On cool rainy Saturday I was shephered onto the lovely Jewel of the Seas. Embarkation as well disembarkation went smoothly on this cruise. Everything was done in a professional manner. The first thing I did was stand in line to change my dinner time from late to early. Although it took about an hour, the time was changed. Dinner was in the annex room but Adem and Juan, our waitstaff, were suberb. This room, as was the big room, was a bit noisy. The food was very good, but entree choices seemed to be repeated. Dining went smoothly except for lunch in the main room. This menu was the same except for specials. It also took entirely too long for the order to be given.
The ship itself was big and bustling. However, after traveling on this class of ship twice, I think I like the smaller vessels. More cozy and quiet. Entertainment was so/so. Some nights were outstanding and other nights were a disappointment. The outside cabin was compact and our room steward kept it clean and tidy. Excursions were great, although many things could have been done on your ownin Portland and Bar Harbour. Overall, I had a delightful trip even though 1 day was rough because of Ivan.
This was our first cruise on Royal Carribean. It was our first repositioning cruise. Some reviews indicate that cruises when cruising a "new" ship (Jewel of the Seas entered service in May 2004) one might encounter service deficiencies. That was not the case here.
The boarding process was excellent. Even though we had booked a modest, ocean view cabin, we were processed aboard with no delay. They were boarding by deck and had ample personnel and computers to handle the crowd. Our luggage arrived promptly and in good order.
The cabin was well laid out, had sufficient room, and the bath was excellent. Larger than those in similar cabins if my memory serves. Since the ship was new everything was in good shape. My wife and I were impressed with the constant crew work that kept the ship spotless. The ship itself is very tasteful. The decor is easy to be in. The artwork is high quality. The layout of the ship is easy to get used to. There are many exercise and recreational opportunities including a waterslide and the trademark rock climbing wall.
The food in the main dining room was a realstrong point. The menu was varied, the presentation excellent, the quality and quantity very good and best of all it lacked that institutional quality that sometimes occurs when thousands of meals are being prepared. The optional dining in the Portofino Room was simply superb, well worth the $20 additional charge per person. The buffet dining, while not as inspired as the main dining room, was well above average.
Other services on shipboard, guest relations, bar service etc. that we used were all excellent. The entertainment on board was superior It was varied and professional. The music throughout the ship was very good although a bit louder than my taste. The trio in the Centrum was delightful and we very much enjoyed hearing them. The Centrum elevators were crowded and the waits sometime excessive. For a new ship, of this sized (2000+ passengers) I would have thought at least two more elevators at the stern would have been in order. A total of eight elevators (the five in the Centrum were small glass enclosures) really isn't quite enough.
We used only one shore excursion, to Paris. It departed on time, returned on time and was exactly as advertised. I felt the cost of the shore excursions was a bit on the high side, but that was not the reason we struck out on our own in Plymouth, Cork and Portland, Maine. We simply had agendas that the shore excursions did not match. The sole weakness on this cruise, and it was obvious, was the inability to re-board people promptly who were returning from shore. This was due to poor planning, security issues, and issues dealing with handicapped passengers. This was the sole area that my wife, I and many passengers felt needed immediate attention.
The ship handled some moderate seas in the North Atlantic very well. It was smooth and vibration free. The debarkation process mirrored the boarding process. It went very smoothly our transfer to the airport was flawless. This was a very enjoyable cruise on a very nice ship.
EMBARKATION The bus deposited us and our baggage just twenty feet from the port door. Excellent! There was wheelchair assistance from the entrance. We were grateful, because there is no elevator and the ramp leading to the ship has an unusually steep incline. The Crown & Anchor Society has priority check-in for its Diamond and Platinum Members. It also greets all passengers with freshly baked cookies and lemonade. All this welcome was nice after the two hour long ride from London through the quaint English country side. Between check-in and boarding, we were in our cabin in less than thirty minutes.
