Find a Cruise

José Sá

Age: 46

Occupation:Business Owner

Number of Cruises: 7

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Jewel of the Seas

Sailing Date: August 19th, 2005

Itinerary: Baltic

My latest cruise of 12 nights around the Baltic Sea began on the 19 August 2005 in Harwich (UK) which would also be the debarkation port. It included 4 full days at sea and on the other days the Jewel of the Seas would be docked at Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki, St. Petersburg and Tallinn.

This was my seventh cruise. Except on one occasion the ships I choose were new ships, never more than 14 months old. Such were the cases of the Royal Clipper in 2000, Millennium in 2001, and the Queen Mary 2 in 2004. Also never have I ever repeated Cruise Company. So this was also my first time with Royal Caribbean.

The itinerary is obviously extremely interesting. Personally the places I most enjoyed were St. Petersburg, Stockholm and also Copenhagen.

THE PEOPLE
The Jewel of the Seas (JS) was packed with 2210 passengers, below its announced top capacity of 2501. Such was the figure the guest relations desk provided me with upon my request. Out of curiosity, I always like to know with whom I am traveling with. In my point of view the word traveling is a synonym of the word observing. Seating on a chair while observing the people around you, their reactions to the various stimulus, is as interesting, if not more, than taking photos of a monument or landscape.

Right after embarkation I went to explore the various venues around the ship since this is what I usually do to get acquainted with their exact location. I have the feeling that I was not the only one doing that same exploration. In and around the ship I heard some ‘wows’, ‘yeps’ and ‘yeahs’. I immediately jumped to the more than obvious conclusion that the majority of the passengers would be Americans. Prior to entering into the details of this review let me tell you that English is a foreign language for me and that I don’t get much the opportunity to speak it or hearing it. I am anyway deeply convinced that such exclamations of sudden joy or utter amazement can only be produced by people whose mother tong is effectively English and that they are deeply rooted on the ways and behaviors of a particular society. It would be very difficult for me to produce them. In fact when I asked the guest relations desk to provide me with the break down of the passengers by nationality, the only figures they provided me with, were Americans, more than 800 (but I can not remember the exact number) and al other citizens constituting all the remaining figure. There were obviously many other nationalities represented whose mother tongue was also English, such as citizens of the UK and Canadians. I also heard lots and lots of Spanish; it was for that obvious reason the second most spoken language aboard the JS. A pity for me that I can not speak it, even if I understand a little bit. Finally, in only one or two occasions have I heard French, German or Italian.

I was not provided with the average age of the passengers although I suspect that it was high, not many children. I spotted just a bunch of couples that were very likely on their honeymoon. In fact I had a couple of honeymooners on my assigned dinner table.

Let me tell you by the way that every night when retiring to my cabin the attendant would have left there the Cruise Compass or daily planner. That’s the normal procedure in every cruise ship. However from the forth day on, probably realizing that Portuguese was my mother tongue, he would leave the translated version of the Cruise Compass. This version was so scattered with misspellings, that I succumbed the burden of seeing my own grammar being treated so badly. The errors I saw were countless and recurrent. Finally I would not even read it, but just tear it apart and go to deck 4 at the guest relations desk, and take the original version in English or in French (this last one with barely any misspells). I left a note on the suggestions box, saying that they should consider not publishing it at all, rather than doing it with so many errors.

THE SHIP
The looks are impressive. The ship is new and in pristine condition. In every port of call, I found members of the crew repainting the hull or doing whatever work was necessary to keep it that way. I assume that good looks are very probably a way to draw the attention of potential future clients whenever the vessel is docked.

The interior decoration is prone to discussion since it is a rather subjective matter. Some venues are in fact elegant and appealing, such as the main dinning room, both of the alternative restaurants, the Coral Theatre, the Congo bar (in the aft of deck 6 and allowing good sightseeing from the aft of the ship) and my preferred The Viking Crown Lounge or Vortex. This is situated on the top deck of the JS and allows impressive views to the outside, but I have to say that as far as the design of a ship is concerned I prefer the Cosmos lounge on the Millenium class ships of Celebrity Cruises, since they are more wide and the views to the see are not obstructed by the funnel, as it is the case on this ship and obviously in all of the other radiant class ships.

