Since the first I time Iaid eyes on a model cruise ship as a child, I had dreamed of travelling on one of these magnificent floating resorts. On February 24, 2013 I realized that dream when I set sail on the Norwegian Jewel from NYC to Florida and the Bahamas. In this review I will share my experiences through the eyes of a first time cruiser. Let's start at the beginning...
After a short cab ride from Penn Station, we arrived at the cruise terminal. Our checked bags were quickly whisked away and we headed into the terminal to begin our check-in process. After filling out a health questionarre, we reached the check-in desk and set up our account and received our room keys. Enroute to the gangway, we had our photo taken in front of a big picture of the Jewel. The first picture I took on the ship was of a few cast members in costumes, ranging from Sandy Squirrel to two dancers in sailor costumes. The atmosphere was fun and cheerful, music was playing, and I immediately felt welcomed.
Our balcony cabin on deck 10 forward was, to us at least, perfectally satisfactory. Storage space was very good, and we found enough room under the bed for our luggage, which we stored our shoes in to save space in the cabinets and closet. There was also a digital safe in one of the cabinets, which was useful for holding our passports, watches, and DSLR camera when I wasn't all over the ship taking pictures with it.
The bed was comfortable, and the small couch was nice for use during the day when the bed was made. The bathroom provided some additional storage space for toiletries, and was ideally sized with the exception of the toilet, which was in a bit of a tight spot. In some spots the carpetting looked a bit old and worn. This didn't bother me a whole lot, as I figured it just came with the age and use of the ship. Our room steward was super friendly and always kept the room looking and smelling beautiful. We were also greeted by a different towel animal each night.
While eating my fruit salad on our first morning at sea, I was treated to dozens of beautiful dolphins swimming along with the ship. That experience alone made the upcharge for the balcony completely worth it, and is one of my most cherished memories from this cruise.
Cruise ship decor has always seemed a touch gaudy to me, and the Jewel was no exception. Gratuitous use of bright tropical colors and shiny artificial woods left my retinas feeling a bit overwhelmed. It all seems a bit overstyled and overstated, and yet the ship lacked a sense of grandeur. The atrium was rather small and unimpressive, and the adjoining eateries polluted the air with the smell of several different kinds of food blended together.
The atrium was also frequently used by jewelry vendors, and this occupied a decet amount of space and interrupted the flow of traffic, and I wondered if NCL couldn't find a better place to put these tables and displays. The gift shop seemed like an afterthought, residing at the very back of deck 7. It was pretty much one open space, and although it fuctioned, it lacked any real character.
The classic, wrap around promenade deck was one of my favorite places to spend time. It was when walking here, close to the ocean and in audible range of the sound of the water rushing past the bow, that I really felt I was out to sea.
Entertainment spaces were nice enough. The theater was a nice size and the seats were reasonably comfortable. The shows were hit and miss. I wasn't a fan of the production company, however Duo Elegia were an absolute thrill. One of my favorite performers was the slightly corny but very enjoyable comedic magician, Jean-Pierre Parent. I loved his idea of blending comedy and magic, and it was a unique experience.
For me and my husband, one of our favorite things to take in was watching our fellow guests participate in the various game shows set up by the cruise staff. The best ones seemed to take place at the Spinnaker in the evening, when everyone was sipping on an adult beverage and inhibitions were seemingly dropped into the vast ocean, along with clothes in some cases! The Spinnaker is also a perfect spot to enjoy the view from inside the ship.
Karaoke was tons of fun, and there were even regulars who would come back several nights, which helped give the Fizz Lounge an almost familiar, neighborhood feel. We also chose to attend one of the art related seminars, which I found interesting and informational. As a bonus we were given prints of some works of art, which made cute souvenirs.
Aside from live entertainment, there is no rock climbing wall, no mini golf, no surf simulator, and no zip line type of entertainment. We didn't notice not having these items, as there was always something to do somewhere. There is a ball court, and the usual pools and hot tubs, with some areas set aside for children, including a small water slide. I would say this ship is better for kicking back rather than being thrilled.
Ultimately, we never found ourselves bored. We did sometimes opt to nap, or just enjoy the crisp air from our balcony. It wasn't hard to find an available lounge chair in a public space on this cruise, even when the weather warmed up as we made our way further south.
Shortly after boarding we were given a tour of the spa facilities, which resulted in the decision to purchase passes for thermal suites for the duration of our cruise. This gave us access to a communal spa area, with thermal loungers and a large hot tub with lounger inside, all with views of the ocean from the forward facing floor to ceiling windows. Unfortunately, we never did manage to find an available thermal lounger whenever we visited the spa.
Also available with the pass were areas set aside seperately for each gender. The seperate facilities included hot tubs and lounge chairs with floor to ceiling windows at the front corners of the ship. In addition to this was a sauna, with it's own ocean views, a steam room, Japanese cold plunge tub, showers, lockers. Cool water was also available to drink.
Because of all the other many activities grabbing our attention, we only used the facilities four times, but I personally felt it was worth the added expense, as it added a large heap of luxury to our experience. It's a delight to start or end your day in a spa.
