This was our 2nd sailing on NCL. We did Alaska in 2005 on the Norwegian Spirit and enjoyed the whole "Freestyle" concept. We made our arrangements through a local travel agency and thought we had a good price until I asked the agent to check with NCL to see if our Latitudes status would get us a discount. She came back on the phone and said NCL would discount our cruise $500 because we'd sailed before. Never hurts to ask.
I didn't like the fact that NCL didn't tell us our flight arrangements until 2-3 weeks before the sailing. I guess they want to try and negotiate the cheapest fares. At any rate, we flew out of Minneapolis/St. Paul on Northwest Airlines and then flew to Philadelphia to catch a connection to Barcelona on US Air. I've not flown US Air since they are a minor player in our neck of the woods (upper midwest). We found the flight attendants brusque and not particularly helpful. The plane seemed old and in need of a paint job. The headphones to watch the movie were $5 but when we got them, all we could hear was awful scratching and static. The crew apologized and said there were technical difficulties. We had to take the headphones off as they did not work the entire trip due to static and noise. The Philadelphia airport is undergoing major renovations and it is a mess. Avoid it if you can possibly do so. To get to our connection we had to leave the secured area and go through security again to get to the US Air terminal. Long and slow. I learned later that there was some sort of bus that would help us avoid this 15 minute walk but nobody mentioned that to us.
When we finally arrived in Barcelona, we were met by the NCL agent and our bags were promptly taken. We were escorted to a waiting bus by NCL agents who spoke some English and were very polite. Because we got into Barcelona about 10am and we could not start embarking for a few hours, the bus took us on a tour of the city of Barcelona and actually made a few stops, showed us the Olympic stadium from 1992 and took us downtown to see a beautiful church being built. I don't recall this itinerary being included as anything more than an airport to pier transfer but it was really nice to see Barcelona.
Upon getting to the ship, we entered the terminal and because we were in a suite, we had a special line to use with nobody waiting. There were probably 50+ people in other lines so this was a delight. The agent processed our passes, ID, and other administrative tasks very quickly. We were escorted to a special waiting area for suite passengers where we got refreshments and a nice young lady to carry our carry-on bags directly to our suite. I felt a pang of guilt that this young woman was carrying the bags of my wife and daughter. My 16 year old son and I both carried our own. She escorted us onto the ship and to our suite, an AB designated 2 bedroom suite on the 10th deck. It was beautiful! A full master bedroom with queen size bed, a huge bathroom with two sinks, separate shower (with 4 shower heads) and separate tub. The bathroom had its own windows allowing one to bathe or shower while looking out at the sea. Lots of nice soaps, lotions, and giant fluffy towels made the bathroom first rate. We had a 2nd bedroom for the kids which was small but manageable. One bed on the floor and another which folded down from the wall. They had their own small but functional bathroom. The suite also had a huge balcony with two rattan lounges, small living room with couch and two chairs and a dining table. Within minutes, Michael, an affable young man from the Philippines came to introduce himself as our butler for the trip. He was cordial and professional. He explained the features of the room (it included 4 flat screen TVs!) and how to get a hold of him 24/7. He gave us a cordless phone which we could carry anywhere on the ship to call our room or to call him or to access any ship services. He also told us that we had priority reservations for all restaurants and he helped us make the reservations for the whole week.
Others on this site have reviewed the restaurants in detail. I'll just say that different folks have different likes and dislikes. I found the food delicious and the service nearly uniformly excellent. We ate in Cagney's (great steaks), Le Bistro (wonderful), the buffet (large variety of foods but kept running out of ice cream), Mama's Kitchen (good pasta), Tsar's dining room (good) and Chin Chins which was as good as any Chinese food we've had on land. I had no complaints about any food during the entire cruise though I somewhat resent paying thousands for a cruise and then being charged $2 for a soda pop. So, we drank lots of iced tea, milk and water.
The ship itself is beautiful. It has great bars, wonderful places to sit and talk, and if you can't find something to enjoy yourself with, you are either hard to please or not looking hard enough. Our only complaint, and it was a huge one, was that our suite was directly under the gym. Throughout the day, exercising passengers above the room using the weight machines would make loud "clunk" sounds on our ceiling. I complained to our butler who indicated that this had been a problem with other passengers but there was very little he could do. Fortunately, this annoying banging was gone by about 11pm so it didn't affect our sleep. But, if book a room on the Jewel, be sure to avoid any room underneath the health spa.
We took 3 excursions sponsored by NCL. They were to Pompeii, Pisa, and Rome/Vatican. All three were outstanding but expensive. Driving around Italy seems like a death wish so I was pleased to have somebody drag me around and explain stuff to me. NCL has a very efficient system for getting everyone onto their excursions in a timely way. It was hot and humid in Italy in July and all buses were delightfully air conditioned and the guides were affable and spoke English very well. Suffice to say that if you go to Italy and miss the Vatican or Pompeii you have gone a long way for nothing. They are extraordinary.
Disembarkation was handled competently and efficiently until we transferred to the airport. Arriving at the airport we were thrust into a chaotic nightmare. Iberian airlines, the main airline in Spain, was on strike and the airport baggage handling systems were apparently "broken" so we entered a terminal with thousands of angry, hot and impatient passengers all trying to get somewhere. It was a madhouse like I've not experienced before and I'm a seasoned traveler. There was no US Air window and nobody knew where to go or what to do. We huddled with other Americans who were on the cruise in the middle--e of this madhouse for about 90 minutes until we sent out "scouts" to find a US Air representative who, in broken English, told us that if we could move to a different terminal, we might be able to fly out. This was no small task if you can imagine thousands of people with thousands of pieces of luggage all smashed together. At any rate, we eventually were checked in and sent to a gate downstairs in the Barcelona airport. This had to be the filthiest place in all of Europe. It looked like nobody had cleaned it in a week and garbage was all over the place. We were told to wait there for a bus to take us to the plane. After being herded into a line to wait a "few minutes" for the bus, about 90 minutes later we were taken to the plane to fly back to Philadelphia. It must have been the same plane because the sound system was still all static so we couldn't watch the in-flight movie. All in all, US Air did not impress one bit. Our luggage was lost for three days upon our arrival back in Minneapolis.
To sum it up, the Jewel is a wonderful ship with great food and lovely rooms. Staff was great in all ways. Traveling to Barcelona was tiring and the airport in Barcelona, when we were there, was a chaotic nightmare. I will book my own transportation on future cruises but will gladly sail with NCL again. In fact, we booked our next cruise for next summer on the new Norwegian Pearl.