I just returned today from a 7 day cruise on the Jewel. The reviews I read here in advance were of so much help that I thought I would write my own comprehensive review in hopes that it may be of help to future travelers, particularly those with children, as it was myself, my husband and our 6 year old daughter on this trip. Just a little bit about us so you know where I am coming from with my opinions. This is only our 3rd cruise, 2nd on NCL. We did the Boston to Bermuda cruise on NCL Dawn last April. I chose this cruise on the Jewel because it is easy for us to get to NYC, as well, I have wanted to sail out of NYC because I have heard from others about the nice views while sailing away. Also, this is one of the few NCL ships which has the Nickelodeon themed events and we thought our daughter would like that. I am not a relaxing cruiser, I like to have my freestyle daily with me and I'm always hurrying from one event to another.
Cruiseport/Embarkation: We live in Maine so we drove to Connecticut the day before and then drove into the city early Sunday morning. It was St. Patty's Day and we were concerned about street closures due to the parade. We had no idea how easy it was going to be to get to the cruiseport. It was excellent! Our GPS brought us right there, no problem. Instead of a garage it is a parking lot that is literally right next to the boat. It is expensive ($245 for 7 days) but I think it is totally worth it. Embarkation was very easy and well coordinated and we were on the ship having lunch by 11:30. It was a far easier place to sail out of then Boston and the sail away by the Statue of Liberty was awesome, even though it was freezing :-)
Cabin: We had an oceanview picture window room on the 5th deck. I had wanted to have a balcony but when I booked they were all sold. Our room was fine, no issues. It was exactly the same as the room we had on the Dawn last year. The beds are very comfortable. Some people have mentioned in reviews that the tv's are old and that is true, it is not a flat screen, but it didn't bother me any, it worked just fine. We were quite happy with the room, and even though our boat was full of spring breakers it never got too loud.
Food: I could say a lot about this, but I'll try to keep it as short as possible.
Buffet - We don't generally like buffets but if we are in a hurry we will go there for a quick breakfast or lunch. This buffet was not good, actually I truly feel that awful is an adequate way to describe. I'm not picky and when we did go I tried several different things and it all just seemed like cheap, sub-par food that was pushed out quickly with not much care. Couple that with the mobs of people and dirty tables and it was not appealing. The positives: the washy-washy guy and girl were fun, the soft-serve ice cream machines, and the anytime coffee. I will say that there seem to be plenty of staff working in the buffet cleaning all the time, however, we had a full ship and some of the guests are just slobs so it is not the crews fault that it was messy, they were doing the best they could to keep up with it.
Chocolate Buffet -- They have this one night in the Garden Cafe. They have some pretty impressive chocolate sculptures and ice sculptures that are fun to see. The chocolate, however, leaves much to be desired. I'm not sure what you could do to mess up chocolate but the offerings they have for this are terrible. It was the same way on the Dawn but we figured we'd go see this and see if it was different. One thing, the black forest cake, was the only thing remotely tasty. They only had about 6 different things but just had them spread out over the whole buffet area and most of them tasted like something you would get off the week old discount section in the bakery area of the grocery store. They were dry and tasteless. But, it is worth going to see the sculptures.
Blue Lagoon -- this is the complimentary 24 hour cafe that overlooks the atrium, so it is a good place to be if you want to have a bite while listening to someone play in the atrium. We loved this area on the Dawn and the food was great, so we were happy to see that the menu was the same on this ship as it was on the Dawn. We ate lunch here our seond day and were very disappointed. First off, the waitress we had was not friendly. She acted like she was put out that she had to wait on us. We got the spinach artichoke dip which was one of our favorites from the Blue Lagoon on the Dawn, however, it was not the same. Actually it was bad, to the point where it tasted spoiled so we didn't eat it, we just had the chips. Our regular meals were okay, they were adequate but not good. We didn't eat there for the rest of the cruise.
Azura - this was one of the two main dining rooms. This and the other dining room have the same menu each night. We ate here one night and the atmosphere is nice, the more casual of the two. This dining room is also much smaller than the other so it fills up very fast and usually has a wait of a half-hour or more.
Tsar's Palace - this is the more formal of the two dining rooms. It is very large so there is usually no wait. It opens at 5:00 PM and does require men to wear pants for dinner. This room has large windows at the back with a great view. We had breakfast and dinner here most every day. The staff in here was wonderful! Very friendly and attentive, especially to our daughter. The menu doesn't vary much from night to night but we found plenty of good food to eat. My husband had several decent steaks and I especially liked the basil pesto pasta. The only thing we didn't care for much was the prime rib on the last night, but pretty much everything else we had in there was good, especially the desserts! There was a dessert called chocolate decadence that they served on the final night and it was to-die-for! It is extremely rich and I recommend ordering vanilla ice cream on the side to eat with it. Also, the bread and butter pudding was great (again with vanilla ice cream ordered on the side). If you can't tell, I prefer dessert to any other part of the meal :-) But also all of the soups and salads that we had for starters were very good.
