NEWBIE- Lots of questions- Needing the voice of the experts!! :)
We are first time cruisers- Large Canadian family on a budget-- 2-adults, 5-children- 16, 13, 13, 6, 3... We are considering booking for Dec 12-18 from NY- to Florida and Bahamas on the Jewel...
There were two major decisions that are pushing us towards NCL-- First- it leaves NY- and we can drive to NY- saving over $1500 automatically... Second- the Nickolodean characters was a plus... And then the price of the cruise overall certainly factors in...
Reading on this site- we are having some concerns...
1-What exactly is freestyle? We have heard it referred to negatively-- and positively... Does it only refer to the food?
2- Does it cost extra to see the shows? Do we need reservations to see the shows? Are the shows only offered at night 1-time? Or multiple viewings?
3- I am concerned with trip from NY to FLA- How long does that take? Leaving in Dec- should we pack warm or cold? How many outfits do we need for a week?
4- Does anyone have experience in leaving their car at Manahattan Cruise Terminal? Is it safe?
5- Leaving Manhattan terminal versus Brooklyn Terminal-- Do we get to see the statue of Liberty?
6- when we arrive in the port at Great Stirrup Cay and Nassau- how far away from port are the beaches? (I am assuming you aren't swimming right next to the ship!) Do we need to take a shuttle? What about snorkel gear? Do we rent or bring our own?
7- Room layouts-- We spoke to NCL and they are offering us adjoining rooms- one for 3 people and one room for 4 people... How do we fit? What is the layout for the extra beds?
8- all this hype about the great food in specialty restaurants-- Is the buffet really that bad? We are feeling like we would be content there... Are there other restaurants that we could eat in that don't charge extra? What is the Main Dining room like? Do we order off of menues there?
9- I am having concerns with my kids-- is it wise to let them roam freely-- The twins and oldest are failrly responsible... What activities are available for them?
10- How much extra money should we budget and what would we be spending the money on?
11- going to Bahamas- what is there that we shouldn't miss?
12- What to do in Port Canaveral?
Lots of questions-- and I am sure there is more that I haven't asked that will come to mind as we go... Any advise you have to help us would be great!!
I'll do my best to answer your questions:
1) Freestyle, is a broad range. Mainly it applies to the meals, where you can dine at your own table when you want; there are no "formal" seatings like at 6pm or 8pm, you go when you wish; you do risk though waiting in lines etc at the free restaurants; the pay as you go restaurants you will get a reservation time, and there is no wait (usually). It's not bad, about the longest you might wait for a table is 20 mins maybe.
2)Shows are free, and no reservations needed. Generally in the main theater there are two shows, plenty of seating; the lunge acts you can refer to your itinerary left in your room the night before.
3) I'm sure it will be cool leaving NY in December, I would be inclined to bring jackets or heavy sweaters, then leave them in your closet, upon check in, on the ship you can be indoors, and there are some areas where you'll be outdoors, but you can avoid these. As for how many outfits, that is your personal choice. Many people do dress up for dinner, though not required. Many do so for the portraits they offer to take in the atrium. I would pack everything from a bikini to an evening dress, it's freestyle, pack what you want!
4) We have leaft our car in Manhattan, it apeared to be perfectly fine. Secure lot, they have a dog snif your car upon entry. I think this is a secure area, we weren't concerned once we saw the situation.
5)Regardless of where you leave, you will see the Statue of Liberty of course at a distance. I would say leaving NY you might get a scooch closer, but you will see it regardless of where you leave NY
6) I do not know this first hand, but the beaches are within walking distance I believe, and there is snorkel gear, I believe you would have to rent them
7) Depending on the rooms, the extra beds are going to be pullout couches. So you will have twin beds or queen however you decide to have it arranged, and then the pullout beds, which I have heard are not terribly uncomfortable.
8) The main criticism of NCL - Freestyle, is that the menu never changes. The buffet is very repetitious although plenty to choose from, same with the main dining rooms, although they might offer one different entree each night, but here to them menu never changes. There are basically 2 free main dining rooms, with somewhat different menus, but they don't change throughout the cruise, then there is one other free diner-type eatery which we enjoyed. The specialty restaurants are a personal choice, we enjoyed the italian and steak house; was it worth it? It was good, but frustrating when you think it should be included, but I would suggest trying it at least once or twice.
9) I would say if you feel the children are responsible, you should be ok; they will find others to play with. Being two single women in our mid 30's, we didn't try the kid zone, though we did pass by, and they did seem to be enjoying themselves.
10) Depends on your spending style; figure you will be purchasing some photos they take throughout the week, if you drink, no alcohol is included, you pay for each mixed drink; you can purchase a soda card for the week. Misc purchases on the ship, excursions; all of which can be put on your credit card, but with a family, ($12pp tip/service charge per person is added automatically) I would think an extra $750 - $1000 should be considered.
11) I am sorry, I cannot answer this one, but not to be an alarmist, but in Nassau, there have been some issues with theft in Nassau. Just pay attention, and you should be fine. This was happening a few months ago as of this writing, I believe local authorities have stepped up security.
12) Port Canaveral, nearby is the Kennedy Space Center! While the excursion is a bit overpriced, it does ensure that you will get back to the ship in time. The ship also offers an airboat ride I believe which is something I would like to try. They also offer excursions to Disney, Sea World, Universal, but I can't imagine you would have a lot of time in these parks, as they are about an hour away by bus I believe.
Enjoy it, you will have a good time regardless. Freestyle cruising isn't for everyone, but I don't think there is anything wrong with it; it's certainly worth a try particularly for families I would think.
Welcome to Cruise mates and NCL. I will answer a few of your questions, Chissy has done a great job so far and everything is opinion only.
