We followed our usual procedure of booking through our NCL Personal Cruise Consultant. Over the years, she has become more than an efficient and knowledgeable cruise consultant. She is, now, considered a trusted family member. She knows our likes and dislikes better than we and is ever ready to take those idiosyncratic little questions that always occur between booking and sailing.
Living in the Midwest (Chicago), travel to and from the cruise is more complicated for us than those lucky people who reside near embarkation cities. To reduce travel costs, we take two BIG B2B2B+ cruises per year of 2 or 3 weeks each. Also, we alternate between air and train travel, in order to use frequent flyer miles for our plane travel. In the same vein, we visit the embarkation and disembarkation cities for several days.
For this trek, we opted to take Amtrak from Chicago to New York City on the "Lake Shore Limited", departing at 9pm on Friday and arriving in the Big Apple at 6:30 pm on Saturday. We took a bedroom compartment which was comfortable and provided enough room to relax while alternating between enjoying the scenery and scrabble. complimented with our BYO wine. The daylight travel along the Hudson river was magnificent. For the price of a taxi, we pr-booked a private car service (Dial 7) to meet us at the Pennsylvania station which we learned about through the Cruise Critic thread.
We stayed at the Marriott Residence Inn, Times Square which was within walking distance to city bus tours and the theaters. The hotel was lovely and the full breakfast (included) was served in very plush surroundings.
On Sunday, we used the hop on/off bus tour of Manhattan for a memory rekindling of past memories and took in the theater in the evening. On Monday, local friends we'd met on an earlier cruise picked us up and gave us a tour of Brooklyn, including a fantastic meal at the "Karczma" Polish restaurant. In my opinion, Polish cooking raises peasant food to an art form and we were not disappointed with the "sampler" dinner.
On Tuesday, the "Dial 7" car service transported us from the hotel to the pier. The transfer of luggage from car to porters was quick and painless, as was the pre-boarding check in with NCL at 11 am. With our "Suite" priority boarding and the super welcome by Concierge Anca Samfir and Hotel Director Steve Jacobsen, we were in our Cabin by 11:30, enjoying the magnificent NYC skyline from our huge balcony, while sipping champagne.
We decided to make full use of our "Suite" inclusions. After the a heart stirring sail away past the twin tower site, Lady Liberty, and Ellis Island (entry point for our parents and grandparents), we ordered dinner in the cabin from "Cagney's" menu, served, course by course, by our butler, Charlie.
The next day, we docked in Boston at 8:30 am and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in the Suite dining room before embarking on an NCL "Freedom Trail Walk" excursion at 12:30 pm. While we enjoyed the first 2 1/2 hours, herself was having severe back pain (pre surgery) and we decided to return to the ship an hour early. This wasn't too bad, since we were meeting two of her relatives (at 4:30) for a family reunion at the "au bon pain" located in the terminal building at the dock. The Boston sail away was nice but could not compare with the splendor of New York.
We had 7:30 dinner reservations at the Tango restaurant. I consider the Tango to be one of the secret jewels of the Jewel. I know it has had mixed reviews but I think this is due to a lack of understanding of a "fusion" restaurant. Tango is a fusion of Tex-Mex (spicy)and Spanish Tapas (more bland). You're seated with complimentary Margaritas and presented with a menu by the ship's best dining staff, starting with Maitre'D, Elena (going to Epic?). I think they give it extra "oomph" to compensate for their Cinderella "step child" reputation. A "not to miss" dish is the "Lobster Taco". It's chunks of lobster meat in a white wine sauce wrapped in a taco. Ask for it, even if it's not on the menu. Also, don't forget to order the "White Sangria" it's delightful.
The next day was "at sea" and we had a lovely Meet & Greet, in the Bistro, with Captain Constantinos Fafalios (a warm and charming people person) and his, ever helpful staff, including: Hotel Director Steve Jacobsen and Service Coordinator Rochelle Brown. In the evening, we returned to the Bistro for a romantic dinner, in gown and tux for dress up night, before seeing the late show (Band On the Run) which was enjoyable.