Other venues however were not to my liking. The Centrum, rather showy and designed to attract the attention of unsophisticated likings, is where the lobby situated on deck 4 and spans across several decks (up to deck eleven). The consequence of this is that if you sit on any other given place close to the Centrum, such as the tiny library on deck 9, the internet terminals located on deck 8 and 4 or you just sit to read a book on the yacht club situated on deck 10 you are immediately disturbed by the noise, music or just the elevators. They have two elevator banks, forward (3) and midship where the centrum is (6). The elevators on the Centrum attract crowds and are the kind that ‘speak’ too much. On one of the see days I sat on the yacht club to read a book in a peaceful atmosphere but was constantly disturbed by their recorded voices announcing the deck were they were and weather they were going up or down.

The decoration at the solarium does not lack creativity but it is more suitable as a Disneyland attraction. Kids under 16 are not supposed to go there except on unfavorable weather conditions and only for short periods of time under parental supervision. However, with such an enticing décor exactly suited for them, no wonder the deck patrol had to chase them (sometimes but not always)Should Royal Caribbean find a décor less appropriate for them and there would be one less reason for them to bath on the Solarium. Around this place the floor is teak, on the other pools and jogging track is anti skid.

The interior was always very clean and I suspect that they even purified the air we breathed. I often found on the corridors a strange machine expelling air from a sort of vent. The machines were in shape pretty similar to the commonly known vacuum cleaners (probably a sort of ‘cousin’ of such appliances) only these ones were left working by themselves on their deeply mysterious task.

The ship also tends to rock a little bit. We did not encounter very rough seas, but it seems that a reasonably strong wind is enough to get the JS on bouncing pattern navigation. Anyway nothing serious.

CABIN AND SERVICE
I had a balcony on deck eleven starboard side of the ship (cabin 1520). First advice for all those who will go in the future on this itinerary: Be aware that weather conditions around the Baltic are pretty unpredictable. It could happen that you pay for a balcony, and that you will never get the possibility to enjoy. For other itineraries aboard this ship, let me tell you the balcony does not have enough room for two loungers, although with the two chairs and small coffee table, (that was what they put there), it seemed spacious. I booked this cruise five months in advance and requested a cabin located on the aft of the ship. Balconies there are much more spacious, but it was already too late to get one.

The cabin had the usual amenities on a cruise ship. There was enough closet and drawer space. More than enough space to put your books or travel guides, even with some corner shelves that I assume some people might never realize they are there. The suitcases fit perfectly under the bed providing they are not excessively thick.

The bathroom is faultless as far as conception is concerned. The floor of the shower is round shaped and anti skid, doors are plexiglas giving it enough room for bodies with up to an acceptable average weight. Here again the shelves you need are hidden behind a corner mirror. They provide soap bars and on a dispenser on the shower they had shampoo with conditioner. Here I found a useful retractable clothesline. Finding the suitable water temperature is very easy, however water pressure of the shower was not enough in my opinion.

Exiting the toilet one must be aware with the door, not to shove someone standing in front of the closet. This is a recurrent problem in every cabin I have been. I have never understood why it is so difficult to design sliding doors for bathrooms.

There was a sitting area in my cabin. In all other cruise ships I have been on, the sitting area stands close to the sliding glass door of the balcony, which is in my opinion the best place for it. However in this cabin the sitting area is squeezed between the bed and the toilet. In my point of view this is not the best solution.

