Had a terrific time. This was my 2nd time on the Jewel (first was the Dover-NYC t/a in 9/09). And the ship still looks great and has to have the friendliest crew at sea. Forget any negative remarks you've read about service being bad due to Freestyle cruising. The staff works their tails off and are as friendly as can be. They always made sure that you were happy with your selection and wanted to know if there was anything else they could bring you. I had all of my dinners at the Azura (mid-ship) restaurant where you could wear shorts (it said so in the Freestyle Daily dress code). I had the same wait team every night. I first met them at the boarding day lunch in the Tsar's Palace dining room. Later that evening it turned out they were my wait team at Azura. They were so terrific I made a point of asking for them from then on and did I ever feel spoiled! The new menu was very good and I think I only ordered an entree twice from the Favorite Selections. That was the salmon fillet which was excellent and the rib eye which was okay (I should have asked for it medium instead of rare). I also ordered spaghetti but as a side. I had it done all 3 ways (carbonara, marinara, and bolognese) and they were all excellent. I would have liked to have tried the pork tenderloin medallions. They looked great. From the Signature Specialties I would say my favorites were the Blackened Louisiana Red Snapper with gumbo; Eggplant Parmesan; and the Grilled Pork Chop. I didn't dine in any of the specialty restaurants for dinner. I did book the Best of All luncheon at Le Bistro.
The Best of All luncheon at Le Bistro is an introduction to the various specialty restaurants on the Jewel. For $15. per person you order some selections from the menu and the rest are served buffet style. I had a nice meal. All of the hot selections chosen from the menu were excellent. I enjoyed the crab cakes (could have been larger); the escargots (probably the best I've ever had); the beef tenderloin (first one came out overcooked and too salty; the 2nd was perfect). From the buffet I found the chowder excellent (but I would have preferred if that was brought to the table to avoid accidents) as well as the sushi, caesar salad, tomato with mozzarella; and all of the desserts. What I did not think looked appetizing at all were the hot selections on the buffet. I would have preferred if they were cooked to order. However, I had more than my fill from what I did eat so no real complaints. All of the small sizes added up to one pretty large lunch. And I didn't indulge half the way others did.
The other dining spot that got my "business" a lot was the Blue Lagoon. I'm gonna miss those chicken wings, I tell you. And that brownie sundae is to die for, although it is only available til 5 pm. It needs to be added to the evening menu. Service there was always friendly. I even had breakfast there when the mdr was already shut for breakfast and I still wanted a hot breakfast served to me. I wish that could be 24/7 like on the Epic but I guess the galley isn't set up for it. Only ate at the Garden Cafe twice (for lunch). Once I had a few Chinese selections which were just okay. But the other lunch was fantastic, consisting of marinated skirt steak sliced at the buffet, lemon pepper rotisserie chicken and caesar salad. I could eat that every day.
But enough about food because the feature of the ship that really had me going was the entertainment. There was so much to do and see that sometimes dinner had to be wedged in an that was the beauty of Freestyle cruising. First, there is the team of Fire & Ice from Barbados. Rosie, the vocalist, really has the ship rocking (in a good way). I saw them perform a variety of music styles in the Fyzz Lounge, a Motwon tribute in the Atrium, a show with the ship's orchestra in the Spinnaker Lounge saluting Tina Turner (don't miss this one folks) and another show in the Spinnaker devouted to soul. I skipped the Michael Jackson tribute because I think it conflicted with something else. Then there's a Harmony Duo which is a pianist and violinist who play both pop tunes and classical. They usually played in the Atrium. I noticed on the first evening of the cruise there was some polite applause after each song. By the end of the cruise the applause grew larger and more often and their following grew and people appreciated the music. They were receiving loads of requests. In addition to these 2 steady acts there were others who performed in lounges. Then there were the main shows in the Stardust Theatre. I don't recall the last time I saw so many shows in a ship's theatre but it probably was an NCL cruise, since I am convinced they are tops when it comes to booking shows. I saw the production show "Band on the Run", "Incanto", an adage balancing act consisting of a couple who formerly performed at the Lido de Paris (the bodies on the both of them were not to be believed), a very funny ventriloquist, Kenny Byrd(who was also very friendly and always stopped to have a chat) and Le Cirque Bijou, which is NCL's version of Cirque du Soleil. I had already seen this show 2 years ago but the aerial acts make it worth seeing again, especially since the adage act were featured (woof!). The ship's orchestra treated us one evening to a set of dixieland and jazz in Bar City, which was terrific. I could go on but this give you an idea of the variety and the high level of entertainment. When I took my first cruise, on the Norway, back in 1997 I was riding a bus to the ship and set next to this sweet, elderly lady. I asked her why she chose the NCL and she said it was because she felt it offered the finest entertainment at sea and I have to agree with her.
