This was my wife and I's second time on the Jewel. We are fairly new cruisers, having only been on one other cruise before the Jewel (Carnival Imagination). As with the other 2, we loved it. We live in Brooklyn, so the commute to the ship is a quick 45 minutes or so on the subway. On this cruise, we took my really, really old parents, so I came to the ship via car service with them. It was their first cruise ever.
Embarkation was incredibly easy. We got there super-early, so there was basically no one there. I think we might have been in the 1st dozen to board (we go by the 1st on/last off theory, so as to squeeze every possible second out of our vacation).
Our stateroom was fine. We got an inner cabin, since we basically spend no time in the room. My parents had a balcony room which they loved.
There are so many activities on the ship, I can't imagine anyone not finding something that appeals to them. On our first full day, we went to the Cruise Critic meet and greet (thank you for setting this up Holly--er, shepherdqueen) where we met a bunch of nice folks who we got to talk and hang with all week. We also went to the Latitudes party afterward, where we met even more people.
My wife and I are basically on board to eat and drink until we explode, and to joke around and have fun with the other cruisers, so we did the pub crawl on the first night, which was a heck of a lot of fun. The only problem I had with any of the activities were some that took place towards the end of the cruise. Our first time on the Jewel, the Sangria tasting and the beer tasting were held on the 1st day. They were tons of fun then (sort of like the Pub Crawl on this trip.) Unfortunately, this time around, they were held towards the end of the cruise. The Sangria tasting was much more low key and kind of boring (instead of everyone hanging at the bar and talking and joking, we sat at tables where it was hard to interact with anyone but our own family). No one other than me, my wife, and my folks even showed up for the beer tasting! So they canceled it. My guess is that by the end of the cruise, most people have had their fill of booze or spending money, and would recommend NCL moves these types of events back to the beginning of the trip.
A lot of the people I talked to were disappointed in the dining. The buffet is nothing to write home about. But, if I'm there, I'm going for quantity, not quality, and I had no complaints. We ate at Azura a lot. Again, the food is no great shakes, but if you go in with no great expectations, it's no problem. The only specialty restaurants we ate at were Cagney's, which we all enjoyed. But that's really just because it's $25 per person. If I had gone to a fully-priced steakhouse on land, I'd have been very disappointed. The lobster tail was overcooked and the prime rib was the smallest prime rib I've ever seen. Still, the appetizers were all really good, we really enjoyed the Reisling we got with dinner, so it was a positive experience. We also did the Jazz Brunch at Le Bistro. That was the best of both worlds, in that you had quantity at the buffet portion of the meal, and quality with the sit-down part. The Le Bistro Signature, which is a surf and turf thing, was real good. The shrimp might've been the best I've ever had.
Service was FANTASTIC! Friendly waitstaff, helpful stewards. They really went out of their way to help my decrepit parents, too.
The entertainment was sort of a mixed bag. The small acts that played bar city (Rama III jazz band, Greg the piano guy, Donald Dunn the guitarist) were all ok. I heard a missed note here or there, but they were fine for what they were and we enjoyed them all. I did not go see the comedians because the one guy who came out on the opening night show did not seem funny at all to me. In general, we aren't really "show-going" people. But we had been talked into seeing Cirque Bijou last time on the Jewel and loved it. So we went to see both that and Incanto (spelling?). My arch-enemy Massimo, and my future-2nd wife Allesia, are absolutely incredible! I believe they are not actually humans, but members of some advanced race. It's a nice touch, too, that they introduce the staff so that they can see how appreciative we all are of the great job they do. That having been said, that NCL song is incredibly corny. In our 3 cruises, we have never found any of the cruise directors funny or talented at all and we would never have wasted our time seeing things like "Dancing with Jewel Stars" or "The Newlywed Game."
We did not do an excursion at Port Canaveral. It was Labor Day and we were afraid all of the theme parks would be super-crowded. Unfortunately, it seems we were wrong. My wife and I got off on Grand Stirrup Cay. I have never been to a hotter place in my life. In fact, Satan called and complained that NCL was hogging all the heat. We got right back on the ship after about 45 minutes. Nassau, unfortunately, seems pretty sketchy. My parents went there 49 years ago for their honeymoon and were pretty shocked to see what it's like now. All of us went to Atlantis, where they enjoyed losing my inheritance in the casino, and me and wifey spent the day on the water slides. A FANTASTIC time!
Disembarkation was pretty unpleasant. We picked the white tickets, which meant we'd be in the last group leaving (1st on/last off!). Unfortunately, there was a big backup at customs. But I wouldn't blame NCL for that. After all, there were 2 other ships arriving that morning, and it was the day before 9/11's 10th anniversary. So, we just sat and waited--no problem.
All in all, we loved this cruise. More importantly, my parents are hooked now too. Yes, there are some things that could be improved. But, to us, the most important thing is having fun, meeting people, and getting good service. The whole freestyle concept is very important to us. If the food wasn't as great as one would hope; or if some of the entertainment is lacking; we can live with that.
--Mike (instead of Kim this time)