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.
This was our fourth cruise, all on NCL. We'd sailed before on the Sea (twice) and the Sun. We stayed overnight in the Biscayne Bay Marriot. The hotel was clean and convenient to the port the next morning. Our room was quite noisy due to the high winds that Miami was experiencing that evening, but we slept fine. We grabbed a bite to eat in the lounge and the service was quite slow but the food was good. We took a taxi from the airport to the hotel (about $25) and again from the hotel to the pier the next morning (less than $10). Rating: B+
Embarkation: We got to the pier about 10:45 or so. We went through the non-latitudes line even though we were latitudes members as it was quite a bit shorter. We experienced quite a delay in getting checked in. There was either a problem with our passports when they scanned them, or a glitch in the NCL computer, but it kept trying to mix and match the information, such as birthdates, etc. between me and my husband. We finally got that settled, picked up our roomcards, and grabbed a seat in the waiting room. We weren't allowed to board until about 12:15, so we did have about an hour wait. Rating: B-
Cabin: We were in an outside view, picture window cabin on deck 5, cabin # 5060. The room was fine for 2 people and also had a Pullman bed available. Well organized with plenty of storage space. A very nice hairdryer --- I didn't bother to take my own out of the suitcase. The bathroom was much larger than any of our previous cruises. There are sliding glass doors between the toilet area and the sink area, and another one between the shower and the sink area, so two people can use separate sections if necessary. The water was consistently hot with good water pressure. Our room stewards were very attentive and friendly, and we had towel animals on two different occasions. Rating: A
Food: The new menus hadn't been implemented for our cruise, so we were still working off the ones that came out in January, 2006. No chilled soups at dinner and not as many choices that appealed to us as on previous cruises. However, we always managed to find something that both sounded good and tasted wonderful. We ate all but one dinner in Tsar's Palace and joined some friends one night at Le Bistro. We also ate the majority of our breakfast and lunch meals in Tsar's Palace. There were only a couple of different breakfast menus, and probably more choice was available at the buffet. The lunch menus weren't particularly inspiring, but the chilled soups were available then. We ate at the buffet once for breakfast - very good waffles, and once at lunch. Overall, I'd rate the food a B.
Wait staff service: The service can probably best be described as inconsistent. We had one waitress who gave us excellent service at dinner one night, and ended up again with her at lunch the next day. We spent quite a bit of time visiting with her at lunch and requested her again for dinner twice. The second time was also fine; the third night was not good. We had a group of 8 of us from our roll-call dining together, and someone finally complained to the maitre'd after we'd waited for over 20 minutes, with dirty appetizer plates in front of us, and no attempt by anyone to tell us what was going on. I know that several of the Jewel's staff had been transferred to the Pearl and there were 120+ new crew members on board, which probably contributed to the inconsistent service. Overall, B-, but due primarily to the large number of new crew on board.
Entertainment: We thought this was by far the best entertainment we have experienced on a cruise. The Jean Ann Ryan performers were wonderful. We totally enjoyed both Band on the Run and Cirque Bijou. The performance by Edge was also enjoyable. Second City wasn't as good - just OK. Rating: A-
Ship: The Jewel is a beautiful ship. We were conscious of many crew members cleaning, painting, and performing maintenance during the week, which contributed to her appearance. The Stardust Theater was much nicer than either of the two previous ships we'd been on, with comfortable seats and good viewing throughout. I think the pool deck is a little bit small for that many passengers, but we don't spend much time up there. Our favorite place on the ship was the outside seating on deck 7. There are comfortable chairs placed around that deck, which is the promenade deck, and we spent a lot of time sitting there, in the relative quiet, gazing at the ocean, reading and doing puzzle books, and dozing. Rating: A-
Excursions: This was our first time to the Eastern Caribbean, and we're not terribly interested in spending a lot of time at the beach. We ended up doing island tours in almost all of the ports. In San Juan, we grabbed a taxi and were given a tour of both new and old San Juan. The taxi driver did a great job, and we loved seeing the old forts and church that he took us to. Rating: A
