This was our 3rd cruise (all with RCI) and first TA. We booked it 18 months in advance because of the great itinerary - so many ports, including the Faroe Islands!
First, I want to mention how helpful our very active CC roll call members were for planning private tours, sharing information, organizing activities, and such. I felt like I had 350 new friends before ever setting foot on-board!
Flew non-stop from Boston to London, took the Heathrow Connect train to Paddington Station and spent 3 nights at the Hilton Metropole. Nice hotel and easy access via Tube to all of London's attractions. We took the train from Liverpool St. Station to the port of Harwich, booked our train tickets in advance at a discount. Trip took 1.25 hours with a 5-minute transfer of trains in Manningtree. Managed the few steps down and then up just fine with our carry-on luggage.
Check-in was smooth and efficient, we were on-board by 11:45 and in our room by 1:00 after lunch in the Windjammer. Had a nice Sail-Away party up at the Sky Bar with our new CC friends.
Absolutely loved all the ports (see reviews below), but all-in-all, I would not do another TA cruise. With the cancellation of St. John's, NF due to bad weather, we had 6 consecutive sea days, which were a few too many for our particular tastes. Not enough "active" activities on-board, except for the table-tennis tournament - that was good fun.
It is interesting to read others' reviews and see how they differ from our perspectives. Different people notice different things. We thought the food was just fine. Did not see any need to eat at the specialty restaurants, so can't comment about them. Windjammer sufficed for breakfasts and the occassional lunch & dinner after a long day in port. Our waitstaff in the MDR was exceptional, making sure that we were completely satisfied with our meals. The menus were diverse enough for us, but there was an Indian entre' every evening, which didn't appeal to us. Desserts were very good. We had escargot and lobster, even though there were rumors beforehand that these items were not going to be offered. Lunched in the MDR a couple of days for the great Tutti Salad Bar. Yummy and fairly healthy. There was a pool-side barbeque lunch one day that we enjoyed.
Staff: Cruise director, waitstaff, cabin attendant and Captain were all fabulous. The captain kept us well informed of several unplanned events, including an accident that damaged the ship and injured a crew member (no fault of the Captain's or RCI), 2 hurricanes in the Atlantic that caused us to miss Newfoundland's port, and a medical evacuation of another crew member, which resulted in a diversion to Halifax. We thought he handled all these things in a professional manner with safety being the main priority.
Entertainment: We found the evening shows lacking, and skipped several of them. We enjoyed the Three Tenors and the Tango dancers. The Enrichment Lecturers were a varied assortment, with a professor specializing in astronomy, and another gentleman lecturing on the ports. The port lectures were a waste of our time. A fellow passenger volunteered to give a talk on his flying over the South Pole in a hot air balloon, and this was the best lecture we saw. Two sisters offered "Iris Folding" craft classes, and we attended these every sea day. It was a popular activity and we enjoyed this very much. As it was free, the classes were extremely well attended, and the sisters were a bit overwhelmed by the demand. Trivia games: fun and lively. We had 75 hearing-impaired passengers on-board, and 3 classes in American Sign Language were offered. We also enjoyed this, and picked up some signs to communicate with our fellow passengers.
Ship: We liked the layout of the Jewel, and it was in good repair. Staff kept the ship's public areas sparkling clean. Plenty of places to curl up with a good book on sea days.
Disembarkation: We had Express Check-out, as we just had carry-on luggage, and were told to line up our baggage in the Coral Theater. Our ship took longer than expected to clear customs, and several passengers were on the verge of becoming unruly. We were not in a rush to get to the airport, and if we had to do this over, we would have just waited for the initial rush off the ship to clear out and then walked off with little stress. Got a taxi with minimal wait-time and arrived at the Boston airport in plenty of time for our afternoon flight home.
Other: We were very surprised to find a charge of $50 for 2 pool towels on our printed out statement the morning of disembarkation, as I had checked our account status the night before. We got to Guest Relations at 6:15 am and there was only 1 staff member behind the desk and a long line of others who had the same charges as we had. Finally a gal took charge, taking names and room numbers of those of us in line with towel charges, and promised to get them refunded. If this had happened BEFORE we completed our guest questionaire, we would not have had such nice things to say about our RCI experience.