We did not eat at any specialty restaurants, mostly because we were more focused on the shows and entertainment than the food, and we were happy with Tsar's. We usually went to dinner early so we could get it out of the way and have our evening clear for events. The one place we were going to try was Mama's but the night we wanted to go they were full until 8, and then we heard other guests who went saying it wasn't good. Again, just heresay. I heard nothing about the other specialty restaurants from this trip.
Room Steward: I think from what I heard most of them are great! Our guy was very friendly when we arrived and introduced himself right away. We had great experiences the previous two times we had cruised so we thought this was going to be another one. We really didn't have any major problem with him, he did a fine job of make up/turn down service. Just a couple of things that kind of bugged me: We would leave for dinner and turn our dial to "turn down cabin" so he would know we were gone for a while. One night we did this but then had some time after dinner so decided we would go back to our room for a few minutes. We forgot we had turned the dial and he knocked on the door. My husband answered and explained we would only be there for a few minutes. He asked us to turn our dial back to the normal position and change it again when we leave. So we left a few minutes later and we again turned it to "turn down" status. When we got to the theater it was quite cold in there and my daughter wanted her sweater so my husband went to the room to get it. Our steward was just going in and when he saw my husband coming he said he would come back. My husband stopped him and explained that he was only grabbing a sweater and leaving. When my husband told me this he was laughing and said "the guy seemed a little pissed off and I can't blame him". I disagree, I understand that he needs to get the rooms done, but it was still early and it's our room, we should be able to go in it as we please! So that annoyed me a bit, but I didn't have the interaction with him myself. Also, a nice bartender at Topsiders by the pool gave us a Stella Artois beer glass earlier in the week when we ordered a large bottle. He said "this is yours to keep". We were happy about it because we have some Amstel gold rimmed glasses in a bar that we have and this would match. Anyhow, my husband cleaned it and set it up on the shelf behind the tv with other items of ours. When he went to pack it on Saturday night he realized it was gone. We figured that the steward took it. I can't blame him, I'm sure he thought it was an empty bar glass. We were afraid to ask about it because I didn't want to get the bartender in trouble in case he's not supposed to give them away, although, I suspect it is something they do frequently. So we let it go, and my husband said he was happy anyway because he had a Stella Artois large bottle that he had kept from earlier in the week. He kept the cork for it and had cleaned it out and it had been sitting on the desk for a few days. We got back later that night after turn down to discover that the steward had removed it. Again, I don't really blame him because I'm sure he probably thought it was trash, but my husband was not happy, he thinks that the steward should have asked us about it before removing it from our room.
Wait Staff/Bar Staff -- With the exception of the lady in Blue Lagoon that one day (mentioned above), the wait staff and bar staff were fantastic. Very friendly and patient. One special mention: Mauricio Tuiza in Tsar's. This guy was awesome, he stood out among everyone. He was wonderful and we really enjoyed interacting with him. The wait staff moved around the room each night so we only had him once but he was the best! In comparison to the Dawn, I think the wait staff was better on the Jewel.
Entertainment -- We do as many activities and entertainment as possible on the ship. I live by the freestyle daily :-) I will give NCL credit, they are not going to let you get bored on one of their ships! There are many who like to just lay by the pool and relax, but for those of us who like to go, go, go, this suits us well. Every morning there was some type of aerobics or other exercise activity offered early, around 7. I never participated in these, although I really should have after all of the desserts! There was some type of trivia most mornings and I participated in that which was always a lot of fun. Then on sea days there were usually a variety of activities, either music, game shows, bingo, etc., then we would fit lunch in and always plenty to pick from in the afternoon. We got off the ship at each port but there were still activities for those who chose to stay behind. There is a show in the theater every night which runs twice, once at 7:30 and again at 9:30. We saw all the shows, mostly at the 7:30 time. The entertainment on this ship was good, quite a bit better than on the Dawn, although that wasn't bad. For a run-down:
1st night - welcome show....this is where you meet the cruise director, Jaime, and then you get a brief glimpse of some of the acts you will see during the week, and you will see a song and dance from the ships singers/dancers, who were really good.
