I've been taking cruises for years, but in the last 10 years had taken mostly road trips in the states. Last August, I found an interesting itinerary in the Baltic & sailed for the first time with Royal Caribbean on the Jewel of the Seas. Earlier this summer, I began to get wanderlust and started looking for another cruise to take. I found that the Jewel was offering a Transatlantic cruise with another great itinerary so I booked the sailing for September 3. What a great experience—I think I had even more fun the second time on this ship. I'm a single woman who usually travels alone and find that cruising is great way to meet people and feel safe.
The trip began with an overnight flight to Gatwick with transfer to Harwich. Everything went smoothly and we arrived at check-in even before they were ready for us. My check in for the Baltic was quick with no waiting, but unfortunately since I arrived before the embarkation desk was officially opened, there was quite a wait this time around, especially with the sheer number of priority check-in guests (at the time of sailing I was only a Gold level Crown & Anchor member so I was embarking with everyone else.) Once I checked in , even with a wait it was practically painless, I headed to my cabin but it was too early to go in and get a nap (I don't sleep well in the best of circumstances, but it's nearly impossible for me to sleep on a plane.) I headed to the Windjammer for some lunch and was pleasantly surprised that the food had improved since my last sailing on RCCL Mariner of the Seas.
I went to my cabin when it was available and took a nap because our first port of call was the next day with 3 more ports in as many days after that and I was jet lagged. I called for a bucket of ice which took an hour & another call to receive, but I understood my room attendant, Wilson, was quite busy and he was very friendly. He gave me his card and I was quite pleased with his services and his friendly attitude, even the day he had a migraine.
When I woke up it was time to get ready for late seating in the dining room. This was my first time in a long time where I had to take late seating because I booked so late and that was all that was available. I had asked to be seated at a large table because it provides an opportunity to meet more people. I was instead put at a table for 6 and there were only 2 other people at the table and one of them didn't speak English. The second night I was told they asked to be moved, so I ate alone. While I liked the waiter & assistant waiter, I asked to be moved as well because I didn't relish eating alone for 2 weeks. The next day I got a note in my cabin that I'd been moved and to my delight found I was at a large table with 6 people with 2 more added in the next few days. There were quite a few empty tables at late seating, so I guess those who were assigned to those tables chose the Windjammer rather than wait until 8:30 to eat. I liked my dinner companions, even the woman who complained about the food & talked about the superiority of another cruise line every night. We had excellent dining room attendants in Karen & Borko, and by the third night we met Janet, our head waitress, who was also quite personable. The food was pretty good for the most part, better than what I could cook and it was usually served promptly and with a great attitude by the wait staff. My only complaint was that there were very few desserts that I wanted to try so I ate ice cream most nights (and should have probably skipped it altogether, but who does that on a cruise?) The main complaint I had the last time I was on this ship were that the beef dishes weren't very good, but this time I was pleasantly surprised at the improvement. I ate in the dining room every night but one.
Our first port of call was Le Havre, France. I took shore excursions in every port and on our first stop I took the opportunity to go to Paris since I'd never been there before. Even though it was Sunday, it still took a couple of hours to get there. We went by most of the famous sites one expects to see in Paris and while my excursion didn't include any stops at the sites, I could see there were large crowds everywhere. My group was delivered to a barge for a luncheon cruise along the Seine. The food was good with lots of wine flowing and the folks with whom I ate were lovely. After the cruise we were dropped off at the Eiffel Tower for a little while to wander around and buy a few trinkets. Besides being bothered by some women who I suspected had ulterior motives, all it took was a firm No to get them to leave me alone. After our visit, we headed back to Le Havre, and an auto accident resulted in a delay in returning to the ship and it was quite a wait to get back on the ship, though it was no fault of the ship that everyone who went to Paris got back at roughly the same time.
