My wife and I were passengers on the last NCL Jewel trip into Alaska before the ship repositioned to warmer climates. We are experienced "cruisers" having enjoyed numerous trips into the Caribbean with Royal, Carnival, and Celebrity, and many years ago, a cruise line called "Admiral" - but that was a long time ago!
This was our first trip to Alaska, and our first experience with Norwegian. First the high points beginning with the itinerary and the Alaskan scenery. In a word, "Incredible!" Although as we left the port of Seattle we didn't realize at the time it would be the last time we would see the sun shine, the scenery on the inside passage is wonderful. Soaring snow-covered peaks, beautiful coastlines with mature hardwoods/forests and at least in late September, very little boat traffic make for spectacular photo ops. The standard three-town itinerary that defines the inside passage of probably all the major cruise lines - Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway - was not disappointing in the least as each town has its own charm, attractions, and while these places obviously live and die on the tourist trade, (so expect the usual line-up of touristy shops and souvenir stores) Alaska is so remote, so thinly populated, and so "frontier feeling" that you never get the feeling of being crowded, or even pressured by vendors who in some venues (did anyone say the Bahamas?) are shoving over-priced trinkets under your nose and on every corner assaulting the tourists.
If watching whales feed, dive, swim in the harbor, bald eagles nesting within yards of your boat, schools of dolphins and orca's swimming alongside the ship, incredible glaciers, and the possibility of seeing bears feeding on wild salmon in a remote river is your thing (and why else would you come to Alaska?) then an Inside Passage Cruise shouldn't disappoint. Added bonus? There are/were very few kids on a late September voyage, and personally, though a proud parent of grown kids, I don't miss having tons of kids running through the ship and just being kids. Great to have older more sophisticated ship mates who are there for scenery, shopping, and aren't on board to party or baby-sit.
In terms of Norwegians Jewel? If you've sailed on some of the newer and better appointed ships, such as one of our favorites, Royal's "Freedom of the Seas," just know in advance, the Jewel . . . is NOT "Freedom of the Seas," and arguably, is not in the same class as most of the ships launched in the past five or six years. Though Jewel is only about eight years old, (only one year older than "Freedom" which in its 2011 refurbishing was re-born), Jewel seems quite dated and very basic. Don't look for soaring atriums, bowling alleys and ice skating rinks, "surf board" riding wave pools, and stunning interiors. It just isn't and is not! In fact, when reading the general review on Cruise Critic, one wonders if we're talking about or reviewing the same ship!
The main dining rooms, were, in our opinion, nothing sensational, and the food was average in comparison to other ships. Wheres' Johnny Rockets, Ben and Jerry's, the Pizza Parlor - sorry, I keep thinking of Freedom of the Seas - Same for the buffet where because of convenience, we dined most of the time. It seemed the main dishes varied little in ether the sit-down main dining rooms or the buffet, and after seven nights of being served salmon (if you choose) it seemed to us that the cuisine was a little lacking.
For two evenings, we ponied up some extra bucks and took advantage of the alternative dining/restaurants, and whether the Italian (Momma's) or definitely the French one (the name we forget and that should tell you something,) neither one seemed worth the extra $25 for spaghetti and $40 for something barely edible in the French option.
We did LOVE freestyle which means eat with whoever you want, avoid eating with those you don't want to get to know, and when you just want a meal with your friend or spouse, just the two of you, it's normally quite easily arranged. And if you don't like formal nights, this is the cruise for you! On the one evening that it was supposed to be picture formal night, while we came prepared to dress up, we quickly realized that very, very few were doing so. We joined what was certainly the majority and kept the tux and evening dress in the closet.
What about the staterooms? Good question. We had a mid-ship balcony room that was comfortable with a nice flat-screen TV, comfortable mattress, strong internet signal, and we really appreciated the tub, a rarity in the "main stream" cruise lines like NCL. However, oddly, the closet is immediately beside the bed which we had arranged as a queen size, and to access the closet my wife and I had to turn sideways, as the distance between the bed and the closet is so tight, so small, that you have to be a contortionist to open the doors and use the closet. Really strange and inconvenient design.
In terms of the entertainment, very basic, very average. Bingo games that are designed to extract as much money from your pocket as possible. Whatever happened to just playing for fun for a small cost? A comedian who is trying to make a living off of "Laughing over the losses and deaths" in your life, and as someone who's spent years in grief counseling and helping people deal with tragedy and personal loss, his naive "just laugh off the death of your friend and family" philosophy was insulting. The "Band on the Run" I would agree with other reviewers is just loud, the show a bit obnoxious, and nothing notable. The crew "talent night" had a couple of bright spots and a couple of real forgettable pieces. Sadly lacking when compared to the lineup that Royal and Celebrity offer . . .Moving on.
The service? As usual, the room stewards on NCL, true of our other cruises, are exceptional. Friendly, helpful to a fault, courteous, but NCL Jewel does not seem to employ the warmest friendliest crew overall. There were/are exceptions, but, in agreement with other reviewers who've noted the same, the staff on this last cruise of the year to Alaska, seemed tired and not particularly cheerful or energized.
The embarkation and debarkation from Jewel is wonderfully managed. Getting on the ship in Seattle was the fastest easiest process we've encountered, and, same for the "walk off with your own luggage" process in Vancouver. If you're able and willing to carry your luggage off the ship, you'll literally be down the gangway, on the ramp, and off the ship, and to your taxi within easily 30 minutes from the time it's announced you can disembark.
In conclusion: a great itinerary; everyone needs to go to Alaska at least once, and if possible, we will return. Would I go a second time on the NCL Pearl? No; it was "ok" and certainly reasonable in cost, but I'm thinking there are probably nicer ships, with more up-to-date designs, a better appointed room decor and design, friendlier staff, a step up in food, and possibly even a little higher level of entertainment.
We rate Pearl squarely in the middle of the ratings and believe it to be deserving of no higher rating, and in fairness, no lower.