Neither my mom nor I thought we would be cruising until November 2009. We had plans to take the Independence of the Seas on its transatlantic next year, but we decided now was the better time to go. We only found out in mid-July that we would be going in September!
We flew out of Orlando on Virgin Atlantic. I would change this for next time: rather than leave at 8:00pm and arrive in Gatwick, England, at 8:30am, I would leave early in the morning. I was very jet-lagged the entire first week, which was when all the ports were, so I would recommend staying in a hotel the night before boarding. It was impossible to sleep, partly from anticipation, partly from being so uncomfortable in those seats. But over all it was a pleasant flight, with a dinner (very good vegetarian one, I might add, with pasta main dish, dinner roll, side salad and dressing, cheese and crackers, butter, bread pudding, and water), breakfast sandwich, and entertainment from the TV screen in front of each of us. One other comment: my "window" seat had no window. I did not mind so much since it was dark for most of the flight, but just a heads up to anyone who really wants a window: every few rows on each side of the plane has no window, just the wall, for whatever reason.
Getting passports stamped in Gatwick was no fun. We wait at least an hour, and we were fortunate because after 20 minutes in line we saw the line was at least 4 times longer, and that is not an exaggeration. But once our passports were stamped, we found our luggage and had a fairly easy time spotting the Royal Caribbean sign. We waited about 5 min with the large group also headed to the ship. Once on the tour bus, our ride was a little less than 2 hours to the port at Harwich.
This was my fifth cruise, with all others being in the caribbean; four on NCL's S.S. Norway and one on NCL Sun. When I saw the ship, I thought it looked very nice as compared to those other ships I had been on. Boarding was very easy. Less than 20 min off the bus and we were on board, searching for the dining room. I have heard other people complain there are not enough tables for 2, and this is true. With just my mom and I, we hoped to be seated at our own table. We ended up at a table for 6, and, in fact, we thoroughly enjoyed meeting our dinnermates as well as new people at breakfast and lunch. The lifeboat drill was held in the Coral Theater. Much more comfortable than the other ship drills that are held outside on the deck...but in an emergency I would not have known where exactly to go for our lifeboat.
I'll break this review into sections rather than go along chronologically:
PORTS! Paris was our first port, and it was unfortunate we lost an hour the night before. As we fell asleep that first night, it had been over 36 hours since we'd slept...We chose the Paris on Your Own excursion ($104 each for 2.5 hours in a tour bus each way). Having never been to Paris I did not know what to expect, but Paris turned out to be my favorite port. I was very disappointed at having only about 4 hours because the tour promised 5.5. The bus dropped us off next to the Eiffel at noon, and at 415 we were running back to it. My mom and I climbed the first 360 steps of the Eiffel: 7.10 Euro total. The time crunch made us decide not to go up to the 2nd level. But in my opinion the first level affords a very good view of Paris. The Arc de Triumph, Notre Dame, Pont Alexandre III were all visible (all places I'd wanted to see but had to cross off the list) as were Sacre Coeur, Trocadero gardens, and the Invalides. We bought souvenirs and post cards (sent two of them there). TIP: Take addresses to all the ports, so you can send postcards from Europe, or on the ship. The restrooms were odd, with an attendance inside directing us when to go in, and having both men and women in the same bathroom. We walked through the park from the Eiffel to the military school and it took about 20 min to reach the Invalides, which we visited for Napoleon's tomb and the Musee de l'Armee (me being the history buff, and my mom having just wanted Ken Burns' (?) WWII documentary, the museum was second on our list after Eiffel). Paris was BEAUTIFUL, very clean, most people spoke English on the street (tourists?) and at the Eiffel and Invalides. I did get to use my 4 years of French for about 60 seconds :o) We only had time for the WWI and WWII exhibits, which were excellent. Excellent gift shop. By the way: Paris maps make the city seem small, but it definitely is not. It almost seemed like the Taste of Paris people got a better deal: they got to see alot of the city (albeit from a tour bus) and still had 4 hours of free time? I don't know how that adds up timewise but that is what our dinnermates said. French motorists apparently won't really stop for you, so people just walk the crosswalks (even on small streets). And our tablemates also said some people nearly got pickpocketed, although I was careful to keep my purse zippered and in front of me, so no problems for us. Also, no Parisian food. No time, and a quick meal of fruit cocktail, a water, and muffin cost 18 Euro! Overall, a gorgeous day (75 and sunny) and definitely the 'taste of Paris' that I needed to make me want to go back and stay a week.
Plymouth, England and Holyhead, Wales were cancelled due to rough seas. We'd planned on The Best of Devon in Eng. and to climb the South Stack and Lighthouse in Wales. The latter was actually cancelled two nights before because not enough people had signed up. To make up for those ports, the Captain did her best and got us to Dublin at 7pm Thurs, so we could get off 7am Fri instead of 9am. But after dinner there were only 3 or 4 coaches (complementary) on the dock, and we figured that we would have about one hour by the time we got to the city, so we retired early and planned to use the entire day tomorrow.
