My wife and I are usually cruising over Christmas, but my Mom asked us to be home this year, so we moved our cruise up a week. This was our fifth holiday cruise and sixth cruise on Norwegian. The Jewel was our second Jewel-class ship - we sailed on the Pearl a couple of years ago.
While it was not exactly the same as a Christmas cruise, it was a cruise with a holiday spirit, especially compared to a New Year's cruise we did a couple of years ago where we left on Christmas Day and everyone seemed a bit cranky until New Year's Eve - the last night of the cruise.
Sailing on another ship in the same class was great because we almost instantly knew where everything was onboard - it was like coming home. That saved us a lot of time the first couple of days on just getting around the ship.
The Jewel is a nice ship and I can easily find my way around her layout, but as our last two cruises were on the Epic and the Breakaway, she almost seemed a step down - which I think may be an unfair comparison, but that was first impressions. The Jewel felt older (because she is) and smaller (also because she is), so I think the comparison was accurate, but it doesn't mean that we didn't like her - it is just a different experience.
This was an interesting cruise for us because all of the ports were places we had been before, so we had different excursions booked than previously. We didn't book anything in Cozumel since we were meeting friends who were also in port that day (on the Dawn.)
We flew into New Orleans the night before departure and stayed at the Hyatt French Quarter - we booked our own flights and hotel. Coming from Dallas, we could probably fly in the day of departure, but I don't have that much stomach lining to spare. Plus, a night in New Orleans is always interesting. We did a little wandering around on Bourbon Street, so we got some of the Nawlins tourist experience.
We arrived at the port just after 11am and got through the paperwork phase quickly. After a short wait, we were allowed to board, and had coffee in the Atrium. This caused a moment of panic, since the computers weren't up yet, and the staff was running paper receipts. I was asked what my room number was, and I had to admit that I had no idea. This is what happens when my wife is in charge of the reservations. Luckily, she had left all the paperwork while she was wandering, so I found my room number. I would have hated to see my first drink repossessed.
We pre-booked our dinners and excursions online as they became available, which meant we didn't have any lines to stand in, so we just relaxed with a drink until we decided to go eat lunch in the Tsar's Palace MDR. I had my usual steak lunch to start the cruise. It was very good.
We were allowed up to the rooms just after 1pm, which seemed early to me, but I was happy to get clearance to go see our home for the next week.
We were in an aft-facing handicap-accessible mini-suite. It is a nice cabin, but a mini-suite is not a suite (no extra services), and aft-facing was not the nirvana we expected. You are looking out the back of the ship, but it's not really much different (to me) to a balcony anywhere else, and if you are sailing west or north most evenings, you will never see a sunset, which was my goal. So, it was worth the expense to see it once, but I'm not really sure I would pay for it again.
We had pre-booked the dinner package with Cagney's, Le Bistro and Mama's for a fixed price, plus a bottle of wine. The first night, we were asked what type of wine (red or white), served, and at the end of the evening, we were given a receipt for the glasses we had not consumed. Since we're not really wine drinkers, the bottle of wine was a nice touch, but saving a bit of money over the individual dinners was more important - since these were the three restaurants we would have visited, anyway.
Mama's was having a bit of a mid-life crisis. Sometimes, it was "Mama's" and sometimes it was "La Cucina" (which is what the Italian restaurant is called on other ships.) Hopefully, the name will be standardized.
All of the dining was very good and the service was good, as well - we had two dinners in Le Bistro, one in Mama's, one in Cagney's and the rest in Azura so I didn't have to change out of shorts. We did eat at Azura one evening and I felt under-dressed, which was a first. There were less sloppy people on this cruise than usual.
We ordered room service for a snack one evening and it was very slow. However, it was just after all the shows finished, so they may have been slammed. It there had been anything open, I would have just walked down and gotten food myself. It would have saved time. (On the newer ships, we would have just gone to O'Sheehan's.)
The staff were great - the Captain was very funny, and I believe staff attitude and actions start at the top. We had no issues with any of the staff. The cruise director and her assistants were not as visible as some have been, but we weren't wandering around as much as on some cruises, so we may not have been in the right places. The evening entertainment (Newlywed, Not So Newlywed, Dancing with the Jewel Stars and other assorted games) were very funny and paced well. We skipped the planned entertainment.
Our first port was Montego Bay, Jamaica and we were docked, but at the commercial dock next to the passenger dock, so all the excursion buses met us there and brought us back. We were on a Norwegian-sponsored excursion, so we just got off the ship and into line. Coming back to the commercial port was an issue if people wanted to shop - but in our case, the excursion went long, so there wasn't much time left, anyway.
Our next stop was Georgetown, Grand Cayman and we tendered. The seas must have been up that day, because we had an excursion canceled (Stingray City) for the first time. We did manage to switch to an alternate excursion - a beach break, but there was only one person at the excursion desk, so it took some time. This was a bit irritating, since the desk knew anyone going to Stingray City (either as an only destination or as a part of a longer excursion) might be changing to something else, so wouldn't it make sense to have extra people around?
The beach excursion was fun and the cost differential was handled easily, so it worked out.
This was actually our second stop in Grand Cayman - we had diverted there on the way to Jamaica for a medical emergency, and had a passenger disembark for care. All we know about it was what we heard from other passengers - since we were aft-facing, we didn't really see anything going on.
Our final port was Cozumel on a day that seven ships were in port. We tendered and it was a rough procedure - the currents were up, so we could tender off only one side of the ship, so it took quite a while. I was beginning to wonder if we were going to make our noon appointment! I am glad we didn't have a planned excursion, since we were not in port late and it took so long to get off the ship. Going back was bumpy as well.
In all, this was a very good cruise. I do enjoy the Jewel class ships (I miss the Spinnaker lounge when we are on the newer ships.) The staff was very helpful, as always. I did expect more Christmas events - even though it was the week before. The ship was decorated but the Christmas music that is usually playing on the TV was missing, and it seemed more like a prelude to Christmas (which is was.) Someone asked about it in the Officer's Q&A, and the cruise director said "Christmas is next week." This is true, but I think for many people, it was a Christmas cruise. Still, it was not a major issue for me - I just had been told by other cruisers that it would be Christmas onboard, and it was, but it wasn't.
The navigation channel on the TV was out. This is a minor issue unless you actually enjoy navigation and trying to determine where you are (and like having something to double-check your GPS readings.) Someone else asked about it in the Q&A session and the Captain said the software was being upgraded, but it wasn't ready, so it was off - since that was better than showing incorrect values. A minor disappointment, but I was glad to know I wasn't the only navigation nerd onboard.
Disembarkation was reasonable - I think they were actually ahead of schedule when our color was called. We got through customs and security fairly quickly and our porter helped us find a cab for the ride back to the airport.
I did enjoy the itinerary - even though we had been to the ports before, they were places I would visit again, and there were three sea days to just relax onboard. The Jewel seemed like home, since we had been on the Pearl, so it was a good week.