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Nancy Norris

Age: Baby Boomer

Occupation:Travel Professional

Number of Cruises: 30+

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Jewel of the Seas

Sailing Date: September 18th, 2004

Itinerary: n/a

A very busy month of travel was to culminate in a 10 day New England cruise on the Jewel of the Seas. I was to join a large group of travel professionals for a seminar at sea, many of whom were good friends. I had been awaiting this cruise for months. The Radiance Class ships are my favorite in the Royal Caribbean fleet and I had heard only glowing reports about the Jewel. For all of my cruising, I had also never taken a New England/Atlantic coastal cruise and was eagerly anticipating the total experience. Normally, I like to fly in the night before a cruise, but my tight travel schedule did not allow me the luxury. Besides, as I live in Cleveland and the ship was sailing from Boston, travel time was not a serious issue. I was, however, dealing with the remnants of Hurricane Ivan so I awoke with a bit of trepidation that my flight would be delayed. I arrived at the airport to find that weather in Boston was deteriorating, but fortunately we were able to fly, as scheduled.

I arrived at Logan Airport, gathered my luggage and grabbed a taxi to the ship. The taxi ride to the port of took about 20 minutes and cost $25 (including tip). I arrived at the pier about 11:30 in the midst of a torrential downpour. As was forecast, the effects of Hurricane Ivan were definitely being felt. I had pier pick-up of my documents, however, the line was relatively short; so I was checked-in, passed through security and onboard before noon.

First Impressions:
WOW!! This ship was named perfectly as it truly shimmers and sparkles like a precious jewel, without being gaudy. Only a few months old (May 2004), it still has the feel and appearance of a brand new ship. The newest of the Radiance class ships, the Jewel is a unique blend of the best of Royal Caribbean’s Voyager and Vision class. Entering on Deck 4, the exquisite beauty of this ship is immediately evident. Massive expanses of glass, a lighted translucent stairway, polished brass and rich woods complement each other, providing an understated elegance. Everywhere you look there are distinctive touches that are a visionary delight. Without being overdone or excessive, tasteful art covers the walls and unique sculptures and decorative artwork are placed throughout the ship.

The Tides Mural

From the free-form suspended sculpture that is the centerpiece of the Centrum; to the 2-deck mural in the Tides dining room, this is a ship that tantalizes the senses. The rich mahogany and warm, vibrant fabrics that adorn the furniture used throughout the public rooms give the ship an intimate, old world appeal. It almost feels like you are in a very prestigious country club, and not on a cruise ship.

My Cabin:
Our group was assigned inside cabins on deck 9 and 10. I occupied cabin 9507, very forward on deck 9. Having sailed on the Radiance in a balcony cabin, I was pleased to discover that the inside cabin offered similar amenities and a spaciousness I was not expecting.

Inside Cabin 9507

Granted the room is not massive, but for one person it was certainly more than adequate, with substantial drawer and closet space. The closet, however, had an interesting configuration that made the shelving virtually unusable. It wrapped around a post and was much too narrow to accommodate clothing of any size. Apparently, this configuration is not the same in all cabins, as very nice shelving was provided in the cabins of other group members. Stylish with warm but muted colors, the blues and golds of the furnishings complemented the honey wood trim. Other than my bed (configured as a queen), a small sofa and coffee table, two bedside end tables and a desk chair were the only other furnishings. The bed was high enough to allow for storage of suitcases and had rounded edges that made the space appear more expansive. (Excellent innovative design). The cabin was equipped with an interactive TV, very large safe and mini-bar. The desk had two electrical outlets, an additional phone jack and modem outlet for in-cabin internet access. There is a retractable desktop configured into the shelving/drawer space of the dresser, which is great for laptops or writing (a feature I found extremely useful on this cruise). The side mirrors of the desk/dresser area opened for additional storage. They were also positioned perfectly for styling the back of my hair. The hair dryer provided utilizes its own special outlet, keeping the other 2 electrical outlets free for other use. Be aware, however, that the hair dryer is one that requires you hold down the power button in order to work (a difficult maneuver when trying to style your hair). The lighting was another bonus. Adjustable reading lights have been added to the bedside lights, and soft, side lighting rather than overhead lighting is used around the desktop mirror (A feature which enhances everyone’s appearance).

Cabin 9507 Bathroom

The bathroom was small, but serviceable. The mirrors of the vanity opened for storage and lighting was good. Shampoo was provided in a shower dispenser. The rounded shower stall had sliding glass doors, rather than the typical shower curtain that never stays put. To my way of thinking, one of the best design advancements in the cabin! Now, if you know anything about my reviews, I evaluate the shower by the ease at which I am able to shave my legs. Well, I can report that the shower passed my test and, although I am short, it was relatively easy to accomplish this task in the confines of the allotted space. Excellent shower pressure, an adjustable shower head and retractable clothesline were added enhancements.

The Ship:

The Jewel of the Seas in Port

At 90,000 tons, the Jewel of the Seas offers expansive public areas. As I wandered the ship comparing the Jewel to its sister ship, the Radiance, it was interesting to note that there were a number of small improvements and subtle design changes. Decks 2 and 3 are devoted to cabin space. Since there are so many balcony cabins on the Jewel, the only ocean view cabins (without balconies) on the ship are situated on decks 2, 3 and 4.

The Lobby Bar

The Centrum, or atrium, begins on Deck 4 and rises to deck 12 at the Crown and Anchor Society lounge. Although not large, this welcoming lobby area has a very nice bar, an attractive, marble dance floor surrounded by comfortable chairs and sofas and a waterfall. With entertainment nightly, it proved to be quite popular on this sailing and it was often difficult to find a seat. A free-form sculpture suspended above the dance floor is a focal point of the Centrum. This eye-catching sculpture made of aluminum, crystal and stainless steel is entitled “Northern Lights” and is aptly named. A lighted stairway, leading to deck 5, separates the dance floor and bar from the Guest Relations and Explorations (i.e. shore excursions) desks along the starboard side of the ship. Tucked in a corner on the port side of the Centrum is a small Internet café (Royal Caribbean Online), where you can stay connected for $.50 a minute. As you will see when I describe the other decks, this is not the only space that provides computer terminals, however. In fact, on both the Radiance and Voyager class ships you can have in-cabin internet access, provided you have your own laptop. Offering unlimited access at $100 for the duration of the cruise, it is quite a bargain.