The vacuum cleaning system of the toilet broke twice. The first time it kept working on and on, making incredible noise. I called maintenance and they came promptly. The second time, upon arriving to the cabin around midnight and already tired, the system broke up again and kept pouring water on the toilet causing flooding on the bathroom. Once more I called maintenance, once more they came promptly. Extremely apologetic, but they had to go back for some spare parts. I ended up going to bed at 01:15 AM. Part of the work they had to do was done from the outside of the cabin on the corridor. I have the feeling that the vacuum system of the toilets aboard new cruise ships often break. This is a recurrent problem in every cruise ship I go, the only exception being the Queen Mary 2 last year. And I also heard lots of similar stories from other passengers, so it is not only my problem.

As to cleanliness around the cabin, well…. The balcony was always very salty (also a common problem in every cruise ship with balconies I’ve been on); the sliding glass door that led to the balcony was only cleaned from the inside; the carpet would have needed more vacuum cleaning; the railing of the sliding glass window was filthy. I think that my cabin attendant was the kind of guy who never suspected I would pay attention to such details. Men generally don’t. It is true that I never made any complain, and he might have thought that I was not the kind of person who would Inspect the carpet under the bed, or put a finger on the upper hedge of the frame of the picture on the wall and see it comes with dust, left alone making a review afterwards and telling a lot of people about it.

As I was travelling with my father, I had requested the cabin attendant to separate the beds into two singles. Throughout the entire cruise they never put a cover on the bed after doing them in the morning. I assume they did not have covers for separate beds, only for king size beds. In the evening while I was at dinner they would come again, not to open the beds, as they were left that way from the morning, but just to lit the reading lights around the bed, eventually change towels, make their funny foldings and leave that irritant translation of the “Cruise Compass”.

Apart from that, one of the hooks that sustain the curtain of the window was missing, so part of the curtain seemed to be falling. It stayed that way from the first time I entered the cabin till the day I left it upon final debarkation.

These are probably just a few details, but even for a medium price cruise company as Royal Caribbean, I think they should take care of them, probably with better supervision. I was on vacation, I came to enjoy a cruise experience and the ports of call and not to make reclamations.

When tip day came, I rewarded the cabin attendant according to the skills shown with towel folding. If you get me.

I can not rate room service since I never used it.

DINNING ROOM EXPERIENCE
I had precisely the sitting I requested when I made reservations: The second sitting. It started at 08:30 PM, (that is my usual time for dinner while at home) thus allowing me to watch the ship leaving the port and all the fascinating landscapes around the fiord of Oslo and the canals of Stockholm. First sitting passengers missed a lot of interesting places to observe as the seating started at 06:30 PM.

Dinner consisted of a three course meal with appetizer entrée and dessert. The list of appetizers was conspicuous but many of them were repeated every day, (for example the shrimp cocktail). As far as food was at stake, there were good moments and not so good moments, but never disappointments. The portions of the entrée were huge. For me that is always a cause of astonishment in every cruise restaurant I have been on. No wonder that I often found people with sleepy looks around the Coral theatre afterwards.

Wine list was also conspicuous. There was no wine steward as I saw in other ships, the waiter or his assistant would take care of the orders.

I prefer small tables, but they put me on a table for ten. I only saw a few tables for two in the upper floor of the restaurant. The room is elegant and they would play recorded music (mainly Russian and Scandinavian classical composers, as I managed to distinguish some tracks of the records).

The service around my table was faultless. The waiter, Oggus from Turkey was efficient and smiling. And so was the assistant.

Oggus was a genuinely funny kind of person. On every evening I ate there, after the meal he would come by and announce the opening hours of the restaurants for the following day. A piece of information that was anyway published on the Cruise Compass. He would do it this way: “Tomorrow we will be at…”, at that precise moment he would make a pause, would take a few small paper notes out of his pocket that he would turn upside down in his fingers, consider the calendar of his wrist watch, and finally conclude his sentence with a voice of ultimate revelation, an well kept secret that he would reveal just for us, his preferred passengers at his preferred table: ‘Stockholm’. He would then eyeball us as if to assess our reaction to the secret just revealed, and finally begin to instruct us with yet one more piece of information that we, utterly unfocused passengers, did not know: ‘The opening hours of the restaurants for the following day’. He would do that the same way every night, just changing the name of the place where we would be the next day, weather it was St. Petersburg, Tallinn or simply ‘at sea’.

