British Isles/Norwegian Fjords on the Jewel of the Seas
6/21/04 to 7/3/04
Ports of Call: Harwich, England (London); Le Havre, France (Paris); Plymouth, England; Cork, Ireland; Belfast, Ireland; Greenock, Scotland; Bergen, Norway; Geiranger, Norway; Flam, Norway; and Amsterdam, Netherlands; Harwich, England (London)
This was a very unique cruising experience for us due to the very active participation in the thread on the Cruise Critic Roll Call Board. For almost a year prior to the actual cruise we had talked daily with our fellow Jewels. By the time we sailed, there were over 100 bulletin board friends that were finally going to get to meet each other.
During the planning phase there were various discussions of what to do in the ports and what to see. Various groups got together and coordinated private excursions as well as pre-cruise meetings. A website was set up by one member to contain pictures and bios of fellow cruisers, coordinate excursions, accumulate helpful links, track the progress of the Jewel’s construction, and even a page for a contest to guess the final number of pages that our thread would reach. As a result of all this pre-cruise activity, it really felt like this was a family reunion cruise. Everywhere you went on the ship or in the ports, you kept running into new friends. It was really great.
We left on the evening of June 17 to fly to London for a 3 day pre-cruise before boarding Royal Caribbean’s brand new Jewel of the Seas for a marvelous twelve day British Isles/Norwegian Fjords cruise. Since we had sailed on her sister, the Brilliance of the Seas, last year on a Mediterranean cruise, we knew that we would love the ship; but we had no idea how much we would enjoy some of the ports. Our main desire on this cruise was to see the beauty of the Norwegian Fjords and to visit 7 other ports that we had not been to on our previous European vacations.
I had never had a desire to go to London, because my impression was that it would be very drab, gray and foggy. Boy was I wrong! We just loved London. It is such a beautiful city with so much history and stunning architecture.
This Griffon marks the entrance into the City of London
We arrived in London around 7:30 AM on Friday morning and met up with Mary, Tim, Jean and Bill. We had been communicating online with them last year before and after we went on the Brilliance cruise. Since we all wanted to do this itinerary, we booked this cruise as soon as it became available. It worked out quite nicely since we are all rabid researchers and planners and each of us took different ports to research and plan. Since Mary was a travel agent and very familiar with some of the ports, it really made the planning process quite a bit easier. We had arranged to get transfers from Heathrow to our hotel, The Rubens at the Palace www.rubenshotel.com, through www.airportcruisetransfers.com. I highly recommend this transfer company since they were very up front in explaining what size vehicles you needed, they had very reasonable prices, they didn’t have a bunch of add on charges after you made your reservation, and they were quite prompt.
We were at the hotel by around 10:00. I must say that the Rubens is a really lovely hotel and you can’t beat the location. Although the rooms are small, like most of the hotels in Europe, we had gotten lucky and had been given a King room, which was a little bigger than the standard room.
Because of our early arrival, we were able to begin sightseeing earlier than we had planned. We headed down to the Victoria Tube station to redeem the 3 day tickets that we had purchased online, ahead of time. We then had our first trip of many on the tube. What a great and economical way to quickly get around a very crowded and congested town.
We went first to Parliament Square to see the very impressive houses of Parliament, Big Ben, and the London Eye.
Next we walked over to Westminster Abbey. Luckily, we didn't have to wait in line very long. Unfortunately, picture taking is not allowed inside.
After lunch in a local pub, we validated the tickets we had purchased in advance for the Original London Sightseeing Tour Bus www.theoriginaltour.com. I really liked this bus company, since they have live tour guides that speak to you as you go around town, rather than the pre-recorded tours that some of the others have.
The Original Tour Bus Mary and Tim
We went by many of the beautiful and historic structures in London before the bus came to an unexpected standstill. There was a protest going on near Buckingham Palace that was blocking the normal bus route and causing some traffic jams. We were in a massive “parking lot” for a while, so we finally decided to just get off and walk to our hotel to get ready to go out to dinner. We had fish and chips at the Seashell Restaurant and went back to our hotel and crashed.
Carol, Mary, Jean, Bill, Tim, and Mike
The next morning, I woke up early. Since our hotel was so close to Buckingham Palace, I wanted to walk over and get some pictures. I was almost by myself. It was so peaceful and beautiful there. The gilded gates shined brilliantly in the bright sun. The white and gold statues were highlighted by the clear blue skies. It was a great way to start the day.
After a delicious breakfast at the Rubens, we went outside and picked up the tour bus again to complete our tour of the city. We saw more lovely sights like St. Paul’s Church and drove over the Tower Bridge on our way to the Tower of London.
The Tower of London is a fascinating place and should not be missed. For the last 900 years it has been used as a royal palace and fortress, prison and place of execution, arsenal, mint, zoo and jewel house.
We then went over to see Harrods. Quite a massive and interesting store. From there we went over to see Kensington Palace, which was a bit of a let down after Buckingham. At Kensington we did see some beautiful trees that we later found out were Sweet Chestnut trees. They were in full bloom.
We then jumped on the tube and headed to Covent Gardens to find a restaurant for dinner. The one we found had good food, but the service was just terrible. Actually, we found that most of the restaurants we went to provided very slow service compared to what we were used to. We returned to the Rubens and immediately headed back down to the Tower of London to see the Ceremony of the Keys. Carol stayed at the hotel to give her sore knee a break after going up and down the stairs in numerous tube stations. The Ceremony of the Keys has taken place every night at 10 PM for the last 700 years. It involves locking up the gates of the Tower. The whole ceremony only takes about 7 minutes; but it was interesting. If you want to go to it, you need to order your tickets in advance on a form you can obtain online. They don’t let many folks attend each night. While there, we also got to meet a few of the other Cruise Critic folks that attended. Afterwards we headed back to the Rubens to crash once again after a very full day of sightseeing.
