Review of Jewel, Feb 4-11, 2012
Background: This was our third mother/daughter cruise -- my fourth time on NCL, DD's second, and about my 14th overall. Thanks to the new Latitudes structure, I was silver going in and am now gold. I'm 55, DD is 27. DH and I left SW CT about 9am, picked up DD in Queens at 10, and DH dropped us at the pier about 11. Jewel was the only ship in port on the 4th. It was not as crazy-crowded as I've seen it at other times. We found a porter quickly and turned over our bags.
Once inside the terminal, there was NO line getting through security. We walked right up to the scanners and then to a check-in station. We were given boarding # 5 and directed to a waiting area. NCL staff had just set up the table with specialty restaurant menus, and since we knew we wanted to eat our first dinner at Teppanyaki, we made our reservation for 7pm. We were pleasantly surprised to be told there was a 20% discount that night. (Although the girl still wrote "$25 pp" on our reservation slip, we received the discount at dinner.) They started boarding about 11:30, and we were on board before noon. Thanks to Cruise Critic, this time I knew we could check our carry-on things instead of dragging them with us to lunch. We boarded through the forward doors on deck 7 and were among the first to check bags at Fyzz, only a few steps away. Having been on Jewel a year earlier, I enjoyed the feeling of knowing where I was going.
Knowing we wanted to avoid the buffet for lunch, we went straight to Tsar's. (No one tried to send us upstairs to the buffet, and it was clearly stated in the Freestyle Daily that Tsar's was open from 12-2.) The DR was almost empty when we arrived and we had a nice lunch. Cabins were ready earlier than the 2pm expected time -- I think it was about 1:30 -- so we collected our things from Fyzz and made our way to Deck 9 and our aft-facing balcony, #9674.
Having been in a balcony on Dawn, we were prepared for the size, which is small. There's ample storage space for two, but there's really no "moving around" space. The beds are barely a foot apart when made up as twins, and if one of us was using the vanity desk/seat, there was no getting by w/o climbing over the bed. For the most part, everything was in good condition, except for a stain on the couch and a burn mark on the bathroom sink. Obviously, wear & tear is unavoidable. I always cruise with an over-the-door shoe holder, which I hang on the closet door; it really keeps the little stuff organized. I was hoping for a little more balcony depth, after reading so much about the awesome stern balconies, but it felt no different to me than the side balconies I've had previously on Dawn and Gem. I guess it's only Deck 10 that has that wonderful extra depth. Still, I enjoyed the view of the wake, although the weather didn't allow us to enjoy it often (more about that later). Our luggage was delivered by 3:30.
A note about the TV -- we like to turn it on when we're in the cabin getting dressed, and I was AMAZED at the selection of movies this time around. In the past, it was slim pickin's, but we found really current films like The Help and Moneyball playing at various times, as well as Back to the Future, Silence of the Lambs, Larry Crowne, Real Steel, West Side Story, and Puss in Boots. There was a sitcom channel endlessly playing "The Nanny" (heaven help me) and sometimes "The King of Queens" or "Malcolm in the Middle."
Our cabin steward was David, who introduced himself shortly after we arrived. Warm and fuzzy he wasn't. There was no conversation between us throughout the week other than a greeting, but he did his job and took good care of us, so I'm not complaining. The first night we didn't get chocolates on our pillows, which I knew was a Silver perk, so I left him a note and from then on we each had 2 mints every night. My daughter said she liked towel animals and he made them each night as well.
Our muster station was Tsar's, which obviously holds a lot of people. I was curious to see if anything had changed, with the Costa tragedy still so recent, but they still did not require us to bring lifejackets to the drill. Although there was much conversation while we waited for the drill to begin, you could have heard a pin drop during the actual demo of the lifejackets and the announcements.
Sailaway was cold and cloudy, but a great many people bundled up and endured the wind until we passed under the Verrezano Bridge. We moved to our balcony and enjoyed the shelter from the wind but it was pretty much dark at that point.
