My friend Les and I have recently returned from a GREAT Southern Caribbean cruise on the Norwegian Jewel, and I wanted to share some of my thoughts and recommendations.
1. TRAVEL. Since we were traveling in December, fairly close to the holiday, we had a rather stressful traveling day getting from Knoxville, TN, to Miami. We were really glad, therefore, that we flew in a day early, so that we could recover our good humor before getting on the ship the next morning. We stayed at a small and very cute hotel in the Art Deco district, and had some excellent food and beach time that evening and the next morning. To make up for our grumpy day of air travel, the embarkation was a breeze no trouble at all. NCL had it all very well-organized.
2. THE SHIP/STATEROOM. I thought the Jewel was a great ship nice floor plan, nice (and often even stylish) public areas, nice deck spaces. I'm not one to study the specs, but it seemed like a fairly easy and intuitively-laid-out ship. And our room was great! We had a balcony stateroom toward the front of the ship, because my travel companion is very fond of both feeling and seeing the ocean, thinking about the ocean, brooding over the ocean, reading stories about the ocean. So we (and especially he) spent a lot of time on the balcony, which was lovely and very quiet, and it made our room feel much larger. I'm a balcony fan. I have to say, too, that the bathroom seemed very large to me compared to other ships I have been on. The shower didn't even make me feel like I was squishing myself into it. I could raise my arms freely, etc. Perhaps that is just a factor in the ships getting bigger and bigger all the time. And by the way, kudos to NCL for the 2.0 mattress toppers: VERY comfy big bed.
3. THE FOOD. Great food! We were very impressed by the Garden Cafe for lunch, which I think was one of the better cruise buffets I have experienced. If you like ethnic food, NCL has really gone out of the way to add very good Asian and Indian options. I thought the Indian food rivaled the food at restaurants I have been to. Overall our experience in the main dining rooms was very good also, but we did try several of the specialty restaurants. Our favorite was Le Bistro, which seems to be everyone's favorite, and if I were going to do only one, that would be it. They have great service, nice atmosphere, and GREAT FLAVOR. I just closed my eyes and said "MMMMM" through most of that meal. Try the steak, oh try the steak. But I was also very fond of the sushi restaurant it was a close second, and might have been a TIE had we not been seated at a bar. We also ate at the Mongolian Hotpot and had Shabu-Shabu (very nice but the wait was very LOOOONNNNG because of the staffing problems due to the short flu-related serving spoon lockdown. This was not their fault they were very overworked but it did affect the experience), and at the Italian restaurant, which was at least above average. Overall, we were impressed with the food on this cruise and had only perhaps one meal in the main dining room that was only average or perhaps below (unfortunately this was on the first lobster night/formal night day 2 of the cruise)but this seems an acceptable ratio. I WOULD RECOMMEND having a lunch or two in the main dining room, by the way. We did it three times, and it was always FABULOUS. I know the buffet is quite good, but you really feel like you're having the gourmet experience in the dining room. And it's very quiet and soothing, unlike the dining room chaos.
4. THE ENTERTAINMENT. I didn't see too many of the evening shows I went only to the crew show (loved it) and the Cirque du . . . Something. A fabulous circus with wild dancing and contortionists and high flying. You must see it. But also: one of my favorite things was a string quartet from Russia called Four Seasons. They played every night in the main Crystal Atrium, and they were totally FLAWLESS and wonderful. I went to see them several nights, and thought they were really good enough to have been a main stage act. Check them out if they are on your cruise.
5. PORTS. I love these ports. I love the Southern Caribbean. So I can't do a lot of complaining here, but I have some thoughts (maybe interspersed with a few slight quibbles and consumer alerts), which I have put in my port reviews, below.
6. SERVICE/STAFF. Fine. Our cabin steward Robert was lovely. Because of the freestyle cruising we didn't get to know our servers (which I kind of miss), but restaurant service was fine. Our Cruise Critic group's Meet and Greet was attended by some of the officers, and they spoke to us a little about various things, and were very gracious. Everyone seemed on the ball, and very professional.
7. HEALTH ISSUES. There was a brief issue with stomach flu, apparently, which resulted in a couple of days of lockdown in the buffet line (which means only the servers get to touch the serving utensils). This must have worked fine, because lockdown ended after a couple of days, so I thought NCL must have done a fine job containing the problem. There were the usual sprays and gels to sterilize hands, and that too must have helped. 8. POOL. This ship has an adults-only pool! We really enjoyed it. We used it on every at-sea day, and it was fairly uncrowded. And it seemed salty, which I also liked.
Overall: I was crazy about this cruise. It was so RESTORATIVE to travel this time of year (Dec. 11-21) even if travel is a bit hectic. I felt rehydrated and reconstituted by the time it was over, and came back with a sexy tan in the middle of December. It made me happy, happy, happy. Go, go now!