2nd night -- Band on the Run...Carnival had a similar show when we went on that in 2011. The talent on this was better. It was a half-hour show with 70's music. It wasn't spectacular but it was pretty good if you like that type of music and worth a half-hour of your time.
3rd night -- David Naster, comedian. When we saw him on the welcome show I didn't think he would be that funny but we still caught his show at 9:30 after getting back on the boat in Port Canaveral. I was so wrong! this guy is hilarious! He's not adults only, however, he's edgy enough that I probably wouldn't bring my child to the show, although most things would go over her head. He was good, though, I highly recommend his show!
4th night -- Duo Elegia -- This is a husband and wife acrobatic team and they are unbelievable! It's not just your run-of-the-mill show, it is really good.
5th Night -- Jean Pierre something? He is a magician/comedian. I think he's kind of annoying and a lot of his act is him being a pervert, but his illusions are pretty impressive so it's definitely worth going to see. And then he will stay after and you can purchase his magic kit/book. He also offered a workshop for kids the following day in the theater where he showed how to do some tricks, but we were not able to make that one.
6th Night -- Le Cirque Bijou -- this is their major show. Reading prior reviews helped me to prep for this one. They said do not sit in the first 6 rows because people drop from the ceiling and you won't be able to see them. We got in line at 7 and sat 8 rows back in the center and it was perfect! The dancers/singers and Duo Elegia are the main part of this show. It is a really good show. I was not sure how it would be because the "big" show on the Dawn was a huge disappointment, however, this one certainly was not. At the end of this show Jaime came out and brought on all of the staff from all areas of the ship so they could be recognized. It was really nice, I always like that part.
7th night -- Goodbye show -- Jaime hosted this and opened by reading off a top 10 list of the dumbest questions ever asked by cruise guests. It was really funny, a huge hit. Then they showed the video of the past weeks highlights. The rest of the show was pretty much all Jean Pierre again. Some of his tricks were really good, and he is funny sometimes but he really does get old after a while.
None of the shows last more than 45 minutes. I recommend seeing all the shows but the best shows were Le Cirque Bijou and David Naster.
However, my personal favorite entertainment came after the show in the theater, up in the Spinnaker Lounge. The game shows that incorporate the guests. Some of them: Perfect Couple, Newleywed Game, Dancing with the Jewel Stars, and the best one: The Quest.
The good thing is that if you do miss any of these they usually show them on the tv so you can see them when your getting ready in the morning. If you only see one of these, try to make sure you see the quest. It is 18+ and is on the last night at 10:30 but it is totally worth it, it is hilarious!!
Entertainment Staff: Sassy Stephanie, Amazing Alicia, Legendary Leslie, Zesty Zack, Jersey Boy Joel and Dazzling Devyn. I think I got them all. They were all really good for the most part. Leslie was the best, he has a great personality for this. But they were all pretty good and friendly. Although, the last day we attended several activities which were hosted by Stephanie and she just seemed tired and annoyed with everyone and was a little snippy with a couple of guests during a couple of the activities. I have to give her a break, I'm sure it is very hard to do this week after week, and probably some people are completely obnoxious, so I won't completely hold it against her, but the others were still friendly.
We played Bingo one time because we wanted to, well I wanted to :-) It was expensive but fun. I also played Deal or No Deal once and that was fun and only $40 for two of us.
Kid's Stuff: So one reason we chose this cruise was that it is a Nickelodeon cruise. There was a whole Nick staff and they seemed very high energy during all of the Nickelodeon events, which were mostly free. There was a character breakfast which we attended for $20 each. It was held in Spinnaker and it was cute. The breakfast was done nicely with kid-themed food. Spongebob, Patrick, Dora, Diego, the Fairy Oddparents all came out and danced along with the Nick staff and then all of the characters went to different corners and the kids got in line to meet them. Here's the thing: All week there are other events that the characters are at and plenty of character meet and greets which are free. I do not think that the character breakfast was worth the money. It was basically a meet and greet with breakfast. My daughter just wanted to meet them. I really would strongly suggest saving your money and taking your kids to the free meet and greet and other events.
They had a family deck party one night which was great, along with a Dora Dance Party and Dora Storytime, and Slime Time Live gameshow.
Kid's Club: My daughter had gone to the kid's club on the Dawn so she was not shy about going to this one. She loved it so much that I had to beg her to spend time with us! The counselors all have cute nicknames. My daughter especially liked Lipstick and she was usually the one at the front and very friendly. They gave us a list of their theme days/nights. And the best part was when they created a circus show that the kids performed in the theater. It was so cute! The security in this area will make you feel okay about leaving your kids here. It is a great service and it made her feel like she had some really great experiences independent of her parents on the ship.
