Ranked #9 Norwegian fleet
Ranked #100 among all ships
Regions: Alaska, Bahamas, Caribbean
One of the better previous generation Norwegian ships - eclectic decor, many dining options, good entertainment ...Read the CruiseMates report
Ranked #9 Norwegian fleet
Ranked #100 among all ships
Regions: Alaska, Bahamas, Caribbean
One of the better previous generation Norwegian ships - eclectic decor, many dining options, good entertainment ...Read the CruiseMates report
Well, plain and simple, this ship was bad.
The food was bad and the service was bad. The entertainment was also bad.
The ship was rated as a 4-1/2 star. If that is true, then Royal Caribbean must be a 10-star.
I would say this ship was more like a 3-1/2 star, so beware.
My advice is go on Royal Caribbean. That's what I will do next time.
I. Embarkation The embarkation process went very smoothly. We arrived at the port 2 hours prior to the sailing time and we were on the ship within 20 minutes. There were very short lines and friendly customer service. You first start by checking your baggage at the pier with the port baggage handler. Next, you proceed to security where they review your passport and cruise itinerary. After you have finished with a brief security check, you make your way to the customer service desk to get pictures taken for your cruise ship card. Once this is finished and you are checked in you then proceed upstairs to pick up your card. The card is used to pay for anything on the ship. After a quick spray with hand sanitizer and a short walk up the gangway you are on board. In my opinion, NCL was very efficient in the embarkation process. The entire check in took maybe 20 minutes.
II. Receiving Checked Baggage Our baggage arrived very late. We checked on to the ship around 1-2pm and did not receive our baggage until 6pm. Most people had received their baggage bythis time. Guess we were unlucky. However, upon inquiring at the reception desk about our luggage they said it would be there by 8pm at the latest. There were several other people in line with letters that said their baggage had been held at the reception desk because security had found alcohol in it. Please be smart if you are bringing alcohol and sneak it in a water bottle/juice bottle. We did this and had no problems getting it onboard. Alcohol is not allowed on the ship unless it is bought onboard.
III. Food Overall the food was nothing special. The first night we went to Tsars. We should have just ate Tsars or Azura the entire time (both restaurants featured the same menu. Azura was a casual version of Tsars). Tsars probably had the best food and service on the ship. The first night we tried eating at Tangos. The hostess seemed very condescending. I was wearing shorts since we had not received our baggage and she was very rude about telling me that I needed to wear pants next time I came. The food was horrible at Tangos. The Mexican food was very standardized and americanized. Some of the same items we paid for at specialty restaurants were offered on the buffet the next day. It seems like the menu items were just rotated between restaurants. For instance, we paid a $10/person cover charge to eat at Chin Chin's only to find some of exact same items on the buffet later that night. Do not eat at the specialty restaurants. It is simply a scam.
We did not eat at Teppanyaki's which seemed like a fairly popular place. Personally I think if you have eaten at one Japanese hibachi style restaurant, you have eaten at them all.
I would have liked to try the steakhouse since it was the only restaurant that served lobster the entire cruise, but we were a little wary after eating at the other specialty restaurants that had a cover.
If you want to eat at Mama's make your reservations early. This place filled up fast every night.
The Blue Lagoon was a good place to go for a late night snack after a few drinks. Their fish and chips and buffalo wings were pretty good.
Overall I would say that the food quality was rather cheap and bland, waiters were very friendly, and the hostesses at every restaurant seemed somewhat rude. I think if NCL allowed people to tip whatever they chose instead of doing a standard $10/day, service would be much better at the restaurants. On the plus side cleanliness was good. All guests' hands were sprayed with hand sanitizer before entering the restaurants and sanitizer machines were located on every floor.
IV. Ammenities There did not seem to be a lot of ammenities. The pool/hot tubs were always filled to the brim if the sun was out. There were five hot tubs and two smaller pools. If you go at night it is less busy. We also visited the casino. I would recommend saving your money. The games are all stacked in favor of the house. Blackjack is on a continuous shuffle, dealer stays on soft 17, you are allowed to split cards up to 3 times and you only get one card on splitting aces. This means that the odds of winning are stacked against you big time. Slots pay I think an average of 80+%. This is very low compared to other casinos.
Other ammenities included shuffle board, ping pong, fitness center, card room, library, arcade and internet café. Overall for a younger couple I think that the ammenities were rather lacking.
V. Bars We did not spend a lot of time at the bars so I can not accurately review them. We purchased one drink while on the ship for about $10/drink. Karaoke seemed like it was very popular on the ship.
VI. Shows The dance show was somewhat entertaining. My wife probably enjoyed it a lot more than I did. There were some very impressive gymnastic/contortionist feats. The comedy show was Second City. I was not familiar with any of the cast. It was an improv comedy show. It was somewhat entertaining as well. I think I am more of a fan of standup comedy. Word of advice, skip the crew talent show. Overall the shows were just ok.
VII. Debarkation Once again NCL excelled at getting you on and off the ship. Debarkation was very fast. Security checks were very fast. The only snag was when we were tendered to go to Grand Cayman. The small boat they took you to shore with was rocking everywhere and several people were afraid to get on it. The boats looked almost the exact same as the life boats. The boats coming back were much bigger and did not rock near as much. Debarkation was very organized.
VIII. Ports Cozumel was very nice. Great weather, warm water, good snorkeling and an awesome exchange rate. What more can you ask for? Well maybe some sandy beaches. If you are going to Cozumel please be aware that there are no sandy beaches along the eastern side. It is all jagged rock. However, this makes the water much more clear for snorkeling/diving. Cayman Islands were also very nice. Soft white sand beaches, bright blue water, 7 miles of beach front, lots of privacy and a horrible exchange rate. Be sure to eat on the ship before you get off at the Cayman Islands. Prices there were outrageous. We paid over $60 US for a burger and chicken sandwich with 1 beer and a margarita. Margaritas at Jimmy Buffets were $10 ea. If you are going snorkeling stick close to the southern end of the seven mile beach where it is rocky. The water is much clearer. Overall, the ports we visited were very nice. I would love to go back to either.
