By Susan Jaques, Cruise Critic contributor; updated By Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor
Gen-Xers pump iron and practice yoga alongside baby boomers wrapped in seaweed. Nearby, kids careen down a yellow water slide while their parents soak up the sun and tropical drinks. Seniors vie for shuffleboard titles and perfect their golf swings while tots explore the kids' club.
Welcome aboard the multi-faceted Norwegian Jewel.
Jewel launched in August 2005, and on it, Norwegian Cruise Line continues to refine the Freestyle Cruising concept that's become its corporate motto. Freestyle 2.0 was introduced across the fleet in spring 2008, with several enhancements to the menus, new beds throughout and service tweaks at all levels.
On Jewel, more than 2,300 passengers enjoy the freedom to dine where, when and with whom they wish. Casual is the operative word here, with formal night optional.
The Jewel was a floating test for land-based amenities and services like high-rent luxury villas, martini and Champagne bars, interconnecting family-friendly cabins, and an electronic restaurant reservations system. No doubt, Norwegian Jewel and its younger sisters, Norwegian Pearl and Norwegian Gem, offer an experience akin to a land-based resort vacation.
Fully loaded with so many land-based bells and whistles, the Jewel is at its best at night with passengers dispersed among its numerous restaurants, lounges and entertainment venues. In an effort not to miss any of the eateries, lounges or countless activities, I found myself rushing about the ship and frequently checking my watch. It took a conscious effort for me to slow down, block out the hubbub, and simply enjoy the splendid Caribbean views from our cabin balcony.
In the needs-improvement department, though, the ship can do even better handling the throngs. With more than 2,000 co-passengers, I fully expected waits. But I was not prepared to stand on the dock in Roatan -- for more than 30 minutes, alongside 75 other shore excursion guests -- waiting for one tardy couple. The tender process was long -- especially transferring from the dock in Roatan back to the Jewel. Adding another metal detector and a couple more local tenders would help, and not once during the cruise could I find an empty lounge chair poolside.
Excursion loading and unloading in the Baltic was more efficient, with no tender ports and staggered excursion times. However, there was too much deck chair hogging around the pool -- even in the weak summer sun of Northern Europe -- and spare loungers were a rare find.
Ultimately, there's much about the Jewel that sparkles -- most notably the dining options, amiable crew, appealing staterooms and impressive fitness center. Though numerous restaurants, an electronic reservation system and streamlined debarkation help with crowd control, there are times (muster drill, tenders and shore excursions), when you feel the presence of your fellow shipmates. Happily, there are quiet places to read a good book and enjoy the splendid views. Deck 7 offers outdoor seating when the pool deck is packed. The library is almost always empty, and Spinnaker Lounge is sunny and quiet by day. By dinner time, the spa empties out, and you can savor the sunset from a hot tub or chaise.
Norwegian Jewel Fellow Passengers
In the Caribbean, the majority of passengers are American. The balmy, Caribbean weather also attracts Brits looking to escape the winter cold. The ship, with its whirlwind of activities and impressive amenities, enjoys a broad appeal across age groups. Children and teens are out in force during school holidays.
In the Baltic, there is a complete international mix, the major groupings being British, American, Canadian and Spanish, followed by smaller groups from places as diverse as Malta, South America, the Caribbean and Hong Kong.
Norwegian Jewel Dress Code
Casual dress is a very popular aspect of freestyle cruising. Formalwear (black tie or dark suit for men and evening gown or cocktail dress for women) is optional during one formal evening. On our trip, about a quarter of passengers got dolled up in gowns and tuxedos. Even in the ship's most elegant restaurant, Le Bistro, diners donned resort casual attire -- which translates into polo shirts and khakis for men and sun dresses or skirts and blouses for women. After 5:30 p.m., jeans, T-shirts, shorts, tank tops and bare feet are not permitted in the restaurants.
Norwegian Jewel Gratuity
Each passenger is automatically billed $12 per day, which supports an incentive program for the service staff. Passenger who prefer to tip individually can fill out a form at reception. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to fitness classes and bar drinks or 18 percent in the spa. For passengers using concierge and butler service, NCL recommends a gratuity "commensurate with the services rendered." The bill can be paid in cash or with credit cards or traveler's checks.
This was out 6th cruise with NCL... We enjoyed the cruise and like cruising with NCL but had two bad experiences this time that will keep us from cruising with NCL until we have cruised with RCL a couple of times... Overall we have been on 11 ...continue
A little about us: We are new empty-nesters out celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary and our first vacation as a couple (a.k.a. no kids). Turns out, we are also snobs - food snobs, vacation snobs, just plain old snobby people. I was a little ...continue
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Our experience on the Norwegian Jewel was fantastic. I am raving about freestyle cruising and absolutely love the concept. We did spend an extra 20 bucks each one night for the Teppanyaki restaurant and it was well worth it. The service on the ...continue