The next day we had scheduled a bus tour to Windsor Castle and Hampton Court with www.goldentours.com. I would like to spend a lot more time in Windsor. It was such a nice, picturesque little town with lots to see and do. The castle is much more impressive than I ever expected it to be. It is quite awesome and a must see in my opinion. The rooms and furnishings are just too extensive for this general review to do them justice.
Hampton Court was also quite interesting. The palace has numerous chimneys, yet each one is of a different design. Although the buildings were very lovely, the gardens were the most impressive part of this castle.
After we were dropped off at the hotel, we had to rush back out to Covent Gardens to meet a group of about 35 of our Cruise Critic Roll Call group that had planned to meet the night before the cruise at Porter’s English Restaurant. It was quite a nice event with a good meal, good drinks and great conversation and laughs with new friends. (These pictures are posted on Ofoto.com)
At long last, the next morning we were going to finally head out to board the Jewel of the Seas. Our dependable transfer company picked us up and took us on the just over two-hour drive to Harwich. Once we got into the countryside, it was quite a pretty drive.
We had been very fortunate with the weather for our visit to London. Although it was partly cloudy and we did have some light rain at times, it was very strange in that it only seemed to rain when we were inside eating, on the tube or on an inside tour.
This had to be the best embarkation ever for us. We arrived at the port around 11:15 and we were in our cabin by 11:30. The porters quickly took care of our very large assortment of luggage and we walked into the terminal shortly thereafter. Since we had pre-registered online, and there weren’t a lot of folks boarding yet, we were able to walk up to the counter and quickly get our key cards. The whole process from being dropped off till we got to our room took less than 15 minutes. Great embarkation RCI!
We had learned how wonderful the Radiance Class ships were last year on the Brilliance of the Seas; and the Jewel was even prettier.
The size is big enough to be able to have all the facilities you expect on a quality ship; but not so big that you spend all your time walking from one end to the other. The public areas are very tasteful and elegant and arranged so that they are easy to get to.
Shops on Board Casino
I really liked the artwork and décor better on the Jewel; not that the Brilliance was bad; but this was just more to my taste I guess. Like her other Radiance sisters, the large amount of glass just makes the cruise so pleasant, particularly when you are in an area like the Norwegian Fjords.
Last year we were disappointed in the chlorine level in the Solarium Pool; but this year it was just fine.
It is a good thing too, since with the cooler temperatures of these ports, most people didn’t want to sit around or use the main pool; although it was amazing to me that there were people using it in almost any kind of weather.
The one thing about the Jewel that really surprised me was that the temperature in the public areas was warmer than on any ship we have cruised. It is a common complaint that most ships are always so cold; but the Jewel was not. It was probably a pleasant surprise for most passengers, but it was uncomfortable to me at times, particularly at dinner in the Tides Dining Room. It was particularly warm when wearing a tux. Part of our problem with the temperature was that we were seated near a window, but most nights the sun wasn’t on our side of the ship.
We had hoped to have the highly respected Ken Rush as the CD, since he normally is the first CD for the new RCI ships; but unfortunately we didn’t. We had Karen Mabry instead, which was a real let down after having Clo last year on the Brilliance. You ran into Clo everywhere you went on the ship, and she was always on top of whatever was going on. The only time we saw Karen was when she was moderating the evening show. She was pretty boring in that role too. She has a manner that just didn’t appeal to us nor to many of the other folks we talked to. Another thing was that she didn’t make relevant announcements. For example, a lot of us missed the Gala Buffet because it wasn’t announced. The Day 1 Compass overview said that it would be on Day 11. For some unknown reason it was changed to Day 10, but not sufficiently “announced”. She did make some announcements, but it seemed to us that all she was interested in was the Murder Mystery. Despite having Karen as a CD, the cruise was still marvelous.
We had the same cabin as we had last year on the Brilliance of the Seas, 8596, which was right in the center of the hump. We really liked it last year and booked it as soon as it became available eleven months before the sailing date. You can’t beat the location, in that it is right in the middle of the ship and makes it easy to take the stairs up 3 flights to the buffet and sports deck or down 3 flights to the promenade deck, dining room and theater. The major improvement that was made over the Brilliance was the replacement of the plastic shower curtain with a solid shower door. It really made the shower feel much larger and was a great improvement.
One design problem with the room that wasn’t corrected is that the beds are still too low. Not only does it make it harder to get in and out of the bed, but it really makes it hard to put your suitcases under there. This also made it difficult to find a place to store the very heavy and bulky extra bed spreads. Since the steward had to have extra bedspreads to use if he needed to make the bed up into two twins, they also took up room under the bed. This would have been so easily corrected had they just raised the height of the beds.
Of course closet space is always an issue. Although I would say that the Jewel’s closets are standard, I would have preferred a different design with the shelves at the end rather than in the middle. But that is a personal thing. We always take cheap wire coat hangers with us. By replacing the ship’s nice wooden ones with our wire ones, we gain quite a bit of extra hanging space. We just stick the wooden ones under the couch, and we leave the wire ones at the end of the cruise.
