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Review: Jewel of the Seas

Cruise - Ocean Cruise

Scandinavia and Russia

  • By SilverTraveller DRSask

    403 reviews

    Ribbon Ribbon Ribbon Ribbon Ribbon

  • May 2010
  • Balcony
  • Family holiday
  • Adult family

159 people found this review helpful

The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia has long been on my ‘must see’ list and when my uncle found this cruise with balcony staterooms we jumped at the chance and booked it. So it was that in the spring of 2010, I and three family members went on the 12 Night Scandinavia and Russia cruise aboard the Jewel of the Seas with Royal Caribbean. The cruise departed from Harwich, England and ports of call included Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Tallinn, and Gothenburg returning to Harwich. We had one day in each port except for St. Petersburg where we had two days. We also had four sea days on board. Given that we went at the end of May, we had very reasonable weather with just a few wet days and one choppy day at sea.

The ship is the biggest ship I have been on with 13 decks with glass elevators, some of which were suspended over the sea. Even though there were over 2,000 passengers you would never have known it. There are so many restaurants and lounges and so many activities happening it was always possible to find a quiet spot to read. I could write a lot about the ship, but given the limitations of space, I will focus on the ports we visited.

Day three we docked in Copenhagen, Denmark, on the east coast of the Danish island of Zealand. We were able to start leaving for shuttle buses at 9:00 A.M. and everyone had to be back aboard by 4:30 P.M. The one disappointment in Denmark was that The Little Mermaid was in China rather than on the waterfront right near the ship’s berth. The shuttle bus dropped us off in the middle of the old town in Kongens Nytorv and we walked to the Amalienborg Palace which is the home of the Danish Royal Family since 1749. We had considered taking a tour of the palace but we would have had at least an hour’s wait. When you have a restricted number of hours in port you don’t waste time in queues unless it is something you have your heart set on seeing. We continued through the Amaliehaven Gardens and along to the Canal Nyhavn. Here we caught an 11:00 A.M. boat cruise (60 DKK) around the new and old town. It was interesting to see all the apartments along the canal with balconies full of flowers and greenery. Many of the apartments had their own berths along the canal.

Following the boat tour we strolled along the cobblestones of the old quay deciding which of the many restaurants to choose for lunch. We settled on Cap Horn, the former Lions Hotel, which serves organic food purchased at the local markets. Although there was room inside, we opted to eat alfresco as the weather was nice and sunny. We enjoyed the view of the other restaurants along the quay in houses dating back to the 17th century and the wooden sailboats tied up in the canal. We split two three-plate open-faced sandwiches (smorrebrod). The portions weren’t huge so it was just the right amount of food to keep us going while we soaked up the atmosphere. The cheese plate was served with a fruit and nut dish that was so good we asked for the recipe (simply acacia honey and star anise with whatever nuts and dried fruit you have handy). A good jazz trio was playing on the quay, moving from restaurant to restaurant and collecting money as they went.

After lunch we headed across the square to the pedestrian shopping street, Ostergade. Here we saw a number of performance artists and wandered into some of the shops such as STAMPE which has wonderful leather, and window shopped at Halberstadt which has a solid gold train pulling cars of jewels in the window. A must before leaving Denmark was a Danish pastry and then we had a quick look around a flea market in the square before getting the shuttle bus back to the ship.

Day five the ship arrived in Stockholm, Sweden at 9:00 A.M. and we had to be back aboard by 4:30 P.M. As we approached Stockholm the lovely scenery reminded us of the Muskoka region in Ontario – from the little rocky islands to the houses on the islands to the boats docked at the little jetties. The shuttle bus dropped us off on Stromgatan right in front of the Opera House. We walked across the Strombron, up Slottsbacken to the entrance to The Royal Palaces of Sweden. We arrived just before opening time and there was no queue so we purchased tickets for The Royal Apartments for 100 Krona. There were combination tickets to see other parts of the palace but it would have taken all day to see it all. We spent two hours in the apartments including a one hour guided tour. Items of particular interest in the Royal Apartments are: King Oskar II’s Writing Room with its beautiful floor; the Wave and Seashore sculpture by Theodor Lundberg in 1897 at the base of the stairs; the throne made for the coronation of King Adolf Fredrik and Queen Lovisa Ulrika in 1751.