1-freestyle refers to not only the dining option of eating whenever, but the dress options are more casual and there are no official formal nights. The fun part of this might be for the kids as they may want to eat separately from you, depending on their age. Another thing that is very popular and different from tradtional dining, you can eat early and go back later just for dessert.
3-the westher will start out chilly, but within a couple of days it should be warm and sunny.
6-Great Sturip CAy, you will tender in and swim or snorkel, whatever right by the tenders. You can rent snorkel equiptment or bring your own.
7- The extra sleeping arrangement might be a pull out sofa that will sleep 2 or it may be bunk beds that fold up against the wall.
8-The buffet is outstanding or we think so. It has improved in the past few years and has a great breakfast and lunch selection with lots of fruit and a good salad bar, plus vegetarian choices, and meats for lunch as well as a sandwhich station, and almost anything you can imagine for breakfast including lox and bagels. They even heat the cream served with the hot cereal. We don't do buffet for dinner ever!!! Other free dining chocies: outdoor grill at lunch, Blue Lagoon, 24 hour diner with some great comfort foods, and of course 2 main dining rooms.
9-depending on the age of the kids, you might have trouble ever seeing them. From the minute they go to the kids club they will be busy with new friends. Yes, if they are not too young and are responsible they are fine to wander around to some degree. Again, you will want them to check in and you will want to know where they are and who they are with..
10-budgeting extra: no one can decide this for you. Other than $12 per day per person for tipping, what you spend will depend on your personal interests and your habits. You will want to allow for land tours (private or via the ship) drinks if you are drinkers and other small items. Some spend almost nothing, others have bills which are higher than the cost of the cruise.
First off I guess I should tell you I'm a big fan of Freestyle. I enjoy the flexibilityh it allows you. I've sailed on the Jewel a couple of times and really enjoyed the ship.
Cruising from NY in Dec. is likely to be pretty cool for at least a full day, perhaps a day and a half.
Since you're only going as far as Florida and the Bahamas you're not likely to encounter any really hot weather, as you would sailing deep into the Caribbean.
I think it would be a shame not to budget at least a couple of dinners in some of the specialty restaurants. Add in that cost to the cost of your ticket and decide if the cruise cost is still good value.
You can get away with eating only in the cost included dining rooms and buffet, but then you don't get to experience all that NCL has to offer.
As others have said, there's no charge for the shows. There are such things as Martini tasting events that do have an extra charge.
Aren't you the one that said a few years ago, when cruising NCL just plan on allowing an extra $100 for speicialty dining or something like that? I have done that ever since you made the comment and advised others to do the same.
We have sailed on NCL 3 times out of NYC. I am not sure where in Canada you are located but since you said you can drive to NYC I am guessing that you are in Ontario.
If you are in Toronto or the Niagara region you might consider taking the MegaBus instead of driving. They feature buses that go directly to Manhattan and you have a short cab ride to the pier. Also, if you book early enough, the entire trip can be purchased for as little as a dollar (very limited seats of course). Additionally, you can save yourself the parking and cost of gas for the drive. Parking at the pier is $30 per day.
When you add that up plus at least one night stay prior to the trip, it gets expensive.
We met a couple who used megabus to get to their cruise and they ended up paying $5 each way and the cab fare from the bus terminal was $11. They said it was a great trip.
It seems everyone has answered your questions so I will be brief. I LOVE free style cruising. I am the kind of person that eats every couple of hours so having many dining options including the indoor and outdoor buffet is a PLUS. I would assume this will be the same bringing on children. It is sometimes hard to explain to them they need to wait until 6p to eat. On NCL, you can always find something. I have cruised, in years past, on ships with assigned dining. I dont care for it. If you are seated with people that you do not have anything in common with you are sort of stuck. Granted things may have changed since then and If you are travelling with enough people you probably do not have to be seated with others. Have a great cruise.
I agree with everything that has been said before me.
I love the freestyle cruising - both in terms of not having to get dressed up unless we want to & in terms of not having to eat at a certain table in a certain diningroom & at a certain time each evening. I suspect that with the kids, that will come in handy.
The only thing I might add is that (at least they used to) NCL will offer 1/2 price cover charges at some of their specialty restaurants, provided that your reservation is made between a certain time, which if I remember correctly, is from 5p-6p.
There are also coupon books available. I believe they are usually provided by the travel agents, but I can usually go on ebay & find one at a very reasonable price.
I also love NCL for families - the crowd is quite mixed - not too old, but not for the "party/booze" crowd.
As far as the kids being on their own, you know them better than anyone else, but I, too, would recommend the walkie-talkies (I've seen many families with them), but I would also recommend physically checking in with them & enforcing the everybody stick together at *ALL* times, no matter what, rule. (I am probably a bit more protective than most, but that is the law enforcement in me.)
I don't have much more to add, my opinions echo everybody else's.
The only other thing I should've mentioned is that, although the specialty restaurants are very nice & might be worth at least one night's visit, if your budget does not allow for it, don't worry about eating outside of the specialty restaurants.
I did not say eating at the main dining room, because you will have other options as well, which do not neccesarily limit you to the bufffet.
I realize I could be shot for saying this, but sometimes, I just don't feel like eating a major meal, every night, over the course of the week, for variosu reasons. Sometimes I just want to grab a burger or something simple. If you've been off the boat all day, snorkeling, or even laying in the sun all day, you may want to just grab a drink and a burger and chill out.
and speaking of drinks - since you are a 1st time cruiser - many of the ships automatically add the gratuities onto the drink prices, of course if you have great service or think that is where you'll be getting most of your drinks from throughout the cruise, then I am sure anything additional would be much appreciated. For the kids, or even yourself, depending on how much soda you drink, you can purchase the soda card. Tea, Milk, Water & Coffee should all be free.