We used one of the tips we garnered from Cruise Critic and hung a shoe bag over the outside of the closet door. It’s amazing how much stuff you can cram into the little pockets. This really saved valuable space and cut down on counter top clutter as we used it for belts, socks, brushes and combs, spray cans, etc.
Carol likes to use a night light in the bathroom, but the outlet's power is turned off when the bathroom light is off. Therefore, she always brings a small six-inch long flashlight to keep beside the bed.
We had a very good cabin steward named Norman. He was very helpful and an extremely pleasant guy. We were quite pleased with him, especially since the cabin stewards on the Brilliance and the Navigator seemed to be very adept at hiding and weren’t around when you needed them. This is a very tough job to perform, particularly since they now seem to have more rooms to take care of than in the past. When you can find a person that can do this job and keep a good attitude, it really makes for a more enjoyable cruise. We certainly lucked out with Norman.
Meet and Mingle:
We really think that the idea of a Meet & Mingle Party is a great way to introduce people to each other. We had looked forward to the Cruise Critic/RCI Meet & Mingle gathering, which would be held on the first day of the trip. Unfortunately, we were very disappointed in this particular party for several reasons. On the Jewel thread on the CC board, our group had really promoted the party, and we had 105 people signed up, which is quite a large group. We feel that we did our part, but the Jewel “dropped the ball” on their end. Last year on the Brilliance the Cruise Director, Clo, came to the gathering; and in November on the Navigator, Captain Bang and his wife came to meet and talk with us. For the Jewel we just had a couple of folks from the activity staff do a raffle for some little prizes. We also just had the minimal coffee, tea and cookies for appetizers. Although we realize that the Jewel did everything that was “required”, it kind of gave us the impression that our group wasn’t that important to RCI. Since we had such a large group, I guess we had just expected a little more effort on their part. (Pictures of our Meet and Mingle are posted on Ofoto.com)
Since this was our 3rd RCI cruise in 13 months, we expected the food to be okay to good; and it was. Nothing special, although they have made changes to improve the presentation; and the vegetable selection was better. We ate dinner in the Tides Dining Room every night other than the two nights we went to Chops. The dinner seatings were 6:00 and 8:15. For breakfast and lunch we went to the Windjammer. We did go to the dining room one time each for breakfast and lunch, but it was disappointing, plus the menus didn’t seem to change from day to day. We were disappointed in this since we really enjoyed the dining room for those meals on our other RCI cruises.
The appetizers and cold soups at dinner were very good as usual, as were most of the deserts. For most meals the beef was okay, as was the chicken. We did hear from our tablemates that the fish dishes were quite good. Since we don’t eat many of the fish dishes, we probably missed out on the best main courses.
We had a very good assistant waiter, Manny. He worked very hard and was a real pleasure. Unfortunately, the main reason he had to work so hard was because our waiter, Erfan, was pretty new in his position and really wasn’t that good. He was a nice young man, but just didn’t do everything that he was supposed to do. On more than one occasion he “forgot” to bring something that we had ordered, such as a salad or the sour cream. There is a small regional menu that he is supposed to put on the table every night that has a few special selections to choose from. Most nights we had to ask him for it. He never told us about the events that were occurring after dinner or what was planned for the next day, which related to the dining room, as all of our past waiters have always done. As a result, we missed knowing when the Gala Midnight Buffet was; and we missed getting pictures of it. For some reason the only mention of the Gala Buffet was in the snack section in the daily Cruise Compass. A lot of folks were quite displeased that no one told them when it was going to be. Apparently some waiters announced it and other waiters didn’t tell their tables about it. We were not the only ones who were upset about this.
We had three formal nights, two smart casual and the rest casual dress nights. Most people had expected that there were only going to be two formal nights based on info they had received.
The production shows were outstanding, and we wished for more of them. The singers were all very good, especially the two males. The dancers were also good. We enjoyed the elaborate sets and their fabulous costumes.
Of the headliner entertainment, we really enjoyed the comedy of Roy Walker. He had everyone in stitches. Mark Donoghue was fantastic; don’t miss him. He is a multi-instrument musician, and played the electric guitar, mandolin, and the harmonica. Finis Henderson, a singer, was also a very good.
The musicians in the Centrum were quite talented, particularly the duo Déjà vu. When they were on, people would stop and stand at the railings to the Centrum all the way up on the various floors just to listen. We thought that the variety of entertainers was quite good, a little something for everyone’s taste.
With the hectic tour schedule during the day, we didn’t spend any late nighttime in the various lounges. We did have a great bartender, Leonardo, in the Schooner Bar. He made wonderful Mojitos and BBCs.
The main reason we wanted to take this cruise is because we had never been to any of the ten ports, and we had always wanted to go to the Norwegian Fjords. This itinerary is only done twice during 2004 by RCI, so you need to book it early to make sure you can get a cabin. We had looked at this itinerary in previous years and they were always sold out, so we made sure we booked early so we wouldn’t be disappointed.
Le Havre, France- In this port there were lots of options on excursions to take. Most people either went to Normandy or Paris. Since we had missed going to Paris the previous two times we were in France, there was no doubt in our minds where we were going. We had set up a private excursion through tour organizer Anne Marie Leblic at firstname.lastname@example.org. Private excursions are very expensive from Le Havre, but we wanted to see as much as possible in the short time we had. Since the ship didn’t leave from Le Havre until 10:00 PM, we were able to set up a 12-hour tour from 8 till 8, which allowed for 7 hours in Paris after the 2.5-hour drive each way into and back from Paris.