I attended 2 of the Martini tastings. There were 4 altogether, but I only attended the 2 held during the sea days. I'd say you definitely get your $15. worth, although on the Epic you did get 1 extra bonus martini at each tasting. Marcelo, the bartender at Bar City was the host and he is a very funny and charming fellow.
The cruise itself turned out to be the least appealing feature. We actually missed the port of Saint John, New Brunswick. This after having missed St. John's, Newfoundland 2 years earlier on the same ship. And I was on a lounger in the spa both times when I noticed the ship stopped heading to port and made a turn. I mean, talk about your deja vu! Having been to Saint John, NB many times, I can say we really didn't miss anything and getting the $12. and change for the port charge credited to my account more than made up for it. Sydney turned out to be my favorite stop. The weather was cloudy in the am and rainy in the pm, but the independent tour I took through Don Blackwood was amazing. The tour last 8 hours and took us along the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton and then along Bras d'Or Lake to Baddeck,home of Alexander Graham Bell. The fall foliage was starting so we saw a bit of color. We also spotted about 6 bald eagles which was more than I saw in Alaska. We also spotted a moose but it was already hunted and lying in the back of a pick-up truck. Our guide (Richard Fogarty - a real treasure) explained to us that the moose destroy trees by eating from the tops of them which prevents them from growing. Cape Breton has some breathtaking views, similar to the ones you see on Pacific Coast Highway 1 in California. This tour made it all the more interesting. We also stopped at the Sea Gull for lunch, a family owned and run restaurant which features homemade seafood chowder. A large bowl with a Diet Coke cost a whopping $10. Halifax was nasty and since I've been there many times, I decided to stay on the ship and enjoy the spa. In fact, the weather was so bad during most of the cruise that I figured the cost of the spa pass $119. was a better investment than in a balcony (I had an inside that was more than sufficient). Portland Maine treated us to sunny skies but very chilly temperatures. The sea day back was the one truly outstanding say during the cruise and I was glad to bet back to some nice weather here in NYC.
Speaking of my inside cabin, I have to say that the one crew member who could have been a bit better was my cabin steward. He kept forgetting to empty the waste basket. I could live with that except there was a banana peel which should have been removed sooner. Nothing earth shattering but I was surprised even after I reminded him, that it went untouched again.
One more note on the entertainment. The Dancing with the Jewel Stars show done up in the Spinnaker was a riot. It's more fun to see it live but you can also catch it on the in-cabin tv for several days. I don't think NCL is the only line featuring this but it's definitely something worth seeing
I realized that I didn't mention anything about embarkation and disembarkation. Embarkation was a breeze. It took a while to get to the pier because the traffic was a little crowded with the number of ships in port. But once my cab got to the pier, my luggage was taken quickly, I was inside the terminal and there was no line to get thru security and hardly anyone ahead of me at the Latitudes check-in. I was handed a boarding card (#8) but by the time I finished checking in and signing up for the spa pass they already called the # and announced all #'s were permitted to board so I really didn't wait at all. This was at 11:30 am. I just waited around in the Atrium for 30 minutes until the Tsar's Palace opened for lunch.
Disembarkation was a bit more difficult. I went for breakfast at the Tsar's Palace and then returned to my cabin. They wanted everyone out of their cabins by 9 am. They had started the express disembarkation around 8 am. My color luggage tag (tan) was called at 8:50. When I got to the Atrium there was a line to leave so I sat and waited. The line moved in few minutes so I left, thinking things were moving. However, once I got off the gangway there was a very long line to get into the terminal building. Plus you need to walk to the far end of the terminal. You then need to take an escalator down one flight to get to the luggage area and then get in line for customs. Lastly, there is quite a long walk to the 12th Avenue exit, which worsens if you have more than 1 piece of luggage, even with wheels.
One thing I didn't expect, at first, was to have a bill of over $300. Oh, there were no mistakes, and no, I didn't go out on a tear. But the spa pass was $119. Daily service charge came to $84. So just these 2 charges came to over $200. So my drinks and incidentals were only about $100. which is okay for a 7 day cruise. The average drink price with tip came to $6.50 which is pretty reasonable. On top of this I tipped my wait team an additional $30. since they did a great job.
So, as you can see, I really love this ship and after 2 horrible cruises on other NCL cruises I was glad to see that I made the right decision in giving the Jewel another try. It builds my confidence to know this so I can return to the other ships on NCL I also enjoyed, such as the Spirit and the Gem.