Tides Dining Room and Staircase

Aft of the Centrum, on deck 4, is the main floor of the stately 2 story Tides Dining Room. Windows along both sides of the dining room, silk draped pillars, high ceilings, an expansive staircase and cascading waterfall all combine to make the area airy, yet elegant. Along the back wall of the dining room hangs a stunning 2 story mosaic of glass, brass and copper.

Climbing the staircase of the Tides Dining Room leads to the upper balcony level on deck 5. Decks 5 and 6 are the main thoroughfares that run from stem to stern.

Latte-tudes Coffee Bar

As you leave the dining room on this level along the starboard side of the ship you will find yourself on one of the balcony levels of the Centrum at Latté-tudes. Latté-tudes is a specialty coffee bar. It offers some tasty brew, delectable sweets and even more computer terminals if you wish to surf the net while sipping on a latté or espresso.

Shops in the Centrum Entrance

Moving forward, a winding marble shopping street beckons you to browse in the numerous shops providing the requisite logo wear, and duty free shopping.

The Photo Shop

Continuing forward your stroll will take you through the photo shop and a rather pleasant art gallery. Somewhat hidden along the inside wall of the photo shop is the Conference Center. This large, stat-of-the-art conference area can be divided into two smaller areas. There is also a smaller conference space that is designed like a boardroom with a large conference table (quite nice for small group meetings).

The Tri-Level Coral Theatre

Deck 5 ends at the main floor of the tri-level Coral Theatre. Tri-level is a bit deceiving, however, as the theatre technically occupies 3 decks of the ship (4, 5 and 6), it is accessible only via decks 5 and 6 and appears to have only two levels of seating. The sight lines and acoustics are excellent in this theatre and seating is comfortable. Other than a striking stage curtain (an artistic depiction of the ocean), it is not ornate but provides a simplistic, functional and comfortable appeal.

Traversing the stairs to the upper level of the theatre we can explore the public space on deck 6. As we venture aft, directly outside the Coral Theatre is a small movie theatre that has seating for about 100 people. Entrance is on the port side, but somewhat hidden and easy to miss if you didn’t know it was there. Movies were shown here daily.

The Pit Stop

From there we move aft to the Pit Stop. The Pit Stop is an excellent sports bar with numerous TV’s mounted above the circular bar and also along all of the walls. It proved to be a very popular spot whenever a professional football game was being televised. The comfy seating and appealing space is inviting, but unfortunately, it had limited operating hours.

The Casino

Walking aft from the Pit Stop will require a stroll through the casino. Here you will find all of the required games of chance, as well as many slots. Apparently a number of the members of our group found themselves here nightly and overall faired quite well.

The Champagne Bar

Once through the casino, the Champagne Bar around the Centrum is quite stylish and chic and its wall of windows provides a fantastic view. I found this one of the most engaging spots for a pre-dinner cocktail or for late night conversation, particularly on formal nights. We are now approaching perhaps my favorite public area on the ship.

Entrance to the Schooner BAr

As you walk through a replica of the wooden frame of a ship’s hull, you enter the Schooner Bar. No RCI ship would be complete without a Schooner Bar, and the Jewel is no exception.

The Schooner Bar

An excellent example of the attention to detail that has been spent on the design and décor of this ship is the teak and marine blue fabrics, accented by nautical antiques and reproductions found in the Schooner Bar. The leather sofas and chairs are arranged invitingly in conversational groupings. Appetizers and happy hour drinks are served daily, while a very good classical guitarist and talented pianist take turns entertaining you. There is even a large screen TV tucked into a corner for those avid sports or news addicts.

Chops Grille

Portofino Restaurant

Access to the two specialty restaurants, Chops Grille and Portofino is through the Schooner Bar. Both restaurants are nicely appointed and are excellent alternatives to the main dining room, but more about those venues later.

The Game Reserve and Safari Club

Leaving the Schooner Bar you move into the Game Reserves and Safari Club. (It is this area of the ship that offers a “country club” appeal). The parquet flooring, large, deep, rich wood entertainment centers (hiding large screen TV’s), book cases, and 2 self-leveling billiards tables in the Game Reserves all combine to make this area quite appealing.

Safari Club Sculpture

Like no other show lounge afloat, a striking resin sculpture of a pair of giraffes occupies the entrance of the Safari Club. Rather than the typical large room with dance floor, it is divided into a number of smaller sections The Zanzibar Lounge (a corner bar) and the Serengeti Card Club are also sections within the Safari Club. Inlaid chess, backgammon and checkers tables beckon you, as do the floor to ceiling windows and sunken bar of the Congo Bar. In the midst of all this, is a nice size dance floor and stage. The entire effect is fantastic!! In addition to nightly dance music, bingo sessions, a 50’s sock-hop, and the Captains Party are just some of the activities that take place here.

With the exception of a small area overlooking the Centrum on decks 7, 8, 9 and 10, all space is utilized for cabins. On deck 7 there is a small business center where there are more computer terminals and printer. On deck 8 the balcony space above the Centrum is the Explorer’s Court where limited board games are available. On deck 9 this space is utilized for a very small, but well-stocked library and on deck 10 it is a small sitting area outside the Concierge Club.

The Concierge Lounge

Ahhh! The Concierge Club! As a Diamond Member (more than 10 Royal Caribbean cruises) I had key access to this space. Breakfast pastries, coffee and cappuccino could be enjoyed here each day; and in the evening complimentary cocktails and hors d’oeuvres were served. There were computer terminals available in one corner and a very pleasant sitting area arranged along a wall of windows offering unobstructed views of the ocean and passing scenery.

The spa, main pool and solarium are on deck 11. Let me tell you about the solarium first.

