We came up to New York a day early, on Amtrak from Fredericksburg, VA to New York Penn Station. We stayed the night at the Hilton Times Square (236 W. 42nd), using some our Hilton points for the room. It's a very nice hotel in a great location. For dinner that night we went to Victor's Cafe, a Cuban restaurant located at 234 W. 52nd. Several friends had recommended the place and it had great on-line reviews. We were not disappointed, either. It's a bit pricey, but what isn't in New York? From their prix-fixe dinner menu, I highly recommend their homemade chicken soup with corn and diced avocado, and the Ropa Vieja—Victor's House Specialty (Shredded Black Angus skirt steak simmered in garlic, tomatoes, onions, and peppers nestled in a plantain basket.) They are both terrific. I also highly recommend Victor's watermelon Mojitos, but be warned, they pack a punch—a very nice punch. After dinner we caught a show (Mary Poppins) at the Amsterdam Theater, which is only More
a couple of hundred feet down 42nd Street from the Hilton.
We used the 777 car service to take us from the Hilton to Manhattan's cruise terminal, only a little over a mile away from the hotel. The driver was waiting for us when we exited the hotel at 11:30 and we were at the pier about 15 minutes later. The cost of the service was $16, plus tip. I suppose a taxi would have been cheaper, but at least we had a car waiting for us (a Lincoln Town Car, incidentally). (Note: on a later cruise we did take a taxi from Penn Station. We waited about ten minutes in the taxi queue, but the fare was only $6.70 from Penn Station to the cruise terminal.)
Pier 90 appeared to be a mob scene when we got there. There were a lot of people standing in line. We were booked into the Emerald Penthouse for this cruise (category AB two-room family suite on deck 11) and were directed to a check point for those with suites. There we had to show our cruise tickets and passports. Then we were directed to another woman who asked to see our ticket. She then told us to get into the long check-in line. I told her we had a suite and she said we didn't. Mind you, she wasn't an NCL employee but worked for the terminal authority. Fortunately, friends we'd made on the Cruise Critic roll call checked with the people working the check-in for the suites, and they pulled us over there. From then on, the check-in went quickly. John D'Souza, the Jewel's concierge, came over to get us and take us to the VIP waiting area. There we were given our keycards and a young woman from the ship's wait staff escorted us to our stateroom. She asked us if we were hungry and told us Cagney's was open. Of course I'm hungry. I'm on a cruise. So she escorted us to Cagney's, where we had a great lunch, the first of many.
I should note here that this was our fourth cruise with NCL. We've made two European cruises with them and two Western Hemisphere. Embarkation (and Debarkation) from the European ports (Barcelona and Dover) were far smoother and far less chaotic than the ones in the U.S.
I'd booked this cruise a year earlier and had reserved 11656, an AF stern mini-suite—our favorite location. But just about a week before the sailing I checked with our PCC to see if any good deals had popped up. I knew there had been a lot of cancellations because of a late itinerary change, and several people in our roll call had mentioned getting nice deals on upgrades. As we were talking, an AB suite suddenly popped up. I was reluctant at first to make the change, because I really liked our stern mini-suite, but our PCC convinced me that I wouldn't regret making the move . . . and she was so right.
Our suite was fabulous, much more impressive in person than when viewed on NCL's website. It featured a bar (with espresso machine), dining area, sitting area, balcony, large master bath with dual sinks, master bedroom with a queen size bed, and a second bedroom with two fold down beds and separate bathroom. The large bath tub sits beneath a large picture window. It's one-way glass (at least I surely hope so, or we're going to be on Youtube.) The separate shower has its own floor to ceiling window overlooking the ocean. It features three fixed nozzles (one overhead and two at hip level), plus removable wand. We loved that shower! I wish I could have brought it home with me.
There were three flat-screen televisions in the suite—master bedroom, master bath, and living room. I could watch TV while I shaved. There was also a small stone-age technology television in the second bedroom.
Also waiting for us in the suite were flowers, chocolate covered strawberries, and two bottles of champagne. One bottle was a standard perk for the suite and the other came with the deluxe romance/honeymoon/anniversary package I'd ordered.
The suite was paneled throughout and it took us about a nanosecond to realize that we'd definitely made the right move to take this upgrade. Even though there were just two of us, the second bedroom came in handy for extra drawer and closet space, plus having a second bathroom was quite useful, too.