SHIP When RCI conceived of the Radiance Class of ships, it truly designed a modern, classically shaped liner with yacht like overtones: 90,090 gross tonnage, GTV (Gas Turbine Vessel). The first of this class was the Radiance of the Seas (2001), followed by the Brilliance of the Seas (2002), the Serenade of the Seas (2003) and finally the Jewel of the Seas (2004), which concludes this class of ships. All were built at the Meyer Werft Yard, Papenburg, Germany. Last year, RCI also concluded the building of the larger Voyager class ships,five in all (Voyager, Explorer, Adventure, Navigator and Mariner of the Seas), and recently it has announced the construction of two Ultra Voyager class, soon to be the largest cruise ships in the world.
The Jewel is 902 ft. long, 106 ft. wide (Panamax). It has a 28 ft. draft and cruises at 24 knots. There are three acres of glass windows, giving passengers continuous views of the seas. There are nine elevators and twelve passenger decks with a maximum passenger capacity of 2,501. This trip the ship was full to capacity with passengers of all ages, from infants to elderly, and a crew of 859. The total number of staterooms is 1055: 817 are ocean view of which 577 have balcony; 238 are interior. There are 19 wheelchair accessible cabins distributed in various categories. All cabins have interactive TV, telephone, hairdryer, computer jack, refrigerator and 110/220 volts electrical outlets.
We were happy to sail again with Captain James MacDonald, Chief Purser Francois Chevalier and Maitre D' Orlando Rosa. We felt like we had returned home. The first night we saw a gorgeous sunset while dining, with the sun, a huge red ball, slowly setting in the west over the sea. Then, at 9:30pm from our balcony, we watched the full moon rise, changing colors from orange, to gold, to white by ten o'clock. The air was so clear the craters of the moon were evident.
In other reviews, we have described the Jewel's sister ships in detail and we refer you to our prior reviews for details. But each ship has a specific identity which arises from her unique art work. Many pieces are in the forward and Centrum staircases. Even though we extensively use the elevators, we manage to visit the ship's staircases, where we can view the interesting art work.
Deck 2 has some ocean view and interior staterooms, but mostly non public areas. Look for interesting art pieces in the forward stairs between decks 2 and 3, such as David Stuart Forbes' unique "Luggage of Babel Part I" a work in neon, wood, metal, leather and paper. In the Centrum stairs between deck 2 and 3 are Pascale Riberolles' blown glass vases "Automne - Clairette" and Paul Cox' photo collage "Tafelberg/Curacao."
Deck 3 has all ocean view and interior staterooms. In the Centrum staircase between deck 3 and 4 are Lippa Dalen's earthenware "Vase" and Ramon Enrich's acrylic painting "Paysage."
Deck 4 forward has the first level of the Coral Theatre, midship are staterooms and toward aft is the Centrum, with the Guest Relations Desk and Explorations Desk. This Centrum is beautiful with a marble dance floor, bar and an eight deck tall atrium with balconies on each deck. There is a water fall and orchids plus a stunning sculpture by Nico Widerberg (Norway) entitled "Northern Lights" made of aluminum, stainless steel and crystal. This sculpture is lighted by an intricate system creating an awesome effect recalling the Aurora Borealis. Here also is the portrait of the Jewel's Godmother: Kathy Mellor, the U.S. Teacher of the Year 2004. In the forward staircase between deck 4 and 5 is Miguel Chevalier's holographic film "Flow" and in the Centrum staircase is Birgit Ten Berge's oil painting "Landscapes"
Aft is the Tides Dining Room, whose entrance is magnificent. There are silk draped columns, stretching all the way aft to Mouls' Mosaic of Byzantine glass, brass and copper titled the "Full Moon Swing." The colors of the dancers' clothing are emerald, amethyst, ruby and tourmaline: tones reflected by the Ship's name (RCI "Art, The Collection," 2004). Prominent in this mosaic is the full moon. With artwork like this, the dining room is simple, but dramatic and tasteful.
Deck 5 & 6 are all public areas.
