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This was the Oct. 9 sailing from Istanbul to Barcelona. We have done more than 30 cruises, and we would both rank this one as #1 or #2! It's a tossup with South America two years ago, also with NCL. The ship is new, so we expected and received a higher level of luxury than on our other NCL (8) cruises. The theme is Caribbean, somewhat jarring in the Med, but it grows on you. There were issues, but overall, it was a great cruise. I cannot say enough about the staff. At every juncture, they were incredible. We had a mini-suite, so we had access to the concierge, and had arranged for a cruise critic gathering early on in the Garden Villa thanks to our hosts who stayed there. Alex was the concierge and he was outstanding. He helped us with local arrangements, dining reservations and even a repair to our luggage. I was surprised to find out that he is not included in the tip calculations, so we made sure to find him at debarkation and remedy the situation. He seemed most appreciative. Everyone else, waiters, cabin steward, dining room personnel, bar staff were the best we have encountered. The food: First, the positive. The Garden Buffet is the best we have ever encountered. The only issue is just before disembarking for the ports it gets VERY crowded and tables are hard to come by. On most days, they opened Mama's also, so it did relieve the congestion somewhat. The individual stations for different food choices are exceptional. They tend to use a LOT of oil, so you may want to ask for a little less. My wife finally asked the cook at the omelet station to cut the oil about 80% and she said they were very good after that. The specialty restaurants were also exceptional. The quality of food and the service were outstanding. Kudos to all those folks. Now for the dining rooms, Tsar's and Azura. The preparation and quality were also good here, but the menu selection was the worst we have experienced on any cruise. I am a very adventurous eater, and will try most anything once, but I finally got tired of strange food choices, weird spices and poor cuisine in the dining room. If anything, lunches were worse with the exception of the cold fruit soups (only served at lunch) and forced us into the buffet more often than we would have liked. We really enjoy the dining room experience, especially on sea days, and this was the only negative from the entire trip. I saw a LOT of people ordering the "available every day" choices for the same reason. There were a couple of exceptions, when the food was outstanding, but we often found ourselves looking for the ice cream machine or fruit in the buffet after dinner. It is my understanding from a friend who is on the ship now (we met up in Barcelona to pass the torch) that the line has replaced the chef who designed the current menu because of passenger complaints. We would agree with that decision. The Accommodations: Our cabin (11156) was a mini-suite on the stern of deck 11. We couldn't have been happier. Lots of storage, well laid out and immaculate. The view from the balcony was incredible on sailing days. Our steward was wonderful and we were very comfortable, and we slept well every day of the trip. The Entertainment: We thoroughly enjoyed the shows. The guest performers were all great and really seemed to be enjoying themselves. A word to the wise - Don't arrive late! Not because of the crowds, but because of the humiliation! The production shows (2) were amazing. These kids don't have an ounce of fat on them, and it's easy to see why! Don't miss them. There were no problems finding seats, even on the one show nights, and the theater is state of the art. To address some negative comments earlier - it's a cruise ship, not Broadway. We also have been to Broadway, Opera Houses, etc. Manage your expectations and you will have a good time. Compared to our other cruises, this one gets a solid A. The Ports: The ports were amazing. We were asked to pick our favorite on the comment card, and it was impossible. We had great experiences at each one, and the history had us awestruck so many times. We used private guides in every port except Venice and Dubrovnik (on our own) and had great experiences at each, for less cost than the shore excursions, and in some cases to places that the tour buses were not allowed. Our lunch in a little town on the Amalfi Coast may have been the highlight of the trip! It's so small and the roads are so winding, that only smaller vehicles are allowed. There were two groups of us in small vans, and we arrived about the same time and had the whole place to ourselves. A pitcher of wine, two plates of antipasti, two pasta entrees, dessert and shots of Limoncello - 20 euros per person! The most amazing view I have ever experienced - priceless! Every one of the tours was professionally done, we got back to the ship in plenty of time and our cost was 30% - 60% lower than the ship's tours. I would suggest this approach to anyone cruising. We haven't booked ship's tours in years, and have had nothing but positive experiences. We did a ton of research for a year before we left, and used these guides. I have attached contact info and our ratings: Istanbul: Kagan Kosagan (kosagan@yahoo.com) - he