EMBARKATION The bus deposited us and our baggage just twenty feet from the port door. Excellent! There was wheelchair assistance from the entrance. We were grateful, because there is no elevator and the ramp leading to the ship has an unusually steep incline. The Crown & Anchor Society has priority check-in for its Diamond and Platinum Members. It also greets all passengers with freshly baked cookies and lemonade. All this welcome was nice after the two hour long ride from London through the quaint English country side. Between check-in and boarding, we were in our cabin in less than thirty minutes.
SHIP When RCI conceived of the Radiance Class of ships, it truly designed a modern, classically shaped liner with yacht like overtones: 90,090 gross tonnage, GTV (Gas Turbine Vessel). The first of this class was the Radiance of the Seas (2001), followed by the Brilliance of the Seas (2002), the Serenade of the Seas (2003) and finally the Jewel of the Seas (2004), which concludes this class of ships. All were built at the Meyer Werft Yard, Papenburg, Germany. Last year, RCI also concluded the building of the larger Voyager class ships, five in all (Voyager, Explorer, Adventure, Navigator and Mariner of the Seas), and recently it has announced the construction of two Ultra Voyager class, soon to be the largest cruise ships in the world.
The Jewel is 902 ft. long, 106 ft. wide (Panamax). It has a 28 ft. draft and cruises at 24 knots. There are three acres of glass windows, giving passengers continuous views of the seas. There are nine elevators and twelve passenger decks with a maximum passenger capacity of 2,501. This trip the ship was full to capacity with passengers of all ages, from infants to elderly, and a crew of 859. The total number of staterooms is 1055: 817 are ocean view of which 577 have balcony; 238 are interior. There are 19 wheelchair accessible cabins distributed in various categories. All cabins have interactive TV, telephone, hairdryer, computer jack, refrigerator and 110/220 volts electrical outlets.
We were happy to sail again with Captain James MacDonald, Chief Purser Francois Chevalier and Maitre D' Orlando Rosa. We felt like we had returned home. The first night we saw a gorgeous sunset while dining, with the sun, a huge red ball, slowly setting in the west over the sea. Then, at 9:30pm from our balcony, we watched the full moon rise, changing colors from orange, to gold, to white by ten o'clock. The air was so clear the craters of the moon were evident.
In other reviews, we have described the Jewel's sister ships in detail and we refer you to our prior reviews for details. But each ship has a specific identity which arises from her unique art work. Many pieces are in the forward and Centrum staircases. Even though we extensively use the elevators, we manage to visit the ship's staircases, where we can view the interesting art work.
Deck 2 has some ocean view and interior staterooms, but mostly non public areas. Look for interesting art pieces in the forward stairs between decks 2 and 3, such as David Stuart Forbes' unique "Luggage of Babel Part I" a work in neon, wood, metal, leather and paper. In the Centrum stairs between deck 2 and 3 are Pascale Riberolles' blown glass vases "Automne - Clairette" and Paul Cox' photo collage "Tafelberg/Curacao."
Deck 3 has all ocean view and interior staterooms. In the Centrum staircase between deck 3 and 4 are Lippa Dalen's earthenware "Vase" and Ramon Enrich's acrylic painting "Paysage."
Deck 4 forward has the first level of the Coral Theatre, midship are staterooms and toward aft is the Centrum, with the Guest Relations Desk and Explorations Desk. This Centrum is beautiful with a marble dance floor, bar and an eight deck tall atrium with balconies on each deck. There is a water fall and orchids plus a stunning sculpture by Nico Widerberg (Norway) entitled "Northern Lights" made of aluminum, stainless steel and crystal. This sculpture is lighted by an intricate system creating an awesome effect recalling the Aurora Borealis. Here also is the portrait of the Jewel's Godmother: Kathy Mellor, the U.S. Teacher of the Year 2004. In the forward staircase between deck 4 and 5 is Miguel Chevalier's holographic film "Flow" and in the Centrum staircase is Birgit Ten Berge's oil painting "Landscapes"
Aft is the Tides Dining Room, whose entrance is magnificent. There are silk draped columns, stretching all the way aft to Mouls' Mosaic of Byzantine glass, brass and copper titled the "Full Moon Swing." The colors of the dancers' clothing are emerald, amethyst, ruby and tourmaline: tones reflected by the Ship's name (RCI "Art, The Collection," 2004). Prominent in this mosaic is the full moon. With artwork like this, the dining room is simple, but dramatic and tasteful.
