My husband (38), daughter (7) and I (35) booked the Jewel out of NY for our first cruise. We went with my husband's aunt and cousin (20). Read various reviews leading up to the trip, if you go in with no expectations and a desire to have a good time, you'll have a great trip.
GETTING TO THE SHIP: We drove from NH to NY the morning of the trip. We left at 6am and got to the terminal by 1030am. Parked ($245 for the week) and they were already letting you through security. We went through, checked in, were called almost immediately. We were sitting in Tsar's by noon.
FOOD: I tried to avoid the buffet, but I know my husband went a few times with my daughter. He got sick on Sunday night, but we can't decide if it was from the buffet, the motion (rough seas that day), or a combination of the two. (He feels it was the food - he's a boat owner and we've done lots of event cruises and he's never been sick. But we'll never know.) They did have a big selection, though. I think I had one lunch and one breakfast there all week. No complaints. The ice cream toppings kind of skeeved me out, though. Watching a little girl in front of us take sprinkles with her hand, pat them on her ice cream and have them fall back into the public bowl .. needless to say, we skipped toppings. ROOM SERVICE desserts were great (the strawberry pound cake was my favorite!) Breakfast delivered in the morning (continental) was easy and we used it as a way of waking up 2 or 3 times. BLUE LAGOON was another favorite .. the wings, fish and chips, panini, all good. No complaints there. AZURA was beautifully modern and TSAR'S was bright and had a great aft view. The POOLSIDE BUFFET got a lot of our time. It was nice to have snacks and meal options right there when our daughter didn't want to leave the waterslide or kids' hot tub.
SPECIALTY RESTAURANTS: Moderno ($20 pp) My least favorite of the specialty restaurants. The buffet of sides was strange, even for someone who's an adventurous eater like me. Of all the meats, I only liked the filet and bacon-wrapped chicken. LE BISTRO ($20 pp) was excellent. Escargot was great, the French 75 drink was yummy. CAGNEY'S ($25 pp) was a last minute decision our favorite. I'm glad they were able to get us in with no notice. The filet was one of the best things I ate on board. I couldn't wait to try the Cagney Fries, but they tasted like fries, nothing special.
DRINKS/BARS: Tried most of the drinks of the day, and then some - all delish! I thought prices were fine, but being from Boston I thought they were fine. My regular purchases were the cucumber gin & tonics and the buckets of beer. I loved that the imported beers cost less than the domestic, since I don't care for Bud/Coors, etc. Drinks ranged from $5-9, in my experience ... buckets of beer were great because you could take them back to your room. And when coming back from the island, we brought 3 beers back with us - when I went to have one at Fyzz later the waiter offered to switch it with a cold one for me.
ROOM: We had originally booked an inside (first cruise, we had nothing to compare it to!) but called during the "free balcony upgrades" promo and went from an inside to a balcony for only $117 more. With the rough seas on Sunday, we're so glad we did that and will never book less than a balcony for future cruises. My husband said just being able to see that the waves were not as bad as it felt made him feel better. We watched the sunrise twice on the way home from the balcony, and even sat and had beers and listened to island music once. Size wasn't a huge problem - coming in with 7 bags (large suitcases to small backpacks) we never struggled for space (we did bring an over-the-door shoe hanger, which I recommend!) Bathroom was small and sectioned off.
GYM: I only made it there once, on the overcast Sunday. Had a short wait for a treadmill and an interesting time trying to run when they ship was bobbing left and right :) Probably burned some extra calories though!
STAFF: Marlon was our steward, he was awesome. Always smiling. I made sure to mention him in our comments when we left, my daughter always looked forward to seeing him. She loved his towel animals each day. We had great waiters in Fyzz Lounge and we really had a great time with everything we chose to do, thanks in part to Boston Chris, Dan the Man and Gorgeous George. They seem like they've been doing this forever and love every minute of it. We had one negative staff instance when we went to Azura .. I left my daughter's key card on the table and went back to ask about it. I asked our waitress about it (because 2 in our party said I GAVE her the key card) and she disregarded what I was asking, just saying "OK, thank you, goodbye!" with a smile. It could have been a language barrier or something, I don't know. But I never found that first card and had to get a new one.
PORTS: We had planned on staying on board at PORT CANAVERAL, but after the rocky day before, my husband wanted to feel land. We all went to Cocoa Beach. Went past the excursion people and got the Cocoa Beach Shuttle for $5/pp. Went to Alan Shepard Beach for a few hours. Rented 4 chairs for $30. Went to Ron Jon's (walking distance) and The Sandbar for lunch (great fish tacos and Hurricanes - family friendly during the day). At GREAT STIRRUP CAY, we thought the wind might cancel it altogether, but after a tender ride that rivaled the storm on Sunday (REALLY nerve-wracking, it was so bumpy!) we got there. Were told that all sea-based excursions (like my parasailing and my husband's jet skiing) were canceled, and the clam shells that we booked couldn't be put up either, all due to the high winds. Disappointing. With no one on excursions, finding a chair was almost impossible. In NASSAU, my husband and daughter did the "Sea & See" on the Seaworld Explorer and LOVED it. I went on my own walking tour to see the sites and shop.
ENTERTAINMENT: I tried to do it all and failed :) I managed to get in some trivia (fun and laid-back), bingo (expensive, but I went for fun, not to win, so I enjoyed both times), casino (lost again!), the Weakest Link (like speed trivia), karaoke and a few other things. Michael Jackson's Thriller dance lesson was fun to watch (good job, Boston Chris!). Singing in the lounges was all great. Deal or No Deal was fun (and not just because I won $50 and a free photo from the gallery). The shows in the theater were great, such as Pirates of the Ocean, the staff variety show, Cirque Bijou ... the only piece of the variety show I did NOT like (and my daughter didn't either) was the "magician". She went in expecting to see magic, and didn't see any. She wasn't happy after that. :) Quest was a riot, we came in second place thanks to our other teammates. Spinnaker parties were fun and DJ J DAYZ had an excellent play list.
KIDS STUFF: Splash Academy was a lot of fun for my daughter. She didn't want to be there all day (and I wouldn't have allowed her to be anyway) but she did go every day, for anywhere from 90 minutes to 3 hours, sometimes twice a day. Themes each day included Survivor, Under the Big Top, Hollywood Nights, etc. She had something "exciting" to tell us each time we picked her up. I think she would have liked it more if she had had a friend there, but overall she enjoyed it. The Nick Crew was great too - at the Spongebob Meet & Greet, I asked a crew member how long it would take because we were trying to make the Family Cupcake party in the buffet and she told me where to line up when they announced it. (We made the party in time thanks to her help) The poolside stuff was fun too, my daughter got to be captain and get "slimed" for winning - she refused, so I took her place. It was cold. :)
CONS: Most of my "cons" had nothing to do with NCL at all. The weather on Sunday, causing us to feel like we missed out on a day. The winds on Tuesday, causing our excursions to be canceled. My sunburn at Cocoa Beach (my fault!). My hangover on Tuesday :) The cost of parking in NY. Other than those things, I wouldn't change a thing.