Pre-Cruise Stay: Hilton Fort Lauderdale Airport - Fort Lauderdale, Florida. As insurance on New England weather I flew down the day prior and I'm happy I did as New England experienced a Nor'easter which caused flight delays. By the time I arrived at the hotel it was after midnight on Sunday morning. The room was very well cleaned and appointed and provided a comfortable environment to crash in for 6 hours. Hotel staff was very accommodating for the late arrival and very helpful. I would recommend this hotel to anyone. It's not centrally located to any stores though so if you forgot something you're going to spend a lot at the hotel's store.
Transportation to Port of Miami: SAS Transportation shines through once again. It's a hidden gem here on Cruise Critic and their service was incredible. I was picked up on time and after a brief stop at the Fort Lauderdale airport we were on our way to Port of Miami.
Embarkation: This was the smoothest EVER! I can't say enough about how well John O'Hara the Hotel Director is. The process literally flowed smoothly with no stopping. Got the keycard for my room on Deck 8 forward (Cabin 8008) to be precise and was whisked right onto the ship where John O'Hara greeted me back to the ship right after stepping off the gangway. Incredible how he never forgets a face!
The Ship: Since I had sailed on the Norwegian Jewel twice before she still looks like she's brand new. The Jewel crew does a fantastic job of keeping her clean and looking like new. She was put to sea in 2005 and easily looks like she was just christened yesterday. Major venues used during this sailing include: Star Bar & Cagney's Steakhouse (Deck 13 midship), Spinnaker's Lounge (Deck 13 forward), Garden Cafe (Deck 12 mid-to-aft), Fitness Center (Deck 12 forward), Stardust Theater (Deck 7 forward), Azura Main Dining Room (Deck 6 mid) and Tsar's Palace (Deck 6 Aft). Tsar's Palace is my favorite room onboard. The dEcor makes me feel like I'm dining with royalty. Don't know if it's the pictures on the wall or just the overall feel to the room but it's by far the best dining venue onboard.
The Stateroom: I booked this trip as an interior originally and was assigned to Deck 10. One week prior to departure I got an upsell to Deck 8 forward, cabin number 8008. Sadly a fellow Cruise Critic person had to cancel who was in a balcony and offered it to me. I didn't catch this until the manifest closed but brought it up to John O'Hara prior to boarding. I didn't unpack after the ship sailed but the room wasn't freed by NCL corporate but there was another balcony room that was open and for another small fee I upgraded to a Category BC stateroom number 9144. Thanks John for finding the open balcony and working with NCL shore-side to get me the upgrade. I love balcony staterooms. Cabin 9144 was in great shape. Everything worked properly and the room was pristine. Thanks to Wayan Pelom and Jill Yen for keeping the room extra clean even after some glitter got loose again! The towel animals nightly were incredible and I had a collection on the shelves by the balcony door by the end of the cruise. These two cabin stewards were so efficient I hardly ever saw them but they did a great job!
Food: This is such a subjective area and I always say that. Too many times people complain about the food onboard and I can't ever figure out why. The food is fantastic. I've had this menu several times in the past few years with NCL in the main dining rooms and it never gets old. This cruise I tried new things like the Beef Stroganoff and loved it. The night of the prime rib when I asked for extra portions the waitstaff happily obliged and gave me three slices. I liked every piece of food I was served and attribute the liking to the hard work of the chefs behind the scenes.
Fellow Passengers: This was a spring break cruise so the average age was considerably lower. Plenty of college co-eds sleeping four in a cabin and as a result the energy level was considerably high. The security team onboard the Jewel did a great job of keeping the rowdy folks in check and did a great job confiscating booze these folks tried to bring into the disco at night - especially White Hot Party night. Ages were checked at the door each night in Spinnaker's Lounge. I felt like I was at a real club but it kept the crowd under control. Nice work security team! I felt bad for the Blue Lagoon folks, especially Lorena who put up with a lot of non-sense in the early hours of the morning when the lounges closed. She kept her composure and gave me great service but you could clearly see that she was frazzled with the way all the college kids were acting. Nice work Lorena!