On Friday, we docked in Halifax, Nova Scotia at 8am. We booked NCL's Peggy's Cove and City excursion by double decker bus. It was a quick once over that included the juxtaposition of the scenic and city modern. It was nice but not memorable. That night, we dined in our cabin, ordering from the Main Dining Room menu. Our butler had a fix our likes and dislikes and offered several recommendations, based upon his recon of the kitchen. His suggestions were spot on and we learned a valuable lesson: "listen to Charlie".
Saturday was "at sea". But, this was our first cruise with platinum benefits and we really enjoyed our "behind the scenes" ship's tour. Our guide, Service Coordinator Rochelle Brown, in turn, introduced us to various officers and departments: Hotel Services, Dir. Jacobsen; Waste Management, Environ. Off. Marcos; Beverages, Dir. Harris; Food Prep, Dir. Saldana; Laundry, Mstr. Windandar; Theater, Dir. "Svetlana"; and (saving the best for last) The Bridge, Captain Fafalios. That evening, we dined at Mama's Italian, our favorite restaurant. Their house specialty is what we consider the Haute Cusine Italiano: Osso Bucco and Rissotto. With a bottle of Chianti, we were in heaven.
Sunday was "Quebec Day". A local resident and fellow CCer (Julie) offered to guide a tour of "her home town" on the CC thread. We gleefully accepted and were delighted with her offer and our acceptance. She escorted 10 fellow CCers on a short walking tour of the "old lower city" (look for the 3D murals on the sides of buildings), followed by a funicular ride to the upper walled city and the world famous Chateau Frontenac. It was magnificent. She suggested a lovely and reasonably priced place for lunch (Restaurant aux anciens Canadiens), adjacent to the Chateau. We dined in our cabin that evening, ordering from (you guessed it) the French Bistro menu. It kept the mood and moment of a wonderful day flowing into the night.
Monday was "at sea" and we decided to make it "Pamper Ourselves" Day. We spent the day using our NCL Deluxe Honeymoon Package ($229): Breakfast in bed, Two 25-minute Massages, Honeymooners' Champagne and Cake party with photo, Canapés delivered to stateroom with the included champagne (saved from embarkation), and a Romantic dinner for two in Bistro with a complimentary bottle of wine. The 2nd night at the Bistro kept the after glow of Quebec alive.
On Tuesday, we docked at Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. We had an early breakfast in the Suite's dining room and headed off for NCL's "Charlottetown by double decker" bus excursion at 8:15 am. There really isn't much to see in this port but at least we can say "we've been there..done that." We invited some friends for an "in cabin" dinner and ordered from the Main Dining Room menu. Great friendship and good wine, what more can you ask for?
Ah, Wednesday...Sydney, Nova Scotia. After breakfast, we headed for our 8:15 am NCL's Bras D'or Lakes Grand Tour. This was very memorable day for me. The scenery is awe inspiring and includes a visit to the Alexander Graham Bell Museum (it's where he retired). But the Highland Village Living Museum in the town of Iona is very special to me. My ancestors (The MacNeills) were from the Scottish Hebrides island of Bara, about 40 miles north of Ireland. In the late 1500s, half of them went to Ireland to help their cousins (The O'Neill's) in the last war of Irish nobility against England. After the war was lost, the MacNeill's were not permitted to return home and were forced to remain in Ireland with no land or work. Many of the descendants of the MacNeills who had remained in Bara, eventually emigrated to Nova Scotia in the 1800s and founded the town of Iona. This tour gave me the chance to reconnect with the saga of my roots which I first learned from my mother's knee. It was back to the Bistro for dinner, using our platinum comp with wine and toasting my good fortune that my ancestors had been stranded in Ireland, eventually forcing them to emigrate to the United States. After dinner, we adjourned to the theater for "Cirque Bijou"...This is a must see. The evening was topped off with late night dessert at the Chocoholic Buffet.
Thursday was spent at sea with a day of leisure. We finished off the day with dinner in the Asian fusion restaurant Chin Chin (ok but not great) and the comradeship of new friends for a farewell dinner.
On Friday, we docked in New York at 8am. We bid our new friends an "Until that time" goodbye. For us, 10 days, completed....14 more to go.