One of the great perks of having a suite was that we could have breakfast and lunch at Cagney's Steak House, one of the specialty restaurants aboard the ship. That was a very nice benefit. Additionally, we had an upgraded room service menu and could order from any of the restaurants aboard the ship. If you do order dinner from one of the specialty restaurants, you will be charged the same surcharge that you would if you ate at that restaurant.
The bed was extremely comfortable and the bed linens and pillows were first rate. Also included in the room were two heavy duty bathrobes and two pairs of slippers. The shampoo, conditioner, and lotion for the stateroom were provided in small bottles, as opposed to a wall dispenser found in most staterooms. We also were provided with large bars of soap.
The original itinerary of this cruise was New York-Newport-at sea-Halifax-at sea-Quebec-at sea-Cornerbrook, Newfoundland-Sydney, Nova Scotia-at sea-New York. However, because of a bearing problem with Jewel's starboard Azipod engine that limited the ship's top speed, there was an itinerary change. I received an email from NCL marked urgent on August 26, detailing the problem and outlining the change of itinerary. The itinerary had to be changed because the ship could not adhere to the original schedule with its top speed reduced by about five knots. The email was followed up two days later with a phone call from the NCL. The revised itinerary dropped Newfoundland from the cruise and added another at-sea day. Additionally, we'd be arriving at Quebec a day later and would have our time in Sydney reduced from eight to five hours. We'd get two extra hours in Halifax and the same amount of time in Quebec, but instead of arriving at 10:00 a.m and departing twelve hours later, we'd be getting in at 7:00 a.m.
Incorporating the latest design in propulsion technology, the Jewel has two electrically driven propellers (about 20 feet in diameter each) mounted on steerable pods. Azipod is an acronym for this technology (azimuth and pod). These pods receive its power from the ship's diesel-electric engines and can be steered in any direction. This gives the ship incredible maneuverability and eliminates the need for rudders. It is also highly fuel efficient. The ship also has three flush mounted propellers along each side of the hull forward (bow thrusters) for additional maneuverability entering and leaving port. It's why modern cruise ships don't require the assistance of tug boats.
As I already noted, the Jewel's starboard Azipod's performance was limited because of worn bearings. The necessary repairs have to be performed in dry dock and the ship is scheduled to enter the yard in Boston in November to get this done. (Note--completed)
I was surprised once we got onboard Jewel to find people who did not know about the itinerary change. Many of them were quite irate, stating that the only reason they'd booked this cruise was for the stop in Cornerbrook. Everyone I spoke to who didn't know about the change had made their booking through an online travel service and did not use a travel agent, NCL, or a cruise consultant. I can't say this was the case for everyone who wasn't notified—just those I spoke to. Obviously, all of the members of our Cruise Critic roll call knew about the change, either from NCL, their travel agent, or from the other members of the roll call. NCL did offer everyone the option of cancelling their booking without penalty, though the cancellation had to be made by August 31st. We lost about eight members of our roll call because of this, but later gained about ten more, because all of the cancellations generated some pretty good bargains. If ever there was an example of why it's a great idea to use a travel agent or consultant, this was it.
Ports and Excursions
First of all, let me highlight that we were blessed with almost perfect weather for this cruise, managing to shoehorn it in and around Hurricanes Earl and Igor. Most days one would have thought we were in the tropics instead of the Canadian Maritimes. I've been in the Maritimes in the summer and not seen weather as we had. We really lucked out.
Newport, Rhode Island, home to the New York Yacht Club, the U.S. Naval War College, the International Tennis Hall of Fame, and numerous mansions from the Gilded Age was our first port of call. It was also the only port that required us to anchor and tender in. The ship offered a variety of excursions, most of which centered around visiting some of the mansions, which are the most popular attraction in Newport. Having been tipped off by a fellow roll call member, we booked a tour through the Preservation Society of Newport County (newportmansions.org). The Preservation Society offers a host of different mansion tours for a very reasonable price. All of the bookings are done online. The tour we chose gave us entry into three mansions, a "behind the scenes" tour of the servants' quarters and working areas of the Elms mansion, and lunch at either the Elms or Marble House, all for $49 per person.
Close to where the tender drops you off is the Newport tourist bureau (which doesn't open until 9:00 a.m.), where you can get maps and a great deal of information about the local area. Next to it is the bus/trolley stop. An all-day ticket on the trolley is six dollars. It runs on a twenty-minute schedule. If you're in reasonable condition, it's not that hard to walk to the mansions. Just make sure you have very good walking shoes, because you'll be standing most of the day, and those marble floors in the mansions can take their toll on your legs.