IX. Overall Consenus of Our Cruise Out of 5 Stars:Cruise ship only not including ports: ** Housekeeping Service: ***** Waiters: **** Hostesses: * Food: * RIPPED OFF!!! From a foodies' perspective. Ports: **** Amenities: * Shows: ** Debarkation/Embarkation Process: *****
Summary Next time I think that I will either book a ship that has more ammenities for young people or fly to the destinations themselves. I was not impressed with NCL at all. My wife worked on Carnival for a few years about ten years ago and she was rather disappointed as well. Perhaps cruise ships have changed policies and services in the last ten years. She said that Carnival at least served you lobster and better quality food and that the service was much better since passengers were allowed to tip what they chose. I will not be booking or recommending NCL to anyone. On the positive side we had a great time at both ports and got to thaw out before coming back to the bitter cold of the Midwest.
NCL Jewel AC Penthouse Review! January 2008 From the moment we stepped into the cruise terminal until we boarded the bus to the airport home, we felt like VIP was stamped on our foreheads. We were whisked to the Suites area to get registered (a breeze) then through to the special seating area until we boarded the ship. We met our concierge, Alex here and only sat for about 15 minutes until we boarded the ship and were escorted to our forward penthouse suite, 9500. We met our phenomenal room stewards, Ross and Leonor and also our butler, Maurice.
Our stateroom was everything I could have asked! I loved it's colors, nice and bright. There was plenty of room, tons of storage and it was really lovely. The bathroom was nice sized, with a tub, separate loo and sink area. Nice amenities as well. I loved the vanity area for getting ready. The closet was large and you could access it from both sides. We used the espresso machine daily at least.
However, it's the balcony that makes this room so wonderful. Our balcony was, in a word- HUGE!! It's one of4, the biggest balconies on the ship. Even the bigger suites on the sides didn't have a balcony as big. We spent so much time on it. In fact, we spent a lot of time in our room on this ship because it was so cozy and comfortable. Not to mention the most comfortable bed on any ship I've taken. I don't understand some of the reviews I had read prior to cruising in this room, the wind never kept us off the balcony, even on one night when we had gale force winds! In fact, we kept our door open each night to get that wonderful breeze. You could easily fit 25 people out there. It was great when docking because you could see everything happening.
As far as the ship itself, it's beautiful. Nicely laid out and with the best cruise staff I've encountered. This was my 13th cruise but my first with NCL. We loved every minute of it. The crystal atrium was beautiful and a great place to people watch! The Java Cafe had some yummy treats and great espresso and cappuccino. Our favorite places were the Spinnaker lounge for fun and games and getting together with other cruise critic members, the Great Outdoors for a quick bite to eat/drink, Fyzz Lounge for dancing.
As far as restaurants go, we enjoyed room service for breakfast each day. A nice variety plus for suites you can get room service from the specialty restaurants. Also, because we were in a suite, we ate lunch at Cagney's many days and it was fantastic. The best wait staff was there at lunch! For dinner, we ate at Cagney's, Teppanyaki, Tsar's room service, Blue Lagoon and the Garden Cafe on nights we didn't want to dress up at all. My favorite by far was Cagney's, but we ate so well during this cruise that all venues were tasty. In fact, the "make your own" pasta at the Garden Cafe was great!
We saw Cirque Bijou which was absolutely fantastic. It is truly the best show on the high seas! We missed Band on the Run and one other show, but caught the Quest, Newlywed Game, the great band in the Spinnaker, Fyzz Lounge for dancing, etc.
We didn't book any shore trips but one huge perk was having our concierge, Alex. While having breakfast in Cozumel we saw someone parasailing. Because the suites have cell phones for our use, we luckily took it to port with us. Michael called Alex and asked if we could parasail. Within 5 minutes he called back and had it all set up. Within 15 minutes we were on the boat getting ready to go up 500 feet in the air! Thanks Alex!!
In Grand Cayman we went to Exotic Tattoos and I got my first tattoo and Michael had some work done on one of his. I'll never forget that shore trip! Caz did a great job and was very nice, although the owner needs an update on people skills.
What were the highlights of this trip? Our wonderful stateroom and the special attention we received. The Captain's VIP cocktail party was wonderful, the canapes were received each night, priority tender tickets, etc.
Who really made this trip wonderful? Ross and Leonor- the best room stewards ever, Maurice our butler, Alex our concierge, and the many, many crew who really went above and beyond to ensure we had a good time.
I have many pictures to share if you'd like and a couple videos. Feel free to email me and I'll be happy to send them to you. firstname.lastname@example.org
We can't wait to give NCL another try and we'd love to be back on board the Jewel as soon as possible! This cruise was FLAWLESS from beginning to end!
Our extended family of 15 took this cruise. The line to get on the ship was about an hour and a half, and there was a registration desk that was unused. This set the tone.
Making dinner reservations was near impossible. Twice we arrived at a restaurant with a reservation for 15 to be told that we could only have two tables of eight. With some negotiation, they were able to accommodate us. Most of the time the options given to us were 5 pm or 10 pm.
Generally the food was poor. At breakfast, the fruit was mushy, the syrup for the pancakes was not real maple syrup, although the omelettes were fine. The pool lunch menu was fine for hamburgers and hotdogs. We had to send back several main courses at dinner.
The room service menu didn't even satisfy the palates of the children. Among other things, there were no chicken fingers on the menu, which every parent knows is a staple.