I noticed that there were other tables that were empty from the second or third day of this cruise, but that I am pretty sure have been occupied on the first day. I do not know how to explain this phenomenon, but it is probably because those passengers rather preferred to have dinner somewhere else.

I never took breakfast on the Tides Restaurant and only had lunch there once on a sea day. I could choose from a menu or directly from a limited but pleasant buffet. For lunch, there is no assigned seating, so odds are that they will seat you wherever it suits them (along with some people you’ve never seen before) and not where you want to sit.

WINDJAMMER CAFE (or lido Buffet)
Nothing much to say about it. Food was standard.

For breakfast I always found everything to suit my needs (coffee, reasonable assortment of bakery items, butter, fruit, yogurts) but there were many other items I generally do not consume for breakfast.

For lunch and dinner, they had a choice between two different kinds a soup,(I only state this detail, since I eat soup daily and enjoy it) and they were good. Salads lacked variety, only two different kinds of lettuce, but one could choose from up to eight different dressings, none of them overwhelmingly notorious, by the way, but pleasant. As to pasta, I found them good until the day when I took one that was completely dry. Ice cream had to be taken from that sort of dispenser machines and were not outstanding as to taste and variety (chocolate and strawberry were the only two flavours, as far as I can remember). Reasonable assortment of fruit that one could choose from the dessert stands, where other delicatessen were presented, some very good, others only with a good presentation but with a taste not corresponding to their looks.

Drinks such as water, lemonade or ice tea could be taken from two stands they called ‘thirst quenchers’. Unaware of the meaning of the word ‘quencher’ I have just looked on my dictionary, and in fact one must be very creative to find such names to give to stands. If you sit in a table without a drink a server will come by, as they are always circulating with trays with drinks and take one from him. Obviously for lunch and dinner you could also select wine from a list on the table (quite obviously with limited choice).

For dinner one could also find sushi in one of the stands. Do not ask me whether it was good or not, I simply do not like it and did not try it aboard the JS.

The layout of the room and the service around it seemed quite good (and let me tell you that I’ve seen in the past very bad examples of service around the buffet of cruise ships).

Finding a table is difficult on those mornings when everybody is in a hurry for the tours and for lunch on sea days. This is however usual on big cruise ship but annoying should you take a full tray of food or even worst, drinks pouring off glasses. It was somewhat easier to find seating around the outdoor part of the Windjammer, at the aft of the ship. However the bellow average air temperature (at least comparing to what I am accustomed), would keep me away from such place.

Let’s not forget that one can not simply pay for an average price rate for a cruise and expect first class amenities.

ALTERNATIVE RESTAURANTS
There are two: The Shops Grill and the Portofino. They charge $20 per person, but obviously you end up paying much more, since a good meal should always be accompanied by a first class wine.

I tried both restaurants and both were excellent as to food, service and atmosphere.

I did not appreciate the fact of being charged $2,50 for an espresso I order at the end of the meal, the day I was at the Chops Grill. This is a petty attitude in such a place. It would have been preferable to reduce the portions of meat and not charge for coffee or tea.

The shops grill has a five course meal (appetizer, soup, salad, entrée and dessert). For the entrée you chose the sides and vegetables you prefer, from a list. Obviously I only had a soup (cheese n’onion soup, as they call it) and a fillet mignon (the only entrée where you could choose from small or big portion, I chose the small one which was already too much). I ended up paying $86,57 for a dinner for two. By the way I asked them to send the bottle of red wine to the Tides dinning room in order to finish it the next day, and it was done without problem.