The Solarium

As impressed as I was with the Safari Club, the solarium is equally impressive. When I first entered this space, I was totally blown-away! The Thai themed solarium is an example of the details that separate this ship from any other. A replica of a Thai temple, complete with a giant bell and bordered by large gold statues of elephants is the backdrop for the pool and whirlpool, both set at a perfect temperature. A tranquil, tropical garden of dense, live foliage surrounds you as you lounge in cushioned, teak chairs. The piped in sound of singing birds provide an added sensory experience. The retractable roof, a bar and café embellish this space. The Solarium Café proved to be a wonderful improvement over the snack bar that was on the Radiance. Coffee, cereals, yogurt and fresh pastries could be enjoyed there each morning. During the day and late in the evening, a variety of wraps and some phenomenal crepes (made to order) were served. This is a room that must be experienced to truly appreciate! Perhaps, the nicest feature was the extended pool hours. The solarium was open 24 hours for adults only – YEAH!

The Main Pool Area

In comparison, the main pool is a bit of a disappointment. The open deck area around the pool, as well as the pool itself, is exceptionally small for a ship this size. There was, however, a lift chair to accommodate the physically challenged so that they could enjoy the pool. There were two canopied whirlpools in the main pool area, which I used only twice during the cruise. (This was one of the few disappointments of the cruise, as they, too, are supposed to be open 24 hours – read my daily journal of the cruise for more details). One of the nice aspects of the main pool area was the pool bar seating. An additional bank of bar stools faces the main pool and was great for “people watching”.

Ship Shape Spa Entrance

The Shipshape Spa, forward of the Solarium is fabulous! Continuing the Thai theme found in the Solarium, the space exudes peace and tranquility. A full beauty salon, health center, massage room and thermal suite offer the ultimate in pampering. For $15 a day, one can enjoy the heated recliners, aroma steam room and tropical rainfall showers of the thermal suite.

The Relaxation Room

Soothing is the best way to describe the Relaxation Room with its gentle shades of orange, pink and cream décor. Aromatherapy diffusers throughout add to the environmental serenity.

The Windjammer Cafe

The Windjammer Café occupies the remainder of deck 11. I particularly like the design of the buffet area on this class ship. Numerous serving stations are scattered throughout the café, each offering a different kind of fare. These separate stations prevent the queues that can often arise in standard buffet lines. The space is attractive and much more aesthetically appealing than many buffet areas on other ships.

Seating in the Windjammer Cafe

Conservatory style seating with low tables, wicker furniture and expansive scenic views offer another dimension to the buffet dining experience on the periphery of the main dining area.

Alfresco Dining

Unfortunately, since the weather was not stellar, this alfresco dining space was not used to its maximum and the main seating area was often overcrowded.

Deck 12 is the sports deck.

Ship Shape Fitness Center

The forward section of deck 12 is the location of the Shipshape Fitness Center. This excellent fitness center has state of the art equipment, free weights and a very nice size exercise floor, not to mention limitless views of the ocean. It was, however, used very sparingly on this cruise. In fact, even the supplemental classes, like Pilates and spinning, were cancelled due to lack of participation. This was definitely a disappointment to one of the avid fitness mavens in our group. The jogging track encompasses the forward half of the deck, encircling the fitness center and the exterior of the Crown and Anchor Lounge.

The Sky Bar and Pool Bars

The Sky Bar, which was rarely open on this cruise, is situated between the retractable glass dome ceiling of the Solarium and the balcony overlooking the pool. Midship on deck 12 is the Crown and Anchor Lounge.

The View Into the Porthole

A glass topped “porthole” table, in the center of the Crown and Anchor Lounge, provides an awesome view all the way to the Centrum floor on deck 4. Make sure to check it out!

Fuel, The Teen Disco

Next to the Crown and Anchor Lounge is Fuel, the teen disco. Another area of the ship that was relatively empty throughout the cruise. You see, on this sailing there were only 8 children on board.

The Ocean Arcade

The Ocean Arcade was across the hall from the teen disco, as were the separate youth facilities. I was unable to take pictures of Adventure Ocean, however. Since there were so few children on this sailing, the youth staff was assigned to other venues and on-call for accommodating the children on board.

Adventure Beach

Aft of the interior of Adventure Ocean was Adventure Beach and the children’s pool. Equipped with a slide, it was quite tempting, although off-limits to adults.

The Basketball Court

Next to the pool was a basketball court. Deck 12 ends with The Seaview Café on the starboard side and the Country Club on the port side. The Seaview Café offered a great outdoor dining area and provided a pleasant alternative to the Windjammer or the Tides Dining Room for lunch or early dinner.

The Country Club

The Country Club was the site of the golf simulator and shuffleboard courts.

The Miniature Golf Course

Deck 13, the very top deck, is the location of the miniature golf course and the rock climbing wall.

The Vortex Disco in the Viking Crown Lounge

The Viking Crown Lounge, with its 180° view, and Vortex, the disco, were also on this deck (actually one and the same). A revolving bar and comfortable seating throughout made the Vortex a nice place to meet. Due to the particular demographics of this sailing, this very attractive space was seldom occupied by more than a few people.

The Hollywood Odysssey

Rounding out the upper deck was the Hollywood Odyssey, a smaller lounge that doubled as the Cigar Bar in the evening. Only two glass elevators offer access to this deck, but definitely worth the trip. A balcony overlooking this bank of elevators provides some humorous art pieces in the form of whimsical statues of flamingoes dressed to the nines. Just another example of the many artistic touches that set this ship apart from all others.

Food and Service:
I have already described the various dining venue options on the Jewel as I described the ship, but let me expound on some of the particulars. First, the quality of food got mixed reviews from our group. Some found the food to be mediocre, while others found it to be satisfying and appealing. I fall into the latter group. Although I did not eat dinner in the main dining room every night, with the exception of one night, I found my meals there to be tasty and pleasing to my palate. Of course, I am a basic meat and potatoes gal from the Midwest, but I found the menus to provide a nice variety and offered a selection to appeal to most diners. As for the one choice to avoid: don’t order the pork chops! Even my waiter discouraged me from ordering them, but I did not heed the warning. You would think after all the cruising I have done; I would pay better attention to my waiter’s suggestions and blame myself for the poor selection on that particular evening. Speaking of the wait staff, we were blessed with personable and efficient waiters that made our dining experience all the more pleasurable. As a side note: one of the members of our group was a vegetarian and felt that this ship offered the best vegetarian meals they have ever had onboard a ship. Before moving away from the Tides dining experience, let me share a couple more issues. First, the tables in our area of the dining room seemed to be very close together. Not only did this make for the space to appear cramped, but it often made it quite difficult for the waiters to squeeze between diners to serve. Secondly, the one aspect of the dining experience that was quite a disappointment was the wine selections. On numerous occasions during the cruise the wine we ordered was not available, even though it appeared on the menu that evening. (Even the chefs recommended selections were not always available). Often the only wines available were on the high-end of their wine list. However, on the flip-side, we were never charged a corkage fee for the personal wines we brought to the table. My suggestion for Royal Caribbean would be to either better stock their wine cellar, or revise their menus to reflect the choices that were available.

