We primarily sail Royal Caribbean and Disney but have sailed four times on NCL and once each on Princess and Carnival. We have had mixed reviews on NCL's "freestyle dining" option and casual form of cruising during past cruises but it was absolutely what we needed for this trip.
We live in north Florida so drove to the port of Miami the morning of our cruise and parked at Airport Parking's cruise terminal lot. We paid half of what we would have paid to park at the port. $80.00 for the week! We found pre-paid online to reserve our parking spot, found the garage very easily, caught a shuttle bus immediately and made the one mile drive in approximately 5 minutes. Boarding was fairly easy, since we had sailed NCL before we were able to be in the shorter "Latitudes" line so only waited around 10 minutes then we were on our way.
The ship was nicely laid out, crew were extremely friendly! We had sailed NCL to Hawaii (which was the most fantastic itinerary!) and were disappointed with the mostly American crew because of their lack of professionalism and strange sense of familiarity with the passengers - improper language, off-color jokes, etc. The crew of the Jewel were a definite highlight of this trip. Everyone was really wonderful! They were more like what we are familiar with on Royal Caribbean and less like what we had remembered from NCL.
We had booked an inside cabin to save money and were not disappointed. My Husband, Daughter and myself fit nicely as did all of our luggage and clothing. The restroom was a nice size with shelves and a decent size vanity. The shower was also a decent size. The only strange thing was that the commode was so close to the wall you needed to sit sideways to use it. Our cabin steward was amazing. We hardly ever saw him but he cleaned and arranged our cabin at least three times a day without ever interrupting us. Our cabin was spotless! The beds were a definite highlight! Feather beds and down comforters and really comfortable pillows. We all slept extremely well!
The kids club left a lot to be desired. My Daughter is 8 1/2 years old and very well behaved. Apparently, one of the kids crew members - "Alabama" - is over her stint with kids on cruises. She yelled at them to be quiet and couldn't control them with any other means. The kids didn't like her and we subsequently complained to the supervisor because my Daughter didn't want to return. Part of the reason we do cruises is to have some adult alone time knowing our Daughter is well taken care of and entertained in the children's' programs. Fortunately, our Daughter met four wonderful little girls from all over the world and her attachment to them overshadowed her dislike of "Alabama."
We dined in all of the restaurants including the specialty restaurants. We were very surprised how much the cover charges had gone up. The food was the same but the cover charges were verging on the ridiculous. The $25 pp cover charges for Cagneys was way too much as was the $20 for sushi and Mama's but we liked the variety. We spent well over $300 in specialty dining. I will say, though, that the main dining rooms - Azura and Tsar's - are wonderful. We had excellent service and really super service. The food was good and if anything wasn't exactly what you wanted they would fix it or bring you something else. We also experienced this level of service in the specialty restaurants. I ordered some Singapore Street noodles in the pan-asian restaurant and they were very spicy. The server immediately took the dish and had it made less spicy. Really fantastic service!!! I also have to mention the Garden Cafe buffet. The food is very good and there is an abundance of staff constantly cleaning and bringing out fresh food. Messes made near food stations were immediately cleaned up and tables were turned over as soon as people vacated them. I cannot say enough about the staff on this ship!
The pool deck is very small and doesn't fit very many chairs. People were saving chairs at 7:00 in the morning. I ran each morning so would save three chairs early and still had trouble finding space near the pool so we could watch our Daughter. We would be out on the pool deck on sea days by 9:00am to keep our chairs. People who slept in and tried to get chairs after 10:00 were completely out of luck! The slide at the family pool made for lots of fun for the kids. The periodic rough seas made for fun waves in the pool. The wait staff on deck were very energetic and always accessible! My Husband is a huge fan of the "Dress up or not" nights because when he is on vacation he is ready to relax. Dress up nights are fun sometimes but he doesn't like to be forced to dress in a suit when he is on vacation if he doesn't feel like it. The mix of attire on the ship is nice because everyone feels comfortable.
The ports were interesting to us because we did excursions based on our Daughter's curriculum in school. We definitely prefer Eastern Caribbean but had never sailed to Honduras or Belize. Our Daughter is studying the world map, different ecosystems, monkeys, rain forests and ancient history. We took her to hold monkeys in Honduras, to the Mayan pyramids in Belize and the rain forest. Her journal was packed with curriculum targeted information to take back to her Teacher. The ports on this trip were very small and not very sophisticated as compared to some Eastern Caribbean ports but that was to be expected. The people were extremely nice and never pushy (as in Jamaica). It was a joy to meet them and see their handiwork. Our excursions were nice. The monkeys in Honduras were really wonderful! I loved holding them as much as my Daughter did! I wished we could spend even more time with them. The bus ride was approximately 35 minutes and the tour lasted approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes. The Mayan ruins in the rain forest of Belize was OK. We were originally booked on the Lamanai river boat excursion to the ruins but because of the iffy weather decided to change to the bus ride to Altun Ha. Having visited Tikal in Guatemala years ago I was a bit disappointed with Altun Ha. My Daughter, however, was amazed! She loved climbing to the tops of the temples and hearing of the ancient history of the Mayan people. The rain forest also didn't disappoint - it rained. If you do any of the Mayan ruin tours do remember to bring rain ponchos (I purchased neatly packed compact ponchos at the dollar store), sun block and bug spray. Also, we brought flip flop to change into after we walked the site. This worked our well because the sudden downpour left all of our feet wet and muddy. A towel would have been a good addition to our bag. We were not able to pull into port at NCL's private island due to rough seas. Oh well, another day at sea....
Disembarkation was so easy! We loved NCL's leave when you want to policy. Not only is there no loud wake up call at 6:00am but we were able to wheel all of our bags of of the ship by lining up at 7:50 and leaving the ship after being cleared by customs at 8:00. Breezed right through security and caught the waiting shuttle back to our car. Wonderful! This trip was extremely relaxing. The ship was nice. The crew were fantastic! Our Daughter met wonderful friends and had lots of fun and my Husband and I had time together to relax.