The Portofino restaurant was even slightly more pleasant than the Chops Grill, at list for me. When I got there the gay that welcomed me was Italian. He immediately spotted that I was not an Anglo-Saxon. Coming from a country in southern Europe I’m a Latin, as himself and asked me whether I would like my menu in English or Spanish. Jokingly I answered that I wanted it in Portuguese, something very unlikely for them to have. He did not blink an eye and just answered saying ‘Certainly sir’. He showed me a nice table by the window and told me he would call Pedro, one of the waiters. Pedro was himself a Portuguese, so around that restaurant I had the feeling that I was right at home

Obviously you can order pasta on the Portofino, but that you can get it in other not so expensive restaurants. I followed the recommendation the waiter gave me which was fish and it was extremely good. I argued with Pedro saying that I liked fish very much and that I prefer it to meet, but had never had a good experience with the preparations of fish I had in any cruise ship. He agreed with me but said that anyway I should try his recommendation because that was precisely the exception that confirmed my rule. I was in fact surprisingly pleased with what I ordered. Desserts were also excellent. Since I did not order neither coffee nor tea and had just two glasses of wine (instead of a bottle as I did at the Chops Grill), the experience was less expensive, only $69,55.

Again, I was displeased by the fact that in both restaurants portions were enormous. Forgive me if I’m repeating myself, but I only state this since it is for me uneasy to be confronted with a huge portions I can never eat. I do not think this is healthy anyway. It is hard to accept that around this world half of the population dies due to malnutrition and the other half dies as a result of diseases related to overeating.

ENTERTAINMENT AND ACTIVITIES
Obviously there was plenty of it. It is rather difficult to speak about this as I only went to see three shows. I selected those that I thought would suit more my likings. The Soul Satisfaction Group was excellent, Tango Buenos Aires also very good, but I did not see the usual jugglers and solo singers. I went twice to see a movie. They were relatively recent, but the room is only good if you sit on the two or three further rows from the screen. The others are too close to it.

There was a very wide variety of activities to suit every taste through out the day. Some speeches about the ports of call that we would visit, given on the Coral Theatre, that could be later seen on TV. They would provide a few information about monuments to visit, but lots of advice on shops we should definitively go and what to buy. Since most of the countries we visited had a VAT (value added tax) that could be refund to passengers not belonging to European Community neither living there, we were encouraged to spend as much as possible, since, so we were told: ‘Ladies and gentleman, the more you buy, the more you save’ (due to the VAT refund). I only state this and retain it as one of the silliest things I have ever heard in my life.

I used the ship shape centre a lot and it was very well equipped and clean. Generally I went there in late afternoon and always saw someone cleaning thoroughly and in detail every peace of equipment. There were classes and some of them required a $10 fee (Yoga, Pilates and what they called Wheels in motion).

The library is for me a good option to spend some time after dinner. However and as said before, it was located on deck 9 of the Centrum, thus extremely noisy. This is definitively not the right place to put it. The choice of books is poor.

The casino was well attended, but I do not gamble nor do I have in great consideration people who do.

ITINERARY AND EXCURSIONS
The itinerary (Baltic) was in fact very good, but there are some issues that could be improved. In fact I think that the departure from the port of Harwich is probably not the best option, since we wasted one day at see between Harwich and the first port of call and two days at see between the last port of call and the debarkation. In fact we had to cross part of the north see just to get to the Baltic. When navigating, our pace was around 23 and 24 Knots. The top speed of the JS is somewhere between 24 and 25 Knots. As embarkation/debarkation probably Amsterdam would have been a better choice. The other drawback I found was the fact that from Harwich to St Petersburg they had to set our clocks three times advancing one hour each time. When I got to the east most part of our itinerary (St. Petersburg), I felt pretty tired. I can imagine that for people coming from other continents, especially if they came without one day to spare in London, it was even worst.

As to excursions, as always, they were rather expensive and not worth the price. Also the transfers from dock to downtown were charged $4,00 one way and $8,00 round trip. I had never been charged for a transfer before, except in Barcelona last year.

