Embarkation: Prior to the cruise through cruise critic I had made contact with three other couples, I had arranged for private transportation from London to Harwich and we(4 couples) would split the cost of the transportation (it was a whopping 50% less than riding the train, door to door service and more then enough luggage room), I contacted numerous transportation vendors but settled on "Darrin" (Adelphia Executive transportation) all I can say is that he exceeded my exceptions, he responded promptly to all my emails, he was on time, very professional and kept us entertained as we drove through the countryside. I also used his services from Harwich to Heathrow (also 50% savings of what ship transportation would cost). At the Harwich pier, check-in is lightning fast I had had completed the online registration prior to me showing up at the port, with my one printed piece of paper and I was ready for check-in( all these unnecessary cruises documents are a thing of the past). Your luggage is collected prior to terminal entrance, once inside the terminal your passports are checked, you are asked to sign the Credit Card voucher the piece of paper your printed from online registration collected and presto you are headed for the ship, less than 10 minutes.
Cabins: I had an Inside Cabin on deck #7 mid ship (got a great price and saved a ton of money that I spent in port). My cabin was standard for Radiance class ships, it had a small fridge; a separate his/her's closet and an easy to use room safe and TV. In the shower you are supplied a shampoo dispenser. TV had limited programming and the same program is shown in different languages. In addition, you are able to view your on board account, make excursion reservations and view the daily dinning menu. I have no complaints except for the noisy and inconsiderate neighbors on the same deck that seemed to love bagging and slamming cabin doors. There were very few announcements piped into your cabin.
Dining/Food: I pre-paid gratuities to be eligible for "My Time Dinning/MDT" which is the only way to go. Overall food quality, taste and presentation "I THINK" was average, this is an RCL weakness but is improving. At the Windjammer cafe, I found the food standard middle of the road buffet food, some stations better then others while I ate all my evening meals were in the main dining room where meals were a hit or miss, some of the fish dishes were tasteless and some of the meat dishes were tough to chew, I thought the prime rib and giant shrimp (I ordered both and shared with my wife) was terrific and the lamb shank scrumptious. MDT went very smooth (you can choose your own dining time) and the maitre desk was very accommodating. I never waited for a table and was seated immediately I even was seated at the requested table. I would highly recommend MDT to everyone. A hidden treat is the small Seaview cafe located on deck 12 in the stern of the ship it has a limited menu but a very good tasty selection of sandwiches and salads. Keeping in mind that this was a port intensive cruise so adjusting eating time to match my return time from port adventures was very convenient.
Public Rooms: The Jewel is very well maintained and appears new. As a non smoker I encountered very little smoke/smoking issues except when walking through the casino and on deck 13 in the disco area. The ship is designed with the 5th and 6th decks as the main hubs of activity, i.e. shops (located in the middle aft area), photo gallery, meeting rooms, etc. The Casino is located on deck 6 near the sports bar (only one sport was ever shown on the numerous TVs); duty free shops were well stocked and seemed to be numerous ongoing sales throughout the sailing. I did not use the gym but every time I walked by, there where plenty of empty exercise machines and free weights. My favorite hangout area for a drink was the "Champagne Bar" located on deck 6, this particular bar has a lovely viewing window and offered small munchies to compliment your drink. The bartender at this bar is perhaps the best on ship, he remembered every customer's name from day one, remembers what you like to drink and his Martini drinks were to die for. The quality of drinks was good but drinks prices are ridiculously high. There was a daily drink special but it was more of the sweat fruity type. The wine package is much overpriced for the quality for the quality of wines but you are a captive audience.
Entertainment: In the evening, you have three areas to hangout and listen to music, a piano player, a big band in the Schooner bar area and another in the central area on deck 4. I enjoyed the music played on deck four (the group seemed to rotate where they played), but the challenge was that the area on deck 4 is very small and there are only a few tables, so if you enjoyed the music it was very difficult to find a place to rest your feet and listen. This area was also used as the main venue for one of the theme nights, but due to its size, it was extremely difficult to dance as people were stepping on toes and over each other. I was extremely disappointed at only having one night of the "Karaoke", while there was there some kind of adult type game every night. A variety of shows were featured in the main theatre, some better then others but nothing that I would consider memorable or do not miss.
Activities: A variety of activities are offered throughout the cruise. From the very popular trivia which eventually became a quest to win for many teams (the lounge was full) to Bingo, the not-so-new marriage game. A number of athletic activates were offered such as; volleyball, 3 on 3 hoops, table tennis and soccer, the climbing wall was open for use on a daily basis, the Nintendo "Bowling" and "Tennis" was so popular that limits had to be placed due to the number of participants. The entire activities staff was very accommodating and Cleo the cruise director was marvelous. Kudos to all!
Excursions: I go into great lengths so look at my blog (cruisinbob.com) for the in depth port excursion review.
Disembarkation: Overall disembarkation was smooth and quick - Breakfast buffet is open till 8:30am and the main dining room till 08:00. Prior to disembarking - a day before - specific luggage tags color based on your transportation connections are left in your room. You wait in designated areas and can only pickup your luggage at the terminal only after your color is called to disembark. You are also given the self embarkation option should you choose to carry off your luggage. My party met @08:30 and we were off the boat in less than 10 minutes. There where very few disembarkation announcements (what a pleasant surprise) and it seemed to go very smooth.
Overall Thoughts: The Baltic cruise is a MUST for anyone wanting to see another part of the world, if you want to see many places in a short period of time without having to spend tons of money on accommodations and avoiding the unpacking hassle while never having to worry where you're are going to eat every night then cursing is the only way. You can always return to the place you like. I really enjoyed the "Jewel" and would sail her again, I had a very nice time, loved the itinerary, be advised it is port intensive and you will need to plan your excursions as not to be totally exhausted everyday. Start packing now! www.cruisinbob.com