PRE-CRUISE: We decided to fly down a day earlier. I would definitely recommend doing this as it eliminates any stress about getting to the port on time, etc. We stayed at the Hilton Hotel at Miami Airport. I got the pre-cruise package for $220, which included transportation from airport to the hotel and then from the hotel to the port of Miami on day of cruise. This also included the breakfast. I would definitely recommend this hotel. We had a lovely time there (although it was very short since we arrived around 8pm Saturday night and left at noon on Sunday). The hotel staff was very nice. They upgraded our room to a mini-suite with a king-size bed. Although the room and hotel was nice, there was hair in the tub/shower, which was disappointing. The food at the hotel was good. We did not get to use the pool but there were a lot of people using it and it looked nice. If we had more time, we would have used the pool.
DAY OF CRUISE: After being dropped off at the port of Miami, there was a porter there to take our bags. We weren't sure what to do then, but we figured it out. We arrived at the port by 1pm and were able to check in. The line was not long and we were able to check in upon getting to the port. There were plenty of staff directing us to where we needed to check-in and they were friendly. Checking in was a breeze. Within a 1/2 hour, we were checked in and were on board the ship. As this was our first cruise, we asked a few questions at the check-in (i.e., how the card works, when we could go to the room, when our bags would get to our room, etc). The man who checked us in was very forthcoming and friendly. They give you a card which you use to get into your room and to purchase anything and everything on the ship (except the casino). We did not have any problems with our card until we came back on the ship after our second port of call. My card did not work for some reason and had to go to the reception desk to get new cards (my husband also had to get one since they were giving me one). Although this was an inconvenience, we had new cards within 5 minutes.
SERVICE: The service on the ship was OUTSTANDING! Everyone was friendly, greeted you when you passed, asked how things were going, etc. All of the staff wear ID tags which lists their name and where they are from which we found interesting because there was hardly anyone from USA!
POOLS/HOT TUB: We did not use the pool and hot tubs that much as we didn't find them available to us for most of the time. We both are fair skinned so we tended to stay out of the sun the majority of the time. We did find that the pool area was less crowded during port of call days. On our first sea day, we decided to pay $40 ($20 each) to use the Thermal Suite (Spa) for the day. This included use of a female/male separate hot tub, sauna, steam room, showers. They also had a unisex room with a bigger hot tub (thermal pool) and heated lounge chairs. This was well-worth the $20 as the view was INCREDIBLE and there were less people here. They had a reduced amount for the full trip, which we will definitely do next time! One thing we did notice was that the 4 hot tubs in the pool area had signs that they were "adult only" however kids were in them the majority of the time we were in the area. They did have a kids-only pool and hot tub but we rarely saw it being used.
ENTERTAINMENT: Comedian Joe Yannetty was funny! The juggler Barry John was very funny and amazing! Another couple we met on the ship recommended going to see his second show (as we had not gone to his first show). It was definitely worth it! We also went to the Cirque Bijou show which was also recommended to us. It was very good also! We did not go into the casino as we are not big gamblers but we did see it being used. We did not use the Library but if you like to read and forget a book, they have books you can use. They also have a card room, which has games like Scrabble, Yahtzee, Rummikub, Mah-Jong, and Chess. If you like to play board games or cards, check this out!
FOOD: All of it was OUTSTANDING! Service was amazing also! We ate at Tango's, Mama's Italian, Azura, and Cagney's Steakhouse. We ate at the Garden Cafe (buffet) for all of our breakfast and lunches. The two main restaurants (no cover charge) were Tsar's and Azura. We ate at Azura once and it was really delicious. We would have eaten there again but wanted to try out the other restaurants. Tango's ($10 cover charge) was a Mexican restaurant and was ok. If we went on this ship again, we probably wouldn't eat here as there are other restaurants we enjoyed more. Mama's Italian ($10 cover charge) was also very nice. It was quiet when we were there (around 8:30pm) which made it even more enjoyable. My husband's favorite restaurant (and I enjoyed it very much also) was Cagney's Steakhouse. We had 8:30pm reservations and it was packed! We only had to wait less than 5 minutes for a table. The food was excellent, as well as the service! It was well-worth the $20 cover charge! We definitely recommend this restaurant if you are on traveling on this ship!
