By way of background, my wife and I are a retired couple in our 60's, and have sailed on 20 cruises, the majority of them of 14-days or longer duration. We book balcony cabins, and over the years have sailed on Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Celebrity and NCL. This cruise represented our fourth cruise on NCL and our third on the Jewel, the first Jewel cruise being an October 2005 sailing to New England and Eastern Canada shortly after the launching of the Jewel.
The 15-day, 10/21/06 sailing of the Jewel from Barcelona to Miami, is the subject of this review, although for us it represented the second leg of back-to-back cruises, the first part being a 12-day cruise from Istanbul to Barcelona originating on 10/9/06. A review of the earlier cruise has been previously posted on this forum.
Most of my comments in the earlier review pertain to this sailing as well. Although the ports of this cruise were not as appealing to us as the Istanbul/Barcelona itinerary, we booked it primarily to experience the enjoyment of a longer cruise returning to near our Florida home, and also to enjoy additional Mediterranean ports, and to eliminate the long return flight to the US. In this review I will generally limit my comments to those aspects of this sailing that differed from the first.
Our overall impression of NCL and the Jewel was once again favorable, although we found a significant and puzzling change in some aspects of the experience on this sailing. Because this was a repositioning cruise back to the US, the passenger profile changed quite dramatically from the earlier Istanbul/Barcelona cruise. On the earlier cruise, there were about one-half American passengers with the majority of the remainder being Europeans. On this sailing, the passengers were generally older and almost entirely Americans and Canadians. It would appear that this significant change in passenger profile had a dramatic effect on the overall restaurant operations of the ship. Americans tend to eat earlier than Europeans, and on several occasions we found the two main dining rooms swamped before 6:00 in the evening. This never happened on the earlier cruise. Also, there were some large groups on the ship, and on several occasions they almost entirely took over both dining rooms, leaving little space available for those not part of the groups. As a result, not only was it difficult to obtain a table, even at an early hour, but table service bogged down badly, with long delays before ordering and between courses. On several occasions we left the dining room without desert or coffee, simply to avoid another long wait and in order to obtain a seat for the 7:45 show in the theatre. On one occasion we were in the dining room over 1-1/4 hours before being served our entree.
The long delays in service seemed to extend to breakfast and lunch in the dining room as well. Often these dining rooms were quite chaotic with high noise levels and harried waiters, to the point where we booked many nights in the specialty restaurants, simply to have a more pleasant and relaxing dining experience. In general, although we enjoy some of the features of Freestyle dining, it simply doesn't seem to work as well as traditional dining when there is a homogeneous passenger profile who all seem to want the same thing at the same time.
With this major exception, this sailing was similar that that which was the subject of my earlier review. The crowded conditions extended to the laundry facilities and finally to embarkation which, at least for those of us who disembarked about in the middle of the pack, was the most chaotic I have seen in twenty cruises, although the final confusion in the port facilities seems to be the responsibility of the Port of Miami.
Interestingly, I have seen this passenger profile in two transatlantic cruises, making me inclined to avoid these sailings in the future. Overall, it was an enjoyable cruise with interesting ports of call. My comment in the earlier review regarding the lack of interesting onboard activities applies even more to this sailing with the long Atlantic crossing. I will probably sail NCL again, although I must admit my enthusiasm has been tempered somewhat since the wonderful sailing to Canada on the Jewel in October 2005.