In Antigua, we'd arranged a tour through Lawrence of Antigua, along with many of the other members from our cruise critic roll call. We were a little disappointed at the beginning of the tour. While the rest of our friends were seated in his new bus, my husband and I were sent off to a second van, as the bus was full. As our reservations had actually been made by another couple who were seated in the bus, I don't understand his rationale, as I think there were other passengers who weren't part of our group. In his defense, he probably didn't realize that we were traveling as a group, but splitting up a reservation for 4 people still doesn't make sense. The tour itself was fine, and the driver of our van provided us with good information. I also thought the ride in the van was quite uncomfortable. The roads in Antigua aren't in good condition, there was very little padding in our seat, and my back was quite sore after the tour from the amount of bouncing. After the island tour, we went to Turner's Beach. The beach was beautiful, they had adequate restrooms, but the food service was lousy. Rating: C+
We'd arranged a shopping/island tour with Godfrey in St. Thomas. We were picked up right outside the ship (actually by Sunny Liston - they appear to work together), and dropped off for a couple of hours of shopping. We then met up with Godfrey and boarded his safari truck for some sightseeing. The island of St. Thomas is absolutely gorgeous. We didn't choose to spend any time at the beach, which is an option, but instead returned to the ship. Great excursion! Rating: A
At Great Stirrup Cay, the private island, we were on the second tender over to the island. We joined up with our cruise critic friends, who had located a spot in the shade, and had a nice time visiting. We did wade out into the ocean (we're not interested in snorkeling) and enjoyed the BBQ lunch. There were several water toys available, but we weren't interested in any of the floats, etc. Rating: A-
Upon our return to Miami, we took the Everglades tour that was also a transfer to the Miami airport. This was the only excursion we arranged through NCL. We loved the airboat ride through the Everglades, and enjoyed the show and alligators on display. Nice end to a wonderful cruise. Rating: A
Disembarkation: Since we were taking an NCL excursion, we reported to the Stardust Theater at 8:30 to join our excursion. Apparently the stevedores at Miami had decided they didn't want to report for work until 8 AM, so there was almost an hour delay waiting to leave the ship. One of the shore excursion employees tried to keep us entertained - maybe he's envisioning a job as a cruise director someday? Rating: B, but not NCL's fault.
Overall, we had a very enjoyable cruise. We had a group of about 40 people in our roll-call, and enjoyed getting together with them at the sail-away party and again at the meet and greet. I'm not a beach person, but we definitely enjoyed the beautiful scenery, and, more than anything else, the experience of the cruise itself. We found this cruise to be the most relaxing one we've ever enjoyed and came home feeling very refreshed. Little things like service issues don't really bother us that much, and definitely did NOT ruin our cruise. I continue to thoroughly enjoy NCL's freestyle cruising and will be returning as soon as possible for another NCL cruise. Overall rating: B+
We went on the norwegion jewel, from miami to san juan to st. johns antiqua to st thomas to stirrup cay. San juan was very americanized. We did the old and new san juan tour. At antigua we had a lobster lunch on the beach and swam. Saw a valcano across from antigua spewing ash, that was awesome. At st thomas we went to maegans bay, very pretty. Then stirrup cay was a beach break, water was very nice, beach was crowded though. There was a rainbow as we approached st thomas and it ended right next to our ship in the water, pretty cool huh???
As for the ship, clean, beautiful, staff very friendly and genuine! We ate in the french restraunt la bistro…had to pay $10/per person, but WORTH EVERY PENNY. Our seat was a plush red velvet curved couch with throw pillows. I had escargot mmmm, He had a norwegion seafood something appetizer he kept going on and on and on about that, very tastey…filet minogn with a truffle sauce mmmm, cheescake for dessert. Top notch food and service I highly recommend. My husband was skeptical at firstabout the french food, but after the cruise was over he agreed the french place was the best of all the restraunts. We went to cagney’s steak house. 15$/per person, Very good. I got the lamb, he got the steak. I also got the oysters rockerfeller casserole appetizer…good. He got the crab cake, very good. For dessert, sinful dark chocolate cake OH MY GOD! YUM! We also ate at the non pay restraunts… good as well. Tsars place was very nice (main dinning room). Each time we were sat next to the window overlooking the ocean. Candle light dinners every night.
The kids club was crowded, but I believe that was due to all the spring breakers (we brought our 4 yr old). She seemed to have a good time though. Staff/waiters/waitresses… top notch! The shows, top notch! Le Circue Biju sort of like a cicus sole (how do you spell?) very neat. Comedian was funny, magician was good. Cruise director was funny. The staff variety show was funny.