The pool area was small and overcrowded and noisy. It was generally focused on rowdy 20 somethings and silly games. (Example -- a competition for the man with thehairiest body). The older members of our group avoided the pool.
The emphasis on drinking was alarming. The cruise director etc were always making jokes about getting trashed or wasted. This may have had to do with the profit margin in alcohol sales, since no opportunity was lost to sell drinks of any kind.
The excursions were as advertised. Getting to and from shore on the tender required a wait of about 30 min.
All in all, this was a very disappointing experience for us. It was the consensus of our group that we would never take another NCL cruise again.
Norwegian's customer service is undoubtedly the WORST in the industry. Our family (my parents, two sisters, their husbands and four children -- a total of 11 of us), booked a five (5) night cruise in September, 2007, on the Norwegian Jewel for December 16, 2007, to celebrate my parent's 50th wedding anniversary. We were involved in a head on collision that was not our fault after a pick-up truck crossed the median on I95 and struck us head on 100 miles from Miami, the morning of the date of departure and we all were hospitalized, some overnight. Of course none of us were able to go on the cruise. When we returned from Miami, we contacted Norwegian to ask if they might be willing to help us with some type of credit for a future cruise. Their Customer Service department informed us that they did make certain exceptions with regard to credit for missed cruises and stated that we would need to send a formal letter with documentation to their Customer Service department. We spent three days and countless hours putting together the letter and documentation only to get a responsethree weeks later stating that it would be unfair to other NCL customers that had accepted their terms and conditions if they were to issue us any type of credit or even partial credit and that there were NO exceptions!
We spent a number of hours on the phone with Customer Service representatives and even two "Executive Assistants" to the CEO. We were floored when two of those "Executive Assistants" actually said it was "too bad!" It was incredible to us that not only did they flatly say "NO!" to our request, but they were rude and uncaring. Their Customer Service department had instructed us during a difficult and traumatic time to organize and draft a letter with documentation of our ordeal for credit or even partial credit on a future cruise, and then later sent us a letter stating that they would never have even considered the request to begin with.
We had never sailed on an NCL ship before and obviously we never will in the future. We have, however, sailed on Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Celebrity and have never had an experience with their Customer Service department even remotely similar to that of the experience we had with NCL. It is just incredible that NCL Customer Service, after intentionally leading us to believe we could expect some type of consideration, would then dismiss that request and callously declare that there would never be any exceptions! How could it possibly be a good business decision to dismiss our request for even partial credit, despite our having received prior instructions from their own Customer Service department to make that request? NCL, to our amazement, totally discounted the opportunity to make 11 new and forever loyal NCL customers for life. They never showed any kind of empathy and quite frankly became belligerent, annoyed and rude during phone conversations.
We just want to tell everyone about our horrible experience with NCL and hope that when others choose a cruise line for their travel experience, they will choose a cruise line that values its customers.
We recently sailed on the NCL Jewel to the Caribbean. The dates of the cruise were March 11th through the 18th, and it was our second "Freestyle" cruise.
We had previously cruised with NCL (on the Sun) to Alaska and loved the flexibility that Freestyle cruising offers. When we go on vacation, the idea of any kind of schedule goes against the grain. Also, we no longer enjoy formal attire and prefer casual clothing; dressing up means Dockers and a golf shirt for him, and slacks and a blouse for me. On NCL, while you are very welcome to dress formally in the evening, it is not a requirement.
The Ship The Jewel is lovely, with bright, bold colors. However, we missed the beautiful and dramatic staircase and the rear-glass elevators the Sun offers. Since we are in our sixties, and prefer sedate surroundings, we were a little concerned about the number of children on board and how that might affect our "solitude" – but between the parents and the NCL staff dedicated to caring for the children – it was never an issue at all.
The Restaurants The many restaurants (andthe variety of food offered) on the Jewel are outstanding – and better than the Sun. Of the two main restaurants, we both favored Tsar's over Azure. The food is the same but there was a significant difference in the level of service provided. Our favorite restaurant – both in terms of the food and the superior service – was Cagney's. Our server was Philip Gonzalves and anyone fortunate enough to be seated in his area is in for a real treat. We enjoyed the sushi bar, too and it offers a great value to sushi lovers – all you can eat for $15.00 a person. The sushi is a little different from what we've become accustomed to, but delicious nonetheless. The buffet was always an option when hunger pangs struck – and the food was always very good.
Service If we compare the service level of the Jewel to that of the Sun, the Sun wins. The overall service we received on the Jewel, with a couple of exceptions, was very good – but on the Sun it was outstanding. On two different evenings, both at dinner in the main dining rooms, we found the service, while not poor, definitely lacking. Our room steward – Ador Capistrano – was excellent and we loved the animals formed from towels that we found on our bed – or in one case, hanging from the ceiling - in the evenings!
Itinerary and Shore Excursions Our ports of call were San Juan, Puerto Rico, St. John's, Antigua, St. Thomas and Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas. Though we had signed up for shore excursions for both San Juan and Antigua, the weather conditions prohibited them and they were canceled. As a result, we didn't see very much beyond 10-square blocks near the dock area in those ports. In St. Thomas we went to Megan's Bay. The weather was threatening when we first arrived at the Bay, and we even had a little rain, but the sun finally broke through and it was a lovely morning.
On the way back to the ship we were offered the option to be dropped off at an open air souvenir market, which we chose to do. After shopping for a short time, we walked back to the ship. It was a far longer walk than we'd expected and we would elect to take a taxi if we did that again; our beach sandals were not made for 2 mile walks. On the positive side, we got some great photographs on the walk! Our last port was Great Stirrup Cay, in the Bahamas, which is NCL's privately owned island. The island is small but it is quite beautiful. Once again, the weather worked against us, however. We took a tender from the ship to the island and back. (We would recommend anyone wishing to go ashore get their tender tickets early as there are only two tenders and hundreds and hundreds of people wishing to get on them.)