We rode the bus to the Breakers, the Vanderbilt's summer home in Newport. Your ticket includes a self-guided tour via headsets that are given to you when you enter the house. No photography is allowed inside any of the mansions. The Breakers is well worth the visit and I'd highly recommend it. It's probably the most well-known of the Newport Mansions.
From the Breakers we just walked to Edward Berwind's mansion, the Elms. Berwind, U.S. Naval Academy Class of 1869, was a coal magnate and the first millionaire to build a mansion in Newport. Once again, the self-guided tour was fascinating and immediately upon completing it we had a live guide for the behind-the-scenes tour, which was a highlight for me. Mr. Berwind had a fascination with technology and gadgets, and seeing the first air conditioners, ice makers, electric elevators, electric clothes irons and so forth was a real kick. Be warned—from the basement to the top floor servants' quarters there are eighty steps.
We also had lunch at the Elms and then decided we'd seen enough mansions. We walked back to town, stopping at the Tennis Hall of Fame to poke around, and passing by St. Mary's, the church where JFK married Jacqueline Bouvier.
We wandered a bit around the port area, where there are lots of touristy shops and restaurants. By this time the line for the return tender was quite long, though we didn't have to wait too long to board one.
Halifax, Nova Scotia was our next port of call. We docked bright and early on the morning of Tuesday, September 14. We tied up at one of the industrial piers of the city, which meant that we had to ride a shuttle bus to the passenger terminal, a short distance away. A Princess Lines ship and the Norwegian Dawn occupied the rock star parking. However, this was just a minor inconvenience, as there were plenty of shuttle buses and no wait. My wife has business associates in Halifax and they'd given us great suggestions for things to do in town. Our plan was to explore on our own, once again.
The passenger terminal was full of the usual tourist shops. This area was Canada's Ellis Island, where many immigrants first entered the country. While browsing through the terminal, we did decide to buy tickets on the Hop On, Hop Off (HOHO) bus. It turned out the price was no different than if we'd bought them at the ship's excursion desk. In fact, the ticket booth in the terminal charged the tickets to our shipboard account. They didn't accept cash or credit cards. We decided to get tickets ($59 each), which in hindsight was a complete waste of money. The guides on the bus were great and provided some interesting info, but Halifax is so compact, we just didn't spend that much time on the bus. And then we discovered that the city of Halifax provides a FREE tourist bus service from Pier 21. It's called the Fred Bus (Free Everywhere Downtown) and shuttles visitors throughout downtown, seven days a week from 10:30 to 5:00 p.m., on a 40-minute loop. It includes a guide who provides commentary on the sights and Halifax history. Among the bus' stops are the Alexander Keith Brewery, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, and the Citadel. So if you're contemplating the HOHO, save the money and ride Fred.
Halifax is a midsize city with a small town feel. It's easy to walk around and see for yourself.
If you want to see some of the surrounding sights, such as Peggy's Cove and Fairhaven Cemetery (where Titanic victims are buried) you'll need to be on an excursion or rent a car. Among the main attractions in town are the public gardens, the Citadel, the Clock Tower, the Keith Brewery, and the Maritime Museum. Argyle Street is home to an eclectic collection of pubs and restaurants. To enter the Citadel cost is approximately twelve dollars. The Keith Brewery charges $15 for a tour. This tour lasts approximately an hour and includes two pints of beer. The Keith tours don't start until noon.
Several friends of ours took the tour to Peggy's Cove and really enjoyed it. Others rented a car to drive around and highly recommended we try that next time. The town of Lunenburg received rave reviews, as did Chester. If you're a fan of the Syfy TV network's Haven, it's filmed in Chester and Lunenburg.
We had lunch at the Five Fishermen restaurant, on Argyle Street, just down the hill from the Clock Tower. Their lunch time menu prices are reasonable, their bread is delicious, and the clam chowder is quite good. The place has an interesting history, too. Built as a school in 1816, it was later purchased by Anna Leonowens, who'd just come from Siam, where'd she'd been the governess for the King of Siam's children. She later wrote her memoirs. You may have seen the play or movie based upon those memoirs, "The King and I." The building then became a funeral home, and it was here that the recovered bodies of Titanic passengers were brought. It became a restaurant in 1974 and is noted not only for its chowder, but also for the numerous ghost sightings in the establishment.