We met our guide, Marie Claude, and the driver at the pier and headed to see the city that we had wanted to visit for so long.
The drive in was nice going through the countryside. As we got close to Paris we entered a tunnel that seemed to be several miles long. It didn’t take long before we were all gasping for breath as the exhaust fumes overwhelmed us. It seemed like we would never get out of that tunnel. I cannot imagine how Parisians can drive into the city on a regular basis without oxygen masks. It certainly made us appreciate the emission laws we have in our country.
We knew that we couldn’t even begin to see everything, so we opted to just drive by many of the famous sights.
We realized that spending most of the time in a van driving by the many gorgeous sites was not the way we would have wanted to see Paris, but it was the best way for us to see the most things during our limited time.
The architecture alone is just breathtaking.
It seemed as if each block had more beautiful buildings and monuments than the block before. We got to see most of the well-known locations, and were able to get out and take pictures of the Eiffel Tower. We toured the Notre Dame Cathedral, and we walked around the Montmartre area.
It is certainly memorable to be able to stand in front of the Eiffel Tower and take in one of the most famous monuments in the world. It would have been nice to be able to go up it, but that will have to wait for a return trip when there is more time.
The exterior of Notre Dame is quite awesome. As I had previously read, the interior is not the prettiest, but it is quite massive and impressive.
Our driver dropped our guide and us in Montmartre so we could go to lunch and walk around this beautiful and trendy area. Marie Claude took us to a restaurant, Cafe Les 2 Moulins that was used in the movie Amelie. It was definitely not a tourist restaurant. Everyone appeared to be a local resident and it felt like you were eating in the real Paris. The meal was very good, as was the wine.
After we left the restaurant, we walked through lovely narrow streets with quaint homes. The climb up to the top of Montmartre hill was very steep.
Mary and Carol rest after the climb. We took the funnicular back down.
There we could see the majestic Basillica of Sacre Coeur. This beautiful church can be seen from all over Paris, since it sits at one of the highest points in the city. The inside is quite beautiful, but we were not able to take pictures.
The Church and the view from Montemartre were worth the climb.
We left the church and headed down to the funicular station for the steep descent to the streets of Paris where our driver was waiting for us. We then drove by more beautiful Parisian sites. We headed back to the ship around 5:30 and fortunately took a different route out of the city that avoided the “tunnel of smog”.
Plymouth, England- We woke up Wednesday morning to find that the winds were quite strong outside. We looked out the balcony to see large waves and rough water all around us.
The captain came on the speakers to tell everyone that we were in a storm that had winds up to 60 knots (69 mph) which was only 6 mph away from hurricane force. He also let us know that we had been through 50-foot waves. To the Jewel’s credit, the ship was handling the seas very well. I am prone to seasickness, but I had no problem at all and didn't even have to put on my relief bands.
Unfortunately, Plymouth is a tender port and there was no way the captain was going to let us risk our lives to get into port. Everyone was disappointed that we were going to miss the excursions that we had planned, but when the captain said that he didn’t believe that he could hold the ship if we tried to tender, we were all grateful that he had made the wise decision.
Also to Captain Thorolvsen’s credit, he kept us very well informed all during the storm. I think that by doing so, he prevented us from getting scared. We really were never even nervous because we knew exactly what was happening, and we got the feeling that he was a man who knew precisely what he was doing.
Cork, Ireland- Thursday morning we got out of bed and opened the curtains to see a beautiful landscape of multi-colored houses that stretched all along the banks and up the hills as we entered Cork. What a great welcome to the beautiful country of Ireland.
We could hardly wait to meet our private guide for the day, George Plant email@example.com. He was a pleasant Irish gentleman with a very large comfortable van that could hold 14 people. Since there were only 6 of us and a couple of our CC friends, Rafi and Oli, were looking for an excursion, we invited them to come along.
The drive through the Irish countryside was so nice with the beautiful flower gardens and green fields that looked like a patchwork quilt. George was a real pleasure. He told us about all of the quaint towns we were passing on the way to Clonakilty, where we stopped to walk around and experience Ireland.
The lovely Irish people would smile and talk to you when you were walking around. They were so pleasant and welcoming. Clonakilty was the home of Henry Ford’s parents before they came to America.
After our short visit, we headed out across the lush green, rolling countryside to our main destination of Kinsale. Since we arrived in Kinsale around noon, we decided to have lunch before exploring this lovely little town. George recommended the Blue Haven Hotel restaurant. I had to try their Irish Stew. It just seemed like the thing to do, and it was delicious.
After lunch we all headed out to see the town. Kinsale is so picturesque and quaint. All of the colorful buildings were just as welcoming and friendly as the people who occupied them. Almost every building had window boxes of flowers or hanging baskets on the corners.
Carol had researched a crystal shop on the internet called Kinsale Crystal www.kinsalecrystal.ie, located on Market Street. We both love crystal and this shop was world-renowned for making hand cut lead crystal pieces. They did have some beautiful things, so we just had to get a piece. Now we have a lovely souvenir of this beautiful country.
After spending about an hour and a half walking and shopping, we rejoined George in the van and headed for Charles Fort. This well preserved star shaped fort is in a lovely setting. It was quite different in appearance from the ones we have visited back home. This was a very nice stop.
After exploring the fort for awhile, we headed back to the ship with high expectations for our next port, Belfast.