Now for a run down of what I did day-to-day so you can gauge how I spent my cruise and who I interacted with and who made lasting memories for me:
Day 1: Miami, FL - Embarkation - Smooth embarkation. Dropped the carry-on in Cabin 8008 when the rooms were ready and went topside to catch the Bon Voyage festivities hosted by Paul Baya, Cruise Director and his staff which included Jane who was onboard in January. I've sailed with Paul twice before and he didn't disappoint. He promptly jumped into the pool with all his clothes on when enough people crammed onto the stage! What a way to get a cruise going! The party was high energy and started the cruise off great. We got underway on-time and I met up with some fellow cruisers who returned from the 1/3 sailing.
After the upgrade and getting settled into the new cabin there was no time for dinner and it was off to the Friends of Dorothy gathering in the Star Bar. After Friends of Dorothy it was off to Tim Kaminski's one show only in the Stardust Theater. You really don't want to miss Tim's show. He does a fantastic job and uses audience members to make his show work. He's a great comedian and an asset to the Norwegian Jewel. Throughout the week you will find Tim out and about checking on how passengers are doing and how their experience is going. He's an incredible guy and loves broccoli sent to his cabin at 3AM.
Once Tim's show finished it was off to dine somewhere but the show ran long and it was after 10PM. Where would I eat? I went to Azura's Dining Room which was still open and had a quick, yet very lonely dinner service. I dined alone this night and this felt very awkward. Service by the dining room staff was very hurried this night. Not what I was accustomed to from January and I had dined in Azura the first night back then too. This was different waitstaff. No biggie as I would make it a point to get to Tsar's Palace the remainder of the cruise.
Back to change for the disco up in Spinnaker's Lounge. I missed the 70's Groove party but did catch the Celebrity DJ Ivan G. He spun all hip-hop music most of the early part of the night until 1AM with a video screen going. DJ Jean Perez took over after 1AM and the party really took off. She spins a lot of vocal house music mixed with hip hop and this serves everyone in attendance. She really knows how to play to both crowds this Spring Break. I had sailed with her before on the Norwegian Sky and she's the best in the NCL fleet so I was ecstatic to have her on the Jewel! Off to bed at 2:30AM...Day 2: Sea Day: Woke up and had breakfast on the balcony courtesy of room service and running up to the Garden Buffet for a hot plate. Relaxed for a few minutes and headed down to the Walk-A-Mile with Jane, Cruise Director's Staff. Met another lady who was cruising alone and we walked and talked the three laps around the ship. Afterward it was back up to the room to freshen up and get ready for the Cruise Critic gathering.
Thanks to Rochelle Brown, Event Coordinator, for giving us the space for the CC Meet and Greet in Azura and to the Norwegian Jewel pantry for providing complimentary juice, coffee and a tray of cookies. Senior staff members attended including John O'Hara (Hotel Director), Paul Baya (Cruise Director), Tim Kaminksi (Comedian), Katya Plyakova (Bar Manager) and the rest of the department heads. Captain Konstantino Fafalios stopped by to answer some questions as well and gave us some general knowledge of the ship throughout the week. This Captain is unlike any other I've seen anywhere on any cruise ship. He is very visible to the passengers and is always making sure we have a good time. You know you're in good shape when the top authority onboard is checking out things to make sure they're right. Thanks to the fellow Cruise Critic folks for showing up. We had great weather this day and peeling yourself away from your deck chair to attend must have been hard but as the organizer I appreciated it.
Next it was off to the Latitudes party for past passengers bronze and higher at 1PM. I stayed at this until it was over chatting with a fellow CCer and then went back and lounged the afternoon away sunning out on the balcony and napping.
Off to dinner at Tsar's Palace. If there was anyone I knew to ask for there it was Alexandra Golubyatnikova. In January she was fantastic and we only had her once but she knew I had written a comment card and STYLE card for her so when I had asked for her she instantly recognized me and gave me a warm welcome back onboard. I dined in her section nearly every night for the remainder of the cruise. She is truly a fantastic waitress and she made dining alone a lot less lonely. Her assistant Vanessa Mabale was also very attentive and engaging. Congrats to Alexandra for her transfer to the maiden crew of the Norwegian Epic, a new ship needs a phenomenal crew and she's perfect for it. Vanessa could easily be promoted to a waitress because she's that good too!