As I've mentioned, Halifax is an easy city to walk around, so if you're just interested in the city, you'll do quite well with a good guide book and the free Fred bus.
The highlight of the cruise for us, and probably for most of the passengers, was our visit to Quebec. It's hard to believe that a city with such a European style and feel is so close to the United States. We pulled into port just as the sun was coming up, docking at the pier located right at the foot of Vieux Quebec (old Quebec). The view of the city was breathtaking, as we were right beneath the heights of the old citadel and fortress walls. Quebec is the only walled city in North America, north of Mexico City. My only regret about this visit is that because of the schedule change, we arrived and departed in the dark. At least with the original itinerary, we would have had about three hours of morning daylight to see the approaches to the city.
We were doing a ship's excursion today, the "Grand Exploration of Quebec." It was scheduled for seven and a half hours and would include lunch. Unlike other NCL excursions we've taken, where we met in the theater and were assigned to a numbered tour group, in Quebec we just met pierside and got in line for a bus. When a bus filled up, the line moved to the next bus. It was a bit chaotic, as passengers decided not to wait in line and started jumping from bus to bus. Our tour was obviously the one that most passengers were taking today, as several buses were filled. Fortunately, the guides were conducting the scheduled itinerary in varying order, so all of the buses weren't at the same place at the same time. Consequently, we never had more than one other NCL tour group at any of our stops. I should mention that there was one other ship in port, HAL's Eurodam. None of the places we stopped were particularly crowded, though.
Our first stop on the itinerary was just a short distance from the ship, where Samuel de Champlain landed in 1608 to establish the first French settlement. It was Champlain who named the city, using an Indian word that means "place where the river narrows." The area of our first visit is known as the Place Royale, where our guide provided an informative architecture and history lesson. We then drove up through the old city to the Plains of Abraham, the heights that dominate Quebec. The name came from a ship pilot named Abraham, who used to graze his livestock on the heights. It was here in 1759 that Highland troops of Fraser's regiment, under the overall command of General James Wolfe, scaled the heights to surprise the French army under Montcalm. Both Wolfe and Montcalm died as a result of the ensuing battle. Wolfe's body was returned to England in a cask of rum but Montcalm remained in Quebec. Possession of Canada passed to the English, but Quebec still remains undeniably French. Incidentally, legend has it that Wolfe's cask was empty when his ship reached England, perhaps giving rise to the expression "dead drunk."
After a photo stop on the heights, we proceeded to the Chateau Frontenac, Quebec's most prominent architectural feature. Though chateau means castle in French, the imposing building is actually a hotel built by the Canadian Pacific railroad late in the 19th century. The boardwalk in front of the hotel offers a sweeping vista of the St. Lawrence and old Quebec below it. There is also a funicular railcar that allows you to ride up and down the heights from Place Royale to the chateau, though the walk isn't really that bad.
We had about forty minutes free here, giving us time to take pictures and wander inside Frontenac. We then drove about twenty minutes north to the town of Beaupre, to tour the Romanesque style basilica dedicated to St. Anne, the mother of Mary. It's a beautiful church, but to be quite honest, I'd rather have spent the time touring more of old Quebec.
After about an hour at Beaupre, we drove across the St. Lawrence to the Ile d'Orleans (Orleans Island), where we stopped for lunch at Les Ancetres (The Ancestors), an old farmhouse that was converted into a restaurant. We sat outdoors on the back veranda, with a great view of the St. Lawrence and Montmorency Falls. There were three options for lunch—beef, chicken, or vegetarian. I had the beef bourguignon, which was excellent, while my wife had the chicken, which she said was also quite good. Water or soft drinks were also included. Beer or wine was an additional six dollars. The meal was terrific and the view from the patio was spectacular.
Following lunch we had a drive tour of the island, which is quite beautiful. A significant amount of Canada's produce is grown on Ile D'Orleans.
Our final stop of the tour was the top of Montmorency Falls, about seven miles north of the city. The falls are 275 feet high and 150 feet wide, making it 98 feet higher than Niagara Falls (though much narrower than Niagara). There are stairs that offer numerous spots to view the falls and a suspension bridge above the crest. There are also stairs from the basin of the falls to the crest, as well as an aerial tram. Our tour bus parked at the Manoir Montmorency, a restaurant built in the style of an elegant country manor. The current building actually replaced the original Manoir, which burned down in 1993. Inside the building are restrooms, or as our Canadian friends call them, washrooms; and a gift shop.
