We made our own arrangements and flew to Ft. Lauderdale and had two days there before heading to Miami
Embarkation: Having embarked at Miami before I was prepared to grit my teeth and get through it - however we were pleasantly surprised this time. Port staff was polite and processing was swift and much more efficient than in the past. Past experience has shown that it takes awhile for luggage to arrive but it was even faster than in the past. We went up to the Garden Cafe to have lunch and when we went back to our cabin afterwards the luggage had already started arriving.
Our Cabin: You get what you pay for. Having had a 30 day cruise just 5 months previously - I said "let's book the cheapest outside cabin there is". In the past we have had an inside (he hated it), large outside cabins, balcony cabins and a mini-suite. This time we were on the 4th deck with a porthole and you could hardly swing a cat. That was fine as I don't like cats and we didn't bring one. Yes, it was smaller than some cabins we had in the past however there was plenty of storage space for all our things and sufficient space for the souvenirs I accumulated in the ports. Our cabin stewards, Erick and George, were friendly and helpful - kept our room neat and tidy - and the night of our anniversary surprised us with a lovely pair of heart-shaped swan 'towel animals', which I thought was really sweet of them. The Ship: These were our 3rd and 4th cruises on the Jewel. Consequently we know our way around the ship. For newcomers - just look at the fish on the carpets on the cabin decks - the fish all swim towards the front of the ship. This ship is a couple of years old but staff are constantly cleaning, painting or doing anything needed to keep it in good condition. While we were on the ship new mattress toppers were put on all the beds and new pillows put in every room. More improvements go on all the time. This ship was built for Freestyle - lots of dining choices, lots of bars, lots of things to do on board. We have cruised with NCL for several years so experienced a lot of changes in menus over the years. A whole new food plan came into effect with our Transatlantic sailing. We ate in nearly all of the restaurants on the ship at some point over 27 days.
Dining Garden Cafe: We had a lot of breakfasts up in the Garden Cafe. Yes - it can be busy in the morning but we never had any problems finding a place to sit. We were aware that one could take food outside or use the seating in Mama's restaurant. If I stood there with a plate in my hands looking (to see where hubby had gone) someone on staff frequently thought I was looking for a table and was quick to mention that there was extra seating in Mama's if needed. I have noticed in some other reviews comments that food was cold. I never found it cold. If I had hot cereal it was hot, toast or bagels were cooked while I waited and most mornings I had bacon and toast, once in awhile an omelet. Everything I had was the proper temperature. There was a wonderful variety of fresh fruits and I also took advantage of those. There was a generous choice of teas and I was always able to find some of my favorite. There was soy milk available for me when I asked for some (lactose intolerant) and I found staff there to always be pleasant and helpful. I don't mind juggling plates and cups but when I had my hands really full - someone on staff frequently said 'let me help you with that'. We also had a lot of lunches in the Garden Cafe. The choices for salads were excellent - lots of variety - very appetizing. One could have a light lunch or a full dinner as main course meat, potatoes and vegetables were all available. There were soups, Indian dishes, pizzas - there was more variety there than in the regular restaurants and we loved mixing and matching to suit our whims. As well there was an abundance of choices in desserts, ice creams or fresh fruits, puddings or sweets in both regular and sugar-free dishes as well as their delicious cookies. Tsar's Palace and Azura: These are the two main dining rooms. Of the two I prefer Tsars and that is simply because it is brighter and more open. Azura has a lower ceiling which makes the restaurant noisier. Personally we just prefer it to be a bit quieter when we are dining. We found the staff to be excellent in both of these dining rooms. We were always greeted and if we wished a particular table or member of staff - we were always accommodated as much as was possible. There was no such thing as an empty water glass - they were constantly refilled, staff would often make suggestions as to what we might like best, if we had any dietary restrictions or allergies - they would check to see that there were no problems. The staff would bring particular favorites to us - even if it involved extra work. For example - my husband likes an espresso once in awhile at the end of a meal. He ordered one and it took a bit longer than normal. We then found out that the machine there at that restaurant was not working and our waitress instead went up 5 floors to get one and bring it back down to him. We felt quite guilty as would not have put her to that much trouble. We would not experience service like that on land. NCL staff on the ship always 'goes that extra mile'. Food is a personal choice. We never had a bad meal at any time on the ship. We ate a lot of meals in Tsar's Palace but we also used the specialty restaurants very frequently. When one is on ship for almost a month the menus rotate and rather than repeat a particular meal we would go to another restaurant.Bistro: One of my favorite restaurants. We ate at Bistro 4 or 5 times in the 27 days. The staff there is outstanding. "Philly', the restaurant hostess, greeted us anytime she saw us on the ship, all the wait staff there was simply marvelous (Shielo and Florentina in particular) and the assistant maitre'd Elena was a real sweetheart. Although the T/A part of our cruise was more relaxing - the Baltic Capitals part was really port intensive. The second day in Russia I came back to the ship and was so tired I just crawled into bed. Dave went down to Bistro to eat and a few minutes after he had left my phone rang. It was Elena. She was worried that I had not come to eat and wanted to know if she could have anything sent to me 'would I like my favorite onion soup?" This is a prime example of really putting us first. It was going that extra distance to look after one of the guests. I appreciated the offer and the kindness that generated that offer. I was too tired to want to eat anything but I will never be too tired to remember Elena's wonderful gesture.
