My wife and I chose this cruise last minute as an easy vacation for a few reasons: it offered a special class of suite with a large balcony and butler service as well as leaving from New York City, an easy car and bus ride from our home in southwest Vermont. We were looking to totally relax in a quiet atmosphere with little interaction with other people.
Our cabin was amazing (penthouse suite 9000 with forward large balcony)! It has more storage than necessary with many drawers, cabinets, shelves and a huge closet with doors on two sides. The main room has a nice couch and stuffed chair, a dining table with plenty of room for two to dine (there are 4 chairs), a desk under the wide-screen tv, and the bed with 2 side tables. At the end of the bathroom hallway is a "make-up" desk with great side lighting, power outlets, hair dryer, wall mirror and a close-up mirror.
The bathroom has a separate toilet area next to the sink and bath area. The storage above the sink is adequate, considering that most items can go next to the "make-up" desk. The full bathtub was a great treat on a cruise. Even if you don't care to sit in a bathtub, having room to shower was great. The shower head was a movable, hand held type with a very comfortable spray. Ventilation was quick from the bathroom.
The large balcony made private sunning and sitting a great experience. On the first day, it was a shock to open our balcony door and be stopped by a bulk-head door that requires some muscle to open, but was easily latched open for the entirety of the trip. With two lounge chairs and two sitting chairs, each complete with thick, soft cushions, the choice of tanning positions was endless. The little table came in handy as well. The floor of the balcony was a squishy, soft substance that became quite hot in the sun, but was comfortable to walk or lay on. The 180 degree (plus!) view was amazing. When at sea, the wind could get quite brisk, but depending on the weather, it was still quite comfortable sitting outside.
The other amenities when selecting this room are the fresh flowers, complimentary sparkling wine and fruit bowl, fancy coffee maker, ability to borrow DVDs to play in the included DVD player, private breakfast and lunch served in Cagney's restaurant and the personalized special service provided by the butler and concierge (Ruth). The ability to discuss any plans with our concierge made everything easier- from meal reservations to shore excursions to disembarkation. Also, our butler provided full meals, deserts and drinks from the restaurants and bars whenever we wished.
The one issue I had was the placement of the suite directly over the main theater. During shows and rehearsals, it was quite loud in the suite. It woke me from a sleep the first night and could be heard through headphones or earplugs. Once our schedule shifted to eat during the first show and go to the late show, it became lest noticeable except for having to listen to the rehearsals and some of the game shows.
The overall feel of the Norwegian Jewel is a mixture of classy/modern flair and decorations. The variety of style was fun and engaging. There were plenty of lounges with different people in mind. As we are casual, relaxed and more mature, we appreciated the quiet combination of lounges outside of Le Bistro made up of 3 "separate" bars. And in the more quiet moments, the Crystal Atrium was a nice place to sit and relax. The library would have been a nice place to sit, but the chairs are very odd and uncomfortable. There were other nice lounges at the upper decks of the ship that had a nice feel to them and were quiet much of the day for reading and relaxing, but, as we spent a great deal of time in our suite, we did not hang out too often outside our room. Because the pool area is contained in one area, it was typically noisy and crowded and I had little desire to stay there long.
We ate at a different restaurant each night. Our favorites were Gagney's Steakhouse and Chin Chin Asian restaurant. They had the best overall food and dining experience. One other favorite was our suite perk of eating breakfast in Cagney's. It was the most relaxing and peaceful way to start the day with great food made to order. We did utilize the butler's service a few times and ate in our cabin, especially snacks and deserts ordered from the regular or specialty restaurants! We ate some lunches and snacks in the Garden Cafe which was a nicely organized buffet that was easy to navigate and eat, although I found it loud compared to our other eating areas. Mama's had good food but slow and sporadic service. The one other food highlight was a seafood meal that was cooked in the pool area for lunch the final full day. It was cooked in a large wok above a coal fire and was amazing!
The other meals were overall just average for cruise food. The two main dining rooms had nice atmosphere compared to other ship's we have sailed. The famous Teppanyaki Room was not as impressive or as showy as I had hoped. The food was better than the "entertaining" preparation which was not that exciting to watch. The worst meal, and it really was not good, was at the new Moderno Churrascaria. The salad bar was a mixture of odd items, most of which were not to my New England palate's liking at all. And the meat, when it finally made its way around the room, was overcooked, dry and cold. The concept of a walking meat buffet is not one that inspires a great dining experience. There was a delicious coconut flan for desert that I thoroughly enjoyed. Overall, the specialty dining restaurants were not worth the extra fees. Even Cagney's and Chin Chin were over priced for what we received.
The service was consistently friendly, helpful and polite. We did have the benefit of utilizing the VIP concierge which made most tasks easy to manage, but all other staff were great. Staff always were welcoming and smiled when passing in the halls; it was a highlight of the trip. The one staffing issue was not enough cashiers in the Galleria Shops. There was never more than one at a time, so there were long lines.
We only did a few of the shows: the comedy magic show and the hypnotist. Both shows were entertaining, but not the best I have seen. We did hear a few of the ship's musicians during the trip and they were appropriately pleasant.
Great Stirrup Cay is a basic private island with minimal features but a nice enough setting for a few pleasant hours of sunning and swimming. Accessing the island was easy enough using large ferry boats that appear permanently situated at the island. The total area of the beaches is small and makes "exploring" a non-issue. The beach sand was a bit course with rocky or cement areas interspersed, making shoes or flip-flops necessary when walking to bathrooms or anywhere away from the beach.
The beach itself seems to point north, making sitting in direct sun a bit tricky for the sunbathers. The swimming area was average sized giving enough room for swimming but feeling somewhat crowded toward the shore. In this mid-April trip, the water was still pretty chilly. We opted for the "clamshell" style umbrella and two chairs for $30. This made the beach experience pleasant giving the option of sun or no sun during the day. There are other things to do on the island: the "straw market" shops are minimal and without great selection, there were some games being played, live music that couldn't be heard very well on the beach, and a giant inflated water slide that was positioned directly behind the "clamshell" beach chairs. The company is putting some work into the island still and it looks like there might be another area developing some distance away from the main area; maybe it will be quieter.
The negative features of the island were the food and drink areas. The lines for the "bars" and lunch buffet were long and slow. In fact, the lunch buffet was a crowded mess of people- vacationers trying to get to limited food items and Norwegian staff yelling incomprehensible instructions on how to NOT form lines. Yup, they did not want us forming lines but told us to push in to the food areas and just take what we wanted. It was quite chaotic and the food was not very good. Also, there was just one person at the buffet pavilion "bar" serving soda and drinks. It took a long time to get a small soda.
Disembarkation was the easiest we have ever experienced. We were meeting the bus back to Albany around 10:30am at the port so there was no rush to leave the ship. We awoke and headed to breakfast at Cagney's. Afterward we went back to the room to shower and finish packing. About 9:30am we walked downstairs and immediately and easily walked off the ship and through customs and immigration. It took very little time and there were no complications. We did carry (roll) our own bags out with us. Ruth, our concierge was even there to wish us well.
In summary, the ship itself was of little importance to our vacation as we were totally content staying in our suite and taking advantage of our huge balcony. We were fully and completely taken care of during the trip. The food was good, but I was not as pleased with the special restaurants. I would do this cruise again, but I would need to spend the money on the suite.