From the parking lot, it's a short walk to the falls, either by a level dirt path behind the Manior, or by the more scenic boardwalk, which involves some steps. We took the boardwalk and it wasn't difficult, plus it offered some spectacular viewpoints of the falls. We were at Montmorency for about an hour, giving us plenty of time to see the falls and browse through the Manior.
Our bus returned us to the ship at 4:30, eight hours after we'd departed in the morning. Our guide, a former school teacher, was excellent and quite knowledgeable about the history of Quebec. Some of her translations from French into English were unintentionally hilarious. It was certainly a worthwhile tour but as I mentioned earlier, I would eliminate the stop at Beaupre and spend more time in the old city.
We now had two hours before we had to be back aboard and we immediately walked back into town to explore more on our own. As it was Friday, the area of the old city was beginning to come alive with folks out enjoying the beautiful weather and the start of the weekend. We walked back up the heights to the Chateau Frontenac to take some more photos and then worked our way back down to Place Royale, with its dozens of bistros and shops. A special offered by the Bistro Sous le Fort caught our eye—two beers and two bowls of French onion soup for $15—and we took a table outside with a great view of the Chateau. The beer was quite good and the soup was the best French onion I've ever had, no kidding. I'd be willing to go back to Quebec just for that soup.
Alas, all too soon we had to hustle back to the ship. It would have been nice to spend about four or five more hours there. Friday night in old Quebec seems to be a great time.
Our next . . . and final . . . stop was the town of Sydney, Nova Scotia. We were originally booked on the Taste of the Cabot Trail excursion, but that was canceled after the itinerary change, because it's a seven and a half hour tour. Any excursion had to be four hours or less, because we'd only be in port for five hours. Five hours is hardly enough time to do the area justice. Sydney, an old mining and steel town, is trying to reinvent itself as a tourist destination, hence a huge infrastructure investment in the port area to attract cruise ships. The signature feature of the port is the world's largest fiddle, a moment to the rich Celtic heritage of the region. As an interesting side note, this area is home to Gaelic College, dedicated to the preservation and teaching of the Gaelic language, custom, and culture. Students come from around the world, including Scotland, to study traditional Scottish disciplines, including the Gaelic language and song, music, and crafts. It is the largest program in the world dedicated to teaching Gaelic.
The key attractions of the area require that you get out of town—Cape Breton Island, Bras d'Or (Arms of Gold) Lake, the Cabot Trail, Fortress Louisbourg, and the Bell Museum at Baddeck. It truly is a beautiful area and it's easy to see why Alexander Graham Bell fell in love with it. We did the ship's excursion to Baddeck, about forty-five minutes away. This included one stop at a scenic overlook for photos. At Baddeck, we had around an hour to tour the Bell Museum. From the front of the museum, across the Bras D'Or Lake, one can see the point of land where Bell had his summer home. It's still owned by the Bell family and not open to the public. The town of Baddeck is just around the corner from the museum and we had about twenty minutes in town to shop. We had about ten minutes left to shop for souvenirs at the pier shopping center once we returned to the port. It was an excellent tour but rather hurried because of the time constraints. It was just enough to whet one's appetite to return to this part of Canada.
The ship's staff and crew was the usual mix of nationalities one finds throughout the cruise ship industry. Over sixty nations were represented, with the Philippines representing the majority. There were also a sizeable number of workers from Indonesia and India. The Captain, Konstantino Fafalios, is Greek; Richard Svardmark, Staff Captain, is Swedish; Slavko Mirkovic, Chief Engineer, is from Croatia; John O'Hara, Hotel Director, is from the U.S.; and Shona Blair, the Cruise Director, is also American. Incidentally, the Staff Captain is second-in-command of the ship, the equivalent of the Executive Officer on a U.S. Navy ship. Without exception, every member of the crew we came in contact with cheerful and friendly, be it housekeeping, restaurant, bar, entertainment, security, or deck.
John O'Hara is very approachable and actually announced his phone number to everyone on the cruise. If anyone had any concerns, he wanted them to contact him personally. I had contact with him nearly every day, and he always wanted to know how the cruise was going and if there was anything that could be done better.
