My family has always wanted to travel to the British Isles, and I've always wanted to see the magnificent fjords of Norway. So, when we saw the Royal Caribbean Jewel of the Seas
had an itinerary that included both, (and was in our price range), we immediately bought tickets for the 11-day cruise.
Our cruise embarked in Harwich, which is only about 75 miles from London, so we spent two days there before the cruise. The ship sailed to Cherbourg, Cobh (Cork), Dublin, Glasgow, and three ports on the fjords of Norway - Flam, Alesund, and Bergen.
It was a wonderful cruise, and we loved all the ports of call and the ship.
London Eye Photo (c) Linda Garrison
London is one of the most expensive cities in the world, but it is a marvelous city and has many free or low-priced attractions. We arrived in London in the early morning and took our pre-arranged train and van shuttle to the hotel.
We dropped our bags at the hotel and hurried off via the nearby Tube (London's underground train) to Buckingham Palace to see the end of the annual Trooping the Color ceremony. Next, we walked around the city, taking in Hyde Park and nearby Harrod's. Our first day ended with a ride on the London Eye. The second day in London we spent at the Tower of London
and riding the hop-on, hop-off (HOHO) bus. It's amazing how much of a city you can see in two days!
The next day, we rode the train to Harwich and the ship.
Cherbourg Photo (c) Linda Garrison
The train from London's Liverpool Street Station to Harwich stops only about 30 yards from where cruise ships dock, so it's an easy way to get to Harwich. We took the 11:18 train, and we were on the Jewel of the Seas by 1:00 pm.
Unfortunately,the cruise started with a disappointment. A French worker's strike would keep the ship from docking in Le Havre, preventing our tour from running to the Normandy beaches. I had visited Normandy
, but my family had not. We will have to return!
The good news was that the Jewel of the Seas was going to dock in Cherbourg, France. A few passengers would be able to take their scheduled excursions; most of us would not. We did enjoy walking around the small town and resting up after our busy tour of London.
Jewel of the Seas Photo (c) Linda Garrison
Our third day on the Jewel of the Seas was supposed to be at anchor in Plymouth, England. However, the fates were against us (again). Rough, windy weather forced the ship to stay at sea. The Jewel of the Seas passengers were a little antsy after the disappointments of the first two days. However, the crew did an admirable job of keeping our spirits up, providing many onboard activities, accompanied by plenty of food and drink. We knew that the ship had nothing to do with the French or the weather! I've been on cruises where we missed one port, but missing two for two was very unusual.
Luckily, the Jewel of the Seas rode the rough weather well, and we all began to get excited about docking in Cobh, the port of Cork, Ireland, the next day.
Cobh Photo (c) linda Garrison
The sun was shining, and it was a glorious day in Cobh, Ireland. The tours ran, and passengers all enjoyed visiting Cork, kissing the Blarney stone, or just strolling the streets of Cobh. We opted to do the latter, and loved this small Irish town. The ship docked next to the tourist office, and a map of Cobh helped us find all the local sights like the Lusitania and Titanic memorials. Hiking up to the cathedral provided wonderful views of the harbor and the Jewel of the Seas. We even found time to sit outside at a pub and have an Irish coffee. It was a wonderful day, and helped most of us forget our bad luck of the first two days.
Before we sailed, a group of young Irish dancers
entertained us in the ship's theater.
Dublin, Ireland Photo(c) Linda Garrison
The Jewel of the Seas sailed north from Cobh to Dublin. We had a short day in Dublin due to the timing of the tides. The ship arrived at 3:00 am and left at 2:00 pm! Rumor on the ship was that some people took taxis into town around 4:00 am to get in on the end of the night partying at Temple Bar.
Since our family had never been to Dublin, we decided to take the 8:00 am Jewel of Seas shuttle into downtown and do a walking tour of the city. We wandered the streets and stopped for a coffee. They were having graduation at Trinity College, and we saw many happy cap and gown clad young people with their smiling families. Before coming back to the ship we took time to have a pint of Guinness. It was surprisingly good - better than in the USA.
Glasgow Photo (c) Linda Garrison
The Jewel of the Seas docked on the Clyde River in Greenock, and we took the ship's $6 shuttle (a bargain) for the 30-minute ride into Glasgow. It was a blustery day, and since Glasgow is spread over a wide area, we decided to use the hop-on, hop-off (HOHO) bus to see as much of the city as we could in a day.