Deck 5 forward is the main level of the Coral Theatre. Its beautiful curtain ("Reef Rhapsody") has an ocean theme evoking images of sea fans and schools of fish. Midship on Deck 5 is the conference Center, Photo Art Gallery, the shops (logo items, jewelry, perfume etc.) and the Centrum with the "Latte-tudes" coffee shop. Toward aft is the Tides Dining Room Balcony with its wine cellar walls. In the corridors leading to the dining room there are some colorful glass panel scenes.
Deck 6 forward is the Coral Theatre Balcony, where we sat at the back for shows. There is an excellent view of the stage from every seat. There is a Cinema featuring the latest movies. Toward midship is the Pit Stop Sports Bar and the Casino Royale. The Champagne Bar is located near the Centrum. Toward aft is the Schooner Bar and as usual some of the most interesting art work can be found here. The model of the "Soliel Royal" (Louis XIV, the Sun King) Flagship of the French Fleet launched in 1690, is exquisite in detail. Ebbing's ceramic statue "Beatrice" is amusing with its upturned nose. The corridor to the Schooner Bar holds a wooden boat with a steering wheel which fascinates children.
The entrances to Portofino and Chops Grille are here and toward aft is the Safari Club, and the Game Reserve with self leveling gyro pool tables. All the way aft is the Congo Bar. Sinclair's "Pair of Giraffes" done in painted resin and Couts' oil paintings "Cheetah" and "Zebras" are found here.
Decks 7, 8, 9 & 10 are all staterooms with the exception of the Bridge located forward on 10 and the Library on deck 9 and the Concierge Club on deck 10, located near the elevators. Art work in the forward staircase, between deck 8 and 9, includes Spaans' photographs of light sculptures "Three Dancers, Blue Corner, Yellow Door" and, between deck 10 and 11, Van Munster's neon "Brainwave" and "Moi." In the Centrum staircase there are interesting photographs: Deck 6 - 7, Ellen Kooi's "Velserbroek - The Bridge" and deck 8 - 9, Jorma Puranen's "Language is a Foreign Country 1-3."
Decks 11, 12 & 13 are public areas.
Deck 11 forward is the Ship Shape Spa and the Solarium, Vincent's favorite area. There is a whirlpool and a lap pool. The Burmese and Thai influence here is nice and includes the following: an antique Burmese Bell, a Temple gate flanked by two Golden Elephants and Manley's "Reclining Tiger" in bronze. Midship is the outdoor pool area and aft the Windjammer buffet with casual dining.
Deck 12 forward is the ShipShape Center, Gym, the jogging track, and the Crown & Anchor Society Lounge. From midship to aft are located Adventure Ocean (arcade), the Teen Pool, Sports Court with its comical Kinloch Bronze "Catch," a stout man in a bathing suit trying to get up a beach ball game. There is also the Seaview Cafe`: an excellent place for lunch -- onion rings, Cuban sandwiches, fish and chips, soups and salads -- desserts too.
Deck 13 forward has the Viking Crown Lounge, with its 180 degrees view of the sea, and Hollywood Odyssey (intimate night spot) plus a putting green, mini golf course and the Rock Climbing Wall.
CABIN Stateroom #7114 is one of nineteen wheelchair accessible staterooms w/ automatic door openers. When entering on the left, there is a double armoire, with a set of shelves, private safe, and a large closet. Next there is a desk/vanity with lighted mirror, T.V. and refrigerator. There are two plush blue arm chairs and a large coffee table. A glass wall faces to the verandah with sheer drapes and heavy brocade blackout drapes. We found these useful, since the passengers in the cabin next door left their balcony lights on all night. Our balcony had a large table for dining or playing cards etc., two chairs and a chaise. Very nice.
When entering on the right was the huge bathroom, with a 4'X4' shower, sink, medicine cabinet and plenty of safety rails all around, and eight hooks for hanging robes and clothes. There was also a chest of drawers, a king size bed, two night stands and reading lamps -- very comfortable. Our cabin attendant Glenford O'Garro was the best! He kept everything spotless and was so cordial. Thanks Glenford.
FOOD & SERVICE Hotel Director Nibu Sayed runs a tight ship. He has high expectations for the crew and we feel that they are met. Anything that we needed was promptly and pleasantly provided. On a new ship, it is difficult to have all things come together so quickly, but Nibu managed it well.