and his wife Lale are both licensed guides and were spectacular. We consider Kagan a friend now and will plan on returning for more of his country. I give him an A++++, simply because there is no way of rating the best guide we have ever had in any place! See additional comments below. Izmir: Ephesus tour, booked through Ephesustours.com. We got a great guide, a nice van and a wonderful tour. A solid A. Athens: We used Dennis Kokkotus at d.limo@yahoo.com, or website greektravel.com/taxi. He is the son at the bottom of the webpage. Has a 6 door Mercedes limo that he seems to be able to park anywhere - very personable and a great trip. Grade A. Dubrovnik: On our own. It's an easy city to walk and the tenders drop you right at the gate to the city. Beautiful. Venice: Also on our own. Some very bad comments from some ship's tours - see above. Very crowded. Take the public boat to Burano if you want to see what Italy would be like if designed by Disney! Slower pace, better prices, beautiful city and wonderful people. Naples: We used Drive Amalfi (driveamalfi@hotmail.com). The company is owned by Salvatore, but our CC friends booked him first. They added a van driven by Roberto for the Amalfi / Pompeii tour. He couldn't have been better, see the notes about the lunch above. They arranged for a private guide at Pompeii - this is a great idea. You can get easily lost here, and the audio guide is pretty dry (we listened in on a friend's headset). Grade A+ Rome: We heard about how great Stefano (allagrande@hotmail.it) was, but again our CC buddies beat us to the punch! We got Marco, who was a great driver and maneuvered his way through Roman streets when traffic wasn't moving. Our only problem here was lunch - we think the restaurant overcharged us, and we sort of hold him accountable here. The drive back to the ship was also done at 140 kph in a rainstorm, and some of the group were a little nervous, but we got back safely. Only because of the lunch, I give him a B. Barcelona: Worth a visit and a beautiful and interesting city. We stayed an additional 3 days at the Renaissance. See comments below. Miscellaneous: The embarkation and debarkation processes were the smoothest we have ever encountered. I'm sure the Latitudes line helped at the beginning, but nobody seemed to be hassled or stressed during the process. We boarded late on Sunday, so there was no real line, and it took about 2 hours for our luggage to arrive. One of our bags had a bent handle (somehow it got opened during loading) but the ship's carpenter fixed it readily enough. About the front and back ports. We stayed in Istanbul for 3 days pre-cruise at the Sarnic Hotel in the Old City. It was nicely done, all new fixtures, beds, baths and tile, but a little spartan. Still for 70E per night, it was hard to complain. We were 2 blocks from the Blue Mosque and close to everything so we did a lot of walking. We hired a private guide for 2 days ($120 per) and he was critical to our positive experience in the city. The city is remarkable. I don't know what we expected, but it was extraordinary in every way. The people were wonderful, the sites stunning and Kagan (our guide - pronounced "Cahn" as in James Cahn!) could not have been better. Our Garden Villa pals hired his wife, Lale, and had the same experience. Do not drive here. These people make the Italians look conservative! It's not uncommon to back up 5 or 6 blocks if you want to go the other way! Traffic was unbelievable in the Old City, but everyone seemed to keep their sense of humor, and would often get out of their cars to help someone maneuver around a logjam. Amazingly, I don't think we saw one seriously dented vehicle. We could have used a few extra days, and the idea of going back to visit is being entertained as we speak. We have been to Barcelona before and enjoyed the city, so we were looking forward to it. It's still a beautiful place with a lot to do, and we did have a good time, but this time we found the people to be a little unfriendly and pushy. Last time high school Spanish and sign language worked well for us, this time we got a lot of surly looks. We also had a bad experience with a thwarted pickpocket (Placa d'Espanya) and some police (we think) that left a sour taste in our mouths. Added to the train breakdown one evening that required a subway, walk and taxi detour back to our hotel through a not-so-nice area of town, and we were both a little stressed. For a place whose restaurants don't open for dinner until after 9PM, it's amazingly hard to find a cab after 10! The food was typically good and we still enjoy La Rambla, but be careful! The highlight, as on our last trip, was the Monastery at Montserrat. It's about a one hour train ride out of the city and is the most amazing setting you will ever experience. Easy to do, but again the crowds were a little daunting. Got much better in the afternoon. All in all, don't let the negatives concern you. The entire trip rates an A+, even with the little problems. I would also recommend time in Istanbul if you can afford it. In order of preference, our ports: 1. Istanbul 2. Amalfi Coast and Pompeii 3. Izmir (Ephesus) 4. Rome 5. Athens 6. Dubrovnik 7. Venice (go to Burano - amazing!) 