I work in the travel industry and recently returned from a 7 night cruise aboard the Jewel to the Western Caribbean. This was my 2nd cruise with NCL and my first with Freestyle dining. I have been on Princess, Royal Caribbean, Dolphin and Holland America in the past. I really enjoyed the cruise and ports.
First let me tell you about the ship and cruise. Miami is an easy port to get in and out of. One note is that if you are parking at the Cruise ship terminal is they do not take credit cards near the NCL ship. Cash is 84.00 for 7 days, however you are literally a few hundred feet from the ship.
THE ROOM -- We were upgraded to a Balcony stateroom which was wonderful. The room size was adequate, king bed 4 drawers, 2 nightstands, ample closet space and a separate shower and toilet area in the confines of the bathroom. The size of the bathroom was a little larger than normal, however nowhere near the size of a normal house bathroom. Small makeup area and a loveseat and coffee table to watch tv. The cabin had a rich wood grain look to it. Tv, phone, refrig and ice bucket came in handy. My only complaint is that there is no upper sheet on the bed as they use a down comforter.
THE SHIP -- There are lots of food choices and bars available. There is Italian, French, Sushi, Japanese, Tempura (like Kobe), TexMex, Buffet Style, Steakhouse, 24hr, burgers etc., by the pools and two main dining rooms. There is a charge for the Steakhouse, French, Sushi, Japanese and Tempura restaurants. Ranging from 10-15 per person. Here are three things good to know. First if you dine from 5:30-6:30 it is half price per person except for Tempura and Sushi, however Sushi is only 5 for all you can eat normally. Not sure if this deal is always offered or not. Also make reservations as soon as you get on the ship. We waiting until 8pm on day of sailing and took us 5 days to get into the Italian Restaurant. Also keep in mind that they theme the main dining rooms and when they do, the selection may not be what you want. Ie Greek, Mediterranean etc. In this case head to the Market Cafe Buffet. Great foods and a nice atmosphere for a Buffet. Food quality was great everywhere. Drinks are pricey as usual on cruise ships, Pina coladas are pretty tasty at 6 bucks a pop. Martini,s and specialty drinks will cost you 8-10 a drink. Beer about 4.50 a bottle. Ice tea, juices, water is free, so is Cappuccino and coffee if self served, 2.00 from the Java Bar.
Great Spa, Fitness center and themed lounge areas. Tiered main lounge that holds 1000 people for main shows. Nice pools, however they are salt water with a nice slide for kids or adults. Finding a lounge sometimes is difficult by the pool, but you can always go to another deck nearby. The shows were great, comedy, music, magician types. There is always something going on, so you can participate or choose to do whatever. Ping pong tables, shuffleboard, basketball, tennis is free and they even have tournaments. The have a greats kids club to watch or entertain your kids while you are doing more important things as well. My only complaint is they seem to always be trying to sell you something. Maybe they are just trying to get you used to the Islands.
THE STAFF -- The crew is wonderful, There is always someone checking on you for drink orders, Everyone says hello and everyone speaks English among other languages. The room steward work tirelessly to keep your room clean, ice filled and turn down service. The waiters/waitresses take good care of you. Great cruise director and staff to keep you entertained.
THE PORTS -- Roatan. Recommendation, take a tour of the Island for about 20 bucks per person. There is a nice beach near the West End area at a resort area. I heard the Diving was good, not so for snorkeling. That is about it. Very poor island, so buy a conch shell 2-5 from the kids, it is probably the only money they see. Grand Cayman. Make sure you get your tender ticket early, get in line at 10:15 at the latest and they cannot park at the port. The earlier you get your ticket, the faster you get to land. Recommendation- Native way watersports, Stingray city tour. They are a family operation. They will pick you up at the port and bring you back. It is on a 40 ft fishing boat out to snorkel and play with the Stingrays. Takes about 2-3 hours and well worth the 35.00 charge. Shopping is also good. This was my favorite Island. Very safe and affluent island. Ocho Rios (Recommendation- Dunn's River Falls. Take a cab over to it. It is only 5 minutes away. About 5 dollars per person for cab and 15.00 to get into the park. Skip the guided tour in the park as they help you anyway get up the falls and you will need to tip them when you get to the top anyway. Great climb up, pretty safe as they are there to help. Bring a waterproof camera and wear good sandals, water socks. They also have them there to borrow. Shopping is okay, however you are bugged a lot to buy from street folks. People are friendly even though Jamaica has a bad reputation. I lost my wallet at the falls and a Park employee returned it to me unscathed. I can never say anything bad about Jamaica after that happened. It is a poor country and you need to take precautions, but it is no worse than some areas in Miami. PRIVATE ISLAND. Great to get some fun in the sun. Recommendation- Get off the ship ASAP to get a good chair and or Hammock. There is a nice walk to the lighthouse and snorkeling is decent. Bring your own gear if possible as it will cost you more to rent it.
Disembarkation is easy and depending on your mode of travel, it should be smooth. Read the information as it can save you some time and allow you to relax on the ship longer. They won't kick you out of your rooms like some ships do. Great ship, wonderful staff and good ports. I will definitely go again. I hope this information helps you in searching for the perfect cruise.