The Tides Dining Room and all of the many food venues are in the capable hands of Maitre D' Orlando Rosa. If a preference is just stated, his subordinates are on it and they relay it to the waiters (or vice versa). Their motto is "please the passengers." Mary asked for lemon wedges on the first night and they were on our table every night thereafter. Our waitress Anabelle and her assistant Daniel Ford were both very efficient and pleasant.
We have done enough cruises to realize that when passengers are tardy to dinner it can disrupt the pace. Meals are usually served course by course to insure freshness and proper temperature. We are always amazed when passengers stroll into the dining room fifteen to forty five minutes late. The servers work in conjunction with the galley (course by course), which may be serving more than a 1,000 meals for each seating. Fifty years ago, when we first began traveling by ship, the dining room doors were closed fifteen minutes after the stated dinner time. People are not so punctual nowadays, but courtesy is always in vogue.
We used Room Service on a daily basis. Full American breakfast every morning was hot and and inviting. One night we had dinner with soup, salad, Filet Mignon and cheesecake for dessert, all served in our room elegantly.
We also dined with our friend Captain MacDonald, where an excellent meal was over seen by Maitre D' Orlando. Mary, seated beside the Captain's father, had a lively conversation with this very erudite gentleman. We were also treated to an exceptional luncheon by the Group Coordinator Elmer del Fierro in the Tides balcony with its wine display cabinetry.
ENTERTAINMENT Cruise Director Jill Tasker is part of the "Take Out Team," which brings on line the new ships, thus placing RCI's stamp on every ship -- from the Concierge to the Chef. This system provides uniformity of service throughout the fleet.
The RCI singers and dancers were on their final cruise and really went out with a lot of energy. We felt that by far the best production show was Tango Buenos Aires, a revue built around tango stars Ruben and Sabrina direct from Argentina. Having seen the Argentinean tango champions in Buenos Aires over two years ago, we were thrilled to see this sinuous duo. Their routine with the boles was superb. John Christie was also in fine form once again. We missed the Celtic Tenors, but were assured that they brought the house down.
Music in the Centrum featured "Deja` Voo" by Theo and Zlati (Bulgaria), his "Jail house Rock" and her "More" were something. The Rosario Strings played each evening before dinner and their Bass player also sang some great renditions of Johnny Mathis hits. In the Schooner Bar, Barry from Boston entertained with Broadway show tunes. There were "Olympic Games" at the pool, Horse Races, Guest Talent Shows, "Dead Again" an interactive murder mystery, "The Quest" an adult scavenger hunt, plus the usual Bingo and Slots Tournaments. After all, five sea days are a challenge for the Cruise Director, and she was up to it.
Then there was also the sea itself which treated the passengers to many beautiful sunrises and sunsets. There were dolphins frolicking in the Atlantic at dinner time. There were terns, gulls, birds and spouting whales. Then, there were the many faces of the ocean itself: calm and serene, active with swells, glistening in the sun or even shrouded in fog with the ship's fog horn sounding. Don't forget the game of figuring the ship's course. Just after leaving Cork, Ireland, Vincent was convinced that the ship was going east instead of westerly. He was puzzled until the next morning, when the Captain announced the ship had returned toward Ireland to debark a lady with acute appendicitis, foregoing the usage of a helicopter due to a thick foggy night and transferring the patient to a boat which met the ship half way. Later Captain MacDonald reassured passengers that she had been operated on and was recovering well.
PORTS OF CALL Naturally on a transatlantic cruise there are five restful sea days. However, this cruise started off with exciting European cities: London, Harwich and Plymouth, England; Le Havre, France; and Cork, Ireland. Then of course across the pond there is Portland, Maine and Boston, Massachusetts. We enjoyed this itinerary and found the approach to Plymouth lovely, while Cork whet our appetite for a return to Ireland.
Sept. 1, Harwich, England Depart: 5:30pm We sailed into the sunset accompanied by the Bagpipes playing traditional tunes.
