NCL Jewel Review Western Med, July 16, 2006
INTRODUCTION AND EMBARKATION
This was our 12th cruise, the third on NCL. It departed from Barcelona and went to Messina Sicily, Naples, Rome, Livorno/Florence, and Nice/Villefranche. We bought a fly and cruise package 1 week sell-off for $1400 inside, and paid $20 extra for an outside (porthole). Transfers were included too, saving a 35 euro cab each way.
Embarkation was quite fast, we arrived at the dock around noon and only stood in line a few minutes before getting our ship cards. Free water and orange juice was set up beside the line. There was a table just past security for collecting booze from passengers, ours was in our checked luggage to avoid that.
About 20 of us from the cruise roll call arranged to meet for sailaway cocktails and then dinner, and we had lots of fun comparing travel stories and meeting each other. We had perfect weather all week, no rain, few clouds.
Our cabin was on the small side at 143 square feet, compared to the larger cabins on CCL and HAL at about 185 square feet. The standard duvet on the kind bed proved too hot so we got the steward to bring a top sheet, and we could have asked for a blanket but the bedspread over the sheet was just right. We pre-tipped the steward for some special requests, a bathrobe for Wendy (included in higher categories), ice bucket always full, the above bed changes, and he was very attentive, apologizing a couple times when he forgot the ice (you can get your own refills from the orange chests on the steward dollies). Good strong hair dryer, strong enough shower, removable wand, shampoo and body gel, no conditioner. Shower door! & no clingy curtain. Lots of storage. One electrical outlet, bring a power bar. Nice floor length mirror. Set your cabin door indicator when you want your cabin made up or it wont get done, the stewards follow those indicators.
The Jewel is the ship that was featured on one of The Apprentice episodes, and is new, clean, and nicely decorated. Nice mesh loungers, no more buggy straps. No water station at the pool, you have to go to the water/ice tea machine hidden in the Garden Cafe. The pool band rocked. Loungers around the pool were all taken or saved by 9:30-10, but there are lots in other areas. Good gym, free weights and machines, ocean view. Jogging track was in a passenger area, had to avoid bumping into people.
The first optional formal night about two thirds of the people in the dining room dressed up. The second optional formal night very few had ties or dressier clothes.
We were somewhat annoyed with NCLs double tipping system. As on most cruise lines, tips are added automatically to your ship account. But NCL calls this a service charge, which is placed in a pool for distribution to the crew. So your service charge doesnt go to the people serving you, except for the cabin steward. Then the NCL brochure also discusses gratuities, saying they arent necessary but staff are permitted to accept them for exceptional service, which seems like double tipping. NCL will adjust the service charge if requested. We decided we wanted to tip the people serving us, and went to the customer service desk to have it cancelled. There is a form to fill out, and you are not allowed to take the form away from the desk (I guess they dont want it floating around giving people ideas), and you select the reason from a list (prefer to tip staff directly). The $140 was off our account the next day. At least three quarters of the staff we dealt with deserved tips and got them, very friendly and helpful crew.
The entertainment was good, but one stage show was super, Cirque Bijou, similar to the famous Cirque du Soleil. Non-stop action, much of it above the heads of the crowd. Also, the Second City comedy show was hilarious. And we like the usual passenger participation shows Newlywed and Not So Newly Wed, Family Feud, and Weakest Link.
We ate in the main dining room 3 times and the pay restaurants 4 times. Chin Chins asian food and Le Bistros French food has a $10 p.p. fee, and Cagneys Steak House is $15 p.p. The fee is half that if you reserve to eat between 5:30 and 6:30. We love Chinese/Japanese food, and Chin Chins was so good we ate there twice. It also had the biggest menu of any on board. Unlimited sushi was an extra $5, not discounted. A couple should order an extra entrEe to split, and extra appetizers, serving sizes arent large, and then you can share the variety. All the menus state that diners may order multiple appetizers. Cagneys and Le Bistro were also very good. All 3 have window tables.
The main dining room food (Tzars and Azurra) was decent and acceptable, about average compared to other cruises. On lobster night we were given 2 medium sized lobster tails, perfectly cooked, and they had a nice buttery sauce as well as melted butter if you wanted both. We had 2 group dinners with our new friends from the cruise roll call, one table for 20 the first night, and 2 tables for 12 the other night.
The buffet in the Garden Cafe looked good a couple times we strolled through. We had all our breakfasts there (perfect omelettes) and one lunch.
Mamas is the Italian specialty restaurant, no fee. We didnt eat there but it was popular, and halfway through the week it was booked solid for the rest of the cruise. Tangos is Tex-Mex, also free, and Blue Lagoon is roadhouse food like skins and wings which we had once, liked it, also no fee.
