Never cruised before, and was anxious about it, read 3,232,140 on-line reviews, and just got more confused and decided to talk to a travel-agency for recommendation. After reviewing options decided 5 day NCL jewel made sense, decision was largely on the concept of freestyle.
Now some back-story: We're a gay couple together for 15 years, and this was a vacation we needed. Would we feel comfortable? Enjoy ourselves? What would be the mix of people? Forgetting about the people would we enjoy the cruise? How would the food be? How much would I gain before getting off (Previous gastric by-pass patient.) Could I relax?
Other backstory: I've been motion sick all my life. Partner could be claustrophobic in an airplane hanger. (6'4" and not petite.) If worrying was a business, i'd be the CEO. I'm cheap -- ok frugal.
Now: (Some random and not so random thoughts)
Loved it loved it loved it. Finally relaxed when I got the the boarding area, at that point it was, guess we're actually get on this HUGE boat -- sure i had seen pics of ships, but until you see it, wow. It was also perfect weather, upper 80's and after having had snow for months on end in the mid west it was incredible.
Bought the refillable soda bottle, since if ever have to have blood transfusion it will be 50%diet coke. Saved $$$, but annoying to have to carry it around, but I'd do it again. Can't imagine the bar-tab of some people who got off, as the Cruise Director said "some tabs could pay for a 4 year private tuition!"
Inside cabin -- perfect. claustrophobic partner was totally comfortable. (Even in the shower.) It was inside, midship so no movement until the last day, then with 10 foot waves was glad i wore the ear anti-motion sickness. Was a bit queasy.... but there were some others on board those "I've never been sea-sick in my life" fools who were green. (Remember -- as the ceo in worrying, I was prepared.)
entertainment-- Knocked off my feet. The cirque de type show was incredible. The quick change artist was incredible. Second City -- from Chicago, second-citied out, others enjoyed it. Excursions were great too. (beach excursion & Tulum ruins.) NOW -- my partner and I decided to attend the newly wed game, they asked for contestants -- newly married, not so newly married, and and long-term married -- well, no one was volunteering for the 10-15 year category, married, well no... at least not in most states. raised our hands, cruise director said, what the hell, and we went on stage. We're an annoying boring gay couple --- 49 and 51 years, don't wear pink, i'd rather go to the dentist than listen to Judy Garland and live the traditional suburban life: worry about money, worry bout our kid, don't sleep enough, love our families (most days :)) etc. So, the questions just took on an extra twist with us as a gay couple with the others there. I just wanted to have fun... and it seemed like it might be. The results? UNBELIEVABLE-- a) People came up to all week long and said how much fun it was seeing us and talking to us. b) The ran the show on the closed circuit, so it continued all week long. c) We'd get the occasional stare, and then the "Ah, you were the two gay..." absolutely no one was rude to us. d) The staff (Jimmy cruise director in particular) was incredible. He treated us with utmost respect (but recognized with sensitivity the audience) and just allowed us to be us, and hopefully we made the show fun for all. e) we expect ton continue a friendship with another couple on the show. Beautiful sweet straight couple and we ended up being with them on an outing (ok -- excursion, but outing just seems so more appropriate here, huh?) and celebrating there 40th wedding anniversary. We also met some other great couples as well, both straight and gay. Probably would not have known the other gay couples were on board if not for the game show. The original purpose for volunteering was just to have fun, but in perspective, I hope the result was that perhaps guests who had never seen/met/talked to or not ran in fear from a gay couple found out that we can be funny, and really not so different then them. Pools -- love it. whirlpools, loved it.....Guests GREAT and Staff, great. (now different than many reviews, I did not learn the name of the waiter, room-maker-upper, etc.... its freestyle so different wait staff. good service but not life changing the way other people talk about it.... more about that later.)
Food.... lots of it, some good, some just ok.... Freestyle idea is great -- and CASUAL CLOTHES -- THE BEST. Think i had higher expectations about the food, everyone had said "foods incredible on a ship", shrimp the size of footballs, chocolate buffet, yada yada yada. Gained three pounds I think. No reason to over-indulge. Loved the option to eat when we wanted -- and to get to choose to eat with others when we wanted to... Dining with other guests was fun, and lovely (just one other couple, rather than table for 10 -- if I'd want that I'll just drive around to wedding receptions.) Other nights it was just off the buffet, or just my partner and I having a table for two... just so relaxing either way.
Staff -- Friendly and warm -- but again, not "you'll be treated like kings and queens (no, not that kinda of queen) -- treated well, but I thought I'd have someone come in and brush my teeth for me the way other cruisers talk.
So final thoughts --
Great, unbelievable trip - and I'd go back in a second. Probably more relaxed that week than I've ever been in my life. Free-style, great idea. Food -- ok. I'm not a foodie, but must remember i live outside of Chicago, so we're in a food town. every flavor of the world is here, so maybe i was setting my expectations to high -- and I'm not a "highfalutin" socialize who only eats caviar -- I'm a cheap, burger-king whopper jr. for breakfast kinda-of-guy. Staff -- Excellent. But they're not trying to do be your best friend -- but they do their job very, very, very well. Staff -- Other -- Cruise director was absolutely terrific. Now admittedly, thats his job, but I'm sure there's cruise directors who just suck at their job. Funny, concerned, and yet low-key. Just got the feeling he gave a crap -- which means, a) he's either a great cruise director or b) a great actor, and either way, I loved it. Best week of my life? No I haven't had a horrible, tragic, etc. etc. life... but seriously, this was so enjoyable, worry free (once on the boat) the weather was perfect, and so, best week of my life? if not the best, in. the top 5.
One other thing -- you can believe this review, but seriously don't make yourself nuts reading ALL of the others -- be selective and just do it.