8. Barcelona (visit to the Monastery at Montserrat is the best part of the port) From 1 to 6, the differences were so small as to be inconsequential. Venice would have rated higher if we hadn't been there before, and if the crowds had been more manageable. We did enjoy Burano (not Murano), and the Jewish Ghetto (thanks to some CC friends!) a lot. You saw my comments about Barcelona earlier. Another word of advice - we ran into people from 3 separate ship's tours who had been abandoned in St. Marks Square and left to find their own way back to the ship. In one case, their guide told them the lines were too long for her to wait, so she bought tickets for the Doge Palace, passed them out and then left. Two days later, the ship had not made any sort of retribution. I guess it's Caveat Emptor no matter what your plans. A couple of these folks were severely handicapped and it was not a good situation. I didn't hear about any problems in other ports. We shared a water taxi with one of those groups, and met people from the other two the next day. It was a hassle getting back late, so be careful. As always, it's a good idea to know a little about the port and to have a back up plan just in case. Someone asked about age diversity - I would estimate the average age to be early-50's to mid-60's with a generous sprinkling of younger folks and a few older ones. Actually, the crowd was a little younger than we originally expected. I will say, that it was an active group. I met very few people who hadn't been on the go most of the trip. Of course, the others could have been asleep in their cabins! Please don't focus on any of the negatives, none were bad enough to even partially negate our experience. Be flexible, roll with the punches, get to know the locals and have a great time! The ship is beautiful, the staff is great and, as I said, it was one of our two best trips of all time! By the way, our CC group was amazing! We spent time with a number of these folks on a regular basis and are proud to call some of them lifelong friends now. This is a great place to meet people, and if you're traveling alone, as we were, it's like sailing with friends from the very first! Bon Voyage! Jay & Barb - Cruisin' for 24 years!

Norwegian Jewel - Eastern Mediterranean

Norwegian Jewel Cruise Review by Jayintx

Trip Details
  • Sail Date: October 2006
  • Destination: Eastern Mediterranean
  • Cabin Type: Mid-Ship Mini-Suite with Balcony
This was the Oct. 9 sailing from Istanbul to Barcelona. We have done more than 30 cruises, and we would both rank this one as #1 or #2! It's a tossup with South America two years ago, also with NCL.
The ship is new, so we expected and received a higher level of luxury than on our other NCL (8) cruises. The theme is Caribbean, somewhat jarring in the Med, but it grows on you. There were issues, but overall, it was a great cruise.
I cannot say enough about the staff. At every juncture, they were incredible. We had a mini-suite, so we had access to the concierge, and had arranged for a cruise critic gathering early on in the Garden Villa thanks to our hosts who stayed there. Alex was the concierge and he was outstanding. He helped us with local arrangements, dining reservations and even a repair to our luggage. I was surprised to find out that he is not included in the tip calculations, so we made sure to find him at debarkation and remedy the situation. He seemed most appreciative. Everyone else, waiters, cabin steward, dining room personnel, bar staff were the best we have encountered.
The food:
First, the positive. The Garden Buffet is the best we have ever encountered. The only issue is just before disembarking for the ports it gets VERY crowded and tables are hard to come by. On most days, they opened Mama's also, so it did relieve the congestion somewhat. The individual stations for different food choices are exceptional. They tend to use a LOT of oil, so you may want to ask for a little less. My wife finally asked the cook at the omelet station to cut the oil about 80% and she said they were very good after that.
The specialty restaurants were also exceptional. The quality of food and the service were outstanding. Kudos to all those folks.
Now for the dining rooms, Tsar's and Azura. The preparation and quality were also good here, but the menu selection was the worst we have experienced on any cruise. I am a very adventurous eater, and will try most anything once, but I finally got tired of strange food choices, weird spices and poor cuisine in the dining room. If anything, lunches were worse with the exception of the cold fruit soups (only served at lunch) and forced us into the buffet more often than we would have liked. We really enjoy the dining room experience, especially on sea days, and this was the only negative from the entire trip. I saw a LOT of people ordering the "available every day" choices for the same reason. There were a couple of exceptions, when the food was outstanding, but we often found ourselves looking for the ice cream machine or fruit in the buffet after dinner. It is my understanding from a friend who is on the ship now (we met up in Barcelona to pass the torch) that the line has replaced the chef who designed the current menu because of passenger complaints. We would agree with that decision.