At 5:45 we got a call from Teppanyaki wondering if we were still coming to dinner. They'd mixed up our time and expected us at 5:30 instead of 7 (even though our confirmation slip said 7). Luckily, there was still room at the 7pm seating. We unpacked, stuffed our winter coats inside our suitcases and shoved the cases under the beds, and headed to dinner at 7. Only 2 of the 4 tables were in use during our seating, so the timing mix-up was unimportant. We were pleasantly surprised to be told each "couple" would be offered a complimentary bottle of wine --choice of chardonnay or merlot. We drank about half the bottle and took the rest back to our cabin. Later in the week, we finished it at Cagney's. I was very surprised that this wasn't an incentive to book dinner in a specialty -- it was offered after we'd been seated -- and later learned other specialty restaurants also gave free wine. Dinner was delicious and entertaining and we enjoyed chatting with our tablemates.
The Welcome Aboard Show was offered at both 7:30 and 9:30pm. We met Dan "the Man" Olsson and remembered him as the assistant CD on our Dawn cruise in 2010. (btw, Dan got off the ship with us on the 11th to go on vacation. I don't know who's replacing him.) As usual, the show gave a taste of the entertainment to come during the week, including the production cast, Jean Pierre Parent (comic/magician), and Bernie Martini (singer/pianist). We don't usually go to the lounges to hear the musicians, but we were blown away by Bernie's voice and sweet personality, so we attended both his Frank Sinatra tribute in Bar City (outside LeBistro) and his Cole Porter tribute in the Crystal Atrium. He also did one with Elton John music that conflicted with something else we were doing.
Sunday we woke up early enough to have breakfast in Tsar's and then met up with our Cruise Critic group at 10am for a cabin crawl, followed by our Meet & Greet. Many thanks to Brooke who organized all of it, complete with printed name tags/holders. The crawl was great -- we saw everything from an inside cabin to an obstructed view to a balcony to a mini-suite to an aft penthouse and finally, the piece de resistance -- the Garden Villa and the Haven. What a feast for the eyes that was! And it gave us a head start on getting to know the lovely people on our roll call. The M&G was in the Star Bar, with approximately 40 people attending (not that many did the crawl). CD Dan and Hotel Director Hugo both spoke and answered questions. Biggest question was, "Where can we watch the Super Bowl?" and Dan assured us that every TV on the ship would be showing it (and did). Our group was not offered a tour of the bridge this trip.
(We had originally booked a mini-suite, which, due to a promo, was less $ than the balconies. But I was concerned about noise coming from above and wanted to experience the stern balcony, so I switched our cabin, paying another $250 or so for the B1. In retrospect, it was a bad trade-off. After seeing a mini-suite on the cabin crawl, now I know I'd really like the extra space, especially since we used our balcony so little.)
The day was cold and rainy, so nobody was outside. Instead of a 7:30 and 9:30 show, they offered the production show Band on the Run at 3:30 and 7:30 because of the Super Bowl. As promised, it was in all the bars and lounges -- on a big screen in Spinnaker and the Atrium, and on multiple screens in Fyzz (and other places, I'm sure). The staff set up extra chairs wherever possible to provide a lot of good viewing spots, and they also had mini-buffets nearby with pizza and wings and nachos. It was very festive -- and being in large part a NY/NJ crowd, you can imagine the joy at the Giants win. Plenty of Patriots fans showed their support too.
Evening Entertainment: Overall, very good to excellent. Band on the Run is a typical cruise ship production show. Brenda Kaye puts on a funny hypnosis show, of course with audience volunteers, plus a late-night PG-13 version in the Spinnaker. Duo Elegia is a heart-stopping display of acrobatics and balance and aerial feats; the husband/wife team presents moves that you wouldn't think were humanly possible. Le Cirque Bijou is more acrobatics performed by the production show dancers, all very impressive. JP the magician is highly entertaining/very funny/good magic involving the audience. A special thing happened during his 2nd show -- he worked it into his act so that the guy "volunteer" could propose marriage to the girl "volunteer" up on stage at the end of the magic trick. This firefighter from NJ got down on one knee and made a beautiful proposal to his stunned girlfriend. The audience went wild! If you go to the final night's variety show, be sure to stay for Fountains -- you won't regret it.