Now, let’s look at the other dining options: In the Windjammer food once again received mixed reviews. Some felt that the variety was outstanding, while others were somewhat disappointed. On this score, I tend to fall somewhere in the middle. I thought the breakfast offerings were good to very good, particularly the assortment of fresh fruit. At lunch the Asian fusion selections were outstanding, while many of the other choices were relatively pedestrian. I did not have the opportunity to sample the dinner fare, so I am unable to evaluate those offerings.

There are two specialty restaurants on the Jewel, and we sampled both. The cost to dine in either is $20 per person for dinner and a $10 cover for lunch. We had dinner at Portofino on the second night and were somewhat disappointed. Since so many of the reviews for this restaurant are stellar, I was expecting a sublime experience. On the evening we chose to dine there neither food, nor service were exceptional even though it was virtually empty. However, in all fairness, others of our group dined there later in the cruise and found the Italian cuisine it to be outstanding. (This was another time when our wine choices could not be honored and we were encouraged to sample the most expensive wine offered. At the cost of wine onboard the ship, this tactic seemed to be an unwelcome and overbearing ploy to generate more onboard ship revenue.) Ahhh! Chops Grille! Now, here, everyone in the group was in agreement. The food, service and ambiance were all impeccable. In fact, one of the best steaks I have ever had was enjoyed here. From appetizers to desserts, there was not one complaint from our group. Our waiter added to making this one of the most memorable dining experiences of the cruise.

The Seaview Café and Solarium Café both offered snacks and casual dining fare. I particularly liked the chicken wings and fries at the Seaview Cafe. The soups and seafood salad were also big hits with many diners. As for the Solarium Café, make sure to sample one of the various crepes offered there daily. The last dining option was room service and inconsistent would be the best way to describe this alternative. Full service breakfasts could be ordered in the evening before retiring or in the morning. For some, food ordered in the evening was not always delivered as ordered, or at the time specified. Others in our group found the morning service to be quite adequate. Lunch and dinner choices were somewhat more limited and unimaginative.

This is an area in which the Jewel truly excelled. Although the group was divided on their evaluation of the food, there was no dissension in rating the entertainment. Everyone was in total agreement that the entertainment on this cruise ranked among the best afloat. There were 3 production shows on this sailing, all were exceptional. “Tango, Buenos Aires” far surpassed any expectations I had. It was original, innovative and offered an exceptional evening of entertainment. The featured dancers, tango champions Ruben and Sabrina from Argentina were superb. With the support of the Royal Caribbean International Singer and Dancers the show was spectacular. Definitely not to be missed! City of Dreams and West End to Broadway were not your ordinary production shows either. While I have been less than impressed with the lackluster, minimal set designs and mediocre visual effects that are becoming the norm on many cruise ships, these two performances were stellar in comparison. A very talented and energetic cast of performers enhanced the elaborate and impressive backdrops that adorned the stage for these performances. I found City of Dreams to be exceptionally electrifying and quite memorable, another show not to be missed. In addition to the productions shows, one of the Celebrity Shows on my list of “must sees” was Herb Reed and The Platters. I am not a great fan of variety shows, so I did not attend all of the Celebrity and Headliner shows, but those that did seemed to enjoy them.

As for the entertainment around the ship, the Rosario Strings, Déja Voo, Leesa Gentz Showband and the Jewel Trio all were excellent musicians offering a variety of fare in a variety of venues. There was certainly not a lack of quality entertainment onboard. One of the favorite haunts of many from our group was the Schooner Bar, due in most part to the talented and very personable Barry from Boston. He managed to keep this piano bar jumping until the wee hours every night. The only entertainment venue that was a bit of a disappointment was the disco. This had more to do with the passenger load than the DJ, however. I love to work off my caloric intake at the disco, but it just wasn’t happening on this cruise.

The Cruise:
Day 1 (Saturday 9/18) – Boston:

This is definitely a port that you would want to plan to spend a day or two pre or post cruise to explore. This vibrant and active city has much to share. Although I was not able to indulge myself with a pre or post trip this time, many of the group members did. These are some of their suggestions and favorite activities to enjoy while in Boston: Take the Hop on Hop off Trolley Tour. There are several to choose from and cost $24 for an all day pass. A senior rate is also available; Tour Fenway Park on one of the hourly tours offered daily; The Duck Tour, a land and water tour around the city and harbor was enjoyed by many; and, obviously, a bowl of clam chowder at one of the many casual diners is a “must do”. Public transportation is excellent and the train is easy to get to.

Although we were permitted to board the ship, staterooms were not quite ready to be occupied, so we were relegated to public spaces for a short time. I was able to drop of my carry-on in my cabin and then headed off to do some initial exploring. I immediately ran into other members of our group and joined them for the buffet lunch at the Windjammer Café. Time quickly passed, and before I knew it, it was 4:30 and time for the mandatory lifeboat drill. This is one of my least favorite aspects of cruising, but it was relatively painless on the Jewel. My muster station was in the Coral Theatre. Upon checking in there was a brief instructional presentation and we were quickly dismissed to enjoy the cruise. Yahoo!!! We were scheduled to depart at 5:00 pm, but due to the deteriorating weather conditions, many flights were delayed. Thus, our departure was delayed and the poolside Bon Voyage Party was cancelled.

A pre-dinner cocktail party was scheduled for our group at the Hollywood Odyssey. It was wonderful to see so many familiar faces and have the opportunity to meet new group members for the first time. After an enjoyable social hour, our group made their way down to the Tides Dining Room for our first dinner. Our group was rather large and occupied 7 tables on the portside of the main floor. Lingering over coffee, dessert and conversation I did not make the Welcome Aboard Show, but I seldom do, so wasn’t disappointed. After dinner we enjoyed listening to Déja Voo for a short time at the Schooner Bar and then made our way to the Vortex. Although it was relatively empty, our small group still managed to “dance the night away”. (As it turned out, this would prove to be one of the only nights that my need to dance would be satisfied.)