The day itself was sunny and lovely but the winds made the sea quite rough which made transitioning from the ship to the tender or visa versa far more difficult. The crew became concerned as the sea became progressively rougher and as a result, the time we spent on the island was cut short.
There certainly seemed to be amply activities for the passengers, though we usually opted not to participate. Though I love to read and normally take several books with me when I travel, I was personally delighted that they also offered a lovely library on board.
Neither of us would choose to repeat this particular itinerary, but we most definitely have become loyal to NCL, and would return to the Caribbean in a heartbeat.
Our cabin was small(pictures will be posted shortly in the gallery) and it was a tight fit with beds put together. The bathroom was ok but you do not get a bar of soap unless you ask the steward for one. NCL uses the dispensers in the shower and by the sink. They dispense shower gel and shampoo but no conditioner.
Because my in laws had concierge service, we were able to get V.I.P. treatment on both embarkation and disembarkation. A tip of the hat to Alex who made that part easy going.
Food- Basically, that was pretty good in most cases. As to the specialty restaurants, Le Bistro was tops, followed by Teppanyaki, Cagneys Steakhouse. We ate in those because the rule on ship was that if you were seated before 6:30pm you paid half fee. A policy that pleased us.
We also ate at Mamas Italian and Tangos Tex/Mex. be forewarned that portions at all restaurants are not huge but you can always order more. NCL got smart and realized that much food was being wasted with big portions. Also be aware that a dish on the menu may not come out looking or tasting as you would expect here in the states. Monday night was lobster night so we ate in the Tsars dining room. I had a nice steak while the rest of the table ate 3 lobster tails each. Smallish but good. The Blue Lagoon was a nice place to stop off in the afternoon for a snack of fish and chips, or chili or potato skins. The Garden Grill up on 12 was very good for breakfast and was never really crowded.
We were given a gift of a soda card that goes for $40. Usually when the waiter saw an empty glass they refilled the soda without asking.
Tours- This was the sticking point because no matter how much we read, we were abashed by the higher than expected temperatures (90 each day), and the amount of walking, even on tours rated a 2. We did the half day Mt Etna tour in Messina, but be aware that it is 2 hours up the winding round on the bus and the same coming down. We did the half day tour of Herculaneum in Naples. This was very enjoyable but its tough walking on the cobblestone streets that are 60 feet down from current street level. For Rome we took the classical tour which took in the Colisseum, Forum , and after lunch, St Peters. Street vendors and peddlers annoy you as the tour walks along. Florence was beautiful but our tour guide was flying and it was hot.
When we first landed in Barcelona that first Sunday, the bus took us on a 3 hour tour of the city. This was done because we could not get on the ship until about 11am anyway and we saw a lot. We were staying over one day after the cruise and we booked the Hotel Colon in Cathedral Square. This was a good central point. Since we were so tired each day, we only saw one show-- Second City.
When we left Naples the Captain said we will be passing the island of Stromboli with its active volcano. On this night there was no lava flow but we saw orange flames at the top.
The happy ending to this was that on Monday at the art auction I won the raffle. I ended up with a nice lithograph by Sherri Bohlman and it cost only to have it shipped with a new frame and matting.
NCL does not spend the first day pushing its tours in the theater. Everything you want to know is on the TV.
Overall, it was an enjoyable but tiring week.
We, (my husband and I aged 56 and 55, British) originally booked the NCL Jewel cruise because of the itinery. We have previously sailed on the QE2 and so were unsure how "Freestyle" cruising would suit us. From Heathrow to Istanbul (remind me never to fly from HR again!) we docked at Izmir for Ephesus, Dubrovnik, Venice, Naples, Rome and Barcelona. We flew back to the UK from Barcelona.
First impressions were good -- the ship looked colourful and huge. Embarkation was fine and our cabin (inside on deck 9) though quite small, was adequate and clean. The bed was comfortable and suited us although we had to request additional softer pillows. The shower was powerful and spacious and although other critiques had said the hairdryers on the ship were powerful, I was not convinced they would be -- I thought they would be those silly little piped in dyers you get in some hotel rooms. However, the dryer was great -- almost professional!! Small things make me happy…... There was also a launderette on our floor and I think, a couple more dotted about on the ship. Four quarters forsoap powder and then free use of washing machine and dryer -- there were also 2 x irons and boards. The rooms are small and always busy -- pick a shore day to use.
Customer base ranged from families -- there were quite a few teenagers and a couple of dozen younger children -- to couples of all ages. I was really quite surprised by the average age profile -- younger than I expected. There seemed to be many different nationalities on board but mainly Americans and Brits.
Lounges and Bars Bar City was a nice place for pre dinner drinks. Quiet and in a position to watch the comings and goings of our fellow passengers. It got a bit more buzzy after dinner and when the shows were finished. Never went to Fizz, the Karaoke bar but the Star Bar was OK. The Spinnaker lounge seemed to eb where it all happened later in the evening. We went a couple of times and enjoyed the 60's music night.
Entertainment We never went to the theater to see the shows. Not our kind of thing -- reports ranged from excellent to abysmal -- personal taste I suppose. The individual entertainers and bands dotted around the ship in other lounges were professional and very good.
Restaurants There's always more to restaurants than the food but the main free restaurants, Tsars Palace and Azura were fine. Tsars was impressive in a Hollywood sort of way -- lots of glitz, big and noisy. Azura was more contmporary, smaller and noisy.
We tried a few of the optional restaurants.
I felt The Bistro was pretentious, nicely fitted but kidding itself on that it was a quality restaurant.
Cagneys: We had the best steak ever there and went back a second time.
Sushi was good and the chefs were happy to advise.
Tepannyaki, the Japanese restaurant is worth a visit to enjoy the entertainment provided by the chefs.
