This was our twelfth cruise, and our seventh on NCL. However, prior to the Jewel, we had only been on NCL weekend cruises to nowhere. If you are thinking about NCL, these little weekend cruises are perfect to whet your appetite. Our first full length cruise on NCL did not disappoint, and we hope to make the Jewel in January a yearly tradition.
Embarkation in New York City on January 14, 2012, was smooth. We parked in port, which was convenient, although expensive at $30 a day. We arrived later in the afternoon and avoided the crowd. Because we are frequent cruisers, we stood on the Latitudes line and were processed through security and reception, and on the ship in less than forty-five minutes.
Our cabin was a midship minisuite, starboard and closer to being forward than precisely midship. We were very pleased with the size of the room, as we are a couple. There was plenty of storage space with many drawers. We hung our clothes in the closet but felt that the space between the bed and the closet was too narrow to accommodate our luggage. However, there was enough room in the cabin to prop our large cases in the area outside of the bathroom. You could also use under the bed for luggage storage. We enjoyed the sunset from our private balcony and spent many relaxing, romantic evenings simply enjoying the ocean and the breathtaking sunsets.
The bathroom was large by cruise ship standards with a tub and sink, and the toilet was separated with a frosted glass door. My only criticisms are that there was chipped and exposed wood on the vanity, and the only bathroom amenities were liquid soap and shampoo in a dispenser. We brought our own conditioner and bar of soap because we knew what to expect. The condition of the rest of the room was fine and showed little or no wear.
Overall, the room was quiet, although on the first night and last morning we heard loud footsteps above us from the pool deck. Perhaps if the cruise was during warmer weather, there would have been more noise.
We ate dinner twice in two specialty restaurants: Mama's and Le Bistro. The food in Le Bistro was excellent and the service was superb. The waitress added a third entrÃ©e to our order because she thought we should try the steak. She also added a third dessert, because she said the crÃ¨me brulee was "oooh-la-la." Boy was she right! She advised us to buy a bottle of wine and have it stored in the cellar for our next meal to save some money. That was great advice and worked well for us. The food at Mama's has improved over the years. I thought that the pork saltimbocca was pretty good and the tiramisu was fantastic. Service was also very good.
We ate dinner once in Tsar's main dining room and once in the less formal Azura. Service was very slow, and the food was average. I had the lobster tail on the first night, that was good, but the portion was very small. The chicken Milanese that I had for lunch was dry and the French fries were always cold. We did, however, enjoy the musicians that accompanied dinner in the Tsar's main dining room for dinner. We accepted the main dining room cuisine for what it was. If you want better quality, you have to pay for it. We knew that, so were not disappointed in our choices.
We visited the buffet a few times as well. After all, eating is the main sport on a ship! Don't miss the pretzel rolls in the Garden CafÃ©! Yum! The macadamia nut cookies are also delicious. However, the chocolate buffet is overrated. There is a chocolate fountain for fondue but the rest of it was basically squares of chocolate cake and brownies that tasted like institutional quality food. Nothing was gourmet about the chocolate buffet, although the ice carvings and chocolate carvings were nice to look at.
We also enjoyed breakfast on the warmer days in the Great Outdoors, where a buffet breakfast was served outside. All of our favorites were there.
We really enjoyed the piano player, Fabrizio and listened to him play every night in Bar City. His Thursday night Italian music set was especially popular. He was very friendly and mixed with the audience during his breaks. The show band was likewise very good, and Bruce, the acoustic guitar player, was entertaining as well. There is also a Mexican band that we heard sing in Tsar's and the Crystal Atrium who were very talented as well.
We went to the Jean Pierre comedy/magician show, which was ok, but I did not like how he hawked his book and magic kit for hugely inflated prices ($15 for a little soft cover pamphlet and $25 for the kit). I thought the sales pitch was tacky. The married acrobatics duo of Duo Elegia was excellent, and they performed in two shows, including the wildly popular French themed Cirque Bistro. The NCL staffed show, Fountains, was pretty hilarious.
We did Port Canaveral on our own by renting a car from Avis. Avis and a few other companies have free pick up from the port to their office. We then drove to Epcot and had a wonderful, fun filled time. The pace was a bit frantic because there is so much to do, but we loved every minute of it. Don't do the NCL excursion because it costs $79 a person just for the bus. We rented the car for $36 and the cab ride back to the ship was $15!
Great Stirrup Cay was paradise. We rented a clam shell lounge and rested and relaxed. There was a nice buffet on the island, as well as music. Most people were congregated in a densely populated area, but if you walked away from the crowd, you could steal a few moments of privacy further down the beach.
Nassau is tropical but grimy and very third world. We took the ship excursion, Atlantis Beach Day. Although it was expensive, we did not want to risk day passes on our own because 4 ships were in port. We did not like that the vans used to transport us had folding jump seats down the aisle, where every last sole was crammed in. Surely, this would not pass safety standards in the U.S. and the older folks on the van seemed to have some trouble sitting in those seats. Other than that, the Atlantis was beautiful. We spent time on their beach, enjoying the sun, then moved to a shady area by the pool. We also had a private guided tour of their aquarium, the Digs, which was included in our ticket. We chose a late tour and avoided all the crowds from the ship. We then tried our luck at slots.
Staff: Overall, the staff was friendly and excellent. Our steward always welcomed us each by name (with Mrs. and Sir in front of our first names). She made cute towel animals on most nights. The only rude server was a woman who tended to the bagel station in the Great Outdoors on our second to last day at sea. She left her station and then scolded us for helping ourselves without the tongs, which were absent. Special praise also goes to the Latitudes representative, David, who gave us complimentary wine and chocolate dipped strawberries to make up for our missing nightly chocolates on our pillows (a perk as silver Latitudes members). It was really above and beyond the call of duty. We also enjoyed the two Latitudes parties and the great door prizes.
Disembarkation: Our disembarkation was virtually seamless! We picked the 9:30 time, and NCL supplied the convenient color coded tags for our luggage. Earlier disembarkation times were delayed due to a congested gangway, and I think that our disembarkation was delayed as well. However, we had a sit down breakfast in the Tsar's dining room, vacated our cabin by 9:00 and relaxed in Bar City. We did not mind the delay and felt relaxed, rather than rushed or stressed. We hired a porter once we got off the ship and that bypassed the extremely long customs line. We were out of the customs line in about 5 minutes with our luggage delivered to the snowy roof of the adjacent pier for the price of a tip.
This was a great romantic getaway and a HUGE value for the money. We enjoyed the warm weather, the nice accommodations, the great entertainment and the superior service.