Off to Friends of Dorothy for a short while before heading to Jean Ann Ryan's Band on the Run. The Jean Ann Ryan Company is just fantastic. I love their shows and seeing Band on the Run twice was excellent. Between the shows I ran back and changed into my White Hot Party attire which was up in Spinnaker's Lounge at 10:15AM for the pre-party. Thanks to Richard Oaxaca (acrobat) for the extra help with the costume for the White Party. This night was incredible and it got even better when DJ Jean took over at 1AM to finish out the night in style! It was also nice to celebrate crew birthdays in Spinnaker's with Paul Baya (Cruise Director), Tim Kaminski (Comedian) & Adrian Bica (Concierge).
Day 3: Roatan, Honduras: Nice warm cloudy day in Roatan as we pulled up and dropped anchor. Celebrity Equinox took the Coxen Hole pier but the tender was a short ride and moved very quickly. The whole process took 20 minutes total.
Shore side I met up with some friends made on the ship and a crew member and headed off to Sundowners Bar on the West End of Roatan Island. It's a quaint beach bar complex that serves food and cheap drinks. It has beach chairs available and the bar staff are incredibly nice. On this day we were treated to a fire-eating performance by a member of the Norwegian Jewel's production company. It was a great day to hang out at the beach and jump off the pier in to the water. It's a hidden gem on the backside of the island far from the cruise ships.
On the tender ride back to the ship I spotted Nona, an incredible stateroom steward I had on the Norwegian Spirit in May 2009. It is such a small world and when I met her we knew each other and recognized each other immediately. It was a nice reunion and then I realize that the Norwegian Jewel really has the best staff in the Norwegian fleet on her! When I got back onboard I bumped into Willie, Deck 9 forward stateroom steward, who was my cabin steward in January. He remembered me as well and gave me a warm welcome back onboard and greeted me every night he saw me in the corridor. Great customer service ethic by these two!
After a brief cocktail party visit, it was off to Cagney's Steakhouse for dinner to celebrate a crew member's birthday onboard. Thank you to Richard's parents for allowing me to join in on this special occasion. The service in Cagney's was impeccable and the birthday celebration was a memorable occasion for all involved. The 10 ounce Filet Mignon was cooked to order and was done just right.
Spotlight showtime tonight was Troubled Annie featuring singer-songwriters Meg Allison and Joshua Stevens. They have a very unique musical style that even for a person who can't stand country music can get into. Meg & Joshua were always out and about on the cruise as well just like Tim Kaminski so not only are they great performers I can say these two are genuinely great people. Here's hoping NCL brings them back again soon!
Off to Dancing with the Jewel Stars where three celebrity judges consisted of Tim Kaminski (Comedian), Betsy (Principal Singer) and Richard (Acrobat). Tonight's show featured six couples. This entertainment truly varies depending on the passengers who get involved in the show and tonight's show was great. Losers lounge is always a fun place to get into.
Quick change of clothing and it was back up to the disco until the early hours of the morning with DJ Jean once again bringing down the house with her incredible mixing style!
Day 4: Belize City, Belize: Is this a vacation? What am I doing up at 6:30AM? Oh right… SHORE EXCURSION: Cave Tubing & Jungle Trek Since I was sailing solo I was able to do something more rugged and this tour was perfect. You take a walk through the jungle to the spot up the river where you put your tube in and float down stream. I've never done cave tubing before and read of the dangers of doing it but rest assured you are given a life jacket, hard hat with light and a sturdy inner tube. We were allowed to go along unattached to each other and just float down the stream through the cave with the guide pointing things out. It was the best tour and the only organized tour of my vacation. It was a goal I had and something I always wanted to do and doing it with NCL made it guarantee that I would be back to the ship on-time and safe.
Back to the ship to freshen up and dine in Tsar's Palace with Alexandra and Vanessa who again gave me excellent service and made the dining alone experience so much less awkward! Then it was off to the Jean Ann Ryan Production of "Country Gold." As I write this I am saddened to say that Country Gold is no longer a part of the Norwegian Jewel's line up as of the 3/28/10 sailing. I'm not sure what it's being replaced with but Country Gold is gone. I caught both shows and again excellent performances by all.
Next it was off to the Caribbean Deck Party that was outside by the Sapphire pool on Deck 12 mid. The party featured ice carvings and music being spun by the Celebrity DJ Ivan G and later by DJ Jean. Thanks to the Jewel crew who came out by the Topsider's Bar and had some festive St. Patrick's Day drinks and posed for photos. Thanks to Katya, Bar Manager, for even making my Grey Goose and Sprite festively green! This night was truly one to remember for so many reasons. It was also another major birthday night onboard for a crew member and friend - Richard.