We do not plan to cruise again for a while, so did not purchase a future cruise voucher. Will stick to land-based trips, so we can do some in-depth exploring on our own.
Ports: We did all private excursions on this trip, several shared with other CC members.
Le Havre, France - rented a car at Le Havre Rent a Car right at the dock with another couple from CC and drove to Mont St. Michel. Loved it despite the 3-hour drive each way. Much cheaper than the ship's tour and we beat most of the crowds.
Portland, Dorset (England) - this was an "added port" to our itinerary, and we were excited to visit the Jurassic Coast (World Heritage Site) to do some fossil-hunting. We hired a driver from Here to There Services and got a great tour of the area on our way to Charmouth. Despite pouring rain for a 1/2 hour, we did find some fossils and I would like to return to this area for a longer period. (BTW - I am a geologist, so I was looking forward to this port for a LONG time!) The resort town of Weymouth looked to be very quaint and a nice place to stroll around, although we didn't have time for this.
Cobh, Ireland: We did a private bus tour with Butler Busses to Blarney and Cork. Did not go into Blarney Castle as the lines were extremely long. Spent our time in the Blarney Woolen Mills, and I bought a hand-knit sweater as my one souvenir. Drove through Cork and stopped at the Market, just OK. There was a Titanic Museum at the dock that looked interesting, but we did not check it out.
Klaksvik, Faroe Islands: The highlight of our cruise! Loved the unspoiled feel of this relatively new cruise ship destination. Arranged a private all-day bus tour of the islands' highlights. It was difficult finding a tour operator to do a tour from Klaksvik vs. the capital of Torshavn, but discovered 62N Tours who put together an amazing itinerary for us, which included lunch and afternoon tea, for a very reasonable price. Cascading waterfalls, beautiful coastal scenery, quaint houses with grass-topped roofs (with skylights!), and lots of sheep. The visit to the Bishop's House (built in the 1100's) was a highlight. Excellent tour guide. Heard some folks complaining that there were no souvenir shops, but that is what we liked about it so much!!! Here is our tour itinerary:
"Pick-up and a short city-sightseeing in KlaksvÃk - then to the island of Kunoy - via the sub-sea-tunnel to Eysturoy. The glass artist Tronur Patursson has decorated the tunnel with amazing colours. We will stop for lunch at Hotel Gjargarur in the fantastic village of GjÃ³gv.
After lunch to the village of Eii where we will pass the highest mountain in the Faroes - Slttaratindur 882m and short after a view to the twin sea starks, Risin (75 m) and Kellingin (73 m), remnants, it is told, of an unusual attempt to tow the Faroes to Iceland by an Icelandic giant and his troll wife. Struck by the beauty of the islands, they laid a rope around Eiiskollur, the north end of Eysturoy, but quarrelled for so long that they were caught by the rising sun and transformed into cliffs.
Further to the smallest capital in the World TÃ³rshavn - where we will visit the World oldest parliament Tinganes. Have a walk in the old part of town and feel the atmosphere as placed in the Middle Ages but still alive with hens and children and all the buzz of ordinary life.
We will visit the old cultural centre of the North Atlantic "Kirkjubur", where we also will have coffee/the/cake at the oldest wooden house in Europe "Roykstovan" still in use for the 17th generation. See the imposing ruin of Saint Magnus Cathedral and the oldest church in the Faroes, St. Olavs church erected in the year 1111."
Reykjavik, Iceland: As special as I anticipated, with wonderful photo opportunities. We booked the Golden Circle tour with Iceland Guided Tours and had a marvelous day. On our second day in port, we did the Blue Lagoon, and got there just as they were opening at 10:00 am. Pure heaven! Expensive, but worth it. (We are hot-spring nuts, though...) Our ship underwent repairs for an accident in the Faroe Islands, but they were able to fix our communications mast and damaged funnel while we were in port.
St. John's, Newfoundland: didn't make it there, due to hurricanes in the Atlantic, and as we didn't have any tours pre-arranged, it was not a huge disappointment. We had heard that this port can be "hit or miss".
All in all, we enjoyed our cruise very much. Our fellow cruisers made the trip most enjoyable, and we have some fantastic pictures and memories.