NCL Jewel - Western Mediterranean Review
I was on the 7/8/07 sailing of the Norwegian Jewel to the Western Mediterranean. This was my first taste of Free-style NCL (I last sailed with NCL way back in 1978). I am in my early 50's and ... Read More
NCL Jewel - Western Mediterranean Review
I was on the 7/8/07 sailing of the Norwegian Jewel to the Western Mediterranean. This was my first taste of Free-style NCL (I last sailed with NCL way back in 1978). I am in my early 50's and single. This was my 14th cruise overall, with most being on RCCL, Carnival, and Princess. Overall, I was very satisfied with the Free-style and enjoyed it very much. The cruise was tiring because there was so much packed into a short cruise. I would recommend spending a day or 2 in Barcelona either before or after the cruise.
Transportation Since I only booked the cruise at a late date, I booked my own air from JFK on Aer Lingus (through their website) with a change in Dublin each way. Both flights were pleasant and on time. For the first time in a long time, I had an empty seat next to me on every flight, so I was not squished next to someone. Once in Barcelona, I retrieved my bags quickly and went outside to hail a cab. There was some traffic getting into the pier and the fare ended up being $27E and change. I gave him $30E. This is after I tried to purchase transfers from the NCL rep at the airport for $25E who talked me out of it and told me the taxi fare is only $20E! This would not be bad if you had a traveling companion to share the cost, but I was traveling alone.
Embarkation I arrived at the pier at approximately 12:00pm. Dropped off my bags outside and went in to the terminal to very long lines. The NCL personnel were not allowing anyone new to get in the lines and directed all to sit. It seems the computers were down and they couldn't check anyone in. At this point I still had some hope to try and see some of Barcelona, maybe on the hop on/hop off bus. After approximately 45 min. everyone started surging onto the lines in no particular order, so that people who just walked in ended up at the front of the lines compared to people that came first and were told to sit. It was a huge mess! Finally I just cut the line in front of huge family group who were trying to keep almost 30 or so people together. When I got to the counter they were still having problems and although I received my room key/ID card, they could not get any of my credit cards to register. They told me I would have to go to the front desk later in the day to straighten it out. They then told me to be back on board by 4:00pm, even though we were sailing at 7:00pm, because of the life boat drills! There went any hope of seeing Barcelona, but I guess it's my own fault for not booking an extra day there. Oh well, things could only get better and they did. Once past the main entrance, there are some small shops before the escalator up to the ship. Buy your water here! Huge bottles that the ship charges $3.95 were only $1E each here. I only bought 2, because I was carrying other items and went back later to purchase more and they had already closed for the day. I did have to return to the Purser's desk later that day to register my credit card and had to wait in another line.
Stateroom I had an obstructed ocean view stateroom #8552, which had a rather small lifeboat outside, so the view was actually pretty good. The location of these staterooms is recessed under another deck, so the sun never shines in directly, which actually kept the room nice and cool. There also was some lighting at night, so it never got pitch dark, which is fine for me. The stateroom had plenty of storage areas and a mini-bar/refrigerator. When I asked my room steward to empty it he said I could just take out what I wanted to make room for my own items. Minor complaints; Although the bathroom at first glance appeared large, I think they could have done without the door between the sink and the toilet. It has striped clear/frosted glass so I doubt anyone would use it while someone else was at the sink or shower (which also had the same glass). I just think it would seem even larger without the wall. My only other complaint is that there was not enough lighting in the cabin. The vanity was a joke with only one tiny spotlight, which was inadequate. Even the overhead lights didn't do much.
My luggage was delivered within an hour or so. During this time, my room steward came and introduced himself and then I never saw him again the rest of the cruise, but my room was "cleaned" (though somehow cleaning didn't include dusting) on schedule as long as I changed the "wheel" outside my room. The "wheel" has 4 colors; yellow; welcome, green; make-up cabin, red; do not disturb and blue; turn-down cabin. One night I was in a hurry for dinner and forgot to change this and never returned until after midnight and my room was un-touched so always remember to change the wheel!
Ship The ship was very nice although not as pretty as the RCCL ships which IMHO are the best looking ships out there. I also thought the ship design was the most confusing I've experienced as some of the hallways did not always flow well and I thought there were a number of dead-ends but eventually found my way around well. Although I enjoyed the pool on several occasions, nothing was ever enforced as far as an adult only pool or hot tub. I really missed the enforced adult only solarium found aboard the RCCL ships. My favorite pre-dinner spot most evenings was Shakers Martini Bar where I sampled many of their special (pricey) martinis during the week.
