First an introduction: I'm 16, from London, and this is holiday was my first cruise. My Mum came with me- largely to finance it! The suggestion of a cruise was immediately met with the usual groans and preconceptions- 'it'll be full of old people' or 'we'll get seasick' or even 'we'll die of some swine/gastronorovirus disease' (find out how many of these were true by reading on...) However, I tried to see through these issues and managed to convince her that trying cruising would be a good idea.
Briefly- We enjoyed our holiday. NCL was almost certainly the right line for us- their freestyle method of cruising seems like the only sensible way to do things onboard, certainly for new cruisers. There were of course some issues which I'll bring up of course, but generally it was an enjoyable and memorable holiday.
So, ONBOARD- in this cruise you spend 4 out of 12 days at sea. To Do: The Jewel offers a wide variety of onboard activities. There's everything from ice-sculpture to shuffleboard. Everyday a 'Freestyle Daily' is delivered which contains information about what is going on around the ship. It could be set out a little better- just a (usually) long list- but was very useful. It also documents times of restaurants, info about ports etc... While the activities were good, there is a wide range meaning that you'll definately find something you want to do- but maybe only a couple. NCL try to satisfy the wants of everyone from a 10 year old Mexican to a 70 year old American so its obviously difficult. This does also mean that there is time for relaxation which is good up to a point.
Bora Bora Health Spa- A particular disapointment. My Mum had looked forward to using the extensive spa facilities on board. Annoyingly, almost all treatments were totally overpriced, you'll struggle to find something over 15 mins for less than about $70- which is simply too expensive (especially for Brits using the US Dollar). So to our disapointment we were simply priced out of this area of cruising. Most treatments were at least $90 so we didn't think it was worth it given what else we were forking out for.
Kid's club- First few steps onboard the ship and I'm greeted by a clown giving me a leaflet about the teen programme- not exactly the ideal welcome for a 16 year old. Put off by this I didn't really bother with any of the offered programmes. Possibly if my sister had come we might have tried it, but I prefered to keep my Mum company during the holiday, rather than abandon her.
Food- This is an area that the Jewel does well. Previous moans about cold food didn't occur thankfully. We had an almost faultless dining experience. NCL offers a huge variety of dining options:
Garden Cafe- This is the main buffet. Plenty of food and range for breakfast, lunch and dinner with good opening times. Overcrowding is usually a problem with seats a few minutes walk away from the food a normality. Once you got the food is was well cooked and tasty. Soup, pizza, pasta, bread, burgers and salad are always avaliable, along with a variety of delicious desserts and daily main meals. A good option for quick and easy food. For about 4 days in the middle of the cruise the buffet transformed from self-service to 'queue up- wait- don't touch anything- shout what you want on plate- get food and try to find seat' Basically crew had to serve you food which results in bad experience and long queues- defeats to point of a buffet really. Thankfully this measure to control viruses was ceased. Be prepared to be squirted with anti-bac/ virus liquid throughout the ship- a huge measure to try to stop the viruses.
Main restaurants- Tsar's Palace & Azura (same menus). Tsar's is the only dress-up place onboard (for dinner). The food is of good quality and the service is also good. There is a decent range of food on the changed-daily menus. Tsar's is great for breakfast if you want to avoid the queues of the Garden Buffet. It's not self-service but the quality of the food is much better and you eat in comfort and style. Typical modern food is served which always goes down well
Room Service- most items are free, 24h a day You can order simple favourites like sandwhiches, burgers, salad and desserts straight to your room. Usually pretty quick and easy.
Blue Lagoon- 24h serving family favourites like pasta, burger, chicken & chips
All other restaurants have a cover charge, with some having half-priced happy hours operating between 5.30-6.30 Chin Chin ($15)- Excellent quality Asian cuisine here, certainly worth a visit (Try the steamed barbeque pork buns to start!! Yum Yum) There's also a teppanyaki, mongolian hot pot & sushi bar as part of the asian restaurant section Tango's- Latin (didn't go) Cagney's- steak and seafood (put off by the $25 per head cover charge) Mama's- italian. $10 is too much for the same pizza and pasta you can get next door at the buffet Le Bistro ($15) good french cuisine served here
Generally food is excellent, as is the service onboard the Jewel. There are plenty of bars too, dotted all around the ship.
Entertainment- The evening entertainment in the Stardust Theatre is worth seeing. It feautred a number of musical events, magic, comedy, all of which were good but not brilliant. There are also some smaller shows dotted around the ship from time to time.
Cabins- We got a mini-suite which was excellent and pretty spacious. The toilet is too noisy from other rooms. Neighboughs smoking on balcony is particuarly annoying. Be warned about supposed VIP Extras What you don't actually get: Priority embarkation- No Bottled Water- Yeah the privelage of paying $5.25 for it Hors d'oervers delivered twice- as if... Priority disembarkation- Ha Ha, yeah right Very disappionting- GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER NCL.com
General: There is too much selling on NCL- almost constant reminders and adverts to sign up to this, or buy that or check out this thing. Sure it is fine to make people aware of these things, but to bombard them at every oppurtunity is a bit much on their holiday. Everyting is $$$EXPENSIVE$$$ Be warned. Wine is too expensive, drinks are too expensive. Restaurant cover charges are too expensive and there are too many cover charge restaurants. Lunch at sea can be chaotic- open more restaurants for lunch!
Service is great, with friendly and cheerful staff around every corner.
Go on the behing the scenes tour towards the end of the cruise to get some great new perspectives of the ship and how it is run. This takes you to the galley, theatre, laundry and bridge with guides at each respective post (i.e. captain on the bridge). Book this up early on in the trip (you'll be alerted).
The majority (50%) of passengers were American and retired. However there was a large Mexican/ Spanish/ S. American contingent in large family groups, along with a fair share of Europeans.
It is worth noting that we were extremely lucky with the weather ( hardly any rain when in port)
That's probably about all I can think of folks. Don't hesitate to contact me if you have an questions or want more tips and advice. Thanks very much for reading