Hey all -- It's Sunday morning and we've been home less than 24 hours. I'm writing this NOW because I know if I don't do it right away, it might just get away from me. I know how I devoured other's reviews before I sailed, so I thought it was only fair I take some time and get down my thoughts.
My husband and I sailed on the February 18 Jewel cruise out of NYC. Yes, it was Presidents' Week and probably not the week I would choose if my work at a school didn't necessitate it...but what the heck. This was our first NCL cruise, having been on Celebrity (years ago -- I barely remember it), Princess and Carnival. My husband and I are both in our early 50's, and we were sailing on our own (as in without our 2 college age children) for the first time. I'll do this in what I feel are logical categories:
Embarkation: Because I'm a punctuality nut (yes, I was the first person at our Meet & Greet) we got to the cruise terminal very early. We were picked-up at home at 8:15 a.m. and were inside the terminal building by 9:00 a.m. Every person we had contact with along the way was extremely helpful and friendly. When we were standing outside the building, in the middle of all of our luggage, a woman (with a NCL nametag) walked out of the building and glanced at us. We must have looked a little confused because she came over to ask if we needed help. She then went back in the building, got a gentleman to take our luggage and directed us inside. There were maybe 8 or 10 other people there already (waiting for both the Jewel and the 1-night Gem cruise.) I was trying to pay attention to the time so I could be as helpful as possible here, but it's a little fuzzy at this point. I think we waited there (reading, playing with our cell phones, people watching) until about 10:30 a.m., at which point they called us over to go through the first security point. We were one of the first through the line. Then we checked in with our passport and got our boarding number, which was #5. We were directed to sit in another area of chairs with our fellow Jewel passengers. We hung out and I took that time to go over to the table and make reservations at LeBistro for that night. They gave us $5 per person off the meal, which I had heard they would do. Not sure how long we waited there, but after awhile they started boarding, and #5 was in the 3rd group called and we were on board by 11:30 a.m. For us, the embarkation process was great. Better and less stressful than either Princess or Carnival. (Full disclosure: on the last 2 cruises we were part of a group of 8, so that might have had something to do with why this embarkation for 2 was so much easier. Not sure.) Grade: A
Cabin: I'm going to do this next because it's one of the only places where I personally think NCL lags behind the other lines I've cruised on. That puppy was really small! We were on deck 8, in an aft balcony cabin (8134 to be exact.) There was literally no floor space except a path to walk through. Honestly, this cabin size was totally fine for us -- we were 2 people. Not an issue at all. I cannot imagine, however, how you would ever get another person in there. The couch/chair next to our bed pulled out for another person. If you were to pull the bed out however, what you'd be dealing with is basically one big bed for 3 people to sleep in! There was NO room at all between the big bed and the pullout bed next to it! Again, my husband and I personally had no problem with room in the cabin. I know, though, that we would NOT be able to stay in there with another person. The storage is fantastic. Lots of shelves, some drawers, and good closet space. I loved the little light in the closet. I mention it because I didn't even realize it was there until half way though the cruise. We had plenty of hangers. Bed was super comfortable. I thought the bathroom was larger than others I've been in. I guess if you take the space to make the 3-part bathroom, you gotta sacrifice a little on the room floor space. We were also a little disappointed in the size of our balcony. (Full disclosure again: on both Princess and Carnival our TA was able to nab us cabins with balconies a little bit bigger than the norm. You know how on some decks they just jut out a little further. I know that's a benefit of booking your cruise way in advance rather than 4-6 weeks in advance like we did on this one.) But anyway, the balcony was definitely smaller than I would have liked. Not horrible or anything; just not great. By far my husband's biggest complaint was the TV in our cabin. You know how we all have our "things?" TV is not one of mine, but it is one of his. He salivates over big screen TVs. Dreams in high-definition. Loves to relax while watching television. He hated the size of the TV (it really was ridiculously small) and also was unhappy with the choices of programming. Choices were better on the other 2 lines. We felt like we could always find a movie or decent show to watch if we wanted to. Not so much on NCL. (I felt like I was being tortured by having to flip on Fox News so many times just in an effort to find something to watch -- but that's my own issue.) I'm not sure how important the TV is to most people who cruise. I just know a small flat screen (which would have been bigger than the bulky old box TV they had in there) would have gone a long way in making my husband happy. Final cabin grade: B-
NOTE: I think I've discovered that I am a part of a small group -- people who don't like sailing in an aft cabin. I didn't really dislike it, but I definitely don't think it was worth more money. IF the balcony itself was bigger, maybe. But for the same size as the side cabins, I'm just not into it. Know what I missed? Ever seeing a sunset or a sunrise from my balcony. Being able to watch as we pull into a port from my balcony. Yes, watching and listening to the wake was lovely, but I think I'll stick to regular balcony cabins in the future.