Dining/Food During the week I ate at Tsars twice, Chin Chin's Mongolian hot pot, Tangos, Le Bistro, Mamas and Azura. I had met up with friends on the cruise so we always dined together. I thought the main restaurants were terrific! The choices were fabulous and I have to say that the food was highly spiced and not the bland food one normally finds on most cruise ships. Saying that, the specialty restaurants were mostly even better! It will be really tough to go back to a regular cruise again. Tsars was the prettiest dining room and we ended up eating there the first night as well as Thursday. The first night I had smoked salmon appetizer, salad, leg of lamb (just ok) and a souffle for dessert. The second time we went there I had a spring roll, avocado & tomatillo soup, tabullah salad, a veal dish and chocolate mousse for dessert. Tango's was great, especially the tuna appetizer, red snapper, tortilla soup and seafood brochette and the fresh berries with cream for dessert were amazing! The Mongolian hot pot dinner produced a ton of laughs between our party of six (not recommended, too many people) but the food was rather bland (and you had to cook it yourself) just joking, we knew that going in! LOL On the 2nd night (which is the formal night if you want to dress) we ate at Azura, which had the lobster on the menu (I should have ordered 2 since they were really small) in addition to seafood cocktail and a dynamite chocolate crème brulee for dessert. We sampled Le Bistro on Friday and it was excellent. I had the seafood cocktail, escargot, cream of mushroom soup in a bread bowl, and a beef short rib/tenderloin combination which was outstanding and although I never normally order beef on a cruise because they never cook it the way I like, the tenderloin was cooked to my fussy (very, very rare, almost raw) standard. The only letdown was the Tarte Tatin (apple tart) which was just okay. Mama's on the last night proved better than I expected (I didn't really want to dine here since I get so much quality Italian food at home in NY) but the rest of my group picked it. The food was okay, first they serve an antipasto on the table, I then had pasta with carbonara (not the greatest) and veal and shrimp combo for the main course which was good. Desserts here were uninteresting to me so I skipped them.
I ate breakfast most mornings at the buffet, which had more than enough choices to satisfy most, but my only complaint is that they had smoked salmon the first morning (which I love!) and then I never saw it again the rest of the cruise. Instead they had some other horrible smoked fish in place of it. Two of the mornings that I had very early shore excursions, I ordered room service (hang the card out the night before) and it was delivered early or close to the time I requested and always had all that I requested (limited menu though). One nice touch, they call right before they deliver, so that you are up and ready when they arrive. When I was on the ship for lunch, I usually just grabbed a burger or hot dog at the outdoor grill area near the pool. The buffet lunch never appealed to me.
Entertainment I did not attend any shows mostly because the shows were at 7:30 and 9:30 and we usually ate dinner at 8 or 8:30pm. Not that I'm a big show person anyway. I do have to say that the vocal/musical group that played in the lobby and for Tango's restaurant were very good and the band by the pool was also pretty good. My main entertainment is the casino where I played craps almost every night in addition to a few slots. The slots were terrible to me, but I made it up at the craps table and ended up a winner by the end of the cruise.
Shore excursions Since I was traveling alone, I booked all my excursions through the ship. I thought they were well arranged and the guides were fair to great.
Messina - Picture Perfect Tindari I've been to Sicily before, so I already had visited Taormina and Mt. Etna, the big draws. However, I had not made it to Messina. Since my tour to Tindari did not leave until 1:00pm, I walked into town to view the Duomo. It was only a few blocks away and I found it easily. I then walked a few more blocks and found it to be pleasant but a fairly uninteresting city, architecturally. The trip to Tindari was about an hour and they made 2 photo stops on the way at scenic overlooks. Our guide was just fair, mostly because he was very hard to understand through his accent and his strange way of emphasizing certain syllables, that I just ended up tuning him out after a while. We climbed the steps up to the town area and then we toured the ruins of an Greek amphitheater, Roman villa and church. I then walked to the small town square and toured the lovely cathedral that was there. I also had time for a cup of fresh orange gelato, yummy! On the way back we stopped by a church/monument overlooking Messina and it's harbor for another photo op before returning us to the ship.
