We recently returned from our Baltic cruise on the Jewel of the Seas, sailing May 15, 2012. Overall we had a wonderful time, loved the ports and sights - truly a cruise of a lifetime. The Jewel of the Seas is a beautiful ship with a very personable Captain, a helpful attentive crew and a cruise director who was extremely entertaining. We had some issues with the cruise terminal and the shore excursion department. The terminal in Harwich, England where we embarked was a joke - a large carport looking building that looked temporary and would not accommodate the amount of people standing out in the parking lot in the cold, windy, rainy day. There must be other facilities they could use. The shore excursion department did not know that the day we docked in Gothenburg, Sweden was a national holiday and most of the stores and museums were closed. They should have adjusted the itinerary for that or at least cautioned people about the closures before they paid $15 for shuttle tickets More
into town on a cold rainy day. We fortunately decided to stay nearby and just visited the Volvo museum, which is at the pier; they opened especially for our ship on the holiday. The museum is good if you are Volvo fans.
The main thing I would like to recommend to everyone going to St. Petersburg, Russia: book a private tour! We booked a tour through Red October (by finding 2 other couples on Cruise Critic) so there were just 6 of us in a Mercedes van with our own driver and guide for 2 days. The guide was Elena and she was great; she was very knowledgeable for all the museums and sights we went to, but she was very open about social issues, etc. Through the tour our visas were taken care of and we got early admission to the Hermitage museum allowing us to view most of the museum without large crowds. She was responsive to our requests, allowing time for shopping, toilet breaks, etc. We highly recommend the tour.Since this was our only trip to St Petersburg, we felt it was well worth the cost.
Another issue we had with the ship was that on sea days, the activities did not interest us. Although the calendar of activities was long, there was nothing listed we wanted to do. There was not a designated game room so nowhere to post messages to get a euchre game going, etc. We spent the days reading, but would have liked some other interactive activities as well.
Overall the cruise was very good. The ship was very clean and that means a lot coming from me, a clean-freak! There were Purell dispensers at all the dining room doors and attendants to remind anyone who did not use them. I suggested that they have Purell dispensers in other public areas like by stairs, etc.
The live entertainment was excellent, both the live production by the ship's singers and dancers (superb lead singers, male and female!), the guest entertainers and the orchestra. We couldn't get over the quality of the orchestra - they could play anything and they played everything very well. There were less than 15 of them, but they had a great sound. Kudos to their leader and to all the musicians!