Mama's Italian place always seemed to be busy but we managed to get in one night and it was disappointing. We couldn't get in the main restaurant and so sat on the deck outside at what was The Great Outdoors through the day so maybe we didn't get the full experience and atmosphere.
Speaking of The Great Outdoors -- it was, for us, the best place for lunch and/or afternoon tea.
The Food Apart from Cagney's, Teppanyaki and Sushi, was average -- up-market canteen food, which is not a bad thing necessarily -- they are catering for thousands of people after all but don't expect haute cuisine. Most of the food was pre-processed -- for instance in the majority of the restaurants, all the chicken, veal, lamb, steaks etc came with those stripes on them that are supposed to be barbecue grill marks. Yeah right.
I was looking forward to some great puddings -- New York cheesecake etc, again all was pre-prepared and the cheesecake was like marshmallow with sponge base. -- not my taste. However, all were nicely presented with drizzles of coulis and flakes of chocolate.
Breakfast, however, in The Garden Cafe was superb. Lots of fresh fruit, cereals, freshly made to order omelettes, waffles, pastries, bacon, sausages, hash browns, beans, cream cheese, pickled herring. You say it the buffet probably had it. Something for everyone and well presented.
Drinks Drinks -- Iced water on the ship was free at cafés and restaurants. Half liter bottles of water were around $3.60. Some drinks were expensive -- cheapest wine for instance was around $7.50 a glass for, I think, 125ml. The cheapest bottle of wine averaged $32 and rose to $00's. Cocktails could work out cheaper but not many were mixed by the barman - many came from pre packed cartons. The champagne cocktails were good!
Spa Spa -- I only went once -- on a ship day when there was a special on offer -- 3 x treatments for $99. Hot stone massage, neck and shoulder massage and foot and ankle massage. It was very relaxing. The spa treatment rooms are great. Lots of aromatherapy candles, tinkling music and birdsong, plants, low lighting and fluffy towels. Elemis products.
Summary Summary -- we had a great value for money holiday with no real complaints, but not necessarily one we would repeat soon. Lots of comments on board about NCL trying to get you to part with ever more money (soft drinks, cost of excursions, photos, extra cost for certain restaurants) and I would agree to a certain extent, but you don't need to spend it.
My husband and I just returned from a pleasant week aboard the Norwegian Jewel. Embarking and disembarking was well organized and went smoothly, with not very long wait times. Having cruised with NCL before, we like the informality of Freestyle Cruising. We like eating at 8 AM, 12 Noon, and 5:30 PM so were always able to get a table for two. Service for two was excellent, better than when you sit with 6 or 8 other people.
We found the meals innovative with many appetizer and salad/soup selections that were totally new to us, such as the many varied cold fruit and nut soups and some fish items. We were never disappointed by our choices. Entrees ranged from very good to excellent, but servings were always too large. The desserts were tasty and beautifully presented. The shows were excellent with both early and late performances. The ports of call became a bit of a hassle because 3 or 4 other cruise ships were also at each port with masses of tourists all trying to walk on the narrow sidewalks at the same time. People who enjoy dressing-up cruising will probably bedisappointed with NCL, because apparel for the most part is very casual. We had an inside cabin which was small but adequate at a good price. Cruising in the 21st century certainly lacks the gentility and comfort of 1950s cruise ships, especially the tranquility, except perhaps on today's smaller luxury liners. It was not easy to find a quiet spot indoors to snuggle up with a good book.
This is the first cruise my wife and I have taken, so we don't have a wide basis of comparison. But we did travel with two other couples, both with small children, and their experience mirrors our own.
Embarkation seemed like all heck was breaking loose, kind of like a Disaster Film, but actually was over fairly quickly. There were endless lines that moved fast, leading up to the boat, getting various forms, cards, etc. We came to realize that everything had been thought through, and the cards were your lifeline to everything on board. [Don't lose them!]
The Boat: the ship itself doesn't yet show its age. It's nicely done, with tones that, despite being bold, are somehow appropriate, even muted. The bars and restaurants were all themed, some a little kitsch, but I think that's part of the fun. It did NOT feel like a huge boat with enormous numbers of people. Somehow, the designers managed to make it seem intimate. There were always staff cleaning, relentlessly, giving the ship a sparkling edge.
Once aboard, we realized that our cabin was small, but remarkably well laid-out. Despite the size, we didn'tfeel cramped, there were tons of hangars, much closet space, shelving, etc., and the bathrooms were terrific: clean, logical, well-appointed. The room itself was designed like a moderately upscale hotel, like you would expect, say, in Hong Kong or Tokyo (given the size).
Some aspects of the cruise were marvelous. First and foremost, the staff. Many had limited English; most were from the Philippines or Romania. But it seemed that, no matter what and with few exceptions, they did their maximum to help out. I didn't encounter one moment of "attitude" and, except for one quasi-bizarre waitress, everyone was relentlessly pleasant, without being "fake" (at least not overtly so).
I used the health club several times, and was impressed. All the machines were new-ish, clean and well-maintained. Some were not available in local gyms, at least not widely. Fortunately, most people on the cruise were not there to exercise, so it wasn't hard to 'score' a treadmill or bike.
Entertainment: we tried to see several shows and they were, well, corny. Clearly aimed at "wide taste", and not even remotely cutting-edge or subversive. BY FAR the best was Cirque Bijou, a clear steal from Cirque du Soleil (which is unfathomably more impressive), but nonetheless superbly executed. The acrobats in particular were terrific... and they were performing on a boat rocked by waves.
