We booked this cruise because of the ports of call, and with only one exception--the substitution of Visby for Stockholm due to engine troubles--we were not disappointed. Because we missed Stockholm, we got a $200 shipboard credit. Which we used up within 48 hours. Oh well. We flew out a couple of days ahead of embarkation to see a bit of London and adjust to the time change (for us, 8 hours). We took the train from London to Harwich, thanks to recommendations of fellow CC members,which proved to be a good decision. The train station is literally steps from the cruise terminal--a very good thing for us, as my husband/sherpa was loaded down with luggage. The train was also quick, clean and cheap (about $82 for both of us, vs. $100 apiece for the ship's transfer). I have been on 10 to 11 previous cruises, most of which had pretty easy embarkation procedures, but the Jewel's was by far the best ever. It took no more than 10 minutes to hand in/fill out the paperwork, get our pictures taken and board the ship about 1:30 pm.
The ship: Our sailing had 2292 passengers, according to Capt. Stig, but it never felt overcrowded and we never had the long lines for food, ports or guest relations that I've experienced on other ships. The Jewel is well-laid out, with most of the public rooms easily accessible from the center of the ship. Strangely, there are no public aft elevators. The public spaces were beautiful, comfortable and lighted properly. (Some ships have too-bright lounges or eating areas, but I think they got it just right.) Because our cabin was mid-ship and on the 9th deck, it was relatively close to everything and we wound up taking the stairs a lot instead of the elevators. We found ourselves most often in the Schooner piano bar or Safari lounge (dance floor), next to each other on deck 6, because we liked their ambiance. The outdoor areas were spacious and inviting, but other than walking on deck occasionally, the weather prevented us from spending much time outside. It was often windy, wet or cold. The solarium was lovely but usually full.
The cabin: We had a big, beautiful, port-side balcony cabin. As others have said, the cabin had plenty of storage space, and so did the bathroom. This was our first time in a balcony cabin, and we loved it. Don't think I can go back....plus, the balcony was spacious too. The bed was comfortable, the cabin steward excellent (he even loaned us robes for the cruise), and it was a quiet part of the ship. The only negative was the TV, which was elderly, with poor picture quality, but why were we watching TV anyway?
The service: This was only our second RCI cruise, the first occurring 18 years ago on the "Song of America" (our favorite cruise ever). But kudos to RCI: they found our C&A number based on the sketchy info I provided of that cruise. More importantly, the onboard service was excellent in every way. Not only our cabin steward, but our dining room waiters, bar waiters, guest relations, excursion people, and cruise staff, all acted like they couldn't do enough to make us happy. Even when we had problems, like the internet conking out or room service forgetting something, they were resolved immediately, cheerfully, with no arguments. (Hear that, NCL?) It was the most stress-free cruise since the last one on RCI.
The food: Well, you can't have it all. In the dining room, we liked their luncheon service (on the few days it was offered) but found the dinner entrees consistently disappointing and the desserts wildly uneven--some were scrumptious, some not worth the calories. (We opted for the main seating, 6 pm, a bit early perhaps). However, the soups, appetizers, rolls, fruits and vegetables were uniformly delicious. Especially the soups...yum. As others have said, there was not a lot of variety of main courses. I sampled the vegetarian entrees, and they were pretty good, a welcome change from beef-chicken-fish. I ordered beef once in the dining room and was told it had to be ordered either "medium rare" or "medium well." What? There was no such problem in either of the specialty restaurants, so maybe they had all the good grill space reserved. The fish (salmon) was properly cooked but still had bones when it was supposed to be a fillet. My husband had beef stroganoff one night, and it was bad. Nor were his pork "medallions" acceptable another night. They also looked like poorly-cut chunks, not medallions. It took me 10 days (of a 12 day cruise) to notice things that I missed from past cruises, like flaming table-side desserts or the baked Alaska parade, but these omissions contributed to the overall feeling that they were cutting corners on the food.
The Windjammer Cafe was okay for lunch, and had a nice late-night buffet on night 11 (which strangely, was not advertised at all). But we had a pretty bad dinner there one evening when we were too tired to do the dining room. On the bright side: they sell little bottles of table wine for a very reasonable price, which helped to wash down the food. We only sampled the dessert at the Seaside Cafe, whose menu is geared to 12 year-old boys (or my husband), i.e., heavy on fried or short-order food. Every morning, we had room service breakfast. The offerings included bacon and eggs in addition to fruit, cereal and baked goods. We liked the coffee and rolls especially. The orange juice tasted like it came from a powder, though.
Our best dining experiences were, not surprisingly, at the upcharge restaurants. Both had wonderful food, over-the-top service, and window tables with lovely views. I preferred Portofino slightly, because I love Italian food and our regular waiter "treated" us to a glass of champagne since we'd booked the table through him. One or the other might be a welcome break from the dining room. I'd save it for towards the end of the cruise--the DR offerings seemed to decline in quality the last few nights. The special restaurants were never full on our cruise.
Entertainment: We went to about half the big shows, skipping the ones that didn't sound interesting. We especially liked the "Classical Graffiti" string quartet, which mixed in song, dance and comedy into their musical numbers. The tango show was also excellent. The Schooner bar had a wonderful piano player, Darren, or a classical guitarist most nights. The Safari lounge had a real live multi-piece band, and the Centrum lounge usually had a three-piece group. It was a treat to see so many entertainers in so many lounges. They were all good, too.
Onboard activities: We didn't do as many as we wanted, mostly because a lot of them were scheduled at the same times but we were also usually tired after a day in port. We enjoyed the energy, inventiveness and good humor of the cruise director, Clo, and her staff. Disco night was tremendous fun, as was "The Quest," an adult treasure hunt. In contrast to many other cruises where the staff seemed to be going through the motions but not really engaged in the activities, this cruise staff went all-out to set a fun tone. They were not afraid to make fools of themselves, which loosened the rest of us up right away. We don't gamble or smoke, but we couldn't avoid walking through the smoke-filled casino several times. Even when no one was smoking, the stale smell of smoke was everywhere. That was the only negative experience we had in the public rooms.
Services: The gym was well-equipped for cardio workouts, less so for strength training. I didn't use the spa or salon, but they both offered tempting daily specials. We bought a few items at the shops, mostly souvenirs, but I found a lovely amber pendant at a good price, too. The amount of space devoted to shops seemed less than we've found on similarly sized or even smaller ships.
Passengers: Almost half were UK citizens, about a quarter were Americans, and over 50 countries were represented. Everyone we met was friendly, good-natured and interesting. There seemed to be a lot of families on holiday, with well-behaved but lively children. Excellent esprit de corps, no cutting in lines or grousing. We laughed a lot.
Disembarkation: Very well-organized and easy. The only glitch was a problem hooking up the ramp so we could de-board, which delayed our departure by about 30 minutes. We purchased the ship's transfer by bus to Heathrow, which took about 2.5 hours with very little traffic. Heathrow was jammed but it took us just over an hour to get through the check-in and security lines, and we had plenty of time to make our 1 pm flight.
Summary: The service was wonderful, and we had a fantastic time. I'd give it 5 stars except for the food. So if you choose a cruise based on food, you may be disappointed in the Jewel. But for a fun cruising experience, with beautiful port cities to visit, you can't go wrong with this ship.