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Jewel of the Seas Cruise Review


Mary Engram
mengram@worldviewtravel.com

Itinerary: Baltic
Sailing Date May 17th, 2009
Age:57
Occupation: Travel Consultant
Number of Cruises: 40+

 

Embarkation at Harwich Pier
Since Harwich pier is about 2 hours from Heathrow Airport, we arranged for a private driver take us to the pier.  Some people may opt to take the train or metro but I must caution not to have more than 2 pieces of luggage.  Our private driver, Matthew, arrived promptly and we had wonderful conversation on the drive to the pier.  It’s always nice to talk with someone from the area who can explain how the “real” people live.

RCL’s The Jewel of the Sea is a beautiful ship with a real feeling of light and space.   We had an interior cabin and it was nice, but I must say that a Baltic cruise necessitates a balcony cabin (or at the very least a window).  What better way to enjoy the wonderful scenery as you sell into port than relaxing on your private balcony.  Just think a scenic Alaska cruise multiplied by 3.

 

Copenhagen, Denmark
The ship docked within walking distance of the Little Mermaid statue. And yes it is little.  Home of fairy tale writer Hans Christian Andersen, Copenhagen is chock full of attractions, including Strøget, Europe’s longest pedestrian shopping street. Don’t miss the dazzling display of the Danish crown jewels at Rosenborg Castle.  I particularly liked the bicycle clock in the town square.  Tivoli is an amusement park with a twist -- even the merry-go-rounds are special, using a fleet of Viking ships instead of the usual horses.  The Danes love this place and frequent it often.

Copenhagen is considered the "fun" capital of Scandinavia and is also the most affordable.  We found the city full of charm, with all its canals, narrow streets, and old houses; very clean and easy to walk around without getting lost.

Stockholm, Sweden
At about 6:30 am we cruised the magnificent archipelago, which lines the coast and leads into the city of Stockholm, Sweden.  This is a sight to behold and worth waking up early to witness.  Sailing into Stockholm through the archipelago was smooth as glass and reminded us of Alaska's inside passage without the really tall mountains. Beautiful, expensive homes all along the coast and with the early sunrise we had great views

The ship docked away from the town.  Rather than buy shuttle tickets, the Hop On Hop Off bus people pull right up to the ship. Shuttle bus was $12 per person round trip and the Hop On bus was $25 per person for the day.  If you want to plan ahead, you can also pre-purchase a Stockholm card which provides admission to the Vasa Museum, City Hall tour, Canal Boat Tour and the Museums of the Royal Palace.

Most European countries have churches, but Stockholm has its city hall, which is where the Nobel peace prize is awarded.  Don’t miss the Vasa Museum, which houses a royal flagship raised from the harbor more than 300 years after she sank in 1628 on her maiden voyage.  This ship was commissioned 300 plus years ago by the King and was to be the grandest war ship of it time.  Unfortunately, bad engineered coupled with an arrogant king who refused to listen to the experts, the ship sank on its maiden voyage.  It was discovered INTACT and brought to the surface 320 years later.  It took 20 years just to prepare the ship for display after it was raised.  It is an amazing sight.

Families were out enjoying the day all over the city since the day we arrived was a holiday.  And there were bicycles everywhere, as well as public bicycles you could use for free.  Just put in a coin, use the bike for as long as you want, return it and you get your money back.  Now that’s what I call a good deal.

 

 

The Danes practice their own joie de vivre.  According to our guide, they are a bit unconventional but affable, have big hearts, party to get drunk, love saunas, and are tolerant of all lifestyles and persuasions.  She also admitted that  that there is al rebellious streak of independence in them.  She mentioned that their cartoonists even dare to depict Mohammed as a physical person, which would get them into trouble in less tolerant societies. But at the same time, they tell their King what to do and consider him as nothing more than a figure head to be used to promote Sweden to the rest of the work.  Kind of a contradiction to me.  And the whole tolerance thing I could not really understand.  Some may think this is good, but I could not help thinking.  If they tolerate everything, does this mean that they don’t stand for anything?  Just my thought.

Helsinki, Finland
The ship docked in a very industrial area.  You might not want to walk into town as it was rather far with no clear path. We caught the HOHO bus right at the pier for 24 Euros.  You can also pre-purchase a Helsinki card which provides public transportation, admission to the museums, and a bus tour. If you choose to see the city on your own, do take the shuttle bus into town.

Our tour took us to the White Church, Olympic Stadium with views of the city from the tower, Sibelius Monument and again a traditional meal for lunch.  We found Helsinki to be a very cosmopolitan city.

St Petersburg, Russia
Our cruise included an overnight stay in St Petersburg and was the highlight of our trip.  Founded in 1703 by Peter the Great, St. Petersburg is among the world’s most beautiful cities.

Please note that even though you are on a cruise, you can not get off the ship in Russia without a visa or you are not part of a scheduled tour.  I would like to pause a moment to stress the benefit of having a private guide in this country.  For instance, at the Hermitage we went straight to the front of the line. Although the museum was extremely crowded, several times we would walk into a room and have it to ourselves.  We also in the room alone to hear a wonderful men’s group sing and the acoustics were great.  I felt bad that I left my purse in the bus and was not able to give them a tip.

