My girlfriend and I, both over 50, booked this cruise on a spur of moment, with less than 3 weeks until departure. Having sailed on the NCL Jade in 2010, I was looking forward to another great trip. Sadly the service and amenities on Jewel was not as impressive.
Embarkation was smoothest I have ever experienced. After dropping our suitcases off at 11:15am in the baggage area, we walked out and went into the passenger entrance. Here I was asked if I was Latitude Member- saying yes, we were directed to a short line that had us on the ship at 11:42am. By 12noon I was seated in the Tsar dining room where latitude members can get lunch and avoid the noise and chaos found in the Garden Buffet. Before we finished our calamari and salads, they announced our rooms were ready at about 1pm. Our luggage was outside our door before sail away at 4pm.
In the Atrium, where you enter on deck 7 - various staff members from different amenities are there to answer questions. We headed right for spa table and purchased our daily pass for $119 each. The daily spa package is not advertised but learned about it from other cruise reviews. I tried it on a 2 week Med. cruise and loved it. It gives you access to a full locker room incl tropical showers, medium sized hot tub, a seating area with two TVs on the ladies side and also use of the co-ed thessolatherapy pool and serenity (quiet) area. The heated tile loungers here are totally relaxing. There are also cushioned chairs available when you get too warm. The best part was sitting in here, watching the glacier and snow covered mountains pass by when headed into the Inside Passage. Well worth the money, especially with weather being wet, and cold as is typical for Alaska cruise... The only problem is staff did not enforce quiet in the serenity area and sometimes the users were noisy and disruptive. Usually pointing to the quiet sign worked- but sadly not always.
While we had expected spend most of our time inside, we were pleasantly rewarded with extremely warm weather (mid 70's ) and bright sunny days to enjoy the pool and outdoor chaises as well. In fact it was so warm a few of the days of our cruise, the heated pool was not refreshing at all.
We tried a variety of dining options. The quality of food in the Garden Buffet (or trough as we call it) was same as on most cruise ships. Here I saw a greater selection of Indian dishes and a few more vegetarian options. As experienced on the Jade, the NCL Coffee machines were always broken, or busy or made poor coffee, leaving one to frequent the only slightly better $$ Coffee bar area on Deck 7 atrium. Twice I was brought soy milk that had passed its expiration date and had to toss out my coffee.
We selected to eat as often as possible in very back area of the ship, and due to the nice weather had many late lunches/dinners by the pool from the BBQ. There was daily hamburger, hot dog fare but also amazing array of other goodies- my friend said salmon and the chicken were very good.
We did Tsar for two dinners and one breakfast. I was not impressed by menu and saw the fare was more a "home cooked American meal" type- the dinner selections were chicken breast w mashed potatoes, steak and baked potato, or pot roast. They did offer a "specialty of the region" entrÃ©e each night, typically a seafood type dish.
Our only Azure dining experience started off badly. We were kept waiting for over an hour as we saw other groups of two who were walk ups get seated before us, and only after the third time we went up to inquire did they realize they gave us a pager not turned on. The service staff here did not impress us at all- smiles were very rare and once seated, we felt hurried since it was so late in evening(due to failure activate our pager). The food was nothing remarkable but not poor.
The only extra charged meal we tried was the Italian restaurant - we wanted a quiet-early meal and opted for first seating. Again service was not exceptional but adequate. The calamari was much better here than in Tsar, but caprese salad was totally w/o taste. We each did just a pasta dish forgoing the EntrÃ©e, but was served only a small portion. It was adequate but we did not leave feeling quite full. After fact the server mentioned we should have asked for full portion...but we were never told there was a size option. We skipped the dessert since it was evening for the chocolate buffet.
We did utilize room service quite a bit for our morning coffee and fruit. I highly recommend you try the $5 pizza - we wanted just a light dinner one night after full day on a shore excursion and had them deliver the vegetarian. It was 16" meaning we had way more than enough.
The entertainment was a mixed surprise- the first night we watched the "preview" show of upcoming acts and left not impressed. Luckily the second night we attended the 70's dance and music show that was very very good. We looked forward to more of the dancers but there was some problem and we often had no idea who was performing until we walked into the Stardust Theatre each night. The magician who came on board at the end did a great show and we laughed for long time. While I am not a fan of Hypnosis Shows, "Brenda" got a great reception from audience. We did find the piano player in the Magnus Lounge very good, but since neither of us drink, we felt after first night uncomfortable with pressure to keep buying virgin drinks as we sat to watch.
The days we were in port, getting off and on was easy, though we usually did not have a tour that required we disembark right away. In Skagway I recommend the train/bus combo- more than 3 hours on train would have been too much. On way back, from Fraser B.C., by small tour bus we got to see a bear, and stop for some great pictures. Juneau was perfect day for whale watching and our small chartered boat saw Orcas, Humpbacks , Sea Lions and Eagles galore. Ketchikan is a tourist nightmare of too many shops and shoppers...we did obligatory walk along Creek street then headed to a yarn/bead store I had read about that had a free shuttle. "The Point" is located about 5 minutes from pier area but a wonderful respite- we had an amazing lunch of homemade soup and sandwiches, then the owner not only drove us back to pier, but took us around various stores to help find a camera battery. A must if you like unique yarns and she had a great selection of beading books as well. We have visited Victoria BC previously, and decided stay on board enjoying the crowd-free pool area, and a salmon BBQ.
Disembarkation was also smooth. We had opted to do 9am departure, giving us time for breakfast and hopefully avoid the rush to get off by those with flights, etc. We headed to Garden Buffet at 8am, surprised it was still so crowded. We ate quickly and then heard our tag color called @ 30 minutes earlier than expected. Within 20 minutes we were through customs and getting our bags. The line to get a taxi home was our longest wait.
When I did my previous NCL Cruise there was a group of us (5) and so we enjoyed the anytime dining option. This time with just two of us, I missed not having the chance to meet fellow cruisers at dinner as you do on other cruise lines.
Sadly I have never been on a cruise ship with staff appearing so lackluster- smiles and cheery greetings were few and far between. Our cabin steward did not officially introduce herself to us, we just happened meet her outside our cabin one morning when we returned - and even spa staff, who we saw each day, were hard pressed remember we were spa card holders, let alone remember our names. If I had not been on previous cruises I may not have noticed but to those with experience, the crew did not seem very happy.
Orcas, humpbacks, sea lions, and eagles abounded on our 3.5 hr whale watch tour. On way back our private tour operator took us to see Mendenhall Glacier as well.
Ketchikan was our least favorite town- too many touristy shops selling china made trinkets. I highly recommend calling "the Point" for free shuttle- this small yarn/bead store has an amazing lunch area that serves great soups and sandwiches.
I highly recommend short train ride to Fraser with a bus ride back. Longer train ride would have been too much and the drive allowed us stop and do great photo opportunities.
We did not venture into Victoria on this trip, but on past visits we did utilize on/off bus for great overview of the city.