After the palace we walked back through the cobbled courtyard to the Gallery NKM Crystal & Fine Art just off Slottsbacken. We finished shopping in time to see the parade go by just after 1:00 P.M. (Sunday time) for the changing of the guard. Then it was back across the Strombron into the shopping district. We had lunch at Zanzibar on Smalandsgatan, which I highly recommend. Not only is the food good but if you eat inside, which we did due to the rain, there is a good view upstairs of the shopping district. We then went up Biblioteksgatan to find Frey Willie a shop specializing in enamel jewellery. The designs are beautiful, especially the theme dedicated to Monet. One item you see a lot of in Sweden is the Dola horses. Legend has it that fishermen carved horses as toys for their children and these colourful horses are a lovely little keepsake and easily transportable either as little wooden toys, on tea towels or as zipper pulls.

Day six we docked in Helsinki, Finland at 10:00 A.M. and had to be back on board for 5:30 P. M. Unlike the other cities on the cruise, Helsinki has very few directional signs for tourists. Even when we thought we knew where we were, the Uspenski Cathedral, we were in fact nowhere near it. We were actually looking for the Temppeliaukio Church (Rock Church) which is carved out of solid rock with a dome that spans 70 feet and has 15 miles of Finnish copper wire covering the inside of the dome. Eventually we arrived at the right destination thanks to a helpful local who sent us off in the right direction. After that we were fine as we knew where we were on the map. The church was worth the visit as it is quite an amazing feat and the acoustics are quite good.

After a quick lunch we headed out to find the real Uspenski Cathedral and the Lutheran Cathedral. All three churches could not have been more different than each other. We reached the Lutheran Cathedral first at the top of the steep steps in Senate Square. It is very simple in design and adornments both inside and out but lovely nonetheless in its stark white finish. In contrast the Uspenski Cathedral on the far side of the Katajanokka Canal is a brick building on a hill with beautiful pictures inside. We were lucky enough to arrive when the choir was practising and although we couldn’t understand a word, it was lovely and peaceful to sit and listen to them singing.

Day seven we arrived in St. Petersburg at 7:00 A.M. We docked at the new cruise terminal and the view was pretty dismal. Perhaps some of the other cruise terminals are closer to the older part of the city, which is what we had seen at the ports so far on this trip. However, this terminal is by a concrete jungle and it is impossible to discern which city or country you are in. This was the only port where we actually had to go through customs and needed to use our passports on the cruise.

Our morning tour was to the Hermitage. The guide gave us headsets on the coach as she would be providing an audio tour through the museum. The building itself is amazing, never mind the artwork that is in it. We were allowed to take pictures inside as long as you did not use flash and we all took a lot of pictures, mostly of the building, but also of the paintings, tapestries, and sculptures. Our guide was very knowledgeable and we saw a good cross section of masterpieces. If you were to spend a minute looking at each exhibit it would take you 15 years to see everything. Certainly a museum you would be able to go back to again and again. One big benefit of taking these tours in Russia through the cruise ship is that the Palaces and Museums open early just for cruise ship tours so we had the place to ourselves for an hour or so before they were opened up to the general public. The tours are also well managed by the staff in the Palaces who only allow so many people at a time into the rooms avoiding overcrowding. As a result you have time to appreciate what you are seeing, listen to the tour guide and are able to take pictures of the rooms and artwork without crowds of people being in the way. Some favourites for me were paintings by Monet and Degas, and the view from the Hermitage across the Palace Square.

We had two guides on the coach for the afternoon as the palace we were visiting has small rooms and we had to be split into two groups to go in. The Yusupov Palace on the embankment of the Moika River is as lavish as the Hermitage and even has a private Theatre created in the 1830’s. It is here that Rasputin was murdered in the private apartments of the young Prince Felix Yusupov in 1916. The gruesome story was detailed as the guide took us through the apartments, down a winding staircase into the basement.

The second half of the afternoon tour was a boat cruise on the river and canals. It was a lovely sunny afternoon and just perfect to take a different look at the city. From the Neva River you get a feel for the size of the Hermitage. Some of the other sights seen on the cruise include the Peter and Paul Fortress built in 1703 on Hare Island; the Admiralty; St. Isaac’s Cathedral; the Summer Palace and Gardens; and The Cathedral of the Resurrection (“Our Saviour-on-the-Spilled-Blood”).