Sept. 2, Le Harve, France Arrive: 7:00am Depart: 10:00pm LHA Tour: Paris sightseeing with Lunch cruise on the Seine, 11 hrs., $189. This is well worth it since it tours the Normandy countryside, the major sights of Paris and serves a gourmet meal on the river. There are three other tours of similar length and price to the Beaches of Normandy, Mont St. Michel and the Alabaster Coast.
Sept. 3, Plymouth, England Arrive: 9:00am Depart: 5:00pm Tendering to the port is necessary. This was the last stop for the Mayflower prior to sailing for the New World. PYG Tour: Leisurely drive & Devonshire Cream Tea, 3.5 hrs., $56. Admiring the Devonshire moors covered with heather and drinking cream tea make an unbeatable combination.
Sept. 4, Ringaskiddy, Ireland Arrive: 7:00am Depart: 5:30pm Ringaskiddy is the port for Cobh and Cork. CKB Tour: Scenic Drive & Blarney Village, 3.5 hrs., $40. This took us through the countryside to the Woolen Mills; with hindsight perhaps the CKA Tour of Blarney Castle and Panoramic Cork would have been a better one, because to get so close to the castle, one might as well see it up close and personal, rather than just from afar. We didn't take the CKA tour because of the warnings describing the presence of stairs. Sometimes we find these tour warnings are a bit exaggerated. There are also excursions to the Killarney Lake region and the Waterford crystal factory.
Sept. 5, 6, 7, 8 & 9, At Sea.
Sept. 10, Portland, Maine Arrive: 8:00am Depart: 5:00pm There are an abundance of city tours and several tours for the sports minded: kayaking and lobster fishing. PWA Tour: Portland highlights & lighthouse, 2 hrs., $29. This not only tours Portland, but also does the rocky coastline.
Sept. 11, Boston, Massachusetts Arrive: 8:30am Depart 5:00pm There are two highlights of Boston City tours by bus BXA, 1.5 hrs., $45 which ends at Logan Airport and BXA, 2.5 hrs., $45 ending at the Sheraton Boston or at the Hyatt Harbor Side Hotel. However, if there is time, the better part of the day, it would be nice to do the "Freedom Trail," a walking tour by the Boston Common, Paul Revere's house, the Old North church, etc....
DEBARKATION RCI has a color/number procedure with the Immigration/passport check done several days earlier on board. Boston has a simple system with a very short distance to the baggage pickup. There were an abundance of porters, taxis and busses right at the port terminal. We were met by Mary's brother Frank and his wife Regina. Just perfect timing -- we didn't wait a second and we were off to three days in Sudbury Massachusetts, Mary's home town.
SUGGESTIONS Almost every day the NY Times FAX ran out, not enough copies, but there were too many copies of the German, French, Canadian and Spanish daily news sheets. Perhaps, at the end of the day a survey on the number of unused sheets and the unfilled requests of the other language papers should suggest the number of copies to be printed for the next day.
CONCLUSION This was a wonderful cruise, passengers should expect a few glitches on a new ship, but this was almost perfect. We were amazed at the gentle kindness of all the crew. This always starts from the top: Captain MacDonald should be very proud of his subordinates: Francois, Nibu and Maitre D' Orlando. It was surely a pleasure to sail with them. We are looking forward this winter to booking two more cruises on RCI ships so we'll reach the number of 25 cruises for the status of Diamond Plus in the Crown & Anchor Society. In the meantime we have already booked a cruise on the new Caribbean Princess for November. Happy Cruising!
The ship is great in all respects:food service,shows,ambiance and everything that goes with a fabulous trip.Weather was great too.We are semihandicapped.My advice for such people is to limit their excursions or get a very strong person to push your wheelchair and carry it up and down many stairs.Uneven surfaces,cobblestones and gravel are very hard to overcome with a wheelchair or a walker,however,there are many places to visit and enjoy.
Sightseeing bus or taxi tours were best for us,although we missed getting inside some palaces and cathedrals. All in all,the ship is spectacular and more than compensate for our handicap. Have a great time.
