We are 2 cruisers in our early 50's and we traveled alone, this was our 10th cruise - 6th with NCL. This was our first trip to Europe so we spent considerable time researching excursion options in order to make the best use of our short time overseas. After barely making our flight transfer in Detroit we arrived at Gatwick airport around 10:30 on a Saturday morning. Much advice had been given on the best way to get to our hotel in Southwark and we decided to take the First Capital Connect train that boarded at Gatwick. The information desk at Gatwick was very helpful and quickly set us up with tickets and an Oyster card to use on other travels while in London.
We arrived at our hotel, Travelodge Southwark, at around 1:00. This hotel doesn't allow check-in until 3:00 so we waited in their lounge until around 2:30 when we were told they would check us in. This Travelodge had only been open about 2 weeks before our arrival so we had high hopes that we would be staying in a nice, new hotel. This hotel was a huge disappoint. Perhaps this was because we are spoiled Americans, but I expect a bit more in a hotel than a bed and a tv. This room was stark white and very bare bones - in fact, they don't even provide soap, shampoo or wash clothes!!
Although disappointed in our hotel, we didn't let this hamper our time in London. We had the rest of Saturday and all day Sunday to explore the town. Monday would be spent in Paris then onto Dover to board the ship Tuesday. The Hop On Hop Off bus was a great option for us in London and we were able to see most major points of interest during our short stay and also do a Thames River Cruise.
Monday morning we arose early and used public transportation to go to St Pancras Station to board the Eurostar (chunnel) to Paris. This was also easy to do for us which was a concern since we don't live near areas where public transportation is easily accessible. Once again we boarded a Hop On Hop off buss to try to make the most of our day in Paris. Again, another great choice as we were able to see most sights. Unfortunately, we didn't have to time to get off the bus to really visit most places so we chose one place to explore - the Eiffel Tower. After about a 30 minute wait we rode the elevators to the top floor of the tower for a magnificent view of the city - unforgettable!! Although it was a long and busy day, I definitely recommend taking a day and doing a trip to Paris if you have the opportunity.
Tuesday morning we were ready to head to our ship! Some fellow CC members were staying at the Travelodge and we had both made arrangements to get to Dover via the National Express bus. Luckily, we had booked and paid for our bus trip before leaving the states as most of the busses were completely sold out by the time we left. Our bus stop was at Elephant and Castle, about a mile away from the hotel. Because of all the luggage, we booked a taxi to take us to the bus stop. The stop wasn't very well marked and we had a little difficulty finding it. Our bus was more than 30 minutes late and it had us a little worried that we were in the wrong place. Eventually the bus showed up and we were on our way! The drive to Dover was about 2 hours, about half of the trip was through congested areas and the final portion was through the English countryside.
Luggage was quickly taken off the bus and sent to be loaded onto the ship. It was at this time that I was able to share a wonderful surprise with my husband - we had received a great upsell from our aft balcony cabin to a Penthouse Suite! At this point we were both very anxious to board the ship and begin discovering the suite life! Embarkation at Dover was one of the easiest we have ever enjoyed. There were only a couple of people in front of us in line and we were processed quickly. We were told that embarkation was being delayed because the previous cruise had a norovirus outbreak and they were doing a complete sanitization of the ship. Because we were in a suite with VIP privileges, we were escorted onboard before other passengers by the concierge and public areas were available until rooms were ready.
Rooms were ready around 3:00 and we hurried to find our room. All I can say is wow! We weren't prepared for the size of the room and all of the wonderful amenities! The room is basically the size of 2 cabins - one side is the dining and living area, the other the bedroom and bath area. In addition, there is another smaller bedroom and bath. The balcony was standard size but had upgraded furniture. There are 4, count them, 4 tv's in this room!! The fabulous shower had more shower heads than we have friends - incredible! Benefits of the suite include butler and concierge service, suite treats daily, expanded room service menu (more about that later!), and breakfast and lunch at Cagney's daily.
The Jewel is a beautiful and well maintained ship. Public areas did tend to get crowded at times. This itinerary isn't favorable for a lot of pool time so the indoor areas are heavily used. The Garden Cafe buffet is set up in stations which helps to avoid lines; however, it was difficult to find seating at times. We didn't use the casino or spa so I don't have any information on them.