We purchased the tickets and started the tour at George Square, the drop off point for the ship's shuttle. One of the first stops was the excellent Glasgow Cathedral, which dates back to the middle ages. The tour was very good, and we managed to see a large part of the city. We ended our bus tour back at George Square and walked over to the busy pedestrian shopping street to buy a few souvenirs. The next day was a welcome sea day.
Jewel of the Seas Photo (c) Linda Garrison
The Jewel of the Seas sailed down the Firth of Clyde and navigated the many islands separating Scotland and Ireland before heading north. It started raining and blowing as we left Greenock and didn't stop much of the day.
Even with the stormy North Seas, everyone continued to have a great time. I think we all knew that this was common weather for the British Isles, and I'd much rather have rain when at sea rather than in port.
We had one piece of excitement around midnight. Just before we turned into the calmer waters of the Sognefjord, the ship sailed within few miles of the world's largest oil rig in the North Sea. Brightly lit, it looked like a UFO hovering over the North Sea.
The next day would be our first look at the fjords of Norway.
Flam to Voss Excursion Photo (c) Linda Garrison
We awoke to calm seas and towering cliffs outside our balcony cabin. We were finally in the fjords of Norway! The Jewel of the Seas nimbly made her way through the deep, narrow channel, and we docked in the tiny village of Flam. Our family did the "Overland to Voss" excursion, which featured a ride of the marvelous Flam Railway. It takes passengers 3000 feet up the mountain to Myrdal, where we changed trains and rode on to Voss, passing through snowy fields and more amazing scenery.
We had lunch and free time in Voss, and boarded a bus for the return trip. After a brief stop at the Tvinde Waterfall, the historic Stalheim Hotel served up some delicious pastries, coffee, and spectacular valley views. What a terrific day in Norway.
Geirangerfjord Photo (c) Linda Garrison
Alesund is a very pretty town. We booked a ship's bus and ferry shore excursion to Geiranger
, and saw some of the most magnificent scenery in the world along the way. The tour included rides on three ferries, including the famous one from Geiranger to Hellesylt down the Geirangerfjord. The spring and early summer in Norway had been rainy, and the waterfalls cascaded down the walls of the fjords everywhere we looked. We had lunch in tiny Geiranger and arrived back in Alesund in the late afternoon. The trip ended with a drive to the top of Mount Aksla, and the sun shining on the pretty town of Alesund capped off a perfect day.
As the ship sailed for Bergen, we were all sad that we didn't have more time to explore Alesund.
Bergen, Norway Photo (c) Linda Garrison
Since sunrise was before 4 am, the sun was shining brightly as we arrived in Bergen. After two days of full-day touring on ship's excursions, we decided to explore this beautiful gateway to the fjords on our own.
The Jewel of the Seas provided a free shuttle from our berth at Jekteviken to downtown and provided a map of the area. We strolled the streets and checked out the wares at Fish Square, the local outdoor market. The lines for the funicular train to the top of Mount Floyen were very long, so we walked to the end of Bryggen, the old wharf, and admired the row of buildings and the medieval stone tower and fortress. Heading back to the funicular, we took the short trip to the top of the mountain. What great views we had of Bergen!
Jewel of the Seas Photo (c) Linda Garrison
We sailed from Bergen in the late afternoon after enjoying a marvelous day in port. Our family hiked along the top of Mount Floyen, rode the funicular, and explored old town Bergen. We spent the last of our Norwegian krone on some local beers and sat on a bench on the wharf. It was a perfect last day in Norway, and the Tango Show that night in the theater was the best show I've ever seen on a cruise ship.
Our final day on the Jewel of the Seas was much appreciated sea day. We spent time trying to cram our expanded clothing back into the suitcases and just relaxing before our long flight home. It was a calm day at sea, and the Jewel of the Seas seemed to be speeding up as she sailed for Harwich.
Midnight Sunset Photo (c) Linda Garrison
We arrived in Harwich about 4:00 am, and passengers could disembark before 6:30. Our noon flight prompted us to arrange for an independent transfer with airportcruisetransfers.com
, and Julie the driver arrived promptly at 7:00 am. Since we were disembarking early, we kept all our luggage in the cabin and carried it off the ship ourselves. This worked perfectly, and we arrived at Gatwick in plenty of time for our flight home.
This itinerary to the British Isles and fjords of Norway was as fascinating as expected. We explored some interesting towns, and experienced the wonders of western Norway and 20-hours of daylight.
The Jewel of the Seas is beautiful, provides good value, and the overall cruise experience was a wonderful family vacation.