We are Diamond Members who have always traveled on RCL and always book the Royal Suite. This trip was horrible. RCL has no regard for their guests. Among things that were wrong on this trip; 1) no personnel to greet us; 2) No one to show us how to work lighting system or anything in suite, so we could not turn lights off at night/ 3) TV broken; 4) Cleaning not returned on time; 5) Told we couldn't have food we wanted at party we hosted; 6) Refrigerator broken;
7) Shops poorly stocked, couldn't even get Vicks or mouthwash; 8) Menu like a coffee shop with mediocre food; 9) Crew doesn't ring bell before coming in wuite; 10) Counters and glass over food in Windjammer dirty first thing in the morning. This is a partial list of complaints.
My wife and I are in our mid 60s. This was our 20th cruise and the second in Europe. It was our 5th on a Royal Caribbean ship. We made our own air arrangements and flew into London a week ahead of the cruise.
We purchased Royal Caribbean's transfers from London to the ship. There may have been a better way. We were instructed to meet at the Victoria Coach Station in downtown London. The situation at the bus station was a disaster.
The cruise line representatives did everything they could to keep people happy, but they were fighting a losing battle with hundreds of hot and unhappy people crowded into a very small waiting area and no buses to remove them from the station. The last bus was supposed to leave at 11 AM. We finally left at about 12:30 PM for the 2 ½ hour ride to Harwich.
The embarkation process was quite smooth. It may have been because we were late getting to the ship and most of the passengers were already on board.
Spectacular! The multistory lobby/atrium was the most impressive we have seen on any ship. Thedécor in the public rooms was beautiful (especially the Schooner Bar and Safari Club). The theatre had excellent seating with very good sight lines and few obstructions. The main dining room was similar to other Royal Caribbean ships except that we missed the two story windows that are found on the Legend of the Seas and her sister ships. It was difficult to enjoy a view to the sea unless you had a table directly next to a window.
Unfortunately, the ship does have some design flaws. There are only two groups of elevators. Most ships this size have three. The central group near the atrium is on one side only, which may make it necessary to cross the ship each time you want to use an elevator. We also found that they were frequently very crowded around mealtime when people wanted to reach the Windjammer Café or were returning to the ship from shore. The worst flaw is the lack of a forward observation room and open decks forward of the passenger cabins. The only enclosed place with a front view is from the fitness center. Although very impressive, the Viking Crown Lounge atop the ship is a poor place to enjoy any view except to the sides of the ship. The view to the front from this room is completely blocked by forward structures. This ship would not be a good choice for a Panama Canal cruise where several open decks are needed to accommodate passengers wishing to enjoy the view as the ship is entering and leaving the locks.
We had cabin 3618 on deck 3 to the rear of the starboard side. The location was excellent with very little motion or vibration. My wife got a little concerned when the window was covered with white water during a storm south of Plymouth. But, that is to be expected with 50-mile winds and 30-foot waves. The cabins on this ship are not as well appointed as those on the Legend or Splendor. There are fewer drawers and less closet room. However, the round shower enclosure with two sliding doors is a huge improvement over the plastic curtains found on most ships.
The food was a disappointment. It was not up to standards of the other RCL ships we have been on. Fish, meats, and vegetables were all overcooked. It made no difference how steaks were ordered. They all arrived well done. We had a wonderful waiter and assistant and they made every effort to please. Their hard work made up for the improperly prepared food.
La Havre: We took the tour that visited Honfleur. What a wonderful place! We had visited it on a previous cruise in 2001, but did not spend enough time there. On this tour, we had more time available to explore and shop. It is probably one of the best stops on this cruise.
Plymouth: We hit an unexpected storm when approaching Plymouth and the Captain felt that we would not be able to safely tender into the port. We skipped the port and spent the day cruising in the bay south of the city.
Cork, Ireland: In Cork, we took the tour that went to Killarney and Muckross House. This was our first time in Ireland and we both enjoyed the beauty of the southwestern part of this country. I was particularly impressed with beautifully maintained farmhouses and their manicured surroundings. The pub lunch was great and they had the best cheesecake that I have tasted in years.
