I traveled with my husband. We are mid-50's and this was my 5th NCL cruise, his 4th, and our 15th overall. We are fans of freestyle cruising. This was a 12-day, our longest cruise to date.
We arrived at the Manhattan pier at about 10:45 am, after a very easy Sunday morning drive. The car service from CT dropped us off at street level where a porter took our bags, and we rode up in the freight elevator. There were no lines getting through security. Check-in was quick and we were directed to the VIP lounge where we received our key cards. The ship was ready at 11, so in no time at all we were escorted on board in one big group, bypassing the embarkation photo. We were all led straight to Cagney's with our carry-on bags. There we were, sitting in Cagney's at 11:15 ordering lunch. My stomach would have preferred breakfast fare, but I ordered a hamburger with lettuce only. Meaning I didn't want the tomato, onion, or cheese. Sometimes you get what you ask for. I got a roll More
with...lettuce only. Our table had a good laugh about it, but the server seemed perplexed about what I really wanted. After lunch, I wanted to explore but didn't want to drag my carry-on with me. This was awkward. Lily, a lovely server, assured me I could leave it in Cagney's, so I did, but I was not totally comfortable with that. Two years earlier, my only other time in a suite, we were escorted on board in small groups directly to our cabins where we left our carry-ons and then went to Cagney's. I realize the suites might not have been ready as early as 11am, but I wish they had let us just drop off the bags.
Cabins were ready by 1pm. We were in 10664, an SF/aft penthouse suite. We loved the location -- port side, very quiet, in the corner. Never heard anyone walking by. Not a bad walk to the aft stairway/elevators. Not huge but perfectly comfortable. The best part was the deep deck 10 balcony. On the down side, the furniture is showing wear. The desk and vanity were badly scratched, and the wood bench at the foot of the bed was badly splintered on one side.
The muster drill was fast, no life jackets required, and held indoors at about 3:30. We were lucky to have blue skies for sailaway, so we bundled up and watched most of it from Deck 12, moving from port to starboard as we approached the Statue of Liberty. It was barely light enough for photos by the time we passed her. Once we were beyond the Verrazano Bridge, it was full dark.
Sailing out of New York in winter is always risky, but we were blessed with calm seas and beautiful weather sailing south and at every port. It was also calm for 2/3 of the trip home, but on the last sea day we sailed through a storm off Cape Hatteras with 30 foot seas. You couldn't walk without holding a rail. The cabin stewards' carts were falling over in the hallways. I was in the gift shop about 10am buying a watch when displays began crashing to the floor, and they had to close up in a hurry. The poor guy behind the counter was groaning about the amount of work it was going to take to put the shop back together, which they did by about 7pm.
We had a large Cruise Critic Roll Call of over 100 people and a very good turnout for the Meet & Greet on Day 1 in Le Bistro. Thanks to Randy and Lynn for keeping track of all our names and making the arrangements. A number of senior officers attended. Someone asked if we could arrange a tour of the bridge. The answer was a polite "no" which surprised me, as it was offered to my CC group just 2 years ago.
The CD was Jaime (pronounced Jamie). She was new to the ship, having just replaced "Dan the Man." I have to say I enjoy a CD who's a bit more of a "showman" like Matt Baker. I found Jaime a little dull when it came to her nightly introductions of the entertainment, but I will say she was funny in smaller venues, like hosting the Loser's Lounge during Dancing with the Stars. Entertainment in the Stardust Theater was a mix for us. The highlight was Cirque Bijou, the Jewel's version of Cirque du Soleil, and the night showcasing the aerialists -- truly amazing acrobatics. I enjoyed Brenda Kaye's hypnosis show and her late-night encore in Spinnaker. Dave Naster (I think I got that right) did standup comedy and was truly funny. I wish he'd done additional shows. I can't remember the juggler's name -- he was a really good juggler with a dry sense of humor, but not exactly my cup of tea. I always enjoy Dancing with the Stars, which they did twice on this 12-day. This was, however, the first time I witnessed the staff begging passengers to participate. On previous cruises this was a very popular event with many willing participants. I missed Quest on the last night because my stomach hadn't settled enough after that very rocky day at sea.
One other note: DH has a hearing problem, and on our last Jewel cruise he asked for and received a wireless headset for use in the Stardust Theater, similar to what you can get in a Broadway theater. So this trip he asked John, the concierge, if they were still available. John was unfamiliar with them, being new to Jewel, so after multiple false starts, we were put in touch with Mark, the head sound man in the theater, who was able to give us a working set of headphones. This added greatly to DH's enjoyment of the entertainment, especially the comedian.
Being in a suite, we were happy to take advantage of Cagney's for breakfast most mornings. The buffet (Garden Cafe) has much to choose from, but it's quite a challenge to collect your food and drink and find a seat and still enjoy a hot meal. Cagney's lunch menu is too limited for our tastes, so we ate at various venues -- Blue Lagoon, the main dining room (Tsars), or the buffet when it was less crowded. Lunch on our first sea day I went alone to Tsars and ordered a grilled chicken sandwich. Would you believe my plate arrived with the roll, the French fries, a container of ketchup, but no chicken? The server was very apologetic, and we had a good laugh about the missing chicken, especially after I told her about the missing burger the day before. We ordered room service breakfast on several port days and this was always delivered on time by our butler, Cris. Our concierge, John, went out of his way to be accommodating. He seemed to be everywhere -- greeting us in Cagney's in the mornings and wherever we happened to eat dinner, always asking if he could do anything to make our cruise even better. A real gentleman.