The Food: well, that was the sore point. Let me say that neither my wife nor I are gourmet types, and aren't super-picky about food (although neither of us eats lots of animal products, and never red meat; there was still a lot to choose from). I must report that the food ranged from pretty good all the way down to flat-out awful. By a very wide margin the best item was one that other reviewers have seized on: the pizza. Just superb. I quickly started having pizza, salad, fruit (not enough choices) and espresso (free! and very good!) for lunch and a lot of dinners.
We ate at most of the restaurants. Service was GREAT. The food was not. Here's the key problem: everything *looked* right, but *tasted* wrong. Le Bistro is far and away the most horrific French food I've encountered. The pre-made / purchased food (e.g., pate) was fine. Everything cooked, well, yuck. My wife and her friend got the bouillabaisse, a dish I've had in France and elsewhere. Both of them found it inedible. I was skeptical, so I tried it. Just awful. My entree was better, so the three of us shared that. A friend's Chateaubriand was overcooked to the point of needing to be sawed through. I tried just about all the dishes there, and nothing was good. [To the staff's credit, they noticed that two of the entrees went uneaten, and didn't invoke the service charge for two of us, unasked. Classy.]
Chin Chin was Pan-Asian; coincidentally, so were three of our party, from Korea, China and Hong Kong (I was the only red-blooded American; yee-haw!) Some items, like the Sate, were great; others were, well, like La Choy. The fried rice is easily the worst I've had in any context, and we eat a lot of rice; the laksa, a great favorite of mine, was also pretty bad. And I'm not talking "wasn't on par with the best authentic versions I've had", but "I would never return to a restaurant that served something like this". That bad. Mama's Kitchen was better. Believe it or not, their pasta was poorly done! [My own, using Barilla and store-bought sauce, is worlds better.] Their antipasto was great, though, as was the service (even if the Filipino wait staff didn't seem to have any idea about how Italian food was supposed to 'go'.)
Everyone like Tsar's Palace; it's good for people who like meat (which I don't, really), but you can also order off the kid's menu (!), which has a lot of nice, simple options. The desserts were well-done. Sadly, we got locked out of almost all the other restaurants, since we committed the grave crime of waiting a few hours after getting on the ship to make reservations. MAKE YOUR RESERVATIONS IMMEDIATELY. If not sooner.
We wound up just going to the buffet a lot. You can't go too wrong. Don't like something? Never have it again, and just get something else. Like the superb pizza. The cruise, though, is an expensive way to eat a lot of pizza, no matter how well prepared. If you have kids, the buffet will be your godsend. There is even a dedicated area for families, with special kid foods and a high tolerance for noise, mess and mayhem.
Excursions: my friend had told me San Juan was "a dump", but I didn't agree. We took a paid tour ($10 each; cheap... DO NOT buy the ship's version, which is a total ripoff). Then, we just walked around, got a mojito at the bar, saw a lot of interesting places. Antigua, now, THAT is a distressed locale, despite the ample sunshine. We did go to a nice beach, but I also wanted to see how "people live". And the answer is: in squalor. People seemed dejected everywhere. No economic opportunity, and everything -- and I mean EVERY THING -- is sadly run down. [I felt like the quintessential Ugly American with my digital camera, walking among people ekeing out a living.] St. John, on the other hand, was magnificent, with a lovely set of beaches and a generally higher standard of living, although there isn't much to see other than the beaches. Strangely enough, what I liked best was the utterly manufactured "Great Stirrup Cay", owned by the cruise line. The beach is pristine, the water crystal clear (literally), and I took an hour-long hike by myself to see a bunch of old, abandoned buildings, including a distant pier and weird lighthouse. The island is much larger than one might imagine and, even if the beach was crowded, there were plenty of chairs and tables, plus all kinds of snorkeling stuff and food, to keep everyone happy.
OVERALL: I liked it. I wasn't bowled over, and the food was a major disappointment (although less so for a non-foodie like me... but others, who expect to be WOWed, will not be), but it was an enjoyable way to spend a week. I would try it again (my wife would not), as would most of the rest of our party.
Bottom line: the boat is nice, the staff are great, the excursions are well worth taking, there is much to do on board and -- if you can avoid the bad options in the dining -- even the food has much to recommend it.
There are some things I look for when choosing a cruise line. The first thing is the facility for children as I have a toddler. Any parent knows that if the kids aren't happy, well, you know. Next would be food. I love food. Good food. Itinerary and accommodations are also considerations.
We've been on one other cruise line, Carnival (Valor), so that is the only thing we can compare our NCL cruise to so you will see comments about both. Although we enjoyed our Carnival trip, we thought we would try a different cruise line. NCL's freestyle dining options seemed very appealing to us.
EMBARKATION Embarkation was straight-forward. We walked into a door and were directed to a line. What they missed telling us about was a form that needed to be completed prior to getting up to the desk. The staff at the desk was nice and handed us the form to fill out. Next, we went to another line to get our card key. What was confusing about that was the line continued on to a snack area. I stepped out of line to chase my son andwhen we returned, although we already had our key card, no one would let us merge back into the line. Everyone was in line to get a beverage and a cookie and no one would let us in. They were literally elbow to a-hole. Wow. So we sat down in the chairs next to the snack area waiting for the line to die down so we could move onward. My husband came walking up with a drink and cookie for our son. He was swept away in the line, which mind you was only 50-60 feet long. Not so long that I would think anyone would mind letting us back in. Like I said, we already had our key card and everyone was there getting the first free snack of their vacation.
Another note, once you got a cookie and drink, it had to be consumed before going through the security area, about 15 feet away. Funny.
We went through security without a problem, then onto the first photographer. From there, we went through some doors and then to a second photographer. As we saw some passengers bypass him, we followed suit. All in all, it was fast. I recall Carnival's embarkation being longer and more confusing. So good job NCL.
Before getting on the ship, you have to sanitize your hands. No problem. You get used to doing it where ever you go on the ship.
