
Lectures and Learning
One of my favorite onboard activities during the sea days are the dance lessons. They are rarely traditional lessons about the counts and steps, but instead a choreographed dance. Josh and I enjoyed new dances in tango, merengue, and line dancing. The tango was our favorite, as it was taught by the stage dancers from the night before. They were amazing performers and we loved the seriousness of their faces and movements.
Royal Caribbean has done a great job over the last year in adding more learning activities to their entertainment lineup during sea days. From their Lecture Series, I enjoyed water color lessons from a professional artist, the history and culture of Alicante by a professor of history, and a lecture and demonstration of classical music by an amazing pianist. Even our entertainment director provided some great lectures with one of the best star gazing experiences I’ve ever had and two rounds of Italian lessons (he was a native Italian). Throughout the cruise my belly was full and my brain enriched.
Although we tested out the formal dining room for lunch a couple of times, I definitely preferred the flexibility of the Windjammer Cafe. I usually had either iced tea or lemonade to drink then eyeballed my way through the buffet counters, which included sections for sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs, breads, soups, carved meats, fruits, and vegetables. My favorite was the international option, which rotated daily. Throughout the ocean crossing, I had paella, curry, tacos, and sausages. They were all delightful and a nice way to mix up our usual lunch routine.
The other special bit about lunch was that I decided it would be our indulgence meal (as if they all weren’t). Each day after lunch, I would visit the dessert buffet and collect the top three best looking dishes. We would move into our faux French, food judge voice and rank the desserts from top to bottom. I would by lying if I didn’t say it was the highlight of my day.
I was rarely impressed with the afternoon entertainment offerings on the sea days. Instead, Josh and I would often enjoy a post-lunch round of “I’m Better Than You”, where we rotated from activity to activity competing for pre-nap-time dominance. First up was a round or seven of ping pong. Next, a game of mini-golf. And finally, a verbal round of “I think today is the day you should climb the rock wall”. I lost nearly all of the games every day: hence the verbal round of rock climbing. If I had won the verbal match, it would have fully made its way into the rotation.
After getting killed over and over again in our games of skill, it was time for a nap. We don’t usually take naps, but there is something about being on a cruise boat that makes even non-nappers want an afternoon snooze. To top it off, we traveled through several time zones throughout the ocean crossing, requiring the loss of one hour almost every sea day. That sort of daily time shift can really mess with a person’s sleep patterns.
Post Nap Cocktails
We were a bit groggy when we woke up around 4:30PM. This was when we buy our single, pre-budgeted drink. The price for beers start at $7.25. The cheapest cocktail is the Drink of the Day, which runs for $8. Both are way out of our price range, so we agreed to limit ourselves to one or less per day. I liked to grab the Drink of the Day after my nap and sit in the central bar to listen to my favorite on-board band, Rosario Strings, two guys playing guitar and violin. They played a little bit of everything, from classical music to current pop. It was an excellent way to wake back up before dinner.
Although the Windjammer and other restaurants are open for dinner, I prefer to spend my dinners in the formal dining room. It is a great opportunity to enjoy quality food and company. We were booked to enjoy dinner at 5:30PM each day at table 38. We met our seven other table mates, head waitress, and secondary waitress on the first day and continued to eat with them each day throughout the ocean crossing.
Our head waitress Olena was from Ukraine and our other waitress Ju’an was from China. They were wonderful and attentive. I enjoy having the same wait staff each day, if for no other reason than to have one friend on staff. I know if something went wrong or if I needed anything, there were at least those two women that I felt comfortable enough to go to.
Dining Table Mates
Our table mates made for more great connections. There is nothing quite like walking through a new “town” and already knowing a few people. We stopped and asked about their scores each morning at trivia and asked about their thoughts on the show each evening before bed. It was like having friends included with our trip!
I could go on and on about our table mates, but I’ll keep it short. We sat with a couple from the USA who had interesting stories about living abroad for work. Another couple was from New Zealand and traveling full-time through their retirement. We enjoyed talking to them about their travels as well as their travel book, Off Our Rockers. The table also had two teachers from Canada, one of which killed us in trivia on a regular basis. Finally, a woman from the USA who was traveling solo and had all of the inside information. She was a book of useful knowledge (did you know Royal Caribbean has shareholder discounts?!). We could not have asked for a better group of people to enjoy our socializing time with.
After dinner, it was time for the show. Each evening, a stage show was hosted by the Entertainment Director. Most of the time, these shows are really hit and miss. However, I was very impressed with (nearly) all of the stage shows on this ocean crossing. There were a few of the usual Broadway-esque performances done by the onboard performers. Otherwise, the majority of the performances were unique and reached for outside talent.
I was particularly fond of these outside performers. They included a couple of comedians, tango dancers, singers, a pianist, violinist, magician, and juggler. Josh and I were big fans of the pianist, who was not only an excellent musician but a great showman as well. We also really enjoyed the juggler. His jokes weren’t to our taste, but his juggling abilities were beyond anything I had ever seen before.
Because of the near-daily time change, we often went to bed shortly after the show. But the rest of the boat partied on into the wee hours of the night. One of the evenings, I watched Bohemian Rhapsody by the pool. Not only is it an excellent movie, but I was given a blanket and pillow for my viewing pleasure, which made the movie under the stars a little extra special. Another night, we participated in The Quest Adult Game Show. It is a new specialty of Royal Caribbean that mixes scavenger hunts and In the Bag. We were more than a little embarrassed by the end, but had a great time. Here is a video I found on YouTube. Although it was not the same one we went to, it was very similar:
Ports of Call
When were weren’t enjoying the sea days surrounded by the ocean, we were parked at a port of call. Most of the time, the boats park in the late morning and stay until the early evening. This doesn’t leave a ton of time to explore, but it does create an opportunity for us to feel the land under our feet. For this crossing, we sailed from Miami to Ponta Delgada in the Azores, Gibraltar, two ports in Spain (Alicante and Valencia), and finally to the nearest port to Rome, Civitavecchia.
Royal Caribbean is there to help with anyone needing travel arrangements. There are plenty of shore excursions to keep passengers busy while in port. We did not take any of the excursions and instead opted to just walk around. I like to leave after breakfast, come back to the boat for a free lunch, then head back out for a little bit longer before coming back for dinner. I’ve already paid a lot of money to eat onboard, I’m going to take full advantage of it! Thankfully, entering and exiting is very easy. We were able to come and go at our leisure… and didn’t even go through customs (more on this later).
I hope I have painted a good picture of our life onboard. Next up, our first steps into Europe during the first port of call: Ponta Delgada, Azores, Portugal!