Though there are several reviews of this ship/itinerary, I thought I would submit mine, as a first -time cruiser. I travelled with my family -my parents are grizzled veterans with well over 30 cruises on half a dozen lines under their belt, and my brother who has been on 5 cruises on three different lines - but I am a novice, so I will share my views, but also include some of theirs, as a comparison.
We flew from London, Manchester and Newcastle respectively, on the Sunday after the Thurs when the terrorism alert broke, so all air travel was a bit fraught still. No hand luggage, tons of security, and some delays of course. The flight out of Heathrow was delayed 3 hours, so my brother and I were among the last to board at about 5.30pm, which meant I didn't really experience a 'normal' embarkation. We were off the transfer bus and on the ship in less than 5 minutes, which may not have been the case had we arrived earlier. This was a positive, but also made me a little jealous when I headed from my stateroom to the sail-away buffet, and saw hundreds of people lounging on the pool deck, tucking into their barbecues and looking as if they had already been there forever!
The cabin was an agreeable surprise to me (an oceanview balcony stateroom) though my brother felt there was more space in his cabin on the Royal Caribbean's Voyager. We called for the room to be 'twinned' before we went to eat, and it was done by the time we returned. I thought the bright turquoise, pink and orange decor was great, cheery and clean-looking, but everyone else in the family found it a tad overwhelming! My parents had an inside stateroom, though they normally go for a balcony, but because we had to travel in school holidays due to my being a teacher, they found the price-hike unacceptable, so plumped for an inside stateroom, which they found rather dark and more cramped than same cabins on RCI's Jewel of the Seas, which is their favorite ship. The inside cabins on that have a sofa as well as the bed, which is not the case on the Norwegian Jewel. I have to say, having the balcony was a must for me, I wouldn't cruise again without it. We all convened daily on our balcony for pre-dinner drinks and sunset-watching, and I read there at nights before bed for a couple of hours - it's very relaxing, gives an impression of space and light and just felt luxurious! The bathroom was also a decent size, well organized with a large shower and plenty of useful touches, like the shampoo and shower gel dispensers in the shower, the moisturizing lotion which was always promptly replaced when I pinched it (!) and a separate toilet. Everything spotless, and I couldn't have asked for more from our cabin attendant, whom I never saw, but who turned down and made up our cabin every day beautifully. Oh, and the beds were REALLY comfortable, with excellent quality linen - which I hadn't expected.
On to dining. This was very good indeed, in my opinion, and also my dad's. My brother was on a health kick, so didn't indulge as we did, but found plenty of choice, and was able to eat from the Cooking Light menus, as well as having access to lots of fresh fruit and veg, but he gave the Chocoholic Buffet a miss to avoid temptation! My mum was less impressed with the speciality restaurants than the rest of us, but generally approved of the variety available. We ate in all but one of the restaurants/cafes on board. Mama's Kitchen was the only exception, because though we booked all our dinners up to Thurs, to leave our options open, we found on Thurs eve that Mama's was booked for the rest of the cruise - shame, because I really fancied some calamari! Booking dinner for 8pm each night wasn't a problem, and we ate at the Bistro twice, because we liked it so much the first time. Tsars was good when we ate there for lunch when most people were ashore, but I thought it might have been too big, noisy and crowded at dinner time. Azura's on lobster night was busy, but the food was plentiful and tasty. We ate lunch twice and breakfast once at the Blue Lagoon, which I liked for its quietness, ambience and smaller, more manageable portions.
We loved the Bistro - I had the chocolate fondue twice! The service there and at Cagney's was the best I thought. Cagney's was my favorite meal, where you can look at the cuts of meat before choosing, and even my health-conscious work-out fiend brother succumbed to joining us for the gorgeous Cherries Jubilee! My dad and I love Asian food, so Chin Chins was high on our priority list. We both enjoyed it thoroughly, though I was irritated when I chose the first and last items on the menu (edamame beans appetizer and green tea ice cream dessert) and was told I couldn't have either because the supplies came from Japan and they had run out - this was on Tues! Also on Tues they ran out of soft-serve ice cream in the Garden Cafe because the mix came from America and they couldn't get it in Europe. I thought this was a bit feeble, since surely you would just make sure you had enough? The Tom Yam soup and dim sum at Chin Chins was great though, and my dad loved all of his dishes. My mum and brother were less impressed, and felt it just wasn't authentic Asian, but that they were trying to do too much by offering Chinese, Japanese, Malaysian, Indian etc all in same kitchen. I had wanted to try the Teppanyaki, but when we saw that it was a sort of goldfish bowl where other passengers tended to congregate outside the windows to watch, we felt it might be hard to relax under the scrutiny. I also regret not trying the sushi bar, but there was so much choice and only a finite space in my tummy! We ordered coffee and juice from room service most mornings, before going to Garden Cafe for breakfast, and the room service was prompt and efficient.