Shona Blair was the most energetic, outgoing, and entertaining cruise director I've come across at NCL. Don't get me wrong, our three previous NCL cruise directors were excellent, but Ms. Blair was the best so far. I also appreciated the way she would talk with passengers during the day, soliciting their opinion about the cruise and the entertainment. She was very open to feedback.
We found the ship's overall condition to be excellent. It was clean and well maintained. Our steward kept our stateroom tidy, but the carpeting underneath our sofa hadn't been cleaned in quite some time. I discovered this when I dropped something behind the sofa. It was quite dirty and not what I've come to expect from NCL.
Some parts of the Spinnaker Lounge on deck 12, particularly toward the front of the lounge on the port side had a funky smell, almost as if the seat cushions were mildewed. But apart from this and under our sofa, the parts of the ship I saw on a daily basis were spotless. As is customary on all well-maintained ships, there were working parties turning-to every day to keep the ship shining.
CC Roll Call Meet and Greet
We had 36 members show for our Meet and Greet, which was held in the Star Bar on the morning of our first At-Sea day, on September 13th. The entire senior staff was present, including the Captain, Staff Captain, Chief Engineer, Hotel Director, and Cruise Director and several members of the Second City cast. The ship arranged name tags for everyone and also provided coffee, tea, juice and a large assortment of pastries. The Jewel crew treated our Roll Call group with utmost respect and Captain Fafalios emphasized that NCL pays close attention to Cruise Critic and values our presence on their ships. The Captain spoke at length about the cruise and his ship, and then fielded questions for about twenty minutes. He also invited us to be his personal guests for a tour of the bridge and said that invitations would be sent to our staterooms. The Captain, Staff Captain, and Engineer then excused themselves to return to ship's business, but John O'Hara and Shona Blair, as well as the Second City cast, remained behind to talk to us further. The meeting lasted for well over an hour and was informative and enlightening, as well as a lot of fun.
Ah, what stirs passions more than the topic of food aboard a cruise liner? I'll say that our impression of the food and food service during the entirety of the cruise was quite good, with a couple of minor exceptions. One must bear in mind that the ship is preparing 17,000 meals a day, so if you're expecting Pellegrino Top 50 type cuisine, you'll be disappointed. If that's want you want, be prepared to spend about ten to fifteen times more for your cruise. However, overall, the Jewel kitchen staff does an excellent job and turns out very good meals. We dined at almost every venue on the ship, including Cagney's (steakhouse), Mama's (Italian), Tango's (Tex Mex), Chin Chin (Asian Fusion), Le Bistro (French), Tsar's and Azura (main dining rooms), and the Garden Cafe (buffet). Additionally, we had room service breakfast twice. In my own unscientific system, only based upon my own experience, I ranked them as follows:
1. Cagney's: There is a $25 pp cover charge but the restaurant provides the best food and atmosphere on the ship. Its T-bone and New York strip steaks are excellent, and it does provide alternative entrees for those who aren't steak eaters. The staff is very attentive.
2. Tango's: Ten dollar pp cover charge. Food was great, as were the margaritas. Huge appetizers. Excellent and helpful wait staff. (My wife would reverse 1 and 2, but she's not a steak eater.)
3. Chin Chin: Ten dollar pp cover charge. Menu you'd find at your typical Thai/Chinese restaurant. It was quite good and the portions were enormous. Again, the wait staff was excellent.
4. Azura: No cover. One of the great resources here is the maitre 'd, Harold Plunkett, who has been with NCL for 34 years. We first met him aboard the NCL Dream. If you need anything at all, just ask for Mr. P. He's the sort of person who makes things happen. The food here was quite good. The major drawback was that it can get quite noisy at times. There was also a person in the restaurant going from table to table selling roses. This was a bit cheesy, to say the least. It's a bad idea that NCL should drop immediately.
5. Tsar's: No cover. Great view of the wake if you can get one of the aft tables. The food and menu here are identical to Azura. We just preferred the cozier atmosphere of Azura, but the food and service were just as good as the former. Again, the noise can be a distraction at times.
6. Garden Cafe: No cover buffet. Plenty of food with a wide variety of cuisines to select. If you like salads, it's the best place on the ship. An excellent place to dine if you're pressed for time.
7. Mamas: Ten dollars pp. The food here was okay but nothing was particularly outstanding. The menu reminded me of what passes for Italian food at pseudo-Italian restaurants in the States. The service was great.
