Norwegian Jewel Dining
The Jewel's 10 dining venues offer open seating, flexible hours and excellent service. An electronic reservations system keeps things running smoothly -- we made reservations for the week at the reservations desk upon embarkation and never had to wait more than a few minutes to be seated. Reservations can also be made by phone. It's best to book early for the specialty restaurants, especially for large parties or for smaller venues like Teppanyaki. Cancellations after 5 p.m. incur a $5 fee.
Judging from the crowds at Teppanyaki and Le Bistro, passengers don't mind paying $10 to $25 in cover charges. A few venues -- Cagney's, Chin Chin and Le Bistro -- sometimes have early bird deals.
Complimentary hot tea, coffee, iced tea and ice water are served with meals; soft drinks, bottled water and alcoholic beverages are available at an additional charge (pretty standard onshore bar prices).
Surrounded by so many dining venues, it's easy to forget that 24-hour room service is also available (except on the morning of debarkation). From 6:30 a.m. until 10 a.m., you can enjoy continental fare like juice, fresh fruit, muffins and cold cereal. Lunch and dinner options include perennial favorites like chicken Caesar salad, sandwiches and pizza, plus kid-pleasers like hot dogs and grilled cheese sandwiches.
Tsar's Palace and Azura, the two main restaurants, share dinner and lunch menus with daily selections. Healthy, cooking light selections are always available, as are Caesar salad, chicken, salmon, steak, vegetables and baked potatoes. At breakfast, waiters outnumber diners at the ornate Tsar's Palace, decorated in royal hues of burgundy, green and gold with chandeliers, marbled pillars and stunning faux Faberge egg balustrades. This room is an elegant space and, with its Russian-inspired decor, is particularly appropriate to the Baltic -- flooded with light during the long evenings thanks to the floor-to-ceiling windows on the aft side.
With its pop art, wood veneer and soft lighting, the smaller Azura -- a sleeker and more contemporary venue -- is also a more intimate space. But, it appeared gloomy by comparison, and the service was all over the place; my cocktail arrived with my starter, and my glass of wine came when I had nearly finished my main course. The Captain's Gala Dinner menu -- with broiled lobster tail -- was our best no-cover-charge meal.
Blue Lagoon, a pleasant food court-style venue overlooking the atrium, is another option for breakfast and lunch. For a hearty start, order the Full House -- fried or scrambled eggs, bacon, grilled tomatoes, sauteed mushrooms and hash browns. That will keep you until late lunch, which offers a menu of fish and chips, burgers, soups and salads. Garden Cafe and the Great Outdoors -- indoor and outdoor buffets -- are good for a quick breakfast or lunch but are less appealing for dinner. Passengers complained the food was inconsistent and often cold. During the day, the Garden Cafe is under a lot of pressure, and seats can be hard to find. Nice touches include a soft-serve ice cream dispenser and self-serve coffee machines that brew decaf and regular lattes and cappuccinos. For morning juices and pastries or burgers and hot dogs for lunch, the poolside grill is quick and convenient.
Cagney's Steakhouse ($25 cover charge), which sports cowhide chairs and western decor, serves filet mignon, strip loin, New York cut, boneless rib eye and T-bone steaks.
Moderno Churrascaria ($20) is a Brazilian-style steakhouse that offers a expansive lineup of skewered meat, including lamb chops, filet mignon, sausage and chicken. There's also the obligatory salad bar featuring international cheeses, dried meats, olives and marinated veggies, alongside the traditional salad ingredients. Sides, including mashed potatoes, fried bananas, and rice and beans, are served with the meat.
Chin Chin ($15 cover charge), the main area of an Asian fusion complex, offers starters like dim sum and satay, followed by miso or tom yum soup, and entrees like chili mussels in lemongrass coconut milk, chicken curry and pad thai. Save room for Thai banana pancakes with coconut ice cream. Knives and salt shakers go flying at the hibachi-style Teppanyaki (cover charge $25; half price for children). Entrees include combinations of chicken, beef and seafood (including lobster) served with miso soup, ginza salad, vegetables and garlic fried rice. Entrees are followed by ice cream or fresh fruit. California and New York rolls, barbecued eel and flying fish roe are among the selections at the Sushi Bar ($15 for all you can eat).
NCL's signature restaurant, Le Bistro ($20 cover charge), may not have the original Impressionist art found on Norwegian Dawn, but it still gets our vote for best restaurant with a cover charge. The service is especially attentive and the food presentation memorable. Don't miss the decadent chocolate fondue with fruit, served in a half-pineapple. A jazz brunch served here on a sea day ($15) received rave reviews from my traveling companions.
At the rustic Mama's Italian Kitchen ($10), you can create your own pizza or pasta with sauces ranging from traditional (tomato, Alfredo and Bolognese) to haute (shrimp with lemon and basil or smoked salmon with white wine cream and chives).