Dinners: We ate 3 times in Cagney's. Excellent meals, excellent service. Twice we walked up to the hostess and were seated with no reservation. Only once did we ask John to help us get a table. We tried Moderno on the first night, going early to a nearly empty restaurant. DH really enjoyed it, but I didn't like enough of the variety of the meats served to go back. We tried Azura, the smaller dining room, twice, and Tsars, the larger MDR, 3-4 times. I prefer Tsars. The lower ceilings and absence of windows in Azura made it feel closed in, and it was much noisier. I like the elegance of Tsars, although some might call the decor tacky. We were usually able to get a table against the window, which I enjoyed even when it was dark outside. For either MDR, there was usually a wait of 15-20 minutes. They give you a beeper with decent range, so you can roam around the deck or relax in a lounge until your table's ready. The MDR staff was in constant motion. It became obvious that if we didn't order everything we wanted up front, it was not going to be easy to flag someone down later to get it. They were hustling! We also ate dinner a couple of times in the buffet, which was never crowded at night.
This was the first time we experienced hearing "no" in regard to food. On past cruises, shrimp cocktail was always available in the MDR as an appetizer, whether on the menu or not. This time, it was never on the menu and never available. (It was available in Cagney's.) On lobster night, DH requested a second lobster tail after eating the first (small) one and was told it was "not their policy" to do that. (In all fairness, I will say that he WAS served a second prime rib when he asked for it on another night.) In the Blue Lagoon, the lunch menu offers a brownie sundae dessert which is, for me, the best dessert on the ship. But go there after 5pm and "no, it's not available." I even asked Cris if he could get me one for an evening treat in the suite and he said "no" with regrets. And here I thought the butler could get you anything you wanted, anytime, within reason, and I didn't think it was an unreasonable request.
Internet: DH needed to keep in touch with clients, so he purchased the 250 minute package. I don't recall how much it was -- I think about $100 and we got bonus Latitudes minutes. This was our first cruise as owners of smartphones, so we stopped at a Starbucks in San Juan to use their wifi. In St. Maarten and Aruba we easily found restaurants with wifi. It was so much faster than the ship's Internet -- I don't know that we'll bother buying minutes on future cruises.
Activities: There was a lot offered -- trivia, dance lessons, karaoke, cooking lessons, martini tastings, bingo, Deal or No Deal, the art auctions -- but we didn't partake in any of that. We took along a game of our own, Dominion, and played in the Garden Cafe every afternoon at sea between lunch and dinner when it wasn't crowded.
Spa/Gym: I didn't use the gym, as I prefer to walk on the Promenade around Deck 7. Two and two thirds laps equal a mile. I used the salon twice to get my hair done, once for a conditioning treatment plus scalp, neck, and shoulder massage, followed by a blow dry. It was heavenly, and surprisingly affordable at $65 plus tip. The second time was just a blow dry with Theo, for $40 plus tip. That's less than I pay at home.
Disembarkation: The pier was still suffering from the effects of Hurricane Sandy, so Customs took place on board. We chose not to carry off our own luggage. The ship was docked by 8am and we reported to Chin Chin with our carry-ons at about 8:30, after an early breakfast/goodbye at Cagney's. Customs officers were seated in Fyzz where we presented our forms, had them stamped, and then returned to Chin Chin to wait. It was about 9:30 when we were finally told our luggage was in the terminal and then we could leave. There was a wait to get a porter but we couldn't manage without one. Later we realized the added benefit of using a porter -- not waiting in another line to hand in the Customs form. The porter walked us right to an agent and we were through. Rode the freight elevator from street level up to the check-in level where our son was able to pull the car up and load. We were home by 11am.
It wasn't perfect, but what is? We had a wonderful vacation and we'll return to NCL. Less
We took a cab to Valley Church Beach, $8 pp each way. Lounge chairs were $5 each, and we didn't need umbrellas here either, as there was plenty of natural shade. The sand was not very smooth -- plenty of shells and prickly things from the trees. We ate lunch at The Nest, the beach restaurant/bar, which was not over-priced and offered wifi. Restrooms were decent, a short walk beyond the restaurant. In general I don't love Antigua. The cabbie and vendors are very aggressive.
We walked to El Morro and explored the fort for about an hour. Definitely worth a visit. Afterward we rode the free trolley into the shopping area of Old San Juan and stopped in Starbucks for wifi and then CVS for a few items.
We booked an independent excursion with Cosol's Tours, along with a number of people from our Roll Call. It was a full day -- almost 7 hours -- seeing the whole island including a volcano and mud baths, the twin pitons, Jalousie beach, and many wonderful photo opps, plus breakfast and lunch of local fare. Highly recommend it.
We went to Sapphire Bay this time. We walked over to the Havensight Mall, across from the pier, and caught a cab there rather than being herded onto the cabs right by the pier. From past experience, we knew we didn't want to sit and wait for them to fill up with 10-12 passengers and then stop at every beach along the way. We shared with 2 other couples all going to Sapphire. It was $10 pp each way and all of us met up with the driver for the return trip. She even took "the scenic route" for us to see Magens Bay on our return, stopping at an overlook for photos. Sapphire Bay is beautiful. Lounge chairs were $7 each and we didn't need an umbrella, as there were sea grape trees for shade. DH said the snorkeling was fantastic. We stayed about 4 hours.