The Accommodations:
Our cabin (11156) was a mini-suite on the stern of deck 11. We couldn't have been happier. Lots of storage, well laid out and immaculate. The view from the balcony was incredible on sailing days. Our steward was wonderful and we were very comfortable, and we slept well every day of the trip.
The Entertainment:
We thoroughly enjoyed the shows. The guest performers were all great and really seemed to be enjoying themselves. A word to the wise - Don't arrive late! Not because of the crowds, but because of the humiliation! The production shows (2) were amazing. These kids don't have an ounce of fat on them, and it's easy to see why! Don't miss them. There were no problems finding seats, even on the one show nights, and the theater is state of the art. To address some negative comments earlier - it's a cruise ship, not Broadway. We also have been to Broadway, Opera Houses, etc. Manage your expectations and you will have a good time. Compared to our other cruises, this one gets a solid A.
The Ports:
The ports were amazing. We were asked to pick our favorite on the comment card, and it was impossible. We had great experiences at each one, and the history had us awestruck so many times. We used private guides in every port except Venice and Dubrovnik (on our own) and had great experiences at each, for less cost than the shore excursions, and in some cases to places that the tour buses were not allowed. Our lunch in a little town on the Amalfi Coast may have been the highlight of the trip! It's so small and the roads are so winding, that only smaller vehicles are allowed. There were two groups of us in small vans, and we arrived about the same time and had the whole place to ourselves. A pitcher of wine, two plates of antipasti, two pasta entrees, dessert and shots of Limoncello - 20 euros per person! The most amazing view I have ever experienced - priceless! Every one of the tours was professionally done, we got back to the ship in plenty of time and our cost was 30% - 60% lower than the ship's tours. I would suggest this approach to anyone cruising. We haven't booked ship's tours in years, and have had nothing but positive experiences.
We did a ton of research for a year before we left, and used these guides. I have attached contact info and our ratings:
Istanbul: Kagan Kosagan (kosagan@yahoo.com) - he and his wife Lale are both licensed guides and were spectacular. We consider Kagan a friend now and will plan on returning for more of his country. I give him an A++++, simply because there is no way of rating the best guide we have ever had in any place! See additional comments below.
Izmir: Ephesus tour, booked through Ephesustours.com. We got a great guide, a nice van and a wonderful tour. A solid A.
Athens: We used Dennis Kokkotus at d.limo@yahoo.com, or website greektravel.com/taxi. He is the son at the bottom of the webpage. Has a 6 door Mercedes limo that he seems to be able to park anywhere - very personable and a great trip. Grade A.
Dubrovnik: On our own. It's an easy city to walk and the tenders drop you right at the gate to the city. Beautiful.
Venice: Also on our own. Some very bad comments from some ship's tours - see above. Very crowded. Take the public boat to Burano if you want to see what Italy would be like if designed by Disney! Slower pace, better prices, beautiful city and wonderful people.
Naples: We used Drive Amalfi (driveamalfi@hotmail.com). The company is owned by Salvatore, but our CC friends booked him first. They added a van driven by Roberto for the Amalfi / Pompeii tour. He couldn't have been better, see the notes about the lunch above. They arranged for a private guide at Pompeii - this is a great idea. You can get easily lost here, and the audio guide is pretty dry (we listened in on a friend's headset). Grade A+
Rome: We heard about how great Stefano (allagrande@hotmail.it) was, but again our CC buddies beat us to the punch! We got Marco, who was a great driver and maneuvered his way through Roman streets when traffic wasn't moving. Our only problem here was lunch - we think the restaurant overcharged us, and we sort of hold him accountable here. The drive back to the ship was also done at 140 kph in a rainstorm, and some of the group were a little nervous, but we got back safely. Only because of the lunch, I give him a B.
Barcelona: Worth a visit and a beautiful and interesting city. We stayed an additional 3 days at the Renaissance. See comments below.
Miscellaneous: The embarkation and debarkation processes were the smoothest we have ever encountered. I'm sure the Latitudes line helped at the beginning, but nobody seemed to be hassled or stressed during the process. We boarded late on Sunday, so there was no real line, and it took about 2 hours for our luggage to arrive. One of our bags had a bent handle (somehow it got opened during loading) but the ship's carpenter fixed it readily enough.