St. Petersburg Day 1  -
It was not a problem getting off the ship for our private tour.  Outside, we found the SBP Tours (Demurs and Red October guides were all there too) and our guide and driver.  Tim, our guide, is a professor of Russian Literature at the St. Petersburg State University and very intelligent with excellent English skills and a lot of knowledge regarding the history of St. Petersburg and details about the royal families, the architecture and the buildings and interiors.

We wanted to experience “local life” so our tour included a ride on the subway metro station, hydrofoil, and canal ride.  The escalator to the subway descended several hundred feet and the station was beautiful. No pictures allowed. It was rush hour and we had been asked to leave our belongings and passport in the car with the driver. The people on the subway didn't look very happy and didn't smile or make eye contact with us or even with each other.  This began to make me a little uncomfortable so I made eye contact with a woman on the subway and smiled.  After a brief hesitation, she smiled back and other smiled also. We rode two stops and ascended to meet our driver. The stations are elaborate and clean.

Once back in the van I asked Tim if there was prejudice or racial inequality in Russia.  He explained that although the rest of the world thinks capitalism is a good thing, after years of communist rule, it is very hard for many Russian people to adapt.  This helped me to understand the unhappy faces and my perception of coldness on the part of the people in the street.

From there we drove to Catherine's Palace. At all stops, our tour operator pre-purchased our tickets and said the magic words "SBP Tours" to get us past any lengthy lines. The palace was under renovation in some areas, which is understandable when you see the size of the palace. Next we drove to Peterhof town, to visit Fountain Park. Don't miss it. Thousands of tulips were in bloom and there were fountains, ponds, statues and people everywhere. We had lunch at a small restaurant that only locals visit.  We had pancakes, but not the ones we are used to.  I thought they would be like crepes but they were much heartier.  Mine had chicken and mushroom.  Yummy.  Next stop was Yusopov's Palace and then return to the ship.

Day 2 – The next day we met SBP Tours on the pier at 9:00 am and took excursions to St. Peter and Paul Fortress, the Hermitage, Church on the Blood and St. Isaac's Cathedral. Each and every stop was breathtakingly beautiful and ornate. We stopped at a local souvenir shop that had the best deals of our trip.  Just wish I had more money and more time. 

Again we had lunch at a place where only the locals go.  I know this to be true because there was not a tourist in site and I did not hear English spoken.  This time I had hot borscht (made with beet root as its main ingredient which gives it a strong red color, and rabbit pie.  It was delicious and loved it.

Tim was knowledgeable about the history of the families (all the Peters and Catherines and Alexanders began running together that I wished we had a diagram of a family tree). The Hermitage is so large we were told it would take 8 hours a day for 8 years to see all the exhibits. Original masterpieces by Gauguin, Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir, Matisse, and many, many others. Fabulous rooms with magnificent chandeliers, painted ceilings, gold, mosaics, malachite and lapis vases and tapestries everywhere!

The city is full of unbelievably beautiful buildings and artifacts, and the history is complicated and sometimes tragic with invasions by the Swedes and Germans, wars, murders within royal families and other political assassinations. We can't even imagine how much time and money were spent to restore St. Petersburg after the Germans occupied the palaces and bombed them on their way out.

Tallinn, Estonia
Tallinn is a beautiful medieval city.  We took the HoHo bus for a tour of the city.  After Bill went back to the ship, I just wandered the cobble stone streets and took copious pictures. No set itinerary, just wandered in and out of churches etc; munching on roasted almonds distributed in the city square by girls in authentic dress, enjoyed the parks and old city walls.  Finland is only 53 miles across the Baltic so this is probably a great weekend getaway for people in the surrounding countries.

Oslo, Norway
We sailed into Oslo early, passing beautiful hillside and coastal homes and the vegetation is beautiful and green. The Jewel docked downtown across the street from Akershus Castle, situated on a cliff just above us. It looks more like a fortress than a castle, and has beautiful grounds and cannons pointing to the harbor.

We purchased tickets for the local trolley at the local currency exchange booth right on the pier.  It was only a short walk to the train stop and we were on our way to Vigeland Sculpture Park. 

The Vigeland Park is the largest sculpture park made by one single artist in the world.  The park is separated into 7 sections – The Main Gate, Bridge, Children’s Playground, The Fountain, the Monolith Plateau, The Monolith, and the Wheel of Life.  The park houses more than 300 intricately carved sculptures signifying human life on Earth. Very green and graceful and the artwork was fascinating.

We saw lots of families out and about so decided to leave the park and walk through the surrounding neighborhoods.  The first thing we saw was the Greek embassy and walked upon a family preparing for a party in a church converted into a restaurant.  Lots of families pushing baby strollers. A word of caution - Food is very expensive in Oslo. We saw Pepsi for $5.00 and a simple salad for $30.   Therefore we came back to the ship and had lunch in the Windjammer.

Overall Impressions
We loved this itinerary and thought the ports were scenic, clean and the people friendly. Biggest surprise of all was Tallinn, which we'd expected to be a bit grim but was quite pretty and interesting. The sail into Stockholm was well worth getting up at 6am to see.

The weather in May was wonderful.  We had light rain in St. Petersburg and most of the dreary weather was during sea days.  We have found that late May or early June are great times to visit that region. The weather is warm and the water is calm. The number of tourists is high, but not overwhelming.   I would highly recommend this cruise.



 

Copyright 2009, 2010 Tom Ogg & Associates * All content and information is property of Tom Ogg & Associates