This was our second family cruise. There were seven of us (grandparents, parents and 3 kids aged 13, 11 and 8). Previously we had sailed to the Western Caribbean on the coincidentally named, and similar sized, Norwegian Jewel. We booked connecting superior balcony cabins directly through Royal Caribbean. We booked 8 months out but periodically checked the website for price changes and were able to take advantage of a sale to get our price lowered. We booked this cruise because the ports were ones we wanted to go to and it was over our kids spring break.
We booked the superior balcony since it had a little more space. With 4 in the cabin it was very tight but manageable. They are creative in having hidden storage spots all over and we used every one to put clothes in. We found the beds very comfortable, even the sofa bed and the bed that hung from the ceiling. The cabin was quiet, we rarely heard anything from outside. The balcony was small with a table and two chairs but adequate and a nice place to sit. The bathroom was smaller than on the NCL ship but was probably average size. Our attendants were very good and we got to know the main one a little bit. We loved the towel animals she made for us. She was very helpful and the room was always well looked after despite how many of us there were. The water in the room scared us some as it often was dark brown when it first came out. Just outside the Windjammer by the ping pong tables there was a water and coffee station that always open and so we got water from there.
The food was generally very good. We preferred the lunch and dinner at the main dining room on Royal Caribbean, but preferred breakfast, the buffet and alternative restaurants on NCL. We had traditional seating for dinner at 6pm. We liked getting to know the staff and by the end they got to know our preferences. They were kind with the kids and joked around. Our waiter was honest with us and would occasionally tell us what not to order. We had no disappointing meals and ate at the main dining room every night. We also generally ate at the main dining room for other meals on sea days. The food was excellent and meals were generally quick. Lunch particularly had a salad station where you chose the ingredients and they made it for you. The quality of the lunch menu at times I felt surpassed dinner, and it varied every day. In particular the steak sandwiches were extremely good. The Windjammer was usually busy but easy to navigate. We sometimes had trouble finding seats but the food was OK with lots of choices. Our only real complaint was that the coffee machines were often empty at breakfast. We did like the afternoon snacks which sometimes had hard ice cream sundaes and always had lemonade and ice tea. The Seaview Cafe was OK as well as a choice for a quick bite. We only did room service once, to get a pizza at 10:00 for a child who was not hungry at supper. It was very quick and looked good. We also loved the coffee bar with its complimentary desserts around the clock. The kids often went for a cookie.
The ship was well looked after with lots to do. We did the climbing wall and mini golf multiple times. We were mostly in the main pool (with the age of our kids the adult pool and kids pool were not practical). It was good. There was some saving of chairs by the pool but we usually found some. We found the band by the pool was too loud and were not really that good. There were lots of games and demonstrations by the pool that we sometimes joined in. We did not use the spa (other than a tour of it on the first day) but they had mini massages by the pool that my wife made use of. There were lots of other quiet nooks around the ship.
The kids and teen programs were OK. We preferred NCL but this was partially because there were not lots of kids on the cruise. We thought with spring break there would be more but with the length of the cruise I guess not. My daughter made several good friends at Fuel (teen club) and we saw her less and less as the cruise went on. Often events were cancelled because of how few teens there were but she did have a blast and liked the leader. The kids club was well run and organized. We felt our boys were in good hands there and they did a lot of activities and they also made good friends.
The evening shows varied from OK to excellent. Unfortunately there were more OK than excellent (the magician was our favourite). I know it is hard to find quality acts for 11 nights. Many of the shows were aimed at seniors (which was the largest demographic). We found you had to arrive early to get a seat.
All in all it was a great cruise. We liked the longer itinerary (we are from North Western Canada -we had to drive 4 hours to the airport on Thursday night and then flew all day Friday and half of Saturday to get to Fort Lauderdale - so short cruises do not make sense). I would have trouble choosing between NCL and Royal Caribbean as we loved both of the Jewels we have sailed on. The staff was excellent, we met many friendly people and enjoyed ourselves.