Dublin, Ireland. I was prepared to enjoy Dublin more than Paris because I had my heart set on going to the beautiful Powerscourt estate and gardens. One excursion there was $99 each. But we read in the books that taking the bus from Dublin to Eniskerry (town nearby) was cheap, and we just thought we could do it on our own for maybe $30. Well, first of all, don't plan on walking from the port into Dublin, as the maps in books made it look like you could. Too far to walk, and not a nice looking part of town either. We paid $24 on board to take the shuttle ($6 per person each way). We were dropped at Kildare Street. The driver was very friendly, and explained to me that Eniskerry is a town an hour's walk away from Powerscourt. The books said nothing about this! (They all say take the 44C bus, which takes an hour to get to Eniskerry, even though it is only 12miles south of Dublin.) What we should have done was buy the Powerscourt tour (offered in Dublin) for 30 Euros each. But it was offered like 11-330pm and toured other areas we weren't very interested in, so we decided just to stay in Dublin. Not being beer drinkers, I have nothing to say on the pubs or Guinness Factory (sorry!). St. Stephen's Green was the highlight, as Dublin was very very crowded with pedestrians and buses. It is very walkable however. To loop around Grafton and Dawson Streets combined might take 8 min if you walk fairly quickly. Also, great amount of shopping and souvenir shops. The highlight for us was the National Museum. Free to get in, we spent almost 2 hours walking around. Clothing, weapons, jewelry, cooking utensils, and even two partly preserved ancient bodies from a bog (creepy but cool). Nice gift shop, cafeteria inside too. We ended up not eating in Dublin. Being vegetarian, we'd found the perfect restaurant (Cornucopia) but it was not at all how it appeared online: it was small and noisy and dark and the menu seemed very different.
Cobh/Cork, Ireland. One of our favorite ports. Ship is literally next to the town of Cobh. We spent about 1.5 hours at the Cobh Heritage Center (aka the Queenstown Story), located right on the pier, can't miss it. Got both of us student's admission, 6 Euro each. Very very nice museum, focusing on immigration from Ireland to America, the Titanic and Lusitania, as well as shipping and cruising from the 20th century. Nice but very crowded giftshop. Also in the building is a cafe and another shop with clothing. We got back on the ship for lunch, then got off and walked around the town. We went to the little park by the water, and climbed many stairs to the St. Colman's cathedral. A friendly, well-fed black and white cat was greeting people outside, very cute. Very different from Dublin. No huge crowds or traffic, but also not alot of gift shops besides heritage center. Also, on the ship at 345 was the group Rhythmic Feet, composed of girls ages 10-19, from Ireland. They did an amazing job and I thought it was a very nice touch to the day to have them come on board and perform for us (Coral Theater).
St. John's, Newfoundland. Another nice port, right by the ship. We even got back on for lunch again. When we got off the ship we were greeted by some of the people who lived there. Very friendly. There were two very large very friendly Labrador (?) dog on the pier for the passengers to take pictures with. When we went back at lunch, they had been replaced by a mounted policeman. The horse very graciously posed for pictures :o). Very walkable. Water Street had souvenir shops galore, very fun to walk to each one and browse. We visited The Rooms museum, which has an archives, art gallery, and (my personal favorite) a natural history section with wildlife. I think it was $3 admission for students, and $4 or $5 for adults. Duckworth St supposedly had plenty of very good shops, but we couldn't seem to find that section of it; the section of the street we walked was not much to look at. Like Paris, we were unprepared for the spread of the city. We had wanted to visit Pippy Park (we never did see a moose!) and Signal Hill, but both are quite far from the city center if you walk. Also, we were given maps at all of the ports except Cobh.
Stateroom: 8th floor, port side, cabin 8018. We enjoyed the room. It was comfortable compact. We slept with the balcony door cracked every night. I guess once you travel with a balcony there's no going to an inside cabin! I really cannot think of any negatives about our room...We had an excellent room steward. She would leave a new towel animal every night, including a swan, pig, monkey, bat, elephant, and stingray. My favorite was the vanity with the large mirror. TV, safe. I'd recommend bringing your own shower things, like shampoo (offered but not very lathery; can be used in place of shave cream tho) and conditioner and soap.
The service onboard was the same as if not superior to what I've experienced before. Besides our room steward, our waiter and assistant waiter were funny and very attentive. One gentleman at our table received a steak cooked the wrong way. When our waiter asked how everything was, the gentleman said that he did not need a replacement, but that the meat was not cooked the right way. So our waiter quickly disappears and 5 min later brings out a new plate, cooked correctly. Even the head waiter was pleasant. In past cruises, we didn't know who the head waiter was when it came time to tip. But he visited our table every single night. I also got the impression that the staff tried to really remember you and make you feel as comfortable as possible. One more comment: the dining staff (dining room, Windjammer, etc) deserve recognition for how hard they work, always running around clearing dishes, bringing something for you.
