Jewel: Thanksgiving Week 2011
Other than not wanting to stuff and cook a turkey ourselves, my friend and I booked the Jewel just for the ship ride and to stare out at the sea all day if we chose to. Therefore, everything else considering the low price for a holiday sailing was a bonus. The ports of call are not the most exciting option available in the cruise industry but it sure is if you want to ride space mountain at Disney, see the NASA space shuttles, or just go to Nassau, Bahamas! Both of us have sailed NCL in the past and both have sailed other cruise lines as well. The last time we were on the Jewel together was Thanksgiving 2006.
If you are new to NCL, or have sailed on other cruise lines in the past, be sure to understand the freestyle concept. Plenty of information exists on NCL's website that includes information about the ship booked, how to sign up for excursions, how the freestyle dining and how the freestyle dress code works, the spa offerings while onboard, activities for the children, links to pre boarding information, the 12 dollar service charge per person per day, and how to print documents and cruise ticket online. We knew all this but I often read reviews where others do not and then get frustrated about it.
Our balcony guarantee, booked five weeks prior to sailing, landed us cabin 10162 located at the far aft starboard side of deck 10. Cecilio, our steward, was efficient, friendly, and always took a few moments to say hello and to ask how we are doing. Since we were on the end, our balcony appeared to be about 1 to 2 feet longer than the standard. The extra space had a protected enclosed area and the rest open. A very quiet area onboard, we hardly heard any noise out in the hallway. I was thankful to not hear the stern wake in the back of ship since I knew it was so close. Many evenings we had the balcony open and only heard the gentle light swish of the starboard wake.
Overall, our seas were surprisingly smooth most days and nights. The Jewel class ships have great stabilizers for the times when the ocean waves are more active. Temperatures on this sailing averaged in the 60's to 70's heading down to Florida and the Bahamas and back. Once there, we had weather around 80 degrees. For this particular itinerary and time of year, we had a mixture of dress/casual and a mixture of light/heavy clothing. Thank goodness for freestyle...I sure appreciated the ability to wear yoga pants or jeans and a sweatshirt from morning until bedtime. We did dress up on other nights too. The dress up or not nights on the Jewel are Sunday and Thursday. There are some dining rooms that Do have a dress code so be sure to read your Freestyle Daily to ensure you are not showing up in shorts or jeans to Tsar's Restaurant or Le Bistro French Restaurant.
Although there are many dining options that have a fee, we selected the options that did not and were very satisfied. This included the Garden Cafe for breakfast and lunch, and the main restaurants for dinners. I enjoyed the fresh fruit, the freshly prepared omelets, the chocolate pastries, the eggs benedict, the soups, the salads, the marinated chicken, the fried cod, and the beef ribs. Be sure to check out each food station because they also had Indian food, Asian, pizza, sandwiches/paninis, freshly prepared pastas and sauces, and casseroles all in different areas of the buffet. I have had better desserts on other cruise lines yet I somehow always managed to find the bread pudding and vanilla sauce every day...! If the buffet table sections are too noisy or crowded, you can bring your plate into Mama's restaurant during breakfast and lunch. If the crowd in the Garden Cafe scares you, then another smaller buffet area is set up in the Great Outdoors Aft from which you can enjoy your meal alfresco. The dining room for breakfast and lunch is always an option too but we only ate there at night.
For six dinners, we ate in either Tzars or Azura, the two main restaurants. We found a variety of choices and it took a while to notice the menus are not the same for both. Both restaurants have the left side of menu that changes every night. Although the right side of the menu remains the same each night, they are not the same for both restaurants. This was a pleasant discovery. Since we were not eating meats or pastas for dinners most nights, we enjoyed perch, salmon, mahi mahi, and Caribbean lobster tail. Ask your server what the Chef's regional specialty is each evening. Try at least one specialty restaurant. We ate at Le Bistro the last evening and enjoyed the French onion soup, escargot and the beef tenderloin.
On any NCL ship, always attend the cruise critic meet and greet if one is set up on your roll call. They make the most effort out of all the cruise lines I have sailed (Carnival, Princess, Royal Caribbean, and Holland America) to have as many officers available to meet you and to answer your questions. At our cruise critic meet and greet a question asked of the officers was whether or not a traditional Thanksgiving dinner would be served on this sailing. Hugo Vanosmael, the Hotel Director, answered a special delivery of turkeys had been ordered and a special menu created in the dining rooms for that particular evening. The Thanksgiving dinner was better than I expected. Kudos go out to the executive chef and the to all the chefs who helped prepare it.
