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Well, this was my first time ever to Europe and my first Transatlantic cruise. Even with the awful exchange rate due to the weak US dollar, I truly enjoyed my precruise stay in London. I flew on Virgin Atlantic from Chicago to London leaving 10/26 and arriving in London on 10/27. We arrived over an hour early at Heathrow, to find that there was no gate available for us. So we sat on the tarmac for about 20 minutes til they found us a gate......the farthest one out on Terminal 3 (the terminal from hell at Heathrow.) We taxied to the gate only to find the jetway wouldn't work! After 15 minutes they told us we might have to exit the plane on a stairway....but then they got the jetway to work. So we actually got off the plane at about the time we originally were supposed to if we had been on time....personally I think it was a plot on the part of BAA! LOL Walked the millions of miles from the gate to Immigration...waited in line for 20 minutes and was through without any problems. Friends of mine who were with me did this trip last year and said they waited over 2 hours on a Saturday morning to get through immigration, so we had it pretty easy. We then went out and meet our driver who took us to our hotel.
I stayed at the Hotel Russell in the Bloomsbury section of London. I think it was a perfectly great area to stay in. The Hotel Russell was built in the 1890's and is a massive Victorian building. The lobby and first floor area retain the feel of the Victorian era.......the rooms have all been recently remodeled and upgraded. I had a single room - the rate included breakfast. I had a twin bed (with a really nice mattress and a wonderfully light but warm duvet), a chair, a desk a credenza and tv and a wardrobe. The room was the size of an balcony cabin on a cruise ship.....but the bathroom was not included in this area......there was a small hallway behind the wall where the head of my bed was and it entered into a large bathroom with all new fixtures and a walk in glass walled shower with a large shower head with great water pressure and a heated towel rack. The small room was worth the large bathroom! The hotel is also centrally located - less than a block from the Russell Square Station on the Piccadilly line and very close to shopping - within only 2 blocks - and the West End theaters.
London is really a wonderful city....the sights and the history are awesome, but it is so expensive. I did the cheapest tours possible....the HOHO busses....hop on, hop off busses. Food was expensive, but if you find a Tesco store or a Tesco express you can get food and beverages for a decent price.
On the 30th we took taxis from the hotel to Waterloo Station to catch our train to Southampton. The train was modern and smooth and ontime........when they say they leave at 11:39.....they leave exactly at 11:39! Arrived in Southampton to catch a taxi to the pier...not a very long ride.....and dropped of our luggage and checked in to board the Jewel of the Seas.
The Jewel is a beautiful ship. I had an E3 balcony cabin on deck 7....nice size room with the usual small bathroom and shower and a nice balcony. Only problem with this cabin is that the balcony overlooks the covers for the lifeboats. So you could not look directly down into the water. Room Stewardess was Karthini (rhymnes with Martini) from the Philipines. She was wonderful. Every request was met promptly and the room was immaculate every day.
We were at table 510 in the Tides dining room - the upper deck - a table for 10 with 9 people at it. I want to thank Suzy, Curran, Kim, Jack, Carole, Victor, Karen and Don for being wonderful tablemates. Philip - we missed you! Maybe next time we do a TA you can join us! Our waiters were Ashvir and Mangesh - both from India. They were absolutely wonderful. Recommendations were spot on....we never had to wait for anything to be offered or refilled. Shashi was our cocktail water.......knew our drink preferences after the first night. Always prompt and service with a smile. Food was good.......some dishes were great, some were not so great. I was a bit disappointed with the dessert selection. Nothing was really outstanding.....not even the warm chocolate cake. But, we did not go hungry and none of us lost weight so it couldn't have been too bad. I did not go to either Chops or Portofinos this cruise. I also did not eat at the Windjammer very often for either breakfast or lunch. I usually went to Tides for breakfast or did room service. I never had lunch up at the WJ...but I did do late afternoon snacks a couple of times. I loved the pepperoni pizza from room service.....usually had that mid afternoon as my lunch after returning from an excursion or from some rousing trivia games.
My nightly stop for drinks pre and post dinner was the Schooner Bar......Gerardo and Pavmir were the bartenders there and they were wonderful....they make a mean martini!
I did not participate in alot of activites, but usually did the afternoon Name That Tune Trivia, General Trivia and the Evening Trivia in the Schooner Bar before dinner. The cruise staff was really great.....especially assistant CD's Brendan from the US and Lissandro from Argentina. They really engaged their audiences and made us laugh.....and not with the standard corny CD jokes. I also participated in a putt putt golf tournament with our CC group.....4 rounds on a rocking and rolling 9 hole golf course. Let's just say it was fun trying to put the ball with the movement of the ship and the wind. Tiger Woods I am not!
This was a 12 night cruise with only 3 port stops. Le Havre, France.....our CC group did a private excursion to the beaches of Normandy and a stop in Honfleur on the way back. In Normandy we went to Pointe du Hoc where the 101st Airborne took the cliffs from the Germans' Omaha Beach; The American Cemetery at Colleville (one of the most awe inspiring and spiritual places I have ever been) and then on to Arromanches which was one of the beaches the British forces took on D day. At Arromances you can see the remains of one of the two artifical harbors that were built by the Allies that were wiped out about 2 weeks after being built by a monster storm that hit the Normandy Coast. We then went on to Honfleur which was very pretty, but very expensive.
Next stop was La Coruna, Spain. Not really much here except a lighthouse from the Roman Era......3 of the 4 excursions offered by RCCL went to Santiago de Compestela to the cathederal there to see the remains of St. James - one of the apostles. Most passengers thought this stop could have been skipped.
The last stop before the 6 straight sea days was Funchal, Madeira. What a beautiful place! So lush and mountainous. I did the half day tour that stopped at Cabo Girao, the highest seacliff in Europe and the second highest in the world, and a couple of other places. Got a chance to sample some Madeiran wine and cheeses and a specialty bread. Next time I return to Madeira I want to do the whole island tour, not just this half day one. The people here are so friendly and warm. The weather is just perfect but prices are quite high. I could live here!
After 6 wonderful days at sea......5 of those days were 25 hour days as we slowly worked our way back to eastern standard time.......I just took it easy and relaxed. I have never come back from a cruise so refreshed and relaxed. I would only do westbound TA's because of the extra hours of sleep....you have 23 hour days doing eastbound TA's and I don't think I could handle that.
More westbound transatlantics are in my future for sure! I can handle the long flights over if I have those long relaxing days coming back.
This was my fourth cruise on RCCL out of 17....this cruise was one of my best despite the average food.....the friends I made from CC, the crew on board and the extra long days were wonderful.