The main reservation kiosk is at Tangos and is open most of the time and which can book any restaurant for you. The other restaurants can only book for their place. As other reviews have said, ignore the large screen display showing restaurant availability, its doesnt match what the reservationist has to offer. If the time you want at a certain place is not available, check back later, there are many cancellations (you get billed if you are a no-show). THE PORTS
We pre-arranged a private tour to Taormina through Sicily Life for 290E total, or 36E each. The same ship tour was $144 each which we took on a previous cruise, but it didnt leave us enough time to do the town properly which is why we went again. Our driver Alessandro was good, arrived on time and spoke decent English. Sicily Life has had mixed reviews, for your driver ask for Antonio, Alessandro, or Luka who all got good reviews. Its a pretty 1 hour drive, hills on one side, coast on the other. Taormina is a gorgeous quaint mountain-top town, lots of sights including an ancient Greek/Roman amphitheater, an old monastery, 2 medieval churches. Lots of interesting shopping, ceramics, glasswork, crafts. A good place for lunch with a lovely view of the coast and ocean is the cafe at the very end of the main street. Medium sized pizza was 6E. You can take the bus or train from Messina, but both stations are a cab ride across Messina from the ship. The bus will take you most of the way up the mountain to Taormina, but from the train station you would need a cab or cable car to get up, and time is too short for much messing around. The drivers have a nice map of the town showing the sights.
The ship docks right in Messina, and from the deck you can see the huge old IL Duomo cathedral a few blocks in. Its quite impressive, worth the 5 minute walk. Animated chimes on the hour. No shopping of note in Messina, its a commercial city.
The dock area in Naples is all torn up with construction. People used to be able to walk beside the old fort into town, but you have to walk down a block and around the construction, across busy streets with tons of traffic. Good shopping on via Toledo just past the Galleria.
This was our third time here, and we decided to do the Isle of Capri on our own. Its 14E each way by hydrofoil jet (boats that rise up on stilts), and the ship tour is $155. The hydrofoil pier is right beside the ship, with runs to Sorrento and other tourist places. Exit the terminal, walk through the bus parking toward the left rear corner, then continue left to the blue top ticket booths (go around the building, they face inland). There are several hydrofoil companies, and each window sells a different companys ticket and time, posted in the window. An electronic board on the pier where the covered benches are shows which berth they depart from, posted about 20 minutes before ETD. For a nice view of Mt. Vesuvius sit on the left side.
From the marina in Capri its a long hot uphill climb to town, take the cable car (funicular) for 1.30E or an orange minibus for the same fee, to the right of the dock. Buy funicular tickets to the right of the dock, then the entrance is right in front of the dock. Each car holds 80, not long to wait if there are under 100 people. Not much to view going up, bus is better for that on the switchback road. Usually standing room only, and they all squeeze in like a university phone booth contest. We took the cable car up and the bus coming back.
The island scenery is breathtaking. Capri is very pretty, lovely to walk around. Very expensive shopping, saw a T-shirt for $100. We took the 1.30E bus to Annacapri and took the 6E return chairlift to the top of Mt. Solaro, gorgeous views. We planned to do the short hike along the mountain ridge to the Gelsomina resort for lunch, but the trail was rocky and overgrown, we needed better shoes and long pants to avoid scratches. So we went back down the chairlift and looked around the pretty town, then back on the bus, very scenic ride, hairpin turns. Cabs are convertibles with awnings overhead, about 12-15E to go outside town.
Heres the link for the hydrofoil schedule, click on the timetable button, then enter your departure and destination for times and rates: (http://www.capritourism.com/en/transport.html
We arranged a private tour of Rome through Rome In Limo at 500E for 8 people, 63E each, and our excellent driver /guide was Salvatori. Similar ship tours were $142-199. Our vehicle was a newer Mercedes stand-up van, and he picked us up at the ship on time. Some people took the train to Rome and either met their driver there or did Rome on their own. Friends we met had arranged for a private tour company to meet them at the train station in Rome, but the driver never showed up and they had to scramble to hire another operator at the station, which they were able to do. There is nothing much to do in the port so you need to get out of that area. The drive to Rome was about an hour with heavy traffic closer to Rome. Not much scenery on the way, everything burned brown from the heat, 35 degrees C, about 100 F by mid-afternoon. Bottled water is sold everywhere for 1-2 euros.
Of course the sights in Rome are awesome, photos and travel shows dont do it justice. Our driver took us to a small road on a hill overlooking the whole Forum, from the Coliseum over to the chariot races arena. The tour buses cant get up there. Then we drove over to the chariot races arena (forgot the name), the oval track still worn into the ground.
Then we went to the Coliseum, huge long ticket lines, moving slowly, but our driver took us to a small ticket booth about 50 yards up the street facing the triple arches (like the Arch de Triumphe in Paris), on the left side facing the arches, no line, got tickets, went back to the Coliseum and walked past the lines and through the turnstiles. That ticket gets you into both the Coliseum and the Forum.