Embarkation, disembarkation, and we even had to go through customs in the middle of our cruise before getting onto one of the islands….all SMOOTH AS SILK! They have got their stuff together on this ship let me tell you! The cruise I did before this one had me second guessing ever going on another cruise again…(was not ncl, see below) but now my faith has been restored once again…I’m ready to set sail as soon as I finish with washing that mountain of dirty clothes!!
We just got back from our first cruise, the NCL Jewel, and it was wonderful. A brand new beautiful ship. The staff was first class, the food was excellent, the shows were wonderful. The fitness center had alot of equipment to choose from, no worries about being too busy. My husband and I enjoyed it so much that we signed up for the Mexican Riviera, then Hawaii usually NCL again. We really enjoyed the "Freestyle Cruising". No need to worry about reserving because there are 10 restaurants to choose from and eat anytime you want. Thank you NCL for an excellent vacation. Rated AAA!!!
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.
This was our fourth cruise on the Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL): we had sailed on the Norwegian Wind in 1998 to the Caribbean; on the Norwegian Dream in 2002 to South America through the Magellan Straits; and again in 2002 to Hawaii and Fanning Island, Kiribati on the Norwegian Star. We found that the Norwegian Jewel is very similar to its sister ship the N. Star in many ways. The extensive use of fine woods and the implementation of bold primary colors is also evident on the Jewel. There is nothing old fashioned or pastel about her, no mauves or pinks here, but rather striking jewel tones like emerald green interspersed with fuchsias and royal purples.
The Freestyle manner of cruising allows passengers to create their own daily schedules, and it seems to be very popular with cruisers. No more are there one or two formal nights --- rather each passenger may have a formal night any night, or just skip the whole rigmarole and go casual for the entire cruise. On NCL we are all free to cruise the way we prefer.
EMBARKATION Miami on Sunday is the best day tosail, if not traffic can be horrendous. We arrived in port at noon and dropped off our luggage with no trouble. We went straight to the check-in counter for suites, which was quick. We then had to wait twenty minutes for a steward to push the wheelchair on board. It was good we waited, since the distance from check-in was almost the length of the ship over a noisy metal ramp. Once in our mini suite, we realized the first difference between NCL and other lines is we can skip a visit to the Maitre D' since there is no need to choose a table for every night in the dining room. Our boat drill assembly station was the Tango's Restaurant, Deck 8 midship, so we also had the opportunity to make a week's worth of dinner reservations at the onset of our cruise. Reserve early and choice of times and venues across the ship will be yours. (More on dining later under FOOD & SERVICE).
SHIP The Norwegian Jewel is just over one year old. She entered service August 2005 and made her maiden voyage on Aug. 10, 2005. She is 965 feet long and beam is 106 feet, which makes her Panamax. Her draft is 28 feet and gross tonnage is 93,502. She is powered by Diesel Electric Generators, propelled by Bow Thrusters, fixed propellers and 2 ABB Azipods, which give a great maneuverability to the ship. There are 12 guest decks and guest capacity is 2,376 double occupancy with a crew of 1,185. This is a very good passenger to crew ratio of about 2:1. The ship's cruise speed is 25 knots. This trip we spent some of our most uncomfortable days on the Atlantic Ocean ever, due to high seas (7 to 12 ft.). First night on -- Mary was ill, and the next day we missed the Loyalty party for Latitudes members. The Jewel has cell phone service and Freestyle dining, which promotes open seating; thus, there is no longer early or late seating, but rather anytime seating for meals.
The following is a quick overview of the ship; unfortunately details of artists and their decorative works were not available to us, but several specific items are so beautiful they should not be missed, so we will mention them here.
Decks 1 through 3 are not public.
Deck 4 has the Medical Center and staterooms. This ship is very health conscious with sanitizing equipment (balls with antibacterial solutions for disinfecting hands) placed everywhere: at the entrance to elevators, restaurants, the theatre, public rest rooms and anywhere passengers congregate.
Deck 5 has staterooms and forward the Stardust Theatre --- a lovely opera style room with balconies on Deck 6 & 7. Deck 5 has wheelchair reserved seats in the rear, but we preferred Deck 7 in the rear, near the exit.