Chin Chin: Another of our favorite restaurants. The menu changed just as our cruise started. We had dined there in the past and liked it. The changes turned a nice restaurant into one offering the best Chinese dishes I have ever tasted - on sea or on land. We ate there at least 4 times and that was the one restaurant where we really ordered a lot of dishes and shared them between us. Boy it was good! One evening our waiter, Emerson, asked if we would like to see a card trick. He then kept us fascinated for the next 15 minutes doing a variety of card tricks. He rivaled any 'card expert' that performed in the shows and was a real hoot. It is these things that all add to a great experience on the ship - wonderful, warm people.
Tangos: Dined there once and enjoyed it.
Mama's: Dined there once and although the staff was wonderful - I preferred the old menu that they no longer had. For me, the food was not as appealing. Absolutely nothing wrong with it - nicely prepared and presented - just personal taste.
Cagney's: We dined there three times and every meal was wonderful. The steaks are to die for and the Alaska King Crab legs - what can I say? My husband ordered them one evening and I think he could have happily kissed the chef at the end of the meal. There was another special lady in Cagney's - Ionela. I said earlier that we had been on this ship several times before. We kept in contact with a lovely young Romanian lady and unfortunately she had just gone on to the Gem. Ionela was a friend of hers and when she came back to the ship from her holiday she made room in her luggage to bring a gift from our friend - a souvenir of their country. I thought it was so very kind of Ionela to go to this trouble - take up space in her luggage and then try and find the people on the ship to deliver this. It meant a lot to us.
Blue Lagoon: It was a great spot to get lunch when we didn't want a full big lunch, it was a life-saver when we only had an hour to eat after a tour in St. Petersburg when we were going out to another tour, and it was great in the evenings if we were craving a bit of a nibble. The menu there is small but it had the comfort food type of nibbles - fish and chips, baked potato skins, etc.
We did not eat at the Teppanyaki or the Sushi Bar or the on deck barbeque as they were not things that appealed to us - there were too many other places we preferred. We have enjoyed the Teppanyaki other cruises on the Jewel.
Activities: There was no shortage of things to do on the ship. There were sports, lectures, dance lessons, bridge, a library, crafts, and demonstrations - a multitude of free things to do on board. As well there were a lot of ways to spend money from the bingo, the scratch cards, to the Casino. A ship this size is like a small town and there really is something for everyone. Best of all - the information on these things is available every day in the Freestyle newsletter. One can do as much or as little as one likes - no pressure.
Shore Excursions: We went on a couple of the ship excursions - one at La Corunna, Spain and the Folklore Show in St. Petersburg, Russia. Both of them were good value for the money. We went on a couple of privately arranged tours that we were very happy with. In the remainder of the ports we usually explored with two friends who had also come on the cruise. This cruise offered ports (particularly the Baltic ones) that were easy to explore on our own. Walking was easy and lack of the local language was not a hindrance.
Entertainment: Entertainment is very subjective. One man's meat is another man's poison. We pick and choose what we want to see in the theatre. We really enjoyed some of the guest artists - others we simply did not go to see as it was not to our taste. There were several really good musicians around the ship. We could have sat every night (and frequently did) to listen to Jose Manuel Rodrigues. 'Pepe' was a wonderful entertainer - played a brilliant guitar and had a very pleasant singing voice and was personality plus. There was another trio that also played lovely music to dance to - but Pepe was definitely our favorite. During the first cruise we asked the cruise director, Ray, to please move Pepe to a lounge with a good dance floor as he was located in Bar City opposite Magnums Champagne bar and the floor there was carpeted. Several of us loved to dance to his music and did so - but it is definitely not comfortable dancing on carpet and there was not enough room for more than a couple of pairs at a time to dance. The cruise director said it could not be done. The second part of the cruise there was a new cruise director, Suzy, and we asked her. One night she arranged for Pepe to play in the Spinnaker lounge with the big dance floor. It was the same night as the chocolate buffet but that dance floor was kept full and lots of other people were there to listen and enjoy as well as dance. Everyone really appreciated bring able to dance to his great music. Thank you Suzy.When you do a lot of cruising in a short period of time you find the same shows are repeated from ship to ship. We have seen a lot of the shows put on by the Jean Anne Ryan Company so did not go to them - other than the Cirque Bijou - which we never miss. This was about the third time we had seen it - but each time the main performers are different as we had seen it on different NCL cruises. The lady from Belarus who was one of the main performers was nothing short of fantastic!