When stepping onto the ship, you don't step into a big atrium that takes your breath away (Carnival), but rather onto a landing where there are four elevators waiting to take you to your floor. All four elevators were working and it didn't take too long to get one. I recall with Carnival, only a few elevators were working and you had to fight to get on one.
I guess I should point out that the NCL Jewel (Passengers: 2,376, Tonnage: 93,502, Decks: 15) is smaller than the Carnival Valor (Passengers: 2,974, Tonnage: 110,000, Decks: 13).
Once in our room I called and made reservations for Cagney's, La Bistro and Mama's Italian. We had no problem getting them and as a bonus, we dined at times that allowed for buy one, get one free; so basically half-off our ticket.
OUR CABIN Our room was a category AF – mini-suite. It was smaller than Carnival's balcony room but it had a bathtub, which came in handy with our toddler. There is a separate toilet room with a sliding door for those private movements. The closet and drawer space was more ample with NCL than Carnival.
The first thing I did was request some bathrobes for us. They weren't as nice as Carnival's, then again same with the bedding. The NCL bed was a standard hotel bed. Not great. Carnival had soft beds with a great duvet and awesome pillows. It really felt like a luxury hotel room. The NCL pillows were flat as pancakes. I called to request some more and I was delivered the rejects. These pillows were just balls of material sewn inside a pillow case. I am serious. There was not one solid piece of pillow but a lot of baseball sized chunks of foam. I called down and requested replacements. These were delivered by the same woman who did not look happy at all but the pillows were of the same quality as the ones initial in the cabin.
Once we were settled, we went to the buffet. I have to add that our cabin was in a primo location. Up one set of stairs was the buffet, pool, and Kid's Club. Perfectly convenient for all our needs.
FOOD When you enter the buffet, there is a person assigned to the door to remind you to use the hand sanitizer. Once inside, I was impressed with the food. It was very crowded but I figured that was normal due to it being the only place serving food. Unfortunately, it was crowded during the entire cruise; something that I did not experience on Carnival. You see, there is a full size buffet and a smaller buffet on the Jewel. On Carnival, there were two large buffets, which adequately handled the crowds of hungry passengers.
There is a separate kid's buffet with their own seating area. Unfortunately, that area was over flowing with adults who would rather sit in miniature chair at a miniature table rather than eat outside of the buffet area, regardless of signs posted stating the area is for children. The kid's buffet did not change at all. Everyday it was the same noodles, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, Jell-O, cookies, and brownies. Here is the other kicker, the beverage options for children were milk, water, or ice tea. Even if you purchase a beverage card, you can not get juice other than in the morning unless you paid for it and that was separate from the beverage card. My son does not like tea and was quickly getting sick of water and milk, so we did something we do not like to do, we gave him sips of soda.
Our first night on the cruise we ate at Cagney's. The menu looked great. I ordered the lobster bisque. It was brown and so salty I gagged. The waiter told us they changed all the menus a few days prior and that included changing the soup recipe. He said the chef is roasting the lobster shells instead of boiling them and that was why the soup was brown. He did not address the saltiness. Next I had the oyster Rockefeller. There was way too much sauce on them. When I found an oyster and ate it, it was so fishy that I was afraid to eat another for fear of getting food poisoning. I had never eaten an oyster that fishy tasting and it honestly frightened me. I then had a filet and jumbo baked potato. The steak was cooked perfectly and tasted great. The potato was not so jumbo but it was good. How can you mess that up? For dessert I order the cheese plate, which quickly became a staple with all of my meals. The waiter kept saying to us and others around us to order one of everything. So I got the chocolate decadence to go. It was like a truffle cake and was so good and rich; I couldn't eat any more than one spoonful, so my husband and son finished it off. The waiter told us if we ever wanted a dessert anytime during the cruise, we should come wave him down and he would get us one. We never did though. It felt too tacky.
After being somewhat disappointed, I started having second thoughts about eating at La Bistro. We went down to look at the menu only to find that they too changed their menu. I decided that it wasn't worth the chance and we cancelled our reservation.
The buffet items changed slightly but not enough to where you wanted to eat there.
Breakfast could be difficult with the crowds but the best part was the egg station. Although there was always a wait for one, I think I ate an omelet almost every morning. There was a good selection of breakfast items but they never changed. Not a problem for me because breakfast is not something I like to experiment with.
The lunch buffet had mostly hot foods with a hidden sandwich station. You could get pretty creative over there. There was always a roasted chicken carving section and pizza. So it was typical lunch food.
The dinner buffet offerings quickly bored me. There was always some type of rice, but never at the Chinese station. The Chinese station served Lo Mein all the time with varying flavor. A hot carving station had the typical types of carving meats. There was a pasta station which always had a line but didn't totally interest me. Partially because the pizza they served had very little flavor to its sauce, so I could imagine what the pasta sauce was like. But like I said, there was always a line and I never tried it.
We ate at the Blue Lagoon once for breakfast and once for lunch. It is located midship and it was never crowded. The breakfast menu was limited but still had your basic stuff like eggs, omelets, waffles, French toast, and cereals. We liked it there for the peace and quiet. Lunch was again not very crowded. The service we received for lunch was not that great. I saw many people waiting just to have their order taken. I would say that it was under staffed. The menu included chicken wings, hot dogs, hamburgers, fish sticks, chili, and such. We were not that impressed so we never went back.
I went to the Grill a few times. It is a great place to grab a hot dog or burger. Unfortunately, I accidentally got a steam burn on my hand when reaching for a back item. It was pretty darn painful and I don't typically let pain get to me. I made trip to the doctor after the pain wouldn't go away. He put some ointment on it and a large bandage. Fortunately, because it occurred on the ship, the treatment and ointment was free. It was pretty embarrassing to say that I burned my hand reaching for food at the buffet.
