I just got back from the March 19th, 7 night Western Caribbean cruise on the Norwegian Jewel. I had such a good time that I wanted to post a review. I am single, in my upper 20s, and traveled with my parents (50s) and sister and brother-and-law (lower 30s). This was our first cruise other then a brief 3-day Disney/Premier cruise to the Bahamas about 15 years ago. Overall, we were all very impressed.
Embarkation went surprisingly smoothly for us. We never had to wait for more then 5 minutes in any of the several lines that they shuffle you through at the port (and they certainly due shuffle you through them). I recommend getting to the port early. We were able to board the ship around 12:30 and take advantage of the whole afternoon on the ship. It might have gotten more hectic later in the afternoon.
Our very first stop, before even going to our rooms was the dinner reservation desk. This proved to be a great move as we walked right up to the reservation clerk and were able to reserve our dinners at a different specialty restaurant for each night of the cruise. Take my advice....book your dinners right away. That ensures that you get to go everywhere you want and when you want. We also avoided the reservation lines that stretched over 20 people long for much of the rest of the afternoon. Dining is a huge part of this cruise so you don't want to miss out on making reservations.
After check-in we went on a tour of the ship with a member of the cruise directors staff. We were the only people on the boat that showed up for this early tour. It was nice to have a private tour of the ship for just the five of us and it gave up a great overview of the ship. Check the Day 1 schedule when you get on board for the tour time.
Our family had 3 cabins. My parents and siblings had regular rooms with partially obstructed room. I had a lower level interior room for myself. The rooms were basically the same other then the small windows. Although small, the rooms were bright, clean, and had nice new bathrooms. I did notice that my family in the higher-priced rooms got towel animals almost every day while I only received that extra touch once. Not sure if that is normal or not. The beds were fine, although I wasn't very happy that I was woken up by morning announcements from the captain and cruise director on several of the mornings before 8AM. The announcements don't come on in the room, but you can hear the hallway announcements through the door.
The ship itself is great. It's very clean and very new. They have hand sanitizers at the entrance to every restaurant and to the casino which helped keep the feeling of cleanliness on board. The buffet is big with a decent selection although I grew tired of eating the standard burgers/pizza/hot dogs for lunch everyday by the end of the trip. There is a nice outdoor seating area in the back of the buffet that was nice and much quieter then the indoor chaos of the buffet. This was one of our favorite spots on the ship. Breakfast at the buffet was typical buffet food. Good enough, but not great.
My family ate at a different speciality restaurant every night. We really enjoyed the change in environment and preferred to be able to do our own thing for dinner versus sit with strangers at a set time. The dining style is a toss-up. Some other people we met missed the ability to eat with others like on other cruise ships, while a lot of people like us enjoyed the freestyle concept immensely.
The reservation system for dinner worked perfectly for us. We were seated within 5 minutes of checking in for all of our reservations. For the most part, the international wait staff was pleasant and attentive. Le Bistro was definitely our favorite and worth the charge. The filet and chocolate fondue desert were excellent. We also really liked Cangey's steakhouse. The food at Mama's kitchen was a bit of a disappointment. Tango's Tex-Mex restaurant and Chin-Chin's Asian restaurant were overall a lot of fun, but the food was just good, not great. Teppanyaki (the Japanese place) was a fun change of pace and worth doing, but I've seen better knife-work and tricks from the chefs at Bennihana. One poor chef must have been new because he kept dropping things. The fun atmosphere of these restaurants combined with the food selection and variety made dinner time a great experience almost every single night. Make sure you make those reservations early to avoid disappointment!
Overall, the entertainment on the boat was very impressive. We saw the 9:30 show every night. There was good variety including a magician, a juggler, a 70s review, a country music show, the Second City comedy troup, and Cirque Bijou. The main performance group that did the 70s, country, and cirque show were very talented. I recommend all the shows, but be forewarned that the 70s show is rather racy. It's a lot of fun because it is way over the top, but felt a little too much like a male stripper review in several parts....and they aren't afraid to stoop to doing a big YMCA Village People number. We had almost as much fun making fun of it afterwards as we did watching it. The Cirque show, as a lot of people have said, is excellent.
Late night, there were several events at the Spinnaker lounge with Mike the Cruise Director (who did a nice job for the whole cruise). These were entertaining but cheesy at times.
The casino was bright and pleasant. A lot of fun. The spa was also nice. One perk of getting a massage (my first ever) was that you get to use the relaxation rooms, steam rooms, whirlpools, and other amenities at the spa. I spent an hour in the men's spa area relaxing and only saw about 3 other passengers the whole time. It was a great retreat from the crowds elsewhere on the ship. The gym was modern and well-kept.
As far as shore excursions go, you should definitely book in advance over the internet. We did this about a month in advance and were able to get every tour we wanted AND avoid the long lines at the shore excursion desk. I couldn't help but feel happy on that first day when I realized we were already enjoying our cruise while tons of other people were spending a good chunk of their first day waiting in lines at the reservation desk and shore excursion desk. Book this stuff early so you can enjoy your trip once it begins!
The cruise stopped first at Roatan, Honduras first where we did the canopy tour and Tabayana beach combo. I highly recommend both. The canopy tour was a lot of fun and had some very long stretches. Tabayana beach was beautiful and had great snorkeling, although the buffet BBQ was very mediocre. My parents did the island tour and said it was nice but nothing special. I enjoyed that this island was much less developed and didn't have as many tourists.
The second stop was Grand Cayman. The port here, as many of you know, is very chaotic. There were 7 ships there the day we arrived. Too many people for my liking. My siblings and I did the Stingray City and reef snorkeling combo. The stingray sandbar was very fun. It was a little freaky to have the stingrays brush against you at first but you get used to it and end up having a lot of fun. I couldn't believe how big they were. The tour guides took about 15 digital photos of us holding the stingrays and placing them on our heads. They try to sell you a photo disc for $50. We negotiated down to $40 by showing a lack of interest. The disc was mailed to our home and arrived in less then a week. I recommend skipping the snorkeling part of this combo and would combine the stingrays with something else. The snorkeling spot wasn't nearly as good as Roatan. My parents did the stingray observatory and island tour. Again they said it was nice, but nothing spectacular.
The third stop was Jamaica. We did the dolphin swim (not dolphin touch) and Dunn's River Falls. The dolphin swim was fun but VERY controlled. You get to touch the dolphin and get your photo taken while swimming next to it, but the dolphins don't push or pull you. It felt a little like a cattle-call even though everyone was broken up into small groups of 7 or 8. Dunn's River Falls was a lot better then I expected. I knew it would be touristy (which it definitely is) but we all really enjoyed the climb up the falls. They were bigger and more challenging then expected but my whole family made it up without that much difficulty. I definitely recommend buying water shoes at home and bringing them along. You'll need them and it's just as cheap to buy them as it is to rent them. Check any sports store and they are only about $15. You should be in fairly decent shape to climb the falls.
Unfortunately, our last stop to the private island was canceled due to bad weather (no rain, just clouds and wind), so the captain took us to Nassau instead. Some people liked the opportunity to shop more, but we missed having that last day on the beach and the last chance to snorkel.
At the end of the cruise, my whole family agreed that this one was a winner. We loved the variety of dining and the variety of activities. The ship was very new and clean and there were always things going on. The pool deck was jam-packed with music pumping for most of the day, but you could almost always find a quiet spot elsewhere on the ship, inside or out.
Overall, a great experience.