About the front and back ports. We stayed in Istanbul for 3 days pre-cruise at the Sarnic Hotel in the Old City. It was nicely done, all new fixtures, beds, baths and tile, but a little spartan. Still for 70E per night, it was hard to complain. We were 2 blocks from the Blue Mosque and close to everything so we did a lot of walking. We hired a private guide for 2 days ($120 per) and he was critical to our positive experience in the city. The city is remarkable. I don't know what we expected, but it was extraordinary in every way. The people were wonderful, the sites stunning and Kagan (our guide - pronounced "Cahn" as in James Cahn!) could not have been better. Our Garden Villa pals hired his wife, Lale, and had the same experience. Do not drive here. These people make the Italians look conservative! It's not uncommon to back up 5 or 6 blocks if you want to go the other way! Traffic was unbelievable in the Old City, but everyone seemed to keep their sense of humor, and would often get out of their cars to help someone maneuver around a logjam. Amazingly, I don't think we saw one seriously dented vehicle. We could have used a few extra days, and the idea of going back to visit is being entertained as we speak.
We have been to Barcelona before and enjoyed the city, so we were looking forward to it. It's still a beautiful place with a lot to do, and we did have a good time, but this time we found the people to be a little unfriendly and pushy. Last time high school Spanish and sign language worked well for us, this time we got a lot of surly looks. We also had a bad experience with a thwarted pickpocket (Placa d'Espanya) and some police (we think) that left a sour taste in our mouths. Added to the train breakdown one evening that required a subway, walk and taxi detour back to our hotel through a not-so-nice area of town, and we were both a little stressed. For a place whose restaurants don't open for dinner until after 9PM, it's amazingly hard to find a cab after 10! The food was typically good and we still enjoy La Rambla, but be careful! The highlight, as on our last trip, was the Monastery at Montserrat. It's about a one hour train ride out of the city and is the most amazing setting you will ever experience. Easy to do, but again the crowds were a little daunting. Got much better in the afternoon.
All in all, don't let the negatives concern you. The entire trip rates an A+, even with the little problems. I would also recommend time in Istanbul if you can afford it. In order of preference, our ports:
1. Istanbul 2. Amalfi Coast and Pompeii 3. Izmir (Ephesus) 4. Rome 5. Athens 6. Dubrovnik 7. Venice (go to Burano - amazing!) 8. Barcelona (visit to the Monastery at Montserrat is the best part of the port)
From 1 to 6, the differences were so small as to be inconsequential. Venice would have rated higher if we hadn't been there before, and if the crowds had been more manageable. We did enjoy Burano (not Murano), and the Jewish Ghetto (thanks to some CC friends!) a lot. You saw my comments about Barcelona earlier. Another word of advice - we ran into people from 3 separate ship's tours who had been abandoned in St. Marks Square and left to find their own way back to the ship. In one case, their guide told them the lines were too long for her to wait, so she bought tickets for the Doge Palace, passed them out and then left. Two days later, the ship had not made any sort of retribution. I guess it's Caveat Emptor no matter what your plans. A couple of these folks were severely handicapped and it was not a good situation. I didn't hear about any problems in other ports. We shared a water taxi with one of those groups, and met people from the other two the next day. It was a hassle getting back late, so be careful. As always, it's a good idea to know a little about the port and to have a back up plan just in case.
Someone asked about age diversity - I would estimate the average age to be early-50's to mid-60's with a generous sprinkling of younger folks and a few older ones. Actually, the crowd was a little younger than we originally expected. I will say, that it was an active group. I met very few people who hadn't been on the go most of the trip. Of course, the others could have been asleep in their cabins!
Please don't focus on any of the negatives, none were bad enough to even partially negate our experience. Be flexible, roll with the punches, get to know the locals and have a great time! The ship is beautiful, the staff is great and, as I said, it was one of our two best trips of all time!
By the way, our CC group was amazing! We spent time with a number of these folks on a regular basis and are proud to call some of them lifelong friends now. This is a great place to meet people, and if you're traveling alone, as we were, it's like sailing with friends from the very first! Bon Voyage! Jay & Barb - Cruisin' for 24 years!
Jayintx’s Full Rating Summary
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