We had a great time and thoroughly enjoyed the week. The positives far outweighed the negatives and I will try to write a constructive review.
I’ve just finished and realise how long it is but a lot happened in a short time.
This was our 5th NCL cruise (Dreamward, Star, Sun, Crown) but first on the Jewel. My DH and I are both English and in our late 50’s but we count ourselves as active and quite young at heart. We booked the cheapest inside cabin and got an ‘upsell’ to an inside, deck 9, for £30 each which I felt was well worth the extra.
We flew KLM from Manchester to Amsterdam – Amsterdam to Barcelona leaving home at 5:00 am and arriving in the cabin at 4:00 p.m. This was not ideal but the flights were part of the package so we made the best of it by counting the experience as part of the holiday.
We landed in Barcelona at 2:15 p.m. and were greeted by NCL reps outside the baggage claim area (someone inside would have been helpful for less experienced travellers) and our luggage taken off (how fantastic not to have to continually tip!). We waited for the remaining passengers and then walked to the coaches. This was a long walk and there were some complaints about this but there was no coach parking nearer to the terminal.
Once at the cruise terminal it was 10 minutes from getting off the coach to being in our cabin. The surprise was that the registering was done on the ship and there were no queues. This may have been because the bulk of passengers had arrived earlier but it was a real bonus after the long journey.
This was quite small but the bed was large and comfortable and there was more than enough storage space. Everything was spotlessly clean. The bathroom had a fabulously large shower with doors – no tiny circular thing with sticking curtain! We had no complaints as we got what we paid for and the location was worth the extra £60.
This is huge, clean and bright. The decor is cheerful with some elegant touches. There isn’t a spectacular atrium but I assume this is a financial decision as atriums take a lot of space. The reception area was spacious and pleasant. The ship is fairly easy to get around although, being so large, it did involve a lot of walking. The public areas were a good size and the furniture was comfortable. The ship was full as it was the ½ term holidays and there were a lot of children on board but, apart from round the pool, we never felt crowded and could always find a quiet corner.
We ate breakfast and lunch in the Garden Cafe buffet and found a huge choice of items. The main drawback was, because there was so much choice, it was easy to miss something. By the end of the week we had worked out that it was best to spend a few minutes going round the different food stations before making a decision.
We also ate twice at Tsar’s Palace and found the food and service to be on a par with a mid range restaurant. There is a design fault about the waiting area which is right outside a bank of lifts. It became crowded about 7:30 which seemed the most popular time although this is somewhat negated by the issuing of pagers so you can go off and be called when a table is ready. We waited 10 minutes the 1st time and 5 minutes the 2nd time.
We also ate at Le Bistro which was well worth the $10pp for the ambiance and attention. We didn’t feel that Cagney’s was worth $15pp though as we felt the food was no better than La Bistro and we didn’t like the venue as much. The free speciality restaurants were good and we enjoyed Mama’s Kitchen (Italian) and Tango’s (Tex-Mex). We had no problems getting reservations. We just phoned through from the cabin.
As with everything else, enjoyment is subjective and personal. We enjoyed the ‘Band on the Run’ and ‘Cirque Bijoux’ very much. The other shows were less to our liking and there was one mime show that we thought was very poor but others, from their laughter, were obviously enjoying it immensely. We love dancing and went to the ‘ballroom’ lessons when we could. We learned some new moves and had enough room to practise these in the Spinnaker lounge. We loved the band that played poolside and the gentleman who sang in the Windjammer in the evening. The casino was large and, for me, not very generous when I spent my few quarters on the slot machines!
Ports and excursions:
We did NCL excursions as we have this paranoia about not making it back to the ship on time! They are expensive and we could probably have done exactly the same itineraries for half the price but, for me, the peace of mind is priceless.
Be warned that the majority of shops in Italy and France usually close from 1ish to 4ish.
This was a lovely starting point and it was well worth the early call to enjoy gliding up the channel and seeing the town in the early morning sunshine as we had breakfast out on deck. The Mount Etna trip is only worth it if you haven’t done a volcano before although, having said that, the journey took us through some lovely little towns and the scenery was spectacular.
This was definitely the highlight of the whole cruise. We did Capri, Sorrento and Pompeii. The hydrofoil ride to Capri was very bumpy and a few people felt sick but Capri is truly beautiful and the memory of sitting in the little park, smelling the perfume of the flowers wafting in the breeze and seeing the sun glinting on the blue sea and the spectacular rocks will remain with me for ever.
Sorrento was also beautiful and I would have liked to have done a bit of shopping there but the shops were closing as we finished the lunch which was included in the trip price.
Pompeii was mind boggling in its size and state of preservation. Our guide was extremely funny and knowledgeable and he made the whole day special.
The weather was cooler and we had some rain in Rome so we were glad we had taken our macs. We did the ‘taste of Rome’ and this excursion was definitely overpriced, however, it did give us a chance to get an idea of what we would like to see if we get chance to return. The bus toured some of the major sights and then dropped us off near the Vatican so we had 3 hours to explore on our own. We spent an hour in Castel San Angelo and had spectacular views over the whole of Rome – well worth the 7 euros pp entrance fee. The rest of the time was spent having lungh (expensive), visiting St Peter’s Square (eating the most delicious ice-cream), and walking through the shopping area where the shops were mostly closed!
We knew, from experience, that by this time we would be exhausted so we decided to stay around the ship and just go into Livorno to do some present shopping. Again, it was cool and windy. There was a shuttle bus into the town for 1 Euro pp return. Unfortunately, we were in Livorno on the National day of Italy so the vast majority of shops were closed and I missed the 2 department stores that opened in the morning!!! Livorno itself is quite a large town with an interesting central harbour, castle (free to walk round) and some pleasant canal areas to stroll along.
This was another spectacular place and again, well worth being up early to watch the entering of the bay with the sun rising behind the hills. The tendering was no problem for us as we were on a ship’s tour. I don’t know how the independent travellers went on. We went to Nice (the market was fabulous and I managed to get a lot of souvenirs there) and then Monaco and Monte Carlo. Both these places were interesting and I was glad I had the chance to see them. The guide was very informative and I learned a lot. The highlight of the visit though was sitting in a café on the waterfront in Villefranche, drinking coffee and taking in the fantastic views. I would love to spend more time in Villefranche. It is such a pretty town.
Our return flight was not until 5:15p.m. so we chose to do a ship’s tour to the Monastery at Montserrat and then we were dropped off at the airport around 1:15p.m.
Disembarkation was quick and painless and this trip was also spectacular. The setting of the monastery is amazing.
As you can probably work out, we had a wonderful but tiring holiday. This trip is not for the faint hearted as it is very port intensive and it would be a shame not to see at least a little of what is on offer. Europe has so much history and such spectacular scenery and really pretty towns.
The ship was fine and we still enjoy the freestyle concept. Yes, there are a few issues – expensive excursions, some waiting at peak times, some 'iffy' entertainment and expensive drinks but, for us, the plusses are the lack of hassle with tipping, the freedom to dine in any of 13 venues and the more casual approach to dress and these make up for the others.