Deck 6 is all public areas --- forward is the Stardust, going toward midship is the Jewel Club Casino --- by far one of the roomiest casinos afloat, no crowded tight areas here. Next is the Corona Cigar Club, which accommodates up to 11 people --- hand rolled cigars, fine cognacs and liquors. Then, there is Le Bistro French Restaurant. This room is a mini art gallery with copies of works by Renoir, Degas, Matisse etc. There is a life size bronze statue of a French woman leading the people to victory, inspired by a famous painting of the French Revolution. Behind our table was a celebration picture of crowds marching down the Champs Elysee: a veritable explosion of the tricolor: red, white and blue!
Next is Magnum's Champagne & Wine Bar (with tiny bubbles changing colors.) The rest of Bar Row is Shakers for cocktails and malts with a huge copper still. Mid ship is the Azura Restaurant and aft is the most beautiful room on board, the Tzar's Palace Main Restaurant. This room is reminiscent of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia. The green Malachite Columns, the white and gold walls and a portrait series of long gone Tzars and Tzarinas all culminate in a lovely atmosphere. The finials on the balustrade are Faberge eggs and add charm. But, of course in Quarenghi's reconstruction of the Malachite Room at the Hermitage in the 1790's, all the real malachite was gone, except for the magnificent fireplace and it huge vases and the grand pedestal malachite bowl in the center of the room. Thus, the Jewel's green columns are fine replicas of the ones now in the Hermitage.
Deck 7 forward is the Stardust Theatre, the Karaoke Rooms; midship is the Fyzz Lounge and Chin Chin Asia Restaurant. At midship going toward aft is the Crystal Atrium with its two huge tusk shaped crystal sculptures with scrimshaw like carvings (very apropos, since sailors first did these types of carvings on whale bones and ivory). There are two smaller ones over the Reception Desk. The ceiling has icicles hanging like crystal stalactites, it is very interesting and complements the standing crystal tusks. There is a huge screen on the upper far wall over the Java Cafe` Bar, which projects constantly changing touristic scenes from around the world. This is a nice meeting place, due to its central location and the bar offerings of coffee, pastries and a variety of drinks. Going toward aft, there is the Photo Gallery, the Art Gallery and the Internet Cafe and finally the Galleria Shops --- reasonably priced.
Deck 8 is mostly staterooms, except from the mid elevators to the rear elevators, where the Blue Lagoon ( great fish & chips and crispy potato peels) and Tango's Tapas Latin Restaurant are located.
Decks 9, 10, and 11 are all staterooms, mini suites and suites.
Deck 12 & 13 are all public areas: i.e., the Garden Cafe` Buffet with so many service islands, that there are hardly any lines at all. Here are also the Teen Club Underground, Video Arcade, and the Splashdown Kid's Club. Toward aft here is the Ice Cream Bar (Vincent's favorite haunt) and Mama's Italian Kitchen (the decor is nice, but the food is still being tweaked after the menu change).
In the Garden Buffet there is a section reserved for children; let it be said, the child size accommodations do nothing for the prestige of a whole adult family sitting down there with one 12 year old child the size of an adult. Forward are the pools, and the Top Sider Bar. Also located here are located the Card Room and the bright Library, with comfortable yellow chairs and huge copper vases with green cymbidium orchids, but alas, it is only open with access to books from 9 - 11 am.
Deck 13 has Basket Ball and Tennis Courts and a lovely chapel with stain glass windows which seats 24.
Decks 14 & 15 have the very private Courtyard Villas and Suites.
There are a total of 10 Restaurants, 13 Bars & Lounges, 2 Swimming Pools and 6 Hot Tubs.
FOOD & SERVICE Captain Tommy Stensrud has a very informative and gracious staff. Hotel Director Calvin Lodge cordially spent some time with us discussing the Jewel and her amenities. He arranged for us to meet Executive Chef Markus Reichl, from near Heidelberg, Germany, who is responsible for implementing the new menus. This is a huge task and he is doing a great job. We are fortunate to see these changes in NCL early on. We also met the very accommodating Restaurant Manager Victor Da Silva, who literally travels back and forth between all ten restaurants, plus several other venues like the snack bars, grills and coffee shops. He certainly knows his ship's offerings. We also spoke with Food & Beverage Director Denis Prguda. All of these very busy men kindly took time to discuss on board facilities with us. We really appreciate them all.