Day 2 (Sunday 9/19) – Bar Harbor, Maine:

View from top of Cadillac Mtn and Downtown Bar Harbor

Bar Harbor, our first stop, was a tender port. We arrived in the harbor about 8:00 am, just as scheduled. Seven members of our group decided to go exploring together and met in the Centrum to collect out tender tickets. Tenders ran about every 15 minutes, but the wait was long for our tender to be called. We finally made it ashore about 11:00 am. Although there were no taxis or vans available for hire when we arrived, it was only a matter of minutes before a very personable young woman in a van pulled up and the 7 of us were on our way. We discovered that, unlike Mexico and the Caribbean, the fare for vans and taxis was non-negotiable. (Actually, this held true for all of the US and Canadian ports of call on this itinerary). We hired the van for $60 an hour and headed off to Acadia National Park. Acadia National Park is the second most visited park in the U.S.

The leaves were just beginning to change color; and although not at their peak, made for a very scenic journey. We traversed the Park Loop Road, a 27 mile road that winds its way through the park, offering splendid coastline views and culminates with a drive to the summit of Cadillac Mountain. At an elevation of 1,530-foot, this is the highest point on North America’s east coast. Surrounded by mountains, forest, lakes and ocean, Bar Harbor is a scenic and charming resort town. It is also the departure point for whale watching expeditions and sightseeing cruises.

After our 2 hour tour, our driver recommended the West End Café for lunch. Here we enjoyed clam chowder, lobster and blueberry pie. This is the traditional “Taste of Maine” fare. After washing down this very filling meal with some local blueberry ale, we all went our separate ways to explore the small downtown area of Bar Harbor on our own. After checking out the numerous shops, galleries and specialty shops along Main Street and the adjacent streets, I wandered back to catch the ferry back to the ship in anticipation of a short nap to revive me for the full evening ahead.

For me, the first of three scheduled formal evenings began by joining other Diamond Members in the Concierge Lounge for cocktails. From there we headed to the Safari Club for the Captains Welcome Aboard reception. This evening we had made reservations at Portofino’s for a birthday celebration. We are slowly working our way through the ranks of my cruise companions, scheduling cruises around our respective birthdays. This cruise was in celebration of Janet’s birthday. At this point I must share that Janet is the supreme master of creative party planning. (An example of her talents can be gleaned by reading my review of the Mercury, Oct 2003). Unfortunately, I do not have a similar talent, therefore, by group standards this celebration was tame and ordinary. It was, however, a heartfelt celebration for a dear friend. Her birthday dinner was followed by an excellent celebrity show starring Herb Reed and The Platters. They had us dancing in the aisle and was the perfect way to culminate my evening.

Day 3 (Monday 9/20) – Halifax, Nova Scotia

Peggy's Cove Lighthouse

We arrived at Halifax, the capital of Nova Scotia, at 9:00 am. Five of us met in the Centrum on Deck 5 at 10:30 to once again explore the environs on our own.

Peggy's Cove

We hired a van to take us to Peggy’s Cove (fixed rates - $90 for 3 hrs/ $110 for 4 hrs. + $7 for van) and provide a short overview of the city. Other than the lighthouse and a few shops, there wasn’t much to see or do in Peggy’s Cove. Given the opportunity, I would probably not return. Our return to town took us past Citadel Hill and the Old Town Clock before we dropped off at the entrance to the casino. Our plan was to leisurely stroll along the waterfront walk back to the ship. Unfortunately, I caused havoc with our original plans. You see, after walking a short way we decided to stop for a beverage only to discover that I had left my driver’s license, shipboard seapass and credit cards in the back of the van. In panic mode, we grabbed another cab and swung by the casino where we had been dropped off, just in case I had dropped my belongings getting out of the van. Well, God seems to take care of me in many ways and once again he was at my side. The van we had used was still parked in front of the casino and the driver was just getting into the vehicle. To my amazement my wallet was just where I had left it, sitting on the backseat. With the crisis resolved, we decided it was time to find a good place to eat and enjoy a celebratory cocktail.

Granville Mall

We found a pub in Granville Mall and dined on some very tasty haddock and fries. We then made our trek back to the ship along the waterfront walk, albeit not as leisurely as we had originally planned. The walk was very pleasant, and if I return to Halifax again, I would certainly spend more time exploring the shops along the way. This would have been another excellent port to schedule a whale watching excursion, had the weather been more settled.

Waterfront Walk

Unfortunately, we were continuing to experience the tail-end of the hurricane and seas were rough; therefore, many of the expeditions were cancelled. The terminal at the port offered more shopping opportunities and The Pier 21 Museum. Located on the upper level of the terminal, it provides an interesting history of migration throughout Canada and worth a quick stop, if you have the time.

Upon my return to the ship, I did some much needed work on the internet. Unlimited access in the cabin was definitely convenient and well worth the money. I cleaned up and went to Concierge Club for a glass of wine, before joining other members of our group in Vortex for a pre-dinner cocktail hour. Eighteen of us from the group had chosen to make reservations for dinner at Chops Grille this evening. The meal was excellent and the service was impeccable. I highly recommend the filet mignon, but make sure you save room for one of the sumptuous desserts. Tonight’s show was the production show, West End to Broadway. Although, dinner went much longer than anticipated and I missed the performance, others in our group gave it rave reviews. It was rated as a definite “not to be missed”. I had a nightcap at Schooner Bar and called it a night. Although I was tired and looking forward to a restful sleep, that was not to be. It was a very rough night! Wind gusts exceeding 100mph and 35 foot swells made sleeping a bit of a challenge to say the least.