Day eight we had an early tour at 7:45 A.M. and it was a smaller group, only 14 of us so we were on a smaller coach. It took about an hour to reach Peterhof, which is quite pretty, and the Palace of Peterhof. The weather was not as nice as the day before so it was a good thing we were inside for much of the morning. As in St. Petersburg we entered the Palace of Peterhof before it opened to the public. Due to the wet weather we had to wear slippers to protect the floors so it took a bit longer to get everyone inside and ready for the tour. However, unlike yesterday we were not allowed to take pictures inside the buildings. Luckily there are lots of postcards you can buy to put into your album instead. I also bought a small guide as well as they are beautifully done and contain much of the information that it is impossible for me to remember from the tour. Although construction began in the early 1700’s, many changes and additions occurred to the complex over the centuries up to and including repairing damage after World War II. Some of my favourite rooms include: The Picture Hall which contains 368 paintings by Pietro Rotari and his pupils; the Ballroom which simply glitters with gold; the Throne Room which in contrast is white with stucco decorations; and the Chesme Hall which contains paintings depicting the Russian victory over Turkey in Chesme Harbour on June 26, 1770.

When it was time to move outside to tour the gardens it was still raining however that did not dampen the experience. We were outside when the fanfare sounded and the fountains were turned on at 11:00. Some of us have been to Versailles and all think that the Palace of Peterhof and the fountains far exceed our French experience, despite the rain. Versailles very much felt like a cattle market as the staff did not manage the crowds and the gardens and fountains were not as nice as Peterhof. Tsar Peter I’s vision was to build Peterhof as a rival to Versailles, and in our view he succeeded in creating a much improved version.

Given the time we had we were only able to visit a small section of the Lower Park including the Great Cascade, the Triton Fountain and Orangery Pavilion, the Chessboard Cascade/Dragon Cascade, the Roman Fountains and the Trick Fountains where you could get even wetter if not careful. You could very easily spend a whole day at the Peterhof Palace and gardens and still not see everything as there are 27 fountains and cascades, 2 monuments and 4 pavilions spread across the Lower Park and Upper Garden. Within the town of Peterhof there are numerous palaces and 15 parks along ten kilometres of the Gulf of Finland.

From the Peterhof Palace we went to a local restaurant to dry off and warm up with Russian vodka, champagne and a hot lunch – a welcome respite from the rain. Our afternoon tour was of The Cottage Palace in Alexandria Park. It was built in 1826-29 and was used by Nicholas I and his wife Alexandria as a private residence. The opulence of the Peterhof Palace was reserved for official occasions such as visiting dignitaries while the cottage was more of a home.

Day nine had us arriving in Tallinn, Estonia at 7:00 A.M. We had to be back on the ship by 2:30 P.M. so it was our shortest visit to a port and we all would have liked to stay longer. My cousin’s mother-in-law lives part of the year in Tallinn and was in town so we had arranged, via e-mail on the ship, to meet for lunch in the old town square. The old town is lovely and reminds me of Bavaria. We saw the Alexander Nevski Cathedral (Russian Orthodox with onion domes) where we listened to the singing from the service that was underway then walked over to the Toompea Castle, which is now the parliament, on Toompea Hill. We spent a couple of hours exploring the cobbled streets and shops. The smell of the roasted almonds sold in the street was too much to resist and they were delicious. There are a couple of great viewing spots on the hill overlooking the harbour and town.

We went to Liisu juures at Raekoja plats 13 in the Townhall Square for lunch which was very good – pea or chicken soup and a variety of cheeses with wonderful dark Estonian bread. For dessert we went to a little cafe called Chocolats de Pierre in one of the little courtyards off Vene near Viru for ‘to die for’ chocolate cakes – they were all delicious and I know I could find it again!

Day eleven we arrived in Gothenburg at 7:00 A.M. and we had to back on board by 4:30 P.M. The shuttle bus dropped us off in Gustav Adolfs Torg in central Gothenburg. We walked left down Ostra Hamng to the Opera House which has been designed to resemble a ship and the big wheel (which was not open yet) then back through the Nordstan shopping centre through to the Rosenl canal where we took a cruise along to the Hamn canal and out into the harbour. Be warned that if you take this cruise you will go under some very low bridges and you will have to kneel down in the bottom of the boat and keep your head down. It is an interesting tour and pinpointed for us our next destination – the Tradgardsforeningen Park. We spent much of the afternoon exploring the palm house and the various gardens and enjoyed a lovely lunch at the Rose Garden cafe which is aptly named. The garden has thousands of different roses some of which are quite old. The weather was perfect for strolling around the gardens. From there we walked down Sodra Vagen past the football pitches to a car boot sale then over to Ostra Hamng to walk back to the wheel. We did not have quite enough time to go on the wheel as there was a half hour wait and then the ride is between 10 and 15 minutes and we had to get back to the ship. Time to head home…

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