In mid-November we had a week vacation lined up with nothing planned. We live in FL, so booking late and leaving on a holiday weekend did not create any transportation issues. The cost of a balcony cruise on this ship was about half of what we had paid in the past -- and I am always a bargain shopper -- and probably reflects the economy and the time of year.
There was a lot to like on the Jewel. Embarkation was relatively easy. We arrived at the Port of Miami parking at 11:30 am and by 12:30 pm we were on board. Rooms were not yet cleaned and ready for occupancy, but there were plenty of places to lounge and, 30 mins earlier than promised, rooms became available. The "lifeboat drill" was the least painful of all our cruise experiences.
The ship was in very good shape and seemed well-maintained. Plenty of places to sit out and we never felt crowded. The cabin bathrooms seemed larger than usual and were well designed. If you dropped the soap in the shower, you could pick it up without moving out to the balcony or standing on the bed.
The entertainment was as good as any we have experienced. Do not miss a single minute. I would go out of my way to see the Cat's Pajama's group if they come to FL. My wife and I agreed that all the entertainment was outstanding, right down to the back-up band.
The mostly Philipino staff was courteous, friendly and did their best with what appeared to be an overworked environment.
The Great Outdoors was a great place to eat breakfast and lunch and there was always seating and an abbreviated buffet was more than adequate. A great place to eat, relax and watch the world go by.
Someone from the Cruise Critic Roll Call group arranged a tour of the bridge and this was a real treat. The most likable captain we have ever met. A big thanks to whoever did this.
At the price we paid, all of the above was as good as or better than we expected. There were, however, some disappointments and I suspect most are driven by the economics. The food quality was fair at best. The buffets had the same dishes every day, the main dining room food seemed bland, and at times there just did not seem to be anything that jumped off the menu at you. The pizza and what little sushi they put out was tasteless. There were a lot of lines at the buffets as people waited for food to be replenished. We tried the specialty restaurants and found Mama's Italian very good. The Mexican Spanish restaurant was average. We did not do Cagney's but heard good things about it.
We met our cabin attendant the first day and never saw him again. The room was always cleaned and turned down, but if you needed something extra, it was difficult to get service. We are rather laid back about this but if you were expecting better service, you would have been disappointed. I could not find the cabin guy at the end of the trip to give him an extra tip for keeping our room clean.
NCL had a difficult time moving people. The tender system of standing in line for passes and then standing in line to get on the tender created 1 hour to 2 hour waits to get off and back on the ship. I will write about the ports under a separate critic review.
The Internet service was the slowest that I have experience. At .75 a minute, often it took 5-7 mins to get to the first website and then another 3 mins to log off. At some points in the trip passengers took 15 mins without being able to access a website. The rather disinterested internet guy was of little help and never warned anyone except to respond to angry passengers with the phrase, "it is always slow on the ship."
There was a fair amount of grumbling from Dawn passengers, who had been re-assigned to this ship due to the mechanical issues on the Dawn. They found the NCL folks to be less than helpful with disrupted travel plans and disrupted service. Several couples claimed that they spent their first 4 cruise days immersed in arguments with NCL. NCL missed a great opportunity and the reports from these disgruntled folks may add to the NCL problems. Some the reports bothered me enough that I would be reluctant to try NCL again.
Disembarkation was the easiest we have experienced for walk offs. Be careful on the exit escalator, as there were several falls as we got off.
As for parking at the Port of Miami: Don't fight it. Pay the $20/day. It is more of a hassle than Port Canaveral or Ft Lauderdale, but it is not awful.
I hope this was fair and balanced. Again, for the very little money we paid for the trip, we would have done this ship again. Would not have done this ship and would have been disappointed had we paid what we usually pay. I suspect that it is proof again that you get what you pay for.