I chose a ship based almost exclusively on price, from a port we could drive to. Norwegian Jewel had the added benefit of "Nick at Sea" which I thought was a nice compromise from the Disney activities I love. We drove from PA to NYC, leaving in the wee hours of Saturday morning and arriving about ten thirty to the pier. The drive was about six and a half hours, and was quite easy through the early morning hours and arriving in NYC early Saturday morning was nearly hassle free. Our GPS guided us to the pier parking lot. Parking was close and convenient, albeit expensive at $210 for the week. We literally got out of the car, walked a few feet to the elevator and dropped off our luggage. Our vacation had begun! We waited in line no more than a few minutes, registered and were directed to seats until boarding started around 11:30. We met several from our roll call in the waiting area, an added bonus!
Upon boarding, we investigate the ship, signed two children up for their Kid's Club activities (the oldest being 18, and not eligible). We ate lunch at Tsar's and before we finished heard the announcement that the cabins were ready.
We had chosen a low, mid ship cabin due to my tendency toward motion sickness. IT was an excellent choice! We were on the fourth floor near the Medical Center (which, incidentally, we never did see anyone using). The connecting cabins were perfect for us, three kids in one, DH and I in the other. We emptied the refrigerator right away and stocked it with our soda and and water that was waiting in the room, having had a luggage tag on it. Our cabin had a porthole window (which I didn't dare look out or feel vertigo immediately, I kept an eye ship-ward the entire trip, which worked well for me, along with wearing the patch.) Our cabin steward straightened the room anytime we left, kept the ice bucket filled and created delightful towel animal creations for us each night.
We ate at Azura, Tsar's Palace, and the buffet, along with the Blue Lagoon, all included restaurants. We also ate at the outdoor barbecue poolside, and had alcoholic drinks at many of the bars. On "dress up or not" night, we were turned away from Tsar's at dinner due to DH wearing shorts, but every other evening it was not an issue. We simply went to Azura that night, no big deal. We enjoyed the opportunity to try many different menu offerings, finding the appetizers to be generally excellent and the desserts typically disappointing. The brownie sundae at Blue Lagoon and a molten chocolate cake at Tsar's were exceptions, both were very good. We are not picky eaters, and found plenty of good choices at each location. It was difficult to find seating for five at prime meal times in the buffet, but not impossible. The wait staff was excellent about clearing tables and replacing silverware. The washy washy ladies were always smiling and singing. Our children enjoyed the soft serve ice cream available almost all day.
We planned our own excursions to save money. We rented a car at Port Canaveral and went to Kennedy Space Center on our own. Avis had a shuttle waiting for us and renting the car was quite easy, and a huge savings for us. In Nassau, we booked our own trip to Blackbeard's Cay (which was also offered as an excursion by NCL). We walked to the transfer area on our own, and were on the same boat as many from our ship who booked thru NCL. The excursion was to swim with the stingrays, and it was an excellent experience. After returning from that trip, we boarded the Jewel to shower and eat lunch, then walked to the Straw Market for some shopping. On Great Stirrup Cay, we rented a large float and also booked ride tickets for the Hippo Slide, which gave us priority tendering. We were on the first tender ship and found a clam shell quickly (we had also pre booked that). There were many kid friendly activities on the island, and the barbecue lunch was great, pork ribs, corn on the cob, cornbread, fresh fruit, with plenty of picnic tables under pavilions to eat at.
Activities on board: We had a child in the 10-12 category and one in the 13-17 group. They both enjoyed many activities in their "club", and the staff learned their names right away and spoke whenever we saw them. We participated in many of the "family activities" which meant an adult had to stay and participate. We played Family Charades, Family Friendly Feud, Nick Trivia, and Family Quest. There were prizes for the kid participants at the end of each of these events. We also attended the Nickelodeon events poolside and on the island, as well as the matinee Slime Time show. There were several character meeting events and free play activities with crafts and Lego's, too. We also attended the adult based Trivia games, and a show each evening. The magician/comedian JP was excellent, we enjoyed Band on the Run, Cirque de Bijou, and the evening game shows like the Newlywed Game and Quest. We saw the ship's officers and main staff often, and they were always friendly and talkative. We donated some money to the casino, which was entertaining for brief periods of time. We played Bingo once, expensive and unrewarding, and Deal or No Deal, which was a much better value and more fun, as you could be chosen to go onstage and play "live".
To debark, we chose to carry off our own luggage. We packed Saturday morning, went for breakfast at Tsar's, and then carried off our bags. Though the line snaked around the atrium, it moved quickly, and we were off the ship and into our car in less than a half hour. Leaving New York was not difficult, it was not congested with traffic and we were to the interstate highway in no time for the long drive home.
We found the cruise on the Norwegian Jewel to be a great value. It had plenty of kid activities to keep the children entertained, and the kids club staff members were excellent. There were plenty of adult activities, as well, though they need a "meeting place" for 18-20 year olds so they can find each other early in the cruise. I was worried about our 18 year old son having enough to do, but luckily he met other 16-20 year olds at our Cruise Critic Meet and Greet and was content to hang out with them and other new friends each evening. If he hadn't found a few friends, he would not have viewed the cruise positively, since there were no organized activities for him at all. Though I would consider alcoholic drinks pricey, they were tasty and not skimpy on the alcohol. We didn't purchase photos, though I did buy the scrapbook for our own photos.