8. Le Bistro: Our service charge was included as part of the Deluxe Anniversary package. I believe it's usually $25 pp. Le Bistro has been one of our favorites on other NCL ships but on Jewel it was our biggest disappointment, primarily because of the inordinately slow service. An hour after we'd ordered, we still hadn't received our entrEe. I had their lobster specialty, and to be quite honest, it wasn't worth the wait. It was tough and overdone. We didn't have time for the dessert because we were trying to get to a show. Our server had it sent to our stateroom instead. Their chocolate Napoleon is excellent.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention room service. As I previously mentioned, we used it twice for breakfast and both times it was excellent. Because we were staying in a penthouse, we had a slightly upgraded room service menu, which included hot items for breakfast. The food was hot, plentiful and quite good, and was delivered spot on time.
The cruise offered a variety of entertainment, from the usual Asian rock bands in the lounges to blockbuster extravaganzas in the main theater. Overall the entertainment was quite good, and some of the performers were superb. We thoroughly enjoyed the shows we attended. Among the best performances in the Stardust Theater were Harry O'Donoghue, an Irish solo act; Ross Bennett, an American comedian; Jean Paul, a Canadian magician/comedian; Band on the Run—a song and dance tribute to the music of the Seventies; and Cirque de Bijou, a Cirque du Soleil-type act that was absolutely terrific. The performers in Band on the Run were the same for the Cirque de Bijou and are a very talented group. Second City also performed in the Stardust and were quite funny, especially their sketches centered on cruise ship life. For those of you unfamiliar with Second City, it's a comedy organization that originated in Chicago and boasts numerous famous alumni, including John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Alan Alda, Bonnie Hunt, Tina Fey, and Bill Murray. They primarily focus on improvisational comedy and the young performers on Jewel are hoping to follow in the footsteps of their famous predecessors.
Ross Bennett is a feature on SiriusXM satellite radio's "Blue Collar Comedy" channel and is a great talent. He was hilarious, never more so then when he was deftly putting down a drunken idiot heckler.
Jean Paul, a native of Montreal, was also a laugh riot. I mean, he was heart-attack inducing funny. Unfortunately, he was leaving the ship at the end of the cruise to headline at the Riviera in Las Vegas. (Note: He's back aboard Jewel after a very successful stint in Las Vegas.) What was most remarkable about his comedy is the fact that he admitted that when he first got started in the entertainment business at age 20, he couldn't even speak English.
Harry O'Donoghue, Ross Bennett, Jean Paul, and Second City also had other performances during the cruise in the Spinnaker Lounge. The Second City performers also did a clinic on improvisation that was a lot of fun.
There were other performers in the Stardust that we didn't see: a hypnotist, a solo female singer, and a ventriloquist.
The variety show that the ship's crew performs on the final day of the cruise was a lot of fun. There are some very talented folks on the ship. The final act, performed by the Cruise Director and her staff, is not to be missed.
Other events that we enjoyed was the "70s Disco Inferno Night" in Spinnakers, complete with the Jewel's very own version of the Village People. The assistant cruise director, a Turkish gentleman who's name I unfortunately have lost, was hilarious, especially when he was teaching us John Travolta's dance steps from Saturday Night Fever.
The White Hot party was also a lot of fun. Be sure to wear white. Now you finally have another use for that wedding dress you've been storing all these years.
Our absolutely most favorite entertainment on the ship was the Clachan Boys, a duo that performed primarily in the Fyzz Lounge, though they deserved to be performing in the Stardust Theater. They are a Celtic group from San Diego, featuring Scotsman Brian Caldwell and American Paul Castellanos. Brian is the lead singer and plays the guitar and the Bodhran (Celtic drum), while Paul plays guitar, mandolin, and fiddle (he forgot his banjo). If it has strings, Paul can play it. His rendition of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" would make Charlie Daniels jealous. Shona Blair told us that the Clachan Boys were a last second replacement for another act that had to cancel because of illness, and she couldn't believe the ship's good fortune. For those of you who like great Celtic and contemporary music, I suggest you check out their web site to see if they might be performing near you.