Belfast: The cruise was supposed to go to Dublin, but they changed the itinerary a couple of weeks before we left and we went to Belfast instead. We were not unhappy about the change, since it gave us an opportunity to see my wife's great grandfather's house about 12 miles south of town. We hired a taxi for about three hours and had a nice visit with the current owners of the house that was built in 1826. After that, we had the taxi driver drop us off in Belfast, but we were disappointed with the downtown area. It was dirty and uninteresting, so we took a shuttle back to the ship.
Greenock, Scotland: We docked in Greenock, but took a shuttle into Glasgow. Because of heavy rains, it was difficult to fully enjoy this city. We did take a hop-on, hop-off bus around the city and saw most of the better-known sites from the bus. I am not sure it was worth the one-hour ride each way between Greenock and Glasgow. We may have had more fun if we had just walked into Greenock, which was not that far from the dock.
Bergen, Norway: Bergen was beautiful and the weather was wonderful, sunny but not too hot. The Bryggens Museum offers a tour of the area around the museum including the Hanseatic houses. Our tour had an English-speaking guide. The Fish Market was great fun.
Geiranger and Flam and the Fjords leading to them can only be described as spectacular. A number of tours are offered at both locations. People from the ship who had taken tours said the scenery was wonderful. We took hikes in both locations and thoroughly enjoyed each day. In Flam, RCL had a cook out for the crew and they had a wonderful day ashore.
Amsterdam, Netherlands: In Amsterdam, we took the Sightseeing & Canal Cruise. It was raining rather heavily most of the day and the boat had a leaky roof. Amsterdam would have been a pleasant place to walk the streets on a dry day.
Background: My wife and I are in our 50s. Our adult son, age 28, traveled with us. We are seasoned travelers. Our last cruise was on the Star Princess in Alaska last year.
We flew into London from Phoenix a day early in case there were any problems with our flight. The next day we met the RCI rep near the baggage claim at Heathrow Airport at 8 a.m. We were bused to another terminal so that we would be loaded on the regular buses to Harwich. We didn't like being left in a smoke- filled room waiting for our bus to arrive. The bus trip to Harwich took about two and a half hours. It gave us a great view of the English countryside. (Our recommendation: book your own van to Harwich. You'll find it cheaper and more comfortable.)
The embarkation process was very smooth. The cruise line had plenty of help to show you where to go and to check you in. We were on the ship in less than 30 minutes
Absolutely beautiful! We went to our cabin to drop our carry-on luggage, and found it wasclean and ready for us. We went to the Windjammer Café for lunch. (We noted that in each elevator, the day of the week is noted in tile on the floor.) There were no lines and the food was good. We found our way around the ship very easily. The Centrum in the middle of the ship was amazing. Try going up to the Crown and Anchor lounge on the top deck. You can look straight down to Deck 4. We loved the Schooner Bar -- a great place to relax and look out over the water. Be sure to ask for the complimentary cashews. It was too cold to use the pools, although many guests sat in the Solarium, which was nice and warm.
We were in cabin 7080, a balcony cabin with one upper bed over ours. It was a little cramped for three adults but we managed. There was plenty of closet space, though, and plenty of nooks and crannies to place things. The balcony had two chairs and a small table – a nice place to sit and view, very relaxing. The bathroom was typically small, but the shower was very nice, with a rounded glass enclosure to keep the water from flooding the bathroom floor.
Our cabin attendants, Jesus Kahn and Marie Flores, did an outstanding job keeping our cabin clean and straight. They always had a smile and something nice to say when they saw you. The cleaned the cabin while we were off in the morning and had it turned down when we retuned from dinner. They were great. If you needed extra towels or anything, they were quick to get it. They also did a great job in making towel animals. Our wait staff at dinner was just as outstanding. Iskra from Bulgaria and Ronald from Peru did an excellent job. Ronald always knew what we wanted with beverages, breads and rolls without asking. Iskra made sure we were happy with our meal; if not, she would replace it immediately. If we couldn't decide on a meal or dessert, she would bring them all.