As two middle aged females traveling without our hubbies and without children, we certainly enjoyed the entertainment available for all age groups! The entertainment on board varied. We often danced off our caloric intake from the early portions of our days into the hours after midnight in Spinnaker's Lounge. During the earlier evenings, we were fortunate not to miss Cirque Bijoux, Fire and Ice's performance in the atrium, Dancing With the Jewel Stars, and the White Hot Party. Even earlier hours than that, we were fortunate to not miss Magician Jean Pierre's presentation to the kids onboard, the 10 dollar Bingo session, the crew talent show, Nickleodeon's Slime Time Live, and the Captain/Chief Engineer/Hotel Director's question and answer session.
The Jewel's ports of call occurred on three consecutive days. The only "shuttle" we selected in Port Canaveral was a round trip bus ride to Cocoa Beach. We walked the beach about a mile to a pier and then walked back. Ron Jon Surf Shop is nearby and the bus shuttle runs every Â½ hour up until a certain time. Check out Florida weather before you go as sometimes it can be cooler than you think during the winter months.
A short tender ride to the private island, Great Stirrup Cay, one can enjoy swimming, snorkeling, a giant inflatable water slide, walking trails, parasailing, kayaks, wave runners, and what appeared to be a future zip line set up. A beach barbecue is prepared and the ship's band plays nearby. The cruise staff hosts volleyball and dance activities but if you want more solitude, a short walk further down the beach area can provide more quiet. Plenty of beach chairs are now available, hammocks, new bar areas, a restaurant building, and more outdoor picnic areas are also more convenient to the passenger experience. Bathroom are also conveniently nearby. Do not go barefoot if you plan to explore the island beyond the beach area. Construction is still going on and we were glad to have sturdy flip flops and sneakers on our feet as we walked to the other side of island. Most activity on the island occurs in the late morning to early afternoon. The more quiet time (hence less crowded) is from 2pm until the last tender back to the ship.
In Nassau, we got off the ship to walk around on land for an hour. The straw market is getting upgraded and lots of interesting souvenirs are available for purchase. Do not be overwhelmed by the offers of tours and people approaching you at the pier. A simple no thank you and keep walking will suffice if you are not interested. We returned in order to enjoy a quiet day at the Jewel pool area in the sun. Some passengers went to Atlantis, to public beaches, or to hotels that offered day rentals to use the pool/ocean/restaurant areas. Other excursions are available for purchase but if you do some research, you might save more money on your own. Just remember though, the ship leaves without you in case something happens while out on your own and you are not able to get back. All aboard is at 5:30pm and a few solo passengers were very lucky on this sailing to be walking on the gangway by 5:50pm.
We spent all other moments onboard relaxing. My friend had a bamboo massage during the first day at sea and reported she enjoyed it very much. On embarkation day go to the spa and they will perform samples of what they offer on you. We joined the spa raffle for the prize giveaways but we forgot to attend the session in the afternoon. I enjoyed the salon onboard and had my hair colored, cut, and styled. My final price was still a better deal than what I pay to have it done in Montreal. Shhhhh, do not tell NCL this!
The price was even better when I purchased a future NCL cruise deposit that enabled me to receive an extra 100 dollar onboard credit. David Ward, the onboard Cruise Consultant Manager promotes this very well. He also runs the onboard latitudes desk and gives the talks about cruising NCL. He is extremely knowledgeable about the business, is very friendly, and fun to talk to. At the silver/gold/platinum party he took time to visit with each guest in attendance as did HD Hugo and the Group services coordinator. Anytime we saw Hugo or David or other officers/staff/crew throughout the week they all were very gracious, very professional, and ensuring a great vacation experience for the passengers. A passenger comment made on day 2 at the cruise critic gathering was regarding the entire staff and how the Jewel seemed to be such a happy ship overall.
Even the front desk staff in the atrium appeared happy by the end of the week and some of know what they have to put up with sometimes. Any time I asked for a printout of my charges, they were always very accommodating. I do this a few times a week and it is very easy to do when walking by. Know however it can get busy on the last day or evening as everyone else has the same idea! I appreciated the employee who assisted passengers as they waited in line by asking their need ahead of time so he could help direct them. All I needed was to drop off a few thank you letters and he said he would take them and deliver to the appropriate mail box. This saved me time to enjoy the remaining hours of vacation and I was impressed with the overall service.
I am very fortunate and very thankful at this point in my life to be able to cruise. A day will come when it will not be this easy. During any holiday week make sure to take time to count your blessings and to appreciate those who help make a vacation special. I am grateful to NCL for consistently providing me with vacations to share with family, friends, with cruise critic members, or to enjoy all by myself. After sailing the Jewel during a busy holiday week, I came home relaxed, rested, rejuvenated, and recuperated. My husband is extremely thankful for that too!