Then we drove to the Catacombs, where the ancient Christians were buried in deep passages to await resurrection on Judgement Day. Open graves were carved out of the sides of the caverns, where the bodies were placed, then sprinkled with lime for sanitation. Many graves are at eye level as you walk through, and you can look in and touch the rocks where the dead were laid. Richer families had whole mini-rooms carved with simple altars, or shared a room with others. Descendants today still go down there outside tour hours to hold services. You can see ancient Christian markings including person data about some of the important deceased. A quiet sacred place, very moving. Admission is 5E which includes a mandatory underground guide (easy to get lost) in groups of about 20, according to which language you want. Of course lots of stairs, and quite chilly at the bottom, our guide wore a sweater, but we were glad to cool off from the heat. Sal made sure we were in the right place to join the correct tour when it was ready to enter the passages, but you could also listen to the announcements and figure it out.
Rome is expensive in the tourist areas, but for lunch Sal took us to a family restaurant off the beaten track, lovely local dishes, wine and beer and lunch for 2 totaled only 13E.
Then off to the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain, tons of people, then to the Vatican. Huge lines there. A special Vatican guide is required at 150E which 6 of us split and avoids the lines, but the 2 of us decided to do the free sights in St. Peters square and then spend the rest of our time shopping. The other 6 were not happy with their guide William, little information (you had to ask), attitude, and too rushed. Sal showed us a good shopping area, 2 blocks from the Vat. Sale months are July and January. Free clean bathrooms at St. Peters Square, those are hard to find.
We decided to do Florence on our own. The ship tour Florence on Your Own was $92. 4 of us shared a 15E cab to the train station, and the train to Florence was 6E each way. So the trip including return cab was 14E, about $20. The ship arrived at 7 and we were able to catch the 7:30 train with 10 minutes to spare, arriving in Florence at 9. If we missed that one the next was 8:10, but we wanted the earlier one to give us as much time in Florence as possible. We caught the 3:27 coming back. Here is the link to the train schedule: Http://orario.trenitalia.com/b2c/TimeTable
On the way to your platform be sure to validate your ticket in the yellow machines on the wall, big 40E fine if caught with a ticket not validated.
The ride is 1.5 hours, with some pretty Tuscan scenery after you get about halfway there, hillside towns. Sit on the left side going and the right side coming back. Good public bathroom at the Florence station, .70E, platform 5. Good internet in the underground mall, down the stairs, go to your left.
Florence is beautiful and historic, huge old cathedral right outside the train station. We worked our way down to the Piazza Repubblica, hit the recommended Coin department store on via Corso (50 % sale). Leather shoes for 17E/$22. Then we went to the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge area, then back to the huge San Lorenzo outdoor market. Had great pizza and beer in one of the many sidewalk cafes, about 10E total.
We got the 3:27 train coming back, long slow ticket lines, we were early but got ours with only 10 minutes to spare. To avoid this, buy a return ticket when leaving Livorno, or else by your ticket to go back when you arrive in Florence. If you miss the 3:27 there is a 4:10, after that you miss the ship. The trains have good seats but are hot, open windows.
Online you can order a very good free street map of Florence from their main tourist office, it came in 2 weeks: www.firenzeturismo.it
So much to see in the Nice and Monaco area, but so little time with our 3pm sailing, and delayed debarking with the tendering if not on a ship tour, predicted at about 9am. The main sights in Nice are the market in Old Town, the modern shopping along Rue Du France and Ave Jean Medecin, and the Promenade des Anglais boardwalk. Outside Nice are the quaint medieval towns of Eze and St. Paul de Vence. Then of course Monaco and Monte Carlo. To get off early we decided to take a ship tour, the one going to Old Town in Nice plus some other sights in Nice, and then Monaco, for $65, not too bad a price. As we were going along the twisty coastal road our guide showed us the curve where Princess Grace Kelly crashed and died. In Monaco the side streets with shops and cafes etc were like a storybook, clean, quaint, beautiful. Theres a good internet joint right at the tender pier, first place you come too off the boat, about 2 E for half an hour, but no printers to do boarding passes. DISEMBARKATION
Off the ship early, first color called at 6:30, ours was scheduled to be called at 7 and was called at 7:10, got to the airport on the transfer at 8:20. Huge lines, 2 hour wait, terminal jammed with people, made our 12:25 flight with no problem. This cruise is port intensive with only 1 sea day, but that attracted us and we loved it. Email us if you have questions.
Hi to all our cruise mates, Ruth and David, Shirley and Mike, Shelly and Vic, Ruth and Paul, Herb and Marianne, Jeanne and Tom! -Wendy and Bob.