We purchased two spa passes, which cost $119 each for the ten days. This gave us access to all of the Jewel's spa facilities: sauna, steam room, plunge pool, and hot tub, segregated for men and women. There is also a unisex area with therapy bath and heated chairs. The spa is located on deck 12, forward. The heated chairs in the unisex area look out over the bow of the ship. We made use of the spa facilities every day. One thing the Jewel lacks that the Jade had is doors directly to the unisex area from the men's and women's spas. The spa staff is extremely friendly and helpful. Also, as part of our anniversary package, we had a 25-minute couples massage that was fantastic. The ship usually offers spa tours on embarkation day, which I'd recommend if you're the least bit interested.
We are the constantly wired generation and many can't go ten minutes, let alone ten days, without internet access. The ship offers connectivity via satellite. Every cabin has an Ethernet connection but wireless connectivity is only available in the public areas, such as the lounges. There are also a number of desktop PCs in the Internet Cafe on Deck 6 and one was always available every time I stopped by. Mind you, none of this free. You can pay a per minute charge of seventy-five cents, or buy a plan. Two hundred fifty minutes will cost you $100, plus Latitudes Members will get a few extra minutes. The connection is very slow. If you plan to write something lengthy, the best thing is to compose it off line and then connect to send it. I found the wireless connection with my IPad to be unreliable—I kept getting disconnected, usually right in the middle of something important.
The ship offered a few laundry specials during the cruise. On the first day a "pressing only" special was offered for a reduced price. There were two laundry specials. Each time it was $25 for all you could fit into a laundry bag (which the ship provides). You can fit a lot of laundry into that bag. Your clothes will be washed and folded, not pressed. Also, if you need an iron, you can call housekeeping and they will provide one for you.
Yes, the ship does have television with several channels available. It's satellite television, obviously, and subject to outages depending upon the ship's location. There are a number of ship's channels, covering everything from excursions, duty free shopping, and entertainment to safety. And course there is the ever-popular "bow of the ship" channel, so if you have an inside cabin, you can tune to that and pretend you're in an owner's suite. There are three movie channels. Other channels were MSNBC, Bloomberg, BBC news, ESPN, and finally, the comedy channel (Fox News). The ESPN channel offered a variety of sports that Americans never watch but not to worry, NFL football was also televised on Sundays.
This program enables one to purchase a deposit on a future cruise for $250, in return for an immediate $100 on-board credit. If you intend to cruise again on NCL, this is a great deal. The program has gone through several iterations through the years. At the moment you are required to book your next cruise within four years of purchase of the certificate, and it's good for any cruise that is six days or longer in length. Each passenger can buy up to four of these certificates, and they are transferrable, so you can give them as gifts. You'll be bombarded with information on this program while onboard. It's not something you'll forget to do.
Arrival and Disembarkation
Our original itinerary called for us to pull into New York at eight in the morning but the revised schedule called for a ten a.m. arrival. Many passengers, us included, made changes to our getaway travel plans because of the later scheduled arrival. Imagine our surprise when we pulled into Pier 88 at eight, the original time. We had a leisurely breakfast at Cagney's and then hung around in our stateroom. Getting off the ship was easy and collecting the luggage was easy. It was after that that things got a bit more complicated. Once you had your luggage, you had to get into a long line to clear customs and immigration. However, if you give your bags to a porter, you'll be taken to a much shorter line. Keep that in mind if you're in a rush. The area outside the terminal was chaotic. Three ships had pulled in at the same time and the area was jammed with buses, cars, and taxis. If you'd used a porter, your bags were dropped right at the exit. However, if you were dragging your own bags, you were forced to drag your bags down to the next terminal, trying to wend your way through hundreds of people crowding the sidewalk. Of course, the car from the car service was at the other pier and our driver had to work his way back to us, which took almost twenty minutes. Fortunately, our train wasn't leaving until much later in the day, so in the end it was a minor inconvenience. Again, the cost of the car service was $16.
The worst part of going on a cruise is that it has to end. Just as our previous NCL cruises, we had a wonderful time and can't wait to go again. We loved the ship, the ports were fun, and our Penthouse was incredible. Thanks to the last second upgrade bargain, we were able to get this Penthouse for several thousand less than it normally goes for. The day before we sailed we were called by NCL and offered an upsell to the Owner's Suite for an additional $900 but we declined, liking the layout of the Emerald Penthouse better. The itinerary was great, though I'd like to see more time in Quebec. I see that NCL does now have a Canada cruise that features an overnight in that beautiful city. I'd highly recommend the Jewel and the Canada cruise. Less