Day 4 (Tuesday 9/21) - Sydney, Nova Scotia Scheduled
Winds were so excessive our port stop in Sydney was cancelled and we headed back out to sea for the trek to Quebec City. Captain James MacDonald successfully secured a berth in Quebec City for an unscheduled overnight stay. This became another day at sea and we were now scheduled to arrive in Quebec City at 2 pm the next day. Complimentary beverages were served in the bars and lounges from 11:30 – 12:30 for the inconvenience of missing the port. Interestingly, this was perhaps one of the first times that our revised itinerary was actually preferred over the original. We had discovered that Sydney was almost a non-port. There was not much to see or do and many people were actually planning to stay onboard rather than even visit this tender port. Hmm, overnight in Quebec City and free cocktails, what a bonus. Thanks Captain MacDonald!

I took advantage of this time to visit the fitness center to work off some of the calories that were already accumulating, while some of the members of our group scored some space in the Schooner Bar. After my abbreviated work-out, I joined the group were we enjoyed our free cocktails while waiting for a very competitive session of “Name that Tune”. After a few cocktails and with virtually no sleep the night before, I was ready for an afternoon nap. The seas had calmed by now and I reveled in blissful slumber.

I awoke well rested and tackled some work, before getting ready for an evening of Rock and Roll. Dinner was again a treat and while some went to the evening show, featuring Bobby Arvon, I passed and made my way to the Schooner Bar. This was the fourth Royal Caribbean cruise I had been on that featured the “talent??” of Bobby Arvon, best known as the voice of the “Happy Day’s” Theme. In my opinion, one of the weakest entertainment offerings of the cruise. The Quest Game (truly a game to behold) and Rock and Roll with the Cruise Director’s Staff were the highlights of the evening. I was scheduled to attend a seminar the next morning, so I bid farewell to the group and headed off to bed.

Day 5 (Wednesday 9/22) - Quebec City, Quebec
With our seminar scheduled for 9:00 AM, I ordered room service as my back-up wake-up call. It was delivered promptly as ordered. My eggs were warm and coffee was piping hot (a great test of morning room service). The conference facilities on the Jewel are functional and offer all of the requisite media equipment necessary to conduct business on board. Time passed quickly on our 3 hour interesting and informative seminar.

QM2 in Quebec City

Due to the seminar, however, we missed viewing the Queen Mary II as we cruised past her. She, too, had missed her scheduled port due to the weather and secured extended dock space in Quebec City. In fact, she was tied up to the space we were supposed to occupy, so the Jewel was relegated to a dock some distance from the Old City. The Jewel did provide complementary shuttle service into the city, however.

Originally, I had planned to do a preliminary exploration of Quebec City on my own, but shortly after docking, re-evaluated my plan. First, a rally had been scheduled for that day and coupled with the normal traffic, there was major gridlock creating 1-2 hour delays in getting into the city. Secondly, the sun was shining and it was the first hint of warm weather I had experienced since the cruise began. Weighing my options (and being a major sun-worshipper), I revised my schedule and decided to spend the afternoon relaxing by the pool. I will admit that it was still a bit chilly, but for someone who suffers through winters on the shores of Lake Erie, the suns warming rays were quite pleasant.

Before out itinerary change, this was to be the second of three formal nights. Due to our arrival in Quebec City, the attire was changed to smart casual. This was also the evening we had scheduled our group photo, but that was now postponed until our next formal night. Evenings were beginning to settle into a regular routine. I had a glass of wine at the Concierge Lounge before joining others of our group at the Champagne Bar. The melodic strains of the Rosario Strings wafted upward from the Centrum Lobby Bar, making our pre-dinner gathering relaxing and enjoyable. From there we moved into the dining room and once again were treated to a satisfying meal and pleasant conversation. I enjoyed a nightcap at the Schooner Bar with Barry from Boston. Tonight he performed a great hour of cabaret crooning, which was a wonderful way to end the evening.

Day 6 (Thursday 9/23) – Quebec City, Quebec
I awoke to bright, sunny, warm skies and looked forward to a full day of exploring, as we were in port until 11:00 PM. Kudos to the captain, once again. Early in the morning he moved the ship from our remote docking location to the more convenient slip along the shore of the Old City (where the Queen Mary II had been the day before).

Quebec City

Part of the city sits on top of the cliffs of Cap Diamant while the rest lies below. The Upper and Lower Towns comprise the district known as the Old City. Just measuring 10 square kilometers, it is the only walled city in North America. Narrow cobblestone streets and walled fortifications create a distinct appeal, reminiscent of the old world charm of medieval Europe.

Chateau Frontenac

From the spectacular Chateau Frontenac hotel to the Dufferin Terrace promenade, picturesque does not begin to describe the Old City. I couldn’t wait to get off the ship and begin my self-guided tour.

Lower Quebec City

My friend Barb, my infamous companion Pat and I headed out for a wonderful day. Due to the topography and the amount of walking we planned to do, we chose to have Pat use her wheelchair which proved to be a wise decision. Although the cobblestone streets were a bit tricky to maneuver, it was by far the best option for our journey. The upper city can be accessed by stairs or a funicular. We chose the funicular for our journey upwards. Reaching the top, we met the others from our group that we had planned to join. A quick visit to Notre Dame Cathedral of Quebec and the interior of Chateau Frontenac were first on our list of explorations. Wandering the cobblestone streets, we ventured upon a Créperie that offered dining al fresco and a folk singing musician. The perfect ambiance and luncheon fare combination! After lunch we chose to break-up and venture off in different directions, planning to join each other later in the day for dinner. I would highly recommend one of the provincial horse drawn carriage rides that provide informative tours of the Old City. It is worth the $66 for a 45 minute tour for two. Exhausted from sightseeing and shopping, I was ready to join the others for what would be a very memorable dining experience.

Aux Anciens Canadiens

The oldest home in Upper Quebec City is now the site of Aux Anciens Canadiens. Located strategically on St. Louis Street, this quaint restaurant with its checkered tablecloths and cozy environment was the perfect way to end this marvelous day in port. Items could be ordered ala carte or as a complete meal. Exotic fare, such as caribou, stag and buffalo were offered along with more traditional choices. I chose a delectable chicken in a puff pastry dish, topped off by a decadent chocolate cake with warm cream. Totally sated, it was time to bid farewell to this charming city. A few of us opted to traverse the stairs for our return to the ship, discovering more visual treasures along the way. This was definitely my favorite port of the trip!