The second day's stop was Cherbourg which I loved. It was a quiet little coastal town. I took an excursion which included visiting some of the countryside and a trip to Castle Ravenal. It was a beautiful place with gorgeous gardens and even a little rain didn't bother me. We were then taken downtown where our guide, a very handsome Frenchman named Dominick, showed us a few places including the location of the film Umbrellas of Cherbourg, a film I love. I think I was most excited to see the little shop which was the setting of the shop Catherine Deneuve's character & her mother owned in the film. We got a little bit of free time and I found a shop that sold locally made items and purchased a few things. Back to the ship where this time we got back on immediately. I wished I could have taken Dominick home with me, but whatever. Cherbourg was my favorite port on the entire cruise.
The third day was the port of Cobh Ireland near Cork. I took a full day's excursion which included a trip through the beautiful countryside of that part of Ireland. Our first stop was Kinsale, a seaside village which our tour guide claimed was the culinary capital of Ireland. Since it was still early in the day, I just walked around this village, went to the drugstore to buy some toiletry items I needed and had a cup of coffee. We then drove back toward Cork for a lunch of fruit salad, Irish stew & dessert, which I enjoyed. Our next stop was Blarney Castle. While I did walked up to the castle, I didn't kiss the Blarney Stone—I just couldn't get past the sheer volume of people that do and not be a little fearful of sickness. It's a quirk I have. Anyway, it was cool to see it and afterwards we had quite a bit of time at Blarney Woolen Mills, where I have to say there were quite a few bargains in a huge store with something for everyone. I could have spent a lot of money there. Since I was traveling alone, I kept my buying to a minimum because I had no room in my bags and had enough stuff to schlep as it was. I drank my first ever pint of stout (Murphy's since it was the local brew) and I was ready for a nap. Back to the ship where a medical evacuation of one of our passengers caused another lengthy delay in reboarding the ship, but at least another gangway was opened and they tried to get us all back on the ship in a timely manner. Overall, it was another great port of call.
By the fourth day and another port of call in Dublin, I was very tired because I think I was still jet lagged and we had been in 4 ports in 4 days without a day at sea to rest. My shore excursion this time included a trip to St. Patrick's Cathedral and Trinity College with a drive by of a few local sites. It was my least favorite port, maybe because I was so tired and it didn't seem that much different than any average American mid-sized city. Plus, we didn't really have any free time on this short tour, our guide was soft spoken and she took us on a long walk to find our bus because of a miscommunication with the driver.
Finally a day and a half at sea and I needed it—I was exhausted! I finally got to participate in my favorite on board activity, the trivia games. I was quite successful on my last trip on the Jewel, winning 12 prizes. I met two couples who were my trivia team mates for the rest of the cruise and we won a few times. It was a quite popular activity during the at-sea days, where you had to be in the Schooner lounge early to get a seat. I had a lot of fun, especially during the afternoon sessions when Clo, the cruise director was the host of the game. I just want to add here that I've been on 8 cruises and she's just the best cruise director I've ever encountered. She & Frankie, the activities manager, were on the ship last year and they are both great at their jobs. In fact, we were basically on first name basis by the end of the cruise and she delighted in teasing me about my enthusiasm for trivia games. She's a great gal.
Next stop, Reykjavik, Iceland. We arrived late in the afternoon and I took a trip to the Blue Lagoon, the well known geothermal pool about 30 minutes outside of town. It was windy & chilly but I thought why not go since I probably won't be back here again. It was great getting in the pool once you got past the fact you were outside in a bathing suit in such cool weather. I used the mud pack and my face broke out in whelps that took a few days to disappear, but I should have known better. My only complaint about the trip was that the tour guide had candy or cough drop in her mouth and had the microphone on the whole time where you could hear it clicking around against her teeth. After 40 minutes of that, it became quite annoying. The next day was another day in Reykjavik and I went on a museum tour, although the title of the excursion was a little misleading. It was called Discovering Reykjavik with mention of only a stop at an outdoor museum, similar to Williamsburg here in the states. However, it appeared we were the only people there that day. There was no chance to shop since the gift shop was closed—a first for me since most places like that thrive on tourist dollars. The main drawback to this tour was that I was sitting in the back of the bus and a couple sitting behind me complained the entire time. By the third stop, I'd had enough and told the husband of the couple he could probably get a cab and go back to the ship. I guess I should have minded my own business, because no one else spoke to me for the rest of the trip. Oops. It was interesting to see Iceland, but it was quite expensive. I'm glad I went but I'm not sure I'd go back.