Belfast, Ireland- Our itinerary originally included a stop in Dublin. About six weeks before sailing, we found out that we were going to Belfast instead. Our group was quite disappointed about missing one of the ports that we were all looking forward to, especially since the relatives of one of our CC friends had arranged a family reunion for their American cousin. Although we never heard an official reason, apparently all of the major cruise lines that were going to Dublin changed to Belfast.
Everyone started frantically researching this port for excursions to take. The best known tourist attraction in Northern Ireland was the Giant’s Causeway, a unique geographic formation that is best described by pictures. One of our CC group, Lorrie, found a tour company, Minicoach http://www.minicoachni.co.uk that did an excursion to the Giants Causeway, the Carrick-a-Rede Bridge, a tour of the Bushmills Distillery and a drive along the beautiful Antrim Coast. Since she was already organizing two other tours, I volunteered to organize the excursion.
We got a group of 29 people that would fill up one bus and then Paul started up another group of 14 people for another bus. Everything was going great when we found out that we were arriving in Belfast at 2:45 PM instead of an early morning arrival. Fortunately we were staying in Belfast till 1:45 AM, so there was still time to tour, since the sun stayed up till after 10 PM. The tour company figured out a schedule where we could see everything except Bushmills, which was a little disappointing; but overall it sounded great to everyone. With 43 people, we were able to merge the two buses into one larger one, which really allowed us to share the experience with more of our new friends.
On the bus Our driver Alan
Unfortunately, the ship docked a little late and we were about a half hour behind schedule leaving for the tour. Once we started out, the driver, Alan, told us that we had to decide which order to take the tour since we were pressed for time and some of the facilities at the sites would close. We could either do the Giant’s Causeway first, which would mean that we could go to the shop, or do the Carrick-a-Rede Bridge first. He said that they would probably lock the gate to the bridge before we could get there if we did the Causeway first. We would still get to see it, but we probably wouldn’t get to cross it. Since the main reason for the excursion was to see this amazing “must see” geographical formation, the Giant’s Causeway, we were glad that the group decided to do it first.
Stacy and Nancy Oli and Rafi
John at the top Mike resting among the pillars.
After arriving, we missed the shuttle bus going down the .6 mile hill and decided to walk down. Upon seeing how steep it was, we had no desire to walk back up after climbing all over the rocks of the Causeway. Luckily, since there were so many tourists still down there, they added two more runs and we were able to get on the next to last bus back up the hill.
This whole area of Northern Ireland, with its steep mountains and rocky coastline set against the blue water and deep green foliage, is just so lovely.
The walk down to the Carrick-a-Rede Bridge was well worth the effort to see this unique site and the surrounding natural beauty.
I would have liked to see if I could cross the narrow bridge, which swings over a deep gorge, but it will have to wait for another time.
Carol spotted this polite sign on the way to the bridge.
While traveling through the Irish countryside around Ballycastle, saw some black and white cows that were very different. They are called Belted Galloways. They look as if their body is divided into thirds with the head and front third being black, the middle third is white, and the rear third is black. Therefore, they appear to be wearing a wide belt.
Photo courtesy of Paul S.
We had been so disappointed to be going to Belfast instead of Dublin, yet it turned out to be a wonderful experience and included the most fun excursion for us. The camaraderie on the bus and the unique sites we saw made it really special.
Greenock, Scotland- Our streak of beautiful sunny days finally ended when we got to Scotland. As the saying goes, “If it’s Scotland, it’s raining.” I don’t know if that is a fair thing to say, but on our day there it was gray and dreary most of the day with pretty steady rain requiring us to use an umbrella most of the time. In addition to the rain, the wind was blowing so strongly that we had to fight to keep the umbrellas from turning inside out. However, we did receive a nice welcome from a gentleman playing the bagpipe -- in the rain.
We had a private tour scheduled with Gordon Ross http://www.greatscot-tours.com. He met us dressed in his kilt with a big smile on his face. We knew that Gordon would be a character based on his website and the emails he had sent. He did not disappoint us. He knows all the spots to visit and is an authority on Scottish history. He was the historical consultant for the movie Braveheart.
We headed out to see Loch Lomond, which is a beautiful lake surrounded by lush green hills. Picturesque cottages with colorful flower gardens lined the shore.
From there we stopped in the lovely village of Luss with quaint houses on narrow streets with flowers everywhere. As Gordon said, this town was as close as one would ever get to Brigadoon.
We drove on to the town of Stirling where we stopped for lunch in the Portcullis restaurant. It was a lovely restaurant that Gordon had recommended. The food was delicious and the Scottish atmosphere unbeatable. The Steak and Guiness Pie was the best of the whole trip. Even with the rain the courtyard behind the restaurant was quite pretty.
Steak and Guiness Pie Fish and Chips
The main reason we stopped in Stirling was to see Stirling Castle, a huge castle on the top of a hill in the area where William Wallace and Rob Roy roamed. It’s quite a historic place. Unfortunately, after visiting Windsor Castle, it is difficult to be impressed with Stirling. We listened to Gordon’s historical stories and appreciated what had happened in the area; but the rain really put a damper on this excursion.
After we left the castle we went by the very unique Wallace monument and then headed back into the town of Stirling for some shopping, then returned to the ship.
I would have to say that the highlight of this port was meeting Gordon Ross. He was a very engaging fellow, with or without the rain.