Upon our return from Quebec City, Barb and I decided a perfect way for us to end our day would be take advantage of the 24 hour availability of the hot tub. After all, what better vantage point to watch us sail away than from the comfort of the hot tub. Unfortunately, the tubs on the open deck were NOT open as advertised. The hot tub in the solarium was open, however, so we had to settle for that alternative. After a 45 minute session of blissful soaking, we were both totally relaxed and ready to retire. Wouldn’t you know that when we crossed the open deck to our bank of elevators, we discovered the outside hot tubs were NOW open. I guess there is truth to the saying: It’s all in the timing!!!!

Day 7 (Friday 9/24) – Cruising the Saguenay River

Saguenay River

I rose early to catch the first glimpses of our arrival into the Saguenay River. A naturalist was onboard to provide an informative narrative of the journey. After capturing a few photos of the passing scenery, I chose to visit the fitness center in an attempt to work off some the abundant calories I was voraciously consuming.

Statute of the Blessed Virgin Along the Saguenay River

By the way, while walking my way to a svelte body (Ha! Ha!) the views of the river were awesome. I spent the latter part of the morning taking pictures of the ship for this review and then did some requisite internet work before meeting friends for lunch at the Seaview Café.

Before I knew it, the afternoon was slipping away and I had some work that needing attending. You see, due to a scheduling conflict, the seminar leader for this cruise had to depart in Quebec City; and I was placed in charge of the final seminar scheduled for the next day. My personal need to be well-prepared and organized took precedence over the tempting distractions my friends were proposing, and I excused myself to address those needs.

I was looking forward to this evening’s pre-dinner entertainment, “Tango Buenos Aires”, as I had heard nothing but stellar reports on this production. The world class performances of Ruben and Sabrina were extraordinary and I was certainly not disappointed. The romantic dance music theme continued after dinner with the Jewel Orchestra performing “big band” dance music in the Safari Club. This proved to be a very popular event with the passengers on this particular sailing. In fact, based on the demographics of the passenger load, Royal Caribbean missed the boat by not scheduling more of these dance venues during the cruise. Many of the guests found the interactive game, “Liars Club” following the orchestra’s performance quite entertaining. In preparation for the morning seminar, I once again left our band of merrymakers in the Schooner Bar and retired early. (See, I told you the cruise had fallen into a predictable routine).

Day 8 (Saturday 9/25) – At Sea
I began my morning with a full breakfast from room service, once again served on time and exactly as ordered. Our 3 hour seminar began promptly at 9:00 AM and all went smoothly. Time flew by quickly and I looked forward to my afternoon at sea. A poolside BBQ was scheduled, but the weather was not cooperating. Rather than completely canceling the luncheon option, the menu was slightly abbreviated and relocated to the rear of the Tides Dining Room. Having had our minds set on a BBQ lunch, Barb and I elected to sample the altered fare. Although not quite what we envisioned, it was tasty nonetheless.

An afternoon work-out, some duty-free shopping in the shops onboard, dropping a few quarters in the slots and I managed to fritter away the afternoon. I opted for a quick dip in the Jacuzzi before beginning preparations for the evening. This was the second formal night of the cruise. Our group was meeting for cocktails in the Vortex, before the group photo scheduled for 8:10. We descended en masse for our photo on the impressive stairway in the dining room and then patiently awaited dinner. The comedy and variety routine of Kathy and James Taylor (no, not THAT James Taylor) was this evenings headliner show in the Coral Theatre. Although, a bit “hokey” for my taste, they were well received by the audience. Karaoke was also an option this evening and some from our group opted for that venue. As had become the norm for a large contingency of our group, the evening ended in the Schooner Bar with Barry from Boston.

Day 9 (Sunday 9/26) – Saint John, New Brunswick
We were scheduled to arrive in port at 9:00 AM and actually arrived a bit early. This morning our happy troupe of independent explorers grew from the core group of five to ten members. We set off with plans to take a horse drawn trolley tour and visit the Moosehead Brewery. Well, we weren’t off the ship more than a few minutes before discovering our plans would need to be altered. You see, we had forgotten that it was Sunday and the brewery was closed. The only tours that were being conducted that day were through the cruise ship excursions. FYI: We were later informed that security is extremely tight at the brewery and, in fact, no matter what the day, the only tours that are permitted are through the cruise lines.

I was totally impressed with the warm welcome we received by the residents of Saint John. Ladies were greeted with the presentation of a rose, a band was playing and large craft tents were erected for the purchase of local handicrafts at the dock. Many of the residents on hand to provide maps, directions and information were dressed in Loyalist attire. It was quite a festive greeting. The festive spirit was, however, somewhat dampened by an unfortunate event. Somewhere along our trek into the Bay of Fundy, the Jewel had inadvertently hit a whale and it was still attached to the bow of the ship. It is believed that the whale was dead before it hit the ship, but it was still unpleasant to see.

Horse Drawn Trolly

We found a horse drawn trolley company just outside the gated area of the port that could accommodate our group of 10. At a cost of $20 per person (Canadian), it was $15 cheaper than the exact same tour being offered inside the gate. We were all settled in the trolley and ready to depart when the driver informed us there would be a 15-20 minute delay of our tour. It seems that one of the horses needed to have a shoe replaced, so we were treated to the opportunity to witness this procedure, first-hand. Saint John is known as the Loyalist City because a large number of Loyalists fled the American colonies after the American Revolution and began a cluster of small settlements here. Our tour took us through the downtown area where a restoration project is underway to preserve the Victorian homes and buildings that span 400 years of history. The tour ended at the Old City Market.

Market Square

The market houses a variety of local and imported goods, produce, meat, seafood and a few local crafts. Weaving our way back to the port we walked the short distance from King Street to Dock Street and Market Square. Market Square, along the waterfront, was most picturesque and the perfect setting for a late lunch and absorbing the flavor of this friendly city. I had a sumptuous bowl of baked clam chowder and the local Moosehead beer, before it was time to return to the ship for our 5:00 PM departure.

And what a departure it was! Just as graciously as the Saint John residents greeted us, they orchestrated our departure in kind. We were bid farewell by the locals with a bagpipe band in full regalia. Although Quebec City remained my favorite port on the itinerary, the people of Saint John were unparalleled in their hospitality and made this one of the highlights of the cruise.

