Background: My husband and I are in our 30s with no kids. We sailed on the Dawn in 2003 and swore we would never cruise again because we had 35 foot seas and 50 knot winds for 3 of the 8 days of our NYC-Bahamas cruise. It was a horrible experience that we did not want to repeat. We not only had rough seas but the overall level of service on the cruise was poor. However, I decided it was time to try again - with NCL - but this time in the much calmer waters of the Western Mediterranean. Needless to say, we not only had the time of our lives but we were ready to sign up for our next cruise by the third day.
Travel to port: We booked our air through NCL since it was cheaper than doing it on our own. Unfortunately, our "personal cruise consultant" misinformed us and told us that we could not make any airline or seat requests until the air was first booked and then we could make changes through NCL's air department. That information was incorrect and we were told by Lufthansa that since the flight was oversold, we would have to get to the airport 4 hours in advance of our flight so that they could assign us seats. Our flights took us from Washington to Frankfurt and then Frankfurt to Barcelona. When we arrived in Barcelona at 10 AM, there were three NCL representatives waiting in the luggage area for passengers. We left our suitcases with the representatives and boarded a bus to the ship. We did not have to look for our suitcases when we got to the cruise terminal - they were already waiting outside our door when we arrived. The ride from the airport to the terminal took about a half hour.
Embarkation: This was a sign of things to come. Our past experiences with embarkation were horrible because we waited a few hours to check in and then longer to get our luggage. NCL must have had some changes in its policies because once at the cruise terminal in Barcelona, it only took us about a half hour to get into our cabin. What a pleasant surprise!
Stateroom: We were upgraded to a balcony cabin from a porthole outside cabin because of several problems we had with a NCL representative. We did not ask for it nor did we complain a lot but they must be trying a new policy to keep passengers happy. Our room steward, Boris, was amazing and always made sure our cabin was clean. A couple of times we forgot to turn our room sign to "make up cabin" or "turn down cabin" but upon returning to the cabin it was done anyway. He told us that he knew we left and wanted to make sure that it was clean when we returned. There was plenty of room under the beds for our 4 suitcases and 1 small carry-on bag. There was also a closet with around 20 hangers, 4 drawers, and 5 or 6 shelves to store clothes/other items. There is a mini-bar fridge in the room but beware - everything is extremely expensive! There is a hairdryer in the room as well.
Ship info: The Jewel is spotless. The public spaces are all well kept. There are 2 small pools on deck 12 and several whirlpools there as well. The Spa is nice but, unlike on the Dawn, there is no pool there and you cannot use the whirlpools unless you pay a daily or weekly pass. There is a fitness room with several treadmills, exercise bikes, and weights. The Spinnaker Lounge was a fun place to go and relax after the ship set sail and before there were Bingo events going on in it. Our cruise was sold-out and what we really liked is that it never seemed to be crowded. There were not mobs of people in one place at one time. Even when we tendered in Villefranche, there were not a lot of people waiting in line for the boats.
Dining: We ate 2 nights in Tsar's Palace. The food was excellent and the service was exceptional. I have read other reviews on this site that complain about the food there but everything was perfect for us. We also ate in Tango's and Mama's Kitchen. Again, the food was great and so was the service. The only place that we encountered any problem was in Azura's. I realize that the food is cooked in the same kitchen as Tsar's but it was not as good and not warm at all. Also, our waiter seemed to not want to be at work. Everyone has the right to a bad day though! For breakfast - we ate mostly in Tsar's and occasionally in the Garden Cafe. Tsar's was excellent and the Cafe was okay. This may be in part because we arrived in port early every morning and it seemed to be pretty full. We ate several lunches in the Blue Lagoon. This is one of the ship's best kept secrets! The food is good (soups, fish and chips, burgers, hot dogs, stir fry, wings, etc.) and comes out fast.
Entertainment: Paul, the cruise director, was great. He didn't talk too much like some cruise directors, but he always let people know what events were happening on the ship. As many others have said, the Jean Ann Ryan Company is great! They performed the second and sixth nights of the cruise. Both performances were excellent! Second City also performed one night and they were very good as well (improv comedy). The comedian that performed to music (uncertain of his name) and the Gossamer magic were okay but nothing spectacular.
Shore excursions: First off, the captain was great at making sure we arrived early to every port. On our last cruise, we got in late each day. In Naples, it is very easy to get a bus or tram to the train station. From there, we went to Pompeii on our own and spent less than half of what it would have cost for the ship's half day excursion there. We did not do any of the ship's excursions except Rome. In Rome, we took the "Taste of Rome" excursion. This was a bus trip that drove around all of the big sites and then left us off near St. Peter's Basilica for 4 hours. We were glad we took this trip because it allowed us to get a general tour of the city and to have some free time to do what we wanted. The most important things to pack for the shore excursions are sunscreen and good walking shoes! Also, make sure to pack water because our cruise was the last full week of May and it was already in the upper 80s almost everyday. Disembarkation: The Jewel staff was excellent in giving specific instructions on disembarkation. We were in the first group to leave the ship at 6:30AM. Unlike our last experience on NCL, in which it took us over an hour to find our suitcases, we walked into the cruise terminal and found our suitcases within a minute. From there we boarded a bus and went to the airport. The only problem was that when we arrived at the airport, there were three buses of people who could not find their luggage. We walked around and could not find a NCL rep anywhere to help us. After close to 15 minutes a rep came out and said our luggage was on a truck and we would have to go over to claim it. Not really a major problem at all but it is something that NCL needs to work on since many of the flights were early.
Summary: We were sorry the cruise had to end because we had such a great time. I would definitely recommend NCL to anyone looking to have a laid-back atmosphere and the freestyle atmosphere. NCL has definitely worked on customer service over the past few years and this cruise was a completely different experience than our last.