Based on other’s comments, it sounded like the excursion into Edinburgh might have been a better choice. I normally prefer to go into the countryside since it usually gives one a better feel for the area; but the sights in Edinburgh were apparently well worth the trip. The next day was going to be a day at sea and it was a good thing, since we had to turn the clock ahead one hour.
Bergen, Norway- At last after a week on the Jewel, we woke up in Norway, the part of the cruise I was most excited about when we first booked this itinerary. Sailing down the fjord on our way into Bergen, we passed under a modern bridge that looked like we would barely clear it; but we made it with no problem at all.
After we arrived in port we got off the boat as soon as we could so we could head for the funicular that would take us to the top of 1,050 ft. Mount Floyen before the crowds arrived. We had been advised by RCI to take the $4.00 each way shuttle bus ride into town and it was money well spent. We docked much further away from the center of town than we were originally scheduled to do.
We were dropped off a few blocks from the funicular; and the walk through the numerous parks, beside statues, fountains and buildings was just lovely. Lots of colorful flowers were calling out to be photographed. We got to the funicular ticket office and had to wait about 10 minutes until the scheduled 8:30 ascent. It was a very smooth ride and we arrived on top to see an absolutely beautiful view of the city spread out before us.
View from Mt. Floyen Paul, Josh, Sandy, & Rebecca
Mike and Carol Gary
The bright sunlight enhanced the beauty of the lovely city below us. The Jewel was easy to spot in the harbor, as she dwarfed the buildings around her.
On the top of the mountain is a restaurant / souvenir shop complex along with giant trolls to take pictures of.
Carol and friend
There is also a lovely path through the woods that made for a peaceful walk through a beautiful small Norwegian forest.
When we descended the mountain, we found that by that time of the day, the funicular was no longer waiting for the scheduled departure times. They filled up quickly on both ends and left as soon as everyone could be stuffed in.
When we got back to sea level, we headed for Bryggen the old shopping section of town. The colorful, pointed roof buildings are all slightly leaning, which makes it quite interesting when you climb the leaning steps to go up into the second floors of some of the stores.
Everywhere you went there were large trolls around to provide another photo op, and to remind you that you are in “their” country!
Bergen is an expensive city. Cokes were $5 and beer $9. Those folks that had lunch in Bergen spent a lot, although the food was good. We had some of the best soft serve custard that we have ever had at a little market in Bryggen. That held us over until we returned to the ship to eat.
Another thing that was a pain was that most places required you to pay for the rest room facilities. It was a real problem if you didn’t have Norwegian Kroner coins. Several of the group found that the restroom of the SAS hotel was a very nice free facility.
We decided to go into the Rosenkrantz tower, since it was one of the town’s main attractions. The stone structure that was built in the 1560’s is very well preserved.
The stairways are very narrow and I really didn’t think that Carol would be able to make it all the way up due to problems she had been having with her knee. However she was a trooper and reached the top to receive the reward of a beautiful view of the city and inner harbor.
We were planning on going into Bergen’s oldest building, Mariakirken, a 12th century stone church; but it was closed. Apparently it was supposed to be open, since an RCI excursion was trying to get in also and was turned away. As we learned, the churches have limited hours on Mondays. I had the same result when I climbed to the top of another hill to see the Bergen Cathedral only to find it locked shut also.
We walked around some other sites and ended up in the Torget (commonly known as the fish market). It was very colorful and fascinating with all of the fresh fruit, flower stands, fish markets, hand-crafted goods and fur skin dealers. I had heard a lot about this spot and found it to be nicer than I had expected it to be. We walked around taking in all of the sights, smells and sounds of a uniquely Norwegian city market.
Finally, we headed back to the ship, exhausted from all the walking and climbing. We really enjoyed Bergen. Since it wasn’t in the main fjord cruising areas that we were anxiously waiting for, we hadn’t expect this port to be so enjoyable. It is a beautiful town that provided a slower pace for us, with just enough time in port to see all the important sites. We were hoping that Bergen’s beautiful sunny day would be duplicated for both of the next two ports.
Geiranger/Hellsylt, Norway- This was the morning that we had been anxiously awaiting. The Captain announced that we would be starting into the fjord around 4:00 AM and that it would take several hours to reach Geiranger. We awakened around 4:15 AM since we had heard from many previous reviewers that we needed to be up early to watch the ship move through the fjords and to see the Seven Sisters Waterfall. We went out onto our balcony to look at the steep mountains of the water-filled valley we were traveling through. We were able to see most of the mountains, but the low clouds prevented us from seeing some of the tops.
I just had to get a better view so I could see both sides, so I put on the middleweight jacket with a hood that I had brought. I had only needed a light windbreaker prior to today. I went up to deck twelve and quickly moved to the front of the ship. It was just before 5:00 AM and the temperature was in the low 50s with a strong breeze. The mountains were quite majestic, and there were always multiple waterfalls in view as we moved deeper into the fjord.
I looked down at the empty helicopter pad that is accessed from deck 5, and decided that it would be the best place for unobstructed views and pictures. It was a good move. I had the whole helipad to myself until Carol joined me, and we were alone for quite some time. From the pad, you could easily see the whole panorama around you and really enjoy this wonderful experience. The down side was that there was no protection from the wind like there was on deck twelve. It was cold, but we were so excited that we didn’t mind it one bit. The hood made a big difference, so be sure that you have one.
I was worried about the weather for the rest of the morning. The Compass had said that the weather should be 61 degrees and partly cloudy; but they hadn’t been right too many days so far. I was so worried that our day’s excursion would be spoiled by bad weather or fog.