I disagree with most reviewers about the bar prices being exorbitant. I tend not to drink, but did treat myself to the odd cocktail, and a frozen Blue Hawaii, margarita or appletini in any London pub would cost me the same or more than $5.50. My parents think the drinks are far too expensive, but admit that NCL's prices are on a par with other lines. If you are drinking several rounds in a group, and drinking beer, wine and spirits I imagine it would be pricey, but for the occasional treat it was fine.
Spinnakers Lounge was always empty during the day, which amazed me because it was by far the nicest place to hang out and relax, with cool double-bed sized turquoise wave-shaped couches, polo-mint chairs with footstools, and giant orange sofas. You could read there, great views from wraparound floor to ceiling windows, and even listen to the band rehearse at lunchtimes. We often picked up sandwiches and salads from the Garden Cafe and took them to eat in Spinnakers where we were routinely the only people!
There were lots of activities like trivia quizzes or games, which we attended but found we were either the only people to turn up, or among a very few others. This may be because of it being in school holidays, with lots of kids in tow, adults were less able to shoot off to a quiz, or could be because the activities weren't announced, so people forgot about them. The entertainment was excellent overall, but I am told that NCL is best line for that anyway. Both Jean Ann Ryan Company shows were fabulous, especially the Cirque Bijou. I LOVED the crew talent show, which was probably the most fun time I had in the beautiful Stardust Theatre. I skipped both magic shows after the start, because that's just not to my taste, but we all enjoyed the Second City improv, and it seemed as though, ship-wide, there was plenty to keep everyone entertained. I like karaoke, so often went to those sessions in the Fyzz Lounge.
I only went on one shore excursion, to Pompeii, and found the whole thing well organized and smooth, though exhausting! Getting up that early isn't for me, and on a one week cruise, I wanted to be sure to have lots of time to lie by the pool, work on my tan, and just chill out. I never had a problem getting a sun lounger, and while the pool area was often busy, it didn't feel too crowded. The only thing that bothered me was that they piped music too loudly from the pool deck speakers sometimes, and it made hearing my iPod almost impossible at times, no matter how loud I turned it up, trying to hear my Green Day, with 'Girl From Ipanema' pounding away from the ship speakers was a bizarre audio experience!
The staff on the Jewel were generally polite and helpful, but I didn't like the auto-gratuity thing. I asked to have the daily $10 taken off my bill, in favor of personal tipping, and I do think that staff try harder if their tips are dependent on their personal service, rather than knowing that no matter what they do, they will get some cut of a generic tipping kitty. I did have the best facial of my life at the Bora Bora though, and was happy to tip generously for my exceedingly well-trained skin therapist. Mind you, if you do plan to use the Bora Bora's services, don't be too quick to sign up. By Weds they are offering 2 for 1 treatments, and by Friday it's 3 for 1. I paid $99 for a facial and reflexology treatment, but if I had gone early in the week they were $99 each. On Sat you could get 3 things for $89, so be patient! Also go early for your appointment or leave free time afterwards, as you get to use their divine relaxation room for free, with heated beds, sauna, whirlpool, drench showers etc. My brother bought a weekly pass to use all those things, plus steam room etc, and he was there 2 or 3 times a day, and said he had never felt so relaxed by the end of the trip.
All in all, I had a great trip. Four of us with different ideas of what constitutes good food, relaxation and fun all managed to find lots to enjoy, while still getting to spend quality time with our family in a pleasant setting, with convenient access to all facilities. My mum still adores her Royal Caribbean Jewel of the Seas, but now realizes that the freestyle experience is a huge draw for people who want flexibility, and who don't really enjoy sitting at large tables of strangers in the same dining room night after night. That and the entertainment quality were the two things we all agreed were the biggest pull for NCL.