There were several different activities set up each day. One of the new things implemented with Freestyle 2.0 were classes through NCL-U. The first session we attended was a seminar on how to take better pictures. Although we knew that it would be a basic class it wasn't very good. The presenter really didn't offer anything different than most people would already know and wasn't able to answer most questions asked by the audience. Another time we went to a seminar on the Peter the Great, it was very informative but the presenter's style was quite dry.
Most evenings we went to the show after dinner. Most of the entertainment was fair to good, it was obvious that NCL was trying to offer some variety. Shows included the Jean Ann Ryan dancers, a comedian named Lenny Windsor, a juggler, magician, Second City comedy troupe and a pianist/entertainer. Our favorite show was Le Cirque Bijou toward the end of the cruise.
Dining aboard was good, but not great. We had dinner at Cagney's one evening and it was good. We also went to Mama's Italian and the Tex-Mex restaurant in addition to dining at Tsar's Palace most evenings. One night we didn't find anything in the restaurants that interested us so we ordered sandwiches from room service. Our doorbell in the suite rang when the delivery arrived and the butler proceeded in with our order. He laid out a tablecloth and silverware on the table and set it up for us like it was for fine dining!! If we had known that the butler would be delivering our food and setting it up like that we would have ordered something a little different!! LOL
After our first sea day we arrived at Copenhagen. Our priority at this stop was to do a canal cruise. We walked off the ship and followed others into town to find Blue Netto canal tours that had been recommended on CC. For a cost of 5 euros each we had an hour and a half long trip showing us some of the highlights of Copenhagen. I would highly recommend doing this - it was easy to find and very enjoyable. We spent the rest of the day discovering the town on our own.
Our next stop was Warnemunde, Germany. Although many onboard opted to go to Berlin, we decided not to do that. We wandered through the town and enjoyed shopping and looking around. Many boats were available for water tours for 7 euros each and we chose one of them for a tour. This ended up not being quite as scenic as the Copenhagen canal tour. This area is famous for the shipbuilding industry and much of our tour was sailing past the ship docks. Narration was in German and we probably didn't get the full benefit of the tour. This is a really quaint town and we enjoyed looking around.
Tallinn was next up and we headed off the ship and walked over to Old Town. It was easily visible from the ship and not hard to find by following a map given out at the dock. This was another beautiful stop with a great medieval feel to it. Merchants set up tables in the middle of town and there were many great opportunities for shopping.
For St Petersburg one of our roll call members set up a private 2 day tour through Anastasia tours. The group size of 8 was about perfect, I think it would have been hard to keep a larger group together throughout the different venues. We were able to visit many attractions including Peterhoff, the metro station, Church of Spilled Blood, Catherine's Palace and the Hermitage. We did feel rushed at times and understood that this was the only way we were going to see as much as we did. By doing the private tours we were able to go to the front of the lines everywhere we went saving us lots of valuable time. Another time saver was that we were able to meet in Cagney's the first morning and the concierge took us off the ship as soon as it was cleared.
Helsinki was our surprising favorite port. Before leaving the states we booked an excursion through NCL titled Town and Country. This tour took us through the city of Helsinki then off to a small town called Porvoo. Porvoo is a beautiful, cobblestoned town with gorgeous scenery and charming buildings. After leaving Porvoo we were taken to a family's horse breeding farm. The ranch had been in the family for generations and they shared their story and the role of each of the family members. Everyone on the tour was then invited into their house for cake and coffee. We then were taken through the stables to see some of their prize horses. I am not a horse lover, but found the whole tour just amazing! My husband and I spent most of our day stating how glad we were that we had booked that tour.
The final stop on our cruise was Stockholm. After spending a wonderful day in Helsinki with an NCL tour we decided not to go on our own and booked a waterway tour then the Best of Stockholm tour. In hindsight, we should have gone on our own. Both tours were ok, but overpriced. We did enjoy the Vasa Museum and it is a don't miss in Helsinki!
One last sea day and sadly we were returned to Dover for our journey home. After researching several options we booked transfers through NCL for our return to Gatwick. Our flight was at 1:30 and we knew the transfers would get us there in plenty of time. We met the concierge at 6:30, went on the bus and were at Gatwick by 8:30 and lots of time to spare!
This was a once in a lifetime trip for us and we had a wonderful time. The Jewel is a fabulous ship with an exemplary and friendly crew. The cruise director, Soozie, does a great job.