Other Late-Night Entertainment in the Spinnaker: "Newlywed/Not so Newlywed Game" -- I've seen it on every cruise and I'm always entertained by it. "Dancing with the Jewel Stars" -- just amazing. The passengers were every bit as talented as the professionals, and the judges were hysterical. And of course "The Quest" on the final night -- we were surprised that most of the crowd had not seen it played before. My DD joined a team of veteran players and they were the top scorers. We did not attend the White Hot Party.
We went to the crew talent show on the final afternoon, which included a Q&A session with Captain Lars and Hotel Director Hugo. They were very generous with their time and offered a lot of interesting info. Captain Lars is on board for 10 weeks and then goes home for 10 weeks throughout the year.
Food: In addition to the first night at Teppanyaki, we had dinner at Cagney's mid-week. Their Caesar salad is much better than the one in the MDRs, imho. Delicious steaks, and we ordered multiple sides since I knew the portions were very small of mashed potatoes and onion rings. Yummy apple crisp a la mode for dessert. We had dinner once in Tsar's and 3 times in Azura. No problem finding items we enjoyed on the menus, sometimes from "always available" and sometimes the nightly specials. On two nights we arrived at Azura near 7pm and were told it was a 20-30 minutes wait, but the actual wait was only about 10 min.
We used room service for breakfast on our port mornings. Breakfast in the Garden Cafe is difficult. It's just not possible to go through the stations and get scrambled eggs or French toast or pancakes, find a table, go back for juice or water or coffee, and then sit down to a hot meal. I much prefer sitting down to a hot meal in Tsar's, but the timing is rough unless you're an early riser (I am not when on vacation) with Tsar's closing at 9:30am.
We never went back to the MDR for lunch after embarkation day. Lunch in the Garden Cafe had plenty to choose from: burgers, hot dogs, pizza, made-to-order pasta, Indian and Oriental stations, sandwiches, salads, and a daily-changing assortment of hot dishes. I simply cannot understand those who complain that the food is the same every day in the Cafe. Sure, it is, but you couldn't possibly eat every type of food in one day, so you can easily have variety. The soft-serve ice cream machines, located near the midship beverages and also farther aft near the Great Outdoors, are open pretty much anytime the Cafe is during lunch, dinner, and late-night. There were sprinkles and chocolate syrup available too. There were made-to-order crepes each night at the station just aft of the main buffet area.
We walked through the Chocoholic Buffet on Thursday, but it was a zoo. Honestly, I think the food looks better than it tastes, and I am a chocolate-lover to the max.
Weather/Itinerary: IMO, this is a pretty crappy itinerary. It's more of a ship-is-the-destination type of cruise for people who can drive to NY and don't want to fly. I cannot imagine anyone getting on a plane to NY when they could fly to a warm weather port and enjoy warm temps every day of their cruise. As I said, the first day sailing south was miserable. On Thursday heading north, I was hoping to be able to enjoy a walk on Deck 7, but it was too cold for me, unless I bundled up. The hot tubs were far more popular than the pools. DD and I managed to sit on our balcony and read for a while wearing sweatshirts and using beach towels as blankets. Friday, our last day, was even colder, too cold for my balcony. BUT, the ocean was as smooth as glass, which is a trade-off I would take anytime. Sailing in winter is normally an invitation to sea-sickness for me, but this time around, I barely knew I was on a ship.