Tsar's and Azura turned out to be a great surprise. I honestly had good food there. We tried some hot soup again there but it was too salty. I don't know why all the hot soup was overly salted. Everything else was great. I went there for lunch and ate moussaka that was amazing. The lobster dinner was cooked very well and not rubbery. Those places also saved our butts because when our son became ill two days into the trip and we were stuck in the cabin, they let us order from their menu and bring it back to our room. Unfortunately, with our son begin sick, our trip began sounding like home with the usual question, "What do you want for dinner?"
I asked Mama's if I could order from their menu but I was told only cold foods. So I ordered Tiramisu which was not bad. We never made it to Mama's for dinner because of my son's illness.
The last night of our cruise I was stir crazy. I wanted to eat out of the cabin. Chin Chin's was the only place that could accommodate us so we went for it. I ordered and ate almost every appetizer they had on their menu. It was all good. Fortunately, I did not order an entrée because after I ate the appetizers, my son wanted to go back to the cabin. We left my husband there alone to eat his dinner and pay the bill.
The room service menu was disappointing. I ordered my son a pizza one night and it came with American cheese on it. There were other things disappointing, too. For instance, you could not order soda. I mostly used them for late night hot tea after a couple of food disappointments. I asked if they could get food from the dining room and they said no. Okay, maybe I was pushing it but I had to try.
Overall the food was touch and go. Once you get a feel for what they do well and what they don't you can basically order worry-free. Again, the big surprise was the main dining rooms. Don't under estimate those places just because they have so many other options for dining. How does NCL compare to Carnival, I would say Carnival was better even with all the dining options NCL offered. It is not quantity, but quality.
KID'S CLUB Now the important part, THE KID'S CLUB. This should have been first but I digressed. First of all, DO NOT BELIEVE THE BROCHURE OR THE NCL WEBSITE. The brochure and website show this large room with lots of windows and a padded jungle gym. You are lead to believe that the kids play there. False! When we went there to register our son, I was told to bring him in the back door because that was where his age group stayed (ages 3 -5). It didn't make sense to me but I found out the next day when I brought him there that yes, I needed to take him down this narrow hallway by the kitchen to the back room which turned out to be the cinema. The cinema had no chairs or tables, poor lighting and no toys. In fact, I witnessed the events of a typical three hour session the kids had just by conveniently dropping him off and picking him up and various times. First they start with playing with legos and crayons. Next, they get to go to the main room and play on the jungle gym for about 45 minutes, per the staff. Afterwards, they go back to the cinema and watch Dora or Sponge Bob. You see, NCL would like you to believe that your toddler is spending the day in a sunshine filled room with a padded floor and hours to play on the jungle gym. How disappointing it was for me to see the truth. The counselors knew that this environment wasn't the best so they would take the kids on parade or to one of the evening shows at the theatre. Fortunately, since my son got ill so soon on the trip, he was only in the Kid's club about 4 – 5 times. I do have to comment about the adults in charge of the 3 - 5 year olds. "Jazzy Jeff" was rude and strangely out-going with the kids. Okay, phony. An act that was put on because of his job. In fact, one of the nights they took the kids to the theatre, he didn't even sit with them. He sat several rows behind them. Boy, if that isn't a clue about how much he loves kids. "Angel Angie" spoke maybe two words.
The older kids seemed bored out of their minds. Whenever I would peek in there, typically around the same time as dropping my son off, they would just be sitting playing board games or coloring. There were a lot of counselors but the only one that I saw actually involved with the kids was a middle-aged man. The other younger counselors would be off to the side gabbing away. One night, the older kids (maybe ages 8-12) got to do a scavenger hunt. They sent groups of 2 -3 kids around the ship to ask strangers questions like, "Do you have any tattoos?" Yes, I was asked that. Did the parents know that their kids would be allowed to run around unchaperoned when they signed them into the Kid's club that night?
Unlike NCL, Carnival's kid's center was loaded with toys and things to do. They separated the age groups into rooms. The center was so large that the cinema divided the rooms. Both of the large rooms had windows and plenty of seating and toys. Shame on NCL for not focusing more on the families that cruise with them.
KIDS POOL There was a kiddy pool off to the side of the Grill. The pool was small and had a slide in it, which was nice. All the times we were there, we never saw any kids in it. There was also a hot tub. The water temperature for the hot tub was not as hot as a typical one, which signaled to me that it was okay to be used by children. We came across a young European couple that were cuddling in the kiddy hot tub for about an hour. That made us uncomfortable, like we were interrupting a personal moment for them. She sat on his lap most of the time. Yes, it was very uncomfortable.
DISEMBARKATION - THE EXPRESS CHECK OUT WAY When I listened to the disembarkation lecture, I almost had a heart attack. You see, although we docked in Miami at 6 am, no one is allowed off the ship until 7:30am. Our flight home was at 8:40am. I pleaded with the receptionists to see if she could let us go early and she would not budge. I was told just to be ready to go when the announcement was made. Well, my husband went snooping around the gangway and although they tell you not to gather there, there was already a line forming. In fact, a couple had been waiting in line down there since 5:30am. So we gathered our bags and headed to this secret, forbidden line. Apparently, we were not the only ones to foolishly think we could disembark at 6am because there was a long line of people waiting to get off as well. Some had flights earlier than ours. The crew was nice enough to start a second line for those of us with early flights. When they opened the door, you should have seen all of us running. Customs was no problem. There weren't a lot of taxis waiting as promised, but a van driver said he would take 8 of us so we piled in. He said he could get us to the airport in 10 minutes and he did. We were checked in and through security by 8:10am. Not bad considering we got off the ship at 7:30am.
CONCLUSION This was a long read.
Would I cruise with NCL again? No. I have heard others on this cruise rave about Princess so maybe we will try that one. Of course, we always have Carnival.