Country-western was the casual theme for this evening. I am not a huge country-western fan, but my friend Barb was Texas born and bred, so this was her evening to shine. We decided to meet at the Schooner Bar for our pre-dinner gathering, which conveniently was where country trivia was scheduled at 8:00 PM. Barb, didn’t let us down, as she was the only one in our group who knew any of the answers. Interestingly, on this sailing U.S. Immigration inspections were being conducted this evening in preparation for our arrival in Portland, Maine the next day. We were to report between 5:30 and 8:30 PM (pre-dinner) with a final call between 9:30 and 10:30 PM. Now, I had been led to believe that this was mandatory and failure to report would affect everyone’s departure from the ship the next day. Hmmm, NOT SO! I chose not to wait in the very long line that had amassed right before dinner. Believing I could take care of this at final call, I went to dinner. During dinner an announcement was made indicating that this was the final call for immigration inspection. I was dining with a Canadian friend, who also had not gone through inspection. We excused ourselves from the dining room and proceeded to the Safari Club as directed. Well, the doors were closed and no one was there. We went to guest services to inquire and were told not to worry. There were only a few people that had not been processed and immigrations officers indicated they would contact those people in the morning before departure. It NEVER happened! I was not contacted and the next morning the ship was cleared without incident. Curious, don’t you think???

After our attempt to clear immigration had failed, we went back to the dining room to enjoy coffee and dessert with the rest of the group. We had decided to pass on this evening’s headliner, the music dancing and energy of The Guse’s (which, by the way, I was told was a mistake by a number of others from our group). I believe that I have already established that the Country and Western line dancing scheduled for this evening was not my cup of tea, so I chose to end my evening with another attempt to enjoy a late night hot tub session. Once again, the outside hot tubs were closed, but the Solarium tub was fully operational. Ah, well! Although disappointed, we made the best of it and thoroughly enjoyed this relaxing end to another fine day.

Day 10 (Monday 9/27) – Portland, Maine
We arrived in Portland as scheduled, and tender service was to begin at approximately 9:00 AM. This was the final day of the cruise and it was a gloriously warm and sun-filled morning. I had to make a choice. I had been to Portland and nearby Kennebunkport before and was weighing my options. I could take a tender and wander around town, utilize public transportation to do some shopping at the LL Bean Outlet Shopping Center, or I could stay onboard and enjoy my day on deck, soaking up the rays in relative solitude. Well, I wasn’t much into wandering around town (although one more bowl of magnificent clam chowder was tempting). I would have chosen to visit idyllic Kennebunkport, had I not been there recently. Outlet shopping was just not on my list of “must do’s”. So, that left me with the option of staying on board. Good choice!!! I reveled in the quiet, the sun and a day of total relaxation. What a marvelous way to spend the last day of a cruise!

For a cruise that was rife with revised schedules, tonight was no exception. We had planned to meet as a group for our final get-together at 7:30 PM, before dinner. Well, now that the “City of Dreams”, the final production show of the cruise, was scheduled as a pre-dinner show at 7:15; we changed our final gathering to 5-6 PM in the Vortex. It was, as always, a bittersweet meeting in which we vow to stay in touch. Many of us reconnected that evening to enjoy a phenomenal performance by the Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers before dinner. The performance was outstanding, and that is an understatement. The singing, dancing and choreography was great, but the set designs and costuming was spectacular! Do not miss this outstanding performance, as it is certainly one of the very best at sea.

Some of our group were a bit tardy at dinner due to their participation in the final Jackpot Bingo session. Although no one from our group won the prize, I did meet the young couple that did; and they were ecstatic over their $5,000 winnings. We lingered over conversation, at this, our final dinner together, and then separated to do the requisite packing and preparation for tomorrow’s departure. I managed to complete my “last night” tasks, met a few of our group for a final nightcap at the Lobby Bar and called it an evening. Another great cruise had come to an end and all I could do was look forward to the next cruise and another opportunity to rejoin the friends I had made.

Excursion Recommendations/Suggestions:
Since I was sailing with a large group of professionals, this mega-review became a group project. Based on a consensus of the group, listed here are comments regarding the various shore excursions they sampled on this cruise.

Bar Harbor: “Acadia Park and Lobster Bake” for $88 per person was well worth the money, but pass on the “Best of Bar Harbor” ($56 pp) as it was disappointing and could have been better done on your own.

Halifax: “Titanic-The Confining Mystique”($39), the “Historical Harbor Cruise” ($27 pp) and the “Become a Lobster Expert at Lunenberg” ($120 pp) all received high marks and were highly recommended by members of the group. They were defined as informative, enjoyable and reasonably priced for what they offered.

Quebec City: “Old and New Quebec” ($35 pp) was given a mixed review. The guide was good, but the tour was poorly organized. The walking tour and horse carriage tour are just as easily done on your own.

Saint John: The “Ride the Rapids or Reversing Falls” Tour ($68 pp) was a major disappointment. The reversing falls is a misnomer that implies something that it is not. However, if you would like to see this phenomenon, do it on your own so you have time to wait for the tides to change. If interested, make sure to book the “Moosehead Brewery Tour” ($46 pp) through the cruise ship.

Portland: “Best of Portland and Kennebunkport” ($49 pp) was found to be enjoyable by many. The L.L. Bean Freeport Shopping excursions can easily be done on your own and not necessary at $24 pp (particularly if you are traveling with others).

My flight home was not scheduled until 2:30, so I was not in any great hurry to disembark from the ship. As it turned out, that was a good thing. We waited for quite awhile in the Vortex (Tip: One of the few places that was not crowded and offered a comfortable environment for the wait; Coffee and pastries were even available.) Although we were off the ship shortly after 10:30, there was a rather lengthy taxi queue. From the time we collected our luggage, it took approximately 1 hour to make our way to the airport.

Overall Impression:
The Jewel can probably best be described through a comment made by one of the members of our travel professional group. She shared that the same exhilaration she felt on her very first cruise years ago was what she was once again experiencing on the Jewel. Awestruck and filled with wonder, she was mesmerized by the beauty and attention to detail that surrounded her. Well, I think that says it all! The Jewel is a work of art and the great staff and service add just the right touch to make it a masterpiece.

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