This was our 4th NCL cruise having previously sailed on Sky (AK), Pearl (AK), and Epic (Med). I was excited to be back on a Jewel-class ship as the Epic wasn't my favorite.
Pre-cruise: I'm including this since we booked an NCL hotel (Holiday Inn Vancouver Airport). Free airport shuttle on the Â½ hour arrived right on time. Nice, basic hotel for one night but nothing nearby but McD's and car dealership. River Rock Casino has a free shuttle to the casino after 4pm and the Canada Line train is across the street with machines to purchase tickets. $9 daypass for all Vancouver transport including Seabus to Lonsdale Quay in North Vancouver. Casino shuttle back to hotel. At hotel check-in we received a letter from NCL with transportation procedures to port. Our luggage was picked up at 9am and we were to meet in the lobby 9:30-10:30 for transfer at 11. Well, the bus didn't arrive until 12:15 and the NCL rep that was sent over was very apologetic for the delay.
Vancouver Embarkation: By 1pm we were at Ballantyne Pier. What a zoo. We stood in the winding line for over an hour to get to security. Rumor was the previous cruise disembarkation was delayed due to an elevator problem. Cruise check-in took maybe 5 minutes and we were in Tsar's Palace for lunch by 2:15. After lunch we went to our cabin and our luggage was outside the door.
Cabin: Deck 10 BA balcony, port side, same as we'd had on the Pearl. It was nice to have a real bathroom unlike on the Epic. Great water pressure in the shower but hardly any in the sink. Bed and bedding were so comfortable. Burnt out light over the sofa, but we didn't notice until the last night so not a big deal. Cabin had robes which the Epic did not.
Food: I scoff at reviews complaining about food, wondering what other people eat at home. I'm not a cook and rarely eat out. With that said, I can't recall one spectacular meal, though we didn't eat at any specialty restaurants. The salad bar in the Garden Cafe hasn't improved over the years, with brown iceberg lettuce and few toppings. Nice that there were flavored waters at lunch/dinner (tropical mango, lemonade, strawberry kiwi). Chocolate Truffle Cake in the MDR was good as I remember, as were the pretzel rolls.
Crew: Our room steward Mark was a sweetie, always called us by name and opened our cabin door for us when he saw us approaching. He works too much. We would see him in the hall 3-4 times per day, always with a smile. We filled out a card at Guest Services for him. Most of the crew I had the displeasure of having contact with were like zombies (Becky on the Cruise Staff, the Blue Lagoon wait staff).
Entertainment/Casino/Shopping: Band on the Run--Cheesy. There's 45min of my life I'll never get back. Turned me off to future shows. Deal or No Deal--Serious waste of time money. $19.95 for 2 cards. Both players on stage won under $100. Two audience members won $50. This or That trivia was pretty funny. Casino wasn't very big. No issues with our pre-purchased slot credits or Slot Play Coupons. Tax and Duty Free Shop was in transition from Alaska to Caribbean so lots of Alaska stuff on clearance. Perfume was a great deal with our OBC, tax-free and Latitudes discount.
Public spaces: Clean. Just a couple things that could be easily fixed like a missing picture in a hallway, chipped cream paint on forward deck under radio equipment exposing blue paint underneath.
Astoria--Each deck was to report to the Spinnaker at a designated time between 8:45-9:45) for mandatory customs and border protection inspection. We reported at 9:10 where we waited for over 45 minutes for the border agents to arrive. There was no order as the crowd rushed to the front of the room just to have an agent maybe ask a question and match the passport to the face, but no stamp. Upon exit, an NCL employee punched our keycard. Many people tired of waiting skipped the agent and joined the crowd at the exit and left. We followed the silly rules and finally left after 10. What a joke. We walked the 1.5 miles to town (there were also inexpensive shuttles and a trolley) and visited a museum and the Sunday market. No big plans as we'd been to the Oregon coast before.
San Francisco--Of this entire trip, I was most looking forward to sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge. Well, we did supposedly sail under it, but it was so foggy we couldn't see it until it was about 5 feet in front of us both inbound and outbound. Major disappointment. Our pier (35) was right next to Fisherman's Wharf (39) so that was nice. We walked to Ghirardelli Square then took a cab to the GGB where we used a $5 Groupon for a bridge tour and pictures. Wasn't such a good deal when adding in cab fare, but we're just not comfortable on city buses which would've been about $5. By the time we got back to Ghirardelli the skies were clear and it was downright warm. Back to the Wharf and the hoards of tourists. We went back to the ship and had a nice quiet lunch at the Great Outdoors looking out over the Bay and Alcatraz. By sailaway, the fog was back. We sailed really close to Alcatraz. It was chillllly.
San Pedro/Los Angeles disembarkation: Easy walk-off began at 7:45. Last call was to be around 10:30. We left around 8:45, handed over our Customs forms and hopped in a cab ($45) to the dinky little Long Beach Airport, which we just had to laugh at. Think portable plywood buildings and no jet ways. Too funny.
Overall, nothing special but we didn't expect it to be. Glad we got a free balcony upgrade within a couple weeks of sailing. I was so dreading an oceanview cabin. Can't fault NCL for the Astoria customs thing or the San Francisco fog, or maybe even the embarkation mess and transfer. For a 5 night cruise, just a lot of time spent just waiting for this and that.