We feel that the new menus are just coming together and there are still some kinks to work out, but we have the feeling that there is great improvement in the right direction. There were flashes of brilliance, like the Gnocchi with Gorgonzola, arugula and watercress, and the apple fritters for dessert in the Tzar's Palace (seats 552) at lunch. The Azura Restaurant on Deck 6 (seats 310), it is a modern hotel style dining room, but it lacks the charm of the Tzar's Palace.
Cagney's Steak House ($15 cover charge per person, seats 176) walls have pictures of Calamity Jane and Cagney as prisoner # 15595. It is striking with Black and Red leather decor and carpeting with red and gold bulls' eyes. Very large white Shonwald German plates with gold rims are used. Appetizers we enjoyed were Oysters Rockefeller and Jumbo lump crab cakes; the N.E. Clam chowder which was excellent, and so was Cardini's Original Caesar Salad served with extra anchovies. Mary ordered the Surf and Turf after the Maitre D' Ramona told us the lobster had just come on board and was alive and kicking! No frozen tails here. It was excellent as was the filet of beef. Vincent enjoyed his 12 0z. veal chop, cooked to perfection, and Cagney fries. Dessert was NY Style Cheesecake and Mocha Creme Brulee`. We had excellent service from Jason and Philippe.
Le Bistro French Cuisine ($10 - $25 per person, seats 129), has a lot of ambiance with the voice of French songbird, Edith Piaf ("the little sparrow") in the background. Appetizers included Terrine de Foie Gras, Lobster & Scallop Martini (Yes, it is served in a huge martini glass, but no gin in sight!) and Moules Mariniere (Steamed Mussels in Sauvignon Blanc). Vincent had the Watercress Veloute` with frogs legs; he said it was good and Mary took his word for it, but declined to share it. She stuck with the traditional French Onion Soup --- AhAh! When the entrees arrived the waiters counted : Un, deux, trois, "Viola`" and the plates were simultaneously uncovered! Vincent had the Filet Mignon and Beef braised short ribs --- excellent. Mary tried the Canard a` l'orange (Duck). Then, we finished with Creme Brulee` and Apple Tartin. All served by the friendly Daniel and Corina. Maitre D' Elena was so kind she said call me and I'll make room for you any time. But, there were so many venues yet to try, and not enough time in the week.
Teppanyaki ($20 per person, seats 32) Japanese cooking show is a nice way to eat light. Chin Chin ($10, seats 158) the Thai/Chinese food venue serves a great shrimp and vegetable tempura, Pot Stickers and Spring Rolls. The Chinese Corn & Crab Soup was delicious. We had Sweet and Sour Shrimp, Beef & Broccoli and Sea food Fried Rice and delicious Banana Spring Rolls for dessert. To complete the Taste of Asia dining venue there is also the Sake Bar, where sushi and sashimi are served.
We found that food and service around the ship to be very good. The choices of venues are so many that we rarely ate in the same venue more than once. Every day it was always something new and different.
CABIN Mini Suite #11070 has a long nice entrance; however, it is a bit smaller than mini suites on most of the ships we have been on. Entering on the right is a nice compact bath with a full tub with shower, and the commode is separated by a sliding door. There is a single sink with a lighted mirror and shelves for personal toiletries. Then there is a triple armoire; one section had drawers, the other two were with hangers. There is a queen bed with two night shelves with reading lamps. There is also a large hide-a-bed sofa and a coffee table.
When entering on the right there is a seascape painting, plus a very narrow full length mirror. There is a mural of exotic lilies and next a vanity/desk with lighted mirror and three drawers, one with a hair dryer, then a refrigerator and mini bar and a cabinet with a personal safe. The colors are maroon, green and pink, but the corker is the watermelon slice carpeting. The Stewards, Richard Espino & Vincent Ponce aimed to please. We asked Richard to remove the heavy (20 lb easy) white puff and to just put a top sheet on. We Floridians haven't used quilts in a Blue Moon. The balcony is narrow and deep with a recliner, a chair and tiny table. It is well covered with a broad over hanging roof.