Around 6:15 the Seven Sisters Waterfall finally came into view on the port side of the ship. It was a lovely waterfall, and the nicest we would see during our trip up the fjord to Geiranger; but it was nothing compared to some we would see on the excursions.
Seven Sisters Waterfall
What surprised me was how close the Seven Sisters was to Geiranger. Once we passed it, the small port town came into view. I probably could have slept another hour, but I was glad I didn’t since I would have missed the prettiest part of the trip up the fjord.
We went to the Windjammer for breakfast and hurried down to the Coral Theater to wait for our RCI Scenic Norway Overland Excursion tour to leave for the bus. This was the only tender port that we would experience, since we had passed up Plymouth. It was a well-organized and quick process that got us into the little town where our buses were waiting.
The sun was shining through the clouds and making the scenery quite pretty, but it was hard to tell if the clouds were getting thicker and moving in or thinning out and leaving. We crossed our fingers.
As the bus climbed the mountains the views were just amazing. Waterfalls and beautiful vistas were everywhere. Apparently the area had had a snowfall a couple of weeks before we arrived, and the melting snows were giving us quite a show with the waterfalls rushing down the mountains. We reached our first photo stop, the Flydal Gorge, which provided us with an unbelievably beautiful view of the town of Geiranger with the Jewel of the Seas sitting in the harbor.
It is the view that we had seen in so many pictures. It is so sad that cameras can’t capture this kind of beauty. They can remind you of what you saw, but they can’t compare to the real thing. Although it was still quite cloudy, the sun lit up the town in the bottom of the valley; and the Jewel shone as brightly as her name, providing us with a most memorable moment.
We moved further up into the mountains taking in all of the gorgeous scenery on our way to the top of 4,500 foot Mount Dalsnibba. Now this was a scary ride! The roads were narrow without any type of railing.
As our bus climbed, it was even scarier because we ran into the clouds, and we knew that the driver couldn’t see any farther ahead than we could. Our guide told us not to worry, the driver was very good; and he had made this trip once before. Of course, she was only kidding. The driver was very experienced and quite competent. When we finally arrived at the top, it was disappointing to find that we didn’t have a clear view due to the lingering clouds, but that turned out to be the only time the weather was an issue for the rest of the day.
For lunch we stopped at a lovely place in the town of Loen called Hotel Alexandra. We were served a wonderful prearranged lunch in a very pretty setting. After lunch, we walked around the beautiful grounds and took lots of pictures of the flowers and mountain scenery. Several folks inquired about the rates, and it was under $100 per night, which sounded like an incredible deal.
Later on in our journey through the fjord region, we made a pit stop in a little town that was on the banks of the Hornindal Lake, the deepest lake in Europe (1,686 ft).
The people were very friendly and the town was in a breathtaking setting. There were some buildings with sod roofs, which seemed quite unique to us.
At the next stop we were at a very serene stone bridge in front of a lovely waterfall. This was set next to a mountain that looked like the Matterhorn, a great stop.
When we finished the tour we ended up in the town of Hellsylt where we waited for the Jewel to arrive to pick us up. I really wish we had had some time to explore Hellsylt, since it was a lovely town with a beautiful waterfall and some interesting looking shops.
Another memorable moment was watching the Jewel of the Seas appear from behind a mountain as she slowly pulled into the harbor where we waited.
After we returned to the Jewel, we headed back up the fjord. That was when we understood why we had been told to get up early that morning to see the Seven Sisters. The route back was different and did not pass by that particular waterfall on the way out of the fjord. We both agreed that Geiranger had to be one of the highlights of our cruise.
Flam, Norway- The original itinerary had us visiting Flam before Geiranger. It is unfortunate that we didn’t since overall, Flam was a let down from the previous day except for a few spots. We had really looked forward to taking the RCI excursion Overland to Voss, Tvinde & Stalheim tour. We had heard good things about it and were really looking forward to this one. We got off the Jewel a little early to check out this pretty town that appeared to have a lot of shopping potential.
When we got on the Flamsbana train, we didn’t know what side to sit on. We now know why the right side of the train had seating for 3 and the left side that we took only had two seats. The right side was the better side for most of the ride. The journey through the mountains was nice, but less impressive than the previous day in Geiranger.
The high point of this leg of the tour was when we stopped at Kjosfossen to get out and look at an incredible waterfall. While everyone was oohing and aahhing, some music started playing and a girl came out onto the rocks way up by the waterfall and started to dance. Quite impressive and a great video camera moment.
This photo courtesy of Paul S.
We got back on the train and moved up the mountain to our destination, Myrdal. Several excursion groups got off here to do the nature walk back to Flam. I really think that if you have the ability to walk 7 miles down the mountain, it is probably the best excursion going in Flam. We instead got on another train that took us down the mountain to the town of Voss. This ride felt more like a ride in London’s tube, since we went through so many tunnels. This leg of the tour was really a drag; and to add to it, the windows were locked and couldn’t be opened. Everyone was very hot and complaining. Near the end of the trip, the conductor finally came around and opened them with a key.
We departed the train and headed for our lunch stop at the Fleischers Hotel in Voss. The lunch was a buffet, but it took a long time to get your food due to a poorly organized layout. The food was okay, but did not compare to the previous day’s excellent meal.
Once we finished, we walked around the town and went into a lovely old church. It was built around 1277 and is one of the earliest stone churches in Norway. The interesting top of the church is wooden. Each of the spiral pillars inside is carved from a single pine tree.
