I am just back from an excellent 12 night cruise on the Jewel of the seas to the Baltic with family.
We drove to Harwich which was our embarkation point. The port is easy to find although the signs to the parking area are not perhaps as visible as they should be, we got a little lost, but after asking we found our way. Checking in was simplicity itself. We drove to the car park entrance where we were checked off a list, drove through the entry and handed our luggage to the person waiting to take it then drove into the parking area where we were directed to a parking spot. We then waited for the shuttle bus to take us to the check in desk.
Check in was swift and easy, we arrived just about 1pm as directed and we waited approx. 10 minutes to get to the check in desk, check in took about another 10 mins, we then had a little longer to go through security and then walk on to the ship, with a lift immediately available to take us up to our deck which was deck 9 and then straight to our cabin which was ready for us. After lunch in the Windjammer our luggage was in the corridor and ready for unpacking.
The cabin was at the very rear of the ship and I would highly recommend it. The cabin itself was probably a standard size but felt a good size. The shower room is much as expected, not terribly big but adequate for our needs. The balcony was very large, much larger than expected, with not only 2 seats and a table but loungers as well. Being at the back we certainly had quite a walk to get to the cabin but once there, noise was minimal, all in all we were very pleased and when we cruise again will definitely try for these cabins again. The cabins were clean (I even checked under the loo seat, a sure way to find out if your cabin is cleaned properly) and comfortable. The beds were comfortable as well.
The staff were ALL excellent, polite, unfailingly friendly and courteous.
We were any time dining, which needs a little work I'm afraid. We had previously been anytime on the Star Princess which was simplicity itself, we basically just turned up and if we couldn't get into one restaurant we went to another, but on the Jewel we always had to book a time slot and even then we often had to wait for a table on one occasion we had to wait 30 mins. The area set aside for anytime is only one half of the upper part of one dining room, and isn't really enough. The staff though were excellent, the Maitre D. the Head waiter and Deputy head waiter in particular were all excellent. The head waiter in particular stopped at every table every night to check how things were going and often served meals when the waiters were extra busy, one night he not only took our order, but served most of our meal himself, he seemed to be everywhere in the dining room, keeping an eye on things as a good head waiter should. I'm very glad to say most of our fellow diners dressed well for the 2 formal nights we had, many of the gentlemen wearing dinner jackets which was nice to see. However there were several guests who turned up in short sleeved shirts, no tie and one person who wore cut off combat trousers, he and his partner who was also dressed casually should have been turned away to the Windjammer, but weren't, what is the point of the rest of us making the effort to dress nicely, when others don't bother and it's accepted.
The food was good, although at times a little bland, but always beautifully presented. I read one review which said the food in the Windjammer was much the same as in the restaurants, but it's not. The Windjammer is much more of a canteen style of food, lots of stews, curries, minced beef/bolognese, pasta, salads. Fine if you want casual dining and perfect for dining on a long day following a trip, when you are too tired to change for dinner. There is the usual problem of getting a table in the morning when it is so busy, some people sitting at table for six when there are only two or not leaving when finished etc. Occasionally announcements were made to encourage people to vacate tables when finished, but this was not always heeded, however I don't blame the staff for not moving people on, the guests are on holiday and moving people on could cause some unpleasantness. We tended to go fairly late to breakfast, about 10 am, often the food stations were starting to be cleared so half way through breakfast it could be difficult to find what you wanted on occasions. I also didn't like that all the coffee stations on the other decks were the Seattle coffee i.e. you had to pay for it, if you wanted the ordinary coffee you have to go back to deck 11 to get it, which is a pain when on another deck. Also the ice cream station is in the Windjammer rather than on one of the outer decks, so when the Windjammer wasn't open too bad.
The Jewel is a very nice ship, although I preferred the lay out of her sister ship Explorer of the seas, with not just a central atrium like the Jewel but a central "main street" where the shops and bars were situated, also on Explorer I loved that on the upper decks at the corners at the lift lobby they had "cabinets of curiosities" as well as art work on the walls. I really liked that, having said that the Jewel is a very nice ship, very well maintained, comfortable with plenty of seating for sailing days, although a larger solarium area would be good, as frequently it was impossible to get a lounger in the solarium especially when the weather was bad.
The entertainment staff worked very hard, there was a lot going on especially in the central atrium area. There were not very many lectures which was a pity, there was a series on the mind, which were excellent and very interesting, but mostly the other lectures were just selling opportunities, especially for Amber, Russian dolls and Faberge Easter eggs.
The evening shows in the theatre were not so good I'm afraid. We didn't go to them all, we liked the classical graffiti group who were excellent and the beach boy tribute band were fine, also the specialty act were good, but the production shows were not great, the dancers were fine as were the band and costumes, but the singers I'm afraid were not particularly good.
The one irritation was with the plumbing. There seemed to be a persistent problem with the lavatories on the starboard rear of the ship. Three times we were unable to use our lavatory. The engineering staff were fairly quick to solve the problems but on one occasion the problem lasted for several hours, from 8 pm till after midnight. Sometimes information was not passed on very quickly about what was happening.
We also have the same complaint as everyone else, the price of alcohol is ridiculously high. It doesn't seem to occur to the owners that if they kept the prices low, people would drink more, but faced with sky high pricing they will drink but not as much as they would otherwise. Also the shops sold mostly 'tat', really not worth buying and what they put out for the $10 sale was rubbish. If you claim that one of your stores is a general store it would be nice if it acutally sold store goods like body lotion, toothpaste, body wash etc, somebody ALWAYS forgets something, and it would be nice to actually be able to buy it on board.
All in all though we had a terrific time on the Jewel, and would not hesitate to sail on her again.