ENTERTAINMENT Cruise Director Paul Baya (he has a nice voice and sings well) has all the usual balls in the air and juggles them well --- Trivia, Bingo, Casino Tournaments, Pool side games, etc.... The shows were on a par with other lines and some better. The Monday night show, "Band on the run", featured the wonderfully athletic Jean Ann Ryan Co. dancers. There was only one problem, the singing was much too loud, it hurt the ears. There were people covering their ears. We were in the last row of the balcony and still it was overwhelming. A sound check would solve this.
"The Second City" ensemble was terrific in two shows of improvisation. Their work was witty; the puns and word spinning were excellent. "Cirque Bijou" (Jewel) is a newly introduced spectacular show with everything it takes for a hit: Beautiful dancing girls, Strong handsome men, excellent singers and awe inspiring acts. Bravissimi!
The musical entertainment throughout the ship has been great, from the pool side performances of the Caribbean Wave to the ballroom dance music of the "Jewel Show Band" and various piano bar music. The Star Bar featured Eric Lilley, who took requests willingly: Louis Armstrong, Henry Mancini and many others. Mr. Lilley is excellent on piano and has a nice voice. There is plenty to do on board and lots to do and see in the Ports of Call.PORTS OF CALL
Day 1. Miami, FL, USA Depart 4:00pm
Day 2. At sea
Day 3. San Juan, Puerto Rico Arrive 12:30pm Depart 7:00pm A pod of dolphins were frolicking in the harbor all day between the Norwegian Jewel and RCI's Explorer of the Seas. An interesting excursion includes the visit to the Bacardi Rum Distillery and the San Juan city tour, with a stop at the San Cristobal Fort.
Day 4. St. John's, Antigua Arrive 9:00am Depart 6:00pm Several excursions are offered including 4x4 Island Safari, snorkel, swim with the Stingrays, Catamaran Sail, etc....
Day 5. St. Thomas, USVI Arrive 8:00am Depart 4:00pm This is a great place for shopping. For beach lovers it is imperative to go to Magen's Bay, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
Day 6. At sea
Day 7. Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas Arrive 8:00am Depart 4:00pm This is NCL private island with beaches, water sports and a barbecue. Parasailing is becoming very popular. From the balcony we admired people sailing 300 - 400 feet above the turquoise blue water of the cay. It must be a spectacular view from above.
Day 8. Miami, FL, USA Debarkation begins at 8:00am
DEBARKATION Concierge Alexander Forbes kindly sent us notices of perks all week; but, on debarkation day, he went one better and sent us a steward to help us with the wheelchair. This was greatly appreciated and made our landing perfect. Thanks! There is early debarkation for those who want to carry off their own luggage --- something to which we never aspire --- we like to find it by the exit and get a porter, if possible. Passport and customs were well organized, and we were off by 9:00am in only 30 minutes. NCL well done!
CONCLUSIONS The difference between a cruise on a NCL ship and one on ships of other cruise lines is mainly the Freestyle Dining. We had done Freestyle Dining before, but we feel that NCL is getting better at it: This time we did not see long lines of passengers waiting to be seated in any of the restaurants aboard the Jewel. Early reservations to any of the alternative restaurants allow the manager to better coordinate the service in all dining venues and allocate more workers where needed, thus, running a smooth program. Which system do we like, the freestyle dining or the traditional one? It is hard for us to choose, we like both of them. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. It's to go with the flow and enjoy what is available and different on whichever ship we are on. This is the reason why we have never had a bad cruise, we enjoyed them all: eventhough, some cruises may have been more memorable than others.
The overall quality of the food has been much better than what we had experienced on earlier NCL cruises; however, there were some dishes which could be definitely improved; i.e., the gnocchi in Mama's Kitchen did not meet our expectation, they were heavy and chewy, while the gnocchi in the Tzar's Palace were lighter than air, just as our mothers used to make them, heavenly delicious! One excuse for this discrepancy was that new menus were introduced only a week ago, and the chefs are still new to some items. We suggest in this case that the chefs in Mama's Kitchen should contact their colleagues at the Tzar's Palace for improving their recipe for gnocchi.
Our next cruises will be in the Western Caribbean on the Queen Mary II, Dec. 9th 2006 and in the Eastern Caribbean on the Voyager of the Seas, Jan. 20th, 2007. Happy Cruising!
We took our cruise this year with my brother and sister in law. All of us love cruising, as we feel that this is the best dollar for dollar to enjoy a vacation. In going through the boards and reviews,I see many mixed reviews of NCL and the Jewel. My review adds to that.