Oslo
The JS docked next to downtown. It was Sunday, no transfer was necessary. I bought one half day excursion. I ended up with the impression that in fact Oslo is not a very interesting place. I had heard that before from friends and relatives and I can confirm it now. However the landscapes around town are beautiful and I found the Folk museum very interesting. To get in and out of Oslo the JS had no made its way through the Oslo Fiord. Not the kind of spectacular fiord, however pretty interesting.

Copenhagen
Very pleasant and easy to walk around. I took the transfer in the morning and went for a stroll downtown. For the afternoon, I choose the cruise canal tour and enjoyed it. One of the touristy attractions is the little mermaid, a small sculpture (the size of a human being) that was made as a tribute to Hans Christian Andersen. Our tour guide told us that once she had a group of Japanese tourists that were extremely disappointed when they saw this sculpture, convinced as they were that it was probably the same size of the Statue of Liberty in New York. They had planned to have lunch in a restaurant inside the little mermaid, so they told the tour guide.

Stockholm
I found it extremely interesting and would have gladly spent one more day there. The departure was at 4:30 PM, extremely early, but navigating through the canal in order to get to the open sea allowed us to see beautiful landscapes. At 08:30 PM when I went for dinner we were still navigating thought the canal.

Helsinki
Only marginally interesting as far as architecture is concerned. However many parks around the city are beautiful. Finland is a big country with a small population. They are rather cold people and not sociable.

St. Petersburg
Definitively the highlight of this itinerary. The city is rather new as it dates from the eighteen century and was built on the delta of the Neiva River. It is majestic and grandiose, and I think in knocks out Rome as far as exuberance of architecture is at stake. The JS was docked on the port of the city, the place is big, noisy and ugly, and rather far from the city centre. It was also the place chosen to refuel the JS. I think that Royal Caribbean my have cut some deal with the local authorities to get advantageous prices for it.

There were no transfer buses to nowhere around the city. If you want to go on your own for a visit it would have been necessary to arrange for a visa in advance and transportation on your own also. Passengers on the tours had a special visa that was granted just for the purpose of the tour.

I took three tours: the city sightseeing, the folkloric dancing show and the river cruise canal with visit to Peter and Paul Fortress.

On the first tour our guide was Catherina. The pour girl hardly had enough time to breathe while we drove across the city, as whatever road we went buy there were dozens of points of interest that she would call our attention to and add a small description. Here again, coming from various places around the bus, lots of wows, yeahs and yeps. There were only two stops for photos and whenever this happened there were street vendors trying to seduce you with postcards, matriuska dolls or whatever they think might interest tourists.

Quite frankly I have a hard time trying to understand some passengers much more concerned trying to find souvenirs than admiring the city. On the last stop of this tour, right in front of the majestic church of the Spilled Blood, there was a sort a flee market. I spotted a couple that as soon as they left the bus headed directly to the flee market, not even taking a picture of the church. As far as I ran remember it was a 30 minute stop and I ended the visit to the church with time to spare before the bus was due to leave. So I went for a very short stroll around the flee market where I found a woman trying to speak its limited English with a couple. She would do barely more than put one word after another in a desperate attempt to build a phrase while helping her with wide gesticulation. The couple I had seen getting out of the bus and heading directly to the flee market, were her interlocutors, and responded to that schematic English with a Morse code sequence of grimaces. I am sure they found some ground of understanding since the woman managed to add one more packet to the hands of the couple.

The second tour was also very interesting. It was a show of folkloric dances. Our tour guide Irina, did nothing more than to salute us and welcome us to St. Petersburg (again, at list for me) while we drove to the theatre located near the most lively road of the city, Nevsky Prospect. The performers were professionals and the costumes very beautiful. You had to pay a fee if you wanted to take pictures. Again inside the theatre, lots of souvenirs were there waiting to be bought.

On the second day I went to the river cruise canal tour. Our tour guide was Valentina, competent and knowledgeable. The tour was very interesting except for the last part which was a visit to Peter and Paul Fortress. On one part of this fortress there is a church where all the czars of Russia are buried. The place was packed with tourists that would have to elbow their way to follow their tour guides. The result was mass confusion. I could not hear one word of what Valentina said down there.