Food: We really liked the food. I've read complaints about NCL food, and I don't get it. We had some really tasty stuff! A few things that standout -- on embarkation day we went to Tsars for lunch. (Uncrowded by the way.) The calamari was yummy, the Portobello mushroom stuffed with goat cheese was to die for, and my shrimp/salmon salad with avocado sandwich was delicious! My husband got the NY strip steak (he needed to check out the "steak" situation right away) and was pretty pleased. First, they delivered it to him "rare" as he requested. I mean, he wouldn't rave about the quality of the meat, but he enjoyed it. (As he said that day, what's not to enjoy when you're on vacation sitting on a cruise ship!) We saw immediately that portions weren't very large, but that's fine. More than fine -- it's probably a good thing!
The first night we ate at LeBistro and it was excellent. We didn't think it was super fantastic, but really quite good. My husband had the filet mignon, and it was tender and tasty but not the best he's had. I had the lamb and loved it. All in all, we liked LeBistro and were glad we ate there and thought it was worth the extra charge. We really wanted to try Cagney's (my husband really loves his beef) but unfortunately it never worked out for us. We both did feel that we could definitely cruise NCL and never have to eat at specialty restaurants. We ate breakfast in Tsar's every day and it was good with a pretty wide selection. We also ate lunch there on quite a few days. We did eat in Azure for dinner one time, and my husband thought the steak on that "every-day menu" (maybe a ribeye) was a little better than the NY strip at Tsars. Basically though, we liked the atmosphere in Tsars much better and that's why we always went there. Bottom line, we enjoyed the dining room food.
We ate a few times at Blue Lagoon, and I think they might have cut back on their menu. I thought I read about some things that were available (chili?) that weren't available now. I liked the wings; my husband thought they were a little dry. He liked the fish and chips. I was a little disappointed that you can only get that yummy brownie sundae during lunch. Why? Made me sad... We both thought the burgers on the ship were great -- from a couple of different locations onboard. Juicy and tasty.
(Once again, a little more full disclosure: My husband HATES the buffet. Honestly, he doesn't hate the "buffet" he sort of hates the people at the buffet. Sometimes people are at their inconsiderate WORST at a buffet...) I got him to eat at the Great Outdoors with me one time -- under duress. He'd have nothing good to say about the buffet, but I'll give my opinion.)
I thought the set-up and the selections at the buffet were both great. I really couldn't believe the choices. At breakfast, they'll make you an omelet. I just felt like anything you wanted -- it was there. Now keep in mind, I didn't really eat much there. I just kind of looked around, and I was amazed at what I saw. I was very impressed with the selection available. Some things I did eat: The crepes -- what can I say. Yummy. The pizza -- not very hot, but I like that kind of thin crust "bar pie" so I enjoyed it. The cookies -- loved 'em. Oh, and I lied about my husband having nothing good to say: he did love those cookies. And the day we ate at the Great Outdoors, they had some time of bratwurst sandwich thingy going that he really did enjoy.
Generally speaking, I wasn't that impressed with the NCL desserts. I'm really a dessert kinda gal, and there wasn't much that was blowing me (or my guy) away. Basically, I guess I liked the simple things: the cookies at the buffet and the brownie sundae in Blue Lagoon. As far as the Chocolate Buffet -- don't shoot me, but I think they should get rid of it. I mean really, all that fuss? All that waste? All those crazy people acting like they've never seen chocolate desserts before? We went down towards the end (no way my husband was going to deal with that crowd) and we were pretty unimpressed. Everything sort of looked and tasted the same. And just not that fantastic. (Full disclosure again -- I LOVE to bake and my desert offering at holiday meals are honestly more impressive...at least to my husband!)
Final food grade: B+
Service: I think that the staff on the NCL Jewel is the happiest, friendliest, most helpful group of people I've every met! Really, every single person we dealt with was fantastic. It's funny, on our first night at LeBistro, I felt that our waiter was a little crabby in the beginning. I joked to my husband that maybe they do that on purpose because it's a French restaurant (hahaha). I don't know what happened, but the second time he walked over to our table he had turned into a friendly joking guy. Kind of odd, but whatever. Loved the washy-washy girls. Our cabin steward (Fernando) was great. Very friendly and did a great job. We met Hugo (the hotel director) at the M&G and he seemed like a nice enough guy. We "heard" Captain Lars on the loudspeaker, and my husband kept saying how much he liked him! There was just something very "likable" about the guy! We didn't have much contact with the cruise director, but we did appreciate his enthusiasm and energy!! All of the waiters/waitresses were great. We loved talking to some of them about their home lives in various foreign countries. Lovely young ladies behind the "desk" in the atrium. Final service grade: A+
Entertainment: We're not that big on the shows or really any activities onboard. We did, however, see the hypnotist, whom we thought was very entertaining. We also really enjoyed the Cirque de Bijou. As far as we were concerned, it was the best show we've seen on a cruise ship. (Granted, we haven't seen a lot!) Honestly, if we weren't veterans of a couple of Cirque de Soleil shows, I think we would have enjoyed Cirque de Bijou even more. (If you've seen Cirque de Soleil, you know what I mean -- not much can compete!) The acrobatic couple was quite unbelievable however! We also really enjoyed the staff and crew coming on stage at the end. Maybe it's corny, but I really did feel as though they are like a family and they enjoy what they do. It was a very nice "touch." We did catch Nick Martini a couple of times (mostly doing Frank Sinatra.) He was enjoyable and that was fun. We enjoyed the dinner music in the Tsar dining room. Our grading of the entertainment is very limited, but for what it's worth, final grade: B+
(More full disclosure: My husband and I discuss all the time the fact that we might be a little spoiled living right outside of NYC. We tend to compare entertainment to things we might see on Broadway. Obviously, that probably is not very fair).