Deck 5 & 6 are all public areas.
Deck 5 forward is the main level of the Coral Theatre. Its beautiful curtain ("Reef Rhapsody") has an ocean theme evoking images of sea fans and schools of fish. Midship on Deck 5 is the conference Center, Photo Art Gallery, the shops (logo items, jewelry, perfume etc.) and the Centrum with the "Latte-tudes" coffee shop. Toward aft is the Tides Dining Room Balcony with its wine cellar walls. In the corridors leading to the dining room there are some colorful glass panel scenes.
Deck 6 forward is the Coral Theatre Balcony, where we sat at the back for shows. There is an excellent view of the stage from every seat. There is a Cinema featuring the latest movies. Toward midship is the Pit Stop Sports Bar and the Casino Royale. The Champagne Bar is located near the Centrum. Toward aft is the Schooner Bar and as usual some of the most interesting art work can be found here. The model of the "Soliel Royal" (Louis XIV, the Sun King) Flagship of the French Fleet launched in 1690, is exquisite in detail. Ebbing's ceramic statue "Beatrice" is amusing with its upturned nose. The corridor to the Schooner Bar holds a wooden boat with a steering wheel which fascinates children.
The entrances to Portofino and Chops Grille are here and toward aft is the Safari Club, and the Game Reserve with self leveling gyro pool tables. All the way aft is the Congo Bar. Sinclair's "Pair of Giraffes" done in painted resin and Couts' oil paintings "Cheetah" and "Zebras" are found here.
Decks 7, 8, 9 & 10 are all staterooms with the exception of the Bridge located forward on 10 and the Library on deck 9 and the Concierge Club on deck 10, located near the elevators. Art work in the forward staircase, between deck 8 and 9, includes Spaans' photographs of light sculptures "Three Dancers, Blue Corner, Yellow Door" and, between deck 10 and 11, Van Munster's neon "Brainwave" and "Moi." In the Centrum staircase there are interesting photographs: Deck 6 - 7, Ellen Kooi's "Velserbroek - The Bridge" and deck 8 - 9, Jorma Puranen's "Language is a Foreign Country 1-3."
Decks 11, 12 & 13 are public areas.
Deck 11 forward is the Ship Shape Spa and the Solarium, Vincent's favorite area. There is a whirlpool and a lap pool. The Burmese and Thai influence here is nice and includes the following: an antique Burmese Bell, a Temple gate flanked by two Golden Elephants and Manley's "Reclining Tiger" in bronze. Midship is the outdoor pool area and aft the Windjammer buffet with casual dining.
Deck 12 forward is the ShipShape Center, Gym, the jogging track, and the Crown & Anchor Society Lounge. From midship to aft are located Adventure Ocean (arcade), the Teen Pool, Sports Court with its comical Kinloch Bronze "Catch," a stout man in a bathing suit trying to get up a beach ball game. There is also the Seaview Cafe`: an excellent place for lunch -- onion rings, Cuban sandwiches, fish and chips, soups and salads -- desserts too.
Deck 13 forward has the Viking Crown Lounge, with its 180 degrees view of the sea, and Hollywood Odyssey (intimate night spot) plus a putting green, mini golf course and the Rock Climbing Wall.
CABIN Stateroom #7114 is one of nineteen wheelchair accessible staterooms w/ automatic door openers. When entering on the left, there is a double armoire, with a set of shelves, private safe, and a large closet. Next there is a desk/vanity with lighted mirror, T.V. and refrigerator. There are two plush blue arm chairs and a large coffee table. A glass wall faces to the verandah with sheer drapes and heavy brocade blackout drapes. We found these useful, since the passengers in the cabin next door left their balcony lights on all night. Our balcony had a large table for dining or playing cards etc., two chairs and a chaise. Very nice.