We spent the next three days at sea where we were able to see the Aurora Borealis on a couple of nights in the North Atlantic. I'd always wanted to see it and it was beautiful and the second night we had a gorgeous full moon in addition to the green hued skies.
We arrived at our final port of call, St. John, Newfoundland. What a lovely place and lovely people. My shore excursion included a drive out to remote Cape Spear, where the lighthouses were located. It was a beautiful and dramatic landscape with waves and fog. Then we went to an old fort in town where we got another picturesque view of the coast below. After a drive through town, we were dropped at the ship and had some free time to explore downtown. It was my second favorite port on the cruise.
I rarely attend shows on any ship, although I did attend the comedy show with Kelly Montieth, a guy who I remembered from television appearances in the 1980's. It was okay, but he wasn't as funny as I remembered. I was also surprised that Marty Allen, a comedian I remembered from my childhood, was performing on the ship. I had an encounter with him one evening a couple of days before his show. He is 89 and still performs with his wife. Wow. I didn't go to his show but heard from several people that it was very good. I did see a Q & A he did with Clo that was shown on the cabin television a few times before we got off the ship and he had a lot of great show biz stories to tell. I also did a little gambling this time and came in third in the blackjack tournament and won some money at video poker so I came away with more money than I started with. That rarely happens so I was excited. I didn't have any luck at Bingo but I still had fun playing. The music in the Centrum during the afternoon and before dinner was very good and had a lot of couples on their feet and dancing.
We had two more days at sea before disembarking in Boston, where we were taken off the ship in a mostly organized way. There was some delay due to the fact that some of the non U. S. citizens didn't follow instructions to report early for clearing customs. However, I got off the ship at the appointed time and my cruise was over. I was heading home.
The Jewel of the Seas may not be the top of the line for cruising, but I like the ship and have had two marvelous cruises on her. A couple of the employees remembered me from the previous year when I took the Baltic cruise. One of the bartenders even remembered my name and what I liked to drink. I was surprised since it had been a year and they see thousands of people. The other person was in the salon and while it took me a few minutes to recognize her, once I asked if she'd been there last summer, she remembered me by recognizing my hair! (I'm quite white haired so maybe it's a little distinctive.) The only employee I had any contact with that I didn't care for was one of the male entertainers and he was quite snooty. He rarely spoke to anyone even though he was an escort on two of my shore excursions. He was in charge of leading our groups to the buses and walked very fast, not keeping in mind that a majority of the passengers were over 50 and quite a few were elderly people.
If I have any complaints about the ship, there are very few. My main pet peeve was having a hard time finding a table in the Windjammer at peak times, where I ended up eating outside more than a few times. That would have been alright if it hadn't been very cool & windy for most of the trip. My bed was quite hard which could be improved. While I realize most people try to keep busy with planned activities, I like to spend some down time in the cabin, and the television programming left a lot to be desired. I surmise that most of the stuff they showed was pretaped because we saw a lot of shows & films repeated constantly. The Jewel could also probably use a few months of dry dock for a refurbishing. It looked a little run down in some areas.
Overall, it was an excellent cruise and good value for the money. I met a lot of very nice & friendly people. Even though I had a few complaints, it wasn't anything that I couldn't get past and understood some of the little inconveniences. If you have expectations that this cruise is similar to Celebrity or any other more expensive cruise line, you're setting yourself up for disappointment.