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Copyright 1995-2004 
Linda Coffman


JEWEL OF THE SEAS
Baltic Sea: Maiden Voyage
May 16, 2004

by Bill MacGregor

The Jewel of the Seas is a brand new ship and one of its key advantages is that the physical plant is modern and in good working order. The exercise area is excellent (the best I have ever seen) and up-to-date and the standards of the equipment exceeds that of most land based Spas. There are internet stations on 3 separate decks and the equipment is new, making it easy to access. The rock climbing wall is an interesting experience and the staff manning that facility are very supportive with the result that almost everyone will try it out, even us older folk who are over 60.

The staff, with the exception of one senior staff member, who was dismissive of older people, were friendly and made a real effort to be helpful. The ship itself is nice to look at and the elevators on the side of the ship with lots of glass were a treat. A few folks felt a bit giddy since the elevators gave them too much of a view.

There were problems related to this being a new ship on a new run. Supplies were low for the store. For example, the cheaper Johnny Walker Black Label ran out quickly as did the Vodka. The British passengers could not get any gin even on the first day. Basics like Kleenex packs ran our quickly. I caught a head cold and bought the last two packages on the ship.

The check in and departure procedures worked quite well with passengers checking in by deck number. Unfortunately, due to the company being late in setting up contracts with their shore companies, it took a while to arrange for a pier to airport transfer, which caused some unnecessary anxiety. In the end, the off-loading and transfers worked very well.

There was not a regular midnight buffet, not even a basic one with cold cuts and cheese. While the room service was excellent, the choice of things to eat was limited. The only service open after the buffet closed at 9 pm was one coffee machine. This was a problem in that we often like to travel as a group and we like to get together for a non-alcoholic night cap. The reality is that 6 of us would not fit into a stateroom with room service and this is a negative. There were 3 out of 12 nights when a special buffet was put on.

The food in the dining room was only fair to fairly good. Oddly enough, the quality of the food in the buffet was good and if it were not for the fact that we had made friends with our dining room table group we would have considered never going back to the main dining room. While the quality of food in the dining room was disappointing the service, at least at our table, was excellent, especially from the assistant waiter who did not allow a water glass to remain empty. The food at the steak house, which cost an extra $20 US, was excellent so it is clear that someone on the ship knew how to cook.

The main show entertainment was okay but not as good as on other cruise lines such as Princess or Holland America. The movies and the TV selections that were made available can only be described as old and pathetic. This was a major disappointment. I would not want to be stuck, sea-sick or otherwise, in my cabin for 2 days with what the ship had to offer on the TV. I still can't believe they were showing reruns of Mr. Ed. If my cable company was that bad I would be buying a satellite TV service immediately.

The food service hours were poor for those on shore excursions. They really needed to open up half an hour earlier. They seemed to get this message after 3 or 4 days. They were also slow to open up more seating and by the time they managed to do this some of the passengers were starting to snarl at each other.

This is a big issue because some people missed their buses for the shore excursions (some of which were very expensive). It quickly became clear that one should report for the shore excursions at least half an hour in advance of the announced time and not the recommended 15 minutes. I would go even earlier and "get a move on" especially in Russia where the Russian authorities seemed to be overly slow and cautious especially on the first day. The trip to Tivoli Gardens was not very good since the Jewel is there during the day and the Gardens are only really interesting after 5 pm when you have to be back on the ship.

The really big problem lay in the kind of things the ship did to save money. Poor and old movies. No Kleenex in the washrooms. The need to sign out pool towel and not being able to take the towel from the hot tub to the steam room. Not having enough towel stations and standing in the cold waiting for someone to take some kind of effective action. Only one open coffee station after hours. etc.

Over all, the ship is really beautiful, the staff were great but the experience was ruined by "penny pinching bean counters" and sometimes rigid procedures (like the towels) which left one feeling the the feeling of the customer were secondary to other considerations. My view is they should charge more for the trip if they need the money and provide the kind of service one gets on other ships. At one point, feeling particularly frustrated, I stood looking at the Grand Princess docked a few meters away and wished I was on that ship especially since I had a choice when I booked the cruise in January 2004.

Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean International


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