PRESENTATIONS: We attended the Port Shopping Talk with Joanna, the Shopping Consultant. Although we had pre-booked our excursions (see below), we wanted to hear what she said about the ports. If you are going on your first cruise, I would definitely recommend attending this and seeing what the shopping consultant has to say. She will give you tips on where to go, what to watch out for, etc.
DISEMBARKMENT: This was a very easy process as well! The day before, you have to go and get your own colored luggage tags. Depending on when you want to leave, you pick the color tag that corresponds to the time you want to get off the ship. You pick when you want to leave!! They also have an easy walk-off program where you take your own luggage with you on the day of disembarkment. We chose to leave our luggage out the night before (before midnight) with our luggage tags that corresponded to 9:15 disembarkment. Our flight from Miami was at 1:15pm. We waited on Deck 7 for our color (light blue) to be called and then we left the ship. Going through customs was very easy and we did not have any problems! Finding our luggage was also...very EASY!! Once you reach the ground floor, there are different sections clearly signed and we had no problems finding our luggage. We then crossed the street and within 10 seconds had a taxi-cab and left the port for the airport. Within 45 minutes, we were at Miami airport waiting for our flight. The cab cost $24 with a $2 fee, so the total was $26.
Also, when we got up on disembarkment day, our bill was waiting for us. We are very anal, and since this was our first cruise, we wanted to keep track of our money and see how much we spent. We had kept track of our spending in a notebook. Everything you purchase on the ship is charged to your on-board account. Our numbers matched with theirs so we did not have any problems. There was a line at the reception desk Friday morning for those who had discrepancies or were paying with cash/traveler's checks.
EXCHANGING MONEY: We had brought traveler's checks with us because we weren't sure how it was going to work in Grand Cayman and Cozumel. We were able to cash those in at the reception desk on board. At both ports, every place we went to, they accepted US dollars. We used only cash for anything purchased off the ship. We did not have any problems at all.
INTERNET CAFE: This was a little expensive. There is an activation fee of $3.95 to set up your account and to use the internet. We paid as we went, so it was 75 cents per minute. However, they do run specials a couple of the days. For example, since we couldn't leave the ship until 10am for Cozumel, they had a 1/2 off special if you used the internet from 8am to 10am on this day. On the second sea day, they also had reduced fees. Printing was 10 cents per page. Since we had e-tickets for our flight out of Miami, we went on on Thursday (sea day) and printed off our tickets. The internet is really slow. At the end of your session, they do show you how much you used, etc.
I know this was a lot of information but if you have never been on a cruise before, I hope our information was helpful to you! I used these boards to check out the reviews/advice prior to our trip and wasn't really sure what to expect on board.
OVERALL: We would definitely recommend Norwegian Jewel. It was a very safe and nice ship. The staff were friendly and the food was outstanding. There was a lot to do but don't be stressed about fitting everything in as you probably won't be able to! If you are interested in doing a shore excursion, definitely pre-book ahead of time so you don't have to do it on the ship.
Getting on and off the ship was a breeze. Norwegian had a lot of signs posted and had disinfectant everywhere (even on land). We had to take a tender to the pier as the ship could not go near shore (because of the coral reef and gov't regulations). Instead of having everyone rush to the tenders in the morning, depending on what you were doing that day, you had to wait for the call. Our shore excursion ticket had a meeting time and place. We had to meet in the Stardust Theater to be called. Once we were called, we traveled to Deck 4 (gangway) to get onto the boat to take us to shore. This was very easy and did not take too long. If you were not going on an excursion, you were responsible for getting a tender ticket to leave the ship. Getting back on the ship was a breeze also. There were several cruise ships there and we found that Norwegian had the most signs on the pier telling you where to go for the excursions, etc.