Ports of Call/Shore Excursions:
Port Canaveral: We went to Universal Studios. We were lucky to have beautiful weather. This worked out well. We had nice coach busses to take the groups over. They left on time and it was about an hour ride. It gave us about 6 hours to explore at Universal and we were lucky that it wasn't busy at all there that day. I had also purchased express passes ahead of time so we were able to do all of the rides during the time we were there and also do some shopping and get an ice cream. It was a very expensive excursion but we all really enjoyed it. We were back in time to catch the 9:30 show that night.
Great Stirrup Cay: This is NCL's private island. They dropped anchor and had a continuous flow of tender boats to bring people over. My husband and daughter were very excited to go to the beach but I hate the beach! I am pale and burn really easy. I spray tan, not real tan :-) Anyhow, we didn't do a shore excursion so we were really in no hurry to get over there. They had a person sitting out by the pool area to hand out tender tickets. We were near the end because we didn't get them until late, but it was fine with us. The tender boat was fine and it is a real short ride to the beach. It is nice. There are some local vendors set up selling t-shirts, hats, etc., and someone doing hair braiding. They also have a very large blow up waterslide that you can pay to go down. You can use your keycard for that. As well, you can use your key card for drinks. They also serve a buffet lunch at the beach. We had lunch first and it wasn't bad, your typical bbq type lunch. It was fine. Then my daughter and husband got in the water to play. All beach chairs were taken and there was nowhere to sit in the shade so I just found a place to sit, although in the sun. They were in for about a half-hour and then decided to come out and we headed back on the tender boat. If it were just me I would stay on the boat at this stop and enjoy the peace and quiet.
Nassau: Okay, well....we had a not so great expeience in Nassau. We had a shore excursion booked to go to the Atlantis for a tour of the aquarium and The Dig. We had some time to kill before going there and wanted to walk down to Diamonds International to look at the watches. You have to walk through this building and from the time you get to the end of the pier from your cruise ship you are hounded, or rather, bombarded by people offering to take you on tours of the island, offering to braid your hair, wanting to rent you a scooter. They are relentless! There are some nice shops downtown, with some tourist shops mixed in. We went to a few but then started to head back the other way. At about 10:45 we headed back toward the pier. Again, walking through the throngs of people offering their services and a hair braiding lady is offering up her services. Well my daughter heres this and wants her hair braided. I had promised her she could do that at some point on the vacation so we stopped. The lady had pictures and Stella picked what she wanted which were braids and beads across the top of her head like a headband. I asked her how much and she said $3 per braid. Now, let me stop here and say that I had seen some of the braid work that was done the day before and there didn't seem to be a huge number of braids. I asked her how long and she said 10-15 min. and my daughter was pleading with me so I told her okay. Now I know I should have haggled but I was tired and just wanted to get it done. She had us follow her back to the hair braiding area which is basically a covered gazebo. My husband went to get some cash from the ATM while they started on her hair. I knew immediately that I was in trouble because the braids were tiny. They were so skinny they barely looked like braids. But then they would combine a couple of braids into one bead so I was hoping they were counting by beads not braids. They kept going and we were getting really concerned, not just because of money but we were afraid we would miss our shore excursion because it was taking much longer than what they had said. They finally got done and told us $120. We only had $102 on us and she said that was fine. I really wanted to throw $40 at her and walk off because that is about how much it is worth, but then again, this is my stupidity for agreeing so we gave her the $102 and then had to run to meet our excursion. We did catch it on time and the bus to get there was sketchy but the Atlantis is really great to see. Other than the Atlantis I wasn't a huge fan of Nassau, it was a bit sketchy aside from a few of the nice stores.
Pool -- the pool area on this ship is pretty nice. There are actually two pools, both with salt water and about 80 degrees, and then 3 hot tubs around the pool area and a large shower. However, the more pool space means less deck chairs so if you want one you've got to be really early. The kids area is off to the side and kids have their own hot tub and then a toddler pool. Also, I forgot to mention the waterslide. It's not huge and my daughter was big enough to go down it. She went once and didn't seem to care about going again and I didn't think much of it but a few days later she told us that the guy who is working at the top of the waterslide yelled at her to go when she was on it so she thought he was mean. I don't know what happened, I wasn't up there with her, so that is only her account.
The layout was similar to the Dawn. My only complaint would be that there are many activities which are held in the Spinnaker and that is on 13 forward and not easy to get to quickly. But you'll learn your way in a few days!
Sorry for the long review. It was a great week and we have great memories. Can't wait to do it again! If you're going, hope you have a good time!