I have somehow the feeling that around very touristy places, there are too many visitors at the same time.

Besides that St. Petersburg has several buildings under renovation, as attested by the works on the façades. It’s a gigantic endeavour since there are so many interesting buildings and I assume also that a very expensive one, although the current high price of oil has busted Russia’s economy. On the roads of the city one can observe lots of expensive German made luxury cars, along with many once popular, locally produced Ladas. These tend to break easily, so I witnessed during the tours. It was a common sight while on tours seeing a Lada with an open bonnet and a driver bent over it with disillusioned looks while accessing the fatigued guts of the soviet era beast. Around the place trams are old and rusty and almost always empty. However they have vans equipped with far too many seats for their size, that I suspect, serve as collective taxis.

A curious note: on every tour I went, the name of the driver was Vladimir. We discussed this fact with tablemates at dinner that also had other Vladimirs as drivers. I ended up with the feeling that in the Soviet era the name one was given as a child would determine their future occupation.

EMBARKATION / DEBARKATION
Whenever I go on a cruise I always arrive to the place of embarkation one day in advance. London is not new to me. I’ve been there twice before, but it is always a pleasant city to visit. I had found a hotel and paid for it through the net (using www.octopustravel). The Thistle Charing Cross hotel was comfortable, recently renovated and conveniently located close to Trafalgar Square on the Strand. Arriving at Heathrow at 11:00 AM, I was at the check in of the hotel one hour and a quarter later. I spent an excellent afternoon in London, with a beautiful sun shining day, however with slightly high temperature causing some discomfort, not very common in London. The day ended with an excellent dinning al fresco on The Strand.

The weather in the UK is pretty unpredictable. The next morning, while shaving in front of the mirror on the bathroom, a voice pouring from the little holes of the backlit cover of a microphone, cautioned me against ‘lingering heavy rain’ for the eastern part of the UK. The BBC weather forecast was not wrong. I had booked a transfer by car with chauffer to get me from the hotel to the cruise terminal in Harwich, and in fact when we were slightly in the middle of the journey it was already raining cats and dogs. The consequence of this was that later in the day when I received the suitcases in my cabin, already aboard the JS, one must have been lying on the rain for too long since a little bit of moisture got inside. I even had to give a pair of pants for cleaning aboard (and I paid for it). I was somewhat displeased with this because I think that Royal Caribbean should take better care of passenger’s luggage. I was also displeased with the suitcase. It was only 9 months old and from a reputed and expensive brand. I’m now convinced that I was cheated and probably bought a Chinese copy of the suitcase but end up paying the price for the original brand. Who Knows?

On the cruise terminal there were porters that immediately took in hand my suitcases. I had a small carryon that finally I also gave away to the porters since it had also a tag with cabin identification and I was not feeling like to be burdened with it through the procedure of the check in. I always attach tags on carrions since in case I loose them at the port terminal, it is more probable that someone gets it onboard the ship and do not put them aside thinking that it belongs to a passenger that has previously disembarked on the same ship. I would later regret giving it away.

There were already lots of people around the terminal. They had three lines for check in (one for passengers with cabins on deck 2, 3 and 4, another for cabins on deck 7 and 8 and finally a small one for cabins on deck 9 and 10). Everything was well organizes and the procedure was painless. Finally it took me less than half an hour from the moment I gave my suitcases away at the porters and the moment I got aboard around noon. We were told that our rooms would not be available before 01:00 PM so I had enough time for my first lunch at the Windjammer Café.

I was worried all the afternoon since the carryon I had given away to the porters was still missing at dinner time. I headed to the guest relations desk, and found about a dozen suitcases with no tags. My carryon had also been ‘lingering’ there probably for the all afternoon. The girl at the desk told me what was already obvious: Rain water tiered up a lot of tags. I replied that my bag had my name on it, on a little pocket on its side. In fact this pocket is precisely there for nothing else than putting your name on it, so they could have traced me. She replied that they did not like to touch passenger’s belongings but offered to arrange for someone to take it to my cabin.

