For first time cruisers my husband and I did intensive research about cruise lines/ships and destinations. We were wavering between the Caribbean and Mexican Riviera. When we found this "repo" cruise and saw the price the choice was easy.
Then of course we (meaning I) logged onto Cruise Critic to read all about past cruises and see if there were comments on this cruise. We joined Roll Call and it was easy sailing from then on.
We boarded the ship in Miami, bit of a line, but with a couple thousand people boarding you can't expect express boarding. I would say it was faster than boarding an airline if you had something to compare it to.
We of course wanted to head to our stateroom, but no such luck, there were crew members standing guard on the 8th level who told us we would have to come back later. So we went up to The Fizz Lounge where it seemed the place to drop off our carryon luggage. Then from there we went to the Garden Cafe to grab some food. We met a wonderful couple in their 70s and they shared their table with us, as it was very very crowded up there. We were looking around off and on to see if we could find others wearing mardi gras beads, but there were so many people we never did see anyone with them on. After we ate lunch/breakfast (we are pst'ers) we wandered around the ship taking in all the sights and sounds. Of course we were very "touristy" as it was our first cruise, oohing and aahing about most everything. Hubby signed up for the soda card, though the sticker shock almost made him pass out. We also signed up for the spa special, though the advertised price was more than the actual price, but that was actually reduced for us on the day before we docked in NY. Finally the loudspeakers announced that rooms were ready.
We went to our room and found it was very nice, we actually thought it would be smaller, and were perfectly happy with the size and storage. Hubby relaxed while I unpacked our items. I am thankful for all the tips I got here on CC as to what items to take and the over the door pocket container thingy. We pretty much relaxed after that and had a satisfactory dinner at the Teppanyaki Room where the entertainment and food was fine, though we would have liked a bit more of the food besides just extra rice. After dinner we started our nightly routine of walking a couple times around the ship before retiring for the night.
Our first sea day we met up with the other CC people and met some of the ships staff. Happily John O'Hara was at the meet and greet and he was the great asset to making our first cruise so wonderful. We met a wonderful couple from upstate NY who took us under their wing and put up with our many questions about cruising as they were total veterans. We had a blast doing the cabin cruise and met more people and were able to see the different rooms, and realized we were very happy with our room and balcony. We had a "porthole" type balcony and the mini suites had balconies that to us were not quite as private though a little more spacious. We had the most absolutely wonderful cabin stewardess and her assistant. Her name was Goldie and I swear they must have cameras on all our rooms because no matter what time of day we left, when we came back our room was spotless and there was almost always a new towel animal surprise. Like little kids that was something we looked forward to. We also read our Freestyle Daily before going to bed each night as to see what things on the ship we wanted to try to do if we had the time. Happily though there were many things listed on the Freestyle Daily, only a couple things a day would catch our eye. It was very nice that there was something for everyone, and that some things were not for us, but would be for others, so most the time what we went to see wasn't too crowded, unless of course if it was in the Stardust Theater as that venue was almost always packed and fun.
We had a couple of excursions set up for some of the ports, and I have to say the best fun we had was the Belize zip lining and cave tubing. We booked the Aruba water park excursion through NCL and it was a bit pricey for the short amount of time that we had there. But we did have a great time, as it was finally the first time I got my hubby to snorkel. Unfortunately on an excursion on Curacao I got terribly sunburned and I had to cancel our NCL excursion on the last day to Tortola. I was hoping to exchange for something less sunny, but there were no excursions that did not involve hours of beach and/or sun. At first when we went to the excursion desk the young man there told us we had to get a note from the ship doctor, mind you I am standing there the color of a well cooked lobster. What he should have done right off, and we should have done, but being newbie's did not know this; we should have spoken to the manager of the excursions. We had dinner with JoAnn and Carl, the upstate NY'ers and they mentioned we should call John O'Hara; well he is a saint and took care of it in less than 30 seconds. We explained the situation and it was amazing how fast the excursions manager appeared. I hope that for all NCL cruisers that they have a John O'Hara on their ship as the comfort of knowing someone who will look/listen and handle such situations makes your cruise a good one or an unhappy one. We only needed to talk to John twice, and even though we were only 2 people of a couple thousand on board, John made us feel that our concerns were important to him also. I hope he knows that this has set the tone for what we will hope for on our next NCL cruise ?.
All in all I would have to say we had a wonderful cruise. The food was great, though we loved Tsars much more then Azura for the ambiance and service. We enjoyed the late night snacks at the outdoors on our nightly walks. We enjoyed a lovely dinner at Mama's with Carl and JoAnn, and a very cool CC'ers Tea that John O'Hara set up.
We loved the fact that there were sanitizers everywhere and they even sprayed you when you came back from excursions. They were very germ conscious and I appreciated that. Getting on and off the ship for excursions were never a problem for us, the staff was efficient and quick. The only problem we had was leaving on the last day but from what I understood that was something to do with customs and not the Jewel. I would recommend the Jewel to anyone that was going on a cruise as we had a fabulous time!
Cynthia and Merle, Northern California, First time cruisers
ps. My only complaint was the constant "shoving" of the jewelry they were hawking all the time via ads and announcements on the loudspeakers, and the encouragement at every port to go to NCL's recommended jewelry shops.