Finished out the night with DJ Jean poolside and closed down the celebration. After sitting out at Sky High Bar for a while we dined at Blue Lagoon in the wee early hours of Thursday morning. Thanks to Lorena for excellent service in Blue Lagoon. It was nice to get caught up and also learn that she too was celebrating a birthday that week. It was one huge cruise of celebrations!Day 5: Costa Maya, Mexico: Didn’t set the alarm and I goofed on the time to meet up with friends and next thing I know it’s just before noon and I’m heading off to Pez Quadro just about five miles from the port. It’s a nice beach area where they serve you booze and food from the hotel and you lay on the beach. It was a great day at the beach and met up with the rest of the friends I missed when I overslept. You can rent a golf cart for three hours to take to get there or for $5 you can take a bus to get there. It’s a very short ride and well worth the trip. Cheap booze and great local Mexican food cooked in the authentic Mexican way. Great place to go.
Back onboard I watched the ship leave Costa Maya from the balcony while readying for dinner. Dined again in Tsar’s Palace and had Alexandra and Vanessa again this evening. Very good service and the food superb! I caught the early show of illusionist Jean-Pierre Parent who was phenomenal. Not only can he do illusion tricks he’s also got a pretty good humor bone in him with zinging jokes out. I went back to the room to change and laid down for a second which ended the night very early for me. Tonight was the Chocoholic Buffet, NCL’s Signature Buffet, and I was sad that I missed it but I’ve been to them before and can tell you it’s truly something you do NOT want to miss. Tim Kaminski also had a late night adult comedy show in Spinnaker’s Lounge which I missed. Lack of sleep does catch up with you eventually. Lesson learned - schedule disco naps better.
Day 6: Sea Day: Wow, sunrise – even with the time change! I haven’t done that in so long on a cruise I can’t remember. After having breakfast it was time for Walk-A-Mile. I guess a lot of guests didn’t keep up with the time change since I was the only one who showed up. I did the mile and then hit the gym. The gym was still pretty dead and all of the equipment was wide open for using. This is the best maintained gym I’ve ever used on any ship so props to the crew for keeping it tidy.
Caught up with some friends and went and did some sunning up in the Villa complex and took yet another nap before starting out on a busy evening. Dined in Tsar’s again with DJ Jean and celebrated her birthday there. Thank you to Mr. Plunkett, Maitre D in Tsar’s Palace for getting DJ Jean’s birthday celebration put together in record time by reserving a table for two at the aft windows and for having a birthday cake at the ready. All this was done in under a half hour!
After dinner I headed to Cirque Bijoux. This show is not to be missed. The acrobats take the show to you in the audience so you want to make sure you are 10 rows back from the front at least to catch the full view. This show takes a lot of energy from the performers because it’s intense in movements. The dancers, acrobats and gymnasts did a fantastic job. I caught both shows because it’s really THAT good.
Off to Liar’s Club with Tim (comedian), Jean-Pierre (illusionist) and Paul Baya (Cruise Director). You had to guess which person was lying and the whole thing just had tons of jokes and jabs being spun between them. It was comical to watch the whole thing unfold and this is definitely worth attending. It’s adults only though!
Time to disco with DJ Ivan early on and then DJ Jean took over and the party got started! DJ Jean can rock the house with her style and tonight was especially hot for everyone. What an incredible night in the disco. Thanks birthday girl DJ Jean!
Day 7: Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas: Finally! I made it ashore at Great Stirrup Cay after two cruises that called there and I missed it both times. Once was my fault on the Sky and the other time Mother Nature acted up and the Jewel left before I could get to the island. It was a nice day at the beach. The beach was a little crowded but NCL announced this week when we were onboard that they were expanding the island and renovations to the island are already under way. Pretty soon the beach area will be bigger and better with more things to do on the island. It was a good day at the beach and the BBQ was nice. DJ Jean came ashore and spun for a few hours at the tail end of the day turning a beach day into an afternoon t-dance. It was great to have good music while in line waiting for the tender after hanging out for a while by Jerk’s bar.