Naples - Amalfi Coast and Pompeii This was an all-day tour that drove a good portion of the Amalfi coast including a stop in the town of Amalfi. Gino was our guide and he was great! It was a stunning scenic drive that lasted for hours! We then made our way to the ruins of Pompeii where we had lunch included on our tour at a large restaurant (can't remember the name) just outside the entrance to the ruins. Lunch consisted of unlimited wine, spinach cannelloni, chicken breast with vegetables and roasted potatoes and gelato for dessert. Very nice. Once fortified we then began our tour of the ruins, which were quite impressive and very fascinating. We toured many individual dwellings and saw mosaics and painted walls. Overall, it was my favorite day of touring and Gino made it very enjoyable.
Civitavecchia - Art, Architecture & Flavors I previously visited Rome and although I would have liked to explore more, I did not want to deal with the heat and crowds, so I chose somewhere else to visit. This was a 4 hour tour to the Etruscan tombs and to the town of Tarquinia. The tour guide we had was uninteresting. First we went to explore the tombs themselves and then into town to visit the museum. We then had about ½ hour free time in town, during which we discovered 2 small charming churches up the main street. Then the best part of the tour took us to a farm (agrotouristic) for various tastings. We were seated on a lovely patio under a grape arbor and were able to taste many home-made products grown or produced by the farm including; several red and white wines, olive oils, brushetta, liver pate, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, honey, jams, bread, and also different liquors such as limoncello, amaretto, peach and rose flavors. We were here for over an hour with unlimited tastings. All products were for sale in a nearby building but no pressure was put on anyone to buy. I did purchase several bottles of wine as well as a can of olive oil to bring home. I was able to bring all aboard the ship without a problem and drank one of the bottles in my stateroom during the remainder of the week.
Livorno - Pisa and Lucca I had previously visited Florence so again I chose to do something different. This was an all-day tour lead by the very vibrant Antoinella. She was great and had such enthusiasm for the Tuscany region where she lived. First we drove to the lovely walled city of Lucca where we had a walking tour of the major sites with about 1 hour free time at the end of the tour. Then we were off to Pisa. Pisa was a zoo! It was so crowded, but the buildings are still magnificent! We had about 1 ½ hours free for lunch before our guided tour began. We walked down the main street quite a ways until we came to Il Santo, a quirky decorated bistro. Two friends and I shared a carafe of wine, a mixed salami plate along with melon and procuitto for appetizer, then penne Bolognese and penne with pesto. Delicisioso! Last time I was there we didn't visit inside the Duomo, so I was glad this time we did. It was spectacular!
Villefranche - Monaco and a Visit to Eze This was the only port where the ship moored off-shore and we had to tender into. There was no wait when departing on the tour. This was a 6 hour tour, our guide was Gilles, he was good. We were first taken to a beautiful overlook to snap a few pictures of the amazingly beautiful Cote d'Azur, then it was off to old Monaco where we had a walking tour of the old city, cathedral where Princess Grace and Prince Ranier were married and are now buried. Then we saw the palace and had about a half hour of free time where my friend and I stopped for a cup of coffee. I wish we had more time in this area, since there were many small tourist-type shops. We then passed the harbor areas with the many yachts and made our way to the Monte Carlo area where we were shown the famous casino and the ritzy Hotel d'Paris. We then had about 45 minutes of free time. It was too early for the famous casino but there was another casino for those that wished to gamble. We chose to check out the pretty nearby park and then stopped at a ice cream stand. I chose a strawberry sorbet. It was great! We then traveled to the medieval French mountaintop town of Eze, where the bus parked at the base of this walled village. Looking up, it looked like a long climb up, but once we started walking inside the pretty winding streets we were up to the top before we realized it. Gilles gave us a guided walking tour about ¾ of the way up. Located at the top is the Jardin Exotique (exotic garden) which required a $5E entrance fee. We paid the fee and proceeded to climb the rest of the way through a beautiful garden with many statues and art pieces. Once at the summit, the view was a breath-taking 360 degree view. We spent our entire amount of free time up here taking it all in. We couldn't believe later how many people chose not to enter the garden and make their way to the top because of the $5E fee. We thought it was worth every cent! The only down side to this port was the long line for tenders when we returned to the dock. We probably waited 45 minutes to an hour to board. On NCL's behalf, they did walk up and down the long line serving ice water or cold juice to those waiting. We should have just went over to one of the cafes along the harbor and waited there until the line went down.
Overall, I was very happy with this cruise and the excursions, it was quite a lot packed into 1 week, but I got to see many different sights. I will definitely recommend the NCL ships and their free-style dining. Read Less