Itinerary: I'm gonna be honest here -- I thought this itinerary really stunk. But, we didn't pick this cruise for the itinerary. We picked it because it was out of NYC. I do wish that there were a better port than Cape Canaveral. (I'm sure lots of people love Cape Canaveral and this is just my opinion.) We didn't get off at the private island for a couple of reasons. One, didn't want to deal with tendering. And two, it actually did annoy us that you have to pay to get some shade on the beach there. My husband absolutely CANNOT do the sun for long periods of time. Honestly, would it kill them to have some "free" shade on the beach?) Final grade: D
Disembarkation: We thought it was so smooth. Maybe we were just lucky both getting on and off the ship, but we think that NCL really does do this well. We had a delicious breakfast in Tsar's around 7:45 a.m. (Note: the menu is a little different on the last day.) We hung in our cabin until about 9:00 a.m. Went to sit (quite comfortably) in the atrium until 9:45 a.m. (which is the time we chose.) Got on line when called, waiting a few minutes. Walked off the ship and right through security and customs. We were outside the building just a few minutes after 10:00 a.m. Much easier than on either of our previous cruises. Final grade: A
Other notes and comments: We learned at the M&G that there were 900 kids onboard. What would you expect during President's Week! I love kids. I work in a school. I've also taught nursery school and worked in the children's room of our public library. I mean I really love kids. What I don't love -- parents who don't watch their kids. Or parents who don't set a very good example for their kids. I've raised 2 of my own. They are certainly not perfect (not even close -- don't get me started) but they ARE certainly polite and respectful. Always have been from a very young age because that's how we raised them. I can say that having 900 kids on this cruise really didn't bother me. Generally speaking, I didn't notice very much. However, there were a couple of things I really do need to say. People should keep a closer eye on their little kids at the buffet. Do you know how gross kids can be? And why would you send your little child over to the ice cream machine on his or her own when they're clearly not old enough to use it correctly? What a disgusting mess. And talk about waste. They tend to take just a little too much of anything that looks good when left to their own devices! And then, the thing that really got to me was the behavior of the parents/kids when we were in the theater one afternoon watching one of the hypnotist's shows. People began to enter for a Nickelodeon show BEFORE the hypnotist was done. They just started to come in. Down the aisles. Tons of kids, followed by their parents. Climbing over people in the seats while the hypnotist was still speaking. Parents and children speaking in loud voices. The hypnotist actually had to ask them to please keep it quiet. It infuriated me (and the lady sitting in front of me too!) How are kids supposed to learn to be considerate of others if their parents don't teach them! So rude. If the passengers aren't smart enough to NOT enter the theater before the show is done, maybe NCL should post a staff member by the door to keep them out. Okay -- off the soapbox now.
On the other hand, on a positive note, I think cruises from NYC sometimes get a bad rap because people imply that the passengers are in some way inherently rude or pushy or in some negative way "New York like.") I think that is so untrue. I know we didn't meet many people at the M&G, but the ones we did meet couldn't have been nicer or friendlier. I'm not going to say names (because I'm sure I'll forget someone,) but really, Douglas and I enjoyed meeting all of you. (Sorry we didn't see more of you.) And generally speaking, the people we chatted with or sat near onboard were all very pleasant. When we disembarked we met a lovely single mom and her daughter and shared a luggage cart. This woman was so friendly and her 6-year-old daughter was sweet and polite. (OK -- I know I was just complaining in the paragraph above, but I think that people not supervising their kids is a nationwide issue -- not a tri-state issue!!!)
Side note on tipping: Can someone tell me why they indicate that the beverage service people are not included in our auto-tips, so they give us a line on the receipt to give them a separate tip. However, there is also an automatic tip put on there. It confused me a little. Sometimes I added a little tip, and sometimes I didn't. Maybe I just didn't understand what they were saying about tipping them...
Also, the first day in our cabin, we left a note for Fernando (our cabin steward) asking him to clear out our mini-fridge and leave it empty. With that note, we left a $20 tip. On our last day, we left him another note saying, "thanks for everything" and left him another $20 tip. We think those room stewards do work so hard, and honestly, I think that some people really ask a lot of them. We're very low maintenance, but we wanted him to know how much we appreciated him.
I should also mention that our trip down from NYC was very very rough! At least I can definitely say that I do NOT get seasick!! On Sunday night that ship was rocking. I think Captain Lars said there were winds of 80 knots?!?! Don't know what that really means, but he made it sound pretty darn serious.
Well, well, well. I've certainly gone on here haven't I? I do feel like I should give the entire cruise a final grade. I'll hint at it by saying that we are definitely NCL fans after our first cruise on the Jewel. Really, it was so enjoyable. Will definitely positively book with them again. Final grade: A