Debarkation was also swift and well organized. I must say that I never found a cruise ship with disorganized debarkation procedures. It is as if they want to get rid of their passengers.

Earlier on the cruise they had given a flyer so that we could state our post cruise arrangements. Debarkation was done by colors of the tags they provided us with. In fact the usual in every other cruise company.

I would take a flight back home that same day at 06:30 PM from Heathrow, so I had a whole day just to wonder around London. My advice for all those wanting to go from Harwich cruise terminal to London or making the opposite journey on the day of embarkation, is that there is a very convenient railway connection from London Liverpool station to Harwich. The railway station on the port terminal is called Harwich International. It takes less than 90 minutes to make the journey. The first class ticket is half the price the transfer by couch they were offering aboard the JS. By coach and depending on the traffic it can take from 90 minutes to 120 minutes. The train runs every hour during the day. There is however a small drawback. This was a commuter train and as a consequence there was not much room where to keep the luggage. Mine and those of all the other passengers were lying on the corridor of the wagon and on the subsequent stops that the train made and the closest we got to London, there were more and more commuters that boarded the train and had to travel standing up on the wagon. A young passenger that boarded the train at Colchester, not finding a vacant sitting place decided to sit on a huge suitcase lying there so he could read his magazine more comfortably. It is also true that I traveled during rush hour. I boarded the train in Harwich International at 08:06 AM. Should I have boarded the following train one hour later, I imagine it would not have been so packed.

MISCELLANEOUS THOUGHTS

I only witnessed smoking around the bars.

Tipping is easily made since they charge it to your shipboard account and give you vouchers that you will then distribute to the servers. The amount they charge is fixed according to the guidelines they recommend. Obviously one can add additional dollar bills to the vouchers.

I tried the SPA on two occasions. Out of curiosity I booked a hot stone massage. Prior to any treatment they give you a questionnaire for you to fill out, before they proceed with the treatment. Some very funny questions, I must add: ‘Had I any particular gynaecological condition? Was I pregnant?’. This treatment is designed to relax people. After the massage the girl who had performed it asked me if I felt relaxed. Politely I answered yes, however I was not more relaxed in the end than I was at the beginning. Somehow she also managed to sell me a concentrate of lavender, since in her saying I should put a few drops in my pillow every night, because lavender makes the brain give an order of relaxation to the rest of the body. The second treatment was a full body massage with a deep skin cleansing. In the end the girl came up with a program of natural products for me to use regularly (sun blockers, eye mask, night creams). All in all the set of products she was trying to advise me to take was worth $333. Obviously I refused all. My advice is if you really like Spa’s, do it at home since on cruises their prices are ridiculously high.

Shops on board were nothing extraordinary. However I am suspect since I do not like to spend my precious money around shops.

Photos were taken on every possible occasion and sold for $19, 90 each.

Art on board is worth to be admired. Try to do the following: proceed to the top floor of each elevator bank and go down on foot through the stair cases. The most of the art around this ship is placed around the staircases.

LAST WORDS
I have to say that should I do this itinerary again, I would probably book a cruise in a smaller ship. In St. Petersburg other smaller cruise ships from Oceanic and Radisson were docked on the Neiva River around the city, making it much easier to just get out of the ship and wonder on your own.

I would also caution people not to take the tours proposed on board on the various ports of call but instead opt for those kind of hop on, hop off tour buses that now exist in almost every major town in Europe (but not in St. Petersburg). You will end up spending half of the cost of the tour and have a more comprehensive visit of the places you go.

This was my first experience with Royal Caribbean. It’s an average price cruise line, no big disappointments but also no big thrills.

Further questions and comments arising from this review will be welcomed.

Was this review helpful?

Yes No Email this review to a friend
 

Ask questions and get advice from other cruisers on our popular discussion board,