There are a number of restaurants on the ship. Some are included, and some are not. We did decide to try out most of the cost-added eateries, with some mixed results.
The Garden Cafe and adjoining Great Outdoors buffets were convenient and the quality was perfectly acceptable. We usually ate breakfast here and sometimes visited for a snack between meals. We did feel that the flow of hungry patrons was very poorly organized. There are stations every which way, some foods repeated and some didn't, and nobody seemed to know which way they were going, myself included. I really think NCL should put some thought into creating a more orderly experience for this dining venue. However, the ability to enjoy a quick open air meal on the back of the ship is a highlight of the Great Outdoors.
The chocolate buffet also takes place at the Garden Cafe. It presented more like a chocolate showdown, as people crowded around the chocolate covered strawberries like seagulls on a french fry in a fast food drive-thru. Again, lack of flow created an almost Black Friday type of affair.
We sat down for lunch at Tsar's Palace, the main dining room, on only one occasion. The food was fresh and the service was quick. We sat near the windows at the back of the ship which provided a lovely view and wonderful light. I would have happily come back to this restaurant if not for the fact that there were so many other options.
The menu at Blue Lagoon, the ships 24 hour dining option, was quite limited. This is the place to come to if you're feeling peckish, or if you need to soak up some excess booze with somethig like mozzarella sticks. I would not choose to eat an actual full meal here.
Azura, the secondary main dining room, did not stand out in any way. It felt a bit tight, but the food was satisfying and service was very good.
We had our very first dinner at sea at Cagney's. The service was top notch, rivaling that of upscale restaurants back on land. The food was delicious and rich. This space definitely evokes a sense of masculinity with it's cowhide chairs and dark color pallette. The lighting was soft and provided a sultry ambiance. I highly reccomend enjoying a meal at Cagney's.
Chin Chin had a tantalizing menu, and we found ourselves ordering many different items to enjoy almost tapas style. The flavors were bright and we enjoyed every item ordered. The hubby absolutely loved the banana pancake dessert, and even had cravings for it after our cruise.
La Cucina was uninmpressive. The meal was unremarkable and the decor was very much like a certain Italian themed restaurant chain back home. I don't think this restaurant warrants the extra cost, as food quality didn't seem any better than that of the main dining rooms included in your fare.
Moderno is a rodizio style restaurant, where you are brought several varieties of meats on a cycle until you're ready to burst. The salad bar which is included with the meal provides you with a nice selection of cured meats, cheeses, pasta salads, and even a couple of soup choices. I have dined at rodizios many times before trying this cruise ship variant, and I was sadly disappointed. The service was excrutiatingly slow, and the meats were barely warm when they were served to us. Perhaps this retaurant was just having a bad night, but it left us wanting a do over at a true rodizio back home.
Le Bistro is hands down my favorite restaurant on board the Norwegian Jewel. The food, the service, the atmosphere, were all superb. I truly felt like I was dining at a fine restaurant in a metropolitan city. It's location in the ship is convenient as well. Right outside their doors are bars, lounges, and the casino, available to you after a luxurious dinner. In this way you can make dinner there a sort of night on the floating town.
Our overall impressions of dining aboard the ship were very good. There are fancy Peugot salt and pepper grinders at every table everywhere, a touch I enjoyed. We never had a rude or inattentive waitor, and we never had to wait for a table.
Great Stirrup Cay
I will never forget the feeling of waking up and having a private island right outside my balcony at my disposal for the day. This would become another fondly cherished memory for me. Disappointingly, Norwegian has not built a dock here in the last 30-something years of ownership, so this is a tender port. Tendering was fairly simple, and we were transported to the island in quick fashion.
We had one excursion, the Waverunners. Before getting on, you sit in a room and watch a video that warns you, to great extent, of the dangers involved in the activity you are about to partake in. On land, I love speed in a car, but out on water where I can't swim, I was uncomfortable even with a life vest on. I do wish the excursion had been longer, because as we headed back I was finally getting used to controlling the waverunner and might have gotten more enjoyment out of it at that point.
The rest of the time we laid out on the beach and played in the gorgeous, calm waters. Unfortunately we didn't time the lunch very well, so we were left with scraps of pizza and cake. This was our fault entirely, so I can't really speak on the quality of the food there. I do like that there is a food option on the island, however.
My impression of the island was that it needed some serious sprucing up. There were random slabs of concrete that looked old and forgotten, and clashed with the natural scenery. The winding lagoon the tenders enter through also looked very much manmade and just plain unnattractive. I would love to see NCL invest in a few aesthetic upgrades for their own private island.
The biggest disappointment of the whole cruise was that it had to come to an end. Even after two rocky nights at sea that left me temporarily frazzled, I never wanted to live on land again. I couldn't help but gush to anyone with ears about what a wonderful time I had. I urged anyone who had not tried NCL, or even cruising at all, to book a cruise because they would abolsutely love the ease of it all. I am thankful to NCL for making my first cruise a dream come true.