When entering on the right was the huge bathroom, with a 4'X4' shower, sink, medicine cabinet and plenty of safety rails all around, and eight hooks for hanging robes and clothes. There was also a chest of drawers, a king size bed, two night stands and reading lamps -- very comfortable. Our cabin attendant Glenford O'Garro was the best! He kept everything spotless and was so cordial. Thanks Glenford.
FOOD & SERVICE Hotel Director Nibu Sayed runs a tight ship. He has high expectations for the crew and we feel that they are met. Anything that we needed was promptly and pleasantly provided. On a new ship, it is difficult to have all things come together so quickly, but Nibu managed it well.
The Tides Dining Room and all of the many food venues are in the capable hands of Maitre D' Orlando Rosa. If a preference is just stated, his subordinates are on it and they relay it to the waiters (or vice versa). Their motto is "please the passengers." Mary asked for lemon wedges on the first night and they were on our table every night thereafter. Our waitress Anabelle and her assistant Daniel Ford were both very efficient and pleasant.
We have done enough cruises to realize that when passengers are tardy to dinner it can disrupt the pace. Meals are usually served course by course to insure freshness and proper temperature. We are always amazed when passengers stroll into the dining room fifteen to forty five minutes late. The servers work in conjunction with the galley (course by course), which may be serving more than a 1,000 meals for each seating. Fifty years ago, when we first began traveling by ship, the dining room doors were closed fifteen minutes after the stated dinner time. People are not so punctual nowadays, but courtesy is always in vogue.
We used Room Service on a daily basis. Full American breakfast every morning was hot and and inviting. One night we had dinner with soup, salad, Filet Mignon and cheesecake for dessert, all served in our room elegantly.
We also dined with our friend Captain MacDonald, where an excellent meal was over seen by Maitre D' Orlando. Mary, seated beside the Captain's father, had a lively conversation with this very erudite gentleman. We were also treated to an exceptional luncheon by the Group Coordinator Elmer del Fierro in the Tides balcony with its wine display cabinetry.
ENTERTAINMENT Cruise Director Jill Tasker is part of the "Take Out Team," which brings on line the new ships, thus placing RCI's stamp on every ship -- from the Concierge to the Chef. This system provides uniformity of service throughout the fleet.
The RCI singers and dancers were on their final cruise and really went out with a lot of energy. We felt that by far the best production show was Tango Buenos Aires, a revue built around tango stars Ruben and Sabrina direct from Argentina. Having seen the Argentinean tango champions in Buenos Aires over two years ago, we were thrilled to see this sinuous duo. Their routine with the boles was superb. John Christie was also in fine form once again. We missed the Celtic Tenors, but were assured that they brought the house down.
Music in the Centrum featured "Deja` Voo" by Theo and Zlati (Bulgaria), his "Jail house Rock" and her "More" were something. The Rosario Strings played each evening before dinner and their Bass player also sang some great renditions of Johnny Mathis hits. In the Schooner Bar, Barry from Boston entertained with Broadway show tunes. There were "Olympic Games" at the pool, Horse Races, Guest Talent Shows, "Dead Again" an interactive murder mystery, "The Quest" an adult scavenger hunt, plus the usual Bingo and Slots Tournaments. After all, five sea days are a challenge for the Cruise Director, and she was up to it.
Then there was also the sea itself which treated the passengers to many beautiful sunrises and sunsets. There were dolphins frolicking in the Atlantic at dinner time. There were terns, gulls, birds and spouting whales. Then, there were the many faces of the ocean itself: calm and serene, active with swells, glistening in the sun or even shrouded in fog with the ship's fog horn sounding. Don't forget the game of figuring the ship's course. Just after leaving Cork, Ireland, Vincent was convinced that the ship was going east instead of westerly. He was puzzled until the next morning, when the Captain announced the ship had returned toward Ireland to debark a lady with acute appendicitis, foregoing the usage of a helicopter due to a thick foggy night and transferring the patient to a boat which met the ship half way. Later Captain MacDonald reassured passengers that she had been operated on and was recovering well.
