My husband and I are in our late fifty's and were traveling with another couple. We have been on sixteen cruises, mostly Celebrity and Princess, and enjoy two week cruises with several sea days. We were a bit skeptical about going on an NCL cruise, because we had done one of their Hawaiian cruises several years ago, and said we would never use them again. We decided to give them another try and were pleasantly surprised!
Embarkation and disembarkation were a breeze. We booked our own flights but used their transfers. It was excellent all around! We booked fairly late, and were able to get a mini-suite for a reasonable price. We loved the extra storage, larger bathroom, and balcony. We would definitely book one again on a two week cruise. Our room steward was outstanding. He and his assistant kept everything in good order and brought whatever we needed in a prompt manner.
The ship itself is fairly new so not a lot of wear is showing, and it's an easy ship to get around. They don't have a beautiful atrium like many of the Princess ships, but that wasn't a problem for us. Our mini-suite was on deck 11, so we just had to go up one flight to the cafe and pool area, which was nice. One negative was that there was not ample area for sitting and reading or relaxing during the day if you couldn't be outside. Many people sat in the cafe all day which made it difficult to find seating for lunch or dinner. There was a nice outside area at the back if the weather was nice, so most days we went out there. The gym and spa were lovely and the charges seemed normal to most cruises.
There was a good age distribution on this cruise. It was certainly not all seniors; there were even children on board.
We left April 20 from Miami on a 15 day transatlantic. There were 6 fantastic days at sea, with the weather being wonderful and warm enough to sit by the pool the first four days. The sea was calm, and we had a very smooth passage. We arrived in the Azores on the seventh day, then hit Lisbon, Vigo, and La Coruna, Spain. After Spain, we headed to Waterford, Ireland, the Guernsey Island, and ended in Dover. The ports were diverse and unique. We loved Portugal, Spain, and Ireland. We booked two excursions through NCL and were very pleased with both. We took an all day trip to Santiago which included a tour, lunch, and entertainment. We also booked an all-day Lisbon tour. Both excursions were exceptional. Our feeling is if you are going that far, you need to see the important sights, and we felt like we did. In the other ports, we did our own thing and that worked out well also.
On this cruise, it seemed like NCL went out of its way to have superb entertainment. Everything from the Filipino singing group at the pool and night club, the Spanish Flamenco guitarist, Cirque Bijou, and the musical reviews were outstanding. We enjoyed the comedians, the two singers, and even the hypnotist. The only thing we didn't think too much of was Second City. I was looking forward to that because I'm a Saturday Night Live fan, but their act was just so-so. I really felt the singers and dancers were some of the best we have ever seen on a cruise ship!
Now, after all the good...The one area we felt NCL needed to improve was the food. The cafe on deck twelve as OK, but the quality of food and especially meat was not up to other cruise lines. The two main dining rooms, Azura and Tsar's were really sub-par. We were traveling with another couple and all of us were really disappointed in the quality of food, the food choices, and especially the service. An example, one night we were dining in Tsar's, which is a lovely dining room. We had a young woman as our head waitress and a young man as her assistant. They never filled our water, tea, or wine glasses without being asked, they did not offer to take our lobster out of the shell, they left the food on the counter and let it get cold before serving, the young lady was folding napkins instead of taking care of her three tables, and we had to ask to see the dessert menu. All in all, each night we ate in those dining rooms, we were disappointed. NCL definitely needs to observe how Celebrity and Princess handle dining room service, quality of food, and presentation. The Freestyle aspect of NCL was a nice change. We normally go on ships where you dress up for dinner. We always dressed nicely in the evenings, but it was fine not to bring the really dressy things and be more relaxed. I did miss having the same waiters each night and getting to know different people at dinner. Since we were traveling with another couple this time, it was fine. Also, we never had a problem eating at the time we wanted to. I don't care to see people in jeans and athletic shoes at night, but I didn't let it bother me. Everyone has a right to their own style, especially on vacation...
For the first time, I actually met with the Cruise Critic Cruisers!..I've often read the blog and asked questions, but this time we actually participated in some of the planned activities. We went to the Meet and Greet, The Mystery Dinner(Go-It's lots of fun!), and the Teppanyaki dinner. Thanks to the folks who organized everything! Many people complained about all the extra charges on the Jewel, but we didn't feel we were "nickled and dimed" any more than we were on other cruise lines. You don't have to eat in the specialty restaurants, play Bingo, drink liquor, go on NCL excursions, etc. One thing I noticed about NCL that is not available on some of the premium ships is that ice-cream is always available, and they let you bring on your own soft drinks. We ate in several of the specialty restaurants. We enjoyed Tango's and the Blue Lagoon ( no charge) and had lovely meals in Cagney's and Teppanyaki. We felt the Cagney's charge of $15 was fair, but the $25 for Teppanyaki was a bit high. We have a local Japanese restaurant that is similar and you can eat there for less that $25 per person. We don't mind paying for specialty restaurants, however most of them were quite empty, so maybe lowering the price would improve sales. NCL did have an early bird special for half price, but we generally don't eat dinner that early. That being said, we still feel that NCL needs to work on the overall food service. You should not have to pay extra to get good food and service. It should not be an option!
In conclusion, the NCL Jewel gave us a very good cruise experience for our money, and we went away with a much better impression of them after this trip. Some areas were great, the ports, excursions, sea days, mini-suite, and gym. The ship itself was good, but the food service definitely needed improvement and was bad. I failed to mention how friendly the staff, especially Ray, the Cruise Director, the Australian Assistant CD, and the Greek Captain were. THANKS NCL FOR A GREAT TRIP!