We ate breakfast and lunch in the Windjammer Café. In port, we would make an effort to eat at a local restaurant. Breakfast was great. I enjoyed the omelet bar. They made me lox, eggs and onions daily. The only problem was that in the morning, was there was usually no ice and the Coke machines were not operating. By the way, the Coke card was worth the cost at $82 for the 12 days.
Lunch in the Windjammer was hit or miss. They always had a great selection, but several times, the hot food was just warm or cold. They did make great mashed potatoes. The pastry chef deserves a medal, as the desserts were awesome. A little-known secret is the Seaview Café, located right above the Windjammer Café. They make great fish and chips, hamburgers, soups and sandwiches as well as chicken strips and chicken wings. It is all made to order and served hot. You can also go to the Lattetudes Bar and just order the desserts out of the case, no charge. The Googlehoft was excellent.
We didn't go to all the shows, but the comedy of John Martin was the best. He is an English comedian (as were all the comedians on board). He kept the audience in stitches. Another comedian was Jeff Stephenson, a very funny guy. My wife went to the show ‘West End to Broadway' and found it very entertaining. Rainer Hersh put a comical spin on classical music, very funny. We were also entertained with a flyover by a MIG jet the day after leaving Tallinn. It must have been less than 50 feet above us, and stayed around buzzing the ship for about 20 minutes. The other entertaining event was going under the bridge that connects Sweden and Denmark -- very low clearance; be on the top deck for that one.
Oslo: We took excursion to the Hadeland Glassworks and Viking Museum in Oslo. It gave us a great tour of the countryside. Buy the seconds in the main building at Hadeland. Going on this tour didn't give us enough time to visit the downtown area.
Copenhagen: We took the ship's shuttle to downtown, and found an Internet Café near Tivoli at Boomtown down the street (ask any local). We ate lunch at Magasins Department Store, top floor -- pretty good local fare. You'll find a neat grocery store in the basement.
Stockholm: We took the ship's shuttle again and walked around the old city. It's small enough to get around without taking a tour. There's great shopping in the city. Ahlen's department store has great buys in glass and souvenirs, and another good grocery store in the basement.
Helsinki: We took the ship's shuttle downtown, and found a Big Red Bus tour at the shuttle stop. For 25 euros, they take you on a two-hour tour of the city. It gives you a good overview of the sites and lets you off downtown at the shuttle stop. Go to Stockman's Department store for shopping right down the main street.
St Petersburg: Take as many tours as you have time for. If you don't have a special visa, it's the only way off the ship. We loved the City Highlights and Pushkin tour. The palace at Pushkin was beautiful and the lunch provided was very good. We had a wonderful guide named Tatiana, who spoke impeccable English. (She was an English professor at the local university.) She always put a neat spin on her commentary, and was a great help in negotiating with local merchants. We took a water tour on the second day; we would've liked to go on the technology tour but it was sold out. Book your tours early. If you have a chance, look into booking tours with a company called Red October. You can customize your tour and the more people you get to go with you, the cheaper it is. They also arrange a group visa for you.
Tallinn: We took the free shuttle to the old town. Everything is within walking distance. Rick Steve's Scandinavia is a good book for walking tours for each of these cities. We found an Internet Café inside a bookstore across from the flower stalls. We noted that the sweaters they promoted were pricey.
Debarkation: The last day, a British customs agent came on board and handled all the passports, so getting off in Harwich was a breeze. We got off the ship early, since the tag color they gave us was based on our flight times. The problem was that after finding your luggage, you had to find a porter to get it to the buses.
Criticism: Money Mike's suggestions for shopping didn't live up to expectations. The bargains he advertised were not always there. In the ship, the area around the bars was very smoky. Only the dining rooms and theater were not. The Windjammer Café needs to keep the hot foods hotter.
Positives: This is a great ship. It was easy getting on and off at all the ports. There was great food in the dining rooms and in the Seaview Café, and impeccable service from everyone on the ship.
We would definitely repeat this cruise -- maybe in 2006.