Dining was one of the best experiences of the trip, of course! Being vegetarian, I can't report on the meat or seafood, but the vegetarian courses were maybe slightly not as good as I've had on NCL. But very nice flavor, variety, and presentation. Being very jetlagged through most of the cruise, I had no appetite for breakfast, and the Windjammer became a favorite place to eat outside dinner at the dining room. I felt the selection was very good. The French toast in the dining room is like a giant cinnamon roll. The fresh fruit was also a favorite, with the fresh pineapple being my favorite. Only complaint: the cookies were not among the best I've had. NCL has had giant, soft-baked cookies. In comparison, the Jewel's were smaller and hard most of the time. And the frozen yogurt was not really frozen yogurt...only vanilla (ran out most of the time), strawberry, and chocolate. But many different dessert choices in the Windjammer. Didn't eat at Portofino's or the Seafood Shack. The Solarium seemed only to have drinks, pizza, and 3 types of wraps. No chocoholic buffet, as on NCL, but there were buffets late at night on formal nights.
Activities were good. Being 23 years old, I was among the (probably) less than 20 people under 30. So things like trivia (I have no where near the amount of wisdom as many of the older people on the cruise!), bridge play, and bingo did not appeal as much to me. But I enjoyed Origami, Quiet Zone in Hollywood Odyssey (being a bookworm, I found it was one of the few places besides the stateroom that was peaceful to read in). I would have loved to try some of the many dance lessons, but was a little intimidated by all the couples who seemed to already have a good grasp on it. One of the bright spots of the entire cruise was my time in the fitness center. With a view of the ocean out of the windows, workouts and classes were very nice. I only wish I'd started sooner. I participated in the Fab Abs and Aerobics classes. The instructors were very energetic and fun. My favorite time to go was after dinner at 8pm or 830, because the gym was empty for the most part. The pools were both heated, and at night or on port days were mostly empty. Stay away around lunchtime. The hot tubs could have been a little hotter. The theater was nice, but on sea days there are not enough seats (maybe 50??) but the stairs are not bad if you really enjoy the movie. Didn't play in the casino...Oh, the pool tables and lounges on Deck 6 aft were another favorite spot. Play pool late at night, like 10 or 11, and there is not a line (only two tables). They're $100,000 each, because they move to adjust to the rocking of the ship without letting the balls roll. The productions on formal night were a highlight. Tango Buenos Aires was simply amazing. Two of the best dancers I've ever seen. I didn't care as much for the other shows, which were mainly piano or comedians or magic shows. Mini golf was usually empty, so nice to play there. The wind and rocking of the ship made it hard to get to rock climbing. The one time I went, no staff showed up, but no sign saying that the hours were cancelled. Jogging track was nice, but felt slippery when wet. I chose not to visit the spa, but the Thermal Suite (Deck 11 Starboard) was very nice when it was open to all on the first day. I also enjoyed the library and card room games. One little complaint: the gift shops were not at all what I thought they would be. The perfume and jewelry and crystal figurines were pretty expensive. I was most disappointed in the clothing selection. They were obviously trying to get rid of the Baltic stuff, being vests, shirts, hats, etc. Royal Caribbean should really get some clothing that is to the tastes of teens and younger adults, and I think their sales would go way up. I really wanted a few shirts, but many were XXL and a little tacky in my opinion. A bigger magnet selection would have been nice, and some of the keychains, mugs, and other souvenirs were also a little tacky.
Disembarkation was easy, and of course a little sad. We were ready to go home actually. Missing the two ports gave us too many sea days. I was expecting the crew to maybe act a little less friendly, since we were leaving that day. But they were just as cheerful and nice as during the rest of the cruise. Getting off was orderly. We were the second to be called, around 8:45. We didn't have trouble finding our luggage, but we waited some time on the bus and there was a little confusion with baggage being taken off. Boston port was not much to look at, and neither was the airport, nor the one in Philadelphia.
Only one other kink in our trip: one of my suitcases was left on the bus in Harwich. My mom noticed the driver was arranging suitcases and he pushed my one very far under and around the back of the bus. If you don't have your luggage by the first night after dinner, it's probably not on the ship. It was suggested the tag had fallen off (I had put it on too well for that to happen), that it had gone to the wrong room (by that time of the evening, the person would have realized this and reported it). Guest relations was as helpful as they could be. They even found a formal dress for me to borrow. I was very very delighted it was my style AND it fit me almost perfectly. OF course, missing the two ports meant I got it in Dublin, four days late. So make sure to divide your clothes when you pack: one pair of jeans in each, etc. I was lucky to get the good suitcase, because the lost one had all my dresses and formals in it, and I would have looked ridiculous walking around Paris in a skirt and heels!
All around, a wonderful and relaxing cruise, beautiful ship, lovely crew, plenty to do (and eat!). I will definitely sail with Royal Caribbean again, perhaps on the same ship. Read Less