My bro-in-law had the lowest penthouse cabin on deck 8 and we had the outside cabin just near him. The Jewel I felt was a very nice ship, as it is less than a year old. It took a day or 2 to figure the layout of the decks even though we did much research and reading for the past 6 months.
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. treatmenton 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 cruised to the Eastern Caribbean from 1/29/06 to 2/5/06 on the new Norwegian Jewel. It was our second cruise on this beautiful ship, the first having been to the Western Caribbean in November 2005. Whereas our earlier cruise was with members of Kim's family, this one was with two of my brothers and their wives plus a long-time family friend and his dw. We had booked 4 inside cabins on Deck 9 and, like our previous Jewel sailing, the ship was full to capacity (2,500).
EMBARKATION... We drove to the port of Miami in two cars, from Orlando and Fort Myers, and arrived at the pier about 12:15 pm. After dropping off our luggage and parking, we proceeded to check-in where the very efficient process was quick and painless. We were on board in our cabins by 1:00 pm. The outside parking lot is directly across the street from the ship, requiring a walk of less than 5 minutes. (Note: vehicles with handicapped tags or plates park for free at the Port of Miami). We enjoyed lunch in the Garden Café¬ and our luggage was delivered to our cabin before 3pm. The always-enjoyable boat drill took place at 3:30, and involved going only to our assembly area in one of the lounges. We were not required to assemble at the boat stations, as had been the case on most of our previous cruises. Good for NCL!
THE SHIP... The Norwegian Jewel began service in August 2005, and is NCL's fourth purpose-built ship for Freestyle Cruising. A bit larger than the two earlier vessels in her class (Star and Dawn), the Jewel features all of the popular attributes of her sisters including their speed, number of restaurants and family-friendly accommocations. The Jewel sports a passenger/crew ratio of about 2:1, and features added luxury such as two 4,390 sq. ft. garden villas, four 790 sq.ft. owner's suites, plus huge courtyard villas and penthouses too numerous to mention. There are 12 passenger elevators and 10 service elevators for guests and crew. A new NCL concept, Bar Central, is located on Deck 6 between the casino and the main restaurants, featuring: a beer and whisky pub, a martini bar, and a champagne and wine bar (connected in location but with three very different "personalities"). All in all there are 13 bars and lounges, including the Corona Cigar Club.
CABIN... Our inside cabin, although rather small at 145 sq. ft., was very attractive with rich cherry wood finishing throughout. Included were a built-in refrigerator and safe, coffee/tea maker, hair dryer and a wonderful large shower with sliding glass door and plenty of water pressure. Delightful! There was plenty of storage space and a large hanging closet. Bathrobes were available upon request, and the bathroom towels were big and soft. We happen to enjoy sleeping late in the morning, and frequently book inside cabins so as to avoid the sunlight which would awaken us earlier than we would prefer. And for some reason, we have seldom taken advantage of a balcony even when we had one. Chaque a son gout!
Our cabin attendants, Sr. Steward Athena and Steward Gregorio (both from the Philippines) were friendly and very efficient. Our ice bucket was always full and the attendants managed to keep our cabin clean and resupplied without disturbing us at any time. And they they made great towel animals (including a monkey hanging from a clothes hanger).
DINING... We took breakfast in the Great Outdoors buffet each day, an alfresco venue located at the stern on Deck 12. The food was tasty and varied, just about everything you could want for a good breakfast, and the service was good as well. The weather was terrific for the entire cruise, and dining outside every morning was something we looked forward to with great pleasure. And there were always plenty of tables available, no matter what time we chose to dine.
For lunch, we usually chose the Garden Café ¯n Deck 12 as well. It was a buffet unlike most buffets on ships, being composed of numerous "islands" each featuring a course (such as salads, soups, hot foods, cold foods, sandwiches, desserts, meat carving, etc.) There was a separate area for beverages and ice cream. We never felt like we had to wait in line, because as a matter of fact we didn't! We could take our meal to the table and then return for anything we had missed, without having to cut into a line.
