My wife and I just returned from the 9 night Eastern Caribbean cruise from NYC. It was a special occasion, our 25th anniversary, and this was the best itinerary for our anniversary date. So I booked it through NCL directly.
The booking process was very easy. The agent was very knowledgeable and helpful. She helped us select the best cabin based on our preferences. We wanted a mini-suite. Unfortunately the mini-suites are only on deck 11. Which is right under the pool, buffet, health club, etc. Not wanting to hear all the noise above our agent suggested 11004 which is under the Spa. Not only did we not hear any noise but it is on a short hall way with almost no foot traffic. The only downside, if you get motion sickness, is it's forward and up high.
Our suite was very clean. Our room steward was very friendly and attentive. The full size bathroom was worth the extra fare all by itself. A full size tub, vanity and a separate space for the toilet made sharing a bathroom much easier. Overall the space is good, well laid out with plenty of storage. The mini-suite comes with a curtain to divide the sitting area from the bed. Very nice. The balcony is decent size. There's enough room out there for more/better furniture. I would have spent more time lounging out there had the seating been better.
Embarkation was smooth. I was told when I booked there would be a special line for suites. Not so when we arrived at the port. I was disappointed, but since the process went so smoothly it was quickly forgotten. Boarding the ship I was again initially disappointed. The atrium is very small. If you've cruised before and are used to 4-5 story grand atriums with glass elevators, etc. you'll be disappointed too. But don't worry about it. The atrium space is put to very good use by the restaurants and entertainment that surround the atrium.
The ship flows very nicely. Most of the bars and restaurants are on decks 6 and 7. Interestingly the common spaces are mostly accessible only from the starboard side - if you want to walk down the port side you have to go outside. Which when I first saw it made me think there would be a lot of traffic jams as people tried to move between the restaurants and the entertainment. Not so.
The two main dinning rooms are very different from each other. Tzars Palace is very dated. While it is surrounded by windows with great views the decor is very retro by today's cruise ship standards. Azura is more contemporary and also more intimate. We chose Azura when dinning in the main dinning rooms. It just felt more upscale and had better service.
I really liked the common spaces. The bars were all very comfortable with good entertainment at all times of the day. The musical acts at the Martini bar are excellent. And if you eat at Chin Chin you can hear the music during dinner.
The Stardust theater is easy to get in and out. There are only a few places with obstructed views. Most nights it was easy to get a good seat without having to show up early. All of the shows we saw were very entertaining. I would skip the hypnotist Brenda Kaye.
Ah, the pool. If you're read any reviews before this one you've no doubt heard it is hard to get a lounge chair by the pool. I'm not a lay out at the pool type so I never tired to get a chair out there. What I can say is there's a lot of people out there on at sea days. People get up very early to "reserve" their space. But there is a lot of seating near by. I found it easy to go for a swim, hang out around the pool, etc. without needing to sit right near it.
The health club, outdoor activities, etc are what you would expect them to be. If you've cruised before you will neither be impressed or disappointed, they're just what you've come to expect from any cruise ship.
Okay, let's talk Freestyle cruising. There are trade-offs when compared to traditional cruising. You have a lot more dinning options and you can eat whenever you want. Which is a huge benefits. No preset dinning schedules, you don't have to share a table if you don't want, and you're not out of luck if the main dinning room isn't serving something you like. And on the Jewel you'll be able to find something you like to eat. It just might cost you a cover charge in the speciality restaurants.
The trade-off in my opinion is quality. Don't get me wrong. The food is very good and well prepared. In my opinion it's a small step down from the gourmet offerings on other ships. The service is a little slower too.
Overall the Jewel is a solid cruising option. It won't be mistaken for the modern mega cruisers. But if you want a well run, comfortable ship, with very good food, and the Jewel is going to destinations you want to visit, it's a great choice.