DD and I are huge Harry Potter fans, so we took advantage of the Pt Canaveral stop to go to Universal's Islands of Adventure and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We used the ship's excursion so as not to deal with car rental or worry about getting back on time. This was a highlight of the cruise for us. On the bus ride it was raining pretty heavily, but we were prepared with ponchos. Luckily, by the time we arrived at Universal, the skies cleared and we had a beautiful day. Being an off-peak week, the park closed at 6pm, but the lack of crowds allowed us to walk onto rides that sometimes have up to 2-1/2 hr waits (specifically, the Forbidden Journey through Hogwarts Castle, which doesn't accept the Express Pass). Yes, our day there was short (6 hrs) but we did and saw everything we wanted to do, as the shops/restaurants stay open til 7pm. There was a bus ready to leave at 7:15 and another at 8pm.
The week prior to ours, it was too choppy for Great Stirrup Cay, but we had no problem tendering, and it was hot on the island. I rented a clamshell on embarkation day and was grateful for the shade, plus having priority access to a tender. The downside of a clamshell is that unless you get there early enough to grab the first row of them, you are looking into the back of another clamshell while lounging in your beach chair. You also lose some of the cooling beach breezes inside it. (Some of the shells were solid blue fabric, while others had a mesh strip on the back. Ours was solid, and I wonder if the other kind with mesh would offer more of a breeze.) We were scheduled to anchor at 11am but got there early, around 9am. The tendering process is long -- 450 people fit on those boats, so loading and unloading takes a good 30 minutes on each side. The lunch BBQ was very good and able to handle the large numbers of people. We had no problem finding a seat at the shaded tables.
At our final stop, Nassau, where we also arrived early, we opted to walk to the Hilton and buy their day passes for $55 each. That included a $30 per person voucher for lunch/drinks at their poolside bar & grill, or inside at their buffet. The beach is small but not at all crowded, and I loved their padded lounge chairs with individual clamshells attached, so you could enjoy sun or shade. The beach faces the harbor and we had a view of the 5 ships in port. We started walking back to the ship about 4pm as the clouds darkened and just made it before it started to pour. But while we were on the beach, the weather was lovely.
We didn't bother buying any Internet minutes this trip, knowing how slow the connection speed is, plus we were able to check e-mail on our phones while in Florida on Monday. I used the spa only once for a conditioning treatment/scalp/neck/back massage followed by a blow dry. The weekly spa passes were limited to 50 people and they were gone by the evening of the first day (DD was sorry she didn't grab one earlier to use on those cold sea days). We did not play bingo or Deal or No Deal, didn't go to Art Auctions or the casino, and didn't buy any photos, so we weren't hit with extra costs other than the specialties and a few drinks.
Without exception, every crew member we encountered was polite and friendly and always smiled or said hello when passing in the corridors.
A note about Latitudes: DD is bronze, and as I said, I was silver. We each received invites to the first cocktail party (didn't go). I received a separate invite to the wine & cheese party for silver (and up, I assume). It didn't say anything about bringing a guest. I didn't go to that either, so I don't know for sure, but I had the impression that unless you had the personalized invite in hand, admission might be denied. I wonder how that would work if traveling with a spouse who is at a lower level.
Disembarkation: We took "light blue" for a 9:45 time slot. Again the ship was early. Each color was called well before the time it was given. Perhaps there were many walk-offs at 8am? We got up early enough to get to Tsar's with our carry-on luggage just before 8:30 to have a relaxing last breakfast. Then we waited in Bar City on Deck 6, not for our color to be called, but for the time we'd given DH to pick us up. We disembarked about 9:45 and waited about 25 minutes to get through the Customs line. Getting a porter would have gotten us through much faster, but then we would have been waiting outside, so we didn't.
As much as the weather was lousy during our three sea days, what really mattered was decent weather in port. Much better than the other way around! And as lousy as I think the itinerary is, I wouldn't want NCL to stop offering it -- it's a great getaway from the Northeast without needing to fly if you only have a week to vacation.