After getting back onboard I dined in Tsar’s Palace one last time and said goodbye to Alexandra and Vanessa. Off to the Friends of Dorothy gathering to say goodbye to the friends I made there and then it was off to Bar City to meet up with some other friends and say goodbye. I managed to sneak into the crew talent show and caught “Fountains” which is always hilarious and this cruise didn’t disappoint. You have to catch this show. The crew onboard is truly talented that participates but this show is NOT to be missed! Thanks to Katya for her personalized bar service attention at Shaker’s Martini Bar to send me on my way packing in style!
Got back and finished packing and had enough time to get out to Quest, the adult game show. It’s always saved for the last night onboard and there’s good reason. What happens at Quest stays at Quest! Its adults only and you have to catch it. While it’s not something you have to participate in, it’s definitely worth a look. Sorry to poor Cherryl, Bar Waitress, who I chased to the back when I needed a bar staff person for our group. LOL! Even Paul Baya was impressed by the speed that I moved to get her! Oh the memories on that night are always good ones!
After Quest concluded the disco took over and it was time to say goodbye to the disco group that had been pretty much the same group the entire cruise. Doing the exchange of emails, taking pictures and the like makes the end of cruise experience that much closer. Thanks to Cherryl that feeling quickly went away! The night continued on with DJ Jean spinning her tunes until 2AM when the crew and the passengers pretty much have their curfews.
Day 8: Miami, FL: Disembarkation: I had the purple color bag tags to get off the ship. After dining on the balcony one last time I waited eagerly for the luggage tag color to be called and it was off the ship at 9:15AM. I cleared customs and was on a bus by 9:30AM. Very quick through customs this time and I was thankful. I was an idiot and booked a flight at 11:25AM on Jet Blue which is the second stop of the transfer bus. The bus was nearly full and did fill up very quickly after I boarded but the driver and the person outside the bus who was taking the tickets took FOREVER to get the bus to leave. I was in the back of the bus having the makings of a panic attack. By the time I got to the airport it was 10:40AM at the first stop. It was 11AM when I got to the terminal for Jet Blue. I ran inside and couldn’t check in. Luckily the person checked me in at the ticket counter and over-rode the computer. I was late and I was lucky to have such service. I made it through security in RECORD time and made it to the gate while the plane was still boarding passengers. I was winded, panic stricken but I was on my way home. Lesson learned here: Don’t book your flight that close out of Fort Lauderdale airport EVER again or arrange your own ground transportation back to the airport from the ship.
Conclusion: Did the experiment work of solo cruising on a regular non-charter cruise work? This is a resounding YES. The Captain, Senior Staff and the Norwegian Jewel crew rolled out the red carpet for me again and treated me like a VIP the entire week. The only awkward moment was dining alone which by the second night was resolved. I’m living proof that you can be a solo cruiser and still have a fantastic time onboard the Norwegian Jewel!
Without the help of these wonderful people Spring Break wouldn’t have been simply PERFECT: John O’Hara (Cruise Director & Customer Service Extraordinaire), Captain Kostantinos Fafalios (for being so accessible and hospitable everywhere I saw him), Katya Plyakova (Bar Manager for fixing a problem early on in the cruise and becoming a great friend by the end of the cruise), DJ Jean Perez (for being the best late night Jewel DJ and best DJ in the NCL fleet), Paul Baya (Cruise Director), Tim Kaminski (Comedian), Alexandra Golubyatnikova (Best Tsar’s Palace Waitress), Vanessa Mabale (Best Tsar’s Palace Assistant Waitress), Raluca (Senior Waitress – Cagney’s Steakhouse), Wayan Pelom (Stateroom Steward – Deck 9 Aft Starboard), Jill Yen (Junior Stateroom Stewardess – Deck 9 Aft Starboard), Nona (Deck 8 Stewardess), Jean-Pierre Parent (Illusionist), Meg & Joshua (Troubled Annie) and Betsy Padamonsky (Principal Singer – JAR for the dancing memory). A very special thank you to Richard Oaxaca, Acrobat from the Jean Ann Ryan Company, for making the White Hot Party that much hotter and to his family for making me feel welcomed whenever I was with them during this voyage. I left the Norwegian Jewel with a feeling like I was leaving my extended family behind. Like the Norwegian Way says… “You’re a part of the family” and I truly became a part of the Norwegian Jewel’s family. I’ll miss you all and thanks again for making my spring break a cruise to never forget. It was PERFECT and I look forward to coming back onto the Norwegian Jewel again soon!