We went back to the hotel and boarded our bus for the rest of the journey. On the way to Stalheim, we stopped at the huge Tvinde Waterfall. This was very impressive and a great stop. We stayed there about 30 minutes which gave us plenty of time for photos.
When we finally arrived in Stalheim, we could tell that it was in a nice setting, but we had no idea what was awaiting us. The purpose for this stop was to have coffee and some assorted sweets. They were quite good and we went out behind the hotel to check out the valley that was supposed to be a “good” view. WOW! What an incredible view looking down into the gorgeous Naeroy Valley and looking up to some beautiful snow capped mountains. Just awesome! To me, it made the long trip worthwhile.
It was hard to stop looking at the view, but we had to get back on the bus to go to the bottom of that very valley on the Stalheimskleivane, the steepest road in Norway.
We had been warned how scary this would be; but, frankly, compared to the previous day’s trip up Mount Dalsnibba, this was piece of cake. This road had a low wall all along the side which made me feel much more comfortable. There were a lot of hairpin turns as we descended the valley, but I think I was too busy to notice, since we were passing by the beautiful Sivle and Stalheim Falls.
After we drove along the Naeroy River admiring the towering mountains that are used for base jumping, we entered the last leg back to Flam, which included twelve miles of tunnels. Not the best way to admire the beauty, but I am sure the fastest way back. Upon our return to Flam, we checked out the numerous stores in town and took some pictures of the Jewel at the dock. We had lucked out with three sunny days in Norway. We were happy as we traveled back along the Sognefjord, Norway’s longest fjord, to the North Sea to continue our cruise.
Amsterdam, Holland- Well our luck finally ended when we arrived in Amsterdam, where we were greeted with rain showers. Fortunately it was off and on, but it did make what was to be a walking tour a real hassle. We took the port bus into town. It cost four Euros each way and you had to buy your return ticket at the same time, since tickets aren’t sold on the bus. We got off the bus, which stopped near the train station and walked to Dam Square to check out the sights.
Our first impression was that Amsterdam was not what we were expecting. We had expected it to be very scenic with old narrow buildings with lovely paintings on them surrounding tree lined canals filled with charming houseboats. Well, our expectations were not met.
The narrow buildings we had seen in Gdansk, Poland put Amsterdam to shame. Instead of cute houseboats, the canal was lined with old deteriorating boats that had seen better days. Most were so piled up with junk that we didn't even take pictures.
The buildings probably would have been more impressive if the first floors hadn’t had cheesy stores in them with big signs and neon lights above them. It just really took away from the architectural beauty.
Even the Royal Palace couldn’t be seen in full because a stage was being set up in front of it for some concert that they were having. Due to our needing to be back on the ship at 2:30, we didn’t have time to tour the palace or some of the churches we wanted to see because they opened at Noon..
We walked down to the canal boat docks to take an hour ride along several of the canals in the city. The ride was okay and the information interesting; but maybe because it was raining and cloudy, it just didn’t impress us.
I wanted to go into the red light district that I had heard about, since it is one of Amsterdam’s main attractions. We didn’t stay long. I could not believe that the women we saw that were working in their “shops” could ever make a living. To be polite, they weren’t what I was expecting to see. I guess that since it was early in the day, all of the younger, prettier looking girls were asleep.
It was also interesting to see all the stoned kids coming out of the coffee shops and going into all the sex shops.
Amsterdam is a unique town to be sure. We were going to go to a few other tourist spots, but we were so frustrated with the heavy rains we just decided to go back to the ship and dry out. It is really a shame that our impression of Amsterdam is that it is a dirty town with not much beauty. I know that since so many people love this town, that we must have gotten a bad taste; but that is the honest impression that we got. If we had it to do over, we probably would have enjoyed one of the excursions into the countryside.
Actually, we did see something beautiful as we pulled away from Amsterdam. We saw large numbers of swans all along the waterway.
Once we got back on the ship, we knew that we were going to be heading back toward Harwich and this cruise was quickly coming to an end. This was great timing for turning back the clock an hour. We really needed the extra time, since we were getting up early to disembark.
The disembarkation form that is provided to you early in the cruise to determine when you get off, doesn’t have too many options for folks with private transfers so we had to select the only option that was provided, 7:15AM. This was a bit early, since we had told the transfer service to be at the port by 9:00 AM. We got off the ship when they called our color and number and were quickly coming down the escalator to the huge room with the thousands of pieces of luggage grouped by color and number. It was quite a site. Thank goodness it was easy to find our luggage, and we were outside sitting down at a table waiting for our ride within 15 minutes of walking off the ship. Since it was a lovely day, the wait was rather pleasant. Fortunately the transfer service knew that we would be off early, and he arrived to pick us up at 8:15 rather than 9:00. This has to have been the easiest disembarkation ever for us. Good going RCI.
This was a great cruise! The itinerary had wonderful ports and the Jewel is a fantastic ship. But most importantly the camaraderie with all of our Cruise Critic friends made this a very unique and most enjoyable cruise. It did make it hard to leave all these fine folks, since you never know if you will ever see any of them again. I kind of think and certainly hope that our paths will cross again to enjoy another wonderful cruising vacation.
Below is a link to our Kodak Easy Share album for more pictures of the ports of call on this wonderful cruise. The album also includes pictures of the ship, the Porter's party, and the Meet and Mingle, as well as pics of many of our cruise mates.
Below is a link to the Shutterfly albums with other photos from the vacations:
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