For dinner, we decided to avoid the "pay" restaurants (three out of the ten) completely on this cruise. We dined in the Azura main restaurant three times, the Tsar's Palace (main) once, and Mama's Italian Kitchen twice. Althouth the two main restaurants feature identical menues each evening, we favored the Azura because we found the service to be much better there than at the Tsar's Palace. We had no idea why, but that was our impression (on both of our cruises, actually). The food in both restaurants was of excellent quality with a reasonably good selection, as was the food in Mama's Italian where we had the best pasta and chicken dishes that we have enjoyed on any ship. Their chicken parmagiana was the tastiest I've had in a long time, even in our favorite Italian restaurant back in Orlando.
There was a wide choice of desserts in all of the restaurants, and the ones we tried were all very tasty and nicely presented.
ENTERTAINMENT... Here's a place where the Jewel really shines! All of our party agree that we were witnessing the absolute best performances we had ever seen on any of our (combined) 40 cruises. Two of the production numbers in the Stardust Theater ("Band on the Run" and "Cirque Bijou") were in the realm of "spectacular". The former took us back to the music and dance of the 70s, and the Jean Ann Ryan Company was at their very best. The latter was an artistic & awe-inspiring aerial ballet, with the quality of gymnastics and acrobatics approaching that which we've enjoyed at the renowned Cirque du Soleil. It was that good!
The other theater performances on our cruise were also exceptional, especially the comic juggler (the wonderful Romano Frediani, in his final performance on the Jewel) and the funny yet mystifying Gossamer Magic show. We also enjoyed the improv talents of The Second City, the famed Chicago troupe which produced so many of today's stars.
Finally, there were some talented and entertaining Russian pianists in the bars and lounges, Michaiel Polak and Vladimir Kirivan. There was no lack of good entertainment whatsoever on board the NCL Jewel.
PORTS... We took only one excursion during this cruise, that being with Lawrence of Antigua when we arrived at that lovely island. Our tour was led by Lawrence's right-hand man, Christopher, who did a marvelous job of showing us the high points during our 3+-hour excursion from the port (St. John's) in the northwest to the interesting and scenic areas of Falmouth and English Harbours to the south, including Nelson's Dockyard and the lovely vistas of Shirley Heights. It was both a scenic ride and some interesting history of the British military and social presence of many years ago. Very enjoyable!
We did walk around San Juan a bit, and we performed our ritualistic shopping tour on the island of St. Thomas. Our final stop was at the NCL island in the Bahamas (Great Stirrup Cay), where we stayed on the ship this time.
DISEMBARKATION... NCL does this as well as or better than any cruise line we've sailed on. They use a color-coded system which is easy to understand and which works well. Best of all is that you're welcome to remain in your cabin until your color is called, at which point you simply walk off the ship to recover your luggage and sail through the Customs inspection. We debarked by 9:15 am and were into our cars about 20 minutes later. Smooth!
After cruising on Carnival, RCCL, Princess, Holland America, and a Texarribean cruise years ago on NCL, I planned a cruise on NCL's Jewel. I did book a penthouse suite on the aft end. Beautiful ship, and every staff member, from deckhand to Captain was courteous, helpful, friendly and always had a smile. While I did miss not having a jacuzzi tub that I had on Princess and Holland America, I can't say enough good things about NCL.
Why I ever elected to try any other cruise line is beyond my comprehension. Yes Maxi, the butler came with the PH suite and what a professional he is. But it didn't stop with him - Percival and Mr. FNU the stateroom stewards had the best personalities, cleaned the room in a matter of minutes, and brought me joy every day I saw them. TDH (Suresh) in the Spinnaker Lounge made me feel like I was the only passenger on the ship. I am disabled with M.S. and asked the concierge Marikke (Sp?) to advise the department heads that if they saw me bouncing off walls due to balance problems, or slurring my words,I wasn't drunk, just the multiple sclerosis.
She made sure that during a staff meeting that this information was passed down to everyone who might come in contact with me and during the days my speech sounded like I had beamed down with Capt. Kirk, every staff member asked if they could help me. I have rebooked on the Jewel leaving Dec 5th on the eastern Caribbean leg.
I will never cruise another line.
Most importantly, I felt very safe and secure being a 58 yo grandmother alone and walking at night. If I had one complaint it would be the parents who allowed their toddlers to run willy-nilly without any discipline whatsoever, and the staff are not in a position to discipline the kids. All in all NCL is the best cruise line and as long as I am still drawing a breath, I will continue to take a cruise with them every year.