Jewel of the Seas Cruise Review by Martin Williams: Hectic in the Baltic (but highly enjoyable)
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Hectic in the Baltic (but highly enjoyable)
The following is my view of our recent holiday to give other folk a flavour of what they may expect if they decide to take this cruise - in a sense some repayment for all the the reviews I read on this site before choosing to book..
It is largely positive because we had a great time and I have tried to restrict negative comments to those niggly things which we were not aware of prior to booking. It amazes me how many people rant on these forums about things that they must (or should be) aware of before booking - e.g prices of alcohol, excursions etc.
We have cruised once before (P&O Oceana to Norway).
Car park ion Harwich was £78 but was well organised and baggage lifted from our car and taken directly to the ship. A shuttle bus then took us to the terminal. Arriving at 12:30 (sailing time 17:30) we found the embarkation process quick and simple (perhaps more lengthy later in the day?).
We had a bite to eat in the Windjammer and went to More our (ready) cabin about 14:00. Cabin 9058 (type D2, deck 9, midships, port side) was good; clean, spacious (for a cabin) with a very large (and comfortable) bed. Bathroom good with powerful shower (bathrobes would have been a nice addition). Storage space was excellent, accommodating all our clothes and accessories (even though, as usual, I had overpacked!). It was quiet with no ship sounds heard. If I was booking again I would choose a cabin more for'ard as the 11th deck floor bulges out midships and so our balcony lost the sun earlier due to the overhang - otherwise great views from outside.
The ship itself was smart, spacious and easy to get around - very rarely (except for the windjammer cafe) did it feel crowded. It reminded me of the Oceana (similar size and large central atrium). The pools were usually quiet (though it was the end of the Summer).
We chose 'my time' dining and ate breakfast mostly in Tides restaurant (rest in Windjammer), dinner mostly in Tides (2 nights in Chops, 1 in Portofino and once in the Windjammer) - we were rarely on board for lunch. 'My Time' worked well for us with a maximum wait of about 2 minutes for a table. The food in Tides was pretty good (similar to a mid-priced restaurant at home), always hot and well served. The service in Chops & Portofino was excellent and the food a bit better than in Tides (though I'm not sure if either was worth the $25/$20 per head service charge). The Windjammer, while at times convenient, was not the sort of dining experience I go on a cruise for - food and choice was ok but it was a bit of a cattle market. Breakfasts in Tides were very good. Strangely the coffee in Tides, Windjammer and the Latte-tudes coffee shop was of very poor quality - the only decent coffee we had was in Chops.
A comment on dress code. In my view either a ship should define a dress code (and having done so then adhere to it) or abandon the pretence altogether. I prefer to be 'smart casual' when going out at home but am happy to comply with formal dress code on selected cruise evenings for a bit of fun and glamour. It seems a waste of time to have formal dining when people not dressing formally are given entry to the dining room and also to have 'non-formal' dining areas. Note that the dress code for Chops and Portofino is supposedly always smart casual but the dress and manners of some diners was disappointing (one man finishing his soup by inverting the bowl and pouring the dregs on to his spoon - sorry if this sounds pernickety but I find it rude.)
For me (a reformed smoker)there were too many smoking zones - I feel all smoking should be restricted to a couple of zones outside on deck. Smoking is permitted on balconies and, on one occasion, ours was 'invaded' by smoke from one further along the ship.
Entertainment was quite good - the singing/dancing group were of good quality and the pianists/guitarists etc round the ship were pleasant to listen to. Less appealing was Karaoke, Bingo and 'Mr & Mrs' shows but horses for courses and there were always alternative venues to visit.
Yes, the alcohol was expensive (especially the wine) but we knew this before we travelled and budgeted for it. The bottled water was outrageously priced - we bought bottles in port.
The staff were all friendly and helpful. We found service at the bars was very good. There seemed to be confusion about how they addressed the passengers (I was called Martin, Mr Williams and Mr Martin at various times). The most annoying aspect (and this is against my very positive overall experience) was the continual intrusion on personal space by the photographers. On the formal nights it was obvious to see that you could have a portrait ($19.95) taken without being stopped in your tracks by 'cold call' sellers. Worse was on the port piers where people were physically grabbed by photographers assistants dressed in costumes reminiscent of Disney World in an effort to get a picture. Unacceptable.
Also unacceptable was the atrociously slow Internet connection and (partly due to the speed) the high cost. Internet access on ships should be free of charge.
The excursions (see more below) were very good - the tour guides without exception were knowledgeable, informative and humorous (and their English put us all to shame). I cannot agree with the common view that the excursions are not good value. They take you where you want to go with minimum fuss and provide a great insight into the history and current life in the country. The itinerary was quite demanding (especially going through 4 time zones in 6 days) and we were glad of the rest provided by 2 of the last 3 days being at sea. The ports are all interesting (with St Petersburg, Stockholm and Tallin the highlights for us).
To summarise, we had a marvellous time; beautiful ship, spectacular ports, good food and entertainment. I would recommend this cruise but be aware that RCI (in common with most lines I believe) is not a 'luxury' experience (you would need to spend $10,000 dollars a head with someone like Seabourne for that I guess) but you are very well looked after and are made to feel special. Less
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Cabin review: D29058
9058 - Spacious, big comfortable bed, good bathroom. Great views from balcony but overhang from floor of deck 11 meant sun disappeared for us a bit sooner than for some others. I would choose a cabin more for'ard next time (but would be quite happy to go with this one again if I had to). No noise from ship/common areas.