PORTS OF CALL Naturally on a transatlantic cruise there are five restful sea days. However, this cruise started off with exciting European cities: London, Harwich and Plymouth, England; Le Havre, France; and Cork, Ireland. Then of course across the pond there is Portland, Maine and Boston, Massachusetts. We enjoyed this itinerary and found the approach to Plymouth lovely, while Cork whet our appetite for a return to Ireland.
Sept. 1, Harwich, England Depart: 5:30pm We sailed into the sunset accompanied by the Bagpipes playing traditional tunes.
Sept. 2, Le Harve, France Arrive: 7:00am Depart: 10:00pm LHA Tour: Paris sightseeing with Lunch cruise on the Seine, 11 hrs., $189. This is well worth it since it tours the Normandy countryside, the major sights of Paris and serves a gourmet meal on the river. There are three other tours of similar length and price to the Beaches of Normandy, Mont St. Michel and the Alabaster Coast.
Sept. 3, Plymouth, England Arrive: 9:00am Depart: 5:00pm Tendering to the port is necessary. This was the last stop for the Mayflower prior to sailing for the New World. PYG Tour: Leisurely drive & Devonshire Cream Tea, 3.5 hrs., $56. Admiring the Devonshire moors covered with heather and drinking cream tea make an unbeatable combination.
Sept. 4, Ringaskiddy, Ireland Arrive: 7:00am Depart: 5:30pm Ringaskiddy is the port for Cobh and Cork. CKB Tour: Scenic Drive & Blarney Village, 3.5 hrs., $40. This took us through the countryside to the Woolen Mills; with hindsight perhaps the CKA Tour of Blarney Castle and Panoramic Cork would have been a better one, because to get so close to the castle, one might as well see it up close and personal, rather than just from afar. We didn't take the CKA tour because of the warnings describing the presence of stairs. Sometimes we find these tour warnings are a bit exaggerated. There are also excursions to the Killarney Lake region and the Waterford crystal factory.
Sept. 5, 6, 7, 8 & 9, At Sea.
Sept. 10, Portland, Maine Arrive: 8:00am Depart: 5:00pm There are an abundance of city tours and several tours for the sports minded: kayaking and lobster fishing. PWA Tour: Portland highlights & lighthouse, 2 hrs., $29. This not only tours Portland, but also does the rocky coastline.
Sept. 11, Boston, Massachusetts Arrive: 8:30am Depart 5:00pm There are two highlights of Boston City tours by bus BXA, 1.5 hrs., $45 which ends at Logan Airport and BXA, 2.5 hrs., $45 ending at the Sheraton Boston or at the Hyatt Harbor Side Hotel. However, if there is time, the better part of the day, it would be nice to do the "Freedom Trail," a walking tour by the Boston Common, Paul Revere's house, the Old North church, etc....
DEBARKATION RCI has a color/number procedure with the Immigration/passport check done several days earlier on board. Boston has a simple system with a very short distance to the baggage pickup. There were an abundance of porters, taxis and busses right at the port terminal. We were met by Mary's brother Frank and his wife Regina. Just perfect timing -- we didn't wait a second and we were off to three days in Sudbury Massachusetts, Mary's home town.
SUGGESTIONS Almost every day the NY Times FAX ran out, not enough copies, but there were too many copies of the German, French, Canadian and Spanish daily news sheets. Perhaps, at the end of the day a survey on the number of unused sheets and the unfilled requests of the other language papers should suggest the number of copies to be printed for the next day.
CONCLUSION This was a wonderful cruise, passengers should expect a few glitches on a new ship, but this was almost perfect. We were amazed at the gentle kindness of all the crew. This always starts from the top: Captain MacDonald should be very proud of his subordinates: Francois, Nibu and Maitre D' Orlando. It was surely a pleasure to sail with them. We are looking forward this winter to booking two more cruises on RCI ships so we'll reach the number of 25 cruises for the status of Diamond Plus in the Crown & Anchor Society. In the meantime we have already booked a cruise on the new Caribbean Princess for November. Happy Cruising!