All in all - there is a lot of variety in the professional entertainment offered on the ship so there has to be something for everyone. Just be selective in your choices.
Service: I have already mentioned a couple of incidents with staff. The staff on ships is the reason we continue to return to NCL. Unlike some other cruise lines when we meet staff anywhere on board we receive a smile and a greeting. We find them to be great people that try their best to make our holiday a memorable one. When I think of this cruise I think of many of the lovely people that I met on staff for the first time - Elena, Mihaela, Cherrylyn and many more. I also think of many wonderful people that I have met on previous cruises. We were just delighted the first day on the ship to find that our favorite waitress from the Bistro on our last cruise from Barcelona to Santiago had just joined the ship in Miami. We chatted with Sondang as often as possible. There are quite a few folks that we have met on NCL ships that we keep in touch with and hope to meet again and again. I have seen comments about sales staff being 'pushy'. I never encountered that at all - I did find folks that said to me 'hey - I remember you from the Dream last fall'. We felt we received excellent service from all the staff we encountered - whether they were cleaning staff or wait staff, bar staff (thank you Jude for all those great chocolate mint martinis!) or staff officers. The cruise director Scott was helpful and made us feel that we mattered as NCL customers. I also want to say a word here about the master of the ship. Captain Fafalios was always in evidence. He was seen in all parts of the ship - from dining rooms to the atrium to assorted lounges and was always friendly and approachable. He seemed to enjoy talking to the guests - not doing it as a matter of duty, and his warmth and friendliness was a real example to all of his staff.
Disembarkation: We found disembarkation at Dover to be wonderful. Our luggage was all stacked together neatly and easy to find and we got a taxi to our B&B. We did not have to go though immigration again as it had been done conveniently on ship for us before we arrived at Ireland. The British are so civilized.
Summary: We definitely enjoyed our cruise and would not have missed it for the world. We have two negative comments to make however these are problems with NCL, not with the Jewel staff. The first complaint is with the NCL office staff. We arrived on ship to find that Miami had neglected to inform the ship that we were Latitudes members (platinum), that they had not sent our previously paid for anniversary package and they also neglected to send the item our travel agent had sent as an anniversary gift. This is strictly NCL land staff. I had to contact our travel agent at home (which is how I found she had sent a gift) and she contacted the one person I know at the Miami office that works hard and accurately - Linda Brown. With the help of Linda and the Jewel staff it was finally straightened out in time for our anniversary. Also we had preordered a ship tour. When we got on ship there was no record of it. Fortunately we had brought a copy of our confirmation of that tour. Another bit of 'land staff' work - they are not sending the information through to the ship. The only other complaint I can make is about the canned music on the ship. I was told that a new company had installed the music that is heard around the ship. It is terrible. For example - in Bistro - French cuisine - romantic atmosphere - and then the Irish Rovers or their equivalent start singing! It used to be nice French music there - in keeping with the ambiance. It used to be lovely Italian music in Mama's restaurant - not any more. The worse offender is in the Garden Café. If there is a society for the prevention of cruelty to saxophones it should be notified at once. To put it bluntly - it is a hell of a racket. It needs changing and soon. The rest of our comments should be obvious from what we have said already. We were delighted with the cruise and our experience on ship. We thought the staff was terrific. We have already booked our next 2 NCL cruises and are looking forward to them.
In my view: No one has mentioned this so maybe it is time I did. A lot is expected of staff and a lot is given. Perhaps there should also be passenger ratings by the staff or a 'code of passenger behavior'. Thank you goes a long way. It would be nice to hear passengers saying that to staff once in a while. Some passengers seem to leave all manners back on land, pushing through queues, talking at the top of their lungs no matter where they are and making one wonder what barn they were brought up in. I'll get off my soapbox now and start planning my packing for the next cruise.